Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bakery Review: Village Baking & Coffee Company, Modesto, CA

Village Baking & Coffee Company - visited August 23, 2014
Last weekend I went out of town for a Hallmark ornament event (waves freak flag) in Modesto. As always whenever I go somewhere new, I look up local bakeries on yelp to see what I might go check out. Hey, we all need a hobby. In addition to baking, mine is trying out new bakeries wherever I go. It satisfies both my intellectual curiosity and my sweet tooth under the guise of "research". Yes, that's it, I'm doing research.

I got to Modesto pretty early, checked in at the Hallmark store then had a couple of hours to kill. So it was the perfect time to check out Village Baking. Since I'd left my house so early to get to Modesto before 8 am, I hadn't had breakfast yet.
Village Baking is pretty large for a bakery but they also double as a cafe that serves both breakfast and lunch. There is a plethora of display cases filled with baked goods, from breads to cakes to cupcakes and bar cookies to individual-size desserts. Needless to say, I went into sensory overload. In a good way.

Before I got too immersed in the sweet offerings though, I went with a breakfast order of pancakes and fruit with a side order of sausage. I ordered at the counter, paid for my meal and received a number on a stand which the server later used to track me down and deliver my order. The pancakes were decently fluffy and tasted good but I was disappointed in the syrup. It had the taste and texture of Aunt Jemima syrup from a plastic bottle. For someone used to maple syrup tapped from the trees of Vermont, it was a bit of a letdown. I actually ended up scaling back on the syrup and enjoying my pancakes without them. Fortunately the sausages were tasty so it saved my breakfast plate.
My breakfast order: pancakes and sausage
After breakfast, I allowed myself the sensory pleasure of perusing the display cases. Several times, the attentive counter people asked if they could help me but I demurred. I was full from breakfast so I knew I wouldn't be eating anything until later that afternoon and I wanted to choose wisely. Some moments just can't be rushed.

After indulging my visual senses for an appropriate length of time, I finally narrowed my selections down to 3: a Turtle Thumbprint Cookie, an individual apple tart and a larger-than-mini-but-not-full-size cake called Death by Chocolate. The name alone deserved a trial even though it was a larger size cake than I could finish by myself.

The cake was a bit expensive at $8.25 but greed governs the hold on my wallet and that hold loosened in the face of promised chocolate bliss. The bakery counter person packaged the cake in a separate box from the cookie and the tart which turned out to be a wise move. I had to leave the boxes in my car for half the day and it was almost a 2-hour drive back home so by the time I got back and opened my caloric treasures, the cake had softened considerably and was thinking about melting to punish me for its warm treatment in the trunk of my car.

I tried the Turtle Thumbprint cookie first. I had made something similar to it (Chocolate Turtle Cookies) for a holiday dessert party and I'm partial to anything chocolate and caramel. This had the same elements as the turtle cookies but I have to say, I like mine better. The cookie part of this Turtle Thumbprint was a bit on the dry side and was more of a crisp texture than a chewy one. It wasn't bad but it wasn't a standout for me.

Apple Tart
Then I got to the apple tart and boy, did my taste buds perk up. My jaded senses lost their cynicism and came to attention. It's still not quite the season for apples so the apples weren't particularly special but the outer crust and the inner crust holding up the apples were amazing. I can't describe it well enough to do it justice but it was like the perfect - and I mean perfect - meeting of tart crust and cake that got married and agreed on a 50/50 partnership. Sublime. The only thing I didn't like about the tart is the same thing I don't like about any bakery dessert with fruit. In order to preserve the appearance of fresh fruit, bakeries brush the fruit with an apricot glaze. It keeps the fruit from drying out and gives them a glossy appearance. That keeps them looking pretty but I've never cared for the taste of the glaze. Still, let's just say that while I probably wouldn't drive 90 miles just to go to a bakery (even I have my limits), if I ever happened to be in Modesto again, I'd make a point of going to Village Baking just to get the apple tart.

At this point, I didn't have much room for more than a bite (or three) of the Death by Chocolate cake. I had put it in the refrigerator to chill back up before I tried it which turned out to be the right thing to do. The cake is essentially fluffy chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse covered with a light(ish) chocolate ganache frosting. I'd repeat that but I'd probably gain another two pounds just typing out the words. It was good. Really good. I couldn't finish it so I ended up sharing most of it with my parents when I visited them the next day.
Overall, I'd give Village Baking and Coffee Company a thumbs up. Skip the pancakes unless you're going to bring your own syrup but they offer a great selection of baked goods and 2 out of my 3 selections hit the mark. A few days later, I'm still thinking about that apple tart.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

White Chocolate Snickerdoodle Blondies

White Chocolate Snickerdoodle Blondies - made August 16, 2014 from Sally's Baking Addiction
My nephew, Vanilla King, loves snickerdoodles. True to his moniker, he also likes white chocolate, although when he was younger and in a "I don't like chocolate" phase (at least I hope it was a phase and nothing permanent), we just called white chocolate "vanilla". True chocoholics will point out white chocolate is not vanilla but we're talking about a kid here. I can take some poetic license to get him to try a cookie.
Anyway, Vanilla King is a bit older now than when I gave him that nickname and he's since unbent enough to allow for M&Ms and Oreos in his treat consumption, both chocolate products, mind you. And I think he's stopped picking out the chocolate chips from chocolate chip cookies. You can imagine how much trauma that caused me.
Still, despite his progress towards embracing chocolate like anyone even remotely related to me should do, I err on the side of making his favorites whenever I meet him and his parents. This time I combined two of his favorites with this recipe. And I must say, this blondie strikes gold. It has all the goodness of a snickerdoodle cookie but with the ease of making into a bar cookie and for white chocolate lovers, it delivers on that too. While I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate per se, it works well in this blondie.
Although I like snickerdoodles in their "pure" form, I'd make these in a pinch for when I need treats to parcel out and don't have a lot of baking time. They're quick and easy to put together and they deliver on texture and flavor. As always (always!), don't overbake these. As with any snickerdoodles or blondies, if you overbake them, they'll become cakey and dry. I underbaked by a couple of minutes but once they had cooled, they had a nice, moist, "fudgy" texture. Super delicious.
2 1/3 cups (292g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (150g) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (180g) white chocolate chips

Cinnamon Sugar Filling
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line a 9x9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough overhang on the sides to easily pull the blondies out of the pan and cut. 
  2. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 
  3. Using a hand or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed in a large bowl. Beat for at least 1 minute until creamy. Add sugars and beat for 2 full minutes on high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl as needed. 
  4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on high speed, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients until just combined. With a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula, fold in the white chocolate chips. 
  5. Spoon half the batter into pan. It will be a relatively thin layer, but try to spread it across the pan evenly. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top of them bottom layer, reserving 1 tablespoon for the top. Spread the remaining batter over top. Some of the cinnamon-sugar will mix into the top layer as you spread it, which is fine. Sprinkle the top with remaining cinnamon-sugar. 
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely for about 1 hour. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Restaurant Review: Pebbles Deli Cafe

Pebbles Deli Cafe - lunch on August 16, 2014
Last weekend I met my cousin Christine, her husband and their son, Vanilla King, for lunch. Christine was the one to discover Pebbles Deli Café and urged me to try it. It didn’t take much convincing, especially since she tagged me in a Facebook picture of a Bul Go Gi entrée they’d gotten on that initial visit. My favorite Korean food. I’m there.  
They have a 4-star rating on yelp and I didn’t know how crowded they would be at lunch time so we arranged to meet a little before 12 just in case. It turns out this precaution was unnecessary because when we arrived, surprisingly, the café was empty. There’s outdoor seating in a patio area but we opted to remain indoors and had the place to ourselves.

Bul Go Gi Sub on Dutch Crunch Bread
You place your order at the counter, pay for your meal, get a number, seat yourselves and they bring your food out to you. The service was fairly quick, more than 5 minutes but less than 10. I opted for the Bul Go Gi Cheesesteak sandwich, hold the onions – just marinated beef and cheese on a soft French roll. It was like a Korean French Dip but without the dip and with some seriously yummy, tender, flavorful beef. Normally I go sniffing around for French fries to accompany something like this but alas, Pebbles doesn’t offer fries. Instead, you can buy individual bags of chips as a side order like at Subway. In a rare moment of self control, I skipped the chips and just stuck to the sandwich. Which turned out to be a good thing because I ate every bite. It was good. Really good. The bread was soft, the aforementioned tender beef had the perfectly marinated flavor of a good bul go gi and who’s going to argue with cheese melted on top?? 
David's Special - turkey. ham and cheese

Bul Go Gi over Rice
The others enjoyed their entrees as well which again led to my surprise that the café wasn’t more populated during a Saturday lunch hour. A few more patrons came in while we were there but the place certainly didn’t get full. I can only assume it’s much more crowded during the weekday when workers from the surrounding office buildings come by. Hopefully they do a much more brisk weekday business than on the weekends because they’re a good option for lunch any day. The price points were a trifle high and akin to more chain-restaurant sit down places like Applebees, IHOP, Chili’s and Red Robin. My Bul Go Gi Cheesesteak sandwich was $10.95 for essentially just a sandwich. However, I’d much rather spend that kind of money on a small business than on a chain restaurant so I would support a place like Pebbles any day. And get a great meal while I’m at it.
Bul Go Gi Cheesesteak

My cousin and I

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Coconut Cream Bundt Cake

Coconut Cream Bundt Cake - made August 16, 2014 from Inside Bru Crew Life
I always give my friend Kendra a hard time whenever she bakes with a cake mix. She considers using box mixes like having a sous chef prepare the main ingredients for your use. I consider them the devil's playthings. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic but let's face it, I'm a baking ingredient snob. And I'm definitely skeptical about cheap grocery store box cake mixes coming up to - haha - scratch.
But every once in awhile I unbend enough to set my hifalutin' snobbery aside and try out a recipe that uses cake mix. After all, the Kahlua Cake is based on a mix and I like that well enough. I don't mind the texture of cakes baked from mixes; it's the taste that makes my picky taste buds shudder. But my theory is if you can add enough ingredients to mask the taste of the mix, you can come up with something decent that excuses dumping a box of Betty Crocker into a bowl. Ooh, see how that snobbery just rears its hoity-toity head?
That theory was proven out by this recipe from Bru Crew Life. I was heartened by the fact that you add sour cream (richness) and coconut milk (richness and flavor). The other ingredients make up a similar supporting cast as goes into the Kahlua Cake - pudding, eggs and oil - so that boded well. I did forego the coconut extract though in favor of vanilla. Much as I love coconut, I loathe coconut extract and its artificial flavor so I left it out since I never buy it and didn't have it on hand. The original recipe also called for glazing the cake with melted dark and white chocolates but I decided to amp up the coconut and instead went with a vanilla glaze topped with toasted coconut.
This cake turned out pretty well. It came out of the Bundt pan cleanly and the texture was soft and moist. I probably took it out a few minutes too soon but it was still fluffy and moist but not gummy. I liked the texture contrast between the soft cake and crispness of the toasted coconut. This is an easy cake to make and has a nice homey look to it with the sprinkling of toasted coconut over the glaze. Another exception to the box mix snobbery. Oh and I brought my parents a piece last weekend and they liked it so much they suggested I make this for my dad's upcoming birthday party instead of ordering from Nothing Bundt Cakes like we had planned. Which means this garnered their highest praise of "it's not too sweet".
1 box vanilla cake mix (15.25 oz.)
1 box instant coconut pudding (3.4 ounce)
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
2 teaspoons coconut extract (I used vanilla extract)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut + extra for garnish (toast the garnish)

1 cup powdered sugar
enough milk for the desired consistency
  1. Place the cake mix, dry instant pudding mix, sour cream, extract, eggs, oil, and milk in a mixing bowl. Beat for 1 minute on low speed and 2 minutes on medium speed. Stir the shredded coconut in by hand.
  2. Spoon the batter into a greased 12 inch bundt cake. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then flip out onto a plate to cool completely.
  3. Whisk powdered sugar and milk until smooth. Add milk a teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Pour over cooled cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut before glaze sets.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies - made dough August 9, 2014 from Lady Behind the Curtain
I’ve had this recipe pinned from Lady Behind the Curtain for some time now and I’m doing another purge through my pinterest boards to catch up. I’ve also been on a cookie dough making binge lately since I only have time on weekends to bake and work on my blog. Cookie doughs are so easy because they take almost no time to make and they repose in my freezer for whenever I need to bake fresh cookies the following day. No matter how late I work, I always have 10-15 minutes to bake a batch of cookies when I get home if I need them for treat bags the next day.

The discerning among you who’ll click on the post title to take you to the original recipe and see the pictures of those cookies will make the same observation as with the Dark Brown Sugar Coconut Oil Cookies of “uh, once again, your cookies don’t look anything like the originals”. And you’d be right. Sigh. I’m not sure what happened since I was pretty sure I followed the recipe correctly; it isn’t that hard. But, to my surprise, my cookies didn’t spread out like hers appeared to. At all. Since I make the dough into golf-size balls and freeze them right away, I bank on the heat during baking to spread the cookies out. I lost that gamble with the first batch and, not wanting to thaw the dough balls then flatten them, I just let it ride. The flavor is still the same, no matter the shape, and I thought these cookies were pretty good. They’re a standard oatmeal chocolate chip cookie but the additional of the toasted coconut gives them a little more sweetness and a bit more of the chewiness factor. Next time though, I would probably flatten them into thick (and large) discs to make them more cookie-looking instead of just a round dough ball that baked as is. Fortunately I don’t think their appearance mattered much as when I put them on a multi-variety cookie plate to bring into work one week, these cookies were the first to disappear.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1 egg
1 teaspoon coconut extract (I used vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut 
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips
2 cups rolled oats
  1. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and coconut. 
  2. Beat butter for 30 seconds until creamy. Add the egg, extracts, and sugar; mix well.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix well. Fold in the chips and oats.
  4. Portion dough into golf-sized balls and chill for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place cookie dough balls on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dark Brown Sugar Coconut Oil Cookies

Dark Brown Sugar Coconut Oil Cookies - made dough August 2, 2014 from Averie Cooks
Another cookie from Averie Cooks that lured me into trying it because of how it looked on her blog. I’ve had good success with most of her cookie recipes coming out looking something like hers. But the discerning amongst you who click on the recipe title of this post to take you to Averie's post and pictures will want to tell me "uh, yours look nothing like hers." I know. At first I thought it was because I had baked them too long. In her recipe, she says to bake them for 8-10 minutes, preferring to go with the lower end as she assures that the cookies firm up as they cool. The first test cookie I baked still looked raw at 8 minutes so I let it bake for 12. It was still soft and gooey, not dry, but it didn’t look like hers; it had spread and smoothed out. So I baked off a full baking sheet of 8 cookies instead of just the 1 I did for the initial taste test. I almost took them out at 8 minutes but truly, they still looked raw in the middle. Not just underbaked but actually still cookie dough raw. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t take them out. So I left them in an extra 2 minutes and took them out at the 10-minute mark. They still looked a bit raw in the center but I reasoned that’s how they were supposed to be and, once cool, perhaps they would be as Averie had made them on her blog.

I waited for them to cool then took a bite out of one cookie. The taste was there and while the cookie may not technically have still been raw, it was still more mushy than gooey (trust me, there’s a difference) and it just wasn’t the texture I wanted. I ended up popping them back into the oven and baking them an extra 5 minutes. At this point, they didn’t look like the ones on her blog at all but the taste was still good and I preferred the texture much better. It’s possible my coconut oil was just a tad too runny so maybe that’s why mine ended up the way it did at 8-10 minutes and spread more than hers did. Or her oven is much stronger than mine. I don’t know. I still thought these were good cookies though and worth making again. It’s like a gooey chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips but with the brown sugar flavor. Only better. For anyone who’s not a fan of coconut, don’t let the coconut oil ingredient put you off. Coconut oil has a very subtle flavor to begin with and it’s largely, if not entirely, masked by the dark brown sugar in the cookie.
Baked for only 10 minutes - still a bit raw and mushy
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened (softened to the consistency of soft butter; not rock hard and not runny or melted)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsulphured mild to medium molasses
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine coconut oil, egg, sugar and beat on medium-high speed to cream until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla, molasses, and beat to incorporate, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the flour, corn starch, baking soda, optional salt, and mix until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Using a medium cookie scoop, form mounds that are 2 heaping tablespoons in size. Cover with plasticwrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days. 
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until tops have just set, even if slightly undercooked, pale, and glossy in the center. They firm up as they cool.
  5. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes before moving. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies

Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies - made dough July 19, 2014 from Crazy for Crust
Remember how I say I'm kind of indifferent to peanut butter? I like it well enough but usually with some chocolate thrown in and even so, I could take it or leave it. I like a good peanut butter cookie as much as the next person but it's not like I keep a Top 10 list of outstanding peanut  butter cookie recipes like I do for chocolate chip cookies.
Hmm, well, I might have to start that list now. And this one would take the #1 spot. It's thick, it's chewy, it tastes great and it's not cakey as long as you don't overbake it. The dough is easy to work with and the cookie is just good. If you have any peanut butter lovers in your life, make these cookies for them then see if they'll wash your car for you. I'm thinking of trying that strategy out on my nieces. They love peanut butter. And my car is looking awfully dusty in drought-stricken California. But I digress.
For a little extra touch and because I like to signal what kind of cookie it is, especially for people who might have peanut allergies, I cut up some peanut butter cups and arranged them strategically on top of each cookie dough ball so there's no doubt this is a peanut butter cookie. I prefer that approach than sprinkling peanuts on it or using chunky peanut butter. We know how I feel about nuts in (most) cookies. If you want added chocolate, you can substitute half of the peanut butter chips for chocolate chips.
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 package (about 1 2/3 cups) peanut butter chips

1/2 cup peanut butter cups, chopped into halves and quarters
  1. Cream butter, peanut butter, and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg, vanilla, milk, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined. Slowly add flour and mix until dough just comes together. Stir in Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips. 
  2. Scoop the dough into golf-ball size dough balls, press cut-up peanut butter cups randomly on the outside of each dough ball (embed into dough until they adhere but don't bury them completely) and chill for at least 4 hours. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Place cookie dough balls evenly spaced apart on the prepared cookies sheets. Bake 11-14 minutes until the bottoms start to brown. Cool about 5 minutes and then remove from cookie sheets.