Cherry Brown Butter Squares

The brown butter for these bars smells so good, you might be tempted to stick your finger in the (cooled) saucepan and start slurping it down. The same reflex goes for the batter, after you’ve whisked the butter into the bowl and stirred in all the browned bits of flavor.  But wait, it gets better. Dark, juicy cherries sit smack in the middle of a vanilla-scented crust and filling. Sound tempting yet?


I’d been waiting for an opportunity to make these when a bag of cherries magically arrived in my CSA box this week. And I’m not sure I can even eloquently explain how magical they are. They’re also perfect for any bbq’s, beach days nights at the Hollywood Bowl (where I’ll be taking them next week), or any event that requires food to be transported. They’re super cute, stack well, and will be gushed over by all who try them. I promise you that.


Cherry Brown Butter Squares

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, via Bon Appetit

Makes 16 2-inch square bars

It might seem like you won’t have enough crust, but just work it gently with your fingers and it will spread to cover the entire pan. Since I don’t own a cherry pitter, my pairing knife and I got to know each other a little better this weekend. A pitter would be useful, but is certainly not mandatory for stellar results.


7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1 pound sweet cherries, which will yield 12 ounces of pitted cherries, which yielded some leftovers, perfect for snacking (alternately, you can use 12 ounces of the berry of your choice)


Make crust: Preheat over to 375°F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. (I used foil.)

Using rubber spatula or fork, mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. Transfer dough to your prepared pan, and use your fingertips to press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, about 18 minutes (it will puff slightly while baking). Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. Maintain oven temperature.

Make the filling: Cook butter in heavy small saucepan (a lighter-colored one will make it easier to see the color changing, which happens quickly) over medium heat until deep nutty brown (do not burn), stirring often and watching carefully, about six minutes. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup to cool slightly.

Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.

Arrange pitted cherries, or the berries of your choice, in bottom of cooled crust. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake bars until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool bars completely in pan on rack.

Use the parchment paper overhang to carefully remove cooled bars from pan and place them on a cutting board and cut them into squares with a very sharp knife.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

I don’t remember when it was that I first fell in love with butter pecan ice cream, but I know it was my grandmother’s favorite flavor, so maybe some flavors just choose you.


The first time I tried a recipe, though, I followed the directions precisely and used salted butter. Oops. That was at least two years ago, a mistake I finally remedied this month and am so glad I did. Brown butter, as you well know, usually doesn’t let you down in the flavor department, and while it might seem like the ice cream will come out rich and heavy, it’s lighter than you might think. Although, I will warn you, a small scoop goes a long way.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Recipe courtesy Simply Recipes

6 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans


1. In a medium sized heat-safe bowl (metal, ceramic, or glass), whisk together the egg yolks until well blended. Set aside.

2. Pour the cream into a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and set a medium-mesh sieve on top. Set aside.

3. In a medium thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter cook it, stirring constantly, until it just begins to brown. Add the brown sugar and salt. Stir until the sugar completely melts.

4. Slowly add the milk, stirring to incorporate. It will foam up initially, so make sure you are using a pan with high enough sides. Heat until all of the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not let boil or the mixture may curdle.

5. Whisk in hand, slowly pour half of the milk and sugar mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly to incorporate. Then add the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk sugar mixture.

6. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden or heatproof rubber spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula, about 5-7 minutes.

7. Pour the custard through the sieve and stir it into the cream. Add vanilla and stir until cool over the ice bath. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.

8. While the mixture is chilling, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lay out the pecans on a roasting pan in a single layer. Bake for 6 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool. Once cool, roughly chop the pecans and set aside. Note, if you want an extra punch to this ice cream, brush the pecans with melted butter and sprinkle with salt before roasting.

9. Once the ice cream mixture is thoroughly chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10. Once the ice cream has been formed in the ice cream maker, it will be fairly soft. Fold in the chopped pecans. Put in an airtight plastic container and place in the freezer for at least an hour, preferably several hours. If it has been frozen for more than a day, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften it before serving.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

Peach and Blackberry Galette

I made this dessert with little advance planning. Translation: I was wandering the produce aisle dreaming of something sweet. Remembering I already had a bag of peaches in the freezer, I opted the frozen route, but fresh fruit would be perfect, too.  This made a large tart—enough for three nights worth of desserts for myself and my husband. For garnish, I didn’t have time to make vanilla ice cream, but crumbled amaretti cookies did the trick (like in this Nectarine and Blueberry Crisp).


Peach and Blackberry Galette

2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

2 to 3 cups blackberries (thawed if frozen)
2 cups sliced peaches (thawed if frozen)
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur


Pulse flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Gradually add butter and pulse until coarse meal forms. Add 4 tablespoons ice water, 1 tablespoonful at a time, stirring until dough forms moist clumps, and adding more water by teaspoonfuls as needed if dough is too dry. Turn out onto a cutting board and form dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before rolling out.

In a medium bowl, add fruit, cornstarch and amaretto liqueur and gently toss together.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out dough into a 10-12 inch round. Spoon fruit mixture into dough, leaving a 1 ½ inch border. Crimp up sides. Slide the galette onto a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. If desired, brush dough with melted butter or an egg wash.

Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Bake until crust is golden and filling is set and begins to brown, about 25 minutes longer. Run spatula under galettes to loosen. Let rest 5 minutes. do ahead Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Serve galette hot or at room temperature.

Frozen Yogurt alla Pinkberry

There’s a magical place called Pinkberry. Have you heard of it? Until moving to LA, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Even the first time I tried it, I wasn’t convinced. It tasted like the yogurt-granola-raspberry parfaits I sometimes make at home, so I didn’t see the value in shelling out $4 for it. But two or three days later the cravings hit. I began to dream about that tart, semi-frozen yogurt flavor and couldn’t believe I fell for it. I knew it must be possible to recreate it at home, (and I finally started eating Greek yogurt again and realized that the flavor was so much like…Pinkberry) so I set out to find a recipe that would live up to the expectation. Enter David Lebowitz and the recipe from his book, The Perfect Scoop.


It’s a measly three ingredients, and you might have all of them sitting in your kitchen right now. I like to top mine with white chocolate shavings and raspberries, but you can use whatever you like. And since summer is inching closer and closer, this is a great recipe to keep in the forefront of your mind for all the times you just want to sit around and eat something cold.


Frozen Yogurt
Recipe via 101 Cookbooks, via David Lebowitz

I made it once with vanilla and once without. Neither will disappoint, but for Pinkberry purists, go sans vanilla for a tarter flavor.

3 cups (720g) strained yogurt (see below) or Greek-style yogurt
½  cup (150g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla (if using). Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate 1 hour.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, about 25 minutes.

*To make 1 cup (240g) of strained yogurt, line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth. then scrape 16 ounces or 2 cups (480g) of plain whole-milk yogurt into the cheesecloth. Gather the ends and fold them over the yogurt, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours. So, for the above recipe start with and strain 6 cups of yogurt.

Peaches with Amaretti


Let me introduce you to my new favorite dessert. Whenever I have a dinner party, this will likely be my top pick to close the meal. Ok, maybe not every single meal, but it’s really so good, and has far too many dinner-party-perfection qualities not to at least consider it.


Let’s discuss. First, it’s a complete make ahead dish. You can grill the peaches, sprinkle them with sugar and let them rest in a baking dish all afternoon. And they only need to bake for 10 minutes – the perfect amount of time to rest after the main course. Second, the flavors are lovely, and slightly unexpected.  Amaretto is one of those “wow” flavors, in my opinion, because we’ve all heard of almonds, but the liqueur is something that isn’t usually stocked in every liquor cabinet.


Next, texture. The mascarpone is creamy, peaches are soft, and cookies crunchy. One little bite has everything. And finally, this little dessert has great stage presence. They look special on the plate, and will end your next meal on a perfect note.Peaches with Amaretti

Peaches with Amaretti

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

8 ripe peaches, cut in 1/2 and pitted (or one peach per person if small)
1/4 cup good almond liqueur (recommended: Amaretto Di Savonna)
Granulated sugar
8 amaretti cookies, crumbled
Mascarpone or vanilla ice cream to serve, optional


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat a grill pan over medium heat and brush with olive oil to make sure the peaches don't stick. Place the peaches, cut side down, on the grill and cook for a few minutes, until they're slightly charred.

Place the peaches in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle each half with a little sugar. Drizzle a dash of amaretto liqeuer over each peach. (If preparing these in advance, this is the time to just let them sit on the counter until you’re ready to bake.)

Bake the peaches for about 10 minutes, until they're very tender. Serve hot, at room temperature, with with crumbled amaretti cookies on top or with the cookies on the side. I like to serve them with a dollop of mascarpone or vanilla ice cream.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

Blood oranges are at the farmer’s market nowadays, and I always walk by the sample table, pick up a blood orange chunk with a toothpick, then walk away with a smile on my face. They just taste so…good. Plus their deep red, almost purple color is just beautiful.



Today, I bought a few and pulled out a recipe I had been saving. The first night we ate these as dessert, but I wrapped up individual slices for grab-and-go breakfasts the rest of the week.


Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
Recipe by Melissa Clark, New York Times

Butter for greasing pan
3 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
Buttermilk or plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Honey-blood orange compote, for serving, optional (see note)
Whipped cream, for serving, optional.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Grate zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until orange zest is evenly distributed in sugar.

2. Supreme an orange: Cut off bottom and top so fruit is exposed and orange can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away peel and pith, following curve of fruit with your knife. Cut orange segments out of their connective membranes and let them fall into a bowl. Repeat with another orange. Break up segments with your fingers to about 1/4-inch pieces.

3. Halve remaining orange and squeeze juice into a measuring cup. You will have about 1/4 cup or so. Add buttermilk or yogurt to juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in eggs.

4. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently whisk dry ingredients into wet ones. Switch to a spatula and fold in oil a little at a time. Fold in pieces of orange segments. Scrape batter into pan and smooth top.

5. Bake cake for about 55 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up. Serve with whipped cream and honey-blood orange compote, if desired.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Note: To make a honey-blood orange compote, supreme 3 more blood oranges according to directions in Step 2. Drizzle in 1 to 2 teaspoons honey. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir gently.

Anniversary Cake Part 3: The Big Reveal + Recipes

Oh, have you been looking for the recipes I promised back in Part 1? Well, here they are! This cake, for a surprise party with fifteen guests, was absolutely delicious and a complete thrill to pull off. I actually surprised myself so much I considered becoming a professional baker during a two-minute moment of weakness when all the guests were fawning over how professional it looked. But now that all the gushing is out of the way, it’s back to reality. Leaving my job to open a cute little bakery certainly won't be happening, but there will always be room among all of life's responsibilities to create special treats for birthdays, anniversaries, or just because.
The main difference I noticed with this cake versus the test cake was that most of the lemon curd had soaked into the layers by the time we cut it. This didn't impact the flavor, you just couldn't see it, so it looked like raspberries completely dominated the filling. (Something I noticed, but no one else cared about.) Fondant also takes a little finesse to cut through. The first slice (above), was a bit mangled when it hit the plate, but again, a minor detail. Tip: Dip your knife into hot water before each slice to ensure a more even cut.

So, here are the recipes:

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Curd and Fresh Raspberries, Iced with Swiss Buttercream

{printable recipe}



Recipe via Smitten Kitchen, via Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes
Makes one three-layer 9-inch round cake

*I made a three-layer 8-inch cake

3 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Recipe via Smitten Kitchen

For a 9-inch cake (plus filling, or some to spare)
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
26 tablespoons butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons or 1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons, if you buy butter in the large Costco quantities)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Curd

From: Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes

3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ cup + 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature


1 to 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and drained




1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
2. Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix on low speed briefly to blend; then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk until well blended. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding it in completely after each addition. There will be 9 cups of batter; our 3 cups batter into each pan.
4. Bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Note: In my oven, the cakes took 30-33 minutes, so be sure to check them)
5. Turn the layers out onto wire racks by placing a rack on top of a pan, inverting it, and lifting off the pan. Peel off the paper liners and let cool completely. When the layers have cooled, place a cardboard cake board on top of a layer, invert again, and lift off the rack. To make the layers easier to handle, wrap them on their boards completely in plastic, so they don’t dry out, and refrigerate them.


1. Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.
2. Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. (Here’s a tip: when you transfer to the mixer, make sure you wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl so that no water gets into the egg whites. This can keep them from whipping up properly.)
3.  Add the vanilla.
4.  Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip, whip, whip. (This can take 10-15 minutes.)


Lemon Curd

1. Whisk together whole eggs, yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium bowl.
2. Transfer mixture to a small saucepan. Gently heat the mixture, whisking until it thickens enough to coat a spoon; do not boil.
3. Pour the mixture through a wire mesh strainer into a heatproof dish. Stir in the butter and cover the curd with plastic wrap, pressing it to the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until needed.



Since I made the cake a day ahead, I flash-froze the layers (see notes on Part 2), then brushed on a simple syrup before adding the filling to ensure the cake would still be moist the next day. To assemble, place one cake layer on a cake board or stand. (Don't forget the parchment paper!) For my test cake, I didn’t use a buttercream buffer. In fact, I hadn’t even read about this tip yet. But when it came to the big event, I piped a small layer of buttercream along the edge of the cake layer to keep curd from spilling out of the sides. Pour 1/2 of the lemon curd onto the first layer and gently spread it out. Squeeze extra juice from berries and dot them on the lemon curd. Place second layer on top, gently pressing down, and repeat until the third layer is placed. Next, apply a crumb layer and let the cake chill for another 30 minutes in the fridge.  Finally, frost, decorate, and enjoy!

Anniversary Cake Part 2: Frosting, Freezers and Fondant


Now that you know the story, here is a collection of tips I learned from attempting this project, as well as a big THANK YOU to all the resources I used to pull this off.

Use the freezer. Most blogs and cake sites I read recommended freezing the layers (for up to a week, wrapped in plastic), but a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour. The latter is the “flash freezing” technique, which I found to be the best trick for making frosting a breeze.  Allow your cakes to cool, then place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and slide it in the freezer. When you pull them out to begin frosting, you’ll notice a big difference.

Swiss Buttercream. It’s true about the Swiss Buttercream—it will come together (yes, even if it separates). Just turn on your mixer and leave it alone. Leave the kitchen all together and when you return, it will have survived the curdled soup phase and look beautifully creamy. I panicked the first time (and even the second time) when I saw it lumpy in the bowl of my mixer, but magically, it will reach the consistency you need.


The all-important crumb coat. This is a thin coat of frosting that will cover any crumbs and ensure a smooth surface for adding the top layer of frosting. Put your cake back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to let crumb coat chill and harden before spreading on the final layer of frosting. It's truly the key to making your cake look like it came from a professional bakery.


Fondant. Fondant can be made at home, but I wasn’t about to add another thing to my to-do list this late in the game. With no shame, I bought boxes of the stuff at Gloria’s Cake Supply (fondant can also be found online). To roll fondant, first measure the amount you will need. Add the width of the cake plus the height of the two sides (in my case, 8+4+4 = 16. Wilton’s recommends adding another 2 inches, so my total was 18 inches).

Since my counter tops are tiled and not perfectly smooth, I cleared off my kitchen table, dusted it with powdered sugar, and spent the next ten minutes getting an upper body workout. Continue to roll and measure until the fondant is about ¼ inches thick and the width you need. Use your rolling pin to pick it up and gently drape it over the cake. Start by smoothing the top of the cake, then work your way down the sides, gently removing air bubbles as you go.

Ideally, fondant should be placed on a chilled frosting layer (I accidentally bypassed this step, considering later that it might have been useful. Thankfully, nothing was ruined). After the crumb coat, frost your cake, and if you’re planning to use fondant, stick it in the fridge again for 30 minutes before applying the fondant.



A brief plug for You Tube. Watching videos of cake decorating/frosting was especially useful for a first time wedding cake baker. Learn how to swivel your icing spatula or flatten fondant, and you’ll have an edge when you attempt these techniques yourself.

Smitten Kitchen. Deb made a wedding cake last year and her detailed posts gave me confidence to attempt one of my own. The Swiss buttercream and vanilla buttermilk cake recipes are adapted from her site.

Baking Supplies. If you live in a major city, there is likely a restaurant or baking supply store in your area (so Google!). LA folks: Head to Gloria’s Cake & Candy Supply in Culver City for all your baking essentials. For online shopping, Wilton’s, Gloria’s, and Amazon all have a large selection of products.

Here are a few more tools that will make this whole process easier:

Cake boards. Cake boards come in a range of materials from basic cardboard to gold and silver-coated boards that will give your cake a professional look and feel. Boards are generally inexpensive (under $1 for the cardboard variety, and depending on the decorative version you choose, anywhere from $2 to $10).

Cake boxes. Essential if you’re transporting your cake anywhere. If you aren’t making a tiered cake to be assembled on site, you can make the cake, frost and decorate, and slide it (on your trusty cake board) into the cake box.

Icing spatulas. A regular butter knife just won’t cut it for frosting cakes. Again, relatively inexpensive ($8-$30 depending on brand), it’s worthwhile to invest in icing spatulas if cakes or cupcakes will be in your foreseeable future.


Parchment paper. Lining your baking pans with parchment paper (you can cut them out yourself or buy pre-cut liners), will ensure your cake will turn out with ease. Also, an invaluable tip: Before frosting your cake, slide pieces of parchment or wax paper under the cake to protect it from falling icing. When you’re finished, gently pull them out to reveal a clean line between the cake and your board.


Looking for recipes? Find them here.

{Printable Recipe}


Anniversary Cake Part 1: Testing Recipes



For the past two weeks, I’ve secretly been making cake. Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Curd and Fresh Raspberries, Iced with Swiss Buttercream to be exact. My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary today and I, with the help of one of my mom’s best friends, planned a surprise dinner for them at the Mission Inn last Sunday. And now that the party’s over, I can finally share my baking experiences, and everything I learned along the way.


The event took on many manifestations (including a blind wine tasting for 50 of their closest friends where I planned to make all the food) before we settled on an intimate dinner (at a restaurant, who would make the food for us) with just the immediate family. So, with no invitations to mail or appetizer menu’s to brainstorm, I thought of cake. Wedding cake, in particular, is one of my dad’s favorite guilty pleasures. At my own wedding, we made sure he had a special box to take home extra slices. Having never attempted a true wedding-style layer cake (thankfully, this time there were no dowels or tiers involved), I had to do some practicing.



There were a lot of firsts with this cake. First triple layer cake. First batch of Swiss Buttercream. First attempt at frosting a cake with my icing spatulas. I started by reading lots of recipes, watching videos, and generally getting a feel for the skills required to pull this off. Overall, nothing was a complete disaster. The biggest mistake I made was removing the layers  too quickly from their pan after baking. One layer broke in half with steam still rising from the center. The lesson? Let your cakes cool before transferring them anywhere. But with no one to impress just yet, the pressure was off. Plus, after smushing the layers back together, the break was undetectable.


The cake was moist, and its light flavor took the edge off the tart lemon curd and raspberries. I couldn’t have been happier. After my husband and I devoured our slice, I packed the rest up for him to take to work. The cake was finished before 9 am, and his colleagues prepared some thoughtful critiques after explaining it was a practice cake. The most common note was preferring more flavor in the buttercream. Personally, I thought the flavors were spot on, but I upped the vanilla by a ½ teaspoon in the final cake.

Next, tackling fondant…




Dark-Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting

It all started with wedding cake. When my husband and I got married in 2006, we had the most amazing almond cake iced with amaretto buttercream. Long after our big day we still talked about how delicious it was and salivated over the memory eating it. I liked to cook, and was confident I could recreate it for our first anniversary. Then I hit a few snags.

My first problem was finding a worthy recipe. I spent days testing recipes I found on the internet, making notes in hopes to combine the perfect elements of each to create one ideal batter. The icing was my second problem (not making enough to cover the entire cake), and didn't even want to think about the fondant. Third, I was missing a cake stand and icing knife. I had a vision that was impossible to fulfill, and it was during one of my many attempts at this cake that I simply could not take the pressure of having to wash my mixing bowls so they could be reused (no dishwasher), spreading out my ingredients, perfectly measuring flour and folding whipped egg whites into chocolate sauce without deflating them.

I threw up my hands and surveyed the damage. My kitchen was a mess. I’d already done two rounds of dishes and still the sink was full of saucepans dripping with icing, fudge, and cake batter. I was miserable, and convinced that in order to regain my happiness I had to give up baking.

Fast forward to 2008. I have a slightly more modern kitchen (I waved goodbye to the avocado green oven and said hello to a gas range), and have regained an interest in improving my baking skills. Having a friend for dinner is always an excuse for cake so I planned to try Everyday Food’s Dark-Chocolate Cake. I’m thrilled to announce that…drum roll please... IT WASN’T A DISASTER! The cake is dense, the frosting is rich, and one sliver (plus a tall glass of cold milk) is all you need for satisfaction.

Dark-Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting

Recipe courtesy Everyday Food

Dark-Chocolate Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
Dark-Chocolate Ganache


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans; dust with cocoa, tapping out excess. Line bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in chocolate and vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in three parts and buttermilk in two, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

3. Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes (Nicole note: My cakes were done at 35 minutes.) Cool in pans 15 minutes; run a knife around edge of each pan, and invert cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.

4. Set a rimmed baking sheet upside down on a work surface. Place one cake on sheet, and spread top with 1/3 of ganache. Place second cake on top, and spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Using two wide metal spatulas, carefully transfer frosted cake to a serving platter.

Ganache Frosting


2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped


In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a boil. Remove from heat; add 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, and let stand, without stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk just until combined. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until spreadable, about 1 hour.

Sprinkles Cupcakes - Part 2

I recently posted about using Sprinkles mix to make delicious cupcakes in a snap, and this weekend I had the pleasure of being in Los Angeles to experience the sheer bliss that is Sprinkles in Beverly Hills. There was a line out the frosted glass door, but the wait (a mere 10 minutes) was completely worth it.

I should briefly mention that other patrons thought I was from out of state due to my excessive picture taking, but I wasn’t about to leave this off my blog.

I like to think I’m somewhat of a cupcake connoisseur. At my office in Santa Barbara, my department has taken upon itself the task of discovering the best cupcakes in the region. As one of two lead cupcake testers, I’ve tasted my share of treats and found that most cupcakeries/bakeries excel at either frosting or cake, but not both. So when the first bite of my strawberry Sprinkles cupcake entered my mouth, every taste bud rejoiced.

I could easily detect the fresh strawberries used in the frosting, but the flavors were subtle, a nice surprise since it’s incredibly easy to have frosting that’s too sugary. But it doesn’t stop there. The cake underneath was moist and fluffy, making for a perfect bite every time. Married with a glass of cold, skim milk, I was in heaven for about fifteen minutes.

Sprinkles Cupcakes - Part 1

For my birthday in May, my friends Jason and Erin surprised me with a box of Sprinkles Cupcake Mix from Williams-Sonoma. One word: delicious. It doesn't hurt that the cupcakes are also incredibly adorable. The mix comes with everything you need (except butter and chocolate for the icing), including their signature sugar dot.

Be sure to follow the cooking time directions and watch them so the cupcakes don't over bake. And talk about easy during the work week - gourmet cupcakes from a box are completely doable after five. No recipe this time - you'll find it in the box!

Apricot and Nut Cookies with Amaretto Icing



When I made a batch of these cookies, half of them went to my office. People were curious - they aren't traditional chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies, and after one bite the most common response was "mmm." My supervisor felt better about eating them because they seemed healthy - you know, the pine nuts and almonds. Sure. But the first ingredient is butter, so don't let these cookies fool you. Enjoy!


Apricot and Nut Cookies with Amaretto Icing


Recipe courtesy Giada de Laurentiis


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature


1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar


1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt


1 large egg


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour


1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped


1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted


2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted


1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar 
5 to 7 tablespoons almond flavored liqueur (recommended: Amaretto)


For the Cookies: In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg. Stir in the flour until just blended. Mix in the apricots, almonds, and pine nuts.


Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a log, about 12-inches long and 1 1/2-inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in the plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper.


Cut the dough log crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2 inch-thick slices. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, spacing evenly apart. Bake until the cookies are golden around the edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.


For the Icing: Place the confectioners' sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the almond flavored liqueur, until the mixture is of drizzling consistency.



Place the wire rack over a baking sheet. Using a spoon or fork, drizzle the cookies with the icing, allowing any excess icing to drip onto the baking sheet. Allow the icing to set before serving, about 30 minutes.

Apple Muffins

These muffins are perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack. I eat them two at a time, and tuck them into my purse before heading to work.

Apple Muffins

Recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger


Cooking spray
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup natural applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 12-capacity muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the pecans and cinnamon; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, whisking well after each addition. Mix in the applesauce and vanilla.

Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Blend just until combined. Gently stir in the apple chunks.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan and sprinkle with the pecan mixture. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool completely on the rack.

Individual Cheesecakes

Baking requires commitment and counter space, neither of which I have. It’s also helpful to have an oven that bakes evenly and doesn’t burn the bottom of your cookies every time you make a batch.

I’ve dreamed surprising my husband, friends and co-workers with chocolaty, chewy, sweet and sugary creations, but have tabled my dreams for now. I still bake, just more carefully, and despite my setbacks, I’ve managed to discover at least a handful of recipes that my oven can't destroy. Cheesecake is one of them.

Let me be clear: I don't actually like cheesecake. I've never been a fan of cream cheese (I'm a butter on my bagel kind of girl), but I have family and friends that can't get enough of the stuff, so I'm happy to make their dessert dreams come true.

Recipe notes: The full recipe will make one 9-inch cheesecake or 4-mini cheesecakes. For the topping, I warmed seedless raspberry preserves in the microwave and drizzled it over the top of each cheesecake, along with some sifted powdered sugar.

Mascarpone Cheesecake

Recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentiis


1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted


2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature

2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese, room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs, room temperature

For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Tightly wrap the outside of a 9-inch diameter springform pan or 4 mini springform pans with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Finely grind the cracker crumbs, and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan(s). Bake the crust until it is set and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Cool. Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

For the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. 

Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the springform pan(s) in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan(s).

Bake until the center of the cheesecake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold). Transfer the cake to a rack; cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.

Nectarine and Blueberry Crisp

The contrast of cool vanilla ice cream with warm, gooey fruit is what makes this recipe so intriguing. I’ve attempted this dish three times: Once with nectarines, once with peaches, and this time with apricots since it was the only stone fruit variety available at the store this week.

It turns out that of the three varieties, I prefer apricots the least (though that didn't stop me from eating this). If you can find them, choose nectarines or peaches. The nutty aroma of amaretto will fill your kitchen as this bakes, and after suffering through the 45 minute wait, a sugary-sweet, bubbly masterpiece awaits. Yum!

Nectarine and Blueberry Crisp

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup crushed amaretti cookies, coarsely crushed

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces


2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 pounds nectarines, pitted and sliced into thick wedges

8 ounces blueberries

3 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur (recommended: Disarrono)

Vanilla ice cream

To make the topping: Stir the flour and sugars in a medium bowl to blend. Add the cookies and almonds and mix well. Add the butter and rub in until moist clumps form.

To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish. Stir the sugar and flour in a large bowl. Add the nectarines and blueberries, and toss to combine. Stir in the liqueur.

Spoon the fruit mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the cookie topping over. Bake until the nectarines are tender and the topping is golden and crisp, about 45 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes. Serve alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Falling for Tiramisu

I’ve never been passionate about Tiramisu. Many restaurant versions are too covered in cream (translation: soggy) or saturated with espresso to be appealing. My husband on the other hand, loves Tiramisu, and requested that I at least attempt making it. "Let's just see what happens," he said. Well...I loved it!

For this recipe I worked with an 8×8 pan and used 18 ladyfingers per layer. The sweetness of the mascarpone combined with the slight bitterness of espresso makes a delicious after-dinner combination. Bonus: You can make this ahead of time (like on your lunch break).


Recipe courtesy Giada de Laurentiis

6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 cups strong espresso, cooled
2 teaspoons dark rum
24 packaged ladyfingers
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate shavings, for garnish

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Add mascarpone cheese and beat until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of espresso and mix until thoroughly combined.

In a small shallow dish, add remaining espresso and rum. Dip each ladyfinger into espresso for only 5 seconds. Letting the ladyfingers soak too long will cause them to fall apart. Place the soaked ladyfinger on the bottom of a 13 by 9 inch baking dish, breaking them in half if necessary in order to fit the bottom.

Spread evenly 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers. Arrange another layer of soaked ladyfingers and top with remaining mascarpone mixture.

Cover tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 8 hours.

Before serving, sprinkle with chocolate shavings.