Recipe: Homemade Oreos

Did you know that Oreos have been around for over 100 years? Talk about an oldie but a goodie. These cookies were a childhood favorite of mine, but I’ve gotta admit, I mostly preferred the cookie part to the filling. I found the filing weirdly waxy and artificial tasting, so I often times would scrap it out and just eat the cookie. Was that anti-American of me to do? <shrugs> At times, I even went as far as making a “milkshake" out of my cookies and a glass of milk. Gross or brilliant? Don't answer that.

For my hub's birthday, after asking what he wanted for dessert, he said “a cookie with a creamy filling.” The first cookie that popped into my head was, of course, an Oreo. My beloved cookbook, Flour, had a solid looking Oreo recipe and I was excited to see how a homemade version compared to the real deal. 

The recipe was simple enough, but the only bother was that the dough needed to sit for a few hours here and a few hours there before baking. #dessertdelayer Luckily, these puppies were worth the wait. The cookie part tasted exactly like the real deal, but was overall much softer. As for the filling, I didn’t have any desire to scrap it out, so I call that a success. It was super sweet, nicely creamy and natural tasting. One thing to note is that these are JUMBO-sized Oreos, "king-sized" if you will. That was the immediate reaction everyone had to them, so try to prepare yourself and your consumers accordingly.

Oreo lovers should give these a go, no doubt. And don't forget to complete your Oreo experience with a large rimmed glass of milk to dip these bad boys into! 

Homemade Oreos
Yield: 16–18 sandwich cookies
Recipe from Flour by Joanne Cheng

Ingredients – Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (90 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Ingredients – Vanilla Cream Filling
1/2 cup (1 stick/114 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups (230 grams) confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch of kosher salt

Directions – Cookies
1.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Whisk in the vanilla and chocolate. Add the egg and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
2.  
In another medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda until well mixed. Using a wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. The dough will start to seem too floury, and you will find it easiest to switch to mixing it with your hands until it comes together. It will have the consistency of Play-Doh. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about 1 hour to firm up.
3.  
Transfer the dough to a 15-inch square sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Using your hands, shape the dough into a rough log about 10 inches long and 21/2 inches in diameter. Place the log at the edge of the sheet of parchment paper, and roll the parchment around the log. With the log fully encased in parchment, roll it into a smoother log, keeping it at 21/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm. The log may settle and sink a bit in the fridge, so reroll it every 15 minutes or so to maintain a nice round log, if you like. If not, your cookies will be more oblong than round, which is not a bad thing taste-wise, though they won’t look like the famous packaged cookie. (At this point, the dough log can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month. If the dough is frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.)
4.  
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or butter it.
5.  Cut the dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the slices about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.
6.  
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Check them frequently after 16 or 17 minutes, poking them in the middle. As soon as they feel firm to the touch, remove them from the oven. You can’t judge by color because they start out black.
7.  
Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack to warm or room temperature. They don’t have to cool completely before you fill them, but you can’t fill them while they are hot. While the cookies are cooling, make the frosting.

Directions – Filling
1.  Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the butter on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until completely smooth and soft. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Add the milk and salt and again beat until smooth. It will look like white spackle and feel about the same—like putty. You can also mix this frosting by hand. Make sure the butter is very soft, and use your hands to mix and knead the confectioners’ sugar into the butter. You should have about 1 cup. (The filling can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.)
2.  
Scoop about 1 rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the bottom of 1 cookie. Top with a second cookie, bottom side down, then press the cookies together to spread the filling toward the edges. Repeat until all of the cookies are filled.

Guest Post! Review: Petit Pot's Pot de Créme

Three dollars and ninety-nine cents for 3.5 ounces of what's more or less pudding, albeit in a glass jar, probably sounds a little snobby. That's like, what, just over a dollar an ounce? It belongs in the same category as everything else between $3.50 and $3.99 that should really go for, say, two bucks. 

But the words "chocolate pot de créme with dark Belgian chocolate" coupled with "handmade in the Bay Area" were enough to make me go "well ok just this once" before tossing it in my cart. And just this twice, really, because the lemon curd pot de créme was a) sitting right there too, and b) the only one left of its kind, which always provokes in me some ancestral urge to provide! Scarcity! Get the last one! 

They're both made by Petit Pot, a small business based in Oakland.

Fast forward three weeks and let's see, I've had the chocolate one three times, the lemon one twice, and the caramel one and vanilla one each once. I've also given a couple out as miniature gifts, so anyway, do the math and that's…$43.89 spent on pot de fucking cremés OH MY GOD. 

You know what though, whatever, these are damn good. Each is topped with a dollop of whipped cream, and while that top layer is neither flavorful nor dull, it's a nice introduction to the rest of the…pot? Can we just agree this is fancy pudding? 

My favorite, the chocolate, is slightly bitter with 70% cocoa bean content. Here are the rest of the ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, egg yolk, sea salt and buttermilk. Nice, huh? Real foods that don't require Wiki to decipher what they are. Dark Belgian chocolate is the protagonist here, rich, layered and complex. The real judge: my 5-year-old son loved this one. 

My second favorite, the lemon curd flavor, is tart! Like this!! It leaves you with pursed lips, and when it's lemon anything – cookies, bars or icebox pie – my preference is go big or go home. Also, being a copywriter, I'm a sucker for specific descriptors, and the "made with Californian lemons" bit wooed me (but they're Californian!). The child critic didn't care for this one, "delightfully tart" to me likely read "fucking sour" to him. 

So there we have it, first and second place. Then there's the equivalent of an awkward pause before we get to third and fourth, and actually, they both kind of just tie for last. The caramel pot de créme is salted caramel (of course…), and like most things salted caramel, I found it just a little too salty. The vanilla one, which I thought would be an easy second place for me, was oddly eggy. I don't know how else to describe it. It was good, and even had the little black Madagascar vanilla bean flecks that make anything vanilla-flavored better. But for some reason, the taste of eggs presided, sort of like an eggy French toast. 

All in all, I'm into these desserts. And I like that they're locally made. Oh, and that 3.5-ounce thing? Turns out it's the perfect size, as each is rich and just a little is just enough.  

I'm hoping Petit Pots thrives. I've seen their stuff in a few different upscale markets in the East Bay as well as Mollie Stone's in San Francisco. I'd love for them to try a few new flavors that stray from the traditional – Chai or anise, perhaps? Black tea? Mango rum? 

Raising a toast to these little glass jars, 
katie louise 

Painting Dessert

I've been itching to get back into painting for quite some time, and last week, I finally broke the seal. My hubs and I took a painting class, but it wasn't your run of the mill painting class, it was a BYOB painting class. Booze and painting separately are pretty great, but combining those two is just plain brilliant. If you haven't heard of this sort of concept, let me fill you in. This company called "Beyond the Canvas" offers classes several times each month in which they provide you with painting supplies and more importantly, in depth step-by-step instruction on how to paint a particular subject, all whilst you sip on a tasty adult bevy.  

The particular class we chose was titled "BYOB Paint & Ice Cream Workshop." It couldn't have sounded more up my alley. Going into the evening, I only knew that we were going to paint dessert and drink some wine, but didn't know anything further than that. As we walked in, I looked up and immediately recognized Wayne Thiebaud's "Four Ice Cream Cones" painting projected onto the wall, a personal favorite of mine. This was the subject we were going to recreate, we were told. I was stoked because Wayne Thiebaud is one of my all-time favorite artists. Take a gander to the very top of my blog. Those paintings are all Wayne. #wayneismyhomeboy 

I first learned about Wayne early on in college. I was drawn to his work instantly. Firstly, he's crazy talented, secondly his use of color is fantastic (even his shadows are gorgeous, is that a weird thing to say?) and thirdly, one of his favorite subjects to paint is dessert. Mad painting skills AND he loves to paint dessert? Man after my heart! So the fact that we got to attempt to recreate one of his dessert paintings was pretty damn cool.

We were given roughly 2.5 hrs to tackle this painting, which was SO not enough time! It felt like a Top Chef quickfire challenge. About halfway through the class, when we were deep into Wayne's painting, we were served ice cream! I usually welcome ice cream interruptions, but now I had to multi-task the wine drinking, painting AND ice cream eating. The ultimate mission. My husband kept having to remind me to take a bite of my ice cream or to keep sipping my wine. I have never ever needed reminders for these two things in my life. I couldn't help it though, I was in the WT zone! So the next thing we knew, it was 10pm and we were the last ones there. It was time to go, even though I could have used at least another hour to work on my "masterpiece." 

Overall, I had a most excellent evening. Even my hubs, who hadn't painted since he was a tween, did a stellar job and enjoyed himself. He drank most of our bottle of wine, how could he not? I tip my hat to my man Wayne, I hope we did him justice.

2015 Dessert Resolution & Reviewing The Mill’s Toast

If I were to make a 2015 dessert resolution, I can firstly tell ya that it wouldn’t be to make a crapload of tarts, which was essentially my dessert resolution from last year. If you’re wondering, I only made 3 tarts...here's to trying again. This year I've decided to give this DR another go, but this time I'm going much broader with it: to review more desserts. I’d like to see what the world has to offer my belly. 

As y’all know, this blog developed from my deep love for dessert. It’s not just the fact that I enjoy baking, which I truly do, but it’s mostly because I just simply love eating dessert. Always. At anytime. If you woke me up at 3am with a cheesecake inches from my face, I'd be delighted. So, I’d like to try exploring what’s out there, but also continue baking and chatting about dessert nonsense, obvi. 

To start my reviews off, this morning I jaunted to one of my neighborhood coffee shops, The Mill, for a cup of Joe and to try a slice of their $3.50 hipster toast. The Mill makes their own bread (props) but this is the first time I sampled their toast- I had to see what this toast fuss was about. Toast has become very much a thing in SF and places like this sell it like hot cakes (read about the history of toast here). The Mill has a legit toast menu and I wanted to try the piece that comes slathered with homemade Nutella, but sadly some selfish yammos ate all of it and they were sold out. Humph. I went with my second choice which was, essentially cinnamon/sugar toast...$3.50 cinnamon/sugar toast. So, I sat down with my hipster coffee and hipster toast, snapped a hipster photo of my situation (which I planned to filter the shit out of later) and took a bite of my 1 inch thick slab o' toast. Thoughts? I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't tasty because it really was. Crunchy, warm, buttery and of course cinnamon-sugary. I appreciated that they didn’t skimp on the butter and the cinnamon/sugar layer. This toast also brought me back to my youth because I used to make cinnamon/sugar toast all the time as a dessertsnack. So, overall, The Mill did a solid job with this toast, I admit, but is it really worth the $3.50? Hells no. Will I come back to try their homemade Nutella on toast? Hells yes. Let's be honest, I've spent more on a beer before so I won't judge toast connoisseurs. 

As far as this toast phenomenon goes, if you feel inclined to dabble in a piece, give me a shout and I’ll gladly meet you at The Mill for a round o’ toast.

Overall Rating: 4/5 tartlets

Victorious Pumpkin Cheesecake

It's been quite a December for me. A bit coo coo ca choo if you will. I decided to part ways with the lovely Williams-Sonoma, a company I had been working at for over 8 years! Major WOAH, right? During my last week there, I felt like a chicken with it's head cut off. While I was wrapping up my work to dos and fully utilizing my corporate discount (why of course I need a Snowflake Cakelet Pan and a couple Spoonulas), the company had another baking contest for all the Pottery Barn brand teams. This was my last shot at partaking in a work baking contest, so I couldn't not enter, ego shot from the last failed contest or not! I discussed dessert ideas with a coworker and she brought up the idea of making a pumpkin cheesecake, mostly because it's a favorite of hers (smart girl). I'm a big fan of this dessert as well and I've had experience making it a few times so this plan was fully a go! I knew I had to use my "crack cheesecake crust" (the name I lovingly gave to Momufuku's Milk Bar's Graham Cracker Crust because it's rightfully addicting), and I wanted to try out a new pumpkin cheesecake recipe I've been eyeing. It's a dicey move to make something new for a contest, i know, but I felt like I needed to go balls out for this last one.

As I've mentioned, cheesecake takes for evs to cook- I'm talking hours upon hours upon hours. You've got your baking time, cooling time and more cooling time that adds up to about 11 hours. It's insane, but strangely always worth it in the end. So, I tackled this recipe the night before the contest, but made the mistake of starting rather late. Not wise. That meant I had to set several alarms to wake my ass up to tend to the cheesecake. Alarm #1: turn oven off after cheesecake had baked for almost 2 hours. Alarm #2: take cheesecake out of oven after it had sat in oven for 1 hour, put on cooling rack. Alarm #3: put cheesecake in fridge to cool for 8+ hours.

Like I said, it's strangely worth all the hassle in the end, and this time was luckily no different, when it really mattered. Friends, I placed in the contest! And by "placed," I mean I got 3rd place. Yes, it's not the gold or silver, but it's bronze friends and it's a beautiful metal to me. This win was the perfect ending to my career at Williams-Sonoma. 

As I walked out the door of my beloved workplace for the last time, I tucked the empty cheesecake pan under my arm, still wearing a satisfied victory grin. Special shoutout to Mr. Williams and my fabulous work peeps- hugs all around!

Victorious Pumpkin Cheesecake
Yield: Roughly 12 servings, but it depends on how generous you are with your slices.
Crust Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar
Filling Recipe from Foodnetwork.com

Ingredients – Crust
Yield
: Makes about 340 g (2 Cups)
Note: if you want a thicker crust, double this recipe! I did.
190 g (1 1/2 cups) graham cracker crumbs
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder
25 g (2 tbs) sugar
3 g (3/4 tsp) kosher salt
55 g (4 tbs) butter, melted, or as needed
55 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream

Ingredients – Filling
2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1, 15 -ounce can pure pumpkin
6 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
1/3 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Directions – Crust
1.  
Preheat over to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.  Brush a 10-inch springform pan with some melted butter.
3.  Toss the graham crumbs, milk powder, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients.
4.  Whisk the butter and heavy cream together. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The butter will act as glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 14 to 25 g (1 to 1½ table- spoons) butter and mix it in.
5.  Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, packing it tightly and evenly (Pro Tip: OR do what I did and just spread a thick layer on the bottom). Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
6.  Cool on a rack, then wrap the outside of the springform pan with foil or slow cooker liners (these are fool-proof!) and place in a roasting pan or a larger pan.

Directions – Filling
1.  
Boil a kettle of water to have ready for your water bath.
2.  Toast your pecans at 375 until you can barely start to smell them (5ish mins), set aside to cool.

3.  In a larger bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and beat until just light, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beaters as needed. Beat in the sour cream, then add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt and the spices and beat until just combined. Pour into the cooled crust.
4.  Gently place a roasting pan (or any pan that is larger than your springform pan) in the oven (don't pull the rack out) and pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
5.  Bake until the outside of the cheesecake sets but the center is still loose, about 1 hour 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the door briefly to let out some heat. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for 1 more hour, then carefully remove from the roasting pan and cool on a rack. Run a knife around the edges, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

6.  Bring the cheesecake to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Unlock and remove the springform ring. To finish, place a dollop of the whipped cream on each slice and sprinkle with the toasted pecans.

My Thanksgiving Dessert Menu

Thanksgiving snuck up on me like a ninja this year. There I was, enjoying Halloween and the next thing I knew, Thanksgiving was all up in my grill!

As I've mentioned before, my mom and I go to town on dessert making every Thanksgiving. We're focused, we're fierce and we know how to get desserts did. Before the holiday, we have a sit-down to discuss our dessert menu. It's fun to mull over which favorites to bring back and what new recipes we'd like to try out. This year, our dessert chat went well and we were happy with our final line-up. So, without further ado, here is this years Thanksgiving Dessert Menu:

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars
This dessert is a must as it's a huge hit in my family. These bars are so approachable, just sitting there with their decadent dark chocolate chips and chewy peanut butter looking at you. They never make it to the actual dessert course because of their delicious factor, so we fondly refer to them as "appetizers."

Image courtesy of parentpretty.com

Pumpkin Roll Cake
It ain't a Thanksgiving without seasonal gourds, ammi right? This dessert has been one of our off and on regulars. It's creamy, nutty and of course, delightfully pumpkiny. It's a bit of a process to make so we tackle this the night before Thanksgiving. Note: Once completed, it looks like a weird orange log, but I assure you, it's darn tasty.

Image courtesy of bigflavorstinykitchen.com

Grandma Ople's Apple PIe
My mom discovered this recipe a few Thanksgivings ago and it's quickly become our go-to apple pie recipe. Sadly, Grandma O isn't a member of my family, but man do I wish she was because homegirl really nailed this recipe. It's actually more of a caramel apple pie as it's topped with a friendly layer of caramel that turns a classic apple pie into a bombtastic apple pie.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
Seasonal, easy, but most importantly, tastilicious. It's wise to have a few easy grab desserts to snack on while Aunt Bun is talking your ear off.

Chocolate Cake with Easy Fudge Frosting
For the chocolate fans in my family. Pair any simple chocolate cake with this AMAZING fudge frosting and you can't lose. We make sure to choose quality chocolate for both parts; it's the most important ingredient in chocolate desserts, in my humble opinion.

Image courtesy of The Cook's Alelier

Lemon Tart
This dessert is a new-comer that we're trying out for the first time. We thought another fruity number would be a good addition to the group. Also, I'm WELL overdue to make a tart after I idiotically proclaimed that this was going to be the "year of the tart!" Yeah, I haven't made a single tart since uttering that <hangs head in shame>.

Image courtesy of thekitchensinkrecipes.com

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Another Thanksgiving dessert must! Homemade ice cream is a tradition my uncle used to manage, but now my cousin and husband have taken on the task. This year we're going with Vanilla Bean for one of the flavs, simply because it's compatible with most of the above desserts.

Before you bake this week, here are a couple tips:
• If you're making more than a few desserts, plan ahead! Select your recipes and make your store run several days before (although, we're guilty of sending my dad on <multiple> store runs Thanksgiving morning).
• For your pie crust, use the refrigerated Pillsbury Pie Dough (found in the refrigerated section in grocery stores, near the yogurts usually). Rumor has it is that some pastry chefs claim that it tastes just as good as homemade dough. So make your life easy by using this!

• Some people are sticklers about not going rogue and only making traditional desserts for the holidays, but I think as long as you have a few seasonal items, it's OK to segue away from these (without drawing too much attention).

Good luck and god speed with your holiday baking friends!

Chuck Williams' Birthday Bake Off

image courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Inc.

Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma (where I work), turned 99 on October 2! Having a 99th burfday is no joke, so in light of this, the company decided to turn it up to 11 and spread his birthday celebration over 7 days. On one of the last days, they hosted a Chuck Williams Birthday Bake-Off, where any associate could enter. There was no question about whether or not I should compete. It would be a nasty slap to the face of this blog if I didn't enter...not to mention there were handsome prizes for the winners:

  • A KitchenAid Stand Mixer 
  • Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch bakeware and an electric hand mixer 
  • 7-piece Wüstof Classic Ikon knife block set 
  • Set of three Le Creuset cookware

Nice little line-up, eh? I was excited to get my baking on for Chucky-boy (he probably wouldn't like me calling him that). There were four categories for the contest: Best Tasting, Best Presentation, Most Creative; and Best Use of Chuck's Finds. To be honest, I didn't target any of the categories and instead chose desserts I have previously made that stood out in my mind. The rules stated that competitors could enter multiple desserts so I knew I'd at least enter a few to increase my chances of placing. I decided on these two crowd pleasers: Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting and Banana Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce. I thought these provided enough differences from the other but were still equally yumtastic.

I felt confident enough about my decision, until I arrived at the bake-off. While I excitedly set up my two delights, I immediately sized-up my competition. There were 32 desserts there, some looking rather average (sorry) and some looking pretty impressive. I gazed at my dessert friends one last time, gave them a good luck nod and headed back to work. After getting into the office, I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to make the actual bake-off due to <insert something important sounding that really isn't as important as the bake-off in my humble>. I was a sad panda, but whatareyougonnado?

One of the judges judging my pretties

One of the judges judging my pretties

I wasn't able to get any information about the bake-off until the following day. I was eager to hear how it went and who took the gold, all while trying to keep my expectations low. An email finally went out with the lowdown. Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen chefs were the judges and apparently, Chuck Williams (in-the-flesh!) attended the bake-off as well at Tyler Florence. Whaaaa?! Amazing, right? The results weren't great for the Dessert Fiend though. I sadly didn't even place <insert frowny emoticon>, but here are the list of winners, in all their glory:

Most Creative:
Winner: Bannoffee Pie
RU: Yogurt Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Topping

Best Presentation:
Winner: Almond Buttercream with Meyer Lemon Curd
RU: Pavlova

Best Use of Chuck’s Finds:
Winner: Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake
RU: Chuck’s Tool Belt

Most Delicious:
Winner: Hazelnut Mocha Daquoise
RU: Almond Cake with Chocolate Mousse

There is, however, a big silver lining to my loss: the Bake-Off was featured on our company website and this very blog got a SWEET plug! Dessert Fiend will take a pimpin' wherever she can. Also, apparently my cupcakes were the talk of the town and several people wanted my recipe. At least I'm a winner in somebody's eyes! ;-)

Until the next bake-off friends!

Recipe: Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

"A party without cake is really just a meeting." - Julia Child

It was one of my favorite people's birthday last weekend and I insisted on making her a birthday dessert. She requested "anything chocolate and peanut butter." Ahh, one of the many reasons why I like this friend of mine, she's got great dessert taste. PB/choco is one of the best combinations on the planet and one that I choose to enjoy often.

I excitedly knew exactly which recipe I was going to use that I <stupidly> had tucked away for too long. When I first discovered this recipe, it looked like a peanut butter and chocolate dream. And now after making it, I know that it tastes like a dream too. It's especially perfect for Reese's Peanut Butter Cup fans too, which are an important component. The frosting is my favorite part- fluffy, smooth and not too sweet- exactly what I would imagine a peanut butter cloud to taste like. The cake is a bit crumbly, but it has a nice mellow chocolate flavor that collaborates well with the milk chocolate in the peanut butter cups. The last bites of the cake are everything. All the peanut butter cup friends are nestled there, waiting to give you happiness.

For all the peanut butter chocolate fans out there, this is the perfect cake for you. Enjoy!

Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe by Baking: from my home to yours and Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients - Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 and ½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (optional) Pro Tip: Not optional, chocolate should never be optional!
Countless amounts of miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, smashed or cut up.

Ingredients - Frosting
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Directions - Cake
1.  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
2.  Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small-medium bowl. Set aside.
3.  Working with a stand mixer or hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is thoroughly blended into the butter.
4.  Add the eggs one at a time, then the yolks one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.
5.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; add the dry ingredients in 3 portions and the buttermilk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); mix only until each new batch is blended into the batter.
6.  Add the melted chocolate, folding it in with a rubber spatula. Divide the batter between the cake pans.
7.  Bake for 26 to 30 minutes, or until the cakes feel springy to the touch and start to pull away from the sides of the pans.
8.  Transfer the cakes to racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (Once the layers are cooled, they can be wrapped airtight and left at room temperature overnight or kept frozen for up to 2 months.)

Directions - Frosting
1.  Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Use stand or hand mixer and mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work.
2.  Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

To Assemble the Cake:
1.  Place one layer top side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
2.  Frost the top of the layer, and sprinkle the smashed up peanut butter cups inside. Be careful to not overload the inside with peanut butter cups or else it will look uneven when you place the top layer. Pro Tip: crumble up more than you think though for this layer.
3.  Next, cover with the second layer, top side down. Frost the sides and top of the cake, either smoothing the frosting for a sleek look or using a spatula, knife or spoon to swirl it for a more exuberant look.
4.  Press the remaining peanut butter cups (or as many as you can fit) around the sides of the frosted cake, and if you want you can sprinkle them on top too.
5.  Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour (or for up to 1 day, if that’s more convenient) to set the frosting, then bring it to room temperature before serving.

Julia Child and her Perfect Chocolate Mousse

"People who love to eat are always the best people." - Julia Child

I have mad love for Julia Child. I love her story (thanks Julia & Julia!), her cookbooks, her cooking shows, her attitude and lastly, her witty sense of humor.

Julia's story of how she came to be a cultural phenomenon is unreal. Here is my very condensed synopsis of it. In her mid-thirties, after moving to Paris, she dove head first into French cooking, knowing nothing about cooking. "I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate." She not only mastered it, but she published a <hugely famous> two-part cookbook and became a television icon. Way to conquer your thirties and then some JC. #feelingsuddenlyinadequate

She had the perfect attitude about cooking- if you flub a recipe, do your best to fix it, but if that's not possible, serve your food with a huge smile because there's nothing you can do about it at that point, and that's totally OK. She wanted people to know that mistakes happen, even to the best of us. "One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed.”

A few other things I personally enjoyed about Julia was that she always had a glass of wine with her while she cooked (I fully support that idea) and...homegirl was TALL. A fellow amazon like me! #tallgirlbond She even brilliantly modified her kitchen by raising up the counter tops so she could cook more comfortably. "Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you're in a crowd, you'll always have some clean air to breathe."

As an ode to Julia, I decided to make her Perfect Chocolate Mousse. I insisted on making it the way she would have made it- without using any electric appliances. That's right, I only used my brute strength. I've gotta admit, I wasn't aware of how much whisking I was getting myself into. This recipe involves several rounds of vigorous whipping. SEVERAL I broke out into a sweat early on and even had to take a few stretching breaks. When the mousse was completed, I felt like a champion...and really bedraggled. I now have even more respect for Julia and anyone who attempts this recipe sans machinery.

This mousse is quite lovely. It's rich and airy with a hint of espresso nestled into the chocolate. As Julia would say, Bon Appétit!

Julia Child’s Perfect Chocolate Mousse
Yield: Six to eight servings
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf) by Julia Child

Ingredients
6 ounces (170g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Green and Black’s organic 72% chocolate)
6 ounces (170g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60ml) dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (170g), plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) dark rum
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
1.  Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.
2.  Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
3.  In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. (If you feel like cheating, you can also use a handheld electric mixer).
3.  Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick. (Pro Tip: Use more ice than water. I didn't and was afraid the water was going to splash into my situation the whole time). Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.
4.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then the vanilla.
5.  Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.
6.  Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm. (Can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
7.  Serve as is or with a small dollop of whipped cream

Julia in her tall kitchen  –  Photo cred: vanityfair.com

I look forward to making more of JC's recipes. Until then, I'll leave you with my two of my favorite quotes of hers. The first, because it's inspiring to me and the second, because it's just plain funny.

"Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun."

"I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it – and, more important, I like to give it."

Recipe: Shelly Brownies

Brownnnaaayy tiiiiiiimme!

Just because I have a dessert blog doesn't mean I'm opposed to making dessert from a box mix. In fact, boxed desserts hold a special place in my heart, but...they're also my nemesis. They're such showoffs being all convenient, easy and delicious! We have your typical love-hate relationship.

One of my all-time favorite boxed numbers is made by my sister, Shelly. She starts with box fudge brownie mix and adds a friendly addition of semi-sweet chocolate chips, which makes ALL the difference. There are several boxed brownie mixes out there that come with chocolate chips/chunks already built into it, but let me tell you, it's definitely not the same as these bad boys. #doubletrue

I've named this dessert after her because I request it often for our weekly "sister TiVo nights." This recipe is as easy as it gets, but the key is to not overcook them!

Fun Fact: After the brownies have cooled enough to eat, my sis announces they're ready by singing: "brownnnaaayy tiiiiiiimme!!" It makes the brownie experience much more enjoyable (I highly recommend you ask for a demo of this the next time you see her).

Shelly Brownies
Recipe adapted by Betty Crocker
Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients
Betty Crocker® Fudge Brownie Mix (Pro Tip: this is our tried and true brand! It can be found online or at most grocery stores)
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
6oz Nestlé® Toll House® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (Pro Tip: you might be wondering why we don't use the whole bag, we've tried it and it's too much)

Directions (same directions can be found on the back of Betty's box)
1.  Heat oven to: 350° for 13 x 9" pan and 9 x 9" pan; 325° for 8 x 8" pan (Pro Tip: we heat at 325° on convection bake and use a 13 x 9" metal pan). Grease bottom of pan with butter or cooking spray.
2.  Stir brownie mix, water, oil and eggs in medium bowl until well blended.
3.  Stir in chocolate chips. Spread batter into pan.
4.  Bake as directed on the box: 13 x 9" pan 24–26 mins; 9 x 9" pan 38–40 mins; 8 x 8" pan 52–54. (Pro Tip: ours takes 22 mins on the nose). Let cool for 15-20 mins on a cooling rack.

"Ees OK" Notes:
• Don't feel bad if you screw these up (we definitely have), but 9.9 out of 10 times, you won't.
• These taste best while watching an episode of The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Damages or Orange Is the New Black.

Recipe: Flour’s Ginger Molasses Cookies

I have a new favorite cookbook: Flour by Joanne Cheng, thanks to my bud Amy who gifted it to me. Flour is an amazing bakery in Boston and is one of Amy's favorites. They have four locations around the city and I sadly haven't been to a single one! Owning one of their two cookbooks will have to suffice for now.

Amy told me that she likes to curl up with a good cookbook sometimes, and that's exactly what I did with Flour the other night. As I paged through, I ogled over each, amazing sounding recipe, mentally adding most to my "must bake and consume soon" list. Not every recipe had a #foodporn picture with it, but when it did, I couldn't look away. Nothing tickles my fancy more than a gorgeous dessert photograph.

After my ogle-fest, I chose to make these Ginger Molasses Cookies first. I liked that the recipe had simple, accessible ingredients and the process wasn't overly complicated. This was my first time working with molasses and my immediate observation was that it smells like death. I almost gagged after I stupidly decided to take a whiff of it. #icannotunsmellthat I was rightfully worried for my cookies, wondering if they would actually be edible. I mean, how could something that smells like a decaying possum taste good? Apparently, if you add enough sugar and butter to a recipe, anything will taste like a dream, and these cookies luckily did. They were big, soft and chewy with subtle spicy notes. It's not one of those smack you in the face ginger cookies. So far, my beloved Flour is a strong 1 for 1!

Flour's Ginger Molasses Cookies
Recipe from Flour by Joanne Cheng
Yield: 16 four inch cookies 

Ingredients
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup unsulphured dark molasses
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground cloves
Small bowl of granulated sugar for coating

Directions
1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, mix together butter, brown sugar, molasses, and egg on low speed for about 20 seconds, until well combined.
2.  In a separate medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and cloves until well mixed. Add flour mixture to the butter sugar mixture and stir until ingredients are completely incorporated and evenly mixed.
3.  Put mixture in airtight container and refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight for best results.
4.  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and place wire rack in center of oven.
5.  Scoop ¼ cup balls of the dough and roll it in the bowl of granulated sugar. Coat completely. Place coated balls on baking sheet prepared with parchment paper about 2 inches apart.
6.  Bake for 16-18 minutes until cookies are crackly on top and just barely firm.
7.  Let cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.
8.  Store in airtight container. Can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days. Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Recipe: Boston Cream Pie (Cake)

Boston Cream Pie couldn't be farther from a pie. It's a bloody cake! I had to look up the origins of this dessert for obvious reasons. 

Story time! 

Cooks in New England and Pennsylvania Dutch regions were known for their cakes and pies and the dividing line between them was very thin. This cake was probably called a pie because in the mid-nineteenth century, pie tins were more common than cake pans. The first versions were probably baked in pie tins. Boston Cream Pie is a remake of the early American "Pudding-cake pie." Boston's (Omni) Parker House Hotel, has served Boston Cream Pies, created by French chef Sanzian, ever since their opening in 1856. In 1996, the BCP was declared the official dessert of Massachusetts.

How lovely! But...it's still not a pie.

The actual process of making this dessert was kind of a bother. The ingredients are simple, the steps are easy, but the steps don't happen at the same time. They happen in waves and there's lots of cooling and waiting in between. And then more cooling and waiting. Alas, in the end, it was worth it and the Birthday boy I made it for (who went to school in Boston- how fitting!) seemed pleased with the results.

Boston Cream Pie
Recipe from foodnetwork.com
Yield: 1, 9-inch cake. Serves 10–12

Ingredients – Sponge Cake
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cooking oil
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Ingredients – Cream Filling
2 cups whole, 2 percent fat, or 1 percent fat milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Ingredients – Ganache
8 ounces semisweet chocolate – I used my favorite Scharffen Berger
1 cup heavy cream, boiling

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add milk, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until combined. Beat an additional 3 minutes on high speed and set aside.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium to high speed until soft peaks form. Pour the egg yolk mixture over the egg white mixture and fold in. Gently pour the batter into a 9-inch greased pie pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Invert the pan onto a wire rack. Cool completely.
3.  Pastry Cream Filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla bean to a boil over medium heat. Immediately turn off the heat and set aside to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the empty saucepan.
4.  Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. (The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.)
5.  Ganache: In a medium bowl, pour the boiling cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until melted.
6.  To assemble pie, remove the cake from the pan. Cut the cake in half horizontally. Place bottom layer on a serving plate or board, and spread with the pastry cream. Top with second cake layer. Pour chocolate ganache over and down the sides of the cake. Store in refrigerator.

Recipe: Lemon Ricotta Cookies & Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

A glorious thing happened this past weekend. After 3 years of living in my current home, I finally met my next door neighbors who own the house and gorgeous garden our place looks out to (with sadly, no access!) Our building doesn't have any outdoor space (¡qué lástima!) so we could only appreciate this beaut from afar...until a few days ago. Read on.

In my experience of living in SF, you typically don't meet your neighbors...at all. It certainly doesn't happen naturally like most of us were accustomed to growing up in the burbs. Even if you passed them on the street, you wouldn't know them from Joe Schmo. The other day, while I was kickin' it outside my building trying to decide on house paint colors (TMI), this lovely couple came up to me and introduced themselves as my next door neighbors– the ones with the backyard garden. "YES. The day has finally come," I thought. After our meet and greet, which involved a lot of garden raving on my end, we exchanged info AND they invited me over for "a tour of the garden, from the other side" for the following day. EEK. That next evening, my <new favorite> neighbors had me over and took me on this heavily anticipated garden tour. Guys, this garden was even more glorious in person. As we walked though the yard, they kindly offered me lemons from their lemon tree along with a few other items. They also generously invited me to come back anytime if I ever needed anything else. On my walk back to my apartment with an extra bounce in my step, I had Ice Cube's "Today Was A Good Day" playing in my head.

With these neighborly lemons, I made two different kinds of lemon cookies: Lemon Ricotta Cookies and Lemon Crinkle Cookies. The Lemon Ricotta Cookie recipe comes from my blogger-buddy Jamie's fabulous blog and the Lemon Crinkle Cookie recipe comes from another blogger who's cookie won in a cookie-off.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies
Recipe from JforJamie.com
Yield: Makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients – Cookies
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter – softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 15oz container whole milk ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice – I use the juice of 1 whole lemon
1 lemon, zested

Ingredients – Glaze
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice or juice of 1 lemon (Pro Tip: if you use the juice of 1 lemon, up the amount of powdered sugar for a better ratio and glaze consistency)
1 lemon, zested

Directions
1.  Preheat the oven to 375°. Combine the butter and sugar in a bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until it’s light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beat until incorporated. Add the wet ingredients – ricotta cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.
2.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper, use an ice cream scooper (or about 2 tablespoons) to spoon the dough on the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, edges should be slightly golden. Let the cookies cool for about 15 minutes.
3.  Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a bowl. Give it a good stir until it’s smooth and creamy. Put a spoonful on the top of each cooled cookie, spread it around the whole cookie with the back of the spoon. Let the glaze harden (about 2 hours or overnight). Keep the cookies in an air-tight container.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Lemon Crinkle Cookies
Recipe from laurenslatest.com
Yield: Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients
½ cups butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoons baking soda
1-½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cups powdered sugar

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease light colored baking sheets* or line with parchment paper and set aside.
2.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whip in vanilla, egg, lemon zest, and juice. Scrape sides and mix again. Stir in all dry ingredients slowly until just combined, excluding the powdered sugar. Scrape sides of bowl and mix again briefly.
3.  Pour powdered sugar onto a large plate. Roll a heaping teaspoon of dough into a ball and roll in powdered sugar. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
4.  Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms begin to barely brown and cookies look matte {not melty or shiny}. Remove from oven and cool cookies about 3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

*If using a non-stick darker baking tray, reduce baking time by about 2 minutes.

Garden loot and our view into our neighbor's garden

Recipe: Scrumptious Strawberry Shortcake

Tastes like summer

Strawberry shortcake is THE quintessential summer dessert to me. I grew up making it with store bought angel food cake, Cool Whip and fresh strawberries. Hey, don't judge, this was a hip way to make it in the 80s!

A few decades later, I decided to make this not the way I remember it, but the way my mom and her mom remember it: homemade sweet biscuits with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. I love this recipe because it's light and not overly sweet. The biscuit is a dream too: sweet n' buttery and just dense enough to soak up the juices like a champ. I would happily eat it on it's own. As for the strawbs and whipped cream, lets be honest, these two are a force to be reckoned with. They wouldn't win in a duel between chocolate and peanut butter, but they'd put up a good fight.

It's best to make this dessert when strawberries are at their prime: April –June are their best months, but at stores like Safeway, it's strawberry season year round! 'Merica!

Strawberry friends

Biscuit friends pre-oven

Biscuit friends post-oven

Scrumptious Strawberry Shortcake
Adapted from All Recipes
Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries (this is rough, but best to error on the side of too much)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (for strawberries)
coarse or white sugar (for biscuit sprinkling)

Directions
1.  Slice up strawberries, add brown sugar and pop into fridge. Fact: adding the brown sugar makes the strawberries juicier.
2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
3.  In a large bowl, mix flour, white sugar and baking powder. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives. Pro Tip: After cutting in butter, I gently pulled mixture together with my hands in the mixing bowl.
4.  Stir in cream and egg. Knead for a few minutes until it comes together.
5.  Gently form 12 balls and place on baking sheet. Flatten top slightly and lightly sprinkle with coarse or white sugar (see my visual above).
6.  Bake in preheated oven 20 minutes, or until golden. Let cool. Pro Tip: mine took exactly 20 and never turned golden.
7.  Carefully split biscuit in half and add a scoop of berries on the bottom half, then a scoop whipped cream (don't be shy with these scoops). Top with second biscuit half (like a little hat!) and reverse the order: scoop of whipped cream then berries (this is my tried and true technique, but do what feels right to you. Go with your heart!) Lastly, be sure to add some juice that's hiding at the bottom of your bowl as a topper. The juice is where it's at!

Recipe: Jar Cheesecakes with Raspberry Sauce

Classic, original cheesecake can be a total standout dessert to me...when it's done right. I've had my fair share of below average cheesecakes that I cannot untaste, but the handful that have knocked it out of the park, will never be forgotten. One of them being my sister's friend's cheesecake. He has his own cheesecake business and has ruined all other cheesecake for me. They are, frankly, the best cheesecakes I've ever had. But I forgive him. He can't help having the gift of making ridiculously good cheesecakes.

In my humble opinion, this New York Cheesecake recipe rivals my sister's friend's cheesecake. It originates from Jim Fobel's Old-Fashioned Baking Book which The James Beard Foundation said was "one of the best cookbooks of the year." Granted that was in '96, but still, it must be pretty legit. The crust recipe comes from Momufuku's Milk Bar Cookbook. I've made it once when it was called for in the Compost Cookie recipe, and I couldn't stop eating it. I knew it was bound for greater things. As for the Raspberry Sauce, I'm usually anti-fruit sauce on dessert, but I thought it'd be worth a shot because A: maybe homemade sauce tastes better and B: it would be a pretty nice topper (harley) for the jar.

So why bake it in a jar? Well, first of all, I think glass jars make for a cool presentation and secondly, they don't have to bake as long as the pan recipe does, which is TWO HOURS! That's a long time to wait for dessert. Too long one might say.

Graham Crust
Yield: Makes about 340 g (2 Cups)
Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar

190 g (1 1/2 cups) graham cracker crumbs
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder
25 g (2 tbs) sugar
3 g (3/4 tsp) kosher salt
55 g (4 tbs) butter, melted, or as needed
55 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream

Directions
1.  Toss the graham crumbs, milk powder, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients.
2.  Whisk the butter and heavy cream together. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The butter will act as glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 14 to 25 g (1 to 1½ table- spoons) butter and mix it in.
3.  The crust is easiest to mold just after mixing. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of mixture into each jar and pack it down using the back of the tablespoon or a fork. It should be about ¾ inch thick.

Note: Stored in an airtight container, graham crust will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or for 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

New York Cheesecake
Recipe adapted from Jim Fobel's Old-Fashioned Baking Book
Yield: 8, 13 oz jars

Ingredients
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups (one pint) sour cream, room temperature
4, 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Directions
For the springform pan directions, go here
1.  Position the baking rack in the center of the oven; preheat the oven to 300* Fahrenheit.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sour cream until well blended.
3.  In a medium-sized bowl, beat the cream cheese with the butter until smooth and creamy.  Add this to the egg-sour cream mixture and beat until smooth. 
4.  Add the sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest and beat thoroughly, about 2 minutes. 
5.  Pour batter into jars until about ¾ of the way full. Place jars into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the pan until halfway up the sides of the jars. Pro Tip(s): Line a towel on the bottom of the pan to keep the ramekins from sliding. Also, have a tea kettle ready with the hot water and pour in with the pan pulled out on the oven rack.
6.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes, the edges will appear to be set, but the center will still have a little jiggle to it. Pro Tip: How to know when it's done? Jiggle test! Knock the side of the jar, if it jiggles and then stops right away, then it's done. (center will firm as they cool).
7.  Let stand at room temperature on a cooling rack until completely cool, about 1 hour.
8.  Refrigerate, covered, until well chilled. For best flavor and texture, this cheesecake is best chilled overnight.

My Notes:  If you don't let the first 4 ingredients in this recipe come to room temperature, the batter will be lumpy. The first time I made this, I waited until they were at the correct temp, but this time, I did not and it was indeed lumpy. Ah vell.

Raspberry Sauce
Recipe from driscolls.com

Ingredients
2 packages (6 ounces or 1 1/3 cup each) Driscoll's Raspberries
1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions
1.  Puree raspberries in a blender or food processor until smooth.
2.  Press through a mesh sieve to remove seeds over a measuring cup.
3.  Add enough water to make 1 cup, if necessary.
4.  Whisk raspberry puree, sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan until blended.
5.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and let cool.
6.  Spoon over cheesecake, top with remaining raspberries and dust with confectioners' sugar.

The Perfect Ice Cream Sundae Bar

What should one do with a healthy amount of leftover salted caramel? Eat it by the spoonful (guilty), top an apple with it (apple bathed in caramel > yawn.com apple), OR create an ice cream sundae bar around it? YES. I was into this sundae bar concept because it sounded fun, interactive, pretty low effort and it happened to be Sunday as well. The beauty of it is that it's a no-fail dessert that you can dial up or down as much as you'd like. I decided to dial it up to 11 because that's what I do. I crafted two sundae bars- one for a Game of Thrones viewing party (sundaes and strong adult content go really well together) and one for a family get together (fun for the whole famn damily!) I am pleased to report that both were smashing successes.

Here's the lowdown on how to create the perfect sundae bar:

Ice Cream: Several pints, several flavors. Definitely get Vanilla and Chocolate at the very least. My personal sundae favorite: Mint Chocolate Chip. Want to make your own? We loved the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream my hubs made. Recipe below.
Hot Fudge & Caramel Sauce: You've gotta have a hot situation for your ice cream to sit in and get drizzled upon. It's a must for a sundae. Along with Salted Caramel Sauce, I made Hot Fudge Sauce (both recipes below). Feeling lazy? Snag one of these and these. I won't judge.
Toppings: Chopped roasted peanuts, Mini Chocolate ChipsMini Butterscotch Chips (mini is my pref, but regular-sized is cool too), Rainbow or Chocolate Sprinkles.
•Baked Good: A Chocolate Chip Cookie or Brownie provide a lovely base or topper to your sundae.
Whipped Cream: One pint with 4 T sugar should be enough to heavily dollop your finished masterpiece. Beat cream until soft peaks form.
Maraschino Cherries: Optional. I'm a sucker for these, but some say they are terrible for you <shrugs and pops cherry in mouth>.

Pro Tip: My mom told me when she was a waitress back in the day, her insider tip for making pretty sundaes was to first spread the sauce all along the inside walls of the glass with the back of a spoon. It looks fancier and gives you a better sundae eating experience. She also mentioned that it gives you the illusion of having more sauce than you actually do. Sneaky sneaky. Thanks madre!

Hot Fudge Sauce
Recipe from browneyedbaker.com
Yield: 2 heaping cups

Ingredients
2/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder Pro Tip: How to know if it's Dutch? If it doesn't say those exact words on the package, look for "processed with Alkali" in the ingredients.
¼ teaspoon sea salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, divided in half. Pro Tip: I tried both Ghirardelli & Scharffen Berger and preferred the latter simply because it was richer.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
1.  In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream, syrup, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt and half of the chocolate to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low (enough to maintain a low simmer), and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2.  Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate, the butter, and the vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes before using (it will thicken as it cools). Store in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To reheat, microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until it's pourable but still thick.

Salted Caramel Sauce
Recipe from ringfingertanline.com
Yield: 2 heaping cups

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, warmed
3 tsp fleur de sel (Pro Tip: I only used 2 tsp which was plenty salty)

Directions
1.  Combine the sugar and 1/3 cup water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. This is the only time you can stir the sugar. If you stir it while it's cooking, it turns to rock candy. Place the saucepan over medium to low heat until the sugars start to dissolve, 5 to 10 minutes. Then turn the heat up to medium-high and cook until the sugar starts to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes (Pro Tip: this took me more like 9 mins). Do not stir while this is happening. You've got to watch the pot, because it goes from caramel to burnt really quickly. And be careful, the mixture is extremely hot!
2.  Turn off the heat and stand back to avoid splattering. Slowly add the cream. Don't panic - the cream will bubble violently, and the caramel will solidify. Just give it more time to liquefy again-trust me!
3.  Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Pro Tip: if your caramel is too liquidity (mine was 5/6 times I've made this), simmer over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes. It's not a bad idea to do this regardless for 5 mins, just to be safe.
4.  Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. It will thicken as it sits. Stir in salt. Pro Tip: I transferred mine to a container after 2 hrs, it was cool enough.

Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Recipe from Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book
Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract OR 1 vanilla bean, scraped

Directions
1.  Whip the eggs and sugar together with a whisk until fluffy (but not firm).
2.  Add the rest of the ingredients into the eggs and sugar. Whisk together until well mixed.
3.  Place in ice cream maker and follow it's directions to make.
4.  Best if stored in a separate flat container

Pro Tip: Make sure your ice cream maker container has been in the freezer for at least 24 hours or else the ice cream won't get cold enough and fully form.

Happy 4th of July! Now go do something 'Merican, like make an ice cream sundae....

Quite Possibly The Best Ice Cream I've Ever Had

I was in Lancaster, PA for a handful of days on a work trip last week. Lancaster is quirky little town in Amish country- about 1.5 hours west of Philly. When visiting someplace new, I have this habit of trying to befriend a local in order to find out where the best restaurants, bars and attractions are in that given town. If I befriend the right local, I'm never let down by this strategy, it's gold. After chatting up a local chef, while grabbing dinner on my first night, I asked him where would a dessert fiend, like myself, go for dessert in this town? Without hesitation he said "Carmen and David's Creamery." He told me they get their dairy from local Amish farmers and the ice cream is to die for. He also said that one of the owner's went to Ice Cream School at Penn State in order to learn the ways of ice cream making. Ice Cream School actually exists? I did the college thing all wrong.

On my last day, I finally made a special trip to this quaint little ice cream shop located downtown. I was a bit early, it didn't open until 5pm, and I had 30 mins to kill. I jaunted next door to Prince Street Cafe for a hit of caffeine while I waited. This wait is worth mentioning because I had quite possibly the best latte I've ever had. I went in thinking of ordering a normal latte, but was rightfully steered towards their "How Now Brown Cow." This drink is an iced latte, BUT made with rich, local chocolate milk instead of regular boring milk. WOAH it was delicious. It was a solid dessert appetizer before I moved on to my dessert entrée next door.

At 5pm on the nose, I sauntered into C & D's Creamery and was faced with copious amounts of ice cream flavors- 30 to be exact. "It's sample o'clock," I thought. After asking the gal behind the counter a few Q's about their flavors, I sampled only 3 flavors, but felt like trying at least 5 more. The pressure of the line got to me (quit breathing down my neck line!) so I pulled the trigger and got 3-mini scoops on a pretzel (!!) cone of Molasses Brownie Chunk, Vanilla Fudge Ripple and Dark Chocolate. Lets back the truck up and talk about that pretzel cone. In all my ice cream shop visiting days, I've never come across a cone like this before so it was a no-brainer to give it a go. Verdict? I loved the concept, but the cone was slightly stale. Le sigh. As for the ice cream, it was <dramatic pause> quite possibly the best ice cream I've ever had. It has a thick, velvety texture that kind of coats your tongue. It's creamy, but not overly rich creamy. It tastes like homemade ice cream to the highest degree. The Dark Chocolate top scoop was unreal. I'm talking having the urge to high five a fellow patron good. The fudge in the Vanilla Fudge Ripple tasted like legit homemade fudge. Same went for the brownies in my Molasses Brownie Chunk scoop. I chose well, but probably would have felt that way about any of the flavors. I'm a real dumb dumb for going to this place on my last day.

Until I return to this happy place, I will have dessert dreams about Carmen, David and their creamery for days to come.

Photo cred: carmenanddavidscreamery.com

Recipe: Magnolia Bakery's Banana Pudding with Salted Caramel

I've never made a banana dessert before, not counting breads and muffins of course. I'm typically drawn to chocolate anything before fruity numbers. Side-note: lets be clear friends, breads and muffins are snacks, most definitely not desserts. The only exception is a chocolate chocolate muffin, i.e. Costco's GIANT Double Chocolate Chip Muffins. 12 pack. Buy it and thank me later.

I digress. A few years ago, I went to NYC's famous Magnolia Bakery to sample their cupcakes. Apparently, I should have gotten their banana pudding too- people go cray for it. Since I won't be back to Mag's bakery anytime soon and banana's peak season is now (who knew?), I gave their recipe a go. It comes from their new cookbook, but I used the same recipe from this lovely blog, which has ridiculously delicious looking pictures of the dessert. Also, home girl took it up a notch by adding a salted caramel topper <fist-bump> which pairs perfectly with the pudding. Well played.

Aren't these (Bonne Maman) jars just so darn cute? Props to my coworker for giving me the idea of using these for desserts (and cocktails)!

Few things to note:
1.  PLAN AHEAD when you're going to make this! It's a really straight-forward recipe, mostly fast except for the portions when you have to let it sit in the fridge for several hours. The easiest solution for me was to make the caramel and first part of the pudding recipe the night before, plop it in the fridge and finish it up in the AM, planning the serve it that evening.
2.  The caramel does not need to be refrigerated - it thickens at room temperature.
3.  This caramel recipe will make much more than you need for the pudding... but you will not be upset about it. Trust me, you'll find use for it.

Va bene? Va bene.

Awaiting a salted caramel bath...

Magnolia Bakery's Banana Pudding with Salted Caramel
Recipe from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook & ringfingertanline.com

Ingredients – Pudding
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1½ cups cold water
1 (3.4-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups heavy cream
1 (12-ounce) box Nabisco Nilla Wafers
4 cups sliced ripe bananas

Ingredients – Caramel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, warmed
3 tsp fleur de sel (Pro Tip: I only used 2 tsp which was plenty salty)

Directions – Pudding
1.  In a medium-sized bowl, beat sweetened condensed milk and water for about a minute. Add the pudding mix and beat for about two more minutes.
2.  Transfer to a smaller bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
3.  In a large bowl on medium speed, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the pudding mixture until combined.
4.  In a large bowl, layer wafers, bananas, and pudding. (Pro Tip: I started off with a small scoop of the pudding at the bottom.) Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 8 hours before serving.

Directions – Caramel
1.  Combine the sugar and 1/3 cup water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. This is the only time you can stir the sugar. If you stir it while it's cooking, it turns to rock candy. Place the saucepan over medium to low heat until the sugars start to dissolve, 5 to 10 minutes. Then turn the heat up to medium-high and cook until the sugar starts to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes (Pro Tip: this took me more like 9 mins). Do not stir while this is happening. You've got to watch the pot, because it goes from caramel to burnt really quickly. And be careful, the mixture is extremely hot!
2.  Turn off the heat and stand back to avoid splattering. Slowly add the cream. Don't panic - the cream will bubble violently, and the caramel will solidify. Just give it more time to liquefy again-trust me!
3.  Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Pro Tip: if your caramel is too liquidity (mine was 5/6 times I've made this), simmer over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes. It's not a bad idea to do this regardless for 5 mins, just to be safe.
4.  Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. It will thicken as it sits. Stir in salt. Pro Tip: I transferred mine to a container after 2 hrs, it was cool enough.

Salted Caramel, you had my at hello.

Raisins Don't Belong In Dessert: A Rant

photo cred: bubblews.com

Raisins don't belong in dessert. They just don't. Some of you carrot cake or oatmeal cookie fans may disagree, but for me, a dessert experience is better without them. Raisins taste like blah to start with, the texture is downright weird and, lets be honest, they look like little turds. I'm cool with them on the rare occasion, like in a broccoli salad or when they come in other, better forms: grapes or wine, but keep those little rug-rats away from my dessert!

Raisinettes <gag>. Don't even get me started. The only way I'd eat those is if someone paid me to. Why would anyone spend good money on those over literally any other movie candy? Honestly! Who are these Raisinette connoisseurs anyways? Grandmas? Don't answer that.

This rant stemmed from a bread pudding dessert that was on the menu while I was dinning with my family. It was their "special of the day" and it definitely had my attention until the waiter read the description. As I recall, my dad and I made "stinky-faces" at each other after the R-word was dropped. Bad, very bad.

And this concludes my raisin rant. Sorry I'm not sorry.

Recipe: My Latest Obsession: Brownie Bites

image courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen

Brownie bites y'all. They're all the rage these days, and with good reason! They cook faster than regular brownies, taste just as good, and they're just so darn cute.

I finally got to make use of my mini cupcake pan too, which I though was a stupid buy at first because who wants to eat a dainty dessert? Desserts should be adult-sized (maybe even king-sized), not some petite little thing. But, I've gotta say, I'm into this pan now and feel bad for bad-mouthing it. As long as I can have more than one and less than ten then I'm ok with desserts being small.

I've made this recipe thrice times already in the past two weeks, but each time I made them slightly different than that last. First batch: made it as is, classic and delish. Second batch: added semi-sweet chocolate chunks, hello melted pockets of chocolate. Third batch: added semi-sweet chocolate chips AND toffee bits, my favorite so far. Feel free to experiment and add your own flair. Nuts, white chocolate, butterscotch chips, etc. The texture of this brownie is awesome, and this is coming from a center brownie piece kind of girl. Chewy on the outside, soft and fudgie on the inside.

image courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen

Brownie Bites
Recipe from The Smitten Kitchen
Yield: roughly 29 brownies

Ingredients
3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Scharffen Berger, again, because it's the bestest)
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt (about 2 grams)
2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour

Directions
1.  Heat oven to 350°F. Spray the pans with a non-stick spray.
2.  In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Turn off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each (totally took the microwave route).
4.  Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt.
5.  Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pans, fill them almost to the top.
6.  Bake for about 16 minutes before a toothpick comes out batter-free (Pro Tip: mine took 14 mins). Let them sit in the pan for 5 minutes on a cooling rack before unmolding them, or they break easily.

Sidenote: super stoked because I'm heading to the happiest place on earth this weekend. No, not Three Twins, which always makes me happy, but Disneyland! I'm going to do DL desserts so right this time. Happy weekend friends!