One cool thing I did before Christmas was to bake! You may think, "Well, what's so exciting about that? Just about everyone bakes before Christmas!" And yes, this is true. One of my favourite things to do before Christmas was to get together with my mother and help to make her repertoire of Christmas cookies. We'd spend a day or two mixing and shaping and rolling and decorating, and during the holiday season she'd visit the stack of Tupperware containers in the garage (it was cold in there) and assemble platters of cookies and bars for different parties and get-togethers. Every Christmas since I've been gone she always tells me that baking isn't fun anymore and she really misses me. I miss her too, and I miss the baking.
So this year I got it in my head that I was going to bake up some stuff for my friends and co-workers in Korea. It's the first opportunity I've had to bake in eight years! My friend moved to a posh new apartment building just down the road from me and her kitchen came with an OVEN! She's the only person I know in Korea that has one. Scratch that. My buddy John up in Seoul has one. I just remembered the last time I was there he made a scrummy blueberry cobbler to end off a lush roast beast lunch.
So I visited the big supermarkets downtown a couple of times to get supplies. I had to choose recipes that were compatible with what's available here, which was only a slight challenge. I think more and more Koreans are getting interested in baking. I'm quite sure that 5 years ago there was no baking section at the supermarket, whereas now there's a teeny tiny one. Since Tesco took over HomePlus, they'e got a lot of nice Tesco brand home products, and so I got a couple baking trays, a heavy square pan, and a mini muffin tray. I probably spent about a hundred and fifty dollars easily on Operation Cookies in Korea, and wished on a few occasions that I just hadn't bothered. Still, I had fun at my friend's place over three days, mixing and sifting and chopping and all that. Here are some of the results:
I made a couple batches of these. One was a Martha Stewart recipe which turned out great, and another was a no-refrigerate recipe I snagged off the Internet.
I don't know which is which, but who cares?
These cookies are decorated with royal icing - a mixture of egg whites and icing sugar with a splash of lemon juice. I didn't tell the Koreans that I was possibly giving them salmonella for Christmas as well, but everything turned out fine.
This is a bad picture.
I remembered to take a photo of the last container of assorted cookies before they got all eaten up. Man,...my co-workers and friends would descend on the goodies like, well I can't make up my mind if they were more like hyenas or vultures. I just tried to stay clear and avoid all the sharp elbows. Pictured up there are mini pecan tarts with a cream cheese crust, caramel brownies, apple pie bars, and my mother's famous candy cane cookies - which are like melt-in-your-mouth shortbread goodness. I couldn't get the almond extract the recipe called for, so I substituted with about a cup of almond flour. They weren't quite like my moms, but I'm pretty sure the Korean folks didn't notice that.
Gingerbread and Cream Cheese Spirals
These were a refrigerated and roll out recipe. I couldn't make traditional gingerbread because I could not locate molasses in Korea. Oh well, I turned them into a spiced dough by adding cinnamon and cloves, and using a very dark brown sugar. I'm sure I could have gone a bit mental and added some gochu-garu (red pepper flakes) and it would have made them even more tasty and interesting. The recipe didn't call for the zig-zag of royal icing, but I thought the cookies could use just a little more sweetness. I think if I were to have a signature baking symbol, it might be the zig-zag. I imagine someday a posh woman bringing a box of treats as a housewarming gift, and the recipient - upon opening the box would gasp "Oh mah word! You have brought Treats by Jelly! I recognize that zig-zag anywhere! Why you have really outdone yourself, Lorna-Jean! You shouldn't have! It's too much!!!" My target demographic are rich Georgian socialites, I think. They talk in exclamations and would take their box of treats to munch on as they got sloshed on mint juleps.
I made a cake for The Princess (the manager,) whose final day at our school was on Christmas Eve. The day before, I secured a cake box from Paris Baguette. When I came into school with the box, The Princess spotted it and said "Oh! You bought a cake!"
"Nuh-uh!" I said, smacking her on the arm, " I MADE this cake for you!"
I kid you not,...she actually started to cry!
I think the whole baking idea came from my telling The Princess that I was going to try to make her a cake before she left our school. She had lived in Australia for almost a year, so she knew what Western cake is like. Moist and rich with some intensely sweet frosting, it is a beast that cannot be found on the peninsula. The Princess knows this because she has tried. At some point, Dunkin Donuts had a tiny overpriced cake that was kinda sorta almost but not quite really what she was looking for, but a few months ago they discontinued that cake. That's probably because Koreans weren't buying it because it wasn't like cake-uh should be, which is dry and airy and not overly sweet with a cuh-ream-uh topping. Use some sweet potatoes to make the cake-uh! Yah!! (They say "yah" but I say "BLAH!") So I went searching on the Internet for a recipe that I thought would produce a sinfully rich, moist, verrry chocolatey cake. I've just spent 15 minutes trying to recreate the magic combination of words I used to google my way to the recipe I ended up using. I think I have the website stored in a folder at work, so if anyone really wants it, leave a comment and I'll post it (or I'll just edit this and give the link tomorrow iffen I remember to.) I can recall the ingredients though: flour, sugar, cocoa, oil, baking powder and soda, vanilla*, sour cream, and hot coffee. The batter comes out very liquid-like and you might think it could never turn into a solid mass, but after about an hour in the oven it did!
The frosting recipe came from this thread and was pretty much cream, corn syrup, icing sugar, a pinch of salt, butter, and a bucketfull of chocolate. Rich, man. I didn't skimp, and along with a whole bag of Hershey's semi-sweet chocolate chips, I threw in a box of Lindt 70% cacao thin chocolate squares. And then, because it was insanely sweet and way too liquid, I threw in some flour. ("Flour?!?!" shouted my mother!) Yes, flour. Whatever. It wasn't much, but it helped to thicken up the frosting and ease up the punch-you-in-the-face chocolateyness <---totally a word. I still had to leave it out on the cold balcony for hours in the hopes that it would thicken up to a spreadable consistency. Score! It was perfect.
The Princess shared the cae with our co-workers and still had half of it to bring home. Before she boxed it up, I asked for a piece so I could bring it to my friend's restaurant to give them a taste. (They were the ones who loaned me the oven and their kitchen to work in. I also thanked them on the second night by baking them two loaves of sundried herbed bread and a massive pot of creamed roasted vegetable soup that I served up to them when they came home from work at 3 am.)
About a week after they tasted that cake I got a call from my friend. "You know how my husband loves chocolate? He can't stop talking about that cake you made. Ummm, could you come and make another one?" And so last week I re-visited their kitchen and made two more, one for them and another for my other co-worker and her Taekwomdo boyfriend. And, because that cake wasn't already just too much (in a very very good way, though) I added half a can of cherry filling to the middle of each cake. My god, it was goooood.
Let me just wrap up this far longer than I intended post by saying that I was really impressed with everything I made. I would have totally expected at least one dud, especially considering I haven't baked a thing in eight years, but no. Everything was fantastic. Actually, the top of the caramel brownies were just a little too done because my friend accidentally flipped the oven to "grill" but still, they looked a bit crispy but tasted great. I had a near-flop with the no-refrigeration sugar cookies when the dough turned out a crumbly un-rollable mess, but I googled how to rescue them with a little water and more kneading and they turned out fine. I had loads of chocolate frosting left over(my friend described that cake as "delicious cake with a chocolate bar on top) and decided to combine the best of everything into one pièce de résistance:
Sugar Cookie Sandwiches with Chocolate Frosting Centres and Royal Icing Stripes.
*Oh, vanilla. I can't seem to find vanilla extract, but they probably have it somewhere up in Seoul. I did get some "vanilla sugar," which was more like a cross between flour and sugar. When a recipe called for vanilla - and really, they all did - I just threw in a couple teaspoons of that stuff. Improvithse people, *clap clap!* improvithse!