An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


A Baker’s Fairytale

Once upon a time, in a kitchen far away, there lived a little baker. Day in and day out, the little baker would fire up the oven and punch out dough after dough, fearlessly conquering scores of wild yeasts within. All the villagers depended on the little baker to slay these fickle beasts, feeding the town and keeping it safe all in one deft thrust of the rolling pin. Years of practice rewarded the little baker with flawless, lofty loaves, perfectly soft and tender through every slice, until one fateful day when a stack of sad, half-eaten toast arrived at her doorstep along with a hastily scribbled note. Scrawled out in the uncertain, tilting print of a child, it read:

Go back to the old formula! We hate this new stuff. It tastes like wet cardboard and it’s so bad, even the jam slides right off in protest. Did you switch to GMO flour? Is it gluten-free? Whatever you’re doing differently, stop it!

The little baker was perplexed. The formula was the same as ever, simple but reliable, exactly as it had been when she first learned to tame the wild yeasts years ago. Perhaps it was the little baker that had changed. Growing weary after just the first few loaves, it became a struggle to keep the oven light on late into the night, as the wild yeasts grew restless and unruly. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, they were beating down the little baker’s spirit, draining her of all the magic it took to transform humble dough into delicious bread.

Crestfallen, the little baker mournfully shoveled the cold, abandoned toast into her mouth while whipping through every cabinet in the kitchen. Surely, there was a secret ingredient in here that could turn things around. The villagers all depended on her! Alas, nothing turned up; just the standard salt, sugar, and flour that had always been there remained in amply supply, and nothing more. The little baker retreated to her bed, falling heavily onto her pillow and immediately drifting into a strange dreamland…

Everywhere around the little baker, the air glittered with rainbow colors. What is this strange sorcery?, she wondered to no one in particular. It seemed to fill the entire room, invading her very pores, becoming a part of her. The little baker’s hands began to glow with a peculiar warmth, as though they were on fire.

The little baker woke with a start, panicked that morning had already broken and the daily bread still needed to be made. Had she gotten drunk on over-fermented yeast in that toast? No matter, there was a job to do, even if the magic was gone.

When the little baker stepped into the kitchen, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Sitting there on the counter, still slightly warm, was a golden brown loaf of bread. Surely, she would have remembered baking such a beautiful specimen, but the little baker was certain she went straight to sleep last night. It looked fairly humble, and yet there was definitely a different energy about it. The loaf hummed with potential.

Tentatively, the little baker wielded her sword-like bread knife and plunged it into the heart of this suspicious beast. As the first slice fell away, she gasped.

Swirled throughout the standard crumb, a rainbow of fairy dust had embedded itself into the loaf. Without missing a beat or stopping to lavish the bread with any sort of accouterments, the little baker hungrily devoured the first wedge in record time. Impossibly light yet satisfyingly chewy at the same time, it was a world apart from the sad, standard loaves she had churned out just the day prior. Sweet and slightly sticky in all the right ways, the fairy dust within didn’t taste of a rainbow, but it possessed an undeniably enchanting power, elevating the unremarkable baked good into something positively spellbinding. How it happened, where it came from- The little baker hadn’t the slightest clue, but it filled her with a new, indefatigable zest, impassioned once more to reproduce this miracle.

Even though the little baker never did discover the source of the fairy dust, nor create another loaf quite so otherworldly, her breads once more began to rise to the occasion; filled not with magic, but simply the little baker’s passion, the bread never tasted better.

(This loaf was inspired by fairy toast, and created in celebration of the 10th annual World Bread Day.)

World Bread Day 2015 (October 16)

Fairy Swirl Bread

1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Rainbow Sprinkles

In a small saucepan, combine the non-dairy milk and sugar over medium heat. Warm the mixture gently, bringing the temperature up no higher than 110 degrees; exceed that, and the poor yeast will all be killed instantly. Aim for around 100 degrees or just warm to the touch, turn off the heat, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit and become bubbly; about 5 minutes.

Pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer with the dough hook installed, and introduce the oil and vanilla as well. Add in the wheat gluten, salt, and 3 cups of the flour. Start the mixer on low speed to combine, allowing a few minutes for the dough to begin coming together. If it seems excessively wet, go ahead and add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until it mostly pulls off the sides of the bowl and feels tacky but not sticky. Let the dough hook knead it for about 10 minutes before scraping it out, kneading it briefly by hand, and shaping it into a smooth, elastic ball. Drop the ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for about two hours in a warm place.

The dough should more than double in volume, at which point you’re ready to punch it down and shape it. Lightly flour a clean surface and turn the dough out onto it. Either use your hands or a rolling pin to press it out into a rectangle. The most important dimension to keep in mind is the width, so that the final loaf fits comfortably inside the pan. Keep it around 8 – 8 1/2 inches on two sides, but roll it out as long and thin as possible. You may want to let the dough rest and relax periodically to stretch it even further. The longer you can make the dough, the more impressive the final swirl will be.

Scatter the sprinkles evenly over the entire surface of the dough except for an inch of one of the shorter sides. Starting at the fully sprinkled end, roll it up as if you were making cinnamon buns and pinch the finishing edge closed. Lightly grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan, and drop the rolled dough into it, seam side down. Cover and let rise again, for about an hour, or until the loaf is almost peeking out above the rim of the pan.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Once the loaf is risen and ready, tent very loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil at this point, drop the temperature down to 350 degrees, and bake for a final 5 – 10 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let it rest in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack. Cool completely before you even think about slicing it, no matter how incredible it smells. Trust me, your slices will be much more fluffy (and less smeared with molten sprinkle filling) with just a little bit of patience!

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe


We Be Jammin’

Summer, no matter how long, hot, or dry, never overstays its welcome in my home. The season always ends up feeling shorter than the rest, abruptly cut off by the rude interruption of an autumnal cold snap, or forced to jump into the conversation late thanks to a long-winded spring shower. Every moment of warmth in between is savored, if not greedily seized, because it’s just never enough to satiate my cravings. While June, July, and August fly by, I’ve been known to mow through more fully grown watermelons than seems humanly possible, trying in vain to quench a never-ending thirst for both the fruit and the season itself. Cleaning up the wreckage after yet another destructive melon binge, I started thinking about what was left once the juicy pink flesh had been devoured. Surely, there was something better to do with all of that perfectly good rind than lay it to waste in the trash.

Meanwhile, another sort of refuse was piling up in considerable tonnage; cucumber peels, in all their green glory, suddenly seemed too precious to take for granted, much like the fleeting days of summer. Both leftovers possessed a uniquely refreshing, watery constitution, and were neutral enough to bend in either a sweet or savory direction with equal success. Surely, the two could join forces and become something much greater than their individual parts.

Jam is the answer. Cucumber-melon jam, a piece of the season preserved for months to come, without detracting from the immediate gratification of the fresh produce itself. The key for success is to make sure that every last piece of green skin is peeled away from the watermelon rind, since it’s tough and somewhat bitter- The one leftover element that’s only worth saving for the compost heap. Simple and vibrant, the combination could also pair beautifully with a handful of fresh mint, or even basil for a more unconventional approach.

From trash to treasure, rinds and peels haven’t been given their fare share of the culinary spotlight, but I think it’s about time to change all that. One taste of this sweet, simple condiment, and you’ll never be able to justify throwing away the excavated shell of another watermelon ever again.

Cucumber-Melon Jam

1/3 Pound Cucumber Peels
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Teaspoons Calcium Water*
1 1/2 Pounds Watermelon Rind, Peeled and Chopped
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
4 Teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin Powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract

Before you begin, prepare the calcium water. To do so, combine 1/4 teaspoon calcium powder (the small packet included in the box of Pomona’s pectin) with 1/4 cup water in a small container with a lid. Shake well to dissolve. Leftover calcium water can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Place the cucumber peels, water, lemon juice, and calcium water in your blender and thoroughly puree. Once smooth, add in the prepared watermelon rind and blend on a moderate speed. Depending on your textural preferences, puree the mixture until completely smooth, or leave it slightly chunky. Both approaches are equally tasty!

Transfer the liquid base to a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat on the stove. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and pectin powder. Bring the liquids up to a boil before adding in the sugar mixture, stirring vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin while the jam comes back up to a boil. Once it returns to a vigorous bubble, stir in the vanilla, remove from the heat and pour into 4 or 5 clean half-pint glass jars. Simply let cool and seal with an air-tight lid to make “freezer jam” which will keep in the fridge for about a month, or follow these suggestions to properly can the jam and put it up for about a year.

Makes 4 – 5 Cups

Printable Recipe


No Dumb Blonde

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; applied to baked goods, this theory could be interpreted to say that for every brownie, there is a blondie. Isn’t science great?

Thus, when my brownie crisps were received with such voracious enthusiasm, I knew right away that there would need to be a round two for this experiment. Boasting the same satisfying crunch in a lighter golden-brown package, these sweet squares are the perfect contrast to the dark, devilish rendition that inspired them. I can’t say that one is better than the other- In fact, I think it would be unfair to pick one over the other. Clearly, the only way to maintain a harmonious balance is to make a batch of both at once.

Blondie Crisps

1/3 Cup Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Pure, Unflavored Pea Protein
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Molasses
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Vegan White Chocolate Chips, Divided
3 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts, Divided

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer,) combine the aquafaba and sugar and beat until foamy. You’re not looking to whip it into a firm meringue here, but a loose froth with the sugar fully dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, pea protein, salt, and baking powder, stirring to ensure that all of the ingredients are equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients while the mixer runs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Immediately follow with the oil, molasses, and vanilla, and stir just until the batter comes together smoothly. Fold in the half of the white chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly as humanly possible. The batter should just about cover the whole sheet. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate chips and walnuts evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack in the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking for 10 more minutes. Pull the sheet out and use a pizza cutter to slice the square or rectangular shapes you desire, but don’t separate them yet. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for a final 10 – 14 minutes. They may still feel slightly soft in the center, but they’ll continue to crisp as they cool.

Let the crisps cool completely on the baking sheet before breaking the cookies apart. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if you can manage to keep them around that long.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Blondie Crisps

Printable Recipe


Silent Sunday: Sweet on Austin

Zombie Sundae (with Chocolate-Chai and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream) from Sweet Ritual

Austin Cream Pie Donut from Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich (with Chocolate Chip Cookies) from Moojo

Currant Scone and Iced Chai Tea from The Steeping Room

Chocolate-Dipped, Coconut-Covered Frozen Banana from Bananarchy

Birthday Cake Cupcake (Strawberry Cake with Almond Whipped Topping) from Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop

Nada Moo Vanilla Chai Sundae, Ice Cream Social Hosted by Counter Culture

Chocolate, Carrot, Lemon, Coconut, Cookie Dough, and Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Sugar Circus

Dreamsicle Cupcake from Capital City Bakery


Earthy Elegance

As an avid baker and dessert-lover, it may come as a surprise that the greatest indulgence I can think of is eating something sweet that I didn’t make myself. While I enjoy the process and crave the creative control that starting from scratch always brings, a truly decadent experience is one that doesn’t require any work. Although I always get exactly what I want when I make my own birthday cake, I must admit that there are times when I wish I could just sit back and relax, leaving the heavy whisking to someone else. That’s precisely where Earth Cafe comes in, online purveyors of fully prepared, ready-to-eat, raw, vegan cheesecakes. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of, especially for a vegan eater who grew up in the days of cardboard bran muffins being peddled as “dessert,” for lack of better options. Balancing out wholesome ingredients with decadent flavors, the result promises to impress all palates. There truly is a taste for everyone, and I was lucky enough to snag a bite of four popular flavors.

Impeccable, perfectly applied ultramarine stripes adorn the top of the Find Your Thrill on Blueberry Hill Cheesecake. Whole berries rest near the bottom, adding a punch of fresh, full-bodied berry flavor while the cheesecake base remains fairly plain. Lacking in typical cheesecake tang, I might describe it more as a somewhat firmer cream pie instead. It may be the most visually striking of the bunch, but I felt it left the most to be desired in tasting.

Pale, dusty pink and redolent of vanilla and berries, Strawberry Fields Forever Cheesecake bears a strikingly bright, fresh flavor, just as promised. More of a custard consistency than traditional cheesecake, the soft bite was perfectly silky-smooth and creamy. Incredibly rich, even I could only manage half a slice at most before reaching my limit, and I don’t mess around when it comes to the last course of a meal. Most regrettably though, it was stunningly, almost stupefyingly sweet. It comes as an initial shock to the system, tasting almost like a wedge of berry frosting at first taste, especially after a savory supper. For those who would rather a candy than a cake, this might just deliver exactly that sensation.

Things got much better from here on out. Adorned with graceful decorative swirls, Rockin’ Raspberry Cheesecake definitely had a rhythm and jive all its own. Super sweet raspberry flavor infused this slice, much like homemade jam. The intact raspberry seeds are actually a nice touch here, adding some textural interest and reinforcing the fresh, raw concept, all while managing to make themselves sparse enough to resist sticking in your teeth.

For me, the sleeper hit of the batch was the unassuming Who’s Your Daddy? Carob Mousse Pie. Slightly firmer in texture than the other slices, it isn’t some sad attempt at replacing chocolate, but a whole new world of flavor, complex and delicious in its own right. Tasting primarily of dates and caramel, with warm, woodsy notes reminiscent of chicory to round the whole slice out, it could convert a carob-hater with ease. All it needs is a light sprinkle of flaky sea salt to really take this treat over the top.

Since I do work with dessert so often and have developed some strong opinions on the matter, I would definitely suggest that these assessments be taken with a pinch of salt (perhaps literally, too.) Your mileage may vary, especially when it comes to your level of preferred sweetness. The only way to find out for sure is to give Earth Cafe a taste for yourself! Enter the coupon code “SAVE15” at checkout to snag- You guessed it- a 15% discount off your order.

From one baker to many others, there is no shame in indulging in a prepared dessert, especially when it’s as good as any one of these luxurious slices.

These product were provided by the manufacturer free of charge for the sake of this review, but I was not paid for my time or opinions.


Pop It Like It’s Hot

Freshly fallen leaves have settled in crispy piles everywhere the eye can see, while cooler breezes have swept away the summer heat so thoroughly and completely, it’s hard to believe we ever faced such oppressive temperatures. For most people, this shift tends to evoke thoughts of apples, pumpkins, and mulled wine, but for me, this time is inextricably linked with a craving for popcorn, of all things. Popcorn was never a part of any particular seasonal traditions in my childhood, nor was it reserved only for specific times of year, but something about the colder weather and advancing calendar days makes me crave the crunchy stuff. Best of all is the sweet and salty combination of kettle corn, packing in a more satisfyingly crispy texture than plain old Jiffy Pop.

There’s just one self-imposed rule to my annual popcorn cravings: Never pop the same flavors twice. This year, I was inspired by a recent taste of sriracha popcorn, a delightfully fiery little snack that delivered a nice, warm burn with every bite. What it lacked was balance, and all I could do was dream of how much better the concept could be executed with just a bit of sweetness to round things out… At least, until I got into the kitchen for myself.

Like standard kettle corn, these sweet, salty, and spicy little morsels couldn’t be easier or faster to whip up. Whether it’s a sudden craving that strikes or a house full of hungry guests to accommodate, you can’t go wrong with this crowd-pleasing treat. Adjust the sriracha to taste, depending on just how hot you like it.

Sriracha Kettle Corn

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Popcorn Kernels
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 – 5 Teaspoons Sriracha
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Flaky Sea Salt

Heat the coconut oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, along with two or three kernels. Keep covered, and when the first few kernels pop, go ahead and add in the rest, along with the sugar and sriracha. Stir well to coat before quickly covering with the lid once more. Shake the pot constantly and vigorously to prevent your corn from burning. This is critical for even cooking and fewer “dead” (unpopped) kernels as well.

Once the popping has slowed to one every two to three seconds, remove the pot from the heat and uncover, continuing to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped. Pour the popcorn out onto a sheet pan and sprinkle evenly with salt, to taste. Let cool and break up the large clumps, picking through to remove any unpopped popcorn kernels that might remain.

Makes 8 – 10 Cups Popcorn

Printable Recipe


Wordless Wednesday: San Francisco Treats

Vanilla Soy Frozen Yogurt at Fraiche

Like a Vegan (Ratatouille Crepe) at Galette 88

Charlie Brown’s Nightmare (Chocolate Soy Ice Cream with Peanut Butter and Cookies) at Holy Gelato!

Vegan Deep Dish at Patxi’s Pizza

Onigilly Set with Shiitake, Hijiki, and Natto Onigiri at Onigilly

The Curried Veg Pasty at The Pie Shop


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