Tag Archives: dessert

Grandma Lois’ Kolaches

They say that the sense of smell is the one most closely linked to memory, and I know it’s true whenever I catch a whiff of yeast blooming, raising or baking. I’m instantly whisked away to Saturday mornings at my Grandma Lois’ house 30 years ago, sitting in her comforting oven-warmed kitchen and devouring my favorite treat, freshly baked kolaches.

Kolaches are a Czech pastry, but Grandma Lois wasn’t Czech; she was half-Swedish and half-Irish. But having grown up cooking for the farm crew on her family’s farm, she could cook or bake anything with ease. She was the perfect person to preserve and pass along my Great Grandma Vala’s secret kolache recipe from “the old country.” Continue reading

Blueberry Crumb Cake

crumb cake
Have I mentioned how much I love simple, no-fuss cakes like this? I’ve had my eye on this Ina Garten Blueberry Crumb Cake recipe for years, and I finally got around to baking it for some friends. It’s simple yet elegant, equally as appropriate as a breakfast treat or as a dessert for a little get-together.

I was really surprised by the amount of crumb topping that gets piled onto this cake – it’s a legitimate, Jersey/New York-style crumb cake! With this crunchy, sweet crown, there’s no need for any embellishments after it’s baked. Just slice and serve. So easy. Continue reading

Walnut-Cream Cheese Shortbread Cookies

walnut cookie

Mmm, cookies… I can’t get enough cookies lately. And I’m not going to call it a “pregnancy craving” because, truth be told, I always have and probably always will crave cookies. But now, at 36 weeks and 3 days pregnant, the combination of mild sleep deprivation, growing discomfort and anxious waiting (Is that a contraction!?) has rendered my willpower to resist any sweet completely non-existent. And happily, cookies and milk make everything in life seem a little more manageable; just a tad more enjoyable.

walnut cookies

But, so I don’t go too overboard, I made up one simple cookie rule: No eating cookies unless I bake them myself. It’s fair enough, really… If I can muster the energy to mix up a batch of my own cookies and scrub the dishes afterwards (plus take a few blog-worthy pics as I polish my photography skills for soon-to-come baby), then I deserve a treat.

These plain little beauties don’t look like much, but let me tell you, they’re completely and utterly irresistible. They’re not gooey or chocolaty or overly sweet… They’re tender and toasty – pure comfort. And their diminutive size means you can eat more than one (which feels super indulgent) without really overdoing it. Best of all, they’re one of the easiest cookies you’ll ever make. Really. Just a few ingredients combine to make some serious cookie magic. Take it from the pregnant lady. Continue reading

Soft Gingerbread Cookies


I’ve been trying not to go crazy with holiday sweets this year, since I’m pregnant and trying to eat healthy (oh, the pressures of eating for two!). But last week I decided to make cookies for Geoff’s work… And if I got to eat a few cookies here and there, I figured I couldn’t feel too guilty considering I did all the baking, right? Still, just to be safe, because I know the limits of my own self control, I decided to make the relatively harmless (I couldn’t bring myself to type the word “healthy” here), yet traditional and fun gingerbread cookies. Continue reading

Happy Doughnut Day: Old-Fashioned Doughnuts

Finally, a blog post about doughnuts! First of all, happy National Doughnut Day. You wouldn’t know it to look through my past blog entries (although the title of this blog gives it away), but doughnuts are my absolute favorite indulgence. And, as it happens, it has been quite a wonderful doughnut year for me.
Old-Fashioned Doughnuts

Along with a couple other very important roles I fill at my parents’ business, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, I am also the Chief Donut Maker (CDM?). Last September and October I woke up before dawn most mornings, trudged down to the farm and warmed up by the doughnut fryer, peeling off layers of clothing as the hot oil warmed up the barn where I worked. By 9am, when the pick-your-own farm opens up for eager families and children, I had delivered hot donuts to (ahhem) Kirsten’s Coffee House. Did I mention I also love coffee?

Apple Cider Doughnuts at Vala's Pumpkin Patch

Apple Cider Doughnuts at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch

So naturally, during the off-season, my job is to scout out, search out and try out the best doughnuts around, all in the name of research. It’s a dream job, even if it is tough on the waistline.

When I got the chance to travel to Seattle in February, I was thrilled to visit the famous Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts. Small doughnut shops are the best, but this one hit it big time when their popularity in coffee-obsessed Seattle grew and grew. Now they’re super successful and, amazingly, they make doughnuts for Starbucks stores everywhere.
At Top Pot Doughnuts

And their store did not disappoint – Top Pot Doughnuts is a doughnut lover’s paradise. I was overwhelmed, ate far too many doughnuts, drank a ton of excellent coffee and was completely happy the rest of the day.
Top Pot Doughnut Case

I use their coookbook, Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker as my doughnut-making bible. If you have a chance, check out this little essay about the making of the cookbook (how freelance writer Jess Thomson tested 50 doughnut recipes in 5 weeks!) – Tales from the Doughnut Queen.

Making Doughnuts

Make sure to sample a piece of doughnut after your first batch, to make sure it’s cooked just right.

Old-Fashioned Doughnuts

My favorite type of doughnut is the classic, simple old-fashioned cake doughnut. This one adapted from Top Pot, is made with sour cream, for extra flavor and moistness. It’s also fried at a lower temperature than most doughnuts, which causes the characteristic cracks and crevices. Give it a try for national doughnut day!

Old-Fashioned Doughnuts
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Family Recipe: Lemon Bars

lemon bars

Me: Which cookbook is the recipe in?
Grandpa: [hesitates. . . then very clearly] Yes, you may have the recipe.
Me: [confused] But what cookbook is it in?
Grandpa: [shakes his head and smiles] This always happens!

Yes you may have this recipe
Of all the cookbooks in Grandma Hazel’s old collection, this unfortunately titled one, “Yes, you may have the recipe,” is the most marked-up and well-use. This cute little cookbook was self-published by Chicago author Maria Baker in 1981, and Grandma had the third printing which came out in 1983. At that time my Grandma and Grandpa were living in the Chicago area, so Grandma must have bumped into it somewhere locally and started cooking from it regularly.
lemon bars
Lemon bars are a classic American sweet which became popular in the 1970’s. With a crumbly shortbread cookie crust and a tangy, rich lemon topping, they’re especially popular for Easter and Mother’s Day celebrations (although they’re so delicious and easy, you can bake them year-round). Some variations have you make a lemon topping that’s a custard or a curd, but I think Grandma Hazel’s version is the most pure and simple style of lemon bar – it doesn’t use cream or butter, just egg, sugar, flour, baking powder and lemon juice.

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Olive Oil Cake Recipe


When I got the September 2009 issue of Bon Appetit, I was so excited to see my favorite pastry recipe from Abroco in NYC featured in the RSVP (reader requested) section. They read my mind! There’s nothing better with a perfect cup of coffee than a slice of simple, sweet cake, Italian-style. It’s moist and citrus-spiked with a subtle hint of olive oil.


I don’t have a good excuse for why it took me 3+ years to bake this cake (that’s a long time to keep a magazine mentally bookmarked), but I was absolutely craving it this week. And as of March 1st, my husband and I have officially moved to Massachusetts, and I’ve been sad thinking that Abroco is no longer just a subway ride away. I know I hate NYC subways and traffic and crowds and noise, but I really, really miss the food. This Olive Oil Cake is like a comforting taste of Manhattan, conjuring memories of coffee breaks with my sweetie pie (that’s my husband). Mmm. . . Now we just need an espresso machine.

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