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Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

  There's something funny about this past August. Things were all topsy-turvy, and somehow things were also just the same. Right now it's averaging 70 degrees and things are weird and chilly in my drafty li'l apartment.

  I came home last Sunday with an armload of fresh tomatoes from my man's mom's garden. God I love fresh produce. I love the smell, the taste, the everything. Maybe I'll have a garden one day when I'm a real adult with a real yard. 

  But for now, I mooch off of other people's labor. And fresh tomatoes are what I eat all summer long.

  That being said--I still can't eat 3 lbs. of tomatoes in the short time window in which they remain fresh.

  So some went towards a fresh mozzarella, corn and tomato salad. The rest (which included a lively blend of orange cherry and red romas) were roasted and boiled into this delicious, slightly time-consuming, but totally worth it soup. With a grilled cheese or some avocado toast in hand, you've got a real delightful little meal on your hands. And with some to spare for the freezer for those chillier months. 

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Yield: 10-12 servings
  • 3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, halved with seeds scooped out (if using some cherry tomatoes, just roast 'em whole)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or dried)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2-3/4 cup heavy cream, if desired
  • fresh mozzarella chunks for serving, if desired

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  Combine the tomato halves, ¼ cup of olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl; toss well to combine.  Spread the tomato halves out on a large baking sheet.  Roast the tomatoes for 45 minutes.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the butter and heat until the butter is melted.  Add the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly soften, about 7-10 minutes.  Add in the canned tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, basil, thyme and chicken stock.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, 40 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth.  (Alternatively, you can use a blender or food processor.  If you do, be sure to vent the steam and be very careful not to spill the hot liquid!) Return the soup to the stove and add the heavy cream. Heat on medium-low until well incorporated and warmed through. Enjoy!

Sources: adapted from Everyday Annie, originally from Baking Blonde


Chocolate Stout Cake with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  I'm tired. I got my wisdom teeth yanked, I work 6 days a week, and I helped my significant other with moving all the things last week. I have approximately zero social energies. Things have just been one thing after the other here, and this lil cake is right in the thick of it.

  I have the honor of creating my eldest sister's wedding cake. Yes, this is an arduous task, but so far I have had such a fun time researching for this. What you see pictured is what will be the top tier of a 3-story semi-naked caked.

  This rich little beaut packs a punch. The cake's ever-lasting moisture is accomplished by a glorious mixture of fancy Irish butter, sour cream, and an imperial chocolate stout from the brewery Southern Tier (as one of the brides-to-be loves a good, dark beer). The cake is the perfect texture, in my humble opinion. It's dense, but not so dense that it would be mistaken for a brownie (especially not at room temperature).

  The frosting is more for my sister's taste. Neither she or her fiancé are big frosting fans, hence the naked-cake-look. So I decided to steal my parent's stand mixer and tackle the elusive but incredibly tasty swiss meringue buttercream. SMB on its own is superb, but I've been making my sister small batches of caramel as gifts ever since I learned how to melt sugar. Naturally, I whipped up a large batch of salted caramel and poured a hefty amount into the frosting for flavor.

  Then, dear gawd, the research I did on how to tier/what dowels to purchase/how the heck you even frost  and divide layers evenly...let's just say my boyfriend can easily attest to the hours I spent poring over youtube videos and articles on my laptop.

  Nerd for life.

  Unfortunately, the final stacking and tackling of the cake is yet to come. And possibly even some spun sugar...? Who knows!  Either way, the best way to finish this little taste cake off was with a generous drizzle of ganache and a smattering of coarse sea salt to compliment the sweetness.

  And whooda thunk that Martha Stewart would have all of my bases covered in one simple google search for flavors?  Crazy, man.

  I dare say, I think it's going to come out just fine. And if you don't take my word for it, try this baby cake out for yourself, and then just see if you can keep your fork out of it.

Chocolate Stout Cake with Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Yield: one 4-layer, 6-inch cake

Ingredients for the caramel:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons at room temperature

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for pans
  • 3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for pans
  • 1 cup stout or porter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp + 2 tsp sour cream (sorry for the weird amounts, had to cut 1/3 cup in half)

Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 5 large, fresh egg whites 
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
  • 1/2 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of cooled caramel sauce

Ingredients for the ganache:
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (56 to 61 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces

First, prepare the caramel sauce, so it has time to set and cool at room temp

Heat cream in a small saucepan over low (alternatively, microwave it for about 30 seconds, until warm). In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar, corn syrup, and 1/3 cup water; cook over medium-high, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber in color, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat; carefully pour in cream (mixture may splatter) and stir until smooth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until a candy thermometer reads 238 degrees, about 2 minutes.
Pour mixture into a medium heatproof bowl; stir in salt and vanilla. Let cool about 15 minutes, then stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.

To prepare the cake, in a large saucepan over medium, bring stout and butter to a simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in cocoa powder until smooth. Let cool completely. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 6-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment; butter parchment. Dust pans with cocoa powder; tap out any excess.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sour cream and vanilla until combined. Add stout mixture and beat on low speed until combined; then add flour mixture and beat until combined. Fill each pan halfway with batter (you will have some extra batter, sorry not sorry).

Bake until top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes, then turn cakes out of pans, invert right-side up, and let cool completely. Wrap cakes in plastic wrap and let chill in fridge overnight. (this isn't mandatory, but it does make the cakes much easier to handle).

For the frosting, wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice or white vinegar, to remove any trace of grease (it's a good idea to wipe down anything you'll be using for mixing the meringue). Combine egg whites and sugar in mixer bowl, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F (or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot).
With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.

Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined. Once everything is smooth and fluffy, add in 1 cup of caramel sauce and mix until combined.

To assemble, slice the cake layers in half with a serrated knife and level the tops, if necessary. Stack and frost your cake as desired. 

To make the ganache, place chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium, bring cream just to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Stir until smooth and shiny, then stir in butter. Let stand 10 minutes before using. Drizzle over the top of the cake and sprinkle with coarse sea salt, if desired.  Best served at room temperature.

Sources: frosting help from Sweetapolita; cake, ganache, and caramel from Martha Stewart


Cinny Buns

  Cut, wrap, stamp, repeat.  Spending 5-6 hours every day watching everyone else around me bake, this is what I would wake up at 6:00 AM to do.  Package the goods.

  Everyone has to start somewhere, obviously, especially in any kind of kitchen.  I didn't have much on my resume, besides some gaping semesters in my post high school career and some caramel apple and fudge experience.

  This went on for weeks, in the dead of winter.  Until one day, when my manager was working on breads, she turned around and asked if I'd like to swap places and roll out her cinnamon roll dough for her.  Is that something I was familiar with?  Oh hellzzzz yas.

  I had that massive roll buttered, cinnamoned, and sugared in record time.  I set them up on their tray and into the proofer they went.  Little trades like this continued, my manager watching from just behind at the packing station.  I got such a sense of pride and accomplishment coming home after those days.  Sometimes I was so sore, especially after spending an hour rolling out tiny dinner rolls by hand two at a time.  But I was so happy to be moving up.

  Pretty soon that was my every day.  Rice krispies, breads, brownies...in massive volumes.  I loved it.  The thing is, you can love the thing, but sometimes business gets in the way.  I got some powerful insights on how owners try to press their convoluted ideas on their employees. I saw how much crap general managers have to put up with when things are poorly run.  That's why when I was presented with the bakery manager position...I ran away to university with my tail between my legs.

  I suppressed that side of myself for so long that school year.  3 more semesters in I practically had an internal explosion. I needed outttt.

  I only know how to gob cream cheese frosting on warm, gooey rolls. I'm rubbish at working up the motivation to write papers and study for exams. I made myself physically sick with the trying of it.

  I mean, look at these guys, can you blame me?

  So you think the answer would be easy...get back into a bakery.  I did, I tried, and somehow I failed. Or rather, it failed me. Business, again. People, again. Those two things ruin what should just be a happy cinnamon roll.

  So, I don't know. I run around a tiny bar/restaurant. And every day I do that I learn more about myself and other people. Far more than I did at university. I've been trying to remind myself to be more patient, mostly with myself. I got see Joy the Baker some weeks ago again, and it's been five years since our last encounter, but it was just the sort of refreshing experience I needed right now <3

  I'm heading into spring/summer a much different person than I was at either of those bakeries, but I'm taking my love of cinnamon rolls with me.

Cinnamon Buns
Yield: 8 rolls

  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 1/4 tsp active or instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups flour
For the filling:
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter melted
For the frosting:
  • 1 cup (8 oz) cream cheese
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Splash of milk

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the dough hook (or a large bowl) add water, yeast and 1tbsp of the sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes until the yeast starts to froth. In a small bowl, mix together the buttermilk, egg, and oil, then pour into the yeast along with the rest of the sugar and mix until combined. Stir through 2 1/2 cups of the flour plus the salt, then gradually add the rest of the flour whilst mixing. Knead for 5 minutes in a mixer or about 10 minutes by hand on a lightly floured surface, until the dough comes away from the bowl/does not stick to your fingers. You may not need to add all 4 1/2 cups of flour. 

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let proof in a warm place for 2 hours, until doubled in size.

In a small bowl mix together the filling ingredients except the butter and set aside.

Roll the dough out to about 12 x 16 inches and brush with melted butter, making sure to leave 1 inch around the sides. Sprinkle filling mixture over the butter. Tightly roll the dough from the shorter side (to make thicker buns) and pinch the seam together to stop the filling from spilling out. Score dough every 1.5 inches to make 8 buns and slice through (I like to use thread for this instead of a knife)
Place buns in a lined brownie ban, or two round pans, it doesn't matter if the buns are touching each other. Wrap pan in cling film and refrigerate overnight and/or up to 16 hours. (If you'd like to make these on the same day, just proof the buns for 2 hours in a warm place, until they have have puffed up.) 

If doing the overnight step, the next day fill a jar or bread pan with boiling water and place on the bottom shelf of the oven. Put the buns on the top shelf, close oven, and let proof for half hour. Take the water and the buns out of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

Bake for 30 minutes, until browned and the filling is bubbling.

Let buns cool and prepare topping. With a stand or electric hand mixer, mix all of the ingredients together until smooth and runny. Pour over buns once slightly cooled. Best eaten the day they are baked, but lasts up to 3 days.

Sources: adapted from M Bakes


One Pot Brownies

  It had been a bad day.  If I remember rightly, there was rain and cold and the dreariness of another schoolwork-filled day.

  Mid-afternoon, I shoved aside algebra and flipped onto my back, staring at the delicately painted ceiling of our family room.  Hands digging into the plush green carpet.

  I let out a sigh.  Mom was pottering about in the kitchen, one of her least favorite places to be.  I began to rack my head for what we had to work with in the pantry, I'd started to get pretty good at throwing together last minute meals.  Sometimes that meant bean dip, or a makeshift pot pie consisting mostly of freezer-burned peas.  Or a kick-ass grilled cheese with a few stray cans of tomato soup.

  As I began thinking about whether or not we had enough sandwich bread to make everyone grilled cheese, mom came and set on the steps in front of me.

  "I think we need brownies. Warm. With ice cream."

  My mom and I are different people, but many times we are very much on the same wavelength.  That was the first time I'd ever had a brownie fresh from the oven, a simple scoop of vanilla on top.  Each bite made every bit of grayness in that day seem like sheer perfection.  Cold ice cream just chilling the steaming hot brownie to an edible temperature, its creaminess alleviating the rich chocolate.  

  A true love was born that afternoon.  I've been obsessed with brownies (good brownies) ever since.  When the craving hits, as it does my mother, really nothing else will do.

  Soon after, I began experimenting.  My mom had a trusty recipe, but she wanted one that would give her more of a crackle-y, shiny meringue finish on top.  But the brownie itself couldn't be too fudge-y, or everyone just felt a little sick afterwards.

  I made lots of brownies at home.  Fudgey, cakey, and crackley.  All were devoured happily.

  Thinking back on those family-oriented afternoon dessert sessions makes me a little nostalgic.  When my mood is low and inspiration is lacking, I often find myself reverting back to one of mankind's basic necessities.  A good chocolate brownie.

  When your apartment is slightly in shambles and your kitchen is only so big, it's hard to take on big baking projects.  I used to laminate pastry dough and make 4 layer cakes.  Now, I do my best to limit dishes and avoid anything requiring an expensive stand mixer.  It saddens me sometimes, but I like to view this part of my life as a challenge.  I'm providing for myself, and anything I produce in this tiny kitchen is a feat in itself.  But it must always be good, and worth my time.

  And this, this crackle-y crusted, just the right amount of fudge-y one-pot brownie, is entirely worth your time.  Served warm or cold, it's sure to please.  And on this day of celebrating women, I'd like to thank my mowm for teaching me to find happiness in the gray, and how to take delight in the little things.  She has always been a great provider, not just to our stomachs, but also to our psyches.

One-Pot Brownies
Yield: one 8x8 inch pan, about 12-16 brownies

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Heaping 1/2 cup chocolate chunks (Hershey Kisses, chocolate chips, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8 or 9x9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment and set aside.

Set a medium sized saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Next, add the granulated sugar and vanilla. Stir well with a wire whisk. Then, whisk in the cocoa powder. Remove from heat.

Add the eggs, one and a time, whisking between each addition until the eggs are fully combined. Add the flour and salt, stir well with a wooden spoon until the flour is fully incorporated, but do not beat. Add the chocolate chunks and stir gently to fold them into the batter.

Pour batter into the previously prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-40 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. If there's still raw brownie batter on the toothpick, give it a few more minutes. Cool completely, or at least 15 minutes before serving.

Remove parchment paper (with brownies) from the pan. Peel away the parchment paper and cut the brownies into serving size pieces. Store cooled leftovers in an airtight container.

Sources: heavily adapted from Good Life Eats



Blackberry Soufflé for Two

  I can't believe how little I've dabbled in the souffle world.  After my first experience with it in this old blog post, you'd think I'd be trying a new recipe every week or something.  But yeah, no, 4 years have gone by and I totally forgot that souffles/puddings/puds were even a thing.  Mistake, you guys, big mistake.

  It is so completely satisfying to whisk together a few simple ingredients and then watch the concoction just puff up into a fluffy, fruity cloud of goodness.

  The dog days of winter have a lot of people down right now, which I say is 50% weather-induced and 50% post-inauguration depression.  You know.

  I know I've got my fair share of reasons to be down right now, but I've also got a good chunk of stuff keeping me pretty happy.  With V-Day around the corner here, I thought a nice, do-able, but still impressive dessert for two might be just what we need after a really long January.

  So spoon up some sugary fluff, complete with a homemade blackberry smash lining the bottom of your respected ramekins.  You get some tart, sweet, and cloud-y delight to share with your boo; or you get 2 desserts to yourself.  Which, in the case of a dessert that does not hold up well for more than hour and would just be annoying to halve, I think eating both helpings is the only really decent thing to do. <3

Blackberry Souffllé for Two
Yield: 2 small portions

  • unsalted butter, for greasing
  • 3 tbsp. superfine (caster) sugar, divided
  • 1 heaping cup fresh blackberries, plus extra for garnish (if so desired)
  • few drops of vanilla extract
  • few drops of lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 egg whites
  • powdered sugar, to dust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and put a baking sheet on the top shelf of the oven. Grease 2 large ramekins with butter (7-8 ounces in volume) and dust with superfine sugar.
Put the berries and 1 tbsp superfine sugar in a small pan and simmer for 5-6 minutes until the fruit has broken up (help it by crushing with a wooden spoon). Whizz in a blender, then press through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl; discard the pips. Cool slightly, then stir in the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Put 1 tbsp purée into each ramekin. Mix the cornstarch with ½ tbsp cold water, then stir into the remaining purée; set aside.
Put the egg whites in a clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer on slow, then medium speed. When the whites reach soft peaks, scatter over the remaining 2 tbsp sugar; beat until dense and silky.  Fold 1/3 of the egg white into the remaining purée, then gently fold in the rest of the egg white until combined; take care not to overmix. Divide the mixture between the ramekins, filling to the top. Smooth the surface with a knife and clean the edges with your thumb wrapped in a piece of kitchen paper, making a slight indent around the edges. 
Cook on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, until well risen.  While baking, feel free to get some blackberries wet and then toss in some sugar to get a "sparkly" garnish effect. Dust completed soufflés with powdered sugar and sugared blackberries, serve at once.
Sources: adapted slightly from waitrose.com