Thursday, December 17, 2009


Sorry for the biased and unpleasant title. But god, I hate cheesecake. I thought, maybe I'll like it this time? Maybe if I make it, it will be different? No. No. No. NO. It was worse. Much, much worse. I could barely stomach the smell while making them let alone force myself to take a bite of that abomination. It could've had something to do with being hungover from the hot cocktail party but regardless, I don't think I would've done well with them even if I was totally well. To be fair, many that tasted them did enjoy them, and even those that don't like cheesecake (perhaps less so than myself) liked them, so that was a triumph. They were quite pretty (thanks to Martha's minions). I can't comment on the taste, only relay to you what criticism I got. I find myself totally betraying the wise words of one of the greatest cooks ever: Julia Child. She always said to never criticize your food when you serve it. Why do I always do this? I guess I just always want it to be the next greatest thing I've ever tasted. But, I am quite honest in saying if something is good or not. At least I'm not the one who came up with the recipe? Not always....

So, yes, they were pretty, and yes, many said they tasted great, but some said that the texture was a bit off. And some some said that they weren't sweet enough. There really wasn't that much sugar, so probably add a lot more. Perhaps double. But, what do I know. I don't even know what cheesecake is supposed to taste like. I do know however, that the technique for the top is something any cheesecake would be glad to adorn itself with. You blend up about a cup of raspberries (or any fruit), strain them so you remove the seeds, add some sugar and put a few drops on each cheesecake and then with a toothpick, swirl it around so it makes, a well, swirly design. What more can I say?

So instead of making one big cheesecake (gross), I made a dozen cupcake sized ones with graham cracker crust. This part, I'm ok with. Crush up some graham crackers, add some melted butter (yum) and press a bit in to the bottom of each cupcake well. Bake for 10 and add your cream cheese mixture (gross). Then top with the raspberry sauce (so good on waffles the next day), swirl, and bake. Word to the wise, I also made tiny cupcakes and cooked the crust for the same amount of time and they burnt completely, so watch them and only bake for like 5 minutes.

Also, if you're like me and have a total aversion to cream cheese and don't understand that it is a dairy and needs to be refrigerated, take this as a lesson learned: refrigerate the cheesecakes after it's cool. Not saying I didn't do that.....

I'll never understand you cheesecake lovers. But I will make it for you. Begrudgingly.

The recipe:

Hot Cocktail Party Treats

A couple weekends ago we had a hot cocktail party and of course I had to make some desserts. This wasn't one of my better ideas because all the drinks were so overly sweet that not even I could take a single bite of one my sweets. Way too much sugar. They got eaten soon enough though. I went all Martha Stewart on this one. You know, I always think that her stuff is going to be the best because it just seems with all the thousands of minions she has coming up with ideas and taste testing everything, that her recipes would just blow everything else away. I've come to find this is not true....all the time anyway. While she does make some seriously good looking things, I've found that, yes, they are ALWAYS good looking, but not always as good tasting as you expect. Most of the times she comes half way. So it's kind of a toss up. A toss up I'm always willing to make though for some reason. I'm so brainwashed by the gorgeous pictures that I just think, man, this MUST be the best chocolate cupcake recipe there is?! It just has to be. In my case, it was gingerbread cupcakes and chocolate sandwich cookies.

Both recipes were relatively easy to make. Nothing out of the ordinary. My main problems and compliments with each are as follows. The gingerbread cupcakes took some getting used to. If you like not-so-sweet desserts, which many do (weird...) this is a good one. It is intense and SUPER molassesy. I mean, like there is 1 cup of molasses in the batter. If you've ever made anything with molasses, a little goes a long way, so this was a ton. I was shocked. Also, there is a ton of ginger in it too. So mostly, they just tasted like gingery molasses. Maybe not your thing? Not really mine either. I did warm up to them after a couple though. Like I said, they take some getting used to. However, they looked so pretty with a little white buttercream piped on top to look like a snowflake and then dipped in shimmering sugar. You can't go wrong with that. Not to mention, the beautiful display I used that I got for my birthday. So pretty!

Gingerbread cupcake recipe:

The chocolate sandwich cookies turned out different than I expected as well. First, I thought they were going to be more bite-sized like in the picture, which I can only blame on myself because I was the one that distributed the dough. It was fun though because you put little balls of dough on your baking sheet and then press them down into a disk with the bottom of a sugared glass. Makes them sparkly and a little bit sweeter. However, the cookies came out too crunchy and hard for my taste. I didn't over-bake them, quite the opposite. If anything, I under-baked them. So if you like your cookies crunchy, these are good for you. The recipe book I used (Cookies-Martha) is so cool because it divides the recipes into the different cookie textures i.e. crunchy, soft and chewy, crumbly, rich and dense, etc. Pretty good thinking there minions. I can't recall, but if these cookies weren't in the crunchy section, they should've been. The filling surprised me as well because it came out almost exactly like the Oreo filling, which depending on your predilections, could be a good or bad thing. I thought it was a good thing.....mainly because it didn't contain high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated palm oil and was still just as tastey, but that's just me! So, the cookies had the frosting going for them, but they were too crunchy. Too hard to eat. And they were way too big. Especially since they were a sandwich. So not only do you have the too hard chocolate cookie, but you have two! Make them small if you make them. Word to the wise.

Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches:

These weren't my favorite holiday treats by a long shot, but regardless, it's still fun to experiment and have people tell you what they think of them. I didn't even get too many tasters though, I think the cocktails did them (and me) in.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pumpkin Roulade

I made a pumpkin roulade for Thanksgiving and despite it looking like one of the hardest desserts to make, it was actually one of the simplest....or maybe I just got lucky. You do have to be fearless though, no second guessing yourself on this one!

There really is nothing to it. I used Libby's recipe, a good standby. I like to substitute organic pumpkin instead of Libby's pumpkin, but the rest works great. You just mix everything together, poor the batter in a large (10X15in) jelly-roll (casserole pan is fine) pan, bake for the exact lower range time (not a minute more!) and immediately when you take it out of the oven, carefully flip it onto a dishtowel covered in powdered sugar. Then carefully roll it up slowly from short end to short end, using the towel to help you roll by lifting it up and curling the cake with it. If all went well it rolled up perfectly without cracking or crumbling. Let it cool for a couple hours. When it's completely cool, carefully and slowly unroll it and frost it liberally with a vanilla buttercream. Any flavor would work here though. Cinnamon? Maple? Frangelico? Whatever you think is good with pumpkin. It should be pretty sticky on the inside, like it's slightly underdone. Helps it to roll better. Then roll is back up carefully (I requires a lot of redundancy) and if you like, you can pipe along the swirl to make it look a little prettier and perhaps pipe on the top. Sift on some powdered sugar and it's done! Pretty easy overall as long as you work slowly and carefully. Just go for it and if you mess it up, it still tastes the same right? And hopefully next time it will look a little better. I've never made anything like this before, I wasn't even in my own kitchen, and it went perfectly, so it can be done.

I apologize for the atrocious pictures. Collin wasn't around to take any of his amazing photos. It will have to do.

Endnote: I used organic powdered sugar for the first time in this recipe and I have to say, it was way better than regular sugar. It had this slightly different texture, way more powdery than powdered sugar and had a slight color to it. A richer cream, almost a gray, so pretty. Loved it! Give it a try! So good for the Earth...and you too!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I just edited my preferences and allowed my blog to notify you all when it's updated. If you want to be added to the list and you aren't on it just let me know. Or, if you don't want to be on the list, also let me know! Thanks!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownies

So I used to say that I wasn't much of a brownie person. They usually make me a little sick due to their density and chocolatiness. I used to say this until a few weeks ago when I started making brownies like every single week. I'm not sure how this happened but ever since I made them for the AIDS Walk Bake Sale, I've been on a brownie making/eating spree. I have no regrets however. This time though, I got a recipe from my cousin Autumn for Peanut Butter Brownies and I have to say they are amazing! I cooked them exactly according to the recipe which I usually don't do (I like to put a little of myself in to the mix) and they turned out perfectly. I even cooked them for the specified bake time (10 min, turn, then 15 min more) and they were just a little underdone in the center but cooked which is perfect if you ask any brownie lover. I loved that they were peanut butter and not chocolate for a change and they didn't make me ill even though I had a huge chunk.

I do have one bone to pick with the recipe trier/blog writer however and that is with her statement that you should always use Jiff or Skippy when baking and not the all-natural kinds. Are you kidding? Please. I think I can do with a little let high fructose corn syrup in my life. Use the all natural!! If that's what you like. I used a creamy Organic peanut butter and it was amazing. If you like chunky, go for that too. But for your own health, perhaps we can find one way of reducing our corn in-take and this might just be the time. Just saying....

I love making brownies because they are SO easy and these are no exception. Seriously, give them a try. Great for parties or large groups, it makes a ton! A 9x13in pan.

Here's the recipe:

Peanut Butter Brownies

With Love and Butter
Makes 12 huge squares or 24 small ones

You have your choice here of creamy or chunky peanut butter and I used chunky. When baking with peanut butter, you almost always want to use something like Jif or Skippy, not the all-natural kind.

2 eggs
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup peanut butter, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
2 tbsp. molasses
2 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F and move the rack to the middle position. Butter a 9×13-inch pan.

Whip the eggs and brown sugar together with an electric mixer. Add the peanut butter, melted butter, molasses, honey, vanilla, salt, and flour. Mix. Stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips by hand.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Strew the remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips over the surface. Bake 10 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake 15 minutes more or until the brownies turn golden and the center is set. Cool and cut into squares.

I forgot to have Collin take photos so the ones here are not mine, but from the blog I got it from.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls

Everyone's favorite right? Pretty much.

I love making these, they are way too good! The recipe I use says they are like the cinnabon rolls and I have to agree. Delicious and yet they don't contain all the preservatives and chemicals etc. that the cinnabon one's must have in them which is a definite plus. They are also probably the easiest baked good I ever make even though you make them from absolute scratch; starting with yeast, making the dough and letting it rise. Trust me, so so easy.

I like to do things a little different though.

I can't stop myself from wanting to cream the butter and sugar and add the eggs one at a time and then add the flour alternating with the milk/yeast mixture even though they tell me to just throw all the ingredients together. I just can't. It's too engrained in me. However, last time I'm pretty sure by adding the flour stepwise with the milk/yeast it overworked the dough and caused the gluten to break down a bit....that or I over baked them....which I did. Also, don't be tempted by the bread hook for the Kitchen Aid. It didn't work. I fell for it.

In all the times I've made these babies before, I've never overbaked them. I actually tend to underbake most everything because....well, it's just better. A little chewiness goes a long way. It was tricky for me this time though for some reason. Every time I looked in the oven, the rolls looked i kept baking and kept baking. I took them out probably 5 minutes after the recommended bake time and they looked gorgeous but it's a fine line with dough. Too long in the oven is way too long. It's like an exponential curve. Same is true of batters and well anything else that is baked. So when you bake these, and I highly recommend that you do, bake them for about 10-12 mintues and no longer. I realized a great test for seeing if they are done is keep an eye on the bottom of your baking pan (I like to use a glass caserole dish) and you can see if the butter that you lightly greased the pan with is burning. Also, the rolls tend to bake through first on the bottoms and sides, where they are touching the pan. So instead of checking the tops (like I made the mistake of doing), check the sides and bottom as well. Just a hint that I think works pretty well.

Aside from bake time issues, these are a cinch to make. You just mix everything up. Yes, cream the butter and sugar and add the eggs one at a time and the milk/yeast, but then just as a cup or two of flour, until you can form a lump and transfer it to a bowl. Work in the rest of the flour with your hands. Will make for happy gluten.

Let it rise for an hour. I put a heating pad under the bowl and a towel on top to help it rise. This is especially helpful in the winter when it's not warm enough (at least in my apartment!) for the dough to rise. After it's doubled in size (I'm kind of flexible on this amount) you roll it out to about 21in by 16in. Spread with a huge amount of butter (1/3C) and a ton of cinnamon and sugar and then roll up starting from the short side. Then cut in about 1.5in sections and place them in a baking pan. Then bake for ~10 minutes.

Let cool and frost with my old standby, vanilla buttercream. You can make it as thick or thin as you want depending on preferences. I made my a little thinner this time and I really liked it on the rolls, however, I would say a thick dollop on top is probably more satisfying.

For the buttercream I always use these proportions (yes I have them memorized.....):
1/4C butter
2C powdered sugar
1tsp. vanilla
~3Tbs. heavy cream

Photos by Collin Monda

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pumpkin Pie (from scratch?)

After a two week long hiatus of the cake club I am back. Several weeks ago I decided to undertake the task of making a pumpkin pie from scratch, as in from a pumpkin. You are supposed to use a pie pumpkin which is a smaller, sweeter pumpkin, primarily if not solely used for making pumpkin pies. I chose to make my pie this week which as you know is the week
after Halloween and despite it still be Autumn there are no pie pumpkins to be had. NONE. You would think people would still be enjoying pies the entire season and surely for Thanksgiving?! Do they take the pies away after Halloween and then bring them back again for Thanksgiving? I do not know, all I know is that I had to use a can of already cooked and pureed pumpkin. Fail. Although the rest of the pie is made form scratch, so it's not so much like cheating. I really wanted to make it from a pumpkin though. Oh well. Perhaps in a couple weeks?? Crazy grocery store. 

I made my crust the night before to save on time (great trick, it freezes and refrigerates amazingly well) and rolled it out and filled it the next night. The pie filling is always really strange to me because it's so liquidy. I always think, this is never going to gel and become firm. No way. Somehow it always does. Anyway, I was using a slightly shallower pie pan and didn't want to fill it up to the point of it was spilling all over the place when I moved it from counter to oven so I just put in enough to reach the lip and then used the leftover pie dough to make some little crusts to put in ramekins. I filled the ramekins with my leftover filling and baked the pie and little pies all together. I even had leftover dough after that and made schnittchens (had to). German tradition (or maybe just Schroeter tradition?) of taking the left over scraps of dough (schnittchen means "scrap" in German), rolling it out, spreading some butter over it, sprinkling some cinnamon and sugar, rolling them up and cutting them into little cinnamon rolls if you will. Delicious and a great way to use all of the dough. Plus, it always reminds me of my Grandpa, it's a kind of offering to him. I think he likes it. 

After about thirty minutes of baking I cut out a few leaves and acorns from the leftover leftover dough and placed them on top of my pies. Very cute. It's the little things. 

I read a recipe somewhere to make whipped cream with maple syrup to go with it and I got to say this is the best idea ever. Due to not wanting to bring whipping cream, beaters, and maple syrup to work and whipping it on my desk for group meeting, I decided to not try this delicious add-on but please do, I'm sure it's amazing! 

I would give you a recipe for the pumpkin pie but really, just use the Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe. It's the best. 

Oh but instead of using Libby's Pumpkin Puree I used an organic pumpkin puree. Just doing my part. Good for you and good for the earth! 

Photos by Collin Monda

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brown Sugar Cookies with Fleur de Sel

For Kathleen's birthday I made her new favorite cookie which is the brown sugar cookie with sea salt. For those of the savory variety and not the sweet (I am not in this camp if you haven't already noticed that) this is a great cookie for you. It is a pretty sweet cookie but it has a good deal amount of fleur de sel ("flower of salt" in french) which is a quite salty salt. So a little goes a long way. The recipe calls for a lot of sugar (mostly brown) which surprised me because even regular unsalted cookies have less sugar than these, but am not one to complain about sugar content. Another interesting component of the recipe is that it uses browned butter. Butter cooked to the point where is just starts to turn brown and right before the milk solids actually burn. Mine burned a bit (okay, I've never brown butter) but I just strained off those pesky milk solids and all was well. The browned butter I have to say is a nice touch. Adds a little extra nuttiness to the cookies (and butteriness).

The dough had a delicious molassas-y aroma and was a nice rich, nutty, brown color. I decided to split it up into three different cookies. One with pinch of fleur de sel on top, ones rolled in a mixture of brown and white sugar (what the recipe called for) and ones that I piped on the letters of happy birthday and then dredged in salt. So all camps were accounted for. The recipe called for the cookies to be pulled out when the inside was still a bit raw which is what I normally do (makes for a very chewy cookie-my fav) but this time, every time I would check on the cookies they still seemed far from done until I decided to pull them out and they looked great but turned out to be a bit on the crunchy/done side. So, don't go with your instincts on this one, just pull them out when they are raw, after about 12 minutes. The cookies, aside from texture were delicious. I love brown sugar. Who doesn't? The salt was a nice addition and for those that enjoy a little more savoriness in their lives than sweet, this is a nice treat for you.

Here's the recipe I used:

This recipe is identical to the one that made this type of cookie Kathleen's new favorite, except salt is added to the sugar mixture the dough balls are rolled in. Perhaps a nice medium between camps?

Happy Birthday Kathleen!

Photos by Collin Monda

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whiskey Apple Pie

I finally have acquired the skills to make pastry dough. Triumph! Ok, it's a piece of cake (pie?) if you have a Cuisinart and as far as I'm concerned there is no other way. I can not even begin to imagine how people made/make pastry dough without one. I tried, believe me, with the Tarte Normande and it was something similar to a disaster. Sure it looked ok, but it just wasn't right in any capacity. I felt like I had offended Julia and perhaps she rolled over in her grave. It was close to a shamful experience. A bit dramatic, but in comparison to my Cuisinart dough, you would understand. The Cuisinart makes the perfect, buttery dough that just barely holds together but doesn't crumble out of control and is silky smooth. Just like Julia told me. Well mashing chunks of butter into flour with your warm thumbs trying to keep your palms out of it doesn't exactly work the same as a high speed blade slicing the butter into tiny little particles perfectly mixed and in a nice equilibrium with the dough. If you don't have a Cuisinart, get one, somehow. I borrowed (took) my mom's but I'm guessing they have old ones (which are perfectly good believe me! That's what I'm using) on ebay or second hand at a shop. The new ones are a bit pricey, but sweet jesus are they beautiful.

Anyway, somehow acquire a Cuisinart and you can make any pie. Guaranteed. Ok, enough with my shameless promotion of the Cuisinart food processors, but seriously, it made all the difference for me. Once you have the perfect dough, your pie has pretty much made itself.

When I was home in Portland my cousin Nici and I got a lesson from the pie/Cuisinart masters (my mom and cousin Autumn). 

The first trick given by Autumn is to mix half the amount of butter called for (usually one stick, a healthy amount) into your flour as well as the remaining amount in the form of Crisco. Yum, I know, but really, it makes all the difference. Makes it flakey and buttery and perfect. Keep the Crisco in the freezer (it won't freeze......yea I know). It just keeps it that much colder and really what else would you be using Crisco for? Hopefully nothing. 

So once you've got your flour and butter/crisco equilibrium after a few pulses of the food processor then you slowly (slowly!) add ice water (yes, ice in the water) in a steady stream this is where the masters differ. I chose sides. Sorry. Until.....the dough JUST forms a ball. NOT when it's rolling around in there in one big lump. You've gone too far at that point and the gluten starts to break down. Bad for pastry dough. So, add it until it just forms a dough. Others say when it just starts to form big chunks but not to the point of a ball. So, try it out and see what you prefer. I like the ball because those extra few seconds make the dough that much easier to roll out and manage, but it doesn't make all that big of difference. Choose whichever side you like. 

Once your dough forms a ball, divide it in two if you've made a double recipe (typical when making pies with a top) and wrap it up in saran wrap (mom says wax paper) and form a ball, then smash it into a disc  and refrigerate it for as long as you see fit (I do an hour). While you're waiting, whip up your filling. I did an apple pie made with whiskey. I kind of merged two recipes so here is my little summery of the frankenstein I made (a delicious one at that). So follow the recipe below but disregard the part about the steps in making the filling and just use the ingredient amounts and listen to me. 

So mix all the ingredients together except for the whiskey and vanilla (I know, it's not listed). 

Probably the most important part of this, besides the whiskey is that you should use Honeycrisp apples if you can get your hands on them. They are abundant in the fall and are hands down THE BEST APPLES. To eat. And to bake with. Delicious! Always firm and crisp and never mealy. Juicy and amazing. So use them! It will make your pie that much better. 

Ok, that said, place your peeled, cored, and sliced apple and sugar etc. mixture in a sauce pan and simmer on a lowish-medium. This forces most of the liquid out of the apples so it doesn't all end up in your pie and overflow all over the oven. Makes for a soupy pie and the fire alarm going off. No good. So cook them for about 5-10 minutes. While your waiting, take your pie dough (after an hour)  and roll it out on a silicon pad (if you have it-so much easier!) and then transfer it to your pie plate. It's easy to just kind of flip it into the pie plate if you get under the dough  a bit, or you can fold it in quarters and then lay it in the plate and unfold it. Crimp the edges and trim off the dough hanging over. Mix in two tsp. of vanilla and one teaspoon of whiskey (a bourbon whiskey like Makers or Knob Creek) in to the apple mixture. The whisky and vanilla make such an impact on the flavor of the pie it's kind of incredible. When I did this myself I added the whisky before I cooked down the apples and I think it cooked out the liquor (for shame!). So wait, till they are already cooked to add it. 

Put your partially cooked apples in the pie crust and add about half the liquid. Put the pot with the rest of the liquid back on the stove to simmer for another five or so minutes until carmely. Roll out the other half of your dough and cut into strips (using a crimper to do this looks so pretty). Starting with the edge place one strip vertically and another horizontally and keep moving in a diagonal until you reach the opposite corner, if a circle had a corner. Then rub some butter on the top of your lattice dough and sprinkle with some raw sugar (or whatever you have). Not too much, just enough to make it a bit sparkly. You can also do cookie cutter shapes or nothing. Up to you.

Bake for about an hour. Drizzle with the reduced carmel sauce and let cool for several hours. Must be served with vanilla ice cream. It just has to. 

It's pretty and oh so good and not too hard to make right? There are a lot of steps but really, once you can make the crust, like I said, the pie just makes itself. 


Any excuse to drink while you eat is an excuse I can get behind. 

Me triumphant. Pastry dough "mastered". 

Photos by Collin Monda and Autumn Webring

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pumpkin Cookies

I recently made pumpkin cookies, a very appropriate fall dessert. I usually love them but since last fall, I found them to be a bit on the sweet side this time. I think I may not be used to the copious amounts of buttercream I put on anything I can this time around, so next time I probably will add just a bit. The cookies are subtly sweet, much like pumpkin pie, so a little frosting is nice, but a little goes a long way. These cookies are a cinch to make and don't take much time at all so I'd definitely recommend giving them a try. Also, one cookie is more than satisfying to any sweet tooth so you wont feel too guilty around the holiday dessert table. Admittedly, one probably isn't that healthy, but still, having only one will make you feel good about yourself! I like to add a touch of cinnamon to the top for affect, but you could do nutmeg or any fall-like spice. 

Here's the recipe I use:

Photo by Collin Monda

Lemon Poppyseed Cake

Last week I made Lemon Poppyseed cake and used a recipe from my beloved and was extremely disappointed. It was overly dense and a little dry. Also, the color was more white than yellow even though I added a whole lemon zest and juice. I thought this was odd. I should have stuck to my mom's or cousin Autumn's recipes. Those are SO good. I realized the crucial difference in a lemon cake recipe is the eggs. You need a lot of eggs. Like 3-5 eggs and sometimes more yolks. A lot. It keep it really moist which is what you want in a pound cake. Also, I found that when you have a really moist lemon cake it doesn't need any glaze whatsoever. Sweet enough on it's own and so delicious. My cake definitely needed the additonal eggs and more importantly, the extra egg yolks which provide the desired yellow color. Also, buttermilk does a lot to keep cakes moist and many recipes include it. 

Here is an example of a much better recipe:,166,136189-244196,00.html

I will definitely  have to make this cake again and try a recipe that has more eggs and probably buttermilk too and I wont glaze it this time.

Also, if you want poppyseeds in your cake, many recipes are just plain lemon, so add 2 tablespoons and that should be enough. I also sprinkled some on top of my glaze for decoration when the cake was finished. 

Photo by Collin Monda

Monday, September 28, 2009

Brownies and Recipes

So I remade the brownies from the AIDS walk for a party at Collin's sister and boyfriend's place for the Australian football championship and I have to say they were amazing. It probably was because they were fresh out of the oven but they were one of the best brownies I've had. Granted, I'm not a huge brownie fan, but nevertheless they were great. 

Also, I have had several "complaints" (haha I find this kind of amusing) that I haven't been adding the recipes to the blog. I will start doing this right away. I realize it's kind of the whole point of doing this blog but I felt in the beginning it was more about the process and the analysis of the types of desserts in general and less about the specifics of the recipe. But, the people have spoken and I must appease the few that actually do read this so here is a fresh start. 

My fav brownie recipe so far:

P.S. If you ever need a recipe for something sweet, check out this website. It has such great stuff. I feel a little guilty ransacking it all the time, but it is amazing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

AIDS Walk Bake Sale

I was asked to make a couple of things for the upcoming bake sale at Collin's sister's office (NBBJ)  for the AIDS walk in Seattle so I made some vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with a kind of mint colored buttercream (I wanted it to be more grayish blue) but it turned out mint....still looked pretty, but don't know how that happened (used blue food coloring). I also made some brownies with a semisweet chocolate ganache. I tasted the brownies and they were pretty good (really chewy and with frosting, my favorite kind). 

The vanilla cupcakes turned out really well (looks wise, I didn't taste) and puffed up nicely, but the chocolate however, seemed to condense rather than rise. They shrunk away from their paper liners and became small little cupcakes. Seemed fine but looked a little messy with the papers hanging off. The chocolate cupcakes called for a chocolate fudge frosting but I had so much vanilla buttercream that I decided to just frost them all with it and it looked rather pretty against the chocolate color. 

All of the recipes I really liked; the batters were thick and smooth, especially the vanilla. The brownies, like I said were really chewy and moist so I might have to make those again for myself. I usually am not a brownie person because they are more often than not hard and crispy. Not a fan. 

All in all, I'm glad I contributed. I work in an HIV research lab and should have participated in the walk to do my part but perhaps baking for a cause is good enough? I guess it's better than nothing! 

I was planning initially to make white buttercream frosting and sugar cookies and pipe on red ribbons and am glad I didn't. Way too kitsch. I figured people would probably spend more money on pretty cupcakes rather than something kitschy. Who knows though. Hopefully they make some money!

Photo by Collin Monda

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tarte Normande aux Pommes

So I recently signed up for a local, organic produce delivery system called Full Circle Farm ( It's fantastic-check it out!) and included in this week's bundle was four deliciously ripe pears (poires, you'll see why my tart has pommes later) which immediately inspired me to make a French tarte. Beautiful fruit are best displayed in a tart. The only problem was I have never made a tart of any kind, let alone pastry dough.....cakes are my thing, not pies....yet. 

Pastry dough, I quickly learned is a huge pain. Like all things in my life I jump right in and try it out. It comes from having little to no patience. Things went pretty well once I combined the ingredients but soon after that things began to crumble, much like my dough, pretty rapidly. Julia (Who else would I use for making a French tart) tells me that the dough should just stick together but not be sticky. Ok? So I added just enough cold water for the dough to bind but once I started to blend the fat by kneading it with the heel of my hand, the dough didn't stick together at all but just fell apart. I added more water and more water and still it never really was a cohesive mass. I think it went too far in the sticky realm, but what could be done? I refrigerated the dough and in a couple days went to finish my tart but the pears had gone bad and Collin had eaten a couple so I switched to apples......

I attempted to roll out my dough and somehow was surprised that it still wasn't sticking together even though I had done nothing to magically transform it and had to add yet more water. I was able to roll it out to about 8 inches in an oblong shape an decided to forgo my plan of using an 8in springform pan and used my oval Le Creuset caserole dish instead. Couldn't bear the frustration of rolling it out any longer. Like I said, pastry dough is not my thing. I don't even like to eat it so it is decidedly not my friend. 

I put it in the pan, attempted to make some decoration around the edge with a fork but some of it just crumbled off and some of it stayed with the fork marks. Whatever. I moved on. 

I decided to kind of combine Julia's Tarte Normande with her Tarte aux Pommes. I wanted the fruit to be on top so I used the basic tart part for that and I wanted it to have custard, but under the fruit, so I used the Normande part for that. It was a bit confusing but I managed it. I cooked the apples in their sugar and cinnamon (I evidently decreased the amount of apples called for and used the same amount of sugar....not a problem for me) seperately and cooked the custard in the partially baked shell and then layered the apples on top and baked for a bit longer. Covered it with powered sugar at then end. It turned out rather pretty and I was pleased.

However, the custard either cooked too long and became a bit thick or it soaked in completely to the crust because it was nearly impossible to distinguish crust from custard. The apples were delicious though, but Honeycrips always are (my favorite apples). The custard/crust was nice and vanilla-y because I added vanilla instead of apply brandy (didn't have it....who does?). It was tasty and pretty which I guess is all that matters in baking. At some point here I've got to learn how to make a decent pastry dough. Mom? Sasha? Anybody? Julia is far too confusing. 

Photo by Collin Monda

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Red Velvet Cake

This is probably my favorite cake. I always liked it but I have come to love it. It is the most rich, moist, and delicious cake I have ever made. It definitely lives up to the name "red velvet". The recipe I've been using, although not authentic or special in any way, is the Paul Deen recipe which was her grandmother's. I love it because it has a lot of EVERYTHING. Including butter, sugar, and red food coloring. I'm not sure if I should divulge to you exactly how much red food coloring it does contain, but lets just say that it isn't that incredibly rich, deep red color from just a few drops from the squeeze bottle. In fact, no measuring in drops or tablespoons is even necessary. This cake is unique in both taste and ingredients. Part of what makes it so good is that it contains a chemical rxn (well aside from the usual ingredients involved in the baking process....."cooking is chemistry" as my mom always says) involving baking soda and vinegar. This is the reaction.

NaHCO3 (aq) + CH3COOH (aq) ----> CO2 (g) + H2O (l) + CH3COONa (aq)

So CO2 is produced (the bubbles/foam) and you're left with a dilute solution of sodium acetate in water. The CO2 is what allows the cake to rise. It seems as though it causes it to rise only slightly (just enough) because overall the cake is quite dense and produces relatively thin layers (recipe calls for 3 layers). You could make two thicker layers. 

Here is the recipe:

I never get tired of making this cake. It is that good. Also, traditionally the cake calls for cream cheese frosting but I have been know to substitute it for buttercream (if I'm making it mostly for myself...). Just an extra something. Also, it says to mix in the coconut and pecans before you frost the cake but I sprinkle on the coconut after. It gives it more texture and just looks better than having the coconut mixed in and hidden. Also, I don't add pecans. I hate nuts in desserts but mainly I just think it takes away from it's texture and it's beauty. Leave the outside pure white and when you cut into it the inside is bright red. Very impressive. A good cake at anytime, but especially for the holidays!

Photos by Collin Monda

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Carrot Cake

For the first "official" cake of the cake club I was asked by several people to make a carrot cake. My least favorite cake except for maybe fruit cake. But, since I've never made it and never liked it I thought it would be a good chance to try my hand at it and hopefully like my own creation. This was not the case. Everyone else seemed to love it though!

The cake batter however was delicious (yes, I ALWAYS try it) and I felt hopeful that my opinion would change despite the large chunks of walnuts (I hate nuts in desserts) and mostly cream cheese, cream cheese frosting (not a favorite to say the least). It was fun to make though, especially piping the carrots on top, even though I completely winged that. The first couple were a little askew and I should probably have piped the leaves but didn't feel like washing the pastry bag twice. It's a complete hassle. 

I thought it was interesting though that the carrot cake came about during the Middle Ages because carrots, beets, and other "sweet" vegetables and fruits were used as a way to sweeten the cake when refined sugar supplies were low or too costly. Another fascinating anthropological fact is that carrots were first used and cultivated in the 7th century AD in Afghanistan and were purple instead of orange! Eating a cake with so much beta carotene justifies it enough for me. If I was to make this cake for myself, which I tried to suppress the desire to do this this time, I would have cut the walnuts way down so they were barely even chunks and used buttercream (my favorite!) instead of cream cheese frosting. I would probably still leave in the whole lemon's worth of zest though. It was a nice touch and added a bit of tartness to counter the sugar. If you like carrot cake this was a good one. If you don't, it probably doesn't matter if it was good or not. I still may never come around. Vegetables in cake? No thanks. 

Made Collin a couple cupcakes from the batter. They may have turned out better. Less chunks of walnuts. 

Photos by Collin Monda

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


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Thursday, September 3, 2009

German (American) Chocolate Cake

For my boyfriend's uncle's going away party (going to art school in New York) I made a German Chocolate Cake (his professed favorite...and one of mine too!). While looking for a good recipe, I did a little research and discovered that German Chocolate Cake isn't really German at all, but rather (Samuel) German, who developed the specific chocolate used in the recipe in 1852. I felt a little taken advantage of to say the least. All this time, thinking that the reason I liked that cake so much, must have been related to my heritage. It is sadly American down to the very last ingredient. Oh's still pretty great, even if the recipe is only as old as my Great Grandmother. I also found out that the sides are traditionally left unfrosted, which normally goes against everything I stand for, but in the hopes of giving this recipe a bit mor legitimacy I stuck with the aforementioned "tradition". 

The cake was relatively easy to make and included the always effective way of adding your dry ingredients alternately with your wet, in equal portions, always starting and ending with the dry. For some reason I just love this. So practical and so very specific. If this sounds too fussy for you, perhaps the resulting batter will change your mind. It's always perfectly smooth and evenly mixed. 

I baked the cake for about 5 minutes less than the recommended minimum time and it could've gone in for even a bit less. Wound up making three thinner layers so it didn't need as much bake time. 

Frosting was a cinch since the sides were left bare. All in all, not too bad to make and well worth the effort. Delicious. Even I almost couldn't handle the richness and chocolately-ness. It's an intense cake. Perhaps coffee or even milk would have been a better pairing than champagne? Hmmm, no. 

Photos by Collin Monda

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Cake Club

So I've decided to take the advice of a friend and start a blog about the things I bake, namely cakes (my favorite). I will be making a treat weekly for the recently founded: "cake club" at the request of my co-workers. I will be the one making the cakes and they will be the ones eating them (well I will be eating them too!). I figure, why not at least take a picture of all the sweets I make and perhaps say a thing or two about the difficulty, if it tastes good, and if I would change anything about the recipe. I have not quite moved on to mastering any recipes of my own, but I do usually change a thing or two when making cakes etc. For instance, I follow Julia Child's example and never skimp on the butter. In fact, I usually judge a recipe's worth by how much butter it calls for. If it contains less than a stick, depending on the type of desert, it usually isn't worth making. It just wont be good (sorry to be so cruel to the butter-poor recipes, but it's true). So no healthy food here, just delicious, sugar and butter rich deserts. Mostly cakes. We were made to want sugar and fat so why not give in to that wonderful evolutionary trait every now and again? If not weekly? Or daily....depending.