Tag Archives: baking

Tiny Temptations: Baked by Melissa

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, I decided to go with my friend, Victoria, to find and devour some delicious cupcakes. We took the 1 train down to 86th Street and walked to By the Way Bakery, a gluten and dairy free bakery with excellent Yelp reviews. Unfortunately, they did not have any cupcakes, even though there were photos of cupcakes on their Yelp page. So I decided to go to a nearby bakery famous for its delectable mini cupcakes: Baked by Melissa.

When I walked into the store (after longingly examining the Christmas trees for sale right outside the door), I noticed that the inside was very plain and modern. There were no tables or chairs, and the room itself was completely undecorated. It was like the Apple store of cupcake shops. But while the store itself was lacking in color, the cupcakes were certainly bright and fun to look at. Having had Baked by Melissa once before in my life, I knew the cupcakes would be little, but I forgot just how tiny they are. Each cupcake couldn’t have been more than an inch and a half in diameter. Furthermore, one cupcake costs $1, which is definitely not a bargain. I decided to buy six cupcakes for Victoria and me. The flavors we chose were cookie dough, chocolate chip pancake, cinnamon bun, mint cookie, sugar cookie cheesecake, and triple chocolate fudge.

The display case.
The display case.

The cookie dough cupcake is a yellow cake with cookie dough in the middle, chocolate frosting, and even more cookie dough on top. This cupcake had a wonderful texture; the cake and the cookie dough were very moist, and the chocolate chips added nice variation to the softness of the cupcake. In addition to having excellent texture, the cupcake had an intense and delicious cookie dough flavor, especially for such a tiny cupcake. Overall, they nailed this cupcake!

The cookie dough cupcake.
The cookie dough cupcake.

The chocolate chip pancake cupcake is a yellow pancake cake with chocolate chips throughout, topped with maple syrup frosting and even more chocolate chips. As a pancake aficionado, I was really intrigued by the idea of turning a pancake into a cupcake. I found that the cupcake did resemble a pancake, but it definitely didn’t taste identical to one, which was a slight disappointment (to be fair, it was an ambitious goal). The cupcake itself was quite sweet, perhaps even too sweet, but it still tasted good.

The chocolate chip pancake cupcake.
The chocolate chip pancake cupcake.

The cinnamon bun cupcake (part of their winter collection) is a cinnamon bun cake filled with vanilla glaze, topped with cinnamon frosting and a white chocolate drizzle. Unlike the pancake cupcake, this cupcake tasted exactly like the breakfast food it was trying to emulate. The soft cake, delicious glaze, and cinnamon frosting combined perfectly to mimic the experience of eating a cinnamon roll. My only wish is that the cupcake had a bit more cinnamon in it, as I love a strong cinnamon punch, but otherwise this beautiful cupcake was excellent.

The cinnamon bun cupcake.
The cinnamon bun cupcake.

The mint cookie cupcake is a mint cake with a fudge filling, mint cookies and cream frosting, mint cookie butter, and green drizzle on top. The first thing I observed about this cupcake is that it is a bold green color, which I thought was playful. Victoria and I thought the flavor of the cupcake was lacking in mint, but the cupcake was still satisfying and had a nice crunchy element.

The mint cookie cupcake.
The mint cookie cupcake.

The sugar cookie cheesecake cupcake (part of their winter collection) is a vanilla cake with a cheesecake filling, topped with sugar cookie frosting, and red and green nonpareil brittle. This cupcake certainly looked festive, with the red and green decorations on top. The flavor itself was a bit strange: we came to the conclusion that it tasted like a sugar cookie, vanilla cupcake, and bread combined. But the texture of the cupcake was wonderfully creamy. Overall, it was a solid cupcake, albeit a little unusual.

The sugar cookie cheesecake cupcake.
The sugar cookie cheesecake cupcake.

Of course, I saved the chocolate cupcake for last. The triple chocolate fudge cupcake is a chocolate cake with a fudge filling, topped with chocolate frosting, and a chocolate cookie crumble. The moment I bit into this cupcake, I knew that I made the right decision to eat this one last. It was without a doubt one of the best bites of a cupcake I’ve ever had. It was rich, bitter, and decadent – everything a chocolate lover wants in a cupcake. In a small dose, it was absolutely incredible, though perhaps it would be too much if it were a normal sized cupcakes. This cupcake was the perfect finale to my cupcake-eating adventure.

The triple chocolate fudge cupcake.
The triple chocolate fudge cupcake.

Baked by Melissa has their baking down to a science. Each cupcake was moist and complex. My only complaint is that a few of their cupcakes – mainly the cinnamon bun cupcake and the mint cookie cupcake – could have used a bit more flavor, as a mini cupcake should be packed with flavor to make up for its diminutive size. Baked by Melissa is certainly one of the most expensive cupcake places I’ve been to, so don’t go there expecting to leave with a full stomach unless you have $20 to spend. But on those days where you need to treat yourself, you can’t go wrong with Baked by Melissa.

Nearest Location: 2325 Broadway, New York, NY

Hours: Monday through Thursday – 9am to 10pm, Friday – 9am to 11pm, Saturday – 10am to 11pm, Sunday – 10am to 10pm

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Not-So-Crumby Crumbs

I was walking through Central Park on a beautiful Friday morning when I started craving cupcakes. I opened my beloved Yelp app and searched for cupcake shops near me. The nearest shop was called Crumbs Bake Shop, located on the Upper East Side. It didn’t have spectacular reviews on Yelp, but I decided to give it a shot, so I headed over to Lexington Avenue to try some cupcakes.

The exterior of Crumbs Bake Shop.
The exterior of Crumbs Bake Shop.

When I arrived at the store, I was a bit disheartened. After going to Molly’s Cupcakes a few weeks before, I was expecting a warm, inviting environment. Crumbs Bake Shop had a couple tables set up, but it wasn’t the kind of place where you want to sit down and enjoy your cupcake. Nonetheless, they had a very impressive selection of cupcakes and baked goods in general. It was quite difficult for me to pick only two cupcakes from the vast array of culinary creations in the display case. In the end, I settled on two very different flavors: chocolate salted caramel and lemon lemon. I paid for my cupcakes and took them to go, deciding to eat them in my cozy dorm room.

Crumbs' display case full of cupcakes and more.
Crumbs’ display case full of cupcakes and more

The chocolate salted caramel cupcake looked pretty appealing. It was a chocolate cake with a caramel cream cheese frosting, topped with chocolate chips, a caramel drizzle, and a bit of sea salt. Sounds amazing, right? In truth, it just tasted okay. The chocolate cake wasn’t moist and decadent like I had hoped, and the frosting was quite dense. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anything special either. Much like the store itself, it lacked that homey and comforting feel. Overall, the cupcake was solid, but not exceptional in any way.

The chocolate salted caramel cupcake.
The chocolate salted caramel cupcake

The lemon lemon cupcake was a cheerful yellow cupcake. There was no description of it at the store, but it appeared to be a lemon cake topped with a lemon frosting with yellow and white sprinkles and a little dollop of lemon jelly on the top. Personally, I found this one more enjoyable than the chocolate one, though it’s probably because I have very high chocolate standards. The lemon cupcake was pleasant to eat. It was a wonderful balance of sweetness and tartness, and although it tasted somewhat artificial, the cake itself was a nice consistency. I’ve certainly had better lemon cupcakes, but it was still a pretty good cupcake.

The lemon lemon cupcake.
The lemon lemon cupcake

All in all, Crumbs Bake Shop was a bit of a let down, but it was not awful either. The cupcakes were not very expensive (cupcakes ranged from $2 to $3.50), and they were quite large considering the price. Additionally, Crumbs is a chain bakery, so there are many locations conveniently situated around the city (unfortunately, the one near Columbia is permanently closed). If you want a decent and fairly cheap cupcake, go ahead and give Crumbs a try!

Molly’s Takes the (Cup)cake

I’m a sucker for a good cupcake because it has all the wonderful aspects of a normal cake (the moist, fluffy cake and the smooth, creamy frosting) compacted into an adorable little pastry, which sometimes even has a bonus filling. There are so many varieties of cupcakes just in New York City, and I want to try as many of them as possible.

I started with Molly’s Cupcakes, located downtown near New York University. I learned about Molly’s from “Cupcake Wars,” a cupcake-baking competition that airs on Food Network. In one episode, Eileen Kerbel, a pastry chef at Molly’s Cupcakes in Chicago, won with her scrumptious cupcakes. After watching this episode, I knew that I had to see what made Molly’s Cupcakes so good. I took the 1 train down to Christopher Street and walked down Bleecker for about five minutes, at which point I was standing in front of a bright yellow storefront labeled “Molly’s Cupcakes.” I walked into a relatively spacious room, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the fun swing-like stools at the counter. The atmosphere was cheery and playful; there were even board games on the shelves, along with educational books.

I walked over to the display of the cupcakes and was immediately overwhelmed. Every flavor looked good to me, making my decision extremely difficult. After much deliberation, I decided to try three cupcakes: pumpkin spice, cake batter, and chocolate decadence. I chose these three because they all seemed different, so I knew I would get a better idea of the range of flavors.

The first cupcake I tried was the pumpkin spice, with a creamy pumpkin mascarpone center and a sweet cream cheese frosting. I chose this cupcake because I love everything pumpkin (basic, I know) and I wanted to try it while it was in season. I had high expectations for this cupcake, and it did not disappoint; it was everything a pumpkin spice cupcake should be. It had a strong pumpkin taste that went well with the sweet frosting. It was quite large, but that just meant more pumpkin-y goodness. The only critique I have is that there was too much frosting for my taste. Overall, this cupcake was wonderful for this time of the year.

The pumpkin spice cupcake.
The pumpkin spice cupcake

Next up was the cake batter. This cupcake had a vanilla confetti cake with a raw cake batter center, topped with vanilla buttercream and birthday sprinkles. Just looking at this cupcake made me happy; the frosting was an adorable light blue color, and the rainbow sprinkles were lovely in a childish way. Biting into this cupcake made me even happier. The gooey batter in the center was absolutely delicious, and it paired nicely with the light vanilla cake. It was fun, tasty, and nostalgic all at the same time.

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The cake batter cupcake

Last but not least was the chocolate decadence. This cupcake was a chocolate cake with a chocolate mousse filling, topped with chocolate ganache and dark chocolate curls. I saved this cupcake for last because I expected it to be my favorite, given my love for chocolate. This was easily one of the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever had. It was moist, rich, and certainly decadent. The cupcake looked sophisticated and tasted even better. However, this cupcake is not for everyone. Only true chocolate lovers could handle this cupcake and its intense chocolate flavor.

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The chocolate decadence cupcake

I was very pleased with Molly’s cupcakes. The fun atmosphere combined with delicious cupcakes made for a really great experience. It’s not the place to go when you want a cheap cupcake in a convenient location. But if you’ve got some money to spend and want an outstanding cupcake adventure, Molly’s Cupcakes is worth the trip!

Location: 228 Bleecker Street, New York, NY

Hours: Monday – 12pm to 10pm, Tuesday through Thursday – 8am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday – 8am to 12am, Sunday – 9am to 10pm

Andes Mint Chocolate Chunk Cookies

If you’re a fan of chocolate and mint, these are the cookies for you. They’re golden and crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, and the cool hint of mint balances out the gooey chunks of chocolate. These are perfect for the upcoming holiday season!

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Ingredients

½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp pure mint extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup bread flour (highly recommended, as the the higher gluten content is what makes them so chewy!)

pinch of salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup Andes Crème de Menthe Thins, chopped

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Pumpkin Spice Madeleines Recipe

Soft, warm, and buttery, Madeleines are French tea cakes that are known for their distinct scallop shape. Spice up your madeleines this season with this autumn appropriate variation.

Ingredients

2 whole eggs

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp lemon zest

3 ½ tbsp pumpkin puree

½ cup all purpose flour

1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice (or make your own with ½ tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ground clove)

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

¼ cup butter, melted

3 tsp powdered sugar for dusting

ingredients

Continue reading Pumpkin Spice Madeleines Recipe

Trick to Making Great Italian Pizza

Italians take food very seriously. We don’t make jokes about food, we consider it almost a sacred subject. There are some things that you cannot say to an Italian without making him or her explaining how the risotto you have just eaten is not the real one and what the real lasagne should look like. That’s why when an American friend of mine told me that she once “made a pizza” by buying a Pita bread and putting cheese on it, I couldn’t accept the fact the she believed to have made a pizza. I knew I had to do something, and there was only one thing I had to do: to make a Pizza.

Pizza is the most famous Italian food in the world, so famous that it is not even necessarily associated with Italy anymore. But in Italy, it is crystal clear that pizza is our creation, and therefore we feel like the only ones to have the right to talk about it.

In Italy, young people usually go to a pizzeria to eat pizza once a week, as the most normal social event you can imagine. It’s cheap and good, so why not? But a lot of people are able to make their own pizza as well, especially when you realize how easy it is. So, are you ready?

The first thing to do is the pizza dough. Here is what you need:

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A Complete Guide to Getting A Cronut

A brave dessert aficionado’s pursuit of all things fried, glazed, and sugary.

When you first move to New York, your first thought isn’t usually about food. It’s about finding an (reasonably priced) apartment, taking advantage of the cultural meccas, or visiting the famous sights before it becomes socially unacceptable to act like a tourist, and you’re too jaded with the frantic sight-seeing. You scope out a sufficient local café where you can become a regular, and drink black coffee like a grumpy New Yorker.

When I moved to New York, my first thought was, “Where can I find the food?”, and more specifically, “Where are the doughnuts?” I love food in all forms, but I have a special place in my heart for desserts, especially doughnuts. They’re the queen of basic desserts: acceptably eaten at any time of day, easily manipulated to fit any palate or diet (think vegan, paleo, or gluten free), and perfectly portable.

Coming from Massachusetts, I am accustomed to two types of doughnuts.

  1. The slightly stale, typically flavored doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts, which you can buy at the chain on every corner (there were seven in my town alone, and several more in the near vicinity).
  2. The quintessential New England doughnut: the apple cider doughnut, best enjoyed hot out of the fryer and coated generously in sugar. This doughnut is a staple of apple picking and pumpkin patches; the constant companion of hayrides and cool fall mornings.

But I expected New York to be different, and I was right. This is the homeland for all foods ordinary and obscure. There’s representation from every culture and country, good, bad, and just plain ridiculous. And of course, in a city well known for it’s cozy cafes and excessive coffee consumption, I knew there would be a strong selection of coffee’s best friend, the doughnut.

I started my NYC doughnut journey with the pinnacle of doughnut bastardization, the cronut. For those of you who live under a rock, let me welcome you to the extreme of an already excessive dessert. French pastry chef Dominique Ansel developed his infamous cronut in 2013, and as the name suggests, it is the lovechild of a croissant and doughnut. But that’s barely scratching the surface.

What makes a cronut different than a simple fried croissant dough is the way the dough is handled. The dough is laminated, which is what causes the flaky croissant layers, and proofed, so the dough rises before it is fried. After the dough is fried in grapeseed oil, the cronut is rolled in flavored sugar, filled with ganache, and topped with a glaze and decoration. It is an extensive, laborious process, with high risk and low reward.

Continue reading A Complete Guide to Getting A Cronut

Sweet Tooth Recipes: Oreo Truffles

I think it’s safe to say that chocolate and cookies always pair well together. In fact, it may not even be worth eating cookies without chocolate in the mix. But cream cheese too? I was hesitant when I heard that these Oreo truffles combined cheese with chocolate – however, I was very pleasantly surprised by the result. This combo cheesecake/cookie is a deliciously rich dessert that is easy to make and great to share with friends.

This is one of those desserts that’s just better made at home…and I’m not sure of any bakery in the city that makes them quite like this. If you are yearning for a chocolate dessert, but don’t have a ton of kitchen skills then try out this simple Oreo truffle recipe.

 

Ingredients:

1 Box of Oreo Cookies

1 8oz package of Cream Cheese

1 package of Semisweet Chocolate Chips

2 tbsp. of Butter

 

Directions:

1. In a food processor, or let’s be honest, in a plastic bag using your hands or a rolling pin, crush the Oreos until they form crumbs.

2. Pour crushed Oreos in a bowl and add the Cream Cheese. Using a spoon or fork, combine the cheese and Oreos until they form a dough-like solid texture.

3. Form the Oreo mixture into the small balls and place on a cookie sheet covered in wax or parchment paper. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm.

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4. In a separate bowl, combine butter and chocolate chips. Heat in microwave in 30-second intervals until fully melted. Be careful not to burn the chocolate.

5. Take Oreo balls out of refrigerator. Dip each Oreo ball into the melted chocolate and place back onto parchment paper. Place in freezer for 1 hour.

6. If you wish, you can decorate the Oreo truffles with Oreo crumbs, white chocolate drizzle or anything else your creative mind can think up.

Here’s to the chocohalics. Eat & Enjoy.

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“Mozzarella and Eggplant and Potatoes, Oh, My!”: We Will Not Starve this Fall Break

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After two months of Ferris and John Jay sketchiness and mediocrity, with the full weight of closed dining halls upon us, my suitemates Rebecca and Trevor, along with myself, set out to solve the issue of our potential starvation. Subsisting on fun-size Snickers, Kit Kats, and Haribo Gummy Bears (full-size and petite) could only last our souls and arteries for so long, and we set out on a three-course meal extravaganza.

Trevor looked for the autumn-inspired appetizer, entrée, and dessert recipes, and after much debate (“BUT THESE DON’T INCLUDE PUMPKIN, UGH, THEY DON’T QUALIFY AS FALL WHAT IS MY LIFE”) settled on garlic-rosemary “Hassleback” potatoes, a casserole-like eggplant-roasted-red-pepper baked spaghetti, and an innovative no-bake Greek yogurt cheesecake. Brimming with anticipation, hunger, and slightly intimidation, the three of us ventured to Garden of Eden (gasp!) to avoid the expensive black hole that is Westside Market (PSA: 10% discount for Columbia students with ID!).

Split three ways, the total cost of our grocery load equaled that of one meal swipe, a fact we found nothing less than remarkable.

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We set out first to make the crust and filling for our no-bake cheesecake, as that would take the longest and had to be chilled. Crushing the graham crackers was surprisingly easy and quick (and therapeutic!) thanks to a heavy-duty rolling pin and Ziploc baggie. Melted butter made the crust complete, and soon the entirety of the minuscule Hartley kitchen smelled like gingerbread cookies. It took all of our willpower to not eat the crust as-is. I can’t say the same for the filling, an interesting hodgepodge of cream cheese, Chobani, lemon juice, and sugar, a heavenly yet simple combination.

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In progress…
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GLISTENING GORGEOUSNESS.
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Blurrily mixing away!
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Tangy, sweet, delightful

After leaving both the crust and filling to chill away in the fridge, we moved promptly on to gingerly slicing away at the Hasselback potatoes. The recipe called for a specific slicing technique, where half-moon chunks of potato would be very thinly sliced, leaving the bottoms intact to hold maximum flavor release from the garlic and rosemary. Five huge Russet potatoes, one tiny, incompetent knife, and many thin slices of garlic and fragrant sprigs of rosemary later…

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Cutting this was an ordeal of greatest proportions
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Begging to be seasoned
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A veritable work of art

Though preparation was long, leaving it to work magic in a 425-degree oven was all that stood between the potatoes and our stomachs.

Next, we moved on to roasting the vegetables for our pasta bake’s sauce and base. By this point, the several passersby who were understandably entranced by the abnormally delicious smells in our suite eyed us with envy as we snickered shamelessly.

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Before: prepped for the oven
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After: let’s just eat this and die happy
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Our appetites were not the least deterred by the unsightly lighting in this kitchen
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There are no words for this

After a quick pureé of the roasted tomatoes, peppers, and onions, we added some spaghetti cooked slightly under al dente, and then began assembling the dish, falling into silenced awe between gasps of how good the fresh buffalo mozzarella was (at this point, we were so hungry we resorted to half-laying the mozzarella on the dish itself and half-inhaling it).

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Decorative Hartley walls
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Gorgeously appropriate Halloween colors
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Nothing short of amazing
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PASTA BLANKET.

Eight minutes searing under a 450 degree oven left us with surely one of the world’s greatest pasta dishes.

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NO WAY
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Gratuitous sprinkling of * real * parmesan cheese (you’re welcome)

Though we were waiting impatiently for our cheesecake to finish chilling (cake for breakfast is always a good idea, even better if it’s cheesecake for breakfast), this was all-in-all, an utterly successful attempt at feeding ourselves like “real adults.” With a little experimenting and a lot of hope and luck, we were able to start off fall break on a comforting and delicious note with these easy yet completely satisfying recipes. Definitely give them all a try and you will surely end up as pleasantly surprised, ecstatic, and full as we did.

Sweet Tooth Recipes: Chocolate Mint Souffle

From a distance, baking a soufflé can seem daunting and overwhelming, but I assure you, it is easier than you think.  While this recipe may take time, patience, and care, it’s well worth the wait when you bite into a warm mint chocolate cloud of happiness.  If you need to take a study break during the crazy final schedule, try out this delicious sweet tooth recipe.

 

Ingredients:

Butter: a pat of butter (about 2 tbsp)

Dark Mint Flavored Chocolate: 90gram bar

Heavy Whipping Cream: 1 tbsp

Eggs: 3

Granulated Sugar: 2 tbsp

Directions:

  1. Turn up that oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare two soufflé cups by greasing them with butter. (Make sure that they are oven safe)
  3. In a glass bowl, microwave the chocolate and whipping cream at 30 second increments until fully melted. (Be careful here! Burning the chocolate will ruin the entire recipe!)
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites from the three eggs and the granulated sugar until they form soft peaks.
  5. After waiting for the melted chocolate to cool down, add the egg yolk remaining from the eggs and whisk away.
  6. Finally, slowly add the peaks of egg white to the chocolate mixture, folding instead of mixing in order to keep it light and fluffy.
  7. Divide the final product into 2 and pour into the greased cups.
  8. Stick the prebaked soufflés into the oven to bake for about 10 minutes or until they have risen.  Be very careful when opening the oven as not to collapse the dessert.
  9. Pair with coffee ice cream or a refreshing iced hot chocolate and enjoy!