Holiday Baking Fest 2016: Pumpkin Pie Angel Food, Gluten-Free Pudding Cookies, Eggnog Cupcakes and Nutella Frosting!

I keep baking things and not updating here, so I’m combining everything together in one dessert-filled post! It works this time since there’s not as much to say. While I’ve tried to bake “from scratch” so far, I confess to using box mix for two of the treats in the post title. In my defense it wasn’t my idea!

My family has been very supportive of my new hobby. My mom in particular will pick up ingredients from the store and make suggestions for future baking endeavors. One week she put two box mixes sitting on the kitchen counter since both were about to expire. First there was the “Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie Mix.” I guess she bought it with the intention of giving it to my grandmother or aunt, who have different levels of Celiac/wheat sensitivity. Then my other aunt got in on it and “donated” a box of angel food cake mix she had for years.

I knew I had to doctor these up. The gluten-free cookies would undoubtedly have that “gritty” texture when baked. As for the angel food cake, it was so old I worried it wouldn’t taste right. I even Google’d it to make sure it was safe to eat.

We also had canned pumpkin, so I tried this super-easy Pumpkin Pie Angel Food Cake. Literally all you do is mix together canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and the mix. I wasn’t sure how it would work since the canned pumpkin isn’t really “liquid,” but the batter still got this weird meringue type of consistency (which I suppose is typical for angel food). After baking from scratch this seemed almost too fast and easy – I wanted to bake more!

The cake came out awesome. The box mix still tasted great and none of the pumpkin flavors overpowered. Highly recommend for an easy Thanksgiving dessert.

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I improvised a bit for the “Gluten-Free Pudding Cookies.” My mom also wanted me to use instant vanilla pudding, so I combined it with the gluten-free sugar cookie mix. (I really don’t mind suggestions. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m in the mood to make.) I figured the pudding would add moisture since gluten-free baked goods can be dry. A search for pudding cookies gave me this simple Perfect Plain Cookie recipe. Not as simple as the cake, but all you do is add both mixes, two eggs and melted butter.

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They are very plain, and I did taste the gluten-free texture, but they’re still delicious. The pudding made them light and fluffy. My sister got the idea to break out the Nutella to go with them. Only advice here is to make the cookies the exact size you want when placing on the tray since they don’t expand. If I do try these again with different box mixes, I’d add sprinkles or maybe a chocolate chip in the middle for some more flavor.

Speaking of Nutella…I finally made frosting! And it tasted delicious! Sinful would be a better descriptor though, because the Nutella made it super rich. I didn’t have quite enough powdered sugar but it came out fine anyway. You’ll want to eat it by the spoonful.

I made cupcakes to go with it anyway. Again I turned to leftovers since we had eggnog from my sister’s “friendsgiving” party. Making these Eggnog Cupcakes with almost a dozen ingredients satisfied my desire for a more involved recipe. I’ve also wanted to bake with alcohol so I was happy to see it used rum (or bourbon, but I picked rum). Plus the recipe calls for oil so I didn’t have to worry about leaving the butter out long enough.

These and the frosting have been my most successful baking attempt so far. You actually taste the eggnog and they’re not too dense. The Nutella frosting might be a little strong for them, so I’ll go with vanilla the next time I make them. I’m thinking they’ll be perfect for Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house.

A normal person would post a beauty shot of perfect cupcakes with amazing frosting designs. I haven’t attempted this yet so the best I can do is post the cupcakes and frosting separately. On the topis a boring post-oven shot of the cupcakes, on the bottom, the frosting left in the bowl:

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Piping bags and tips are officially on my Christmas list. I considered asking for a stand mixer, but I might just borrow my grandmother’s KitchenAid when necessary.

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When All the Simplistic Writing Advice Makes Sense

I hate those catchphrases for writers. You know the ones I’m talking about – “write every day,” “show don’t tell,” etc. No one ever explains how to apply them. What if they don’t work for me? Am I a bad person if I can’t write every day? Which part of the story is “showing,” and which is “telling”?

Over time these pieces of advice make more and more sense. I’ve experienced “eureka!” moments, when a nugget of wisdom finally clicks into place. The onset of NaNoWriMo got me thinking about my writing practice and how I’ve come to understand these common phrases. (I’m not doing it this year but support those who are.) Hopefully my interpretations save you years of frustration.

“Write Every Day”

Writing every day is not realistic for most people. They have jobs and social lives (so I’m told), or they just don’t feel up to putting words on the page that day. Here’s a secret:

It’s fine. You’re not a bad person.

I believe this advice refers to keeping up a regular writing practice. You’re only a bad person if it’s been six months and you haven’t even opened a text document. It’s happened to me before. After a week or even two, I’ll feel antsy about neglecting my writing. Either I need to fix my Work-In-Progress, start a new one, or pick out a book to read. Speaking of which…

“Read”

I talked about this in another post, so I’ll just tack on an addition. Read bad books along with good ones. I don’t mean you should seek out a book and hope it’s bad. All I’m saying is, if you start a book and roll your eyes at the writing style, don’t put it down right away. Ask yourself why you’re rolling your eyes. Why does this story turn you off? Is it the passive voice, the slow plot? Are the characters one-dimensional? I’ve read a lot of bad books this summer and have no regrets about sticking with them. Noticing writing “don’ts” in someone else’s novel teaches me what to avoid in my own. This leads me to…

“Show, Don’t Tell”

I’ve always despised this “advice” in particular. What the hell does it mean? For the love of God, what’s “show” and what’s “tell”? Aren’t you “telling” the reader the whole freaking story? Can’t a character’s stream of consciousness “show” the readers more of their personality?

Reading bad books helped me see the light. “Telling” instead of “showing” doesn’t ruin the book completely, but the story becomes a chore to slog through. Make sure the character’s internal reactions add to the reader’s understanding of recent actions, and that’s it. I’m also not a fan of the main character making judgments like “he’s so sweet” or “he annoyed me.” It’s okay once or twice, but you need actions to back up the character’s assessments. The last book I read drove me up a wall by repeating the same exact thought every other paragraph.

It makes me think of TV shows. Doesn’t it bug you when the writers say one thing in dialogue and show another through a character’s actions?

Fix this by adding consequences or new actions that support/replace what you wanted to “tell.” I’ve always been a character-and-dialogue person myself so I understand how difficult it can be to build up a plot line.

“Use Action Verbs/Active Voice”

I confess to this crime too. Sometimes you can’t avoid “was” or “had” no matter how you rework a sentence. Sometimes a sentence makes more sense when you use passive verbs. I never liked this advice either, because using active voice all the time feels daunting when you’re not used to it.

I’ve accepted this as a bad habit we all need to break. Too many instances of “was” or “had” grates on the nerves, there’s no way around it.

“Write What You Know”

This one confused me for the longest time. “So I’m only supposed to write about experiences I’ve had? I’m not that interesting!” Now I get it. The expression refers to writing about topics that appeal to you on a personal level. Don’t choose your novel idea based on a trend. If you can’t do what your characters do in your story, at least you’ll have enough interest to research the hell out of it.

Also, whenever possible, base your characters’ actions/choices on what you’ve done or seen others do. Characters should be relatable whether they’re dealing with school drama or using their magical powers to save the world.

Okay, all that’s out of my system. I feel better now.

Baking Day 6: Ever Microwave a Bowl of Cereal? (Honey Nut Cheerio Cupcakes)

I realize now why people call baking a science. Sure, recipes can be flexible, and you can play with a limitless variety of flavors. As for the basics, they don’t change. Certain ingredients and techniques are like the elements of an equation. Messing with them drastically alters the results. Ignoring one little step can be the difference between a light or dense cake. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Since my last two selections were chocolate, I went with a vanilla cupcake this time. I didn’t want to make plain vanilla though because I’ve already done that. While surfing a recipe app (anyone use Yummly?) I stumbled across cereal flavors, like these Honey Nut Cheerio Cupcakes. There’s always a box of Honey Nut Cheerios in our cabinet so I thought everyone would enjoy it. Other than the cereal, which I knew we had, all the other ingredients were basics. (Note this is not a paid advertisement for Honey Nut Cheerios.)

The recipe was simple, though microwaving the cereal in milk was weird. In case anyone wants to know what that looks like:

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The recipe says to remove the cereal from milk “using a fork or your clean fingers.” I preferred a slotted spoon, but hey, to each their own. It also involved mixing honey and vanilla extract, which is now my new favorite scent. Though Warm Vanilla Sugar was always my favorite from Bath and Body Works.

Here’s the results:

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As you can tell by the frosting can on the counter, I didn’t make my own. In my defense I wanted to use up what was in the fridge and my mom always asks me to leave some without frosting. Good call on her part because we’ve been having these for breakfast as well as dessert – appropriate for cereal cupcakes. The honey flavor really comes through, but again, I wouldn’t be able to tell they were specifically “Honey Nut Cheerio” cupcakes. Which I suppose is a good thing for people turned off by the idea of cereal as an ingredient.

While I loved the honey, the cake itself was dense again. Still enjoyable but very, very dense. This is getting frustrating. When I Googled the problem I came across “cold ingredients” or “overmixing” as the most common culprits. This makes sense because I never leave the butter out long enough, and apparently I overmix the hell out of the batter. Next time, I’m leaving the butter out at least an hour and stopping the second ingredients are mixed.