Well, this has been a busy week full of planning, shopping, assembling and stressing over a giant cake. I will never be a cake boss though, because I refuse to use fondant on anything people are planning on eating. Seriously folks? Have you tasted fondant? It's gross! It's ok for small decorations in my opinion, but don't drape your entire cake in this revolting confection that manages to be sickly sweet and bitter simultaneously. Eww. And yes, I have tried several different fondants, and they're all equally foul. It's thick, has bad, bad mouth-feel, and dries to a rock hard consistency so you practically have to use a sawzall to cut it. Yergh. :P
But, I'm not talking about cakes this time. Well, except for the bit up there. But that's it! I promise. I'll talk (and show pictures) about the cake next time. I want to talk about a food fail.
We all have them, and many of us self-proclaimed foodies don't like to admit them, but I will bare all just for you my darlings. Stop staring perverts. Now that we've got that out of the way, I had a pretty bad fail recently. I was very excited because I got the I Love Bacon! cookbook by Jayne Rockmill. I was psyched, because there's really nothing quite like bacon that exists on this planet. It's meaty, savory, melty, fatty, delicious, and you can even make desserts with it! Oh you versatile part of porcine perfection! So I picked a couple recipes I'd like to try from the cookbook. One was the Bacon Macaroni and Cheese, but it called for white wine. I was fresh out, and it was Sunday. Booo Indiana liquor laws! But the other two I selected were Seared Scallops with Bacon and Maple Aioli, and Smoked Almond and Bacon Brittle. Deeeelicious right?
Wrong. So, I thought I'd make the brittle first because it could cool while I was cooking dinner. I began melting the sugar and chopped the almonds. I had already cooked the bacon in the oven (best way EVER: 15 min at 350 = perfect crunchy bacon; Pro Tip: Line cookie sheet with foil and clean up is a snap). The recipe said 4 minutes on medium to melt the sugar and then 4 minutes on med-high to start caramelizing it. Nowhere in the recipe does it explain the stages of candy-making. So, for your future benefit, I'm going to give you a quick lesson in candy making (so you don't forget and make the same mistakes I did).
Thread Stage : 230-235 degrees F When this melted sugar is dropped in water, it forms a little thread. This is a sugar syrup, flavored, it would be great on ice cream, and this is the consistency for simple syrups for cocktails.
Soft Ball Stage 235-240 degrees F When you drop the syrup into cold water it will form a soft ball that will kind of flop over your finger like the watches in Salvador Dali's painting Persistence of Time. This is the consistency that you need in order to make fudges and that dratted fondant.
Firm Ball Stage 245-250 degrees F When you drop the syrup into cold water it will form a soft ball that will retain its shape until you squish it lightly with your fingers. Caramels are made from firm ball sugar.
Hard Ball Stage 250-265 degrees F When you drop the syrup into cold water it will form a ball that is much firmer, but you can still squish it with your fingers, it just requires more pressure than the stage above. This stages can be used to make marshmallows, nougats, and rock candy.
Soft Crack Stage 270-290 degrees F As the syrup gets to this stages the bubbles on top shrink, and if you drop it into water it will separate into threads that when you take them out are still flexible. Soft crack stage is used to make saltwater taffy, one of my favorites. YUM!
Hard Crack Stage 300-301 degrees F When the sugar gets to this stage, when you drop the syrup into water it will separate into threads that are brittle when you take it out of the water. IMPORTANT: Please wait a bit before taking this out of the water, this sugar syrup is very hot, and will burn you. So give it a moment. This is the stage that makes brittle, lollipops, and toffee.
Now, I know that seems like a bunch of boring science and explanation, but it's important to understand my fail. I did not cook this long enough. I don't have a candy thermometer anymore (I broke mine), and I haven't replaced it, so I was eyeballing it, which was my first mistake. Remember that I told you I'm impatient? Yeah, that was my second mistake. My third mistake though wasn't my fault at all, it was the darn cookbook. It does NOT take only 4 minutes, even at a rolling boil to get to the hard crack stage. It's more like 10 minutes of eagle-eyed stirring and testing the stages. The recipe was wrong (cardinal sin in my cookbook) So...consequently, I mixed in my almonds and bacon and butter and excited poured it out on the the cookie sheet and waited for it to set up. And waited. And waited. And it never set up. So I basically had bacon caramel...and not even quite that. Although, I'll admit it makes a damn fine ice cream topping for brownie sundaes. I thought I was going to cry as I leaned down willing, begging, pleading for my brittle to set up. To no avail. *sigh* But there will be a next time, because it was full of noms.
Well, to console myself, I was assured that my scallops would be a tasty success. Nope. The recipe called for a maple aioli, which sounds marvelous. Aioli is essentially a garlicky mayonnaise, you just make it yourself so it's fancier. I carefully measured the ingredients, threw them in my food processor and happily hit puree. And it stayed liquid, and didn't set up, and didn't set up. And here I am thinking, for cat's sake, not again! Isn't one fail enough for tonight? Oh, but it didn't stop there. I thought maybe my problem was I didn't have enough rpms (Moar cowbell!), so I transferred it to this great little baby processor that D found me. The one in the link is an updated version of mine and it's very inexpensive. It is probably one of my most used kitchen tools - salsa, aioli, tartar sauce, and it's 1 1/2 c. size is perfect. Well...RIP baby processor. The aioli sent it to it's grave. I ran it too long and it was too old and the plastic gear melted with the heat. *cries* I'm so sad. And it's all because of that stupid aioli. Well, I decided it must be I screwed up the recipe, so I threw that batch out and tried again. There's not a lot of commitment involved in aioli. And this furshlugginer batch didn't set up either!!! Arrrrgh!!
Meanwhile, back on the range (see what I did there? I made a funny!), I had already heated up my pan, so certain that this batch of aioli would come out. I threw the scallops in to sear and turned back to aioli. Again, I made a mistake, this time by putting a bit too much oil in the pan, so I didn't get a sear on my scallops. And I was fighting with the aioli, so I overcooked them just a bit. Not too badly, but I could tell. This dinner was a flop. So, I threw in the kitchen towel, and plated them anyway (waits for all the chefs/restaurant people to gasp in horror). What? I'm cooking on a librarian's budget and that ain't much I can tell you! I can't afford to toss a less-than-perfect dish. I drizzled the runny aioli over the scallops and added the bacon and cranberries (I know, I didn't tell you about the cranberries. I will). It all tasted pretty darn good, so the flavors were intact, but man, that aioli kicked my butt. You know why? The recipe was WRONG. AGAIN! It called for an entire egg for the aioli. You use only the yolks, and generally at room temp for the best success. The protein in the white doesn't let the fats and yolk emulsify, and you get runny aioli! I should have caught that, but I didn't.
Two out of the three recipes I picked from that cookbook were wrong! Forget about buying that cookbook. Don't you dare buy it either. I was so disappointed, and I'm not even going to bother trying the mac and cheese. But, every meringue has a lemon lining, and here's the good things about my failures:
The Tabasco soaked cranberries. OMG. Seriously, follow that link to Tabasco, they have free bottles and coupons. It's great. Here's how to make the best garnish for salads (and great with seafood too):
1 pkg. Crasins (dried cranberries)
1/4 c. Tabasco sauce (don't freak out, I know it's a lot)
1 1/2 c. hot water
I have a two-cup pyrex measuring cup and it works perfectly for this. Dump the craisins in the measuring cup. Add the Tabasco sauce. Add the hot water. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain craisins. Toss in salads (especially a black n bleu), add to scallops, jerked tilapia, whatever you can think of. Heck, eat 'em straight, you won't be able to resist the tart sweet and spicy combo!
So, that's my adventures in kitchen faildom. I hope you learned something darlings, don't do what Eatie did.
Have a question? A recipe you'd like to share? A restaurant review? E-mail me!