So, I first heard about the vodka pie crust thing in the fall of 2008 when I was still working at Baked. My lovely and oh, so dear colleague at the time, Sefania, arrived one morning raving about a Cooks Illustrated pumpkin pie with a vodka crust that she had baked and brought to a dinner party the night before. Now, I’m going to bastardize the story a bit here, but somehow Mark Bittman heard about her pie (maybe someone who was at the dinner party with Stefania worked with him?) and long story short, a few weeks later, there was a post on the NYT Diner’s Journal blog about Stefania’s pie (or, more accurately, about how her pie had influenced the writer of the post). And the vodka pie dough phenomenon was forever etched in my brain.
Yup, it’s a chocolate whoopie pie post; and I know what you’re thinking: they’re totally kind of last year. But I love them — which makes sense in light of the fact that I am a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting fanatic, and back in the day I was all about a Hostess Suzy Q or a Drakes Devil Dog, two very whoopie-ish packaged treats from my late 70s/80s childhood. Moreover, even when my whoopie love has been tested, I’ve remained steadfast. (While working at Baked, I always opted to celebrate my bday with a chocolate whoopie pie (or several), even when offered any cake of my choosing).
I actually baked my first apple cake about seven years ago. And I mean cake, not a crumble or pie or some kind of brown betty-thing (nothing against brown betties, by the way — my mom has been making them for forever and i am a huge fan). No, I made cake — this apple cake with toffee crust to be exact and it was good, but not life-changing. Of course, while working for Matt and Nato, I baked a lot of their apple cake, and assisted in getting it “book-ready/home-cook accessible” by testing it before it made its way into Baked Explorations. But their particular apple cake is apple sauce-based, and I’m here to tell you about apple sheet cake that is made apple-y with chunks of apple coated in sugar and cinnamon (much like pie).
The berry scones thing happened when I stumbled upon this blackberry scone recipe. I’m not even sure what I was searching for that day — certainly not a scone recipe, seeing as scones weren’t really my thing at the time. Maybe I was just perusing the web in search of inspiration. Long story short, when I clicked on the above post, and saw the photograph of the sugar crusted scones bursting with blackberries, my interest was piqued. I have a bit of a blackberry thing, maybe that’s why. So I made the berry scones once and thought they were pretty insane. I then proceeded to make them about a billion times (I’m a creature of habit after all — when I find a good thing, I have trouble letting it go). I made them for basically anyone and everyone who walked through my door (this is easier than it sounds if you’re partial to freezing pre-baked goodies, as I am wont to do). After making, freezing and baking batch a-billion-and-one, however, it occurred to me that maybe I should develop my own scone recipe (not a bad thing to have in one’s repertoire).
It’s been almost a year since my slab-pie obsession began. (Thanksgiving 2013, to be exact, when 30 people showed up unexpectedly at our house for Thanksgiving — okay, I’m lying, they were invited.) My slab-pie of choice is one baked in a half sheet pan (as opposed to the daintier version described in my strawberry rhubarb pie recipe). But I like them all. I like the crust to filling ratio in slab pies, I adore the presentation, and am partial to desserts that feed a crowd — even the smaller slab pie offers up about four more slices than a traditional pie-dish pie.
As documented in my post on pie dough, I am relatively new to the world of the pie-obsessed. And my first pies were all of the mixed-berry variety (I’ve been mixed-berry/pastry focused since third grade, when Pepperidge Farm raspberry turnovers were a dessert staple). Thankfully, however, I’ve branched out in the pie filling department (I can get just the tiniest bit set in my ways when it comes to a particular ingredient/flavor/food item) and am newly preoccupied with strawberries and rhubarb (just about the tastiest of pie fillings), given the tart/sweet dimension. So preoccupied in fact, that I insisted on picking more than I could use and freezing much of it, in an effort to insure that I would be eating strawberry rhubarb pie past June. Which I am.
So, full disclosure here: I am not technically a pie person. Or a bread-baking person, for that matter. I have always been very much a cake person. (I happen to believe there are two camps: the pie/bread camp and the cake camp.) However, my allegiance began to shift last summer (just a bit) and I found myself not only craving pie, but baking it, as well. I suspect the shift away from cake and towards pie may have had something to do with the copious amounts of icebox cakes I was developing — and eating — last summer for the Icebox Cakes cookbook. But who knows?
I first learned about the “World’s Best Cake” from Bakers Royale (although the original recipe is Sweet Paul’s) and thought it sounded completely amazing: fluffy cake, with a baked, slightly chewy, yet crispy, marshmallow-y meringue, layered with creamy whipped cream. So very “world’s-best” sounding to me, in fact, that I knew then and there that I wanted to develop my own variation with a coconut twist (in my world, a cake with meringue and cream demands coconut). A little bit of internet research revealed almost no recipes for cakes with baked meringue (save for this meringue cake from Joy of Baking) and only a handful for “world’s best” cakes other than Sweet Paul’s (such as this Midsummer Cake).Sweet Paul’s version was republished on HuffPost but no one appeared to be tweaking it. Because I had other goodies up my sleeve in need of developing, I put my thoughts of the world’s best cake on hold, until i saw this espresso, cinnamon, maple cake and decided I, too, had to make my mark on the world with an attempt at the best.
My absolute favorite flavor of ice cream when I was a kid was mint chocolate chip. But not any mint chocolate chip ice cream, I loved mint chocolate chip ice cream fro Baskin Robbins. I loved everything about it — the green color, the creaminess, the mint/chocolate flavor combo — but what I really loved the most, was the size of the chips. This was not a mint ice cream with chunks of chocolate throughout, or actual chips. Instead, Baskin Robbins’ flavor included tiny, shaved, or grated, bits of chocolate, that contributed to the most perfect balance of chocolate to mint, as well as adding just a hint of texture to this otherwise super creamy treat.
So, the whole buttermilk bar doughnuts thing started when I was having dinner with friends and they mentioned a doughnut they had eaten in Los Angeles. A mere mention, and I was instantly smitten. And not with the doughnut’s purported attributes (which I insisted they share with me), but with the name of the doughnut: BUTTERMILK BAR. Brilliant. Who doesn’t want to eat buttermilk bar doughnuts??
The truth is I am not a huge flourless chocolate cake person, but I like fast; I like chocolate; and I like short ingredient lists. And so when I first stumbled upon the recipe that inspired mine, Molly Wizenberg’s Winning Hearts and Minds Cake, and began tinkering with it, it didn’t even occur to me to make it flourless (even though her recipe calls for a measly one tablespoon of flour). Instead I made it passover appropriate, substituting 1 1/2 tsp of potato starch, for the flour, reworked the technique (more on that below), and called it a day.
It goes without saying that not everyone is on board with confectioners’ sugar-based buttercream frosting, as many find them just too sweet, a little low-brow, and a bit heavy. In addition, a version of the buttercream frosting recipe is found on the box of Domino confectioners’ sugar, and maybe that turns people off. Who knows? The long and short of it is, however, that I am not one of those people. I actually love traditional/old school powdered sugar-based frosting (which probably comes as no surprise in light of my admission in my post about chocolate birthday cake that I love the flavor, texture, etc. of a cake made from a mix) and am always looking for ways to perfect my own version of the classic.
I am basically a lover of layer cakes, with chocolate being my number one favorite (although vanilla enveloped in chocolate buttercream is a very close number two). I like dark chocolate layers that taste uber-chocolate-y, are super moist, with a fluffy, loose-ish crumb (as opposed to a tight one) and — I’ll just come right out and say it — I like it if my layer cake reminds me of one that might be made from a boxed cake mix. Sacrilege, I know, but it’s the truth. I can’t say my love of cakes made from mixes stems from memories of my own childhood chocolate birthday cake, as my cakes were always Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream cakes. Nor can I say that I actually ever make cakes from mixes myself, although I did ask my boys to make me a cake from a box, Betty Crocker I think, for my last birthday, so I definitely have some kind of birthday/cake mix thing going on. But I have to admit that when making homemade cakes, replicating the flavor and texture of a boxed cake mix has always felt right.
Chocolate chip cookies. Basically, completely one of my favorite sweet treats, if not one of my favorite overall food items. A mere photograph of particularly delicious looking ones and I’m somewhat overcome. And, yes, I’m aware that I am not the first person to have this reaction, and that the penultimate chocolate chip cookie is blogged about ad nauseam, which is reason enough — duh — for me leave well enough alone. However, in this instance, I’m throwing caution to the wind/I just really want to share my chocolate chip cookie musings/recipe with you.
I’ve always had this obsession thing for Australian lamingtons, small pieces of white cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. It’s totally not surprising, as I adore cake, love coconut and love it even more if it is paired with chocolate. I can’t even recall when I first had a lamington or where, and, truth be told, I had no idea they were even called “lamingtons” until I stumbled upon a picture of/recipe for them on Cookstr two years ago and recognized them instantly. I was extremely pleased.
So, I had my first dirt bomb last summer at Bantam Bread Company in Bantam, CT. To the uninitiated, a dirt bomb is a nutmeg-infused muffin that, still warm from the oven, is plunged into melted butter and then tossed in cinnamon sugar until generously coated. Delish-sounding, no? However, the thing that is really totally brilliant about dirt bombs is that the butter and sugar transforms them from very nice, ho-hum-ish spiced muffins, into – basically one of my most favorite foods — doughnuts.