The Scobe: Adventures in Kombuchaland

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I inherited a scoby from a friend last week and decided to bite the bullet and finally give DIY kombucha a whirl. I had no clue what to do with her when I brought her home in a glass pint jar, swimming in the brew she was born in, so I did a lot of internet reading to prepare. After a couple of days I shrugged and tossed the scobe in with a fresh batch of sweet tea into a glass jar with a spigot (that I had just bought) I saw the scoby sink to the bottom. I had no idea if I had killed it or what was going on.

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The next day I took the kombucha down from the shelf above my dryer in the laundry room and peeked under the coffee filters (used to help the ‘booch breathe and keep bugs and fruit flies out) The scoby had floated to the top and it smelled happy and very kombucha-y in there. I tasted it in day three (I slipped a straw under the scobe and took a sip) and it seemed like it was going to be good.

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After it brewed for 7 days I used a pair of tongs to fish out the scoby (my oldest boy insisted on putting on a pair of plastic gloves so he could feel it’s slimy squishiness) and let it swim in some of the kombucha in the pint jar I brought it home in. I tossed in a chunk of peeled fresh ginger and added 32 oz. of organic honeycrisp apple juice. I used the scoby (fused with it’s baby, I didn’t separate them yet) to start a fresh batch and put the first batch back on the shelf to do a second ferment and hopefully create some yummy bubbles in there. (like what I’m used to in store-bought)

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This morning I poured a glass to sample and really loved the way it tasted. It was definitely “real kombucha.” I put it back on the shelf and was excited to see lots of bubbles forming on the top. I tasted it again tonight and the flavor is definitely deeper and more complex. I’ll taste it again tomorrow and if it seems to be where I like it then I’ll toss it in the fridge. I don’t plan on straining it, the spigot seems to be catching the bigger chunks and I don’t want to mess up the carbonation. Plus it will be gone probably before the second batch is finished with the first fermentation.

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I let my older boys have some with dinner and they loved it. I think we’ll need a bigger jar! I feel bad because my sweet husband wanted to get a 2 gallon screw top (looked like a giant mason jar!) container the first time but I was hesitant to go bigger than a gallon or so in case it didn’t work out. (the one he wanted was twice as much as the one I wanted) I want to get a case of flip top bottles and a few jugs and another bigger container with a spigot. I found a few online, but I will probably end up investing in real homebrew supplies as time goes on. I can’t wait to experiment with different flavors!

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Have you made kombucha before? What are YOUR favorite flavor combinations?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

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This recipe forced helped me to jump-start my fall baking. I bought my first two pie pumpkins and located my pie weights. That alone made me feel triumphant. The bars are really yummy, the perfect thing to make for a holiday potluck…(or in this case, a random rainy weekend)

The only problem with it is that it is NOT procrastinator-friendly, it definitely takes a bit of time and planning to execute this recipe. Luckily we were just having a lazy weekend at home so while the boys snuggled on the couch watching Winnie the Pooh I spent some time in the kitchen.

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By the time we were finished having breakfast this morning (ok, I’m still in my jammies drinking coffee, but it’s technically not the morning anymore) the bars were ready to be cut.

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I definitely think they were a hit. I don’t need a pan of these laying around my house, so I think I am going to pack up most of them and send them with my oldest boy to take to his Nana’s house.

Go see how my tester friends fared with these yummy autumn treats!

Next up: Devil Dogs with Malted Buttercream Filling. WOW!

The Great Pumpkin

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It’s finally fall(ish) and our first pumpkin of the season went into the oven. I haven’t used gross canned pumpkin in many years. I had once figured fresh was a pain, or wouldn’t taste right or would be expensive. Not only is that just not true (one good-sized pie pumpkin can bake three-four pies) but fresh just tastes better and isn’t artificially orange. (fresh pumpkin bakes up brown, an orange pie or other baked good is a surefire canned giveaway)

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Baked Elements has instructions for making pumpkin puree from a fresh pumpkin, but I didn’t use directions since I have done it lots of times before. I just poke holes (or employ two stabby 8 year to do the job) and put the pumpkin on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake on 225 and go do other things.

This time I started in the evening and by the time it was done (a fork will pierce the skin very easily) it was bedtime so I turned the oven off and left the pumpkin to hang out in there overnight.

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The next day I cut off the stem, reached inside and scooped out most of the guts/seeds (the fun part) then cut it into quarters. Using a fork, I gently scraped off the rest of the stringy bits and seeds Those went into a colander to be cleaned later. Using a large spoon I scooped out the flesh and scraped the skins clean.

The pumpkin chunks went into a large bowl with a lid (there are about 4-5 cups) and when I am about to use the pumpkin in a recipe I will toss a cup or so into a strainer and drain any liquid off before putting it into the food processor to blend until smooth.

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I almost always roast my seeds but this time I used the Baked Elements book and made the Toasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle.

Brittle is so so so easy, and I’m happy most people would assume it was difficult: it makes great gifts when tucked into a cute tin. This recipe is salty and sweet and cinnamon-y and makes me (and all my guys) very happy.

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What side are you on? Team Canned or Team Fresh?

Redemption Cookies

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*check out the blister I got from planting the school garden–IT WON’T GO AWAY!!!*

Last Monday was magical. It was rainy and my sweetie and our little guy were cuddled in bed. G slept and C and I finished up our last episodes of Girls. (which I *do* want to write about in another post) We climbed out of our cocoon to seek out some food. C made some beautiful ramen from some broth he had made over the weekend. We slurped our yummy noodles, then I got to work on some Compost Cookies. It was the first time I truly was making a real compost cookie. Usually I buy full bags of what I plan on including, but this time I put in a little of this and a little of that–half a bag of peanut butter chips, chopped up candy melts leftover from G’s birthday, mini pretzels, leftover graham crust that I had been saving in the freezer, and our new favorite coffee.

I have been making so many Baked recipes for the past few months that I was a bit of of practice with the Milk Bar method. I was thinking to myself how quickly the dough was coming together when I realized I totally skipped a step and added the flour mixture BEFORE I put in the egg and vanilla.

My sweet man was waiting patiently for cookies and I sat there for a second, stumped. I tried to think WWCTD? But came up with nothing. I finally just took the initial mixture, tossed it in the fridge, washed my mixer bowl and started over.

I kind of forgot about the ill-fated dough, but came across it just now in the fridge. I’m out of eggs but had some egg yolks leftover from something (?) we made recently. I tossed a couple of yolks and some vanilla and oatmeal into the dough, scooped it out onto prepared half sheet pans and chilled them for an hour.

The resulting cookie was sugary, chewy and super vanilla-y. I’m happy I could salvage it, and now my big littles will have yummy cookies waiting for them when I see them after school on Monday. (after a whole week!!!)

Baked Sunday Mornings: Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

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These are beautiful, perfect cookies that everyone loves. Their puffy, soft texture and crackly tops get me every time. The only problem is that the recipe only yields 2 dozen and they go quick!

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The only kind of tricky part is browning the butter but that is a skill that I mastered many Snickerdoodles ago, so luckily it didn’t slow me down this time.

Head on over and see if everyone else loved them as much as I did!

Next up: Pumpkin cheesecake bars! Yay, can’t wait! I’ve been itching to buy a few pumpkins! This is one of the best times of year here in Texas!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Mile-High Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

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I did NOT want to make this cake. I knew it was going to be delicious, but I just wasn’t in the mood for a layer cake, especially a SIX LAYER cake. I didn’t have an occasion to make it for and I hate having to toss yummy cake that was just too much for us to eat. I had bought the chocolate and heavy cream so I knew I’d end up making the cake, even though I would procrastinate like crazy first.

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I made the layers on Thursday, planning to finish it on Friday in time to share at my PTO night of gossip meeting. That didn’t happen.

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I asked my husband to cut the three layers in half for me, I was terrified of making a giant crumbly mess. He did a great job.

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I procrastinated the buttercream for hours–I put the kids to bed, I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom….I listened to my favorite podcast…and finally I worked up the nerve to give it a shot. I always did fine with the Baked buttercream, but one batch failed recently when our A/C was acting wonky. I guess the heat just messed it up. But even after several successful cooked buttercreams, it just took that one bad egg to shake my confidence. When it turned out beautiful and fluffy…it was the best feeling in the world. Doing a happy dance in my kitchen at one am–well, I’m glad I was alone. 🙂

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The next step was assembling the layers. It took me a second to realize how to get the layers together without breaking the cakes. I used a flexible cutting board, slid them on and placed them one by one on the yummy buttercream. The layers made me laugh, the looked like Shel Silverstein-style flapjacks…tall and kind of leaning to the side. I didn’t mind.

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Finishing cakes is just not my strong point. I just don’t have enough focus to make them perfect. Once I feel good about the baking process I just want to get to the eating part. I might make it a goal to work on decorating, but right this second I don’t have a lot of interest.

I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the time of day I am baking and what the finished product looks like. When I am doing middle of the night baking (I’m a night owl and sometimes it takes forever to get the youngest boy settled down) my cakes end up looking a bit more…whimsical.

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Why did I choose to use my wavy-frosting comb thing? I don’t know. It was 2am and for some reason I remember thinking ‘it looks kind of like a tree trunk!’ I went to bed with a clean kitchen and a giant cake chilling in the fridge. I giggled a bit when I uncovered it this morning, but loved seeing how great the layers looked and how pretty it looked on the plate. If it had have been a birthday cake I would have covered it with sparkly, pretty candles and sang my loudest to distract from the fact that my cake was a bit imperfect wobbly. Of course my cake testers loved it and proclaimed it the BEST CAKE IN THE WORLD! (they kind of say that about everything I bake ;))

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Go over and see how my fellow bakers fared…did they cut the three cakes into six layers? Did their buttercream turn out? I’m going over to find out now!

Next up: Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake…yummy!! (and just one layer!!)

8/8 Cupcakes

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I am so grateful to have a good kitchen this year. Last year for my boys’ birthday I made some pain-in-the butt cupcakes in ice cream cones for school.

My kitchen then was small and cramped and making over 40 cupcakes was in exercise in masochism. I made chocolate cupcakes for their actual party last year and I loved the recipe so much that I decided to use it again this year. It makes a moist, springy cupcake and a rich, delicious cake.

Normally I take a million pictures when I bake, but somehow (exhaustion!) I skipped that this time. I chose to make owl cupcakes because that is their school mascot, and whooooo doesn’t like owls??!

Here was my inspiration:

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And here was my finished cupcake. I used Reese’s pieces instead of M&M’s because they are all the colors I needed and I wouldn’t have to worry about not having enough brown or orange. (Luckily we don’t have any classmates with peanut allergies this year!)

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The kids seemed to like the end-of-day sugar rush but by then all I could think of was getting out of the heat and into some jammies. Luckily when my husband came home he made me this:

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I skipped the ganache this time and went with a basic chocolate buttercream but I highly recommend using the ganache if you are making this as a cake. It is tasty and shiny and beautiful. It also works for cupcakes, but in this case I wanted the Oreos to stick to the buttercream. I was afraid that once the ganache dried it would be hard to smoosh the Oreos into.

Perfect Chocolate Cake:

(Makes two 9″ rounds, one bundt or 18 cupcakes)

Cake:

2 eggs
2c. sugar
2c. all purpose flour
1/4tsp. salt
1/4 c. buttermilk (or 1/2 c. milk+1tbsp. white vinegar–I’ve done both and they both are fine, but this time I used actual buttermilk)
1tsp. vanilla
1c. butter, softened
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. boiling water

Ganache:

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (baking chocolate or chocolate chips)
1c. heavy cream
6 tblspn. light corn syrup
1c. heavy cream

Cake:
Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl combine buttermilk, eggs, baking soda (skip this if you used vinegar and instead add to finished batter just before baking unless you want a volcano science experiment) In a medium-sized heavy saucepan melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir in cocoa powder until combine. Add boiling water and stir well. Pour over flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add buttermilk mixture over and stir until well combined but don’t overmix.

Spray cupcake tins or bundt pan with cooking spray, fill 2/3 full and bake for 18 minutes and 40 minutes respectively. Butter 9″ rounds and line with parchment paper. Pour equal parts batter in each and bake for 30 minutes or until fork inserted comes out clean. Cool completely on a baking rack.

Ganache:

Heat heavy cream and corn syrup until it reaches a simmer. Pour over chopped chocolate or chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth and shiny. Pour over bundt cake or dip the tops of each cupcake. For layer cakes, pour over first layer, add second layer and pour the rest on top, smoothing the sides. Let cool and dry before serving.

I have a feeling I’ll probably use this recipe again for G’s upcoming birthday. I used it last year for his birthday too. Not for him, he got a sugar-free hippie cake for his 1st birthday, but for the grown-ups and big brothers who were helping him celebrate.

Do you have a go-to birthday cake recipe?
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Baked Sunday Mornings: Going Rogue Part One

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I’ve never gone rogue before and I’m surprised at how naughty it feels. I *really* wanted to make the tarragon-lime cookies that were assigned to us but today is my almost-eight year old twins’ birthday party and I just couldn’t fit the cookies in.

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As you can see, my cakes and cupcakes are not frosted yet. I literally just pulled them out of the oven and I plan to frost them in the morning. (well…later in the morning, it’s after 4am here already)

Every year the past few years my guys have requested a Halloween-themed party. This year was no exception.

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I am excited about their party and hope I can find a way to look a bit more awake then I’m sure I will feel tomorrow. I’ve been working on decorations all weekend and tonight was crunch time: baking, decorating, and…a last-minute piñata. I didn’t buy one and regretted it, so I threw one together. It actually didn’t take too much time.

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I won’t be making the cinnamon frosting because I don’t know that the kids will get it. I plan on making a bright white buttercream, and the boys requested fake blood splatters and a fake knife sticking out of the top, so I am using a beautiful, elegant, understated red velvet recipe and turning it into a bloody nightmare. And yes…I used a ton of red food coloring, although the original recipe is supposed to be a bit more toned-down. But if you ever meet my boys (twins AND Leos) you will see that toned down is not always something they are capable of–and I love that about them.

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I’ll write a birthday party recap with pictures of the finished cakes, and a review on the taste (they smell amazing!!) in a bit. In the meantime, go on over and see what my fellow bakers have been up to!

First Week

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My big, handsome boys have conquered their first week back at school, the first week of THIRD GRADE!! (how are they in third grade??!!!)

We have had the same routine for the past four years so even on the first day of school they woke up and began to get ready for their morning. Since we had a short summer, they really didn’t lose that which I am thankful for. I can’t do tears first thing in the morning, ya’ll.

Flashback: First day of second grade.

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They were so little then. I guess I’m going to say that every year when I look at old photos. I’m so proud of my little guys and so glad they had a good week.

Do you still get excited when it’s back to school time, even if it’s been years since you were in school? I do!!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Oopsy Daisy Cake

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I loved this cake, but it came at a weird time. It really is a special cake, and would be perfect for a birthday. But it wasn’t anyone’s birthday and our A/C hasn’t been being freezing up so the house was a little warm-ish and I was baking and sweating and it wasn’t awesome. But I did have help:

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The name made me giggle every time I looked at it, I couldn’t help but think of this.

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The cake was a classic Baked cake, but with two layers instead of the three I’m used to with the other cakes I’ve made. (Sweet & Salty, Lemon Drop) I used local coffee and local organic chocolate (that was on clearance! I may have bought 4 bars, don’t judge) and the cakes baked up intensely dark and fragrant although they did seem to sink in the middle a bit.

That didn’t matter at all once I filled and frosted them. I always bake the cakes one evening and then frost the next day and that is what I did this time. I finished up the cakes at around 1am and for some reason after I added the chocolate and peanut toppings it just seemed like it needed to be a peace sign. I think I may have been delirious.

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The cake was well-received at home:

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and my kid-testers approved:

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I would definitely make the cake again, but it would have to be for a special occasion.

Go see what my fellow bakers made! Next up: Lime Tarragon Cookies with White Chocolate Lime Topping. (Yum!!)