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!

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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.

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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.

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Bread So Nice, I Made It Thrice

Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.

-Pablo Picasso

Adversity gives us perspective; despair informs our joy. Without suffering, we would never know what it means to be truly happy. Human nature is to avoid pain, which is a general approach I would advocate for, too, but sometimes the greatest victories rise from the ashes, like the phoenix reborn.

Much has been said about the devastation wreaked by the impossible winter storm here in Texas. It’s not what I imagined for my first winter in the deep south, that’s for sure. The experience has left a mark, visibly inside flooded and now moldy apartments across the state, and mentally, still haunting nightmares and wakeful moments alike. To be honest, I’m not quite over it yet, and I was one of the lucky ones. I lost power for three days, while temperatures plummeted into the single digits, and water for six. Melting snow in the fireplace to have water to drink and dredging out the pool to flush the toilet weren’t exactly the survival skills I was taught as a girl scout. I would have likely frozen to death if not for the endlessly kind friends within my orbit. From a swashbuckling rescue across the ice-slicked tundra, gliding through the black of night under dark traffic lights, to the seemingly small offer of a warm shower, I owe these people so much.

Which is why I made them all bread.

For the first loaf, it was a matter of what I could piecemeal from a kitchen that wasn’t mine, that could be reasonably fabricated without fancy equipment. Homemade bread, soft and tender, aromatic and still warm from the oven, is a simple pleasure that everyone can appreciate. It transcends the question of sweet or savory, avoids the pitfalls of expensive ingredients, yet tastes like love itself in every bite. Thick-cut, chewy rolled oats give body to this simple sandwich bread, adding just enough interest to make it a treat without further embellishment. That said, it’s at the peak of perfection when toasted and smeared with a fat knob of vegan butter.

The loaf was further refined with a second run, rising to even loftier heights with more patience and experience. Again, the company and context added a certain seasoning that mass-produced baked goods could never have. Bread is a living thing, you know; it’s like a pet that you must nurture and train with equal parts kindness and respect.

Only when I finally returned to my own kitchen did I finally master the art. For something that started as a throwaway formula, not even written down, it became a highly sought-after prize, with inquiries about the recipe coming in left and right. So, in case you were one of the lovely people following my harrowing journey on Instagram or Facebook, thank you. This last loaf is for you.

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A Bridgerton Too Far

Like most people burrowing in at home during the pandemic, I’ve done my fair share of binge watching, devouring shows with a bottomless appetite. Not even discerning the finer fare from downright junk food, I’ll swallow them all whole in one sitting, pausing perhaps for a breath of air, but not a crumb will be left when the day is done. As a respite from reality, even the worst programs are still tolerable. When it just so happens that I dig into an actual delicacy, however, it’s a treat that transcends the most substantial meal. It satisfies my creative hunger, while often eliciting a greater craving for creativity.

Dear reader, please don’t judge me, but I fell hard for Bridgerton on Netflix. If you’re not familiar, the basic premise centers around one affluent family during the Regency Era in London, full of love, scandal, and strife. If it were a book, you might even call it a bodice-ripper at points, and yet… Of course, I find myself most captivated by the food. Particularly, the elaborate feasts, huge spreads set for even the most mundane weekday meals. The singular dish that I simply can’t shake from mind, despite the fact that it flashed on the screen for not even a full second, barely even coming into focus, was the most magnificent asparagus pastry I ever laid eyes on.

(Please don’t sue me for the screen shot, Netflix.)

Tireless internet trawling yielded only a few scant scraps. Promising leads, but nothing substantive; certainly not enough to fill up on. Hungry for answers, I decided to write my own script for this savory plot twist.

Raised pastry crusts were very popular at this time, often decorated lavishly by the impressions of fancy copper molds. Lacking such specialized equipment, my crust is made in the same spirit, but as a simpler springform affair. Contrary to delicate doughs that yield a tender yet flaky texture, recipes dating back to this time were sturdy, utilitarian foundations built upon lard and high-gluten flour. Staying true to the spirit of the task while attempting a more edible base, I’ve employed coconut oil alongside softer white whole wheat flour.

More importantly but also more mysteriously, the filling posed a unique challenge. Of course, asparagus should be the primary ingredient, but what else? How did they stay so pert and erect after roasting, and what anchored them in place? Most dinner pies, and most foods on affluent British tables in general, contained meat, and lots of it. Mincemeat was a perennial staple across all classes, but for such a special event, only the best would do. Thus, it’s rational to imagine a hidden pool of luxurious pate holding those spears upright. Rich and buttery, perhaps a touch gamey, duck or pheasant liver might be a good choice. For me, though, canned green beans are the new foie gras. Believe it or not, the once off-putting tinned taste is the very thing that gives this spread the same distinctive notes of iron, along with a satisfying dose of protein. Bolstered with savory herbs and spices, tasting, more than seeing, is believing in this case.

Pert and perky straight out of the oven, my stalks did admittedly begin to droop after the rigors of shooting under hot lights. Next time, I might suggest cutting the spears a bit shorter, to put less strain on the crust and keep them standing tall. My vision was simply too grand to live beyond the specter of a Hollywood set.

It takes a bit of doing to prepare, but a royal feast demands the utmost of care to pull off. With a bit of planning and patience, even those who aren’t lucky enough to be born into high society can partake in this grand, celebratory pastry.

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