Chocolate Pudding Pie

You know, sometimes the classics are just the best. I do love making fabulous, multi-component desserts– both for the challenge and the layers of flavor and texture– but every now and then it’s great to go back to basics. Especially when you’re running around frantically to cook your first solo Thanksgiving dinner and you JUST need something good for dessert and your family insists that they HATE pumpkin pie and can’t agree on whether to have apple pie or custard pie and and you’re ready to commit the heresy of getting STORE-BOUGHT just to get it over with–


In any event, we eventually decided on this pie, and boy is it a keeper. As is so frequently the case, it’s from the incomparable Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and having had my first slice I’m fairly sure I could make one of these every week and never get tired of it. The cornstarch pudding is simple to put together and practically foolproof– a for flavor, it’s perfectly rich, not too sweet, and light enough to not weigh you down, even after a holiday dinner. I even used a pre-made crust and it still turned out fantastically… though homemade whipped cream is a must here, I have to insist on it.

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Trying out for The Great American Baking Show

Sorry for the delay in posting, everyone, but I promise I had a good reason– I was attending casting interviews/tasting sessions for the latest season of The Great American Baking Show!

I submitted an online application near the end of May, not really expecting to get any response, but a few days later I got a call from a producer saying that they’d loved my application (and accompanying personal video) and wanted to ask me more questions! The following interview was basically me talking about my baking background, what my experience was in certain types of baking, and then a 12-question quiz on some baking techniques to make sure I knew my stuff. Turns out I did, because after sending in more photos of my bakes (most of which have been featured on this blog!) I got invited to New York to bring some treats for a tasting!

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Review: Jane Austen Weekend at The Governor’s Mansion in Hyde Park, VT

So I waffled over posting this review of my recent Jane Austen-themed weekend at The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, because while the event was disappointing overall it did have some good parts. It may just be that I’m a particularly picky customer, but in the end I decided that a thorough and accurate review couldn’t cause any undue harm, so here we go:

The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vermont (a small inn) hosts Jane Austen-themed weekends throughout the year. Some are themed around a particular book (like the one I attended), and one is an “in-character” weekend where guests are expected to adopt a particular character and stick to it as much as possible. When a friend and I heard about an upcoming Sense and Sensibility weekend in February, we thought it would be fun to check out.

The website promised a dessert gathering on Friday night with a talk on Regency life, breakfast on Saturday, Regency card games, a sleigh ride, afternoon tea, plus dinner and dancing on Saturday night and a Sunday breakfast to finish things off. The site also generally talked about various other activities available to guests, including horseback riding, archery, cooking lessons, fishing, and crafts. We did notice that these claims were more specifically repeated in the context of the in-character weekend, but we hoped that there would be similarly-interesting activities available indoors for our event. In retrospect this was probably where we went wrong.

We arrived Friday night with high hopes– the building was lovely inside and out, our rooms were cozy, and there was a huge collection of movies (with multiple versions of all the Jane Austen television and movie adaptations) available for viewing. We changed into Regency gowns and headed down to the library for dessert and our first activity– a talk about various aspects of Regency life.

None of the other guests chose to wear Regency garb for this one– not the three who were staying at the inn, nor the other three ladies who had apparently driven up just for the dessert and lecture. That was too bad, but not the fault of our hostess. We were somewhat disappointed by the food on offer– small squares of plain gingerbread cake with apple cider, plus a cheese plate: not a bad snack but not really enough to warrant being a featured “dessert” in my opinion– and even more disappointed by the lecture (it was definitely a lecture, not a discussion). While our hostess was clearly knowledgeable on the topics at hand she mostly read from her notes, jumping from subject to random subject and at times spending an inordinately long time on seemingly obscure issues. I think we spent a good 15 minutes hearing about the different types of carriages people used back then, and far more time than necessary reiterating how many pennies made a shilling and how many shillings a pound. To be fair, the other guests seemed to be enjoying the lecture, but even our relatively rudimentary knowledge of Regency life was enough to make us bored.

Saturday morning we had a nice breakfast (again, no one else dressed up) and were hoping to participate in some fun daytime activities. Sadly, the only two activities on offer were 1) writing with a goose-quill pen and 2) playing whist. Our hostess gave basic instructions on how to use the pens, pointed out the decks of cards and directions for whist, and left us on our own for the next several hours. The writing part was fun but could only take up so much time, and since there weren’t enough players to make up more than one whist table there wasn’t much to do after that besides take photos around the inn– nothing we couldn’t have done in any historic inn on any other weekend. The promised sleigh ride unfortunately was cancelled because it was too cold for the horses, and there was apparently nothing planned to take its place.

Our next activity was afternoon tea (more Victorian than Regency style, but that was intentional), which was more enjoyable than the dessert lecture since 1) the food was excellent, varied, and plentiful, and 2) the lecture was significantly shorter and was about the importation and use of tea, which I found more interesting than carriages. However, afterwards we were on our own again until dinner.

Dinner itself was excellent– everyone dressed up, making for a better atmosphere, and we had a spread of homemade, period-appropriate foods to enjoy. Afterwards we were joined by a group of English country dancers who did an admirable job teaching dances to our group for two hours. They were fantastic and a good time was had by all. It was really the high point of the weekend.

Sunday morning we were (again) left to our own devices for the most part– brunch was served at 10:30, we had a written quiz on Sense and Sensibility while we ate, and once we’d finished eating the weekend was basically over.

All in all, I got the feeling that the event was geared less towards Regency buffs and more towards people who might have read a few of Jane Austen’s books and decided on a whim to try a themed weekend. Even so, I thought that additional activities would’ve gone a long way towards making the weekend more immersive and interesting for everyone– as it was, we were alone for the majority of the weekend with not much to do. (I will note that use of smartphones was highly discouraged in the common areas, which I thought was unnecessary given the lack of a “period” atmosphere generally and the lack of much else to occupy our time.)

If I’d been visiting the inn for a normal weekend, planning to visit local attractions or go skiing, I would have been extremely satisfied with it– the rooms were nice*, the food was freshly homemade and mostly excellent, and the hostess was welcoming. However, as far as themed weekends go this one was severely lacking, and I can’t really recommend it to anyone looking for an immersive experience. I’ve heard that the in-character weekends are much better (which would make sense since the activities on offer are apparently more varied), but given my experience with this one I don’t see myself making the effort to try again in the future.


*Well, our rooms were nice. The other guests weren’t so lucky– apparently the water pipes leading to their bathroom would regularly stop working in particularly cold temperatures, so they had to use our shower and actually get a bucket of water to flush their toilet with!


Regency Pashmina Dress, Part II: Bodice and Skirt

Let me just say at the outset that I am never going to make a dress out of pashmina shawls again. The fabric is so loosely woven that it’s next to impossible to cut straight, it frays if you look at it funny (I had to zig-zag every single edge to keep it from unraveling entirely), and it snags at the slightest provocation. Unpicking seams takes forever and leaves gaping wounds in the fabric, the weight of the skirt alone appears to be pulling the fabric itself out of shape, and I have no idea how I’ll wash this thing if it ever needs cleaning. Never again. Never. Again.

Anyway, back to a time when I didn’t know all this…

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I’m not dead! Just resting…

Hey, everyone! I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I promise it’s not because I’m dead or anything– it’s just that I’m waiting for photos to come back of the My Fair Lady embassy ballgown, and until they do I feel bad starting another series of posts about the new dress I’m working on. The photographer says they should be processed shortly, so until then I’m just going to work on stuff without posting so I’ll have a whole bunch of new posts later!

Sorry about this, and I’ll post something new soon!

Fast and Easy No-Knead Bread


Due to a recent blizzard I had an unexpected day home from work. As I watched the snow fly outside my window, I was seized with the irresistible impulse to bake bread. But what kind? I thought about trying my Cinnamon Babka again so I could actually eat more than one slice, but it needed an overnight rise and I wasn’t feeling patient. My Hokkaido Milk Bread was okay, but it was never perfect and I was really in the mood for something more savory. As always, I turned to the internet, searching for a bread recipe (preferably no-knead) that could be out of the oven in a few hours.

I found this one. It’s fabulous. It’s so easy. It takes about 4.5 hours, start to finish, and my husband and I ate almost the whole loaf in one sitting. I actually like the flavor just as much as the famous no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times, probably because it’s essentially the same recipe only with hot water and a fraction of the rising time. And it still has a great interior structure, a nice crispy crust, and that fresh-from-the-oven texture that you just can’t replicate with storebought bread. I’ll be making it a lot this winter, I know.

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Chocolate-Raspberry Birthday Cake


When I asked my daughter what flavor of cake she wanted for her fifth birthday, she told me “chocolate with cookies and raspberries,” so what could I do but comply? Not a huge project, but it was impressive (and tasty) enough that I figured it was worth writing about.

The cake is my standard chocolate cake, divided into three 7″ round cake pans. I didn’t have sufficient time for my usual whipped frosting recipe, so I threw some frosting together out of what I had on hand– it was a bit denser than I prefer, but still tasted good. There wasn’t really enough of it to properly frost the cake, but that’s where the cookies came in!

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Monkey Bread


Instead of hosting a Christmas party this year, we decided that it would be simpler and therefore more fun to host a post-Christmas brunch. For some reason a brunch just seems less stressful than a full evening party– maybe it’s the fact that the foods are easier to prepare, maybe it just seems more casual… in any case, that’s what we decided to do. Of course, “casual” doesn’t mean “starving,” so of course I had to come up with an appropriate selection of sweet and savory goodies. And one of the first things I knew I’d be making was monkey bread.

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Regency Sheer Ballgown With Open Robe: Finished!


Happy Holidays, everyone!

So the outfit is finally finished, and I got to wear it to a Dickens-themed ball! I know, I know, Dickens was really 1840 and later, but since the ball specifically featured Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig from A Christmas Carol, and since the Fezziwigs were portrayed in the book during a flashback to Ebenezer Scrooge’s youth (presumably in the 1810s or so), I felt comfortable using it as an excuse to wear the dress. So there!

I used the last few pieces of dupatta fabric (literally there are only a few square inches left!) to make a long strip, which I wound around my head with some gold net to make a turban/fillet type hair accessory– I added some fabulous ostrich plumes for a finishing touch!




NYC Fabric Haul!


Okay, so I’m back from New York, my laptop is up and running again, and I have a big pile of fabric to show off from my shopping trip!

Fine, so it’s not particularly exotic-looking in light of the huge selection that was available in the literally dozens of tiny stores I visited (okay, only two dozen or so, but that’s technically accurate), but it’s a decent haul.

Seven yards of 60″ wide 100% cotton broadcloth, three in white and four in ivory, to make an 1860s petticoat, the underlining of an 1860s ballgown bodice, and a 1910 underskirt.

Three yards of 60″ wide metallic gold English tulle, to make an over-tunic for one or more Edwardian evening gowns made of sari fabric.

One yard of burgundy cotton broadcloth to line the bodice of a Regency open robe (not pictured).

Five yards of dusty rose polyester matte-ish satin (it actually drapes beautifully, somewhere between bridal satin and charmeuse, and is not horrifically synthetic-looking), to make a 1910 afternoon gown.

Four yards of 60″ wide ivory English tulle, to make the overgown for a My Fair Lady embassy ballgown. I’m waffling on whether I should’ve gotten white instead, but we’ll see.