Graduation Day

This was day one! Feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago.

Today, I graduate from pastry school! 6 months has come and gone way too fast for my liking, but you know what they say: "time flies when you're having fun." Ain't that the truth because it sure as hell was fun.

So here we are, 6 months later. What's different now then prior to this, you ask? I'll tell you. Lets bullet point it up and cue this song because no one likes an awkward silence.

• First and foremost, I have a TON of more hands on pastry experience under my belt.
• I've made dozens and dozens and dozens of new recipes I've never dared to try before.
• I've worked in a professional kitchen that happened to be one of my favorite bakeries on the planet.
• I'm more confident in my culinary-pastry skillz.
• I'm <politely> bossier in the kitchen with non-industry people, sorry not sorry. I can't help it! My sense of urgency has followed me.
• I've made 11 new friends! <cue awws>. I can't wait to see what each of these ladies do.
• I feel like a new and improved version of myself. Not that I've changed drastically, but that I've definitely grown for the better.
•  I still have SO much more to learn and I'm hungry for more! #nailedthatpun Lets keep on keeping on!

One of the best things my chef said to me that I won't ever forget is: "just do it with confidence!" I remember the time she said this vividly. It was early into the program and I needed to flip over a large and in charge dessert. I was hesitating and expressed my fear of screwing it up. Her response was that very line so I followed her instructions, committing to it, whether I'd screw it up or not. Even if I did fail in that moment, (which I didn't for the record <brushes dirt off shoulder>), that advice can be used with anything in life, really. I'm grateful for it and all the other priceless advice my chef gave me.

I will miss San Francisco Cooking School and wish I could Groundhog Day this experience. It's been one hell of a ride from inspirational guest chefs, field trips to local amazing bakeries, baguette sword fights, tempering chocolate for days, making up a song for the 3 weeks of bread, pants fitting tighter than usual with no regrets, laughing at Graham's laugh, packing my freezer full of all the pastries, dancing while throwing flour, piping macarons until I wanted to gouge my eyes out, feeling like a boss with my classmates on bakery day, to surprising myself, but feeling very humbled while working at Tartine.

Hugs to all my supporters along the way. Now lets go raise a glass and eat some dessert!

Recipe: Tartine Bakery's Chocolate Pudding

When I tasted Tartine's Chocolate Pudding for the first time, I thought: "This is how chocolate pudding should taste!" It has the right balance of richness and the texture is velvety smooth. Overall, this dessert just makes you happy. I decided to make this at home on Valentine's Day because chocolate is the thing to eat on this day of love. Why get your romantical chocolate in a heart shaped box when you can get it on a spoon?

This recipe is easy for bakers of all levels (truth!) and is relatively fast. No baking is involved, just some stove-top action. Once you portion it out, it doesn't take long to cool, so this pudding can be in your belly in under a couple hours. #fistpump

If you're looking to step up your pudding game, look no further. Tartine, thanks for nailing chocolate pudding.

Tartine Bakery's Chocolate Pudding
Recipe from Tartine Bakery Cookbook
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 3⁄4 cups (14 oz/425 ml) whole milk
1⁄2 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons (5 oz/155 ml) heavy cream (plus 1 cup/8 oz for topping later on)
1⁄4 cup (1 oz/30 g) cornstarch
3⁄4 cup (5 oz/140 g) sugar
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1⁄4 teaspoon (1 ml) salt
2 1⁄2 ounces (70 g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1.  Place a fine-mesh sieve over a large heat-proof container.
2.  In a saucepan, combine the milk and cream; heat to just under a boil. Pro Tip: When you start to see a good amount of steam while you're stirring it, you're close!
3.  Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the cornstarch and sugar; sift in the cocoa powder; whisk until blended.
4.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the salt until blended, then add to the sugar mixture and whisk until well combined.
5.  Slowly add half of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Pro Tip: Don't rush this part or, as my chef has said, you'll make "egg-drop soup!"
6.  Pour the combined egg mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk mixture; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture has visibly thickened and reads 208° on a thermometer, should take about 5-7 minutes, depending on how cold your eggs are.
7.  Immediately pour the contents of the pan through the sieve. Pro Tip: to help it along, use a small ladle/spatula/spoon to push it through, moving it in a circular motion.
8.  Add the chocolate and let the heat of the milk/egg mixture melt it.
9.  When the chocolate has melted, blend with an immersion blender for a full 5 minutes until no lumps are visible. Stop the blender and scrape down the sides of the container with a rubber spatula here and there.
10.  Immediately portion pudding into individual cups; let cool, and serve at room temperature, topped with whipped cream.
FYI: The pudding will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Want to get wild and crazy?
• Try adding some cinnamon and cayenne pepper during the immersion blender stage (or earlier, whatevs) to taste and you've got yourself a Mexican Chocolate Pudding! Boom.
• Try adding some mint OR orange extract to taste (start small!) for a mint (or orange) chocolate experience. Blammo.

Bakers Wake Up Earrrly

What are you doing up at 4:30 in the morning? Baking scones and gougères? Oh wait, that's me. Yes, I wake up at the same time I used to go to sleep on a Saturday (that's a lie, but just go with it) so people like yourself can have their hot buns at 7:30am.

I've been externing at the kick-ass Tartine for just over a month now and it's been going swimmingly. I've been working on a few different stations: cookies/bars, shelling (lining/baking pastry shells for tarts/quiches) and the morning bake team which is either "quiche side" or "scone side" as they call it. Each station has been stellar and I've loved all the variety. Hell, I've even enjoyed working the 4:30am shift, who knew?! Those days actually fly by and the kitchen is less chaotic the first half of the day, due to the fact that there's usually only 5 of us there in vs 20+.

So one of the things Tartine is known for is it's line, due to it's popularity. Lines are the worst, but there's a reason for it. The food is legit guys! I can attest to this because I've tried most of the menu by now. #patsonbuddahbelly I actually think it's kind of exciting that people are willing to wait in line for Tartine's goodies. Yes, perhaps people are just in line because of the hype, but I'd be a liar if I said that the hype isn't justified and the line isn't worth waiting in. DO IT, or even better, holler at me when you're coming and I'll buy you a warm croissant to keep you company in line.

Surprises so far? The amount of heavy labor! Tartine is cranking out a ton of products for the masses so the yield is always LARGE. These LARGE yields need to be chopped, stirred and folded by hand sometimes which is, frankly, a workout and a half. For example, I break a sweat every time I make gougères (which requires vigorous continuous stirring by hand) and I have a gougère calluses on my hand to show for it.

Another surprise, that has nothing to do with any of the above, is I've become a biker! Not the Hells Angels kind (I'm certain that's what you were imagining), but the bicycle kind. My sweet ride is from junior high, so it's real hip. At least I don't have to worry about it ever getting stolen...

Back on subject again, here are some solid things I've learned so far while working at Tartine:

Lift with your knees, not your back! I've been aware of this tip, but it's an important one to recall when you have to lift a 50lb bag of flour. Those bags are no joke! It seriously feels like I'm carrying a large child through the kitchen.

Hands and arms make fantastic tools! Bowl scrapers and spatulas are nice and all, but sometimes ya gotta get in there with your hand or even your arm to get all the sneaky hidden spots. Also, folding brownie batter with your hand/arm is ridiculously fun.

Have one clean hand and one dirty hand. Love this one, but it's a challenge to follow sometimes. When you need to scrape down a bowl using either your hand or bowl scraper, that hand will likely get batter and such on it, so in turn it becomes your "dirty hand." The other hand, by default, is your "clean hand" and should be used to do "clean tasks" like turn the mixer on/off and raise/lower the mixer. This is especially useful for recipes that require you to scrape down the bowl several times over several rounds. In the end, having these clean/dirty hands will avoid more cleanup- making you more efficient! #winning

Refill the line if there's a lull. This is the new "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." Sooo "if you've got time to lean, you've got time to refill?" Where's a poet when I need one?

Walking by a pot? Give it a stir sister! This kitchen multi-tasks like champions so the stove top is always full. If you find yourself passing by, why not stir that chocolate or pastry cream or apples for a hot second? Thaaaaanks.

Behind! Hot! Sharp! I hear the phrase "behind" at least 100x a day, "hot" about 40x a day and "sharp" a solid 10x. There's a reason for this- no one wants a run-in with 3 sheet trays of shells or a hot pot of bacon fat or perhaps get stabbed in the thigh with a chef's knife. That would make for a bad day.

Be efficient! Try to take as few trips as possible when gathering what you need- ingredients, tools etc. Also, try to re-use bowls, measuring cups and such when you're putting a recipe together. Work smart you dummy!

When in doubt, write it down! Pounds and ounces and grams, oh my! Perhaps if I had a photographic memory, I'd have no use for a notepad, but alas, my memory is more like a goldfisheseseses.

And lastly,
No one is awake at 4am except crackheads and bakers! When I bike to Tartine at this ungodly hour, I bike like zombies are chasing me (the fast "28 Days Later" kind of zombies, not the slow "Walking Dead" kind). I hope I don't come across humans (or zombies) because most likely they're up to no good and will surely steal my junior high bike and break my knee-caps if they spot me. #fact

This would be the part where I'd cue a song and show you all the beautiful things I've been working on, but sadly, I've got nothing for you. Pulling out your phone at work to take selfies and food porn photos are frowned upon- I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to have a photo shoot with croissants/cookies/cakes/bread/bars etc. Where's a Google Glass to take surreptitious pics when I need one?!

If you'd like to see me in action and eat all the pastries, come visit me! I've got only 3 weeks left!

image cred:

All Good Things Must Come To An End

And the next thing I know, 4 months of pastry school has come and gone. Did somebody fast forward my life because that sure as hell felt fast! Well, it's been quite the ride and I'm coming out of these 4 months feeling like I've been exposed to so much in the pastry world, yet, somehow I still lack confidence and feel like I have a truckload of things to learn and improve on. I suppose that's a good thing to feel, right? I'm actually glad that I'm not sauntering out of these 4 months thinking I'm the golden god of desserts. I'd have to slap myself in the face if so.

I started my 2 month externship at Tartine Bakery these last two weeks, and while I'd love to fill you in about that, you'll have to wait because you still haven't heard about the last 3 weeks of class! They were a memorable 3 weeks too so lets catch you up to speed shall we?

Week 14 - Plated Desserts
Ahhh a beautifully plated dessert. There's nothing more easy on the eyes than a beautifully plated dessert, other than a shirtless Ryan Reynolds of course (it's OK, my husband agrees that you can shred cheese on those abs). Plating dessert is a skill I wanted to improve on for awhile. Our chef showed us how to plate a variety of desserts; mashups that I would never think of putting together. We learned that plated desserts should have a balance of different tastes, textures and temperatures such as this killer dessert: Mango Custard with Roasted Pineapple, Coconut Sorbet, Coconut Snow, Kalamansi Gel and Micro Basil. We also learned that dessert should have the same style/size/vibe as the savory portion of the meal. Along with plated desserts, we had Nicole Krasinski, pastry chef/co-owner of the fantastic State Bird Provisions, pay us a visit to show us how to make a few of State Bird's desserts- SO so awesome. We ended the week with the fabulous Jeffrey Larsen, from our gluten-free workshop. Our final gluten-free project was due and Jeffery gave us some great feedback and critique on each of our desserts. My Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars weren't bad, but they were nothing compared to my classmate's gluten-free Triple Ginger Cookies. She nailed it. If I were an Olympic judge, I would give it a perfect 10.

Week 15 - Bakery Day Prep/Bakery Day
This week was all about prepping for our Bakery Day on Friday. Bakery Day was our final project where we got to invite a few friends/family to come to our school and be wined and dined on our behalf. We had a "pass" portion where we made/served food to them live and there was a "boxed" portion where they got to fill a box full of baked goods to take home that we made ahead of time. My classmates and I came up with these two menus together which took several rounds of narrowing down. Brutal cuts had to be made, such as any dessert involving peanut butter that I found only myself fighting for. I meannnn, who doesn't like peanut butter?! Sigh. So we came to a group consensus on the menus, each of us signed up for multiple items (mostly in teams) and planned out the to-dos for each day. My items were: Passion Fruit Caramels, Chocolate Caramels, Honey Lavender Macarons and Scallion Pancakes with Soy Dipping Sauce. My teammates and I banged out the caramels and pancakes, which had essentially no hiccups, but man oh man did the macarons ever. Those mac-attacks were real assholes. Firstly, they are labor-intensive to make, secondly, they just didn't want to cooperate. Long story short, we ended up having to make 4 batches until we got it right. Luckily in the end, they tasted good and looked pretty enough. Pro Tip: A topper of edible gold paint can take your macaron game from a 5 to a 9.

Bakery Day overall was a blast. We all wore orange bandannas which made us look like a cross between 2Pac and Rosie the Riveter, but we still looked cute in my humble. Shrug. All of our hard work leading to this day paid off- the decor and setup looked beautiful and professional, the kitchen crew killed it and the front of house foursome (myself included) made sure our guests were well fed and happy. It was so fun getting to meet all my classmates' people and see/hear how everyone was liking the food. It felt like a huge accomplishment and even though we could have improved on a few things, I was super proud of all of us. #goteam

Week 16 - Final exams & Field Trips
This week was a blend of low-key field trips and high stress test days - great fun for your blood pressure. Our field trips were to Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen, Guittard Chocolate and B. Patisserie. We started things off at good 'ol Williams-Sonoma! It brought me back to my old catalog life as I walked through the doors. It was such fun seeing this famous test kitchen in person. Fun Fact: The test kitchen ladies are the ones who judged the Chuck Williams Birthday Bake-Off (RIP Chuck) that I fatley lost in a few years ago. These ladies have a stellar gig: they get to test recipes for future catalogs. Hello dream-job. At Guittard, we got a grand tour of their facilities and got to see how they make their delicious chocolate - they are one hell of a well-oiled machine! We closed out the field trips at B. Patisserie where they make some of the best pastries I've ever had (their Kouign Amann is insane!) Eating their pastries would have been a fun field-trip in itself, but we got a chance to have B's kick-ass pastry chef, Belinda Leong, talk to us about her background and tell us her B. Patisserie story. Our last day at school was spent being fed by the lovely Culinary Arts class for their final project: Restaurant Day. They did a FANtastic job, to put it lightly.

The class portion of school is over, but all good things must come to an end. Now, I'm in the land of Tartine Bakery and that ain't bad. ;-)

Lets bring it on home with a photo montage from these 3 weeks! Cue song. Sidenote: I had never seen this music video before. Hello glam rock at it's finest. Cheers!

Carb Loaded For Life

Friends! It's been awhile. Like 4 weeks awhile. Lots of pastry school updates to be had, but lets start in reverse order, because I have exciting recent news.

We found out this week where we got placed for our externships. This is where we'll be working and spending all of our time for the last two months of the program, it's MAJOR. A few weeks ago, we all had a one-on-one with the founder of the school and ever since then, I've been anxiously-nervously-excitedly wondering where the devil I'll end up! On Wednesday morning, we were told that we'll all find out at lunchtime. Deep breath. Eeks magee. Lunchtime rolls around, and every one of us are silently on our phones, obsessively refreshing our email like a bunch of buffoons. And then, like dominoes, one by one, the emails start coming. Murmuring and smiles come next. I refresh my email for the 20th time and there it is. I open my email to see that I got placed at the same location where this journey began: Tartine Bakery! Motherf*&%ing Tartine! So SO excited. Want to know where everyone else got placed? Yeah ya do! NOPA, Chez Panisse, Quince, State Bird Provisions, Feve, Jane on Larkin, Little Bee Baking, Neighbor Bakehouse, Craftsman and Wolves, Della Fattoria and Cake Coquette. Bad. Ass. So excited for my pastry school peeps.


Lets continue this Memento-like order recap in reverse, shall we?

Week 13: Breads 2
That's what it said in our syllabus: "Breads 2." Pretty self-explanatory <insert sarcastic looking emoji of your choice here>. We only had two days of class this week before Thanksgiving break and they were filled with "quick breads," mostly breakfast-type pastries. Waffles, coffee cake (best I've ever had), muffins, brioche to name a few and one of the BEST croissants I've ever had: a PRETZEL croissant! Yes, it's as good as it sounds. Actually, it's better than it sounds.

Week 12: Laminated Dough
Translation: CROISSANTS!! There was a lot of <under the radar> happy dancing and fist-pumps this week. Laminated dough is dough consisting of many thin layers of dough separated by butter, produced by repeated folding and rolling. Fun Fact: Croissants have 81 layers, while puff pastry typically has about 1000. #mindblown We had chef Brian Wood from Starter Bakery come in to show us how croissant making is done. He's the king of all things croissant, and also, you haven't lived if you haven't eaten his kouign amann. #lifechanging Chef Brian also kindly participated in a "Last Supper" photo you can get a glimpse of below. He makes an excellent Jesus. We finished out the week with a visit to the kickass Craftman and Wolves facility. Chef William Werner gave us a personal tour of the digs and his soon to be expansion. It was beautiful, spotless and I noted that they had pretty much one of every tool and machine a pastry gal could dream of. Chef William really impressed us. Confident, business savvy and smart as a whip. I want to be like him when I grow up.

Week 11: Breads 1
The first installment of bread. This week was eye-opening. We made more of your classic loaves and baguettes this week. Guest chef Michael Kalanty joined us for a day to show us his way of making some classic breads like pan au levain and San Francisco sour dough. He takes the cake for my favorite guest chef. He's not only hugely entertaining and hilarious, but he's a fantastic teacher. Sign up for one of his classes, and thank me later. Other notable things we made: bagels, pretzels and babka, oh my! We closed out the week with a field trip to Central Milling in Petaluma. Nicky Giusto was our fabulous host who took us on a baguette making adventure. Chef Nicky is competing in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris (a.k.a. The World Cup of bread baking), representing for team U.S.A. He's that good!

Week 10: Ice Cream, Gelato, Frozen Desserts
Yes, yes and yes. Guest chefs Bill Corbett, former pastry chef of Absinthe, and Patti Dellamonica-Bauler, pastry chef at One Market, paid us separate visits and taught us their style of ice cream making. Chef Bill is all about the science angle of ice cream making utilizing emulsifiers and stabilizers such as Cremodan 30 that give ice cream viscosity and also delays the melting of ice cream. Too much of this can give ice cream a chalky, gummy mouth feel though so watch yourself. Chef Patti's angle was all natural, sans stabilizers. Ironically enough, one of our freezers broke during this week. Reminded me of the good ol' Pottery Barn days when the printer broke at clutch times like before a film review. Figures. All in all, it was an ice cream-tastic week.

So you might have noticed that we had three three glorious weeks of bread. THREE! That's some serious carb-loading.

And now, while I start my bread detox, here's a photo montage of the last 4 weeks. Oh, and cue this song first because I said so.

Still Not Sick Of Dessert

I'm halfway through pastry school friends! Thinking about this makes me both a bit anxious and sad. Anxious because I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Meaning, when people ask me what I’d like to do after I finish school (which has been a go-to question since enrolling in school), I don't have an answer. I have a few ideas I've been mulling over, but it would be much easier if the answer hit me like a ton of bricks, or perhaps if it came to me in a dream…delivered by Matt Damon. Just sayin’. I’m hoping over time this will become more clear. Being halfway done also bums me out because I actually like going to school- hell, I even look forward to it! I mean, why wouldn't I? I get to make copious amounts of killer desserts daily, and I'm constantly learning something new. Everyday includes brand-spanking new recipes I’ve never tackled before, and that’s so exciting to me. It's kinda like opening gifts on Christmas morning, but filled with more dessert and less pajamas.

Some of the best things I’ve learned so far have become mottos that I repeat in my head all the time (I usually hear them in my teacher’s voice though). Here are a few golden nuggets for your pleasure:

Have a sense of urgency! You're going to get more done faster if you work quickly and efficiently. This also includes walking with a purpose, and if you don't, I'm going to mow your ass down! Sorry I'm not sorry.
If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean. Funny, yes, but damnit it's true too. Don't be a slouch and go wipe something down or put something away. I've used this line on my hubs recently...he wasn't amused.
Get your full yield! Translation: when you're doing any kind of product transferring from one container to another (i.e. measuring cups or a mixing bowl), scrape out as much of what's in there as you can. I’ve had those moments in the past where I'd shrug and say “good enough,” but there’s actually a lot more on the sides of that bowl than you think. It can effect your recipe and it’s a bit wasteful too, unless you're planning on licking the bowl, then I fully support that.
The oven light is your friend, use it. When you open the oven, the temperature drops 25 degrees! 'Tis a lot so stop opening that blasted oven and use the blasted light!
Keep your work-space clean. Done with the Kitchenaid? Put that sucker away! Got a pile of dirty bowls? Get that pile to a sink pronto! You will feel more organized and will work more efficiently if you clean as you go. It's a fact.

So mottos aside, I need to catch you up on these last three weeks. It’s been FULL and loads of fun.

Week 7 was all kinds of awesome. It focused on pastry doughs: brownies, blondies and cookies galore. Highlights? We made over 25 different cookie/brownie/blondie creations. Having to sample each of these goodies was hard work <said nobody ever>. By the end of the week, we made bakery boxes for our VIPs filled with our favorite desserts we’ve made thus far. This was a fun project because we had to really team up and work together in order to get these boxes done on time. My favorite thing in the box? The Candy Cap Pecan Cookies, hands down. Candy Cap is a mushroom, but alas these taste nothing like 'shrooms. They instead taste like a nutty maple buttery dreamboat. Other than the lucky VIPs, each of us were able to take a box of love home too. Another highlight was taking on a fun project: as a class, come up with our best version of a chocolate chip cookie. Apparently, a former pastry class tackled the same project and their recipe ended up being published in Bon Appétit! Hugely impressive and the bar has been set. Game on.

Week 8 was themed “advanced chocolate and confections.” Translation: we made a plethora of gourmet candy bars (i.e. Snickers) and other yum-tastic candy. Highlights? We spent one of the days at Feve Artisan Chocolatier learning how to decorate and shell chocolate. This was super fun because we got to get artsy-fartsy with the decorating by using gold dust, a spray gun and even just finger painting. It’s unreal how gorgeous chocolates can be. These chocolates that Feve make literally look like works of art. I'm almost inclined to say that they're too pretty to eat, but lets be honest, these beauties were meant to be pretty in my belly.

Week 9 was boot camp week- repetition and timed drills. Highlights? Other than being able to make 30 crepes in 10 minutes and dice 2 carrots into 1/4 inch squares (my own personal hell), we had a THREE HOUR cheese tasting workshop. It sounds amazing right? It really was, but towards the end of the last hour, I felt like a wheel of cheese in human form. Another workshop we did that week, was a gluten-free/food allergies workshop. We live in SF so this is great knowledge to have as the gluten-free population is strangely growing higher by the minute. We also made macarons! These are one of the most beautiful time-consuming cookies I've ever made before, but so worth it in the end. We even got to create our own version with a teammate- we made lemon poppy seed macs.

As for this week, it’s ice cream o’clock! More specifically, a week of ice cream, gelato and frozen desserts. My husband clearly is most excited about this week because after I told him, he did a happy car dance that lasted an awkwardly long time.

Want to stare at some pretty desserts now? Cue this song, enjoy and I’ll see you on the flip side.

Let Them Eat Cake! And Pie!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better than "Chocolate Week," we have "Cake Week: Part 1 and Part Deux." TWO weeks of cake?! And to follow that up, we have Pastry Doughs: Part 1 and Part 2. Is this real life?

Let me fill you in on these last 3 weeks.

The first week (week 4 into the program) was an intro to cake baking. Translation: we made a ridiculous amount of cakes, which meant, I ate a lot of cake. Morning? Lets try the cakes we cranked out from yesterday. Afternoon? Time to sample the next wave o' cakes. Night? Oh look, cake leftovers! I mean, I'm just trying to educate myself (right?) Cake gorging aside, I was introduced to a whole plethora of different cake varietals, techniques and flavor profiles. I was stoked to discover some fun creative recipes like the Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake. This was a light, fluffy vanilla cake covered in whipped cream and honeycomb. Oh the honeycomb. I can eat it like popcorn (and I did). Highlights? I learned how to make gourmet Ho Hos! But more importantly, I learned the art of leveling out your cake layers, which was knowledge that I seriously needed (cue my "leaning tower of fail cake").

The second week (week 5 into the program) focused on cake filings, assembly and decorating, which included a two-day cake workshop taught by the lovely Laci of Wind & Rye Kitchen. She taught us, in a nutshell, how take your cake game up to 11. We learned such things as how to pipe frosting into beautiful shapes and how to drape/decorate fondant. This was my first time working with fondant and man it's a process getting a layer of this onto your cake. There's rolling, draping, smoothing, trimming, and several more rounds smoothing. I dunno about this fondant. If it tasted less like sugary wax and more like that honeycomb, then maybe I'd be more supportive of it. Highlights? We came out of the workshop knowing how to construct a multi-layered 2-tiered cake! These beauties looked like they were ready to be served at the closest black-tie wedding!

This current week (week 6!) is Pastry Dough Part 1. We made 7 different pastry doughs- I didn't know that many variations existed! Each of these doughs had a different flavor and texture, but I didn't noticed a huge difference in taste. So...when there's copious amounts of pastry dough, what shall one do? Make copious amounts of tarts and pies obvi! My favorites were a lemon tart, salty honey pie and a rhubarb custard streusel pie.

To top this week off, we had a guest speaker come in for an interview and Q&A session. Ruth Reichl, food writer extraordinaire! She's had some killer jobs, to put it lightly. She was a food critic for the New York Times, an editor in chief at Gourmet Magazine, has written several memoirs, a novel, and a few cookbooks. She's also co-owned a restaurant and has been the recipient of four James Beard Awards. I mean, the list goes on and on. Feeling a bit inadequate but in complete awe as much as I was?

If you've been following along, I've been in pastry school for 6 bloody weeks! My mind is boggled by everything that I've learned so far. This just in: learning is cool. Especially when you're 33. I don't think 23 year old Courtney would have been into this as much as I am now. Sometimes, life is all about timing eh?

Lastly, if you see me anywhere holding a cake box(es), ask me for a taster of whatever is inside and I will happily give you some. I'm not even kidding. I encourage you to even wait outside my door around 3pm every day with a plate and fork. I'm like Santa Claus, gone wrong.

From that note, I give you week's 4-6's recap via another photo montage. But first, play this song. Who doesn't love a little Rihanna backing up their montage?

Pastry School: Three Weeks Deep!

I'm three weeks deep into pastry school at SFCS! How the devil did that happen?! It's been whirlwindy, but in all the right ways. The first week felt like information overload, since everything was so new; my head was a bit spiny at times, but by the end of the second and even more the third week, I started feeling like I was starting to get the hang of things.

Lets start by answering some go-to questions people have asked me:
1.  Do I like pastry school? Hell to the yes. It's tough and I feel in over my head sometimes, but I get to bake everyday and learn new things about one of my favorite subjects- constantly! Also, I get to work alongside fellow dessert fiends <my people!> How awesome is that?
2.  How many people are in your class? 12 lovely ladies. They're
3.  Who's the teacher? The brilliant badass Nicole Plue. She's the real deal.
4.  Do you wear a chef's hat? Jah! I wear the whole getup, "chef's whites" if you will: hat, coat, pants, apron and kitchen shoes. I always carry a pen, sharpie and lil' notebook too. I look like the nerdiest nerd who every nerded...or maybe i look legit. Jury's out.
5.  What do you want to do afterwards? Any end game? No idea! But I'm hoping I will know in 6 months. Wait for it...! 

So far so good friends. Like I said, I'm learning SO. MUCH. It's insane how much I didn't know in the world of baking. My mind is being blown on the daily.

A couple valuable things I learned so far:
• Read through the entire recipe a few (or five) times before you begin. You could miss a step or a vital ingredient- gasp! You could be unprepared for the next direction and end up over-whipping your french meringue- double gasp!
Setup is key! Before you start a recipe, setup all the equipment/tools/ingredients you'll need, including your "dismount." We're not talking an Olympic dismount, it's where you're going to place your dessert after it's done cooking/baking/cooling/mixing etc. This entire setup, in the culinary world, is called your "mise en place" a French culinary phrase meaning "everything in its place." It sets you up for success and will make you a more efficient chef!
A baking scale is everything: I feel like such a buffoon because I used to rely on my measuring cups, heavily. Know what's faster and more accurate? Weighing shit! Do it. I'm a changed lady.
Don't just watch your water boil, do something! Translation: make sure you're ready for the next step in your recipe (and the step after that, and the step after that); clean, put things away...anything but be a useless yammo while you wait.
Listen to the teacher when she talks. Sounds simple enough, but I get distracted by shiny things sometimes. Listen intently and save it to your hard drive. That way you won't look like a dumb dumb when you ask a Q she already answered, 10 times. <insert awkward emoji face>

As an overview of pastry school thus far, week one was all about baking fundamentals, week two was all things eggs and week three was <dramatic pause> chocolate week. Yes friends, week three was as amazing as it sounds, and then some. What better way to recap these first three weeks than with a good old-fashioned photo-montage. <cue this song>

More updates to come! Looking forward to sharing my sweet <pun intended> journey with you.

Recipe: Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Like brownies? How 'bout cookies? If you answered yes to both of these Q's then A: we can still be friends, and B: I've got the perfect mashup dessert for you. Behold: the Chocolate Brownie Cookie!

Picture a bomb and then a grip of chocolate; that's what this dessert tastes like- yes, a chocolate bomb. #acceptablebombjokes It has a chewy brownie texture on the inside but a firmer cookie texture on the outside. I guarantee it will cure any chocolate hankering you could possibly have. Bonus points for an easy to tackle recipe too. 

Fill up your tallest glass with milk and get your chocolate brownie cookie on. 

Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Recipe from
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
One 12-ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips

1.  In a large bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate with the butter, stirring a few times, until smooth, about 7 minutes.
2.  In another large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar at medium speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate, then fold in the flour and baking powder. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scrape the batter into a shallow baking dish, cover and freeze until well chilled and firm, about 1 hour.
3.  Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working in batches, scoop 2-tablespoon-size mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the cookies are dry around the edges and cracked on top. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely before serving.

Good to know:
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Need more Chocolate? Say no more.
Recipe: The Best Chocolate Cake Ever
Recipe: Salted Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
Recipe: Mexican Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Recipe: Cocoa Brownies for a Brownieholic
Recipe: Mint Chocolate Truffles
Recipe: Julia Child and Her Perfect Chocolate Mousse
Recipe: Romantical Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme

Recipe: Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

Ice cream sandwiches and summer go together like peas and carrots. It's my personal favorite frozen treat, mostly because it's two desserts in one <double fist pump>. Well, it's August so this was my cue to attempt making these puppies for the first time.

Strawberries are so hot right now so it was the obvious choice for the ice cream flavor. I chose this specific ice cream recipe because A: minimal cooking was involved = faster (some ice cream recipes have you make a custard first and then you have to wait for it to cool etc etc) and B: no eggs are involved #peaceoutsalmonella. I've made strawberry ice cream before, sans roasting, but used twice the amount of strawbs. When you roast the fruit, it requires less because it releases some of the water from the berries, giving it a more concentrated flavor. #science

As for my cookie recipe selection, I wanted the cookie to be tasty but understated, a perfect wingman for the ice cream, so I chose a white chocolate chip cookie recipe. You don't want a crispy cookie in an ice cream sandy, so I purposely undercooked them a titch to get that chewy texture.

Pro Tip: When making ice cream, especially in this case, be sure to make it the night before so it hardens in time. Another thing to factor in is the assembly time. The process of putting ice cream between two cookies sounds like NBD, but it's strangely tedious and brought me back to my sculpture class days. I've included my process below to help soften the blow.

Verdict? The strawberry ice cream is my new personal favorite- creamy with a bold strawberry flavor, thanks to the roasting. The cookie is just what I was looking for too: chewy, mellow and kindly lets its ice cream friend shine.

This sando is a real spot hitter for these summer days so go be a hero and make them for your favorite.

Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches
Recipe from &
Yield: 10 sandos  

For the ice cream
3/4 lb fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the cookies
1 stick butter, room temperature (½ cup)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2  cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups white chocolate chips OR 1 cup mini white chocolate chips (what I used)

For the ice cream
1.  Heat oven to 325 degrees.
2.  Toss strawberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and balsamic vinegar, and spread on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until soft. Allow to cool.
3.  Once cooled, finely chop, or puree the strawberries using an immersion blender.
4.  In a large bowl whisk together milk, heavy cream, 1 cup sugar, salt, vanilla, and strawberries. Pour mixture into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers instructions.

For the cookies
1.  Preheat the oven to 375°.
2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and beat the mixture together into a smooth batter.
3.  Sift the flour and baking soda into the batter and continue mixing until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated. Mix in the white chocolate chips.
4.  On a parchment–lined baking sheet, arrange tablespoon-size balls of cookie dough a couple of inches apart, then freeze for about 10 minutes. (you should get 12 cookies all together). 
5.  Bake the chilled cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. They should seem slightly undercooked on top to get the amazingly chewy texture.
6.  Cool entirely on a rack before making your ice cream sandwiches. 
7.  Assemble your ice cream sandwiches and enjoy. Tips below!

To assemble: 
It's a process to assemble, and it took me several tries until I had some sort of system. Here's my technique.
1.  Hold bottom cookie on the palm of your hand or plate, face down (don't crack it!)
2.  Scoop ice cream with a regular spoon, not an ice cream scooper. Scoop strips (not balls) and layer them in a row as close to the edge as you can get, then repeat the process on top of that row, perpendicularly and so on until you have about 3/4" stack.
3.  Create a <white walker> wall wrapping around the outside of your stack.
4.  Even out the stack o' ice cream as best as you can with the back of your spoon, then place the second cookie on top, face up.
4.  Smooth out the sides of the sando with a butter knife and add additional ice cream to the sides if needed.
5.  Gobble that ice cream sando or put it back in the freezer until you're ready to gobble. 

Recipe: Raspberry Crumb Bars

Myself and two other bakers are signed up to do desserts for my friend's wedding next month. With our baker powers combined we will serve up one hell of a dessert bar. One baker is making the groom's cake/bride's cake (yeah Amy!), the other baker is making a gluten-free dessert and I'm making a grip of cookies and bars. The groom wanted anything peanut butter chocolate (my people) and the bride wanted a fruity number. These delectable Raspberry Crumb Bars may be just the ticket for the bride's dessert.

This recipe slightly cuts a corner by using store-bought raspberry jam, but I'm cool with that. Especially when I need to make 40 of these puppies! Be sure to leave enough time before making these because the dough needs to sit for 30-60 mins. Boo, I know, but it's for good reason.

Now go kick off the weekend with a razzie crumb bar in your face!

Raspberry Crumb Bars
Yield: 10-12 bars
Recipe from Flour by Joanne Cheng

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks/342 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
3 tbsp confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (510 grams) raspberry jam (with seeds). Bonne Maman jam is my personal favorite.
1/4 cup (35 grams) confectioners' sugar (optional)

1.  Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners' sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stop the mixer a few times to scrape down the bowl and paddle. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the bowl and paddle again.
2.  In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix for about 15 seconds, or until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed. Scrape down the bowl again and make sure all of the flour mixture is thoroughly incorporated.
3.  Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Remove one-fourth of the dough to a separate sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the remaining three-fourths of the dough entirely in the plastic wrap, pressing down to form a disk about 8 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Refrigerate the dough disk for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has firmed up but is still somewhat pliable. Pat the reserved one-fourth of the dough into a small disk, wrap in the plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours, or until hard.
4.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5.  Lightly flour the 8-inch dough disk and two large sheets of parchment paper. Place the dough between the sheets of parchment, and roll it out into a rectangle about 13 by 9 inches and 1/4 to 1/3-inch thick. Carefully peel off the top sheet of parchment. Trim the edges so the rectangle has fairly neat sides. Transfer the bottom sheet of parchment with the dough to a baking sheet. Trim the parchment paper so that it fits the baking sheet.
6.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the shortbread is light brown. Remove the shortbread from the oven (leaving the oven set at 350 degrees F), let cool for 10-15 minutes, and then spoon the raspberry jam on top of the still-warm shortbread. Spread it in an even layer with the spoon or with a rubber spatula, covering the surface. The heat of the shortbread should soften the jam enough to make it spreadable.
7.  Remove the smaller dough disk from the freezer and, using the large holes on a box grater, grate it into large flakes and evenly sprinkle over the jam. (I found it easier to grate the dough flakes right over the jam because otherwise they softened and clumped together, making them impossible to "sprinkle.")
8.  Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Let cool completely on the baking sheet on a wire rack.
9.  When cooled, sift the confectioners' sugar evenly over the top. Trim the edges again, then cut into bars.

Good to know:
•The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
•Pre-baking, the smaller dough portion can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. The larger dough disk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month. If the larger dough disk is frozen, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, then let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before using

Hey Guess What?

It's been crickets at Dessert Fiend, and here's why...I'M GOING TO PASTRY SCHOOL! Over the past month, I've been fully consumed in this venture. Excited? Heck yes. Nervous? Double heck yes.

Ever since I left my job at Williams-Sonoma, I've been not only thoroughly enjoying the free time, and then some, but I've also been trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I became stuck trying to answer that question, until a month ago, when I had a Dr. House epiphany.

You know when you have those overwhelming euphoric "clouds are parting" moments if life? Well, I don't really have those moments, except when it comes to food. It's magical. This kind of moment and epiphany happened when I was at one of my happy places: Tartine Bakery. As I waited in line, I had this profound itch to know what was happening on the other side of this bakery of the gods, behind the scenes if you will. It didn't look like a cake walk in the kitchen <no pun intended>, but I wanted to be involved in the action, badly, and wondered if and how and when I could make this happen. Wheels: turning.

The next thing I knew, I was Googling pastry schools that following week. I realized that going to school to learn all I can about one of my favorite subjects felt like the exact step I should be taking. After extensive research, I found a school that sounded just right: San Francisco Cooking School. That name doesn't fool around- it means what it says and says what it means. Days later, I had a fantastic phone conversation with the founder of the school and the more I heard about the program, the more I wanted to be a part of it. The following week, I went to their open house with my application in hand. I was sold. The space is seriously gorgeous (hello dream kitchen!) and their signature color happens to be orange (like my hair!) Meant to be I tell ya. I excitedly walked out of the open house with a bounce in my step. A few weeks later, I got the good news that I had been accepted into the fall program at SFCS. I was grinning like an idiot and actually teared up a bit out of excitement and relief.

So that's my little story friends. Dessert Fiend is going to pastry school! I know it's going to be A LOT of hard work and long hours, but if the outcome means I get to bake desserts that make people happy, then game on. MANY more posts to come as I embark on this journey <picture me on a row boat paddling my way down a chocolate milk river, a la Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory>.

Recipe: A Very British Dessert, Scones with Clotted Cream

I think I know why tea time is so popular in England. Two words: clotted cream. I had never experienced clotted C before my recent trip to London. It always sounded strange and unappealing to me, but alas, strange and unappealing it is not! When I first sampled it at Fortnum and Mason's high tea, it was love at first bite. Every following bite HAD to have my new favorite British condiment in it. Sure jam and lemon curd, you guys can come along too, but don't forget to bring your tastier friend, clotted cream, with you.

You might be asking yourself, what the devil is clotted cream? The way I'd describe it is, if butter and whipped cream got together and had a bambino, it would be this. The texture is similar to butter, but it's creamier and tastes nutty. Clotted Cream > Butter? In this case, yes.

I made a batch of clotted cream with some scones (which, lets be honest, are simply a vessel for the CC), when I returned from my travels. The cream was simple enough to make, it just took a couple few 20 hours to make! Yeeesh, I know. It takes forever and a day, but the process requires nothing more than an oven and time.

I encourage you to give it a shot because it's a rarity to find this anywhere in the states. Plus, you'll no doubt feel a bit fancy if you have it on a scone with a cup of tea. Tea cheers <pinkies up>!

One of my best mates on the left, champers in the middle, me on the right.

Scones with Clotted Cream
Recipe from &
Yield: 10-12 scones, 3/4 cup clotted cream

For the Scones:
3 cups self-rising flour (3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt can be substituted)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter at cool room temperature, more for pan, optional
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
1 cup dried currants, optional
1 egg yolk

For the Clotted Cream:
1 pint of unpasteurized heavy whipping cream (pasteurized heavy whipping cream is the best I could find, but don't use ultra-pasteurized whipping cream)

For the Scones:
1.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the sugar. (Or give all the dry ingredients a quick whirl in a food processor.) Cut butter into bits and work it into the dry ingredients with fingertips or a pastry blender, or by pulsing the processor, until mixture is finely crumbly. If using a food processor, transfer mixture to a bowl.
2.  Gradually add 1 cup milk and the currants, if using, and mix with a fork. Knead lightly by hand to make a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 20 minutes.
3.  Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with butter or line it with parchment paper. Roll dough to a 3/4-inch thickness. Use a fluted 2- or 3-inch cutter to punch out scones. Scraps can be kneaded lightly for additional scones. Beat the egg yolk with remaining milk and brush on the scones. Place on baking sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes until risen and golden brown.

For the Clotted Cream:
1.  Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot. The cream should come up the side of the pot somewhere between one and three inches.
2.  Cover the pot and put it in the oven on 180 F.
3.  Leave the covered pot in the oven for at least 8 hours. My 2 cups took 12 hours (until my oven automatically turned off). You’ll know it’s done because there will be a thick yellowish skin above the cream. That skin is the clotted cream.
4.  Let the pot cool at room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator for another 8 hours.
5.  Remove the clotted cream from the top of the pot. The cream that is underneath it can still be used for baking.

Fun Facts:
• British scones are typically less sweet and buttery than American scones. This is because they slather their scones with clotted cream, jam and lemon curd. :-)
• The reason clotted cream hasn't exploded across the globe with popularity is that it has an extremely short shelf life. That's why you can't find it at most grocery stores.
• Fortnum and Mason makes my favorite lemon curd to date. It's life-changing. Snag a jar here.

Recipe: Millionaire's Shortbread (a.k.a. Fancy Twix® Bars)

I'd like the job of naming dessert, because if it were up to me, this dessert would be named "Fancy Twix® Bars." That way, every yammo would easily know what they were getting into; but with a name like "Millionaire's Shortbread," this could be shortbread topped with Benjamins for all we know! Dessert naming aside, this bar is a spot hitter: buttery shortbread layered with chewy caramel and rich chocolate, a triple hitter if you will. Bonus: it's easy to make too!

I chose this specific recipe because it won a contest (who doesn't like winners?), and I've gotta admit, this dessert tastes like victory. Go get 'em.

Millionaire's Shortbread
Recipe from
Yield: roughly 40 bars, but it all depends on how you cut these suckers

For the Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1 large egg yolk

For the Caramel Layer
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup (such as Lyle's Golden Syrup) or dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous pinch salt

For the Chocolate Layer
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, broken into small pieces, best quality (my favorite here)
3 tablespoons heavy cream

For the Crust
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, pushing the foil neatly into the corners and up the sides of the pan, using two pieces if necessary to ensure that the foil overlaps all edges (the overhang will help removal from the pan). Spray the foiled pan with nonstick cooking spray or grease with butter.
2.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, brown sugar, cornstarch and salt; process until well combined and no lumps of brown sugar remain. Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Add the ice water and egg yolk and blend until moist clumps form. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and press with your fingers into an even layer (dust your fingers with flour if the dough is too sticky). Pierce the dough all over with a fork and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the Caramel Layer
Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, butter, golden syrup, vanilla and salt together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and boil gently, whisking constantly, until the caramel is thick and the temperature registers 225 degrees F, about 6 minutes. Pour the caramel over the warm crust; cool for about 15 minutes, or until caramel is set.

For the Chocolate Layer
Place the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is about 75% melted. Stir, allowing the residual heat in the bowl to melt the remaining chocolate, until smooth (if necessary, place the chocolate back in the microwave for a few more; just be sure not to overheat or the mixture will curdle). Spread the chocolate over the caramel layer. Refrigerate the bars until the chocolate is set, at least 1 hour. Using the foil overhang, lift the bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into small squares and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Lost this round of Twix Jenga

Review: London's Sticky Toffee Pudding

I've been on a fantastic London holiday for the past 7 days, but sadly I'm heading back to the states today. I'm confident this is why the clouds grew dark and started crying this morning. Luckily for this girl, it's the only rain London has seen all week. 

I traveled with one of my best mates and my mum and dad. After hearing my parents were going to Londontown and renting a two-bedroom flat, we pretty much invited ourselves. We made solid use of our time and walked/tubed all over this city like it was nobody's business. Parks, pubs, shows, sights, shopping, museums, meandering, getting lost on the daily, ghastly amounts of food and half-pints of ale are some of the things we partook in (yes I said half-pints or "kid size" as my mate liked to say. We had to pace ourselves!)

Anytime I visit a new town, I'm determined to to sample their best dessert, or die trying. A local told me that London's best desserts are trifles and sticky toffee pudding. Trifles don't excite me much, but sticky toffee pudding sure does. Game on. 

After some research, we decided to try out the STP at a few places that reviewers claimed had the best in town. 

First up, The Winsor Castle in Notting Hill. The dinner, ambiance and service was amazing, but I'd be a liar if I said the same for their Sticky Toffee Pudding. One word: raisins. Just thinking about those little turds surprising me in my first bite makes me gag. #getoutofmyliferaisins

Overall Rating: 1 Big Ben (because the toffee sauce was good)

Second up, Rules Restaurant in Covent Garden. Committed to our challenge, we took a special trip to this place after catching a play, just for dessert. We were greeted by an icy hostess who apparently hated smiling, but loved frowning. After excitedly telling her that we journeyed there solely for their Sticky Toffee Pudding, she pretentiously told us we couldn't be seated unless we ordered at least two courses. It was 11:00pm on a school night...seriously? Can a course be wine? Yes seriously and no wine isn't a course (I know many people who would disagree with the latter statement, i.e. Olivia Pope). After receiving the R-card from the ice queen, we promptly left. Well, at least I can tell people now that I met the real life Elsa from Frozen. #celebsighting

Overall Rating: -5 Big Bens

Last up, Sophie's Steakhouse in Covent Garden. After our sour experience at Rules Restaurant, we refused to let our night end like that. My dad, "dessert MVP of the night," came through and was able to find this spot that happened to be nearby and on our STP list. We were refreshingly greeted with a smile and seated right away. Shortly after, two delightful looking Sticky Toffee Puddings were placed before us. We broke into pairs, grabbed our spoons, and in less than 5 minutes our plates were clean. Yum. Tastic. The cake was warm, spongy and had lovely soft favors of brown sugar and butter. It was also happily sitting in a warm bath of toffee sauce and cream sauce. I'd like to sit in a warm bath of toffee sauce and cream sauce too. #justsayin This fabulous restaurant did Sticky Toffee Pudding justice and I give them a strong tilt of my fancy British hat <that I wish I owned>. 

Overall Rating: 5 Big Bens

Thank you for a smashing time, London. I know this won't my last visit to you and it certainly won't be my last Sticky Toffee Pudding. Cheers. 

Fun fact: "Pudding" in the UK means "cake." Also, "rocket" means "arugula," so a "rocket scientist" in the U.S. would probably translate to a "gardener" in the UK.

The dishes are done man...the dishes are done.

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
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

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

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

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

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

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
Yield: 16 servings, but it all depends on your slice size!

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

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

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

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