Up For The Challenge
At the start of 2021, I hadn’t seen any of my family in over a year due to the pandemic. My mom and I have always enjoyed baking together and so we decided to create a virtual baking challenge for the year. Each month, we chose a bake that neither of us had ever attempted – that alone was a challenge as we both have years of baking experience. We baked each recipe on the same day and then did a video chat to compare our results, discuss what we might change about the recipe (if anything), and review how easy or difficult we felt it was. You can find the virtual baking reviews on my Instagram video series titled “2021 Baking Challenge”. In the mean time, here are the links to the recipes we made along with some brief discriptions. *None of these recipes are my own.
I’m giving you the full list of virtual baking recipes, month-by-month, below. But I know you want the short version so here is my top three. Be sure to check out my descriptions below for more detail though. Drumroll please… Coming in at #3) January – Tarte Tatin. #2) April – Burnt Basque Cheesecake. And my #1) October – Beef and Potato Pithivier. I never would have guessed that the savory bake would be my top choice but the belly wants what the belly wants. I’m already looking forward to making it again soon.
January – Tarte Tatin
This one had me nervous. I thought it would be really complex in skill level. As it turns out, the hardest part was finding the right size pan. I would add some warm spices next time to make it a little more flavorful. Overall though, I found it to be relatively easy to make and I loved the crispness of the crust.
February – King Cake
This King Cake itself was heavenly! We purchased our decorations here so as to get the colors just right and to ensure we had the traditional baby to add under the cake. My only issue was that the filling did not disburse evenly throughout the cake. Next time I make this, I will roll the dough out and spread the filling evenly before rolling it up. (*This is the only recipe we used that came from a cookbook rather than online.)
March – Almond Puff Pastry
Possibly my least favorite recipe from the entire year. The filling was delicious but I had trouble with the puff pastry itself. If I were to make this again, I would purchase pre-made puff pastry dough but still use the homemade filling. Not only would pre-made dough give you quality texture and rise, it would save a lot of time.
April – Burnt Basque Cheesecake
If you want an easy, luscious dessert, this is the one for you. The creaminess is unlike any you’ve had in a traditional cheesecake. Just 5 ingredients and no crust. You will need a large food processor or blender and a spring form pan as well as some parchment paper. It looks burned but the flavor and texture are out of this world.
May – Cannolis
There are some things in life left best to the professionals. Cannolis definitely fall into that category for me. The flavor was fantastic. However, I had a lot of difficulty keeping the shells wrapped together as I fried them. I also generally don’t like dealing with the mess of frying things.
June – Pavlova
This is a show stopper!! The white fluffy meringue topped with fresh fruit is absolutely stunning. I know I didn’t get the texture of the meringue just right (I believe I over baked it) but it was still delicious. To me, this would be worth practicing and perfecting the techniques in order to get it just right.
July – Sticky Toffee Pudding
This is NOT an American style pudding. This is a European style dessert which is what Americans would consider to be more of a cake. I was fascinated by how this was made. The sweetness of the cake itself comes mostly from dates. The toffee sauce gives it a more sugar sweet topping. I appreciated learning how to use dates in ways I’d never thought of before. It essentially looks like a brown blob in the end but it really is yummy.
August – Black and White Cookies
These NYC style cookies are huge and have a cake-like texture. I found it mildly difficult to get a clean line between the chocolate and vanilla icings. I’m sure a little more practice and review of how different people approach it would come in handy. Otherwise, this is a very manageable recipe. If you’re craving a taste of NYC, these are a great way to achieve it.
September – Clafoutis
Let me first say that I am a texture person with food. I’d never eaten a clafoutis before so I’m not sure if we got the texture wrong or if I just don’t like the texture of this dessert. I wanted to like this so badly but it turned out to be a huge fail for me. Again, this may very well be due to my own texture issues rather the quality of the recipe itself.
October – Beef and Potato Pithivier
Our only savory bake of the year. This one also had me pretty intimidated on the technique. However, it turned out to be basically a pie without the pie dish. It was much easier than I anticipated! I actually made the dough on one day, the filling the next day, and then put it all together on the third day. This worked out beautifully for my busy schedule. I wish the recipe had given more specific ideas on how to flavor the filling but the rosemary and garlic I added turned out fantastic. I highly recommend this one!
November – Sugar Spice Pear Gallette
We chose this recipe in honor of my late brother, Ron – it was a favorite of his. I followed the recipe as directed except didn’t add all of the sugar mix to the top. Mine lacked flavor because of this. Mom, cut the sugar measurement in half but kept the full measurements of the spices and said her’s was very flavorful. Overall an easy recipe to make and could be made even easier if you used a store bought pie dough.
December – Stollen
This was one of the more involved recipes we made all year. We candied the citrus peel ourselves and made our own marzipan. You just can’t beat homemade quality on these ingredients. I’d say it was worth the time and effort but I would tweak the marzipan to leave out (or at least reduce) the rose water based on my own flavor preferences. We both also decided we will wait to coat the loaves with powdered sugar for when we are ready to serve it rather than when it is fresh out of the oven. We will also roll out the marzipan, lay it over rolled out dough and then roll them up together rather than do the rod of marzipan in the middle. This would give a more even distribution of flavors, textures, and moisture.
Although the official year of virtual baking is over, the challenges will still continue. Life is busy so we aren’t shooting for a new bake each month. However, we do plan on completing a virtual baking challenge a few times throughout the year. What would you like to see us bake?