Bon Appétit regularly finds deals on useful kitchen tools. I will call these items tools and not gadgets. Because a gadget is junky and will break before you know it. Tools you use for a long time before they wear out or break.

From this article, here are 3 out of 4 deals that I recommend and would buy if needed:

The golden retriever plate? Maybe if I had a goldie ?

I’m not sure how long these deals will last so if you are on the market for any of these items, get them while they are hot!

Aldi Ambiano Mixer

If you aren’t willing to shell out $300+ on a KitchenAid mixer, Aldi just launched a $60 alternative.

The Ambiano Classic stand mixer comes with a whisk, blade and dough hook, plus a detachable spatter screen.

The Kitchn put one of these mixers through its paces.

Their verdict? Pass.

It did well with cookie dough, bread dough and whipped cream. Not so great on egg white meringue.

If you want one of these mixers, you better get one fast. Aldi’s limited-time items don’t last very long on their shelves.

Happy baking!

Here are all the recipes from my Pretzel & Pizza Bootcamp. Just click the links to open a PDF.

Pretzel Recipe Packet

Pizza Dough

Homemade Mozzarella

Homemade Tomato Sauce (plus bonus Chicken Parm recipe!)

Video about how to make homemade mozzarella cheese (from the recipe I used in class).

Last, I got all the pretzel recipes from the book Pretzel Making at Home. If you want your own copy, with lots more recipes, it’s super-cheap on Amazon!

SUMMARY – somewhere between a danish and croissant. Not too sweet. Layers of butter. Completely awesome still warm. Still better than anything from the store the next day.

I can’t believe this is the last Alpha Baker recipe! Of course Marie saved the cover recipe for last. She probably thought no one would continue baking if we made the kouigns first.

Looking over the baking projects, the one recipe that I constantly make is the Irish Cream Scones.

I’ve made scones for family, friends, neighbors, visitors, co-workers and the gals at the corner store. My students made versions of them in both of my baking classes this past fall.

A maple walnut version of them (using maple syrup, walnuts instead of raisins, adding some cinnamon) won me two fair blue ribbons and a second place prize from a maple festival.

My other go-to recipe (chocolate peanut butter cupcakes) is from a different cookbook author who I won’t mention (but she is addicted to baking and candy ;). Party coming up? Cupcakes are requested. The same cupcakes also netted me two fair blue ribbons.

 

This recipe might be the scone and cupcake equivalent.

 

First, butter. A half-pound of butter. I cheated and used a brick of Kerrygold so I wouldn’t have to mess around with squishing butter together. Totally worth it!

Second, the dough is a joy to work with. It’s soft and rolls nicely. Unlike pie crust.

Third, they lasted less than 24 hours.

Forth, I was asked if I was making them again this weekend.

Last, they are just plain over the top amazing.

I have made croissants from scratch. Kouigns are even better. Its the sugar layer. Just enough sweet to carmelize without creating too much sticky.

Now I want to play around with the recipe, and see if I can incorporate a layer of something else in the second turn. Like chocolate. Or almonds. Or hazelnut.

Before I try that, I have another dilemma.

Do I make these for Christmas breakfast at the parents house? And then discover that scones are no longer good enough?

Or do I make them just for my house? Since we have no problem polishing off a batch.

I only wish all my problems were like this.

I hope everyone had as good a time baking through the Baking Bible as I did. Marie and Rose – I can’t wait to bake with you again!

pomegranate-winter-chiffon-pieSUMMARY – light and fluffy with whipped egg whites and whipped cream. Beautifully pink, but tart pomegranate keeps this dessert sophisticated and not girly. Perfect for the holiday season, but I could imagine this with other fruit juice in different seasons.

sugar-lemon-zest

This pie reminded me of my childhood.

dough-started

My paternal grandmother made jello salads. Her two specialties were orange jello with grated carrots and pineapple, and red (I think cherry?) jello with chopped marachino cherries and walnuts.

dough-flour-added

They weren’t quite desserts, but they weren’t quite salads either.

dough-finished-processing

It also reminds me of my mother’s pumpkin chiffon pie. I think I talked about this when we made the pumpkin pecan pie.

dough-ready-for-fridge

My maternal grandmother and her sister, and now my mother and her cousin, made and still make Mrs. Eisenhower’s pumpkin chiffon pie for the holidays. Yes, the pie that my roommate calls “pudding in a shell”.

dough-in-tart-pan

The first time I had regular baked pumpkin pie I was traumatized by it, and realized that our family does things a little different than other families. Which kind of explains a few things about my personality!

blind-bake-crust

And now you also see how my mind works sometimes.

crust-finished-baking

If you combine red jello salad with pumpkin chiffon pie, two clear and different food memories, you end up with this pie!

filling-started

I went with Marie and made the cookie crust. Because I thought the baked meringue crust would be too stressful.

filling-cooking

I also pressed the dough into my square tart pan.

filling-cooling-cold-water

Because the last time I rolled out cookie dough crust it was a giant project. And again, no desire for a giant project.

filling-adding-egg-whites

BTW the Serious Eats blog showed a new way to blind bake pastry using sugar and foil. Great technique! Now I have toasted sugar!

filling-adding-whipped-cream

I didn’t want to overmix the egg whites and the whipped cream and completely deflate it. The chiffon was not at all homogeneous!

composed-tart

I like the pink stripes in the tart filling. And, like Marie, I found that it had separated the next day.

plated-tart-for-dessert

I had enough extra chiffon that I poured it into two bowls and had a cooks treat. Which makes me think that the chiffon could be made with other juice. Cherry, strawberry, blueberry … I am thinking summer parfaits. Mmmmmmmmm.

tart-slice-closeup

Last, the tartness and pie color also reminded me a bit of cranberry (or bogberry *cough* ugh) without using cranberries. Win!

I have been baking. Quite a lot, actually!

frozen-lime-meringue-pie

I made the Frozen Lime Meringue Pie into cupcakes and I made the Heavenly Chocolate Mousse Cake. Both recipes turned out great! But obviously I didn’t post about it.

chocolate-mousse-cake

I was planning on making other recipes, but that didn’t happen either.

king-arthur-flour-building

What have I been doing instead?

Work has been crazy busy. But in a good way. I have been doing the communications and marketing work I have wanted to do for years!

workbench-setup

My MS symptoms have been up and down. I have been mostly feeling pretty good, but sometimes not so much. Then I have to conserve energy, and Alpha Bakers is something that doesn’t get the attention I would like to give to it.

pasta-frolla-dry-ingredients

More exciting though is I have been teaching baking classes through Adult Continuing Education at my old high school. Teaching has been great, and I will be talking about it.

And, for my 50th birthday, which was back in July, I decided that instead of a big party, I wanted to take a baking class at King Arthur Flour in Vermont. Last Sunday, my mom and sister and I drove two plus hours to Norwich Vermont for their More than a Mouthful: Pastry Miniatures class.

cutting-in-the-butterAlthough the class was not quite what I was imagining (I was thinking petit fours and financiers), the items we made were really good, a little challenging, and I got to geek out with the instructor when she was talking about the different protein / gluten levels in flour.

filling-tartlet-tins

The first recipe we made was for pasta frolla, which is a press-in tart crust, scented with orange oil.

baking-injuryMaking the dough was simple, but then we had to press the dough into these tiny tartlet pans! The largest dimension on any of them was 1 1/2 inches.

And some of them had sharp and point edges! My poor sister ended up cutting her finger on one of them and bled all over her side towel and apron. Granted, she admitted that she could cut herself on a dull butter knife, but still.

When I first saw the pans I thought “OMG how cute!” By the end of the day, I was like “OMG no way I am making this tart in tiny tins again!”

So after the whole tartlet tin filling and bleeding thing, our next project was a chocolate almond cream filling.

This was not a cooked pastry cream. We made it in the food processor.

filled-tartlet-shells

It had butter, sugar, eggs, yes, but also included almond flour and chocolate. And it was baked in the unbaked tartlets.

The filling was really good. I kept eating it raw!

finished-tartlets

4-small-tartsWe finished the tartlets with melted chocolate and toasted almond slivers.

I will make this recipe again. But in a full-sized tart pan, or in the comes in a pack of 4 smaller tart tins. Like these!

Here are the recipes from the Baking Education Center at King Arthur Flour. I tweaked them a little bit based on my notes from the day.

Crust – Pasta Frolla

This dough is a middle ground between pie crust dough and Pâte Sucrée

Ingredients:

¾ cup (3 oz) all-purpose flour

¾ cup (3 oz) pastry flour

¼ cup (1¾ oz) sugar

¼ tsp salt

½ cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla

optional: 1/8 tsp orange oil, or zest from ½ lemon, orange or lime

Directions:

  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse meal.
  3. Stir in the egg, and extracts and oil or zest and combine well, until a dough forms.
  4. Wrap the dough and chill for 30 minutes, or immediately press into tart pan, then refrigerate for 30 minutes before filling or baking.

Leftover pasta frolla can be rolled into a log and cut into cookies. Bake ~10 minutes at 375 degrees.

Filling – Chocolate Almond Cream

Ingredients:

½ cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup (3½ oz) sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup (4 oz) almond flour

2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, combine the butter and sugar.
  2. Add the eggs and vanilla and pulse until just combined.
  3. Add nut flour and chocolate and pulse until combined.
  4. Spread into prepped tart shell or refrigerate.

Assemble:

For mini tartlets, fill with ~ 1tsp of chocolate almond cream, bake ~10 minutes at 375 degrees.

(Not) Gooseberry (but Strawberry Rhubarb Cherry) Crisp

I have to admit to some jealousy of people who live in “berryland”. Places like the Pacific Northwest, where I hear about the abundance of different berries. Marionberries, boysenberries, black raspberries, gold raspberries, maybe even gooseberries.

draining-fruit

I couldn’t find gooseberries around here. I even went to the farmer’s market. Nope. Blueberries? Oh yeah! Even local peaches, even though we had a spring frost and it killed the peach flowers at local orchards. But no gooseberries.

cooking-juices

Not a problem. I had some frozen local strawberries, some rhubarb, and some frozen cherries. That would give some nice juice, great color, and tart flavor to this not-gooseberry crisp.

fruit-added-to-juices

Instead of cooking the fruit, I thawed it in a strainer and got a lot of juice just from that.

fruit-in-dish

I cooked the juice with the sugar, lemon and salt separately from the drained fruit.

 

crisp-started

I probably could have cooked the juice down longer, but I was baking on Tuesday morning before work and didn’t really have that much time.

 

crisp-add-butter

I tossed the fruit with a tablespoon of the cornstarch, tossed it in the pan with the juice, then put it in a casserole dish.

finished-crisp

I made the crisp part while the juice was cooking. Topped the fruit with the crust and put it in the oven.

finished-crisp-closeup

It cooked up really nicely, and the juices were bubbling away. I pulled it out of the oven and off went to work. I would have brought it to work, but we already had muffins from Monday and I was making brownies on Wednesday for my co-worker’s birthday.

2-servings

We had some on Tuesday night. It was pretty good but it was runny. I dished up some more tonight, adding whipped cream. It was a lot less runny.

serving-closeup

The verdict? Pretty good! Cool and tasty, sweet but with a tart edge. I personally would have liked more crisp on top. I would double the crisp if I made this again. And I will, even if I never see a gooseberry.

blueberry-coffeecake

SUMMARY – don’t wait for a party to make this cake. Perfect for breakfast, dessert or le weekend. Great flavor and lots of crumb topping.

crumb-topping

When I was a kid, Freihofer’s (a regional bakery) used to make a Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Ring. It was a yeast coffee cake with a cinnamon swirl, topped with a confectioners sugar glaze and crusted with pecan pieces. When we had this as a Sunday after church brunch treat, us kids would fight over the nuts on the bottom of the box.

nut-filling

Sadly, after they were bought out by Entenmann’s, the recipe changed and the nuts got scant. I don’t think they make it anymore.

mixing-the-batter

But this coffee cake, even though it’s a cake base and not a yeast dough base, is a cake that my siblings and I would have fought over.

adding-the-egg-mixture

A couple of things about this cake.

add-the-fruit

I didn’t quite have enough sour cream, so I supplemented it with heavy cream.

finished-cake

I also didn’t have enough blueberries. So I cut up some rhubarb, sugared it and let it macerate and mixed it into the crumb topping.

cut-up-cake

I kept poking it with an instant-read thermometer and it wasn’t at the listed temperature. I ended up adding a half hour to the baking time! And, since I didn’t wrap the pan with strips, it got a little dark. Now I know to ignore the temperature and just go with baking time.

corner-cut

This coffee cake was so good! Everyone liked it a lot. And it was good that this was a big cake, since everyone had multiple pieces of it.

slice-closeup

I even brought some into work to share. One of my co-workers, who doesn’t like coffee cake, and she really liked it!

piece-of-cake

I will be making this again. But I might make it into muffins instead of a whole cake.

Cherry Sweetie Pie

SUMMARY – plum puree gives this cherry pie a little something extra. The filling stays in the crust and is not runny, even when warm.

frozen-butter-cubes
The great thing about pies is that you have to make separate components for them – the crust and the filling. Then you have to assemble it, bake it, and cool it.

butter-into-processor
Which is awesome if you aren’t in a hurry for a pie. Annoying if you want homemade pie immediately.

plum-puree
Thankfully, I was not in a hurry for pie.

fruit-ready-to-cook
I worked on the crust Sunday, made the filling Monday, assembled the pie on Tuesday morning, baked it when I got home from work, and ate some Tuesday night with ice cream. Perfect!

ready-to-roll
Of course, I have observations about this pie.

crust-rolled-on-cloth
I liked the idea of adding plum puree to this for some extra tartness. The plums I got were reasonably soft, juicy and peeled easily. But they lacked flavor.

bottom-ready-for-dish
They were not farmers market plums, the ones you have to eat outside because they are so juicy.

filling-into-waiting-dish
If I made this pie again, I would probably cheat and buy some organic plum baby food. Because the plums in it would probably be better than supermarket plums, the pureeing is already done for you, and I don’t have to remember to hit the farmers market.

cut-lattice-strips
I used frozen cherries, too. Because, well, pitting. It was a bag of mixed sweet and tart cherries. Not exactly what this recipe called for. Actually looked pretty good; the cherries weren’t all icky-looking like Marie’s canned sour cherries.

lattice-completed

I also wanted to try a fancy lattice top. There’s one with thick and thin dough strips that looked really cool. But I couldn’t find a ruler to use as a cutting guide. Plus my crust dough was rather stiff. I didn’t want to risk messing it up. And, this is the second lattice-topped pie that I have made in my life. I went with the regular non-fancy lattice top. And the strips still broke.

pie-with-ice-cream
Considering the presence of tart cherries and lackluster plums, this pie was a success. I did get feedback that it was a little tart. I liked the tart flavor. And … there is now pie left.

pie-a-la-mode
Ah, the power of pie.

last-piece-of-pie

Rum Raisin French Toast
SUMMARY – better than any store-bought bagged raisin bread. Great texture and crumb made the raisins really shine.

bubbly-dough
Like Marie, I only made the bread.

partly-mixed-dough
Why?

first-rise
Because you have to use stale bread for the best French toast. You could use fresh bread, but it doesn’t soak up the egg custard as nicely.

start-the-shaping
Which means that you have to leave bread around for a few days.

filling-spread
This raisin bread was probably the best raisin bread I have had. And I have eaten a lot of bread with raisins in it over the years. (Raisin bread is one of the few ways I will eat raisins in baked goods by the way.) Paska, challah, store-bought in a bag, I’ve eaten it and even made it. Hands down, this was either the best ever or at least the best in recent memory.

loaf-shaped
I was not the only person in the house that really loved the raisin bread. Everyone loved it and had buttered slices for dessert!

loaf-cooling
I ask you, what sane person or household would leave home-baked, yummy raisin bread around long enough that it got stale enough to make it into French toast?

sliced-loaf
The last piece was devoured about a half hour ago. No, French toast will not happen with this particular raisin bread. Unless I make 2 loaves and hide one. Hmmm.

loaf-closeup