May 24, 2013

Milk Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake

Yesterday I made the most complicated cake I've ever baked.  Looking at the finished cake, it doesn't look like it should be complicated.  The recipe for milk chocolate frosted layer cake came from an issue Food & Wine published in February of 2009.  It's one of a ton of recipes that I've torn out of magazines and put away for later.  It only took me four years to get to it!

It's a two-layer cake, made with cake flour instead of all-purpose flour.  Why complicated?  You whisk the dry ingredients together and set aside.  You melt the butter into the milk.  Then you separate eggs and mix the butter/milk mixture, egg yolks, and half of the sugar.  The dry ingredients get added.  That sits while you beat the egg whites until they get to a certain consistency.  Then you gradually add the rest of the sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.  Finally, you fold those egg whites into the chocolate mixture and divide the batter between two cake pans.  None of these steps are hard, but it isn't exactly dump and stir.  It isn't even cream the butter and sugar and add the dry ingredients.  I had to check the recipe a lot while making this.  A handy tip- if the recipe says to butter and flour the cake pans, and the cake is a chocolate cake, use cocoa powder instead.  You won't have a bunch of white powder all over your dark cake.  The cocoa blends right in.

cocoa instead of flour
Granted, that's Valrhona cocoa powder, so I didn't want to waste it, but it doesn't take much to coat the pans after they've been buttered.  If I had to guess, I used maybe a tablespoon's worth for two pans.  Okay, how did the cake taste?  Not good.  The icing was overwhelming.  I could hardly taste the cake itself.

The layers were surprisingly thin.  This whole cake was about the thickness of the one-layer pumpkin cake I make.  I don't have much more to say about it other than I won't be making it again.  I will say that this failure doesn't mean I won't keep trying new recipes.  I like trying new things.  If you don't try new things, you'll never know if you're missing out on something great.

May 20, 2013

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks

"Destiny of the Daleks" is a Doctor Who classic.  It's a fourth Doctor story with Romana and featuring the Daleks.  There are many, many shots of them wandering around quarries (a typical classic Who location for representing other planets).  It even has Davros, creator of the Daleks.

Look behind you!
The story begins with a scene that has caused Whovians some consternation over the years.  The Doctor's traveling companion, Romana, is a Time Lord.  She decides to regenerate and tries on several different bodies before settling on a copy of someone they met in the previous episode.  How can this be?  That's not what happens when Time Lords regenerate!  Eh, this doesn't bother me.  Doctor Who is filled with continuity problems, as this episode demonstrates beautifully.  There is some precedent for being able to choose a regenerating Time Lord's new body.  In the episode "The War Games," the Time Lords force the second Doctor to regenerate before exiling him to Earth.  The second Doctor gets a choice about what he will look like.  When he can't decide, the Time Lords decide for him.

the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 in the TARDIS
After Romana chooses her body, she and the Doctor leave the TARDIS to explore the unidentified planet on which they've landed.  At the end of the previous episode, the Doctor fitted a randomizer to the controls of the TARDIS so that they wouldn't know where they were going.  This was to prevent the Black Guardian from hunting them down because they had thwarted him in the season-long story arc that just ended.  I'll go into detail about that when I blog about the Key to Time season.  All they know about this planet is that it is highly radioactive, so they have to take radiation pills.  Or do they?  The Doctor has a timer that beeps every so often, alerting them that it is time to take the pills.  This plot line lasts about twenty minutes into the episode, and then the pills never appear again.  Oops!

The Doctor and Romana observe a spaceship landing and watch some exhausted looking humans bury someone.  They end up separated when there is an earthquake and debris falls on the Doctor, pinning him to the ground.  Romana heads back to the TARDIS for K-9.  They left him on board because the Doctor had been fiddling around with his circuitry and sort of broke him.  

What's that he's reading?
The Doctor passes the time with some interesting reading- a book by Oolon Coluphid.  Oolon Coluphid is mentioned in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, although his name is spelled differently here.  Douglas Adams was the script editor of Doctor Who at this point in its run.  The Doctor is rescued by the Movellans.  

It was the Movellans who the Doctor and Romana saw landing earlier.  The Doctor ends up getting some interesting information from them.  They are on Skaro, homeworld of the Daleks, and the Daleks have been using human workers to mine for something deep beneath the old Kaled city.  Meanwhile, Romana goes back to where she left the Doctor and gets captured by the Daleks.  What are the Daleks looking for, and why does there seem to be more to the Movellans than they let on?

inside the Movellan ship
Continuity mistakes jump out right here.  First, when the Daleks question Romana, she claims not to know anything about the Daleks, which their machine confirms as true.  Not only is there no way a Time Lord doesn't know about the Daleks, but later on in the episode, she is full of information about them.  I'm just going to think she fooled their machine and not think that someone didn't think this part through.  The second mistake is espcially nit-picky, but what are Whovians, if not nit-picky?  The Daleks are searching under the Kaled city for Davros.  Except, when the Kaled city was destroyed in "Genesis of the Daleks," that's not where Davros was.  These aren't biggies.  The biggie is when the Doctor refers to the Daleks as robots and talks about how Kaled mutants used to be inside them.  Kaled mutants are still inside them.  Daleks aren't robots.

Nit-picking over!  I love this episode, if that wasn't obvious by my tearing it apart.  The Doctor finds Davros first but has to hand him over to the Daleks so he can escape.  Why do the Daleks need Davros now after they left him for dead centuries ago?  That has to do with the Movellans' secret.  The Movellans are robots.  The Daleks and the Movellans have been at an impasse in their war because each side is perfectly logical.  The Daleks think that Davros' illogical mind will help them break the stalemate and win the war.  The Doctor isn't about to let either side have an advantage over the other, but I'm not going to spoil how it all turns out.

finding Davros
This was the first story broadcast with Lalla Ward playing Romana.  Fans refer to her as Romana II because someone else played Romana during the previous season.  Romana II is my favorite companion.  She is smart and funny and a Time Lord.  She is presented as the Doctor's equal.  Doctor Who's main weakness, for me, is that throughout the show's history, many of the female companions have been, well, weak.  They scream too much or are kind of dumb.  The best female companions end up being the ones who buck this trend- Leela, Zoe, Sarah Jane Smith, Romana I and II, among a few others.  

Time Lords play Rock, Paper, Scissors, too.
Romana is a younger Time Lord than the Doctor, but she holds her own.  There are times when she seems to know more than he does.  The Doctor and Romana II have a great relationship.  It reflects their deep friendship and mutual respect, but it isn't so serious that they don't tease each other and goof off together, too.  Romana is like a female version of the Doctor, and I love her for it.  

May 17, 2013

Longwood Gardens in May

I went to Longwood Gardens a few weeks ago.  I love Longwood Gardens; I used to go more often when I lived closer.  It's a great place to visit any time of year.  

I never went while the Garden Walk was blooming with tulips, though.  That occurs during only a few weeks every year in the spring.  It was amazing.  Thousands upon thousands of tulips in many different colors were in bloom.  

I happened to like these pale pinks ones.  (I like pale pink roses, too.)  White daffodils are mixed in with the tulips here.  

I think the pale pink tulips come in second to these beautiful white ones, though.  (Okay, so I like white roses, too.)  

There were quite a few yellow tulips... several different varieties.  

I had never seen tulips quite like these.  

There were traditional red tulips, too.  

These flowers are also tulips.  

Enough tulip photos.  Here's an arbor.  That's wisteria to the right.  

This goose was wandering a path near one of the lakes.  He let me get close enough to pet him, but I thought better of it.  

Longwood Gardens is on over 1,000 acres.  I was there for hours, walking around the grounds and the large conservatory building.  But this time, I was there for the tulips.  I was not disappointed.  

May 12, 2013

Cream scones - tea biscuit attempt number one

UPDATE! 9/12/2013 Tea biscuit attempt number four

It has been requested that I try to recreate tea biscuits from Termini's, a bakery in Philadelphia.  Termini's tea biscuits aren't cookies, what most people think when someone says tea biscuits.  They are actual biscuits that are sweet instead of savory.  The texture is similar to scones.  I found a recipe by Martha Stewart for cream scones.  These seemed most similar to how I thought one would go about making Termini's tea biscuits.

okay, not great
Termini's tea biscuits look like this, except they are bigger and have brown tops.  Termini's tea biscuits also have raisins.  These didn't taste like Termini's tea biscuits.  It's not that they weren't as good.  (They weren't.)  They weren't the same.  I have a few ideas on how to experiment with this recipe.  I don't usually deviate too much from a recipe when I bake.  When I cook, it's the opposite.  I rarely follow it exactly.  However, I felt that this recipe was on the right track.  I'm going to try again, using this recipe as a starting point.
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