A Rose-Flavored Holiday Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

I did a crazy thing this year. I entered the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off. I never enter contests. I hate competition. I remember being in school and getting chosen last for sports teams. I hated sports. I still do. To this day, the only sport I can play with any kind of confidence is ping pong. But I always hated competition, because there has to be a loser. I know what it feels like to be chosen last, or not at all, and I don’t want anyone to feel that lonely feeling, so I have avoided competition my whole life.

A few weeks ago, I saw the ad for the Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and thought, “I CAN DO THAT!” I have some recipes that are twists on classics! I have some skills! I can bring something unexpected, yet nostalgic, to the holiday table! So I entered. I entered with a cookie I have been making for many years: rose petal shortbread. I tweaked the decorations to add holiday-colored sugar and red rose petals so the cookies would have Christmas flair, and I entered with pride.

After hitting “submit,” I realized I would have to ask my friends to vote for me. The only thing worse than competition is asking everyone I know to do me a HUGE favor. I hemmed and hawed, I sweated, I wrung my hands, I whined to my husband Aaron, but I asked. And people responded. Not only did they vote for me—some every day—they shared my post on their own pages and sent me encouraging notes of support. I was blown away by the collective kindness.

Well, I did not win, but I’m totally OK with that. The fact is, the contest was more of a popularity vote than how good your cookie is. I still feel great about my recipe, which I think reflects the zeitgeist of what is happening in baking and is really delicious and easy to make. But most of all, I felt the holiday spirit in all of my friends who voted and reposted and encouraged me. I felt humbled by the friends of friends who voted and said they thought my recipe sounded amazing and they couldn’t wait to try it.

Of course, it would have been a fancy brag to have won (there wasn’t even a prize, just bragging rights), but I got what I needed out of the contest—I felt loved and supported by so many people, even people who don’t know me. I probably won’t be entering any more contests, but I’ll keep baking and I’ll keep sharing and I’ll keep appreciating my friends and family and my new friends of friends who believed in me enough to vote for a cookie they haven’t tasted, made by a gal some of them didn’t even know. You picked me first. And that means more to me than any bragging right.

Happy Holidays, Wonderful Friends!!

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Makes about 24 cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon rose extract*
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon crushed dried rose petals (optional)
2 cups all purpose flour

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
sparkling holiday sugar and fresh (organic, non-pesticide) torn rose petals for garnish (chopping makes them dark around the edges)

Combine butter and confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix until combined with no lumps, 2-3 minutes. Add the rose and vanilla extracts and the crushed rose petals (if using) and mix until incorporated. Add flour in two stages until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a gallon-size Ziploc bag, leaving a small hole at the top so air can escape, and roll out with a rolling pin until dough has fully and evenly filled the shape of the bag. Refrigerate on a flat surface at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment. Cut the sides of the Ziploc bag and peel back the top layer. Use a ruler and nick each side of the dough at 2-inch intervals with a pizza cutter or knife. Gently cut out your squares and transfer to parchment-lined cookie sheets. Use a fork to make traditional tine marks in the dough.

Put one cookie sheet in the refrigerator while the first batch bakes, 18-20 minutes. Watch carefully toward the end. You want the cookies very slightly browned at the edges only. Cool cookies completely on wire racks.

To make icing, combine confectioners’ sugar with milk and mix with a small whisk until smooth. To decorate, drizzle icing over cookies with a fork and, while icing is still wet, sprinkle with sparkling sugar and rose petals.


*Rose extract is available at many grocery stores and at Amazon.

Organic dried rose petals are available at Amazon or World Market (in the spice section).



Our Gift to You – Swoon Saucers

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-1Whenever I’m at a bakery and see the case of beautiful cookies, my knees go a little weak. All the different sprinkles and pretty shapes and the intoxicating singular smell of their collective sugary deliciousness make me swoon with delight! There is almost nothing more delightful than a pink bakery box filled with cookies.

swoon-stamp-christmas-tree-ornamentWith the holidays in full swing and Christmas and Hanukkah almost here, it can seem daunting to squeeze in baking time. Rolling out and decorating those cut-out cookies is a full weekend affair, and wouldn’t you just, for once, like to nap on the couch with the tree lights on and Nat or Andy or Burl or Frank crooning you into a happy holiday snooze?

Here is a recipe that is easy, super festive, and looks just like those fancy bakery cookies. Make the dough on Friday night, bake them Saturday morning, and enjoy the rest of your weekend.


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(adapted from Piece Of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by David Muniz, David Lesniak and Rachel Allen)

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-2Makes about 50 cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
1½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 large eggs
swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-34 tsp. vanilla extract*
Different sprinkles, nonpareils, colored sugars for decorating

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium for about a minute. Turn mixer to low and add the oil in a slow stream and then add the two sugars, the eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, scraping down the sides after each addition. Dough will be very soft. Refrigerate in bowl covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour (and up to 3 days).

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-4Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Put sprinkles into small bowls. I like to use a variety of different holiday-themed decorations.

Using a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop or a spoon, make balls from the dough. Roll in your hands and then into the sprinkles. Place them on the baking sheets in rows of 3. Slightly flatten each ball with the palm of your hand.

swoon-saucers-christmas-cookies-5Bake for about 14 minutes, just until the edges start to turn golden. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

*To really get that “bakery” flavor, you can substitute a teaspoon of Fiori di Sicilia for one of the teaspoons of vanilla. Available from King Arthur Flour.

This recipe is great for any holiday – just switch out the sprinkles for Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, etc.!


A Taste of Your Own Medicine Flower

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Recipes, Sweets

Violet Flavor ExtractBoth Kirsti and I have written about our love for floral flavorings and the disappointing search for a true violet culinary extract following our swoon-worthy taste of violet ice cream in the South of France. It can be difficult to find a natural violet extract, since the blossoms only produce a small amount of essential oils. For this reason, violet was one of the first perfume essences to be synthesized, and this extends to the kitchen, where artificial violet extracts are the norm. While they might smell and taste like violet, there’s usually a chemical undertone that tells you this flower was “grown” in a lab.

Violet CupcakeI have purchased a number of extracts that claim to be natural flavors or to taste just like violet, but they invariably turn out to be either analogs (i.e. synthetics) or made from orris root, a member of the iris family that is commonly used as a fixative in perfumes and is reputed to smell and taste like violet. While there is a violet-like quality to the fragrance, it is nothing that a true violetesse would mistake.

I’d almost given up the perennial search when I came across Medicine Flower, an “aromatic apothecary” that sells essential oils, massage and body care products, and genuine, 100% natural flavor extracts…including a violet that is “made from the material named on the label.” Wary, but excited, I purchased a small dropper bottle. When it arrived, I could detect the essence of violets before I’d even opened the package. Here it was at last: a natural, culinary extract that smelled and tasted like true violet.

Rose Flavor ExtractAccording to their website, Medicine Flower’s extracts have a flavor potency that is 30-70 times higher than other products on the market. I have no trouble believing this, because I’ve used my violet extract in chocolate, baked goods, hot drinks, ice cream, and anything else that might benefit from a floral fix for the past couple of years and there’s still some of the precious essence left in the original bottle that I purchased.

True to its name, Medicine Flower also makes jasmine and Bulgarian rose flavor extracts that are as swoon-inducing as the violet. Undiluted rose and jasmine absolutes can run in the hundreds of dollars per ounce, but these natural flavor extracts are only $22 for 15 ml (½ oz.) and can perfume your cooking and baking with just a drop or two, making them a phenomenal value.

Jasmine Flavor ExtractFloral extracts particularly enhance desserts. Add a couple of drops to the batter and/or frosting when making cakes and cupcakes, then garnish with fresh or candied blossoms. The rose is intense and intoxicating, like burying your face in a bouquet of velvety blooms. I like to put a single drop in a glass of lemonade or pink champagne and float a couple of petals on the surface. The jasmine is even more concentrated and has a fruitier aroma than most jasmine flowers I’ve encountered. Mix a drop into vanilla ice cream for a treat unlike any you’ve tasted.

These are only a small sampling of the 65 culinary extracts that Medicine Flower produces, which include flavors as diverse as butterscotch, cucumber, dark chocolate, fig, wildflower honey, and cabernet sauvignon grape. With so many to choose from, write yourself a prescription for several bottles and get a taste of your own Medicine Flower.

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Medicine Flower Genuine Flavor Extracts


Medicine Flower flavor extracts can also be dabbed on wrists as a light perfume or added to massage oils, soaps, and other body care products (great for birthday or holiday gift giving). Mix and match to create your own culinary mixture or signature scent.


Update 3/22/17:

Medicine Flower is ushering in a Spring Worthy Of Our Noses (and our palates) with discounted prices on select floral flavors and absolutes, plus 13% off your entire order when you use the code SPRING17, so stock up and enjoy a scent-sational season.

The following items are on sale:

Bulgarian Rose Flavor
Jasmine Flavor
Violet Flavor

Agarwood (Oud) Absolute
Frangipani Absolute
Jasmine auriculatum Absolute
Linden Blossom Absolute
Orange Blossom Absolute


Love the Cookie You’re With

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

Tonight I’m all alone. It’s Saturday night and I am supposed to be at a party with my husband. Our pug, Owen, had some minor surgery earlier in the week and still isn’t feeling well, so we decided I would be the one to stay home with him. I was feeling a little sorry for myself—I had a really cute outfit all picked out and I haven’t seen our friends in a while. I watched Aaron leave with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir along with a platter of caramelized balsamic Brussels sprouts and shuffled back into the house in my yoga pants and slippers thinking, “Now what?”

Love the Cookie 1

It’s a beautiful evening, so I had a beer out on the deck. Owen sat on my lap for a while and then lay at my feet, snoring, which was a good sign. I read some food magazines, which is one of my favorite pastimes. I hoard them for the perfect time and the stars were aligned—no one to disturb me, gorgeous weather for sitting outside, alcoholic beverage of choice at the ready…even Owen was giving me a reprieve from nurse duty.

When I read food magazines, I have this system: I read each magazine from front to back, slowly, savoring each page and each recipe—even the ones with ingredients I don’t eat, like meat or tofu—and then I carefully dog-ear the pages with recipes or products or places I want to look up on the Internet and save to Evernote for future reference. I love to be transported to places like Morocco. I can almost smell the exotic spices, and the architecture is so wonderfully different from my Valley neighborhood. I decide I absolutely must buy a tagine and I make a mental note to order nigella seeds. I will also need to figure out a substitute for lamb. Pages dutifully dog-eared. And when I turn to the spread on a rustic wine country dinner in Napa, I can almost feel the breeze on my shoulders (fashionably covered in a cashmere pashmina, of course) as I sit at a reclaimed wooden table artfully placed in the middle of a million grape vines, perfectly set with mismatched china and flowers, lights twinkling above, and taste the ancient terroir in each sip of a single vineyard cabernet.

Love the Cookie 2

I finished my magazines and my beer and got out of my swinging chair (the best place to read) to feed the dog and make myself a sweet potato. I poured a glass of Riesling—’cause heck, there was still some in the fridge from last night—and sat down to enter all my dog-eared stuff into the interwebs for further investigation.

And that’s when I came upon the recipe for the Chocolate Chip Cookie For One.

Hmmmm, the oven was still warm from my sweet potato and I had all the ingredients. The night was definitely looking up. It took mere moments to mix all the ingredients together. The only tools I used were a small bowl, a fork and measuring spoons. When I was done, I had this tiny amount of cookie dough, and something about its diminutiveness made me happy. A sprinkling of Maldon sea salt on top of the cookie and into the oven with this solitary confection. Cookie for one coming right up!Love the Cookie 3

Usually, when I bake there is a mess to contend with that sometimes puts a damper on my baking high, but I washed my few dishes and was back on the computer in no time. I had barely typed “where to buy tagine” in my browser when…COOKIE SMELL!

The pug is resting nicely, the kitchen is clean, and I’ve got a warm cookie and Matilda (one of my favorite movies) on DVR. I guess the song is true—if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, especially if it happens to be a chocolate chip cookie.

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CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE FOR ONE (adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

Love the Cookie 4Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Serves 1

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter*
1 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. granulated sugar
⅛ tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1½ Tbsp. bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks (or any other chocolate you happen to have on hand)
Maldon salt (or other flake sea salt) for sprinkling (optional)

Love the Cookie 5Heat oven (or toaster over) to 350° F. In a small microwave bowl, heat the butter until just softened (not melted), about 10 seconds on 50% power. Using a fork, blend both sugars, the vanilla and a pinch of salt into the butter. Blend in the flour, then stir in the chocolate chips. Gather the dough in your hands and form a ball, then flatten onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or toaster tray). Sprinkle with the Maldon salt. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool slightly. Get comfy with your most favorite pet (optional) and queue Matilda.


*To veganize this recipe, use a non-dairy butter substitute like Earth Balance.

As American as Washington Pie

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

Tasha Tudor 9Presidents Day may be celebrated on the third Monday in February, but today marks the actual date of George Washington’s birthday, so that means it’s time to serve up a slice of Washington Pie. I first read about this dessert in The Tasha Tudor Cookbook, where it’s mentioned that “the ‘pie’ is actually a delicate cake,” but it took a little sleuthing to discover why it’s referred to as pie. Although this recipe—which dates back to the mid-1800s—calls for raspberry jam spiked with cherry brandy between the cake layers, other versions substitute a cream filling like that used in Boston Cream Pie. Hence, Washington Pie.

Tasha Tudor’s great-great-grandfather, Colonel William Tudor, was friends with George Washington and served as his Judge Advocate General, so her family celebrated the President’s birthday every year with a tea party that included Washington Pie. As both an admirer of Tasha Tudor and someone who is always on the lookout for a reason to enjoy afternoon tea and treats, I decided to adopt the tradition myself. The recipe is quite simple and can be made in advance, since Tasha recommended that the cake be refrigerated overnight to enhance its flavor.

Washington Pie 1

A First Family affair: savoring a slice of Washington Pie with a glass of Martha Washington’s Cherry Bounce.

I cannot tell a lie: once you cut down this cherry* sweet, you’ll want to build a monument to it, so join me in honoring our first President with a delicious tradition that’s as American as Washington Pie.

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Washington Pie 2WASHINGTON PIE (adapted from The Tasha Tudor Cookbook)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 ⅔ cups unbleached flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup milk
2 Tbsp. Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
1 jar (8 oz.) raspberry jam
confectioner’s sugar to decorate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut rounds of wax paper to fit the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake tins (or use the nifty Cake Pans with Cutter Bars that I chose as one of my picks for our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide). Grease and flour the cake tins and paper.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix until light. Sift in the flour and baking powder, alternating with the milk. Beat until light and fluffy. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tins and place the tins in the preheated oven to bake for 25-30 minutes. When the batter begins to pull away from the sides of the pans, test for doneness with a cake tester. Take care not to overbake.

Washington Pie 3When the cakes are done, remove them from the oven and set the tins on cooling racks for 10 minutes. Then invert the cakes on the racks, peel off the wax paper (if using), and allow the cakes to cool completely.

Mix the Kirschwasser in the raspberry jam. Slice the cakes in half horizontally. Place one layer of the cake on a cake plate and spread it generously with the raspberry jam mixture. Repeat the process twice more and then top with the fourth layer. Prior to serving, shake confectioner’s sugar lightly over the top of the cake. To create a pattern, place a doily on top of the plain cake before shaking the sugar over it, then remove the doily. Serves 10 to 12.


The Tasha Tudor Cookbook can be purchased from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and AbeBooks.


*Technically, it’s a raspberry sweet with a splash of cherry, but just roll with it, O.K.?

Lemony Pound Cake and a Series of Fortunate Events

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

Oh lovely lemon!
You make my mouth pucker so
That I may kiss you
— a haiku by me

Lemony Pound Cake 1I love lemony stuff…lemon drops coated in that gnarly sugar that tears up the roof of your mouth, lemon verbena perfume—the well-loved scent of Laura and Miss Beadle on Little House On The Prairie—lemonade, and any kind of lemon baked goods: bars, cookies, cakes, muffins. Hold me!

One of the first things my husband and I did when we moved into our new house last year was plant a dwarf lemon tree in a nice big pot on the deck. I tended this diminutive tree, watering her and fertilizing her and telling her of all the fancy things I would make with her bright yellow bounty, and, magically, little green babies grew into beautiful, fragrant, sunshine-colored goodness.

Lemony Pound Cake 2Now I needed to make the perfect dessert. I didn’t want to squander my beauties—I had to use their powers for good. Aaron suggested a lemon pound cake and I remembered the perfect recipe from Ina Garten in her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Parties! I like my lemon confections to be really lemony and tart, and this cake is definitely in yo face with citrus zing. There are three levels of lemon here: lemon zest and juice in the batter, lemon syrup that is poured on top of the warm cake, and a lemon glaze. It’s a lemon bomb with the most puckery lemon flavor of any dessert I’ve made.

If you love lemon, or just want to ensure you don’t get scurvy, make this cake!

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Lemony Pound Cake 3LEMON POUND CAKE (adapted from Ina Garten)

Makes two 8 inch loaves
(I used a bundt pan this time, but I love the idea of 2 loaves. One to share and one to eat all by yourself when no one’s looking)


½ lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (from 6-8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup sugar
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 ½ Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8½ x 4¼ x 2½ inch loaf pans and line with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and 2 cups of sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). With the mixer on medium, add eggs, one at a time, and then the lemon zest.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl combine lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide batter between the two loaf pans, smooth the tops and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour—until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the syrup by combining ½ cup sugar with ½ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves.

When the cakes are done, cool for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray and spoon the syrup over the top of each cake. Let cool completely.

For the glaze, whisk the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and watch with incredible satisfaction while your family and friends freak out.


Barefoot Contessa Parties! can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

“Oh, fuuuudge…”

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

Fudge 1If you didn’t have the “presents” of mind to consult our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide earlier, and now, with Christmas just days away, you’re empty-handed…or, you’ve been asked to bring something sweet for the holiday dessert table, but you still haven’t wrapped a single present, much less had time to bake…it’s O.K. to use the “F” word. No, not that one. The Queen Mother of delicious words. The “f-dash-dash-dash-DASH” word—fudge! As someone who enjoys giving and receiving gifts of homemade goodies from the kitchen, I’ve sampled and prepared my share of fudge recipes, but the best one I’ve tried also happens to be the easiest. The Five-Minute Fudge from My Sweet Vegan is not only vegan-friendly and gluten-free, it’s the richest, creamiest fudge you’ll ever taste.

Fudge 2

photo credit: Hannah Kaminsky

Unlike many fudge recipes that require a candy thermometer or become grainy if not cooked just right, this recipe is simple and virtually foolproof. Made with rich, thick coconut milk and powdered sugar in place of granulated sugar, the fudge comes out silky smooth every time. Whether nestled in tissue paper inside a decorative gift box, wrapped in cellophane as a stocking stuffer, or arranged on a platter and served to guests, this homemade fudge is a quintessential holiday treat that everyone will appreciate, including those with food allergies or dietary restrictions.

If you want to get creative, the recipe can easily be adapted for a number of variations. The original recipe is called Five-Minute Coconut Fudge and includes shredded coconut, in addition to coconut milk. At the holidays, peppermint extract and crushed candy canes can be substituted for a festive seasonal touch. I prefer the warm flavors of walnuts and vanilla, but the possibilities are as vast as your imagination. You can work in fudge the way other artists might work in oils or clay, producing original gifts in minutes that will be fondly remembered long after the last bites have been eaten…and that’s a Christmas story with a happy ending.

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FIVE-MINUTE FUDGE (adapted from My Sweet Vegan by Hannah Kaminsky)

Fudge 31 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
3½ cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. dairy-free margarine†
½ cup regular canned coconut milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Lightly grease an 8×8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips, sugar, and cocoa. Separately, place the margarine and coconut milk in a small saucepan and stir together over medium heat. Cook the mixture until the margarine has melted and bubbles just begin to break at the surface. Remove it from the stove and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture. Fudge 4Let everything sit for a couple of minutes, and then stir vigorously to melt the chocolate and incorporate the dry ingredients. Continue stirring until a completely smooth mixture forms. Mix in the vanilla and chopped walnuts and quickly pour everything into your prepared pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 32 small squares.

*To make the recipe truly vegan, use a dairy-free brand like Enjoy Life.

†I prefer Earth Balance. For a soy-free option, try their Soy Free spread.


Fudge 5Variations:

To make the original coconut fudge, omit the walnuts. After pouring the fudge into the pan and smoothing the top, sprinkle one cup of flaked coconut evenly over the entire exposed surface. Press the coconut gently into the fudge with the palm of your hand and let cool.

To make peppermint fudge, add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract with the vanilla extract and stir in 4 smashed candy canes. Omit the flaked coconut and top the fudge with the crumbs of 5 additional crushed candy canes instead.

History in the Making

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

History in the Making 1Readers of this blog know that I’m a chocolate lover, but I am simply carrying on a long-standing American tradition. Cocoa trees have been grown in the Americas for thousands of years, although it wasn’t until Cortés observed the Aztecs drinking chocolate in 1519 and introduced the custom to Europe that it began to take on the form we enjoy today. Brought to the east coast of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries by British colonists who imported it from Europe, chocolate was a favorite drink of the Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. At the birth of our country, these men all had a connection to Williamsburg, Virginia, and it was on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg several years ago that I first came across American Heritage Chocolate.

History in the Making 2Created using authentic recipes from the 1750s, American Heritage Chocolate includes spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, orange, vanilla, and even chili pepper. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, but when I saw that the chocolate was produced by the MARS candy company, I was a little dubious. I associated MARS with the kind of chocolate typically found at 7-Eleven, not with pricier artisan brands, but I was intrigued enough to purchase a block of it. I’m glad I did, because this is a truly unique—and uniquely American—product.

History in the Making 3

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

The chocolate comes in sticks, bites, and blocks, or finely grated to make a hot beverage. The sticks and blocks, which are lightly dusted with cocoa powder, have a look and texture that is best described as “rustic.” The flavor is fruity up front and finishes with a slight kick from the pepper, but the consistency is somewhat coarse and chalky. Part of the charm of this chocolate is that it’s made using 18th-century methods, so it doesn’t have the glossy sheen and smooth texture you expect from modern production techniques. For this reason, I feel that American Heritage Chocolate is best enjoyed in the colonial manner, melted in hot water for a traditional, full-bodied drink or mellowed with the addition of a little milk (or coconut milk), but I have snacked on the bites and taken a chip off ye olde block to use in recipes calling for semisweet chocolate. For a treat that’s an American original in more ways than one, chop the block or sticks into chunks and use them in chocolate chip cookies.History in the Making 4

It is often said that everything old is new again. The Historic Division of MARS was formed in 2006 “to educate consumers on the history of the Americas through the unique lens of chocolate.” While others are taking chocolate into the 21st century with additives like bee pollen, espresso powder, and craft beer, American Heritage Chocolate is looking to the past to give modern-day palates a taste of history in the making.

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American Heritage Chocolate


Visit the American Heritage Chocolate website to scroll through an interactive History of Chocolate and to find a merchant near you, or purchase directly from the Williamsburg Marketplace.

See more artwork by Melissa Elliott and read about her process on her blog, The Slipcover.

Mad for Madeleines

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

Some people are born to sing or paint or play music. I was born to feed people. When I have friends over for dinner, I can’t help but make everything from scratch. I love orchestrating an evening from start to finish: flowers, table setting, music, cocktails and the food—lots of food. Planning a dinner party fills me with happy excitement. I get giddy poring through cookbooks and files of recipes; pairing dishes that complement each other, that will look pretty together on the plate and, most of all, will taste amazing.

Mad for Madeleines 1I spend more time on the dessert than anything else. Sometimes I wish I could just go to Costco and get one of their giant pies. They are delicious and pretty and no one would care that I didn’t make it. But I am a Sugar Nerd and buying a prefab dessert would be tantamount to lip syncing on SNL. Even though the dessert is the most time-consuming element of my dinner parties, it’s my favorite part.

Then one day, everything changed. I came across a recipe for Daniel Boulud’s madeleines. A madeleine is a miniature French butter cake baked in a shell-shaped mold. I had never been a big fan of them—the ones I ran into were usually dry and bland. But the thought of serving warm little cakes, hot from the oven and dusted with powdered sugar, tantalized me. So I made them the next time we had friends over for dinner.

Mad for Madeleines 2I have to add an “Ooh la la!” for emphasis here. We all kind of lost our minds. They were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside—lusciously buttery and not too sweet. The four of us ate every last one. We didn’t care. Everyone got a kick out of getting something hot from the oven and the house smelled so good! The best part: they took me ten minutes to make and I got just as many oohs and aahs as I do when I spend two days making dessert. I was liberated! These little babies are now my go-to dessert. Sometimes I serve them with fresh berries, other times with whipped cream. Most of the time, I already have the ingredients on hand—no more searching out hard-to-find things like almond paste or powdered egg whites! It’s also the perfect dessert for guests who are gluten-free. Just substitute the all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour. They are just as delicious. Please indulge me one last time: “Ooh la la!”

Now, when people are coming over for dinner, the only dessert decision I need to make is if the madeleines should have lemon, orange or grapefruit zest. Take that, giant Costco pie! I dream of you no more! Well, maybe I do when I take that nap with all the free time I have now. Those French know how to live! I truly get to have my cake and eat it, too. Ooh. La. La.

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MADELEINES (adapted from Daniel Boulud)

Mad for Madeleines 3INGREDIENTS
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp finely grated lemon, orange or grapefruit zest
6 Tbsp (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Powdered sugar

Special Equipment: 1 madeleine pan (with 12 cake molds)*

Whisk baking powder, flour and salt in a small bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, brown sugar, honey and zest in a medium bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients and whisk until just smooth. Whisk in melted butter. Pour batter into a large plastic resealable bag and chill for at least 1 hour. (DO AHEAD: Batter can be made the day before. Keep chilled until ready to use.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray madeleine pan with oil spray and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. Snip end off one corner of the plastic bag and pipe batter into the madeleine pan, filling molds two-thirds full.

Bake madeleines until the edges are golden brown and the centers are puffed up and spring back lightly when touched, about 7-8 minutes.

Release each cake gently with a toothpick or chopstick. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm. Makes about 18 large Madeleines.

Receive tribute from guests.


*I like this madeleine pan, which can be purchased from Amazon.

This Galette Is Plum Delicious

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Sweets

Galette 1We at The Swoon Society like to eat and we love making food for friends. I made this fantastic plum galette for a dinner party last Saturday night. A galette is basically an open-faced pie where you pile the ingredients into the center of a pie crust and then fold the edges over the filling and—voilà—a quick, easy dessert that has so much damn rustic charm, your guests suspect you also churn your own butter.

When my husband Aaron proclaimed, “This is your best galette yet,” I knew I needed to share the love. Take it as your own, Swooners, and good luck with that butter churning.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Galette 2PLUM GALETTE (adapted from Food & Wine magazine)


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup ice water

¼ cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp ground almonds or almond meal (available at Trader Joe’s)
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 ½ lbs plums, halved, pitted and cut into ½ slices
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ jar apricot preserves, slightly warmed


Combine the 1 ½ cups flour, 1 ½ sticks of butter, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times (resist the urge to pulse more!). Add the ice water and pulse a few more times. You should still see chunks of butter in the dough. Gather dough into a ball and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 16×18-inch circle about 1/8” thick. Roll dough around a rolling pin and transfer to a large, flat cookie sheet. Chill 30 minutes in the freezer (you can also make the night before, cover with plastic wrap, and keep in the refrigerator). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup of sugar with the ground almonds and flour and spread over the center of the pastry, leaving 2” around the edge. Arrange the plum slices in a decorative circular pattern, starting at the outside edge, and dot with the 3 small pieces of butter. Sprinkle all but 1 tsp of the 1/3 cup sugar over the plums. Gently fold the 2” edges of the pastry up over the fruit (if dough is too firm, let thaw about 10 minutes until pliable or it will break). Sprinkle the border with the remaining 1 tsp sugar.

Bake the galette on the middle rack in the oven for about an hour. The crust should be nicely browned. If any juice has leaked out onto the baking sheet, slide a knife under the galette to prevent it from sticking. Brush the apricot preserves over the fruit and crust. Let cool to room temperature and serve with freshly whipped cream, if desired.