December 29, 2020

Soft Cinnamon Rolls

I didn't get the chance to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning so I decided to make a batch to bid a "not so fond" farewell to 2020.  If any year needed to end on a high note I think it was this year, am I right?  
What I knew for sure was that I wanted a recipe that used the tangzhong (flour roux) method to ensure a super soft and fluffy bread.  My love for tangzhong-based bread dough has been well documented on this blog but ironically enough I never posted a cinnamon roll recipe before.  After a quick search I found this recipe for Soft Cinnamon Rolls on the King Arthur Baking website and it did not disappoint.  In fact, I think it's one of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever had, bar none!    
So that I would have freshly baked rolls in the morning I prepared the dough the night before.  The shaped rolls then had their second proof in the fridge overnight.  First thing the next morning the rolls just needed to come to room temperature before being baked off to a delicious golden brown.  After a slight cool on the counter they were smothered in a delicious icing.  One bite and I was in heaven!   

December 12, 2020

Cranberry Orange Bundt Cake


I had a Costco size bag of cranberries sitting in my fridge that were leftover from a cancelled Thanksgiving and I needed to make something with them fast.  Fortuitously I happened upon Meringue Design's post for a Cranberry Orange!  Rather than make the cake in a square pan I decided to bake it in a small bundt pan which I thought would be perfect to grace my holiday table.

The addition of sour cream in the cake makes the crumb really tender and I love the tart bursts of fresh cranberry.  To decorate my cake I gave it an ample dusting of powdered sugar and sugared cranberries.   Sugared cranberries couldn't be easier to make.  Simply take some freshly rinsed cranberries and dip them in egg white and then roll them in sugar.  Let the fruit dry completely and then place on top of the cake.

November 15, 2020

German Chocolate Bundt Cake


Did you know November 15th is National Bundt Day?  Any holiday that celebrates bundt cakes is alright in my books.   Serendipitously I recently bought Martha Stewart's latest tome, Martha Stewart's Cake Perfection, and the first recipe I wanted to make was the German Chocolate Bundt Cake.  From the shiny ganache frosting to the decadent coconut pecan filling it was just screaming, "Make Me!"  It was also the perfect excuse (as if I needed one) to buy Nordicware Fleur De Lis Bundt pan.

I diverted slightly from the recipe by using buttermilk, instead of whole milk and white vinegar, because that's what I had on hand and I think it makes for a moister crumb.  The best part of the cake is really the coconut pecan filling; it is absolutely delicious and not too sweet.  I couldn't help but sneak samples of it as I was making the cake batter.  One tip: the instructions say to fill the cake pan with all the batter and then dollop the filling on top,  but I  found the filling didn't sink to the bottom of the pan as the instructions stated.  Next time I'll spread half the cake batter, then add the filling and finally the remaining cake batter.   

The cake baked up beautifully and tasted fantastic.  I can't think of a better way to celebrate National Bundt Day!

October 31, 2020

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

Yep, it's another pumpkin recipe coming at you and I offer no apologies because I just love baking with it at this time of year.  Snickerdoodles are one of my favorite cookies so when I saw this recipe for Pumpkin Snickerdoodles on Dessert for Two's Instagram there was no question if I was going to make them.  What's also appealing about Christina's recipe is that it's small batch so there's just enough to satisfy a craving.
You never know how well pumpkin will integrate into a recipe but there was no doubt of it when I tasted this cookie.  The pumpkin flavor was distinct, yet subtle, if that makes sense.   Trust me when I say it's delicious!  

October 10, 2020

Pumpkin-Chocolate Marble Loaf Cake

Fall baking is now upon us and I, for one, love it!  I can't seem to get enough of warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove this time of year.  Pumpkin bread is a perennial favorite throughout the season and I was immediately intrigued when I saw this recipe from Real Simple for pumpkin chocolate cupcakes.  

Never would I have thought to combine chocolate with pumpkin. What a great idea! I knew I wanted to make it but I couldn't be bothered making cupcakes (because I'm lazy) so I went with a much easier variation which I'm calling Pumpkin-Chocolate Marble Loaf.  

The vanilla batter is divided into two portions: one is flavored with pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice while unsweetened cocoa and milk are mixed to the other.  I wasn't sure if there was enough batter to bake the cake in a traditional 8.5" x 4.5" loaf pan so I ended up using a 3" x 9.5" pan I bought at my local Daiso (for those that aren't familiar it's like a Japanese Target!) many years ago.  Even with the smaller pan there was a little bit of overflow when the cake was baking so next time I'll take some of the batter and make 1-2 cupcakes.  If you don't have a smaller loaf pan then I would just use the normal size you already have.

Rather than topping the cake with chocolate buttercream I made a really easy and quick ganache using heavy cream and bittersweet chocolate chips.  There couldn't be a simpler glaze to make, plus I love the look of the ganache dripping down the sides of the loaf.  One slice of the cake and I was totally converted.  The pumpkin and chocolate flavors shine through individually but complement each other wonderfully.   I will definitely be making this cake again.

October 1, 2020

Small Batch Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins


I've noticed there's been a trend lately in small batch baking.  I, for one, definitely welcome this because as someone who lives by myself I just don't need a dozen of this or that.  Normally I would just give my bakes away to family and friends, and I'll still do that, but with small batch bakes I don't have to!

This recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins from Hummingbird High caught my attention because of their exceptionally tall tops, just like ones you'd find at a bakery à la Levain.  Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine was obsessed with just the muffin tops?  That's what these muffins reminded me of!  You can bet that Elaine would be coveting these beauties.

You get four very generously sized muffins with this recipe which was the perfect amount for me to test and also enjoy.   One thing I noticed right off the bat was the intense, but not overpowering, lemon flavor in the muffin.  This comes from rubbing the fresh lemon zest with the granulated sugar, as well as the addition of fresh lemon juice and lemon oil.  The key to getting that beautiful rise on the muffins is to make sure your ingredients are at room temperature so that the batter is well mixed.  

As soon as the muffins came out of the oven I had to have a taste and I was definitely not disappointed.  They were delicious, moist, fluffy and above all, not too sweet!  I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.

September 20, 2020

Hot Air Balloon Onesie Cookie Favor


My dear friend Jesse is having her first baby this autumn and I was thrilled to make the favors for her socially-distanced baby shower.  Three years ago I made Jesse's wedding cake and cookie favors so I feel especially honored to play a part in another important milestone in her life. 


The onesie cookies I created were designed to complement the invitation, which featured the cutest hot air balloons for the "Oh, the places she'll go!" travel theme.  Jesse's girlfriends who planned the baby shower did such a fantastic job and everything looked beautiful.  Every detail was thought out, from the suitcase lunch boxes to the wicker hot air balloons filled with stuffed animals. 

I cannot wait to meet the little one in the coming months.  I predict she will be spoiled rotten, as she should be!!

Congratulations Jesse & Tyler!

September 10, 2020

Yellow Sheet Cake with Chocolate Frosting


September is my birthday month (along with seven other friends/family!) so I thought I'd make the quintessential cake to celebrate us Virgos.  When I was a kid my mom normally made us a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.   As a busy mother raising six children she used a boxed cake mix and pre-made frosting and we adored it!  Those memories are part of the reason why I think I still love cake mixes to this day.   There's no shame in getting a little help from Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, but when I saw that Cook's Illustrated's Sep/Oct 2020 issue featured a recipe for Yellow Sheet Cake with Chocolate Frosting I had to try the "from scratch" version of the birthday classic.

Granted, there are more ingredients required than the standard eggs, oil and water you would use with a boxed mix, but I think you'll find it's worth it.   There are quite a few eggs (4 whole + 2 yolks!) along with buttermilk in the batter which yields a rich and moist cake.  The batter is made using the reverse creaming method where the cake flour, leaveners and sugar are mixed first, then the fats (butter and oil) are added and finally the liquid and eggs are mixed in.  This technique minimizes gluten development which results in a super tender crumb.  


After having a slice I have to say this is probably one of the best homemade cake recipes I've ever tasted.  There's absolutely no pretense with this cake and that's what I love about it.  Makes me so nostalgic for my childhood; those were the days!

Sending a September birthday shout out to Len, Will, Satya, Nicholas, Maria, Brian and Cheri!

September 7, 2020

New England Lobster Rolls

Lobster rolls were never something I thought to make at home; they had that "restaurant-only" vibe to them I guess.   That all changed when I discovered that Trader Joe's was selling New England style hot dog buns.  The characteristic split-top is mandatory for an authentic New England Lobster Roll.  While this type of bun is ubiquitous on the East Coast, out here in California it's a rarity.   Even better, Trader Joe's buns were made with brioche dough so the bread was going to be extra rich and buttery!   With the proper bread vessel in hand there really was no excuse for me to not make lobster rolls, especially to close out the summer over Labor Day Weekend.


If you've had lobster rolls before you know they're definitely an indulgence.  One small roll can easily go for $25 and there's no guarantee you'll get a decent amount of meat.   By making the rolls at home I was able to pay less than half that cost and tailor it to my taste.

I've never cooked live lobsters before but it's super easy.  All you need is a big pot and boiling, salted water.  The only scary part was putting the live creatures into the boiling water!


For my rolls I went with this mayonnaise based recipe from A Family Feast.  I've had lobster rolls that were basically just lobster meat and melted butter, and that's not a bad thing!, but I just prefer a touch of mayonnaise and some chopped vegetables.  It goes without saying that the split-top bun must be pan fried on both sides with butter.  That's the signature of a truly delicious lobster roll.    

I invited my sister over for dinner and she raved about the lobster rolls.  That's a good sign in my family because compliments aren't handed out so easily.  Will I be making more lobster rolls in the future?  Definitely!  Now if only the price of fresh lobster would go down a bit.

September 4, 2020

Crème Fraîche Poundcake

I bought a carton of crème fraîche as an impulse buy on a recent Costco outing but I had no clue what I was going to use it for.  As fate would have it the NY Times recently published a recipe for Crème Fraîche Poundcake.  It's like the baking gods were in my brain!

Crème fraîche is similar to sour cream but I find it's more stable and less water than it's American cousin.  It adds a really delicious tang to the poundcake, most especially in the glaze topping.  I found the cake to be even more delicious the day after it was made so it's a great make-ahead recipe.  

August 22, 2020

Copycat Levain Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies


I've never been to Levain Bakery in NYC but you can be sure that the next time I make it to Manhattan (hopefully soon!) it will be one of my first stops.  For this blog I've made a copycat of their famous chocolate chip walnut cookie before but when I saw a picture of these dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookies on Mike Johnson (Mike Bakes NYC) Instagram I knew they were going to be my next baking project.  

The stark contrast of tan peanut butter chips against the dark chocolate cookie was so beautiful and stunning.  It doesn't hurt that chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favorite combinations either.  Be forewarned though, the recipe yields just four cookies, but they are MASSIVE!   Size-wise they are not for the faint of heart.  The diameter measures approximately 4" across!   I suppose you could portion them out smaller than the suggested size but then they'd lose their "Levain-likeness."

It took some major willpower to wait for the baked cookies to cool slightly so I could have a taste but it was worth it.  The chocolate cookie flavor was deep, rich and not too sweet and perfectly complemented the bursts of peanut butter.  All it was screaming for was a glass of ice cold milk.

August 13, 2020

Freeze-Dried Berry No-Bake Cheesecake

I love the idea of no-bake desserts especially when it's hot outside because the last thing I want to do is turn on an oven.  When I saw this post on Serious Eats for a no-bake cheesecake that used freeze-dried fruit I was definitely intrigued.  I've made an icebox cheesecake before but I liked this recipe from Stella Parks because it used the freeze-dried fruits to infuse a fruity flavor, but sans the additional moisture that fresh fruit would bring. 
Luckily I had a bag of freeze-dried raspberries from Trader Joe's sitting in my pantry along with the other cheesecake ingredients to make half the recipe.  The recipe scaled down easily to fit a 9x5" loaf pan.  Since I'm trying to limit the number of trips I make to the grocery store it's always a plus when I have everything on hand.   
I had a taste of the filling as I was making the cheesecake and the intense raspberry flavor from the freeze-dried fruit was incredible.  It was literally a berry explosion.  Is it strange that it reminded me of fruit-flavored Starburst candies?  As a self-professed lover of the color pink this cheesecake also appealed to me aesthetically.  I could easily picture this dessert gracing the table at a baby shower or birthday party.  

August 5, 2020

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

It was love at first bite when I tasted the famous Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon a few years ago. The combination of creamy, rich custard and crispy, flaky crust was too good to pass up.   I don't think I let a day go by during my stay in Portugal when I didn't indulge in those delicious pastries.

As a souvenir from my trips I brought back a few dozen pastel de nata tins with every intention of creating them at home.   Who would have known that two years later and I only managed one attempt at making the tarts.  Much to my disappointment the results I got were less than stellar, honestly they were crap, so I basically gave up.   I just couldn't seem to find a recipe that worked for the home kitchen.  That is, until now! 

The authentic recipe I had been looking for came by way of Jeremiah Duartes Bills, a Portuguese-American baker I follow on Instagram.  He was offering an online pastéis de nata class and I signed up immediately.  The format was a three hour virtual Zoom class where the students would bake alongside Jeremiah.  Although there were more than thirty five students the class still felt quite intimate and Jeremiah was a great instructor who answered our questions and proffered baking tips.  Three hours went by in a flash.

The recipe he used for the class was based on one he was taught in a pastel de nata workshop.  By the looks of my tarts and those of my fellow students I can happily report that his recipe really worked.  I couldn't believe how well they turned out, almost as if I was transported back to pastelharia Manteigaria in Chiado.  I sent pictures of my pastéis to a Portuguese colleague and even he said they looked like the real thing.  If that's not a seal of approval I don't know what is.   If you love pastéis de nata as much as I do I highly recommend you give this recipe a try and also take Jeremiah's class.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Special obrigada to Jeremiah for the fantastic class and also giving me permission to share his pastéis de nata  recipe on my blog.  I hope he'll be offering more classes on Portuguese baking because I'll be one of the first to sign up.  Also, be on the lookout for his upcoming cookbook, "The Baking of Portugal."

August 1, 2020

Peach Streusel Cake

The yellow peaches at the farmer's market were looking especially nice so I had to make a repeat of the Summer Peach Cake, but this time with a twist.   The original Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for putting the oven roasted peaches in between the cake batter and then topping with fresh peach slices.  But after making the Blueberry Crumb Bars recently I had streusel on the brain and that's how I came up with this Peach Streusel Cake, a mash up of the two recipes.  I loved the idea of the crunchy topping to contrast the soft fruit.

It couldn't be simpler to make since there's no layering involved.  Make the streusel, roast some peach chunks, make the cake batter and then assemble.  Easy peasy!  For the cake in this post I made a 6-inch cake using 1/2 the cake recipe.  NOTE: For the streusel I made the full recipe but you won't use it all.  I just like having extra in the fridge to make more crumb bars or for other baking.  

Just as I had hoped the finished cake was really delicious.  You could easily serve it for breakfast but it's also nice as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche.  If you like peaches then this cake is for you.

July 23, 2020

Blueberry Crumb Bars

People sometimes ask where my baking inspirations come from and I wish I had a deeply profound or creative answer, but in truth often it's something as simple as timing.   That was exactly the naissance of why I made these Blueberry Crumb Bars.  Recently I was scrolling through Instagram and saw the bars posted on Smitten Kitchen's feed.   Fortuitously I had some blueberries in my fridge that were on their last leg.  See, it's all about the timing!

Although I only had enough blueberries to make half the recipe I didn't have any issues downsizing it into an 8-inch square pan.   It's also a win when you don't need any equipment to make the bars, just a bowl.  The recipe came together in no time at all.

For ease in cutting later on make sure you chill the bars in the fridge.  After photographing the bars for this blog I couldn't help myself and had to have a taste.  The first thing I noticed was the fresh burst of blueberry flavor, which actually made me think of pie but with a lot less work.  Anything with streusel is a win in my book and I like how the bars overall aren't too sweet. 

July 18, 2020

Scallion & Ham Bread

Scallion Bread is a staple item sold at most Chinese bakeries you come across.  My favorite place in San Francisco to get them is Sunset Bakery in the Inner Sunset District.   There they add bits of ham to their scallion buns which are, in my opinion, the ne plus ultra: incredibly delicious, super soft and beautifully browned.  Since they're so easy to buy I never really thought of making it at home, that is, until I saw this post on Healthy Nibbles blog.  Lisa's bread looked exactly like Sunset Bakery's so I had to give it a try for myself.

The dough uses tangzhong, or a roux made of milk and flour, which gives the baked bread a lovely, soft texture.  In my experience any bread using this technique always turns out amazing.  The main modifications I made to Lisa's recipe were to replace the water in the tangzhong with milk, use instant yeast and add pieces of chopped ham.  

I made the recipe twice in a week so trust me when I say it's a good one.  The first time I shaped the dough into a very large four-strand braid.  For the second I shaped it into smaller knots because I wanted individual portions.   You wouldn't believe how excited I was that the bread turned out completely authentic!   Another plus is that it freezes beautifully so I can enjoy this yummy treat anytime I want.
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