Recipe: The Best Chocolate Cake Ever

Hi, my name is Courtney and I'm a chocoholic. Sometimes my chocolate hankerings are satisfied with a handful of chocolate chips, but other times I need to go bigger. Like cake bigger. Enter "The Best Chocolate Cake Ever." I made this cake for Mother's Day and it fulfills every cell of the chocoholic in me. In fact, I think it may be the best chocolate cake I've ever made.

The cake portion is moist, fluffy and perfectly chocolatey, while the frosting (an old favorite of mine) is luxurious and decadent, but not over the top rich. Separately they would go swimmingly with another flavor frosting or cake, but together, these two are intoxicating...just thinking about it makes me angry because I don't have a friendly slice of it left to eat.

In conclusion, my friends, if you have a chocolate lover in your midst, make them this cake.

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever
Cake recipe from addapinch.com
Yield: Roughly 12 servings

Ingredients – Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Ingredients – Frosting
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
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder

Directions
For the cake:
1.  Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.
2.  Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
3.  Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter.
4.  Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
5.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.
For the frosting:
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.

Pro Tips/Facts:
• Always always bake a few mins below the lower suggested baking time. Every oven is different!
• If your frosting is too thin and you've added the max amount of confectioners’ sugar, pop it in the fridge for 15 mins or so to harden up.
• Both the cake and frosting have a bit of espresso powder in it which helps enhance the chocolate flavor. For non coffee fans, the espresso flavor isn't noticeable though. S'all good.

Recipe: Mexican Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Ice cream is becoming one of my favorite desserts to make. It's pretty low effort because there's zero baking involved and the ice cream machine does half of the work. If you're working off of a solid recipe, you can't lose.

I had an occasion to make festive ice cream this week- it was Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo on the same day. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to celebrate those two, so I hosted a little soirée. I made some tacos (didn't see that coming huh), jalapeño margies and lastly, Mexican Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.

I debated between three different chocolate ice cream recipes, all from my trustee Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book. There was "Ben's Chocolate Ice Cream," the rich one, "Jerry's Chocolate Ice Cream," the complex one and "Light Chocolate Ice Cream," the subtle one. I went with my boy Jerry's recipe because it seemed liked a happy medium, not overly rich or weak in the chocolate department. In order to make it a proper Mexican chocolate, I added cinnamon and cayenne pepper to taste. They key is to go heavier on these spices because after the ice cream freezes, those flavors become less intense. The spice proportions I gave you below are rough. For the cinnamon, I added a teaspoon at a time, blended, and tasted until there was a significant hit of cinnamon. For the cayenne pepper, I went shake by shake until it was noticeably spicy, but not bothersome spicy. I wanted that flavor to be more subtle. 

After freezing this puppy for hours and giving it a long awaited taster, I was officially into this ice cream. I loved the rich chocolate with the cinnamon, the crunch of the choco chips and the spicy friend that hit you lightly in the back of the throat <lobbing joke your way>. This ice cream needs to come out more often, not just for Mexican holidays celebrated mostly by frat boys. 

Mexican Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Recipe based off of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book

Ingredients
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
A few to five shakes of cayenne pepper
3/4 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions
1.  Melt the unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water. Gradually whisk in the cocoa and heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. (The chocolate may "seize" or clump together. Don't worry, the milk will dissolve it.) Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, and heat until completely blended. Remove from the heat and let cool.
2.  Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and vanilla and whisk to blend.
3.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the cream mixture and blend. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 1 to 3 hours, depending on your refrigerator. I went with I hour and change.
4.  Whisk the cinnamon and cayenne pepper into the mixture, transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions. Mine took about 25-30 mins. Add chocolate chips when you are a few minutes away from being done

Recipe: Chez Panisse Lemon Meringue Pie

Ahh the Lemon Meringue Pie. I was first introduced to this pie when I was a little bugaboo. On occasion, my parents would swing by Marie Callender's to pick up a pie for dessert, and 9/10 times, it was Lemon Meringue. It didn't take long for it to became one of my favorite pies- it in fact just took one slice and I was hooked. I love the different textures it has- the smooth tangy lemon custard paired with the melt in your mouth sweet meringue, which is exactly like eating a cloud. Exactly.

This week, I wasn't flying solo in the kitchen- I was able to bake with my favorite baking partner in crime: mi madre. We chose this recipe simply because it's by Chez Panisse, one of the best restaurants in the bay area, 'nuff said. Solid recipe, but it does have a million steps in three part increments, so I recommend reading each step a few times because laaawwwrrd it was confusing. We double-downed and made two of these pie friends, and with our powers combined, they were both a success. #humblebrag

Lemon Meringue Pie
Recipe by Chez Panisse
Yield: 1, 9 inch pie

Ingredients
For the Crust
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/8 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, cut in several pieces
3 1/4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in several pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tablespoons ice water (a bit more or less may be needed)

For the Lemon Custard
2 lemons (Meyer or regular, we used regular)
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter, cut in 3 pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 3 pieces

For the Meringue
3 egg whites, at warm room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
For the Crust
1.  In a large bowl, mix flour, salt and sugar.
2.  Using a processor, a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut the salted butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add unsalted butter and shortening and cut them in until the lumps are the size of peas.
3.  If you have been using a processor, transfer the mixture back to the large bowl. Sprinkle on the ice water a little at a time and toss with a fork until the mixture comes together in lumps and holds together when pressed. If necessary, add more ice water, sparingly. Avoid kneading the dough.
4.  Gather the dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least four hours. Pro Tip: We didn't do this! We were antsy-pantsy. The dough is more pliable if you chill it though.
5.  Roll into a 12-inch circle, 1/8-inch thick, and fit gently into the pan. Trim the edge a half-inch beyond the rim, fold under and crimp or pinch to make a decorative edge. Prick the bottom with a fork. Freeze the shell for 20 to 30 minutes. Pro Tip: We also didn't freeze it! Shrug. #livingontheedge
6.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line the shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper, weight with beans or pie weights and bake for 20 minutes, or until set and dry looking.
7.  Remove the weights and foil, turn the heat down to 350 and continue baking until shell is golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool slightly, but leave the oven on.

For the Lemon Custard
1.  Grate the zest from the lemons into a small bowl. Strain in the lemon juice, then press through as much lemon pulp as possible.
2.  In a heavy saucepan, beat the eggs, yolks and sugar until just mixed. Stir in the lemon juice and pulp, then the six tablespoons of butter.
3.  Cook, stirring constantly, over low to medium heat, until the mixture comes together and thickens enough to coat a spoon. Remove from heat, allow to stand five minutes, then whisk briefly to smooth. 
4.  Spread the prepared filling in the shell and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the filling is just set. Remove pie. 

For the Meringue
1.  Bump oven temperature up to 375
2.  Beat the egg whites until frothy, add the cream of tarter and continue beating until rounded peaks form. Beat in sugar and vanilla.
3.  Spread the meringue over the filling, making sure it meets the edges of the crust to make a seal. Swirl in a design with a knife or spatula. 
4.  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the meringue is lightly browned.
5.  Allow to cool completely, from one to two hours, but do not refrigerate until it's come to room temperature.

Pro Tips:
• How does one store the pie? Make a tent over the pie by using toothpicks and plastic wrap before popping it in the fridge. BOOM.
• If you're short on time or feeling like a lazy sack, buy and use Pillsbury® Refrigerated Pie Crust. It tastes pretty much like the homemade version.

Recipe: Lemon Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

Last week, I baked 6 desserts. My social calendar happened to blow up on the same week. A few burfdays to celebrate, a dinner soirée, a bbq and lastly, a Game of <f**king> Thrones premiere party. Each event needed a baked item (or three) by yours truly, and I was happy to oblige. Here's the breakdown of my week o' baking. 

Monday: Dessert menu planning, ingredient gathering
Tuesday: Bake Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream Frosting
Wednesday: More dessert planning and ingredient gathering
Thursday: Bake Lemon Bars
Friday: Bake Lemon Ricotta Cookies
Saturday: Bake Lemon Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust
Sunday: Bake Ginger Molasses Cookies and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

'Twas a lot of baking, which meant there was a lot of "quality controlling" on my end. #nomnomnom Time to hit the gym and channel McConaughey, he seems to have that workout thing down. Sidenote: Does that guy even own a shirt?

The dessert highlight for me was the Lemon Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust. It was like a really good handshake- positively satisfying. It was rich, creamy and had the perfect amount of lemon. The gingersnap crust was a compatible compadre too. 

Sigh. If only I loved making cheesecake as much as I loved eating it. It's, unfortunately, a royal pain in the ass to make. It's so high maintenance with it's water bath, two rounds of baking and lastly, the obnoxiously long cooling process that starts outside the fridge and continues inside the fridge. I admit though, I could make my life easier by making a few changes. I could buy a bigger water bath pan (mine is barely a few inches bigger than my cheesecake pan) and I could also not start baking at 8pm. Starting at that hour means I'm up past midnight waiting for that f**ker to cool enough to put it in the fridge. Luckily for my sweet cheesecake, it's always been worth the hassle in the end.

Lemon Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust
Recipe from Epicurious.com
Yield: 16 servings, but it all depends on your slice size!

Ingredients
For the crust:
2 cups ground ginger snap cookies
6 tablespoons butter, melted (you could probably get away with 4–5 T)

For the filling:
5, 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups (24 ounces) sour cream
2 tablespoons (packed) finely grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions
For the crust:
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir cookie crumbs and butter in medium bowl until evenly moistened. Press mixture onto bottom of 9-inch-diameter removable-bottom cheesecake pan with 3-inch-high sides. Bake crust until deep golden, about 12 minutes. Cool completely. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
2.  Stack 3 large sheets of foil on work surface. Place same cake pan in center. Gather foil snugly around pan bottom and up sides to waterproof. See my Pro Tips below for another way to waterproof your pan.

For the filling:
1.  Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar, then salt. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in sour cream, grated lemon peel, and lemon juice. Pour filling into pan.
2.  Place wrapped cake pan in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan.
3.  Bake cake until filling is slightly puffed and moves only slightly when pan is shaken gently, about 1 hour 25 minutes. See Pro Tips below on how to tell doneness. Remove cake pan from water bath; remove foil. Cool cake in pan on rack 2 hours. Chill uncovered until cold; cover and keep chilled at least 1 day and up to 2 days.
4.  Cut around pan sides; carefully loosen pan bottom from sides and push up pan bottom to release cake. Place cake (still on pan bottom) on platter. 

Pro Tips:
• Grind the gingersnaps in the processor or place them in a heavy-duty plastic bag and finely crush them with a rolling pin.
• I personally like using crockpot liners to keep the cheesecake pan waterproof vs wrapping in aluminum foil.
• Don't forget to do the "Jiggle Test" I've mentioned before in order to tell doneness of the cheesecake. "Jiggle it, just a little bit!"

Recipe: Classic Lemon Bars

I'm going to a themed dinner party tonight, but when I say themed, I don't mean costume-themed like "Luau" or "Toga" (although I do love me a costume party), I mean food category-themed. We've had several of these dinners already where the theme has been "fig," "pumpkin," "cranberry" and "nuts." Each dinner I've been hugely impressed with everyone's dish. These friends of mine know how to cook! Tonight's theme, as you may have already guessed, is "lemon!" The only rules are that the host has to choose the theme (mine was "nuts," mostly for the jokes) and each person has to sign up for a dish. Since I like taking the easy road sometimes <often>, I snagged the dessert dish spot this time. I can't help it guys. I have a dessert blog for Pete's sake!

I believe this theme was meant to be because my awesome neighbors emailed me about having an abundance of lemons to give away. BOOM. After telling them that this was perfect timing, for I was about to go lemon shopping, the lovely wife told me I must promise her, that as long as they have lemons on their tree, I will never buy another one again. I mean. I kinda have the best neighbors, guys. Don't be jeals.

For my lemon dessert, I knew I wanted to give Lemon Bars another go. I've made them once before and they turned out piss poor. The bloody filling never set! Boo Radley. My girl Amy passed along her go-to recipe which is by the fabulous Barefoot Contessa.

Classic Lemon Bars
Yield: 20 squares or 40 triangles
Recipe from foodnetwork.com

Ingredients
For the crust: (Pro Tip: thick crust fans should double this, I'll def go double next time)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (3 to 4 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Directions
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.
3.  Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack.
4.  For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set.
5.  Let cool to room temperature. Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners' sugar.

Pro tips:
• If your eggs aren't at room temperature, place them in luke warm water for 15 mins
• If your butter isn't at room temperature, pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds, flip it 180º, microwave for another 8 seconds. Every microwave is different so this may be trial and error. I've over melted MANY a stick.

Lemon Bar crime scene

Recipe: Not Your Ordinary Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies

There was this decadent ridiculously good cookie I used get near work when I really wanted to treat myself. It was a Peanut Butter Blossom Cookie, but with a twist. Instead of having a Hershey Kiss in the middle of the cookie, it had a dark chocolate peanut butter cup there. Talk about a game changer. My coworker at the time, Katie, shared the same sentiment for them; we even went as far as naming the cookie "The Baby Jesus Cookie" or just "Baby Jesus" for short. This is because whenever we ate one of these puppies, it was like having a holy experience. The clouds parted and everything. We were known to say such things as "hey, I've got a hankering for a Baby Jesus, want me to getcha one?" or "the guy gave me an extra Baby Jesus on the house!" to each other at work. #typicalworkchitchat 

The key to these cookies is to buy, specifically, the Trader Joe's <crack> Peanut Butter Cups. I whole-heartedly believe that these are the BEST store-bought peanut butter cups on the planet. They easily take the gold, in my humble. Costco PB Cups take the silver and Reese's PB Cups take the bronze, in case you were wondering who else placed.

This recipe tastes exactly like those Baby Jesus Cookies I loved. You will not be sorry if you make these. I never am.

Not Your Ordinary Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies
Recipe adapted from howsweeteats.com 
Yield: approximately 48 cookies

Ingredients
2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar (and about 1/2 cup more later for rolling)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk
Trader Joe's Milk or Dark Peanut Butter Cups or Hershey Kisses (you need 48 total), unwrapped

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Cream butter and peanut butter together until smooth. Add sugars and cream for 2-3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Stir in vanilla.
3.  Add flour, baking soda and salt, just mixing until combined, then add in milk.
4.  Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
5.  Roll cookies into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar. Lay on baking sheet about 1 inch apart.
6.  Bake at 375 for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and push candy of choice down into the middle of each cookie. Return to oven and bake for 2 1/2 more minutes. Remove and let cool completely.

Pro Tip: the kisses do just fine baking for those last 2.5 mins, but the pb cups melt too much. Wait to put the pb cups in until the cookies are done baking and come out of the oven. Push them in and leave them be. They will get melty but will definitely need some time to cool/harden. 

Squiiiiiish!

Review: Metro Lafayette's Butterscotch Pot de Crème

I'm from a little town in the east bizz-ay called Lafayette. It's past Oaktown, through the tunnel, a little further, keep going and you're there. On occasion my mom and I get together in those neck of the woods to lunch, catch up and discuss important things like who got voted off the island on the latest episode of Survivor. #ladieswholunch

Several months ago, my parents dined at a one of Lafayette's newer restaurants called Metro Lafayette: "it's one of Lafayette's most popular joints, it's so hip!" they told me. Ever since they ate there, they wouldn't stop talking about the dessert they had: Butterscotch Pot de Crème. "UGH it's SO good Court, you've GOT to try it, UGH." is what I was hearing on the daily (bi-weekly). I knew it was only a matter of time before we lunched there and had this tasty sounding dessert. 

Yesterday, my mom and I made it happen. Lunch was yum but I was highly anticipating this dessert to see what all my parents' hubbub was about. The pot de crème friend came out in a cute coffee mug sitting on top of a sliced menu. I stared down at it grinning, which I often times do to dessert, and noticed the pot was dolloped with crème Chantilly, drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with course sea salt. She was a beaut. With my spoon at the ready I wasted no time and dove in. First bite...solid gold. Creamy, rich butterscotch with a hint of burnt flavor and then the sea salt hits you square in the face. BAM. I could have almost done without the salt or maybe would have scaled it back by a hair. My mom stopped about 3 bites in (she claimed she was full?!), but I heroically stepped up to the plate and polished off that bad boy no problem. That's how I do.

Overall, a lovely lovely dessert and my parents did not steer me wrong. If you find yourself on the east side of the bay, go get hip and dine at Metro to see what this Butterscotch Pot de Crème is all about for yourself.

Overall Rating: 4.9 dollops of crème Chantilly

Recipe: Salted Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

Wonder what a chocolate bomb tastes like? It tastes like these cupcakes. They are rich, moist, fiercely chocolatey and should only be consumed by the very biggest chocolate fans. Consider yourself warned. 

Get the biggest glass you own and fill it with milk because you're going to need it!

Salted Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
Recipe from gimmesomeoven.com
Yield: 24 cupcakes (mine made 18)

Ingredients – Cupcakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (or any unsweetened cocoa powder)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup coffee, lukewarm (you can use decaf coffee if desired!)
chocolate ganache frosting
coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Ingredients – Frosting
18 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Directions – Cupcakes
1.  In the bowl of stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in vanilla.
2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt until combined. Then in an additional separate bowl, stir together buttermilk and coffee. Add dry ingredients to creamed butter mixture alternately with buttermilk and coffee, beating well after each addition.
3.  Fill paper-lined baking cups two-thirds full. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
4.  Top with chocolate ganache frosting, then sprinkle with sea salt.

Directions – Frosting
1.  Place the chopped chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl.
2.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just reaches a boil. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the chocolate. Stir slowly until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Let it cool until it reaches room temperature, about 1-2 hours. It will continue to thicken the longer it sets.
3.  Spoon or pipe the ganache onto the cupcakes. If the ganache is too thin for piping, you can transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat it on medium-high for 3-5 minutes until it reaches a better consistency for piping. Pro Tip: this part was tricky for me. I ended up having to re-melt the ganache slightly in the microwave (10 seconds at a time) and then beat until it was just the right consistency to work in my froster. Play around with temperature and beating until you're happy with the thickness.

Recipe: Decadent Hot Chocolate with Fluffy Marshmallows

Hey east coast, I heard it's been one hell of a winter. I'd like to make you a batch of hot chocolate with marshmallows to help warm you up. It tastes like a yum factory in your mouth so I think you'll like it. 

Hang in there and if you're still chilly after a mugful, come out west for a visit! We've got plenty of drought and global warming to keep you dry and toasty.

Decadent Hot Chocolate
Recipe from smittenkitchen.com
Yield: Just under 1 3/4 cups mix, enough for 9 cups

Ingredients
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions
To make:
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don't have a food processor? Chop or grate chocolate until it's as fine as you can get it, and stir into the remaining ingredients. 
Note: Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To use:
1.  Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy.
2.  Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. Pro Tip: some like their hot cocoa extra chocolatey (this girl) and some like it more subtle. Taste-test this concoction before mugging it and add more mix or milk to desired taste.
3.  Pour into mug, top with marshmallows (or a dollop of whipped cream), curl up on your couch and binge watch the latest season of House of Cards.

Other flavors to try: Mexican Hot Chocolate (chile powder, cayenne and cinnamon), Mint Hot Chocolate (mint extract instead of vanilla), Mocha Hot Chocolate (couple tablespoons of espresso powder).

Fluffy Marshmallows
Recipe from smittenkitchen.com
Yield: Makes about 96 1-inch cubed marshmallows

Ingredients
About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar (cane sugar worked just fine)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites or reconstituted powdered egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla (alternately: 1/2 of a scraped vanilla bean, 2 teaspoons almond or mint extract)

Directions
1.  Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.
2.  In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold cold water, and let stand to soften.
3.  In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.
4.  With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer. 
5.  In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla (or your choice of flavoring) into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and don’t fret if you don’t get it all out. Sift 1/4 cup confectioners sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.
6.  Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and ease onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly one-inch cubes. (An oiled pizza cutter works well here too.) Sift remaining confectioners’ sugar back into your now-empty baking pan, and roll the marshmallows through it, on all six sides, before shaking off the excess and packing them away.
Note: Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.

Makes for a darn cute gifty huh?

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.