Monday, December 1, 2014

Espresso Hazelnut Cookies

Two years ago, I moved to LA. Or so. The anniversary is a weird one to pinpoint because there's the day I left Minnesota, the start of my lease, when my little Scion soared into my new neighborhood via the 5, the day I returned from that prolonged Christmas break that made my first few weeks in LA feel more like a vacation than a move. There's the arbitrary date I wrote on my California DMV registration to avoid paying late fees. Maybe the anniversary should be the first time I accidentally said "home" and meant LA. Regardless, my relationship with this city feels like a college romance where we fucked around that one time at a party, went on an undefined group date to a football game, told our friends it might be a "thing." I guess the day doesn't matter -- what matters is that we're together.

I know I'm reallllllly killing it with this analogy, but please don't get it confused, I am very much single.

I had never been to California before I moved here. Family road trips had always been east and south and I went to school in New York. Even while studying sitcom writing in college, it never occurred to me that I would some day have to live in LA. Uh, what a dumb-dumb. My college roommate and lifemate and best friend, Haley Hepworth*, had moved to LA and convinced me I'd love the city based on the number of Targets in the vicinity and, like, various waffles she ate and "thought of me." The weird thing is, it didn't take much convincing. I hate change and avoid spontaneous decisions whenever possible, and risk is terrifying, but she said, "We can live together again and maybe have a claw foot tub," and I was like, "Sold." I was in a long-term relationship, very much involved in the Minneapolis improv community, working a few jobs in theater and putting up shows. I ADORE Minneapolis. I had a great apartment a few blocks from HUGE Theater and Lake Harriet with a delightful roommate who would sometimes surprise me with pasta. But I jumped. I practiced telling people I was "maybe moving to LA at the end of the year" and then suddenly I just WAS. I guess I'm incredibly proud of myself for not over-thinking things for once in my life, but then again, I'm pretty sure even over-thinking would have led me to the same decision. LA is where I should be and I had the support system to make the move a relatively smooth transition. My then-boyfriend and I road-tripped to LA and it was honestly the best time we spent together. For some reason, I concocted faulty logic that once you see the Grand Canyon with someone, you'll be together forever. My former therapist would call this "magical thinking" but it really worked for me at the time.

Did someone say VEGAS?!
 I was welcomed to this city by Haley and several college friends and moved into a great house and my parents visited and everyone was all, "We believe in you!" Every time I'm like, "That Tesla cut me off" or "I can't stop sweating" I remember how lucky I am to have friends here and be part of a community I love. Minneapolis is great and will always be HOME home, but LA is just where I'm supposed to be. BASICALLY, I'M GRATEFUL AND HAPPY, OKAY?

This week, I made Espresso Hazelnut Cookies. And as my friend Mary asks me every week, no, I didn't make up the recipe. I'M NOT THAT GOOD. But the cookies are! I love hazelnut lattes, so I figured this would be a fun way to add some calories to that flavor profile. 

Before I moved, one of my jobs was at Caribou Coffee. I woke up very early and made turtle mochas and served apple fritters that would sometimes break and then I'd HAVE to eat them and provided excellent customer service. I didn't mind working at Caribou until that ONE DAY when I was filling up a large tea with... water? Can I call it just "water" when it's over 180 degrees? Someone bumped me and I spilled the entire cup of scalding hell-liquid on my hand. I then grabbed my hand, which slid all of the skin off said hand like a fucking horror movie, and I was making some weird sound that indicated incredible pain, and the customer was all, "Can I please have my tea before you go to urgent care?"

I had a skinless hand for awhile -- a wound that was vaguely phallic, so that was fun for friends. I applied various creams and magically, my hand grew back, despite the fact that it looked like raw steak for awhile.

I was going to post a picture but I put one on Facebook when it happened and someone reported it, so, you know, no need to unnecessarily upset people with my body. If you're into it, pictures can be found here. Don't tell that abandoned blog about this blog, kthanks.

I kept working at Caribou by wearing a plastic bag around my gauzy wound. And now I can't drink tea without having flashbacks. So, that's a fun part of my life.

Espresso Hazelnut Cookies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons instant espresso
2 cups roasted and unsalted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. Or don't even mix it, you rebel.
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, blend the butter and both sugars until it's not a clumpy mess.
Add the eggs one at a time, making sure they blend well.
Add the espresso and watch the color of your batter MAGICALLY CHANGE!
If you bought whole hazelnuts, like I did, you'll have to chop them. The quickest and easiest way seemed to be to crush them with the broad side of a big knife. You can do it, put your back into it! 2 cups is about 10 ounces, by the by. 

Oh, nuts! <-- pun
Add the hazelnut pieces to the batter and mix by hand. I found the batter to be gross and too thick. You might feel similarly.
Grease your cookie sheets and drop the dough in heaping tablespoons. Spread that shit out. 
Bake for about 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.
Enjoy your caffeinated dessert! 

The cookies turned out chewy and not too sweet. I really like them! I'm curious to try the recipe with almonds, as almond lattes are also delicious, and a nut is a nut is a nut. Would that count as making up my own recipe?

Happy baking!

*You didn't forget about that Haley Hepworth asterisk, did you? Haley and I met in college but we actually "met" when we were in junior high and belonged to the same SNL message board online. When it came up, we realized we knew each others' screen names. Clearly, soulmate material. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tunnel of Fudge Bundt

I'm feeling sort of grouchy today. I'm not sure why. I mean, I ate a piece of delicious fudge-tunnel bundt last night. I started re-watching my favorite docu-series of all time, Ken Burns' The West (I'm a total sucker for sweeping landscapes and sad violin music and stoic b&w pics and awkward historians). Everyone in my house accidentally fell asleep and we woke up just in time to make it to our show -- our improv team, Lady Parade, was participating in an indie cagematch and despite our drowsy state, we won! It was an exciting night of improv and friendship.

But still, I woke up late, and sort of perturbed. I tried all of usual tactics to shake it. I went to Target (for dish soap and tampons, but still). I listened to my favorite Beyonce classic, "Countdown," and car-danced. I even ate a tiny square of cheese. Two squares, really.

My therapist and I recently went through a mutual and necessary break-up because I abruptly switched insurance plans. You know what, that's not fair, it didn't need to be abrupt, I knew about it for months. I turned 26 and was dropped from the sweet, comfortable, includes-dental nest of my parents' health insurance. I knew it was coming and I didn't really make that clear to her because I felt awkward. So, I cowardly left a voicemail last week that let her know I wouldn't be at my appointment that week or... ever. And I said I'd send a check and quickly hung up and felt very guilty -- a perfect emotion to discuss with my therapist, unfortunately. She left a voicemail this morning that said she was "sorry I wouldn't be coming back," she was "sorry she didn't accept my new insurance" and she "truly hoped the best for me." It feels like all that's left is for me to pick up my stuff at her place, if I had left anything at her place, and listen to some sad music. If it's anything like one of my last breakups, which she knows quite a bit about, I should listen to The Eagels' "Best of my Love" on repeat in traffic and sob-talk the lyrics. I probably won't do that again, but never say never!

Okay, regardless of my current mood, Saturday was National Bundt Day, which is a big fucking deal. Because information is power, here are some facts about everyone's favorite cake-with-a-hole-in-the-middle:

  • Like me, the bundt pan was born in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
  • Unlike me, the bundt was created in 1950s by the Dalquist Brothers, who founded the Nordic Ware cookware company. They were approached by women from the Minneapolis Jewish-American Hadassah Society who wanted a modern, cast-iron version of a Gugelhupf (traditional German fruitcake) pan. 
  • In German, "bund" could refer to way the dough is "bunched" in the pan. It could also refer to a "group of people," since one typically shares a bundt with loved ones. The "t" was added to successfully trademark the pans.

For some reason, the bundt pan wasn't initially very popular, and the Dalquists considered discontinuing the pan. 

Helfrich and her two masterpieces (her cake and her hair)
However, that all changed in 1966, when Ella Rita Helfrich won second place in the Pillsbury Bake-Off with her "tunnel of fudge" bundt cake. The bundt took the country by storm! And we've been loving them ever since. 

I AM a busy lady!
In honor of National Bundt Day, I really had to attempt the famous tunnel of fudge situation, despite the fact that the name continues to make me feel uncomfortable. The cake itself is a magic trick -- the "tunnel of fudge" forms inside the cake only if you cook it at the correct temperature for the correct amount of time. Some message boards even recommended using an oven thermometer, which I was not going to do. Miraculously, my cake still produced its very own fudge tunnel and once again, I was disproportionately proud of a cake. I mean, what else is new. 

This recipe is somewhat controversial because Pillsbury apparently discontinued the Double Dutch frosting mix that was originally used to create the tunnel. They swear it was basically cocoa and powdered sugar, but depending on what website you're on, some Midwestern ladies continue to lose their shit and really lay into Pillsbury over this great loss. I didn't know it, so it's hard to miss it. ( <-- poignant take-away from this post.) 

Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake

1 3/4 cup softened, unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup white sugar
6 eggs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups chopped walnuts 
(believe it or not, they are apparently essential to create the fudge tunnel)

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 to 6 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Aggressively grease and flour your bundt pan.
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until it is fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time.
Add the powdered sugar. 
Add the flour, cocoa, and walnuts, and stir by hand. This will probably be pretty difficult, because the batter is incredibly thick and unwieldy. I thought about giving up several times, but you should power through, because there is fudge in it for you at the end (and on the spatula, if you're into that sort of thing, as I am).
 Spoon the batter into the bundt pan, making sure it is evenly spread.

Could be eaten on its own, I'm sure.
Bake for 45 minutes. Because of the nature of the cake, you cannot use the toothpick test, but you can tell the cake is done when the edges start to separate from the pan. Don't over-cook.
Cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for 1 1/2 hours.

This cake is DONE!
Flip that shit onto a plate (because the cake is so heavy, it is a very satisfying clean release). Cool for another 1-2 hours.
Prepare the glaze by mixing together the powdered sugar, cocoa and milk. I tried to do this over heat to make a "hot fudge" scenario and that sort of crashed and burned. If you want a thick, shiny glaze, don't do what I did. 

This... kind of didn't work.
Drizzle the glaze over the cake, letting it run down the edges.
Cut into it and hope a tunnel of fudge reveals itself to you.

This cake is HEAVY. It is like the craziest brownie you've ever eaten that wasn't crazy for other reasons. You'll definitely want to have a big glass of milk on hand -- or, like me, a big wine glass full of milk to add some elegance to your dessert experience. 

Happy baking!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Marbled Mocha Walnut Bundtlettes

I was home last weekend (again, I know, shuddup) and while I was primarily in the North Star State to attend a wedding -- a super fun marriage of two of the best people I know, no big deal -- my trip happened to coincide with my sister's weekend trip home from Chicago. We did have to share a car, and avoided most issues except when I straight-up took her car keys and there were no spares and I was in a show and that was a problem. But mostly, now that we don't live in the same place and neither of us live at home, coinciding trips are rare and fun.

Annie is very good at selfies.

Even though she's 22 and I'm 26 and we are basically very grown-up ladies, given the right cocktail of circumstances, we have no problem returning to the approximate ages of 10 and 14 and realllllly giving each other the business. We used to bicker a lot when we were younger, mostly over things like personal space and volume -- of the TV or the other one's voice. We are pretty different people, which was not something to be admired with perspective when we were sharing bunk beds or the middle seats of our family's GMC van. I'd like to think I was a very cool big sister, but I wasn't a "very cool" anything and did some pretty torturous things -- like when I told the peanut-hating Annie that peanut M&Ms were bigger because they had more chocolate in them and she ate one and threw up in the lobby of a skating rink. Or when I threatened to put grapes under the grape-hating Annie's pillow if she didn't bring me a pop. I knew where to hit to make it hurt the most. I was a monster. But! In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, she could be incredibly annoying and... and... ugh. I don't remember any specific things she did to me. Maybe recorded over some of my SNL VHS tapes? I don't know. Like I said, I was a monster. Processing some things now...

...and I'm back. Yeah, we were both mean to each other, I'm sure. Yeah, yeah.

I look too satisfied, like I was the one who just had the baby.

When we were little, it felt like a problem that we were different people who did things differently. We didn't look alike, we didn't dress alike, we solved problems in our own ways and had different types of friends. This was even hard for our parents to process, I think. I signed up for every single activity available to me, and when my parents went through the motions of putting Annie in the same sports and clubs, she straight-up refused to participate. I remember her standing on the ice rink, completely still with tears down her cheeks, staring at my parents in the bleachers and silently begging for them to put her out of her snow-pantsed misery (the peanut M&M incident was not related, we spent a lot of time at ice rinks). I thought, Why not just skate? Just do it and have everyone watch you and then you can feel great and special and skilled! But that's never what Annie wanted. She only did the things that made her happy, for herself, and she's still like that and it's very admirable and something I'm working on because I'm still all, Just do it and have everyone watch you and then you can feel great and special and skilled! Processing some things now...

...and I'm back. Yeah, yeah, everything's fine.

Annie didn't get a lot of credit growing up for all of the things she's really, really good at. And while I think it took her until high school and college to truly figure out all of the things she loves and wants to do, she's currently in a great groove and I'm so proud of her I could cry. She has an incredibly big heart that is full of patience and love, which is why she's so good at being around kids and animals and why she's studying early childhood education and photography at Columbia College in Chicago. (Some of this post makes it sound like she's dead, with this past-tense business, but she's not and I sent her this post before I published it because, you know, she's not all, Just do it and have everyone watch you, etc. etc.)

Thanks for this one, Sears Portrait Studio!

As I was gathering ingredients to make these bundtlettes, I called her to vent about my essentially trivial problems, and she said, "Instead of saying 'I feel guilty,' try saying, 'I am grateful.' It's a completely different tone and perspective. It's lighter."

My little tiny baby sister has grown into this very insightful young woman and it sort of blows me away -- not because I don't think she's capable of being wise, but because I sometimes can't help but see her as that 10-year-old in my personal space being annoying. She still hates my boring clothes and I cannot believe how much zebra print she wears and surrounds herself with, but we have found a lovely common ground. And I don't feel GUILTY about accidentally hitting her in the face with a baseball bat when we were little, I am GRATEFUL she has forgiven me and that they were just baby teeth.

Marbled Mocha Walnut Bundtlettes

 First of all, this recipe certainly accommodates a full-size (12-cup) Bundt pan... You don't have to make bundtlettes but COME ON, HOW CUTE ARE THEY?!
Also, the mocha ribbon is more of an accent flavor and is not dominant, so if you want something more chocolatey, you could add more or... whatever, try something that isn't so chocolatey, you chocolate animal.

2 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup ground walnuts (Don't ever pay more for finely-ground anything. Do it yourself with your inner strength/rage!)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks of softened, unsalted butter (Shh... butter is good for you...)
2 more tablespoons of softened, unsalted butter (Everything's fine)
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Ghirardelli, because did you know I'm very fancy??)
 1/4 cup coffee, hot or cold
1 teaspoon finely-ground instant coffee
1 3/4 cup white sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease/flour your bundt pan WELL. We've been over this.

Greased and floured and ready!
Whisk together the flour, walnuts, baking powder and salt. Depending on the texture you want, you can keep some of the walnuts in pieces.

Crushed these with my own brute force.
 Double-boiler time!! If you don't have a double-boiler, don't worry! Make your own, like I did! But DO NOT put the chocolate mixture over direct flame. Instead, use a bigger pot to boil water on the stove. Put the 2 tablespoons of butter, chopped chocolate, coffee and instant coffee in a smaller pot.

Butter and chocolate and coffee -- pretty much all of my favorite things.
Place the smaller pot over the simmering water and stir constantly until it is melted and well-mixed. Keep the heat fairly low -- the water doesn't need to be at a rolling boil to do the job.

Double-boiler, shdouble-shmoiler!
When melted, remove the smaller pot from the heat and set aside.
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, combine the sugar and 2 sticks of butter until it turns to a paste (about 3 minutes).

This consistency is very frustrating. Deal with it.
Add the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture becomes smooth and satiny.
Keeping the speed on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and milk.
Drizzle the batter and the chocolate in the pan, in layers.

Basically art.
If you are using a bundtlette pan, bake for about 15-18 minutes (the batter should be enough for 12 bundtlettes). If you are using a regular bundt pan, bake for about 65 minutes.
As always, use the toothpick test to determine if it's done. But you already knew that.
Let it cool for about 5 minutes before carefully releasing onto a plate!

Feel free to dance around the kitchen if you, too, achieve a perfect flip!
These moist lil' guys are hefty and delicious -- and the walnut batter is incredibly good... just trust me, don't judge me. 

Happy baking!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Almond Sugar Cookies

There was never a time when I wasn't tall. In fact, proportionally, I used to be even taller. It was noticeably uncomfortable for both kids and adults around me. It was only somewhat uncomfortable for me -- I never wanted to buy clothes at Limited Too anyway, and sometimes I got to use the teacher bathroom because people thought I was a teacher.

My dad was thrilled, because my height meant one thing: basketball. It was somewhat irrelevant that I have limited hand/eye coordination and run like I have weights attached to my hips. (I mean, in a way, I do?) I started basketball when I was 6, in a community rec league. My dad coached and we always "tied" (bullshit). In 5th grade, I started playing traveling basketball for the St. Louis Park Orioles. Tournaments consumed our weekends. My parents shuttled me to outer suburban gyms, to places like Inver Grove Heights and Minnetonka and Coon Rapids (real). I played basketball with the same ladies for years and years, and most of them became the "popular girls" when junior high rolled around. Socially, I stayed where I was. I have this weird memory of hanging out between games -- they were talking about boys and eating concession nachos and I thought, Wow, if I ate nachos right now, I would not look as cool." 
7th grade Emily showcases her inner thigh meat

It was fine. I was a generally nice girl, in the process of cultivating a sense of humor, but I didn't know my own strength. So, for many years, I would foul out of almost every game. That's five fouls. Five times I physically accosted a stranger in less than an hour -- and got caught. One time, I hit a girl really hard on the head when she was trying to shoot because I either thought her head was the basketball or it felt like the right thing to do in the moment, and she had to sit out the rest of the game because she was "potentially concussed." Another time, I was fighting over the ball with a very tiny girl who definitely had not gotten her period yet and when I pulled the ball towards me, she came with it. I "shook her off" and she hit the wall. "Stay away from 33!" Other moms would shout. Of course I felt bad. I felt like this giant, uncontrollable beast who was out for blood -- kept in a cage during the week and only released to play in the Moundsview Winter Hoopz tournament. In reality, I wanted to ask my opponents if they had ever seen Saturday Night Live and if the glow-in-the-dark rubberbands on their braces brackets also turned yellow.

I quit basketball my sophomore year of high school and it broke my dad's heart. I had never seen him so sad. I quit to focus on improv, which was his nightmare. But also, I kept injuring my knee and my coaches were incredibly mean. One coach made fun of the fact that I was an editor for the high school newspaper -- I think she called me a nerd? I was over it.

Recently, basketball reentered my life in a disproportionately big way. I was invited to play with some wonderful ladies on the Lucille Ballers, part of an LA women's rec league. Out of the 12 registered teams this season, 8 are made up of mostly improvisers (and actors and writers and general comedy ladies and... models?). It's so fun and we are all very serious about it. We seem to be good enough to make the games interesting, but not as good as the other 4 teams in the league who are apparently very passionate, professional athletes. What was most surprising to me was how much I had missed team sports. It fills a void -- provides a really perfect outlet for exercise and competition and teamwork and goals. I mean, I'm not moving my body unless I have to, and when you want your team to win, you have to move your body. Am I still fouling a lot? Yeah. I am. I become aggressive, despite being a generally nice person, and still don't know my own strength. I'm more comfortable with my body now*, though, so it's fine. Also, the women I get to play with are truly the best, some of the loveliest people I've met in LA. They would look very cool eating nachos.

*...not true.

The Lucille Ballers <3

When I re-injured my knee earlier this summer, my physical therapist (Julius C.) thought I was a college athlete for our first three sessions because of the intensity in which I spoke about basketball and "getting back on the court." My dad is very proud, and will hopefully get a chance to see a game when he visits with my mom in January. Until then, I'll continue to hear him in my head yelling for me to box out and post up. We have a game tonight vs. The Kimmy Dribblers. I'm hopeful.

Unrelated to basketball, I made some really amazing almond sugar cookies this week! These are so, so easy. Don't buy sugar cookies at the store. Don't!! Make these instead, and feel like a champion.

Almond Sugar Cookies


1 stick of soft, unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons boiling water
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
food coloring 


With a standing mixer or hand mixer, blend the softened butter and sugar until it's sort of creamy. I think it helps to intermittently use a spatula to press/cream the butter and sugar together.

The coffee is so I don't add baking soda instead of baking powder.
Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract. It should get pasty.

So many extracts!

Add the flour in increments, blending in between. 
Add the baking powder and salt.
This dough is pretty sticky and somewhat unwieldy, but don't be afraid to really blend until it's well-mixed.
Eat some of the dough, because the dough is unbelievable, and the raw egg is probably fine. 

Because this is why we bake.

(Fun fact: my mom used to put raw eggs on my cereal when I was a baby because my grandma told her it would help me grow. I am 6 feet tall, so, who knows.)
Cover the bowl in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Dough disc

When you're ready to cook these puppies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease your cookie sheets in whatever fashion you prefer (lately, I've been using vegetable oil and a paper towel and it feels old-fashioned for some reason and I like it).
Flour a clean surface. Flour it again. Flour it so much, because this sticky dough needs it.
Roll out the dough -- because I had a smaller surface, I preferred to roll out just a little bit of dough at a time.

Rollout! (This is a reference to Ludacris, circa 2001)

You'll need to use flour on the dough, on the rolling pin, your hands -- everywhere. Just, like, so much.
If you like fluffier cookies, roll to about 1/2 centimeter thick. If you like crispier cookies, roll it thinner. You do you.
Use a cookie cutter (or a glass rim) to create fun and delightful shapes. I used my Minnesota cookie cutter because it's not a Christmas tree and I love my homeland.
Bake the cookies for about 5-8 minutes, depending on how thick you made them. They will stay the same color -- perhaps brown slightly around the edges. 
Cool the cookies on a wire rack, and when they are completely cooled, eat them all or ice some of them.

And then I ate all of them.

These cookies are fairly sweet (read: delicious) and you definitely do not need to ice them for flavorful fun times. Up to you!
Bring some water to a boil.
Put the sifted powdered sugar in a bowl.
(I didn't sift because I'm lazy, and there were some little powdered sugar blobs in the final product. I have so many regrets.)
Add about 3 tablespoons of just-boiling water to the powdered sugar and mix.
Add food coloring, if you'd like! 

Again, feminist bowl optional.

Once the cookies have cooled, use a spoon to ice them. Hopefully, you will do a better job than I did, as the icing is gloopy and requires an artist's touch. I always fall short on presentation. :(

These cookies are incredibly easy to make and are, frankly, dangerously addicting. This has been the one Sunday when I haven't had leftovers from my baking adventures. The almond extract makes them just a little bit fancier than regular cut-out sugar cookies. I always want the dough to be in my fridge... but at the same time, I don't. I can't. That would be a bad idea, right?

Happy baking!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cheese Curds

My mom likes to say I'm very "food-focused." I can't argue with that. She's right. I love food. I love talking about it and eating it. I get excited about it. A few summers ago, I was at a lovely backyard BBQ, having a very nice conversation with friends, when someone announced that more brats were done. I got so excited -- got up so quickly -- I dislocated my knee and "made the most horrifying sound anyone has ever heard" and an ambulance came and carted me out. So, yeah. I guess I am "food-focused."

This is why the Minnesota State Fair is one of my favorite things. Sure, I love seeing all of the 4-H animals (and my awesome family members who do a bang-up job showing Brown Swiss cows). I love people-watching and counting kids on homemade leashes (because this is very amusing to me). I love visiting the different barns with various activities and free things (lots of buttons and pencils -- arguably too many). The Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter heads are a favorite -- my second cousin Nicole even earned herself a butter head this year. We are very proud.

That's 90 lbs of butter. And Nicole.
But the best part of the fair is the food. For ten glorious days at the end of summer, everyone gets as excited about food as I do. The newspaper publishes lists of new fair fare -- disgusting and disconcerting and deep-fried -- but delicious, if you're willing. There is no "balanced meal." You can't "count calories." You follow your heart. You make sacrifices.

You apply strategy. Is the all-you-can-drink milk stand close to the Sweet Martha's Cookies booth? Of course not. You get your first cup of ice cold, frothy dairy deliciousness and drink it on the way to the cookies, preparing your stomach for the onslaught of dairy. You let it know you're just getting started. When you've procured your cone (or bucket, if you're hardcore) of chocolate chip cookies, you return to the milk stand for a refill. You try to avoid standing near un-chaperoned 4-H farm boys holding informal milk-drinking contests with each other. And you enjoy your milk and cookies like a goddamn American hero.

The best fair food, though, is the cheese curd. It's not even debatable. Recently, Minnesota restaurants have started adding cheese curds to their appetizer menus, but it's really hit-or-miss. The fair curd is rare and specific. It is not heavily-breaded. The cheese melts, encased in a crisp jacket of batter. When you've had a fair curd and a layman curd, you know the difference, and it's... striking.

So... when I moved to LA -- to this state that claims to have "happier cows" -- I assumed I'd still be able to get curds somewhere. Anywhere. But this is not the case. And, to top it all off, I've missed the fair twice now. This is maybe even more depressing than the 2007 State Fair, when I attended a Goo Goo Dolls concert at the grandstand by myself and tried to start a conversation during "Black Balloon" with the couple next to me, who had started making out without my knowledge. Maybe.

Me and my pronounced underbite enjoy some curds, circa 2008!
I have one option: make my own cheese curds. Last year, I used the recipe below with a big ol' vat of oil and nothing to lose. This year, thanks to the wonderful Katy Baker, I now own a little deep-fryer and could make my relationship with curds more official. Either way, though, this modified recipe will leave you with authentic State Fair cheese curds, and I'm the person you can trust with that kind of assessment.

Cheese Curds

2 quarts corn oil for frying (I used Mazola)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup beer (I used PBR)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 lbs. cheese curds, broken apart
If you live in Minnesota, you know this is no problem. To acquire curds, you can go literally anywhere -- grocery stores, gas stations -- your fridge, if you enjoy a sensible snack of squeaky cheese. Californians, we struggle. I know there is a stand at the Santa Monica farmers' market that sells them, but when I went last year and informed her that I was going to deep-fry them, she was legitimately hesitant to sell them to me. This year, I went to the Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City. They were $10/package. But they did the trick. If you are still confused about what a cheese curd is, here you go.

Made Possible by the Grace of God!

 Let the curds sit at room temperature until they sweat. This will help the batter stick.

Sweating -- just like me, every day, in LA.

Heat the oil to 375 degrees. (If you have a candy thermometer, it helps to check the temp, as that matters.)
Whisk together the milk, beer, flour, salt and eggs until it becomes thin. Yeah, this mixture is sick and seems like something a bully would weaponize in the lunchroom. Just trust it.

Don't smell this. I'm not kidding.

When the oil is ready...
Coat a curd in flour, getting in all of the crevices. This will help the curd stay intact during the frying process. 
Dip the flour-coated curd in the batter, allowing it to soak and become fully immersed.
Using the deep-fryer basket or a thin metal strainer, dip the curd in the oil for about 2-4 minutes. 
A finished curd should be golden brown, visibly crispy, not white. 
If you notice the cheese slipping out of the shell, try coating the next curd in more flour before battering.
You can fry many at once, if you'd like, just adjust the time and be aware that clumping will occur (not necessarily a bad thing). 

This time around, I noticed the curds clung to the bottom of the basket. I don't know how to avoid this. If you experience this, try to let go and let God. Someone in your party will enjoy picking the burnt pieces off the bottom of the basket and you will make them very happy. 

Curds do not last. They must be eaten immediately. This is a great snack if you're having a few friends over and you can easily go from fryer --> mouth. 
Never offer anyone a cold curd. That's, like, very rude.

Some people scoff when you try to explain a deep-fried cheese curd. They are repulsed. Let them express their disgust, but then casually mention mozzarella sticks, or french fries. Say curds are similar but one million times better (this is an accurate mathematical statistic). Then give them a cheese curd and watch their face light up with joy, because cheese brings people together.

Happy baking!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Princess Torte (Prinsesstarta)

My birthday is in early October, and since I was a kid who liked to plan ahead, my party was on my mind from early September. I would look around at the new faces in my classroom and wonder which kids -- kids I didn't even know yet -- would agree to forge lifelong bonds of friendship with me/attend my birthday party. Because I love friendship. And I have some control problems/anxiety.

My most eventful birthday party was my 10th -- 5th grade. It was so eventful because it lasted over 12 hours, and spending over 12 hours with fellow 10 and 11 year old girls means you will experience every single emotion your underdeveloped brain has to offer. You'll change friendship alliances multiple times. It's a reality show without the promiscuous sex. Instead, the cast members do not understand/are generally afraid of sex.

It was a sleepover party, which I had asked my parents for since I knew what a sleepover was, and they had finally relented, which they definitely shouldn't have. I invited a lot of the girls in Mrs. Gorman/Mrs. Chapek's 4th/5th grade classroom: Susie Shapiro, Sammy Worthingham, Kelli Ashmead, Sophie Klein, Laura Phillips, Brynn McConnell, etc. It was our lunch table in my living room, and it was going to be so much better than last year's birthday party -- bowling-themed, thanks to an American Girl magazine's party idea spread. Sure, we had fun, but three games is too many and the mozzarella sticks were soggy and some girls left their party favors at the alley, which was really the only attempt at American Girl influence. This year was going to be epic, because I made it clear: we weren't going to sleep. Everyone was on the same page. We would be staying up all night, because we were young and invincible and just had so much to do.

The night started with a highly-anticipated viewing of Titanic. Everyone else had already seen it, but my parents were wary of the PG-13 rating (in some moments of parental indiscretion, Joy Luck Club had become my favorite movie, and I had started writing stories about abandoning babies in the Chinese countryside). But, as a special addition to the sleepover, my dad purchased Titanic at Sam's Club and shit was going down. Everything was generally fine until we put in VHS #2 and, you know, the ship sinks and it's very realistic and there's a frozen woman holding her frozen baby and I full-on freaked out and hid behind a curio cabinet in the dining room. This was sort of alarming for all of the party guests, who had seen the movie already and also could handle fictional death. It really set the tone for the rest of the night: intense, emotional, confusing.

When you're 10 or 11, and it's after 10pm, time changes. There are no longer 60 minutes in an hour, but 60,000. There's no way to occupy all of the time. You can only play Truth or Dare and Never Have I Ever for so long -- especially when it's, like, "never have I ever seen a penis." The game goes quickly. We were exhausted and crazed. And since I was so goal-oriented, no one was going to sleep. I got into a fight with Brynn and to cool off, I went down to the basement and literally played violin for several minutes, just to reflect on things like my new age, friendship, and solitude -- and to practice "Snowflake," which I was playing in the upcoming talent show.

Finally, we realized we were stronger as a group than as individuals, and we decided to band together to plan an intricate breakfast-in-bed scenario for my parents. It was probably 2am. But we figured it was close to morning. It had to be. It had to be. I meandered around the backyard in total darkness, trying to find flowers to pick from my parents' garden to present to them on a tray of homemade breakfast. No more American Girl for this 10 year old. I had moved on to full-on Martha Stewart Living shit.

All 8 of us crept into my parents' room (a major violation), holding trays of probably... Malt o'Meal? And glasses of milk? Surprisingly not well-received.

"What the hell/it's 4am/why aren't you asleep/why is this happening/half of you need to go to Hebrew School in four hours and we promised your parents you'd get a good night's rest." All fair points.

It was honestly a relief. No one protested as we finally climbed into our sleeping bags. We knew we were in trouble, but we didn't care -- we were ready to be embraced by sweet slumber, for at least four hours until half of my party needed to go to Hebrew School.

This year, I was a lucky gal and had birthday celebrations in Minneapolis and LA. I have the best friends in both places. One day, everyone will meet. Do I have to get married for that to happen? Um, fine.

I endeavored to make one of my very favorite -- albeit daunting -- cakes: The Princess Torte. It can be ordered from Wuollet Bakery in Minneapolis and it's very Swedish and gorgeous and light and delicious. Haley Hepworth, my partner-in-crime in college and now in LA, volunteered to help me -- because she is an angel and I had an improv audition in the middle of the day/middle of the baking and prep time. When I got home from the audition, she had finished it and CRAFTED MARZIPAN ROSES because, as I've already said, she's an ANGEL. Don't let this cake intimidate you -- it's worth it, and really not that difficult.

Princess Torte


2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (split in half) (half half half)
3 large egg yokes
1 tablespoon vanilla

Fine, dry, bread crumbs for the pan
 1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar

2 boxes of marzipan (7 oz. each, available in the baking aisle of Gelson's, but not Target)
green food coloring
powdered sugar for dusting

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam


In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and egg yokes. Add 1/2 cup of the half-and-half, mixing together.
Heat the remaining half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is just boiling.
Slowly pour the hot cream into the cornstarch/sugar/egg/cream mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. If you notice the eggs start to scramble... stop. And start over, because... gross.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and, over medium heat, stir constantly. The mixture will start to thicken to a custard. Make sure you are stirring to the bottom to prevent curdling. If it curdles, you can use a strainer and throw up.

Haley goes to town on some almost-custard.
 After about five minutes, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Once it cools to room temperature, put it in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap (this will prevent the custard from forming a skin -- yum!) and stick it in the fridge!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9-inch spring form pan with PAM.
Coat the bottom of the pan with fine bread crumbs, tapping out the excess.
Feel like an old Swedish woman, because that bread crumb trick is 100% old-Swedish-woman.
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt on medium speed until the egg whites are shiny and stiff, but not lumpy. This will take much longer than you think it ever could. If you are mixing by hand, get a friend to help.

These egg whites have NOT peaked.
 Add about 1/3 of the sugar and one egg yoke, then continue to mix for about 10 seconds.
Repeat this process 3 more times, then continue to mix for a few more minutes.
Fold in the flour in about four additions, gentle folding the batter around the flour. Basically, no need to over-mix.
Pour the batter into the pan.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until it's golden brown and passes the toothpick test.
Cool the cake on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before releasing it from the pan.
Carefully release the cake, using a knife around the edges, if necessary.
Let it cool completely on a wire rack, naked and begging for marzipan.

Make sure your hands are clean, because you're about to get intimate with some marzipan.
Break the marzipan into little pieces in a medium bowl and knead together with your hands.
Your natural body heat will soften the marzipan. It's very convenient.
Use about 3 drops of green food coloring, working the color in so that it isn't concentrated or streaky. You're going for a lovely pale green, not something aggressive or neon or bright. Be careful.
Dust a work surface with powdered sugar.
Roll the marzipan into about a 16 in. disc (less than 1/8 in. thick), using a rolling pin -- or wine bottle, if you like to keep it fun.

 Don't be stingy with the powdered sugar -- use as much as you need to prevent it from sticking.

Cut the cake into three equal layers and set aside. No one is perfect, so just do the best you can.
  In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the cream until sensually thick.
Put about 1/3 of the whipped cream into a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Remove the custard from the fridge and whisk it around, since it will be extra thick. Once it is smooth and creamy, fold in the remaining whipped cream and blend until it's some kind of amazing, smooth, custard/whipped cream hybrid.
Set the bottom layer of the cake on a platter, cut side up.
Spread the raspberry jam onto the cake.
Spread half of the custard cream deliciousness on top of the jam.
Add another cake layer, and spread the remaining custard cream on top.
Add the final cake layer.

Every caption I come up with is accidentally very gross.
Spread about a quarter of the refrigerated whipped cream along the edges of the cake, and use the rest on top of the cake.

Silky smooth.
 Refrigerate this beautiful masterpiece for about a half an hour to an hour. This will firm it up so the marzipan doesn't destroy its delicate sensibilites.
When ready, drape the marzipan over the cake, gently pressing it to the cake. Trim the excess marzipan. This is where it helps to be a naturally gentle and patient person. I'm glad Haley did this part.

You could hide literally anything inside that blanket of marzipan.
If you are Haley Hepworth, you'll use the remaining marzipan to craft beautiful roses. She says she used a YouTube tutorial. And her heart.

The Swedes know what they're doing -- Ikea, healthcare, and Princess Torte. It makes a really wonderful birthday cake, especially if you're not into traditional frosting/enjoy turnt-up angel food cake.

Special thanks to Haley Hepworth and everyone who helped celebrate my birthday in both cities. 26 is off to a great start and I can't wait to see what baked goods this year will bring!

Happy baking! 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tres Leches Cake

We have mice. Well, at least one. A mouse with the potential for plural. I wish I was one of those people who wasn't bothered by critters and that I could apply my typical, un-fun level-headedness to the situation. While everyone else is screaming and standing on chairs, I wish I could be the one shaking my head and gracefully and seamlessly ushering the pest outside or to the great mouse-hole in the sky. But that is not the reality.

I don't "do well with animals." Pets are fine. I've even had a few. (My first pet, a fun gerbil turned feral/immortal rodent beast named Cody, gnawed off my sister's thumbnail. Sorry, Annie.)

So, pets are usually fine. But the number of times I've heard a distressed pet owner exclaim, "I'm so sorry, he's never done that before!!" plus the number of times I've been LITERALLY CHASED BY A RACOON (twice) ... innumerable.

"But racoons don't chase people," my dad said, laughing uncontrollably. My 8-year-old self stood against our front door, crying and shaking and gasping for breath, probably in the middle of a panic attack so THANKS FOR LAUGHING, DAD. He went outside to "investigate" and realized I had been near a baby racoon sewer nest so yeah, the fast and tiny footsteps I heard closing in on me as I ran up our hill probably belonged to an adult racoon. I won! But I also lost. I lost so hard.

We had mice in my dorm junior year. Somehow, 31 floors up, we became a swanky Manhattan pent-mouse (see what I did there?) for multiple rodents. It played out much like a nightmare would. Scurrying across my bare feet? Check. A Saw-esque plotline involving inhumane sticky traps that maintenance "wouldn't be able to come back to get until Monday"? You bet, plus haunting, dulcet rodent screams. A mouse SHIMMYING UP MY BEDSPREAD and ONTO MY BED while I was ON SAID BED, establishing and maintaining EYE CONTACT before SIGHING AT ME?! Yeah. Yeah, that happened, and I ran out of my dorm room, without pants or key.

A mouse ran under my bed last night, so of course I "overreacted." My roommate asked if I had food in my room -- as if she didn't know the answer. Just last week, after I woke up from a nap, her boyfriend picked a Trix cereal morsel off my cardigan. So yeah. There's food in my room. There's probably food in my bed. There is food in my bed.

Anyway, mouse problems aside, I made a cake this week. Don't worry, people who ate that cake, it had nothing to do with the mouse(s). It was a pure cake. And it was my favorite cake. There's an adorable lots-of-lunching-ladies cafe in St. Paul -- Cafe Latte -- that makes a tres leches cake so amazing it just might be my wedding cake in the future, even if I'm marrying myself. Especially if I end up marrying myself. I found a recipe online that claimed to be THE Cafe Latte Tres Leches Cake, so obviously, that was happening. It turned out perfectly moist and milky and I can't recommend it enough.

Tres Leches Cake


1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk 

Soaking Liquid
about half of a 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk 
1 cup half & half
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon [hope you didn't put it away because it's time for more] vanilla extract 

fresh raspberries for garnish 


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8-inch cake pan. (I also floured it, but I think that was responsible for the slightly-too-brown bottom. I also may have been the only one to notice this.)
In a large mixing bowl (use your standing mixer here if you have one), combine the oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Whisk thoroughly. 

That buttermilk can't wait to join in on the fun!

 In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Fold the dry ingredients into wet ingredients and slowly add the buttermilk, while stirring. 
Mix well, until blended. 
Find a way to taste this batter and just, like, take a minute.

Mmm... glue...

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 30 minutes. (It was at this time I realized the bottom seemed to be browning too quickly, but the inside wasn't done yet. I hope your experience is less stressful. Trust yourself. And the toothpick-test.)

Delicious on its own, pre-soaking and pre-creaming.

 Allow the cake to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, then remove. 
Carefully cut the cake in half, horizontally. (I probably could've cut higher up -- I thought I was in the middle, but as you'll see, I wasn't.)

Place the two cake halves on a wire rack and allow to cool completely. 

Uneven halves! Whoops!

While the cooling is happening, whisk together the soaking liquid (sweetened condensed milk, half & half, vanilla).

Mmm... different glue...

 Put each cooled cake half on its own plate. 
Evenly pour the soaking liquid over the cake halves and be kind of grossed out?

Drenched! Like a wet t-shirt contest, but less demeaning and more cake-like.

Cover and refrigerate for basically as long as you want.

When you are ready to assemble the cake, GET EXCITED BECAUSE YOU ARE ABOUT TO MAKE WHIPPED CREAM. 
If you have a standing mixer, use it. If you have a hand mixer, use it. If you have to use your own strength, god bless you. 
Mix the whipping cream on medium speed, adding the powdered sugar and vanilla. 
Mix until soft-almost-stiff peaks form -- about 7 minutes.

Check out that lil' peak!

Apply a generous layer of whipped cream to the bottom half. But the top of the bottom half. You know what I mean.

I could've -- and should've -- added more whipped cream here. Don't make the same mistake.

Frost the rest of the cake with the whipped cream. Maybe you'll do a better job than I did.
Adorably garnish with raspberries.
 Eat the rest of the raspberries with leftover whipped cream and require a private moment.

All day.

This cake is simultaneously light and rich. It makes a good birthday cake -- especially if your special birthday someone doesn't care for traditional frosting... and loves vanilla extract. Because that shit is prominent. 

Happy baking!