Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps... an indulgent twist on your morning pick-me-up

Long over-due considering the title of my blog, a cookie recipe. And a very good one I might add. These are one of a handful of go-to cookie recipes I make year after year. Crunchy powdered sugar coated exteriors, an espresso kick, and centers so moist and fudgy you might even call them a brownie-cookie hybrid, Martha Stewart's Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps are unlike any other. These cookies are very rich, so just one does the trick, but that doesn't mean you'll necessarily be able to stop yourself from eating just a few more...

Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps by Martha Stewart

for 18 cookies

1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tsp instant espresso
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tbsp milk
1/2 c confectioners sugar, for coating

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter and brown sugar in a large bowl, or mixer,  until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until well combined, mix in cooled chocolate. Gradually add dry in dry ingredients. Mix in milk until just combined. Flatten dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and freeze until firm, about 45 min.

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place confectioners sugar in a bowl. Roll balls in sugar twice, until you have a nice coating around.

Place balls on prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake 12-14 minutes, until cookies have spread, are soft to the touch, and sugar coating is cracked. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nostalgic Treats at Auntie Em's Kitchen

Mile-high cream cheese frosted cupcakes and crispy wafer thin cookies, Auntie Em's Kitchen bakes the treats we remember from childhood, all dressed up. Being an active Food Network viewer, I first heard of Auntie Em's and their red velvet cupcakes a couple years back when they competed on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. I planned to check the restaurant out, but for some reason never made it. A few weeks ago I saw them featured on an episode of Sugar High with Duff Goldman, this time starring their chocolate chip cookie, and knew now I really had to stop by.

Immediately after stepping inside, you feel like you've entered your grandmother's kitchen. Big dishes of peach crisp, pineapple upside-down cake, stacks of oversized cookies, and jumbo cupcakes are just some of their classic American desserts with a modern twist. Along with their famous red velvet cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies, I bought a peanut butter cookie, carrot cake cupcake, and mini lemon-blueberry cupcake.

Let's start with their cupcakes. All three came LOADED with super sweet cream cheese frosting. Other than making the cupcakes look cute, I don't think all of that frosting was necessary. The creamy sweetness really overpowered the cakes, especially the mini lemon blueberry, which was about equal parts frosting and cake.

The red velvet was my favorite, and I totally understand why people rave about it. They definitely hit the mark with the moist, sweet, subtle cocoa flavored cake and bright red hue. The frosting would have been a better compliment to the red velvet if it weren't so sweet, and had more of a cream cheese tang.

The carrot cake was moist, chewy and filled with raisins and walnuts. I'm not a huge carrot cake person, and when I do eat it like it to be less chunky, so I'm not the best judge for this cupcake. However, my family did enjoy it.

The lemon blueberry was also moist, but I would have liked it better if it were slightly more tart and less sweet.

The chocolate chip cookie was paper thin, buttery, and a little chewy with big chunks of chocolate inside. I've never had a chocolate chip cookie like this before, and it was a nice change of pace. Having said that, after trying Auntie Em's version I found I prefer my cookies fatter with moist insides, chewy outsides, and more chocolate chips throughout. Their peanut butter cookie wasn't too sweet which was nice, but it was kind of dry.

Overall,  the cafe's decor and vibe were very hip and cute and their red velvet is worth coming for, I'd just take off a little frosting before digging in. I've also heard great things about their non-baked-good food and will definitely have to come for breakfast or lunch sometime soon.

Auntie Em's Kitchen: 4616 Eagle Rock Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90041

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You'd think it was the holidays...Gingerbread

Yes I know, it's still August, and therefore far from the holiday season, but who doesn't like a little bit of Christmas cheer brought to their summer? A classic holiday dessert, warm, spicy gingerbread is one of my favorite sweets, but also one that I've struggled to find a good recipe for. One of the best gingerbreads I've ever had is baked at Whole Foods Market because of its moist, almost wet to the touch, super dark cake. I've tried one or two recipes in the past, but never ended up with as dark and rich a flavor as the one I could buy at the market (kind of disappointing). After having forgotten about my gingerbread recipe search for quite a while, on one of the hottest days of the summer I randomly remembered again, so I pretended it was december, got out my recipe binder, and looked for the recipes I knew I had stored inside.

Having never truly succeeded at baking gingerbread, I didn't have much to base my decision of which recipe to attempt off of, so I just picked one that seemed simple, straightforward, and had LOTS of molasses, which I figured is what contributes to gingerbread's darkness. 

With the smell of warm spices wafting through the air, I couldn't wait to get this gingerbread out of the oven. I was slightly disappointed in how mild the flavors were, and thought the cake could have been moister, but for anyone who prefers a lighter gingerbread with less of spicy kick, this gingerbread would be great. Maybe next time in addition to tons of molasses, I'll add in more spices to perk up the gingerbread and give it some heat, and use oil rather than butter to bump up the moistness.

Master Recipe Gingerbread

1 1/4 cups unsulfured molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp plus 3/4 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven 350 deg F. Grease 9x13 inch pan, set aside.

Place molasses and baking soda in bowl, add boiling water, let cool to room temp.

Beat butter and brown sugar in a large bowl (use paddle attachment on high speed in mixer if you prefer), until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Slowly add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each.

Sift together salt, spices, flour, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add 1/3 dry ingredients to butter mixture, mix until incorporated. Add 1/2 of liquid and mix well. Continue adding dry and wet alternately, mixing well after each addition, ending with dry. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temp, with whipped cream, lemon curd, or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Battle Blueberry Muffin

Two versions of the breakfast classic battle in this sweet showdown. While I normally cower and run away from most fights, this was one I was eager to set in motion. Crumbly, sweet, and bursting with berry goodness, blueberry muffins will always hold a place in my heart as some of the most comforting and homey breakfast foods. 

Opponent #1: To Die For Blueberry Muffins from 

After scoping the internet for a promising recipe, I came upon these, the most highly rated blueberry muffin recipe on the web. These muffins were lighter, sweeter, and cakier than the denser muffins I'm used to, and had a nice crunch (and extra sweetness) from the streusel topping. After reading through reviews, I halved the streusel topping recipe in order to cut down on the sweetness, but felt that the muffins would have been even better with less sugar in the batter itself as well. Overall, I enjoyed the moist, fluffy cake and the crumb topping, but would have preferred them to have been slightly less sweet and have more flavor in the cake, not just the topping.

To Die For Blueberry Muffin 
original recipe

**Along with making only half of the streusel, I opted to bake 12 regular sized muffins rather than the 8 large of the original recipe. 


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries

for streusel topping

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/6 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup butter, cubed
  • 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 deg F. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin.

To make streusel crumb topping, mix 1/4 cup sugar, 1/6 cup flour, 1/8 cup butter, and cinnamon.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and baking powder. Place oil into a measuring cup, add egg and enough milk to fill to the 1 cup mark. Mix liquid into flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cup 2/3 of the way full. Sprinkle with streusel topping. 

Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Opponent #2: Double Blueberry Muffins by Martha Stewart

It's hard to go wrong with a Martha Stewart recipe, but I had to see for myself if these blueberry muffins lived up to expectations. Chock full of blueberries, lemon zest, and cornmeal, I imagined these muffins to be a perfect blend of flavors and textures. Sure enough, the blueberries and lemon zest added a nice bright flavor, and the cornmeal resulted in a heavy, crunchy, more substantial texture like that of cornbread. Sprinkling on some sugar before baking gave the tops a crunchy, crispy, cookie-like quality. I love making homemade blueberry cornbread, and these muffins reminded me a lot of a sweeter version of my cornbread recipe. Martha Stewart's Double Blueberry Muffins were very tasty, but I couldn't decide if I wanted the slightly hard to swallow, dense cornbread-like texture in my muffins.

Double Blueberry Muffins by Martha Stewart


1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups fresh blueberries
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375 deg F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners. (Very important! I made the mistake of greasing instead of lining and ended up with a pile of crumbled muffins)

Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beat until combined. 

In a shallow bowl, mash 1/2 cup blueberries until liquified. Add mashed blueberries and lemon zest to butter, mix until incorporated. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter, beginning and ending with flour. Gently fold in remaining blueberries.

Evenly distribute batter into muffin cups, sprinkle tops with remaining tbsp sugar.

Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack. 

With each muffin mixed, baked, and happily eaten, it was time to declare a winner. After recruiting family and friends to help me make the decision, the only conclusion I could come to was that both muffins were winners, depending on personal preference. If you like heavier, more toothsome muffins with bright flavors, the Martha Stewartmuffins  are the ones for you. For those who prefer light and sweet pastries, go with the muffins. Personally, I liked the To Die For Blueberry Muffins recipe slightly more because of the texture. They would have been the clear winner if they were less sweet and maybe had a little lemon zest mixed in, like the Martha Stewart recipe, to give the cake some flavor. The Double Blueberry Muffins were very flavorful and yummy, but very similar to the cornbread I often bake, and I would rather have less sweet cornbread than this sweet cornbread-muffin hybrid. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Better than a coffee shop, Sour Cream Coffee Cake.

In my opinion, one of life's ultimate indulgences is a hot cup of strong coffee with a huge hunk of moist, sweet, and crumbly coffee cake. My favorite coffee cake to date is the Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Cinnamon-Pecan Streusel from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo's "Two Dudes One Pan" cookbook. The sour cream makes the cake impossibly moist and creamy, perfectly counterbalanced by the crumbly, nutty streusel topping. I made this for breakfast during a multiple-family beach house vacation, and it was gobbled up so fast there wasn't a single piece leftover for the next morning's breakfast, let alone an evening snack. If you like coffee cake, you absolutely must try this recipe! You'll never go back to your coffee shop's coffee cake ever again.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Cinnamon-Pecan Streusel

for the streusel:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups pecan halves, roughly chopped

for the cake:
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 deg F.

To make streusel, mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Add butter, mix in with a fork until you have little chunks. Mix in pecans, set aside.

Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with 2 tbsp butter then dust with 2 tbsp flour. Set aside. In large bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk eggs, 2 tbsp water, and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside. 

Using an electric mixer or wooden spoon, cream remaining 3/4 cup butter with sugar until pale yellow and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add sour cream in two additions, mixing thoroughly after each. Add 1/3 of dry ingredients, then 1/2 liquid, mixing until nearly incorporated. Add 1/2 of remaining dry, all of remaining liquid, then rest of dry, mixing until fully incorporated. 

Pour half batter in baking dish, spread evenly. Sprinkle with half the streusel, cover with remaining batter. Top with rest of streusel. Bake 35-40 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Eat warm, or cool completely before cutting into squares. Make sure to get a piece while you can! This coffee cake tends to go fast. 

Sweet and Adorable Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

A sweet surprise any child (and adult!) will love, Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes. Lately, I've seen a lot of fun new ways people are sprucing up classic desserts, one of the cutest being Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes.

Cupcakes baked inside of ice cream cones, and decorated with colorful frostings and sprinkles, it's all about the presentation when it comes to these treats. They may look intimidating, but are actually very easy to make. I used store-bought Funfetti cake mix and made a simple cream cheese frosting, using food coloring to make it pink and blue. Topped with rainbow nonpareils and star shaped sprinkles, these cupcakes looked absolutely irresistible!

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Cream cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract together. Mix in powdered sugar.

Follow your favorite homemade, or store-bought cupcake mix directions. Place one flat-bottomed ice cream cone in each muffin cup, fill 2/3 the way full with batter. Lightly tap bottom of cones against muffin tin in order to get rid of air bubbles. Bake according to your cupcake directions (I found that my cupcake cones took a few minutes longer to bake than what the box said). Let cool completely, frost, decorate, and enjoy!

While this recipe is very easy and quick, I did have one problem. The cones came out kind of soft, not crunchy like ice cream cones should be. However, even with this tiny drawback, the cupcakes were a huge hit, and I had kids of all ages complimenting my "chef skills" in amazement.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hamada-Ya Bakery's An Fresh Cream Danish

A wonderful surprise inside of Torrance's large Mitsuwa Marketplace, Hamada-Ya Bakery serves delicious, freshly baked Japanese pastries, both sweet and savory, and bread. I love their An Donut, Mochi-Pan, Coffee Glaze Roll, and thick Japanese white bread, but in my opinion, it's their An Fresh Cream Danish that is a cut above the rest. The name does absolutely no justice for this pastry, so one may not expect the extent of it's deliciousness, but this unique, well balanced mix of flavors is the perfect example of the Japanese approach to baked goods. The chewy french roll, barely sweet fresh whipped cream, sugary dollop of red bean, and bitter green tea powder make this dessert unlike any you've ever tasted (and maybe better than any you've tasted). The only downside, they make a VERY limited amount each day and more often than not, I make the trip all the way out to Torrance only to find that they've sold out, so I recommend you stop by in the morning.

Hamada-Ya: 21515 South Western Ave. Torrance, CA 90501

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mitsuwa Marketplace Natsumatsuri: Japanese Summer Festival

For years, one of the highlights of my summer has been Mitsuwa Marketplace's summer festival in Torrance. I happily subject myself to the extreme heat and hectic crowds just to get my hands on some of the best food I'll eat all year. 

Festival staples: Yakisoba and Okonomiyaki. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any takoyaki, or "octopus balls", due to problems with the stall. But for any who don't know, they are delicious balls of pancake-like batter filled with chopped up octopus, that always make an appearance at Japanese festivals.

Yakisoba: grilled noodles with pork and sausage.

Okonomiyaki : Savory Japanese pancakes consisting of mostly cabbage, filled with different types of seafood or meats. Topped with bulldog sauce (thick, japanese style worcestershire based sauce), mayo, bonito flake, and flecks of seaweed. 

While it is not a traditional Japanese food, spam musubi have long been a very popular staple in the Japanese-American community. Salty spam and rice wrapped up in a sheet of dried seaweed. Personally, I've never been much of a spam fan, even in my meat-eating years, but I've met plenty of people who love it, especially these two happy festival goers.

Ramune, a very popular Japanese soda drink.

My favorite festival food, Taiyaki. Sweetened red bean filled fish-shaped pancakes.

Taiyaki in the making.


A very sweet, refreshing treat for a hot summer day, kakigori, or shave ice, in a variety of tasty flavors.

Half strawberry, half green tea, topped with condensed milk. 

Lemon and strawberry with condensed milk

Green tea, red bean, and condensed milk. Green tea is my go-to shave ice syrup flavor, but it varies from place to place. I tend to prefer the strong, bitter of true green tea flavor, but this one was sweet and subtle.

Festive and adorable traditional Japanese yukata, worn by many at summer events.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Brownie Experiment: Part 2

Finally, I've continued my search for the ultimate brownie recipe. After my first round of experimenting with Alice Medrich's ultra rich, chocolatey, and gooey brownie, I decided to head in the direction of a more cakey, less sweet, maybe even less chocolatey brownie. I didn't want too drastic of a change, so in the end, I decided on Chow's Intense Brownies by Aida Mollenkamp (my pretzel making instructor and all-around awesome person!). With three times more flour, and a couple ounces less chocolate, I thought that these slight changes might bring me closer to the perfect brownie.

These brownies came out rich, dense, and again, very chocolatey. While I did notice a more cakey consistency, these brownies tasted just as sweet and strongly chocolate flavored as part 1 of my experiment.  Maybe I was too timid in my alterations, and would have benefited from making more substantial changes in the amount of chocolate, as well as lowering the amount of sugar in the recipe. Not that I didn't love these brownies, just that they were very intense, like the recipe's name says, and were still a little like biting into a large chocolate truffle, rather than a classic brownie. However, the flour was definitely a step in the right direction, and greatly improved the texture, in my opinion. Overall, these brownies were rich, decadent, and closer to what I think of when I picture the perfect brownie.

On the plus side, this gives me the excuse to bake a whole new batch of brownies!

Chow's Intense Brownies: Aida Mollenkamp

6 oz bittersweet chocolate
8 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 c granulated sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp brewed espresso (optional)
1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp fine salt
1 c all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Line an 8x8 baking dish with aluminum foil.

Combine chocolate and butter in medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until evenly melted. Remove from heat, let cool to room temp.

Combine eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, espresso, and salt in a large bowl and stir until just incorporated. Add cooled chocolate and mix until uniform in color. Add flour and stir until just incorporated.

Transfer batter to baking dish, spread evenly, and bake 25-30 minutes (possibly slightly less than 25, depending on your oven), until tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool completely before cutting.

A new twist on a classic-Berry Burst Ice Cream Oreo

While wandering the aisles of my local grocery store, I came upon this discovery: Berry Burst Ice Cream Oreos. I've always loved Oreos, artificial flavors and all, and although I rarely eat them anymore, I love discovering new flavors. I remember a happier time when bounties of different flavored Oreos were available on an everyday basis. Peanut butter chocolate, coffee creme, mint creme, and uh-oh, but now all I can seem to find are regular and golden. However, when a rare limited edition occasionally pops up, I'm sure to grab it while I have the chance (especially if they're pink).

At first, I couldn't get past the somewhat off-tasting berry flavors and wasn't able to put my finger on exactly what it reminded me of. But, after a moment, I realized it had the sweet, slightly chemical, nostalgic berry taste of Nesquik strawberry milk powder. I recall trying Oreo Strawberry Milkshake flavor last summer, similar to the berry burst, and liking it more. These are definitely Oreos kids will love. I only wish I could figure out where coffee creme and peanut butter went...bring them back, Nabisco!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A little sweet, a little spicy, at India Sweets & Spices

Stepping into India Sweets & Spices is like stepping into a whole new world. Immediately you'll experience sensual overload from the mishmash of people, colors, and scents, which definitely is not a bad thing. Their authentic, homey, and vibrant tasting Indian dishes are perfect for anyone craving something unique, quick, and tasty for lunch. Even better, they serve their food up deli style, so you get to admire all they have to offer and order whatever catches your eye. 

A delicious combination plate of vegetable rice pilaf, veggie curry, curried potatoes and cabbage, pickled vegetables, and yogurt, with a side of naan bread. The rice was quite spicy but still tasty, and both of the curry dishes were very flavorful. The pickled veggies and yogurt sauce were great for cooling down after the heat. 

Strawberry and Mango Lassi. A sweet yogurt drink thinner than typical smoothies, and pleasantly tart. The perfect drink to go along with the strong, bold flavors of Indian cuisine. The combo plate, naan, and mango lassi were all just $7.99.

An Indian classic, Masala Dosa, a thin, crispy rice flour crepe filled with potatoes and spices and rolled into a long wrap. It comes with coconut yogurt raita, tomato chutney, and vegetable soup for dipping. Warm, crispy, and flavorful, masala dosa MUST be eaten immediately for ultimate enjoyment. Delicious and affordable at just $4.99!

India Sweets & Spices: 9409 Venice Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's It, Not Just a San Francisco Treat

A San Francisco classic since 1928, It's It are indulgent, nostalgic ice cream sandwiches. My mom grew up eating them in Northern California, so we were overjoyed when we discovered that this once rare, hard to find dessert was now available in neighborhood supermarkets. It's It ice cream sandwiches are unique because rather than soft chocolate wafers or chocolate chip cookies, their treats are made with dark chocolate covered oatmeal cookies and are available in ultra smooth and creamy chocolate, mint, vanilla, and cappuccino ice creams.  I've yet to find their chocolate ice cream, but I have tried the other three flavors. Sadly, their strawberry ice cream flavor was discontinued before I had the chance to try it.

In a family taste test, we each sampled a quarter of the mint, vanilla, and cappuccino flavored sandwiches, and came to the unanimous decision that cappuccino was the tastiest, followed by vanilla, and lastly mint. The sweet, subtle taste of coffee went perfectly with the chewy cookies and rich chocolate, and while I usually like mint ice cream, it's not the best flavor to combine with oatmeal cookies. I say get rid of the mint and bring back strawberry!