Chocolate, Cheesecake, and Hanson: Tulsa Has It All

“You’re going where? For what?”

That’s the reaction that almost everyone had when I said I was going to Tulsa in May for Hanson Day. Because we’re in California, and vacationing in Oklahoma (which has tornadoes), when you’re already in a beautiful place (that doesn’t have tornadoes) seems silly. And Hanson? Are those guys still around?

Yes. Yes, they are.

First stop: 3CG, Hanson's independent music studio in the middle of Main Street.

First stop: 3CG, Hanson’s independent music studio in the middle of Main Street.

This was my first Hanson Day (an annual event held by Hanson in their home town) and my first time in Oklahoma. Other than imagining scenes from “The Grapes of Wrath” I didn’t know what to expect from Tulsa, and maybe that’s why I was so pleasantly surprised.

Tulsa is cute. It has some fun little neighborhoods, like the Blue Dome District. They were having a festival the same weekend as Hanson Day and so after the bowling tournament (because of course there’s a Hanson bowling tournament) a few of us walked around to explore.

The most delicious thing at the bowling alley? Zac Hanson. Obviously.

The most delicious thing at the bowling alley? Zac Hanson. Obviously.

We stopped into Dwelling Spaces, a shop/cafe that had the brilliant idea to make Hanson lattes and hot chocolates. It was warm and humid outside, but of course we all had to get one.

And that's how you make a Hanson hot chocolate.

And that’s how you make a Hanson hot chocolate.

In another part of town the store Ida Red was also in on the Hanson party and figured that the best way to sell candy bars would be to put pictures of the Hanson men on them.

ida-red-zac-hanson-candy

It’s just a shame they used a picture of Zac from the photo shoot where he looks like Ally Sheedy. Don’t believe me? Here:

Don't you forget about Ally Sheedy.

Don’t you forget about Ally Sheedy.

Closer to Hanson territory are a few restaurants in the Brady Arts District. They had two fan club dinners there for us and excellent signage for both. Caz’s Chowhouse was a favorite and I went back there for lunch with a couple of friends. Everything was tasty, their ice cream floats really hit the spot on a hot day, and the little cheesecakes weren’t bad (although they weren’t the quality of Junior’s in New York, but that’s hard to top).

I'm a big fan of signage, and these table toppers were a lovely touch.

I’m a big fan of signage, and these table toppers were a lovely touch.

Right next to 3CG is a wood-paneled cozy place called the Tavern. A few of us shared the Bacon Popcorn appetizer at the recommendation of Zac Hanson, and it was good. Difficult to eat, but tasty. The Angry Mac & Cheese got good reviews from our group, and if you don’t like spicy then you can ask for it to just be Grumpy or Mildly Annoyed.

tulsa-tavern-bacon-popcorn

Just don’t bring any vegetarians with you.

In exploring slightly further away I was shocked – SHOCKED – to find the Philbrook Museum. It’s like someone scooped up a little piece of Italy and dropped it in Tulsa. The grounds are beautiful, the art collection is diverse, and it looked like they did a really nice Sunday brunch, although I was saving my appetite for the Hop Jam that afternoon.

This is Tulsa? Who knew!?

This is Tulsa? Who knew!?

What’s the Hop Jam? Oh, just a little beer and music festival that Hanson started in 2014. It’s free to the public (although you need to buy tickets to sample the beer – $2 each) and several bands played over the course of the afternoon, with Hanson as the headliner for a crowd of about 30,000 people.

There were also lots of food trucks offering Chinese Nachos and lots of other delicious things, including grilled cheese made with donuts.

I did not eat this, but I wanted you to know that it exists.

I did not eat this, but I wanted you to know that it exists.

I stuck with a pulled pork sandwich. Seemed less diabetes-inducing.

And if you hadn’t heard, the reason Hanson started a beer festival is because they also started a beer company. You can get your MMMHops right here.

Next I want them to make a soda called MMMPop.

Next I want them to make a soda called MMMPop.

Other delicious things at the Hop Fest included Isaac Hanson and his special Hop Jam guitar. This man is aging incredibly well.

Old Man Hanson is a refreshing site on a hot and muggy Tulsa day.

Old Man Hanson is a refreshing site on a hot and muggy Tulsa day.

And despite the gross hot weather, I had to peek into Glacier Confections, just around the corner from 3CG. They do beautiful truffles in some unique flavor combinations. (The Elvis is peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Not my favorite, but something you should try at least once.) They even had a Hop Jam truffle, which I’m sorry to say I didn’t try because the one thing I learned at the Hop Jam is that I really don’t like beer. I really tried to, but it’s just not happening.

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

The caramel truffles were fantastic though, as long as you ate them while inside the store, before they could turn into puddles outside. You can also order from them online.

And speaking of turning into puddles, even a hungover Taylor Hanson seemed to have that effect on some people. Seriously, whose hair looks that good all the time?

Out drinking until 1a.m. and then ready for work by 9a.m. That's called being a professional.

Out drinking until 1a.m. and then ready for work by 9a.m. That’s called being a professional.

My verdict on Tulsa is that it’s a fun place to spend a few days, and I didn’t even see everything I wanted to. Next year I need to go to the Guthrie Center and the Riverwalk, and maybe try that donut grilled cheese thing. Just for blogging purposes, of course.

And here’s one last photo of Zac from the Hop Jam, just because.

Delicious.

Rock on, your Royal Zacness. Rock on.

Where’s the love?
Lisa

Categories: Cheesecake, Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Best Chocolate and Desserts in Vienna

Get yourself to Vienna. It’s beautiful and full of art and music and culture, but more importantly it’s overrun with really, really good chocolate and desserts.

Vienna is beautiful, and full of statues.

Vienna is beautiful, and full of statues.

I arrived there on a cold, rainy morning with friends and insisted that our first stop be breakfast at Cafe Mozart. I felt a little under dressed and soggy walking into this lovely cafe, but the staff must be used to dealing with tourists and they provided us with friendly service even though we looked ragged.

My friends went for full meals and said the eggs, croissants and bacon were delicious, but I had my eye on just one thing: the hot chocolate. It was served with the melted chocolate and hot milk in different vessels so I could mix it myself, which I always take as a sign of quality.

I still remember the first time I ever had a hot chocolate served this way, somewhere on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris. I was in my early 20s and my experience with hot chocolate up until then revolved around packets of powder, sometimes with dry, shriveled marshmallows. The idea that I could drink actual melted chocolate, with as much or as little milk as I wanted, blew my mind. It changed the way I looked at hot chocolate and probably drove me even more quickly into my chocolate obsession.

vienna-cafe-mozart

After dining at Cafe Mozart I might start insisting that all my beverages come in silver and gold serving pots.

The hot chocolate at Cafe Mozart did not disappoint. It was rich and creamy and even in my dripping clothes I felt classy sipping it from the gold-handled china cup. I wish I’d made it back here for another cup, but there was just too much more to see and eat.

For an afternoon treat we made the pilgrimage to Demel. This place is historic and completely worth all the hype. You might have to wait a while for a table, but it’s worth it. Use that time to go inside and look over all the cakes so you’re ready for the strange and confusing ordering process.

Once we had a table we were told to go in and tell the woman at the counter what we wanted. It took a while to get help, but once we pointed out the cakes we wanted (three slices for two people isn’t too crazy, is it?) the woman then gave us a ticket to take back to the table. Then the server came and filled the order. I assume they do it this way because the cakes they have change often (or sell out) and this is the only way customers can pick from what’s available right then.

vienna-demel-cakes

Oh, passionfruit cake (on the right). I love you and want to learn to make you so I can have you all to myself.

The chocolate and caramel cakes were really good, but the passionfruit cake was so fresh and flavorful and sweet I never wanted to leave. I’m sure people have moved to Vienna just to be able to eat here. Well, maybe.

vienna-demel

The hot chocolate here was also good, although not as rich as the cup I had at Cafe Mozart. And really, the cakes were all so sweet that the hot chocolate was overkill, but I just couldn’t leave without trying it.

When you’re done eating, wander to the back of Demel to have a look inside their kitchen. There’s a glass wall so you can watch them make and decorate all the treats.

You can watch the magic happen at Demel.

You can watch the magic happen at Demel.

There’s also a shop up front where you can buy chocolates to take home. I couldn’t resist the vintage packaging and bought several chocolate bars, most of which made it home without being eaten.

See? I didn't eat *all* of it on the flight home.

See? I didn’t eat *all* of it on the flight home.

Finally, after a night at the Vienna Mozart Orchestra (very cool) my friends and I went for what we thought would be the best of the best desserts in Vienna: The Sacher-Torte at the Hotel Sacher. This cake has been around since 1832 and the unofficial versions I’ve had before were moist, a little fruity from the apricot jam, and very chocolatey. What came to our table though was dry, dull, and very disappointing. Between three of us we didn’t even finish one slice. I was a little bit crushed to find that something I’d heard so much about and built up in my mind to be spectacular was really very ordinary.

 

vienna-hotel-sacher

Why, Sacher-Torte? Why did you have to make my heart crumble just like your dry, blah insides?

Maybe we caught them on a bad night. Maybe someone left the cake uncovered for too long. Maybe they know they’ll sell a ton of the stuff just on reputation so they’re slacking off on quality. I don’t know what the reason was, I just know you shouldn’t bother to go there. You can make a better Sacher-Torte at home, or just go back to Demel to try more of their fantastic goods.

One more cafe I would recommend is the bistro inside the upper part of Belvedere Palace. I don’t usually bother with museum cafes, but it was a rainy day and we needed to get off our feet for a while between the Klimt and the Schiele so we stopped in here for a drink and snack. It’s a really cute little room and the cakes were delicious. It’s a perfect place to stop and write some postcards, or just pretend that you’ve traveled back in time to take tea with royalty.

The Belvedere palace and museum is beautiful outside and in.

The Belvedere palace and museum is beautiful outside and in.

And other than that, eat what looks and smells good. We had delicious sausages and currywurst from a kiosk downtown. There were a lot of local businessmen in line there so we figured it had to be good. And get yourself at least one big schnitzel.

Happy, tasty travels!
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Best Chocolate in Prague

If you’ve come to this post because you’re planning a trip to Prague, then first of all let me say “Congratulations”.

Prague is gorgeous and friendly and you’re going to love it. And if you have a sweet tooth then you’ll love it even more.

All of Prague looks like it's posing for you, ready for its close-up, including the swans.

All of Prague looks like it’s posing for you, ready for its close-up, including the swans.

Before heading to Prague I did my research on where to get the best hot chocolate and other desserts. They have a Chocolate Museum, which seems to be a common thing in Europe, but it’s mostly a chocolate store selling touristy chocolate, like bars in the shape of Prague Castle.

For the quality stuff you only have to look a little harder because Prague is a city that loves its sweets.

prague-castle-cart

Seeing Prague Castle is a must (very historical, great views from the top). And lucky for us, inside the walls of the castle in a little courtyard there’s a little stand that sells hot and cold chocolate drinks. It’s not a shop, just a little cart called Kralovska Cokolada. It makes a deliciously thick and creamy hot chocolate and was my biggest, happiest surprise in Prague. The cart is very low key, so keep an eye out for it.

prague-castle-chocolate

prague-cokolada

In the old town area there are two really good chocolate places. Cacao (V Celnici 1031/4) is a little more upscale, although not expensive, and they do drinks plus huge ice cream sundaes that are perfect on a warm day.

prague-cacao

I got a little experimental and tried an ice cream with pineapple in it. It was good, but I wish I’d had time to go back and try some of the extra chocolatey ice cream offerings as well.

prague-cacao-ice-cream

There are also plenty of other desserts and cakes if it’s too chilly for ice cream. You should maybe just have dessert here every day, after a dinner of goulash and dumplings in the main square.

prague-cacao-menu

Choco Cafe (Liliová 250/4) was a little harder for me to find on my map, but very worth it. They do a really thick chocolate that you can have with fruit, or as a drink.

prague-choco-cafe

They also have cakes and pastries. I went there for breakfast on my last day and liked it so much I went back in the evening so that I could try something else from the huge menu.

prague-choco-cafe-cake

For drinks, I sampled the Michel Cluizel Mangaro 50% Madagascar milk chocolate, and the Valrhona Caramelia 40% and was very happy with both. As you can see from the photo, it was think enough to eat with a spoon.

prague-choco-inside

And the place is super cute, so you can look forward to spending an afternoon here, resting your feet and writing postcards or updating your travel journal.

One other thing I saw in Prague that you might want to try is Trdlo. No, I have no idea how to pronounce it. I first saw these things at the London Christmas markets a couple of years ago and they were called Chimney Cakes, which is much easier to say. They’re dough wrapped around these wooden things that look like rolling pins and then baked rotisserie style. It’s rotisserie cake! Once they’re done you can sprinkle cinnamon on them or cover them with Nutella or frosting.

Trdlo is very delicious, and perfect for sharing since you can unwind a little bite and then pass it on.

prague-chimney-cake

I saw one stand for these on a street in the old town, but there was another one up at the castle, so you’ll probably bump into some Trdlo eventually.

 

 

 

prague-trdlo

If you’re spending some time outside of Prague then consider a day trip to Cesky Krumlov. It’s a medieval village that turns up a lot on Pinterest as a must-see in the Czech Republic because of its picturesque red roofs and winding streets. It’s easy to hop on a tour there for a day, and along with the historical things to see and learn, there’s also plenty to eat.

cesky-krumlov-chocolate

So go for the educational bits but stay for the chocolates, shortbread and ice cream.

cesky-krumlov-red-rooftops

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment below to let me know

Have a great time in Prague!
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Best Desserts I Ate in New York

I quit my job earlier this year to take some time of and travel. My first stop was New York, and my friends and I picked the coldest possible time to go. On the plus side, that meant we were all happy to go from cafe to restaurant to bar, because a walk in Central Park would have resulted in frostbite.

I’m sure I could live in New York for years and not try all the best desserts the city has to offer, but I had some very delicious things, so consider this a starting point for any food crawl you want to do.

nutella-before

Fried dough + Nutella = Put it in your face right now.

1. Don Antonio (309 W. 50th Street)
This dessert was an accidental find. We were in Times Square and one of our group who makes frequent visits to the city recommended we go to Don Antonio, a pizza place a few blocks away. The pizza was good, but as we ate we watched as the table next to us got a plate full of these little fried dough bits covered in what looked like chocolate and turned out to be Nutella. This would have been the time to tell the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having,” but I think we just pointed and grunted.

As you can see from the “after” picture, we made quick work of the whole thing.

There may have been some licking of the plate.

There may have been some licking of the plate.

2. Sugar & Plumm
I don’t know how this place wasn’t on my list before I got to New York. I found it because we were going to the Natural History Museum so I looked up “desserts” on the Yelp map to see if there was anything near by, and just as if it had sprung out of my imagination and into the real world, there was the chocolate haven of Sugar & Plumm.

If you like your dessert served with whimsy, Sugar & Plumm is the place for you.

If you like your dessert served with whimsy, Sugar & Plumm is the place for you.

I wish I’d had a whole week more in New York so that I could have gone back every day to try something different on the menu. They have cakes and ice creams, macarons, chocolates, pastries, plus real food. It seems mostly like a place where stay-at-home moms on the Upper West Side meet their friends and bring their daughters for brunch/lunch. And what a beautiful brunch/lunch it is!

French Toast has never been crunchier or sweeter.

French Toast has never been crunchier or sweeter.

Not many couples and very few men here, probably because the Willy Wonka/Disney princess decor doesn’t work for business meetings. But that just means more hot chocolate for you.

Take some Sugar home with you!

Take some Sugar home with you!

There’s also a store here so you can take lots of treats home for later.

3.Baked (Tribeca and Brooklyn)
When I first set out for New York I had one goal: to eat at Baked. I’m a big fan of their cookbooks and blog and was very excited to try a Brookster fresh from the oven. I made it to Baked’s new Tribeca location twice but would have happily gone every day if it had been closer to the part of town where we were staying. I’d also like to make the trek to Brooklyn to visit their first shop.

Look, Ma! I'm at Baked!

Look, Ma! I’m at Baked!

On my first trip I got a slice of the Candy Bar Tart and a hot chocolate, with a Brookster to go. It was all heaven.

Want a cookie? Need a brownie? You can have them both in a Brookster.

Want a cookie? Need a brownie? You can have them both in a Brookster.

The tart was sweet and a little salty with a thick crust and completely perfect caramel holding it all together. I ate it in very small bites so that it would last longer. When I got home I pulled out my Baked “Elements” book and made the tart myself, and then I ate it in very large bites, because no one was watching.

Candy. Bar. Tart. The best part is that the recipe in their book makes it easy to replicate at home. I tried it and it's my new favorite thing to make.

Candy. Bar. Tart. The best part is that the recipe in their book makes it easy to replicate at home. I tried it and it’s my new favorite thing to make.

On my next visit my friend and I split a slice of passion fruit cake and it was… ok. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that having the cake near the door that kept letting in freezing wind somewhat compromised the freshness of the cake, making it a little dry and blah.

See? A little crumbly, but I would happily try it again because the passion fruit filling had a nice, fresh flavor.

See? A little crumbly, but I would happily try it again because the passion fruit filling had a nice, fresh flavor.

But we also split a cupcake and that was fantastic. On this visit I also saw Baked co-founder Renato Poliafito. I came very close to saying “hello” and asking for a photo with him but then I got too nervous, because he’s a baking superstar and I’m a big nerd.

There's just too much Baked goodness to choose from.

There’s just too much Baked goodness to choose from.

4. Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Ave.)
Freezing weather makes Chelsea Market the perfect place to go on a hunt for nibbles. There are so many bakeries, chocolate shops and ice creameries in this place that you have to pace yourself. Also, take friends so that you can share what you buy and not fill up too quickly.

He's really delicious.

He’s really delicious.

We were there around Oscar time so at Eleni’s bakery the cookies and cupcakes were all Hollywood themed, including a Benedict Cumbercookie. Well, that’s what I called it.

Inside sparkly Chelsea Market.

Inside sparkly Chelsea Market.

Fat Witch has all the rich, fudgey brownies you can handle. I picked out two to eat on the plane ride home and loved them so much I ordered their cookbook as soon as I got home. And I already have a few mind-blowing brownie recipes, so you know they must have impressed me.

Sarabeth’s bakery has a nice selection of cakes and sweets and they do a decent hot chocolate. And if it’s early in the day you can head to the Doughnuttery for fresh donut holes you can customize with the flavored sugar of your choice. If you want a little something to take on a walk around the High Line, stop at Liddabit Sweets for one of their homemade candy bars. I really like The S’more bar.

There are also a couple of really good kitchen stores in the market if you’re looking for just the right tart pan or a nifty gadget you don’t really need but know would look nice in a drawer at home.

5. Schmackary’s (362 W 45th St.)
This was another Yelp find when my friend and I wanted a snack after seeing a Broadway show. Schmackary’s offers something like 40 different flavors of cookie and I wanted to try them all. Unfortunately, we got there so late that some of the flavors were sold out, but on impulse, and because our brains had partially frozen on the way there, we got a box of 12 to take back to our hotel so that we could sample a bunch of flavors. We didn’t finish them because we did have some small amount of impulse control left, but we had bites of all of them and they were all really tasty, even for breakfast the next day.

Just get one of each. It's the only way to go.

Just get one of each. It’s the only way to go.

6. Eataly (200 Fifth Ave.)
Eataly is more savory than sweet. It’s one large food hall with several Italian restaurants inside of it, but also shops of imported goods. You can get Italian cookies, pastries, and gelato here, if you have any room after dinner.

This will tide you over until you make a trip to Italy.

This will tide you over until you make a trip to Italy.

7. LA Burdick (5 East 20th Street)
LA Burdick in Boston is one of my favorite chocolate places in the world, so I was delighted to be able to try the one in New York. It’s just as good, the Madagascar hot chocolate is still one of my top 5 ever (a little citrus-y while still thick and rich), and it’s right near the Flatiron Building, so you can pop in for a drink after you snap a few photos.

Good to know I can get my Burdick fix outside of Boston.

Good to know I can get my Burdick fix outside of Boston.

8. Junior’s (West 45th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave.)
My friend who was visiting from the U.K. wanted to make sure she got some real New York cheesecake. Everything I read said that even though it’s popular with tourists, Junior’s is one of the best places to get it. It’s also located right next to Times Square, and since we went to Broadway shows on two nights, we found ourselves at Junior’s more than once. (It was so nice and warm inside!)

One slice is big enough to share, but you might not want to.

One slice is big enough to share, but you might not want to.

The menu is huge, the portions are enormous, and the cheesecake is as good as I’ve ever had.

9. Magnolia Bakery (1240 Avenue of the Americas at 49th Street)
Over and over again in articles about food in New York I read about the bread pudding at Magnolia Bakery. It sounded almost mythical. They have a few locations around New York, including one next to Radio City Music Hall. Since I was doing the behind the scenes tour there (which is very interesting) I stopped in and got a small banana pudding. It really was fantastic, but I wish I’d been hungry enough (or had someone else with me) to also try one of their pies or cakes. It all looked pretty good.

Eating the banana pudding is like taking a quick trip to the South without ever leaving New York.

Eating the banana pudding is like taking a quick trip to the South without ever leaving New York.

10. Serendipity 3 (225 E 60th St.)
Serendipity is one of the only places I went that I knew much about beforehand. It’s been in movies, it makes all the top ten lists for chocolate, and its frozen hot chocolate is legendary. And yet, I was not impressed. Much like the Sacher-Torte in Vienna, maybe my expectations were just too high, but I don’t really get why people love this place.

Just a big bowl of blah.

Frozen hot chocolate: Just a big cup of blah.

First, the frozen hot chocolate is just sort of chocolate slush. There’s not a lot of flavor, it’s not rich or creamy, it’s just wet and has a vague chocolate flavor. For the price I’d rather go back to Baked and get two Brooksters and a cookie. I’ll stick to my liquid hot chocolate from now on.

The French Toast was good, but not waiting-in-line-an-hour good.

The French Toast was good, but not waiting-in-line-an-hour good.

The food I had was good and the portions are large, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth the hour-long wait. Sugar & Plumm was far better and had no wait time. If you’re crunched for time in New York then I’d say this is the place you can skip altogether.

As you can see I consumed about 12,374 calories a day in New York and I still didn’t make it to Dominique Ansel for a cronut. I suppose there’s always next time.

Start spreading the news,
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Team Fun Event: Lego Building

In addition to our monthly team birthday celebrations and whatever bizarre holidays I choose to celebrate (*cough* Battle of Hogwarts *cough*), we also plan a team fun event once a quarter. I enjoy helping with these for the same reason I love to bake for the office – to boost morale and make the office a fun place to be. Yes, the sugar is yummy, but I really like to watch our little community come together and celebrate the victories and milestones in each others’ lives. Work is better when you work with your friends, and not just coworkers.

Captain America knows his Legos

Captain America knows his Legos

This quarterly event is a way to get our entire group together, socialize, get to know coworkers that we don’t otherwise spend time with, and just relax and having a good time. It’s also a chance for our competitive sides to come out as we attempt to trample each other in the assorted games and activities we come up with. In a friendly way.

Around Halloween I helped plan our most detailed activity to date: Lego building with their Mixels sets of monsters. The idea came from Captain America here, who saw something similar at a conference he attended. He’s really into Legos and put together a great plan for us, and you don’t say no to the Captain.

Here’s how it worked:

First, as people came in we invited them to have some snacks and chat while we waited for everyone to arrive. I made some adorable and delicious green apple flavored Lego men to put on Caramel Apple cupcakes, with the bonus being that they looked like an army of little Frankenstein’s monsters when you lined them up.

If you want your team event to be a success, start with snack.s Also, end with snacks. And serve snacks in the middle.

If you want your team event to be a success, start with snack.s Also, end with snacks. And serve snacks in the middle.

I was really hesitant to buy that mold a couple of years ago, but I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. (And I just saw that Amazon now has a set of three Lego molds for under $12. I may need that.) There’s really no occasion that isn’t suitable for candy Lego men.

Little green Lego men make delicious Halloween candy

Little green Lego men make delicious Halloween candy

Once everyone was in the room and lulled into a sense of calm and enjoyment, we had them count off (there were 30 people so we had them count 1-15 twice) and then their first task was to find their partner (the person who had the same number) and introduce themselves if they didn’t already know each other.

Next we had everyone sit down across from their partner at the tables we’d lined up. We put manila folders up so that they could see each others’ faces but not their hands. Then we passed out the Lego Mixels: One partner was the builder and got the bowl of parts (the bowls were handy for keeping little bits from flying around when we were separating out the instructions and passing things out) and the other was the instructor and got…you guessed it… the instructions.

This is the most fun you can have sitting at a table in a conference room.

This is the most fun you can have sitting at a table in a conference room.

The rules:

  • The instructor can explain how to build the little monsters but isn’t allowed to see what’s being built
  • The builder can ask questions, but can’t look at any of the instructions or pictures

To help our teams out a bit, Captain America, expert Lego builder, gave a brief lesson in Lego lingo for the beginners (flat piece vs. brick vs. slant, 3×2 vs 2×2, etc.). Because it helps if everyone has a common vocabulary to work from.

We used Mixels because they made for great Halloween monsters, but you could do this with any Legos, Duplo blocks, Lincoln Logs, or whatever you want. You just need to have instructions to go with it.

DSCF7824

After this event I bought a bunch of these for Christmas gifts. So cute!

Now, depending on what kind of office you work in and the kind of work you do, you might start to realize that while this sounds like a fun game, it’s also not so different from the challenges you face everyday, working with remote teams, talking to people who don’t quite understand what you want, and having to figure out how to communicate difficult concepts on the fly, with few resources.

So this is sort of like tricking people into having fun, but accidentally learning something from it, too. Sorry about that. I did say this idea came from a conference, so you should have expected there’d be a businessy angle to it. But it’s still super fun!

The fun part of this was watching and listening to the different ways teams worked.You could immediately tell who the Lego fans were because they began by sorting their pieces out by shape and color to see what they had, whereas the noobs just left them all in the bowl or scattered them out.

Similar to "jazz hands', "Lego hands" help to express emotion.

Similar to “jazz hands’, “Lego hands” help to express emotion.

Some instructors were really good about using their hands to describe the positions of pieces, while other people just tried to talk it out. The teams using motions, and especially the ones where both partners used their hands to explain and confirm things seemed to work the fastest.

The room got very loud very fast, and some people seemed a little stressed out. One coworker even told me she felt her blood pressure going up, but I assured her this was supposed to be fun, and nobody’s hands would get cut off for losing.

The anxiety is building!

The anxiety is building!

Want to make it even more challenging? Around the 20 minute mark the Captain and I decided that teams were making good progress and many had found a way to communicate that worked for them. They had a process and a good working rapport with each other. So we messed it up.

We announced that there had just been a team re-org, and everyone sitting on the inside of the circle needed to get up and move one seat to the left. Surprise! Someone else would have to finish your hard work, and now you have to meet your new teammate, figure out where this new project is in the process, and maybe even take on a new role. (We hadn’t planned this, but when we handed out the Legos we didn’t make all one side of the table the same role, so when people moved, some went from being an instructor to a builder, and vice versa. You may want to divide your tables so that everyone on the right is one thing and everyone on the left is the other, just to keep it simpler.)

If you want to do this as a straight-up fun event, then let everyone just build and have fun. If you need to justify the time and expense to your boss, then here are some of the things you can say you’ll do to get the most out of this “communication exercise”:

1. Depending on the kinds of roles your team normally plays, you could assign teams and positions ahead of time to force people to take on tasks they don’t normally do. So make your engineers do the explaining and the product and project managers do the building. Or if your management team is up for it, let them build and let others tell them what to do. And don’t let them talk or ask questions. They just have to follow orders.

2. Define a more rigorous building process. Maybe there’s a QA period, where every so often teams have to stop building and show their work to a moderator who lets them continue, if they’re on the right track, or makes them start over if they aren’t.

3. If you really want to focus on the communication aspect of this, add a third person to the team. Put the instructor on one side of the room and the builder on the other, then make the third person be the go-between. How does this affect the process when the person with the information and the person with the tools never talk to each other directly?

4. When the activity is over and people are snacking again, have a team roundup and let people share how they felt about the process. What did they find most challenging? Did they start by giving their partner an overview of the big picture for the project, or dive right into the details, without explaining the end goal? Was that helpful or lead to confusion? What tips and tricks did they use to communicate with each other? Was there anything they learned from this that could be applied to their regular work?

Make sure you let everyone go around and see other teams’ work, because sharing is part of the fun, especially if two teams working on the same project came up with very different results.

The end results were awesome, and we let people take them home.

The end results were awesome, and we let people take them home.

And most of all, have (team) fun!
Lisa

 

Categories: Team building | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Review: Betty Crocker’s Maple Bacon Cookie Mix

I was walking through my Walmart Neighborhood Market on Saturday afternoon, as you do, and spotted this new Limited Edition Maple Bacon Cookie Mix from Betty Crocker on the shelf. And before my jaw had fully dropped, I spotted the Maple Bacon frosting to go with it on the shelf below.

maple-bacon-front

I think the box here was just re-purposed, because this is not a Snickerdoodle cookie.

This wasn’t in the regular baking aisle – it was with the Halloween treats in a seasonal aisle. I can’t find it listed on the Betty Crocker site so I’m not sure if it’s available everywhere, but you can get it on Amazon if you really want to try it.

I usually avoid cookie mixes because they’re so simple to do from scratch, and they never taste quite the same. This flavor intrigued me though because if Betty is on to this whole maple bacon thing, then either the flavor pairing has reached maximum penetration and acceptance in America’s kitchens, or it’s jumped the shark.

Will hipsters turn their back on bacon if Betty thinks it’s cool? If so, can she do a cilantro flavored cookie? Because I’d really like for cilantro to go away. (Although that could be because of my genes.)

maple-bacon-cookes

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying maple and bacon together for maybe six or seven years now, and my Maple Bacon Bundt Cake is an office favorite. We even did a whole week of bacon treats to wish someone farewell when they left our team.

So if there are discerning maple bacon palates out there, then my office has them. And what did they have to say?

Zhao loved them and called them “really, really delicious.”

maple-bacon-cookie-zhao

Kanthi was wary at first, but after a couple of bites declared, “Oh wow. These are fantastic.”

maple-bacon-cookie-kanthi

And Jon just smiled a lot while he ate them.

maple-bacon-cookie-jon

So they’re a hit!

I didn’t frost them all in case some people wanted a less sugary snack, but the people who have had the frosting really liked the maple flavor. It smells wonderful, too.

Betty Crocker owns Bacos, but the bacon bits that come with the frosting aren’t quite that crunchy. They have a slightly more bacon-like texture.

The cookies were quick to mix up, just add an egg and butter, and the dough was soft and easy to form into rounded spoonfuls.

maple-bacon-cookie-dough

One small gripe I could have is that the package clearly shows a cookie made with a cookie cutter, but the instructions are just for a drop cookie. There’s no variation for what to do to the dough if you want to roll them out. As-is I think the dough is too sticky, but I’m not sure how much flour you could add to them before they would get dry and crumbly.

What about my cute maple leaf cookie cutter option?

What about my cute maple leaf cookie cutter option?

For my oven, 8 minutes was the perfect cooking time, and although they browned a little on the bottom, the cookies stayed a little bit soft. I put them in Tupperware overnight and just frosted a few once I got to the office in the morning.

Why do people always have to cut things and have so that they "can just have a little taste"? Especially when they always wind up coming back for the other half. Yes. You do.

Why do people always have to cut things and have so that they “can just have a little taste”? Especially when they always wind up coming back for the other half. Yes. You do.

If you’re looking for something quick to whip up for an office holiday party, these will do the trick.

maple-bacon-note

Mmm… bacon,
Lisa

Categories: Box Mix, Cookies, Package Mix, Review | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Baking for Roald Dahl’s Birthday: Scrumdiddlyumptious Treats!

Last week I got talking about Willy Wonka with a coworker, possibly while craving chocolate, and I decided I had to have a Roald Dahl party so that I could make Veruca Salted Caramel… something or other. (Ideas don’t always come to me whole. I usually have to connect lots of fragments.)

So I looked up Dahl’s birthday and it turns out it’s this Saturday, September 13th! What a lovely coincidence.

Dahl-table

I’ve been celebrating office birthdays once a month now that my team is too big to do individual birthday celebrations for people, and this seemed like a fun one that everyone would get. (A few of my co-workers still aren’t too sure who that Gene Roddenberry guy is.)

Starting with simple things to buy, if you can find Wonka chocolate bars, grab them. I tried three different stores and couldn’t find anything but Wonka candy (Nerds, Laffy Taffy, and Everlasting Gobstoppers).

Making-Wonka-Bars

Instead, I found printable Wonka wrappers online and made a dozen to go around Hershey bars. Because in my mind it’s still 1995 and Hershey bars are still wrapped in tin foil and paper that can easily be replaced with a new wrapper. Then I got to the store, looked at the plastic-wrapped chocolate bars and went, “Oooooh, right. They don’t do that anymore.”

Wonka-bar-wrapper

The wrappers were a little too big for the ever-shrinking Hershey bar, so you may want to resize the wrapper or just trim it a little shorter. I also printed four Golden Tickets and put those in the chocolate bars that I gave to the birthday boys and girl.

They didn’t look perfectly authentic, but I still fooled plenty of people into thinking they were real Wonka bars that I found somewhere.

You can also buy some veggies to represent the Fantastic Mr. Fox’s stolen garden treats and some peaches for James and his giant one. I attempted “healthy” peach turnovers made with phyllo dough, but that stuff is really bland and tasteless. Give me high-calorie pie dough any day.

Mr-Fox-carrots

I also printed out fox masks (which, when worn by several people at once comes off as a bit creepy, like they’re going to rob a bank together. Try to use heavier paper if you can so that they fold their shape when you put them on a stick, and don’t wilt.

Creepy, right? Maybe if they smiled a little.

Creepy, right? Maybe if they smiled a little.

To honor the four office birthdays I printed out pictures of each person along with illustrations from Dahl’s books.

Dahl-banner

If you really want to just to a Willy Wonka party then you can do pictures of Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp, but I wanted this to be more about the classic books, and not just the modern film adaptations. I’m glad I did because a lot of people didn’t realize that Dahl was the author of so many of these stories. See? Parties can be both fun *and* educational.

Neil still had his Darth Vader mask from last year's birthday, so he wore that around. It was also creepy.

Neil still had his Darth Vader mask from last year’s birthday, so he wore that around. It was also creepy.

For the baking I needed a couple of gluten-free items, because that’s become a more common request in the office. The fruit and veggies were a good start, but I decided to also make gluten-free Veruca Salted Caramel Brownies.

Veruca-Salt-brownies

Now, with most things, when I hear “gluten-free” I think “dry” or “dense” or just “ugh”. But long before gluten was the word of the day, I was making flourless brownies. They’re more rich and chocolately and fudgey, so unlike cake or muffins that depend on flour to fill them out, I think brownies actually benefit from having the flour subtracted from the recipe.

And don’t fall for the recipes that have you add avocado or beans or anything weird. Try this flourless brownie recipe from Life Made Simple and you’ll be very happy. It’s simple and delicious. The brownies were the first thing to disappear from the table.

While grocery shopping I passed a display for this Smucker’s Salted Caramel topping which also had a $1 off coupon. I figured that would save me from making the caramel so I got a jar, heated it in the microwave for about 20 seconds, and drizzled it over the top of the brownies before putting them in the oven.

Don't try to photograph this as you do it.

Don’t try to photograph this as you do it.

It’s very hard to use a camera with one hand and drizzle with another. I used a knife to swirl it around a bit before baking.

Meringues are another treat that are naturally gluten-free and simple to whip up. I stuck with Martha Stewart’s Meringue Swirls recipe because it’s always served me well, but instead of the orange stripes she suggests for hers, I used green and purple food gels because they seemed more Wonktastic. I called them BFG Meringues though, for being Big, Friendly, and Gluten-Free.

BFG-meringes

You’ll see that the colors are very clean and bright on some, and more muted and almost tie-dye looking on others. That’s because as I refilled the piping bag with the second half of the meringue, the colors started to blend a little more. Both are pretty, but if you want to keep your swirls cleaner then you’ll need to start over with a new piping bag.

Willy-Wonka-meringues

Lastly, I made a mini bundt cake. I’m still working on that New Year’s resolution to use up all the odds and ends in my kitchen, and I had some malted milk powder I wanted to finish up. And my “Baked Elements” book just happened to have a recipe for a Vanilla Bean Malt Cake that uses the smaller 6-inch bundt pan. I happen to have two (doesn’t everyone?) and never remember to use them, so this killed at least two birds with one stone.

Matilda-Malted-Cake

It’s perfectly Matilda sized.

If my weekend was longer and my table was bigger, I would have liked to make a pie with pretzel bird feet sticking out for “The Twits”, or maybe a chocolate cauldron for “The Witches”.

Or how about Violet Beauregard Blueberry Pie? Or Snozzberry cookies that taste like snozzberries! Or good eggs and bad eggs!

There are so many possibilities!

Oompa Loompa doo-pa-dee do,
Lisa

Categories: Office Birthdays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baking for Gene Roddenberry’s Birthday: Star Trek Treats

We haven’t really geeked out in my office in a while, so today we’re celebrating Gene Roddenberry’s birthday. (It’s August 19th.)

If, like some of my coworkers, your first question is, “Who’s Gene Roddenberry?” then this probably isn’t the party for you. But if you love Klingons and Ferengi and Betazoids and Vulcans, then this is a fun way to pay tribute to the man who created Star Trek. (Yes, that’s who he is.)

Office space... the final frontier...

Office space… the final frontier…

The entire reason I wanted to do a Star Trek themed party is because I got these nifty cookie cutters from Think Geek. They have fantastic nerd baking stuff. But you’ll notice from the photos that there isn’t a single sugar cookie on the table. Why? Because sugar cookies are my own, personal Kobayashi Maru. No matter how I tackle them, I can never win. I wind up with puffy blobs that have no discernible shape.

Oh, Think Geek. You make it look so easy.

Last year I had some success with my Doctor Who Dalek cookies, but that just gave me false confidence. I should know by now that cookie cutters are best used to cut brownies into shapes, because sugar cookies and I were not meant to be allies.

Luckily I came up with some other sugary Starfleet goodies, a few of which I bought instead of baked, because this blog should be called Lazy Baking for the Office, since I’m always looking to cut corners and keep my oven off in the middle of summer.

First, I had to make Tribble Bites. I thought about doing donut holes covered in coconut, or maybe some kind of tea cookie with cinnamon and sugar, but then while going through one of my cookie books I saw coconut macaroons and knew they would be perfect.

Mmm, Tribbles. Taste like coconut.

Mmm, Tribbles. Taste like coconut.

Tribble Bites (a.k.a. Coconut Macaroons)

1/2 cup flour
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups dried coconut
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the dried coconut.
  • Pour in the sweetened condensed milk. Add the vanilla extract and stir together until a very thick batter is formed.
  • Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls 1 inch apart on baking sheet.
  • Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

I altered this by making small teaspoon-sized balls instead of heaping stacks. It’s very sticky stuff to work with, so pinch with your fingers to get them to hold together in the shape you want. Then bake for 12-14 minutes instead of 20.

Hungry for cake? Then make it so!

Hungry for cake? Then make it so!

Next, I got out my Star Trek cookbook. Because I have one. Doesn’t everybody? I got it as a gift years ago and still hadn’t made anything from it, so this was my chance to try Picard’s Earl Grey Cake. It’s sweet with a little spice to it from the tea, so make a nice, strong cup of Earl Grey to use.

Picard’s Earl Grey Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea (infused)
3/4 cup sifted, self-rising flour
grated rind of 2 oranges

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a large loaf pan.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat in thoroughly.
  • Add the grated rind, flour, and tea and fold in with a wooden spoon.
  • Turn the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove from oven and let cool. When cool, score the top lightly in preperation for the icing.

Icing:

Juice from 2 oranges
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

  • Heat the orange juice and sugar toghether in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Pour over the cake.
  • Once it has soaked in, remove the cake from the pan.
  • In a small saucepan (or in the microwave), melt the chocolate and pour over the top of the cake.

Finally, I was looking through one of my binders of recipes I tear out of magazines when I came across Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Zucchini Cakes with Walnuts. I looked at those walnuts and thought, “Wow. Those look like Klingon heads.” And so there you go: Klingon Warrior Cakes.

Qapla'!

Qapla’!

Really, you can make anything you want as long as you give it a good Trek name. So I turned Sour Patch Kids into Gorn Babies:

Gorn is surprisingly tangy.

Gorn is surprisingly tangy.

I made opposite colored Oreos into Cookies of Charon (because making black and white cookies sounded exhausting).

And I found these blue creme filled Twinkies and knew they would be perfect Andorian Sponge Cakes.

So blue. So spongey.

So blue. So spongey.

Mix up some Kool-Aid or cranberry juice to be Klingon Bloodwine or Romulan Ale if you have the space to serve it, and get creative with other snacks. Funyons could be Uhura Hoops. Chex Mix could be Chekov Mix.

I love my geeky (and photogenic) coworkers.

I love my geeky (and photogenic) coworkers.

Or skip ahead a few series and only do “Deep Space 9” or “Voyager” treats. There’s a whole universe out there to mine!

Live long and prosper,
Lisa

Categories: Geek Baking, Theme Parties | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Best Chocolate (and Treats) in Portland, Oregon

Summer is a bad time for baking in a house without air conditioning, but it’s a great time to travel around and see what kind of sweet things other people have to offer. With that in mind I agreed to spend a girls weekend in Portland with my friend, Eleanor.

Long before I went I knew I wanted to visit Moonstruck Chocolate. They had a shop in the San Francisco area years ago that I loved, but it closed after maybe a year. I knew they were based in Portland, and maybe that’s why I’ve had this desire to go there.

Moonstruck was our very first stop after checking in at the hotel, but Portland wasn’t cooperating with my chocolate tourism plans. While I had envisioned escaping the California heat to enjoy the mild warmth of Oregon, what actually happened is that Eleanor and I arrived to find that Portland was in the middle of a heat wave. Like, sweat-dripping-down-our-faces-and-our-backs-and-into-our-shoes style heatwave.

We spent the afternoon, and most of the weekend, looking for shade and iced drinks, so I got to Moonstruck excited to try something new, but also thinking that chocolate sounded way too heavy. I got two truffles but passed on the hot chocolate. It smelled divine, but I just couldn’t take the heat.

There are five Moonstruck locations around Portland, so you're bound to run into one of them.

There are five Moonstruck locations around Portland, so you’re bound to run into one of them.

After dinner at some of Portland’s diverse food trucks the weather started to cool off, so we made our way to Cacao. If you want a cozy place to drink chocolate, eat chocolate and buy lots of chocolate to take home, this is the place.

The two guys working there were super friendly and cute and Eleanor and I both enjoyed the rich and creamy hot chocolate. This isn’t the kind where they dump a little chocolate into some hot milk. You can see the chocolate being churned in containers and they pour that right into your cup. It’s the good stuff.

By the evening it seemed safe to buy some fancy chocolates without having to make a mad dash for the hotel, and just look at the assortment they have at Cacao:

cacao-portland
They carry several Portland-area chocolates, including Woodblock and Cocanu, which I’d never heard of before. I love the little square packages with the fancy sealing wax:

cacao-chocolate-portland

They also have plenty of chocolates from the rest of the country, including Askinosie, from Missouri. I first heard of Askinosie at a tasting held at Bittersweet Chocolate here in the Bay Area where they were held up as an example of sustainable, fair trade chocolate. Mostly though I remember that their white chocolate is made with goat’s milk. It’s not a taste you easily forget.

cacao-askinosie

Our destination on day two was Voodoo Doughnut. You can’t go to Portland without visiting Voodoo, if only to say you’ve been there. It’s located right next to the Portland Saturday Market (which also has all kinds of foods and sweets), but when we went by the line was really long. We did some more sightseeing, going up to the International Rose Garden and Japanese Garden (both lovely) and came back later in the afternoon… when the line was just as long.

Waiting 45 minutes for donuts sounds crazy, but it’s the kind of crazy thing you do on vacation. And I’ve been to Comic Con, so put into that context, this line was pleasantly brisk. It was still about 132 degrees outside though, and by the time we got inside the shop I think we were far more thirsty and sunburned than we were hungry.

portland-voodoo-sign

Caught up in the thrill of finally getting to the counter, Eleanor briefly entertained the idea of getting a dozen donuts, but we agreed that three each would be more than enough. The Mango Tango was fantastic, and the other donuts were good, if not spectacular. I don’t think the heat helped them any, and the ones we saved for breakfast the next morning were a bit limp. I think I would have enjoyed them a lot more if I hadn’t waited outside in the blistering sun for almost an hour to get them.

voodoo-doughnut-portland

That night we decided to get some more walking in and have dinner in the Nob Hill area. Well, we decided to have ice cream at Salt & Straw, but figured we should eat some real, non-donut food before that. While walking down NW 23rd Street to find a good restaurant I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw The Meadow.

I guess I didn’t Google or Pinterest hard enough before my trip, because this place should have come up in any kind of search for chocolate in Portland. The whole length of the shop is shelves and shelves of chocolate from all over the world, and the back of the shop is filled with jars and slabs of more kinds of salts than I even knew existed.

The Meadow is like a chocolate library, with shelves full of tempting goodies.

The Meadow is like a chocolate library, with shelves full of tempting goodies.

I’ve seen shops that sell wine and chocolate, but this was my first salt and chocolate store. I walked out with a bag of chocolate bars to try and Eleanor left with a bag of salt rubs. We paid for them first, of course. We would never just *walk out* with stuff. That would be wrong.

Salt, salt and more salt.

Salt, salt and more salt.

Finally, after a long, hot weekend of food and lines, we made it to Salt & Straw. Where there was a line. And it was still kind of hot. At 9:30 at night. It was only about a 20 minute line though, so not nearly as bad as the one at Voodoo. And this one was more worth it. I got the salted caramel ice cream and it was incredible.

Delicious ice cream and the portions are huge.

Delicious ice cream and the portions are huge.

I’ve had other salted caramel ice cream and gelato before, but usually the whole thing is caramel flavored with a slight salt taste. This was super fresh and creamy vanilla ice cream with a ribbon of smooth salted caramel running through it. It was vibrant and intense and absolutely perfect. I’d wait in that line again in a heartbeat.

On our last day we made a second trip to Powell’s Books (because once is not enough) and about a block away from there I saw a sign for Little T Baker. I’d just read about them on some travel blog so I popped in to see what the fuss was about.

The cookies at Little T Baker. Meh.

The cookies at Little T Baker. Meh.

The first thing I noticed was how many little black gnats and other flying things were landing on the food. I’m not sure why a bakery would ever leave their door open, especially when their baked goods are just sitting out on a counter and not in a case, but it didn’t get my appetite going. Still, I was there so I bought three different cookies to try. They were ok, kind of dry and crumbly. I wouldn’t go back, but maybe their breads are better than their sweets.

Right in the same little shopping complex, just a few feet away is Quin, a handcrafted candy shop that sells fancy caramels and other things that will travel well if you need to take something back for your coworkers. I got a small bag of salted caramels and another of chocolate caramels. They were tasty, but very pricey.

The selection at Quin.

The selection at Quin.

At this point, Eleanor and I swore we would never eat again. We were beyond stuffed. We’d broken every healthy eating rule either of us had every tried to follow. We were done.

The we realized we were just around the corner from Blue Star Donuts.

Well, as long as we were right there…

Blue Star: Donuts for grownups.

Blue Star: Donuts for grownups.

Blue Star is donuts for adults. The line here was far more manageable, maybe a 5-7 minute wait. Most people we talked to around town told us that while Voodoo is the fun place for tourists to go, Blue Star is where the locals and anyone serious about pastries goes. And they were all right. The donuts here were lighter and far more flavorful, and while the selection included standard chocolate and powdered options, they also have Blueberry Bourbon Basil and Dulce de Leche.

Just buy one of each.

Just buy one of each.

If you go, don’t leave without trying the Passion Fruit Cocoa Nib. I still have dreams about it. Another coworker was there the week after me and brought me one back. Even a day old it was still mouth-wateringly delicious, and he is now my favorite person in the office. Yes, I’m that fickle.

portland-blue-star-valrhona

I went home from Portland with a bit of a tummy ache, but it was worth it. All 12,837 calories of it.

Fried and battered,
Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Baking for Star Wars Day *and* Cinco de Mayo

Star Wars Day fell on a Sunday this year, but I know my geeky co-workers would hate to miss the celebration, so I decided to combine it with Cinco de Mayo. Let’s call it Cinco de Star Wars. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it has a nice ring to it.

Like this? Visit https://www.facebook.com/misnopalesart for more.

Like this? Visit https://www.facebook.com/misnopalesart for more.

When I started planning this I saw a piñata cookie on Pinterest that looked like fun. The sugar cookie dough recreates the colorful stripes of a piñata, and then you put the cookies together with M&Ms in the middle to make a piñata. That was totally my plan for using my new Star Wars cookie cutters (currently on sale for half price at Williams-Sonoma), until I realized that if I did that I would only have cookies for about size people, since each piñata uses three cookies. So I just set mine out as regular cookies, but let me know if you actually assemble yours.

Eat them, you will.

Eat them, you will.

Also, this cookie isn’t difficult, but it’s incredibly time consuming. Give yourself at least 30-45 minutes to make the dough, separate and color it, and then layer it, then allow 4+ hours for the dough to chill before you try baking it. They’re fun, but they’re a lot of work, and I don’t imagine I’m going to make them again any time soon.

Here’s the original tutorial on how to make pinata cookies. A few shots from my own experience:

So much stirring.

So much stirring.

Working food coloring into sugar cookie dough is a lot slower than dying frosting. I probably should have used my mixer, but I didn’t want to have to stop and wash the bowl and beaters every time, so I used a fork. It got the job done.

I found a square plastic container to use as the frame for my dough and lined it with plastic wrap. This makes it simple to pop out after you chill the dough. I divided each color into two, except the black, and used my hands to form a squarish shape before adding it to the tub. If you drop it in and then try to flatten it, you’ll just wind up pushing the colors below it out and having a new lump of color in the middle.

Keep those layers flat and even!

Keep those layers flat and even!

Once it was chilled I sliced it into 1/4 inch slabs and used my cookie cutters on it. I didn’t grease or flour the cutters until I was about halfway through, and then I just gave them a light dusting of flour, brushing off any big chunks that stuck. The flour didn’t blend back in to the dough when they cooked, so wipe off any excess or you’ll have white clumps on your cookies.

These would look pretty as plain rectangles if you don't want to mess with cookie cutters.

These would look pretty as plain rectangles if you don’t want to mess with cookie cutters.

This left me with a bunch of little dough scraps, so I put them back in the fridge for 5 minutes or so to chill a bit, then I pieced them together into new layers to make more cookies, or with some I just made a multi-colored ball and wound up with some tie-dye looking Darth Vaders.

Use those scraps!

Use those scraps!

It's art you can eat.

It’s art you can eat.

He's so cute!

He’s so cute!

Along with the piñata cookies I made some Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes. That’s just a box of chocolate cake mix with a half teaspoon of cinnamon added in, and I replaced the water it calls for with Kahlua. Because why not?

I used my candy mold to make a few Vader heads in different fiesta colors and left those in the fridge overnight, just adding them to the cupcakes when I set them out at work. (They shouldn’t melt, but it’s been a little warm lately and I didn’t want to take any chances with them.

He doesn't look nearly as intimidating in pink and green.

He doesn’t look nearly as intimidating in pink and green.

There are also some Chocolate Cookie Cups with spoonfuls of dulce de leche in the middle. I made the cookie cups the same way I did my S’mores Cookie Cups last week, and used a can of dulce de leche to fill them. Fast and easy, and I like to call them Dulce de Death Star cookies.

cinquo-de-star-wars-table

I find your lack of baked goods disturbing,
Lisa

Categories: Baking Holidays, Box Mix, Cupcakes, Geek Baking | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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