Espresso Burnt Sugar Shortbread

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It’s cookbook season, and new books are hitting the shelves (and my mailbox) daily. Most of them are just okay. And then once in a while a book comes along that, for a variety of reasons, really speaks to me. I had never heard of Ovenly before opening this book. It turns out it is a bakery in New York. According to the cover of the book it is “New York’s Most Creative Bakery”, which is a ridiculous thing to claim. The bakery was started by two friends, Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, who met in a book club, both with Eastern European roots and a serious interest in baking. I really liked the introductions written by the owners, they both seem thoughtful, charming, and passionate about what they do. My first flip through the book had me wanting to bake everything, from Nutella and Banana Coffee Cake to Bloody Mary Scones and Jelly Donut Muffins. These are the sorts of things that you actually want to bake at home.

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Chocolate Nudges

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Love means sometimes having to bake with chocolate.

It’s valentines week and, love it or hate it, you’ve still got to eat. May I suggest these perfect little chocolate and pistachio cookies? Chocolate?! you say? Truth be told, my dislike of chocolate has probably been over-stated. Sometimes I like it, though I almost never prefer it (expect perhaps in the case of cheap milk shakes). I prefer chocolate as an accent, but rarely as the focus. You can keep your Death-by-Chocoholic-Avalanche-Lava-Cakes. But Bryan loves it, and because I am such a sweet husband, I baked him these cookies. read more+++

50/50 Sablé

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The whole grain trend that is sweeping the nation is alright with me. The health benefits of whole grains are great, but the flavor is what keeps me coming back for more. They just taste good, and they make even the simplest thing more interesting. Kim Boyce schooled us all a few years ago, and I am happy each time the lesson is reinforced.

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LA, Vegas + Salted Caramel Shortbread

We’ve been traveling for the past couple of weeks. We were mostly in Los Angeles visiting Bryan’s family and some friends (hi guys!). Bryan’s sister and her husband recently had the most adorable baby ever, and the highlight of our trip was getting to meet our sweet niece. She was in her fifth week of life when we were with her. Five weeks! It is hard to wrap your mind around. In addition to plenty of baby holding, we also took a small side trip to Las Vegas.


Last year when we attended the Saveur Blog awards party, Bryan entered a raffle. Luck was on our side that night because he won the grand prize: a stay at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I think we’d need to be 10 years younger(or 30 years older?), heterosexual, and very drunk to really enjoy Las Vegas, but we did our best. Mostly we enjoyed our truly amazing suite (3 bathrooms!) and marveling at the insanity that is “The Strip”. We ate at a bunch of restaurants, but to be honest I didn’t love any of them. Everything was overpriced and under-loved. It was hard to find magic. We left the strip for a brief excursion to Amber Unicorn Books, which has the most glorious selection of used cookbooks I have ever seen—hundreds and hundreds…maybe even thousands? It is in a pretty nondescript strip mall, a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying. As we drove through the streets of Vegas that most tourists never encounter, I wondered what other secrets were lurking throughout the city. I know that if people come to Chicago and never leave the loop or Michigan Avenue, they have no idea of Chicago. I wondered if it is frustrating to live in a city mostly known for a couple of miles of casinos and shopping malls.

In any case, Las Vegas was a fun diversion, and we drove back to Los Angeles with a trunk full of cookbooks. read more+++

Sugar Saucers

Recently I discovered (and shared on Twitter) that there were 243 cookbooks in my apartment. The number has since risen to 245. I was both proud and horrified by the number. It is a lot of books. It is especially a lot of books for a small, one-bedroom apartment. Poor Bryan. At least a hundred of them are in piles around the house, so my new years resolution is to find a storage solution for all of these books. Wish me luck.

One of the two recent additions to the collection was Piece of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by David Muniz, David Lesniak and Rachel Allen (published in the UK as Baked in America- which is a much better title). It is a book from the two guys who own Outsider Tart bakery in London. The bakery sells American baked goods (whoopie pies, cupcakes, layer cakes, etc) to Brits, and apparently is popular. I didn’t know much about the bakery, and somehow missed the US release of the book back in the Autumn. I honestly have no idea why I bought this cookbook. Why do we buy most things? Boredom? I read a thing? I was hungry? Anyway, I added another general baking book to the dozens that I own and depleted even more of my expendable income. Bad idea, right? read more+++

Speculoos Buttons

I’ve been randomly exclaiming Christmas is almost over!, since Halloween. Even though I’m not Christian, I love the “holiday season” (by “holiday season” I mean: snow, Christmas decorations, presents, egg nog, good cheer, and all other secular/cultural parts of the holiday). The older I get, the faster the season goes by and the less satisfying it all is. It comes and goes so quickly, hence my anxious exclamation. I’m trying to fight the forward motion of the holidays by baking as much as possible, and watching holiday classics like She-Ra & He-Man: A Christmas Special (seriously weird, and currently streaming on Netflix).

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Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices

Remember food blogs? The early days? When things weren’t so highly produced and full of weathered wood, mismatched antique flatware, and book deals? It was way back then that someone sent me a link to a site called Smitten Kitchen. Like many of you, I was immediately charmed by the writing and wit of Deb Perelman. She managed to express the same obsessiveness about cooking that I felt, but always kept it good humored. Without Deb (and Luisa, Heidi and Molly!), there would be no Lottie + Doof. She showed us all how it was done.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares (+ an event!)

I have been charmed by the Baked boys, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, since I read their first book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. The duo specialize in American comfort desserts with a sophisticated edge. They’ve recently published their third book, Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients (in addition to running a very successful bakery and creating a line of products for Williams Sonoma). This third book might be my favorite, a great collection of recipes organized by their favorite ingredients like pumpkin, cinnamon, and booze.

Here is where things get fun: Matt and Renato are coming to Chicago! I’m going to get to hang out with them, and so are you. Floriole and I are teaming up to host a book party and sweet tasting at the bakery. For $40 (plus tax) you will get your very own copy of Baked Elements (just in time for holiday baking/gift giving!), a buffet of our favorite treats from the book (prepared by Floriole’s expert bakers), and time to hear from Matt and Renato about their bakery and books (they’re so fun!). I’ll be there serving as host for the evening, and I really hope you’ll join me. There isn’t much I like better than meeting you good people in the real world. Tickets, and complete details, are available here or at Floriole. Don’t miss your chance to get Baked, right here in Chicago. read more+++

Oh, Snap!

These beauties were paired with the rhubarb fool and make a most excellent spoon for scooping up the cream and jam. Brandy snaps are another popular British sweet that doesn’t appear very often on American menus. They’re lovely and often filled with a cream, like tiny delicate cannoli.

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