Trifling Matters

Shattered beyond repair, my once grand glass trifle dish lay in ruin. Wordlessly closing the cardboard shipping box that had become its tomb, I placed it by the door, ready for the next trip to the dumpster. No tears were shed, no outpouring of emotion could be summoned. It was a devastating loss, without a doubt, but I was already numb from uncovering the very same scene in each of the over 40 packages I shipped to save moving expenses. Of all the pieces I would mourn, the trifle was at the bottom of that list. Who really needed a vessel that would feed a crowd in the middle of a pandemic, after all?

Glorious layered affairs that are the stuff of royalty, grand parties, and celebratory gatherings throughout the centuries, there is no such thing as a small trifle. It transforms into a parfait or a verrine when scaled down; no less delicious, but a far cry from its original grandeur. Even the most humble of ingredients can become sublime in such a magnificent presentation.

This one stacks as a summery strawberry shortcake fit for a crowd. Soft cubes of freshly baked vanilla cake soak in jam like sweet sponges, layered with fresh berries, buttery custard, and clouds of whipped coconut cream. Though simple in concept, it makes a big impression as one generous, family-style indulgence.

Time heals all wounds. No, it’s not possible to put those irreparably fractured shards back together, but there is hope for a new start. A new life, a new community, and a new trifle dish; some how, they all seem linked in my mind. It’s just a trifle, but being able to share it freely with a full home of new friends feels incredibly significant.

Continue reading “Trifling Matters”

Kiss and Tell

One small batch of nostalgia, coming right up.

For someone who built a career on sweet treats, my kitchen has been churning out distinctly savory dishes lately, with desserts far and few between. It’s tough testing so many sugary indulgences when you’re baking for one, and the pandemic has cut severely into my opportunities to share. Still, there’s no denying the call of cravings, a deep, undeniable, almost primal urge for the comfort that only a bit of sugar might bring.

Large pies are out of the question, as are elaborate entremets. Nothing too fussy, nor too perishable in reasonable quantities for a solo eater to take down. Most days, I can satiate those innate desires with sensible poached pears or macerated strawberries with softly whipped coconut cream, but there’s something about the ritual of actually baking that soothes the soul, almost more than the act of eating the end results.

To that end, I turn to this scant handful of treats that comforted me as a child. Impossibly picky, there wasn’t much I wanted beyond the basics, which is where these cocoa kisses came in. Meringues tinted with a hint of chocolate, my mother modified a recipe right out of The Joy of Cooking to create a cookie that was crisp, light as a cloud, but slightly gooey and soft on the inside. Perhaps it’s not the proper form for a true meringue, though who’s to judge when they were snapped up as soon as they could cool?

Bringing down the yield to a more manageable quantity, you can whip up a batch in minutes, and feel just fine about devouring them just as quickly. Anytime I feel that familiar craving for nostalgic sweetness, I won’t deny it; this is the kind of self-care that everyone deserves.

Continue reading “Kiss and Tell”

Gooey St. Louey

At a glance, it looks like a mistake. Something must have gone wrong in the oven, or perhaps before. Maybe carelessly measured ingredients, an inaccurate thermometer, or poor technique led to such a homely appearance. Sunken in the middle, crackled and broken across the surface, it’s no wonder most versions are drowned in a flurry of powdered sugar, as if trying to cover these flaws. Then, there’s the sweetness; oh, such sweetness, as if plain sugar was a bitter pill by comparison!

St. Louis gooey butter cake has quite a reputation, along with a fervent following that wouldn’t have it any other way. It turns out that this Depression-era cake was indeed the result of a Missourian baker’s error. As the legend goes, the ratios were somehow skewed but because ingredients were precious, it was simply sold anyway, repositioned as a pudding-like treat you could eat with a fork. It’s all about marketing, right?

Most modern recipes start with boxed cake mix and use about a pound more sweetener than I would really like to ingest in a year. Purists may scoff, but it genuinely hurts my teeth to think about. If you’re still with me here, craving that same luscious gooey texture with a fuller flavor less obscured by sweetness, pull up a seat and grab a fork.

Everything is better with sprinkles, don’t you agree? If we’re going to make a simple cake, it might as well be a confetti cake. Staying true to its simple vanilla roots, a touch of fresh lemon juice brightens the batter without taking command. More nuanced, delicate, and mature, yet whimsically colorful all at once, this rendition pulls it firmly out of the Depression and back into contemporary kitchens.

A pinch of salt balances out the topping, while the amount of sugar is slashed in half, compared to conventional recipes. Yes, it’s still plenty sweet, but no longer the stuff of dental nightmares. You can indulge without bracing yourself for a sugar crash later in the day.

Gooey butter cake may just be my favorite mistake. If only all our blunders could be so delicious!

Continue reading “Gooey St. Louey”

All About That Base

Cake mixes get a bad rap- in most cases, rightly so. Little more than overpriced packages of flour, the advantage they offer to conventional baking is slim to none. Hapless bakers end up investing their precious time and money on treats that taste no better than a processed, packaged dessert straight off the grocery store shelf. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the concept. I’ve always railed against such purported “conveniences” that merely cut out the step of measuring ingredients already ready and waiting in the pantry.

To every rule, however, there is an exception. PastryBase is that rare unicorn that makes the cut, quite literally in the case of their adorable Unicorn Cupcake Baking Kit. What sets this apart from the pack is that you get so much more than just a bag of dusty white flour.

One box contains everything you need to hit the ground baking, which is exceptionally helpful if you’re not a regularly keep the pantry fully stocked. That includes rainbow cupcake papers, a disposable piping bag, two types of sprinkles, those highly Instagrammable unicorn toothpick toppers, and of course, both cake and frosting mix. All you need to supply is a splash of non-dairy milk, oil, and some vegan butter.

Did I mention yet that it’s gluten-free? It’s an important feature, but the least of my concerns when I’m savoring the fruits of my scant labor. This is one of those rare baked goods that dessert devotees would flock to, expressing genuine shock and disbelief that they are, in fact, gluten-free. Moist and tender all the way through, there’s not a dry crumb to be found. Of course, there’s not a crumb left by the time you finish licking the paper clean, either.

Just as importantly, they’re not bound so tightly with gums or thickeners that they’re more dense than osmium. For all the conventional ingredients omitted in this mix, these little cakes truly lack nothing.

Whipping up in mere minutes, the soft, gooey frosting comes together like a standard American buttercream. Though I held back on the liquid, adding only 1 of 3 suggested tablespoons, mine came out far less fluffy than that pictured. Regardless, I certainly can’t complain about the taste. Bearing a subtle hint of marshmallow and notes of vanilla, it crowns those golden cakes with a gentle kiss of sweetness.

Enjoyed altogether, these treats deliver a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth experience. Plus, that coarse colored sugar isn’t just for show; it adds a crunchy, satisfyingly granular texture for welcome contrast.

Easy enough for a child but too much fun to let them enjoy all the glory alone, PastryBase is the only mix I will allow in my kitchen. PastryBase is passionate about changing the notion that baking is too difficult, arduous, and time-consuming for the home cook. Their mission is to encourage everyone, from beginners to pastry mavens, to bake more often, with higher-quality ingredients, and no worries. Now that is something I can happily sink my teeth into.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with PastryBase. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

More Matzo? Say It’s Not So!

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On this night, we must ask ourselves why on Earth we bought so much darned matzo meal.

Don’t tell me I’m alone here. Year after year, as Passover draws nearer, I have an inexplicable fear of running out of matzo meal. Surely, THAT will be the one thing that the stores run out of right in the moment of need. Not toilet paper, not water, but matzo meal. It’s even more incomprehensible because I don’t even like the stuff. Truth be told, I hate matzo! Made into balls or drowned in toffee is the only way I’ll accept it. Otherwise… What the heck do you do with all this dry, flavorless sawdust?

You turn it into a fruit crumble topping, that’s what! Thanks to the magic of nature’s candy, there’s plenty of rich, sweet flavor in the filling to make up for any of matzo’s shortcomings. Bolstered by the warmth of ground cinnamon and dark brown sugar, it turns into a crisp, downright buttery struesel to cap off the tender berry jumble. Served warm with perhaps a scoop of ice cream melting luxuriously into all the crevasses, or a soft dollop of whipped coconut cream melding into each layer, there are few desserts more comforting.

You’d never even know that this formula included the plague of my pantry, that ever-present matzo meal, perpetually purchased in bulk for no good reason. At least, now it has a good purpose, even beyond the Passover Seder. For both its crowd-pleasing taste and effortless assembly, this dessert is a definite keeper.

Continue reading “More Matzo? Say It’s Not So!”

Calculating the Perfect Pie

Be it custard or fruit, mousse or chiffon, a pie is only as good as its crust. Drawing as much passion as it does ire, the art of crafting the perfect pastry is a contentious subject among bakers and eaters alike. Everyone has an opinion about this essential dessert foundation, ranging from the most minimalist approaches inspired by the sage advice of grandmothers the world over, to high-end culinary graduate specifications that require a firm grasp of the scientific intricacies of baking to appreciate. There’s more than one way to go about the circumference of the dough, but there is one important rule that must be obeyed: Never let the hype go to your head.

When you find a solid formula, stick with it. There will always be new suggestions to explore, such as the substitution of vodka instead of water, or coconut oil as the primary fat, but if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Since Pi Day, March 14th (3.14) is right around the corner, now has never been a better time to strengthen your pie making prowess. That all begins with the crust.

What follows is the crust that’s seen me through the stickiest of fillings, the most temperamental of ovens, and the hottest of summers. This “Old Reliable” is a baker’s best friend, capable of standing and delivering anything loaded into it. The ingredients are nothing noteworthy; it’s all a matter of how they’re combined for the magic to happen. Keep everything, including bowls and utensils, as cold as possible so as not to melt the fat. Though a point of contention, I do adhere firmly to the belief that an all-“butter” crust is best. You may lose a little bit of flakiness, but the added flavor and crisp texture is worth that small sacrifice. For a lighter texture, feel free to sub out half of the butter for pure vegetable shortening, and proceed as written otherwise. Do not be tempted to play around with coconut oil or any liquid oils in this one, as the structure simply isn’t built for that kind of tinkering.

Even when I’m planning to make a single-crusted pie, I always use the double-crust proportions, to make the most of my time. The extra disk of dough can be frozen for up to 6 months with no harm, as long as it’s thawed gradually in the fridge before use. That way, you’re always prepared to whip up a pie at a moment’s notice.

Continue reading “Calculating the Perfect Pie”