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Elizabeth Scott

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I am done, done, done! with the baking. Thank goodness. Don't get me wrong, I like making cakes and cookies but today was day five and I'm ready to not see another mixing bowl, cookie sheet, or even oven mitt for a while. I was going to share the recipe for my husband's favorite cake, aka the 'You Know I Love You Because I Made You This Cake' Cake, but it's a pain in the butt to make (as you may have guessed from the name) so instead I'm going to talk about truffles. The chocolate ones, not the fungi.

Truffles are one of those things I was terrified to make for ages because they cost about eight hundred dollars a pound in all the fancy chocolate stores/food catalogs. But they aren't hard to make at all!

All you need is:

8 oz. of chocolate (I've made them with semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate--you can get both kinds in bars on the baking aisle. I don't know if you can make them with chocolate chips or not--I always buy the bars because they inevitably come in either 4 oz. or 8 oz. sizes, which, hello, super easy!)
8 oz./1 cup of heavy/whipping cream
A small bowl of powdered sugar (you can use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of sugar if you want to make 'em look gourmet)

Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and stir it to make sure you've gotten all the lumps out. Dump in the cream. Mix. Put plastic wrap over the bowl and stick it in the fridge for an hour or two. Get out a teaspoon, small cookie scoop, or melon baller, and stick that in the freezer.

After an hour or two, get out the bowl and whatever you've put in the freezer. I use a teaspoon. Also get a couple of paper towels or a napkin or whatever--something you can wrap around the end of the teaspoon until it warms up enough so you aren't freezing your fingers off.

Scoop the chocolate mixture--it'll be solid now -- out by the teaspoon and drop each truffle onto a plate or wax paper or whatever you want to store them on/in. If you want to get really fancy, you can roll them around a bit with your fingers after you scoop them out to get them nice and round. (If things start to get melty, just put the truffles you've made in the fridge, where they'll harden up again. Ditto for the chocolate mixture)

When you're done-- and you'll end up with about 16-24 truffles -- get your little bowl of powdered sugar and roll each of the truffles around in it.

And that's it. No oven needed, no fancy equipment, and three ingredients. So the next time you read about "time-tested processes" or whatever and truffles, you can think, "Oh, so they have a microwave and a refrigerator too." Heh.

And I have a couple of links:

Agent Kristen Nelson reveals her end of year stats -- 30,000 queries in one year? Whoa.

The latest Pew Internet report, this time on teens and social media--there's a lot of interesting stuff in this. (Direct link to the report itself is here--note that it's a .pdf file)

Monday, December 17, 2007

I'm reporting in covered with flour. Okay, not actually covered in it--I just have a light dusting on my feet and my shirt has suspicious looking handprint-ish smears of it around the hem. This week is the week I bake cookies and stuff, and today I'm going to share the recipe for one of my husband's favorites, Chocolate Caramel Squares. It's pretty simple--I think the hardest thing is pouring the batter (which weighs a lot--you'll see why in a minute) into the pan without gloping it everywhere.

Chocolate Caramel Squares

4 sticks butter* (aka one whole box)
3 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar (aka "regular" sugar)
4 eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup oats (don't use the instant kind, look for "old-fashioned")
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (*if you're using salted butter, cut the salt down to 1/4 tsp--as you all know, normally I don't bother with this, but it makes a difference here)
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (you can get morsels, the kind that comes in the little blocks, whatever)
1 13 oz can dulce de leche**

Get out a big, microwave-safe mixing bowl. Then get out a smaller, microwave-safe mixing bowl. You'll also need a 13x9 inch baking pan and a cookie sheet.

Set the over to 350 degrees. (If you're using a glass pan, make it 325 degrees)

Put the 8 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate in the smaller bowl and melt in the microwave. (It usually takes about a minute) When it's done, take it out, stir it with a wooden spoon or something that won't melt (nobody wants melted plastic with their chocolate) and then set it aside.

Get your big bowl and put all four sticks of butter in it. Melt them in the microwave. Enjoy the sensation of knowing you're making something with a pound (yes, that's right, a POUND) of butter.

When the butter is melted, take it out of the microwave, and add in the brown sugar and granulated sugar. Mix. Then stir in the vanilla, eggs, and oats. Next add in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir. This will be hard, as the dough will now have the consistency of concrete, and your arm will feel like it's going to fall off. (If you want, you can use a mixer. I hate cleaning mine, so I just tell myself I'm building muscle.)

Once everything is just barely mixed together, add in the slightly cooled and melted chocolate.

Now you will have to stir like crazy to get the chocolate blended in. See the above comments about the dough and its consistency, and just tell yourself you'll be able to wrestle a python to the ground with the upper body strength you're building.

What you're looking for is a dough where everything is just blended together. When you get there, stop. Put the 13x9 inch pan on top of the cookie sheet. ***

Then get the dough and put it into the 13x9 inch pan. The dough will be heavy and will fall into the pan sounding like a lead weight. If there is anyone around you wish to impress and/or have do the dishes, now is the time to sigh dramatically.

Spread the dough out across the pan--I just use the back of the wooden spoon I've stirred everything with. If that doesn't work, get your hands wet, so the dough won't stick to them, and just smooth it out with your fingers.

Then you want to open your can of dulce de leche and get a regular spoon. Using the spoon, dump bits of the dulce de leche all over the dough. Once that's done, use a regular knife to swirl the dulce de leche into the batter, or, if you're like me and always end up just dragging the bits around with the knife, get your hands wet again, and just drag you fingers through the dulce de leche and the dough, using your fingertips to mush it all together.

Once the dulce de leche is mixed in, take the 13x9 inch pan, which will now weigh apprx 5,000 pounds, and put it on top of the cookie sheet. Slide the cookie sheet and the pan into the over and bake for about 35 minutes.

After 35 minutes, check on the dough. If the middle still wobbles when you jiggle the pan, drop the over temperature by 25 degrees, and then put the pan/cookie sheet combo back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. (Check after 10, and then give it another 5 if you have to) You don't want the middle to be firm, but you do want it to look like it won't all fall out if you tip the pan a bit. I aim for what I call "goo"--that is, the edges are browned, and the middle has turned from a liquidy state to a denser, more goo-like state.

Now comes the worst part. Take the pan out of the oven. Take it off the cookie sheet and let it cool for about half an hour, or until it's no longer hot to the touch, but lukewarm (this can actually take up to an hour or more, depending on how warm your kitchen is)

Then cover the pan and put it in the fridge for at least six hours. Twelve is better. I know! But trust me, if you cut into them right away, they will be all mushy--good, but mushy and you will think the recipe didn't work. But it does! It just needs a good dose of cold to set up.

Once you've waited six hours--and I really do suggest waiting twelve--take the pan out--it'll still be heavy, so if you this at 6 in the morning, don't try it one-handed--and cut into squares. I usually aim for 24-32, as this really, really rich.

I also have some links to share:

Tess Gerritsen on how being a writer is like "walking an endlessly scary cliffside trail." -- There aren't many big name authors out there writing as honestly about the writing life as she does, and I can't recommend her blog enough.

The Rejecter looks at the infamous Kindle, as well as publishing's reaction to the growing e-book business.

Marie Brennan talks about writing as work

**dulce de leche is usually on the specialty/ethnic food aisle, although sometimes it's found in the baking aisle. If you can't find it--my mother, for instance, drove over a hundred miles and visited four grocery stores with no luck at all--just use a jar of caramel sauce/topping, which is either on the baking aisle, or over by the ice cream. In other words, buy about 13 oz worth of some sort of thick caramel sauce.

***Normally, I skip putting things that I'm baking on top of/in other things, as I've never seen it make much of a difference. But it is absolutely necessary to do it here, as without a baking sheet, the edges of your Chocolate Caramel Squares will get all dried out while the middle is still gooey and then you sit around thinking "I strained my arms for this?!"

Monday, December 10, 2007

I know, two entries in one day--madness! But I had to write another one because I just found out that Bloom is a Lambda Award Nominee! Go take a look at the list--there are some amazing authors and books nominated, and I'm thrilled to be listed among them. (Though I suppose all the !! probably gave that one away.)


(or, you know, that)
I ended up taking an unexpected vacation last week, and it was fun because I got to catch up on my reading, including Suzanne Berne's The Ghost At The Table, which was brilliant, and an ARC of Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Dead and The Gone, which is coming out in June and WOW! I *still* can't stop thinking about it.

I also want to say congrats! to Taylor, Katrina, Victoria, and Christine, who won last week's contest. I had so much fun reading everyone's book wishes--I'm totally doing that again soon!


Laura Anne Gilman talks about the idea that writing should always be fun --I really loved this, because while sometimes writing is fun, there are also times when, as Gilman says, "it's a damned agony and annoyance and general feh and meh."

Authors Margaret Bechard and Ron Koertge are interviewed at Through the Tollbooth, and offer advice on writing

Wish you could find out exactly what an editor wants? Well, over at Dutton, you can, thanks to a great webpage that has a list of editors, and exactly what they'd like to aquire (Be sure to read the submisson guidelines as well)

Agent Kristin Nelson explains exactly what a book auction is and how it happens.

Agent Joanna Pulcini offers Advice to Writers--lots and lots of good stuff here.

Tom Doherty, President and Publisher of Tor Books, wonders if mass market paperbacks are in trouble

Over at the livejournal community Fangs, Fur, & Fey, authors are sharing stories about how they got published

Monday, December 03, 2007

It's getting to be holiday time, and I've been thinking about wishes. I've been really lucky this year--every wish I've had for Bloom has come true, and so I thought I'd thank you all for everything and since--as you can probably guess--one of my favorite things to wish for is books, I've decided to have a book wish contest!

So tell me what young adult novel out there you wish you had a copy of, or that you've been wanting to buy but haven't, and you could get that book for free! Just comment here (or email me at elizabeth at elizabethwrites dot com) with the title and author of the young adult novel you wish for (it just has to be in print, and under $20 US) by midnight EST on Friday, December 7th, and then I'll draw four names at random, and each of those four people will get the book they wished for! Though you can only reply once, you can reply no matter where you live (I will ship books overseas), or if you've won something from me in the past.

I also have some links to share:

Writer Unboxed interviews agent Donald Maas, who offers up some interesting insights into getting published--and staying published--as well as his thoughts on what genres publishers are/will be moving away from aquiring

The Rejecter talks about working with junior agents

Elizabth Bear answers questions about writing advice, revision, and collaboration