2: BraveTart — Homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies
You may be wondering, “What happened?”
The answer is that I’m only 2 weeks in, and I already may have broken myself.
WHY did I schedule 2 baking projects in a row for the dead of summer? Why did I assign myself a BraveTart recipe for my second assignment, knowing how much Stella Parks’s recipes intimidate me? Why did I choose a recipe that requires very tricky sugar and gelatin work AND decide that I was going to bring the results to a party? THESE ARE ALL DUMB THINGS TO HAVE DONE.
Fuck this fucking heat. Every year, I forget how unbearable it gets to cook in my kitchen from July through September. Of course. OF COURSE I would start this project now.
But I’m in it and there’s no turning back now. What I CAN do is scour these damn books for recipes that don’t require so much friggin heat. Something light. Something you actually want to eat when it’s a million damn degrees outside.
I didn’t do that.
Stella Parks is one badass baker. She is also a developer for Serious Eats, a website I have the utmost respect from, largely in part to the work by Parks and J. Kenji López-Alt. They’re not dumbing anything down, they’re not taking shortcuts at the expense of integrity. They’re doing good smart work over there. And Parks puts forth a book no less impressive than you’d expect from someone with her considerable baking prowess.
WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING.
I chose this recipe for a couple reasons:
a) I wanted to make it because of my strong affection for the Little Debbie junk food classics. I wasn’t really allowed to get them when I was a kid, because my mom wisely limited my and my sister’s sugar intake — something that would not be out of place now, but in the 80s was cause for a lot of “But evvvvvvverybody elllllllse gets to eat that stuff!” Even still, occasionally I was able to get my hands on one in the wild, at a friend’s house. The chewy cookie and smooshy creme are texturally just a brilliant consistency and pairing.
b) I’ve recently become intrigued at the idea of making a marshmallow frosting, and this recipe included it.
I realize that in the future, I need to start writing these posts before I attempt the recipe, when I still have hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the recipe at hand. Because right now, I feel *spoiler alert* defeated.
Let’s get into it.
The Recipe (directly from the book, which you should buy, because you will learn stuff):
You look at the cookie part first, and you go, “Oh, that’s not so hard, I can totally do this.” Then you look at the marshmallow creme recipe briefly, scanning the ingredients and go, “yeah, not so bad, let’s do this!” You do not clock all of the finicky temperature notes and are not scared yet, but you should be. And you will be.
Two days before I was set to cook, I gave the recipe a real thorough read-through, to create a grocery list and to get a good sense of what I was in for. And THAT’s when I realized the peril I was walking into. I had the good sense to go pick up a digital thermometer the next day, having had Real Bad Luck in the past with my current non-digital candy thermometer — the one which once allowed 2 batches of caramel to overheat and get that burnt-sugar taste because it clocks temperatures as lower than they really are, leaving me struggling to make a proper salted caramel sauce at 1 in the morning in advance of a potluck. Knowing that thing to be unreliable, I got a new one, plus a spatula that was fully coated with silicone, knowing that my only other heat-resistant spatula was likely to lose its silicone head in a truly sticky mix.
(I keep having to pause writing this, because even reliving this experience is exhausting.)
Having taken a look at the recipe and seen that the creme needed a couple hours of rest time, I decided to make the creme Friday night, after my friend’s birthday dinner. I thought that this was also a good plan, because surely by about 10, my apartment wouldn’t be so hot anymore.
Ha. Ha. Ha. Ah ho ho. Ha. Ha.
I didn’t document the process of making that creme because I knew I’d need all my wits about me and all my attention focused on hitting the EXACT TEMPERATURES listed in the recipe. And I did. And it STILL didn’t save me.
Working with molten sugar is HARD, people. It’s tricky and kind of scary. If it gets on you, it burns like a motherfucker and spot-welds itself to your skin. RUDE.
I did basically everything I could to follow this recipe to the letter. The vanilla extract I used was brown, so my creme was never going to be the “snowy white” described in the book, but I thought that maybe I was on the right track, since the creme seemed to be wanting to seize up firm at any opportunity. I was very uncertain as to how things were going, however, once I hit the part where I needed to hit it with the hand mixer.
It was not getting fluffy. It increased in volume, yes. It turned opaque, so clearly it was getting some air in it. But that’s about it. At a certain point, it became clear that things weren’t going to get any better, so I decided to let it come to “room temperature”, and then pop it in the fridge, because sitting out all night at 85+ degrees was not going to help things.
There was nothing more to do at 12:30am but to go to bed. I crash out, exhausted and fucking disheartened, not looking forward to getting up and heading back into the fray first thing in the morning, but knowing surely, what lay ahead would be easier. The hard part was over.
Ha. Ah ha ha ha ha ha.
Drag myself up at 8am Saturday morning, and it’s already hot. My face is puffy as hell and full of sleep lines from the salty curries I had the night before. I do a bit of cold water, caffeine serum, at-least-try-not-to-look-sweaty powder, save-me concealer damage control, and get to work, thanks to cold-brew concentrate.
The marshmallow creme is very hard and very sticky right out of the fridge, so I figure I’ll leave it out at “room temp”, and it’ll get to the point where I’ll be able to pipe it onto the cookies later. Sweet, delusional Saturday-morning Dana…
I made the cookies. It was very much like making cookies. Things to note about the recipe:
- That thing where it says to put the plastic over the dry goods in your food processor? Do it. Otherwise, flour will come poofing out of the crevices.
- That thing where it says to use 1 tbsp. size scoops? Do that. Because if you’re a size queen about your scoops and decide to eyeball it, GUESS WHAT? You end up with cookies that are a fine size for normal cookies but obnoxiously large for sandwich cookies.
- From my experience, the dough didn’t really spread as much as it poofed, so don’t stress too much about keeping the dough very chilled, like is needed in many cookies, because there’s enough substance (oats, apples, etc.) vs. sugar to keep ’em from spreading too thin. Instead, you might almost want to flatten the dough out a bit for optimal sandwich making. This is my hindsight recommendation.
Cooled the cookies down… and then it was time to pipe on the creme.
I managed to get the very sticky goo from the greased bowl into the piping bag (which I’d also greased for fear of it all sticking to the insides), and I began to pipe it onto my totally adequately cooled cookies. I moved on from cookie to cookie, and then I looked back to the first ones I’d done.
The creme was a pool. It was oozing uncontrollably off the edges of the cookies, no matter how level I had them placed. The stuff was about the consistency of thicker sweetened condensed milk at this point, and there was no stopping it.
Science was making me its bitch. I had failed the chemistry portion, meteorology had it out for me, and now physics was laughing in my face as my marshmallow creme was bowing to no master but gravity. It was as if a low-key version of The Blob was being remade in my kitchen, but the Blob’s only devious plan was to get to a flat surface it wasn’t supposed to be on. Which truly was dastardly enough to make me feel like I was in a horror movie.
I did my best, moving from cookie to cookie like a panicked Lucy Ricardo, trying to get as much of the creme onto the cookies and sandwiched together as quickly as possible, then to get them into the damn freezer to set up the creme. This was a losing proposition, and no amount of efficiency in the world could have saved my sorry ass in this moment.
I got the fucking cookies into the freezer, skipped having a total meltdown (because I had shit to do), and showered while they firmed up.
I was so mad at those goddamned cookies.
Look at them.
LOOK AT THESE UGLY SONS OF BITCHES.
How did they taste? These bastards pissed me off so badly that I can’t even remember how good they tasted and how I forgave much of their ugliness and how people at the party who tried them really seemed to enjoy them — and not even just people I knew who felt obligated to be nice to me! (My friends are very nice people, which means they can’t always be trusted to be impartial.) But I went through such bullshit with those cookies that all I remember right now as I type this is rage and disappointment and gooey sugar that had a life of its own.
OK, fine. They tasted really good. The spice content is spectacular, the apple was subtle but necessary, the oats were present enough to make my friend Adriana feel like she was eating something semi-good for her (that ol’ oatmeal cookie deception), the depth of the flavor was gorgeous. I may have overcooked them a bit in my attempt to balance out my oversized cookies, but they were overall fine.
Would I make this again? My initial reaction is “go fuck yourself,” but honestly, yeah, I would. Because this recipe defeated me, and I need to vindicate myself. But I’d make them in the winter; the flavor would be seasonally delicious, and I wouldn’t be fighting the weather.
Do I recommend this cookbook? Absolutely. There’s so much in it that I want to try.
What’s the next recipe I want to make from this book? Well, before this attempt, I would have said the White Mountain Layer Cake, with its Marshmallow Buttercream. But me, gelatin, and molten sugar are on a break for a while, so I’m gonna say how about Buttermilk Biscuits with Strawberries and Cream.
That’s two, people.
“Hey, whatcha gonna make next time, Dana?”
I don’t know, but…
a) it’s not going to be brown with a beige icing (two in a row??)
b) it’s not going to be made in my oven
c) it’s not going to be a dessert
d) it’s not going with me to a large party or event
I’m currently leaning toward a terribly practical selection from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything… but I may still need something even more low key. We shall see. But for now, that’s one more damn recipe from my cookbook collection.