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

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

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

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

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

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 > 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
Yield: 2 heaping cups

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

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
Yield: 2 heaping cups

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)

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

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

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? 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:

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 &

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:

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

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

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!

Recipe: Mint Chocolate Truffles

Living in SF means you don't always have outdoor space and this is sadly the case for my current apartment. What's cruel is that my place looks out onto my neighbor's gorgeous backyard garden, which I have zero access too. Not fair not fair. It even has an outdoor shower...and yes I've unfortunately caught my neighb showering it in once. #icannotunseethat As far as having my own garden goes, I only have two options. 1: sneak into my neighb's garden and help myself or 2: create an indoor garden. I opted for the latter, since I'm not great at scaling walls, and refer to it as my "house garden."

My HG consists of one plant right now- a chocolate mint plant. Sounds delicious, doesn't it? It's kind of the perfect plant for me. It was given to me by my coworker who has these taking over his <outdoor> garden. He actually has the nerve to call them "weeds" though <shakes head> Not me. They are far from weeds to me, they are the "leading man" of my garden. So this coworker gave it to me because he thought I could make something dessserty with it. Challenge. Accepted.

The beginnings of the truffs

Mint Chocolate Truffles
Recipe from
Yield: Roughly 40 delectable balls

1 1/4 cup heavy cream
6 sprigs of fresh chocolate mint or peppermint (sprigs should be about 3 inches long)
16 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate (I used my current fav Scharffen Berger)
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder

Step One: Infuse the cream
•  Pour cream into a small saucepan and warm over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil.
•  Add the herbs and submerge them in the cream, pushing them below the surface with a spoon.
•  Remove the pan from the heat immediately and cover with a plate or lid. Leave to steep for 30 minutes.
•  While the cream is steeping, chop chocolate into small pieces that are less than 1/2 inch in size.
•  Once the 30 minutes is up, strain the cream through a fine sieve to remove the herbs.
•  Check to see if the cream measures 1 1/4 cups. If not, add more cream until it reaches 1 1/4 cups.
•  Pour the cream back into the saucepan.

Step Two: Prepare Ganache
•  Add chopped chocolate to a food processor.
•  Warm the cream again until it comes to a full boil. Once it boils, immediately pour the cream over chopped chocolate in the food processor (Careful! Safety first!) Put lid on food processor.
•  Let sit for one minute.
•  Turn on processor and blend until smooth.
•  Use a rubber spatula to transfer the ganache to a small container or casserole dish.
•  All to cool to room temperature then move to the refrigerator to harden for about 2 hours.

Step Three: Form the Truffles
•  Use a melon baller or rounded teaspoon to scoop the ganache into balls (about 3/4 inch in size).
•  Roll quickly between the palms of your hands to form into a ball. (This can get very messy. But it’s worth it!)
•  Try to get a nice shaped ball, but don’t be a perfectionist.

Step Four: Coat the Truffles
•  Put cocoa powder in a bowl and toss truffles gently (two at a time) to coat.
•  Optional: After coating truffles, place truffles in a strainer and gently knock the side of the strainer with you hand to remove any excess cocoa powder.
•  Allow truffles to harden in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
•  Stop reading this and pop one of those suckers in your mouth!
•  Truffles will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

My Family's See's Candies Tradition

Getting your very own customized box of See's Candies is a thing in my family. It doesn't happen often, which is good. I'm not saying that because I'd no doubt grow a chocolate buddah belly in 2.2, but because I wouldn't fully appreciate the deliciousness of a box of See's Candies anymore.

What's crackin' Mary?

Here's a little See's Candies history for ya. Mary See is the founder of this delightful joint that's been around for over 90 years. They use only the finest, freshest ingredients with no preservatives added and have over 100 different candies and chocolates (woah, Mary). Each of their cute shops feature an iconic black-and-white checkered floor and every visitor gets a free sample when you swing by (don't mind if I do Mrs. See!)

Get a load of this box of chocolate Forrest, Forrest Gump.

My mom is the generous See's gifter, and she wisely keeps a running list of each family member's favorite flavors on her phone for easy access. On occasion, our list needs updating. Scotchmallow's, for example, used to be a beloved favorite of mine, but now they are long gone and were replaced with the decadent Cashew Brittle, a recent newcomer to my list. It's a 0.5 lb box, only so many candies can make the cut, so you've gotta make some heart-wrenching decisions sometimes.

We are given this happy little box on Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter. By the time Christmas rolls around, it's been a long, See's Candy-deprived wait and we are chomping at the bit to get our hands on our boxes. Each of us are typically several candies deep before 10am on Christmas morning.

My husband thought we were all a bit cuckoo about our See's boxes when he first heard about our tradition. Once he partook in a customized box of his own, it didn't take him long to put on the "chocolate diva hat," having my mom update his running list bi-annually. "Mrs. Thompson...what the HELL are these Toffee-ettes doing in my BOX? I specifically told you to replace the Toffee-ettes with the Peanut Butter Patties <chucks Toffee-ette at my mother's frowning face>!!" <that conversation may or may have been dramatized for your reading pleasure...or ever happened at all>

This is one of the many dessert traditions in my family and continues to be a favorite of all of ours. There's really nothing like a hand-picked box of these beauties. Don't be shy friends, go get one for yourself to see what all this nonsense is about!

Recipe: Butterscotch Crème Brûlée

I have a hard time figuring out what to bake sometimes. There's just SO. MUCH. OUT there. Love the internet, but damn, the oodles and oodles of recipes can be overwhelming. How does one even choose? For me, I'm a very visual person so often times it's the photographs that draw me into a recipe (pretty colors! shiny lights!), sometimes it's the sheer number of good reviews it gets (4,500 five star reviews? Ok!) and other times it's simply the name of the recipe ("Peanut Butter Double Chocolate Dream In Your Face"). My process goes something like this. Once I figure out the specific dessert I want to make, I usually put in a good amount of research before deciding on the recipe. Maybe I'll find a handful via Pinterest or maybe it's just from random online research. After that, the hemming and hawing process beings. Even after all the research, the recipe could suck, or I screw up the execution of it. Poopie. I'm definitely my hardest critic, but I've learned that it's not the end of the world if I bomb a recipe. It's only dessert! I'm not saving lives here!

When I heard my dad wanted me to make butterscotch créme brûlée for his birthday, I forgoed my usual process and literally went with the first recipe listing I found on the web, and called it a day. Sometimes, a girl gets lazy. Lucky for me, it turned out pretty good. Plus, I got to use a blow-torch for the first time which was awesome.

Butterscotch Crème Brûlée
Recipe from Chef Jamie
Yield: 8 servings, 6-ounce ramekins.

1 cup whole milk
4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for caramelizing
12 large egg yolks
1 cup brown sugar

1.  Place eight 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups in the bottom of a deep roasting pan. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
2.  Place the 1/4 cup of granulated sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium heat while stirring with a wooden spoon. The sugar will begin to melt and lump. Continue stirring until the sugar starts to turn golden. Chop up large lumps of sugar into smaller pieces with the end of the spoon. They will dissolve as the sugar caramelizes. Stir until the caramel is a deep gold/brown color. If there are still a few lumps it is of no concern, they will be removed when the custard is strained.
3.  When the sugar is golden brown in color remove the pan from the heat. Slowly pour in the cream and milk, a few tablespoons at a time at first, while stirring constantly to keep the sugar from seizing up and turning into hard ribbons. Note: Use caution when you pour the cream-milk mixture into the sugar. Do not place your face directly over the pan and be conscious of where your hands are. The steam rising form the pan can cause a serious burn. After the cream mixture has been added place the pan back on the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and caramel in color. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Place the oven rack on the lowest rung. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk the yolks and brown sugar together lightly. Bring the cream mixture back to a boil. Pour it in thirds over the eggs while whisking constantly. Strain and skim off the air bubbles from the surface of the custard.
4.  Pour the brulee into your cups or ramekins to fill 1/4-inch below the rim. Pour enough hot, not boiling water, into the roasting pan to come up three-quarters up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the custards in the preheated oven on the low oven rack, covered with a piece of parchment paper until set, 30 to 40 minutes. To test to see if the custard are done, jiggle one gently with your hand. They are done if the custard is set in all but the very center, a circle about the size of a dime. Pro Tip: Same jiggle test I used for my Pots de Creme recipe. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath. Cool the custards before placing in the refrigerator, uncovered, until they are completely cold. Then cover tightly with plastic until ready to serve.
5.  To caramelize the brulees, sprinkle the top of each with 1 tablespoon of granulated or superfine sugar. Roll and tap the ramekin to spread the sugar evenly on the surface of the custard. Use a blowtorch or a broiler to brulee the sugar just until it has melted and turned golden. Be careful not to curdle the custards when using a broiler. (See blow torch tips below).

Blow torches are a crowd pleaser

Blow Torch Pro Tips:
•As you torch, move in circle motions. It doesn't have to be fast movements, just don't hold it in one spot for awhile or else you'll burn the sugar.
•Your flame should be a few inches away from the brûlée. I cranked mine to high and as the gas ran out, I moved in closer to the brûlée.
•After 10 seconds or so, you should start to see the sugar melt and form bubbles.
•When are you done torching? When the sugar is melted and the majority of it is a nice golden color.

Recipe: Compost Cookies

Terrible name for a cookie, I know. You won't care after you taste them though, because they will KNOCK your socks off. I heard about Compost Cookies from my sister's friend who swears by them and happens to be an avid baker as well. I first tried one when my sis wisely brought back five of them from the said friend's house. The dear offered one to me and I scarfed two without breathing. These cookies hit on all the right things: crispy, salty and sweet. I taste notes of caramel and brown sugar along with pockets of salty goodness. The texture is outta control too. It's one of the tastiest cookies I've ever had. Believe it. The recipe comes from a legit place too: the cookbook of the famous NYC bakery Momofuku Milk Bar. Christina Tosi, the chef/owner of Milk Bar, gave the cookies this name because it's made up of a hodgepodge of her favorite snacks: chocolate and butterscotch chips, potato chips, pretzels, graham crackers and coffee. She says "My brother-in-law calls them 'garbage cookies'; others call them 'kitchen sink cookies.' Call them what you want, and make them as we make them at Milk Bar, or add your own favorite snacks to the cookie base in place of ours."

One thing to note, some of the ingredients aren't commonly found in grocery stores, such as "glucose," but luckily Amazon seems to have them. I've included links for the challenging ones.

Compost Cookies
Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar (I recently acquired this book for my burfday, thank you sister!)
Yield: makes 15 to 20 BIG cookies (see picture below to get an idea of scale)

Ingredients - Compost Cookies
225 g (16 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
150 g (2⁄3 cup tightly packed) light brown sugar
50 g (2 tbs) glucose
1 egg
2 g (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
225 g (1 1⁄3 cups) flour
2 g (1/2 tsp) baking powder
1.5 g (1/4 tsp) baking soda
4 g (1 tsp) kosher salt
150 g (3/4 cup) mini chocolate chips
100 g (1/2 cup) mini butterscotch chips
1/4 recipe (1/2 cup) Graham Crust (recipe below)
40 g (1⁄3 cup) old-fashioned rolled oats
5 g (2 1/2 tsp) ground coffee
50 g (2 cups) potato chips (Cape Cod is what's recommended)
50 g (1 cup) mini pretzels

Ingredients - Graham Crust (you only need 1/4 of this recipe. I just halved the recipe.)
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

Large and in charge

Directions - Graham Crust (you only need 1/4 of this recipe. I just halved the recipe.)
1.  Toss the graham crumbs, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients.
2. Whisk the brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream together. add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. the butter will act as a 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 1 1/2 tablespoons) butter and mix it in.
3.  Eat immediately, or deploy as directed in a recipe. the crust is easiest to mold just after mixing. 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.

Directions - Compost Cookies
Combine the butter, sugars, and glucose in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes. (See page 27 for notes on this process.)
2.  Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. (Do not walk away from the machine during this step, or you will risk over mixing the dough.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
3.  Still on low speed, add the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, graham crust, oats, and coffee and mix just until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the potato chips and pretzels and paddle, still on low speed, until just incorporated. Be careful not to over mix or break too many of the pretzels or potato chips. You deserve a pat on the back if one of your cookies bakes off with a whole pretzel standing up in the center.
4.  Using a 2 3/4 oz ice cream scoop (or a 1/3 cup measure), portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature— they will not bake properly.
5.  Heat the oven to 375°F.
6.  Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be very faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center. Give them an extra minute or so if that’s not the case. Pro Tip: Mine took 16 mins. Always start a few mins under the recommended time when baking. Every oven is different! I pulled a rookie move and overcooked my first batch because I went with 18 mins. Dummy.
7.  Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage. At room temp, cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer, they will keep for 1 month.

Tips from Christina: In a pinch, substitute 18 g (1 tablespoon) corn syrup for the glucose. For the “coffee grounds” in this cookie, we tested the recipe with freshly roasted and ground artisanal coffee from Stumptown as well as with crap-tastic coffee grounds that you can find just about anywhere. We discovered that it doesn’t make a difference what kind you use; the cookie is delicious every time. Just make sure you don’t use instant coffee; it will dissolve in the baking process and ruin the cookies. And, above all else, never use wet, sogalicious grounds that have already brewed a pot of coffee. We use Cape Cod potato chips because they aren’t paper-thin, and so they do not break down too much in the mixing process.

An Insider's Tip: The Perfect Cupcakes and Muffins

I appreciate useful shortcuts of any kind in life. Cliff Notes, for example, were a godsend in high school (sorry Shakespeare, you got Cliffed). Also, keyboard shortcuts, they're so money, ammi right designer friends? <nerdy laugh>

Here's a great baking "shortcut" that I got from my friend's mom years ago that I love and use whenever I'm working with a regular sized muffin/cupcake pan. The process of scooping the batter into the pan tends to be a pokey, messy process. My least favorite part is trying to proportion out each cup equally. "That one is near over-flowing, oops...and that one looks low so lets add an extra spoonful....blah." It's a bit annoying. Here's your solution: snag a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop fully with the batter and pour into cup. It's the perfect amount (2/3 full) every time. BAM.

Now go put that 1/4 cup to good use and make some cupcakes this weekend!

Recipe: Cocoa Brownies for a Brownieholic

My very desserty friend just got matched for residency. Hugely exciting, so to show my congratulations, I made him one of his most favorite desserts: brownies. As I mentioned in my Chocolate Chip Cookie Hunt post, he's actually eaten a WHOLE pan of brownies in the middle of the night because he couldn't resist...or stop himself once he started. I mean...who DOES that? Brownieholics, that's who. The first step is admitting you have a problem, buddy. Just sayin'.

Can we take a hot minute to appreciate the adorable plate I got for my Birthday? It's like a little me, but cuter and Frencher.

I found this quick n' easy recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and may I just say, that chick is a shark in the kitchen!

Best Cocoa Brownies
Recipe from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet
Yield: Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies

10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (65 grams, though some brands may weigh more) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or a heaping 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional...skipped this because I like my brownies sans nuts)
2/3 cup chocolate chunks or chips (optional, but I love brownies with bonus choco pieces inside so I definitely did this)

1.  Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil.
2.  Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added. Pro Tip: I made this really easy by nuking it in the microwave for 20 seconds (or until butter is mostly melted), stirred, back in for 30 secs, stirred, back in for 30 or so, until it's hot.
3.  Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
4.  Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion mine took at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. Pro Tip: If you're antsy-pantsy, toss the pan in the fridge or freezer for a while to speed things up.
5.  Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Have a glass of milk handy, because you're going to need it.

Recipe: Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies

Nutella is officially my favorite condiment, but peanut butter takes a close second. When I found this recipe, I couldn't not make it (was that a double negative? Shrugs). I mean, why wouldn't I pair my two <condiment> loves together and win at life? This is my second time making these and they are a synch to make. They come out soft and chewy and you may eat 5 before you even know what's happening.

Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies
Recipe from Sweet Tooth
Yield: 40-45 cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (my PB of choice when baking)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup Nutella (plus 1 tablespoon to sample...quality control people)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  In a medium bowl, beat together butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3.  Add in the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.
4.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until just combined.
5.  Microwave Nutella for 20 seconds and then drizzle over the dough. Fold in Nutella with a spatula until well-distributed throughout the dough.
6.  Chill the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes and then roll small balls by hand.
7.  Place about an inch apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and use a fork to press down the balls slightly. Pro Tip: My ball layout was 6 balls x 4 balls...and that's the first and probably last time I'll ever say "ball layout" in my life.
7.  Bake until the edges are lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Pro Tip: Mine took 6.5 mins, 8 mins+ made them too dry, but it really depends on your ball size <insert joke here>.
9.  Allow cookies to cool on the pan for 2 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.



Ready to be consumed in 3, 2, 1...

Recipe: Birthday Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting

A few weekends ago, a good friend of mine turned the big 3-0, so a Birthday Cake was in order. She requested a classic: yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I debated between a few recipes, but ended up going with this one because the frosting sounded divine, and easy as sin (the directions: throw all ingredients into a food processor and blend. Done).

So I ran into a few snafus while making this cake, to put it lightly.

First snafu: I overcooked the two layers slightly. Which lead to a game-time decision: should I make two new layers, stick with the two sub-par layers, OR...get crazy and make a four layer cake?! The last option was just too tempting, so I went for it, balls out. Pro Tip for next time: Bake a few mins below the recommended time to avoid over-cooking.

Second snafu: the cake layers weren't flat, even though I bought these damn things. After I stacked and frosted the layers, my cake looked like the leaning tower of fail. Sigh. Pro Tips for next time: 1. Drop cake pan(s) several times a few inches above countertop to even out batter and get rid of bubbles. 2. Use cake strips again, but soak them really well in water before applying to pan. 3. Rotate pans halfway through bake time.

Last and certainly not least snafu: the cake decided to play a fun game of slip 'n slide on the cab ride over to the party. Fricken frackin! What used to be "the leaning tower cake," was now "Jenga cake." Once I arrived to the party, I quickly greeted the birthday girl and scrambled to the bathroom to try to take care of my little "situation." With the help of a friend, we slid the cake back into place, touched up the frosting and it became a passable cake again. Luckily, the cake tasted tasty and that's all that matters....right guys? And the was so yum, I wanted to take a bath in it. Pro Tip for next time: Let frosting harden by sitting for a few hours before transport (overnight is best) to avoid cake-sliding.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting
Recipe from Sweetapolita
Yield: One 3-layer, 8-inch round cake or one-2-layer. 9-inch round cake

Ingredients – Cake
4 whole eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1-1/4 cups (297 ml) buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 cups (360 g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (4 g) salt
1 cup (2 sticks) (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Ingredients – Frosting
Yield: Makes about 5 cups
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions – Cake
1.  Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter the bottoms and sides of cake pans, line bottoms with parchment round, butter the rounds and dust with flour.
2.  Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing mixing bowl, add 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the vanilla. Whisk to blend well.
3.  Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
4.  Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the side of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated.
5.  Divide batter evenly among the prepared pan (if you own one, use a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers). Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.

Directions – Frosting
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.

As my mom would say, "this was a good learning experience." My biggest regret is that I didn't snap a friendly pic of my Jenga cake. Que lastima!

Baking at Altitude

My baking ego took a few blows this weekend. I'm OK guys, don't worry. I'm confident I know why it happened and who the culprit was to blame. His name is altitude and he's a real a-hole. A group of friends and I were spending the weekend in Tahoe and all I wanted to do was satisfy them with a few tasty treats, but altitude had another thing coming: failure. Am I being too hard on altitude? Perhaps. Or perhaps he's 99.9% to blame.

So yes, apparently baking is a bit challenging when you're six-thousand feet up. I knew this, but thought it only really affected the baking time and temperature. Nope. Couldn't have been more wrong. After bombing two of my desserts that a few of my friends choked down as a courtesy, I had to redeem myself before I gave this blog a bad name (too late). I did some research the next morning on baking at altitude and found an abundance of confusing, frustrating information. Every kind of item you bake, whether it be cookies, cakes, bars, pies, etc. have different "rules" and suggestions. For example, if you're making cookies, one source says you need to:

• Decrease butter or shortening (2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup) if cookies spread too much
• Decrease sugar slightly if cookies spread too much (amount depends on size of batch and other ingredients)
• Increase liquid by 1 to 2 Tbsp only if dough is too dry and cookies don’t spread
• Increase flour (starting with 1 or 2 Tbsp) if cookies spread too much
• Increase bake time by 1 to 3 minutes
• Decrease bake time by 1 to 2 minutes


My studies concluded to this: baking in altitude is a complete crap shoot and you need to set aside a day for trail and error. I unfortunately didn't have the patience for this nonsense, nor did I have the time. I had to nail my next dessert on the first try.

Enter food blogger: Katie Goodman of Good Life Eats who lives at altitude. This dear has already done the hard part for me. Katie, thank you for saving my dignity and the tiniest (non-existent) reputation that I had. I made her Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting and luckily, they didn't suck.

Vanilla on Vanilla

Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from Good Life Eats
Yield: 18-20 cupcakes

Ingredients – Cupcakes
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 large egg whites, room temperature
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ingredients – Frosting
Side-note: this makes a ton frosting so don't be shy with it
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract (to maintain the bright white color)
1 ½ pounds (24 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions – Cupcakes
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the racks in the center position. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.
2.  In a large bowl combine both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.
3.  In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, sour cream, and egg whites. Set aside.
4.  Fit a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or use a hand mixer. Add the butter, sugar and vanilla to the bowl and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes, or until light. Scrape the sides as necessary.
5.  Add the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture while beating on medium speed, again scraping the sides as needed. Beat in half of the sour cream mixture. Alternately add the remaining flour mixture and sour cream until all the wet and dry ingredients have added, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth.
6.  Use a large scoop (about 3 tablespoons), evenly divide the batter between 18 lined muffin tins filling each about 2/3 of the way full.
7.  Bake for 15-24 minutes (Pro Tip: Mine took 13 mins), or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter and vanilla bean seeds. Beat until fluffy. Turn the mixer to low speed and slowly add the confectioners' sugar while continuing to beat.
2.  Once well blended, add in the vanilla and 4 tablespoons heavy cream or milk. Mix on low speed until well combined and moist. If desired, an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until your desired consistency is reached. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

And that my friends, is why it royally blows to bake at altitude. For those of you who want to try it, I recommend "cheating" and finding a recipe that has already been tested successfully. If not, I hope whoever you're feeding enjoys piss-poor desserts. : )

Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Big news. I just discovered a recipe that one-ups my famous Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars. They're named Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars (similar name, different levels of deliciousness). I feel bittersweet about this discovery because the PB Choco Chip Bars hold a very special place in my heart, but dammit these new bars are simply, just better. How can this be, you ask? Well, these have more butter, peanut butter and chocolate chips in it, and a bonus layer of ganache on top. They don't have baking soda/powder in it too so they're more dense, almost brownie-like. So I guess my other recipe didn't really stand a chance. PB Choco Chip Bars...I still love you, but lets just be friends.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: Makes roughly 32 bars, depending on how you cut them

Ingredients – Bars
2 sticks (1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) sugar
1 cup (255 grams) creamy peanut butter (Pro Tip: I used Skippy Natural, don't use the kind you have to stir first)
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) semisweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)

Ingredients – Ganache
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (15 grams) unsalted butter, softened

Pro Tip: bittersweet chocolate chips work great too for a more grown-up taste

Directions – Bars
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in middle. Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan, then line bottom of pan with parchment paper and butter parchment.
2.  Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, then add peanut butter and beat until incorporated. Beat in whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Reduce mixer sped to low, then mix in flour until just combined.
3.  Mix in chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) then spread batter in baking pan, smoothing top. (It will be thick, almost like cookie batter.)
4.  Bake until brownies are deep golden, puffed on top and a wooden pick inserted in center come out with some crumbs adhering, 40 to 45 minutes. Pro Tip: Mine took 37 mins. Start lower than you think and tack on a min at a time if it's not done.
5.  Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 1 1/2 hours.

Directions – Ganache
1.  Put chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) in a heatproof bowl.
2.  Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan, then pour over chocolate chips and let mixture stand for one minute.
3.  Gently whisk in butter until it is incorporated, chocolate is melted, and a smooth mixture forms.
4.  Spread ganache on cooled brownies and let stand until set, about 15 minutes. Best if made the day before.

Have a glass of milk handy, because you're going to need it.

Recipe: Romantical Chocolate Hazelnut Pots De Creme

My first Valentine's Day with my boyfriend (now hubs) was slightly dreadful. Not the company of course <shifty eyes>, but it was the whole Valentine's Day experience. We had reservations at a French restaurant and when we waltzed in, we noticed that the place was chalk full of couples...wearing pink and red...and we were one of them. We were living in a cliché and frankly, I was kinda grossed out. We were squeezed into a table, side-by-side with the couple sitting next to us, and served a below average, rushed meal. We couldn't wait to get outta there. Never, never again, we told ourselves. Since then, we've done much better usually staying in for the night, avoiding pink and red in our faces.

Remember Valentine's Day back in elementary school? It was definitely more acceptable to be clichéy...and there was more candy and crafts too. We had to give everyone in class a Valentine card and it was a delicate process figuring out which Valentine/candy hearts went to whom. You never want to give someone the wrong impression with a too forward candy heart ya know.

For this Valentine's Day, the husband is out of town for work, but I'm luckily spending it with my girlfriends. I've made us Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme by the domestic goddess Martha Stewart, mostly because I'm obsessed with choco hazelnut right now and I've never made pot de creme. It should pair nicely with the RomCom I've picked out too.

Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme
Recipe from Martha Stewart
Yield: Makes 4 Servings

1 1/4 cups half-and-half
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon hazelnut-flavored liqueur, such as Frangelico
Whipped cream, for serving

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bring half-and-half just to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate and sugar. Let stand 5 minutes.
2.  In a large bowl, stir together yolks, vanilla, cocoa, salt, and liqueur if desired. With a fork, stir chocolate mixture until smooth, then gradually stir into yolk mixture. Pour through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup.
3.  Place 4 custard cups or ramekins (3 to 4 ounces each) in a shallow roasting pan, and divide chocolate mixture among them. Pour hot water into the pan so it reaches halfway up the sides of cups. 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.
4.  Bake until custards are almost set in centers, about 30 minutes Pro Tip: How to know when it's done? Jiggle test- grab a ramekin and hit the side, if it jiggles and then stops right away, then it's done. (custards will firm as they cool). Carefully remove cups from hot-water bath; let cool slightly. Yet another Pro Tip: Use a spatula to lift the ramekins out of the pan.
5.  Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate. Just before serving, dollop with whipped cream, if desired.

The result? I was pretty happy with how it turned out. My only disappointment was that I couldn't taste the hazelnut at all. I think I'll try to work in some finely chopped hazelnuts into it next time.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours!

Dessert Guilty Pleasures

Dessert guilty pleasures. We've all got 'em. Sometimes they originate from childhood, sometimes they sprout out of no where. I'm talking about that one dessert you're embarrassed to love. You may or may not feel shameful about it, but it exists and you're mostly ok with it.

What's mine? I've gotta go with ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins (or as I like to call it, Raskin Bobbins). The first time I had it was probably at one of my single digit birthday parties at the local bowling alley. I probably brattily insisted that my slice had to have the pink rose in it too. My favorite flavor is Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake. Last year, my hubs got me this exact cake for my birthday and I just about died. Kept it cool on the outside of course, but was as giddy as a school-girl on the inside.

Time to out some people's DGPs (dessert guilty pleasures). Lets start with my sister's: vanilla Costco cake with vanilla frosting, more specifically, the corner piece because it has the most frosting. I admit, it's pretty tasty, if you like average cake. My other sister's is Ding Dongs. I literally just saw a pack of these on her kitchen counter yesterday. #noshame My husband's DGP is Betty Crocker's yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Not bad, but not good. My coworker's is chocolate/vanilla Costco frozen yogurt. The irony is that she doesn't have a membership but has somehow managed to get her fro-yo on. She told me she was denied only once for lack of a membership, which drove her to tears. Apparently it had been a long, bad day and all she wanted was a happy little $1.25 Costco fro-yo. Long story short, she ended up driving to the next nearest Costco, which was an hour away, and was luckily able to fulfill her hankering.

A few others I've heard: Nutella by the spoonful (ok, but who hasn't done that), Hostess Powdered Donettes (craptastic!), Nutrageous (hello 80s candy bar), and lastly a friend insisted that all dessert is a guilty pleasure <shakes head>.

Ok, now that I've shared mine, and outted several people's, what's YOUR dessert guilty pleasure? I promise not to mock you...much.

Recipe: Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting

Don't ask me why, but I looked up the definition of "cupcake" and here's what I found:

cup·cake [kuhp-keyk]
1. a small cake, the size of an individual portion, baked in a cup-shaped mold.
2. Older Slang
a. a sexually attractive young woman.
b. a beloved girl or woman.

Well hello definition number two. Can't remember the last time I've heard someone call a chick a "cupcake," but I think we should bring this back. Discuss amongst yourselves.

My definition would be more like this:

cup·cake [just sound it out you yammo]
1. A three bite, pretty, miniature cake that tastes like happiness consumed often by a tall ginger.

I find it quite hard to say no to cupcakes. Especially these Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting. I first made these for my Guinness-addicted friend's birthday a few years ago, and they were well received. I made these again for a work bake sale this week and apparently, they sold like hot cakes. The cake is super super moist and may I just say that chocolate and Bailey's just belong together. They're the loveliest of pairs.

Side Note: For transporting these beauties or other cakes/cupcakes, I use this cupcake/cake carrier. I'm kind of in love with it.

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from &
Yield: 24-30 cupcakes

Ingredients – Cake
1 cup Guinness
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Ingredients – Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 pinch table salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar (ProTip: I used 3 cups so they weren't overly sweet)
3 tablespoons Bailey's
1 tablespoon milk

Directions – Cake
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F Grease cupcake tins, or fill with paper liners.
2.  Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan and add the sliced butter. Heat until the butter is melted and remove from the heat. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar.
3.  In a separate bowl, beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla.
4.  Add the sour cream mixture to the Guinness mixture in the saucepan.
5.  Beat in the flour and baking soda.
6.  Divide the batter evenly amongst the cupcake cups. Bake 19-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out mostly clean.
7.  Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In a bowl of stand mixer, cream butter until very light and fluffy. On low, add salt, and slowly add confectioners sugar. Add a couple of spoonfuls at a time until it has all been absorbed into the butter.
2.  Add Bailey's and milk until spreadable consistency is achieved.

Review: Three Twins Ice Cream

When my BF (now hubs) and I moved in together, we were stoked to discover an ice cream shop two blocks from our new place. "This could be very, very dangerous" I recall saying to him. The shop was Three Twins Ice Cream, and we were excited to see what it was all about. After waltzing into the hard to miss lime green shop for the first time, it didn't take long for us to fall madly in love with the shop and their ice cream. Three Twins was founded by Neal Gottlieb, his twin Carl, and his twin's wife Liz, hence the clever name. Their ice cream is organic (how very San Francisco) and they kindly donate one percent of sales to land conservation initiatives through 1% for the Planet. Eat delicious ice cream for a good cause = reason to never feel guilty about eating ice cream again. I'm game. Also, if you're feeling really generous (and hungry), you can order the World's Most Expensive Ice Cream Sundae, that clocks in at $3,333.33. When I win the lottery, this may or may not be one of the first purchases I make...I could you not be curious about this?!

Naturally, we became regulars here in no time. We loved trying each of their creative mash-up of flavors such as Chocolate Orange Confetti and Lemon Cookie. YUM. My personal favorite is Sea Salted Caramel, which I like to pair with Chocolate Malt or Madagascar Vanilla <cue drooling>. Pro Tip: If you are going for a two scooper, I recommend you ask someone working there for a suggestion. They're the pros, after all. My hubs has many a time gone rogue and paired up flavors that create a questionable combo-bite. Order wisely my friends.

A few months after we discovered our precious spot, we were crushed to hear they had to close due to damage caused by a fire in one of the apartments over the shop. They said not to worry and that the repairs should only take a handful of months. Two years later...(which was a long painful ice cream-deprived wait), they opened their doors again, which are a boring grey now, but we didn't care. It was like Christmas when we happily skipped over to the shop's re-opening night. We giddily placed our order, after a sample or five, and felt complete again.

Hook yourself up with a double scoop at one of these shops and thank me later, or if you're feeling lazy, grab a pint at a SF grocery store (most have Three Twins), or if you're the laziest of lazy, order some pints online.

Overall Rating: 5 Ice Cream Cheers'