The simplicity of these no-bake treats makes them an easy, sweet indulgence for a weekend away from a full kitchen arsenal. The simplicity also makes them a healthy option for those times when the ol' sweet tooth is calling. They're a near instant gratification without the guilt, and they're not a far cry from those raw cookie dough bites stolen when Mom wasn't looking.
Harmony- it's something I have been think about a lot lately. I wish I were preoccupied with harmony musically, but rather, I think about harmony in the sense of differences working together to create something richer, something stronger. I believe there is a sweet spot, a harmonious juncture where nature and modernity could coexist, like the harmony of a sweet and salty sprinkling on a dessert, this dessert- a Vegan Chocolate Tart with Salted Oat Crust.
I hung my head in disgust and shame despite the fresh baked smell of chocolate and peppermint. Every attempt to salvage the ugliness before me had failed. The expensive, pink artisanal marshmallows looked like melted mozzarella- good on a pizza, bad on a brownie, and the chocolate drizzle was more like a chocolate drench, muddying the already mystifying marshmallows.
The last feeble attempt- all natural sprinkles, as green as the many dollars needed to buy them, merely sank into the chocolate puddles. So alas, I left the warm brownies on the table, wrapped a bottle of wine and off we went to the Christmas Eve festivities. Failure has a way of kicking its boots around the kitchen every now and then.
This cake, however, was the redemption- a recipe seemingly designed to fail! How many times have I returned to the cooling rack in despair to see a sunken cake intended for layered glory. This chocolate cake recipe replies, “well, if there’s a chance it’s going to fall, why not just let it fall in the first place?” In general, this attitude might be a tad defeatist, but if you need an upswing, this might be the glass-half-full cake.
So nestle into those p.j.’s, ignore the cake on the cooling rack, and let those rich, chocolate layers just sink into crackly goodness. This was my sweet, chocolate redemption that turned Christmas Eve failure into Christmas Day success. The many happy mouths, with chocolate and jam still sticking to their lips, said this was my best cake to date!
Go out and fail!
Flourless Fallen Chocolate Peppermint Cake with Whipped Neufchâtel Topping
Adapted from Bon Appetit
About this Recipe: Cake can be made 1 day ahead. Cover in pan and store airtight at room temperature. The original recipe calls for a 9-inch springform pan. To make the layered version, I used a 6 and 7-inch pan. The 6-inch cake will require less baking time (~25-30 minutes), so keep an eye on it as it bakes.
The truck inched around the tight bend of the parking garage. It seemed to have swallowed several other trucks in the process, making each maneuver hinge on the impossible. Valets attempted to corral drivers who wouldn’t be able to handle parking lots on a slow day.
Once inside the grocery store, darting from one aisle to the other felt like a video game with constant obstacles- a rogue cart, an unaware shopper, an oblivious person fixated on a recipe printout while the employees did their best to maintain.
‘Tis the season!
Yet within that chaos, a man in a Santa hat played “Away in A Manger” on his violin. He wasn’t a member of the city’s symphony or a student from the local university’s esteemed music program. It was simple and heartfelt. The song could be heard throughout the jams of people, carts and kids grabbing at everything while their parents did their best to survive. A few shoppers took the time to sit in the cafe and really listen, tucking tips into the simple plastic cup on the table.
Up a level on the parking garage and on to the wine store, where human bodies nearly outnumbered the inventory. A dreaded sound emerged- that of falling, clanking glass. The cashier froze in anticipation of an even worse sound- shattering glass, but miraculously, the bottles survived fully intact. Her fellow coworkers burst into a round of applause, shouting, “It’s a Christmas Miracle!” Customers joined in the celebratory cheers.
All this is to say, maybe the Christmas spirit really does exist? In any case, here’s to finding the joys among the stresses, and may that sentiment continue into the New Year.
Merry Christmas Eve!
Whole Grain Apple Cider Layer Cake (Gluten Free)
adapted from Brooklyn Homemaker
Servings: 12 to 20
About this Recipe: Classic holiday spices combine and a hint of whiskey combine in a moist apple cake with a dark chocolate frosting. It’s gluten free to please a holiday crowd. This cake was part of my “Wrap Party” story, so I went really festive on the garnishes, but the cake stands on its own if you’re not feeling so ornate.
If only it were possible to have conversations with myself, both past and future, without the burden of mental illness. When people utter the word “cool” in a sentence with my name (not a brag, more of a statement of disbelief), I wish I could bring young Quelcy into the fold, with her cumbersome backpack and pre-algebra stresses and general obsessive bookishness. “Hey you, LOOK! Someday, somehow, this will all pay off.” Similarly, I’d summon that Quelcy who worked a job she grew to abhor.
That Quelcy found a solace and creative outlet in baking, in trying new recipes and techniques, all while tinkering with a new camera. That Quelcy would walk into my dining room, judging the updates with her eyes (as always), and say, “Oh, you’ve paired down the collections a bit. Good for us, but why aren’t you hosting a brunch today?”
Current me would justify past Quelcy’s poignant observation. I’ve managed to steer myself to this magical overlap, where people pay me to play with food and flowers and gatherings, but somewhere in that process of leaving the job I hated, and fuzzing the line between work and play, I forgot to slate days to bake just for me or to host friends in my home just for fun. In short, I forgot that weekends even existed.
I was due for a reminder, so I treated myself to one of those expensive recipe compilation magazines, those textured pages just dripping with sweetness set against dark fabrics, etched slate and cold, crisp marble. Then I sank into my couch, nestled under the warmest of plaid blankets and made a weekend plan. In the simplest of approaches, I began with the first page, which just happened to boast many of my favorite flavors paired together: chocolate, pecan, bourbon and pie crust.
As winter finally made herself known, and the darkness set in oh so early, I sequestered myself, by my own freewill, in my kitchen, where I embraced the full process of baking and playing with food… simply because that’s what I really love to do, and I needed the reminder.
Even if you don’t play with food and flowers and gatherings for a living, the holiday season can taint baking and cooking with a hint of stress. Dinners and holiday parties put schedules and deadlines on creative outlets, and in the process, they can suck some of the joy from kitchen escapes.
Maybe there’s a future iteration of me, who could join current me and past me in the dining room, and hopefully tell us both that she figures it out, she finds more ways to balance paying bills with feeding our souls (after all, she will be the older, wiser one). In the meantime, I’m letting my inner crazy attempt to steer me toward more balance and simpler baking joys, and I hope you find the same outlets during the crazy of the holidays.
Here’s to [some semblance of] sanity!
Whole Grain Chocolate Pecan Tart with Bourbon Whipped Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Bon Appétit
About this Recipe: By reducing the sugar in the crust, using raw cane sugar, maple instead of processed sugar and corn syrup, and an extra dark chocolate, my adapted version allows you to enjoy the winning trifecta that is pecan, chocolate and bourbon without that “I feel my teeth rotting” sensation. In my zeal, I accidentally skipped adding chopped pecans to the filling, but I left that part in the instructions, so do as Bon Appétit says and not as I do. I was also a little over zealous with the chocolate (as per my usual). The Bourbon Crème Fraîche has a thick and fluffy texture, almost like a non-melting ice cream- win win!
The weeping willow has shed so many of her tears, blanketing all but a tiny, undulating trail of sidewalk for my pup and me. Our routine walk has taken us past all her emotions- from full and boastful to drooping sorrow. Half cloaked and half unveiled, her in-between state reflects the season- not quite fall, not quite winter, all over gray with a tinge of the somber.
If only the willow knew of sunny pumpkins and gourds, with their brilliant orange colors and comforting flavors. Or maybe she does, and the descent of her leaves is more like a sweeping embrace than an ugly cry.
Like the scantily clad willow tree, these bars mark the transition of Thanksgiving to winter holiday baking. Pumpkin bar meets a gingerbread crust with a snowfall of pumpkin streusel and a garland of molasses. Though the willow may be submitting to the coming of the cold season, the fiery red trees seem to defy it, so channel them if you need a little warmth in these gray months. Or bake these, and serve with hot tea.
Whole Grain Pumpkin Bars with Gingerbread Crust & Pumpkin Streusel
Yield: 9×13 pan/about 24 bars
About this Recipe: Pumpkin + Spice on a gingery crust. The molasses drizzle made eaters think the streusel had raisins, so if you’re not a raisin fan, skip the drizzle. I used turmeric in the filling for color and nutrients.
I made this cake for two sweethearts, their love and youth as effortlessly balanced as her hand in his. Her champagne colored dress, a rare standout in the sea of white, sparkled and shined in contrast to his stately navy. They circled and swayed as the record player spun with just the right crackles and scratches. “Hold me close and hold me fast, the magic spell you cast. This is la vie en rose.”
The piano keys flickered with the candlelight, the brassy trumpet and raspy voice slowed time, and I felt purely at ease, for a moment, the high we makers chase was firmly in my grasp. Romance has that effect on me.
Inspired by young love, by their song, this is the Cake en Rose, or Le Gâteau en Rose, if you will.
“When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose.”
To all you hopeless romantics out there!
p.s: Eventually, you’ll be able to see all the wedding details I created for Les and Brittni on my portfolio site, so stay tuned.
Rose Water Chocolate Chunk Layer Cake with Rose Water Frosting & Rose Macarons
About this Recipe: Because I wanted a smaller layer cake, I baked a 9×13 pan and used a 5” biscuit cutter to create the round layers. Alternately, you could use 3 6×2-inch round springform pans. Split them in halves horizontally if you want even more layers. The cake layers are separated by thin spreads of red currant jam. Overall, the cake is light, floral, and fruity with bites of dark chocolate and a hint of fall flavors. (more…)