Tag Archives: baking

Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Dark Chocolate (and Orange Mascarpone Frosting, if you like)

There are a lot of ways that you can try to dichotomize people- Right-Brained vs. Left-Brained.  Introverts vs. Extroverts.  Cat-People vs. Dog-People.  (For a while I thought maybe I was an all-around “Animal-Person”, but after much consideration I have come to the conclusion that I am truly a Cat-Person who happens to like some dogs.)

One category that has always baffled me are the people who claim that they are “not a dessert person”.  As someone who, in an ideal world, would conclude every meal with at least a little something sweet, I have a hard time relating to people who claim to never be tempted by ice cream, chocolate, or baked goods.

As I have gotten older, though, my sweet-tooth has developed a more refined palate.  Although there are still a few super-sugary treats I have a hard time resisting (i.e., Dunkin Donuts or Cadbury Creme Eggs), the desserts I really appreciate are the ones that have a lighter touch with the sugar.  Strawberries with balsamic and basil, for instance.

Or this Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Dark Chocolate.  I think this is a cake that even the self-proclaimed non-dessert people would like.  It’s not too rich or too sweet, has a nice graininess from the spelt flour, and the rosemary is fragrant and earthy.

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I followed the recipe exactly, so just follow the link above over to The Vanilla Bean Blog.  While you’re over there, spend some time perusing all the delicious-looking recipes.

A technical note: The recipe calls for using a 9 1/2 inch fluted tart pan.  If you are wondering if you can get away with using a 9-inch tart pan, the answer is yes, but the cake will rise above the edge and bake over the side a little bit.  Absolutely no effect on the taste, just not quite as neat, if you’re concerned with such things.  You can also use a springform cake pan with higher sides; you won’t get the pretty fluted edge, but you don’t have to worry about overflow.

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If you are wanting something fancier, you can top the cake with an orange-scented mascarpone frosting, which makes it a little more decadent but still not over-the-top.   I did this for Mother’s Day, and no one complained.  If you should choose to do so…

  • While the cake is cooling, combine 1 pound mascarpone cheese, 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (or a little more, if preferred) in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Use the paddle attachment to beat at high speed, until soft peaks form- about 60-90 seconds.
  • Spread frosting on the top (and sides, if you like) of the cooled cake.  This recipe will yield way more frosting than you will need for the cake, but I’m sure you can find a way to use it up.  I’m thinking it would be lovely with ginger snaps or graham crackers….
  • Keep frosted cake chilled and serve within a few hours.

With or without frosting, leftovers of this cake (if there are any) are wonderful for breakfast.

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Filed under Cooking

Brown Butter & Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

I suppose it doesn’t need to be stated that we’ve had a lot of snow this winter.  Every time it has snowed, my Facebook feed has been taken over by posts about people cooking hearty stews and baking dozens of cookies, cinnamon rolls, and donuts.  And every time there has been a forecast for snow, and I’ve joined the crazed masses at the grocery store to stock up for the next Snowpocalypse, I have deliberately avoided buying supplies to bake.  As lazy and inactive as I have felt this winter, I’ve been trying – with varying success week-to-week – to been eating less, especially less sweets.

But a girl can only go through so many snowstorms in one winter before she has to give in to the urge to bake.  And I apparently reached my limit this weekend when word spread about the next storm to hit Maryland today.  I figured (perhaps wishful thinking) that this will be the last snowy excuse I have to bake this year.  And ever since I made these Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies at Christmas, I’ve been wanting to experiment a bit more with chocolate chip cookies.  Don’t get me wrong- those were great.  But I received Joy the Baker‘s cookbook for Christmas, and saw her recipe for Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies and thought, “What if I made those and just sprinkled a little Maldon sea salt on top?”

So while I watched the snowflakes fall outside today, I spent some time sprinkling flakes of sea salt on top of balls of cookie dough.  Nick and I are pretty sure the end product is the finest cookie I have baked to date.


I was going to type up the recipe from the cookbook, but I just discovered that Joy has the recipe on her blog right here.  It’s a little different than the version in the book, but since she posted it after the book came out, I’m going to assume this version is new and improved.  She even added a step of topping them with sea salt.  Great minds think alike.  chocchipcookies2


Filed under Cooking

Welcome Home Scones

If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, you probably are under the impression that everyone in the world is:

a. buying a new house


b. getting pregnant and having babies

Seriously, my Facebook feed is nothing but photographs of fetuses, bellies, and babies, and exterior house shots, stacks of boxes, and shiny new house keys.  Oh, and there are still a lot of photos of cats and food (but not cat food).  These are my friends, after all.

Because these are my friends, fortunately I don’t see a ton of the inappropriately first-person-plural updates about infant waste elimination. (You know what I’m talking about: “We’ve already filled five diapers with poop today and it’s not even noon!”  We?? I really hope that’s not something you’re doing with your baby.)

In fact, I felt rather proud of one of my best friends when she posted something referring to a poop situation as a “pants disaster.”  Understated, humorous, and leaves something to the imagination, even if I choose not to imagine it.  Now that’s what I’m looking for in classy baby-related status updates.


I actually still owe this classy new mom and her husband (also a wonderful friend) a post-baby dinner.  I have a terrible habit of offering to make things for people and then not following through with it. Not because I don’t want to follow through or because I’m flaky and forget about it.  I end up with performance anxiety about the final product, whether it be a painting or vegetarian enchiladas.  There’s something unsettling about trying a new recipe and sending it off for someone else to consume, without having tasted it yourself first.

So, when our friends moved to a new house with a baby, I remembered that I had told them several months before that I’d make them a meal after the baby was born.  Oops.  In the midst of packing, moving, and unpacking, knowing dinner was waiting in the fridge or freezer would probably be really helpful. But I still hadn’t had a chance to test an enchilada recipe. Guilt and obligation versus perfectionism and procrastination.

I ended up compromising by baking scones.


In their old house, we shared lots of evenings together. Games were played, movies were watched, and bottles of wine and pounds of cheese were consumed.* For some reason, separate nights eating strawberries and gingersnaps also stand out to me. So strawberry & ginger scones seemed like a good idea.


Something sweet with a little spice.

I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe.  She calls them biscuits, but also refers to them as scones. I just think they’re delicious. I’ve made buttermilk scones before, but these use heavy cream instead. They really do taste creamy, which is lovely with the strawberries.

I followed the recipe exactly except for also adding in about a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger.  They did not turn out very gingery, although I wondered if I just did not thoroughly stir in the ginger and someone got a very gingery bite.

If I was going to make them again, I might sprinkle a little raw sugar on top.  I like when scones have a bit of crunchy crust on top, and since these are not very sweet to begin with, a little extra sugar wouldn’t make them too sweet.

Oh, one more thing. I didn’t feel like using biscuit cutters, so I shaped the dough into a rectangle, about 3/4 inch thick, and divided it into 8 squares. Further halving each square diagonally yields a good scone portion, in my opinion, but if you want a larger, more indulgent scone, I fully support your decision.


*Let’s just assume I mean cumulatively over the years, and not per evening.


Filed under Cooking, Life

Food for Book Clubs: Tiny Pluot Cakes

Everyone knows that book clubs are really food clubs, right?  Yeah, it’s great to have some extra encouragement to read something that was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, and even better to get together with some smart ladies to discuss it.  But mostly, I’m in it for the opportunity to try some new recipes.

Unfortunately, due to some geographic and commuting challenges, I often have to make something ahead of time, so a lot of the appetizer recipes I’d like to make are not very feasible. Baked goods seemed like a good option: they’re do-ahead, portable, and don’t need to be refrigerated all day. Besides, I’d be wanting to make the Little Apricot Cakes from the June issue of Bon Appetit.  They looked like a fairly simple recipe for a nice light, summery dessert.

Then I had to complicate things. Why make little cakes (with a standard muffin pan) when you can make tiny cakes (with a mini muffin pan)? Besides the obvious appeal of miniature foods – and if you are skeptical about this being something that people are into, please refer to Exhibit A* – there was the even more obvious appeal of my mini muffin pans being nonstick and allowing me to skip the step of greasing the pan.**

And then, why use apricots when you can use pluots? If you are unsure what a pluot is, check out the Wikipedia page, which will tell you all you ever wanted to know about this lovechild of a plum and an apricot (and much, much more).


Beyond that, I followed the recipe exactly. Oh wait. No, I did not. I added a splash of almond extract in there, just for fun. And while I took the time to zest a lemon, it wasn’t until I had already spooned about 90% of the batter into the muffin pans that I realized the little bowl of lemon zest was still sitting patiently next to the stand mixer. Oops.

So, besides making them smaller, subbing pluots for apricots, adding almond extract, and forgetting lemon zest, I made them just as the recipe calls for. And since I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple days because I haven’t felt like writing out the recipe, I’m just going to provide the link, again. Here. You could also check out all of the other bloggers who have also made this recipe, including my friend Sarah, over at Sarah’s Place.  She’s just as neurotic as I am in the kitchen, but unlike me, she follows directions (i.e., she did not forget the lemon zest).

While I did like the cakes being a bite-sized portion (as did my fellow book-clubbers, based on the fact that I only took a few home with me), I think if I was going to do it again, I wouldn’t use a nonstick pan.  The edges didn’t get quite as crispy and brown as I would have preferred.***

Oh, for those of you who are interested, our book for this meeting was After the Quake by Haruki Murakami.  It’s a nice collection of short stories all set in Japan following the 1995 Kobe earthquake.  Like most of Murakami’s books that I’ve read, the stories feature well-developed characters in very real relationships with some bizarrely fanciful twists. Giant talking frogs, anyone?


*If you are too lazy, technologically-challenged, or stubborn to click on the link, I’ll just tell you what it is: it’s a cookbook called Tiny Food Party!

**If you are wondering, “why not just use muffin liners?” I’ll tell you why. I hate them. I don’t really like having to peel paper or foil off my food before I eat it, and I don’t like that there are always cake crumbs stuck to the paper that could have found their way to my stomach.  Besides, look at the Bon Appetit photo of the apricot cakes.  That beautiful brown, rustic edge on the cakes wouldn’t be seen if they were encased in some polka dot wrapper. So, that’s my anti-muffin liner stance.

***But you can bet they were browner than they would have been if I used muffin liners.


Filed under Cooking

Christmas Recap, Part 1: The Cookies

And suddenly… it’s almost a week after Christmas. Everyone I know seems to share the same sentiments- there’s about a month of anticipation and preparation for the holidays, and then, it’s all over. I’ve been in some weird holiday-real world limbo for the last few days, where I’ve been making bargains and compromises with myself. Things like, “Let’s try to wait until after lunch to dig into the sugar cookies today” and “Put the new Kindle away for a couple hours and knock out the editing work you need to do.”

Speaking of the Kindle… Yes, I got one for Christmas. I told myself that even though I was mainly interested in it as a reading device, I should just ask for the fancy Kindle Fire so I’d have more flexibility and be able to read the colorful, glossy, digital version of Bon Appetit. However… so far, about 95% of my time with my Kindle has been playing games like Endless Escape (this involves puzzles and cleverness, so I’m not ashamed about this) and something ridiculous called Sky Burger (more ashamed about this).

Back to the cookies. As usual, I had lofty cookie aspirations this year. I bought ingredients for four types of cookies, but after making just two batches of dough, I found my cookie energy waning. After all, there were gifts to wrap and a tree that, as of December 22, was still not decorated. And I had to make these customized magnets for our friends (because they love their kitties as much as we love ours):

cat magnets

Hey, check out that Christmas card!

Thus, my Christmas to-do list required some prioritizing, and I had the freeing realization that I didn’t have to bake all the cookies before Christmas. And really, other than a tube of almond paste, all of the other ingredients could be used elsewhere if I decided I didn’t want to make the cookies at all.


Ultimately I ended up making the following:

Cardamom-Orange Sugar Cookies.  These are the same cookies I made for our wedding. That time, I tripled the recipe and spent three days baking them. All the wedding excitement must have blocked out one key thing from my memory: I hate making sugar cookies. Don’t get me wrong- these are delicious and if you are a more patient person than I am, they are worth the effort. But what I discovered last weekend is that the process of rolling out dough, cutting out cookies only to have half of them get messed up because the dough is too soft, balling up the dough and re-chilling it, and then going through the process again was more than I felt like doing. So, sorry folks, it will probably be a while before you get more of these from me!*

Thumbprint Cookies. Made especially for my husband, who has a weakness for pretty much any sort of fruit filling when it is enclosed in a buttery, sugary womb, regardless of whether it is a homemade pie or a Pillsbury Toaster Strudel. These are not very different from the Trios I made last year, except they’re just single cookies rather than clusters of three with different fillings. In other words, these are way less tedious, which was apparently the major criterion in my cookie selection this year.

Gingery Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Are these ginger cookies masquerading as chocolate chip cookies or chocolate chip cookies disguised as ginger cookies? I think they are just the best of both worlds. I added a dash of ground ginger in addition to the candied ginger. And Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips are wonderful in these. I don’t think I can go back to Nestle.

*To be honest, not many people got cookies from me this year, and I feel guilty about that… There was some poor planning in terms of organization/storage containers/running late to family events and not having time to assemble containers to take with us. It was not my intent to bake five dozen cookies only to keep most of them for ourselves. In fact, that is exactly what I didn’t want to do. Which is why there will be another cleanse in January. More on that soon.

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Filed under Cooking, DIY Projects, Guilty Pleasures

It’s One Hundred Degrees Outside- Why Not Bake a Pie?

I never thought something like pie would lead people to question my sanity.  But apparently declaring via Facebook that you are going to bake a pie on a day it’s supposed to exceed 100 degrees will do exactly that.

I honestly hadn’t given the weather much thought.  I mean, it’s not like I’d be cooking the pie outside.  And with two dinky window air conditioning units and a west-facing kitchen that does not seem to benefit from either AC unit, heating up the oven didn’t seem like it would do much damage.  Or maybe this is a no pain, no gain kind of situation: if you’re not willing to sweat your [insert your choice of anatomy here] off, you’ll probably miss out on a pretty delicious pie. 

And to those of you who questioned my idea of an opportune pie-baking day, all I have to say to you is this (with love): You’re lucky there are crazy people like me who will hang out in the kitchen instead of the pool, because if it wasn’t for us, your summers would be sadly devoid of baked goods.

That being said, I might have backed out if it wasn’t for the giant container of sour cherries from the farmers’ market sitting in my fridge that needed to be used.  I considered pitting and freezing them for a later date, but these intensely red orbs were begging to be tossed with some sugar and tucked into a buttery crust.

Let me tell you, these cherries, and the pie filling they turned into, were so good.  They truly did deserve the butteriest, flakiest, homemade crust.  And I failed them there.  You see, while you’re pitting five cups of cherries, you have lots of time to think.  And to let those anti-pie naysayers on Facebook creep into your thoughts.  Which results in a conversation between you, yourself, and your most neurotic inner-self:

Lazy Sarah: Eh, maybe I should just buy refrigerated pie dough and get on with my day.

Overachiever Sarah: Are you crazy? You can’t half-ass a pie crust when you’re working with fresh cherries!

Lazy Sarah: But if the filling is that good, who’s gonna notice the Pillsbury crust?

Overachiever Sarah: Maybe they won’t notice, but deep down in your heart, you will know this could have been a better pie.

Third Sarah Who Just Wants to Complicate Matters: Hey, did you see that recipe for Sour Cherry Turnovers?

Lazy Sarah: Oh, that could be good.  I could just buy frozen puff pastry.

Overachiever Sarah: OR you could make cream cheese pastry dough from scratch…

Pragmatic Sarah: Well, we just wasted thirty minutes. We said we wanted to make a pie, so we’re making a pie.  And Overachiever Sarah, do you really want to be handling buttery dough in this heat?  Save your energy for the fancy lattice top.

Maybe people should be questioning my sanity.

If you think that’s bad, you should hear the argument I had with myself about buying Pillsbury versus store-brand dough.  But I won’t subject you to that.  In the end, Pillsbury won.  And it was… fine.  But I have to admit, later when I was enjoying some pie and vanilla ice cream, I was wondering how much more awesome it would be with homemade pie crust.

Next time.

I’m not going to post the whole recipe here, as I followed it exactly (other than slacking on the pie crust).  You can find the original recipe here: Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust.   It’s actually the same recipe I referenced for Nick’s Birthday Pie, when I actually made the crust from scratch, but failed to find cherries.

Overachiever Sarah was clearly not present at the time of pie cutting.

Random fact: This pie holds a special place in my heart as it was the cover recipe for the very first issue of Bon Appetit I ever received.  How do I remember that?  Probably because the cover is actually framed and on the wall in our kitchen.


Filed under Cooking, My Crazy Mind

Nick’s Birthday Cherry (or Berry) Pie

A few months after we started dating, I offered to bake something for Nick’s birthday.  His request: cherry pie.

Since then, I have baked him a cherry pie for every birthday.  (Well, every birthday except one, but that was the year I bought him a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, so I think I made up for it.)

The plan was to continue the tradition this year, but I hit a snag- Trader Joe’s did not have any frozen cherries.  I settled for what they called a “Very Cherry Berry Blend” but in reality was a bag of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries with about four cherries mixed in.  Ah well.  I had a feeling Nick wouldn’t complain too much.  Yes, I could have tried another grocery store, but more and more, I am embracing the challenge of working with what’s available and not wasting time and gas running around town trying to track down one ingredient.

This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit’s Classic Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust.  I love that the crust is all butter, no shortening.  It’s a little more challenging to work with, but it tastes so good.  For those of you who are intimidated by pie crust- you kinda just have to let go of the expectation that the end product is going to look like a magazine photo.  I never manage to get a pretty crimped edge, and it’s guaranteed that some of the filling is gonna bubble over the edge of the crust.  But you know what?  It still tastes awesome, and any type of lattice top, even if it’s not perfectly aligned, is going to look impressive.

I messed with the filling recipe a bit more.  Besides the obvious adjustments for the fruits used, I also upped the amount of vanilla extract and added some almond extract as well.  I used equal parts vanilla and almond, but I’m going to advise cutting back on the almond a bit.  Nick was happy with it and it tasted fine, but the almond extract was really fragrant.  And while the berry blend was fine, I am dying to make this again as a purely cherry pie.

Vanilla & Almond Cherry (or Berry) Pie with Lattice Crust (serves 8)


2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes*

5 tablespoons (or more) ice water

*I suggest cutting the butter into cubes, and sticking it in the freezer for a couple minutes before blending the crust

Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl to blend.  Add butter and rub in with fingertips until small pea-sized clumps form.  Add 5 tbsp ice water; mix lightly with fork until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed together.  Add more water one teaspoon at a time if dough is dry.

Gather dough together and halve.  Form each piece into a ball, then flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Let soften slightly before rolling out.


1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 cups frozen cherries or combination of berries, mostly thawed

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon milk

Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees.  Whisk 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend.  Stir in berries, vanilla, and almond extract.  Set aside.

Roll out 1 dough disk on a floured surface to a 12-inch round.  Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish.  Trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch.  Roll out second disk to another 12-inch round.  Cut ten 3/4-inch-wide strips from dough round.

Transfer filling to dough-lined dish, mounding slightly in center.  Arrange dough strips on top of filling, forming lattice.  (Bon Appetit has a great “how-to“.)  Trim overhang to 1/2 inch.  Fold bottom crust over lattice strips and crimp edges to seal.

Brush lattice (not edges) with milk and sprinkle with about one tablespoon sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 1 hour.  Transfer to rack and cool completely.

Serve with vanilla ice cream, obviously.


Filed under Cooking