summer fruit pies (and some news!)

This time last year, I was packing up my house and preparing to move from Portland to San Francisco. I was nervous about the move, and wasn't 100% sure if it was the right thing to do. I'd lived in San Francisco before, and I wasn't a fan then. Would it be the right decision now, nearly five years later?

I don't think I can answer that honestly without disappointing everybody and myself, but let's put it this way: Everybody loves a good movie montage. You know, the kind where the dorky, scrawny nerd spends the summer training hard to become the high school's winning quarterback, or where the spunky, multicultural ethnic kids band together and fix up the old man's house? Well, real life seldom turns out like that.

Because it turns out that I don’t have the moxie that I once did. When I was 22, 23, or heck, even 26, moving to a new city to pursue a career was easier to do. But now that I've started to sprout roots — a house with a custom kitchen designed for this blog, a city I will always call home, a partner of almost six years, a furry ginger creature that's dependent on me completely — the game has changed for me. The struggle was no longer new and exciting, and the rewards didn't seem to outweigh the costs at all. Instead, all that hustle just felt like an unnecessary burden.

One that was hard to carry, especially by myself.

So I took a step back and decided that it was time to stop breaking my own heart and do the right thing for myself — in a little more than a month, I'm moving to New York City.

New York isn't home, but it'll be closer to something like it with Erlend and his family there. This past year in San Francisco has been quiet and lonely in a million ways, and I learned how heartbreaking it is to prioritize a career over a place to call home. But honestly, even as I type this, I feel all the weight and mistakes from the last year lightening already. I’m incredibly grateful and thankful to all the friends, family, and co-workers who made this year worthwhile, but boy, I’m ready for the next chapter:

Welcome to New York — it’s been waiting for you!


Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe is part of my #humhipieamonth project, where at the start of the year, I ambitiously vowed to make a pie every month to improve my pie making skills. This month, I was a bit of an overachiever and decided to make two pies to take advantage of California’s ever abundant bounty before I head on out — a rhubarb and peach pie, and two strawberry balsamic mini pies. The pie crust recipe quantity provides enough for one 9-inch double-lidded pie, or two 5-inch deep dish double-lidded pies (you can get the 5-inch pie plates here!). Double the recipe if you’re planning on making both types of pie!

  • The pie crust recipe is my favorite butter and lard pie crust recipe, but made with a food processor instead of a pastry blender (since I was pressed for time). If you don’t have a food processor, you can cut the butter and lard in by hand by following the instructions on this recipe for sour cranberry pie.

  • As always, it’s always a good idea to re-read all my best pie baking tips before embarking on a pie adventure. Good luck!

toasted sesame and sweetened condensed milk bundt cake

Erlend's in town this week and I am beyond stoked. It's easy to stay in touch and feel connected through all our modern technologies, but really, at the end of the day, nothing beats IRL time. I feel like I've been especially bad about that this year too — because it's so easy to talk over Gchat, iMessage, Snapchat, or whatever, I'll sometimes find that a whole month has gone by without me actually hanging out with anybody. Is that sad to admit? Or is that just #bloggersinreallife?

But anyway, Erlend's been living with his parents for the last year and I like to joke that he's living the millennial's dream: rent-free in a big apartment in Manhattan, complete with healthful meals prepared by mom and dad. And if that sounds disdainful, it's mostly because I'm jealous (because seriously — if my parents lived anywhere cool like New York, I'd probably never move out. My mom's a great cook. Hi Mom!).

Erlend's only complaint about his living situation is that he doesn't have the access to the desserts he used to when we lived together. It's probably better for him in the long run, but after years of having a freshly baked good ready at your disposal every weekend, sometimes it's really hard to curb that craving. I speak from personal experience.

So in honor of his visit, I baked him this sweetened condensed milk bundt. This is actually a reprisal of an old recipe of mine (specifically, this sweetened condensed milk loaf cake). All that extra sugar from the condensed milk crisps up beautifully to create a hearty crust. I also added some egg yolks to make the crumb extra yellow and rich, as well toasted sesame oil for a little flavor. Erlend's always been fond of Asian dessert flavors like sweetened condensed milk, black sesame, red bean, and matcha, and I thought it would toasted sesame would be a great addition to that palette. The flavor is subtle, but definitely gives the cake a little something unique.



Some baker's notes:
  • Before you guys ask, the bundt pan is a find from Ebay. It's one of those vintage bundt molds from when everybody was skinnier and ate less, so this recipe won't work in the modern, regular 10-cup bundt pan. Instead, use a pan that holds around 4 cups — in a pinch you can substitute a 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

  • Toasted sesame oil can be found in the Asian/International section of most major supermarkets and is used for its distinct, nutty flavor. However, a little bit goes a LONG way, which is why I've used such a small amount in the recipe. For a stronger flavor, use 2 teaspoons, but I wouldn't use more than that.

a giant chocolate chip skillet cookie

I'm the kind of person who likes to reread books and rewatch movies and TV shows. I don't really know why. I think I'm just wired this way — not knowing what's going to happen stresses me out, and instead of just enjoying the journey I become too focused on getting to the point where I know it all. I've spent too many nights binge-watching and flipping frantically through the pages of a book just to figure out what happens next.

But there's also a certain to revisiting a movie, TV show, or book throughout the years, and seeing how your perspective on it has changed. I recently plowed through the entire collection of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and found myself rolling my eyes at the characters I liked best when I was younger, instead sympathizing with the ones I initially waved off. Ditto with Gilmore Girls (though boy, am I excited for that revival!). And The Graduate, for that matter (because here's to you, Mrs. Robinson — you deserve better than Benjamin).

I'm not sure if you can say the same about recipes, however. The best recipes tend to stay timeless through and through. Ina Garten's chocolate cake recipe will always be delicious, as will Jacques Torres' chocolate chip cookie recipe. The best I can do are homemade versions of childhood classics like funfetti cake and this giant chocolate chip cookie:

Because do you guys remember those giant chocolate chip cookie cakes you could get at the supermarket? The ones that were basically a single chocolate chip cookie about the size of the pizza, and usually had a neon-colored frosting job. I loved those as a kid. This recipe is sort of like that, but better because it's minus all the unnecessary sugar and artificial ingredients they usually threw in there to make those cookie cakes shelf-stable.

This recipe comes from Cook It In Cast Iron, a new cookbook in the America's Test Kitchen family that focuses on recipes you make in a cast iron skillet. It's basically your classic chocolate chip cookie, but with brown butter and extra crispy edges from being baked in the skillet. If you're an "edge" person, this cookie's for you — even the chewy center pieces have perfectly crisp bottoms! It's all absolutely delicious. All that's missing is neon pink frosting, really.


Some baker's notes:
  • America's Test Kitchen specifically designed this recipe for a cast-iron skillet by increasing the baking time and cutting back the butter and chocolate chips quantities to ensure that the cookie baked through the middle. I don't think the recipe will work if you want plain ol' regular chocolate chip cookies — if you're looking for those, I suggest checking out this recipe for slice-and-bake cookies, or my favorite one from the New York Times!

  • The original recipe uses a 12-inch skillet, but I baked mine in a 10-inch one and it worked fine (though it's a little thicker than what the original recipe has you make). You might also need to increase the baking time by 5 to 10 minutes if using a 10-inch skillet.

mother's day tea party

Hey friends!

Mother's Day is this weekend, and I'm here to remind you: BE NICE TO YOUR MOMMA. Send a card, an email, nice flowers, or whatever to thank her for all the hard work that is being a mom. And if you're lucky enough to live close to your mom, I suggest pulling out the big guns, skipping the traditional Mother's Day brunch, and whipping her up an English style tea party instead!

Admittedly I'm not an expert on English tea, but I've watched enough of The Great British Bake-Off to fake my way around the table. At my tea, there will be some sort of meringue, a Victoria sponge, and a light, refreshing beverage.

So on Crate and Barrel's awesome blog, I've got three recipes for the perfect Mother's Day tea party. Think — mini lemon meringue tartlets, hibiscus Arnold Palmer lemonade, and a strawberry shortcake trifle repping the Victoria sponge.

Who needs high tea at the Ritz when you can make it at home?

And on that note — Happy (early) Mother's Day, mom! Wish I could spend it with you eating these desserts.

matcha egg cream

With the world warming up, it's probably a good plan for us to find other ways to cool down besides air conditioning, ice cream, and swimming pools. I mean, nothing against any of those things, I'm just saying that we give ourselves more options since it looks like we're in this for the long haul, ya know? And more options are always good, especially if they're different and exciting like this matcha egg cream:

If you shuddered at the words "egg" and "cream" brought together in such a cavalier fashion, you are not alone. Because gross! A drink containing an egg and, well, cream? No thank you. But fortunately, an egg cream doesn't actually contain either of those ingredients and instead consists of milk, chocolate syrup, and carbonated water. It's basically chocolate milk, but with some bubbly water to give it a little bit of a fizz. Apparently it originated in Brooklyn, but nobody really actually knows because that's how these things go.

And if you're wondering why my egg cream doesn't look like chocolate milk at all, it's because I kinda went all rogue and made a matcha variation. All you need to do is combine some green tea powder, whole milk, and sweetened condensed milk in a mason jar and give it a good shake, shake, SHAKE:

At this point, the mixture will be a pretty pale green — you're basically making matcha milk. Pour the milk out into ice-filled glasses, and top with fizzy water. BOOM! Matcha egg cream.

The recipe comes from Food with Friends, a new cookbook celebrating the art of, well, eating food with friends. I've been a fan of Leela Cyd's work for the Kitchn and various blogs for so long, and her cookbook is another example of her awesome work. The food is whimsical and fun, and this matcha egg cream is no exception.


Some baker's notes:
  • Matcha is a vivid green powder made from compressed green tea leaves; you can also use it to make green tea, matcha lattes, and of course, baked goods. Matcha usually has a "grade", which is determined by the age of the leaf that is milled for the tea. Ceremonial grade matcha is made with younger leaves are more delicate and flowery, and ultimately used for traditional tea ceremonies in Japan. As a result, it is very expensive. I would recommend getting culinary grade matcha, which isn't as delicate (quite frankly, ceremonial grade matcha will probably have too delicate of a flavor for baking), but is within a more reasonable price point. It is available online, specialty tea stores, and some Asian super markets.

  • If you're working with especially cold ingredients, it might take a little bit for the matcha to fully dissolve and integrate with the rest of the ingredients. If you're lazy like me, you can get around this by using a fine-mesh strainer to remove any clumps. If you're a big planner, combine the whole milk and matcha in a small pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Transfer to a mason jar and cool to room temperature, before refrigerating until chilled and then following Leela's original recipe.

chocolate and earl grey london fog layer cake

As my time in San Francisco comes to a year, I find myself more and more impatient. San Francisco has a lot to offer, but all the horror stories that you hear about the high rents, the tech bros, and the homelessness issues are also true. It's incredibly easy to get caught in the grit and the grime of the city, allowing it to overshadow everything else.

Is that too negative? I've been accused many times of always finding something wrong and needing an attitude adjustment. Because despite all the flowers and delicate things you see on this blog, I'm naturally short tempered and hot headed in real life. Ironically, I don't actually think that these are negative qualities, but I do recognize that I need to reign it in and tamper it down every so often so I don't scare everybody away.

And since I've never been that into yoga, one of the things that I do to chill out and calm the f*ck down is to bake a cake. Cake making is a surprisingly therapeutic activity. There's something really satisfying and calming about the process: stacking the cakes up perfectly, applying the layers of frosting, smoothing it over and over until it's perfect. When I do, it's like all the noise of the world fades away and I forget about all the things I hate. For a little while, at least.

Which is why I've been spending a lot of time flipping through my blog friend Tessa's cookbook, Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes. I've already told Tessa this, but everybody needs to know that homegirl is a cake making QUEEN. Her blog, Style Sweet CA, is full of beauties like this peanut butter caramel popcorn cake and this Italian rainbow cookie cake. Her new cookbook is no different — I've already dogeared most of the pages, ready to bake one of her recipes for the next time my inner Hulk releases itself. This chocolate and Earl Grey layer cake is one of the recipes from her book, and is basically a London Fog drink in cake form. It's perfect in every way.

As a special treat to my readers, I'm giving away a copy of Layered — Use the widget below to like my new Facebook page for a chance to win! If you already like my page, you still need to use the widget below to confirm and enter the contest. The giveaway ends on April 27th at 8:00AM PDT and is open to U.S. and Canadian residents only:

Some baker's notes:
  • Tessa's recipe actually makes an 8-inch, three layer cake, but because I only use a countertop oven in my city apartment, all my cakes have been 6-inch, four layer variations. I've included the recipe as it originally was in her book, which will make a shorter cake than what you see in my pictures. If going the 6-inch route, bake the cakes for an additional 10 minutes and use 1/3 cup frosting between each layer.

  • Tessa also includes a recipe for homemade salted caramel sauce, but I actually skipped making it from scratch and used this giant block of caramel from King Arthur Flour. It's perfect for time strapped folks, but be prepared to have a lot of caramel left over. Like, a LOT. Also, make sure your caramel sauce has cooled to room temperature before pouring it over the cake! My caramel sauce was still slightly warm, and as a result, caused my frosting to get a little bit melty. It's hard, but you have to be patient!

passionfruit curd pie

Guys, I got cocky.

After the triumph that was last month's epic #pieamonth pear and creme fraiche caramel pie, I thought I had it.

I'm a pie expert now! I thought to myself a few weeks ago, as I woke up early to create my next #pieamonth pie. This is going to be a breeze. It doesn't even have a lattice! I'm just going to do as I do — roll out my pie, stick it in the freezer, prep the filling — and go grab a pastry with Jessica. By the time I'm back, it'll be ready for the oven.

One chocolate ganache kouign amann and crazy delicious violet cheesecake later, I stuck the beautifully rolled and perfectly crimped frozen crust to pre-bake in the oven.

Pre-baking is often required when baking a custard or curd pie — the moisture in the filling can make the crust soggy before it has time to actually bake. The point of pre-baking it beforehand without any filling is to give the crust a head start to bake and ultimately solidify before the filling, helping the crust stay firm and prevent soggy bottomed crusts. However, you can't just bake the pie shell without weight to hold it down in the middle — as the crust bakes, pockets of steam get created within the pastry that cause it to puff up and ultimately sag around the edges. You need that weight to hold it down, which is why most pre-baking recipes instruct you to line your shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper filled with pie weights.

So I was placing my beautifully rolled, crimped, lined, and weighted pie in the oven, the parchment paper holding my pie weights gently brushed my countertop oven's heat source and burst into flame.

Have you ever seen parchment paper catch on fire? Especially the cheap kind you can buy in bulk on Amazon that's so thin and tissue papery that you often need to use two or three sheets at a time?

Well, it burns up like gangbusters.

My cat watched in judgement as I screamed, dropped the pan containing the pie, and hastily picked up the flaming inferno formerly known as my parchment paper and lobbed it into my sink. Hundreds of ceramic pie weights flew across the kitchen, making a racket as they bounced across the kitchen floor and rolled to irretrievable places underneath the oven and refrigerator.

I turned to see if my beautifully prepared shell was salvageable. NOPE. I found it lying face down on the ground in a pretty sorry state: half-melted on one side, covered in bits of ash and floor lint.

And that, my friends, is what happens when you get cocky when making pie.


Some baker's notes:
  • You can use either fresh passionfruit juice (with the seeds strained out) or frozen passionfruit puree in this recipe. Fresh passionfruit was a little hard for me to source, but I would occasionally (and rather randomly) see it at major supermarkets like Whole Foods and even Safeway. You can also use passionfruit puree, which can be found in the frozen section of Latin American markets or even online (but for a much steeper price). Whatever you do though, don't use artificial/shelf-stable passionfruit juice. They put a ton of extra sweetener and artificial preservatives in there that'll just ruin your curd.

  • I've already explained pre-baking science, so I won't repeat myself here. One word of advice though — if you have a small oven similar to mine, perhaps use a non flammable material like aluminum foil to line your pie instead. You also don't need to use fancy ceramic pie weights — you can use rice, beans, or even coins! Just make sure you use a generous amount of weight; if you don't use enough, the crust sags in the middle and destroys your beautiful crimp. Which is what happened to me the second time I made this pie.