It is officially autumn.
I’m living in giant sweaters and boots, and just got a new coat.
I painted my nails red this weekend and settled in for a Gilmore Girls marathon (that burgundy pre-Instagram filter on the opening credits just instantly puts you in the fall mood).
And I’ve had my favorite Christmas-y smelling candle lit all weekend.
So obviously this weekend when I settled in for some baking, I knew I needed cinnamon and browned butter involved, and it seemed the logical next step to throw in some other winter/autumn spices: cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ginger. They are crisp on the outside and cakey on the inside–the perfect snickerdoodle.
The real reason I baked was because I have a friend coming over for a visit, but even though I normally have pretty good self-control over leaving my baking be after a taste test, I just cannot stop eating these things. (Cleverly, I made them bite-size so even though I’ve had at least half a dozen already, it looks like I’ve barely made a dent. Pro baking tip from me to you!)
I’ve had Britain on the mind lately.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know this is not an unusual occurrence.
I’m a big fan of all things British: Scones. English chocolate. Harry Potter. Sherlock. Downton Abbey (see above) and other, real English country estates. Free art museums with glorious collections. And of course, the accent. (Does anyone else sometimes get the strong urge to just start speaking in a British accent to random people? Or their cats? … Just me? Okay, then.)
My current British obsession combines nearly all of the things above: THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF. Oh yes. (Minus Harry, Sherlock, and the National Gallery–can’t win ‘em all. Although, maybe they’ll have to create cakes inspired by works of art for the season finale, and Benedict Cumberbatch will cameo as a guest judge for some inexplicable reason… hey, a girl can dream.)
The Great British Bake Off is seriously awesome. A reality show where the contestants are not only incredibly talented non-professional bakers but also all actually care about each other? Dry and witty comedienne hosts? Decidedly pro-UK interludes with food historians? A judge named, I am not kidding you, MARY BERRY!? TV does not get better than this, people. Especially when you’re a baker yourself and occasionally realize you know more than the contestants (case in point: kouign-amann, best pastry ever–how had NONE of them ever heard of it before!?).
So what does GBBO, as the Brits call/hashtag it, have to do with this coffee cake? (Coffee cake is not exactly British, after all.)
Toffee! That’s how I’m bringing this full circle. (Yeah, it’s a stretch, because turns out what we in the US refer to as “English toffee” is not really anything like what toffee is in the UK. Whatever, just go with it, I really just wanted an excuse to talk about the Great British Bake Off.) I’m not the biggest fan of toffee–it’s definitely more of an English confection than American–but when you douse it in brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon, it is definitely OK by me.
One of my curator pals, a fellow baker, recently told me about this recipe and I had to give it a try once she described it. And I am so glad I did. I adapted it a bit on the go (adding toffee bits and cinnamon to the batter itself) and it is pretty amazing.
If you want to make your own British connection, you can always sub your side of coffee for tea. In the meantime, I’ll be spending my Sunday catching up on past GBBO seasons with this coffee cake at my side.
Turns out life without homework is pretty… well… boring.
I’m okay with boring, though, most of the time. It’s refreshing to have nothing to do and nowhere to be on a weekend. Suddenly brunch is easier to impulsively make happen, I feel no guilt about going out shopping for hours on end, and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a lot of TV I need to catch up on after two years of grad school.
To be honest, I have always been into the stuff that most people find boring. I almost always choose vanilla over chocolate, for example–that age-old indicator of your boringness level when judging ice cream flavors–and I love a good day at home when I don’t have to leave my apartment.
I will say, though, even for my introverted self, those sorts of days have their limits. There’s only so much Call the Midwife or Leftovers a girl can handle in 24 hours (take your pick between too many babies or too many unanswered questions). As I wondered what the heck I was going to do with myself for the holiday weekend that might, perhaps, get me off the couch, I remembered that baking stuff, taking photos of it, and writing odd little posts about them publicly for the whole internet to see is kinda my thing.
So here we are! I was going to make cupcakes. I really was. But I loaned my one cupcake tin to a friend last week (side note: what kind of food blogger only has ONE muffin tin to her name!?). Thus, a full-out cake it was. Well, a cake and two dozen mini cupcakes.
This Whiteout Cake is from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, and is a sweet, light, subtle vanilla cake with white-chocolate buttercream. The whole thing is quiet and reliable but super delicious.
So rather than celebrating the last day it’s socially acceptable to wear white pants–which admittedly would be a better connection to why I made an all-white cake for no reason this weekend–let’s say instead that this is a cake for celebrating boredom. Because as much as I love a quiet day, I’ll also admit I’m a bit of a workaholic, so spending a day doing nothing does not come easily to me. So here’s to me embracing boredom–what better way to get started than with cake?
In other news, does anyone in the Milwaukee area want a cake? ‘Cause if so, I have a whole one, minus one slice, with your name on it…
It’s annual pie party time!
Every year one of my friends here in Milwaukee holds a pie party. You bring a pie and everyone votes for their favorite. This year, in a new twist, there was both a savory AND a sweet category.
Contests like this remind me that there are times in my life when I get competitive. It’s rare. After all, I purposefully work in a field that is about as un-competitive as you can get (art education!). But when it happens, watch out.
Happily for my baking ego, I won the sweet category with this doozy of a pie! And my pal who for two years running has gotten first place still won, taking the savory category with a cheddar tomato pie (yum). Everyone wins! Well, okay, two of us win. But you get the picture.
I was a little worried that this tart wouldn’t be pie-ish enough for a pie party, so I baked it in a pie pan (that’s not cheating, is it?) and threw caution to the wind. Who could turn down something that combines local honey, almond butter, and chocolate ganache? And on top of that is nearly no-bake? Not this girl, that’s for sure.
Surprisingly, I’m not the biggest pie person (I tend to go only for apple pie, and that’s mainly for the pie dough), and I especially hate mousse-y pies, but this thing… wow. I’m into it.
First, the crust is vanilla shortbread, which is so easy it’s ridiculous (no rolling pan required! Just press it in). Second, the filling is a cream cheese, almond butter, and honey combo…
Which you fold with whipped cream to make it light and fluffy, but still tangy and nutty and sweet. And THEN you top it off with the baking world’s best invention, chocolate ganache.
Throw it all in the fridge and you’re set. It’s a bit ridiculous how easy it is for such an awesome payoff. Easy to make ahead, too!
And, not only is it easy, but now it’s award winning. So the next time you need to win a pie contest, you know what recipe to turn to. You’re welcome!
My birthday was yesterday and so — in keeping with tradition — I made myself a cake!
(Well, two cakes. I love my 6″ cake pans, in part because they leave me with leftovers, like this 3-incher.)
Every year when I tell people I’m baking myself a cake for my birthday at least one person gets kind of sad on my behalf and offers to bake a cake for me instead. Which is, of course, extremely thoughtful. But then I explain that I do in fact like baking for myself on my birthday. It might have started as a perfectionist thing, but now it’s more an excuse to have people over to share the finished product. (And act as hand models for your nerdy food blog. See: final photo of this post.)
I suppose it is a little strange that I like to bake myself a cake on my birthday. If I had a favorite cake spot in Milwaukee, I might consider getting myself a cake from there instead. I do have a favorite bakery here, but I don’t think they really do cakes. (If I was in New York, though, watch out, I might never bake myself a cake again. I’m thinking of this place. Oh man, THIS PLACE. What I wouldn’t give for a cake from there. Close second: thiiiis. Drool. Can you tell I’m in NYC withdrawal since finishing grad school?)
But! I digress. I found this cake on Pinterest last week, and it just looked so simple and pretty from the beautiful photographs on Spoon Fork Bacon that I couldn’t resist! Plus, longtime readers around here know I’m an herb-and-sweets fiend, and it was high time I broke out of my lavender obsession to try something new.
And indeed, this cake is pretty darn good. Since it was my birthday, I adapted this into a two-layer cake (rather than a one-layer as the original recipe suggests), making a slightly stiffer frosting to hold up the heavy layers.
I will admit that I could not detect much of a thyme flavor — I’m not sure if the thyme in my apartment building’s garden was too young, perhaps, or if I should have gone a little heavier handed on my tablespoonsful (let’s be real, I got tired of mincing), but no matter: the lemon-sweet flavor of this cake is STRONG. In fact, if you balk at herbed cakes, you can just leave out the thyme. This recipe really does makes the most lovely, super lemony cake.
So, I’ll leave you with some more pictures of my birthday cake (now half-demolished with remains making their way to work with me tomorrow, along with the baby cake, which is going to my fantastic catsitter as an extra thank you for putting up with my needy cats for pretty much the entire month of June while I was off grad-school-ing).
As I said in my previous post, not sure when I’ll next have the urge to bake, but stay tuned. In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of my vacation to NYC next month, where I plan to continue my baked-good-fueled-birthday-celebrations…
(Well, maybe. See the last bit of this post!)
Anyway, I finished grad school three weeks ago yesterday (!).
Then I immediately went to Boston for an intense but awesome two-week-long institute related to my job (!!).
So writing-wise, I must admit I’m a little spent (thus the brief nature of this post)…
But luckily, exhaustion of the mind does not have anything to do with baking! So here’s what I made today, on a whim: another favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (can’t believe it wasn’t on the blog yet!) sprinkled with a treat I bought myself when I was in Massachussetts: Maldon sea salt, which I’ve been trying to find for a long time!
These are delicious: chewy, chocolatey, giant, and the fancy sea salt is the perfect finishing touch to play off the brown sugar and dark chocolate.
My birthday’s coming up, and I do have plans to bake myself a cake, so you’ll see that soon. And who knows, maybe I’ll start baking and blogging again… but for the time being, I am completely reveling in having no reading to do or papers to write, and I don’t want this blog to become a to-do list. So posts may be sporadic, but I hope you’ll enjoy them when they pop up!
I was so lucky last week to bake once more for Anthropologie!
Since I’m on summer break from grad school, it worked out that I could squeeze in some baking time for one of Anthropologie’s summer events series.
I decided to make the baking more interactive this time around: a make-your-own sandwich cookie party!
I made two cookies–sugar cookies and brownie cookies–and two kinds of frosting–rose and chocolate malt. The idea was that you could mix and match either cookie with either of the frostings.
I was also so happy that my new Milwaukee blogger buddy Colleen from Inspired to Share came out to join us, too! (Her blog is awesome–make sure you check it out!)
Many thanks to Lyn, Shannon, and the rest of the Anthropologie team for having me back this summer! It was so much fun!
Ingredientsallspice basil blueberries browned butter brown sugar buttermilk caramel cardamom chocolate cinnamon cloves coconut cranberries cream cheese dark chocolate earl grey eggs fancy ingredients fruit ginger gingerbread herbs honey lavender lemon malt powder milk chocolate molasses nutmeg nuts oatmeal pearl sugar peppermint pumpkin raspberry rose water savory sea salt shortbread tasting tuesdays toffee vanilla vanilla bean walnuts white chocolate
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