Archive for July, 2010


Pie V Cake’s tips for avoiding the ridiculous lines at Georgetown Cupcake

This was the scene outside Georgetown Cucpake’s M Street location this morning at 11:15 AM.

In other words, TLC’s DC Cupcakes has dashed my hopes of ever getting another free Facebook cupcake on weekend mornings. It used to be, pre-DC Cupcakes, you could show up near opening time on weekends and sail through the line within 10 minutes. With a free cupcake, no less. Those days are gone, now that every tourist and their mom wants a cupcake. <<{{Gnashing of teeth.}}>>

Here are our tips for getting your cupcake on:

  • Order ahead. You can place your order the day before, then not have to wait in line to pick it up. Cut in front of the sugar-starved mobs at your own risk.
  • Walk a few blocks to Baked & Wired, where the cupcakes are bigger (and some say better), anyway.
  • Jump on the blue Georgetown Metro Connection bus to Dupont Circle’s Hello Cupcake. Especially if their Gianduja is on the menu that day.

The bacon-fat gingersnap recipe I’ve been meaning to try since 2005

I first came across this recipe in The New York Times in 2005 and remember being horrified yet intrigued. I don’t usually take procrastination to this extreme, but when does one have 3/4 cup bacon fat just lying around? Sure, I’ve made a few batches of chocolate-covered bacon in the years since, but that’s always using precooked bacon, which isn’t as fatty.

Since I was craving BLTs last weekend, I finally had a reason to cook up 1.5 pounds of bacon (doesn’t yield as much bacon as you’d think). I stuck the fat in a jar in the fridge (and at one point, in Pie’s face. Vegetarians don’t like it when you do that.), but let it come to room temperature before making the cookies later in the week.

Verdict? It’s a salty-sweet spice cookie with a touch of porcine goodness. I found the bacon flavor to be mild–not sure I would have noticed it if I didn’t know it was in there–but others found it pretty powerful (in a bad way).

A few modifications to the NYT recipe below:

  • I used a mixer to form the dough. Seemed to work as well as a food processor.
  • I doubled the amount of ginger powder but would add even more next time. That’s a personal preference–I like a mild bite from my gingersnaps. Taste the raw dough to gauge the spiciness, salmonella be damned.
  • The pieces on top were crystallized ginger (Ginger People). Read the label on the package to make sure they use baby ginger, or you could wind up with the super fibrous kind. Unless you’re serving your gingersnaps with a side of floss, you don’t want that.
  • If your bacon fry-up party doesn’t yield 3/4 cup bacon fat,  make up the rest with room-temperature butter.
  • Don’t use flavored bacon (e.g., apple- or maple-smoked). It’ll affect the taste. I used Trader Joe’s regular bacon.
  • Spread out your dough balls on the cookie sheet. Give ’em room.

Swedish Ginger Cookies

From The New York Times article here:

Adapted from Nelle Branson in the “Trinity Episcopal Church Recipe Book,” 1982 edition. Bacon fat can be substituted with 1 1/2 sticks butter; for the authentic cookie, though, bacon fat is the key ingredient. Makes 40 cookies

3/4 cup bacon fat, cooled (from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds Oscar Mayer bacon)

1 cup sugar, plus 14 cup for dusting the cookies

4 tablespoons dark molasses

1 large egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine all ingredients. Spin until dough forms.

3. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours. Drop the dough in 1-tablespoon lumps on a cookie sheet, form into balls, roll in sugar, space 2 inches apart and press flat with fingers.

Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until dark brown. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to finish cooling.


Adventures in kombucha home brewing

For the purposes of Pie V. Cake, we’ll consider kombucha (fermented tea with live bacteria and yeast, like yogurt) a dessert, since it requires sugar in the brewing process. Kombucha supposedly originated in China or Russia, but no Chinese person I know–and I know a lot of them–has heard of it.

Let's begin with a shot of the finished product. This was the blueberry ginger flavor.

It’s not hard to see why they might want to disclaim it. Kombucha is not for the faint of heart. It smells like vinegary feet, but tastes like a nonalcoholic cider or beer, depending on your how your brew turns out. Sometimes there are trace amounts of alcohol, like in the G.T.’s brand that was recently pulled from Whole Foods’ shelves. No wonder I was unwittingly getting wasted during my lunch hours!

Did I mention that there are usually unidentified slimy, floaty bits in every bottle? They’re babies from the “mother” fungus, a disturbing name for the mushroom that makes the fermentation magic happen, turning sugar, water, and tea into bona fide kombucha.

We began by cutting the mother in half.

Mr. X-sXe went a bit bonkers and decided to brew 12 gallons in one go. He even invested in a huge gas burner, pots, and some fancy gadgetry. I feared he would burn down the house in the name of kombucha, which is just as tragic as burning it down in the name of fried turkey, if not more.

Process, if you’re crazy enough to try this at home:

Make sure all of your bottling gear has been sanitized. There have been instances of people poisoning themselves from contaminated kombucha, so we don’t recommend doing a huge batch like this if you’re a brewing newbie.

We purchased a mother fungus from Kombucha Brooklyn over a year ago–the one we used was a remote descendant of the original.

We emptied 12 gallons of distilled water into the pot, adding 1 cup of sugar per gallon. If you want it sweeter, you can add more. (1 cup per gallon made a pleasantly dry kombucha.) The amount of tea you use is up to you. We stuffed 8 large teabags into ours, the kind you use for looseleaf tea.

Those floaters are actually teabags stuffed with oolong leaves.

After letting the pot boil, we cooled it down with this wort chiller, which took it from boiling to cold in just a few minutes. See what I mean about the gadgetry?

The wort chiller. Guys dig it.

The brew then goes into these plastic vats to sit for 2 weeks, while the mother goes to work. We covered the vats with an old, clean t-shirt, secured by a massive rubber band knotted together from many small ones. Over the course of the fortnight, a vinegary perfume took over that area of the kitchen, followed by some throw-up-in-your-mouth-a-little moments as we would let guests peek beneath the t-shirt to see what was going on. The 2 halves, which started out the size of our hands, grew over those 2 weeks to entirely cover the surface of the white plastic vats.

The sight of the mother may cause dry-heaving among your friends.

After the 2 weeks were up, we bottled the brew, adding 1 teaspoon of sugar and a few turkey basters’ worth of fruit juice (lemon, lime, ginger, acai, etc.) to each bottle, and bottling some without any additions. The bottles sat at room temperature for another 2 weeks to allow for more carbonation.

Finally, 4 weeks later, they were ready to drink. 12 gallons made 80+ beer bottles’ worth. Don’t forget to mind the space in the fridge. Ours currently has none for real food.


Yogiberry Bethesda

Mr X-sXe and were strolling around downtown Bethesda when we spotted Yogiberry, a self-service yogurt place that’s decorated like a candy store on acid.

I’ve been skeptical about self-serve froyo ever since being underwhelmed by FroZenYo, but we decided to give it a go.

I was taken aback/impressed/baffled by the Asian-ness of the offerings. With flavors like taro root and toppings like rambutan, litchi, and longan (very similar white-fleshed Asian fruits, below), you’d think you were in Singapore or something.

Collectively, we tried the chocolate, original, pistachio, taro root, coconut, and green tea yogurt flavors. Our favorites were the original and green tea, which are worth going back for. Least favorite? The chocolate (too icy) and coconut (too sweet). Problem is the temptation to go overboard at these places. At 49 cents an ounce, our yogurts came out to $6+ apiece (!) And beware if you’re caught tasting or eating before you’ve paid: there’s a $10 on-the-spot fine, though we didn’t see any froyo police milling around.


Got a thing for bearded dudes eating cupcakes?

There’s a site for that.


british dessert FAIL

Jolly Olde England! Home of trifles and treacles and plenty of other sugary delights that made my mouth water when described in the twee children’s books I used to read!
When I visited you recently, I naturally assumed that “Jolly” in your name referred to the rotund and sugar-lulled effects of fantastic desserts.
Boy, was I wrong.
Upon Cake’s advice, I hit the Marks and Spencer food hall for a sampling of some everyday British desserts; in essence, the slightly posher equivalent of my beloved Safeway sheet cake.
Maybe it was an off day, but this is what the dessert case looked like:
Victoria Sandwich
Meh. I am greatly dubious of a culture that tries to pass off “sandwiches” as “dessert”.
I consulted with my polite British friend (who I’ll call “Faux Grant”), and we settled on the following desserts:

Lemon Cheesecake
Lemon Cheesecake
Faux Grant suggested the cheesecake, which he claimed was a proper British dessert. As a former New Yorker, I had to taste test that ridiculous claim. We grabbed a slice of lemon cheesecake. Upon opening it, I noticed giant clumps of lemon filling inserted INTO the cheesecake body itself. Sacrilege. Fruit belongs on the top of a cheesecake, not the middle.
That being said, it was tasty, if in no way resembling a cheesecake in the slightest. Rather, it was like eating a key lime pie that had been disassembled into various components. But I have to rate it as a dessert fail based upon nomenclature alone. THIS WAS NOT CHEESECAKE.

Chocolate Cornflake Microbites
Chocolate Cornflake Microbites
Faux Grant recommended the chocolate cornflakes, a dessert that he has had personal experience making at home. I popped one into my mouth and was immediately struck by the fact that the “microbite” claim was completely wrong. I suddenly had a giant lump of jagged sharp chocolate in my mouth. Total choking hazard. And sadly, not all that tasty either. The ratio of chocolate to cornflake was completely off. Instead of having the cornflakes serve as a slightly salty platform upon which to layer chocolate, so that one would get a crunchy, delicate sweetness, the chocolate instead served as a binding agent that completely overwhelmed (and hardened!) the cornflakes. I prefer my chocolate without the potentially fatal surprise of breakfast cereal rocks for my windpipe. Faux Grant reported, however, that the store-bought Chocolate Cornflakes were still better than the ones he made at home, where the chocolate content was completely off the scale.

Millionaire’s Delight
Millionaire's Delight
A layer of shortbread, a layer of caramel, and a layer of chocolate mousse? All with a slightly charming name? HOT DAMN YES. At last, a British dessert that lived up to my childhood expectations. It was delicious and so rich that I had to stop eating it after two bites. I probably would have enjoyed it more if the carcass of the failed cheesecake hadn’t been staring me in the face.

Up next: the British Crisp and Chocolate report!


Yes! DC gets another dessert truck!

The Sweetgreen Sweetflow Mobile and Curbside Cupcakes trucks have been joined by the Sweetbites Mobile, where you can get your daily dose of treats like mini-cheesecakes, lemon bars, cupcakes, and brownies. I can’t wait to chase this one down. Follow them on Twitter for locations (@sweetbitestruck).


A patriotic pavlova by way of my girl crush, Nigella Lawson

Not sure why, but I’ve been making pavlovas for the July 4th holiday for the past few years, which isn’t exactly the most American of desserts. Pavlova (a New Zealand concoction  named for a Russian dancer) is a huge meringue base or nest topped with whipped cream and fruit. Tart fruits like berries works best, since the meringue is so sugary.

Make the meringue right and you’ll get a crispy exterior with  a gooey interior. The key is the cooling process. Make sure to cool it in the oven to get the right texture. This one has cocoa and chocolate bits in the meringue, which add a level of melty goodness to the center (or as Nigella calls it, “squidginess”).

Here's what it looked like before it went into the oven.

Seriously, don’t be afraid to try this one. The hardest part of the recipe is separating the eggs. I love that Nigella’s version doesn’t even require obscure ingredients like cream-of-tartar (it uses vinegar instead). Just another reason why it’s so easy to crush on her!

Haters might say, isn’t this basically just sugar, cream, and fruit? Sure, but with the contrast between the crispy outer/oozy inner of the meringue, it takes those basic ingredients to a whole new level.

Voila! A dessert that's easier than it looks.

Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s chocolate raspberry pavlova:

For the Meringue Base:

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 2 cups superfine sugar (I recommend 1.5 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar (I used balsamic)
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

For the Toppings:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • A couple cups of berries, mangoes, passionfruit, or any other tart fruit
  • 1 to 2 ounces dark chocolate (optional)


Prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Draw a 9-inch-diameter circle on the paper with a pencil, tracing a round cake tin that size. Flip the paper over so your meringue doesn’t touch the pencil marks – you’ll still be able to see the circle.

Make the meringue: Beat the egg whites with a mixer until peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and glossy.

Add the chocolate: Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and then the chopped chocolate over the egg whites. Gently fold everything with a rubber spatula until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in.

Shape the meringue: Secure the parchment to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue under each corner. Mound the meringue onto the parchment within the circle, smoothing the sides and the top with a spatula.

Bake the meringue: Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees F and cook for one to one and a quarter hours. When it’s ready, it should look crisp and dry on top, but when you prod the center you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. It’ll probably be cracked in a few places, which is perfectly fine.

Let it cool: Turn off the oven and open the door slightly; let the chocolate meringue disk cool completely in the oven. When you’reready to serve, invert onto a big flatbottomed plate and peel off the parchment.

Decorate the pavlova: Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter the raspberries on top. Coarsely grate the chocolate haphazardly over the top so that you get curls of chocolate rather than rubble, as you don’t want the raspberries’ luscious color and form to be obscured.


Key lime pie, revisited

After suffering a major key lime pie failure last year (I added more lime juice to increase the tartness, so the center never solidified), I wasn’t sure I’d ever recover. But a bag of key limes called out to me at Giant, and next thing I know, I’m juicing tiny limes–surprisingly tiring, unless you have pianist fingers or something.

(Note: 1 bag of key limes yielded 1/2 cup of juice, which is exactly what the recipe calls for.)

I wish I hadn’t copped out and bought a Keebler crust, since it brought nothing to the party. Next time, I’ll try the homemade graham crust below with at least a teaspoon of kosher salt to set off the sweetness of the pie.

This recipe still isn’t tart enough, but as I learned last year, sometimes you’ve got to rein in the creativity when it comes to baking.

Recipe Adapted from Sarah Ramirez’s Key Lime Pie

2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup of sugar plus 2 tbsp, divided
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
4 egg yolks
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice (or bottled)
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream

Sliced limes plus chopped white chocolate for garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup of sugar and butter.

3. Press mixture over bottom and up sides of 9″ glass plate.

4. Bake crust in middle of oven for 10 minutes; let cool.

5. Whisk egg yolks, condensed milk, and lime juice. Pour into crust.

6. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until center is set (usually anywhere from 15-3o min).

7. Cool on wire rack for 1 hour. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

8. Beat cream until frothy with 1 tsp vanilla extract. Spread over pie and garnish with lime slices and finely chopped white chocolate.


Celebrate the 4th with all-American beefcake!