Kicking off the week with something sweet. I sure need it. I’m having one of those moments/days/feels like a lifetime of stress and I just want to crawl into a big fluffy cocoon and never come out. Ok, it’s not that bad, but I’ve definitely been having moments. When even the idea of making a cake sounds stressful and I actually contemplated using a box mix. That’s when I know something is off.
Anyway, you take it one ingredient and one step at a time. You may not think you have time for it but it helps slow you down. And watching the mixer gradually turn liquid cream into frosting is one of the best sights ever…it’s worth slowing down for.
I’ll get back to feeling like I’m on top of things. I can’t not get there. In the meantime, you just have to try to not get so down on yourself. Focus at what’s hand. Surround yourself with only supportive people. (I’m lucky to have many.) Don’t sacrifice things that make you happy for time or punishment…you just might find that those are the things, like cake and cream or a Justin Timberlake concert, that can pull you out and get you back to your stride.
Dulce De Leche Cake
Start with a basic white cake – like Martha Stewart’s. Frost layers with dulce de leche – like La Salamandra. Top with this dulce de leche whipped cream.
Cinnamon Dulce De Leche Whipped Cream
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1/2 cup dulce de leche
In a mixer using a whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream until whipped. Slowly beat in the vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. Gently fold in the dulce de leche.
I made this pasta for a boy but I ate it alone. More for me. I made it spicy cause he likes it spicy. But turns out I like spicy too now. Sometimes, well most of the time, things don’t work out the way you plan them out in your head. But other times, like in the case of this pasta sauce, they turn out even better. It could be the incredible pork belly. It could be the anticipation of sauce bubbling on the stove for hours…letting my favorite smells (garlic, onion, mmmm) fill my entire apartment. It could be that because the boy didn’t show, I got to eat this in sweatpants while watching Pretty in Pink and sending silly snaps to my girlfriends. Clearly I won this one.
I definitely improvised with this one, but you can too. Here’s the Nikki no-recipe version:
Pasta With Spicy Slow-Roasted Pork Belly Sauce
In a heavy pot, sauté minced onion, shredded carrot, a big pinch of red pepper flakes and garlic with some butter and olive oil. Add a large can (or more) of crushed tomato and bring to a simmer. Add cooked pork belly. (I got mine from Chef Dimitri at Cava Mezze, but you can easily make your own too. I like this 3-step recipe.) You don’t need a lot. I used about a half a cup. Shred in sauce. Simmer for as long as you can stand it…an hour at least. Serve with pasta (homemade if you’re feeling ambitious) and fresh grated parm.
There’s not much that cake can’t fix. A day-long headache. An awful date. A freezing cold day. Especially when it’s a no-fuss, classic cake. You know, the kind that you’d make with a box mix for a 5th birthday party. The kind you’d find at diner under a bright light and glass dome. They strike a cord in your soul somehow. There’s just pure good stuff waiting for you in that cake.
I went into this baking hour with hopes to make something dramatic. Multi-layers. Two different kinds of frostings. Designed and decorated. But with no surprise, I ended up with this. When it comes to dessert, actually most food, fancy isn’t my style. I want that comforting cake that can cure my bad day or cheer up a friend. The one that’s about how it tastes. And how it makes you feel. Eat it breakfast, or at 1am after a Story of My Life dance party with friends.
It’s simple. It’s warming. It’s not made from a box. And it’s right in front of you.
Whipped Chocolate Frosting
- 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 5 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy.
- Add chocolate, cream, and vanilla, and continue to beat until smooth.
- Add confectioners’ sugar in parts until it’s all incorporated.
- Frost on a cooled cake like this classic vanilla from Martha.
I’m all baked out I think. After this weekend, I don’t think I want to see butter and flour again. I made peppermint chocolate cake, Christmas funfetti cupcakes, Millionaire’s shortbread, chocolate crack-up cookies. While I had a blast baking with my friends, I need a break from my mixer. Ok that is until I make our chocolate bourbon pound cake for Christmas Eve.
Before I take a cookie hiatus, I was to share one of my favorite Christmas cookies I’ve made this year. Part sweet, part savory. Perfect for nibbling on before a big dinner. I can’t wait to experiment with more shortbreads in the future, but this might just be my favorite one!
Sweet & Savory Rosemary Shortbread
(Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus whole leaves
- 1 large egg, beaten to blend
- Coarse sanding sugar (for sprinkling)
- Preheat oven to 350°. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and salt until very light and fluffy, 7–10 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour, and 2 tsp. chopped rosemary; mix just to combine. Dough will look shaggy and a little dry (it’s not!).
- Press dough into two 8”-diameter cake pans. Brush with egg, sprinkle with sanding sugar, and top with rosemary leaves.
- Bake until shortbread is golden brown and sides pull away from pan, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool in pan before turning out and cutting into wedges or bars.
Shortbread dough can be made 1 month ahead; wrap tightly and freeze. Shortbread can be baked 1 week ahead; store wrapped tightly at room temperature.
As much as I love holiday evening festivities (sparkly dresses, champagne, cheese plates!) I think I love holiday mornings even better. Family gathered around the kitchen, pj pants and fuzzy socks, nibbling on leftover desserts from the night before, filling up coffee cups one by one, planning the day ahead…yes, that’s my favorite.
Our holiday mornings traditionally involve a baked blueberry french toast. My mom or aunt will make it the night before, let it soak overnight, then pop it in the oven as everyone is coming downstairs in the morning. It’s one of the best smells to wake up to. I’m partial to the blueberry (I’m a sucker for traditions), but I also love this sweet pumpkin pecan version I made recently too. It’s a chinch to make so you won’t be spending whole a lot of extra time cooking (better spend that time watching movies with your cousins). I’m thinking this is perfect breakfast for the morning after Thanksgiving or Christmas…especially served up with a side of bacon and hot coffee.
Pumpkin Pecan French Toast
- 1 baguette, sliced
- 7 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg)
- 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 3-4 tablespoons brown sugar for topping
- 1 cup chopped pecans for topping
- Slice day-old baguette into 1-inch thick slices. Line a large baking dish with slices.
- In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, pumpkin puree and spices until well combined. Pour mixture over bread and push down with your hands until it’s all soaked and mostly covered. Cover with saran wrap or lid and refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees, uncover and top with brown sugar, additional cinnamon and pecans. Bake for about 40 minutes or golden brown and no longer wet. Serve immediately for breakfast or with a scoop of ice cream for dessert.