S’more stuff

Is it just me, or are s’more themed/flavored desserts popping up everywhere? I remember mentioning to a friend a few months ago that I wanted to try making s’more cupcakes, and the next thing I knew, the Interwebs were exploding with s’more desserts.

This is one time I can say I did not intentionally jump onto a bandwagon…I swear I came up with this idea all by myself, even if the rest of the world managed to share their successes and brilliance before I did. Oh well. If you’ve ever read this poor excuse for a blog, you’ll know that updating and managing it is not my strength.

So my contribution to this s’more trend are some s’more cupcakes that I made for a friend’s birthday and some s’more bars that I did in an attempt to use up the rest of the marshmallow/graham cracker/chocolate bar excess.

cupcakes have graham cracker crust, then a layer of chocolate cake, and a kiss of marshmallow frosting

I probably made a few dozen too many. Not a bad problem to have.

and then the s’more bars…forgive my photography. we got a new camera and I’m still trying to learn how to use it.

These are essentially my basic chocolate chip cookie dough with marshmallows mixed in layered on top of a base of graham crackers…and a few strategically placed pieces of a Hershey’s bar.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’m not sure how I feel about s’more baked goods. They were tasty, but I’m not quite sure that they had a very s’more-y taste. But I guess it’s hard to go wrong when you’re basically mashing marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers together. Maybe I was missing the charred, burned marshmallow taste…or the dirt from the sticks…



Home Made Samoas

This all started a few months ago, during Girl Scout Cookie season, when I was at work. Somebody had a box of Samoas (or Carmel De-Lites depending on your preference) and someone basically challenged me to re-create them at home. I have to admit, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few years. Apparently, I’m not motivated enough to do anything until someone tells me I can’t.

cut and back shortbread rounds

toast shredded coconut

make caramel sauce…mmm

mix caramel and coconut…spread on top of cookie

melt chocolate (I used a premium dark chocolate)

dip bottom in chocolate and drizzle top

and voila!

How did they taste? People loved them…I was told it tasted like a better version of the actual Girl Scout cookie. If I remember correctly, I wasn’t originally too into them. I thought I had completely missed the mark. However, after a few days in the fridge, the flavors kind of melded together and improved them immensely.

Post-Paris Pistachio Macarons

This is obviously not one of those blogs where you readers (Hi Mom!) are going to glean a whole lot about my  personal life…I would have to update far more frequently for anybody to get a sense of what my real life is like…but fortunately for all of you, I’m too lazy. But this post will make more sense if I give a little bit of background into what I’ve  been doing lately.

I recently came home from a long-overdue vacation. It had been nearly 2 1/2 years since my husband and I had been on any kind of real vacation, and an opportunity came up where we were able to go to Paris! So off we went to the land of bread, cheese, wine, and pastries! Oooh…the pastries. If I had done nothing other than walk from patisserie to patisserie sampling the wares, I would have considered it a successful vacation. However, since my husband and the friends we were traveling with probably would not have had such views, we spent most of our time doing the typical tourist stuff, and fitting in pastry-sampling here and there.

I returned home inspired. Having sampled real Parisian macarons (don’t worry, I did it right. Pierre Herme and Laduree were on my list), I felt an intense need to try my hand at them once again.

For years now, I’ve been wanting to make pistachio macarons. I wanted a macaron with an intense pistachio filling and shell. Something that just screamed, “PISTACHIO!” So here was my attempt.

First up the shells: a quick Google search indicated to me that Pierre Herme favors the Italian meringue method for making his shells – a technique that I had shied away from due to the necessity of pouring a boiling sugar syrup from a pot into a whirling mixer. I saw huge sugar burns in my future. But if Pierre Herme thought that was the way to go, who was I to argue?

So off I went, grinding pistachios and almonds into a fine powder and mixing them with my powdered sugar. After whipping up my aged egg whites (Pierre recommends aging egg whites for at least 48 hours, according to the interweb.) and boiling up my sugar, I very carefully poured the sugar into the egg whites. And to my pleasant surprise, no spillage! No splashing! No third degree burns!

Mix, mix, mix, and then pipe, pipe, pipe. This is what I got:

Six pans of these! This was a monstrous recipe. Then into the oven:

For some reason, they were awfully brown. I’ve never really had issues with the shells browning before, but these went from that lovely pale green to a toast-y brown. Bummer. I blame my oven…it just means I’ll have to try again!

Moving onto the filling – I really really really wanted a strongly flavored, not too sweet or greasy, filling. I ended up making my own pistachio paste (grinding more pistachios, boiling more sugar syrup) and beating it with softened butter and powdered sugar. The look on my husband’s face when I asked him to taste it tells me it was a success.

Sorry – it’s such an appealing color, isn’t it? I ended up adding just a hint of green food coloring to help it out. Then pipe, pipe, pipe…voila!

It really bugged me that the shells browned so much – so I decided to do a little enhancement:

A few days prior to this I also made a batch of salted caramel macarons…mmm…

Sorry for the bad picture – this was literally the only one left from the batch.


Engagement cake

I looked at the calendar the other day and I realized it had been a few months since I last posted anything here. I sincerely apologize to anyone who checks in here regularly…I really do want to get to this more frequently, but it’s just so much work sometimes!

As usual, lack of posts does not mean lack of activity in the kitchen. One of the projects I was most excited about recently was an engagement cake I did for some friends of ours. I only have pictures of the final product because…well, honestly, I don’t know why. I remember taking a few process shots, but they seemed to have evaporated from the camera. I was particularly interested in the process of this cake because I was trying a different technique for icing the cake prior to covering it in fondant. Oh well.

Sorry for the quality of the pictures, too. These were taken on my phone. I know, I know. I’m so lazy. The inside of the cake was a devil’s food cake filled with chocolate ganache. The difference I mentioned earlier was covering the cake in a ganache (rather than buttercream) prior to putting the fondant on. The goal was to create a smoother surface, thus allowing crisper edges – which I think I mostly achieved.

Sorry, more bad photography. Please ignore all distracting background. The leaves are hand-cut fondant and attached with royal icing. It was a fun cake. =)


Cook for a Cause

I recently participated in an event my lovely friend, Anna, hosted, called Cook for a Cause. The idea is that 7 people prepare dishes featuring a secret ingredient, and 7 other people provide wine pairings. Each dish is judged on use of secret ingredient, taste, cohesiveness with other dishes, and originality. Money is donated to the winner’s choice of organization. Click here for more details about this (hopefully) monthly event.

It was a really great event – really fun with really yummy food. This month’s secret ingredient was apples, so I chose to make rustic apple tarts and an apple bread pudding. This was the first time I had ever made a bread pudding, which was probably not the best idea for a cooking competition, but I guess it worked out okay.

I started with the bread – a challah I picked up from Trader Joe’s. (If I were a different person, I might have tried to make my own bread, but yeast and I do not always get along.)

Next came the custard for the pudding…lots of eggs!

Add in heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and apple juice and you get this lovely concoction.

In addition to chunks of fresh apple, I cut up some dried apple to enhance the appley-ness.

And then dump most of the bread and the apples into the custard stuff.

After tossing to coat the bread, I poured it all into a baking dish to hang out for awhile.

After about an hour in the oven..

This picture really doesn’t do justice to the warm, creamy yumminess that resulted…it was a total shock to me, but this bread pudding won the Cook for a Cause! I was so surprised I didn’t have an organization ready to donate to…in the end I opted to donate to the Sudan House of Hope Hospital – a project my husband has been involved in.

I was really surprised how well this bread pudding was received – particularly because I was sorta making the whole thing up as I went along. I had about 4 different bread pudding recipes and was sorta piecing them together based on the results I thought I was trying to get and what I had on hand. This is the recipe I came up with…


Apple Bread Pudding

1 16-ounce loaf of challah bread, cut into ¾ inch squres (about 10 cups)

4 eggs, 1 egg yolk

¾  cup light brown sugar

4 teaspoons of vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 ½ cups heavy cream

1 cup apple juice

1 cup dried apple

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cubed (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1.     Adjust oven racks to middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees.

2.     Spread bread cubes in single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake, tossing occasionally, until just dry, about 15 minutes, switching trays from top to bottom racks halfway through. Cool bread cubes about 15 minutes; set aside 2 cups.

3.     Whisk eggs and yolk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in cream and juice. Add remaining 8 cups of bread cubes and fresh and dried apples. Toss mixture to coat bread and apples in custard. Transfer mixture to a 13 x 9-inch baking dish and let stand, occasionally pressing bread cubes into custard, until cubes are thoroughly saturated, about 30 minutes to an hour.

4.     Spread reserved bread cubes evenly over top of soaked bread mixture and gently press into custard. Using pastry brush, dab melted butter over top of unsoaked bread pieces. Place bread pudding on rimmed baking sheet and bake on middle rack until custard has just set – about 45 to 50 minutes. (Done when pressing on center of pudding with finger reveals no runny liquid). Transfer to wire rack and cool until pudding is set and just warm – about 45 minutes. Serve.


Did  you grow up eating Mallomars as a kid? I remember reading about them in books and hearing about them, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had an actual Mallomar. For those of you not familiar with them, you can view the official Nabisco cookie here. They are essentially a graham cracker base with a “kiss” of marshmallow on top, enrobed in chocolate. Sorta like a cold s’more. Pretty excellent stuff.

So we start the cookie base…officially, not a graham cracker base since I did not use any graham flour.

After those are baked and cooled, I piped a swirl of marshmallow on top…that’s right I made marshmallow. And it was awesome. Sorry, there are no pictures of that because I couldn’t manage boiling sugar syrup, beating egg whites and a camera all at the same time. I’m just not slick enough for that.

I was probably a bit generous with the marshmallow, which meant that some of the cookies didn’t get any. Sad. But the ones that did were pretty happy!

After the marshmallow is set, they take a dunk in some nice, warm chocolate…


And then add sprinkles for fun!


I was pretty happy with the way these turned out. The only thing I would do differently would be to pipe the marshmallow on a little differently…I would probably stay away from a swirl-type look to minimize an unfortunate resemblance to something less appetizing. But  their appearance didn’t stop anyone from eating these!



Vanilla Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream

This was a recipe I adapted a bit from something I saw on Dessert First. I made them for an event at church at the request of my husband…since he asked  for it, I decided to  make something that he might actually enjoy.

The cake part is actually a browned butter vanilla bean cake – fancy-schmancy, no? It doesn’t get much more gourmet sounding than that. So we start with vanilla beans…and scrape out the seeds.

Dump the seeds and the pod into a frying pan full o’ butter. It’s beautiful.

While the butter is browning, mix the dry ingredients.

Mix the browned butter/vanilla bean mixture, the dry stuff and some eggs in the mixer. Whee!

Batter gets portioned into cups…yadda yadda yadda…bake in the oven…yadda yadda yadda…while the cupcakes are baking, I got a little overly ambitious and decided to play with spun sugar.

Of course, I went against every single piece of advice in making caramel and did all of this on one of the most humid days of the year. Thus the large chunky caramel pieces I ended up using.

I made a lovely batch of caramel and mixed it in to a batch of  my trusty swiss-meringue buttercream…swirled it on the cupcakes, and voila!

I was totally enthralled with the way the frosting turned out, but wasn’t too thrilled with the cake. I could not discern the browned butter flavor, and the cake was a bit on the dense side for me, but an otherwise not too shabby cake!

Ginger Chiffon Cake with Lime Curd

This is a cake I’ve had my eye on for the past year or so…it’s based on a recipe from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-layer Cakes. I made a couple adjustments, because that’s how I roll, but I think it came out pretty well.

Grating fresh ginger for the cake

Separating the eggs…I love this part!

Beaten egg whites…nice and shiney!

Folding egg whites into the egg yolk/ginger mixture

Into the oven – three layers, but I can only bake 2 at a time


Filled with the lime curd…which everyone thought was lemon. Sigh.

And done! I had a bit of frosting left over, hence the random swirly stuff on top.

If I can get a hold of my husband’s phone, I’ll post pictures of the inside.

Summer 2010

So I’ve gotten a couple complaints from the three people who apparently are checking this blog that I haven’t  been updating. And guess what. They’re right. I really suck at updating. I probably really have no business having a blog if I can’t keep it up to date, but it’s just  so much easier to post pictures on Facebook. So for more consistent updates, check out my Facebook page – Denise Does Desserts!

But I guess that’s still no excuse…so here are some pictures of a few of the things I’ve worked on this summer…

This was a wedding cake I did for a wedding in San Jose…I was just casual acquaintances with the bride and groom, but it turned out I knew about a third of the guests at the wedding!

The bride actually asked me to do 2 cakes – a 2-tier red velvet cake and a single carrot cake. As I recall, the cakes were for the family and the rest of the guests were served another dessert.

The bride made the cake toppers – they were sooo cute!

The carrot cake

I believe the day I was making these cakes was actually National Donut day. I think I must have had too many cake scraps because I decided that while I was making a wedding cake, I had to make donuts, too!

That was really probably not the smartest choice I could’ve made that day. But those donuts were pretty darn good!

And then awhile later, I was trolling the food blogs and saw that Smitten Kitchen had made root beer cupcakes – something that I had been meaning to do for about a year…So I HAD to jump on that bandwagon…

And then there were the baby shower cakes and a wedding cake that I had to make for the same weekend…my apologies for the quality of the picture…my phone was all I could manage as far as documenting. I think each of those was a different flavor: red velvet with cream cheese, carrot cake with cream cheese, chocolate with mocha buttercream, and a vanilla cake with a mango curd…maybe…I actually don’t remember now.

So while I was making those 4 individual cakes, I was also working on a 3-tier wedding cake…this cake in fact:

That’s 3 tiers of a vanilla cake with a fresh strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting. But the best part was the cake topper…

Especially the Lego “bride”…

So that takes us up to the end of July…I did one more major cake, but I promise to do a full post on that one in the near future.

a blast from the past

I don’t know if it’s just me, or if this was the experience of every other Chinese-American kid growing up in the bay area, but layered finger jello was a staple at nearly every party I attended during the 80’s. It was always there, set on folding tables in between the aluminum trays of  chow mein and Chinatown fried chicken. And it was always the same flavors (or colors – depending on how you categorize jello): red, orange, yellow and green. My favorite way to eat it was peel apart the layers and eat them individually.

I woke up the other day with the hugest craving for rainbow finger jello (my other name for layered jello). It was just about the only thing I could think about, so how could I not make it? It took some digging around in my recipe files to find the recipe, as well as a trip to the store to make sure that I had the right colors of jello. I ended up doing only 3 layers of color since it started looking really thick, but I think the rainbow effect is still there.

So, what was your experience as a kid? Was I alone in the ubiquitous rainbow jello fad?