Dig if you will the picture… RIP Prince


This year began with the impossible-to-accept and still sometimes breathtakingly sad news that David Bowie had passed at age 69. I can only refer to him as “David Bowie” because no single word or descriptor (artist, musician, entertainer…) can encompass what and who he was or the legacy and influence he left in his wake.

Throughout the year, we’ve been hit with big – and horribly early – celebrity deaths. “Early” in the sense that people are passing away at younger ages, before their time. Of course there are the notable deaths of older people, such as the actress Doris Roberts, who just passed away at 90, or Abe Vigoda, long the subject of internet death rumors, at 94. But in the first four months of 2016, we’ve seen death come for much younger people. Some are shocking, like actor Alan Rickman (who was 69) or The Eagles’ Glenn Frey (67), but others are devastating in a rare and almost profound way. I don’t think any celebrity death can surpass the transcendent and lasting loss of Bowie, but if there’s a rival passing, it’s that of Prince, who is dead at 57. (Strange that Prince’s one-time protege, Vanity, also died this year, also at age 57.)


To describe what these artists meant would be a fool’s errand. They meant so many different things to so many different people. It’s enough to write that luminaries like Bowie and Prince were beyond description – and formed the backdrop of and soundtrack for the lives of millions. Most people have some – or many – connection(s) to the music, bound tightly to their individual memories. My entire childhood is peppered with aural and visual memories of both Bowie and Prince. The visuals of Ziggy-era Bowie or the entirely different aesthetic of “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl” that flashed onscreen in late-night music video shows; exuberant pairings of Prince’s “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy” and the altogether different seductive power of “When Doves Cry” (which pretty much always has been and always will be my go-to Prince anthem).

It’s not that Bowie or Prince, either one, had been the bedrock of my musical life or tastes. But they had been there, as foundations and influences for everything else, pulling the past (their influences) into the present, and dispersing their own influence across the depth and breadth of the musical spectrum. Losing them is losing forces to be reckoned with in the way that losing most artists just isn’t.



April Bake


Most of my bakes are anchored by M&M cookies. They’re a crowd favorite. They’re easy. They’re colorful. And even if you don’t get around to making anything else, these are enough of a crowd-pleaser that most people will be happy. Not all, but most.

My most recent bake started with the M&M cookies and ended with some gluten-free experimentation.

And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re curious about the list and the recipes to make some or all of the stuff yourself.

baked buffet

German chocolate cake


Like a lot of things in America, the so-named German chocolate cake isn’t actually German. But Americans, I guess, decided it is. Or actually the history goes that it was concocted by someone named Samuel German and was originally called German’s chocolate cake. Has nothing at all to do with being German or Germany. But the name has shifted, as so many do, to make people wrongly believe that this cake is a German treat.

I’ve always been fairly disgusted by German chocolate cake. It was the go-to birthday cake for my maternal grandfather, and I, liking neither chocolate nor nuts, could never see the appeal. Recently, while thinking a lot about my grandparents (now both deceased), I wondered if I could make German chocolate cupcakes.

Before you get started, I would suggest toasting your pecans for the filling. Toast about 4 ounces or 113 grams of pecan pieces in an oven at 175C/350F for about 10 minutes, making sure they do not burn. Set aside.

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cold, strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Butter and flour muffin tins (or use paper muffin cups). Sift dry ingredients together in one bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, coffee, buttermilk and vanilla.

Beat the coffee mix into the dry ingredients in two batches with an electric mixer on low. Beat in butter last. Pour into prepared muffin tins (about half full).

Bake 10-14 minutes (done when a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake in the center of the pan comes out clean).

Nut-coconut filling
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup coconut
3/4 – 1 cup toasted pecan pieces
3 tablespoons butter

In a heavy mid-sized saucepan, combine cream, sugar and yolks. Cook on medium-low until the sugar dissolves (about ten minutes). Remove from heat and add coconut, pecans and butter. Stir until the butter is fully melted. Let stand until at room temperature.

When cool, use the filling to fill/top each cupcake to the capacity you like. I made holes in my cupcakes and filled them and then topped the rest of the cake with some chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, but you could also use a chocolate ganache as a topper.

Faux Girl Scout cookies: Homemade Samoa cookies


Samoa cookies are not the simplest cookies to make. Easier to buy a box from the Girl Scouts. But then it won’t be homemade, won’t be fresh, won’t be quite the thing you get when you make something of your own.

I made the Samoas once before, and they were very popular. When I wrote up the recipe and baking process last time (way back in 2011!) I included a few photos of the process.

Here I repeat just the recipe and a couple of snaps.

Samoa cookies: Recipe
1. Make the dulce de leche (or buy it) and toast the coconut (you can do a day or two in advance)
2. Make the cookie dough (it will need to chill for a few hours before you can roll it out and cut it)

Shortbread cookie dough
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (do not add if you have used salted butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk (you may not need this much – you are just looking to get the right consistency)

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in one bowl. Set aside briefly. In a bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy at medium speed, about 3-4 minutes. (I did this by hand.) Mix in the vanilla extract. Turn the mixer speed to low, and add the dry ingredient mixture, followed by the milk, one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together without being sticky. The dough should be a soft ball.

Turn the dough onto a very lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two pieces and form each one into a rectangle. Wrap the pieces of dough in parchment or plastic wrap and freeze for about 45 minutes to an hour. (You could also just put it in the fridge, as I did. I left it overnight.)

When ready to roll out, cut and bake, take one of your dough rectangles out and set aside to soften slightly. Preheat your oven to 350F and line cookie sheets with parchment.

When ready, put down a piece of parchment on your work surface. Lightly flour and put your dough on top. Lightly flour the top of the dough and add another sheet of parchment. Roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Use a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter and cut the dough into rounds. Cut a center hole (I used the round end of a frosting tip), and then transfer to your prepared cookie sheet. Gather the scrap dough and repeat the rolling out/cutting process.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the bottoms are lightly browned. Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then put on wire racks and allow them to cool completely. While cooling, make the topping.

Caramel-coconut topping
3 cups toasted coconut (you can use sweetened or unsweetened and can use untoasted coconut if you prefer)
1 14oz can of of dulce de leche
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
a bag of dark or semisweet chocolate chips (to melt)

Open the dulce de leche and stir it together with milk and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a couple of times to smooth the caramel. When smooth, add toasted coconut and stir completely. (And no, actually, it’s not pretty.)

Spread 2 to 3 teaspoons of the topping onto each cooled shortbread cookie. While the topping sets, melt the chocolate chips (either in a double boiler or in the microwave, whichever works best for you).

Once the chocolate is melted, spread chocolate onto the bottoms of each cookie and put them on a clean sheet of parchment.

You will then want to drizzle chocolate over the finished cookies — I just did this by dipping a fork into the remaining melted chocolate and drizzling it over the cookies. You can be more orderly about this by using a piping bag.

Refrigerate the cookies for a few minutes to let the chocolate firm up. Store the cookies between parchment sheets in airtight containers.

Black bean millet patties


Last year, a few times, I made some black bean millet sweet potato burgers. I do not have the patience for this (mostly the sweet potato part since you need to fully bake the sweet potato first), especially when just cooking for myself, so today I attempted something similar – Sunday dinner. Not pretty but relatively tasty. It’s missing something I cannot pinpoint but is still quite edible.

1 cup cooked millet
1.5 cups drained and rinsed black beans
1 small red onion, shredded
1 small red onion, chopped
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
pepper, to taste

Cook the millet, or use leftover millet. Slightly mash the black beans. Mix the spices together in a separate bowl. Mix everything together, mashing slightly. Form patties and cook on a medium-high griddle or pan in olive oil or another preferred oil.

Naturally you can experiment with the spices and with a topping (tomato salsa? guacamole? mango salsa?). I just used a blob of slightly spicy mustard to dip it in.

It’s vegan and it’s easy.

Mini pecan pies


It’s been a long time since I bothered to make miniature pies, but suddenly the urge was there. Mini pecan pies were born.

Here’s how you can go for it as well:

1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled butter
3 tablespoons ice water

Sift flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour until crumbly. Stir in enough cold water with a fork until it is just moistened. Form a ball and roll out on a floured surface. (For a regular pie, you would roll into a 12-inch circle for a 9-inch pie. For mini pies, just cut circles about the size of the outer edge of your tins). Fit the rounds into your mini tins and set aside.

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup corn syrup (I used golden syrup)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F. First pour pecans into the bottom of the pie crusts. Pour the syrup over the top. (Pecans will rise to the top.)

Cover the tops and crusts lightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.

Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. The filling should not be overly runny/jiggly, so continue baking until it is relatively solid.


Raspberry walnut swirl cookies


It’s a good damn thing I am not trying to bake today – all weekend the power at my house has been going on and off, on and off… I don’t quite know what is happening because these are unplanned outages, according to the power company’s website. But it’s not weather-related. It’s still and not stormy (which is what normally knocks the power out).

Anyway things do not always go to plan. That’s kind of the point. I planned some time back to make some raspberry walnut coconut cookies, but the dough was meant to be rolled out, with the filling spread on top and then cut into slices. No. The dough was so crumbly and impossible to roll that it was hopeless.

All is not lost, though, even when things do not go to plan. I pressed about three-quarters of the dough into a pan, spread the raspberry mixture filling on top and sprinkled the rest of the dough on top and baked these into bar cookies. They seem to have worked fine.

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix together. Press three-quarters of dough into a square 8×8 or 9×9 glass pan.

¾ cup raspberry jam
½ cup coconut
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

Spread filling on crust and sprinkle the remaining one-quarter of dough across the top.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool and slice into bars.


Gluten-free cupcake ideas


Some time ago, I determined that I would expand my gluten-free baking repertoire. I never get very far because I am wrapped up in the regular baking and am paranoid about ensuring that the gluten stuff does not touch gluten-free stuff. I know there are a lot of people who eat gluten-free by preference, so gluten is not going to hurt them. But there are a few with tremendous sensitivity and for their sake, I try to be as careful as I can be in a kitchen in which both gluten and gluten-free baking takes place.

In any case, my bakes, as anyone who knows me knows, are industrial in their size and breadth… meaning that once the regular stuff is done, I don’t have a lot of energy left for expansive gluten-free experiments. Now I always make gluten-free/paleo coconut flour brownies because they are easy and I know they work… and often make stuff like coconut macaroons (also easy and foolproof). But cupcakes are a new area. I’ve been told that these were delicious.

Vanilla gluten-free cupcakes (makes 12)
1/2 cup (125 grams) butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (115 grams) gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 175C. Bake 12-15 minutes.

Line cupcake pan with paper liners.

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs – sift dry ingredients together and mix into wet ingredients alternately with coconut milk.

Fill cupcake papers just over halfway. Bake. Remove from oven after 12-15 minutes, when toothpick inserted in center of center-placed cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for five minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Next up to try in my adventures in gluten-free baking:

Chocolate gluten-free cupcakes (makes 12)
210 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour
70 grams cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup sour cream
3 to 6 tablespoons coffee

Preheat oven to 175C. Bake 15-20 minutes.

Line cupcake pan with paper liners.

Cream eggs and sugar, add coconut oil – sift dry ingredients together and mix into wet ingredients in three rounds, alternately with the sour cream. Add in the coffee last of all, using as much as you need to make the right consistency batter and flavor you like.

Fill cupcake papers just over halfway. Bake. Remove from oven after 15-20 minutes, when toothpick inserted in center of center-placed cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for five minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

(I used chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream and gluten-free sprinkles.)

Apple ricotta pie


Finding myself with a container of soon-to-expire ricotta on my hands, not having used it for another planned recipe, I decided to make a pie to get a lot of various leftover ingredients off my hands (an overabundance of graham cracker crumbs, cream, etc.) In the end this was not such a great concoction – would be better perhaps if the apple mixture had some butter mixed into the sugar and cinnamon to make the apple layer more like apple pie. And the ricotta layer was also a bit dry and bland. I don’t know quite how I would combat the dryness (and it might not be necessary if the apples were more filling-like) but for better flavor, I might consider adding lemon zest.

Apple ricotta pie
Apple layer
3 cups sliced or diced apples
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Ricotta filling
2 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the crust you can either use a regular pâte brisée/shortcrust pie-pastry dough or a graham cracker crust (use about ¾ cup graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter – mix together and press into a pie pan/tin. Bake ten minutes on 180C. Fill.)

For apple layer, peel apples and slice. Mix with sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Place in the prepared pie crust.

For the ricotta filling, beat eggs, then add ricotta, sugar, cream and salt. Pour over the top of the apples.

Bake at 220C (425F) for 10 minutes; reduce the heat to 175C and bake for 30 additional minutes.

Let cool. Serve.