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Friday
Feb062015

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Champagne flute

For the love...of champagne flutes! Check out this sweet post by my friend. (Jameson Fink)

Can you refrigerate buttercream? Plus more buttercream FAQs. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Awesome cookie dough truffles made with olive oil. Really! (Colavita)

I can deal with "healthified" cinnamon rolls because it means you're still eating cinnamon rolls. (Crazy for Crust)

Eat on up: banana bread nutella bars. (Heather's French Press)

Because I already miss North Carolina: a roundup of all of the delicious things I ate in Asheville. (CakeSpy)

One of the most interesting obits: David Dalquist, who invented a baking pan we all know and love. (NY Times)

Good question: what is cocoa butter? (Baking Bites)

Impossibly cute: chocolate cherry blossom cookies. (Sally's Baking Addiction)

Think pavlova is great? Give double chocolate pavlova a try, yo. (Epicuricloud)

Don't have separation anxiety: check out creative cake separator ideas. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

East 62nd Street Cake. It looks like it's stuffed with sunshine. (Shauna Sever)

How to draw instruments. A sweet (but not to eat, or even play) tutorial! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

I love eating avocado creatively. This avocado breakfast bowl has me intrigued. (Sun Diego Eats)

Agar extender. (TIC Gums)

Book of the week: Cut Out and Keep: Around the USA in 50 Craft Projects. I've been a huge fan of the website Cut Out + Keep for years, and this innovative book features craft ideas from all around the USA. I think you'll enjoy the clever yet beautiful crafts from the book, ranging from hollywood-inspired lampshades to beautiful foliage-inspired napkins. 

Thursday
Feb052015

Mini Peanut Butter Baked Alaskas

I will have you know, fine people, that I made mini peanut butter baked Alaskas for one of my favorite companies ever, Peanut Butter and Company. It was an honor!

Baked Alaska, to the uninitiated, is not only dessert, but SCIENCE. Cold ice cream sits atop a cake (or in my recipe, a cookie) base, and is coated all over with a meringue mixture. The meringue totally seals the ice cream in, and allows the whole thing to be popped in a very hot oven long enough to crisp the meringue, making for an improbable and impressive dessert that is hot and cold all at once.

And this version is even better because it features delicious peanut butter. And because it's served in mini portions (no sharing!).

For the recipe and more, click here.

Thursday
Feb052015

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Buttercream

Can you refrigerate buttercream? Can you use salted instead of unsalted butter to make buttercream? If you're out of confectioners' sugar, can you use granulated?

These are just some of the questions you may have regarding buttercream--find out the answers to these and more buttercream questions, here.

Monday
Feb022015

What is Baking Chocolate?

It looks like chocolate. It smells like chocolate. But if you've ever tried to take a big bite of so-called "baking chocolate", you know that it is not suitable for out of hand eating, and is not to be treated as a snack. So what is the point of baking chocolate, anyway? 

Let's discuss. 

What is baking chocolate?

Baker's Chocolate

Photo via Flickr member eggplant

This type of chocolate comes in bars, but not the kind that you’d like to eat as a snack. The reason is that baking chocolate, which also goes by “unsweetened chocolate” or “bitter chocolate”, does not contain sugar. It’s solidified 100 percent chocolate liquor (the center of cocoa beans ground to a liquid), but without the frills--sweeteners, emulsifiers, flavorings--that make chocolate a sweet eating delight.

Once that chocolate liquor has been fancied up a little bit with cocoa butter, sugar, emulsifiers, and maybe some flavoring, it becomes dark chocolate. It retains a high percentage of cacao. What most people think of “dark chocolate” is 65% to as high as 99%. The higher the number, the less sweet the chocolate.

Dark chocolate varieties also include semisweet and bittersweet chocolate. They contain less chocolate liquor--a minimum of 35 percent--bittersweet often carrying more cacao than semisweet. And they contain sugar. It’s a variation sugar-to-cocao ratio that differentiates the two. Because of its sweeter flavor, semi-sweet is more commonly used in baking, and it’s the go-to chocolate type for chocolate chip cookies. 

Working with baking chocolate 

These crinkle cookies are made with unsweetened chocolate in the batter.

If baking chocolate has no sugar, what's the point?

Baking chocolate is not the best choice for out of hand eating, but it's a great component to mix with other ingredients to make a recipe. 

Typically, baking chocolate will be mixed into batter when baking, and the sweetness comes from elsewhere in the recipe, bringing out the flavor of the chocolate. It’s not suggested that you use baking chocolate as a substitute for chocolate morsels in cookies or as a candy coating.

Not to confuse you, but...

bakers chocolate

Photo via Flickr member zanastardust

One of the most famous brands offering baking chocolate is Baker's Chocolate, America's oldest continually run chocolate company. Often, people will refer to baking chocolate as "baker's chocolate", possibly because of the association of this company with producing the unsweetened stuff.

However, the Baker's chocolate brand also offers a variety of sweetened chocolate products, including German's sweet chocolate (an innovation by a gentleman named Samuel German, and where German chocolate cake gets its name), white chocolate, and semisweet chocolate. So while Baker's offers baking chocolate, not all chocolate by Baker's is baking chocolate. Got it? Good. 

Can I substitute another type of chocolate?

Well, I'm not going to flat out reject you here, but I am going to give you some considerations to think about if you want to substitute, say, dark chocolate for baking chocolate.

If your chocolate has sugar added, it may slightly alter the chemistry of the recipe. For instance, if your recipe calls for 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and you use 4 ounces of sweetened chocolate, you're adding extra sugar to the recipe, and you can't be quite sure how much. The recipe might come out just fine, or the added sugar might affect the texture or bake time. Or it might just make the recipe too sweet. Is it worth the risk? Up to you.

I hope I've given you a helpful little primer here--feel free to chime in with any questions about baking chocolate and I can add to this article to make it even more helpful. Oh, and if you liked this post, check out the more comprehensive posts on the types of chocolate for baking.

How do you use baking chocolate?

Sunday
Feb012015

Bookmark This Now: 19 Awesome Baking Hacks

Cutting cheesecake with dental floss. A magic trick with water to remove errant bits of eggshell. How to get the most juice out of your citrus with the...microwave? And who knew that bubble wrap could create chocolate garnishes?

These and more amazing baking hacks which will save you time and money. Read more!

Friday
Jan302015

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Pop-Hearts, not Pop-Tarts. Because Valentine's Day is coming! (CakeSpy for Serious Eats)

I NEED ALL OF THIS FOR VALENTINE'S DAY. (ThinkGeek)

How to choose typefaces to match your artwork. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Ever heard of the Sky Bar? It used to be one of the nation's most popular. (Candy Blog)

Conversation heart Nanaimo bars. Because, well, tis the season. (Serious Eats)

Ever tried a dessert made with black eyed peas? Go for it --> (Fork Fingers Chopsticks)

Oven-dried strawberry slices. I'm into it. (Frugality Gal)

Banana bread: I'm not into it unless it has chocolate chips. There, I said it. (CakeSpy)

Roccos. I'm into it, even if they don't have gluten. (Yummy Beet)

Elegant piped chocolate garnishes. Easy and delicious! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Buckeye graham crackers. Ohio meets after school treat. (Gold Lining Girl)

Yumz: Fluffy potato rolls. (Crazy for Crust)

Beer battered sweet potatoes. Not dessert sweet, but I'm totally into it. (Mess Makes Food)

Book of the week: The Potato Cookbook. First and foremost, I'm happy that it exists, period. But even more, that it has desserts. Potato-infused black forest cake, anyone? 

Tuesday
Jan272015

20 Plus Delicious Discoveries in Asheville, North Carolina

Peanut butter pie, City Bakery

Dear friends,

I have had the amazing fortune of spending January in Asheville, North Carolina this year. Have you ever been to Asheville? If so, you know how awesome it is to have the chance to spend a month here. If you're not familiar, well, let me tell you about your new favorite city. 

Can I live here?

Asheville is located in western North Carolina, in the Appalachian Mountains. It has about 87,000 residents, and about 86,999 of them are quirky (there's got to be one normal person in here somewhere). This is in keeping with Asheville's official status of "America's Quirkiest City". 

I fit right in. Especially my inspired, unicorn-themed fashion. 

Yoga training

Here's what brought me to Asheville in the first place: I did a three week immersion yoga program at the Asheville Yoga Center, a well respected yoga studio and teacher training center in North Carolina. I chose this program for a few reasons: I wanted to go somewhere cool to do a yoga training; I had heard that Asheville was cool; and, I got a scholarship to the program. A few months later, I was Asheville-bound. I studied up, and I was ready.

Yoga School

 

These were my classmates.

The program at AYC was incredibly tough both mentally and physically, but it was beyond 100 percent worth it. I was part of a 24 student program, and let me tell you, spending every single day with this group made for very quick and thorough bonding. I can tell you about the finer points of each person's practice, as well as what type of shampoo they wear and what injuries they have and how many heartbreaks they've suffered. It was that kind of bonding. Here's me (on the right) and my classmate Emily showing our pretzel love:

Pretzel buddies

I miss my yoga center already. I have no idea if I want to teach, but now I offically CAN.

Asheville

Back to Asheville itself.

One thing that I had suspected, but hadn't been completely prepared for, was the food scene in Asheville. Like, whoa. It is incredibly sophisticated for a small city, and as quirky and cool as its residents. Here are just a few of my favorite sweet treats I've found so far. 

Made-to-order doughnuts at Hole Doughnuts

Hole Doughnuts, Asheville

I'm a sucker for foods prepared right in front of me, and the open format of fryer right out in the open at Hole made my heart sing.

Hole Doughnuts, Asheville

I thoroughly enjoyed their doughnuts, even if they are yeast (cake doughnuts 4-liiiiiiife). Hole had some pretty nifty flavor combos that they could gussy up your doughnut with, but we went traditional and got just plain glazed. Very, very good stuff.

Hole Doughnuts, Asheville


Greenlife's bakery selections

I spent a LOT of time at Greenlife, a grocery store now owned by Whole Foods. I can tell you what I enjoyed, including their "mini brownies" (actually quite generous in size) which were fudgy and perfect;

Brownie

Lemon cookies...

Lemon Cookie

the praline buttercream bars by wholesale bakery Upper Crust Crumbs, which had the three part construction, if not flavors, of a Nanaimo bar, and for which I found a great looking recipe online;

Praline butter bar

carmelita bars;

Carmelita

and this lemon blueberry bar. Happy town.

Greenlife

Website: Greenlife


The hugest eclairs ever at Well-Bred Bakery, Biltmore village 


Eclair
What can I say? I am impressed by largeness in sweets. And Well-Bred has some BIG sweets.

Now, I am not 100 percent sure that the scale is really conveyed, so let me show you the entire bakery shelf that has human-sized pastries on it, too.Eclairs, Biltmore village

Oh, and we got an almond bar, too.Well Bred Bakery, Asheville

Website: Well-Bred Bakery


Chocolates, cookies, and hot chocolate from French Broad Chocolates


French Broad

French Broad Chocolates is locally famous, and with good reason. They do chocolate very well. Their hot chocolate, which is not pictured, rivals my favorite at Kakawa in Santa Fe, and their truffles are really, really good.

I'm not vegan, but I thought the above chocolate display was adorable, and apropos for my yoga training.

Shortbread

And I truly enjoyed the shortbread dipped in dark chocolate and coated with delicious pistachio debris.

Website: French Broad Chocolates


Butter bars from Fresh Market

Butter bar, Fresh Market

Fresh Market kind of reminds me of a cross between Whole Foods and Wegmans grocery stores. It's sort of fancy and has interesting displays, but the ingredient labels are longer than at Whole Foods. 

But grocery store politics aside, what I cared most about were the butter bars. They looked uncannily similar to the butter bars I knew and loved at Flying Monkey Patisserie in Philadelphia, so I had to try one.

They weren't quite as good as Flying Monkey's, but they gave me enough flavor nostalgia to give me a big grin, so it was a sweet treat to enjoy indeed. 

Website: The Fresh Market


Cannoli from Harris Teeter


Harris Teeter 
At this point, I realize that you are totally judging me for frequenting grocery store bakeries. But what can I say, I love sweets of all sorts, from fancy French to Pop-Tarts. So I have to tell you. I got a chocolate covered cannoli (filled to order!) from grocery chain Harris Teeter (which, btw, I adorably mis-called "Harris Tweeter" for the first week I was here), and it was a highly delicious experience. I won't lie: I've been back for more. And I'll probably go again before I leave.

Harris teeter

Website: Harris Teeter


White chocolate covered snickerdoodle sandwich, Whole Foods


White chocolate snickerdoodle

The basic construction was this: two snickerdoodles, deliciously sandwiched with vanilla cream filling. But wait, there's more: the whole darned thing was half dipped in white chocolate. Come here, you delicous thing. 

White chocolate snickerdoodle

Website: Asheville Whole Foods


Banana split sugar

Banana split sugar

I don't know about you, but just the sight of this stuff made me smile. I didn't even know it existed, but after taking one smell of it, I knew my life would never be complete without it. This was a pricey but fun treasure I found at the Spice and Tea Exchange.

Website: Spice and Tea Exchange

Peanut butter pie, and more, from City Bakery

That crazy-looking pie at the top of this post? I got it from City Bakery. I also enjoyed their cake pops... City Bakery

and their awesome flaky cinnamon pastries, as well as their savory croissants.

Ham and cheese croissant, city bakery


The butter bar at Biscuit Head. 


Butter bar, biscuit head

Don't get me wrong, the biscuits were nothing to scoff at. But the true magic here was in the BUTTER BAR, which featured flavored butters of all sorts for your biscuits.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you could sit in spots like this at Biscuit Head:

Egg and bacon chair

Website: Biscuit Head

Adorableness aplenty at Short Street Cakes

CAKE

Short Street Cakes is my kind of bakery: small, sweet, and full of cake. It's in the hipster enclave of West Asheville, and we picked up some tasty flourless chocolate cake. It was along the same lines as my favorite recipe, so good stuff. 

Yes.

Flourless chocolate cake

They also had some cute cupcakes, which came out weird-looking because of the lights in the case reacting with my cell phone camera.

Short street cakes

Website: Short Street Cakes


Marzipan thingies from Old Europe Pastries

Marzipan thingy

That is not their technical name, but it's the name I will assign to their marzipan topped and infused cakes, with chocolate sides.

We also got shortbread and a brownie here, which my sweetie named among the best brownies in Asheville.

Website: Old Europe Pastries


Danish doughnuts at Geraldine's

Geraldine's

Nope. That's not a cronut. It's a "Fritzster". The secret to the deliciousness is Danish dough here, which is fried and yields a hearty doughnut the likes of which I will not forget soon.

Website: Geraldine's


Cake by my classmates Virginia and Jonelle

Jonelle and Virginia

This was one of my sweetest moments in Asheville. At our Yoga School graduation, two of my classmates, Virgina and Jonelle, made a cake for all of us. It was made with mix, but the effort and the sentiment made it one of the best cakes EVER. 

Bonus: five savory finds

I'm not going to go into too much detail for these ones, but I want you to know that if you find yourself in Asheville, I have thoroughly enjoyed the savories at these spots!

  1. Luella's BBQ: I am not vegetarian, but I'm obsessed with their BBQ tempeh.
  2. King James Pub: Creative and innovative pub cuisine. Cozy, too!
  3. Green Sage Cafe: Healthy-ish fare with a casual atmosphere--a clever and tasty menu.
  4. Homegrown: Local and delicious. Everything here is well thought out. My fave? The "falentil"--falafel balls made with lentils.
  5. Doc Chey's Noodle House: I loved the atmosphere at this local favorite, and I loved the fat, flavorful noodles.

I'm on my last few days here, so I'm looking forward to trying a few other places, both sweet and savory, before I get on my rainbow unicorn and fly back to the next adventure.

I've enjoyed my time in Asheville, and I know I've become a better person because of it!

If you have a suggestion for the rest of my time here, leave a comment!

Monday
Jan262015

CakeSpy in New Mexico Magazine!

You guys. I wrote the Valentine's Day food feature for New Mexico Magazine! It's glossy, it's on shelves, and it has ME inside of its tasty pages. OMG!

The article I was assigned to write was about desserts that were found "only in New Mexico". But given the time of year, the desserts also had a Valentine's Day spin! So what you've got in the tasty article are recipes for a flourless chocolate cake with pinon and salty caramel, easy chocolate truffles, a horchata tres leches cake, and--my fave--red chile red velvet cupcakes. 

Really, the article is quite worth a read. You can find the excerpt online here, or (even better) buy the issue in bookstores or (if you're in NM) on shelves...or subscribe!

Sunday
Jan252015

Incredibly Delicious: Congo Bars

Congo bars aren't really all that African. Honestly, they're more like blondies, with the addition of coconut. So how on earth did their tropical name come to be? Well, I can share a few theories. 

1. Coconut is key. This hard-shelled fruit or nut (I'm not actually sure which it is, in spite of this helpful blog post) is most readily found in the tropics. The Congo is a tropical rainforest area in Africa, and coconuts do grow there, among other crops. 

2. "Congo" sounds way cooler than other tropical names. As I mentioned, the Congo is hardly the only area where coconuts grow. Personally, I picture the person who dreamed up the name making a list of tropical places and then eliminating names one by one because they didn't sound quite right. I mean, do "Jamaica bars" or "Phuket bars" sound as cool as "Congo Bars"? I personally think not.

3. Someone wanted to call them "bongo bars" because the sight of them makes your heart beat like a drum, but accidentally misspelled it on the recipe card.

Personally, I'll go with a variation on #2: it just sounds cool. 

Really, though, who cares about why they're called Congo bars? The important stuff is how insanely delicious they are. Congo bars are a gloriously tricked-out version of the classic blondie, characterized by a satin-finish top which gives way to a decadent butterscotch-flavored, brown sugar-rich interior, generously flecked with chocolate morsels, nuts, and coconut. Curious name aside, you'll adore eating these sweet treats.

Recipe here.

Friday
Jan232015

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Check me out in New Mexico Magazine! (NM Mag)

Chocolate chip cookie shooters...filled with milk. Yes! (CakeSpy)

A sweet entry about yoga (not sweets) from my yoga school classmate. (Peace, Love, and Kale)

Dark chocolate "detox" bites. If this is what detox looks like, I can stand it. (The View from Grand Island)

Good Food Finder: Please, make this a thing for every state. (Good Food Finder)

Just FYI: Feb 1 is National Baked Alaska Day. Make this one, please. (Canelle et Vanille)

I'm intrigued: 3 ingredient flourless PEANUT BUTTER (not chocolate!) cake. (Kirbie's Cravings)

Sweet potato chips made in the microwave. I approve. (Baked by an Introvert)

Vodka cupcakes: ever heard of such a thing? (The Baking Robot)

HOMEMADE COW TALES. How did I not discover this til now? (Sprinkle Bakes)

Because it's flu season: desserts to eat when you're sick. (CakeSpy)

According to this list, calcium tops the list of ingredients that make you feel happy. Um, milkshake anyone?? (Greatist)

Triple the crumb, less than half the cake. The best: behemoth crumb cake. (Serious Eats)

I love this roundup of edible shot glasses (not just for alcohol - dessert-related too!). (Food Hacks)

Book of the week: Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table. Have you ever read any of Ruth Reichl's brilliant books? If not, this one is my favorite. The woman knows how to write a memoir, and there's food included. Seriously, they are tender and beautiful and worth your time.

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