I get to go home in four days!!! I’m beyond excited. Whenever I visit home, a part of me reverts back into little kid mode.
Having an opportunity to escape the responsibilities of adulthood–bills, grocery shops, transportation, etc–is a truly precious one. I love having my mom cook for me and my dad greet me in the morning with my old nicknames; as soon as I crumble into their hugs at the Charleston airport, I forget all the worries I have about ballet and injuries and life back in Pittsburgh.
When I went home last June, my mom excitedly planned and executed a plethora of meals and snacks for me, as she always does. I spent my nights sucking up the wafts of delicious scents from our kitchen, anticipating the announcement of the two holiest words of 6 to 7pm: “Dinner’s ready!”
As much as I allowed myself to be mothered, though, I couldn’t cut out my time with the oven entirely. So, when my mom informed me of plans to have dinner at my grandparents’ one Tuesday night, I immediately offered to provide dessert. I wanted to make something simple in effort and anything but in flavor. These brownies soon seemed the perfect choice: super quick, super easy, and a definite crowd pleaser. This was no 3-day, ornate, layered masterpiece (that’s saved for another post); it was a classic treat that both satisfied my family and scratched my baking itch.
What a miracle that from an unadorned tray of brown, comes a moist, chocolaty bite with an instant rush of childhood bliss.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the hectic nature of young adult life, just like it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the myriad of complex recipes waiting to be attempted. The pressures to build a career, to accomplish enough, to be self-sufficient, or to tackle the most technical dessert in the cookbook are relevant concerns. However, what’s equally important is remembering to find and cherish the brownie moments in life. Call your family. Visit home. Remind yourself what it’s like to be a kid for a day. Trade those baked Alaskas and soufflés your trusty 8×8.
[Mary] sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”…The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting
3/4 cup shortening
2 oz. vegan dark chocolate (I use 5 pieces of the Trader Joe’s pound plus 72% bar)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup vegan sugar
1/4 cup pureed black beans (use nutribullet or food processor)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup flour
3 flax eggs (3 tablespoons flax mixed with 9 tablespoons of water in bowl left in fridge to thicken for 15 minutes)
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons shortening
1 cup vegan powdered sugar
2 TBSP almond milk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 8×8 pan and line with parchment or nonstick foil.
Combine shortening and chocolate in glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl. Microwave using 20 second bursts, stirring thoroughly between, until melted. Set aside.
In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
Add beans, flax eggs, vanilla extract, and shortening mix into dry ingredients. Stir just until completely combined.
Spoon batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
Bake at 350°F for about 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (The cook time will vary by oven, so I suggest you begin checking around the 30 minute mark). Prepare frosting while brownies bake.
Remove from oven and let cool completely in pan.
Spread with peanut butter frosting.
In a medium mixing bowl or in bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat shortening and peanut butter on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy.
Add in powdered sugar a little at a time to avoid a sugar explosion, beating until incorporated.
If you’ve already peeked at the recipe for this one, yes you did read it correctly. If you haven’t, I hope I didn’t just scare you away! I’ll go ahead and say it: there’s soy sauce in this cookie. If the thought of using soy sauce in a cookie recipe–any dessert recipe, at that–terrifies you, you’re in the majority. In first sharing the idea, I got plenty of “ooo that sounds… interesting” remarks. I eventually realized, though, that this was one of the rare occasions during which my stubbornness came in handy…
I had decided before I came home that I was going to begin selling some of my baked goods this fall. Although giving away all of my creations was enjoyable, it became clear that to keep up my hobby I’d either have to discover a passionate baker philanthropist to fund me… or start making some money. So, I created a poll on our ballet Facebook page for my classmates in order to determine what the best selling items would be. Within a few hours, the uncontested winner was quickly revealed: cookies.
To be honest, I hadn’t accumulated much cookie experience. I love a good cookie–as any sane human does–but until then I considered them far from my top choice of sweets to make or eat. I immediately knew I’d need to beef up my repertoire. On the plane headed back to Pittsburgh, I decided to make a list of cookie types. After about what seemed like the 347th flavor, I was realizing that the possibilities for this circular delicacy, the “wheel’ of all baking inventions, were fabulously infinite. The inspiration for this particular cookie came suddenly to me; it was mostly from my love of all things salty-sweet. I grew up eating apple slices sprinkled with salt at my grandma’s house; sea salt dark chocolate bars will forever entice me; here in Pittsburgh maple bacon donuts at Peace Love & Little Donuts are just heavenly; even my favorite Burgatory milkshake is the salted caramel pretzel. I’m just a little obsessed. How this translated into a desire to make soy sauce caramel in a ginger cookie, I’m not exactly sure. But before the plane landed, I’d abandoned all reasonable thoughts (like working on, oh I don’t know, a chocolate chip recipe) and knew I had to try to make this work.
Four batches of each caramel and dough, loads of ugly “cookies,” and multiple topping experiments later, I managed to come out with a product that satisfied my hopes for this wacky dessert. The true test, though, was whether they would be well received by others. Sure, I was thrilled to create an original cookie I loved– but if no one else agreed, it wouldn’t have been too great for that whole “I need to make money’ thing. Thus, I dispersed the rest of the cookies to willing testers (No, I did not disclose the soy sauce detail to everyone). The reaction I received was overwhelmingly positive! I tentatively started to believe that the soy sauce quirk could change from an unfortunate deterrent to a unique secret ingredient.
Whether or not you consider yourself a fan of the savory-sweet mashup, give these a try! They’re soft, gooey, and delicious without being overly sweet. And if the wacky caramel doesn’t suit your fancy, just make the dough plain for a solid ginger molasses cookie. Most importantly, don’t let people’s judgments, their not-so-complimentary compliments, or their doubts get in your way of celebrating your weirdness. Embrace your soy sauce.
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4
Salted Ginger Caramel Cookies
¾ cup coconut cream
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons soy sauce (I used reduced sodium)
⅓ cup plus ¼ cup sugar
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flax + 3 Tbsp water mixed and rested in the fridge 15 minutes)
¾ cup shortening
¼ cup molasses
1 cup sugar
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons orange zest
2 Teaspoons ginger
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
2 Teaspoons baking soda
kosher salt for sprinkling
Line a 9 x 5loaf pan with parchment paper or nonstick foil. (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 will work as well).
Combine coconut cream and light corn syrup in small saucepan; cook on medium-low heat, stirring, until warm and smooth, just a few minutes. Take off heat.
In another small saucepan, stir together sugar and ¼ C. soy sauce just until sugar is completely coated. Place on stove, and turn on burner to medium-high heat.
Allow mixture to cook without stirring until the bubbles are medium-sized and a dark caramel color throughout, about 5-7 minutes. I prefer to gauge this on look, but the mixture will be about 235° at this point.
Turn burner down to medium-low, remove from heat, and pour in coconut cream mixture in a few slow additions.
Place back on medium-low burner and stir until all one color (it will be very dark). Turn heat back up to medium-high.
Let caramel cook without stirring. After around 5 minutes, the mixture will lose its coconut scent and start to smell like soy sauce again. Cook until it reaches the firm ball stage (244°F-248°F). To test for doneness, carefully take a bit of caramel on a spoon handle and drop it into ice water; the caramel will hold together but be somewhat malleable when squeezed. It should take around 9-13 minutes of cooking to get to this point (The time window is large because the time will depend on both the stove and saucepan you’re using).
Remove from heat when firm ball stage is reached, and immediately stir in remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.
Pour into prepared pan and let cool and set completely.
Cut caramel into small squares a little smaller than a penny (scissors work well for this), and store on wax paper in airtight containers. Keeping them in the fridge will help them to be easier to work with for the cookies.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil.
In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine shortening, flax egg, molasses, and sugar. Beat on medium-low speed until combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, orange zest, ginger, cinnamon, and baking soda.
Gradually add dry ingredient mix into bowl with wet ingredients, beating briefly after each addition until combined.
Continue mixing on medium speed until dough is smooth (this shouldn’t take long).
Cover and chill bowl of dough in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.
Take dough out, form cookies, and place on prepared baking sheet: scoop a heaping tablespoon of dough, press it flat in your palm, and place a piece of caramel on the bottom, pushing it until just before it’s about to break through the dough into your hand. Fold over the sides of the dough into the center, covering the caramel, and place the pinched, doughy side down on the baking sheet.
Chill cookie dough on baking sheets in freezer for 5 minutes.
Bake at 350°F for 8-11 minutes, or until bottom edges of cookies begin to darken. Sometimes the caramel will ooze a bit; just guide the caramel towards the cookie with a spatula once you take them out and then leave them alone.
Press lightly on tops of cookies that are still rounded with spatula. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
Let cool on baking sheets or cooling racks (wait five minutes if transferring to cooling racks) before removing; store in sealed containers at room temperature.
I’ve made my fair share of “everything but the kitchen sink” goodies. Whether I’m missing an ingredient or two for a recipe, attempting to put a personal twist on a classic, or simply feeling dangerously experimental, my strategy in the kitchen has always been to reach an edible destination, no matter how unconventional the route turns out to be. I like to think that my lack of formal training makes for exciting baking–I’ll never scoff at an idea just because it’s not in line with textbook culinary principles. This mindset has, of course, yielded quite a few failures, but it’s also resulted in some pleasant surprises.
One such instance was the first time I made these buns. I was in a medical boot for a stress fracture and therefore had an entire morning and afternoon to kill during my friends’ rehearsals: I HAD to bake. Unfortunately, I had only the scant remains of a bag of all-purpose flour, not enough to complete any full recipe. I cleverly decided to half the dough recipe, and then not so cleverly forgot my decision and immediately dumped in the amount of liquid ingredients for a whole batch. Crap. Telling myself that what happens in my kitchen stays in my kitchen, I proceeded to add every flour-like substance I could dig up. The additions became progressively questionable: the last corner from a bag of cake flour, bits of whole wheat flour, slivered almonds I pulsed in my nutribullet, and even a little vanilla protein powder. After exhausting my unorthodox supplies, I was finally able to get a dough with a texture I could work with.
That night I walked into the studio where my friends were warming up before the show with three tupperwares of my mixed-bag creations, smiling obnoxiously wide as if I hadn’t purposefully drenched them in sugary glaze to cover up their rather muted color. I left them nervously and took my seat for the performance.
They were a hit! As soon as I left the theater, I was approached by multiple people raving about the buns. I thanked them all, attempting not to show the massive relief on my face.
So, to anyone who is considering trying out an unfamiliar technique, recipe, ingredient, or even another hobby, don’t let fear of failure (or the daunting criticism of food network personalities) stop you; you never know what reward you may get. And if these buns sound good to you, don’t fret if you’re running out of flour.
Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
2 Corinthians 3:12
Date “Rum” Buns (V) (makes 8 buns)
1/2 cup almond milk
2 TBSP vegetable shortening
1/4 cup vegan sugar
1 tsp salt
1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 flax eggs (2 TBSP ground flax + 6 TBSP water mixed and left in fridge at least 5 min.)
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/8 tsp allspice
2 1/4 cups flour sifted, plus more for kneading/rolling
FILLING (make day before)
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 tsp rum extract
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp allspice
1/4 C. water
1/2 cup vegan brown sugar (preferably dark)
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 tsp rum extract
Stir all filling ingredients until well combined in container. Adjust to taste. Cover with lid and let sit in fridge overnight.
Microwave milk in glass measuring cup until just boiling, 2-3 minutes. Stir in shortening, sugar, and salt. Let cool until lukewarm while you move onto next step (to expedite cooling, place in fridge or freezer but check frequently to make sure shortening doesn’t solidify).
Sprinkle yeast over water in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment; let sit five minutes.
Pour cooled milk mixture into yeast bowl. Beat in 1 cup of the flour on medium speed until combined.
Beat in flax eggs, apple cider vinegar, and allspice until smooth.
Mix in the rest of the flour until combined.
Knead on a well-floured surface until smooth, continuously working in flour to keep dough from sticking. This will take 5-10 minutes.
Place dough in oiled bowl and flip so both sides of dough are coated. Cover and let rise in warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.
Gently punch dough down in bowl and let rest 10 minutes. Sprinkle counter surface with more flour.
Roll out dough to long rectangle, about 18″ x 10″
Cut rectangle into 8 strips (parallel to 10″ side)
Roll each strip height wise; gently press on bottom half of each roll to flatten.
Cut flattened ends into 3 strips. Braid three strips and pinch together at the bottom.
Roll each strip into spiral, starting with the top and wrapping braided end around outside. Tuck the very end of the braid under the roll.
Place rolls on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and cover with saran wrap. Let rise for 30 minutes, and preheat oven to 350º.
Bake buns for 12-15 minutes or until just browned on top (check bottoms too as the buggers burn easily).
Make glaze while buns bake: combine all ingredients in saucepan over medium heat. Stirring often, cook until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to thicken.
With a spoon or basting brush, pour glaze over buns, being sure to cover all sides. The glaze will adhere best if the buns have cooled, but glazing while warm is fine if you’re eating them right away.
Enjoy while warm and gooey or wait until cool and store in airtight container at room temperature.
In the world of cake-baking, there is a sort of hierarchy, in my opinion. At the bottom, you’ll find your cake mix cakes with tub frosting (no judgment here, I could eat an entire tub of store bought frosting myself). Next, you’ll find your homemade one-layer cakes, maybe with a sparkly gel “Happy Birthday” or some sprinkles. I’d place cupcakes around this level too. If you skip wayyy up to the top of the ladder, you’ll find the decorated layer cake. Here we find the multiple layer masterpieces with perfectly even layers of cake and fillings, a fondant or perfectly smooth buttercream finish, and intricate flowers or piping, everything crafted from scratch. These are the cakes you look at and immediately picture them in a bakery window or on a cooking show–basically anywhere BUT your own kitchen. At least that’s how I felt until this year.
My sister shattered this mindset when she asked me to take on the task of making her a combined birthday/high school graduation cake. My first reaction was massive excitement; my best friend was asking me to provide the centerpiece for two of the most important milestones in her young adult life! But after the initial high had time to dissipate, a paralyzing realization followed: I was a grownup cake virgin. Never had I embarked on the multiple-day, multiple-step journey of producing a top of the ladder cake, and never had I wished so much that wasn’t the case. Of course, I calmly rode the waves of my family’s trust, sharing design ideas and inspiration when inside I was thinking up a new culinary disaster every day that I could precipitate and ruin the party.
Soon enough, I was back home, the cake project looming uncomfortably near. Living up to my type-A reputation, I had taken all possible precautions to avoid disaster: determined how each recipe needed to be doubled, tripled, etc…; calculated the amount of each ingredient needed (for both a practice cake and the real deal); created a categorized a grocery list; rewrote all of it at least 3 times; and watched more YouTube cake tutorials than I’d like to admit.
The first day was practice day, my dress rehearsal. Except for the fact that I’d NEVER rehearsed this before. I surveyed my kitchen space like an understudy who’s been thrown into a performance I’d watched countless times but not once actually danced. You can only do so much preparation by observation–eventually you’ve just got to go for it.
So, I went for it. I successfully made the practice cakes. Alright, first step was done. I moved on to the frosting. My sister had asked for something whipped, and my lack of experience (and common sense) decided that a simple whipped frosting could support the weight of four layers of cake. As I watched sugary white filling seep from between the layers, I could feel myself shrinking beneath my apron, feeling suddenly like a child who tries unsuccessfully to walk in her dad’s oversize shoes.
For a good half hour, I whizzed around the kitchen in an anxious daze, accomplishing far too little for the amount of moving I was doing and mess I was creating. Eventually, I decided to take a step away from the project, accepting the small victory of the cakes themselves. Hours later, my panic faded into determination, and I focused all my energy on piping flowers…until 1 am. I was beginning to marvel at how the perky little bakers I saw on t.v. managed to remain so energetic and beautiful while I was over here transforming into a nocturnal cake goblin in my destroyed kitchen with icing crust in my fingernails and eyes stinging for sleep.
The day before the party, I worked with tunnel vision, cranking out buttercream and cake with as much confidence as I could fabricate. The morning of the big day, I unwrapped my chilled cakes, took the buttercream out of the fridge, briefly assessed that the world was ending when the buttercream didn’t look like it would thaw correctly, regained control after a talking to from my mom, and assembled the cake. All that was left to do was layer the frozen flowers I’d piped around the top, the simplest step left for the end.
I took a step back and looked at it. I couldn’t believe that it was finally complete (as complete as my perfectionist self would get it to be). Gingerly, I transported my work to the freezer and shut the door; the puff of frosty air that rolled off my face seemed to animate the cool relief I felt from the completion of the cake.
A couple hours and a much needed shower later, it was time to put it on display. I held my breath as each family member walked through our door and saw what I had made–the cake that had propelled me out of the immature phases of baking and into the adult world of dessert. When the moment came to cut into its purple ombre layers (another request from my sister), I became like a photo-happy mom determined to document every second of her child’s first day at school. As muffled mmmm’s and wow’s began to emerge from the living room, I couldn’t help but smile. (And take one more picture of the quarter of cake that remained).
I’m not sure whether any of the people who bit into that cake–excluding my parents–had any concept of the turmoil that ensued in the process of making it, and I’m pleased about that. However, I’m also really glad that those struggles happened. What would have been special about my first grownup cake if it had been a breeze, if all had gone perfectly to plan? Nothing, that’s what. Anyone who’s ever worked hard for something knows that the satisfaction you feel in the end is not from the end result itself–it’s from the fact that you pushed yourself to get there despite the trials along the way. So, I leave you with the advice to never shy from a goal just because it’s foreign to you. Read, watch videos, observe others as much as you can, but eventually just get out there yourself! Remember that the people you learn from all had their first cracks at things too, and they were probably pretty ugly (they just chose not to broadcast that part). Choose your grownup cake, pull up your big girl/big boy britches, and lose your virginity!
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1: 2-4
Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream (much improved since my first try!)
6 egg whites
1 1/3 cup sugar
3 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (room temperature, cut into tablespoon sized chunks)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
(vinegar or lemon juice to wipe down equipment)
Wipe down the metal bowl of your stand mixer, a whisk, and the whisk attachment from your stand mixer with vinegar or lemon juice.
Fill a saucepan with water about halfway and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Combine egg whites in sugar in the metal bowl from your stand mixer, and place the bowl over the simmering water to form a double boiler. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water; if it is, carefully dump some of the water out.
Whisking constantly, allow the egg whites and sugar to cook in double boiler until mixture reaches 140°F and the sugar is entirely dissolved.
When the temperature is reached, remove the bowl from the saucepan and attach to your stand mixer. Secure the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, and begin mixing on high speed.
Continue whisking on high speed until the mixture has cooled to room temperature–test this by placing your hands on the bottom of the bowl. The meringue mixture should form stiff peaks at this point. (The amount of time this takes will vary depending on your kitchen and equipment; be patient, and don’t move on until the mixture has cooled).
Reduce the mixer speed to low (about 2-3), and begin adding in the butter. Add 1-2 pieces at a time, and wait until they’re fully incorporated to add the next pieces.
Continue until all butter is incorporated. Do not panic when your buttercream starts to look clumpy, goopy, or deflated. It will often seem like you’ve done something wrong before the final product is reached–just be patient and keep going.
When you’ve added all the butter, remove the whisk attachment, and fit the paddle attachment on your mixer. Continue whipping on low-medium speed until buttercream is fluffy and smooth.
Mix in vanilla extract and salt.
Use immediately, or refrigerate/freeze for future uses. If you chill it, allow it to come to room temperature, and then beat again with paddle attachment until fluffy before using. Makes enough to frost a 2-layer 8″ cake.
**If buttercream seems too liquidy after continued mixing, place the entire bowl in the fridge for a few minutes, and continue mixing after. Often this will resolve texture issues that are commonly caused by adding butter to a mixture that hasn’t cooled enough.
I always thought the idea of starting a baking blog was great, but I could never bring myself to take the first step and go for it. It wasn’t until months of convincing from my family and friends and a ballet injury that left me with a surfeit of free time that I finally acted on my vague ambitions.
I think the reason that I’d hesitated for so long was the fact that I wasn’t sure how to start: I was just a girl who enjoyed spending time in my kitchen and sharing dessert. By no means could I call myself a recipe developer.
That’s why I decided to look to the tried-and-true for inspiration: family recipes. Excited but with no concrete plan, I called both of my grandmothers, asking if they’d be willing to share their recipe collections with me. Of course, both cheerfully obliged, and by the next week I had a heavy stack of church cookbooks, magazine/newspaper clippings, and handwritten recipes waiting to be explored. The best part, though, was that not a single page out of the stacks was simply a piece of paper. With each set of ingredients my grandmas handed me, they also handed over a story.
“This sugar cookie recipe was given to me by my neighbor who was a home economics teacher. Her husband performed your parents’ wedding.”
“This peach pie recipe is my absolute favorite! I’m sure you can tell by how messy it is.”
“Your great grandma used to make these candies all the time, but no one makes them anymore. You have to give it a try, I just know you’ll LOVE them.”
I could see joy take over their faces as each paper I delicately held transformed from a list of materials and steps into a living puzzle piece of their lives. These breads, cakes, and pies had survived cross-state moves, marriages, and new generations. Suddenly my internet-acquired baking repertoire seemed overwhelmingly dull. There is something about touching a batter-stained, faded notecard with penciled-in adjustments that can never be replaced by a pristine, widely read website recipe.
No matter how simple or complex my families’ recipes are, they will always have a sort of exponential value that comes from love. Their wealth expands each time they’re used, revamped, and shared between friends (or grand daughters 🙂 ). In a culture of instant recipes that are just as instantly forgotten, I hope that I can keep alive the beautiful tradition of sharing, of love, through baking. With a pile of old, worn books in my lap, new inspiration in my heart, and the warm smiles of my grandmas across from me, I knew I was ready to start.
Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions–to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.