A journey...

...to discover...

...the heart...

...and soul...

...of a baker.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

There's Ice Cream in the Mail...

...therefore it must be summer! Or rather, it's summer so therefore I must be sending ice cream sandwiches to my father's house in Florida. And hand-held pies.

Here's the back story: my big sister, my little sister and her kids, and my little brother and his wife and kids were all going to converge upon my father's house in Florida. I thought I could get away for a few days and meet them in down there. The best laid plans of mice and Carltons often go awry, though. Turns out that getting to my father's little corner of Florida would cost anywhere from just over $500 to nearly $600 at this time of the year! (Go home, Airfare! You drunk!) If I'd wanted to be there in October, it would cost half that. Not being made of money, there was no way I'd be able to make that work, especially not with the limited amount time I'd be able to spend there.

Needless to say this struck a chord of sadness in me that ran very deep. I don't get to hang out with my family very often, and I hated missing this opportunity. So, to make up for my absence, I decided to send something from my kitchen as my proxy. Since it was summer, ice cream sandwiches were an obvious choice, despite the difficulties in shipping. No one who'd be there, except my father, has tasted my ice cream sandwiches, so it would be a good treat for them. I knew that I would send some kind of pie as well and if I'd had these –

Mini Tart Molds, made of paper!
– I would have attempted to send mini-egg custard pies. I'll have to give that a go some other time. I decided on hand-held pies, mainly because I noticed that the cherries this season were looking exceptional. My brain was wanting to throw a third dessert into this mix, either a cake (since one of my nieces would be having a birthday while she was there) or gingersnaps, which are by far the easiest things to ship. I decided to let time be the arbiter on that.

I'm Growing Dept. Actually it was a difficult decision to not commit to three pastries right off the bat. I was so sorry that I couldn't make it, that I wanted to fill the place with my baking if I couldn't fill it with my presence. I'd actually planned on commandeering my father's kitchen to do some baking had I been there. The temptation to overload my schedule and overestimate the time I actually had to accomplish this feat of culinary and postal legerdemain was great. In the past, before I embarked on this little baking and blogging adventure, I probably would have said "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!" and just flailed about trying to squeeze two weeks of baking time into five days. I've learned a bit about scheduling and my limitations. I think I'm doing a bit of growing. 

I'm Growing Dept. ends.

I did the math and figured there were going to be thirteen people there, including my father, and I wanted everyone to have at least two each of whatever I was going to send. That meant a lot of sandwich halves, a lot of ice cream, a lot of pie crust, and a lot of filling - and a lot of cookies, if I was going to add them to the package. Time would indeed have to tell but do you think I flinched at the enormity of this project? No and heck no! I may be growing but I'm still kind of nuts.

First up were the ice cream sandwiches. It's been two years since I made these but I knew they'd still turn out fine. I wanted to do half-sized squares this time, though. The initial cutter I bought is actually too wide for a true single serving. I think the whole "eyes bigger than stomach" thing took over when I did this the first time around. Imagine that! Eventually I'll order a new cutter that's more of an appropriate size for a traditional sandwich. Until then, I'll go with the "Klondike Bar"-esq square. Little did I know what a good decision this would turn out to be.

Half the size. All the chocolate!
Two batches of cookie dough yielded ninety-six sandwich halves. Not one of them burned, stuck to the cookie sheet, fell off the spatula, or broke on the cooling rack. In other words, ninety-six perfect halves! The smell of baking chocolate filled the apartment for more than a few days (especially since I had to divide the baking into two sessions) and I'm sure made more than a few neighbors who walked past our door very hungry.

For the ice cream, I decided to make a "double-vanilla" flavor because I've found that the recipe I use just doesn't cut it for my taste. Adding a second vanilla bean to the custard definitely did the trick. I'll probably do that for all my vanilla ice cream from now on! Yum!

A Somewhat Sad Side Note: A few months ago I had to finally let my blender go. The motor had given up the ghost and it was time. I had it for about twenty-five years and it served me well. The reason this is somewhat sad for me is that it's now milkshake season and I have no blender! Prime shake consumption days are just slipping from my grasp. 

A Somewhat Sad Side Note ends.

I changed up my choice of containers to freeze the ice cream in this time around, too. I still used the square tart pan with the removable bottom for one half of the batch but I opted for a rectangular cookie tin for the other half. Little did I know what a good decision this would turn out to be. (Now, where have I heard that before?)

Old Tin. New Use.
Since this container didn't have a removable bottom, it was even more important to line it with plastic so that I could remove the ice cream easily. Not a problem!
Cutter, cookies, and slab!
Once I had the first batch of ice cream frozen, and the first batch of cookies made, I was ready to start putting them together.

Cutting the slab.
It was easy to cut the slab into the sandwich-sized portions. I just did the initial full-sized cuts, then using the edges of the slab, chopped those in half. Easy-peasy!

Ready for their cookies, Mr. DeMille
Please to notice how evenly this technique divided the slab. One of these containers equaled a dozen ice cream sandwiches with little to no waste! See? It was a good decision to use this one, yes? And the other tin also gave me twelve (ten straight cuts and six slivers that I could use to make two more cookies). Perfection!

Herein lies they good decision of making the sandwiches half-sized squares: assembling the cookies turned out to be even easier than last time, since I was working with smaller pieces of ice cream. Last time I had to deal with some breakage when I lifted the pieces away from the slab. This time, not nearly as much!

Ease of assembly.
Even taking into account the sheer number of sandwiches I was making, the overall process was simplified and streamlined this time around so that I wasted much less ice cream...and energy.

Ice Cream Sandwiches, Assemble!
See, kids? It pays to have process considerations constantly grinding away in the back of your brain. Sometimes.

Wrapping them was easier, too.

All wrapped up and somewhere to go.
So, twenty-six ice cream sandwiches ready to head south. Which left twenty-two here for me! That's what I call a win-win scenario.

With regards to the pies, I decided that I'd make thirteen cherry and thirteen apple. I've pretty much got my hand-held pies down to a science but I knew I could still improve the filling. I made a change in a batch of cherry pies I made a few weeks ago by adding a bit of vanilla extract to the filling, as one of the recipes I was using required. Mistake, in my opinion. The vanilla distracted from the taste of the cherries and became the unwanted star of the show. Not that anyone who had one of these pies noticed.

For this batch, I left out the extract, and improved on my reduction technique for the filling. I needed to make a thick syrup that concentrated the cherry taste without ending up a burned, solid blob. I'm still working out the timing and process but this turned out to be my best cherry filling yet.

The same for the apples. In most of the previous batches of apple pies I've made, the filling consistency was off, in my opinion, with the apples sometimes still being hard enough to punch holes through the crust when I sealed the pies. I chalked this up to the wrong combination of apples. Some apples work for regular pies but hand-held pies are a little different. I used golden delicious, Braeburn, and Roma apples this time. When I cooked these down they actually made filling that had an excellent consistency and rendered apple chunks that were still crunchy but wouldn't punch through the dough.

Thirteen plus thirteen equals lucky number twenty six!
After I'd finished this part of the project, I knew that my window for making a third dessert was closed. There was no way I could get everything packaged up and shipped down to Florida in time for them to enjoy it all before they had to leave my father for various point west. So. No cookies. (Rassenfrasssensassafrass.)

And once again, I was on pins and needles waiting for the Postal Service to do its thing. Believe it or not, checking the tracking information every fifteen minutes didn't make anything go faster. But it did make my nerves all jangly. When things finally did start moving, however, the tracking informed me that the the pies and the ice cream sandwiches were going to be delivered on the same day, instead of the sandwiches first and then the pies the next day! Stroke of luck, that! But I still ended up shouting at the computer screen (which was embarrassing since I was at work) as I waited for any kind notification.

When my father finally called to say that the ice cream sandwiches had arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief. And immediately started planning for the next time because he told me they were a little melty. I must find somewhere to buy dry ice in a quantity that makes sense for my needs. A couple of hours later, he called to tell me that the pies arrived in very good shape. This was a tremendous relief because I've never shipped these hand pies before and they can be somewhat delicate. It turns out that I'm really getting very good at figuring out how to pack a box, or two, of baked goods!

All-in-all, I'd have to say that this was the most complicated baking project I've done to date. There were more components to make and assemble, more parts to the process that could have gone wrong, more variables to juggle, than anything else so far. And for the most part, it all went according to plan. Now the only thing that would make me happier would be to get pictures of my nieces, nephews, siblings, and father enjoying everything! We'll see what I can do.

Currently listening to: Bobby Womack - Woman's Got To Have It