Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

I've been doing a lot of business talk. And cupcake talk, and vetting cupcakes for the business talk. It's exciting stuff, indeed. But we must continue to practice that part of baking dearest to us: the one that leads not to publicity, or profit, or a bakery, or even a blog post - but to comfort, and catharsis, and aesthetics; to uninhibited indulgence; to a warm oven and the smell of melting brown sugar and chocolate on a rainy evening; and in this case, to the unmistakable current of caramelizing cinnamon and sugar, slowly filling our fall morning.

This is why we bake.
So let's regroup with some bread.

After some basic sweet dough preparation, this process gets fun. The dough is rolled thin and coated generously with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Then it's sliced into strips that are stacked and sectioned. Those sections are placed in a bread pan to rise.

Each individual slice does its own thing in the oven. Some recede into the pan, others tower over the runts; some lose themselves in the loaf and become indistinguishable from the rest; and yet others push hard to set themselves apart from the group. I'd imagine putting a pan of these little dough squares in the oven is much like sending your kids off to school. You've done your best to shape them, and now you've got to let them grow. As their parent, of course, you love them all the same, and will eat them indiscriminately.

Warning: it's hard to quit with these things. Every slice is different from the last and appetizing in its own unique way. Your mental workings go something like this:

"Okay, last piece."
[Eats slice]
"Oh, look at this one! Okay, last piece."

This could easily go on until the loaf is gone, so watch it. I managed to freeze a third of the loaf, and it reheats beautifully. But really, if you eat it all and you feel warm and full and happy, then well done to you.

After all, that's why we bake.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Baptism By Fire

That's what my mom called it.

It was our first large-scale baking gig. It was the first time all three of us produced and delivered something together. It was 200 cupcakes in a wooden lodge lit by white lights in a backwoods campsite in northern Wisconsin.

And that last part is key. Because as it turns out, 200 cupcakes isn't too difficult. It's just short of a breeze, in fact, if you don't have to haul them over 200 miles into east jesus nowhere. That's over a mile per cupcake, people.

So let me tell you how this went.

Friday night: We bake half the cupcakes and two 6-inch cakes at Caitlin's apartment. We part ways.

Saturday, 5:15a.m.: I bake the remaining pumpkin cupcakes in my kitchen, Caitlin and Mom bake the remaining chocolate cupcakes and mix up the frostings in Caitlin's kitchen. I arrive at Caitlin's, we pack the cupcakes in carriers, put the frosting on ice, and we're out of there.

Saturday morning: We drive by Taylors Falls and long to be hiking the trails. We make jokes about calling to warn the bride and groom that we have found a new way to spend our Saturday and will not be making it this evening.

Saturday noon: We almost hit a dog.

Saturday afternoon: The road is long and convoluted, and the impending drive home is weighing heavy on us. We joke about getting there and setting out the cupcakes, then plopping our buckets of frosting next to a sign that says "Frost Your Own!" and hauling ass out of there.

Later that afternoon: We are almost there! I check the frosting and it's completely solid. Mom and Caitlin say "Take it off the ice!" I say "Nah, it'll soften just fine once we get there." Then we joke about the frosting not softening, and us plopping it next to the cupcakes with a sign that says "Do What You Will With It" and hauling ass out of there.

3:30p.m.: We have arrived, and right on schedule! Hooray for us and our planning and punctuality. We make our way through a charmingly rustic reception room and open the door to a tiny, freezing kitchen space.

3:35p.m. "It's freezing in here."

3:45p.m.: We're scrambling. We're skirting cupcake carriers, 9x13 pans, and bags of supplies. We're transferring blocks of solid frosting (that are not softening to room temperature because room temperature is actually fridge temperature) to smaller containers and microwaving them (there was a microwave! Sweet Martha there was a microwave!), then whipping them with my electric mixer. My piping bag breaks. The consistency isn't what we planned on. We may not have enough frosting. I'm afraid I cannot joke about this.

3:50p.m.: We've altered our piping to accommodate the new consistency and the looming depletion of frosting. We're flying through rounds of cupcakes and getting them out on the display table with both the swooping force and deft finesse of a (you guessed it) well-oiled machine. We have just enough time to clean up our mess and change before the guests arrive.

And this is what they see.

And now, armed with valuable experience, empowering perspective, and the comforting knowledge that we won't abandon a project no matter how badly we'd rather go hiking at Taylors Falls...

On to the next.