I am a mastodon, or at least a creature of the twentieth century: following food blogs is foreign to my nature. Thus I know food bloggers only through their books. In a discussion of possible topics for this blog, Shay mentioned a friend who was a fan of Joy the Baker. My eyes lit up, for although I did not know Joy the Baker’s blog, I had her cookbook! With a once-removed recommendation, I looked at Joy’s book with new eyes, and found it quite promising. I decided to pair the Joy the Baker Cookbook with Erin Bolger’s The Happy Baker. Both Joy Wilson and Erin Bolger are young women with food blogs focusing on baking and desserts; neither is professionally trained. There, however, the similarity ends. Joy’s blog and book are more polished and have better recipes; nevertheless, Erin has her charms.
I do not understand why Joy Wilson, a.k.a. Joy the Baker, does not weigh 400 pounds. Her food is delicious yet fattening, and the serving sizes she suggests are often enormous (but sometimes she gets the serving size just right, as with “Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake”). There are some interesting recipes in this book: fried avocado as well as avocado pound cake; chocolate, black pepper, and goat cheese truffles; sweet potato chocolate chip cookies. I was not too adventuresome with my recipe selections from this book; there were still plenty of recipes with less exotic flavor combinations. None of the recipes have very complicated techniques. I liked what I made from this cookbook, and am beginning to trust Joy enough to try some of her more unusual recipes.
The picture in the book of “Baked Chili Cheese Fries” (page 95) was just too tempting: I had to make these. The 3D version was, however, a disappointment. Potato logs are coated in a spice mixture, then baked in the oven and finally topped with cheese and chives. I really should not expected that much from this recipe: I have always found oven “fried” potatoes unsatisfactory. Cheese and chives can indeed improve almost any savory vegetarian fare, but only so much. So we ate these, we enjoyed them a little bit, but were far from overwhelmed.
“Zucchini and Potato Pancakes” (page 25) made a much more successful use of potatoes. This is a totally routine preparation; basically just vegetables, eggs, and flour. There is no cheese, found in some zucchini pancakes. Joy suggests a supper of these pancakes topped with sour cream and accompanied by a green salad. This dinner menu makes sense to me, unlike the next dinner choice.
According to Joy, “Popcorn is dinner.” Of course, air-popped popcorn to which salt does not adhere is not dinner popcorn; Joy’s dinner popcorn, “Parmesan Seaweed Popcorn” (page 92), is popped in a generous amount of oil and mixed with Parmesan and seaweed gomasio, a nonstandard but quite compatible combination. For me, this was not quite dinner, but a very enjoyable crunchy snack; however, popcorn prepared this way ceases to be a guilt-free snack, so I am afraid that it is back to the air-popped popcorn for me.
“Cocoa Almond Granola” (page 161) is some of the best granola ever, even though it contains no dried fruit. The granola does contain, in addition to standard granola ingredients, almonds, coconut, and just the tiniest bit of cocoa, two tablespoons. I reduced the amount of sugar from half a cup to a third of a cup; next time I will try a further reduction, down to a quarter cup. The granola still has honey, and is plenty sweet. I used a nut oil instead of some generic vegetable oil. Joy has us adding a little bit of butter also, which imparts a very nice taste. This is a recipe that I cannot make very often, because I cannot stop eating it.
Testing dessert recipes is a tough job, but, as they say, someone’s got to do it. I did not think that Danny would have a great desire for pineapple milkshake, but it was a recipe that needed testing, so I was on my own. Joy’s recipe for “Pineapple Malted Milkshake” (page 128) yields “one 3-cup milkshake”!?! Her three cup milkshake has, by my calculations, just under 1000 calories. I made one fourth of her recipe, and 250 calories was still not insignificant. On the other hand, these calories were worth it, although I would have liked more of a pineapple flavor.
I am very fond of caramel, and Joy was enthusiastic enough about her “Almost Burnt Salted Caramel Sauce” (page 88) that I thought I would try it. I also liked cooking something that didn’t have to be eaten right away but could sit in my refrigerator for weeks or months. This is real caramel (which Erin Bolger, introduced below, should learn to make) with caramelized sugar, butter, and cream. Joy wants the sugar to be well caramelized (“almost burnt”, remember?); I think I would have preferred to be a little further away from the burnt end of the spectrum. However, like any real caramel sauce, this was good.
It seems that for some reason I was avoiding the real dessert recipes in Joy’s book. I had tried savory, snacks, a drink, a sauce. To rectify this situation I made “Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake” (page 170), and was I glad that I did! The end result is a chocolate cake surrounding chocolate lava, and is as satisfying as a chocolate dessert can be. To make this cake, you melt butter and chocolate, mix into an egg beaten with sugar, add a tiny bit of flour and salt, and cook for seven minutes. My oven is slow, so I should have left my single girl melty chocolate cake in longer for a more optimal ratio of cake to lava, but it was still so good. I urge my readers to try this one! [Go to the recipe.]
I started out favorably disposed towards Erin Bolger and her book The Happy Baker: A Girl’s Guide To Emotional Baking. It is true that Erin’s stories (and there are almost as many stories as recipes) about her romantic life are of no particular interest to me; her recipe titles are a little too precious (e.g., “Me and My Cookies Are So Over You”); and her recipes are not particularly sophisticated. But there is something rather charming about Erin, and she is, after all, Canadian. Furthermore, there is a place in my recipe collection for simple yet yummy food. Unfortunately, when I started cooking from this book, I found that the recipes (with one exception) just weren’t that good. They are the sort of recipes that one might try in a middle school home ec class (if such classes still exist) or make in order to earn a Girl Scout cooking badge. There is a certain sameness to the recipes: she uses a lot of chocolate chips (which, I admit, is not necessarily bad), and there are more recipes in this book using caramels (the individually wrapped Kraft kind) than in any other book that I have. Of the five recipes I tried, one was inedible, two were mediocre, one had possibilities but was flawed, and one was divine.
Joy and Erin have very different books, but they both have a granola recipe. Thus, if I am setting these books next to each other, I had to try Erin’s granola recipe too, even though “Healthy Maple-Almond Granola” (page 152) is not the sort of granola recipe that calls out to me. The recipe is just not exciting enough. What distinguishes it from other granola recipes, and presumably why this is “healthy” granola is the very small amount of oil: one tablespoon for two cups of oats. Surprisingly, this small amount worked; I did not miss the oil. Erin uses many of the usual ingredients: maple syrup and honey, cinnamon (too much) and nutmeg, almonds and coconut. Flax seed meal goes in too, also contributing to the claims of healthiness. Like Joy, she doesn’t use dried fruit, but adds chocolate: chocolate chips (not cocoa). The end result is an acceptable, but far from addictive, granola.
Occasionally when I follow a recipe I end up with something that is just plain inedible. Here I don’t mean really bad, such as the infamous eggplant cheesecake, but actually inedible: the Sussman brothers’ chickpeas being one recent example. Now I have another example: Erin’s “It’s Not Me, It’s You, Sea-Salted Caramels” (page 110). I was suspicious of this recipe from the start, because Erin does not make real (at least what I consider to be real) caramels; she just boils brown sugar, honey, butter, and sweetened condensed milk together for five minutes. After five minutes, this concoction is sticky and, thanks to the brown sugar and sweetened condensed milk, tastes caramely. You pour this into a pan, and top with chocolate and salt. After it cools, you remove it from the pan and cut it into squares. This is where things started to go bad. The caramel was not leaving my pan. Eventually, after warming it, and squandering twenty minutes of my life, I got it out. It was not that easy to cut; the chocolate topping, just melted chocolate chips, cracked and did not stick to the “caramel”. All this I would have quite willingly put up with if the caramels tasted good; I would have sullenly tolerated if they were just undistinguished sugar treats; but since the caramels were, as I have said, inedible, this was just unacceptable. Yes, I could eat the chocolate topping with the salt, but the “caramels” themselves were completely hard, and trying to eat them could only result in broken teeth. Perhaps I could have tried sucking on them, but they weren’t that good; if I had not eaten for five days, maybe. No Girl Scout badge for these!
“Where Have All the Good Cowboys Gone Cookie” (page 122) are made from a standard chocolate chip cookie dough with chocolate chips, peanuts, and caramel pieces. Here we are talking Kraft caramels, unwrapped and chopped into little pieces. I am very fond of caramel, even Kraft caramels (although I have not gone near any in years), so I thought that I would give this cookie a try. Shay, on sampling one of these fresh from the oven, declared it “ultra-delicious”, but was less than pleased with the way the cooked caramel stuck to his teeth. I thought that these were good enough, but the sticky caramel was a problem. After a couple of days, the caramel was less sticky (from whatever magical chemical things that sugar does over time), but the rest of the cookie was not as tasty.
Everyone else seemed to like “Maybe It’s Destiny, Dream Bars” (page 98) more than I did. These are an undistinguished brownie made with cocoa powder and topped with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and peanut butter chips. Some people thought that they detected Nutella in these, which was probably just the peanut butter chips. I would just rather spend my calories in a more exciting way.
I could almost forgive Erin all her wrong ideas and missteps for her crème brûlée (“My Eggs Are Not Getting Any Younger Crème Brûlée,” page 140), which is truly wonderful, but equivalent crème brûlée recipes are a dime a dozen on the internet (actually, they are free); these recipes might differ in the exact proportions of cream, egg yolks, and sugar, but they are all pretty much the same. So no credit for this one, Erin, but I am glad you included the recipe. I forgot my crème brûlées under the broiler and burned the sugar topping, so I had to scrape it off and start over. This, I think, is the explanation for the mysterious green-looking stuff in the picture (unless I have the wrong picture, which I do not think is the case). The sugar, then having no hard crust to sit upon, sank into the custards and so did not brûlée properly. I halved the recipe because I did not want something this good in my refrigerator beckoning me. [Go to the recipe.]
Chocolate Lava Cake for One
Adapted from Joy Wilson, Joy the Baker Cookbook
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup chocolate chips (best quality)
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon flour (self-rising, if you have it)
Preheat the oven to 375º. Butter well and flour a ramekin or custard cup that will hold one cup. Melt the butter and chocolate together; cool slightly. Beat the egg with the sugar, the beat in the melted chocolate. Stir in the salt and flour. Pour into the prepared ramekin, place the ramekin on a baking sheet, and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. It should be still liquid in the center, but cake-like around the edges. Remove from the oven, let it cool a minute or two, then invert into a bowl. If you are eating with someone else, this recipe can easily be doubled.
Adapted from Erin Bolger, The Happy Baker
1½ cups cream
4 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar, plus more for the topping
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 300º. Heat the cream just until bubbles start to form on the edges. Beat together the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the cream. Distribute the custard to five ramekins. Place the ramekins in a larger pan and add boiling water to the larger pan, to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cook for about one hour; the custards should still tremble but no longer be liquid in the center. Cool and refrigerate.
To brûlée, sprinkle one or two teaspoons of sugar on top of the custards, and run under the broiler until the sugar is brown and bubbling. Do not burn!