Los Angeles Cookie Con & Sweets Show, Part 2

Cookie Con 2015

#thatbakelife. (insert baker thug pose, however that looks)

[You can find Part 1 of my Cookie Con coverage here!]

The Cookie Decorating Contest: As I mentioned earlier, I took off like a shot as soon as the convention floor opened in order to walk around before the crowds arrived. I wanted to get a chance to talk to vendors, try samples, and buy cookies or baked goods at my leisure… most importantly, I wanted to take pictures before the amount of people at the con became too restrictive. While this was mostly a success, I profess that I spent more time than I thought I would at the entries for the cookie decorating contest. Here are the pictures of my favorites, in no particular order. The theme was “Love”, which was timely for Valentine’s Day!

Cookie Con 2015

Cookies by Cookie Couture by Sarah.

I really loved the ‘shabby chic’ style and color palette of these cookies. The sugar flowers were gorgeous!

Cookie Con 2015

Cookies by Sugar Dayne.

By far my favorite entry…. which mysteriously didn’t win Fan Favorite or the official contest :( Again, I really loved the colors… muted pastels are my thing right now. The details were stunning–from the gold-kissed roses to the tiny, perfect seashells… and the sprayed gold pattern on the icing… the blue feathers on the cookie towers even had “LA Cookie Con” and the artist’s name hand-printed on them! I think my heart would break if I ever had to watch someone eat these…

Cookie Con 2015

Cookies by Whisk Sweets.

This entry won the decorating contest; while I didn’t find the execution as flawless as the cookies by Sugar Dayne, I did find the story quite moving. (A better overhead picture can be found here.)

Cookie Con 2015

I thought the colors and the letters were very cute for this entry… and man, am I a sucker for nice handwriting…

Cookie Con 2015

The Non-Edible Portion of the Con: The convention floor also played host to various food-related merchandise, goods, and gadgets. I stopped by the Nomiku Immersion Circulator booth to say hello… and definitely felt a twinge of regret for being too impatient and buying the Anova instead. (WiFi-connected sous vide, so fancy!)

Cookie Con 2015

Happy Pantry had an adorable set-up that included aprons, necklaces, towels, artwork, and more. The coffee latte apron was so cute! But I definitely have way more aprons than any one person possibly needs, so I had to pass… sigh. They advertise themselves as a ‘kitchen-themed brand featuring kawaii (cute in Japanese) characters,’ and kawaii is the only way I can accurately describe how cute their merchandise is.

Cookie Con 2015

Cookie Con 2015(This is the goodie bag they shared with press passholders… my inner child is squealing!)

Even More Samples: After my digression into the contest entries and merchandise, it was back to doing what I do best–sampling!

Cookie Con 2015

 

Cookie Con 2015

Cookies by Stuffed Cookies.

[I actually bought the Oreo BDay Cake cookie shown above, but somehow lost the bag during the convention… still pretty bummed about it, because it was sinfully good!]

Cookie Con 2015

Cookies by Munch Bakery.

As a fellow Filipino, I was super-excited to see that Munch Bakery had ube (purple yam) and buko pandan (young coconut leaf) flavors! I probably came on a wee bit strong in my enthusiasm, but the ladies of Munch Bakery answered all of my questions with a smile.

Cookie Con 2015The pound cake at Orange Clementine was one of my favorite things to try at the convention; one of my friends even bought several of the cakes to share with her family. Not only was the cake moist and flavorful, but the clementine flavor was perfect–not overwhelming nor too light to detect. The glaze on top was literally the icing on the cake; the clementine zest in the glaze cut the sweetness and balanced it well.

Cookie Con 2015

The press goodie bag also included two adorable citrus-themed sugar cookies that were promptly devoured later that night… pretty sure I ate my week’s worth of sugar in one day.

Cookie Con 2015

Now, if you’ve ever met me or my husband, you know that neither of us really subscribe to the idea of gluten-free being healthier or better for you in any way. Okay, now that that’s out of the way… I have to admit that these gluten-free Habanero Peanut Butter & Jelly cookies from Velvet Rope Bake Shop were my favorite cookies of the Con. Gasp!, you say. And gasp you should–it’s not an easy feat to make cookies without flour that are delicious. But man, were these cookies good. I suppose the flavor combination isn’t for everyone; the habanero salt paired with the strawberry preserves definitely throws your taste buds for a loop. But as a sweet/salty/savory fan, these cookies hit all the right notes for me.

Like Fish in a Barrel: As the day wore on, the crowds swelled and pushed the aisles between the booths to their limits; if I had to describe it in one word, it would be “smooshed.” It became harder to receive samples and talk to the vendors at each booth because they were overrun with other con attendees. The aisles became a little more bearable during specific programming times (we definitely saw everyone bum-rush the seats for Mr. Ben-Israel’s featured talk), but otherwise, the crowds and the lines were easily my least favorite part about the convention.

Cookie Con 2015

My friends and I left the show closer to 2pm after finding ourselves exhausted from the crowds on the floor. (One of my friends even ended up with a bleeding wound on her leg–man, are cookie fans vicious or what? Just kidding, we’re still not certain how she was injured.) When we walked outside, the line was still going out and around the block! We were even stopped by a few folks that asked us whether it was worth it to wait; apparently, the registration inside had come to a stand-still and the line hadn’t moved for some time.

Was it worth it? The million-dollar question (or however much you paid for your ticket, I suppose).

I think that the organizers behind Cookie Con did a great job for their first year. Like I mentioned in Part 1, I believe there are kinks that are tough to anticipate before the event itself occurs. If I were to suggest anything for next year’s con, I would definitely recommend getting the event staff and volunteers on the same page. From time to time, I would ask for directions or information and ended up with several different answers. I also believe that the VIP lounge wasn’t handled as well as it could have been; I didn’t even realize I was in the lounge until my friend pointed it out! The location of the lounge wasn’t optimal either–since it was not in a corner or in a separate room, people freely walked in without any clue that entry was restricted.

Perhaps I missed it… but I didn’t receive a map of the booths with a corresponding list of vendors, nor did I see a printed program with the events schedule on it in the bag I received when I registered. I think it would’ve enhanced my experience and certainly made it a bit less hectic if I’d had these references on hand. In the future, a short book with each bakery listed and a short blurb about each bakery would be great as well! Great advertising for the bakeries and very informative for con attendees.

Cookie Con 2015

The largest problem I had with the con was space, but again–completely understandable for a first annual event. In a post-event email, one of the organizers mentioned that next year’s event would span 2 days and be held at a larger venue… so it looks like this problem is already solved!

In the end, I had a wonderful time with my friends and at the con itself. The samples were amazing, the vendors were friendly, and my personal experience as press was very positive! I’d like to thank LA Cookie Con for a very fun Sunday, and I already look forward to next year’s event.

socialbooth

Whew! And that’s all she wrote. :)

Los Angeles Cookie Con & Sweets Show, Part 1

Cookie Con 2015

I first heard about the LA Cookie Con & Sweets Show on the Food Bloggers of LA (FBLA) mailing list in September of last year… and to be honest, my curiosity was piqued, but it wasn’t something that I felt I absolutely couldn’t miss. I do love baking–very much so–but as I’ve said on here multiple times, I’m not overly fond of eating baked goods. One of the main draws on the initial emails mentioned a lot of free samples, and I figured that it was something my waistline probably didn’t need.

Another reason that initially held me back from attending was the convention’s newness. I’ve been to first annual events before (626 Night Market comes to mind) and–through no fault of their own–tend to be disorganized and overwhelmed with logistics they cannot anticipate prior to the date. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it one that I unreasonably expect new organizations to avoid. There are no soft openings, no practice runs for conventions or expos. I still remember the vitriol spewed on the Yelp event page for 626 Night Market’s first year, and cringe.

Cookie ConWith all of that said, I slowly came to see the light over the next few months–my coworkers at the bakery were attending (and excited to do so), and I continued to check on the website for updated information. And now that I’ve attended, I’m so very glad I did! Not only did I have a blast with my friends, but I also got to talk to a lot of the bakeries and businesses with booths. The experience was fun, educational and completely worthwhile. It was a little hairy at times–and I’ll get into that further below–but overall, I do think it was a great event and I already anticipate an even better con next year.

Before I begin: A Full Disclosure! I did get a VIP Press & Media pass for the event, so my experience is probably a little different than con attendees with regular passes.

A Sheepish Note: I tried to get business cards for every booth I took pictures of, but lost one of my bags with cards (and a cookie! Geez!) at the convention… so please let me know if I haven’t credited your booth and I will happily do so.

Cookie Con

The Line Stops Here: We arrived at 9am anticipating a line–but had no idea that the line would wrap around the block an hour before the ribbon-cutting ceremony! The VIP/Press line was much shorter (it’s the line on the right), but since one of my friends had a regular pass we decided to wait in the longer line until we got close to the front. Once people were let into the convention center to register, they were then funneled back out through another door to the holding area to wait for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and subsequent start of the con.

Things were much more lax for VIP/Press passholders, or at least that was my experience. Once we were given our wristbands, we were more or less allowed to wait inside while awaiting the ribbon-cutting. There was a bit of confusion with the official staff  for the event and the Le Cordon Bleu students helping the event–when I asked if I needed to wait outside with the rest of the regular passholders, I heard 2-3 different things. My friend and I decided to wait indoors until the ceremony began, in fear of being herded into the back of the crowd. It looks like a lot of other VIP/Press passholders had the same idea, as there were a lot of people lounging around the registration area.

Cookie Con

The Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: Apparently the mayor was running behind (or so I heard from the various event staff with walkie-talkies), so the ribbon-cutting ceremony was 15 minutes later than initially advertised. Not a big deal for me, but I did feel kind of bad for the general passholders that were stuck waiting under the morning Pasadena sun.

A few pictures were taken with some of the Masterchef and Masterchef Junior contestants before Ron Ben-Israel made his appearance as the official ribbon-cutter. What a nice guy! He mingled right into the crowd, made small talk, and happily obliged with every picture request. When the official ceremony started, he jumped up and down and joked that “what happens here, stays here.” His infectious energy made everyone smile–and while I’m not as familiar with his show on the Food Network, I was similarly swept up by his excitement.

Welcome to the 1st annual LA Cookie Con & Sweets Show!

Cookie Con

The Frenzy Begins! After Mr. Ben-Israel’s dramatic ribbon-cutting, we immediately jumped inside of the convention center in order to beat the crowds. [And boy, was I happy about that–as the day wore on, the crowds got more and more intense and pushy.] As soon as we walked through the doors onto the main convention floor, the smell of sweets and the promise of samples hung in the air. My normally no-sweets-preferring stomach rumbled in anticipation.

Cookie Con

I really liked the way they set up the booths–there was ample space between each booth, and the aisles were spaced so that at least 5-7 people standing side-by-side could walk through comfortably. At the very beginning of the day, it felt un-cramped and quite spacious! The displays for each booth would vary–some were very well-staged, and others were quite bare-bones. There were a healthy mixture of booths at the convention: cookies, cakes, baker’s tools, baker’s ingredients, commercial booths (Keurig and Whole Foods come to mind), even wine tastings in the “VIP lounge”.

Some of the booths had displays and samples… but were only there for show and not for business, as they couldn’t sell any of their baked goods at the location. That was surprising to me–but this was the exception more than the norm.

And did I mention how beautiful some of the displays were?

Cookie Con 2015

Cookie Con 2015Cake display by Caljava Online

Cookie Con 2015Cake Pop display by Charlie Pops Organic Cake Pops

Samples, please! Every booth that was selling baked goods had samples–every one! I thought my tongue was going to go into sugar shock. After a while, I found myself wishing I had a way to rinse my palette because the flavors were starting to run into each other. Samples of cupcakes, sweet bread, cakes, cake pops, cake truffles, cookies, pastries… this was every dieter’s (and diabetic’s) nightmare. And every sample was so generous, too–I never felt jilted, nor did I ever feel guilty asking for a sample if they weren’t readily available. Every booth, every baker was so obliging and willing to chat.

Cookie Con 2015Ensaymada samples from BakerCakeMaker

Cookie Con 2015

 

 

Cookie Con 2015Oatmeal Toffee Cookie Samples from Jen & Joe’s Cookie Dough booth

But wait, there’s more! Yes, there’s a reason this post has a “Part 1″ in its title. Look forward to more sweets, more treats and more rambling from yours truly about LA Cookie Con & Sweets Show in the next post. (There was simply too much to cover, and I’ve never been a fan of overly-long entries.) For now, here’s a snap from The Social Booth Co. that I took with my friends. Yes, I’m the glutton with the cupcake…

Cookie Con 2015

Courtesy of The Social Booth Co.

Sriracha Kale Chips

Sriracha Kale Chips

It’s tough to truly enjoy “eating healthy.” Let’s be real here: when I’m snacking on red bell peppers and non-fat yogurt-based tzaziki, I’m not sighing with giddy delight. Grilled chicken breasts aren’t at the top of my favorite foods list. And if you can tell me with a straight face that you prefer [insert healthy alternative dessert] over a crisp, chewy, chocolate chip cookie… then you’re a very talented liar.

That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy the accomplishment of eating healthy. I’m sure that we all feel like Rocky at the top of the steps when we deny ourselves those same cookies in lieu of a healthy alternative. But being proud of yourself and truly loving every bite of whatever you’ve chosen to eat are two different things, especially in today’s health-conscious society.

Sriracha Kale Chips

I’m not going to lie to you and say that kale chips fill in that deep, heartfelt desire that we all have… which is to eat potato chips until our mouths are numb from the salt. (Or is that just me and my inner fat kid?) But I will say that if you love kale–or even if you’re okay with kale–chips are a great alternative.

I decided to combine my (relative) love of kale chips with my (undeniable) love of sriracha… and so came this recipe! It’s not rocket science by any means, but I hope you like it as much as I do–and by that, I mean that I ate the entire thing in one sitting after taking pictures of it.

Definitely cut down on that extra ½ Tbsp. of sriracha if you’re not into spice… as I’ve mentioned before, James & I are spice fiends, so my taste buds are probably a little sunburnt. The sugar goes a long way to temper the spiciness, but certainly not enough if you order your wings or Thai food “mild”. Also, I should mention that it is very easy to burn these chips–so don’t take the bake times as absolute, and do check on them a few minutes before the time listed just in case! Every oven is different.

And now, if you’ll excuse me… eating all of this kale has made me feel like I should contemplate working out…

Sriracha Kale Chips

 

Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats

Brown Butter Rice Krispies

It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it? And like any other repentant blogger, all I can offer in the way of explanation is ‘life.’ But having a life is overrated, am I right?

‘Tis much better to have something ridiculously addictive and easy to make instead.

Can I interest you in my version of Rice Krispies treats?

Nothing overly fancy or fussy here, I promise. Honestly, I think this version adds 5 minutes to the original recipe, tops. And you’ll be amazed at what a huge difference these small changes make. Browning the butter creates a nutty, mellow flavor that gives complexity to the normally-bland sweetness of marshmallows. Cinnamon and nutmeg enhance the nuttiness of the brown butter while lightly spicing the flavor of toasted rice. And the sea salt sharpens each flavor, leaving you craving more with each bite.

Brown Butter Rice Krispies

I’ve had the chance to make these several times for family and friends alike, and the general consensus tends to be “oh, they’re all gone already?” whenever a few hours have passed. So I’m confident that you’ll not only enjoy them, but crave them like I do after you make them for the first time.

The treats in the pictures were made in a deep 8×8 pan, but this recipe will fit the standard 13×9 pan as well–they’ll just be thinner. And I’ll mention this below in the recipe, but definitely wait to eat them–ideally overnight, but an hour in the fridge will do the trick if you’re in a hurry. (Don’t leave it in the fridge or it’ll get soft, though.) Use a sharp knife; blunter knives will crush the toasted cereal and you’ll lose the crunchiness!

I’ll be moving on to healthier treats in the spirit of the new year… just consider this one last gift from 2014 since I was absent for the latter part of it online. ;)

Brown Butter Rice Krispies

 

Fresh Corn Salsa

fresh_corn_salsa

I know that I always talk about how picky of an eater I used to be, almost to the point where I’ve become redundant. But the more I cook and the more I expand my tasting horizons, the more I realize how much I’ve missed out on over the years by being finicky. For example: this salsa would’ve been Nopes-ville for me a few years ago, thanks to its inclusion of raw red onions, green peppers and (the dreaded, soapy-tasting) cilantro. And now, I can’t get enough of it. After begging for the recipe, I’ve made it three times within the past month alone!

The reason I love this recipe so much is because it represents how far I’ve come; now when people ask me if I’m picky about food, I can proudly say “no”! Well… I still can’t stomach raw celery, blue or goat cheese… but I’m working on it.

Actually… I’m pretty sure I’m always going to hate celery, so we can just leave that off the list… please.

IMG_0674

Whoops, I digress–let’s get back to the salsa! It’s best with fresh or frozen corn, but if you’re in a pinch you can definitely used canned corn… don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. I’ve used both canned and cooked lentils with similar results, so long as you drain both very well. And if you’re a fan of heat, feel free to mince half a jalapeno pepper (de-seeded of course) and toss it into the mix. I prefer to leave it out in case people are not heat-inclined.

Lastly: I know that the pictures feature yellow bell pepper, but that was during one of my trial runs for this recipe. I definitely recommend green bell pepper instead. :)

fresh_corn_salsa2

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

I didn’t choose the baking life… the baking life chose me.

Seriously–for someone who doesn’t really enjoy baked goods that much, I sure make a hell of a lot of them. And now that I bake as an almost-full time job, I am a bona fide slave to the oven. You’d think that I’d keep a large radius of distance between me and my new master on my days off, right? Alas, my friend: that is incorrect!

But I don’t mind jumping into my own kitchen after leaving the kitchen at work to prepare more food, which I suppose speaks to my passion for food and cooking. It’s still just as fun to me as it was before I started working at this bakery; perhaps even more so since I have complete control over what I make in my own house. When I’m at work, I’m following someone else’s recipes and directions–which, while educational, certainly doesn’t offer the same kind of creative stimulus that making recipes at home creates.

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

So how is baking for a living going for me? Friends ask me whether I still enjoy baking, and the answer is yes. Whether I’m at work or I’m at home, in the end, I’m still making food for others’ enjoyment–and that’s why I find it so gratifying.

Speaking of others’ enjoyment, that is definitely the purpose of these cookies. I can eat maybe one or two of these before I’m chocolate-ed out; based on the reception these had at a recent game night with friends, I am in the minority. I’m normally not a fan of white chocolate, but I really enjoy it in small bursts with this very chocolate cookie. And the best part about this recipe? It makes cookies with crispy edges and a chewy center. Definitely best on the day they’re baked, but you’ll still find them delicious for up to a week.

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

Recipe adapted from Remodelaholic.

Malaysian Street Wings

malaysian_wings_1

Isn’t it funny how we seem to be much more productive when we have less time to do everything? Now that I’m on a regular work schedule again, I find myself making to-do lists left and right. I’ve also opted to do less time-consuming recipes than usual–less preparation, fewer dishes, easier techniques… and I’ll admit that I’m definitely prone to eating a frozen pizza when I’m really lazy. (Totino’s forever! …I hate it, but I love it.)

IMG_0091

Wings fall into this category, simply because they require little in the way of preparation in order for them to be–simply put–damn delicious. They’re pretty cost-effective for how tasty they turn out to be if you cook at home, too! I recently picked up ~3 lbs. of wings at the local Asian supermarket for $5.00 and used the entire bag to make this recipe. One dirty skillet (yes, only one pot to cook!) and an hour later, James and I had enough wings to feed us for the next two meals.

malaysian_wings3

These wings are so, so good–savory, sweet, sticky, spicy… all things amazing. They re-heat in the oven well, too! The ginger, star anise and cinnamon (yes, cinnamon!) go a long way toward making these wings pack a spiced punch that is delightfully exotic. Honestly, the original recipe (featured on Andrew Zimmern’s blog) is practically perfect the way it is written. The only changes I’ve made were to enhance the ginger and star anise in the flavor profile, as well as ramp up the spiciness and the intensity of the savory glaze. Seriously, talk about umami–this recipe has that essence in spades.

I know that my pictures feature a skillet, but I would recommend using a pot instead–you don’t have to worry about stirring carefully, and the high sides of the pot will catch the oil when you’re initially pan-frying the chicken wings. And I found it helpful to have the wings closer to room temperature before cooking, as it reduced the cook time and the oil splatters. I ate the wings with some cucumbers and rice, but feel free to eat them as a stand-alone!

malaysian_wings3

 

Recipe adapted from andrewzimmern.com.

Blackberry-Glazed Lime Cookies

blackberry_glaze_lime_cookies_1

 

My Facebook news feed has become a scrapbook of engagement, wedding and baby pictures. (Whether the individual accounts fall into that chronological order is a topic for another medium.) The pictures of babies have been especially numerous–here’s Baby B making a funny face! And Baby G is laughing at a sound mama made! While others may tire and eventually grow irate of these particular updates, I enjoy them immensely. I’ve never been shy about my preference for children: I’ve volunteered with adopted children at summer camps in the past, I’ve been a babysitter for as long as I can remember, I always make a beeline for the babies at potlucks and gatherings… and so on. I’m completely sure that my energy for kids will wane somewhat when I have my own child to watch around the clock, but for now, I’m happy to help!

 

limes

 

James’ fellow resident and his wife (also known as our neighbors and game night partners-in-crime) recently had their first baby, and getting to meet her only a few days after her birth was amazing. I’ve never seen a friend’s baby so soon after delivery–she is so tiny and delicate! And her eyes are the same clear color as her mom’s; I know that babies have pretty poor eyesight at birth, but when she lifted her eyes to mine I really felt like she was looking right at me! I was so grateful for the chance to see her and meet her.

I had toyed with the idea of baking something for them right around her due date, but since the baby’s gender was unknown, I decided to hold off on planning anything. After my impromptu visit, I figured I would jump right in and bake something pink to celebrate! (Which is not to say that pink is for girls only, of course.) But the idea of pink cookies wasn’t terribly appetizing to me. So I thought: why not turn to natural colors? And that’s how I ended up with a dark-pink blackberry glaze.

 

blackberry_glaze_lime_cookies_2

 

As for the cookie itself… have you ever wondered why limes don’t get the same kind of love that lemons do? Admittedly, it’s not one of those pressing questions in today’s world. But other than key lime pie, we don’t see a lot of lime-centric desserts out there in the wide world of recipes–which is a shame, seeing that the lime has a sweeter, less mouth-puckering flavor than its citrusy cousin. I know that my recipe is like a tiny drop in a bucket, but hopefully it will encourage you to see limes in more ways than one.

And to my two friends–congratulations on your precious little one! I can’t wait to see the pictures of her in the knitted caterpillar suit. ;)

 

blackberry_glaze_lime_cookies_3

 

Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake with Irish Creme Frosting

chocolate_whiskey_cake_1 I know what you’re thinking, especially if you follow this blog with any kind of regularity: Kris, where hast thou gone? My only (poor, to be frank) excuses involve a new job, a constant stream of visitors, so on and so forth… so I won’t bore you with any of them. You, my friend, are not here for idle chit-chat. You are here for cake! Or perhaps recipes, and possibly cake? Let’s backtrack a little, shall we? A certain friend of mine from San Francisco that shall remain nameless–you know who you are!–is quite crazy about cake, despite her normal lack of love for desserts. To make a long story short, I promised her that if ever she came down to LA to visit me… there would be cake with her name on it. So where’s her name? It’s a little more subtle than that. She can drink me under the table in mere minutes; mere mortals dream of having her tolerance for whiskey. Therefore, I figured the best way to personalize this cake for her was to make said cake as alcoholic as tastefully possible. Ta-dah! chocolate_whiskey_cake_2 Two shots of Crown Royal and one shot of Bailey’s swim in a delicious chocolate/cream cheese dream of cake. Yes, you can definitely taste the alcohol in each bite. Is it jarring? Well… not if you like whiskey as much as we do :) The best part about this cake is its not-quite-sweetness. It’s chocolate-y without being cloyingly sweet–thanks to the inclusion of freshly-brewed coffee and use of cocoa powder as opposed to chocolate chips or bars. I loved the inclusion of black pepper and cloves–it complimented the honeyed tang of the whiskey that you faintly detect in the cake. And the cream cheese paired with Bailey’s Irish Cream is a match made in heaven; the soft sourness of the cream cheese goes very well with the milky-sweet Bailey’s. chocolate_whiskey_cake_3 Don’t worry about how liquid the cake batter is when you pour it into the cake pan–it will solidify into a moist, rich cake during the bake time. I would highly recommend you take the baking time in the recipe as more of a suggestion than the rule as well; everyone’s oven is different and cake can be so finicky! Start out with 35 minutes, then start using a toothpick through the center to test for doneness. The tops of the cakes may crack, but that’s okay–that’s what frosting is for! Just make sure that you allow the pans to mostly cool before removing the layers; since the cake is very moist, it’s also delicate and will break off if too much force is applied. The original recipe is for a 9-inch springform pan, but I dressed it up as a layer cake to pair it with the cream cheese frosting. I used 2 6-inch round layers to create a 4-layer cake, and ended up with a bit more batter to spare. Since there is a decent amount of batter leftover, you could always fill a coffee mug halfway with it and microwave it for a minute and a half for instant chocolate cake… which is a terrible, terrible idea, and I definitely did NOT do that. (I totally did, and it was awesome.) She loved the cake, and has since emailed me to tell me how much she misses it since she couldn’t smuggle it on the plane at the end of the weekend. If you’re willing to put some time into creating it, I just know you’ll have the same reactions! Good luck! chocolate_whiskey_cake_4 Original recipe from The New York Times.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cake

blueberry_cornmeal_cakeTrying to bake or cook in someone else’s kitchen is always a tough order. I wanted to make something fresh for my friend’s Memorial Day BBQ, but was baffled as to what I could bake without sacrificing quality or consistency. Fortunately, I remembered that I had this recipe up my sleeve and came prepared… or so I thought. blueberry_cornmeal_cake_2 When I came in with my skillet and voiced my intentions to bake a cake in said skillet, everyone joked about how they wanted to have the cake to themselves (or at least a good half of it). The host talked up my baking skills–to my embarrassment–and pretty soon, a genuine excitement around how the cake would turn out was buzzing in the air. Imagine my dismay, then, in the midst of this anticipation… to realize that I had left out a large portion of the sugar when mixing the batter! I can’t even tell you how or why–just that I can be a bit addle-brained once in a while. The exact moment of realization was horrible: as the batter refused to spread evenly onto the skillet, I realized that something was missing and gasped aloud. In a tizzy, I threw in the sugar and stirred vigorously, hoping that it wasn’t too late to salvage the cake. blueberry_cornmeal_cake_3 And guys… it was fine. The cake was demolished in record time. The only sign that I had deviated slightly from the recipe was the cake’s tendency to stick to the skillet a little more than usual… but the flavor itself was still spot-on. Thank goodness! The moral of this story is: don’t be like me. Well, probably more along these lines: this recipe is so easy and forgiving that you can mess up, sloppily fix it and still end up with a damn good cake for a summer BBQ. Hooray! blueberry_cornmeal_cake_5 I found the original recipe far too sweet for my tastes and dialed back the sugar to allow the fresh blueberries to sweeten the cake on their own. The turbinado sugar is mostly for show, but adds a nice, subtle crunch of flavor to each bite. And the best part about this recipe is how versatile it is–raspberries, blackberries, strawberries… even a mix of berries will taste wonderful on this cake! I’ve made it several times with a varying mix of the above and it’s turned out quite well. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you can still use a glass or aluminum pan–I’ve provided alternate instructions below. I definitely recommend using the skillet if at all possible; just make sure that the skillet is seasoned before you attempt to bake in it, or you’ll have quite a time trying to scrape all of the cake from the pan. blueberry_cornmeal_cake_4 Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living.