2021: New Year’s Resolutionary Bakes

Upon the new year’s arrival in January 2021, my friend, Tiffany, suggested that we make a joint resolution to attempt a new baking recipe each month. I was all-in on this idea and was so excited to see the challenges we could overcome with the result of a delicious treat. We took turns choosing the recipe challenge each month. It is a great feeling to put your heart, love, and sweat (and tears) into a bake and be able to enjoy the outcome and share the deliciousness with others. I wanted to share the recipes that we used throughout the year and my results, thoughts, and suggestions!

January

We started the year with a recipe for a winter cake. This cake consists of a crunchy almond biscuit, white cake layers with almond extract, raspberry jam filling, and buttercream icing. The recipe instructs to whip egg whites to stiff peaks and incorporate them into the batter. This was my first time incorporating whipped egg whites in a recipe, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was so scared to mix them too strongly or knock out the air, so I didn’t incorporate the egg whites enough in the first two sponges I made. I had to throw them away and do it all again. Looking back on this recipe, I absolutely feel growth as a baker.

The recipe for this bake is here. I think this bake took me about 7 hours. A few notes about the recipe – I could not find red currants, so I substituted them with more raspberries. The buttercream was very runny for me. I might not have mixed it enough or done something else wrong, but it was really difficult to work with. I made this cake a few times after this, and I still stand by that my first attempt actually tasted the best. My soul was broken after I finished this cake after midnight though.

My January bake

February

The year was off to a strong start as the February bake was probably my favorite of the year. This month we made a Japanese cake roll with fresh strawberries and cream. I was visiting Tiffany in February, and we made this bake together, which was way more fun. This recipe was absolutely delicious and not the most difficult. I actually posted this recipe in another blog post because I loved it so much. Hop over to that post for my details and thoughts on this bake.

Here is the original recipe we used: Japanese cake roll

Japanese cake roll with fresh strawberries and cream

March

I’ll start March by saying this was a disaster. We chose to attempt to make flan this month, and I was quite unsuccessful. That’s okay though; the goal of the challenge wasn’t to succeed every time. It was just to try something new each month. I started by burning the caramel and finished by not baking it long enough. I don’t even really have any tips for making flan because it was such a mess. lol! At least I can laugh about it now.

The recipe for mango leche flan.

Disastrous flan

April

April was a pretty difficult bake. We chose to make a crepe cake after I had seen it several times throughout seasons of the Great British Bake Off. I found a recipe for a strawberry crepe cake with white chocolate ganache and slivered almonds. This was my first time making a ganache, and that was a miserable fail. It took several hours to make all the crepes and a really long time to put it all together. In the end, my kitchen looked like a bomb went off and I was exhausted. Haven’t made it again since.

Here is the recipe for the strawberry crepe cake.

Strawberry crepe cake – made a huge mess with the ganache

May

May was macaron month! Macarons are no joke in difficulty. There is a reason you see so many people struggle in baking shows with macarons. There is a serious amount of mixing by hand, and it is very fickle. If you overmix – forget it; if you don’t mix enough – also forget it. I am really happy with my first attempt at macarons. I haven’t made them since because they were so intense, but I hope to make them again soon. I spent probably about 6 hours on this bake.

This is the recipe we used for macarons.

Plain macarons with buttercream

June

This month was really fun because I was visiting Tiffany again, and we were able to bake together. It’s always better with a friend. We made a strawberry cheesecake this month, but this cheesecake had two sponges – one on the top and one on the bottom. We actually got this recipe from a Facebook post in a baking group, and the post directed us to an Instagram account. I don’t have the link for it, unfortunately. The cheesecake consisted of Genoise sponges, strawberry jelly, and a cream cheese filling. It was pretty good, but I’d rather have the cream roll from February hands down.

Strawberry cheesecake

July

July was our first bread bake of the year, and it used one of my favorite ingredients of all time – Nutella. Tiffany is the queen of bread, and I am her rookie apprentice trying to learn her ways. I am still learning how bread works and what it wants from me, but I was happy with the result of this bake. You would think the design was really complicated looking at it, but it wasn’t too hard. Definitely messy but not difficult. One of my goals for 2022 is to learn more about bread. How can I be a fan of Paul Hollywood and be so bad at bread? Shameful.

Nutella star bread recipe

Nutella star bread

August

Oh, August, you sweet summer child. I was feeling good after the star bread in July. Maybe I was learning to understand bread a little more than before. I must have been feeling confident because I chose croissants for August. And once again, bread showed me very clearly that I know absolutely nothing. I went into this bake blindly, meaning I did not do nearly enough research about croissants before diving in. I found a recipe and thought, “Hey, I can do that,” and I could not. I did not get the lamination that is so essential for croissants. Someday I will make them again when I regain enough courage.

This is the recipe that I used: croissants

And this is the recipe I would use next time: Joshua Weissman

Croissants…or an attempt at them

September

After a couple months of bread, I welcomed a return to a more traditional dessert bake. Tiffany chose creme brulee for this month, and I was intimidated at first. To my pleasant surprise, creme brulee was simple, easy, fast, and not-kitchen-destroying. The biggest thing was making sure I had the right tools – ramekins, a tray for the water bath, and a hand torch with butane. Oh, I would also recommend using real vanilla bean in the recipe rather than vanilla extract. I liked the creme brulee but felt like the flavor would have been so much better with a real bean rather than artificial flavoring.

Recipe for creme brulee. And a video!

Creme brulee

October

Three cheers for October! I was visiting Tiffany, and we got to bake together again for the last time this year. And I’m so glad we did because this month, we made divinity candy. I had never made candy, but Tiffany was prepared with a candy thermometer (which is pretty important for making candy). Divinity was not particularly difficult, but the sticky candy syrup made a mess. It was a workout for her stand mixer to mix the divinity long enough to drop it onto wax paper and keep its shape, too. It was obnoxious to clean the dishes afterward with all the gooey mess. All that being said, it was delicious and the first time I had really tried divinity. I would definitely make it again on a day I’m mentally prepared to deal with the fallout.

A recipe aptly named grandma’s divinity.

Divinity with candied pecans

November

Nearing the end of the year now, November’s bake was Japanese cheesecake. This bake is very different from traditional American cheesecake. This cake was more like a very fluffy sponge, and you could actually pull it apart and eat it with your fingers. I think this bake appears to be pretty simple just based on reading the recipe, but it’s actually really technical. I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. I tried really hard to have a perfect result and spent hours reading different recipes with suggestions and watching videos. I still ended up with a cracked top. I was very meticulous about the oven temperature and properly cooling the cake inside the oven with the door cracked. Good luck to whoever wants to make a perfect Japanese cheesecake. I believe in you.

Several Japanese cheesecake recipes that I read and combined techniques from – recipe 1, recipe 2, and recipe 3.

My Japanese cheesecake with a nice cracked top

December

We have finally reached the last bake of the year and the challenge – December. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t running out of steam. I was tired, but I wasn’t going to give up on the home stretch. And on December 31st, I baked a St. Louis gooey butter cake. And almost all of it went in the trash. Lol! This was a very weird cake because it used yeast and required a rising period. I honestly don’t know what this dessert is supposed to taste like, but the version I made was bland, boring, and not texturally pleasant. I hope I can try a real St. Louis gooey butter cake and see what it’s actually supposed to be someday.

I used a recipe that I can’t find now. But here is a replacement recipe for St. Louis gooey butter cake.

St. Louis gooey butter cake

We have reached the end of our journey through a year of new bakes and challenges. Looking ahead into 2022, I’m thinking about trying a new bread bake each month. I learned and grew so much through 2021 and am glad I finally stuck with one resolution in my entire life and completed it. Happy baking!

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