Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Every baker has their own arsenal of classic recipes. They all have their preferred versions of almost anything, but not many discuss how long it took them to get to that choice of a recipe. I’m still very much a beginner baker, and as I try to build my own arsenal, there’s tons of trial and error in choosing recipes, testing, and tasting.


I’ve been searching for the perfect yellow cake recipe for a couple of years now. It’s complicated because the recipe stratosphere is crowded with hundreds of variations of the same thing. There’s no way to test them all, and there’s no way to tell which one’s the best. As I go through many of these recipes, I ask myself what it is I’m looking for exactly. Criteria is important because how else will you know if a certain recipe is “it?” For me, it has to do with what I grew up with.

As a kid, I grew up with Dominican cakes; which consist of two yellow cake layers, a middle layer of some sort of filling, all covered in meringue frosting (similar to 7 minute frosting). My entire cake life revolved around this style of cake, and still kind of does. There’s only one bakery that does these cakes the “right” way (according to my mom, and everyone else we’ve introduced those cakes to),  but I have yet to find a recipe that resembles their yellow cake.



While that still haunts me from time to time, I set out on looking for a different kind of cake that still reminded me of my childhood. I’ve mentioned here before how my dad was the resident baker in my house way back in the day. I inherited his hand mixer, which we got at a garage sale, and consequently killed it last year (RIP green Presto mixer; you lived a long and productive life). He used it to make boxed cake mix for us every now and then. I watched him in the kitchen (obviously) when he made it because mixing powder with some eggs, oil, and milk into a real cake was mind blowing. It actually still is, more because I know how to make them from scratch now. He used to make them in a 9×13″ pan, which produced a golden brown pillow sized cake. I remember fighting with my sister over the who got the corner pieces, and arguing with my dad that cakes taste best warm so he’d let us eat it straight out of the oven.

Besides the awesome memories, I remember how the cake tasted. It was box mix, so it tasted exactly the same each and every time. It still tastes the same today, but I haven’t had box mix in forever. It tasted like perfection; like how all cakes should taste. There’s no other way to describe it. When I’m not trying to resemble those Dominican cakes, this is my standard. What cake recipe can resemble a box mix, without the box mix, and taste like what I remembered from when I was a kid?


I had planned on making cupcakes a couple weeks ago for my class. I’m not back in school but am part of a program that requires a month of class. So, me and 11 other awesome grads hang out every night and learn about digital marketing, and other business skills we need to know. Since before classes started, I knew I wanted to use them as my guinea pigs for testing recipes. Sounds bad saying it like that, but I mean no harm! Anyway, I wanted to take some cupcakes in for two reasons; I hadn’t made any cupcakes in forever and because who doesn’t love cupcakes?! I thought about what flavor combinations I could use and came up with the classic yellow cake and chocolate frosting. I know most people grew up with this kind of cake for their birthdays. None of us are those people but the combo is such a classic, I wanted to go for it anyway.

Trust me when I tell you that this cake tastes like my childhood. It was ridiculously amazing. I’m still perplexed as to how I can bake a cake from scratch that tastes so similar to box mix! The cakes came out super soft and fluffy, with a hint of a golden brown hue from the oven. It was like a melt in your mouth kind of experience. Then coupled with chocolate frosting, it was just great. The frosting had a slight tang from the cream cheese and sour cream but still packed a chocolatey punch; thanks to the cocoa powder and semisweet chocolate in there. It also wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet, which happens with most frostings. I loved them, my folks loved them, and my class loved them too!

While this isn’t the recipe that resembles the cakes from birthdays past, it does take me back to being in the kitchen with my dad as I watched him transform a cake mix into a real cake. That right there is reason enough to put this one in my arsenal.


Classic Yellow Cupcakes – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 30 cupcakes

  • 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (sifted before measuring!)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cupcake liners into your cupcake/muffin tins.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Incorporate the vanilla, and add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  3. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled and gross; do not be deterred!). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  4. Spoon batter into lined cups, 3/4 of the way up, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes from the pan to finish cooling on the racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes enough to frost those 30 cupcakes (4 cups)

  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6oz softened cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
  • 9oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
  • 3/4 cups sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Over a double boiler, carefully melt the chocolate. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter and cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the sugar/cocoa mix, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  4. Pour in the melted chocolate until incorporated. Finally, beat in the sour cream and vanilla until combined.
  5. Frost cupcakes!

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Always, always, ALWAYS, sift your cake flour before measuring. Sift, and gently spoon into your measuring cups. Sift once more after measuring for added security. I know, it seems like a ton of work but trust me, it’s worth it!
  • The recipe calls for large eggs (as all recipes do; it’s the standard in baking) but I got away with using three jumbo eggs (my folks don’t believe in eggs that are smaller). Use what you have, just be mindful of the amount of moisture you’re adding vs. what’s needed. 
  • The frosting is pretty good but I feel like the sour cream can almost be optional. 
  • Deb lied to me in telling me this recipe made 22 to 24 cupcakes. I expected that many but ended up with 30. I usually have the opposite of that problem but just a heads up (not that 30 cupcakes is a bad thing; I’m happy I got more it’s just that I wasn’t ready to have my kitchen overtaken by cupcakes!)
  • To ensure the same amount of batter goes into every cupcake, use an ice cream scoop/disher to distribute the batter. 

No Churn Coffee Ice Cream and DIY Cone Cups

It finally looks like summer is winding down. It’s weird because it feels like this summer was short but it was still uncomfortably hot. One of my favorite things about the heat (if not the only thing) is the fact that I get to eat ice cream. I LOVE ice cream and eat it pretty much year round, but it tastes better in warm weather. I didn’t get to eat a lot of ‘real’ ice cream that much this year; except for the countless cups of froyo and this but other than that, no ‘real’ ice cream.


As an adult, my ice cream palette has evolved a little bit. I still have a soft spot for cookies and cream ice cream, soft serve loaded with sprinkles from the truck, and those tiny ice cream sandwiches but I like having something with some flavor. Enter coffee ice cream. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a kid. Blame my mom, who started giving me coffee with milk (lattes?) since I was young in an attempt to get me to eat something. My mom says that I barely ate as a kid; which I find hilariously ridiculous since I love food. One of the only ways I’d apparently eat breakfast was with a mug of coffee with milk. Now, my mom drinks espresso. Or what I think is espresso, which is known to be as coffee that is not for the faint of heart. Imagine giving a kid that stuff? I don’t recall being hyper or anything but it did give me a taste for the luscious black gold. She even tried weaning me off several times to no avail because I had gotten used to the dose of caffeine and without it, I’d get headaches.

Nowadays, I take my coffee black and still get headaches if I miss my morning cup. It’s what prompted me to turn it into ice cream. Using the leftover ingredients from this dessert, I made a half batch of awesome that is still in my freezer. I posted about the magic of this no churn ice cream here and had been thinking about repeating the recipe ever since. If you can whip cream, you can make this ice cream. Super simple: whipped heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, flavorings of your choice, and an optional (ha) tablespoon of liquor. Once frozen, it’s a magical dessert that you can’t even believe it’s not traditional ice cream. For this batch, I dissolved a tablespoon of instant coffee powder in a tablespoon of scotch. It is BEYOND delicious, with a strong coffee flavor that is still present after every spoonful.

Since I have done this recipe before, I wanted to do something fun to go with it. And like most of my ideas as of late, this one came to me in the shower. Whenever I used to go to the ice cream shop, I’d get a sugar cone to go with my default cookies and cream scoop. I love the crispy and sweet taste better than I do a waffle cone. Those things taste like air. Anyway, I wanted to replicate that at home. I don’t have cone maker or waffle press, so cone cups seemed ideal. All you need is a muffin tin and a shot glass. For this recipe, you need to have patience but also work quickly, as the cones harden super fast. After the first few, I got the swing of things but was disappointed they weren’t brown enough. Either way, they came out fabulous. Despite the paleness, the flavor and signature crispness were definitely there.


While my love for coffee and ice cream knows no bounds, it’s good to know that I can basically have it year round. Even if it does taste better in warm weather!

No Churn Coffee Ice Cream – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 3/4 quart

  • 7oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup cold, heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon liquor of choice (I used scotch)
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder


  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the coffee in the tablespoon of liquor. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir together until combined. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream using a hand mixer until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk mixture. Pour homogenous mix into a freezer safe container with a lid, and freeze for six hours or until firm. Remove ice cream from freezer and let sit out for five minutes before scooping and serving.

Sugar Cones – adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon

Makes 21 cone cups

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 2/3 all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  1. Place egg whites, sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt into a mixing bowl and whisk together. Stir in flour and butter until fully incorporated and batter is smooth.
  2. Lightly spray a nonstick skillet with a small amount of cooking spray. Pour 2 1/2 tablespoons batter into the cold skillet and spread into a thin even layer. Place skillet over medium heat and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until base has set. Flip and continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Quickly lay sugar disc into a buttered muffin tin and press down with a lightly greased shot glass. Leave shot glass in the cone cup for 1-2 minutes, or until the cone cup takes its shape. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Repeat until all batter has been used. Carefully store in an airtight container for up to three days.

Lucy Tips:

  • Sugar or waffle cones more your thing? Please head over to Spoon Fork Bacon for the waffle cone recipe, tips, and instructions on how to make them into cones

Golden Vanilla No Churn Ice Cream Cake

As evidenced by several posts on here, I am very much a traditionalist. I love celebrating holidays, more so when they celebrate the people I love. Father’s day was this Sunday, and I couldn’t really go without making anything. As a kid, I used to hand make cards for every occasion. Tons of construction paper, crayons, markers, glue, and glitter strewn everywhere as I created a card with a badly drawn picture and a heartfelt message. While I don’t make cards anymore (I should really get back into that, though), I still find a way to make something awesome with a ton of love inside it; just like my mami taught me.

My dad is a really complicated guy. So much so, it’s hard to understand what he wants/means/says at any given time. We grew up with his naturally stern voice guiding us through life. He was very particular about how he wanted things done, and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know that. I ended up picking up this trait to a degree; something which I’m still not sure is a good or bad thing.


We had a sort of strict upbringing that we now chalk up to my dad’s old age. Believe it or not, he’s from a different time (and I’m not just saying that). This is where another one of his traits, that I now possess, comes from; the aforementioned traditionalism. While his traditionalist ways have nothing in common with mine, it was evident that he liked things done the old fashioned way. He was more traditional in the sense of how my sister and I were raised, and wanted to do it like it was done ‘back in the day.’ There were certain things we could, couldn’t do, and still can’t do to this day because he still sees us as his little girls.

Before I made my move from observant child to baking ‘adult,’ my dad was the resident baker. Granted, it was box mix cakes and canned biscuits but it was still delicious and what we thought of as an amazing feat. I even inherited the old avocado green Presto hand mixer he got in a garage sale when my sister and I were little. The mixer didn’t make it to this day (ahem, I might’ve killed it with some cookie dough) but I managed to get some use out of it. Now that I do all the baking, I take advantage of it and make things for special days in lieu of an actual gift. Sounds like a cop out but who doesn’t like baked goods?

It's melting!!

It’s melting!!

Two years ago for Father’s day, I made him an ice cream cake. It was a pound cake with rum raisin ice cream and a toasted coconut topping. It was my very first time making ice cream, which was a giant feat because I don’t have an ice cream machine. I used David Lebovitz’s delicious rum raisin recipe and one of his no churn methods; frequent whisking during the freezing process to break up large ice crystals. It was a lengthy and part laborous process but it was worth it. With it, I baked a pound cake to serve as the bottom layer of the ice cream cake. I didn’t freeze the cake long enough, and it ended up soaking up most of the ice cream layer. It was still amazingly delicious but it didn’t stay in two distinct layers.

This year, I wanted to do it again. Ice cream is a show stopping dessert, more when there’s a cake attached. It’s even more glorious once people realize that you made it yourself, and that you did it without an ice cream maker. This time, I wanted something simpler. I originally wanted to repeat the rum raisin flavor but poor planning didn’t let me. Instead, I stuck with vanilla. I found out about this awesome way to make a no churn ice cream that was still soft and scoopable, without any noticeable ice crystals and a silky mouth feel. I was skeptical about the method, but it quickly gained my trust. There is no cooked custard in this recipe, which is great for anyone who finds that process daunting (it isn’t but the thought of maybe scrambling the eggs is stressful). It’s just three simple ingredients; sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. I absolutely love this because not only is it easy, but it leaves a lot of room for customization; there’s no telling what other flavors this base can be made into.



It took me two days to complete the cake. Not because of complicated instructions or anything, but because all the elements require freezing prior to assembly. I made the cake layer and ice cream Saturday morning. I popped the ice cream in the freezer, and hyper wrapped the cake and froze it after it cooled completely. This is where I messed up the last time I made an ice cream cake, so I made sure I left both elements in the freezer as long as possible. Sunday morning, I assembled the cake. First, I leveled out the cake a little bit. My oven is lopsided, resulting in asymmetrical cakes every time. I put the cake layer inside of a springform pan lined with wax paper. I’m paranoid about things staying stuck in places, so I put it in for security purposes. Next, I scooped on the ice cream. This is the part where I was amazed. The ice cream scooped beautifully! Even my mom was shocked, stating that it looked just like the store bought stuff! This is why I love baking; I always feel like a mad scientist when things work out. I smoothed down the ice cream into an even layer and hyper wrapped the entire pan in plastic wrap before returning it to the freezer.

As for the cake scraps, I had an idea for those. Ice cream cakes always have some sort of crunchy element; be it candy pieces or crushed cookies. I took advantage of the fact that I’d have some cake scraps, so I crumbled it up, tossed it with some melted butter, and popped in the toaster oven until they were golden brown and toasty. Instead of putting it in the middle layer, I left it as garnish. I didn’t want them to get too soggy!


The cake came out amazing! It started melting almost immediately, but it was really creamy and smooth. It tasted like the real ice cream! No one could tell it was homemade and made without a custard base. The cake was soft, dense, and went well with the vanilla ice cream. The cake crunchies were an excellent texture change, and added depth to the creamy ice cream. I also made some whipped cream in a jar. It totally does work! Took a while but it turned into luscious whipped cream in minutes.

My dad liked the cake, which was more than I was hoping for. These days we don’t exactly see eye to eye, but I know that he just wants what’s best for me and my sister. I just hope that my kids will one day get to know him and understand why I am the way I am.


No Churn Vanilla Ice Cream – Martha Stewart

Makes 1 1/2 quarts

  • 2 cups heavy cream, cold
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon or any other dark rum (optional)


  1. In a medium sized bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, and bourbon or rum (if using). Set aside.
  2. In a separate large bowl, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks, about three minutes. Fold the cream into the sweetened condensed milk mix carefully. Pour into a loaf pan or plastic container with lid, and freeze for six hours or overnight.

Yellow Butter Cake – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 1 9-inch round cake

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cake flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk


  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a lined 9-inch round pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until creamy and pale, 3-4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, and vanilla extract. With mixer on low, add the dry ingredients alternating with the milk; starting and ending with the dry. Beat until combined.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Transfer pan onto a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Invert cake, peel parchment, and continue to cool on the rack top side up.

Cake Assembly:

  • Cut a piece of wax paper a bit larger than a 9-inch springform pan. Place the wax paper over the bottom part of the pan, and hinge the circle over the paper. You want there to be a bit of overhang on the bottom for easy removal.
  • Cut another piece of wax paper to line the sides of the pan. Again, make sure there’s a bit of overhang for easy removal. I used a long piece and cut it in half, lengthwise.
  • Scoop ice cream onto the cake layer, and spread evenly. Smooth out the top, and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Fold down the wax paper onto the plastic wrap. Cover the entire pan with plastic wrap, and freeze for at least four hours, or longer.
  • To serve: unwrap the plastic wrap off the pan. Unhinge the springform, and remove the wax paper off the sides. Using the overhang from the bottom of the cake, lift the cake off of the bottom part of the pan. Carefully peel the paper off the cake, and place the cake on your desired plate. Top with whipped cream and cake crunchies, and serve.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • No churn ice cream is awesome but I don’t think it’s appropriate for a cake. It starts softening and melting pretty fast, which may not be ideal for a cake. Still good, though!
  • To make whipped cream in a jar: place cream in a jar with some sugar (powdered or granulated) and some vanilla extract. Place the lid on it and shake vigorously! I’m not sure how long it took but I shook that jar for a while! You’ll know it’s done when you can no longer hear the sloshing cream.
  • Whip the cream before taking the cake out of the freezer; it takes a bit of time and the cake will start melting fairly quickly. 
  • I think next time, I’ll tort the cake and make the ice cream the middle layer

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

I don’t have much to say this week, except that I fulfilled my craving for coffee cake. More specifically, I fulfilled my craving for a crumb topping.

I mean, really

I mean, really

I was watching the Food Network, as I usually do all day, every single day. I don’t remember what show I was watching exactly, but they were making something involving a crumb topping. As soon as I heard “crumb,” my ears perked up; only focusing on the fact that chunky bits butter, sugar and flour were on the horizon. Let’s be real for a sec, anything that involves a special kind of topping, be it a crumb or a crust, is a fantastic dessert. Since I already did (and failed miserably) a oat streusel topped dessert, I went after the crumb.

Coffee cake is one of the easiest and simplest cakes out there.  Most, if not all, are sour cream based. Believe it or not, that’s the best part about a coffee cake (not counting the crumb topping). The sour cream not only adds necessary moisture to the batter, but it helps give the cake a dense but tender crumb. Not to mention it also makes the cake bright and tangy. It’s weird, but trust me it is good. Sour cream isn’t only found in coffee cakes, though. It also goes extremely well in pound and chocolate cakes.


Let’s talk topping for a second. Crumb streusel is made up of mostly cold chunks of butter cut into, sugar, spices (sometimes) and a little bit of flour. In the oven, the sandy mixture conforms together into a crunchy, lumpy mass that creates chunky crumbs when pierced. Just the thought of crumbling crumbs was enough motivation to make this cake! Now, this specific recipe makes A LOT of crumb topping. I was honestly overwhelmed with the amount the recipe asked for, and almost cut it in half but I didn’t. Trust the recipe; it may seem like a lot but it is enough.

This was my first time using sour cream in a cake, and it certainly won’t be my last. It made the cake slightly tangy, which went perfect with the super sweet and crunchy crumb topping. The middle layer of sugar and cinnamon was a nice surprise, reminiscent of the insides of a cinnamon roll. The thick and brittle crumb topping was the best contrast against this dense and tender cake. Its sweet and salty taste evened out the cake’s tanginess, making it a perfect marriage of differing tastes and textures. It is the absolutely perfect companion to a cup of steaming hot coffee.


Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes one 9 or 10″ round tube cake

Streusel topping and center:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream


  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk


  1. Make the streusel topping: Mix together flours, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small to medium clumps form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

  2. Make the streusel center: Mix together remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.

  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter a 9 or 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom. Sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a bowl.

  4. Cream butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. Continue to beat until well combined.

  5. Spoon half the batter into pan. Sprinkle streusel center mixture evenly over batter. Top with remaining batter, and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Sprinkle streusel topping mixture evenly over batter.

  6. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let cool in the pan completely. Remove cake from pan, and transfer to parchment.

  7. Make the glaze: Mix together confectioners’ sugar and milk. Drizzle over cake, and let drip down sides. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Add chopped pecans or walnuts to the topping, like the original recipe suggests for some crunch 
  • If you don’t like extra sugar on your sugar, you can totally skip the glaze
  • Yes, the topping seems like a lot. Half the recipe if you’d like but it was perfect as is
  • Use the butter wrapper from the softened butter to grease the pan

Martha’s Mac and Cheese

Last week’s Polar Vortex inspired me to make something that wasn’t dessert. I have to be honest, I’m not much of a cook. I prefer baking because it’s formulaic, and that gives me reassurance that it’ll work every single time. I mean, it’s science; when has science ever been wrong? Anyway, I don’t like cooking much because it’s basically a free for all in a pot, while crossing your fingers that everything will taste good. I know that there are recipes for savory dishes but I feel like I have a bigger chance to mess up, which makes me nervous.


So, this Polar Vortex. It was freezing everywhere last week. In my house, there was a lot of hot and liquid dinners happening. My mom made a giant batch of soup for two reasons; this crazy cold and because my dad is sick. I’m not a fan of soup, so I was on my own. They ate that stuff for the entire week, while I had to figure out dinner myself. I’m not a stranger to making my own dinners, as I have been doing so for quite some time. They’re usually super simple, like a baked potato or a bowl of brown rice (which I still can’t make). The lack of formulas and rules in cooking scares me, which is why I am a baker. Having this blog has pushed me into the kitchen more often, which I love, but there’s more to cooking and baking than sweets (blasphemy!).

I trucked into my  kitchen, looking for something warm to make. I got sick of eating potatoes and dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets (don’t judge me; they’re delicious), so it was time for a real dinner. I’m kind of a fan of mac and cheese. I say kind of because I’m usually hot and cold about it. I love pasta and I love melted cheese but eating a bowl of mac and cheese can get old really quickly. The lack of tastes and textures usually found in mac and cheese is boring to me, which is why I rarely eat it. However, in a moment of freezing weakness, I decided to make up a batch and am really glad I did.


This recipe, which I found through Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs), is actually Martha Stewart’s. If you don’t know, Martha is the queen. She knows her stuff, so I knew this recipe was a good one; a bonus because Deb had made it as well. I was intrigued because this recipe seemed to solve my monotonous mac and cheese issue with the homemade crouton topping. I love my carbs with more carbs; the more the merrier! I made half of the original recipe, and followed it pretty much verbatim. The only change was that I used yellow sharp Cheddar instead of white.


This mac and cheese was amazing. It was so much better that that boxed stuff (anything is better than that, honestly)! Not only was it delicious but it was so easy to make. I set up a mise-en-place and breezed right through everything. It helped to have an extra set of hands, too. This was also my first foray into making a bechamel sauce, a.k.a one of the mother sauces. I was so nervous about messing it up but it was a lot easier than I thought. The result was a super cheesy and delicious pasta dish. Both of my parents, and even my lactose intolerant sister, loved it! The fact that my dad, Mr. “I hate melted cheese” liked it was enough of an indication that this recipe is a winner. The crispy cubes of bread was a welcomed texture change, in the mix of soft, and gooey elbows full of cheese. Accompanied with a salad, this is the perfect dinner for one of those super chilly nights.


The success of this recipe has inspired me to continue getting in the kitchen to make things other than cakes and cookies. I hope to make and post a savory dish at least once a month. It’s important to face your fears, even if you were pushed into it by (freezing) outside factors.

Martha’s Mac and Cheese – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves six

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 3 slices of bread, with the crusts removed and cut into 1/4-1/2″ cubes
  • 2 3/4 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp coarse salt, plus more for water
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Gruyére or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2lb elbow macaroni


  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 2 quart pan/casserole dish and set aside. Cut bread into cubes and place into a bowl. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and pour onto bread cubes, toss and set aside.
  2. Warm milk in a saucepan over medium heat. In another medium saucepan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. When bubbling, add the flour and whisk to prevent lumps; cooking for one minute while stirring.
  3. While whisking, slowly pour the warmed milk, a little at a time. Continue cooking, while whisking, until bubbly and thick (8-12 minutes).
  4. Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne. Add 1 1/2 cups of the grated Cheddar and 3/4 cup of the Gruyére (or 1/2 cup of the grated Pecorino). Stir until cheese is melted. Set aside.
  5. Cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook macaroni until the outside is cooked but the inside is undercooked (about 2-3 minutes less than the time indicated on the package). Transfer the macaroni to a colander and rinse under cold water. Stir into the cheese sauce.
  6. Pour mixture into the prepped dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup of Cheddar and 1/4 cup of Gruyére (or 1/8 cup of Pecorino), and then top with the bread cubes. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used an 8×8 pan, also known as a brownie pan, and it fit perfect. Any 2 quart pan/casserole dish will do for this amount. The original recipe that serves 12 needs a 3 quart pan/dish. 
  • Quick trick: use the butter wrappers to butter the pan.
  • I used a yellow sharp Cheddar, but I think any kind will work fine. 
  • I originally wanted to use whole wheat elbows but was unable to find some at my supermarket. Any short pasta with a hole should work well. 
  • If you’re not feeling wasteful, you can leave the crusts on the bread like I did. No one will notice.
  • To add more flavor to your croutons, consider adding some chopped garlic to the butter while melting. 

Gingerbread Cookies and Rookie Mistakes

Gingerbread cookies are definitely my favorite Christmas cookie. I remember my mom used to buy us those boxes of Little Debbie Gingerbread Men when my sister and I were kids. They were my very favorite, besides the Oatmeal Creme Pies. The box used to bring about eight, and my sister and I would tear into those gingies within minutes. They were always pillowy soft, sweet, and just a tad spicy. After enjoying those cookies for years, I wanted to learn how to make them.

I started trying to bake cookies ever since I started baking. I always failed because of my fear of butter. Since allowing the sticks of golden, and sweet fat into my life, cookies have gotten easier. However, I made a lot of cookie rookie mistakes and learned some lessons along the way.


Butter is of the utmost importance. Like I mentioned in my sugar cookies post, I didn’t use butter to bake because I was used to using vegetable oil spread, aka margarine, in my cakes. I learned the error of my ways soon enough. Butter is crucial for cookies to even happen. Unsalted unless specified in the recipe, please. If you can, use the best quality too, as it definitely makes a difference.

The refrigerator is your best friend. Ideally, dough is supposed to chill before rolling out, cutting and baking. All cookie recipes require this, except for some drop cookie recipes. The longer it chills, the easier it will be to handle. It will also give the ingredients a chance to develop a deeper, more delicious flavor. The freezer is also your new BFF if your dough softens on you. Dough that has gotten too soft can be popped in the freezer for a couple minutes to harden up for easier handling. It also helps to pop in your cutouts before baking, to ensure they keep their shape. I can’t tell you how much the freezer has saved me in a moment of cookie despair.


Read the ENTIRE recipe before beginning. I feel embarrassed even typing this one out. This shouldn’t even be here, but sometimes we I forget. I chose Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Cookies recipe because, well it’s Martha. I only read through the ingredients because I needed to know how much molasses I was going to need. I made a quick run to the supermarket to replenish my stock, and then skimmed the recipe. If I had read the recipe in its entirety before beginning, I would not have needed to be saved by the freezer, and the process would’ve gone a lot smoother. Do as I say, folks and not as I do; it’s a timesaver.

Keep a ruler on standby. I try my hardest when I’m rolling out any sort of dough to stay consistent with thickness. I have issues every time but a ruler helps. Even with the assistance of a ruler, I sometimes end up with cookies that are too thin. Make sure that the dough is the same thickness all around.

Always have essential tools nearby. For cutouts, my essentials are: the cutters, a bowl of flour for dipping the cookie cutters, a rolling pin, a small spatula (offset works too), a bench scraper, a rubber spatula, parchment paper, plastic wrap, and the cookie sheets. I also keep a ceramic plate in the freezer on standby, in case I need to chill a hunk of dough between roll outs. I also have a rolling mat because I don’t have a clean, flat surface or counter to roll stuff on. Having all this stuff nearby helps because there is minimal movement and the cutout process will go by quicker.

With all these tips in mind, your cookie cutting process should go by a bit smoother. These gingies came out great, despite the bit of trouble I had with the dough. I played around with the recipe a bit, and got deliciously spicy cookies. It’s a subtle spice at first but the ginger kicks in towards the end, in the back of your throat. It’s a nice surprise that reminds you that you’re eating a gingerbread cookie. The cookies can be soft or crunchy, depending on how thick they’re rolled out. I also made a rather feeble attempt at a gingerbread house. It looks more like a tenement, to be completely honest. I’ll probably do more planning to produce a well structured house next year.


Gingerbread Cookies – adapted from Martha Stewart

makes about 24-36 cookies, depending on cutout size


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling and dipping
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in molasses and egg. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients; mix just until a dough forms. Place dough on floured plastic wrap; pat into an 8-inch square. Wrap well; chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough in half. Working with one half at a time (rewrap and refrigerate other half), place dough on floured parchment or waxed paper; roll out 1/8 inch thick, turning, lifting, and flouring dough (and rolling pin) as needed. Freeze dough (on paper) until firm, about 20 minutes.
  3. Loosen dough from paper. Cut out shapes, and transfer to baking sheets. Decorate with sugar or sprinkles, as desired.
  4. Bake until firm and edges just begin to darken, 10 to 18 minutes, depending on size. Cool completely on baking sheets before decorating with Royal Icing.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • If you neglected to read the recipe in full, like I did, you can still make this dough workable. Pop it in the freezer for 10 minutes prior to rolling out. 
  • Keep plenty of flour on hand to flour the rolling surface, rolling pin, and cookie cutters. 
  • I only had extra large eggs on hand, so I beat the egg in a small bowl and removed about a tablespoon’s worth before incorporating into the batter. 
  • Don’t have dark brown sugar? Increase the molasses to about a 1/2 cup. Alternatively, you can make your own dark brown sugar by blending molasses into your light brown sugar or white sugar in a food processor. Add in the molasses in tablespoons, until it reaches the desired color. 

Cinnamon Rolls

A couple of weeks ago, I had a dream with some cinnamon rolls. In the dream, I baked a batch of rolls that iced themselves. Like, they came out of the oven with a layer of creamy, and melty cream cheese icing. I woke up determined to make something like that, and finally got to it yesterday. These aren’t self icing cinnamon rolls but they are extremely delicious!


This was my second attempt at making cinnamon rolls and the process went so smoothly. My first attempt, with a different recipe, was a sticky mess. The filling was supposed to be mixed with margarine; which made the filling/rolling very messy, the dough was ridiculously sticky, and the rolls unrolled before they even made it to the pan. Since this experience, and my dream, I set out to try again.

The recipe, from the lovely Lynna at Hearts in My Oven, is a simple but lengthy project. These rolls require two rises, one after making the dough, and the other after the rolls have been formed. Each rise is for two hours. I know, such a long wait! Trust me, it is definitely worth it.

The dough is simple and comes together quickly, even faster if you’re armed with a stand mixer. I am not, so I kneaded this dough by hand. I have to say, this is one of the parts I am most proud of. When I usually make any yeasted dough, I give in and add more flour while kneading to get to the desired result faster. This always ends up backfiring on me because there’s a reason why yeasted dough recipes call for a certain amount and only that amount of flour. Kneading helps develop the gluten that make bread deliciously airy and fluffy. Adding more flour while kneading can lead to a tough end result. Believe me, I know. While I was tempted to add more flour, I restrained and kept kneading. I kept going and going, until the dough became a smooth, lump free, unsticky mass. It happened right before my eyes!

After resting for two hours, it was time to roll out. At this point, I was kind of nervous. I kept remembering the sticky mess I had the last time I attempted something like this, but I knew this time was different. I laid out my dough and begin to roll. For the first time ever, the dough rolled out with zero stickiness and cooperated with me! So much so, I rolled it out a lot bigger than what the recipe called for!

After laying out the cinnamon sugar filling, it was time for the next nerve wracking part: rolling. This was where things usually got messy but it came together pretty cleanly! Now, I was just internally screaming with excitement. To cut the rolls, you need unflavored floss. I was a little skeptical at first but this is key to this recipe. Sliding the floss under the roll, you cross and yank the floss at the top to cut out a roll. This method results in a clean cut that does not smush your rolls into oblivion, and keeps the sugar filling in place.

Now, the original recipe yielded a dozen. I got 20. I rolled out the dough into a bigger rectangle, which resulted in more rolls. No matter how big you roll this dough, the result is a very fluffy, lightly sweetened roll with a huge punch of cinnamon flavor. I used Martha Stewart’s classic cream cheese frosting to ice a few of these, which really set it over the top. The tangy sweetness of the frosting hits the airy cinnamon roll just right. Make these rolls for this long weekend, I swear you won’t regret it!


Cinnamon Rolls – Adapted from Hearts in My Oven

Makes about 12 rolls (more if you roll you dough into a larger rectangle)


  • ½ cup of milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup of warm water (110°F)
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (one packet) Active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 4 ¼ cup of all purpose flour , divided


  • ¾ cup of brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoonof  ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ tablespoon of unsalted butter, melted


  1. Proof the yeast: sprinkle the packet of yeast over the half cup of warm water and set aside for 10 minutes, or until foamy.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter until the butter is completed melted. Remove from heat and let the it cool down until about 100°F.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the water, yeast, sugar, egg, egg yolk until combined. Alternatively, you can use your stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  4. Next, add the salt, milk mixture, and 2 cups of flour into the mixture until blended.
  5. Switch to a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, and add 2 cups of flour. Knead by hand until its smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl anymore, for about 15-20 minutes. Switch to your dough hook at this step, if using a stand mixer.
  6. In a large metal bowl, lightly oil bottom and sides of the bowl. Make the dough into a ball and transfer to bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a draft-free spot (such as your unheated oven), until dough doubles (90-120 minutes).
  7. While the dough rests, make the filling. In a medium sized bowl, mix the lightly packed brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
  8. When the dough is doubled, lightly flour a clean work surface.  Transfer dough and press it down. Roll the dough into a 16x12inch rectangle with a lightly floured rolling pin, with the long side of the rectangle facing you.
  9. Lightly brush the dough with melted butter. Evenly sprinkle the filling on top and pat down gently into the dough with the palm of your hand.
  10. Starting from the long side closest to you, roll towards the opposite end as tightly as you can. Use either a little bit of water or melted butter to seal the ends. Pinch edges to seal.
  11. Line the bottom of a 13x9inch baking pan with parchment paper. Using a unflavored string of floss, cut the rolls into 12 equal pieces. (Slide the floss under the roll and wrap it around the roll to cut/slice.)
  12. Place rolls, cut side up in baking pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap and set it in a draft-free spot, until dough doubles in size (90-120 minutes).
  13. Once rolls are doubled in size, preheat your oven to 350°F. Bake rolls for 25-30 minutes, or until tops are lightly golden brown.
  14. Let rolls sit in pan for about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool down. Spread cream cheese icing on top after cinnamon rolls have cooled for at least 15 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes about 2 cups

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Place your softened cream cheese and butter into a medium mixing bowl. Using an electric hand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy.  Add in your sifted confectioners’ sugar in stages, to avoid lumps, until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, and stir to combine.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I made about half of the frosting recipe, as I did not frost all of the rolls.
  • The ends of the rolls may not have any sugar filling. You can discard these or bake them anyway.  Make sure the filling is spread out completely before rolling to avoid empty end rolls. 
  • Store your cooled rolls in an airtight container. For the frosted rolls, I recommend you stick them in the fridge because of the cream cheese in the frosting (it can possibly go bad if left outside). They taste awesome microwaved for about 30s on high the next day!