Kosher Brownies vs. Jewish Apple Cake: a Dessert Duel.

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So here’s a little story for you.

Last week, my fiance and I were invited to a Passover Seder. The hosts, knowing that I was a baker, asked us to bring a dessert. I of course jumped at the chance to make something for this special occasion, and I started going through some recipes, thinking of what I could bring. I settled on a Jewish Apple Cake, since not only do I love it, but I hadn’t made it in quite some time! The one thing I love about my recipe is that it always turns out perfect! I was so pumped to present it as our contribution at Seder.

Perfect for Passover.

Perfect for Passover.

It started off excellent. The batter was perfect, the apples were crisp and tasty. It looked great when I put it into the oven. As it was baking, it still looked great, but it seemed to be taking a long time to cook all the way through. I took it out, and had to put it back in the oven, because it wasn’t done yet. Finally, it was done, and it looked a little….flat. This wasn’t the end of the world, since it wasn’t supposed to be super fluffy – the apple cake is very dense. I let it cool in the pan for a bit, and then went to flip it out onto the cooling rack, and nothing. The cake did not come out. It was stuck in the pan, like REALLY stuck. I did what I normally do in this situation – I ran a knife along the sides and center. Bundt pans seem to be the worst at sticking, so I wasn’t too surprised at this. The knife usually does the trick. Not this time. After going around the perimeter multiple times, the cake still would not budge. Finally, after one more time around and practically digging the knife completely underneath the cake, it began to come loose. And then, boom! Half of the cake fell out. And then a bunch of crumbs. And then the other half (in pieces, I might add). And just like that, my perfect for Passover Apple Cake was ruined.

The good news – I had made the cake a day early, so I had time to try again. I really didn’t feel like making a whole new apple cake, though. So what should I do? I suddenly remembered seeing this box of cake mix in the kosher section at the grocery store, so I snagged it.

a quick mix fix.

a quick mix fix.

Now I knew this cake mix would not equate to the glory that is my scratch Apple Cake, but it looked good, and I was getting short on time. The next morning, I opened the box, ready to create an easy second cake for the dinner that evening.

Yes, it was easy.

Yes, it was tasty

Yes, it was way too small.

Not much bigger than an apple.

Not much bigger than an apple.

There was no way I could show up with this tiny cake! It would barely feed just me and my fiance! Now I was starting to panic. I had started becoming comfortable with the resignation that I would ¬†have to actually purchase an already made dessert, when I had one last idea. Brownies. I don’t know where it came from, but there it was. I googled “Easy Kosher Brownies” and sure enough, found what I was looking for. And to top it off, I just so happened to already have all of the ingredients. I headed back into the kitchen for the third time, and hoped that three times really was the charm.

once, twice, three times the brownie.

once, twice, three times the brownie.

It was. The brownies cooked perfectly, were big enough, and when I cut them and removed them from the pan, they retained their shape perfectly.

redemption.

redemption.

I had been redeemed. My faith in my baking had once again been restored. As an added unexpected bonus, a few people wound up telling me these were the best brownies they ever had. So I guess it was meant to be in the end.

brownies for the win.

brownies for the win.

The brownies were the clear winner here, and I can honestly say that I’m glad the Apple Cake fell apart. Sometimes things fall apart for a reason. We just have to be patient and remember to never give up, because Good Things Come to Those Who Bake. ūüôā

My iPhone Died; I Lived.

Last week, my coveted iPhone 5C fell out of my purse, complete in its trendy little phone pouch. It apparently landed near the front door of my car in the parking lot of my gym, and remained there for some time, in the rain, until a good Samaritan spotted said abandoned trendy pouch, and brought it to the front desk inside the gym. I didn’t realize it was even missing until my workout was over an hour later, and it was nowhere to be found. I searched my purse, my locker, my car, around my car, my gym bag, but to no avail. I began tossing things frantically around inside the car, and then thought I’d check the front desk, just in case. Sure enough, it was there, still in the pouch! Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers!

this photo is only a representation and not my actual phone.

this photo is only a representation and not my actual phone.

But alas, upon further investigation, the pouch was utterly soaked, and the phone….well it was non-functional. The screen sort of lit up, but nothing was happening. I walked back to my car, busted phone and soaked pouch in hand, completely dejected. The second the car door closed behind me, I began uncontrollably sobbing. So much so, that I could barely breathe and I could barely see, and I’m not sure how I made it home. I walked in the door, hysterical by this point, and my fiance quickly snatched the phone and threw it into a bag of rice. He then informed me that I’d be without my phone for – at the very least – the next 48 hours.

48 HOURS!!! WITH NO PHONE! The world had officially ended. The rest of the night was ruined and I just sat there sulking, thinking about how stupid I was to let the phone fall out of my purse, and how much it was going to cost me to buy a new one. Not to mention I would not be able to communicate with the outside world or do anything until I had a phone again. Life, as I knew it, had ceased. I’d never be happy until I had the phone back.

Oh how very wrong I was.

The next day, I woke up, and thought, hmmm..maybe I can find a replacement phone on ebay. I also realized that I could sell my old phone and make up some of the costs for a new one. So I listed it right then. As the day went on, and I was phoneless, I started slowly realizing that I didn’t need the phone as much as I thought I did. Losing the phone was NOT the end of the world – in fact, it was just the beginning.

I wasn’t constantly looking for updates. Instead, I was talking to people to find out what was going on with them. I noticed things in the house that I could work on, instead of having my head down staring at a little screen. I stopped feeling stressed about social media – who “likes” me and who doesn’t. WHO CARES??! I actually wound up putting off doing anything about the phone for a whole week because, frankly, I was enjoying the freedom of not living under it’s iron (or plastic) thumb.

I did however realize that I needed some sort of device where I could be reached by my family and my job at the very least, so a week to the day later, I took the still-broken-but-making-some-noises iPhone to a repair shop called Steve’s iPhone Repair, and had it fixed in under 30 minutes and for only about $100. If you live anywhere close to South Jersey and have a busted iPhone, you should definitely pay him a visit.

44 texts and 4 phone calls. That’s what I missed. But no one was upset, my life wasn’t over, the internet didn’t stop without me, and my life certainly didn’t stop without it. My work and my family had alternate ways to reach me if it was an emergency, and everything else, well, it really could wait. I didn’t get lost driving around without WAZE, I just planned ahead. I didn’t need the camera to take pictures – I used my real camera which takes better pictures anyway.

the "real" camera actually works better. who'd 'a thunk?!

the “real” camera actually works better. who’d ‘a thunk?!

The week without a phone reminded me of all the possibilities, beauty, and fulfillment that is out there all around us every single day, if we just…look up. I promised myself that once the phone was fixed, I would not become a slave to it’s tiny screen, offering instant gratification and momentary pick-me-ups ever again. The good stuff is out here, not in there.

My phone may have died, but I am more alive then I’ve been in quite some time. And I’m so grateful for that.

 

Cake Sandwich (With Almond Pound Cake and Maple Buttercream).

So I made this cake for my dad for Father’s Day. It was an almond pound cake. I wrote the recipe, and the batter was very good. But I made a mistake when I baked it – I used a loaf pan, and I should have baked it at a lower temp for a longer time. Instead, it started burning around the edges before the insides were even completely cooked. So, after seeing the finished product, I decided it didn’t pass my leaving-the-house test.

not up to snuff.

not quite up to snuff.

I was pretty bummed, because I knew it was a great tasting cake on the inside, and I really didn’t want to throw the whole thing away. So I wrapped it in foil, and stowed it away for the night. The next morning, I awoke with a brilliant idea. The cake is a loaf-shape. What do you do with a loaf? Why, you slice it and make sandwiches, of course! So, I would cut off the burned ends, and make cake sandwiches filled with icing! I quick whipped up a batch of maple buttercream.

sandwich filling.

sandwich filling.

I cut the burned ends off of the loaf, and began slicing the rest into bread-like slices.

the best thing since sliced bread.

the best thing since sliced bread.

I took two slices and spread an ample amount of the maple buttercream on one slice.

not your mama's sandwich.

not your mama’s sandwich.

I then assembled the slices into a complete cake and icing sandwich.

dessert for lunch.

dessert for lunch.

At this point, I realized, this sandwich might be too much for one person to eat in one sitting. So in keeping with the Small Indulgences philosophy, I sliced it in half, into two much more petite, but equally delicious mini-sandwiches.

a small indulgence at it's best.

a small indulgence at it’s best.

At this point, I ate one, you know, just to make sure it was ok…

love at first bite.

love at first bite.

This time, it definitely passed all of my leaving-the-house tests. And it made so many sandwiches, that I decided to wrap them up, and share them!!

sharing is caring.

sharing is caring.

And that’s how you turn what seemed like a bad cake into an awesome dessert to enjoy and share. It’s all about how you look at it. ūüôā

Baking Crossroads.

I am at a point where I can’t decide what to bake. I have four things in mind, and each sound fantastic in their own way. Each are also very different – some more sweet, some more savory; some more dense, some more fluffy; some look pretty, some honestly, kinda don’t. Three of them I’ve made before; one I have not. One was a request, the others are just because. So…what should I do?? Maybe you can help.

Here are my four options:

#1: Irish Soda Bread.

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This is one I’ve made before¬†(actually twice before). It’s rather light, not overly sweet, kinda crumbly, and full of raisins. It’s also timely, with the pending arrival of St. Patrick’s Day. Did I mention how tasty it is?

#2: Beer Bread.

bread of beer.

bread of beer.

This one I’ve also made before, but apparently have never written about it. I was sure I had posted it when I made it last, although that was about 3 years ago, when I was just starting the blog, so I suppose it was overlooked. So that’s actually giving it an edge here. Also, my boyfriend is obsessed with fancy beer, so I have plenty of fun options to get creative with this time around!

#3: French Macarons.

the mac daddy.

the mac daddy.

I have definitely made these before AND posted about them. I also ate a bunch of them while on my Paris Patisserie Tour, back in the summer of 2012. I haven’t made them since then, and I’ve never made them in colors – only vanilla and chocolate in their natural state. I think because in Paris, they tasted so completely heavenly and looked so beautiful, I’ve been intimidated to make them ever since. I mean, come on – look at these:

the real thing.

the real thing.

Can I do that?? I’m not sure. But maybe it’s time to find out. PS – this one was the request. I do love baking something I know someone really wants…

#4: King Cake.

I have never made this, so i have no photo to provide. I have eaten it, and I have loved every bite. I have researched recipes, but they all seem pretty different, so I’m a little lost at where to start. The one that I’ve eaten and savored sort of reminded me of a cheese danish. But some recipes don’t even have any cheese products in them – so what am I to do?? I did come across one recipe that sounded like it would yield a very close result to the cake I call King. And I love a good experiment. So there’s that.

So, there you have it. ¬†Four very deliciously different paths to head down, all leading to very equally appealing results. What’s a baker girl to do?? Help!

Celebrate with Eggless Coffee Cake.

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So, around my office, I’m kinda known as the dessert queen – and I’m ok with that. I’m always testing out new creations on my very-willing-to-be-taste-testing coworkers, and they always give me honest feedback, so it’s a win-win. I’m also always making the goodies when someone’s birthday rolls around. Well last week, someone in my office conveniently “forgot” to tell anyone that it was his birthday, until we found out accidentally later that afternoon (when the HR rep delivered his birthday card in front of all of us – ha ha). But no one gets off that easy. I decided that I would whip up a quick better-late-than-never birthday cake that night, and surprise him the next morning.

I flipped through my recipe binder, and decided a small coffee cake would be perfect. I had all the ingredients (so I thought) and I even had some leftover cinnamon chips that would be an excellent addition to the batter. I started going to work. Three ingredients in and I suddenly realized – I was all out of eggs. Yikes. I really didn’t feel like running out and getting them – I already started the whole cake making process!

running on empty.

running on empty.

But then, I had an idea. I’ve made vegan cakes in the past, and they sometimes use white vinegar in place of eggs. I did have white vinegar, so I figured, what the heck, I’ll give it a tray. I guesstimated that two tablespoons of vinegar per egg would be sufficient. I definitely didn’t want to go too heavy on the vinegar and wind up with an overpoweringly gross vinegar cake.

vinegar

my hero.

Well, once again, those two years of pastry school paid off – the cake was delicious – I dare say even better with the vinegar!

eggless and proud of it.

eggless and proud of it.

I guess it’s true what they say – never settle for the same old cake. ¬†(Ok so no one really ever said that. But it does seem to be true.)¬†Change really can be a good thing, my friends. Even good ol’ eggs can be replaced by something better, if you look around a bit. ūüôā

Up close and personal.

When I started the blog back in 2010, I started to remember not only how much I loved writing, but also how much I loved photography. As the blog progressed, I also noticed that my photography skills were improving, naturally. However, last year, I attended BlogHer Food in Seattle, and realized I had a ways to go as far as photography was concerned. The first thing being if I was going to take this food blogging thing seriously, I should invest in a DSLR camera. So I did a bunch of research, and went with the Nikon D3100, which I adore and would recommend to anyone.

When I got the camera, I didn’t bother to read the manual – I’m just not a “manual” person – I’m a hands-on learner – and I just started snapping photos. The first photo I took was this one, of my cat.¬†Not too shabby for a first try.

my first muse.

my first muse.

As I continued snapping away, I noticed that this camera did produce significantly better photos that my old point-and-shoot, however there was so much more it could do that I had yet to understand. I enrolled in a two-hour seminar at a local photography studio, which was helpful and rather enjoyable, however it was not enough time to really learn what this baby was capable of. So, I decided to sign up for real photography class.

It’s only one class in, and I already know it was the best decision I could have made. Our first assignment was an extreme close-up. I decided, again, to use my cat as my model. I took this shot the other day.

you shall not pass.

you shall not pass.

So, the point I’m trying to make here is that a great camera does make a difference, but a little education really goes a long way. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and certainly not by someone who was just pushing buttons with no real clue what they were doing. ūüôā

 

Viva La Twinkie.

When I heard about the end of Hostess, I nearly suffered a mini-breakdown (or should I say, “cakedown”). No more Twinkies? No more Ho-Ho’s? And if that wasn’t bad enough, NO MORE SNO¬†BALLS??? I am utterly beside myself. The Sno¬†Ball is and has always been my all-time favorite snack cake. It’s got chocolate. It’s got marshmallow. It’s got coconut. And best of all, it’s¬†pink. If I were a snack cake, I would be a Sno Ball.

sno no more.

In the midst of wallowing in my soon-to-be-sno¬†ball-free existence, I had an idea – I should round up¬†some other snack cake lovers and buy¬†Hostess! I ran this by a few folks, and it was met with the same response every time – a raised eyebrow and a “look how funny you are” type comment. Ok, so that was not realistic. Then someone said, “why don’t you just make your own versions?”

Well, I’ll be. Now THIS was something I could do! This, in fact, may be what I was born to do. I didn’t go to pastry school to be a cake decorator (although I do dabble in it). I went to school to master the chemistry of baking. Recreating Hostess products at home, from fresh ingredients, making them possibly even slightly better for you is like my dream job. So, I decided to get started right away. I ran¬†out that very day and purchased every hostess cake¬†I could find. Sadly, there were no Sno Balls to be had.

farewell, old friends.

Let the fun begin. What better way to dive right in then go straight for the big guns – The Twinkie.

I¬†don’t have a Twinkie pan, but I had something close – a small loaf pan. I decided to begin my experiment by using my standard vanilla cake recipe for my first attempt. Although they turned out a little squarer than the Twinkie we all know and love, so far, they were looking pretty good.

it’s hip to be square.

I let them cool, then turned them out onto the rack. They remained intact and unburned.

cool it down.

While they cooled on the rack, I made the cream filling. I started with a recipe I found online that claimed to be authentic Twinkie filling, but I made some tweaks to make it a little creamier, including swapping the milk with half and half.

how ’bout that awesome retro hand mixer I scored from my aunt.

I then filled them, with three holes in the bottom, just like a real Twinkie.

fill ‘er up.

After they were all filled, I had to try one, for research purposes, of course.

even better than the real thing.

So there you have it. And this is just the beginning, folks. There are binders full of Hostess Cakes I need to recreate. I’ve found my reason for living.

Star-Glazing.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was working on star-shaped cake pops, and my first attempt had not gone quite as planned. There was some breakage and a little star and stick detachment. However, I didn’t give up. After a period of rest and regrouping, I returned to the kitchen with a new plan of attack. I made a handful more “cake stars” using a star shaped cookie cutter. I let them chill in the fridge for a bit. I melted the chocolate (a different kind this time). I dipped the sticks, and inserted them into the stars. I put the stars-on-sticks back in the fridge to chill a little longer. I re-warmed the chocolate. I removed the star-pops from the fridge and dipped each one in. They remained intact and on their respective sticks. The experiment is complete and the results are favorable. Star-shaped cake pops are now a reality. It only took courage, proper planning, patience, and an indomitable spirit.¬†I suppose this¬†is what it takes to be a star. ūüôā

and we all shine on.

A Loathful Loaf.

So last week while I was in England visiting my brother, we had this discussion in the middle of the night about chocolate bread and how we want to make and eat it. So I did a google search, and because we were in the UK, the first few results were UK recipes. This tickled my baking fancy, so I saved one of the recipes, and decided to try my hand at it when I got home. And yesterday, that’s exactly what I did.

I did not succeed. It looked decent – and the dough tasted pretty good (I always taste my dough, just to be safe). But the finished product just did not pass muster.

looks can be deceiving.

Now, I don’t think it was entirely the recipe’s fault. I believe there were three factors at play here, leading up to the perfect storm of bread failure:

1. The recipe did not clearly specify the type of chocolate. I used unsweetened dark baking chocolate. Bad choice. It overpowered the entire loaf and gave it a distinctly bitter taste.

2. I used dry yeast instead of fresh yeast. Now, in itself, this is fine, however, I definitely used too much – you could actually taste the yeast (once you got past the bitter chocolate).

3. British food is different from American food. Not bad different РI thoroughly enjoyed all the meals I had in the UK, and I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed the bread as well, different as it were, had it not been for the first two factors.

Because I just could not believe that this loaf was as bad as it seemed, I lugged it in to work and forced my friend to sample it. First, as is. Then heated up. Then with butter. Then I tried to make random folks nearby eat it. But alas, it could not be saved. This bread was toast.

The good  news is, like I mentioned, I know what the issues are, and I fully intend to jump back into the kitchen, make some recipe modifications, and try, try again. There will be chocolate bread, I decree, and it will be fantastic.

I Had a Vision of Cake…

After I got back from my trip to Seattle, I took the next day off to organize, recupe, and regroup. I had a list of things I wanted to get done throughout the day, and one of them, as usual, was baking. I had intended to make a vanilla cake and freeze it, however the best vanilla cake ever recipe calls for about 7 eggs and I only had 3, and having just gotten home, I did not feel like going back out. So instead, I sat on the couch, leaned back, and closed my eyes. And then, I had a vision.

chocolate fantasy.

It was the perfect chocolate cake. I knew at that moment, I had to get up and get to work. This cake had to become a reality! So I dug up my favorite chocolate cake recipe. But upon further analysis, I realized this recipe did not quite match the “vision.” So, I made a few minor tweaks, and one major tweak, and there it was:

The Perfect Chocolate Cake.

if this cake were a president, it would be Baberham Lincoln.

Like I mentioned before,¬†I based the recipe on this one, however the “major tweak” was the swapping out of the liquid with what from this day forth will be known as my “secret ingredient.” Only one other person knows the identity of this magical potion, and that would be my mom. I had to tell someone, you know, just in case.

Now, I’m off to the kitchen to try the vanilla cake recipe using the secret ingredient as well. Let’s just call it “love potion,” as it definitely made a cake I fell in love with. ‚ô•