Sunday, January 22, 2012

Homemade Cranberry Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies (sort of)

Snow.  It's pretty.  But it's also cold.  Very cold.
Did I just haiku?
One of the big changes I made when I moved to New York is that I'm now car-less.  While there are perks (no more gas bill! no more oil changes!), sometimes I really miss my car.  Especially when I'm running errands.  Why?  Because now, I literally run errands.  Combine that with the cold, and I can easily talk myself out of doing anything.  "Um, the hardware store is 7 blocks away. I didn't really need lightbulbs, right?  I mean I can go another week without any light source in my kitchen."

This is a true story, by the way.  I have fancy (read: really really old) lights that burned out on Day 3.  It took me 3 months to figure out how to get these effin vintage lightbulbs out of their sockets so I could take them to the hardware store.  The hardware store guy seriously marveled at them.  I'm pretty sure he's taking them to the nearest museum.  But I digress.  

I miraculously got all of my errands done this morning, despite sloshing around in the snowy, bone-chilling 18 degree weather.  So, what to do with the rest of my chilly winter Sunday afternoon?  Why bake, of course!
I made these.  No need to wonder--yes, they were really, really good.
Since today is a Very Important Football Day, I wanted to do something rather quick so I could still catch the games.  I visited my local organic grocery store, because it's the closest store to my place (again, I'm cold).  I was intrigued by an organic chocolate chip cookie mix so I dropped that in my basket. But I like to add my own twist, and I love superstuffed, full-of-awesomeness chunky monkey cookies, so I also chose organic walnuts and plump dried cranberries. 

Sweet, luscious cranberries and crunchy walnuts
The mix was very easy to follow, and just required butter and eggs, along with my pizazzy additions. 

All of the ingredients, in my now brightly lit kitchen.
Step 1: I first beat the softened butter and eggs with a blender.  Note: I don't eat a lot of eggs so Egg Beaters tend to come in handy. I keep it in the fridge all the time for cookie emergencies. 

Blending the butter and eggs.  We're off to a good start.

Step 2: I added the chocolate chip cookie dough mix, massaged it into the wet ingredients with my hands.  This is a great mixing method because the warmth of your hands helps to melt the butter and gently adheres the dough together.  But more importantly, I get to eat whatever dough ends up on my fingers.  
I love cookie dough.  Sometimes I stop at this step.
Step 3: Add awesomeness.  This can be absolutely anything (I briefly considered almonds and apricots), but I was in a cranberry and walnut mood.
Crammed full of cranberries and walnuts.
Step 4: Make little round balls and place them on your greased cookie pan.  I eyeballed them.  I like my cookies huge and chunky, so instead of the recommended 24, I doubled up and made 12.  

Perfect little cookie dough balls.  About to be ruined in the oven.
Step 5: The mix recommended baking them for 9 minutes, but because I doubled their size, I baked them for 12 and then watched them carefully.  They needed another 3 minutes or so to be lightly browned.  I hate overbaked cookies, so I tend to pull them earlier than recommended so they remain soft and not overly crispy.
Sweet, crunchy, soft and warm= cookie heaven.
Step 6: Let them cool.  Please.  I've always found this rule hilarious.  If you actually wait for them to cool, my hat goes off to you, my friend.  I like them best when hot out of the oven.  And I needed to test them, so I picked one up and took a bite.  Oh wow.  Warm and a bit crumbly, the creamy chocolate chips combined with the crunchy walnuts and the spike of sweet and plump cranberries were a perfectly delightful mix.  

Note: these are somewhat healthy, because of the fruit (antioxidants!), nuts (good fat!) and chocolate (more antioxidants!). Another note: Yes, I know I'm grasping at straws. 
I may have tried 2 more.  Then I waited for them to cool (See, I can follow directions.  Sometimes), and gently placed them in a ziplock bag.  

I always bake with someone in mind--it's amazing how something as small as a homemade cookie can bring someone so much joy.  Also, while I probably could, I should not eat an entire batch of cookies.  So tomorrow, the rest of the Cranberry Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies will be given to my super, Jose, who is one of the hardest working, nicest people I've ever met.  He also lights up whenever I bake for him.  We both win. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Banana Chocolate Scones and Tea with Alice in Wonderland

It's a Mad Hatter Tea Par-tay!   
I love quaint.  I tend to tilt my head and sigh "awwww" when I spot quaintness.  This is one reason why I melt as soon as I land anywhere in Europe; any city on the entire continent could be renamed "Quaintville".  (Side note: I just made up two new words.  If you're playing a drinking game while reading this, I advise you to buckle up; there's more ridiculousness where that came from).

One of my favorite things to do every morning in any European city: sit outside at a quaint little cafe on a tree-lined cobblestone street,  while sipping something warm and soothing and munching on a deliciously flaky pastry, watching the elegant locals stroll by.  So quaintly.

Magical Fairy Dust kindly greeted us at the front door.


This is just one reason why I love New York: it can rival Europe with its quaintliness.  

By now you can probably guess which word popped into my head the first time I walked into Alice's Tea Cup: quaint!  This charming little tea shop is not only adorable, it serves some of the most tasty scones I've ever had.

I ordered the appropriately named "Alice's Mad Morning Tea" which included my choice of one scrumptious scone, my choice of eggs, crunchy homemade granola with vanilla yogurt, and of course, a quaint little pot of tea.  My friend Mel chose a similar spread, except instead of granola, she received a plateful of yummy cookies.  We quickly learned an important lesson: you can't go wrong here.  
Homemade granola sprinkled with fresh berries
I chose the signature "Alice's Tea", a blend of Indian black tea, Japanese green tea, vanilla and rose petals.  Smooth, silky, almost sip and I immediately understood why this tea has a dedicated following. 

Then came the hard part: choosing The Scone.  I have never seen so many different types of crazy tasty scones in my life.  Scones are one of my favorite breakfast pastries (anything made with outrageous amounts of butter ranks high on my favorites list), so I took some time making my very important choice.  After staring at them for a while, and animatedly discussing them with the Scone Lady (there was lots of pointing and oohing and ahhing),  I finally narrowed it down to three: 

Option #1: Glazed Pumpkin Scone
Option #2: Berry Chocolate Chip Scone

Option #3: Banana Chocolate Scone
While I wanted to try them all (and I will--these have been added to my already very long Next Time List), I chose #3.  First, because it contains bananas, which is a fruit, which made me feel better about eating a scone the size of my head.  Second, because I believe that chocolate makes everything better.  And it did--crumbly, buttery, fruity and chocolatey, this scone was quaintly delicious.

As if the to-die-for scones weren't enough reason to come back, Alice's Tea Cup also makes cupcakes, cakes, and many other mouthwatering desserts that have also been added to my Next Time List.  

Banana Nutella layered cake?  Are you people in my head?
I can't wait to try all of the locations, and have another lovely and quaint afternoon tea.

Also added to the Next Time List.  This list is getting long.

Alice's Tea Cup
156 E 64th St
New York, NY 10021

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Not Your Mother's Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate lovers, prepare to be wowed.
Just one of the great things about having a dessert blog: when people find out about it, they feel challenged to introduce you to the most amazing dessert they know, especially if I'm visiting their territory.  

In addition, as a natural instigator (some may say it's a gift), I like to add fuel to the fire; it always makes life more interesting. "So listen, no pressure but I have a dessert blog so if we don't have the most incredible dessert ever, it might affect our friendship.  But don't worry, I'm sure you'll choose well."  (Yep, I'm a stinker).

Such was the case with this next little gem. I recently had meetings in the adorable Lafayette, CA, which is located in the East Bay, about 30 minutes from the San Francisco Airport.  Quaint and charming, it's the type of small town where a life-sized gingerbread house would blend in well.
The incredibly charming restaurant.  Perhaps you can get a sense
of how ridiculously cute the rest of the town is.  I half expected a

hobbit to start skipping out the door.

We had dinner at the fabulous Postino, an old post office converted into a cozy Italian restaurant (excellent choice, Anthony).  The real food was delicious, but of course I was ready to dive into the desserts.  I'm always on the lookout of the most unusual dessert, so it's easy to see why this one caught my eye: Not Your Mother's Chocolate Pudding.  And then the description: CHOCOLATE...blah blah...TRUFFLE.  (I'm a sucker for anything truffle).  Done. 

This one was calling my name.

When it arrived, I thought, well of course you're cute.  Just like everything else in this flipping adorable town.
Not enough chocolate, they thought.  Maybe if we add chocolate chip cookies,
she'll go out of her mind.  Mission Accomplished, Postino.
Creamy milk chocolate pudding mixed with rich dark chocolate truffle, topped with a dense white chocolate whipped cream and sprinkled with tiny crunchy malt balls, this chocolate pudding was like no other.  Perfectly chilled, it also arrived with two bite-sized chocolate chip cookies.  Yum.

The next day, I arrived at the office, ready for a long day of meetings.  Being the clever people they are, my colleagues decided to help the day go faster.  And what helps you get through a long day of meetings?  Why, a plate full of scrumptious cupcakes, of course!  (Thanks Katie, you're a superstar!)

Smores, Red Velvet and Coconut were my favorites.

3565 Mt. Diablo Boulevard
Lafayette, California 94549

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Perfect Chocolate Croissant

One of the great (slash dangerous) things about desserts is that they're available EVERYWHERE.  I do a fair share of traveling--which I love--because there are always fun, new dessert places for me to try, wherever I go.

One of my favorite French words: Pain Au Chocolat
I was recently in gorgeous San Francisco, and had a spare 30 minutes.  Hmmm. What to do with 30 minutes?  Find the best bakery in San Francisco, of course.

My friend Melanie used to live in SF so I asked for her best dessert recommendation.  She answered immediately: "Tartine! The chocolate croissants are the best I've ever had."  Then she added something very intriguing: "Even better than Paris."  Quite a bold claim so now I'm curious beyond belief.  Tartine it is.

I didn't have much time. Between landing, finding Tartine, and then making my way to my hotel--Go Speed Racer!-- I was a bit nervous about my challenging schedule. I was also extremely unconfident in my ability to find any of these places due to my legendary lack of direction.  So I requested a Garmin.  I'm not a huge fan of GPS systems--I hate being told that I'm supposed to take an exit 2 seconds before I pass it-- but I knew it was necessary.  And miraculously, it took me directly to Tartine...on my first try. Whoohoo! 

(Side note: holy cow does SF have a ton of freeways, highways and bridges.  And really charming place names.  For example, Treasure Island.  Obviously they'd have dessert.  For about 3 seconds, I seriously considered heading there.  But I digress).     

Banana Cream Tart is just one of many delightful specialities. 

I found the general area, despite some crazy construction, and then looked for a sign.  Of course, no sign.  However, from the crowd of people sitting at cute cafe tables to the snaking line was clear I had found Tartine.

Frangipane Cranberry Almond Tarts.  It's hard to tell from this photo
but this thing is larger than my hand and weighs about 100 pounds.
I was slightly concerned about parking.  Between the street construction and overall lack of street parking, I was prepared to leave, as sad as this made me, if I couldn't find a space in 10 minutes.  I shouldn't have worried.  I quickly found a generous parking space just one block away.  I took this as a sign.  Some things are just meant to be, right?

I literally jogged to the corner with giddy anticipation (excuse me, coming through, it's a chocolate croissant emergency!) 

As soon as I entered this baking haven, I was overwhelmend.  In a very good way. 

Chocolate spilling over buttery flakes
So. Many. Choices.  Banana Cream Tarts, Buttermilk Scones, Morning Buns, Bread Pudding!  I spent a good 5 minutes with the baking lady trying to figure out what to choose!  In the end, of course I had to go with the Pain Au Chocolat.  Soft, flaky and most importantly--BUTTERY! And chocolate oozing from the really was the Perfect Chocolate Croissant.  And Mel was right.  I dare say, it at least rivaled the Parisian Croissants I adore so much. 

I enjoyed my fabulous croissant and a lovely cup of coffee at a corner table bursting with lilies.  Gently pulling a small piece,  flakes flew everywhere. I burst out laughing. Within a minute, I was completely covered in decadent, buttery crumbs.  I wasn't alone.  This type of scene is perfectly acceptable in a cafe where everyone was gorging on decadent treats. 
It was easy to get lost in my thoughts as I imagined myself eating this little treasure at a Parisian cafe on St. Germain.  Bliss.  A quick yet delightful little discovery. And then I was off.  But not without a souvenir, of course.

I may have gotten something to go. 
It may or may not be a Frangipane Cranberry Almond Tart.

600 Guerrero Street San Francisco, CA 94110

415 487 2600

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Red Velvet Waffles with Taro Cream Cheese

Red velvet waffles topped with taro cream cheese, red velvet cake cubes,
and chocolate sauce.  And a swirly chocolate thingy.
As I was pondering where to meet my friend Erica for lunch, I realized it might be a good idea to offset my recent sugar marathon with some actual food.  (Sometimes I hate being responsible).

Me: I really need something healthy, maybe a salad?  

Erica: Got it, I have just the place.

Now granted, Yogurstory offered salads but what my wonderful friend failed to mention is that this place is known for their crazy dessert waffles!  No matter, we're adults and as I mention above, totally responsible.  So, in an effort to be healthy, we brilliantly ordered salads.  

Proof that I ate a salad.
And then promptly wolfed down some super tasty waffles.  

We actually ordered the waffles at the same time as the salads, because we're so efficient (ok maybe I was dying to see what these waffles looked like).  I wouldn't recommend this method unless you enjoy staring longingly at your dessert while trying to get excited about a forkful of spinach.

I need to back up.  Because I'm sure you're scratching your head right now if you caught the name of this restaurant.  Yogurstory.  Let's get this discussion over with, shall we?  

Yes, it's called Yogurstory.  No, that's not a typo.  No, it's not just a frozen yogurt shop.  No, they don't tell stories. Yes, I realize none of that really makes sense.  Such is life, people.
Proof that I didn't make up "Yogurstory".
There it is in print, people.
The waffles were yummy as expected--very soft, with a hint of red velvet, complemented by the red velvet cake cubes scattered on top.  Dark and creamy chocolate sauce.  

But what really amazed me about this dish was the Taro Cream Cheese.  My mouth is watering just talking about this unique topping.  I never would have thought to mix the two together, but it was absolutely delicious.  I seriously could have eaten a tub of this stuff by itself.
Oh did I fail to mention it comes as a 4-pack?
Yogurstory has really taken waffles to the next level.  Red Velvet Waffles with Red Velvet Cake Cubes, Taro Cream Cheese and Chocolate Sauce is pretty inventive.  

But Red Velvet has friends.  Very good looking friends. 

Next on my list of waffles to try, it's a tie between: 

Sweet Potato Waffles with Coconut Haupia Sauce, Toasted Coconut and whipped cream, or
West Hollywood Oreo Waffles with White Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Chips, Belgian 58% Chocolate Sauce and Creme Anglaise.  

Holy waffle house, Batman.
Proof that these crazy waffles actually exist.

Yogurstory.  Silly name.  Awesome waffles.  


815 Keeaumoku St
HonoluluHI 96814
(808) 942-0505

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Okinawan Sweet Potato Haupia Squares

Enjoying my little treat on gorgeous Waikiki Beach
One of the things I loved about growing up in Hawaii was being exposed to so many different cultures, languages, and of course, food.   While the title of this next delicious dessert sounds completely normal to me, after telling a friend from New York about it, she replied, "the whatta?"

So let's break it down: 

Okinawan: where this pretty little potato is from.  For the geography-challenged, Okinawa is one of Japan's southern prefectures (ok, I may have looked that up.  I was going to say "somewhere in south Japan" but that sounded a bit vague).

Sweet Potato:  Okinawan sweet potato is my FAVORITE kind of sweet potato, not just for it's lovely sweetness, but for it's wildly different color--a beautiful deep purple hue.
Poor little guys, I wanted to take them all home.
Haupia: this is my FAVORITE Hawaiian dessert.  In a nutshell, it's coconut pudding--but definitely not your average pudding.  Traditional haupia is very thick with a creamy, coconut flavor that's mildly sweet.

You can probably see that by combining two of my favorite foods--Okinawan sweet potato and Haupia--we're already off to a really good start.  Add a sweet and crunchy graham cracker crust and POW: a delectable dessert, courtesy of a fabulous mix of cultures (Japanese + Hawaiian + American).
Don't be fooled by the simple sign--just go inside.
You can thank me later.
The best part about this story is where I found this little gem- a tiny little deli/bakery with no sign, which sits next to a walk-up order window selling plate lunches.  Yet another reason to love Hawaii: some of the most amazing foods are found in the most hidden, discreet places.  

A few of my Hawaii friends told me that the next time I visited, I had to stop at the Diamond Head Bakery, located near the zoo.  Luckily, we were able to stop by on my last day to not only try a few lovely desserts, but also meet up with my friends Adrene and Bart from LA.
Hanging out in front of The Moana, my favorite hotel in Waikiki
After oohing and aahing at the huge selection of available treats (Diamond Head Torte, Pumpkin Crunch, Coconut Bread Pudding were also contenders), I settled on the delicious Okinawan Sweet Potato Haupia Square.  Adrene and Bart grabbed a scrumptious plate lunch and then the crew brilliantly decided to head to nearby Waikiki Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, to enjoy our treasures.  Such a lovely end to my trip--delectable treats enjoyed on gorgeous, warm, sunny Waikiki Beach.  

And a few hours later, I was on a plane back to New York.  Gorgeous, warm, sunny New York.

Diamond Head Market & Grill
3158 Monsarrat Ave.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
(808) 732-0077

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Desserts Make Me Insanely Happy's Top 5 Best Desserts of 2011

A really close runner-up:  The seriously addicting
Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans, LA.
Note: this is not a staged picture.  I seriously
get this excited about desserts.
I'm a sucker for rankings.  Whether it's College Football (sadly neither of my teams-- Colorado or UH-- have made the Top 25 for many, many years), Music Videos (I'm convinced this is the sole reason why VH1 exists), or dentists (if it's not immediately obvious why this is important, allow me to explain: I have a dessert blog). 

I've had the privilege of traveling and, of course, eating A LOT of desserts in 2011.  And because I love rankings, I thought it might be fun to share with you my favorite desserts of the year.  But first, a shout out.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to my lovely friends and family who accompanied me on my little Dessert Adventures.  You all seriously deserve a medal.  That you put up with me dragging you to odd and out of the way bakeries, the incessant picture taking/food styling, for making you wear silly hats (see Sylvia below), and for the oh-so embarrassing gasping and overall giddy eye-popping deepest appreciation.

Actually, I really like this idea.  Maybe I'll make Certificates: "I Survived Eating Dessert with This Really Crazy Lady".  Hmmm.  Stay tuned.
Oh the things my wonderful friends will do for me.
Thanks, Syl, for being the most patient and up for
anything friend I've ever known.  Love ya, babe.

Since there are so many different types of desserts, I've thoughtfully organized them by category.  

I hereby declare Desserts Make Me Insanely Happy's First Annual Top 5 Best Desserts of The Year! 

Drum roll please, Keri (yet another extremely patient friend who also happens to play the drums)...

5. Most Interesting Combination of Weird Things Dessert: Waffles with Ice Cream 
From This Swedish Place (sorry I forgot to write it down), Stockholm, Sweden.

We devoured this refreshing treat outside the nameless store,
 on the beautiful streets of Old Town Stockholm
I first spotted these my first day as I was walking through the streets of Old Town Stockholm.  My friend Amy, who lives in Sweden, and I decided that though we had just had breakfast, we needed to try these magical waffles with ice cream ASAP.  

As expected, this combination was absolutely delightful.  The Swedish Waffles were sugary and crisp, which perfectly offset the soft and creamy blueberry and nutella ice cream placed delicately on top (you can choose your own ice cream!) They were so good, I had them again the next day (thanks for indulging me, Scott).

The only thing that sucks about these is that
they live in Sweden.

4. Most Chocolate You Can Cram Into A Dessert Dessert: La Dame Chocolat  
Extraordinary Desserts, San Diego, California

I've never had reason to call a cake gorgeous, until now. 
Extraordinary Desserts is a beautiful and unique space that offers many special desserts, but I was a bit blown away by the chocolate intensity of La Dame Chocolat.  If the picture of this decadent treat didn't already move you, listen to the description: rich chocolate mousse, interrupted by layers of flourless chocolate cake, covered in chocolate ganache and sprinkled with chocolate shavings.  Mmmmmm.

Ryan, I still can't believe we ate this thing AFTER a huge brunch. (Who am I kidding, of course I believe this).

This thing is mouthwatering from all angles.  
3. Most Unexpected Finding Dessert: Peanut Butter Chocolate Nanaimo Bar 
The Sweet Escape Patisserie, Toronto, Canada

Why "unexpected," you ask?  Because I found it here.
And no, this is not a prison.
Truly a diamond in the rough.  I stumbled upon this adorable distillery-turned-shopping-space in Toronto after a business meeting.  I'm a beacon for bakeries, and when I spotted the Sweet Escape Patisserie, I knew I had to stop in.  

The Peanut Butter Chocolate Nanaimo Bar was instantly recommended to me when I requested the most unique item in the shop.  This Canadian favorite is traditionally made without Peanut Butter, but apparently The Sweet Escape Patisserie agrees with me: Peanut Butter makes everything better.  Layers of chocolate, whipped cream, coconut flakes, and of course, peanut butter, all in a conveniently portable bar.  Ridiculously good. 

I want to jump through this picture right now.

2. Most Hugest Thing I've Ever Seen Dessert: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookie 
Levain Bakery, New York, New York

It's a bit blurry because I was too excited to hold the camera still.
I love living in New York for many reasons, but now I have an even better reason: I can have these bad boys anytime I want.  Levain's cookies are legend, and it's so easy to see why.  They're gigantic, they contain combinations of mouthwatering ingredients, and they're soft, chewy, and crumbly all at the same time.  While the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip is my favorite, they're all incredibly good.

My friend Rebekah, who joined me on this cookie quest, and I agreed: it's The Perfect Cookie.  And so did Andrew, who thoughtfully replenished our stock the following morning.
With 4 outstanding choices, you can't go wrong
And last, but certainly not least...

1. Most Awesome and Highly Craved When I'm Homesick Dessert: Haupia Malasada  
Leonard's Bakery, Honolulu, Hawaii

The Fab Four: Original, Lilikoi, Haupia, and Dobash 
Oh how I love these things. I have fond memories of growing up and eating these all over Hawaii, but if you want the best, you head to Leonard's Bakery, the island malasada king.  So what's a malasada?  It's a Portugese Doughnut, without the hole.  You can order The Original, or the Malasada Puff, a cream-filled version offered in a variety of yummy local flavors: lilikoi (passionfruit), dobash (chocolate), and haupia (coconut).  

If that wasn't enough to make you happy, they also arrive warm and fresh, and are a steal at $1.25 a piece. This place is one of my top stops for breakfast before a much-needed hike in Manoa Valley, which is where my sister, mom and I are about to go in this below picture.
Fun for the whole family!
This was a difficult task for me, as there were so many other incredible desserts that were begging to be mentioned (seriously, I had about 35 Honorable Mentions).  But this list feels right.  Well,, no, I'm done. 

I hope you've enjoyed my little Adventures in Dessert, as much as I've enjoyed sharing my delicious journey with you.  I feel very blessed and privileged to live a truly amazing life.  I can't wait to see which new desserts 2012 will bring!

Wishing you all an "Insanely Happy" New Year!

If you have any comments or recommendations, please feel free to comment directly, or email me at:

You can find these incredible desserts at:

Waffle and Ice Cream Shop Place
Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Extraordinary Desserts
1430 Union Street 
San Diego, CA 92101

The Sweet Escape Patisserie
55 Mill Street  
Toronto, ON M5A 3C4, Canada

Levain Bakery
167 West 74th St 
New York, NY 10023

Leonard's Bakery 
933 Kapahulu Ave  
Honolulu, HI 96816-1434