Well ladies and gents and people and kids and dogs, it’s time to start this thing. First up, the very first recipe (because the very beginning is a very good place to start, according to Maria): pecan shorties!
And I have much to say.
First of all, I had to get a little photo shoot out of the way. Full disclosure, I have a very small kitchen that I don’t love baking in, but I’m powering through because I love to bake (and I’ve forced myself to do so with this blog), so I’ve set up a baking photo shoot in front of a window in my living room. Plus, it’s also the ideal place to put up the bunting à la GBBO. (GBBO = Great British Bake Off, for all you laypeople.) However, I am obviously having issues with lighting.
How do you foodie bloggers do it? I am not skilled at this. How are all of your homes so well lit? I’m in a basement suite so things are not that well lit in general. Normally this would suit my inner Gollum, but for blogging purposes it doesn’t.
Anyways, it’s time to start baking.
The last time I used a food scale was five years ago when I was actually in England. And my friend was the one leading the baking adventure since I was so ignorantly used to cups, not grams.
Last week, I purchased my first food scale and can only hope that I’m now using it correctly.
One thing that’s imminently clear to me is my almost disturbing need for precision. As a cup measurer, I’ve gotten used to a little heaping, a little less, and being more laid-back with measurements. With a food scale, however, this is not the case.
If it calls for 75 grams of pecans, that means there needs to be 75 grams, right? Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would expect nothing less—and nothing more. This means that when I measured out 76 grams and removed one pecan and it went to 74 grams, I had to put that pecan back and search for a smaller one. After some trial and error, I eventually found the culprit.
And then I had to measure the butter (and try to take bloomin’ photos of all of this with poor lighting skills), and again, I needed it to be perfect. How do you add one gram of butter to make the scale number match the recipe number? Shave the butter, obviously.
And how does one soften butter anyway? Usually I just leave it on my counter for a while, but then I start to wonder if FoodSafe requires something more, well, safe. I put it on my preheating oven to soften it, so hopefully that works and doesn’t cause any FoodSafe issues because I’m bringing these (hopefully successful) finished products to work. Less out of any gesture of kindness and more so my home is not filled with baked goods.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever made shortbread cookies. (I’m assuming that’s what “shorties” kind of are. My sincerest apologies if they’re not.) My mom does every Christmas, but she told me the other day that she actually uses a cheat recipe. On the one hand, well-played, Mother. On the other, that’s not very helpful to me.
As a side note, I’m watching a Great Sport Relief Bake Off episode as I bake this. Why? To boost my morale a bit because (hopefully) I’m better at baking than than Sarah Hadland. (Even though I love her and would like the chance at a holiday away with her, Miranda Hart and Miranda’s dog, Peggy. And I would like her “my what I call apron” apron for myself, thankyouverymuchpleasethankyouverymuch.)
There goes the timer for the pecans. They’re supposed to be lightly coloured. What does that even mean? Thankfully I have too many pecans, so I excuse me a moment while I line them up in a before and after situation to see if the colour changed at all. Verdict? Yes, yes it has.
Step one is finally done!
Now, step two. Whisk the butter until it’s mayo-y. Here’s the thing, I freeze my butter because I don’t use it that often and I wanted to use up my frozen butter before getting new butter in my new baking endeavour. But I do now wonder if that messes with the chemistry or whatever of the butter. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry often talk all science-y about baking, and I stopped taking science classes the first chance I had in high school.
Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, my icing sugar will not be sifted. Sorry, Mary and Paul! I am not in possession of a sifter and I knew I’d need one eventually for this, but I didn’t think to check that the first recipe I’m doing would require it. I almost just used an individual loose tea holder, but I tried it and after several minutes of sifting, I was still short about 85 grams. So we’re just not going to sift it and see what happens when I mix unsifted icing sugar with previously frozen butter.
This is going great, guys.
Okay, after some trial and error with the mixer (why is it that my fancy second-hand KitchenAid pushes everything to the side of the bowl, forcing me to forgo that option and go with an ancient handheld mixer instead?), I believe I’ve come to the crucial point of the instructions: marrying the flour mixture with the whipped butter mixture.
*sings Mulan’s “Let’s get down to business / to defeat / the Huuuns” to self*
Paul and Mar-Bear want me to stir these two mixes together with a wooden spoon until it forms a firm dough, and I tell you, sirs et madames, that it does not work. I had to go in with my hands. Which may be a wrong move with shortbread. I may be docked points for overworking the dough, but this is the same issue I face whenever I make scones. No firm dough is to be found because there’s just too much flour. And now I’m wondering if I cut up the pecan pieces too small so it formed a kind of pecan dust that’s masquerading as flour and messing with my consistencies. Or perhaps the butter and icing sugar incident is to blame.
Without the scientific knowledge of Paul Hollywood, I guess I’ll never know.
But alas, there’s not much I can do now. I pulled out my tape measure to make sure they’re about 5.5 cm wide and 1 cm tall. Also, “about 5.5 cm”? That’s such a specific about amount. That’s like me saying I’ll show up at “about 12:34 p.m.”
I really am a good baker, friends. May I call you friends? I mean, I am now and there’s not much you can do to stop me. And to be honest, most of you are probably actually my friends who are reading this. Anyways, I do really love to bake and I thought I was pretty good at it. I’ve made pies and cookies and scones and brownies since I was a kid. But despite it’s categorization in the book, this is not an easy-peasy bake. Or maybe it is and I’m a fraud.
Also, am I the only one who doesn’t do the full time on recipes to start? I always do two minutes less for fear of overbaking, and then go back and check every minute to see if they’re done yet.
And while we’re on the topic of the actual baking part of baking, does it really do that much to rotate the pans? For all of time, recipes have told you to rotate the sheets for an even bake, but I gave that up about 10 years ago. (Even though I definitely did for this one because I wouldn’t want to face the disappointment on Paul and Mary’s faces at an uneven bake.)
I’ve pulled the first half out of the oven and I have to say they don’t really look “pale gold in colour” but the bottoms are starting to turn gold-gold and I don’t want them to turn black-brown-burnt-gold, so I’ve taken them out.
This really is riveting stuff, isn’t it?
Now to wait like Selasi until I can dip them in le chocolat.
Now, because I had such issues combining the dough, I also had some issue in trying to set aside 20 even pieces, as the recipe required. Usually I’d use a melon baller as a cookie scoop, but that’s where there are two problems. One, the dough was too fragile to use a melon baller. And two, similar to the sifter, I am not in possession of a melon baller in the same way that Mr. Wickham is not in possession of a good fortune (or a conscience).
The other thing I’m not in possession of is a double broiler, so I make do with a big pot and a small pot, because Making Do is my middle name! (It’s not. That would be incredibly strange.)
Chocolate melted? Check. Photo recreation? Check. Dropped a dipped cookie chocolate-side down? Check. Dropped a jar on one of the cookies as it was cooling for the sake of a photo op? Check. Twenty slightly different sizes that would definitely be judged by Paul especially? Check.
Also, dipping the cookie bake-side down into the chocolate is a clever-clogs way of hiding any overbaking issues that can be seen with a too-golden-brown bottom.
I did it! Now I just have to try one.
Well, I have to say, I’m not Paul Hollywood nor am I Mary Berry. I’m not even Mel or Sue. But I didn’t mind it. I guess the real test is to see how many disappear at work.