Blueberries are Back!

blueberries

I might have a blueberry addiction.

This past week marked the first appearance of reasonably-priced blueberries in my local supermarket.  They were actually on special – 2 pints for $5.  They had a pretty good flavor, certainly better than the tiny berries from South America that you can get over the winter for an exorbitant sum.

These berries were a good size and had a nice overall flavor.  None were too tart.  They are coming from Florida and Georgia now, which means it won’t be too long until they are local to the Mid-Atlantic region.  I can’t wait!

I am ready to bake pies, muffins, scones, cobbler, and ooohh how I love blueberry crumb cake!

Here’s a great list of blueberry festivals up and down the East Coast, timed to correspond with the local blueberry season.  A few festivals have already occurred.

Time for some berry eating!

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Goodbye Twinkies!

With today’s announcement by Hostess Brands that they are closing their plants and the absence of a new buyer, millions of Americans will have to stay goodbye to Twinkies, Ho Hos, Wonder Bread, and other Hostess and Drake’s treats – staples of childhood lunchboxes for decades.

Fortunately, the Internet is full of make-your-own recipes, which are quite likely better than the originals, as

they’ll avoid the chemical preservative taste.  Of course, homemade Twinkies wouldn’t have the shelf life of the store-bought ones, but make some yourself and see if they stick around long enough to worry about shelf life anyway!

I don’t think that the end of Hostess means the end of the snack cake, though.  Entenmann’s is still around (thank goodness for their crumb-topped donuts!)  Other brands will step forward to fill the lunchbox void with similar snacks.  Plus, isn’t a cupcake really just an upscale snack cake?

Here’s a roundup of recipes for homemade Hostess products:

Twinkies (notice the difference between recipes in the filling ingredients – these will taste different from one another.  You could have a Twinkie recipe taste test party!)

Hostess Twinkie Recipe by Top Secret Recipes

Homemade Twinkies by Leite’s Culinaria

Homemade Twinkies by The New York Times

Homemade Twinkies by Simple Math Bakery (they also have a recipe for Pumpkin Twinkies!)

HoHos

Homemade HoHos by Gale Gand of Food Network

Homemade HoHos by How to Baker

Sno Balls

Homemade Sno Balls by Serious Eats

Homemade Sno Ball Cupcakes by Baking Bites

Ding Dongs

Homemade Ding Dongs by A Cozy Kitchen

Homemade Ding Dongs by Examiner.com/Beantown Baker

Pumpkins, Pumpkins Everywhere!

‘Tis the season for pumpkin products in the stores and displays of mini pumpkins and squash at the store entrance.  I love pumpkin, so this is a welcome time, though I have been amazed at the growing diversity of pumpkin products.  It seems like there are more this year than ever before.  It’s exciting to see the pumpkin products arrive, and I suspect part of their appeal is that they are offered for a limited time.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin bars, pumpkin macarons, pumpkin roll, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin cookies (pictured), as well as the traditional pumpkin bread and pumpkin spice cake.  I spotted a pumpkin-flavored dark chocolate bar. I’ve also heard rumors of Pumpkin Pringles. Compared to all this, pumpkin pie seems downright boring!

Pepperidge Farm’s tasty Pumpkin Cheesecake Cookies

That’s just food.  As for beverages, I bought Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee and Stash Decaf Pumpkin Spice Tea.  My favorite Mexican restaurant has Pumpkin Margaritas on the menu!  I am also tempted by this recipe for Pumpkin Liqueur.  Not to mention all the delicious pumpkin ales out there.

I find this array of pumpkin products to be surprising because, amongst my family and friends, pumpkin is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of food.  For every pumpkin lover, there is someone who can’t stand the taste, or even the smell.  Granted, many of these “pumpkin” products don’t contain any actual pumpkin – they are just flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and other warm, homey fall spices.  I wonder how many people with a dislike for pumpkin are turned off by these products, even when they are pumpkin-free?

That’s not a worry for me – the pumpkiny-er the better!  I’ll post any updates on new pumpkin products as I try them.

Cupcake ATM Coming to Georgetown

Though it might already be old news to some, I just had to mention that cupcake shop Sprinkles is bringing its famous Cupcake ATM to Georgetown.  The Washington Post reports that it is expected to open sometime in August.

Sprinkles Cupcakery, Georgetown

I am curious how many cupcakes will sell through the ATM per day.  Georgetown is the perfect location – between college students, shoppers, tourists, and the post-bar crowd.   I can’t think of a better place in Washington to put 24 hour cupcake access. But will it sell 1,000 cupcakes a day like the Beverly Hills location?  Will it impact those long lines outside Georgetown Cupcake?  Time will tell.Meanwhile, I’ll file “Cupcake ATM” under the list of things I wish I had thought of first!

Do Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies Taste Better?

I have recently become interested in vegan baking.  While not a vegan myself, I have had vegan dinner guests and preparing a dairy-free, eggless dessert has presented an exciting challenge.

How do you mimic the behavior of an egg in a baked product?  Eggs have magical scientific properties that make cakes rise and fluff, cookies moisten, and bread shine.  Leave an egg out of a recipe inadvertently (as I did once) and you’ll know it right away.  Can you imagine a soufflé without eggs?

 Vegan baked goods use a variety of ingredients to replace eggs, milk, and butter.  One vegan brownie recipe I tried used soymilk and canned pumpkin.  Some vegans will use applesauce.  Tofu is another common substitute, as is a flaxseed paste.  Several people online recommend Earth Balance brand margarine. Commercial bakeries use ingredients like brown rice syrup or evaporated cane juice as sweeteners.

 But how does all of this taste?  I can vouch for the cupcakes at the vegan Sticky Fingers Bakery in the D.C. neighborhood of Columbia Heights.  Their cupcakes are some of the best I’ve ever tasted—vegan or not.  You would truly never know they were unconventional.

 Having determined that there are good vegan cupcakes out there, I decided to compare another bakery staple—chocolate chip cookies.  I purchased cookies from Sticky Fingers and one of my D.C-area favorite traditional bakeries, Buzz.  Cookies from only two bakeries are admittedly a small sample, but I was limited in time and budget.  I gathered a scientific panel (my boyfriend’s family) and conducted a blind taste test.

 The Buzz cookies were fairly large, and used chocolate disks rather than chips.  The cookie itself had a nice brown sugar taste, but some complained that there were too many bites without chocolate.

 The Sticky Fingers cookies were moister, with smaller chips.  One tester immediately tasted an odd spice, something like nutmeg.

 When asked which cookie was vegan, all the testers immediately identified the Sticky Fingers cookie.  However, they agreed that it wasn’t that they disliked it, more just that something seemed “off” which made them suspect it was the vegan one.

 I enjoy the vegan chocolate chip cookies at Whole Foods more than their traditional ones.  The Whole Foods cookies are more chewy, and you can break them into pieces with one hand (which is convenient when eating them at your desk like I do).  I find the dough to have a more balanced taste.  Both the vegan and traditional cookies are available as single cookies (perfect for lunch) and they are the same price.  Whole Foods has also started carrying selected items from Sticky Fingers.

 While I don’t plan to make a habit of eating vegan desserts, I do enjoy investigating them and will be happy to share any tasty ones that come along.

Photo courtesy of joyofbaking.com

 

Almost as Good as Eating Dessert? Reading About It

I have always been interested in American food history.  How have we gotten, for better or worse, to the food culture we have today?  This new book, Sweet Invention – A History of Dessert by Michael Krondl, promises to answer some questions I’ve always had about the origins of today’s desserts.  In this article, Krondl discusses how biscotti are derived by biscuits given to sailors to last over lengthy sea voyages.  Many, if not most, of today’s typical American desserts have their origins in places like Belgium, France, and Italy.

I am ordering this book today.  I’ll have more to say on this topic after I read it. Sweet reading!

Photo courtesy of NPR.  Book information: Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert. by Michael Krondl. Text copyright 2011 Chicago Review Press. Published by Chicago Review Press (distributed by IPG). Available in October 2011.

The Deal with Donuts

What is the deal with homemade donuts? Recently, every time I have been to a store with baking supplies, I have seen more and more home donut-making items. Pans, mixes, recipe books, icing, etc, for both baked and fried donuts. Meanwhile, I do not know a single person that makes their own donuts.

Donuts are in that rare category of baked goods that taste better when purchased at a store. Let’s admit it, Dunkin and Krispy Kreme do a pretty good job. And there’s nothing like the aroma of an apple cider donut at an orchard on a crisp autumn day.  [Read more…]