December 22, 2021

2021 Holiday Cookies


Here's a roundup of the holiday cookies I made this year and gifted to friends and family.  Every year I tell myself, "don't go overboard, two to three different cookies will suffice," and every year I ignore that advice.  I can't help it!  When the holidays come around I'm constantly inspired by all the baking I see and inevitably I end up finding something new or different that I want to make.  

Clockwise from top right:


December 21, 2021



One of my close friends is gluten-intolerant and when the holidays roll around I'm always on the hunt for  flour-less cookie recipes that she can enjoy.  Given that the majority of the baking I do involves wheat flour this can be quite a challenge.  In the past I've just substituted gluten-free flour, in place of all-purpose, in a "normal" recipe.  Unfortunately that trick doesn't always yield stellar results because of the chemistry involved in baking.  My preference is to make cookies that are naturally gluten-free so you don't even miss flour. 

Normally I would go with macarons but I had no desire to make them because it would have been an arduous and multi-stepped process.  I wanted something quick that still tasted great.  Enter Ricciarelli, the Italian almond cookie that originated in Siena.  They're similar to amaretti cookies, except softer and chewier.  I'd never heard of ricciarelli before until I saw them on Thida Bevington's Instagram stories. She used this recipe from Italian chef Silvia Colloca and they looked so intriguing I had to make them for myself.

I dare you to find a cookie that's easier to make than ricciarelli.  Almond flour, sugar, lemon zest and egg whites are mixed together by hand into a stiff dough.  Then tablespoonfuls of the dough are shaped, dusted in powdered sugar and finally baked.  How simple is that?  I shaped half the cookies into the traditional rectangle and the other half into thumbprints filled with raspberry jam.  I couldn't believe how similar the baked ricciarelli smelled to macarons.  One taste of the cookie and they could easily give their French cousin a run for their money.  Anyone, gluten-intolerant or otherwise, will love these cookies.

December 20, 2021

Iced Chocolate Star Cookies


I've had this set of Nordic Ware cookie stamps for a while but never really used them.  That is, until I  was inspired by this post on Beyond The Butter's blog and made these Iced Chocolate Star Cookies.  One glimpse of the gorgeously iced chocolate cookies and I was motivated to bring out the stamps from hiding.  The stamp does all the work, and with very little effort you get the most beautiful cookies.  That's a win-win situation in my book!

Beyond The Butter calls these cookies "Oreos" because they are jam-packed with chocolate flavor, similar to the famous filled sandwich cookie.  But I actually think these cookies taste even better because they are nice and soft.  They almost remind me of a brownie, in cookie form.  I'll definitely be adding these beauties to my holiday cookie list.

December 19, 2021

Raspberry-Filled Viennois


Here's another recipe to add to your holiday cookie arsenal, Raspberry Filled Viennois.  The cookie recipe comes from pastry chef extraordinaire Pierre Hermé so you know it's absolutely fantastic.  Last year he published the recipe on his Instagram account and I saved it straight away.  I shaped my cookies into stars and embellished them further by adding a dollop of raspberry jam in the center. 

The main tip I would offer when making these cookies is to ensure the dough is really soft.  You'll pipe the dough by hand using a decorating bag and tip so you want it to be as pliable as possible.  Otherwise your hand will be aching, trust me on that!

These viennois are utterly delicious - so buttery, with a tender crumb and a burst of fruit in the center.   Everyone I know loves them.  Make them as a gift and your recipient will be forever thankful.

December 18, 2021

Poinsettia Red Velvet Cake


I asked my friend Gracie what kind of cake she wanted me to make as XMAS gift and she immediately said red velvet, which I wasn't surprised by at all.  It’s her and her son's favorite!  Since this was for the holidays I made this Poinsettia Red Velvet Cake.  

For the cake layers I used my favorite recipe from Cook's Country that produces the most tender crumb.  For the frosting I chose Stella Park's cream cheese buttercream, which is super fluffy, delicious and a lot less sweet than the traditional frosting made with cups and cups of powdered sugar.    

To give the cake a festive feel I featured a large poinsettia as the main design.  I went online and watched a few videos on YouTube on how to pipe the flower using icing.  I know my poinsettia isn't the most botanically correct, but I think it will more than suffice, and I can live with that!

December 16, 2021

Ginger Molasses Cookies


Ginger Molasses Cookies are definitely in my top 3 favorite holiday cookies.  I love the warmth of the cinnamon spice, the crackly tops and the chewy texture.  Utterly delicious!   My favorite recipe comes from Mandy at Baking With Blondie.  

Here's the part where I diverge from my normal baking protocol.  To ensure I get a great chewy texture on my cookies I tweaked Mandy's recipe slightly by replacing the butter with butter-flavored Crisco shortening.  What?!  Shortening instead of butter? Yes way!  Now, before you cast dispersions on me, hear me out.  I find that using shortening reduces the likelihood of these cookies spreading too much during the baking process.   Nothing worse in my opinion than a super flat ginger molasses cookie.

Normally I roll the dough balls in turbinado sugar before baking, but this year I left some without the sugar coating because I wanted to dip them in melted white chocolate.  I was a bit worried that the addition of white chocolate would render the cookies too sweet, but I'm happy to report I was wrong.  I only dip a small portion of the cookie in the chocolate so it's not overwhelming.  Plus, nothing beats the appeal and aesthetic of the green and red holiday sprinkles.

December 12, 2021

Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)


I'm a huge fan of bread recipes using tangzhong, a cooked flour and liquid paste, because it creates a super soft and fluffy interior.  When I saw that the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine featured a recipe for Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns) using tangzhong I knew I had to make them.  About five years ago I made kanelbullar for this blog, but while they tasted good, I found that after a few hours the finished buns were a bit too dense and hard.  Tangzhong to the rescue!

The difference with a Scandinavian cinnamon bun compared to the American version is the addition of cardamom spice and pearl sugar and the omission of an icing.  I like a hint of cardamom, but too much of it can be off-putting for me so I reduced the amount from the recipe.  Without a sticky icing to deal with you can easily freeze these buns to enjoy later, although you may not have any leftovers..they're so good!

Now that colder weather is upon us in the Bay Area it's the perfect setting for hygge (comfort and coziness) and a fika (Swedish coffee break) featuring the kanelbullar and a steaming cup of coffee. 


December 9, 2021

Gingerbread House Bundt Cake


November came and went by in a flash with very little baking on my end.  To be honest I just didn't have the motivation after returning from a holiday in Europe.  Perhaps subconsciously I was also storing my energy in preparation for the whirlwind of holiday baking and candy making that awaited me in December?
My first real bake for the holiday season is this super cute Gingerbread House Bundt Cake using this Nordic Ware pan.   For the cake itself I used White Lily Flour's recipe for a cream cheese pound cake.  I need another bundt pan like a fish needs a bicycle but I couldn't help myself.  The design on this pan was too cute to pass up and will be added to my growing bundt collection.  
What I especially love about a bundt cake is how easily you can achieve fantastic results with very little effort.  Especially ideal for you novice bakers out there.  Let the cake pan do all the work for you!  But, whenever making a bundt cake the golden rule you have to follow is to grease the pan well.  I swear by Baker's Joy cooking spray (with flour) and 99% of the time my cakes release without any issues.

Let the holiday baking extravaganza begin!

October 28, 2021

Pumpkin Smash Cake


My friends' daughter Charlie is turning 1 on October 31 and they asked me to make a smash cake for her birthday party.  (Smash cakes, a smaller cake just for the birthday child, are quite popular in the US.) The only request from the parents when it came to the cake was for one without eggs due to Charlie's food allergy.  "No problem," I said.  A quick search on the internet and I found this recipe for Chocolate Depression Cake, which came about during the Great Depression when staples such as eggs and butter were scarce.

Since Charlie is a Halloween baby I wanted to make a Pumpkin Smash Cake for her.  The cake recipe makes one small bundt cake (6-cup capacity) so I made it twice to get the shape I was after.  I had my doubts about the cake's taste, but I shouldn't have been concerned.  The chocolate cake was moist and tender and you could not tell it was missing eggs.  I will definitely use this recipe in the future.
When it came to decorating the smash cake I used an American style buttercream that was made with butter, heavy cream, vanilla extract, salt and powdered sugar.  Swiss meringue buttercream, my favorite frosting, wasn't an option since it's made with egg whites.  
Assembling the cake couldn't be simpler and requires no advanced skills.  You just sandwich the two bundt cakes together with some of the frosting and then coat the outside with orange colored buttercream.   To make the stem I mixed cake scraps with buttercream, similar to how you would make cake pops, and shaped the mixture into the stem.  

I hope Charlie enjoys her smash cake on her first birthday.  Happy Birthday Cha Cha!

October 3, 2021

Applesauce Bundt Cake


Autumn is finally here and after making half a dozen cream tarts last month I was ready for some fall  baking.  First on the docket is this super easy to make and super delicious Applesauce Bundt Cake.  I did a google search for "applesauce" cake and it came back with this recipe.  No equipment required and everything is mixed together in one bowl.  As Ina Garten would say, "How easy is that?"

Since I'd never made this cake before I wanted to test it out using just 1/2 the recipe and baked it in a 6-cup bundt pan.  The only other adjustments I made to the recipe were to 1) add chopped honeycrisp apples to the cake batter and 2) finish the cooled cake with a thick glaze made with apple cider and powdered sugar.  If you read the recipe reviews you'll find that several people commented to reduce the oil amount by 1/2 cup and replace it with an equal amount of applesauce, to give the cake more apple flavor.  Next time I think I'll do that.

September 19, 2021

Mini Fruit Tarts


After making six, yes six!, cream tarts in the span of three weeks I was pretty much over them.  At least for the time being.  Turns out making so many tarts meant I found myself with leftover pâte sucrée, pastry cream and fruit.   What to do? Make Mini Fruit Tarts!

One of the (many) lessons I have learned during this pandemic is to be more efficient with food, e.g., using up leftovers.  Pre-pandemic I was one of the last people to eat leftovers, mainly because I didn't like having the same thing over and over.  Nowadays I try to be creative and make something "new" out of them.

The mini fruit tarts offer just the right amount to satisfy your sweet tooth craving.  You'll need tart tins to make them, but in a pinch you could also use a standard muffin tin.  Just make sure to spray it with nonstick spray beforehand!

September 7, 2021

Cream Tart


Often times people will ask me where I get baking inspiration from and my usual answer, "anywhere and everywhere," probably sounds a bit disappointing, but it's true!  I can't pinpoint anything in particular that inspires me.  Sometimes it's tasting an amazing pastry and wanting to replicate it at home or a friend texting me to to say they've seen a particular dessert and asking if I could make it.  

In the case of the Cream Tart, it was seeing an Instagram post that was the inspiration.  If you're on social media I'm sure you've seen these cakes before, normally shaped into numbers or letters.   Apparently cream tarts have been popular since 2018, but to be honest I never really paid much attention to them.  After seeing that Instagram post I did some research and discovered that cream cakes weren't so difficult to make. 
When deconstructed, the tart was comprised of shortbread and some type of filling, then decorated with fresh fruit, meringues, macarons, flowers* and anything else your heart desired.   Once all the components were compiled the actual cake assembly was quite simple.  But you would never think that when you look at the finished visually stunning and very Instagram worthy!  [*Make sure the flowers you use are safe to put on food! For the "S" cake I mistakenly put a few sprigs on baby's breath but DO NOT DO THIS!  Baby's breath are toxic when consumed. They were immediately removed after taking the photo.]
I could easily see these cakes being the star dessert for a birthday, baby shower, bridal shower or any kind of party.  Since so many of my friends have birthdays in September (including my own!) they just might be getting a cream tart to celebrate.  

August 25, 2021

Lemon Posset and Lemon Cupcakes


For the Lemon Lovers Table that I recently created I included some citrus-infused treats.  At each place setting there was a decorated sugar cookie to welcome my guests.  Other desserts included the cutest  lemon petit-fours from Trader Joe's and homemade Lemon Posset and Lemon Cupcakes.

I had my first taste of lemon posset at ad hoc restaurant and I was immediately hooked on the creamy, tangy dessert.  It was so refreshing, especially after having ad hoc's famous buttermilk fried chicken!  Luckily I found a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that couldn't be simpler to make using only three ingredients: heavy cream, sugar and lemons.

For the lemon cupcakes I used a vanilla cake recipe from The Cupcake Project.  It was the winner of a recent taste test from The Kitchen.  While the cupcakes were really tasty, I actually prefer a cake that has a tighter crumb to it.  I frosted the cupcakes with Swiss meringue buttercream that was mixed with pre-made lemon curd. To pipe the buttercream swirls I used a large petal tip (Ateco #126).  I confess it was a decorating technique I pinched from Violet bakery in London. 

August 22, 2021

Lemon Lovers Table


I couldn't wait to put together this Lemon Lovers Table and I absolutely adore how it turned out.  It all began with the most fabulous citrus-themed linens (tablecloth, placemats and napkins) from Mrs. Alice, the tablescape brand.  If you've never heard of Mrs. Alice I urge you to check out their website because they sell so many gorgeous things.   I could easily blow my paycheck on their products!

Lemons always remind me of Capri, the small island off the Amalfi Coast in Italy that I visited a few years ago with friends.  We had the best time there!  Everywhere you turned in Capri there were lemons present, whether it was the actual fruit growing on trees, the scent perfuming the air or as an ingredient in the food.   I long to return there once the pandemic subsides.

The linens paired beautifully with Aerin x Williams-Sonoma tableware I already owned.  I found these darling woven straw fruit napkin rings on etsy.  To complete the table I made a few lemon treats such as decorated sugar cookies, cupcakes and lemon posset.  Talk about a citrus explosion, but I love it!

Tablecloth, Placemats, Napkins: Mrs. Alice
Woven Straw Fruit Napkin Rings: etsy 
Plates, Drinking Glass with Raffia collar: Aerin x Williams-Sonoma 
Wine Glass: Amazon
Bamboo Flatware: Pottery Barn 

August 4, 2021

Roasted Cherry Tomato & Garlic Focaccia


Liguria Bakery in San Francisco makes the best focaccia in the city and I've been going there for years.  They only sell focaccia, nothing else, so you know their signature product is top notch.  My favorite flavor is the pizza focaccia with it's tangy marinara sauce on top, but you can't go wrong with any of the flavors.  I'd been craving the classic Italian salad of prosciutto and melon (prosciutto e melone) and wanted to have some focaccia to go with it.
Being too lazy to get in my car and make the drive to North Beach (and deal with parking) I decided to look for a quick and easy focaccia recipe; one that didn't require  hours of preparation or a starter.  A quick internet search and I found this one from ATK Young Chefs' Club for Roman-style focaccia.   Add in some cherry tomatoes that were on their last leg and I made this fantastic Roasted Cherry Tomato and Garlic Focaccia.

Seriously, anyone can make this focaccia and yield amazing results.  The recipe is written for kids so that should tell you how easy it is to make.  [My only updates were to omit rosemary and add a mixture of halved cherry tomatoes, chopped garlic, olive oil, herbs and salt & pepper as the topping.]  The bread's texture is super light and fluffy and the tomatoes and garlic really elevate it to the next level.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the salad and dare I say could rival that of Liguria's famous focaccia?  I'll definitely be making this recipe again.

August 1, 2021



It's rare for me to stray from my go-to chocolate chip cookie (Jacques Torres's recipe published in the New York Times), but I recently discovered a new take on the all-American classic that had me wondering if it was time to reconsider.  Over the years I've visited the Pacific Northwest many times but never had I been to Hello Robin Cookies.  
Until a few months ago I'd never even heard of the cookie shop until I was FaceTiming with my friend Evelyn who lives in Seattle.  While we were chatting her family just so happened to come home with a dozen cookies from the aforementioned bakery.  They're favorite cookie being Mackles'mores, chocolate chip dough studded with marshmallows, baked on a graham cracker and finally topped with a chocolate square.  Intrigued, I immediately went online to find out more. 

Luckily there were plenty of websites that not only published the Hello Robin recipe but also videos showing how it was made.  The only adjustment I made to the recipe was omitting the cinnamon.  I scooped out the dough into 2 tablespoon size balls and froze them to bake off later.  This method worked liked a dream because I found the frozen dough baked beautifully. 
After the baked cookies came out of the oven I topped them with a square of Dandelion Chocolate's Gola Rainforest chocolate.  With its hints of brownie, marshmallow and roasted almonds I thought the chocolate would pair beautifully with the Mackles'mores.   The chocolate chip cookie on its own is fantastic, nice and chewy with caramel hints, but the addition of the graham cracker really takes it over the top.  So good! It wants for nothing, except maybe a cold glass of milk.

July 22, 2021

Fried Peach Hand Pies


My obsession with McDonald's fried apple pies is well known amongst family and friends.  You can be fairly certain that if I come across a franchise that has the fried pies on the menu I will definitely be buying them.  Unfortunately it's the baked variety that is commonly sold in the States so I have to get my fried pie fix when I'm out of the country (normally you can find them in Europe). 

I've got peaches on the brain lately because we're at the height of the season.  As I was looking up peach recipes on Cook's Illustrated I came across this recipe for Fried Peach Hand Pies.  What?  A fried pie made with peach filling?  Sold!

What I particularly love about this recipe is that you can use either fresh or frozen peaches, especially handy when it's not peak peach season.  The crust couldn't be simpler to make in the food processor and is easy to work with.  I tested the recipe using frozen peaches and, call me crazy, I actually think the peach flavor is more pronounced using frozen fruit.  Who would have known?  

The deep fat fryer I bought at the beginning of the pandemic made quick work of frying the pies in no time at all. Is there anything better than the sound of food frying?  Impatient to see how they tasted I had to have a taste of a fried pie while it was still hot.  One bite and I was not disappointed.  So delicious!  The golden brown crust was nice and flaky and the filling was bursting with peach flavor.  I gave some pies to my sister to taste and she said they were fantastic.   Now I want to try other fruit fillings to use with the dough.   Dare I attempt to replicate my beloved McDonald's fried apple pie?  We shall see....

July 18, 2021

Strawberry Coulis Yogurt Pops


After making the delicious buttermilk panna cotta I found myself with some leftover strawberry coulis.   What to make with the fruit-intense sauce?  Immediately I thought it would make a great base for a homemade popsicle.  All I needed was to mix in some Greek yogurt and pour it into silicone ice pop molds.  Voila...the best summer treat!

July 10, 2021

Blueberry Lemon Babka


Never had I heard of babka before until I watched that infamous Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine were desperately searching for a chocolate one to take to their friend's dinner party.  Unfortunately for them the bakery they went to only had cinnamon ones left.  Had they only known about Bluberry Lemon Babka they would have forgotten all about chocolate.

The recipe for this enriched dough beauty comes from blogger Cinnamon Shtick and it is an absolute winner.   Lemon is infused throughout the bread and the citrus flavor pairs beautifully with the homemade blueberry jam filling.   The addition of a struesel crumb topping takes this bread to the next level.  So good!
If you've never made bread with an enriched dough before, i.e., a yeasted dough with eggs and butter, then I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.  The dough is a dream to work with and is quite forgiving.     I don't think you can mess it up, but even if things go awry I'm sure it will still taste delicious.