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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

New Year, New Pineapple Cakes

I’m starting off 2017 by breaking open a special gift from the in-laws: a box of SunnyHills pineapple cakes from Taipei. If only I knew about this place when I visited Taiwan in ’14. (Or maybe it’s best that I didn’t, considering how many boxes I might have tried to bring back at once…)  Pineapple cakes aren’t for everyone, nor are they very consistent in quality, flavor, and texture across brands. You kind of have to do your own research to find out which versions you enjoy the most. To me, SunnyHills is one of the best I’ve tried so far. The cake is buttery and crumbly, the fruit filling not too sweet and fresh-tasting. Speaking of fresh-tasting: note that these cakes are preservative-free, making the shelf life extremely short. Works for me as I prefer my dessert not ready to last the ages, Twinkie-style.

SunnyHills ships stateside from Singapore and they even have a cute limited edition 2017 box adorned with chicks here.

Even More Cookie Time: Triple Ginger

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Sometimes you need to pose with a Poinsettia. (But careful, aren’t they slightly poisonous?) 

December doesn’t exist in my head until some kind of ginger spice cookie is ready for eating.

Last year I baked this recipe for Molasses Krinkles, which was enjoyable, but it didn’t seem to be the cookie I loved from previous years. I think I’ve finally located the version that I love. The difference? Lots and lots of ginger: the dough contains chopped crystallized ginger, minced fresh ginger, and a healthy dose of ground ginger to top it off. Just my style. I would even consider measuring out heaping teaspoonfuls (or 1/2 teaspoonfuls) of the spices listed, if you want an extra kick.  This cookie is pure heaven warm from the oven. It also stays softly chewy for a few days, especially if you only keep it in the oven no longer than the suggested 15 minutes.

One caveat: the previous Molasses Krinkle recipe that I made did have a nice texture thanks to the shortening. Maybe I need to combine the best of both worlds and adapt the recipe? Next year it is!

Recipe Credit: Epicurious

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars.

Recommended For: Cookie Lovers and Their Friends

Not Recommended For: ?

Cookie Time Continues! Multigrain Chocolate Chip

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Helloooo buckwheat flour. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it works for me once in a while. Yes, the items shown in the image above are cookies- promise. Sugary ones, too. These will make sense when you want a cookie but feel really, really bad about it. I’m a complete sucker for anything that tries to infuse healthy elements into not-so-healthy foods. (ex: grated carrots in canned tomato soup, a scoop of barley flour in buttermilk pancakes) Does it work? Eh, probably not. Although maybe it’s better than snacking on wonder bread and processed cheese sandwiches on a daily basis?  I say yes to that.

Despite having a solid dose of whole grain (whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, and kasha), these do have a normal amount of sugar. They have sugar, salt, and butter galore. No sense in making them pretend-health-food-cookies, right?

At first I thought the flavor was a little too hearty, but I grew to love them after the second cookie. (one must always try a new cookie twice, just to be sure.) Definitely make sure to sprinkle a little flaky sea salt on these babies- the added salt infusion really goes with the whole flavor.

Another tip would be to let the dough refrigerate for a day or so. I baked two batches: one the day of, another one 36 hours later. I thought the second batch mellowed out the crunchy kasha more to my liking.

Recipe Credit: Design Sponge (note that I used a newer Dorie Greenspan alteration, not on the internet, that has a few adjustments: 1. Reduce the amount of light brown sugar to 2/3 cup and 2. replace the 1/4 cup of cracked rye with a 1/4 cup of Kasha (buckwheat groats). She recommends Wolff’s medium granulation. Another substitute would be 1/4 cup of finely chopped toasted nuts.)

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. A typical cookie mess.

Recommended For: Anyone Who Thinks Adding Whole Wheat Flour To Anything Makes It Healthy, Adventurous Types, Sweet and Salty Fans

Not Recommended For: Whole Grain Haters, Picky Eaters, Purists

 

Moroccan Almond Semolina Cookie Time!

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Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book looks perfect. Everything I’ve tried so far from various magazine/internet articles has been a winner, so I think it’s time for me to go buy a physical copy. This Moroccan Almond Semolina cookie was the first recipe on my list. In my opinion, semolina desserts are the best. (but so are almond flavored sweets….and lemony scented dessert….and also anything with a splash of orange flower water….so here you have it, a cookie that combines all of these elements!)

If you’re not one for the specific texture of semolina, I’d definitely move on to another cookie. No sense in messing with that crucial element here. However, one item that can be omitted is the orange flower water. If you’d like you can try adding an equal amount of rose water instead, or perhaps a little extra lemon zest. It also says nothing at all is fine too. I’d really suggest trying it out first- it adds a lovely floral hint to the cookie.

This recipe seems to be both very specific and versatile all at once. What is specific is the flavor and texture. The versatility comes in when and where it can be used: I can see this working as part of a whole holiday cookie platter, as a teatime snack, or at a springtime or Easter brunch. Play around and see what makes the most sense!

Recipe Credit: Dorie Greenspan via NY Times

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars. Not bad considering it involves a little powdered sugar

Recommended For: A Different Kind of Cookie Platter, Holiday Parties for Adults, Days When You Want To Bake Cookies But You Only Have Canola Oil, Not Butter

Not Recommended For: Kids Parties, People Who Dislike Orange Flower Water

Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Streusel

Yes, it is impossible to hide: I have a strong and obvious obsession with pumpkin pie. Yes, this is my second pumpkin pie recipe I’ve written about in a month. My main excuse is that Thanksgiving is around the corner. Also, I think when you love something as much as I love this dessert, you should have a couple of versions on hand. This is an old favorite that I tend to come back to from time to time.

This pie tends to impress people thanks to a killer trio of layers: a decadent spiced bottom crust, a very creamy and soft center, and an overly generous streusel topping. It is especially appealing to anyone who is a fan of ginger. It’s what you make to rope in the pumpkin pie haters wandering your dinner crowd, the one that occasionally creates a convert.

I think the crust recipe is both amazing and frustrating at once. Amazing because the addition of fresh ginger and ground cloves are everything to this recipe; frustrating because the crust tends to quickly shrink and then burn by the end of the lengthy baking time. The flavor is there, but there’s something a little off with the overall ratio and baking times. I would try to cover the crust with foil during much of the baking time. Also, if you have your own favorite crust recipe I’d suggest using it here. Perhaps adding ginger and some cloves to a tried-and-true crust will be sufficient.

The interior custard is softer than other versions of squash pie, yet I tend to only let it cook the suggested 50 minutes before adding the streusel.  Any longer and the whole pie starts to overcook. The streusel topping is finished by 25 minutes at the most- I would check on it after 20 minutes to be sure. I think the overall spice of the pie is best after resting at least 12 hours, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make this before serving.

The pie is very sweet- maybe overly so- and hardly needs any accompaniments. The end result is also messy, even bordering on ugly once you slice it up. Exactly why I went the dark-and-mysterious-photo-route instead of showing it off. Some things are better off being consumed than incessantly styled.

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Sliced and over being photographed. Waiting for a fork.

Recipe Credit: Bon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. Not too bad, though watch out for streusel crumbs on your counter.

Recommended For: Ginger Fanatics, Thanksgiving, Pre-Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Nostalgia in January

Not Recommended For: Trying to Use Less Heavy Cream, The Only Dessert Amongst Friends Who Hate Ginger