Great Pandemic Bake-Off - Twix Edition
You’ve probably seem my baking pictures. I got inspired to bake while binge watching the Great British Baking Show. I can’t really blame the pandemic for that; it’s just given me more time to start new projects. The candy edition started because I decided to try my hand at an entremet cake. If you’re sensible and don’t care about this, an entremet is one of those fancy-pants French Patisserie cakes that are beautifully decorated on the outside and have sharply defined layers of multi-textured fillings inside. Typically, the bottom layer is a sponge cake. But I don’t much like sponge cake so I thought I’d use a short crust pastry instead. But that is too basic, so I decided to use a french sable cookie instead... More explanation might be necessary.
I’m not a precise person. When I was younger, 80% was good enough in everything but school (and even in college, I was often fine with an 80%). As I got older, that number edged up to the 90s because it is necessary in my professional career. But, precision and patience are not natural talents of mine. I set out on a personal improvement project to exercise more patience and precision but I wisely decided to do it in an arena in which I feel most comfortable - the kitchen.
My bread baking skills were 0. My cake decorating skills are -80. My precision decorating, cutting (food prep is ok) and attention to detail are laughable. But I was inspired by the folks on GBBS so I got to reading and studying and watching YouTube. My goal was to tackle the most challenging baking projects in order to work on three areas.
1. My precision and attention to detail.
2. My patience with waiting for gratification or completion of a task/project.
3. My failure tolerance. I really suck at this and don’t typically try things I might not be good at.
Back before Thanksgiving, I watched an episode of Bon Appetite Gourmet Makes and Claire Saffitz made homemade Hot Pockets. And just after that, Ronise brought home hot pockets!! Knowing we don’t buy such junky prepared foods!! So, I decided, “I can make those!” But instead of just using Claire’s recipe, I set out to develop my own that was practical. I tried my first yeast dough in years... and it wasn’t terrible. Two more attempts, one with a beautiful laminated dough that tasted amazing but took two days, and I had a quality hot pocket that I could reproduce with reasonable ease, but more importantly, I had caught the baking bug.
Cinnamon rolls, a King Cake, and multiple attempts at puffed pastry followed, with varying degrees of success. But each time I made the puffed pastry, I got better. Not only because of practice, but because each time, I increased my precision. I made the edges straight, and even purchased pastry rulers to get an even height. I measured the width of the dough and the butter block. I trimmed the excess dough and timed my chilling time. I retrieved my oven thermometer from the back of the oven and started using it. By the time I tackled croissants, I was better at yeast dough and better at lamination. Still not perfect though. I was disappointed by the croissants. But instead of abandoning it like I would have done, I know what to try next to improve.
Now, back to candy and entremets. You’ve got to plan your entremet. You can’t just get in there and start making mousses and stuff! You’ve got to work on flavor combinations and colors and you need special molds and gear - I love gear. I wanted to test out the sable base which would be deliberately cookie-like. Also, I was toying with the idea of making a caramel layer with a particular texture. Soft, but not runny, with that long pull when you tear it. And what has that cookie + caramel combination? A Twix! So, I set out to make a homemade Twix to test both the recipe for the cookie base and caramel.
Caramel test 2, more set with less cream than the first delicious and saucy attempt plus french sable dough test number one started last night. Once I added the eggs the cookie recipe looked wrong, but I pressed on. It said "batter" in the instructions after all. It was a weird texture. I looked at the recipe repeatedly but couldn't see what I'd done wrong... until.. I noticed, FINALLY, that it said 2 egg yolks and I'd added whole eggs. What a happy accident. I baked them anyway and I love the cookie. It tastes like a better version of a vanilla wafer - a cross between a nilla wafer and a langue de chat. This recipe is a keeper and I'm replacing my typical Christmas cookie; it spreads a bit but not an outrageous amount. They do get a bit wonky. I but precisely, with a ruler, to .25" in width and some spread about 25% more. Freezing the dough after cutting might help. I'll experiment.
Today, I piped my caramel onto my baked and cooled cookies. The texture was thick and firm, so I was sure I would have a perfectly center, perfectly domed caramel topper. Hello failure, I didn't put the cookies in the fridge, so the caramel ran off the sides. Fortunately, I was able to roll and press the caramel into place on the silpat. Of course, I didn't discover that technique until I'd broken a few cookies. Don't worry, I ate those.
Luckily, the chocolate tempering wasn't too terrible. Not perfect, because I got a weird streaking effect, but it set up nice with a snap. I decided to actually abandon precision here, in a place I would normally embrace it. I'm all about the science of food and I've always fussed with the thermometer when working with chocolate and mostly failed at it. I've discovered, also by accident, that sometimes it's ok to go with 'instinct'. Another skill I don't excel at. But it has worked with bread dough, as I develop a feel for dough, and I realized that I've always made caramel just by look and feel and smell. Watching bakers on the GBBS struggle with caramel befuddled me; I've been making it since I was a kid. But they overcomplicated it, like I'd always done with chocolate.
Anyway, kudos to all you chocolatiers out there making and enrobing handmade candies. You are a BOSS. This is not easy! I feel like I had chocolate behind my ears when they were done. But, the finished product is pretty decent. And I got some chocolate covered langue de chat as a bonus. I even shaved off the bits of chocolate on the edges to make them look neat.
Now to take all this over to the neighbor's house to get it out of mine. That's been the only saving grace to my waistline this whole pandemic. I made the goods and send them AWAY or I made things, like the macarons, that I don't care for so I'm not tempted.
The funny thing is, the Happy Accident Vanilla Wafers won't be good for the entremet, so it's back to the drawing board for that project. Entremet flavor combinations and ideas welcome.