Raspberry-Rose Lamingtons

As you know, I’ve always had a thing for cute desserts, particularly if they’re tiny and pastel-colored. When considering what kind of sweet to make for this year’s historical picnic, I came across a recipe for strawberry lamingtons, and suddenly couldn’t get them out of my mind.

I admit I’d never actually had lamingtons before, much less made them, but they looked easy enough– cubes of sponge cake dipped in glaze and coated in finely shredded coconut. Traditionally the glaze is chocolate, but apparently strawberry is a common variation– and it’s made with jello!

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Espresso Brownie Bites


In case you haven’t noticed, I have a lot of baking pans. All different shapes and sizes. I have round pans and square pans, three different sizes of bundt pans, loaf pans, madeleine pans, and sheet pans galore. And I have muffin pans in jumbo, standard, and mini. So you’d think I’d be all set when it comes to baking pans. And I was. Until I encountered this:


It’s a micro-mini muffin pan, and I was instantly smitten. See how tiny the wells are? So cute!!!

But what to bake in it? I’m fairly sure that a dense batter will always be necessary, because overly fluffy cakes would have no substance and might be too airy to release cleanly. For my inaugural bake, I decided to go straight to the densest type of recipe– a brownie from my favorite chocolate author, Alice Medrich. To give it an extra jolt of flavor (got to go intense for such tiny bites!) I added instant espresso powder to the mix. And then some chocolate ganache. And then coffee beans on top, because why not?

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Chocolate Cherry Mooncakes


I love my mini mooncake molds. Seriously love them. They’re probably my favorite decorative kitchen gadget, beating out the letter stamps for shortbread, the nori punch that makes tiny faces to put on food, and all the cookie cutters. Lately I’ve been using them to cover petit fours in molded fondant, but before that I actually used them to make mooncakes, and I’ll be doing a variation on that in this post. After all, the Autumn Moon Festival is coming up, so everyone else is making mooncakes too, right? Right???

Anyway, I never much liked traditional mooncake filling– bean paste, nuts, salted egg yolks– so I spent some time trying to figure out what to use instead. It had to be firm and hold its shape while baking, so cake batter and most cookie doughs were right out. Same with fresh fruit and any creamy centers. Finally, I hit upon the idea of using cake pops– not the kind you bake into shape, but the original kind, where you mix crumbled cake with something liquid or gooey and form it into a ball. I figured the moisture from the liquid would prevent overbaking, and the structure of the cake would hold its shape well enough to keep the molded outside from collapsing or exploding.

And what do you know, it worked! Since then I’ve made a few different types, my favorite being yellow cake and cream cheese with candied pineapple, coconut, and maraschino cherries, all wrapped up in a shortbread crust. However, for this version I wanted to try something different– chocolate. Chocolate crust, chocolate filling, chocolate EVERYTHING. I decided to use my small (35g) round mold to make these as bonbon-like as possible.

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Petit Fours, Take Two

petit fours whole

So, after my first excursion into petit fours the matter rested for quite a while, until by chance I came across an article about mooncakes. You know, intricately-stamped pastries filled with red bean or other sweet pastes, given as gifts or served with tea for the Harvest Moon Festival or Lunar New Year. I actually don’t like them very much, flavor-wise. But I do appreciate the possibilities in detailed molds intended for desserts.

A little searching online revealed that the molds came in various shapes and sizes, including a nice little 50g capacity plunger set that came with interchangeable design plates. I got mine in a square shape with various floral design plates, figuring that even if I didn’t make mooncakes I could make something interesting.

Once the mooncake mold arrived, I immediately realized that it was just the right shape and size to make petit fours. If I used rolled fondant instead of poured fondant, I could mold it however I liked over a cube of cake. Of course, I don’t much care for regular fondant, even the marshmallow fondant I use for layer cakes– it’s chalky and cloyingly sweet. So, figuring it couldn’t hurt, I decided to add cream cheese to the recipe. Voila! Perfect. The new recipe maintained the flexibility of fondant, but the extra fat from the cream cheese added richness, which did a lot to cut the sugariness and reduce the rubbery texture. Continue reading

Traditional Petit Fours

teaparty petit four

I’ve had a thing for petit fours ever since I first saw them for sale in the Harry & David holiday gift catalogs… a flat box of perfect little cubes made of paper-thin layers of cake and filling, enrobed in chocolate, topped with an intricately-piped design. They looked like something you’d find on a tiny cake pedestal on a tea table, maybe in Versailles, and I was dying to try them– possibly while lounging on a velvet-upholstered sofa. Unfortunately, as I was only about eleven at the time and didn’t have $30 to spend on a box of cakes, my dream was not to be.

Once I got into baking as an adult, however, I realized two things: First, that the components of petit fours were amazingly simple, and second, that the assembly was going to be a pain. Nevertheless, I had my chance to make them when I hosted an afternoon tea party, and jumped at it. Continue reading

Background noise and madeleines

Hi. I’m Tanya, and I’m addicted to projects. They’re usually small and cute, but occasionally get a bit out of hand, as my friends and family can testify. By way of background, past projects include The Great Hat Undertaking of 2009-2011, 31 Days of Halloween, various costumes and themed parties (adult and child), the development of a petit four/mooncake hybrid (still not perfect), and The Mean Doll (so named by my 3-year-old). I’ll be posting about those later, I promise! For my first post, however, I decided to start small, with madeleines. Yes, yes, everyone knows about Proust and madeleines, how they were supposedly this transcendent experience when dunked in just the right tea, but I mostly wanted to try making them because they were pretty.


Off to the internet I went, recklessly purchasing a set of madeleine pans (I’d never even tried them at this point, remember) and trying to find the perfect recipe. I tried one that looked promising, but it was such a failure I won’t even post the link to the recipe. Suffice it to say that it had almost twice as much butter as recipes I found later (surprisingly, not a good thing), and fell flat in every sense of the word. Greasy, flat, boring– I threw them out, and went in search of more recipes.

Comparing several, which involved different techniques and varying levels of difficulty, I narrowed it down to two. Both recipes called for the same basic ingredients– butter, flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla– but Recipe #2 involved baking powder and some serious whipping of eggs to the “ribbon stage,” which would necessitate the use of a stand mixer, while Recipe #3 (from Julia Child) needed brown butter, but just called for a wooden spoon, with no extra leavening. The general consensus online was that Recipe #3 was more “authentic,” whatever that meant, but I was willing to give both a shot. Here’s how it went:

Recipe #2 turned out gorgeous. Just beautiful. Golden, fluffy, slightly crisp around the edges. When dusted in powdered sugar they could’ve been on a magazine cover. And they tasted good, with good vanilla flavor (using my homemade vanilla extract– another project). But the fluffiness lacked textural interest, and after sitting overnight in a ziploc bag they lost all of that slight crispness on the outside edges that made them at all interesting. Not ideal.

Recipe #3 turned out less than gorgeous, but it was probably my fault. Rather than go to the trouble of mixing some of the brown butter with flour and painting the insides of the molds, I took a shortcut and just sprayed the molds with baking spray. The result was unevenly browned madeleines, which were pasty in some spots and over-browned in others. However, the flavor was still good (especially with the browned butter), and the texture, even after days in a plastic bag, was almost perfect. The madeleines were dense, with an outer “crust” that provided a really nice contrast to the inside softness. Importantly, the crust didn’t soften over time.

Comparison of the three recipes:

madeleines compare

You can see how flat the initial recipe was– a consequence of too much butter. The middle one was much better, and the last was unevenly browned. None were perfect. Since I wanted to keep the crust but lighten up the crumb a bit, I decided to try #3 again, this time adding a mere 1/4 tsp. of baking powder, and actually doing the “paint the molds with butter” thing. Results?

madeleines 1

Perfect. These baked up perfectly golden, rising higher than the original recipe but still with a nice bite to them, and (best of all) required no special equipment to mix up. They slide right out of non-stick pans, so watch out when you go to unmold them– it would be a shame to lose one!

So, final recipe for perfect madeleines (adapted from From Julia Child’s Kitchen)

(makes 24)

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

4 ounces unsalted butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons for buttering the molds (total of 5 1/4 ounces)

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon (optional)

3 drops of lemon juice (optional)

1 tablespoon flour

Powdered sugar for dusting

Melt the butter in a saucepan and boil until it browns very lightly. Set aside 1 1/2 tablespoons of the browned butter and stir in the tablespoon of flour. Cool the remaining butter to room temperature, using a water bath or refrigerator.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and add three quarters of the beaten eggs, plus vanilla and lemon zest/juice if using.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth – if very stiff, add a little bit of the remaining egg.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

Beat the remaining bit of egg into the batter and stir in the cool butter. Cover the batter, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375. Paint the Madeleine molds with a light coating of the browned butter and flour mixture, wiping up any pools that form in the bottom.

Using a spoon or piping bag, drop a rounded tablespoonful of batter into each Madeleine mold.  Do not spread the batter to fill the mold.

Set pans on the middle rack and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until edges are golden brown. (if they won’t fit on one rack, put them in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and rotate halfway through) Unmold onto a cooling rack. When completely cool, dust with powdered sugar.