A Salty and Sweet 2009

2009 was a big year for me. I bought my first home, I traveled to Italy with a great friend and I made some fantastic new friends that I'm sure will carry over into 2010 and years to come. 
2009 was also the year that I fell in love with the rich and decadent flavor: salted caramel. Salted Caramel was the "it" flavor of 2009. My favorite cupcakery, Cupcake Royale does it best in the cupcake department while Molly Moon's nails it with ice cream. (In fact, I think that is where I first encountered the flavor.)
So to send 2009 out in sweet and savory style (and to serve as a New Year's Day treat!) I decided to tackle the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for Fleur De Sel Caramels. 
Thankfully my dear friend Chris continues to replenish my Reflets de France's Fleur De Sel supply because this was the perfect ingredient for these tasty morsels. The recipe was easy to follow and at the end I was amazed - I just made my own caramels! (Pat on the back me!) The only hitch I came into was that when removing the chilled caramel from the pan, the parchment paper did not come off easily. I was picking it in little shreds for some time. (Not fun.) I would advise using a touch more oil when initially coating the paper. 
These caramels are super impressive but surprisingly easy! If only all things followed that same mantra!
So with that I say goodbye to 2009. It was a sweet one, with hints of salt mixed in. Just like my favorite flavor. 



Grab your knife and fork - these cupcakes are worth doing the dishes!

Allow me to set the stage. It's an office-mate's birthday and you decide to present them with a treat inspired by their favorite doughnut, a Top Pot "Feathered Boa."

The typical reaction? A muffle of sounds (their mouths filled with golden cake) and then "What makes these so good?!"

Simple answer? 6 sticks of butter, 5 eggs, 2 packages of cream cheese, confectioners sugar...and on and on. 

She's no Paula Dean but Ina Garten has mastered the art of taking butter and transforming it into heaven. 

Dense, moist, rich...hefty. These cupcakes are best enjoyed with a fork and knife. 

The Barefoot Contessa's Baking Line carries the mixes but I recommend trying them from scratch. They're fairly simple and are far more flavorful! Try it for yourself!


Meet "Bert" - My Sexy New Roomate

Other than the sacred Kitchen Aid Mixer (moment of silence), an oven is the prized possession of any baker. Last week I purchased my first home after falling (hard) for a professional 30-inch dual fuel range and oven named Bert...short for Bertazzoni

If ovens can be described as sexy then this one is smokin' hot. Bert has it all. A balanced air-flow fan convection to provide even heat distribution for single and multi-level roasting and baking, without flavor crossover. (Flavor crossover? Who knew?!) It features a wide-area infrared gas grill, true European convection through a third ring heating element, a powerful electric grill and even has a "triple-glaze door" to ensure low-temperature external surface. See? I told you. Sexy.

As with most overtly sexy creatures, I'm a bit intimidated. Each night this week I've come home and basically just gawked at Bert - rather than used him. I've turned on a burner or two (okay all of them) and have flipped on the fan, springing the hood to life. I've tickled the knobs and adjusted the burners. However, I've yet to place a single cake pan or cupcake tin in his lovely hands. I must break the seal. I must muster the courage and befriend the sexy beast. I mean, it's only fair. To let Bert sit unused would just be rude!So here I sit, like an awkward teenager planning for the weekend's "prom night," planning my first move.  

This could be the weekend where Bert gets lucky. 

I'm hoping to try Martha's Candied Hazelnut Cupcakes and her Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.

To steal a line from the fine Mr. Marvin Gaye, Bert...let's get it on! (And go easy on me - it's my first time.)


Happy Halloween! (It's Candy Day!!)

Who says Halloween has to be scary?
This past weekend I went to a fantastic and fabulous Pumpkin Carving Contest...I mean, Party...and instead of carving some ghoulish face into my pumpkin I wanted to do something a little different and little bit sweeter. It's a Cup-kin! Happy Halloween! I hope you all have a weekend filled with tricks and treats!


The Marshmallow Test! Are you up for the challenge?

Thank you Simpatico for sharing this "sweet" video! It's sugary happiness at its best!

What would you do? Eat one or wait for two?


One "sweet" Needle

I like to consider myself one of Seattle's biggest fans. I can't get enough of this city. I love the grit. I love the music. I love the food. I love the mountains, the ocean, the urban and wild. All of it. My favorite? The cheesy, tourist-trap, random fixture of..."the needle."
The Space Needle never gets old to me - in fact, each day when I drive to work and make the turn onto Denny, the Needle pops into view and I smile and say to myself, "Hi Needly!" I consider it friend. I say "Good morning" to "him" and "good night" when I head home. It makes me happy. 

As you know, baking also makes me happy. So why not combine my two best friends? 
When my sister and father were last visiting we took the $35 elevator ride to the top of the needle to see the sights of Seattle. Of course, on our way down, it shot us right out into a gift shop. Space Needle t-shirts, stickers, shot glasses, pasta, LEGO projects (yeah, I bought that) and even cookie cutters crowded the shop. I was so excited to find one of my favorite cooking tool in the shape of one of my favorite things. 

Another favorite part of Seattle? Seattle Works! Seattle Works connects people in their 20s and 30s with volunteer opportunities throughout the city. When I first moved to Seattle, I joined Seattle Works to meet people. What I found was a way to meet the city. We volunteered in every pocket of the city - cleaning and clearing greenspaces, readying summer camps, organizing food banks and assembling science kits. 

Over the past two years I've become quite involved with Seattle Works, serving as an Auction Committee Member twice. This year, I decided to donate a dessert item for their famed "Dessert Dash." What to do? Well...it had to be something that was quintessential Seattle and quintessential Katie! Ah-ha! Space Needle Sugar Cookies!

Over the past few days I've worked on these little gems. Making the dough, chilling it, rolling, cutting, baking, cooling, icing, decorating, wrapping...giving. 

I love to bake. I love to gift my baking. And the Seattle Works Auction was the perfect place to share it with a great group. I had great response to the cookies and felt good about what I put into them. 

I hope the lucky tables enjoyed them and I thank them for their Dessert Dash donation and for supporting Seattle Works.

Sugar? Butter? Seattle? Perfect. 


"Really? There's root beer in here?"

Over the weekend I cracked open the pages of the newest member of my cookbook family (yes, we're that close) and tried my hand at the "Root Beer Bundt Cake." 
Baked Authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito "weren't looking for just a hint of root beer" but rather an "avalanche of flavor." 
Hmmmm....did I use the wrong brand? Should I have spiked it with some liquor? Did I duck and miss the avalanche completely? Hmmm....
Let's back up a moment. I made the cake on Sunday to bring into the office on Monday. (Perfect I thought. It'll rest overnight and the flavor will intensify. Just like my new friends Matt and Renato suggest!) The cake was fairly simple and the frosting was amazing. Thick and flavorful. I kept tasting the batter along the way, searching for hints of root beer. I think I tasted them only because I was looking for it. I was aware of the flavor so I tasted it. However, I never got that avalanche effect. From the batter at least. Perhaps after it baked!
Out of the oven it looked delish. It took a little bit longer to bake than the recipe recommended but surely that's because my oven is ancient and usually on the fritz. I never tasted the cake (as not to ruin the first impression from my co-workers) so I just made it look pretty and hoped for the best!
Monday arrived and throughout the day I received..."Who made that awesome chocolate cake?" Awesome, yes. Chocolate, not necessarily. I responded with "It's actually a root beer bundt cake." Their response, "Hmmm...I guess there could have been a hint of that. But...it's chocolate right?" This conversation continued with every slice. And while all of the reviews were raves, they were never about the root beer. 
I will most definitely make this cake again - it looked great, tasted great, and had a great texture - but next time I'm going to try some new things. Maybe A&W or MUG instead of Barq's. Maybe I'll hit the hard stuff and find a nice extract or liquor. Either way, I'm aiming for that flavor. I'm going to the mountain and I'm hoping for that avalanche. Come and get me!!


Let's get "Baked."

I just discovered a "new frontier." While I was perusing the kitchen gadgets at Crate and Barrel last weekend (cake testers, orange paring knives - love it!) I was completely taken by their display for the cookbook: Baked - New Frontiers in Baking. Propped right next to the autumn cupcake liners and kitchen torches the book practically called to me. The photography is gorgeous, the recipes unique and the overall theming is rustic yet completely polished. (What can I say, I have a thing for the antler motif?!) 

Some standout recipes include: Rootbeer Bundt Cake, Homemade Marshmallows and the Sweet and Salty Cake. This weekend I think I'll try my hand at the Rootbeer Bundt Cake. I can honestly say that I've never had a sweet treat using that flavor and I'm intrigued by it. Next up...homemade marshmallows - with the hope that I can perfect them just in time for hot cocoa season!

Happy Baking!


Just another reason to love fall!

It's October 1st and one of my nearest, dearest, most favorite-est cupcake shops, Cupcake Royale, has just released their Autumn Harvest line! Pumpkin Maple...Caramel Apple...Carrot Cake. 
I'm definitely going to have to "grab me a bushel" this weekend! You should too!


My Goodness My Guinness!

I just don't trust someone who doesn't like cake. That's right, there are people that "don't like cake." There's just something not right about it, they can't be trusted.

A friend of mine and I were walking around in Capitol Hill (Seattle, WA) and we passed my favorite cupcakery, Cupcake Royale. "Let's stop in and get one," I said with a tug. "Nah, I don't like cake." The next part is pretty much a blur. I think I stopped in my tracks, my mouth hit the floor and I shook my head a few times as if to shake the words from my memory. "Don't like cake?" How can that be?

I was determined to change this and quickly. I ran through my mental recipe box and landed on the obvious choice, Nigella Lawson's Guinness Chocolate Cake from her lovely book, Feast. This was sure to do the trick!

Over the weekend, after he and his partner treated me lovely dinner and a fabulous night out on the town, I decided to bake them a thank you note. That's right! A tasty, dense, damp, chocolatey thank you note!

The Guinness Chocolate Cake is the cure for anyone cake-hater who complains about dry, crumbling cake. It is the most dense, damp (and that "m" word - sorry, even as a baker I just can't bring myself to say it.) cake you'll ever try. And yes, there's actual Guinness beer baked inside. In fact, you melt butter in the beer! (I'd challenge you to find something better than melting beer in Guinness. Oh...how about the fact that the recipe only calls for 1 cup of Guinness which means that you have at least another cup and a half left for yourself! Baking and beer!)

After a Saturday of baking and a Sunday morning perfecting the frosting (which replicates the frothy head of the stout) I delivered the treat to the boys. Half of it was gone within a half an hour and the cake hater himself ate two pieces! Two! And that was just the first night. Since "the delivery" I've received e-mails and texts from him - "I can't wait to go home and have another slice of that cake!"

I'm proud to say that I've single-handedly (okay, with Nigella's help) helped one cake-hater cross over from the dark side. And while he might not be headed to QFC to pick up a sheet cake anytime soon, he'll certainly never claim to "hate cake" again. At least if he knows what's good for him!

Get the recipe here! Enjoy!


"Pumpkin Chocolate Explosion Cookie Pillow Things"

It's the weekend and I love to lounge around on a Saturday morning, drinking coffee and baking! As the seasons change and we turn the corner and head into fall, it's time for a Katie specialty and crowd favorite.
Growing up we always had "Pumpkin Cookies" in the fall. They'd show up just after school started and make regular appearances until Thanksgiving when the recipe would go into hibernation until the next autumn. My grandmother's recipe, these easy little cookies were always a hit. Friends began to ask for them, college roommates eagerly checked the mail each day hoping for a cookie care package from Mrs. D'Amato and office mates polished off a tin of them by mid-morning. My sisters and I began "sharing the wealth" - baking from my mother's hand-written recipe card and giving credit where credit was due. (Thank you Grandma Fournier.) Pumpkin cookies are a true signal that fall is here!

The thing that I love most about Pumpkin Cookies (other than how easy they are and how shocked I always am that a cookie this delicious doesn't require any butter - no butter! Craziness!) is the shock, awe and absolute delight the recipients experience. They take a questioning look at the lumpy orange muffin-like cookie and decide to try one. With one bite into this cakey-cookie they're hooked. They try and describe it (with their mouth filled) and it's always a glowing review. Some of my favorites...
  • "Heaven is a pumpkin cookie." -John B.
  • "Um, those pumpkin chocolate explosion cookie pillow things are AMAZING." -Nick S.
  • "You are super sweet...just like your cookies. I've eaten 5 of them!" -Chris H.
I mean, what's better than giving someone a "cookie pillow" or a bit of "heaven?" All I can say is pumpkin cookies always deliver and never disappoint. So, without further delay, here's the recipe so that you too can pass around a little bit of pumpkin happiness!

"Mom's Pumpkin Cookies"

Pre-heat over 350'
- 1 cup canned pumpkin
- 1 beaten egg
- 1/2 c oil (vegetable)
- 1 c sugar
Mix w/ combined dry ingredients
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda + 1 tsp milk (dissolve)
Once combined, stir in...
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Chocolate Chips (As much or as little as you like - I use the entire bag!)
Spoon onto baking sheet in little "blobs." (Yes, that's a technical term!)
Bake for 10-14 minutes...toothpick should come out clean.

Share and enjoy!


Preheat your oven...

It's been said (guilty!) that if you can read, you can bake. While that may be true to some extent, I've always taken it one step further. I think if you can bake then you can be happy!

Baking for me is somewhat therapeutic. Watching the butter and sugar cream just right. Seeing the eggs form the perfect peaks. Flipping on the oven light to see your cupcakes expanding in their flimsy paper cups. And most importantly, the selfish satisfaction and silent streak of happiness you feel when you offer your goods to another and they let out the... "Oh...this is amazing!" Your soul smiles a bit and you think, I made this pretty little package of sugar and I made this other person happy, if only for a bite!

This blog is dedicated to finding and serving happiness to others - whether it be in a tart pan or a cookie tin. It's about my trials (souffle anyone?) and my triumphs (sugar cookies!) and most importantly it's about the process. Trying new things, adding some style and sharing it with others! I hope you'll share your favorite recipes with me!