We celebrated Andrew’s 31st birthday over the weekend! It is crazy to think that Andrew was 21 (a spring chicken!) when we first started dating. Over the years I have baked him various treats to celebrate his birthday—many cakes (in recent years it’s been this cake mentioned in my last post) and several chocolate cream pies. This year I decided it was time for another pie year.
Chocolate cream pie may seem like an odd choice for a birthday, but it was Andrew’s favorite childhood dessert that his mom made. I took up making them for him after we got married. BEST. WIFE. EVER. But really, that’s what he thinks when I make chocolate cream pie.
Sometimes I make a chocolate crust for this pie, but I decided to go with a standard all-butter pie crust this time around. The recipe I used for this crust is slightly different than my go-to pâte brisée recipe (used here and here). I found this pie crust to be flakier and more tender, which I am a fan of, but I also found that the crimped edges on this crust did not hold their shape at all (a common problem with all-butter pie crusts as explained here). I suppose it’s a small price to pay for all that glorious flakiness.
For the chocolate filling, I used a 61% cacao content bittersweet chocolate, but I have used up to 70% cacao content chocolate in the past with delicious, albeit richer results.
The chocolate filling of the pie is what I like to call a pudding-custard hybrid. It is thickened with cornstarch like a pudding, but also uses egg yolks like a custard. There is even a bit of gelatin added to make the pie more sliceable. The result is a velvety smooth, creamy, and wonderfully chocolatey filling.
Once the filling has had time to set in the pre-baked pie crust, all that’s left to do is make some whipped cream and shave some chocolate overtop.
There’s nothing I don’t love about this pie. It’s Andrew’s favorite for a reason, partly because it is nostalgic, but mainly because it is just SO GOOD.
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I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post on this cake so I wish I had more pictures, but I think you can get the idea with the few pictures I did take. I made this pretty pink cake for a sweet little 2-year old named Paige. I don’t think Paige had any opinions on what she wanted for her birthday cake, but her 4-year old brother, Morgan, had one request. He asked me very politely if I could make the cake chocolate and to quote his aunt, “he doesn’t think it’s cake unless it’s chocolate.” You’ve got to love a 4-year old who already has some life philosophies.
Lucky for Morgan, I have a tried and true chocolate cake recipe. It’s That Chocolate Cake that I first made for Andrew’s 28th birthday a couple years back. For Paige’s cake, I swapped out the chocolate frosting for a whipped vanilla buttercream that I tinted a few shades of pink.
Normally I just smear frosting onto cakes any which way, but I took the extra step to crumb coat the cake before frosting it with pink buttercream. Crumb coating ensures that your final layer of frosting doesn’t have any pesky cake crumbs in it and gives you a nice smooth base to work with.
For the ombre effect, I tinted my whipped vanilla buttercream three shades of pink and watched this video for guidance. I also made a cute little cake topper with a couple of bamboo skewers, baker’s twine, pink paper, and a hot glue gun. The cake was a hit at the party! I think Paige approved of its pinkness and Morgan was happy to see chocolate on the inside.
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You should know from my post on Jackie’s challah bread that my love for challah runs deep. I’ve made a couple of loaves this year already and then the other day I did something kind of crazy and kind of genius. I turned my lovely challah dough into a batch of sweet and sticky cinnamon rolls. Totally crazy/genius, right? I can’t take credit for the idea, as I got it from someone else, but I’m happy to report that they taste as amazing as they sound.
To make the cinnamon rolls, I made my challah dough as usual, but instead of braiding the dough, I rolled it out to a big flat rectangle. Then I sprinkled generous amounts of cinnamon and brown sugar on top. I didn’t measure, but my philosophy here was “more is more.” One thing I thought of while typing this, is that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to smother the dough with softened butter before sprinkling on the cinnamon and brown sugar…not a bad idea at all. I’m going to have to try it with my next batch.
After the dough was sufficiently covered with cinnamon and brown sugar, I rolled up the dough, sliced the dough, and arranged the slices cut-side up in a baking pan. Then, I let the dough rest to proof for a bit before baking.
When I lived in New York, my friends Jackie and Milena hosted a potluck dinner almost every Friday night. It was our time to feast and gossip, and it was my favorite way to start the weekend. Every potluck had a theme (like “breakfast for dinner” or “English tea party”). No matter what the theme though, Jackie’s challah bread was always on the table.
To me, Jackie’s challah is pure comfort. Nothing could melt away the stresses of working and living in New York quite like that bread, and I looked forward to eating it every week. When I moved to Houston, I had to say goodbye to a city that I loved, dear friends, potluck Fridays, and Jackie’s challah.
Luckily, Jackie gave me her recipe. Unfortunately, I have to make it myself now.
I’m convinced that no one can make challah quite like Jackie, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I adapted her recipe slightly so that I could use instant yeast (versus active dry yeast–although I know she uses fresh yeast sometimes too) and I changed it so that the recipe yields one loaf instead of two.
One thing that sets Jackie’s recipe apart from other challah breads is the amount of sugar in the dough. It’s sweeter than most with a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, and honey.
You know you are getting old when you find yourself at a party that revolves around a 4,000-piece world map puzzle. It may sound a little lame, but let me tell you it was a lot of fun. What better way to spend a Wednesday night than with friends, good food, wine, and a giant puzzle?
To help out with the event, I promised the host that I would bring dessert. I had planned on making a triple chocolate cake concoction that I have had marked in one of my cookbooks for years, but when I saw the fresh figs at Whole Foods, I immediately changed my game plan.
With a basket of beautifully ripe figs and Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts book (signed by Martha by the way) at my disposal, this Fresh Fig Tart was born. I made a few minor tweaks to the book’s Strawberry and Fresh Fig Tart to accommodate my lack of strawberries and my slightly smaller tart pan, with great results.
If you had asked me how I liked living in Houston 2 years ago, I would have probably given you a list of reasons why I missed New York. From the culture to the food to my friends, and even the subway (I’m a disaster behind the wheel)—there wasn’t a thing about the city that I didn’t miss. I truly believed that it was the city to live in; and to be honest, I still think it is in many ways. However, I have been embracing Houston more and more as time passes.
Today, if you were to ask me how I like living in Houston, I would tell you about the house we bought, the great neighborhood we live in (even CNN Money thinks so), and our new Southern pace of life. I’d go on about the great cost of living and how the move has allowed us to have the time and money to travel. In the last 2 years, we’ve been to France, Australia, Peru, Japan, Taiwan, Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. And that doesn’t even cover the countless trips we have taken within the US (including our West Texas road trip, mentioned here). This is something that living in New York could not have afforded us.
So when we spent this past Labor Day weekend back in New York City (I’m getting to the Mango Frozen Yogurt part, I promise), I was singing a new tune and telling people how great Houston is. The trip did however reinforce my belief that Houston, while great, is still missing some things. And when I say “some things,” I mean a good ice cream place.
Cheap candy has long been a weakness of mine. Generally speaking, I’m pretty good about not eating processed foods, but packaged candy is one of those foods that I can’t seem to shake. It tempts me at checkout aisles, calls to me at movie theaters, and I can rarely resist it. Peanut butter egg season in particular is something that I look forward to every year.
Most years, I buy a few packages of those yellow wrapped eggs at the grocery store and Andrew and I demolish them well before Easter. This year, in an effort to be good, I didn’t buy a single package. I thought maybe I could go the year without them—that is until I saw a photo of these homemade peanut butter eggs by the Minimalist Baker on Pinterest.
Once the idea was planted, I had to try making my beloved peanut butter eggs at home. I took a less healthful approach than the Minimalist Baker, who uses dates to sweeten the eggs instead of cane sugar, simply because I didn’t have any dates on hand. I made a few tweaks to another recipe I found online and while they are not guilt-free (everything in moderation, right?), they are far superior in quality than the store-bought version.
The peanut butter centers are made with natural/organic peanut butter, butter, and sugars, and the chocolate coating consists of quality milk chocolate melted with a bit of virgin coconut oil.
Forming the eggs and dipping them in chocolate is half the fun of making these peanut butter eggs. (Obviously, the other half is eating them). The peanut buttery dough is like a stickier version of Play-Doh and the melted chocolate is so smooth and velvety, you may be tempted to sip up the leftovers.
Once completed, these indulgent little eggs have the perfect balance of sweet and salty just like the original version–except that the homemade ones taste a heck of a lot better!
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Homemade banana bread is one of those things that I can never get enough of. I love making it and almost all the bananas that enter my house get baked into a batch. There are a lot of great banana bread recipes out there, but my current favorite is this recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen, which I like to make with half the amount of bananas.
The original recipe calls for a whole quart of mashed bananas, but I cut it down to 2 cups. My version proves that less can be more. By adding fewer bananas, the resulting banana bread is lighter both in color and texture. The bread is golden and almost cake-like instead of being the dark and dense treat that I normally associate with banana bread.
I usually bake this banana bread in mini-loaf pans (you can get 5 mini-loaves from this recipe), but I wanted to try making parchment paper muffin liners so I made this batch into muffins instead. The DIY liners (instructions are included below) turned out so charming that I don’t think I’ll ever want to use store-bought ones again. The muffins are also perfectly portioned, so if you are anything like me, it will keep you from polishing off a whole batch of banana bread in one sitting.
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