Baking Books

So I was reading up last year (or 2 years ago at this point…) and found a book called Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Sandra Bullock’s sister, Gesine Bullock-Prado.  To say that this book mirrors my lifelong goal is no stretch of the imagination.  She was working as a Hollywood Executive and dreamt of baking, all day every day.  What concoctions could she come up with?  What new recipes could she find?  Epitome of my days most days (to say that I was writing this on a lunch break from my 8-5 is not a stretch…).  I dream about recipes or what I will be making for dinner.  Pinterest is my best/worst frenemy.  I could spend hours on there, as well as in the kitchen, and never get through all of the delicious baked items I continuously pile on to my Food + Drink Board…

I digress.  Gesine’s book made me realize you can make your dreams come true and start a bakery to enjoy what you are doing.  Someday…

I also read It’s Raining Cupcakes for the Rhode Island Cupcake Madness.  This was a cute children’s story about a girl helping her mom realize her pipe dream of making cupcakes and each individual flavor.  I read the book in one sitting and got some great ideas for flavors for the competition.  The strawberry lemonade chapter may have inspired the 2nd place winner, Limoncello cupcakes :)

Toasted Coconut Scones

Hurricanes in the Northeast are fairly uncommon.  I take that back, they WERE fairly uncommon until the past 2 years where the Connecticut coast got walloped.  In 2011 we were still living inland in Fairfield county, but for my sister’s birthday we were down on the Norwalk to ride out Hurricane Irene.  My parents live right on the coast and storms have always been a big part of living on the water so we went to see what this one would be all about.  To pass the time, obviously I decided to bake.  My parents had gone on a trip through Vermont and ended up at the King Arthur Flour store, aka my Mecca.  They brought me back a boxed (I know what you are thinking! easy way out, blah blah blah) mix to make toasted coconut scones.  To. Die. For. You add some butter and a few other ingredients, bake, and PRESTO! You’ve got scones!  A little coconut glaze and you are in business.  King Arthur really does a great job on their boxed mixes and I have now noticed they sell a few here in Connecticut grocery stores.  I highly recommend :)

 

Don’t these just look so enticing??

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Cake Suite Taste Test

So, we all know that I am obsessed with Groupon/Living Social deals, especially to try out new places in the area.  There was one back in 2011 (yes, this is old…) to a place called Cake Suite in Westport, CT.  My baker friend, Lauren, and I sat down for a taste test of 12 cupcakes that I got with my Groupon deal.  I tried to order all different cupcakes to get a wide variety and to see the span of flavors that this new bakery had to hopefully gain some good ideas for future cupcakes.

Let’s start off by saying, 12 cupcakes between to 2 of us, was a loooooot of cupcakes.  

Here is a picture of all the cupcakes we tasted:
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We didn’t need dinner that night for sure.  We rated each cupcake on a scale of 1 through 7 on sweetness and taste combination.  The first one we tried was Very Vanilla, and it was a dry cupcake.  I am more of a chocolate fan, so this one was rather boring for me.  The best frosting award, went to the Chocoholic cupcake.  Chocolate ganache with chocolate curls on top.  The Peanut Butter Cup cupcake was very filling.  Lauren’s favorite cupcake was the Red Velvet.  Cream cheese frosting with delicious strawberry curls.  My favorite cupcake was the Chunky Monkey.  It was a moist banana cupcake, with banana frosting and peanuts. Delish!

Overall, the cupcakes were delicious – I also gained the insight to add the little decor on top to add a small flavor twist in an appealing and delicate fashion.

Billy’s Bakery-Croissants and Cannoli Cupcakes

One of our weekend treats during any season is going out to eat delicious breakfast pastries.  We try to find new bakeries where ever we are visiting, or just like to frequent our favorite spots.  Some of the newest discoveries are found by using the Around Me app for the iPhone and it has not steered us wrong yet!

On this particular weekend, we visited one of our favorites, Billy’s Bakery in Fairfield, CT.  Our usual order is the delicious varieties of croissants.  How could anyone hate the flaky pastry and the delectable and different fillings of each one.  My usuals, yes usual IS pluralized-because one just isn’t enough, are the chocolate and the almond.  My fiance usually gets the raspberry and apple (he’s so plain! ;P).  We recently brought a box of 8 back to his parents house when the family was visiting and everyone loved them, even the baby! (Well, the baby is actually almost 2 but he is still a baby to me).

Here is a picture of these divine almond creations:

I highly recommend stopping by Billy’s Bakery for these delicious breakfast treats, or one of their many other offerings.  I personally cannot wait to go in and try their cannoli cupcakes!  Every time I go I am too late to enjoy these little bites of heaven, some day I will get my hands on them!

Sono Bakery Buttercream Decorating

Now that I am done with 6 years of schooling, working full-time through 2 of the years, I decided I wanted to take some fun classes from the local adult education offerings.  These classes in the Fairfield County area are for anything from learning how to make great BBQ food from a local restaurant, to yoga classes, to digital photography.  I, of course, chose a class at SoNo Bakery to learn how to make buttercream flowers, and let me tell you, they did not disappoint!

I got out of work early one day to make it to the class.  I got to bring my hand-me-down decorating tips that my mother so generously gave me, my awesome black and white printed apron, and my enthusiasm for this wonderful bakery in my hometown.  I was finally getting to see some of the cogs of this flawless bakery!  Not many people can say they have been in the kitchen of a bakery they so profoundly love, well I can!

We were going to learn how to make 6 different flower techniques to decorate our own cupcakes.  This art form does not come easily, and takes a lot of practice to get the flowers looking beautiful.  Here is a picture of mine!

I was so thrilled with how they came out.  I actually considered myself to be on my way to being a professional baker at this point.  I could seriously make these and put them on cakes.  It was a revelation that I truly did love baking and could make a career out of this some day.  I have practiced since this class, and though they are not quite as beautiful, practice makes perfect :)  The buttercream has to be a perfect consistency, and if you are keeping the pastry bag in your hand for too long you will melt the butter and have runny flowers.  Maybe my wedding will be the next time I break out this technique to decorate MY cupcakes ;P

Michele’s Pies Apple Pie Class

Here is my first (and hopefully not last ;p) guest blog written by my good baking friend, Lauren about our baking class experience at Michele’s Pies.

In light of Michele Albano’s recent recognition as one of Fairfield County Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, I decided it was finally time to write my guest entry  for the blog… that really should have been written months ago.  Alas, with a few patient reminders and the seemingly cosmic kick in the ass, this blog has just come together marvelously!

Back sometime this past winter, Lindsay came across a pie making class through Wilton Continuing Ed.  If you’ve never taken one of your local continuing ed programs, definitely look into them, some of the classes (one timers and ongoing) are worth checking out.   Anywho, we signed up for the class and couldn’t wait! ( Mind you, just a month (or more) prior Lindsay, Brendan and I took a trip to Michele’s Pies on the Norwalk-Wilton Line.)

The class had 12 other people, all women, and most seemed to be friends signed up together.  Michele walked us through her famous apple pie story, from her family crust recipe to the types of apples.  I’m not sure about Lindsay, but I was very happy with the amount of prep Michele did for us in advance. Gotta love not having to peel and dice apples.

By far, the most challenging part of the night was making and rolling out the crust.  Proper crust has always been one of those baking nightmares filled with crumbling messes, holes and rolling pins to blame your troubles on.  While not everyone struggled, I think Michele walking through the steps helps even a more practiced baker refresh those skills while allowing the class to help and learn from each other.

After making the crust, class moved along nicely, filling pies and listening to Michele’s anecdotes on her business, the second location in Westport (now open), growing up baking, and of course, Bobby Flay and FoodNetwork.

Now with two local shops, there’s no excuse not to try one of Michele’s pies.  They’re incredible and knowing they’re made by a successful female entrepreneur will make the trip even sweeter (for us aspiring businesswomen anyway).   I’ve yet to visit the new Westport location, but I’ve heard great things about both the pies and atmosphere.  Guess it’s time to plan a visit… hopefully it won’t take me as long to get there as it did to write this entry.(Note: Lindsay did not have as much luck with her crust as Lauren did, but it was still delicious!)

Pies Pies Everywhere!

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, Brendan and I were going to my parents house for a big Sunday dinner, so I felt like I should earn my dinner and bring a dessert.  My parents had mentioned a trip to the Cracker Barrel the night before so I got the nostalgic thought of trying to make a Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie like I so fondly remember from their menu from years ago.  Off I went to search for a recipe to bring for dessert and fell upon a simple one from Cooks.com.  Another fantastic combination in addition to the chocolate and peanut butter, was also adding Cool Whip and cream cheese to the peanut butter mixture.  Food comas begin like this…  I purchased a chocolate graham cracker crust by Keebler and went to the task.  The pie called for a layer of the melted chocolate mixture, the fluffy peanut butter, Cool Whip, cream cheese mixture, and another layer of chocolate to put into the fridge.

Here are the delectable layers before putting the pie together:

After a few hours of refrigeration we were ready to indulge.  The final product:

Brendan’s perfect piece:

If one pie in a day wasn’t going to be enough, I called my baking friend Lauren to see if she wanted to go check out Michele’s Pies in Norwalk, CT.  Michele’s Pies has been featured on the Food Network, on a Bobby Flay Throwdown for pumpkin pies!  It was amazing how I had never tried the bakery before, as it is settled in a nice little nook near the Norwalk/Wilton line.  Walking in to the quaint store I was overcome with choices of which pie to choose for my afternoon snack.  After much debate, I settled on the Apple Pear Cranberry Crumb.  The topping was so delectable and the filling was oh so tasty!  I am a picky eater when it comes to apple pies because of the apple texture.  If the apples are too hard I am completely turned off from the apple pie experience, but these were just right!  Not too mushy, and not hard as if they were not cooked long enough.

Michele’s Pies is currently renovating a space in Westport, CT to open their second storefront.  I am very excited for this because they will have breakfast pastries in addition to their scrumptious pies!

This post is also in honor of Lauren and I taking a pie baking class on Tuesday March 1st from none other than Michele Albano herself!  I cannot wait! :)

Sticky Fingers Bakery in West Dover, VT

On one of my many trips on Route 100 to Mount Snow in Vermont, my mother told me to check out a local bakery called Sticky Fingers Bakery that recently opened last May.  So on my last visit to go skiing, I had earned myself a trip to the bakery, and was ecstatic because bakeries are hard to come by it seems in the Vermont green mountains.  Pulling right off of Route 100 I was in love with the black and pink simplistic sign.

Just opening the door was overwhelming with such amazing aromas overpowering your senses.  The small bakery was warm and filled with treats such as a Chocolate Bombe cake, cheesecakes, and, the famous Cinnamon Sticky Bun!

These cinnamon buns are something to seriously aspire to be able to make:

So delicious!  Fresh out of the oven, these HUGE cinnamon buns will certainly make me revisit, and maybe try out some new treats :)  I strongly suggest if you are in the Mount Snow ski area to stop by @stickyfingersVT

www.stickyfingersvt.com

210 Route 100 West Dover, VT

802.464.9463