There’s something about food traditions that speaks to my soul, even when the traditions aren’t my own.  In honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee earlier this month, the Daring Kitchen challenged its bakers to make a traditional English cake – the Battenberg Cake.

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Battenberg cake is a traditional German-style cake that first made an appearance in England when Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine married the German prince, Louis of Battenberg.  The traditional recipe is an almond sponge cake, half dyed pink, cut into rectangles and assembled in a checkerboard configuration.  The individual cakes are glued together using apricot jam and the entire cake is then wrapped in marzipan.  For my own purposes, I decided to make the smaller cakes not only two different colors, but two different flavors as well.  I settled on lavender and vanilla flavored joconde cakes, swapped the apricot jam for lemon curd to add some tangy brightness, and ditched the marzipan in favor of marshmallow fondant because, well, I hate marzipan with an unbridled passion.

In order to make the cake with a minimum amount of waste, a battenberg cake pan, a square pan that allows two or more batters to be baked side-by-side, should be purchased or rigged.  For a four-square battenberg cake, a reasonable substitute can be made by simply folding a piece of aluminum foil the width of your cake pan over on itself a few times.  Place the barrier in the center and cover with parchment before filling the pan with your batters – voila! instant battenberg cake pan!

Lavender-Lemon Battenberg Cake
Makes 1 Cake

Lavender and Vanilla Jocondes

  • 1 cup All-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp Confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups White rice flour
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 5 large Egg yolks
  • 6 large Egg whites
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp Granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp Lavender flowers, minced
  • Blue and pink food coloring gel

Preheat oven to 300f degrees and line an 8″ square battenberg pan with parchment paper.

Carefully mince the lavender flowers until they are a very fine, almost powdery texture and set aside.  In a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, confectioners’ sugar, and rice flour.  Set this mixture aside as well.

Place egg yolks and whole eggs in a large bowl and beat with hand mixer on medium speed for approximately 3 minutes until light in color and thick in volume.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat for another 3 minutes.  Switch mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, mixing just until combined.  Add vanilla extract and mix on low for another couple of seconds until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whip egg whites on medium speed for 2 minutes.  When the egg whites are frothy, slowly add the granulated sugar (a couple tablespoons at a time), and increase the mixer speed to medium-high.  Whip until the egg whites reach stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.

With a rubber spatula, very carefully fold the meringue into the cake batter in 3 additions.  Fold until fully combined.  Place approximately half of this batter into one of the sections of the cake pan.  To the remaining cake batter, add minced lavender flowers, 2 drops blue food coloring, and 1 drop pink food coloring.  Fold again until fully combined.  Pour the lavender joconde batter into the second portion of your cake pan.  Gently rap pan against a counter to get rid of any large air bubbles.  Bake 50-65 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Marshmallow Fondant

  • 1/2 package Miniature marshmallows
  • 1 tsp Water
  • 1 tsp Clear vanilla extract
  • 3-6 cups Confectioners’ sugar

Warning: this is messy.  Very, very messy.  Place marshmallows in a very large, microwave-safe bowl.  Add water and vanilla extract, and mix to coat.  Place the bowl in the microwave and microwave on high for 10 second intervals until marshmallows are puffed and can be easily stirred with a rubber spatula.  Add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and stir with spatula until fully incorporated or too stiff to be stirred.  Turn out onto a work surface and gradually knead in more sugar by hand until dough is smooth and malleable without being overly sticky.  You may need more or less sugar depending on a number of factors, so go by feel rather than measurements.  Roll fondant into a ball and wrap in plastic until ready to use.

Assembly and Decoration

  • Vanilla joconde
  • Lavender joconde
  • 1/4 cup Lemon Curd
  • Marshmallow fondant

With a serrated knife, even out the tops of both cakes.  Using your knife, carefully cut each joconde into two rectangles of the exact same proportions for a total of four sections of cake.  The closer to even the individual cakes are, the more easily the larger cake will fit together.  Heat the lemon curd either on the stove top or in the microwave until easily spreadable.  Take one of the vanilla joconde rectangles and coat one of the long sides with lemon curd using a pastry brush.  Carefully match up to one of the lavender joconde rectangles, using the lemon curd to act as a glue to bind them together.  Repeat this process with the other two rectangles so that you’re left with two cakes, each two colors.  Use the lemon curd to adhere these cakes together to make one single cake with the different colors creating a checkerboard pattern.  Set aside.

Dust your work surface and rolling pin liberally with confectioners’ sugar.  Carefully roll out the marshmallow fondant into a rectangle large enough to cover the entire cake.  Brush one long side of the cake with lemon curd and place, lemon curd down, on the marshmallow fondant.  Brush the remaining long sides of the cake with lemon curd and roll the fondant over and around the cake until it’s snug and the seam is under the cake or in one of the lower edges.  Trim excess fondant with a sharp knife.  Use the same knife to score a cushion pattern in the top.  With a serrated knife, cut off each of the short ends for a neat, finished appearance.

The cake portion of this recipe is very delicate and not overly sweet.  If you’ve never had a joconde before, the texture is incredibly smooth and light.  The lemon curd is a perfect accent to this cake because where the lavender and vanilla are warm, earthy flavors, the lemon is bright and helps the cake maintain the lightness you want in a tea cake.  Oh, speaking of tea, it’s one of the many things that can be substituted exactly for the lavender in this recipe. I’m thinking an Earl Grey Battenberg with Orange Preserves may just make it to the menu for the next High Tea.

Mille tendresse!




May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.  Not being a novice when it comes to yeast breads, I decided to push the limits on the challenge and make a filled challah.  According to Jewish dietary law, foods and ingredients that qualify as meats can not be mixed or consumed with foods or ingredients that qualify as dairy.  Due to the eggs used to make challah, it falls into the meat category and can not be mixed with dairy which, to my consternation, meant that any filling should be free of milk, butter, or cheese.  This eliminated the two fillings I came up with first: parmesan-gruyere with thyme, and dark chocolate.  I will make them both, because I can’t get them out of my head now, but I definitely won’t be calling them challah.  After a bit of waffling, I finally decided on a cinnamon roll challah that uses non-dairy butter substitute in place of traditional butter, and I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out!

Cinnamon Roll Challah

(adapted from ‘Chernowitzer Challah’ by Maggie Glezer)



  • 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
  • About 3 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed firmly
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp non-dairy butter substitute


Measure flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine water and yeast, allow to sit five minutes until foamy.  Add 3/4 cups of the flour mixture to the water and yeast mixture, beat until well combined with a wooden spoon. Cover with a dish towel and let stand for 15 minutes.  Add two eggs to the dough and beat again until fully combined.  Add the oil and mix until fully combined. Add the remaining flour mixture all at once and knead by hand for approximately ten minutes.  If the dough is too sticky after kneading for ten minutes, slowly add more flour and knead in until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.  Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise one hour or until doubled in volume.

While dough is rising, mix together the cinnamon and sugar for the filling in a small bowl

After it’s sufficiently risen, punch down the dough and knead it for approximately three minutes to expel as much air as possible.  Separate the dough into six equal sections (by weight if you have a scale, by volume if you don’t) and roll each section into a 5″x14″ oval.  Use your fingers to spread a light coating of non-dairy butter substitute over the surface, staying well clear of the bottom and side edges. Sprinkle the buttered surface with your cinnamon sugar mix and press it in before rolling it and braiding it as seen in this video by Maggie Glezer.

Be sure that your strands are rolled up and braided as tightly as possible to get that lovely swirl of cinnamon-sugar.  The tighter your strands are rolled, the more of a swirl you will achieve.  Place your loaf on a parchment covered or greased cookie sheet, cover lightly with oiled plastic, and allow to rise one hour.  Preheat oven to 350f degrees.

Just before placing it in the oven, brush the loaf with beaten egg wash.  After 18 minutes, remove loaf from oven, brush again with egg wash, and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes more.  Remove loaf from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

The challah turned out better than I could have ever imagined.  With a light, airy crumb and the richness from the eggs, the bread lends itself exceptionally well to endeavors such as French toast and bread pudding, but it’s delightful all on its own as well.  As far as taste profile, this is also a fabulous substitute for traditional cinnamon rolls and it creates a dramatic presentation for a special breakfast or brunch. This is definitely a recipe I’ll be using often in the future and I can’t wait to experiment with more fillings now that I’ve gotten my feet wet!

Mille tendresse!


Edit: Thanks to Shelley, I now know that I was misinformed about eggs being considered in the meat category under Jewish dietary law.  Cheesy challah time!  Thanks, Shelley!

A Very Mad Men Birthday Dinner

My best friend Kitty is the epitome of all things a best friend should be.  She knows every secret and just what I need, when I need it.  This works both ways and, in her third year of grad school, I realized that what Kitty desperately needed was a party.  Not just any party would do for my best friend, so a Mad Men themed birthday dinner it was.  The most difficult part was keeping it all a secret because, well, I tell her pretty much everything on a daily basis.

The invite artwork was commissioned to a friend who does print work for film and television (he, incidentally, allows me to pay him in baked goods) and then hand-assembled with vellum, glitter card stock, and ribbon.  I’m a firm believer that the invite sets the tone for the entire party.  Posted in black envelopes hand-scripted in metallic silver, the guests had a good idea of what was to come.



A proponent of real flatware and table linens, the tables were set according to standard using Ikea flatware and glassware, linens ordered from and disposable dinnerware from  Placecards were hand-scripted in metallic silver on cardstock, layered, and tied with a ribbon.  Mens’ neckties were used at each place setting to add color in addition to the rose centerpieces.  The appetizer and dessert tables were skirted in red, run with black satin, and sprinkled with hand-punched confetti of black and red in various textures.

Living in Southern California, a dinner menu can be quite the feat given specific dietary restrictions.  In addition to standard fare, there were gluten-free, vegan options for every course.  Cocktail hour consisted of pre-mixed cocktails with various garnishes, period appropriate appetizers, and music.  For the cocktails, vodka cranberry, gin and tonic, and non-alcoholic raspberry lemonade proved quite popular.  An added benefit to pre-mixing the cocktails is that you can make them as weak or as strong as you wish.  Considering that this was a dinner party with wine pairings and a champagne toast, the cocktails were made appropriately weak.

Appetizers were pulled from my grandmothers’ playbooks and consisted of deviled eggs, stuffed celery, and crudites with hummus and ranch dip.  The eggs were sliced and the filling prepared ahead of time and piped on site before being sprinkled with paprika and freshly snipped chives.  Crudites were arranged symmetrically with the dips in paired bowls and the celery was cut into 3-inch pieces before being stuffed with cream cheese.

The salad course was homemade dinner rolls with a choice of mixed green salad or classic iceberg with a variety of dressings.  For the entree, a choice of coq au vin, gluten-free, vegan lasagna, or both and roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary and grey salt.  A lovely, light pinot noir paired beautifully with both the vegetable-rich lasagna as well as the smoky-flavored coq au vin


Dessert was an offering of fresh fruit for the vegans among us and homemade red velvet layer cake with cream cheese frosting and marshmallow fondant.  The cake was divine and each slice was accompanied by a single red rose for that extra dose of something special.



Throughout the evening, games were available (seen here with some candy cigarettes painted with food coloring) and an impromptu 1960s version of Timeline made us all wonder at exactly what it was we did learn in highschool and university, as it definitely wasn’t American history (“well, this is quite the scathing indictment of American education” – the birthday girl’s husband).  Music from Pandora stations “The Twist Radio” and “Wives and Lovers Radio” had people breaking into impromptu dancing all evening.  Well, that and the champagne.

At the end of the evening, each guest was given a martini glass holding a pack of candy cigarettes and a single red rose with their placecard slipped around the stem.





Overall, the party was an absolute smash and the perfect opportunity to don a petticoat and cut loose!


Mille tendresse!



The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

With the option of making either or both, I had set my goals high to do both… then life interfered and I had to choose one of the two.  They both sounded fantastic, but something about the nazook inspired me.  A basic pastry dough that can be filled with anything before being rolled, sliced, and baked compelled me to be creative.  Having lately eaten more than my share of Persian pastries, I decided to incorporate the traditional flavors of honey, pistachio, and rose from those pastries with the Armenian pastry dough.  To make them just a little more special, I topped each cookie with a piece of pistachio brittle and sprinkled them with minced red rose petals.

Nazook with Pistachio-Rose Filling

Recipe yields 40 cookies



  • 3 cups All-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2½ tsp Active dry yeast
  • 1 cup Sour cream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) Unsalted butter, room temperature


  • 2 1/2 cups Pistachios, unsalted and shelled
  • 16 Red rose petals, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups All-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 1/4 cups Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 3/4 cup Unsalted butter, room temperature


  • 1-2 Egg yolks


  • 1 cup Caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup Light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 cup Water
  • 1 1/2 cups Pistachios
  • 2 Tbsp Unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda



Place the sifted flour into a large bowl.  Add the dry yeast, and mix it in.  Add the sour cream, and the softened butter.  Use your hands, or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, to work it into a dough. If using a standing mixer, switch to a dough hook. If making manually, continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl or your hands. If it remains very sticky, add some flour, a little at a time.  Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight if you like.


In a food processor, pulse pistachios until coarsely ground.  Use a mesh strainer to separate out the finer pistachio flour from the rest of the pistachios and mix the larger pieces with the minced rose petals.  In a medium bowl, mix together the softened butter, flour, sugar, honey, and pistachio flour until combined.  Add the pistachio-rose mixture and combine fully using your hands or a pastry cutter.


Preheat the oven to 350f degrees.  Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters.  Form one of the quarters into a ball and leave the rest in the refrigerator while your work. Dust your working surface with a little flour.  Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval. The dough should be thin, but not transparent.  Spread 1/4 of the filling mixture across the rolled-out dough in an even layer. Try to spread the filling as close as possible to the edges on the short sides, but keep some of pastry dough uncovered (1 inch/2.5 cm) along the long edges.  From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed. Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin loaf.  Pat down the loaf with your palm and fingers so that it flattens out a bit (just a bit).  Apply your egg yolk wash with a pastry brush. Use your knife to cut the loaf into 10 equally-sized pieces. Put onto a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Place in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until the tops are a rich, golden brown. Allow to cool.


Lay out a large piece of parchment paper on either a heatproof counter or cookie sheet.  Have all ingredients measured out and on-hand before starting.  Roughly chop half of the pistachios and mix back in with the remaining whole pistachios.  In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and turn heat to medium.  Bring mixture to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Stir in pistachios.  Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 300f degrees.  Remove from heat and immediately stir in the butter and baking soda.  Pour onto parchment and spread into a thin layer.  While brittle is still warm, use a knife to slice into small diamond shapes.  Allow to cool completely before breaking apart along the scored lines.  Use a drop of honey to adhere the cooled brittle to the tops of the cookies before sprinkling with minced rose petals.

The nazook was something different me and I was quite pleased with how they turned out, especially considering the fact that I don’t care for pistachios.  It’s a good thing everyone else around me does because these were gone in a matter of hours.  The cookies were tender and soft, with the nuts adding texture and the brittle giving them a pleasing crunch and an added dose of sweetness.  The filling is creamy and just a little exotic without being overly sweet.  While these won’t be in the regular rotation for me, they will definitely make it to the entertaining menus and are utterly perfect for afternoon tea.

Mille tendresse!


Love and Cookies

There’s something about my Grandma Alice that you all should know – she’s amazing.  She is, by far, the strongest, most admirable woman I know.  This is the lady who taught me to bake and is the first person I call if something in the kitchen has gone awry.  Which, to be honest, happens rather often.

Photo by the immensely talented Megan of Megan Adair Photography and Design

I have many happy memories of her in the kitchen, cooking enough food for a small principality, or holding court at the head of the massive dining room table, mediating debates both personal and political.  She was a mother to twelve, so you can imagine that with spouses, children, and friends, holiday dinners were well-attended.  The tablecloth was pressed, the good china brought out, the family silver polished, and water served from pewter pitchers or crystal claret jugs.  The food was always made from scratch, right down to the dinner rolls, and there were mountains of it.  Dessert was accompanied by vanilla ice cream, black coffee for the adults, and even more political debates.  At the end of the night, on the way out the door, Grandma Alice would give Mom or Dad a plate of cookies.  No matter how much we had eaten, there was always room for a cookie at the end of a trip to Grandma Alice’s.  More than scents, sights, or sounds, there are certain foods that invariably take me back to those evenings when Fall turned to Winter and love was expressed through cookies.

Recently, I was granted access to Grandma Alice’s recipe boxes and was pleased to find the original recipes to some of my most beloved childhood treats.  My favorite of these are the Sour Cream Cookies.  Don’t be thrown by the name – these are sweet, tender cookies with a unique flavor perfect for accompanying an afternoon tea or post-dinner espresso.  As with all recipes, these have grown and changed over the years and I’ve tweaked this one a bit to my own liking. In the picture below, you can see that Grandma Alice included exactly two sentences of instruction.  Most of the over one-hundred recipes in her box had less, if any, which only adds to my admiration of her culinary skills – she had these procedures memorized!

Sour Cream Cookies

Recipe yields 26-30 cookies

  • 5 3/4 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1 tsp Baking powder
  • 1 tsp Ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup Salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups Granulated sugar
  • 2 Eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Sour Cream

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and nutmeg.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar using a fork or a pastry cutter.




When pale and fluffy, add eggs, one at a time, incorporating each fully with fork or cutter.  Add vanilla and sour cream.  Add flour mixture, two cups at a time, and mix in with a wooden spoon.  When all of the flour has been fully mixed in, the dough may remain soft and slightly tacky.  Cut two large pieces of plastic wrap and divide dough into two equal sections.  Place each section on a piece of plastic wrap and wrap securely into a disk.  Refrigerate for at least two hours until firm.

Preheat oven to 375f degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Working quickly, take one disk of dough out of the refrigerator and unwrap.  Place disk on lightly floured surface and roll to 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut into rounds with floured biscuit cutter and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets, 1-inch apart.



If desired, sprinkle cookies with cinnamon-sugar or small nonpareils.  Repeat with second disk of dough.  Bake cookies for approximately 10 minutes or until just starting to turn golden.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  The flavor doesn’t fully develop until they’re back down to room temperature, but they will be impossibly soft and tender while still warm.  Really, there is no wrong time to eat these cookies.


Mille tendresse!


And so it begins…

Facts being what they are, I’ve been putting this off for ages.  An entire decade possibly.  Nothing ever seemed momentous enough to inaugurate a blog with, so I’ve bitten the proverbial bullet and decided to just go with it.  A celebration then – for new beginnings and the kindness of strangers who will silently overlook the painful “new blog” look that my poor little blog is currently sporting.  And, as with all celebrations, this one shall begin with a champagne toast!  Not just any champagne toast, mind you, but a Pink Champagne Cupcake toast, because we do try to be different here.

Pink Champagne Cupcakes with Champagne Frosting
Makes 18 Cupcakes


  • 1/2 cup Salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup Granulated sugar
  • 2 Eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp Vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup Sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Pink Champagne
  • 1 3/4 cups All purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp Baking powder

Preheat oven to 350f degrees and line standard cupcake tin with wrappers.

You will need three separate bowls – one large and two medium.  In one medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Whisk until combined and set aside.  In the second medium bowl, combine sour cream with pink champagne and whisk until smooth.  Set this aside as well.  In the large bowl, mix the softened butter and sugar together with a fork until fully combined and sandy.  Add one egg and mix until combined.  Repeat with the second egg.  Add vanilla paste and stir.  Mix 1/4 of flour mixture into the batter followed by 1/3 of champagne mixture, stirring until no lumps remain.  Repeat until all ingredients have been incorporated and batter is smooth.  Carefully distribute batter among cupcake liners, filling to 2/3 full.  Bake 18-22 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Set aside and allow to cool completely.


  • 2 cups Pink Champagne
  • 1 cup Unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups Confectioners’ sugar

Place champagne in small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to boil.  Lower heat to medium and allow to simmer until reduced to 2 tablespoons.  Pour reduction into small bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.  Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat butter with 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar for two minutes on medium speed.  Add the champagne reduction and another cup of sugar, beating for an additional minute.  Add the last cup of sugar and beat for one to three minutes until stiff, smooth consistency is reached.


Using a pastry bag fitted with an extra large star tip, pipe a swirl on top of each cupcake.  Sprinkle with edible glitter stars, and top with a sliver of glazed strawberry.





The cake portion of this recipe is light, airy, and creamy with just a trace of champagne and vanilla flavors.  It acts as a good counterbalance to the frosting which takes on a rich berry flavor with a kick of tartness and ample sweetness for any cupcake connoisseur.  Oh, and that lovely pink tint to the frosting is from the champagne reduction, no food coloring here. The glazed strawberries on top are completely optional, but I feel it not only adds to the presentation, but contributes a slightly different dimension to the flavor as well.

This is one of my personal favorite recipes because, for me, just the idea of a pink champagne cupcake conjures visions of decadence and celebration.  Speaking of decadence and celebration, when it’s all said and done, there should be just enough pink champagne left in a standard 750mL bottle for a toast.  Don’t want it going to waste, after all!

Mille tendresse!