Chess Pie

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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.

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Honey Jumbles

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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.

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Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

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You know a muffin is good when you can’t stop eating the batter.

Cookie dough is obviously delicious in raw form, but muffin batters and cake batters usually taste a little off. Their goopy texture combined with the sharp, chemical taste of raw baking powder always makes me think twice about licking the mixing spoon. (I mean, I do it anyway, but I usually regret it.)

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Lightened Spinach, Onion, and Gruyere Quiche

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This is the perfect quiche for anyone who…

  • hates mushrooms
  • doesn’t eat bacon
  • wants a quiche that’s healthy but still has a crust (get out of here with that crustless quiche talk)

I’ve made this quiche three times this year alone and it’s always perfect. It’s great with a glass of orange juice if you’re feeling breakfasty, or next to a simple pile of salad greens tossed in lemon juice and olive oil if you’re having lunch. It’s great warm from the oven or cold from the fridge. It’s even great when you’re sick, I’ve recently learned. I was sick all last week, and while I didn’t have much of an appetite, I still had room for a slice of this every day for lunch. It’s carby enough to be comfort food and flavorful enough to keep me wanting more.

I love this quiche is what I’m saying.

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Frozen Butterbeer

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Let’s do this.

Over the course of three years, I have tried several different butterbeer recipes in an attempt to taste something somewhat close to the official, Rowling-approved version sold at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I didn’t visit the park until October 2014, when I volunteered myself for a work conference upon discovering it would be held near the park in Orlando. So in those three years of darkness, I couldn’t really say whether the recipes I tried were close to the real thing.

But I’d read enough descriptions to know what it should be–like cream soda but with a butterscotch-like flavor. And the versions I tried didn’t quite match up. I’ve tried or read about a few different methods to get that mysterious butterbeer flavor. Methods started with the cream soda base but differed in what they added from there. From a specific flavoring called vanilla butter emulsion to butterscotch syrup to butterscotch schnapps to actual butter heated with brown sugar, none of them seemed ideal. (Especially the last one. I’d rather not drink melted butter in my soda.)

When I finally tried the Rowling-approved butterbeer at the Wizarding World park, I found it tasted almost exactly as the internet had described. I had the frozen version, which was almost slushy-like in consistency. During that day at the park, I ended up buying two mugs of that frozen butterbeer and finishing them both (I shared them with my friend, of course, but I think the split was closer to 90/10 than 50/50. Sorry, Halley. It was totally for science).

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Lighter Banana Bread

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I know, I know, health has no place in baking. But in the case of banana bread, I want it to. Banana bread already feels healthy–I mean, it’s got fruit in it–why not roll with it and produce something you can justify eating for breakfast? I never really thought of banana bread as cake anyway; it’s more hearty and flavorful. Adding a little extra health just seems like the natural next step.

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Moist Chocolate Cake

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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.

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An Attempt at French Bread

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The first thing you should know about this bread: I forgot to salt it.

I made this with Tammy, and we didn’t put much effort into it, truthfully–we didn’t do the steam thing to create a crusty exterior (see tip #3 here), nor did we follow our recipe’s instructions to brush the bread with egg white for a shiny crust–but we intended to do the bare minimum. You know, flour. Water. Yeast. Salt.

We realized the error as the loaves were nearly finished rising, and a vigorous shake of salt on top of the loaves before putting them in the oven didn’t do much good. But it didn’t really matter. After impatiently slicing into the still hot bread, steam rising from each cut we made, we sat at the kitchen table and fell into the practice of buttering a slice, adding a sprinkle of salt, and eating it. Again and again and again.

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Bread Pudding with Vanilla Cream Sauce

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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.

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Holiday Butter Cookies

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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.

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