Baked Good: Thumbprint Cookies

At this point I’ve well surpassed my new years goal of baking one new thing every month, because this month alone I’ve done like 3 new things.  I’ve had a thumbprint cookie recipe for months and just got in the mood to make sme, because they’re a traditional Christmas/holiday cookie, so decided to pull out my recipe…only to find out how useless it was.  The person I got the recipe from is usually a really good baker, so I was stumped as to why the recipe just didn’t work for me.  Maybe it had to do with my environment and the moisture in the air or something, or maybe I just did it wrong because my Mom was able to salvage that batch by adding a bit of extra water, and when I used the second recipe I had I had to add extra water as well.  Every thumbprint cookie recipe I see just has butter as the liquid in it, and sometimes an egg – which, I’m guessing the egg is a matter of preference, because I did my second batch without one and it tasted exactly the same.

 

Sometimes when I pick a recipe to do, it’s because

I want to practice certain techniques.  When I picked the cream puffs, I wanted to learn how to make pastry cream.  For this, I really wanted to practice kneading dough, and creaming butter and sugar together because those two things were major things I’ve been struggling with.  I looked up a super in depth article on creaming butter and sugar together that helped tons, but kneading dough has been something I’ve majorly been struggling with.  I’ve watched tons of videos on it, and hearing how it was done really wasn’t helping me.  What I had to do, is have my Mom show me how it’s done, because honestly I think that’s the only way you can understand how kneading works.  Once the dough feels like it’s a rubber ball you can bounce away, you’re good to go and it was tons of fun to smoosh my dough for a while like it was play dough!  I really want to try making biscuits again after learning kneading, because I’m pretty sure I got gummy, doughy biscuits because I didn’t knead the dough at all.  I’m really glad I finally gave these cookies a go, because I forgot how delicious they were!

 

I also made the jam from scratch, I made an apple one because it’s what I prefer over raspberries.  First time doing that too, and it went pretty well!  But once again, needed to adjust and add water to the batch.  Luckily jam is easy to fix, just add water until you get the consistency you want.  Bright side:  I know how to make apple candies now too probably, with how hard it got at first lol.

Lots of learning curves in the stuff I’ve been baking lately, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge.  I’ve learned so much about baking these past few months doing more advanced things, can’t wait to do more next year!
Remembered to take a picture this time, so I’ll finish the post up with that!

 

Thumbprint cookies

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Baked Good of the Month – Cream Puffs

I’m gonna be real here:  I feel like I wrote a post about making choux pastry/cream puffs and either didn’t post it, or posted it and forgot.  But I just tried making choux pastry again after about a month or os of botching my first attempt.  This time, I decided to just try making the puff pastry recipe without having any pastry cream ready because I wanted to see if I could get the recipe down, and I did!  After reading a lot of articles on how choux pastry should look – and was happy to find out that a lot of how you can tell if a choux pastry dough is good is by touch, feel, and texture.  So with all of that in mind, I went to work at the recipe…and it worked!  …Until I forgot to poke holes in  the finished puff and it collapsed ^^;

 

It wasn’t bad though, like there was still air inside some of the pastry, and all of them tasted nice and airy – with the cream in it, it tasted like a fluffy, airy donut.  Was really rich, but light, and both the cream and puff were delicious.  Like legit the only thing that went wrong was I didn’t poke holes in the finished pastry and that made the moisture in the puff make the thing deflate, because I cracked one open straight from the oven and they were nice and hollow on teh inside, just ready for something to be piped into it.  But that one mistake aside, I’m so happy I know how to make choux pastry in a decent fashion!  I have some fine tuning to do, like remembering all of the steps so I don’t wind up with deflated pastry, but really yummy and interested to see how they taste tomorrow.  I like mine rather big, so I woudn up with 12 in my recipe, but I realized that the bigger the puff, the easier it is for it to collapse in on itself so I’m going to work on making them smaller and all equal sizes.

 

I did pastry cream for the second time, as well.  Last time I did it was when I made my banana cream pie, and adding the banana made it a soupy mushy mess.  This time, I just made the cream, and like I thought last time I made it fine the first time but adding the fruit made the balance of the cream get the way it did.  This time it stayed nice, thick, and creamy, and it’s soooo good that I was eating spoonfuls as I piped into the puffs, just really good and I can’t wait to try different flavors with the technique!  I was going to try using a piping bag, but I didn’t find any in the house and the tips I have weren’t going to work with how you get the cream into a puff.  Instead, I just scooped a bit of the pastry out with a spoon and aded the cream in that way.  I need to work on getting enough cream in each pastry, but because of the size differences, and the density of each puff being slightly different it was a little hard to figure out how much cream I needed for each puff.  I think next time, for both measuring out the cream and the puff, I’m going to do teaspoon sized balls to make the consistancy work better.  Or 2 teaspoons, but I just want a simple measurement guide for making them next time, instead of the major eyeballing I did.  Next time, I also  want to add something on top as a ganache, but just plain with cream inside tasted great!

 

I’m so so so happy I got this technique down, and found more tips on how to make choux pastry perfectly.  The process is time consuming, and had some misteps on the way to my puffs being done, but I’m so happy I’m working on perfecting this recipe so I can have another French pastry under my belt!  So far I have choux pastry and French tart crust in my pastry crust artillery,  can’t wait to explor emore pastry making techniques!

Happy Thanksgiving! What I Contirbuted to my Dinner: Aka Another Baked Good

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  I had a wonderful time going to the store with my Mom before we had a late dinner, full of half traditional Thanksgiving foods and half our own thing food-wise.  My family isn’t huge into a lot of Thanksgiving food:  None of us like turkey, so we get chicken, and we are a small group so don’t see the point in making huge batches of food to have around for weeks.  So instead, we make stuff we like, along with Thanksgiving stuff we like and just spend time together, eat later, and relax.
this year, I contributed a side dish!  I wanted to do it last year, but was nervous about it:  I had just started baking and cooking, so wasn’t 100 percent confident in doing something.  This year, with all of my experience under my belt, I decided to make biscuits and home made stuffing!  My Mom likes the box stuffing, but I really wanted to try making it by scratch (I love making things by scratch, if you couldn’t tell – the only way to make food imo).

 

We got a French bread loaf today at the store, because every recipe I read said to use a bread like that – if we weren’t going to get something artisan bread-like, I was going to use normal bread slices.  But since we went to the store anyway, I  just got a French Bread loaf.  Gotta say, really glad I did that, because the mix of butter and spices really infused itself into this bread a lot better than I thought it would have with the average bread slices.

 

My family loves Italian food, so I did a simple blend of garlic, salt, and Italian seasoning.  Melted a stick of butter, and for my liquid I used a cup of water, and a teaspoon of olive oil to add to the Italian style of stuffing.  I had looked at a few traditional recipes, but found this great article that just gave a guideline of what you should put in stuffing for it to work and did entirely  my own thing with it other than the ratios of liquid and bread for a four person serving of stuffing.  It was soooo delicious!  I love how it came out, and am so happy I can make stuffing from scratch now, because that and mac and cheese are my two favorite Thanksgiving side dishes.

 

We also had a great alfredo casarole, rice pudding, still had the cheesecake from Monday, cinamon rolls, a roasted chicken, and some biscuits I also made that I need to work on making better because they came out rahter doughy.  But, I’ve been looking up what went wrong with the biscuits, so am going to work on perfecting that, and maybe try again for Christmas. As of now, going to look up some fun holiday treats to make in the meantime, and bask in my stuffing victory:  my Mom said she loved the stuffing, and she really only likes the stovetop box brand, so I was like woo accomplishment haha.

 

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I can’t wait to make a left over sandwich tomorrow with stuffing and chicken.  What did you have on your menu for the holiday, if you celebrate it?  And what treats do you plan to make now that the holiday season is officially here?  I can’t wait to kick my baking into over drive the end of this year:  I feel like I’m finally coming into my own with it, and I’ve only been doing it for about a year!

Baked Good of the Month: New York Style Cheesecake

I made a cheesecake at the beginning of the yearish, and it didn’t turn out too well.  It was a recipe that made you bake the initial layer of cheesecake, then add a layer of sour cream and bake again for about ten minutes.  When I did that, it didn’t fully bake through and came out more like a custardy pudding than an actual cheesecake.  Wasn’t bad, but not what I wanted and turned me off from wanting to try making a home made cheesecake again.
BuT I just love cheesecake.  My favorite dessert, hands down and any time I can get something cheesecake flavored, or cheesecake themed, I do it.  Plus cheesecake is exspensive, and being able to make one for way cheaper is something I just can’t pass up!

 

I follow this YouTube Channel that I love and learn a lot form called Bigger Bolder Baking.  I’ve done a few of their recipes before – the birthday cake I made for my Mom was one of their recipes, as is the banana bread recipe I love – Jemma just comes up with amazing recipes and anytime she comes out with a new video, I watch it.  Recently, she came out with a New York Style Cheesecake recipe that she made in the microwave, that was way easier and sounded way more tastey than the recipe I did months ago!  I was wondering, can you make it in the oven as well?  And reading the comments in the recipe, you totally can!  So that’s what I did yesterday.

I was really craving cheesecake   lately, so when I went shopping with my Mom we were hunting all over for a gram cracker crust.  It probably was because it was the holidays, but we couldn’t find any anywhere and weren’t going to hunt down gram crackers so I could make one from scratch.  At first, I figured I’d just wait to make one:  we have cream cheese all the time in the house since me and my Mom both bake.  I’ve been really interested in French baking lately, and was watching a video on how to make a French apple tart.  The crust in that one was a sweeter crust, and the ingredient list sounded like it would be very close to a cookie crust that would be good for a cheesecake – since there are so many other cheesecakes that have cookie crusts, like oreos.  My favorite cheesecake, Jr’s, uses sponge cake as their base, so I figured why not be inventive with this and use the tart crust?

 

So I made the French tart crust, and it needed a little bit more sugar for my prefered cheesecake.  I added a bit more sugar:  the original recipe asked for 1/4 of a cup, so I did 2 of those instead of 1.  When I added the extra 1/4 cup it was perfect for me, so I went with that.  The French tart video described the crust to be like a cookie crust, and that’s why I decided to give it a go.  Happy to say, it worked!

 

It compliments the cheesecake perfectly!  It’s a bit of a shortbread tasting crust:  it’s kinda gram cracker tasting, but has more of a cookie texture.  I made the crust a little too thick, even for me, so next time I want to make it a smidge thinner.  I like thick crusts, but it’s kind of hard to cut through the bottom with how thick I made it lol.  It’s like having a whole cookie under a cheesecake though, so for me it’s really delicious!  My family likes thinner crust so I want to work on making thinner crusts however.

 

The cheesecake itself is amazing!  Definitely tastes like a New York style.  Nice and creamy, and tastes like a store bought cheesecake to me.  I love the recipe, and I’m going to add it to my baking arsenal!

 

This is also the first time I improvised a recipe by putting together two recipes.  Honestly, I love the French  pastry base, and I’ve been really interested in French baking.  That was the whole reason I started looking at French baking videos, and I’m glad my creative brain had the thought process to combine that crust with the cheesecake base.    I feel like it’s a major step in my baking skillset, because before I wouldn’t even have been confident enough to do something like that!  I want to try using the crust in this recipe for pie crusts as well, it’s just a really tasty crust and it makes me want to try French pastry making again after my first botched attempt.

 

Hope you’re having a great holiday season, and baking away!  Next I’m going to make gingerbread, what are you going to make this holiday season?

Getting “Nothing Done” Isn’t Always UnProductive

I just finished up a recording session on the piano, so with my instruments instead of recording vocals, and got seemingly absolutely nothing done.  I say seemingly, because a lot of us creatives think that if you’ve recorded nothing, written nothing, drawn nothing, in a session of creativity, you think you’ve done absolutely nothing and it was a waste of time.  It’s discouraging, and sometimes it makes you want to give up on whatever you’re working on and get frustrated.
I thought it was important to write this experience, and this post for other creatives, because in “getting nothing done” this recording session, I hashed out some arrangement plans. In fact, I figured out what I wanted to do for the track wasn’t working at all, and that the other idea I had for it was far better for the entirety of the track.  I originally wanted to start out with a capella vocals, then bring in some slight strings and have other vocal layers as a choral sort of thing for this.  Trying to record strings for it, it just wasn’t working, and I decided to just go fully a cappella with this track like the good old days of me arranging things XD but in hashing that out, I realized that maybe I’ll do all my Christmas covers as a cappella arrangements, because I’ve never done that before!  I’m confident in that choice, and now am re-energized, re-motivated, and already getting so many ideas bouncing around in my head and am thinking of other Christmas songs to do, perhaps make a series of a cappella Christmas for this year.

 

And I would have never come to that conclusion, if not for “botching” recording the strings for my original arrangement plans.

 

I have another arrangement I’m working on that just wasn’t coming together, and instead of trying to push it, I decided to move on to making my Christmas tracks, and push the release date of the album I was working on to January so it can truly make it the best I can before release.  Same with the Christmas tracks:  I want to polish them, and make them the best they possibly can for release, and wouldn’t have figured out how to do so without a few sessions of trying to figure out how I initially wanted to arrange this, which for me is brainstorming sessions – which, once again, I wouldn’t have realized that’s how I brainstorm if I didn’t just sit down and try things at my keyboard!
Like I said, I’m writing this because I think it’s an important lessons for us creatives to learn.  Sure, sometimes we’ll get discouraged with our music, with our blogs, with whatever we do, but it’s important to take something away from your creative sessions – even if it’s “This isn’t working, how can I fix it so it does”.  People are such crazy perfectionists nowadays, I’m also very guilty of perfectionism stopping me from taking steps forward every now and again, but it’s so so so so important to know  how to problem solve yurself out of slumps like that:  Maybe you need to add more chords to a section of music?  Maybe add an extra scene to the post or story you’re writing.  You’ll never realize that unless you initially try to do something and figure out the way you’re doing it isn’t working.
So don’t let bad creative sessions get you down, go out there and create!  Whether it’s good or bad, it’s something you can learn and grow from, and be a better artist for it!  I for one, can’t wait to get to re-arranging said track I was working on today, and mix my first a cappella tracks in Reaper:  It’s going to be loads of fun!

Going to Try and Write a Lot of Music in November!

I did my first mix in Reaper, and it was really easy!  I had a few learning curve things to deal with along the way (automation and fading out the track were interesting to deal with) and I still have a long way to go before being 100 percent comfortable with using Reaper, but overall it was a harmless experience.  It helps that I’ve been reteaching myself mixing terms, and that I have always kept up with knowing how to mix things whether or not I could do them in audacity, but it’s just so interesting to not have to record my midi in Reaper, export it as a wav then do everything in laggy audacity.  I’m loving how customizable Reaper is, and how easy it is to organize tracks, add effects, and just the workflow I’m able to have in Reaper is making my mixes a lot funner to mess with.  I feel like I’ve been able to be a loooot more creative with my mixing, because I don’t have to be afraid of something messing up the tracks and not being able to fix it.
That being said, having this new workflow of both mixing and recording in Reaper has gotten me majorly motivated to make music again.  I didn’t realize how much my previous workflow was stifling my creativity, until I got to the point where I really didn’t want to record something because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of the process I outlined in the previous chapter.  Audacity isn’t very nice when you have about 20 or more tracks in it either, so it was majorly annoying having to apply reverb, and go do something else for like 20 minutes because audacity just took THAT LONG to render out effects.  With Reaper, just put the reverb plug on, and tweak parameters  in realtime with no lag!  It’s so nice~

 

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for audacity.  Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to mix for the past four years.  At the same time, I’m glad that I can take this step into more advanced music production because of some amazing devs who made NVDA scripts for Reaper to work well with a screen reader.

 

The first thing I mixed in Reaper was an all instrumental track, from an idea that I first came up with during that 21 days of VGM challenge I did back in July.  I’ll be posting it soon probably, but making it in Reaper, and Reaper alone was so easy!  I used the metronome for it, which as bad as it sounds I rarely do haha.  Just wanted to see the difference between using it and not using it, and I feel like I’ll be going bac and forth between using it and not, because there are times when I want to use a metronome and times when I do.
That tangent aside, I really want to work on making a decent amount of music in November!  I’m already working on another Final Fantasy track, because I really want to try and get an EP out before the year of all of my Final Fantasy tracks.  I’ll come out with it regardless, but I want to push myself to get it out soon, because I only have to add 2 more tracks to get it to EP length!  I went through all of my ideas from the 21 Day VGM Challenge and forgot there were a few I really wanted to flesh out and just never got to, so I want to get at least 2 of those done in November as well.  Then there’s Christmas songs I want to work on, as well, so I’m going to really push myself to work on music as much as I can next month, and not lose the motivation working in Reaper has given me.  Ugh, it’s just so nice to be able to do everything in one program, I didn’t realize what I was missing out on!

 

 

Wish me luck on this musical endeavor, I really hope I can pull it off!

Reaper is Accessible, YES!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is such exciting news for me guys!!!!!
If you don’t know, Reaper is a DAW [digital audio work station] where you can do audio editing.  It’s known for being light weight, inexspensive, and overall a good program for people to use.  DAWs are notorious for not being accessible, I honestly don’t know why – audio editing seems like a no brainer to be accessible for the blind to me.  But anyway, I found out about this program years ago, because I heard it was accessible with some freeware scripts a developer made.  Now, it’s abandonware:  it’s usable, but no one updates it.  I belong to this Reaper for the blidn mailing list and everyone used to talk about how easy it is to use Rea access scripts, doing things and stuff.  But for some reason, using those scripts never meshed with me.  I’d try to do something someone said was easy to do, and it just never worked.  I could do basic things, like record midi and audio, but as far as actually using the program to mix?  Nope, wasn’t gonna happen.  I just exported my tracks to audacity and mixed there.

 

I was fine with that:  audacity is usable.  It lags when there’s a multitude of tracks in it, and is a destructive editor, but it works.  So I lived with my workflow of recording midi in Reaper, exporting it in wav, recording vocals in audacity, then mixing there and saving a ton of different projects because audacity is a destructive editor.  I’m not sure if it’s just my brain opening up as of late, or this extention being better than Reaccess (spoiler:  it totally is) but there’s a new accessibility option for Reaper, and it’s fantastic!
It’s called OSARA:  Open Source Access to the Reaper Application.  It’s made by the same people who make NVDA, a free screen reading option that was a huge game changer, because without it you’d have to pay 1000 dollars to get a screen reader for PC.  If not, you’d have to get a Mac which has voice over built in – another 1000 dollars, but at least you wouldn’t have to pay another thousand on top of that to get your computer accessible for you.  Likewise, before the only major option for audio mixing accessibility was on the Mac, with Garage band and pro tools being the bigger accessibility options (I hear Logic is accessible too?  Not 100 percent sure on that one).  But now, not only is NVDA a free option, but OSARA is free also, and works fantastically!!!

 

I’m not exactly sure how long OSARA has been in development.  I know at least since 2015, but it’s probably been longer than that.  OSARA takes keystrokes from Reaaccess, and builds upon them to make a really awesome, usable option to use Reaper.  I’ve been learning it for the past few days, and the latest version of OSARA is just so easy to use, I’m honestly amazed!  Once I updated both Reaper and OSARA to their latest versions, I started learning it.  There are also a lot of tutorials via podcasts that weren’t around until last yearish, and they help tons.  Another big problem I found was no guides other than the mailing list for help, and I just never could get into using Reaaccess to the fullest extent.  For me, it was just such a clunky interface.  OSARA is so streamlined, I’m amazed at how much effort the developer put into this, and it’s all totally free!  You can donate to the cause, which honestly I may because this is amazing work being done for the blind.

 

I’ve been messing around with learning Reaper, and have already learned so much.  I think I know enough to do a practice mix, and have already been messing around with effects parameters  in plug ins I’ve never been able to access before!  A good example of this is my piano VST.  It has all these different things you can tweak on it, reverb, hammering on the keys, all sorts of different things.  I was in so much excited shock with how I could control both that, and edit midi things super easily!  I can quantize now, go to themidi editor and edit single notes, all sorts of cool things like that.  I can also automate, which is a first for blind users to be able to access easily.  Here’s a list of the tings I can do so far, that I’m going to make cuz I’m just so excited:

 

  • Add effects to a track
  • Automate tracks
  • Make audio sends for effects
  • Use the Master bus! It’s so amazing
  • Be able to add a plug in and not be worried it’ll ruin the track, because if it does I can just bypass it or switch it out. Hurray for non-destructive editing!
  • Recording different takes on one track, wasn’t even aware this was possible!  But it streamlines managing files so much
  • Making folders for different sets of tracks. So nice and organized!
  • Probably more, but I can’t think of it right now!

 

I’m really liking how much OSARA announces things.  Instead of having to guestimate where I’m putting something when I’m panning, it reads out “10 percent to the left” and things like that.  You can even monitor your audio so you can make sure it isn’t distorting, so cool!  All in all, just so much functionality that I was never able to get to on audacity, simply because it doesn’t have that sort of functionality.  I’m still a firm supporter of working with what you have, and don’t discount audacity at all – it’s still an amazing tool for basic editing, but I didn’t realize how drastically advanced and different Reaper was until I started using it, and seeing the differences.  People used to tell me that, but I never got it until now!

 

If you’d like to check out OSARA, you can go to it’s development page here.  I’m going to stop gushing now, and go back to learning how to use this powerful new toy of mine!