make-ahead anything goes strata, butter me up, Brooklyn!

This is one of those dishes that has an awesome name which makes me want to come up with puns like: this is “strata”-up delicious. Or one bite will send out of this “strata”-sphere.

But stratas are also one of the best ways to clean out your fridge and feed a crowd at the same time. Oh do you have a ton of holiday leftovers, hardly any time, and a brunch planned for New Year’s Day?

Perhaps I can recommend this make-ahead anything goes strata.

anything goes strata scoop, butter me up, Brooklyn!

A strata starts with stale day-old bread. For the record I would like to say that any recipe that starts with stale bread and ends with a magically delicious custardy breakfast casserole has got to be worth it. It’s a good thing that putting together a strata takes hardly any effort at all.

cubed day-old bread

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Melted Candy Cane-Filled Cocoa Sandwich Cookies, butter me up, Brooklyn!

With the holidays in full swing, I have been busy frosting endless platters of sugar cookies, having a bit too much fun in my holiday card-making workshop, and actively conducting an extremely unofficial poll about one of the season’s most famous treats: The Candy Cane.

It all started back in July when I was just beginning to brainstorm what would come in the months ahead for holiday baking. One of the most classic December flavors – and my personal favorite – is Candy Cane but it got me thinking: do people (namely adults because I know children will consume anything containing even a pinch of sugar) actually eat candy canes? Like not the small-sized ones. And for dessert. Then my follow-up question: How do you eat it?

I wondered: Do you crack it into pieces first? Do you unwrap it from the bottom so that as you go it forms a pointed stick so sharp it could be used to punch holes in holiday gift tags? Or do you attempt to consume it from the hooked end? May I say from personal experience that this is not the most classy of options in the looks department. Especially if you are around anyone else but yourself.

candy cane heart

Then there is the problem with size. Can anyone finish off a candy cane in one single sitting? What do you do with a half-eaten candy cane? Again let’s hope your co-workers aren’t around. Say you are in the middle of banging out a few emails whilst enjoying an afternoon candy cane and then you unexpectedly get called into a meeting – what do you do? Just set it down on a napkin and let it hang out for the 30 or so odd minutes?

Lastly, it would be wrong to not mention the whole shrink-wrapped packaging element. Do candy canes even want to be enjoyed and taken seriously as a candy? Some are wrapped so impossibly tight that it makes me think not.

cocoa peppermint cookies, baked

So after collecting and organizing data and plotting the results, I have come to the conclusion that most people delight in the idea of candy canes more than consuming them. I now understand why most recipes involving candy canes call for them crushed. Or perhaps we collectively just all need to have an excuse to smash candy canes with our rolling pins and feel OK about it.

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twisted double chocolate and orange swirl bread

December is not the time to loose your baking focus. As I have said before I have spent months preparing for this four-week festival of butter and brown sugar. The holi-daze are also not the time to be shy when it comes to over-the-top baking so let’s save the two ingredient slushies for summer when turning on the oven requires a ridiculous amount of effort/some sort of bribe.

If you can believe it these started out as cinnamon rolls but then I went bonkers and ended up with this recipe which is further proof I can not leave well enough alone when it comes to the baking category.

But most recipes need a good switch up every now and again. Think of these as those orange chocolates that you smash up against the wall to break them into individual slices BUT in the form of a cinnamon roll’s cousin. The twisted swirl shape looks impressive for not much extra effort and I urge you to give it a-go but just in case, I have included directions for making these as good-ol’ fashioned swirl buns as well.

overnight rise

It all begins with a yeasted chocolate dough. Look at that thing of beauty! Why have I not added cocoa to every batch of cinnamon roll dough before? I apologize for not thinking of this sooner my friends. I also let my dough rise in the refrigerator overnight which makes everything easier. No one likes to wait for dough to rise, so it’s best to do it while you are doing something productive like sleeping.

orange sugar

The filling is a mix of granulated and brown sugar and orange zest. Zest keeps everything, um, extra zesty and cool.

chopped ombre chocolate

Next chop up some good quality dark chocolate (looking much prettier in an ombré color scheme).

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small cake stand // $19.95 //  one
offset spatula with natural handle // $2.50 // two
small 6-inch cake pans // $6.50 for one // three
tiny boxes in kraft paper brown // $5.00 for ten // four
twine in gold shimmer // $15.00 for 240 yards // five
metallic silver sanding sugar // $7.95 // six
classic Bundt pan // $24.00 //  seven
metallic gold sanding sugar // $7.95 // eight
kitchen scale // $22.00 // nine

Because it is holiday time, I’m jumping on the bandwagon with a gift guide for 2012.

I am a firm believer that the best gifts are small and thoughtful and not over the top BUT I am pretty sure I would change my tune in a hot second if I ever woke up on Christmas morning and there was a brand new Lexus parked in the driveway with a red bow on the hood. While I patiently wait for that to happen it is all about gifts that are in the “thought that counts” category (which as I hope you agree, are totally better anyways). Plus I think it is probably best if we all buy our own cars, right?

I have received lots of emails from you about gift ideas for your favorite baker so this list was made with bakers everywhere in mind. Hopefully if you are baker you have all the mixing bowls, measuring cups, and whisks that your little heart desires but these items are just a few little things that the lover of baked goods in your life will appreciate. Or perhaps you need a little holiday treat as well (I will not judge if that happens to be the case). Friends – I give you BMUB’s 2012 holiday gift guide for bakers!

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These cookies are the baking equivalent of the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

This humble cookie is one that I will admit doesn’t look like much from the get-go. There is no jazzy brightly colored hat with sparkles and bells and whistles to catch your attention. They could easily be passed up for a more exciting treat or something that has at least one single chocolate chip and/or a spicy pecan.

These cookies remind me of my first cat whom I rescued as a stray when I was seven years old because when she came into my life, she didn’t look like much at first glance. Side note: while we are on the subject and because I haven’t changed much since then, she was appropriately given the name Cupcake.

I found her behind an old beat-up van on a Saturday afternoon and she was tiny and scraggly and honestly not the nicest of cats. But to me, she was a gleaming, golden ray of feline sunshine. Miraculously – and by promising to clean my room for all of eternity – I convinced my mom to let me take her home and the love began.

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For the first decade or so of my life I was what I like to call a selective eater. I was picky and choosy and however which way you sliced it – it was a closed case. There was no going near certain foods. End of discussion.

Today I am a changed woman. I realize that I missed out on a lot of good meals in the 80s and 90s and I need to make up for lost time. Almost nothing is off-limits. Give me a plate and I will sample and devour the contents with joy. The exception being an overripe tomato. No matter how much I try it is just the one food I can not rally behind being delicious.

But rewind the clock to 1994. That was the year I subsisted entirely on cottage cheese sprinkled with goldfish crackers (don’t knock it until you try it) and my Dad’s homemade mac and cheese. I loathed salad or anything from a garden and good luck trying to get me to sample something really wild and crazy like a quiche!

My selective-ness was made all the more apparent at family gatherings where I was up against other children, namely my three male cousins who would have eaten a car tire had it been grilled and slathered with barbecue sauce. Even from a young age they ate pretty much everything. While I was busy making sure my plain mashed potatoes were not in any way touching the chicken tenders which with they were forced to share the plate, my cousins were cracking crab legs with glee and picking out the tender meat from their high chairs.

The granddaddy meal of them all – Thanksgiving – was that special time once a year that I had to come face-to-face with my ultimate childhood nemesis: The pumpkin pie.

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Since turning the calendar a page, we have officially entered that lovely period in the year that brings endless cocktail parties with feasting and socializing overload. I happen to love this particular time of the year because it is an excuse to get together but with the added bonus of the “holiday” heading which means everyone wears sparkles and I get to eat my annual serving of gravy.

The months of November and December are also the time where one needs a quick and easy little something to bring to that feast. I think written somewhere there is an official rule that you can’t show up to a party empty handed, right? A little jar of cocktail snack treats is just what you need to win the hearts of hostesses everywhere.

I know it has been a little quiet ’round these parts but I’ve had a few too many failed dessert attempts emerge from my oven over the past week or so and I will admit that my baking mojo is low. I needed to ease my way back into the saddle so hello there toasty pecans!

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New Yorkers love to talk about three things: the price of their rent, the length of their commute, and the price of your rent/length of your commute.

I had to take three trains from Brooklyn to get to my job on the Upper East Side. Let me tell you: this is semi-note worthy talk for parties. People will try to hide their jealously if you have one train ride to work. Two and they’ll say, “Join the club, don’t we all.” If you have to take three trains then they will start to feel bad and quickly change the subject by asking, “Well then how much do you pay for rent out there in Brooklyn?”

I could turn the three train situation (see here I go talking about commuting!) into just one train if I walked 30 minutes to the direct line. If it wasn’t raining/hailing/snowing and depending on my laziness, I would always choose the walk. When I found out that there happened to be an amazing Italian bakery on the way, guess why I started walking more often (obviously because walking = treat). Out of everything they offered I was most drawn to their overwhelming selection of biscotti and I would always order just one – to go.

The woman behind the counter laughed at me the first time. I don’t think she was in the habit of customers purchasing a single biscotti especially since they are sold by the pound; meaning one cookie would set me back a whole $0.25 to $0.35 depending on how generously the baker in the back sliced them.

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Question: What will make your home smell like a scented candle from Pier One and fulfill all of your fall pumpkin spice cravings?

Answer: Baking and then eating this cake.

I tried to hold out as long as I could, guys, but it’s been hard to avoid with everything around me turning to pumpkin quicker than one can say Cinderella. It’s always the lattes first. Then those tiny (but omg aren’t they ADORABLE?!) pumpkins make their way into the stores by the bushel. Next the seasonal pumpkin-shaped Reese’s and Snickers bars show up just to taunt me when I’m in line at the drugstore stocking up on dental floss. Oh the irony.

So it was inevitable that I too, would fall victim to such deep ochre fate. I knew the minute I took a bite of this cake that there was no going back. It is always a sad day when the realization sets in that I must say good bye to popsicles for another long year.

Somewhere, right now, there is a gathering of gourds mocking my fall to The Pumpkin. “It was just a matter of time. I knew we’d get her,” said the jack-o’-lantern with a laugh to his buddies in the patch. The roasted pepitas crunched as he tossed them back into his toothy grin.

Perhaps I’m being dramatic. I have had four cups of coffee and it is creative writing hour over here.

In addition to giving into the seasonal pumpkin mania, I broke one of my personal baking rules and made a low-fat cake. Up next: my public apology to butter.

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The East Coast really knows how to do the entire season of fall. Brisk mornings, brightly colored leaves that crunch underfoot, and the sort of weather that makes you want to wear a scarf.

The whole thing is a pretty glorious time and something that I never really understood until moving to New York. All I knew growing up in the NW was the season of “damp leaves” which is a-not-so-glorious-time that begins around late-September and lasts until about March. I’m semi-kidding of course, and you should know that I’m just satisfying the requirement that all Seattleites must uphold which is to say: whenever possible poke fun at Seattle’s weather in the hopes that no one else will move in and figure out just how awesome the city is – even during the “damp leaves” months.

Last weekend I took a little jaunt upstate to take advantage of my most favorite time of the year. The trip included: warm cinnamon sugar apple cider doughnuts, a pumpkin patch, fresh pressed apple cider, and twenty pounds of pick-it-yourself apples. I am 100% serious that I would take the 90-minute train ride back up just for the doughnuts alone. The whole day was awesome and pretty much fall overload, as evidenced by the photos below.

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