Recipe Swap – Caramel Apple Pie Pops coming soon!

This month's recipe swap

Happy Monday!

I know Monday’s are mostly unhappy, but I’m very excited that this week brings me lots of baking and a new gig – I’m starting rehearsals for Enchanted April this week!  Since my schedule the next two months will be a little bit more sporadic and since I’ve got lots of baking to do for several events, I spent much of the weekend mentally and goggley planning what my baking strategy will be.

This week I’m whipping up a double batch of scones to send to Seattle and wrap up my contribution to the Online Bake Sale For Japan.  Next weekend I’ll have a few dozen gluten-free cookies cut into the shape of crosses and fondanted and painted for a benefit I’m performing in of Jesus Christ Superstar for Smith Street Stage. And then there’s Palm Sunday and Easter baking/cooking to participate in with my family and a possible dinner party on the 30th.

Very fun and exciting stuff.

But this week I’m most excited to get to try out a new recipe for a recipe swap.  I’ve just joined a group of cooks, bakers and bloggers at Burwell General Store.  Each month the group gets an old, friendly recipe and is required to change at least three recipes and blog them on the same day.  This month’s is for Caramel Apples, and in pondering the many ways you could creatively change it, I stumbled upon a new baking fad that I might have to combine into my inventive treat…

Picture from “The kitchn”

The cake pop.

Several friends of mine are very into these little, festive, sugary treats that can be found at Starbucks and sugar-full bakeries.  I’m not a fan of the idea – make a cake, throw it with frosting into a blender, shape it into balls and then dunk it more sugary shells.  But I have to admit they are adorable looking and a great base recipe to play on.

So, in keeping with the original idea of a candy apple on a stick, I’m going to bake an apple pie, most likely one along the lines of my Bourbon Molasses Apple Pie with Candied Bacon, who’s flavors already resemble a candy apple.  Then I’ll play.

Recipe coming in a few days… I’m excited by this.

The Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcakes – Gluten and Dairy free!

Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcakes

These cupcakes are amazing. I just wanted to start with that.  You can’t tell that they’re gluten AND dairy free.  My roommate’s eyes lit up when she took her first bite, and after her third she proclaimed it her favorite of my creations.  Even I am wowed by how good this cupcake is.  I can  confidently say this is the best gluten-free red velvet cupcake recipe.  AND the best dairy-free red velvet cupcake recipe.  There.  I said it.  But I should know.  I’ve eaten about 12 of these little guys.  Including two this morning, before breakfast.

Three things contributed as inspiration for the best gluten-free red velvet cupcake I have ever eaten.

Brainstorming first came when I online-met Kelli of Ingested Read.  I love her new blog, and her recipes are created for a specific book she’s pouring over.  I’m a big fan of this idea, and this blog.  So she opened up her site for guest-posts with Intercaketuality.  Brilliant.  I’m sending her a big high five across the pond.

I knew I wanted to make some sort of red-velvet cake.  In my gluten-free food crawl with a few friends I learned that the three bakeries in the city that boast gluten-free offerings disappointed our taste buds in the red-velvet department.  Either too dry or too moist, none contained that classic cocoa flavor.

A few months ago my cousin Daniella played Little Red Riding Hood in her high school production of Into the Woods and, as I predicted, was stellar, stealing the show.  In this musical version Little Red has a slight obsession with baked goods, eating all the bread and sweets she is supposed to take through the woods to granny.  Daniella herself is very allergic to dairy, so over the years we’ve commiserated at the dessert table as treats were passed around.

So when thinking about a new cake I wanted to work on, these three elements blended perfectly into The Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake!

But a few challenges arose when making this both gluten and dairy free.

First, how to replicate cake flour?  According to my interweb research, cake flour is distinctive because (a) it is very finely milled, (b) it contains a low amount of protein which develops gluten and (c) it has a higher amount of starch as a result.  So, how to make a gluten-free version of cake flour, which obviously lacks gluten to begin with?

Several sites including Gluten-Free Bay, WikiHow and Gluten Free Naturally Blog use the same ingredients in the same proportions.

  • 3 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

I don’t really use potato starch, as it’s a nightshade and not good for people with arthritis and digestive issues, so instead I used arrowroot and crossed my fingers.  I also used 2 cups of brown rice flour and 1 of white rice flour, and sifted twice.  This worked wonderfully in the cake.  I’ll have it on hand from now on.

I then had to replace buttermilk with a non-dairy ingredient.  Normally I’d just use almond or soy milk, but as the consistency of buttermilk is a bit thicker and tangy, I had to improvise.  So I used tofutti sour cream and diluted it with unsweetened almond milk, then threw in a tablespoon of white vinegar.  It worked!

I can honestly say that this recipe is better than the two bakery ones we tried.  The cakes are that perfect combination of being both moist and crumbly – they’re not dry at all, so they won’t fall under the pressure of a fork.  The cocoa is definitely present, but in no way do they taste like chocolate.   And I cut back the sugar aspect by a half a cup and substituted with 1/8 a cup of light agave syrup.  I’m not at all a fan of using either of these things, but for experimentation purposes I had to go with it.

Vegan "cream cheese" frosting

For a frosting I whipped up a tofutti / Earth Balance spread from Mama Sophia’s Soul Kitchen.  It’s a very tasty recipe, tangy and sweet without being overpowering nor tasting like soy.  But as you can see in this picture, it’s more like a pretty, thick glaze.  It has a gorgeous sheen, but even when refrigerated overnight it was far too loose for piping.  So I glazed the minis with these and then found an incredibly light and fluffy vegan frosting that I whopped on the big guys.

Fluffy Vegan Frosting

The Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake

Notes: Make sure you have all your ingredients are room temperature or slightly warm.  Make sure your oven is properly heated.  Don’t over-mix the dough when you’re stirring in the last batch of dry ingredients.


  • 2 1/2 cups gluten-free cake flour
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 cup light agave syrup
  • 1 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp. red gel/paste food coloring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 rounded tablespoons Tofutti “sour cream” – at room temp
  • almond or soy milk (directions below)
  • 1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp distilled white vinegar, separated
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda.


  • Preheat oven to 350º
  • Line 24 cupcake molds (I did an even 12 cupcakes and 24 minis)
  • Add Tofutti cream cheese to a liquid measuring cup and fill to just shy of one cup with almond or soy milk.  Whisk thoroughly with a fork until smooth.  Heat in microwave until warm but not hot.
  • Add 1 Tbsp white vinegar and stir in.
  • In a small bowl, whisk flour, cocoa and salt thoroughly.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer, mix sugar, agave and oil thoroughly on medium speed until thoroughly combined.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions.
  • Add vanilla and coloring and mix in.
  • Turn speed down to low.  Add the flour in three additions, alternating with 1/2 of the “buttermilk”.  Make sure to mix thoroughly between additions.
  • Mix baking soda and remaining 2 tsps vinegar until foamy.  Add and beat for 10 seconds or until incorporated.
  • Bake for 14 minutes (small) or 22 minutes (large), rotating pan halfway through.
  • Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes before removing to cool on a rack, or cool completely in pans.
  • Definitely cool completely before frosting.

These can be kept in a refrigerator for 3 days in an airtight container.  Bring them down to room temperature before serving.

Cupcake decorating class, frosting skills and a birthday!

The product of two hours of playing with frosting

Last weekend my little sister and I took a cupcake decorating class at Butterlane Cupcakes in NYC.  I’d been wanting to take a frosting class for a while – anyone who knows me can attest my skills are (were!) quite lacking, and while I’ve been making cut-out cookies and piping them for years, I never really learned what to do with all the little tips I’ve collected from several pastry sets.  Maggie’s birthday was the perfect excuse for us to play together on a Sunday and, as I’d expected, we had an awesome time.

Shortly after this picture was taken blue frosting did, indeed, somehow make it into my ear.

Now, in no way can I rate Butterlane’s cupcakes because they don’t offer a gluten-free option (evidently they did at one point but they didn’t sell well enough) and they use cream cheese to thicken their frosting.  While I was disappointed at not getting the sugar high I was hoping for (which would have been a horrible idea in retrospect), I understand and respect the decision to use cream cheese, which gives the frosting body and cuts back on the amount of powdered sugar needed.

Also (shh), I’m not as into the cupcake craze as most of NYC foodies seem to be.  Maybe it’s because I can’t eat most of them anyway.  Or maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with those pesky macarons.

But I got down with this frosting class.  The two hours were spent learning how to most easily fill and seal a pastry bag, and the correct pressure and “strokeage” (I’m sure someone’s used that word before but I am claiming it) for each tip and its appropriate shape.  Swirly letters, puffy flowers and trees and even a somewhat likeness of Betsey, the cow that graces a large wall of the classroom, made their way onto my workspace.

Betsey the cow

Towards the end of the class we learned the basics of making roses – which took a little practicing but were actually much easier than I had expected, especially once the frosting was at the perfect, somewhat hard texture needed for molding them most intricately.

By the time we got our cupcakes our untrained hands were cramping and I was ravenously hungry, so my creativity was tanking a bit and Maggie definitely showed me up in the final-product department.

Maggie with her stellar creations

A few days later, two very fun things happened.  First, I got a new DSLR camera.  My boyfriend is a filmmaker and Maggie’s a photographer, so I’ve stolen their cameras on numerous occasions to document my kitchen-time, always knowing that my photos need to step it up if they’re going to compete in this visual-food world.  But as most of my serious baking happens in my own, horribly lit kitchen, many hours have been lost as I stand on step-ladders next to my window, willing the light to bounce enough for me to get a decent shot.  Anyone who’s lived in NYC for a long enough period of time can tell you that there are too many kinds of indoor light, and mine is the somewhat reflected, gray wash kind.

So in a miraculous turn of events, I now own a camera that both the boyfriend and Maggie say are better than theirs, through no magic of my own.  I just lucked upon an incredibly affordable used Nikon body that can mount the boyfriend’s extremely expensive lenses that he no longer uses.  Which means I can’t break up with him for a very long, long time.

Now I can take this picture in seconds!

I am very excited.

So frosting skills and camera came together on Saturday, as I rushed to Connecticut from the city to celebrate my mother’s birthday with my siblings and grandparents over delicious food and an exciting basketball game (yay UConn!).  And while I still have much to learn about both using this crazy camera (I’m just old enough that all the photography classes I took in high school and college focused on composition and developing those rolls of film) and frosting cakes, I was one happy, dusty baker.

Happy Birthday to my mom!

Sandra Lee and the cost of Gluten-Free

Last night as I drifted off to sleep I read an article in this week’s New York Magazine about Sandra Lee, the Queen of the semi-homemade world and the current first lady of my fair state of New York.

The article was appropriately informative and mildly speculative:  Lee had a hard upbringing that inspired her to constantly create and stretch every dime, resulting in an empire of Martha-Stewart-esque possibilities for those with less time and money.  But is she too hard-wired for some of her hard-working employees?  Is she honestly full of happy-face generosity or is there some darkness lurking in there?

Honestly, I’m not particularly interested in the argument.  Not that there was much of one.  I think the article was intended more to garner some respect than to question, well, anything.  Of course the woman’s going to be a little type A if she’s going to get done as much as she has.

The article actually worked rather easily on me.  Like many foodies Lee does not cater to – including the likes of Anthony Bourdain and other chefs who I adore – I personally hate most of what she creates on her shows.  Buying a storemade p0und cake and sprucing it up by soaking it in liquor or juice and then adding some fresh fruit does nothing to attract my taste buds.  While I like my home to be comfortable, I have no personal interest in window dressings or stylish upholstery, at whatever cost.  And – here’s where it gets personal – because of my health and diet I can’t simply purchase, spruce up and present a semi-homemade meal.

Now my opinions are grounded in my personal history – I’ve struggled with Lyme Disease from a young age and have had to do without gluten, dairy, sugar and several other foods long before allergy diets and vegetables were “trendy”.  Recently I had two bouts of accidental dairy ingestion because I try to keep such requests subtle, and I paid the price for both of them.  So I respectfully don’t put myself in the strictly local/seasonal/organic group of people that the author of the article implies are “the kind of people who wouldn’t think of carrying their organic Chioggia beets home from the Greenmarket in anything but a reusable hemp tote“.   Not that I don’t love those people.  Or farmer’s markets or hemp, for that matter.

While Bisquick and Velveeta  never have and most likely never will have their place in my home, at least, as Mario Batali said, “she gets people out of fast-food chains, and that’s a good thing. At least she gets them in the kitchen, even if they are using frozen berries.”  And I’m a firm believer that the more time people spend preparing their food, the more they’ll want good food.  Real food.

So why did the article give me something to chew on that’s still present with me this morning?

It’s obviously hard to be a healthy individual in this country, with packaged food and corn-laden products being easier to procure than fresh vegetables with – god forbid! – nutrients and flavor.  Non-organics have about  6 times less nutrients than organics, but heftier price tags.  I’ve eaten many a bland strawberry or apple or asparagus stalk.   Why would someone choose one over a frozen french fry or hamburger slider?  Lee is currently experimenting with a little 70% homemade and 30% prepared as desired by some of her fans.  And she’s a huge fan of Michelle Obama’s getting kids into gardens and in more active lifestyles.  So hopefully a bit more health will get into the recipe she prepares for hoards of, primarily, mothers all over the country who want to present something special to their loved ones but have neither the time nor means to do so as much as they’d like.

But for those of us with food restrictions – celiac, IBS, countless chronic illnesses and allergies – the idea of using something both packaged and relatively cheap is a prize that isn’t even dangled in front of us.  My small loaf of gluten-free bread costs sometimes three times or more than a normal loaf of supermarket wheat bread.  Twice as much as a loaf from an excellent bakery.  Packaged food in my world means gluten-free crackers, canned Atlantic salmon (I can’t even eat tuna), and occasionally a dairy-free dark chocolate.  There is no cheap goat cheese to compare with American made cheddar.  Or an almond or goat’s milk that is as affordable as cow’s.  I can’t even get a natural cereal in a grocery store because sugar (or at least agave) are used to sweeten everything that needs a shelf life.

Yep, it’s not a cheap world for those dealt a weird food hand.

I’m sitting here pricing out medical insurance for my father and I.  He’s getting up there in age and I’m a woman in my childbearing years.  My basic coverage automatically costs almost twice of what a man in my age range does.  And the coverage we’ll most likely get and that is most affordable is only for in-network doctors.  Most alternative medicine practitioners in my world are in their whole own network that’s far from any my HMO will cover.

So today I’m musing on money and food and the body.  I choose to be an artist, a writer, a budding bakery owner.  Those jobs don’t come with health insurance or company lunches or even salaries that comfortably let me get those things on my own.  But this was my choice, and I live a relatively happy and peaceful life in this world where money is an object but not an obsession.  Sometimes I have to take more from those loved ones around me than I’d like, always with the intention to pay it back as best I can through my contributions to my family and society.

Yet I did not choose to get Lyme Disease, nor the continuous cycle of sickness and restriction that have run their courses between bouts of health and productivity.

Right now I spend a lot of time playing with food, trying combinations of things and learning how to make what people like so that someday I can pay my bills from these creations.  And if that means taking more time to make food – good, healthy, delicious, medicinal food – even more affordable for myself and the generation that has grown up with these issues on the brain, then that’s not such a bad way to spend my time.

Online Bake Sale to benefit Second Harvest Japan

Click on the image to be directed to the bake sale!

I am very lucky to be amongst some incredible food bloggers who are using their skills in the kitchen and their large hearts to assist the wonderful Sabrina at The Tomato Tart in an online bake sale that will benefit Second Harvest Japan in their efforts to bring food and supplies to those affected by the recent Earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear, um, hiccup.

As a very fortunate woman, living in one of the best cities in the world with access to as much water, energy and incredible food as I can (rather affordably) pay for, I’m stricken over and over by the idea that so many go without.  And that it all can be taken away in mere minutes, or even seconds.

Let me get all hippie here for a second: we are born into a body.  Where that body is born and to whom completely determine thousands amongst millions of paths our lives can go on.  When born into such privilege, it is our responsibility to live to the best of our ability.  Meaning that we are aware of what we consume, contribute to our society through our work, assist others as best we can, and always be humbled what is beyond our power.  This doesn’t mean we have to dedicate our lives solely to helping others, but that we should take little steps, as often as possible, to live as responsibly and with as much heart as we can.

Stepping off my flower-adorned soap box now.

There are millions of ways to make the world a better place.  This online bake sale is a delicious one.

Please go to the Tomato Tart on March 30th and bid a crazy variety of baked goods from 90 bloggers world wide.  There’s a mouth-watering amount of goods there, and delightfully several allergy-friendly options.

I’ll be contributing a batch of Lemon and Genmaicha Green Tea Scones.  8 if they’re shipped, and if I can deliver them to you locally (within Manhattan)  I’ll double the batch.   And because this is an allergy-alternative site, you can specify if you need them gluten, dairy or nut free or baked with a specific sweetener.

In love, peace and good health,


Lemon Scones with Genmaicha Green Tea Glaze

The Ghost of Baker’s Past…

… and a tribute to Ladies Grey and Child

The Original Dusty Baker - Julia Child

Dusty Inspiration…

The other day while recuperating from my St. Patrick’s Day hosting the evening before, I stumbled upon an episode of The French Chef.  Julia was making Apple Tartin, and in her glorious way she made the pastry in one continuous shot, measuring and moving her ingredients as she needed them rather than using delicately pre-measured ingredients or the convenience of an editor to make her process look seemless. She knocked over her entire canister of spatulas and kept going, joking about it two minutes later.  Flipping the tart from its cast iron skillet to plate sent apples flying and pastry gliding onto the counter.  She rearranged and continued.  Her final product looked nothing like the caramelized version that she had prepared earlier, and she apologized to her audience causally.  But she always had a smile on her face.  She would occasionally half-wink at someone off camera.  In her final ‘bon appetit’ she looked as voraciously hungry as if she had made the most perfect, mouth-watering tart on the planet.  She never apologized.

I delightfully regaled my gentleman friend with the story as we enjoyed the spring sunshine later that day.  The joy of a baking ‘failure’, and how delicious the results can still be.  That truly is dusty baking.

Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby - Lady Gray

I practice Julia’s method in tribute…

I like to think of Julia and my philosophy on dusty baking in moments like tonight.  I’m participating in two online baking events for incredible causes: Kelly’s Tea Party benefiting ovarian cancer research and The Tomato Tart’s Online Bake Sale to Help Japan, benefiting Second Harvest Japan in their efforts to provide food for those affected by the recent disaster.

I’m mentally tossing around several recipes, but have had tea-flavored ideas on the brain and figured I’d try one out while at my father’s house and with access to my little sister’s incredible camera.

Why not a gluten-free scone dedicated to Lady Mary Elizabeth Grey?  Her husband Charles is credited for the bergamont-flavored tea, but in my mind she’s the one who needed a cuppa, having birthed and raised ten sons and six daughters!  Why not combine Earl Grey tea with lemon zest and a lemon glaze?  Why not try a premixed flour from King Arthur flours?  I’ve experimented with pre-blended GF cake mixes and this brand totally won the loyalty of several of my taste testers, so since I’m absent my arsenal of flours and gums and starches I figured I’d give their muffin blend a whirl.  Into a scone.  A perfect scone.

The result?  A dusty, Julia Child-esque moment.  Not a scone.  Not even a muffin.  A muffin-top.  For some reason my original batter was way too moist for a scone.  So I added some extra flour.  Still too moist and sort of rubbery.  Instead of rolling out into scones I figured I’d glob it into muffin pans, hoping they would rise into fluffy yummy-ness.

Muffin for Lady Grey


Edible?  Yes.  Even somewhat tasty.  A little bitter from the strong tea, lacking the glaze that might have been and that would contrast the harshness of the flour blend.  Did I eat one?  Yes.  Two, actually.  Am I going to give you the recipe?  No.  Because a better one is coming.

But it was still a delightful time in the kitchen.  Inspired by the exhausted Lady Grey and the inexhaustible Julia Child.  And not a complete failure, as I enjoyed the time I zested lemon, brewed tea, blended butter into flour with my fingers.  And everyone in my dad’s house ate a warm, crusty muffin-esque creation.

Contentment is a dusty kitchen.

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