glitzy chocolate pudding (gluten/dairy-free)

At the height of my hoarding, I owned 300 cookbooks. I stacked them wherever there was room, wherever I could find space, until last year when I started letting them go, one by one, and I now I’m down to 50. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to no longer be consumed by the things you own, to not be tethered to clutter. Now when think about acquiring something new, I ask myself: Do I need this? Do I love this? Can I live without this? Would I be willing to pay to move this? Life suddenly holds a considerable amount of clarity and my home a lot more space.

Over the past year, I’ve been cooking from a fixed amount of books because I’ve had to relearn how to eat without gluten or dairy. I couldn’t be tempted by the pages of pasta recipes or dishes smothered in cheese, rather I had to force myself to explore new flavors and foods. As a result, I’ve realized that abundance exists when you live within constraints. I’ve lived seven months without gluten and dairy, and with the exception of an occasional pizza and bread basket craving, I’ve managed to do the unthinkable–live without pasta.

Yet, I miss some of my old mainstays. While going through another book edit, I found myself poring over the tomes I used to cook from and love, and I discovered this incredible chocolate pudding recipe from Nigella Lawson. With a few simple adjustments, I managed to make this work for my diet, and I cannot tell you how much you won’t even miss the butter and white flour. I made this dessert for a dear friend last night and it was a success! She didn’t even notice I used vegan butter!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nigella Express, modified.
For the pudding:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
½ cup soft vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup gluten-free flour
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

For the glaze:
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp vegan butter
2 2.1-oz Butterfinger bars, broken shards (I nixed this)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a bowl in the microwave or over a double boiler. Once it’s melted, sit the bowl on a cold surface so that the chocolate cools.

Preferably in a freestanding mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale and moussey, then gently fold in the flour, baking soda, and pinch of salt.

Fold in the slightly cooled chocolate and butter mixture and then divide among 8 ramekins or custard cups. Put in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, get on with the glaze by melting the chocolate and butter in a microwave (or double boiler), then whisk to form a smooth glossy mixture and spoon this over the cooked puddings.

Decorate with Butterfinger rubble: you can just put the bars in a freezer bag, set to with a rolling pin, and strew over the top. I nixed this as I don’t eat processed candy bars, but rock it out if this is your bag. However, you can top this with candied ginger or honeycomb–that would be divine juxtaposed with the bitter chocolate.


gluten-free chocolate chip cookies


Truth be told, I gave these cookies a bad rap because nothing compares to a cookie made with creamed salty butter and thickened white flour. Try as you might to convince me otherwise, but as someone whose baked for years, I know nothing beats the original. Over the weekend, I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks and was a tad disappointed with results as soon as the cookies cooled. They resembled changelings, a deformed flattened disk of sugar, and it wasn’t until I waited a few hours did I really appreciate the simplicity of this gluten-and dairy-free chocolate chip cookie. While the original recipe calls for letting these cool in the fridge for at least an hour, I had these cooling for over 4 hours since I didn’t want them to melt completely into the parchment paper.

If anyone has a stand-out gluten and dairy free cookie recipe, give this woman a shout!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook, modified. Makes about 3 dozen cookies
1 stick unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 stick salted vegan butter
1 cup coconut palm sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 16-ounce package dark chocolate chips

Soften the butter in the microwave (or on the stovetop) until nearly melted, about 1 minute. Since I don’t have a microwave, I melted the butters on the stovetop on medium heat. Let cool slightly. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on high, until blended, 2-3 minutes. The mixture will be pale brown and creamy. Add the egg and the yolk, and mix to combine. Add the vanilla and and mix to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low until no flour streaks remain. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Cover the dough with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Drop tablespoonfuls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet (about 2 inches apart) and place in the oven. Bake for 11 minutes for soft cookies or 13 for crisp ones. The cookies should be slightly brown and puffy. Let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes to cool before removing to a cooling rack or a plate.

chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

It’s strange to fall out of love when you least expect it. When the object of your affection has lost its sheen, and you find yourself playing the part of a child again, sorting through your toys and falling madly in love with a shiny new doll to only abandon it when something new comes along. But you remember in those few halcyon moments how that doll consumed you, how you couldn’t imagine loving anything else with such ferocity, and you become surprised by just how quickly that love wanes, becomes dull around the edges, and one day you regard that doll with nostalgia. I once loved you, you might have said, and then you placed the doll on the shelf with the others, not even noticing the way its clothing fades. How the dust settles over its hair and face. Admittedly, you’ve become neglectful, careless, and one day the doll falls (you might have been running around, as you were prone to do) and its face shatters. For a moment your heart swells and breaks, but as quickly as that nostalgia comes it fades and what you remember is the bits of its face in the garbage bin.

Someone asked me about my love of food and how I write about it. I said that I loved how we have a propensity to be our truest selves when we settle down to a meal. I love the intimacy of eating, of sharing a primal need with someone else, and the kinds of stories that get told as a result of that connection. And while I love what the food is, I linger more on what the food can do, if that makes any sense. Food binds, creates, connects, and some of my most beloved memories have occurred while sharing a meal. I remembered sharing an early dinner with my friend Amber while we were in Bangkok. Evening fell, and we sat in the pool in the space between when parents and their children splashed their way around and when women in gossamer dresses and men in their cotton pants would order cocktails, light their smokes. Amber and I had two watermelon drinks and a meal off the pool menu, but I remembered feeling sick because we had laughed so hard. That we told each other private things about ourselves–the kind of stories you share when confined in a space for long periods of time. We left that trip better friends than when we arrived, and I can’t help but think that food was at the center of all that magic. As it continues to be.

So, this shiny doll of which I spoke–what of it? I never imagined that I wouldn’t love baking. That the alchemy of simple ingredients would cease to please me, but over the past few months this is precisely what’s happened. Perhaps it’s because I still haven’t truly accepted baking without gluten and dairy. Because while limitations have liberated me in terms of cooking, I feel shackled when I turn to baking. And while some recipes have surprised me by their taste and flavor profiles, I can’t help but think this:

Gluten- and dairy-free baking simply isn’t as good. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.

I’ve made extraordinary cookies and loaves with coconut oil (an oil I do love and used even before I was diagnosed with my food sensitivities); I’ve performed magic tricks with almond and coconut milk, but still. Not the same. Never the same. So I’ve been baking a little less, as you might have noticed. Cooking has been that new glinting object, and I only hope that when I can eat gluten and dairy again, I can return to the kitchen with a newfound affection, even more so because I’m forced to regulate how much gluten and dairy I eat for the rest of my life. So the pastry I make better be worth it because another one won’t come around for a couple of weeks. No more of the random cookie or the pumpkin loaf on the regular. The stakes are higher now, I suppose.

It’s true what they say that you crave what you consume. If you eat garbage, you crave garbage–it’s as simple as that. With very minor exceptions (read: accidents), my diet has been free of gluten and dairy since July, and I don’t crave pasta, bread, cheese or cookies the way I use to. I may pass a bakery and get a waft of fresh bread that will momentarily put my heart on pause, but as quickly as that need comes it dissipates. So it’s natural that when I broke down this week and savored a piece of crumb cake (the real stuff) the size of my thumb (literally) and dealt with the relentless four-hour itchfest as a result (true life), invariably I craved coffee cake.

So I made it and tried to dress it up in finery, and it was good, yes, but not the same. I felt mechanical in the kitchen, and when it was time to have my small piece of cake I had it and moved on. Perhaps it was because I didn’t savor it in the context of time spent with someone, but baking left me cold. And I’m not sure if this is something temporary or the definition of forever. I just know, right now, if given the choice, I’d rather be cooking.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Fork & Beans
For the cake
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond (or coconut) milk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend Cup4Cup so you don’t have to worry about xanthan gum)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled

For the crumb topping
3 tbsp + 2 tsp gluten-free flour
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tbsp cane sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. melted coconut oil
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the almond (or coconut) milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle. This should take seven minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Whisk the oil into the milk and vinegar mixture. Using a fork, add the combined wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Warning: the mixture will be a bit thick and not as fluid as normal batter, it’s okay. Breathe it out. You’re just not in the fanciful world of gluten anywhere where every cake made sense. You’re in the world of vegan, a world of which I’m still trying to navigate.

Pour the mixture into a well-greased 8inch cake pan (I use coconut oil), and, using a spatula (or fork), smooth it out until the batter covers the pan and is even. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, sugars and salt. Add in the melted oil and mix until you form clumps. Add the mixture (you won’t think there’s enough, and it’s okay, really), chocolate chips and toasted coconut flakes to the cake.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until knife is clean when inserted in the middle. Rest on a rack until it is cooled completely, approximately 1 hour. Use a knife around the edges and turn the cake out onto a dish. Serve at room temperature.


chocolate almond banana acai bowl

Let’s talk about the Avocado Consumption of 2002. 2002 was the year I discovered the avocado, consumed it at every meal (I practically subsisted on guacamole), and ended up developing an allergy to it. If you’ve been a long-time reader of this space, you’ll know that I have an addictive personality. If I love something, I love it HARD until it becomes something that I hate, something that my body is desperate to reject. When I think about it, I’ve always been this way. When I love something so much I have to undress it, dig deep and burrow myself all the way in there. I have to know something until it’s completely familiar, until there’s nothing else to know.

Moderation is a joke, because I tend to skirt the extremes. But I’m trying. Hence, the nutritionist I’m seeing this week. But I digress.

I recently discovered the acai bowl. Believe me when I say that the feeling I had for my first bowl was like church. Light streaming in through the glass, cold pews, crisp paper–all that jazz. In short, I’m returning to the Avocado Consumption era. Luckily, I think I’ve hit a wall after having realized that I can’t LIVE ON ACAI. Naturally, this happened after two days of eating nothing but acai smoothies and bowls. Sound familiar?

Anyway, I love this bowl. Don’t be deceived by the look of this recipe because it’s not saccharine sweet. While the dates and banana lend some tenderness, the cacao is a bit bitter and the acai fruit isn’t your quintessential raspberry, which is to say that this bowl has wonderful balance. Not only is it insanely healthy, but you will be sated for HOURS.

HOURS, PEOPLE. Let that sink in.

Know that I’ve got a few more acai recipes cooking, so this won’t be the last of my beloved bowl.

1 large banana
2 Sambazon‘s Immunity Smoothie Acai packs (New Yorkers, this is on Fresh Direct)
2 tsp coconut oil
1/2 cup rice milk (coconut/almond milk will do just fine here, as well)
1 tbsp cacao
2 dates
1 tbsp almond butter
1 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup your favorite granola
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Blitz all the ingredients (from the banana to almond butter) in a high-powered blender/Vitamix, with the banana being at the bottom as a buffer for your blades, until smooth. Pour into a bowl and add the coconut flakes, granola + blueberries on top. Dive in with a spoon and weep.


chocolate banana chia pudding

Welcome to my new breakfast. After months of blitzing up my almond butter cup smoothie to only indulge in a scone once I hit the train station, I’ve finally found a breakfast that keeps me stuffed until lunchtime–no small feat, I assure you. Inspired by TV Dinner’s post + devouring expensive, yet insanely delicious, acai bowls at Tiny Empire, I decided to fix up a chia pudding of my own. Not only does this recipe feel like I’m having dessert for breakfast, but the protein and potassium boost give me enough energy to tackle my day. I’ve had this pudding three days in a room + I’m hooked.

So, friends, my gift to you.

1 cup enriched vanilla rice milk
3 tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp vanilla extract {coconut extract would also be lovely!}
2 tsp cacao powder
1 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp Truvia/stevia
1 tsp almond butter
1/2 ripe banana

In a mason jar or a small bowl, mix all the ingredients except for the banana and almond butter. If you’re using a bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and store your pudding in the fridge overnight. In the morning, uncover, mix, and top with almond butter and banana slices.

the perfect chocolate chip cookie + a novel update


Writing a novel is torture. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re pathologically insane or basking in the afterglow of having written a novel instead of being in the throes of it. It’s a feeling I imagine women who have children feel–they tend to forget the cruel pain of labor because the result, a small life held in one’s hands, erases everything that came before. You say to yourself, This is worth the stretch. This thing I hold in my hands is all that matters.

Yesterday, an old friend came by and lured me out of sleep with a baguette, cheese and chocolates. I’d just woke from a long nap and I was disoriented, eyes filled with sleep, and he asked me, several times, if I was okay. Give me a moment, I thought, to get accustomed to the light around me. Give me a second to let the world come into focus. We found a bench near my home and sliced cheese with plastic knives, discussing our mutual projects, both four-year-long Odysseys. I told him about a private Facebook group I’d just joined, and how talking to strangers was oddly comforting. A few nights ago I had a terrifying thought. What if this novel isn’t good? What if it’s meaningless, ridiculous, pomp, and overwrought? Have I been entertaining a four-year flight of fancy? You can’t understand the terror I experienced as I regarded my 218 pages with dread. Had my child, along the way, developed some sort of incurable illness, a deformity, that I only just noticed? Had I woke to lift the blanket and discover something gruesome? I posted something along these lines on Facebook and Twitter, and while scores of friends wrote notes and comments–all coming from a place of kindness–they were the exact opposite of what I needed to hear.

I didn’t need validation. I didn’t need to hear the words, you’re such a good writer, because it’s something I already know. Good writers, even great writers, write bad books. What I needed to hear was that my feelings were normal. Doubting one’s work is normal. I love this world and these characters I’ve created, so much so that the risk of my novel being permanently flawed is entirely too difficult to bear. Never in my life have I been committed to a cast of characters for so long, never have I enjoyed a sort of demi-permanent solitude without the ache of wanting to move to something shiny and new–my god, I even grew tired while writing my memoir–and the thought of this book not seeing the light of day was unbearable. I’ve experimented with form; I’ve meditated on mental illness and how we vilify people who do monstrous things; I’ve attempted to write about hurt, in all of its forms, as quietly as I possibly could. But what if it wasn’t good enough? What if I’m failing?

What I needed, I told my friend, was the comfort of strangers. I needed objectivity. I needed validation of the process, and this anonymous group gave it to me.

My friend talked to me about his project, and I admired him for his ability to be so wholly present in the process. Regardless of what happens to his book, setting aside the circus that is the business of publishing, he’s celebrating the fact that he spent years writing and editing what is now this great work. I watched pride wash across his face, and I realized I needed to swallow some of the sermon I’d be preaching. What I’m enduring is the fall to the ground and the taste of my own blood, and what I’m feeling is the space between the pain of my fall and the rise to my feet. I’ve got to feel this, every moment of it, in order to get up and keep going.

Last night I stayed up late, a rare thing for me to do, and baked these cookies and read through my manuscript as calmly as I could. I read it without pen in hand, poised to edit. I read it without judgment. I read it without comparing myself to what other great writers are doing. I read it for me and I ended up loving it more. So I tell myself that regardless of what happens to this book, at least I wrote it for me. At least I created these people for the express purpose of formalizing so much of what I want to say but can’t articulate without prose.

So here’s me, being present, moving toward the final chapters of the novel. Breathing it out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8¾ ounces)
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, divided
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) dark brown sugar
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes before rolling into balls.

Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.


chocolate swirl coffee cake


There’s always a moment when I start a new project when I think: I can’t do this. I’m crippled with self-doubt and I feel like a fraud waiting to be found out. Even when confronted with the simplest of tasks, I always go through this moment of terror, and then it fades just as quickly as it arrives. Then I say that I can and I do, and the experience always ends up being wonderful. I thought about this yesterday as I met with a new client and was delivered a project which, at first glance, seemed tremendous. A global company, multiple divisions, endless processes + procedures {remember the halcyon days of completing a requisition form for a pen?!}, and a sizable budget. My client reports into the President of North America, who also knows my work, and the visibility is tremendous.

In short, this project is a BFD. It’s exciting in magnitude and scope, and I’m always thrilled to seek out the things that challenge me, or transform how I think in a particular way. But…But…this project is BIG.

So I went through my terror, which was the total sum of fifteen minutes, and then I paused. I broke down the project into manageable parts, and within those parts I dissected further. When you start from the smallest and simplest place, things don’t seem as daunting. Now I have a village of smart parts that cling to the hem of a whole, and the panic receded. OBVIOUSLY I can do this I said to myself on the train ride home. And it occurred to me that this doubt comes from a mixture of seeing the largeness of something {its vague, obtuse and grand nature} coupled with insecurity.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list. This list is for my eyes only, and details all of what I’ve achieved. From practical and measurable successes to the triumphs that are smaller in nature, I’ve written all of it down to remind myself of what I’ve done, and what’s left to do. I return to this list often, and it’s like having a drink with an old friend. Reading my list, and creating little houses of projects within the overall village that is my assignment, transformed something that was once frightening to something that is terribly exciting.

I fist-pumped on the train and rushed home to make this chocolate swirl coffee cake as a celebration.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Godiva, modified slightly
For the streusel + filling
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bar (1.5 ounces) chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbsp unsalted butter

For the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess.

For the streusel + filling: Place sugar, pecans and cinnamon in food processor. Cover and pulse until nuts are coarsely chopped. Transfer 3/4 cup of mixture to small bowl and stir in chocolate for filling. To remaining mixture in food processor add flour, cocoa powder and butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly for topping. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl; whisk to combine and set aside.

Beat butter at medium-high speed in mixing bowl for 1 minute or until creamy, using electric mixer at medium-high speed. Gradually add sugar and beat at high speed until well blended and light, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low and alternately add dry ingredients and sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing just until combined.

Scrape half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle with filling. Scrape remaining batter over filling and smooth top. Sprinkle with topping. Bake 65 to 75 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean and cake pulls away from edge of pan. Let cake cool in pan set on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool completely.


chocolate orange buttermilk cake

It occurs to me that I’m going to Dublin in three weeks with my pop. This is a trip I thought we’d never take, a week spent with my father seeing his home through his eyes. Although we’re staying in a hotel and I’ve drawn a list of places where we’ll eat, I know a great deal of our time will be spent walking alongside of him, seeing the shape of his face change as a result of memory. My pop and I are fussy people; we’ll likely winge and argue like we always do, but this is something I look forward to — how we take comfort in resorting to our familiar roles.

For as long as I could remember, I’ve always been partial to sweets. From vanilla bean ice cream to fudgy brownies and warm cookies that broke apart in my hands, I’m drawn to the alchemy of baked goods, and how a few simple ingredients can yield something that elicits a kind of bliss that warms us from the inside out. My pop wasn’t into sweets; he remained indifferent by my Tollhouse cookies and deli-made crumb cakes. However, he bought boxes of biscuits, shortbread cookies filled with jelly, remnants of his childhood. He didn’t know why he loved these cookies, he just did. Growing up in a small home in Dublin with seven brothers, biscuits were a stolen treat. A cookie folded into his hands for a job well done. My pop was the youngest, the most sensitive; he’d cleave to the fabric of his mother’s dresses. Even as an adult he exercises a sort of kindness that I sometimes wish would come naturally to me. He was raised with love while I grew up suspicious with one foot off the bed, ready to run. My dad had biscuits and I had chocolate.

Miniature cakes sealed in plastic and cookies slipped into parchment paper bags, I remember getting frosting on my fingers. I remember chocolate chips melting in my palm. We rebuild and reconstruct from memory, and while my childhood wasn’t the sort I’d want to revisit and my home wasn’t a place you’d want to board a plane to, my affection for sweets is worth preserving. This is the sort of cake I want to make for my pop before we take a trip back to his childhood. This is the torch that illuminated the darkness.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Son is Food, with modifications.
1 1/3 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup cane/raw sugar
2/3 cup good quality baking cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
Zest/juice of one medium orange
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tsp almond extract
3 tbsp safflower or grapeseed oil
3/4 cup hot water
Confectioner’s sugar, for sprinkling
Butter to grease the pan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease a 9×2 inch round cake pan.

In a bowl sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar. Set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium speed. Add the buttermilk, almond extract, oil, orange juice, and zest until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined. Stream in the hot water and mix until completely combined. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The center will appear a little wobbly — don’t worry. The cake will come together as it cools.

Let cool on a rack for 20-30 minutes and turn out to dish + serve with powdered sugar.


Worth noting: I snapped these photos in the evening, using a Lowel EGO Digital Imaging light, on a solid tip from Pinch of Yum.

recipe makeover: chocolate chip pumpkin loaf

What an odd thing it is to travel back in time. All you need to do is insert a few words in a search toolbar and, voila!, a slew of posts from five years past greet you like old friends. Only your friends are blurred around the edges, harsh, your eyes squint as if you’re walking into the sun.

I’ve been baking this chocolate chip pumpkin loaf since 2007, and believe me when I say that the photos I’ve taken of this loaf, and its many incarnations, made me wince. The cringe-worthy close-ups {every novice food photographer starts with a close-up, because the need to get the detail in a chip or a piece of cake is critical. And the novice tires of this perspective and pulls back, in time, in need of the larger picture.} and errors in recipe writing put me to thinking that yesterday’s post is pretty apropos of this moment.

The past serves as a piece of information, context. The future is merely conjecture, and what we have, most definitively, is the present. Right now I like my food photography minimal, without ornamentation and styling. Right now, I like my loaves a little more virtuous so I can eat more of them, and allow for the taste of the pumpkin to come through.

In this latest incarnation, I’ve replaced 1 1/2 cup of white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I’ve nixed 3/4 cup of sugar from the original recipe, and have mixed in almond extract for a note that cuts through the density and added in white chocolate chips for color and texture.

The result? A loaf that truly sings. Earlier versions were a bit too sweet and oily for my taste, while this loaf is full of flavor. Try it out + let me know how you score!

INGREDIENTS: Makes 3 loaves
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup safflower or grapeseed oil
4 eggs, room temperature
1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups white flour
1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsps salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 standard 8½ x 4½ inch loaf pans

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, beat the oil and sugars until combined. Beat in the eggs, puree, water and almond extract. You want to mix all of the ingredients until completely combined.

In a medium bowl, sift the flours, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda + salt. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones until the flour mixture has been completely absorbed. The batter may look a little lumpy, don’t worry, and don’t overmix. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter equally between the three pans, and smooth out the batter with an offset spatula. Bake the loaves for one hour, rotating the pans midway through the baking process. The loaves will be done when the a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.

Rest the loaves in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Then turn out the loaves to the rack and cool completely. The pumpkin loaves are good for up to a week in an airtight bag/container, and can be frozen for up to a month.


chocolate cloud cookies + rolling with it

Yesterday I decided to go for a walk because being swathed in blankets, wrapping up your face in tissue like some sarcophagus, and turning your home into a bakery because you’re exhausted and coming down with the sniffles, has an expiration date. After a fit of sneezing that had me bordering on apoplexy, my cat scurried away to the next room and peered out from behind the door. Had his mother turned into a typhoon?

The moment when you start constructing narratives your cat would employ is the moment you leave the house.

Dusk fell and the sky was milky and still, and I found myself surrounded by trees. My friend and business partner phoned, and we discussed our mutual sneezing, our frenetic schedules, and lamented that it’s been too long since we’ve seen one another. I start to tell her about this new project I’ve got going, and she laughs and says, It’s like you’re a management consultant. The line was small, insignificant, a throwaway piece of conversation, but I paused mid-step, and said, I don’t know about that. To myself I thought, I don’t know what I am.

I’ve deliberately put writing + editing of my novel on hold until I get to Fiji next month (note to self: don’t book expensive vacations while drunk and mourning the loss of your cat, because you’ll pay for it, literally, later). I’ve got projects to keep me busy. I’m baking all these sweets you see here. But what does it all mean? All signs point to…


Part of me wants to roll with it, play the hand out, see how the cards fall. While another part wants to make a decision. Should I formally train in pastry making? Should I commit to this partnership I’ve got with my friend to take this consultancy off the ground? Should I map out a series of books? Should I start this magazine I’ve been talking about?

Suddenly there is stasis. There is this great chasm (or perhaps one that I’ve architected) between me and the thing that I ought to be pursuing. I’m in ether, floating, indecisive, and I’ve never quite been like this. There’s always be a plan, an objective, something very clear to which I’ve to work toward. Now, there’s this. There’s the joy of baking chocolate chip cookies and finding something new in so simple a recipe. There’s the relief from being an office but not having to adopt it and a company’s culture. There’s the thrill of finally being able to write, to finally have found my voice.

As you can see, I’m meandering. My mentor once told me that people who give long responses to short questions do it because they don’t know the answer. It’s like filling your test blue books with words in hopes that the answer might emerge from the rubble. You’ll talk and write your way there.

Part of wonders if I want is right in front of me but I can’t see it yet…

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
1 1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 cups (8 ounces) toasted sliced almonds
2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips

Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 3 half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Rub the superfine sugar and brown sugar together through a coarse-mesh wire sieve into a medium bowl; set aside. Beat the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar mixture, then the vanilla. Beat, occasionally scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl, until the mixture is pale yellow and light-textured, about 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer speed on low, add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing just until each addition is incorporated. Add the almonds and chocolate chips and mix just until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Empty the dough onto the work counter, and use your hands to thoroughly distribute the almonds and chocolate chips in the dough.

Using a 2-inch diameter ice cream scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared pans. Using the heel of your palm, slightly flatten each ball of dough. Bake two of the pans with the cookies, switching the position of the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking, until the cookies are evenly golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. During the last 3 minutes, rap each pan on the rack. The cookies will deflate and their signature cracks will appear on the tops. Repeat with the third pan. Cool on the pans.


yellow birthday cake + fluffy chocolate ganache frosting {cue the tears}


Can you think of anything more decadent than cake for breakfast? I certainly can’t, and I woke up feeling slightly irrational yesterday in my need to bake a cake. Since I no longer work in an office, and the idea of carting around a two-layer cake with the intention of ceremoniously dumping it in someone’s lap isn’t necessarily feasible, baking something this grand is a bit much.

But I woke thinking: I need to bake a cake. And so I did.

Something about this sweet interior and luscious ganache put me thinking about boxed Duncan Heinz and tubs of chilled frosting, remnants of a childhood where boxed cake was the height of sophistication. I remember my first meager attempt in the kitchen, brownies. The gesture was ambitious — surprising my mother with a sweet treat for working a job where she was on her feet for the majority of her day. I mixed the powder with oil and what eggs I could find. Unfortunately, they were hard-boiled, and I thought, eggs are eggs, right? So I unpeeled the shells, chopped up the eggs and mixed them in the thick batter. I felt triumphant!

Cooling on the counter, I noticed something strange. Bits of white skin poking up through the surface of the brownies, much like weeds breaking ground and spiraling up for air. I’d never seen brownies that had all this white, but I ignored it and cut perfect little squares and presented them to my mother that evening when she arrived home.

I remember her feeling a square, sniffing it, taking a small bite and then tossing it in the bin. What a rush of cold I felt as she made her to the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. I dumped the brownies in the garbage and swore off baking. I was fifteen.

Over two decades later, I went from someone who chopped up eggs in a boxed mix to making tiered cakes guaranteed to make your heart flutter. It’s strange, really, because I was just thinking to myself that baking is much like my yoga practice — the journey is in the practice not toward some obtuse destination. Some sort of finishing. And just when I think I’ve nailed a pose or a recipe, I come undone as a result of that ego, and I have to remember that no two batches of flour are alike. No two days in a pose are similar. Every day brings something new to the kitchen and the mat, and after twenty years I’m still impatient, ambitious. I still want my body to resume shapes after six months when it took me seven years to build. I still want my cakes to cool quickly so I can frost them. Invariably this ego, this impatience, gets you hurt and ruins cakes.

Lately I’ve been practicing humility. I come to the mat as if I were a beginner, and I tell myself that I’m simply going to do the best I can with what I have. After an hour of cooling, I slathered on the frosting and I couldn’t help but smile because it didn’t melt, rather it was beautiful, glinting, and the very vision of what it means to be present. To be patient.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks/342 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups (360 grams) cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (240 grams) nonfat buttermilk

For the chocolate ganache frosting:
12 ounces (340 grams) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (240 grams) heavy cream
1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


For the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3–4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (This step will take 8–10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla just until combined. On low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Scrape the bowl and paddle again, then beat on medium speed for 20–30 seconds, or until the mixture is homogeneous.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. On the lowest speed, add about one-third of the flour mixture to the egg-butter mixture and mix just until barely combined. Immediately pour in about half of the buttermilk and continue to mix on the lowest speed until the buttermilk is almost thoroughly incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Again on the lowest speed, add about half of the remaining flour mixture and mix just until barely combined. Add the rest of the buttermilk and mix just until combined. Be careful not to overmix.

At this point, it is best to finish the mixing by hand. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and, using the rubber spatula, fold in the remaining flour mixture just until the batter is homogeneous. As you fold, be sure to incorporate any batter clinging to the sides and bottom of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 40–50 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the cakes spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks. (The cooled cakes can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for up to 1 week. Thaw at room temperature, still wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.)

For the chocolate ganache frosting: While the cake layers are cooling, put the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan, scald the cream over medium-high heat (bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan, but the cream is not boiling). Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for about 1 minute, then slowly whisk together the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Let sit at room temperature for 1–2 hours, or until completely cool. (Or, refrigerate the ganache until cool, about 30 minutes, whisking every 10 minutes).

Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or use a handheld mixer) and beat the butter on medium-low speed for 10–15 seconds, or until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla and continue to beat on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and smooth. Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. On medium speed, add the cooled ganache and beat for about 2 minutes, or until completely combined. Stop to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute, or until the frosting lightens in color and thickens. You should have about 4 cups. (Use the frosting the day you make it, or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day, then bring to room temperature and paddle again for a few minutes until smooth before using.)

Remove the cooled cakes from their pans. (Be sure they are completely cool. If they are even the slightest bit warm, the frosting will melt and you will have a mess.) Using a long, serrated knife, trim the top of each cake to level it (the layers will have rounded a bit in the oven; the trimmed scraps make great nibbles). Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cake pedestal (if you have a revolving cake stand, use it). Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly to the edges.

Carefully place the second cake layer, top-side down (so the even, sharp edges will be on the top of the finished cake), on top. Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and spread it over the top and down the sides of the cake, smoothing the frosting as well as you can and covering the entire cake with a thin layer. This is the crumb coat that will keep any loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. Spoon a heaping cup of frosting on top of the cake, and spread it evenly across the top and down the sides. This is the finishing layer of frosting. If desired, spoon any remaining frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a small round or star tip and pipe a decorative line along the top and/or bottom edge of the cake.

The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.