September 24, 2023

Lemon Curd Gooey Butter Cookies


Pardon the extended hiatus from my blog but I was enjoying a long overdue sabbatical for most of the summer.  I missed my kitchen and baking to be sure, but I kept myself busy with traveling and relaxing...a perfect way to recharge. Now that I'm home I'm easing back into the swing of things.

First up are these Lemon Curd Gooey Butter Cookies, which I'd seen pop up on my Instagram feed from Butternut Bakery.  I've made gooey butter cookies before on this blog, but I loved the idea of combining lemon curd with the chewy, citrus cookie.  Propitiously I had all the ingredients I needed, including homemade meyer lemon curd, and the cookies came together easily.  My only other enhancement was to add a few tablespoons of poppy seeds to the cookie dough.  

One bite of the finished cookie and I was a goner; the perfect marriage of tart, sweet and chewy.

May 1, 2023

Cal Berkeley Sugar Cookies

The month of May heralds the start of commencement season, graduation from high school and college/university.  Can you hear the notes of Pomp and Circumstance in your head?  My friend Bibsy commissioned these Cal Sugar Cookies for a dual celebration in her family: her youngest child's recent acceptance into Berkeley, as well as her oldest's graduation from the esteemed university.  Talk about a smart family!

The cookies aren't too hard to make, as long as you have a good stencil.  I got this "Cal" one from U-Stencil.  They have a wide range of college and universities to choose from.  I started with my tried and true vanilla sugar cookie and applied a base coat of royal icing until it was completely dry.  With the aid of the stencil I applied a thin layer of colored royal icing in the shape of the school's logo.  The consistency of the royal icing for the logo is key; it needs to be thick, like toothpaste.  
Be forewarned, though, that stenciling can be a messy affair, especially when working with a darker icing color as I was.  After I finished stenciling one cookie I had to thoroughly wipe and dry the stencil before moving on to the next.  But I think the end result makes it worth it.


April 18, 2023

Platinum Engagement Ring Cookie


Recently my friend Jesse commissioned a cookie order to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of her soon-to-be sister-in-law.  I suggested a Platinum Engagement Ring Cookie as the design, selfishly on my part because I haven't made or decorated that shape before.  I bought this cookie cutter set from Amazon and used my favorite sugar cookie and royal icing recipes.  

Aren't the packaged favors so cute?  They would be beautiful for a bachelorette, bridal shower or wedding reception.

April 13, 2023

Lemon Pudding Cakes


I recently had a friend over for lunch and for dessert I made these individual Lemon Pudding Cakes.  As a lemon lover I will gravitate towards citrus flavors any day over something like chocolate.   The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen and while it's very simple to make, it packs so much delicious flavor.  

Miraculously, when the batter bakes you end up with a thick pudding on the bottom of the ramekin and a light, fluffy cake on the top.  Don't ask me about the science of how that works because I have no clue.  All I know is that it's divine!  Will definitely be keeping this recipe on hand.

April 9, 2023

Coconut Pineapple Cake

The Duncan Hines Dolly Parton coconut cake mix has become a recent favorite of mine and I'm finding even more ways to incorporate it into my baking.  I wanted to thank a friend for a recent act of kindness and I thought the cake would be a nice and delicious gift.   This time I took a tropical turn and made a Coconut Pineapple Cake.  Who doesn't love the combination of coconut and pineapple?  [You have the right to remain silent if you don't!]
The first time I made Dolly's coconut cake I filled and frosting it with cream cheese ermine frosting.  While that cake was delicious, to reduce the sweetness on this cake and let the pineapple flavor really come through, I made a small batch of vanilla pastry cream for the filling.  I then added homemade pineapple compote which was spread between the cake layers.  On top of the pastry cream layer I also applied another thin layer of the pineapple compote.  You can never have enough pineapple in my book.

Lightly sweetened mascarpone whipped cream enveloped the cake which was then finished with a flurry of dessicated coconut.  As I was gifting the cake on Easter Sunday I added a few holiday themed sprinkles.  I can attest that this coconut pineapple cake not only looks good, it tastes amazing!

April 7, 2023

Hot Cross Buns


Yesterday (Holy Thursday) I decided to make a batch of Hot Cross Buns, which are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but I like to enjoy them throughout the Lenten season.  To make the buns I used my all-time favorite fluffy dinner rolls recipe from Cook's Illustrated. The only revision I made to the original version was to add cinnamon, nutmeg and plenty of raisins.  

While I was making the buns an idea came to me that I think was quite ingenious.  As I finished shaping the buns it just so happened that my dishwasher beeped, signaling the end of a recent cycle.  When I opened the dishwasher door I was reminded of how warm and humid the interior was.  EUREKA! Why not proof the dough buns inside the turned off dishwasher since it had the optimum conditions?  
After only 30 minutes the dough doubled in size beautifully and validated my hypothesis.   Normally the ambient temperature in San Francisco is too cold to proof dough without some assistance so the dishwasher solution is perfect.  Who says you need an expensive dough proofer?  Not me!  I will definitely be using this funny technique going forward.   

April 6, 2023

Lily of the Valley Easter Table


The theme for my Easter table this year, Lily of the Valley, came courtesy of tablescape extraordinaire brand Mrs. Alice.  Setting a beautiful table gives me so much joy and upon discovering the brand in 2020 I've been a super fan ever since. Their raison d'être is "take the hassle out of hosting" and they certainly do with all of the beautiful products they sell. 

In previous years I'd leaned towards cute critters for inspiration, but I took a more floral turn this year after seeing this lily of the valley linen set.  The baby blue and green color scheme is very versatile and can be used not only for Easter, but for spring too. 

I decorated the table with moss green bunnies, tiny lambs, pastel colored eggs, ceramic dishes and lots of Easter candy.  
Wishing you a very Happy Easter!

April 5, 2023

3D Bunny and Basket Rice Krispies Treat

Since 2020 I've been making a 3D Rice Krispies treat bunny centerpiece for my Easter table.  It always elicits ooohhhhs and aaaahhhs when people see it, but in actuality it couldn't be simpler to make.  My "secret" is to use Nordicware's bunny cake pans.   I've collected two (so far!) and usually nab them at Williams-Sonoma in their post-Easter sale.  

The pan I used for this year's centerpiece was a bunny holding a basket.  To make the basket part really stand out I relied on Cocoa Krispies.  I absolutely love how the chocolate basket is such a nice contrast to the spring-colored bunny.   All the bunny needed was a final accessory of a ribbon necklace and it was ready to grace the table.

February 12, 2023

Dong Phuong King Cake

As a self-proclaimed foodie it's a bit ironic that I never had a desire to visit New Orleans, home of gumbo, jambalaya and po' boys, until I heard about Dong Phuong King Cakes.  Dong Phuong is a renowned Vietnamese bakery in New Orleans East whose king cake is considered by many to be the best in The Big Easy and even nationwide.  I can't remember where I first heard about it but I had to try their take on the traditional celebratory cake that's made and sold only between Epiphany and Mardi Gras.   

My introduction to king cakes was as a student in France where it's known as galette des rois and made with puff pastry and frangipane filling.  Its Louisiana cousin, however, is more like a large iced cinnamon roll  decorated with purple, green and gold colored sugars, the colors of Carnival and Mardi Gras.  What differentiates Dong Phuong's cake from all the others is the brioche-like bread which bakes up lighter and flakier and topped with cream cheese frosting.
Since winning the prestigious James Beard award in 2018 the popularity of Dong Phuong's King Cakes has skyrocketed.  The bakery only produces the cakes during Carnival season and in limited supply, which makes it quite difficult to get your hands on them.  There's definitely a time investment involved to procure one.  I tried to order a cake online, via Goldbelly, but  unfortunately all the pre-orders were sold out within weeks of going live.  Not to be deterred , and more determined than ever, with plane ticket in hand I headed to MSY.
Here's how I was able to get my hands on the elusive Dong Phuong King Cake....  
Without a pre-order there are basically two ways to get a cake: 1) purchase from an authorized retailer or 2) join the walk-in queue at the bakery itself.  Luckily I had success with both options.  The place I was staying at in New Orleans was close to one of their retailers.  I had called the shop in advance and learned their process for buying a cake.  [Note: Each retailer has their own process.] This particular shop passed out cards to fifteen customers each morning, first come first serve, which gave the card holder the right to return in the afternoon to purchase up to two king cakes each.  That's how I was able to buy my first Dong Phuong King Cake - the original cinnamon flavor. 

My strategy was to buy and taste one cake first to see if it lived up to the hype and decide if it was worth the drive to the bakery. One bite and the decision was lived up to all the hype and there was no doubt that I would joining the queue the next day so that I could buy some other king cake flavors. The bread was flaky and light and the cream cheese frosting was incredibly fluffy and not too sweet.  Heaven in a bite. 
I drove to Dong Phuong Bakery the next day (it was a Thursday) arriving half an hour before the 8am opening, where about twenty people were ahead of me in the queue. I highly recommend going on a weekday, ideally Wednesday or Thursday, as several people in the queue told me that lines and wait times were much longer on Fridays and the weekend.   When it was my turn to purchase I chose  three of the filled king cakes: strawberry, coconut and pecan.  The bakery also sells cream cheese filled and almond creme filled.  While all the cakes were delicious my favorite was the original cinnamon, followed closely by the strawberry and then the coconut.  I found the pecan one's filling was a bit too sweet for my taste.     
You're probably wondering, "Was it worth the cross-country trek for the Dong Phuong King Cake?" My reply: sans doute...without a doubt! I don't see myself returning to New Orleans any time soon but come Dec/Jan when online ordering is available I already know which flavor(s) of Dong Phuong King Cake I will buy.  
Laissez les bons temps rouler!

January 28, 2023

Dolly Parton's Coconut Cake

Maybe you're familiar with the expression, "What Would Dolly Do?" Well, I think I know.  Dolly would bake!  When I initially heard that Dolly had partnered with Duncan Hines to create a limited edition baking collection I was definitely intrigued.  Dolly is apparently an excellent cook and baker so it seemed a foregone conclusion that her products would be delicious.  

The challenge was actually finding them in stock.  Due to its immense popularity the mixes were sold out everywhere.  Serendipitously I found the coconut cake mix at a Walmart store in my hometown and immediately snapped up a box.  The coconut cake was the one I really wanted to try so I was very happy that the store had this flavor. 

Instead of the usual vegetable oil and water that most cake mixes call for, Dolly's cake used milk and butter.  Right off the bat I knew this was going to be rich and decadent cake.  Never a bad thing in my book.  I chose not to use Dolly's buttercream because I find most prepared frostings to be sickly sweet.   Rather, I opted to make cream cheese ermine frosting, which is lightly sweet with a texture similar to a European meringue buttercream.
Frosting the cake was easy breezy since the sides were covered with sweetened coconut flakes; they hide a myriad of decorating sins.  One taste of Dolly's cake with the cream cheese frosting and I was in heaven.  The cake layers were soft and fluffy with just the right amount of coconut flavor to balance the tangy sweet frosting.  You can be sure I will be making this cake again!  And if I find the banana cake mix I will give that one a go too!

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