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! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Apple Cake with Caramel Drizzle

The heat wave has momentarily broken, but I'm still using an air conditioner to pretend it's fall. Brr! says nighttime Emily, as she snuggles up to her nothing. I wonder if we'll get a thunderstorm! And just like clockwork, like fate, nighttime Emily turns up her Spotify thunderstorm sound effects station.

2012 was the last time I lived in an autumn-friendly climate. It was also a special time because I had just experienced incredibly invasive jaw surgery to fix an underbite. I recovered at my parents' house, where I watched a lot of Roseanne and didn't eat solid foods. I had a lot of down time to literally watch the leaves change.

A few weeks after surgery, I had enough of being cooped up and pleaded with my then-boyfriend to take me to a corn maze. Sure, I was on some painkillers (but not many, because they cut all of the nerves in my face so I couldn't feel anything and still kind of can't in some places!). My face was puffy, I couldn't control my saliva output. If someone bumped my face, my face could fall apart. But I was going to make it work.

(Also, it should be said that no one really wants to go to a corn maze. Corn mazes exist solely for church youth groups as a fall activity/potential metaphor for Christianity.)

The morning of The Outing, I woke up with hives all over my body. No problem! I'm sure a shower-in-which-I-don't-get-my-face-wet will solve it! When it didn't, my dad made me call the insurance nurse line. My first question after describing this rash that was now moving incrementally down my body like a high school boy who was about to get lucky: "Can I still go to a corn maze?" She didn't recommend it, but she did recommend I stop taking the antibiotics that I was told to finish no matter what.

It was bright. It was hot. I wasn't used to navigating. My face felt heavy. I got lost in the corn and the dry husks were like pins-and-needles knives on my face. My pores started seeping some kind of liquid I was later told was the steroids leaving my body, like some slow-moving, dermatological exorcism. Kids stared as I lumbered through the corn, groaning, leaking from my face, my adult braces shimmering in the sun. My boyfriend was super into all of it, I'm sure. He took this picture.

Having fun, loving life!

I'm going home in a few weeks, and I plan to go to an apple orchard because my face has healed and I love fall. It may or may not have a corn maze, but I'm feeling very "been there, done that" about corn mazes.

This past Sunday, I made an apple cake with apples I bought from a grocery store. This is fine, but I urge you to plan a small autumn excursion with your now-boyfriend or other companion and pick your own damn apples. Enjoy the crisp breeze on your healthy face. Make a day of it! Then, come home and make this incredibly easy apple cake!

Didn't pick these.

Apple Cake with Caramel Drizzle


2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (don't do drugs)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened 
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
about 6 medium cooking apples (I used Fuji), coarsely chopped and not peeled
1 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13x9 cake pan. 
Chop up the apples and start sweating because the oven is on and you're chopping so aggressively.

Bowl with feminist you-can-do-it sayings optional.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and baking soda. 

[This is the moment of recipes I used to hate: Using your standing mixer... We don't all have one, okay?! They are expensive and some of our moms are waiting until we get married to give us one. I lucked out; the incredibly sweet and amazing Allison Miller (of my famous and very important basketball team, the Lucille Ballers) GIFTED ME her standing mixer. It's light blue and beautiful and handled this recipe with grace and ease. If you don't have a standing mixer, though, you are still okay as a person and baker. It might be harder to mix, but you can do it, because you're strong and independent and you could definitely make it through a corn maze.]

Using your standing mixer... get the butter going, adding the sugar a little bit at a time.
Add the eggs.
When this turns to a lovely paste, add the dry ingredients from the medium bowl.
Fold in the walnuts and apples.
Gaze in admiration as your standing mixer really goes to town on the batter. The batter will be thick, but that's no problem for your gorgeous standing mixer. 

That's it. Make love to that batter.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Almost cake!

Cool in the pan. 

Definitely cake.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the sugar, brown sugar, and whipping cream.
Keep stirring, because obviously.
When it has turned into a sauce, add the vanilla.
Be super proud because you just made CARAMEL.

Taking their sweet time to melt. (Pun intended.)
Cut, drizzle, enjoy. Repeat. 
Also, repeat in the morning, as a breakfast cake, because it can totally be a "breakfast cake," if that's your thing.

This cake was made with love while blasting/belting 90s country sensations, without shame. It was the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Way better than a corn maze.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cherry Almond Cheesecake

It's hot. Maybe it's because I come from a place where analyzing/predicting/complaining about the weather is expected and encouraged, but the heat is the number one thing I've talked about with strangers this week. And I've talked to a lot of strangers this week. What? I'm friendly/make questionable social decisions.

Feeling extra complain-y about something I can't control isn't new, but lately, I've been trying to edit my inner monologues and force some good, old fashioned positivity into my head-space. That's theoretically great. But... honestly, I feel like a rotisserie chicken at a second-rate grocery store that's been left unattended and I'm just stuck on a spit as it gets hotter and hotter because a deli worker went on their break and forgot about me. And, like, I'm simultaneously running errands.

Perhaps I'd be less obsessed if it wasn't technically, basically fall. The rest of the country gets to luxuriously settle into scarves and cold rain and excessive Nick Drake the words "crisp" and "autumnal" -- I don't even like pumpkin spice lattes, but I can appreciate the idea of them. The other night, I had a dream where I was wearing boots and walking on crunchy leaves. THAT WAS THE WHOLE DREAM. And I woke up feeling satisfied. Inappropriately satisfied. ...I'm also single.

Anyway, the point is, it was over 100 degrees last Sunday and there was no way my roommates were going to let me turn on the oven. So, I found a great icebox cheesecake recipe, did some modifying, and stuck that puppy in the freezer for 5 hours. For the first time in my life, I was jealous of a cheesecake. ...I'm also single.

Cherry Almond Cheesecake


7 graham crackers, crushed within an inch of their life
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup slivered almonds

8 oz. cream cheese (one package)
3/4 cup sugar
about 30 oz. of frozen cherries (for me, it was 2 1/2 bags from Target)
8 oz. thawed Cool Whip (one small container)
about 1/2 cup slivered almonds

Before you start, make sure the cream cheese is soft and the Cool Whip has had time to thaw in the fridge. You can also let the cherries thaw slightly.

No, those cherries aren't moldy. They're frozen!

Crush the graham crackers. You can do this with a food processor or using the Emily Schmidt Feel-Good No-Stress Method -- throw them in a plastic bag and really go to town with your fist. Don't break the bag. 
Melt the butter.
Add the 1/4 cup almonds to the graham cracker bits and slowly sprinkle the mixture into the melted butter. 
Cover the bottom of a springform pan with the crust mixture. Use a fork to press the crust so that it's even and covering the entire pan. Don't freak out if you think, This can't be a stable crust! Because you're going to freeze it and just calm down, okay?

Make it look exactly like this.

Chop 1 cup of the cherries into fourths (no need to be perfect) and set aside.

I'm so impressed I didn't straight-up eat these.

Blend the rest of the cherries in a blender or juicer. 
(If you don't have those things, consider waking up your roommate's boyfriend. Convince him that if he helps you find/operate your roommate's Ninja, he can have all the cherry almond cheesecake he wants.)

No blender? No juicer? No Ninja? Get creative. As long as you end up with cherry juice, no one gets to ask questions.
Using a hand mixer or your god-given muscle, combine the sugar and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl.
Add the cherry juice to the sugar/cream cheese, as well as the Cool Whip, 1/2 cup almonds, and chopped cherries. Mix well! ...Mix well and enjoy this fun texture (you'll know what I mean).

So... silky...

Pour the filling onto the crust. 

The hard part is almost over!
Attempt to secure cling-wrap on the top of the pan. 
Realize the cling-wrap doesn't stick to the pan. 
Keep trying.

Carefully put the cheesecake in the freezer for 5+ hours. 
Make sure your roommates know to be careful when opening the freezer for the next 5+ hours. 
 Cut and serve. 

Thanks for visual perfection, springform pan!
While technically cheesecake, the Cool Whip is definitely a present flavor, so keep that in mind if you hate Cool Whip. Also, feel free to sub fresh cherries for frozen -- to find out if it's cherry season, go to three grocery stores before realizing it must not be cherry season.
This cool treat is also delicious and pretty. I mean, it's just so pink, you know?! It almost made me forget that it's 100 degrees outside. Almost. Almost. 

Happy baking! 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kitchen Heritage + THE Bundt

Welcome to my one millionth blog! Thanks for being here. I'm a writer and improviser living in Los Angeles, as well as a TV lover and documentary watcher and recreational baker who is prettttttty Minnesotan. The bundt pan and I were born in the same city. It's in my blood.

This blog will feature recipes that I've modified/tried -- I'll link to wherever I found the initial recipe, when possible. I bake most every Sunday because it seems like a good day to do that, and I typically have improv rehearsal, so I can force friends to try what I've made. I don't usually substitute with lighter options, because if you're going to have dessert, just have dessert, you know? 

I could never really talk about baking without talking about my grandma, so, just let it happen.

My mom is not a baker (sorry, Mom, but you're so many other things). My late grandma Robinson, though, continues to be the best cook/baker I've ever had the pleasure of knowing and her kitchen was a living organism that never took a break. Either the counters were filled with half-chopped ingredients while something delicious bubbled on the stove or the dishwasher hummed diligently, replacing the smells of rib roast and oatmeal cookies with Dawn detergent. I sometimes got to help her in the kitchen, but it was her domain, and she usually preferred everyone leave her alone and enjoy happy hour rum & Diets in the den (I stuck to caffeine-free Diet Pepsi).

There was one treat she made just for me. Whenever we visited, I knew I could open the fridge to find glass Skippy jars filled with homemade tapioca pudding dyed pink. I haven't gotten around to making it myself because it feels like Grandma's secret -- the worn recipe card featuring her familiar, no-nonsense shorthand.

She loved cooking and baking for the people she loved. And I know she loved cooking and baking for herself because she would sing along to 1940s crooners and Patsy Cline. I think of her a lot when I'm in my own kitchen.

My mom didn't have the luxury of baking because I grew up in one of those over-scheduled households where the four of us were all going in different directions, forever double-booked and about to lose our minds. It was the best childhood because I learned how to embrace stress and multitask like a motherf*cker. It was the best/worst childhood because I got to eat a lot of McDonalds.

So, when it was time for my mom to contribute to some god-forsaken dessert table at some potluck event my dad forgot to tell her he volunteered her for, painstakingly making something from scratch wasn't high on her list of priorities -- mostly because it's hard to bake while driving a GMC Safari van across town.

She had one sure-fire, never-fail recipe. Pat Schmidt's Oven Opus: The Chocolate Chip Bundt. It's a magical cake that can go from ingredients to oven in under five minutes. And it tastes complicated. People are always impressed. Growing up, the cake felt like a well-kept secret -- the trick of an over-worked mom. Now, I make it when I promised a bundt, but I'd rather take a nap. I'm at a different place in my life, okay?

THE Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

1 box moist chocolate cake mix 
(You can use Devil's Food, German Chocolate -- mix it up, get crazy, have fun)
 1 box dark chocolate (or plain chocolate) pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup water
8 oz. sour cream (one small container)
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
optional powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
Aggressively grease a bundt pan. (I say "aggressively" because you really have to get in those edges or you're going to be sad when it comes apart during flippage.)
In a large bowl, combine the dry cake mix, dry pudding mix, eggs, oil, water and sour cream until well blended. 
Fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into the bundt pan.
Bake for 50-55 minutes.
Cool upright for 15 minutes.
Dust with powdered sugar, if you're feeling fancy.

If you've made a bundt, you have probably felt a kaleidoscope of emotions. They can be some of the easiest cakes to make, and for some reason, people think they look "fancy" -- because of their shape and hole?? Sure. But it all comes down to that flip -- and if you're a hasty greaser or you haven't given it enough time to cool, you're going to be sad. Patience is a virtue. Be liberal with the PAM.
If you're still unsure pre-flip (and who isn't), you can slide a butter knife along the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Be gentle.
There's nothing you can do for the bottom-that-becomes-the-top.
When you flip it onto a plate, if you don't feel it release right away, you can tap the bottom of the pan with your palm to ease it out. Don't break your plate doing this.

At the end of the day, if your bundt breaks (attention: metaphor applicable), the ingredients are all delicious, and the cake will still taste good, and that's what matters.

I think I've recently enjoyed baking so much because you if you follow the directions, you achieve the desired outcome. There's something very satisfying in that certainty when you don't have certainty anywhere else. (Everything's fine.)

Happy baking!