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Pink Ombre Cake

March 19, 2015

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.

crumb-coat-cake

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.

pink-ombre-cake-frosting

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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Chinese Almond Cookies

February 21, 2015

The last time my mom came to visit she gave me two 8-ounce bottles of almond extract, three large tins of tea, and two bottles of my favorite chili sauce (which is not Sriracha, by the way). Her annual visits from Cleveland always involve food gifts, which I happily look forward to. She once even hauled a Costco-sized bag of pine nuts to me, just because she knew I liked to make pesto. She is so generous and thoughtful in that way.

While I know that I will go through her gifts of tea and chili sauce quickly, I’m pretty sure that I now have a lifetime supply of almond extract. She loves baking with almond extract and knows that I do too, so in her mind she was probably thinking, “Why not stock Connie up?”

sifting-almond-extract

I admittedly haven’t even opened her bottles of extract yet because I’m still finishing up a bottle of my own, but I know I will get to them eventually. This recipe for Chinese almond cookies alone takes 1 tablespoon of almond extract, which (not surprisingly) is my mother’s recipe. I’m pretty sure she quadrupled whatever the original amount was because she is the type of person who would want an “almond cookie” to taste like almonds and not just hint of them. I would know because I’m that type of person too.

almonds-egg-wash

Between the almond extract, almond meal, and almond slices in this recipe, there is plenty of flavor in these cookies. They are also delicate in texture and not too sweet. My mom is the queen of “not too sweet” and this is just another one of her recipes that goes to show that you don’t need a ton of sugar to make something delicious. You just need a ton of almond extract.

chinese-almond-cookies_2
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Challah Cinnamon Rolls

February 3, 2015

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.

sprinkling-challah-cinnamon-rolls

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.

rolling-challah-cinnamon-rolls

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.

challah-cinnamon-rolls-before-proof
challah-cinnamon-rolls-baked
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Almond Coconut Heart Cookies

February 13, 2014

I am loving these sweet little heart cookies. They are light, not too sweet, and have the perfect flavor combination of almond and coconut (a combo that I have also used here and here). The dough is made with almond flour, oat flour, and shredded unsweetened coconut, giving them a delicate texture while also making them gluten-free.

making-almond-coconut-heart-cookies
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Jackie’s Challah Bread

October 2, 2013

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.

challah-bread-ingredients

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.

challah-dough-kneaded
challah-bread-rise

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.

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Fresh Fig Tart

September 18, 2013

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.

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fig-tart-assembling

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.
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Mango Frozen Yogurt

September 5, 2013

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.

mango
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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.

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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.

dipping-peanut-butter-eggs

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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Banana Bread Muffins

March 12, 2013

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.

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.

banana-bread-muffins
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Brownie Pie

February 14, 2013

I can’t believe that my last blog post was back in November. How time flies! I had big plans to bake and share a whole host of Christmas recipes in December and healthy recipes in January, but none of that happened.

Shortly after my last post in November, Andrew and I bought our first house—an old 1920s bungalow so cute and charming that it was truly love at first sight. Between the move, visiting family over Christmas, working on the house, and a couple of weekend getaways, my time in the kitchen has been limited. It also hasn’t helped that my usual obsession with making food has been overtaken by my instinct to nest.

new-house

Thanks to a lot of good old-fashioned elbow grease and what is hopefully an artful eye, the place is coming together quite nicely. Even with tools and paint cans scattered about, belongings without a place yet, and tentative plans for bathroom and kitchen renovations, the house feels like a home now and my little family feels settled.

With things calming down, I’m finally getting back into the kitchen and back into a baking routine. To Andrew’s delight, so far all I’ve wanted to bake are cookies and brownies.

making-brownie-pie

This brownie pie is basically a batch of classic brownies baked in a pie plate. The recipe is simple, but it may take a second batch to nail down the baking time in your oven. Under-bake the brownies and you’ll get an amazing fudgy mess. Over-bake the brownies and they will remind you more of chocolate cake. Somewhere in the middle are the perfect brownies and a chocolate lover’s dream come true.

eating-brownie-pie
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