Dear Sourdough Starter (plus a recipe!),

Beautiful sourdough baguette! Photo credit/Connie Ma

Beautiful sourdough baguette! Photo credit/Connie Ma

A few months ago, I wanted to make bread, but I had a problem: I didn’t want to buy a an $8 jar of baker’s yeast because I probably wouldn’t use most of it and the unused yeast would just die. I also didn’t want to buy some of the little packets of yeast because that’s ultimately, like, one-third of the yeast for the same amount of money.

So I had a brilliant idea: I will get myself a gooey mess of active yeast and bacteria that has to be periodically fed with flour and water lest it dies, thereby forever creating more work for myself just so I don’t have to shell out $8 for a jar of yeast.

That, my friends, is how I got a sourdough starter.

Dear National Chocolate Cake Day,

National Chocolate Cake Day, it's on. Flickr / gail_thepinkpeppercorn

National Chocolate Cake Day, it’s on. Flickr / gail_thepinkpeppercorn

There’s not much to love about January. There’s the occasional birthday celebration, but other than that there’s no fun excuse to eat and drink with reckless abandon. It’s cold and you find yourself recovering from Christmas and New Year’s—emotionally, physically and financially—at the gym with a million other sweaty people who are also pounding guiltily on the treadmills.

But just as you start to lose hope… there’s a flicker of light. January 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day! The origin of this glorious day seems to be a mystery (but if you know, tell us!). But even if you describe yourself as “not a chocolate person,” you still have an appreciation for this classic dessert.

From the delicate flourless chocolate cake, to Betty Crocker cake mix, to the rich, moist, buried-in-frosting monstrosities you find at chain restaurants, we honor this staple in dessert history with five lovely recipes. Pick one. Make it. And make it your own (and don’t forget to share the recipe).

Food Network: Flourless Chocolate Cake
Bon Appetit: Chocolate Cake with Caramel-Milk Frosting
Epicurious: Chocolate Stout Cake
Barefoot Contessa: Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
Food and Wine: Mom’s Chocolate Cake

Forever in cake,
A

pear and cherry cobbler

Dear brunch cobbler,

pear and cherry cobbler

It was billed as good for ‘those who don’t like baking’ but I still loved making this cobbler.

It all started when we decided to have brunch on the rooftop. This Chicago summer has been unusually cool and extra rainy, so a beautiful sunny morning meant going outside and staying there. And what’s my favorite outdoor activity? Brunching.

But I wanted to change it up. We all know my love for bennies but it was a low maintenance kind of morning: no toting fragile eggs up to the roof. And Bon Appetit had the answer: brunch cobbler.

It’s billed as a ‘easy bake’ type of recipe. It’s kind of like kitchen sinking: Toss everything in a bowl, put it in a baking pan, then make some delicious dough that bakes up so fluffily and pop it on top. Done.

Pears are truly the forgotten fruit. Even when they’re not quite ripe, they bake so perfectly keeping that stiffness of something crunchy while being absolutely chewy at the same time. I also misread the label and got dried cranberries instead of cherries, but I feel like you could put any fruit in this and it would come out amazing. And when you reheat it, it’s like you just pulled it out of the oven again.

But if there’s one thing that really pulls this recipe together it’s the vanilla bean ice cream.

Love,
A

Dear chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting,

I have to say that making these cupcakes meant more than a treat. This adventure ended with a true appreciation of the ease of baking.

Much of my life, I avoided baking things because it  seemed so difficult. Maybe you’ve been there: You’re on your own for the first time and your only objective is to save all the dollars you can. So whatever is considered ‘excessive’ is immediately off the list (granted, the concept of excessive is wildly subjective). For me, anything beyond basic nutrition was not in the realm of possibility. That meant any baking adventure came with a high bill: Buying pans, aluminum foil, parchment paper, flour, eggs, milk and so on really adds up if you buy it all at once.

That translated to baking = expensive, so I won’t do it often. It’s just not my thing. After spending a few more years on the planet (and slowly accumulating baking tools), the habit of ‘every day items’ finally manifested. And as I pulled out ingredients from my pantry this weekend, I began to muse on this: I smiled at the idea that I decided to make cupcakes on a whim. I was excited that I didn’t need to go to the store for anything (even the frosting!). I thought about each baking tool I used and when I bought it, why I bought it, who I bought it with.

So really, the chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting represented more than just a desire to devour delicious, chocolatey goodness: It’s a milestone in my budding baking life. The foundation has been laid, now it’s time to build the house.

Thanks cupcakes, you’re the best.

Love,
A

Chocolate cupcakes!

Chocolate cupcakes!

Peanut butter frosting makes everything better.

Peanut butter frosting makes everything better.

Dear chocolate chip Oreo cookies,

Chocolate chip cookies with Oreo crumbles

Chocolate chip cookies with Oreo crumbles

I started on this sugary path to you when I found a coupon for a free package of Oreos at the grocery store. And for some reason, my brain thought, ‘What can I make with these?’

Forget that Oreos are good enough, sweet enough, delicious enough, diet-busting enough on their own, but I had the urge to use them on a grander palate of cookiedom. What resulted was cookie Inception.

Since I’m still kind of a newbie, my cookies looked a little different and came out crunchier, but they were still a hit at the office. I’ll take that.

Love,
A