Look, after you’ve done the great vanilla cupcake experiment, you kind of start questioning all your favorite recipes.
So when Matt told me he wanted chocolate cake for his birthday, my first thought was the recipe that’s been my go-to for years. But then I wondered… how does that recipe compare to other recipes? How can I say my usual chocolate cake recipe is great if I have no means of comparison?
And thus another experiment began.
I took a similar approach to my vanilla cupcake experiment: four different recipes, one battle arena, one winner.
The thing about chess pie is that I don’t understand it.
I hadn’t even heard of it until a couple of years ago. In my defense I’m from San Diego and this pie, apparently, hails from the South.
From what I’ve learned, it’s a sweet custard-y pie–though the stick of butter and ton of sugar put it in a new category entirely. Another element I found unique is the tablespoon of vinegar to cut the sweetness (more on that later) and the cornmeal that’s mixed in with the pie filling, which floats to the top during the baking process to create a crispy top layer. And because the pie’s ingredients are simple, the vanilla really shines through.
But, uh, the sweetness.
It’s a little much.
Oh, these cookies.
I love these cookies.
In sixth grade I wrote an essay about these cookies.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time perusing my mother’s Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks. She kept a stack of them in her walk-in closet, and I would take out a few at a time and flip through the pages, looking for ideas on what to bake next. If I was feeling particularly civilized I would read the cookbooks to my room, or on the living room couch. But sometimes I would just sit on the floor of the closet and read the cookbooks right then and there. Baking waits for no one.
That’s how I learned about honey jumbles. They had a cute name, they looked simple to make, and I loved anything with ginger in it, and that was all the convincing eleven-year-old me needed to try my hand at baking them.
I wish I could say a child were involved in the making of this. It would be better for my ego.
But no, this one was all me.
As I’ve said before, I don’t decorate. I aim to make things that taste good, not look good. So why would I make a cake whose execution depends entirely on decoration? Why would I let this happen?
Nostalgia might be the best explanation. Kate and I got to talking about the PBS kids’ show Zoom, which we used to watch when we were children. We both recalled one episode in which Caroline made a rainbow cake, which Kate had always wanted to make, and which my eleven-year-old self actually did end up making not long after seeing the episode.
And then, just like that, we wanted a rainbow cake.
Usually I’m a cheesecake purist. If it comes topped with any kind of sauce, compote, coulis, or anything more flavorful than, say, whipped cream, I don’t want it. Plain cheesecake is perfect already.
Weirdly, however, there are several over the top cheesecakes on The Cheesecake Factory’s menu that I do love and allow. Cheesecake topped with strawberries is somehow offensive to me and yet I love their chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake, Oreo crust and all. I won’t try to understand it.
This cheesecake, inspired by their banana cream cheesecake, is the first non-plain cheesecake I’ve ever made. That should say something about how delicious it is, and how well it strikes the balance between classic cheesecake and fun interpretation. It adds variety without detracting from what makes cheesecake great, and the sweet banana flavor never overpowers the cheesecake’s natural tang.
About six weeks ago I accepted a job offer, and I celebrated with a slice of banana cream cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. And somehow that wasn’t enough. Because about three weeks later, I found myself with an old, black, squishy banana, and when I looked at it I didn’t see potential banana bread as I’ve always seen before. I saw banana cheesecake.
So I bought cream cheese and graham crackers and set to making that potential a reality.
This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe.
I was drawn to it from the moment I saw the pictures on Foodess, the recipe source. I remember being so stricken by the pictures because the cake appeared so deeply dark, moist, and chocolatey that it looked black. That’s my kind of cake.
The darkness doesn’t quite come across in my pictures. To be fair there was no recipe for the frosting, so mine was largely improvised; however, this was day one and I swear the frosting got darker as the days progressed. Much like my outlook on life.
Bread pudding is one of those things you don’t have to be exact with. As long as you throw together some reasonable amounts of milk, sugar, eggs, bread, and whatever flavorings suit you, chances are you have yourself a decent bread pudding. And this drives me up the wall.
Loosey-goosey ratios mean that there’s a huge variance from recipe to recipe–such a large variance that someone like me, who likes to review several different recipes to find a pattern or middle ground, is left at a loss because ratios in the recipes are so drastically different from one another and I don’t know who to trust. I want that perfect texture–something soft and silky on the bottom layer, with a slight bite to the top layer. And I can’t trust that any recipe I choose will guarantee that–I’ve seen the homogenous, soggy sponges of bread puddings made with too much liquid and I don’t want any part of it.
I don’t like sugar cookies. Bland in flavor, crackled tops, and an unappealing texture–crispy, with maybe a little softness in the center if I’m lucky. I don’t do snickerdoodles, either; they’re just sugar cookies trying to be interesting.
As a result, I never made sugar cookies growing up. My go-to Christmas cookie recipe was the Land O’Lakes butter cookie recipe, conveniently printed inside the cardboard carton our butter came in. Like sugar cookies, these are rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. But these ones have flat, smooth tops, no crinkles in sight. And with no danger of becoming cakey, the texture is entirely in your control. You can roll it thinly at about 1/8″ for crispy cookies, or you can go thicker–I prefer 1/4″, 1/2″ if I’m daring–for fat, buttery cookies with a soft interior. I love picking the thickest cookie and biting all the edges until I’m left with the absolute middle. It tastes a little bit raw in the best possible way.
I am a crumble convert.
I’m used to making double-crusted pies, which involve a warm fruit filling sandwiched between two buttery crusts. Crust is my favorite part of pie, so it just makes sense.
But streusel topping is my favorite part of fruit crumbles and crisps. (Not to be confused with buckles, grunts, slumps, and other fruit desserts that sound unattractive.)
It may be September, but it’s still summer. My birthday falls on the first day of fall (puns), and knowing this I’m always a little sad when people disregard the summer in September. Pumpkin spice lattes may be all around us, but fall doesn’t begin until three weeks into September, and I prefer to give summer the respect it deserves. (Which, honestly, isn’t much, as summer is my least favorite season–all the more reason for me to wait until it really ends before I celebrate its demise.)
Enter this summery ice pop. Fruity and coconutty with a splash of vanilla, this popsicle is perfect for a warm summer day and can be easily adjusted depending on your coconut milk preferences. I like coconut milk, but I don’t like when it takes the place of all dairy in a dairy-based recipe. In times when I’m desperate for ice cream but find myself without cream, I’ve followed ice cream recipes that use coconut milk as the sole source of dairy, and I can never get past the extreme coconut-milky taste that permeates the entire dessert. Coconut milk is a wonderful thing, but I suppose I prefer its presence to be a bit more subtle.