peanut butter banana chocolate chip muffins

Not many things go together better than peanut butter, bananas, and chocolate. These muffins are the perfect combination of all three, and I love how easy they are to whip up. Because of the (mostly) healthy ingredients, they make for a tasty breakfast, sliced and served with an extra smear of peanut butter and sliced bananas. Or if you'd rather make them a bit more naughty, throw in some extra chocolate and peanut butter chips for good measure ;) I chose to bake these in a pretty rose-shaped muffin tin, but a regular muffin pan will work just fine. Whichever route you take, these muffins are sure to hit the spot. I hope you enjoy!

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a standard 12-cup muffin tin (or rose-shaped one!) with nonstick spray, and line with cupcake liners if desired. In a medium bowl, sift together both flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together bananas, brown sugar, honey, egg, peanut butter, greek yogurt, and vanilla extract. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined. Then fold in chocolate and peanut butter chips, if desired. Divide batter evenly between prepared cups, adding about 1/4 cup to each. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 20-24 minutes. Cool in pans 5 minutes, then move muffins to wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

*For a vegan version, sub coconut yogurt or applesauce for greek yogurt, and flax "egg" for egg.


cheesecake brownies

My husband loves chocolate and cheesecake, so when I'm baking something for him, those flavors always come to mind. A decadent combination of the two would pretty much be the ideal combo to him, so cheesecake brownies seemed like an easy, but perfect solution! Rich and fudgy brownies are already great on their own, and I like 'em the fudgier the better! But now add a layer of cheesecake to the mix, and you've got yourself one seriously tasty treat. If you want, you can lightly swirl in the cheesecake batter to the brownie batter, creating a cool marbled effect on your brownies! I got a little carried away in mixing, so no picture-perfect marbling, but I promise they tasted great anyway! PS- I like using flatter, wider chocolate feves or discs instead of regular chips, and Valrhona makes great ones!

Cheesecake Brownies:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 3/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, well softened
  • 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter an 8-inch square baking pan. For the brownie batter, melt butter and 1/2 cup chocolate chips in a double boiler over simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Whisk in flour, cocoa powder, and salt until just combined and spread batter evenly into baking pan.

For the cheesecake batter, whisk together cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop large spoonfuls over brownie batter, then swirl in with a butter knife to create a marbled effect. Alternatively, you may mix the two together more evenly.

Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips over the batter. Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes, then allow to cool. These are equally as delicious warm out of the oven as they are at room temperature or chilled, although the brownies will be much easier to cut if chilled. Makes nine 3" square, thick brownies.

*Adapted from cheesecake-marbled brownies by Smitten Kitchen.


wedding cake

Everyone knows my love for baking and all things sweets-related, so when I got asked to make one of my best friend's wedding cakes, I jumped at the opportunity. What an honor, and so exciting to be a part of their big day! Don't get me wrong, though- this was a huge undertaking, and I had not baked on this scale before, so practice rounds were definitely required! I researched quite a bit, and was not surprised to find that Deb of Smitten Kitchen had published several posts with steps detailing her own "Project Wedding Cake". These became my wedding cake bible, through her trial and error, and attention to detail, I was able to gain the confidence I needed to tackle my own project wedding cake! 

I did a tasting for the bride and groom so that they could decide on flavors, and we ended up going for a classic vanilla buttermilk cake, with raspberry compote and salted coconut caramel fillings (one for each tier), all finished with luxurious Swiss meringue buttercream! The decorations were to be simplistic, with a rustically finished frosting along with florals and greenery from the farm where the wedding was taking place. This calmed my nerves a bit, as I am not one for the tiny, meticulous, perfectly designed cakes. Luckily the rustic look fit in perfectly with the entire vibe of the wedding. I've linked to Deb's posts below, since I only made minor changes to her stellar recipes, and included my own for the fillings as well. One word of advice I can give is to prep and get certain things done ahead of time if possible! My husband's catering company Beck & Call was doing the food for the entire wedding weekend, so I knew he would have his hands full and couldn't expect much help. Not to mention I was a bridesmaid in the wedding as well, so had plenty of other "duties" and fun things to tend to. My planning and organizing skills really came in handy here, and I can safely say after successfully finishing my cake that I had a blast doing it, and look forward to making another!

Vanilla Buttermilk Cakes:

My layer cake recipe comes from the super-talented Deb of Smitten Kitchen. This one in particular is for a classic birthday cake, but she also makes a wedding cake as well. They both use the same ingredients, just in different ratios, and I ended up using the birthday cake recipe because it yielded a bit more, and was easier to convert into different sizes for multiple tiers. The recipe makes three 6" round layers for the top tier of wedding cake, so for the bottom tier, scale recipe up (multiply everything by 1.5) to get three 9" round layers. I weighed about 560g per pan for 6" layers, and about 750g per pan for 9" layers, so ended up with some leftover batter for a couple mini loaf cakes! Feel free to make the layers as thick as you want. Once the cakes are fully cooled, I suggest wrapping and freezing each layer before assembling and frosting, as they are much easier to handle this way. That way you can make the cake layers a couple days early to get this step out of the way! You can also level each cake (remove the dome shape at the top so as to create flat surfaces for stacking) either when they are fully cooled before freezing, or once they're frozen and you're ready to frost. Other than that, go check out Deb's recipe for fool-proof vanilla layer cake here

Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

I wanted to use Swiss meringue buttercream as the frosting for my cake for multiple reasons. First, it's not sickeningly sweet like the frostings most of us are accustomed to. It also holds up extremely well in warm temperatures, and since this wedding was taking place outside in New York in August, that was definitely something to consider. And finally, it is super smooth, making it perfect for piping, and doesn't end up crusting like many other frostings do. It's all about the butter here, so use a high quality one if you can! And, surprise- this recipe also comes from Smitten Kitchen. Even Deb seemed to have some worries about the supposedly tricky Swiss meringue buttercream coming together, but rest assured that it will! It just takes a bit of time, and at some point may look too runny or curdled, but not to worry. Continue mixing for about 15 minutes, and it all work out nicely. You can make this a couple days ahead if need-be, just store in the fridge in an airtight container. Before you're ready to frost, let it come to room temperature, and then re-whip buttercream in the mixer until it's smooth and glossy. Get Deb's recipe for Swiss meringue buttercream here

Raspberry Compote Filling:

At the tasting, the bride and groom sampled both a fruit and caramel-type filling, and ended up loving both! Since the cake was to have two tiers, we decided to do the raspberry compote in the layers of one, and the salted coconut caramel in the other. I suggest piping a circle of buttercream around the outer edge of each layer before adding filling, so that it doesn't spill over the sides! Fillings are another key component that can be made ahead of time, thus saving you time for assembling on wedding day!

  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • fresh raspberries, for serving

To prepare raspberry compote, cook raspberries, sugar, cornstarch, and water in a small saucepan until the berries start to break down, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer until the compote is thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the fridge (this can be made a week ahead of time). Makes 1 cup.

Salted Coconut Caramel Filling:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • toasted coconut, for serving

Heat sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn. Once sugar is completely melted, add the butter tablespoon by tablespoon. Be careful are the mixture will start to bubble. Stir the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted, using a whisk if necessary. Slowly pour in coconut milk while stirring, taking care as the mixture bubbles and may splatter. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils. Remove from heat and stir in salt. Allow to cool down before using. You may make this in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week. Makes 1 cup.

Assembly:

Here comes the fun (and slightly terrifying) part! Once all the cake layers are baked, fillings are made, and buttercream is whipped to glossy perfection, it's time to assemble your wedding cake! The assembly and decoration stage is where all your fun cake accessories come in handy! Cake boards, piping bags, decorating tips, offset spatulas (in multiple sizes), a pastry comb, a rotating cake stand, and a cake carrier are all important tools that played a big part in my cake's success. I definitely suggest looking into these as they make the entire process easier, especially for an amateur baker like myself. I like to use a bit of buttercream underneath the base layers to "glue" them to the cake boards. This will make things more stable and keep them from sliding around! While stacking the layers, giving them a spritz of simple syrup will ensure the cake stays moist until serving time. After filling your layers (remember the ring of frosting around the edges to keep the filling from spilling over!), I strongly suggest adding a "crumb layer" of frosting to each tier. This thin layer doesn't need to be perfect by any means, but it will keep those inevitable crumbs where they belong- on the inside layers and not at all visible on your pretty, final product! Just allow the crumb layered tiers to set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before attempting to frost with a full, thicker layer of buttercream. At this point, the pastry comb came in handy, and its several design options truly helped me look like a pro! A few flowers and greenery from the farm, et voila! Be patient, take it one step at a time, and always remember- buttercream can cover a multitude of sins! 

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butterscotch pots de crème with salted caramel tahini sauce & toasted kasha

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I first met Athena Calderone of Eye Swoon through my husband at The Heyward, a local Brooklyn restaurant where he was executive chef. Athena's passion for food and all things beautiful was clear from our first conversation, and I quickly became an avid fan and follower. Both Derek and I got the opportunity to be featured on her site- Derek as part of "The Chefs" series, and me as one of "The Tastemakers". Athena came over and we baked a chocolate and toasted coconut cake with salted caramel (that I highly recommend you try!), and it soon became clear that we had a lot in common, from food to fashion! Athena and I have gotten close over the last couple of years, and often see each other out & about at various fun events

I was so excited, and not all that surprised, when I heard that Athena was writing a cookbook. Her background in design gives her an eye to be able to create beautiful, artistic dishes, so I just knew the book would be absolutely swoon-worthy. Cook Beautiful is just that- Athena's offering of 100 seasonal recipes that are both gorgeous and delicious! After browsing through the entire book and drooling over practically every photo, I decided the first recipe I wanted to try would be a dessert (duh!). The butterscotch pots de crème with salted caramel tahini sauce & toasted kasha really spoke to me, as I've been having a love affair with tahini for as long as I can remember. Seriously though, whether it's sweet or savory- it can be stuffed into Medjool dates with dark chocolate, or mixed with lemon juice and herbs for a dressing, I'm obsessed.

Naturally then, I had high hopes for these babies, and they did not disappoint. The rich and smooth butterscotch crèmes were complemented perfectly by the slightly savory tahini caramel, as well as the crunchy toasted kasha & sesame seeds. Bonus points that they look super fancy, but are actually quite easy to make- these would be a great dessert to impress guests at your next dinner party. Get your copy of Cook Beautiful today, and start creating beautiful, swoon-worthy food pronto! 


plum & almond tart

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There are so many things I love about summer. The sunshine, beach getaways, and carefree attitudes are all great, but one of my favorite things about late summer in particular is stone fruit. Plums, peaches, apricots, and more are all at their peak ripeness at this time, and you can find them all over the farmers market here in NYC. While they taste super sweet and juicy all on their own, stone fruits can lend themselves to a seriously delicious dessert as well. I love halving them (to show off their beautiful colors) and baking them up in a tasty, yet simple tart. I've used some nice hearty plums here, but feel free to substitute whichever stone fruit you please!   

Plum & Almond Tart:

Filling:

  • 10 plums, halved and pitted
  • 3 tbsp Cointreau
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (or almond extract)
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • whipped cream or ice cream, for serving

Pastry:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled & cubed
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • iced water, if necessary
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Marinate the plums in the Cointreau with 2 tbsp sugar for at least two hours, preferably overnight. For the pastry, mix the butter into the flour in a mixing bowl with your hands (or use a food processor) until it's a course, crumbly mixture. Add the egg yolk, sugar, and salt, and mix until the dough comes together into a ball. Add a bit of iced water if the dough seems to dry and crumbly. Wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill for at least one hour. You can make this ahead of time, or if you're in a hurry, use a store-bought pastry dough.

Coarsely grate the pastry into a 9-inch tart shell, and spread it out with your fingers. This method gives the pastry a rustic, flaky texture. Chill the prepared tart shell for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F, and prick the tart's base with a fork. Cover with parchment paper, weigh it down with dried beans, and par-bake for 15 minutes.

Whisk butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and any juices from the plums until mixture is well combined. Stir in almond meal and flour, careful not to over-mix. Pour this into tart shell and push plums in, cut-side up. Reduce temperature to 300 F, and bake for about 1 hour. Cover with foil if edges start to brown too quickly. Allow to cool, then serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. 

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vanilla cupcakes

Everyone needs a good 'ol vanilla cupcake recipe, and this one is a tried and true favorite. It's the perfect blank canvas, making it super easy to customize based on what you're in the mood for! Whether it's with fillings (strawberry compote and salted caramel are both great), or toppings (I love nuts, chocolate, or sprinkles), the options are endless! Swiss meringue buttercream is the best frosting option, in my humble opinion. It's super pretty and glossy, less sickeningly sweet than traditional American buttercream, and holds up well at room temperature and even outdoors! You can also add flavor to the frosting if you want to mix things up, but the vanilla is a great classic that goes with many flavors. Whatever you end up with, you'll almost always be guaranteed a delicious treat! Now get to baking!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

Cupcakes:

  • 2 cups cake flour 
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed & softened
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake pan with liners, and spray them with nonstick spray. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In the base of a stand mixer fit with whisk attachment, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs, beating well and scraping down the bowl to ensure they are fully incorporated. Reduce the speed to low, then mix in buttermilk until just combined. Don't be alarmed if the mixture looks curdled at this point. 

Add flour mixture until just incorporated, careful not to over-mix. Pour batter evenly among cupcake liners, and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan, then completely on a cooling rack. Makes about a dozen cupcakes

While cupcakes are baking, make the buttercream. Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a bowl over a double boiler until sugar is fully dissolved. Transfer mixture into the stand mixer (make sure it's clean & dry!) fit with paddle attachment and whip until it turns white glossy. Add the vanilla, then the butter and continue to whip until buttercream comes together. This may take a good 10-15 minutes, so don't worry if things look curdled or soupy at the start!

Once cupcakes have cooled, you may add filling if desired. Scoop out a small bit of cake from the top (using a knife or melon-baller), add the filling, and replace the cake on top. Pipe buttercream onto cupcakes using a pastry bag fit with an icing tip, and finish with toppings if you choose! Enjoy!

*Adapted from Best Birthday Cake by Smitten Kitchen.