Swedish Almond Cake

Last week, I read an article by Dorie Greenspan in The New York Times Magazine about the Swedish custom of fika, or twice-daily breaks where people drink coffee, eat something sweet, and talk. We need more of that in America.

I was inspired by the article so Saturday night, I decided to make Greenspan’s recipe for Swedish almond cake. It sounded pretty straightforward: You make an easy cake batter, spread it into a prepared pan, and layer on some caramelized almonds later.

The recipe is easy except for the end. If you’re not used to spreading toppings on a mostly baked cake, the process is kind of anxiety inducing. You have to take the cake out of the oven (or at least, get it enough out of the oven to work with), take your caramelized almonds, and gently spread it across the top of the cake using a spatula. Then you return the cake to the oven and let it bake the rest of the way.

You’ll know the cake is done when you insert a toothpick in the middle and it comes out clean, and the top is golden brown. It took me a few toothpick tests before I could take my cake out of the oven. You might be tempted to take it out early, but don’t. You’re aiming for a nice, moist crumb. You don’t want the middle to be underdone.

The other tricky part about making this cake is removing it from the springform pan. You let the cake cool for a little, and then you’re supposed to take a butter knife or table knife and gently run it around the side of the pan to unstick the cake. This can be difficult because the almonds are still sort of sticky and probably have adhered to the side. Patience is key. Don’t despair. Gently remove the siding. If a few almonds stick to the pan, it’s no big deal.A6DF75F5-8082-45B8-9ACC-3261C5BF87B4.JPGI had a slice of cake with coffee yesterday for my twice-daily fika. I want to keep the tradition alive in the new year. Especially during the winter, I think we could all use more breaks with coffee and dessert. Somewhere a dietician or personal trainer is cursing me, but I don’t care. I’m a big believer in simple pleasures enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Why do you think Swedish people look so happy?

Here’s a song to get you started on your fika journey. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard lately.

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Chocolate Sea Salt Rugelach

I spent most of December traveling with a few baking projects scattered in toward the end of the month. I meant to make rugelach around Hanukkah, but I put it off until after the new year.

I’m kind of glad I did because rugelach is a project. I feel like holiday baking should either be semi-easy to counteract the stress of the holidays, or difficult but in a step-by-step way, so you get small doses of work that are balanced with relaxing waiting periods. I’ll get to that later in a post about making homemade cinnamon rolls.

Rugelach, though, are kind of universally annoying. I had a conversation about it the other day with my friend Rachel. First of all, you need a lot of counter space to roll out the dough and shape it. Second, rugelach dough has cream cheese, which makes it more difficult to work with. It’s stickier and goopier than other dough, so you’ll need some flour to roll it out.

Also, you’ll want to keep it as cold as possible. This will keep the cream cheese from melting and the dough from becoming wet. Only take the dough out of the fridge right before you need to use it.

Then, for these specific rugelach, you add melted chocolate into the mix, which can create even more of a goopy mess if you’re not quick, careful, and efficient.

I’ve probably turned you off making rugelach forever, but don’t despair. If you’re methodical and patient, this rugelach will turn out great. The dough is slightly sweet, the interiors are chocolatey and melty with the perfect amount of sweetness, and the outsides are sweet and salty with a pinch of flaky sea salt.

Another good thing about these rugelach is that you can disguise any dough mishaps with tons of sprinkles. I had some problems rolling up one of my logs of dough, and the outside looked a little speckled. I ended up dumping half a container of sprinkles on top and it worked like a charm. It covered the dough and gave the rugelach some aesthetic appeal. Sprinkles solve most problems, I’ve found.

I gave most of my rugelach away to friends and family, but I wish I would have kept more for myself. I’ll have to make some again soon.

Here’s where to find the recipe. Molly Yeh knows what she’s talking about.

And here’s a song to get you started on your rugelach journey. I’d recommend playing it on rainy winter mornings when you wake up late and don’t want to go to work.

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Vegan Samoa Shepherd’s Pie

I have been SLACKING with my blog posts lately. Part of it is because, believe it or not, I got tendonitis in my thumb. The hazards of a writer’s life are real.

The other part is, I’ve just been really busy. I spent the first part of this month going to visit my sister in Boston, and then I went down to DC to see my best friend Rachel. When I got back to St. Louis late on a Monday night, there was a full-blown blizzard. I felt like I was in a snow globe when the plane was landing.

That proved to be the peak of winter weather, though…at least so far. After that, St. Louis reverted to spring weather and 70-degree days. I wore a tank top on Christmas.

Still, this time of year makes me crave comfort food. I also try to balance out all the cookie and cinnamon roll eating with healthy takes on comfort food. I’m not a big fan of substituting meat, but if it can be done well, I’m all in.

Which brings me to this vegan samosa shepherd’s pie. I got the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, one of my favorite plant-based food blogs. I like the author, Heidi, because she has inventive takes on standard dishes, and most of her recipes have healthy, natural ingredients. Also, they’re pretty easy to make.

For this shepherd’s pie, you sauté onions, garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, and spices in a saucepan. This forms the base for the pie. Then you layer fluffy mashed potatoes on top, and use the back of your fork to make a criss-cross pattern.

I turned my broiler on at the end of baking, and it made the mashed potatoes slightly crispy on top and tender underneath. I would recommend doing the same thing.

So yeah. Make this vegan samosa shepherd’s pie as soon as possible. If you don’t have garam masala, the main spice in the dish, you can probably find it at Whole Foods, a natural or international grocery store, or, if you have one in town, an Indian grocery store. If you still can’t find it, you could substitute some cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom. But I’d try your best to find the spice. It’s rich and fragrant, and you can use it when you make Indian food.

Now that I’m back on my blog game, expect lots of posts throughout January. I’ll update you on some of the best places to eat in Boston and DC, give you a few cookie recipes, and try a recipe for rugelach that I should have made in December. The good thing is, it’s never too late.

Here’s a song to take with you into the new year.

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Slow Cooker Red Lentil Stew

This slow cooker red lentil stew is one of the best things I’ve made this year, or maybe ever.

It all started when I went to Small Business Saturday with my friend Anna. We had lunch at Union Loafers, a popular spot in St. Louis. I ordered a bowl of their kale garbanzo bean soup and I was blown away. The texture, spices, and color made me forget that it was raining. It improved my mood and increased my willingness to be anywhere besides my apartment.

I was going to try to recreate the soup exactly as it was, but then I realized that I wanted to add some red lentils. I also decided to put in onion, garlic, fresh ginger and turmeric, and pepper. I threw everything into my slow cooker at lunchtime on Sunday and went about my day, which involved lying on my coach watching back-to-back episodes of “The Crown.”

At around three hours into the cook time, I started smelling the soup from the other room. I wanted to open the lid and eat some, but I forced myself to hold back. A few minutes before the five hour mark, when you’re supposed to stop cooking the soup, I added chopped kale, garbanzo beans, coconut milk, and some salt. I would highly recommend tasting the soup at this stage to see if it needs more salt.

I poured myself a bowl and took it into the other room with some cut up Union Loafers baguette. I dipped my spoon in and took a sip. My first thought was, I can’t believe how good this is. My second thought is, I’m never using ground spices in soup again.

The latter might be hard to achieve, but in the case of this soup, I would recommend springing for the good stuff. Freshly grated ginger and turmeric takes your soup from tasting like box variety to restaurant quality. I also love the color it turned the soup. It was bright, vibrant, and warming, exactly what I needed after a carb-loaded Thanksgiving weekend.

When you drink this soup, it basically feels like someone waves a magic wand over your body and takes away all the stress and pain. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. It has anti-inflammatories including turmeric and ginger, so it calms your insides down. It also warms you up, so if you’re like me and get cold in a 70 degree house, it comes in handy.

I heated up the leftovers for lunch today and the soup was still good on day two. It might have even been better, because the flavors had a chance to set.

Here’s a song to get you started on your slow cooker red lentil stew journey.

Slow Cooker Red Lentil Stew


1 yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced thin
4 small garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 bunch lacinato kale, roughly chopped
1 cup canned, full-fat coconut milk
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
juice of 2 limes


Combine the first 11 ingredients in your slow cooker and stir thoroughly. Put the lid on and cook for five hours on low. After five hours, stir in the kale, coconut milk, garbanzo beans, and lime juice. Add salt to taste. Put the lid back on the slow cooker and heat on the “warm” setting for 15 minutes. Enjoy!


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Cooking My Way Through ‘A Forest Feast,’ Part II: Warm Goat Cheese and Fig Salad

Now comes the recipe from “The Forest Feast” cookbook that inspired me to buy the book in the first place: Warm goat cheese and fig salad.

What is warm goat cheese? you may ask. Well, it’s nothing short of heaven. You take super thin sheets of phyllo dough and wrap them around goat cheese Brie. Goat cheese Brie is like regular Brie; it just has a slightly different flavor since it’s made with goat milk. You brush the packets with a little olive oil, and toast them in the oven. When they’re done, you have little goat cheese pillows that melt in your mouth. Yes; they’re as good as they sound.

A word to the wise about baking with phyllo dough: It’s extremely fragile. I guess I should have realized this because of how thin it is, but I assumed it would be a little heartier, like pie dough. I was wrong. I almost had a disaster situation when the sheet of phyllo dough tore, but luckily I realized what was happening and stopped it before it started.

This might be the best salad I’ve ever made. It’s also a runner up for one of the best dishes I’ve ever made. I’m not even a huge fan of salads in the first place, so that’s saying something. The phyllo dough packets kind of act as croutons, and give some substance to the salad. The roasted walnuts pair well with the sweet figs, and the lemon vinaigrette adds some zest and ties everything together.

If you make this salad, I’d go with the vinaigrette recipe in the front of the cookbook. It’s bright and zesty, and light enough that you don’t feel like your salad leaves are drowning in dressing. You could throw together something similar, but once you try this recipe, I bet you’ll use it on most of your salads.

This is the kind of salad that you can eat comfortably during the winter. The goat cheese packets and roasted walnuts will warm you up, and the figs have just enough sweetness. This is the time of year I start eating cookies, cake, and pie nonstop, so it’s good to throw some natural sweetness into a recipe.

Here’s a song to get you started on your warm goat cheese and fig salad journey. Whenever I listen to Chris Lane, I pretend he’s singing to me.

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Pain au Chocolat

Since making pain aux raisins went so well a few weeks ago, I decided to continue my French baking journey and make pain au chocolat over the weekend.

Little did I know that the process would span three days, and include me waking up at 5:30 AM today to finish them. I guess that was a personal choice, because I could have finished them last night instead. But why would I do that when I could enjoy them fresh out of the oven in the morning?

I used a recipe from King Arthur Flour instead of the one from my “Pâtisserie at Home” cookbook. I did it partly because King Arthur Flour’s recipe sounded more straightforward, and didn’t call for me making the chocolate filling from scratch.

However, the King Arthur Flour recipe takes *a lot* of time. I’m talking two to three days, depending on how you time it. It’s fine, because you can do steps of the recipe and then go and do other things. But just know that if you want these to turn out well, you have to devote some time.

I had a lot of success with this recipe, with some caveats: First of all, you should probably buy pain au chocolat sticks to go in the pastries. You can use regular chocolate from the store, but if you want your pastries to taste more authentic, you should invest a little in the right chocolate. I got mine from King Arthur Flour, and they worked really well. They melted down nicely and added just enough chocolate to each pastry.

Also, I read through all the comments before I started baking. I think this is a good rule in general if you’re cooking a recipe that’s posted online, because oftentimes, people will have tips about what worked for them and what didn’t. I read that one commenter added extra turns, or folds, to the dough before letting it rest for the final time in the fridge. This is a good idea because it makes the pastries even more flaky.

The same commenter said that she grated the butter for the dough instead of rolling it out as a solid block. I did the same thing, and it was way easier. Grating butter is not as bad as it sounds (it’s sort of like grating cheese), and then because it’s in small pieces, it’s easier to roll out.

Grating your butter also means that there’s less of a chance that it will leak out of the dough and get soupy during baking. I didn’t even realize that could happen until I read the comments.

In terms of choosing butter, go with the best you can find. For me, that means Plugra European Style butter, but maybe you have a favorite brand. Trust me when I say, using good butter makes a big difference. I used regular grocery store butter for my pain aux raisins, and they didn’t taste as good as my pain au chocolat.

Finally, let these rise in a very warm place, especially if you live somewhere where it’s cold. I have problems with my pastries rising every time I make them, so this time, I tried a trick I read online. I set my oven to 170 degrees F. Then I turned it off and put the pastries inside, and left the door open with the oven light on. This worked, more or less, but the pastries on the top shelf turned out best.

For the last part of the rise, I took them out and started to preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and left them sitting on top of the oven covered with a dish towel. This worked extremely well. In all honesty, they should have sat for longer on the counter because they were not completely puffy when I put them in the oven. But I have little patience, especially when it comes to pain au chocolat.

The best part about these pastries, besides how they taste, is how your apartment/home tastes when they’re baking. The whole place smells like buttery, flaky croissant dough with a hint of chocolate. I’m pretty sure that’s what heaven smells like.

I enjoyed two of these fresh out of the oven, and they were delicious. You could see the layers after you bit into them. They were light and rich with just enough chocolate. I thought about eating more, but I’ve already promised a few to my neighbor, and I’m saving a few for other friends, too. I wish I could share one with my friend Julicia, who I used to share pain au chocolat with when we lived in France, but she’s in Philly. I’m virtually sending her one as I write this.

Here’s a song to get you started on your pain au chocolat journey.

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Cooking My Way Through ‘A Forest Feast,’ Part I: Lemony Pasta Fagioli

A few weeks ago, I was browsing around Left Bank Books, one of my favorite bookstores in St. Louis, when I stumbled upon “The Forest Feast Mediterranean” cookbook. I’d never heard of Erin Gleeson or her “Forest Feast” series, but when I started paging through her cookbook, I immediately fell in love.

“The Forest Feast Mediterranean” is based on Gleeson’s travels through Spain, France, and Italy. I’ve been to the latter two countries and I’ve always wanted to visit Spain, so reading the cookbook felt a little like going abroad again. Gleeson is an artist and she illustrates her own books. The watercolor illustrations were bright and vibrant, and made the experience of reading the book even more enjoyable.

To be honest, I decided to buy the cookbook because when I opened it to a page with a recipe for salad with goat cheese phyllo puffs and figs. It sounded so good that I felt like I had to make it right then and there. Then I paged through the book more and I realized that I wanted to make most of the recipes. This is what is known in food blogger language as true love with a cookbook.

I had a “Julie & Julia” moment when I decided to cook my way through the cookbook. But unlike the movie, I wanted to skip around and cook recipes based on my preferences. Also, I might not make a few. I like most of the ideas and ingredients in the book, but there’s a whole section on party snacks, which I probably won’t use for a while. Although as I’m typing this, making cheese and almond-stuffed figs and eating them all myself sounds really good.

I’ll detail some of my experiences cooking from the book here. Look out for more installments of this mini-series over the next few weeks.

To start, I made lemony pasta fagioli (pictured above). As Gleeson writes in the cookbook, pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) is a common dish in Italy. However, I hardly ever cook the two together. I decided to try out the combination and see what actual lemons would taste like in a pasta dish. I’ve included lemon juice in a sauce, but I’ve never sautéed lemon and put it in pasta, like Gleeson’s recipe calls for.

When you’re making this pasta, it’s very important not to sub noodles. It calls for orecchiette, and they’re the perfect vehicle for everything else in the dish. They soak up flavor, balance the beans in texture and shape, *and* they’re perfect for collecting grated Parmesan. If you can’t find orecchiette, I guess you could use another small noodle. I don’t think it would be as good, though.

At the end of the recipe, Gleeson says you could add chili oil and sautéed greens to the finished dish. I had some Swiss chard to use up, and some Aleppo chili flakes on the counter, so I decided to toss those in. It was a wise decision; the dish went up a level in terms of heartiness and flavor. The chiles gave it a kick, and the greens made it feel more nutritious.

Overall, this was a good recipe to start with. It’s the perfect amount of hearty and light, with bright, fresh ingredients that evoke summer. I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of citrus when the weather gets cold and the temperature drops 40 degrees overnight.

Now I’m thinking about other pasta and beans combinations. Stay tuned for some original recipes soon.

Here’s a song to get you started on your lemony pasta fagioli journey. The band sounds a lot like one of my favorite bands, Phoenix.

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