Birthday Cake from Butter & Scotch

A cake slice so good, you’ll nibble around the edges of the melted candle wax just to get the last crumbs: 2017_04_03_Bruah144This year I wanted a classic, 3-tier, vanilla bakery cake for my birthday.  I have seen multiple accolades and reviews for the birthday cake at the Crown Heights, Brooklyn bakery called Butter & Scotch. (including here and here) Despite being a little skeptical of something so praised, I went ahead and placed a full cake order.  Especially since I wanted to try something that wasn’t from standbys Momofuku Milk Bar, Baked, or Magnolia this time around.

We picked it up on a dreary Saturday afternoon, cutting it up a short time later. Everyone started with a thin slice but kept going back for seconds and thirds. Can I call a cake perfectly balanced? If so, this one seems to be: perfect sweetness, perfect frosting, perfect dense-and-moist cake crumb. (yes, I will note that you do need to enjoy a denser cake for this to be your thing.) It’s the sort of dessert you might binge eat for the next couple of days without remorse.

I also picked up a slice of the S’mores pie to try out, which is also a fan pick from the shop. It was beautiful to look at but not my thing, dessert-wise. As much as I love real s’mores, the pie version is more about the overly sweet parts of the combination – i.e. the burnt marshmallow top and the chocolate cream center – and personally I wanted more of a graham cracker taste as a counterpoint.

If you ever find yourself around Franklin Street in Crown Heights, you can always stop by and eat a birthday slice at their sit-down bar and bakery space. I do, however, think it’s ideal to order the entire cake for a special event. There’s something special about opening up the box and seeing the whole concoction- the fluffy pink frosting artfully covered in sprinkles, patiently waiting to be passed out in small slices – with potential for leftovers.

Order online here.

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Chocolate Mint Cupcakes with Marzipan Shamrock Tops

I’m not one to make green or Shamrock-covered sweets in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. If anything I might end up with a loaf of Irish soda bread and be done with it. But this week I’ve been spending time with elementary-aged kids, and they wanted nothing more than a bright and cheerful dessert for what they were calling “Leprechaun Day.” So green cupcakes it was. What can I say: welcome to the USA, where the population has their own, only slightly vaguely Irish way of honoring St. Patrick.  2017_03_15_Bruah040

I went with a straightforward Mint Chocolate Cupcake recipe from the Food Network. It calls for chopped up Andes chocolate mints in the batter. This addition really makes an otherwise standard cupcake recipe shine. The frosting was not what I would usually make (as it calls for a cup and a half of marshmallow cream!), but it ended up being a soft and pleasantly tasty topping. Perfect for an after-school treat.

The only substitution I made was to use unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa instead of regular cocoa powder. It went nicely with the mint flavor.

The leaves were created by rolling out marzipan that I dyed green with gel. I used the tops of fluted round cookie cutters to help with the leaf shape. It’s not a perfect job, but it worked in a pinch.

Recipe Credit: Food Network 

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 Stars. The messiest part is adding green gel to the marzipan.

Recommended For: Andes Mint Lovers, People Who Wear Green on Saint Patrick’s Day

Not Recommended For: St. Patrick Purists

Twinkie-Inspired Dessert: Cakies from Jae NYC Eats

Dessert delivery: the option where you can taste test 20 different sweets in the privacy of your own home. Why haven’t I tried this before? For my inaugural dessert delivery test I bought “Cakies” and “Tarties,” courtesy of Jae NYC Eats.

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Jae NYC Eats is a Queens-based startup bakery making more creative versions of your standard childhood nostalgia treats. The company currently has 3 types of sweets available for purchase: Cakies, based on artisanal Twinkies, Tarties, based on Pop-Tarts, and Mankies, which are described as mini cakie donuts. The founder, Janice de Castro, started the business a year ago. Within this time she has showcased her baked goods at many of the local food markets and coffee shops while expanding the menu along the way.

I’ve been following @jaenyceats on Instagram for at least half a year, hoping to run into the business at some random food market or pop-up. (they operate out of a commercial kitchen as of now) Since I am not one to line up at food stands on the weekends, this tactic didn’t work well for me. Eventually, I decided to email the bakery direct to get a bunch of items delivered at once.

The hard part was deciding what to try. The Cakies come in almost 20 flavors, all extremely inventive, with the option of ordering sets of flavor packs that come in 2 or 3 flavors. I placed an order for the following sets:

The New York Starter Pack, which includes Rose Cake with Lemon Buttercream topped with Macadamia Nuts, Chock-Full-O-Nuts Coffee with Cinnamon, and Cannoli:

 

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Cannoli, Chock-Full-O-Nuts Coffee, and Rose Lemon

 

The Halo Halo Starter Pack, Filipino-inspired flavors including Ube (AKA Purple Yam), Pandan Coconut, and Jackfruit Topped with Fruity Pebbles:

 

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Ube, Pandan Coconut, and Jackfruit with Fruity Pebbles

 

and The Kid at Heart Pack, including Funfetti (Birthday Cake) Sandwiches and Cookies & Cream:

 

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Cookies and Cream, Funfetti Sandwich (yes, this one is a double decker) 

 

I also ordered a special Mango Saffron Cakie that was not part of a flavor pack.

For the Tarties order, I decided to try 3 varieties in the following flavors: Matcha Marshmallow Creme, Banana Cream Pie, and Turon (Fried Banana with Jackfruit)

 

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Tarties.

 

Don’t expect any of these to be a Hostess replica in the slightest. The only thing Twinkie-like about Cakies is the shape. (Same with the Tartie/Pop-Tart reference) Luckily these homemade treats are much more charming than the shrink-wrapped Hostess versions.

I found it hard to pick an absolute favorite from the bunch, but I really loved the Rose Cake with Lemon Buttercream, as well the whole group of the Halo-Halo starter pack. I tend to obsess over tropical flavors, including most Filipino desserts, and this group of cakies really hit the spot for me. I’m not even a huge Fruity Pebbles fan, but it worked great as a Jackfruit topping!  My favorite tartie was the matcha marshmallow, but now I feel like I missed out on many flavors. Time to plan my next order.

You can find out more about Jae NYC Eats by visiting their Instagram page.

 

 

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Behold make-ahead cold weather goodness:

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I wanted lasagna. A homemade, gooey, bubbling-with-marinara, weighing 10 pounds-or-something-that-feels-like-a-brick lasagna. I didn’t care how long the prep time was as long as it yielded enough for lots of leftovers and/or the freezer.

Traditional lasagna wasn’t in the cards this time around. Although I usually like one slice of a lasagna bolognese with a bechamel sauce, having the rest for leftovers is like eating an entire French Silk pie to yourself. So I searched for the perfect marinara-based version out there, eventually deciding to go with a roasted vegetable recipe from Ina Garten.

Like most lasagna recipes, it has many steps. The vegetables, as you can imagine from the name, are indeed roasted before assembling the dish. There is also lots of cheese to grate, along with a separate ricotta/egg/goat cheese mixture to whip in the mixer. If you’re like me, you also might end up making everything more difficult by adding your own steps along the way. Since this recipe calls for a vague “marinara” sauce, offering the jarred brand Rao’s as an option (no way I’m spending over 10 dollars on grocery store sauce, gourmet of not), I decided to make a quick 30 minute marinara on my own from two 28oz jars of crushed tomatoes. I used this version from Martha. I also wanted to make my own homemade lasagna noodles, mainly because I had extra defrosted swiss chard that was the perfect amount for green pasta. I used Marcella Hazan’s spinach pasta recipe from her seminal cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. So both of these steps probably added another hour and a half of prep work. See how I create small complications for myself along the way?

My thoughts on tweaking the recipe:

-I erred on being very exact with the amount of eggplant and zucchini that were roasted, and the dish really could have used a bit more vegetables. I say add a little more to the roasting pan, and if you don’t use everything it will work with another lunch or dinner. If you don’t add a few additional slices of eggplant and zucchini, I wouldn’t use the entire 2/3 cup of olive oil suggested. I would go for a 1/2 cup, maybe a little more if you feel that the eggplant is too dry.

-If you want a little more vegetables, I would saute 1/2 a container of sliced button mushrooms and adding that to the mix here.

– When assembling the dish, it seems like the amount of ricotta mixture looks a little overkill. I used all of it and it was fine.

-If you use fresh pasta sheets, there is absolutely no need to boil the noodles before assembly.

-If your casserole dish is on the smaller side, you might want to turn this into two lasagnas. (especially if you have extra amounts of sauce and vegetables) I was able to put this into a 9 x 11 and a 8 x 6 dish.

-If you live with carnivores that cannot live without a little meat in their dinner, this also works with sausage crumbles. Take 2 sweet Italian sausage links out of their casing, cook until brown, and top on each marinara layer.

-The overall dish is salty, which my household likes so we were ok with it. If you want to tone the sodium conten down somewhat, make sure your marinara isn’t overly salted. Also hold back slightly with the vegetable seasoning.

Recipe Credit: Ina Garten via The Kitchn

Kitchen Mess: 4 out of 4 stars. You’ll liable to get flour and marinara on the floor with this one. Get help with the dishes and you’re good to go.

Recommended For: Dinner Parties, Easy-To-Freeze Meals, Sunday afternoon meal prep.

Not Recommended For: Anyone avoiding cheese and/or nightshades.

In Defense of Imperfect Kitchens

I’ll always feel guilty for selling my grandmother’s dutch oven at a yard sale.

Before any sentimentalists start judging, please understand that it was during a time when I was moving halfway across the country. Any nonessentials in my life were getting purged out of, well, necessity. I was also in my mid-20’s, which in this era of delayed domesticity meant that I was a full half decade away from residing in a semi-functional kitchen. At that point, bringing a dutch oven to a city where kitchenettes and takeout were almost the norm (NYC, where else?) seemed absurd.

Also, as my reasoning went at the time, I could let go of the dutch oven because it had a chip on one edge. The traditional fire orange glaze had been marred at some point, leaving a small hint of cast iron at a corner. To an optimist this gave the dish character and strength. To a semi-pessimist it demonstrated a need to be gently placed in the giveaway pile. Rest assured, it found a new home very quickly.

If circumstances were different- if I hadn’t moved my belongings in a minivan, if I had figured out how to rent a place with a functional kitchen earlier in my adulthood- I would like to have that dutch oven in my current kitchen. It would serve as a memento of another time in my life; the small chip a reminder of the passage of time and the people I loved who have been gone for quite some time now. Plus it can be nice to honor the imperfections that live amongst us.

In the era of Instagram, I find myself ogling too many pristine kitchen photos. Photos of impossibly perfect locations where the design is award-winning and the food is local, fresh, and picked straight from central casting. If there is a sign of anything being out of place, it’s out of place in an elegant, barely accidental aesthetic. The one strategically placed crumb, for example, or a linen napkin faux-carelessly tossed in the corner of the frame.

After years of living in small, NYC rental kitchens lacking details like prep space, storage, and full-sized sinks (including one without an oven), my current kitchen is, luckily, finally functional. Unfortunately it is also very used, outdated, and unphotogenic. The objects housed there are mostly in the same condition. My cutting boards aren’t glowing with a healthy wooden sheen, my plates were not lovingly picked out from an upstate NY antique shop, my serving dishes are never ever ready for photo shoots. Still I want to keep my unique, possibly homely, overused but functional kitchen items around. Why? Because they have served a purpose and continue to serve a purpose, an important one, which is to make meals for me and my family.

One not-beautiful part of the kitchen is our rice cooker, which is almost 5 decades old. My father in law brought it with him as he traveled to make a new life in the US as a college student. My husband refuses to get rid of it, mainly because he swears it does a better job than any of the newfangled, computerized, self-timed versions out there. It has the worn-out but still-usable look of an old classic novel that was your grandfather’s in middle school. The cord is most definitely a fire hazard, which is why I stay in the kitchen while it’s on.

 

Another uninspiring kitchen object is the mixer. It’s not what you would automatically picture in a Kitchen Aid- this one isn’t bathed in a bright color such as royal blue or cheery yellow, only a stainless steel exterior. It is strictly utilitarian in it’s purpose. It has a dubious past – the mixer’s origins are from an ex-boyfriend from an ill-fated period. At the time I broke it off unceremoniously, he was furious- with good reason, I’ll admit – but for some reason he wouldn’t take the mixer when he left. “It was a gift, you keep it,” was his response. I wanted him to take it, to have a reason to remove it from my house, but I also saw no purpose in removing it myself. It had a purpose. Instead I tried to remove the history of the object while keeping it in my possession. It has no history, I would tell myself. Any signs of a story was removed with a (fictional) removal of the (never-present) color shellac coating. In the end it turns out erasing the past is easier said than done.

I still feel like my my grandmother’s dutch oven would fit in perfectly with the other quirky kitchen objects in my possession. Luckily I have other ways of holding on to her memory. In the meantime I’ll continue to find a way to appreciate the worn-out, lived-in items in my present-day kitchen. A place where small enamel chips are a badge of pride, and imperfections are a part of a our own history and humanity.

 

 

 

Banana Bread and Miso Butterscotch Trifle For 2

 

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I appreciate the casualness of a trifle. It is created by simply stacking 3, 4, or maybe even 5 elements in a glass bowl a few times over to create a pretty and tasty final product. Traditionally a British dessert, the internet is full of versions that transcend the normal custard/sponge cake/fruit/jam combination. You have lots of room for improvisation with a trifle- it allows you to have a certain freedom that isn’t always available when making more specific desserts. (As long as you have properly cooked your cake/bread, puddings/custards, and various other pieces in the first place, layer away however your heart desires). This is also THE dessert to make when you thought you were baking a cake for a dinner party but the cake fell or you don’t have time to frost and decorate the final product. Nothing makes for a better use of an ugly cake.

Enough about using cake as a base, as my version calls for quick bread instead. After making 2 loaves of banana bread the other day, I decided to use part of a loaf for my own individual-sized trifles. I also had a strong urge to bake with miso, mainly because I had purchased a rather large bag of shiro miso the other week. So this trifle is both banana-and-umami heavy, perhaps not for everyone but try it if it sounds like your sort of thing.

Banana and Miso Butterscotch Trifle for 2 

Note: this trifle does not contain a pudding or custard, making it slightly drier than other versions. (It shouldn’t be an issue with the whipped cream and butterscotch, though.) If you’d like to add a pudding layer, I say go for it!  

1/3 loaf banana bread, cooled to room temperature and cut into 1 1/2 inch slices (*recipe below)

8 teaspoons of Miso Butterscotch Topping (I used the recipe from Christina Tosi in Lucky Peach)

Homemade Whipped Cream (I like mind unsweetened, but feel free to add a bit of sweetener if you’d like)

1 banana, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preparation:

Start with 2 wide rimmed glasses (I used rocks glasses from my bar set). Cube the slices of banana bread. Take enough bread cubes to cover the bottom of one glass.

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Top this banana bread layer with a heaping teaspoon of miso butterscotch. Add a few slices of banana to rest above the butterscotch layer. Next add a heaping tablespoon of whipped cream and spread evenly over the bananas.

Start this process all over again with a layer of banana bread cubes, a teaspoon of miso butterscotch, banana slices, and a tablespoon of whipped cream. Repeat with one more layer if you have enough room. Finish off the trifle with a tablespoon of toasted chopped walnuts.

Repeat the same steps with the other glass. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Banana Bread (adapted from Epicurious) 

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed ripe banana

3 tablespoons yogurt or sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (plus additional butter for greasing the pan)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

1/4 cup shiro miso

Preparation:

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine the mashed banana, yogurt, miso, and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated, 1 minute.  Add the banana mixture and beat for 30 seconds. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches and stir on low until just mixed together.

Bake for about 50 minutes.

 

 

 

Review: A Vegan Cream Cheese Worth Eating.

2017_01_13_bruah079I’ll start by saying that I’m not vegan- the times I’ve tried in the past did not work out for my body-  but I wholeheartedly respect people that commit to a cruelty-free lifestyle. I also think it’s important for our food systems to come up with new ways of making the world less dependent on animal protein. (even if many people don’t give it up completely…)

I always enjoy trying new meatless and nondairy options that become available in local grocery stores. Though the dairy-free cream cheeses I’ve tried in the past have been, well, less than stellar. (Sorry Tofutti, but you have an aftertaste I just can’t enjoy.) For a while now I have hearing great things about the brand Kite Hill; how they were focusing on creating nut-based vegan products by using the same techniques as traditional cheesemakers. Their cream cheese style spreads are made from cultured almond milk instead of the soy-based varieties I’ve tried and disliked in the past.

I finally took the time to pick up a container of the Kite Hill chive cream cheese, a couple of bagels (admittedly, not great for NYC standards), and headed home to toast up some tests.

Let me tell you, this is a product I will 100% end up buying again. The cream cheese is soft and smooth and glides easily onto a bagel half.  Just taking off the plastic covering is a wonder in itself- it reveals an aesthetically lovely product that is studded with tons of green chives.  It has a creamy, dairy like flavor and mouthfeel that makes me not miss the real version, which is important when trying to gain fans of vegan food. I also liked the spread sprinkled with castelvetrano olives – the overall combo made me forget that the bagels I had bought weren’t the best.

 

 

2017_01_13_bruah035So omnivores, I say try this one out for taste. I’m excited to try out their version of plain cream cheese to see if it holds up to this one, as well as their other nut-based cheese products on the roster. An added bonus: if you buy one container, Kite Hill gives you a manufacturer’s coupon in the packaging for your next purchase if you decide that you like it.

 

When I Begin To Try Everything At Sugar Club

I might live too close to the Sugar Club.

Anything called Sugar Club might be a tough thing for yours truly to avoid. This is the name of a Thai-dessert-spot-slash-small-Thai-grocery located in Elmhurst, Queens. Although half of the space is dedicated to sit-down treats, I have yet to stay and eat their recommended Romeo Toast or a classic mango with sticky rice. What has made me happy so far is the craziness that is their to-go section. So. Many. Options. If you’re looking to try new Thai snacks, they have a massive array of homemade choices ranging from savory to sweet, from the familiar to the new (that is, if you’re not a Thai native or super-well-versed in Thai cuisine).

The first time I went into Sugar Club, I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory reworked for tropical flavors. The grocery area was filled to the brim with take-home containers full of food. The flavors of taro, pandan, coconut, and tapioca were everywhere. I almost jumped for joy, ready to carry a tower of plastic boxes home for taste testing, but decided to practice some restraint. “I’ll come back soon,” I promised to myself, choosing a single container of black sticky rice for the road. “I will try to return every other week and pick up 3 new options to try.”

Of course it ended up that my take-home options for trip #2 were more limited in scope.  It seemed like they were awaiting a new batch of food on that day. I decided to bring home a container of Woon jelly- basically a Thai Jello- if only because it looked so pretty, as well as a Taro pudding and a coconut cake called Kanom Ba Bin.

The bite-sized jellies were basically what I expected: not too exciting flavor-wise, but pretty to look at. The Kanom Ba Bin were pretty tasty, but my favorite was the taro pudding which was soft and starchy, flavored with coconut, and felt like a very eggy bread custard. The black sticky rice dessert from my first trip, by the way, was also excellent.

I’ll be sure to post another round in a couple of weeks. (remember, practicing restraint…)

Sugar Club is located at 8118 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens.

 

 

When Classic French Bakeries Are Tucked Into Strip Malls.

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Queens bakery Canelle Patisserie has been in East Elmhurst for what seems like forever. They have added a second location in LIC that is more centralized to trains and Midtown Manhattan, but I hope the original location never goes away. I always love the surprise of good food in the most random of strip malls. This seems to be the sort of place you’d normally find in LA, where most restaurants pretty much have to be located in a strip mall. This is a west-coast-centric-quirk: here in NYC, a strip mall usually means blah chain stores. Which makes Canelle, tucked between a (also good) Greek restaurant and small grocer amidst rows and rows of parking, have a sort of strange magical quality to it. The continuous roar of low-lying airplanes about to land at nearby Laguardia airport adds to the strangeness. The planes are only around if a specific runway is being used that day. If so, they pass just over this strip mall where it feels like you can touch them overhead. On the morning I stopped by that particular runway seemed to not be in use, but trust me, you will know either way.

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I hear the cakes are good but I have yet to have a reason to pick one up. The pastries are always more reasonable to leave with when you don’t have a special occasion to attend that afternoon. Here we have a Chocolate Croissant, Guava Danish, and Pain Viennois. The croissant and danish are flaky perfection. The Pain Viennois was interesting to taste, like a baguette that’s softer and sweeter. It would pair well with jam and coffee.