making ricotta at home

I've always wanted to make cheese. Seriously. When I was a kid in the bathtub, I would take the crate that my toys were in, dump the toys and pretend to "cut" cheese (no, I didn't do that, you're gross!) like I saw on Mr. Roger's. 20 years or so later and I finally really did it!

I decided to make ricotta because it is most definitely a beginner's cheese. Plus, finding ricotta made with sheep or goat's milk in the states is impossibly difficult - and with the Italian we eat in this house, a solution to this problem was needed. Ricotta is more traditionally made with sheep and goat's milk, so no risk of it turning out super weird by substituting milks (Is this ever a problem? I don't know?)

After some research, I decided to try a few different methods. The first one I tried had you heating the milk until just below a simmer then stirring in the acid. But those directions were not specific enough. My simmer differed from the authors and led to ... nothing. Turned up the heat as suggested and went a little too hot. I did end up getting this to work using a thermometer and some more precise directions, but trying to keep such a specific temperature for such a short time ended up being quite an involved process which I found ridiculously, unnecessarily complicated.

The second method I tried was easier than boiling water. Pour milk and acid into a pot, let sit 24 hours. Place pot on stove and heat on low for 1 hour. Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes. Strain. I think that's a recipe short enough to tweet, even though I don't tweet.

I like it.

I also liked making it. I mean, it was easy. I found that I needed to heat mine to about "2" on my stove, but I do suggest starting at the lowest setting and only increasing if you find it's not getting hot enough. I make mine in 8 cup batches (1/2 gal). I have made it with 1/4 c. vinegar and 1/4 c lemon juice, both of which worked equally well.

Using goat's milk, it is more expensive than buying Ricotta Salata and re-hydrating it, but it's waaaay better. It's much creamier and adds a little something to the recipes that was lacking when using the drier Ricotta Salata. I think Ricotta Salata is an acceptable substitute in a jiffy, but when cheese is the star of the dish, I would consider making your own ricotta.

Have you ever made cheese? If so, what kind? 

Fall, a tribute.

Gosh, I love fall. Love love love love love it. I love the crispness in the air. The layers of clothing. The warm, spicy flavors. The football. The pre-season hockey. The plaid. The flannel. The wool sock and boot wearing. The colors. The red noses. Thanksgiving. The acceptableness of pumpkin being added to just about every food, or Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.

I wait all year, and although it won't be in stores, I keep my eye out for it at the very first hint of fall (like back to school sales, which are really at the end of summer). So you can imagine my delight when I popped into Whole Foods for a quickie shopping trip (for coffee and cheese) and saw the bright orange four pack shining bright on the beer display, begging passerby to give it a go.

It's expensive. The only downfall (@ $10.99/ 4). But seriously, it comes once a year. It's amazing. In my opinion, it is the BEST beer ever. No kidding. And the way I justify it (as if you even need to after you taste that punkin deliciousness in a bottle) is that $3.00 for a bottle of beer from the grocery is expensive, but if you go out to a bar, it's par for the course, so skip bar hopping and stay in to drink this (with friends of course, so you aren't too sketchy, or not, it's up to you).

Carve a punkin or two while you're at it. Or just hang out and watch football on the couch in your wool socks.

You're welcome.

Club Baked: Boston Cream Pie. I've got some splainin to do.

The Boston Cream Pie. I'll save my review for the end of my post as I think it requires a bit of background...

I made my first batch of pastry cream the night before, as suggested, to speed things up the next day. You caught that I said first batch, so something must have gone wrong, no? All was going fine, but all of the sudden, this happened:

I'm not sure, it never boiled or even bubbled as the recipe said it should for 2 minutes. It started to thicken and look tasty, but being a novice, I wanted to see some bubble action and set a timer, to make sure I was doing this per the book. I think (speculation, of course) that because I had substituted heavy cream for the whole milk as the recipe suggested that it may, with the additional fat, have set up far sooner than if I had stuck with milk. But I can't have milk, so whatevs.

So, the next afternoon, I'm in the kitchen working on the cakes. Place them in the oven, insert a bamboo drink stirrer because that's what I've got and the thing looked clean, honest. But after 20 minutes of cool down, I flipped over the cake pan and ended up with this:

*Lots of expletives*

So, I take a break, hubs and I eat the half baked cake off the plate, determine it is delicious and decide to screw the heavy cream in the cake batter and use goat's milk instead (I tend not to use it as much in desserts because sometimes the flavor is pretty distinct). Round two: I leave the cakes in for a full 30 minutes and turn up the oven to 350F. We usually bake smaller quantities in a toaster oven, so big oven baking was an eye opener. Lesson learned: the big oven does not accurately heat - at 350 my oven was reading slightly below 325. Yikes. We're renters.

I then continue to dirty up pots by making the chocolate sauce. I think this came out as it was supposed to on the first try. Thank goodness.

By now, my kitchen is a disaster. Hubs comes in and cleans off a little spot for me to assemble and I get to work. I flip over my cakes. One looks good and one has this sort of custardy film on the bottom. I say screw it, scrape it off and continue to work on getting this thing put together.

I fill it with some seriously heavenly pastry cream (seriously) and top it with the pretty average frosting. Sadly, at this point, I was so over the cake and staring at a kitchen that looked like this:

So I chucked the cake in the fridge and left the clean up for the morning.

I thought distancing my self a bit from the cake would give me time to get over all the trouble it gave me and let me give a more honest review of the cake. I love the pastry filling. That stuff was delicious. I was licking the bowl and really, really enjoyed that stuff.

The finished cake, though, left me wondering what happened to the delicious half baked mess from the night before*. Because properly cooked, I don't know, the cake wasn't my fav. It was moist, airy and yet still somehow not delightful. I think the prior Baked cakes had my expectations pretty high. The frosting was ok, but I preferred the one we made on the last cake - the Sunday Night cake.

Overall, the pastry cream was amazing. The rest was just ok for me. I would make the filling again in a heartbeat and fill pastries and doughnuts and eat it with a spoon straight from the bowl hidden in the back of the fridge...But I would probably find another cake and frosting recipe. These just didn't do it for me.

To see other baker's (more unbiased) reviews, check out the Club: Baked post. For the recipe, head on over to Brooke's Bountiful Kitchen.

*Hubs did like the cake.