The Commercial-Ready Cheesecake: Lemon Goat Cheese

“I think I saw you in my cab last night… I was not wearing glasses. Do you play tennis?” Asked Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, the co-founder of the French Pastry School, in his thick Alsatian accent. I was tongue-tied for a moment, and then broke into a loud laugh. “My commercial is out?!” I half-yelled, half-cackled. “Yes, I play tennis… I had no idea my commercial was out!” A bit befuddled, Chef Jacquy walked away as I scrambled to access the school’s wireless Internet to find the commercial. Continue reading

Hamantaschen with Apricot Filling


Despite growing up in an observant Jewish household, I have never been religious. I was always the one who rolled my eyes during Passover Seders; “the evil child” in the story of the Four Children. I was always the one who would constantly escape to the bathroom during Sunday school and High Holy Day services, just to pass the time. During Jewish confirmation at the age of 15, I stood in front of my congregation and spoke about the divisive nature of religious radicalism; how, when taken to an extreme, religion causes inter-community rifts that lead to long, bloody wars, intolerance, and hatred. Yet, despite my rejection of religious doctrine, I have come to realize that I am, and will always be, Jewish. I won’t pray unless it’s disguised as a song that evokes nostalgia for childhood; I won’t keep kosher or follow the daily laws; but, regardless, Judaism is my culture, it’s part of my personality, it’s the basis of so much that makes my family who we are. Continue reading

Coconut Butter Mochi Cake

Mochi Butter

Yesterday, I baked butter mochi, a “cake” popular in Hawaii, made with sweet white rice flour (mochiko) and coconut milk. I had tried it once before and was immediately enamored. It’s just the right amount of sweet, chewy (think: sushi rice texture) with a slight crunch on top, and boasts a subtle coconut flavor that makes this cake like crack to me. I almost devoured it in one sitting; sliver after sliver, of course, so that I didn’t feel like I’d eaten half the cake. Hint: That feeling is ruined when you go back for your 30th sliver and realize that you did, actually, eat half the cake. Continue reading

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon Cupcake

It’s time to face the facts, I have long-since officially become that girl that brings cupcakes to a bar. I’m that girl who works at a bakery on St. Patty’s Day morning, comes home to bake, and only goes out at night to feed the evidence to the drunken masses. I’m that girl who offers bread to the homeless (often to be rebuffed…pshh don’t they know it’s homemade?!). I’m that girl who gives her pharmacist caramels, who delivers croissants to her friend’s coworkers, who begs her tennis partners to eat her marshmallows, and who leaves a cardboard box full of scones, labeled “Eat Me”, on a back table at an event (which were, surprisingly, quickly eaten). I have gotten to the point where I will do anything and everything to get rid of baked goods.  With a freezer filled to the brim and a stomach that can only handle so many slices of lemon meringue pie, I’ve brought Danishes on dates, and flown a suitcase full of bread across the country. Such is the life of a pastry school student. Not that I’m complaining. Continue reading

Apple Chunk Quick Bread

Apple Chunk Quick BreadTime passes so quickly. I last posted over a month ago, and for the last several weeks, the Amused Baker has chirped at me every night (yes, she chirps), “Talia, Talia, please write something on me! I feel so abandoned!” But, alas, pastry school has sucked up every last drop of my energy, leaving me a shell of a person by the time class ends and I change out of my bright white uniform and stagger home, eyes drooping in exhaustion, arms filled with boxes of sweet treats of which I can’t bear to eat any more. And that’s only 1pm, there’s still the whole rest of the day left to work, stage, and play tennis. By the time I crawl into bed at night, the chirping has faded into a quiet buzz and all I can hear is that never-ending question, “Should I grind my coffee tomorrow morning or tonight?” For the record, the answer should always be, but never is, “tonight”. Continue reading

Chewy Cinnamon Coconut Cookies: The 4 C’s

Cinnamon Coconut Cookies

Sometimes I feel that pastry wasn’t so much of a choice as something thrust upon me. I didn’t choose to love the baking arts; it’s a passion that snuck up on me overtime, eventually developing into an obsession. For a recovering credit analyst such as myself, the pastry world presents a scary future. Gone are the days of comfortable salaries and ergonomic office chairs. Gone are the nine-to-five bank hours and the prolonged lunch breaks. It’s all foot pain, white uniforms, minimum wage, and early mornings from here on out. Continue reading

The Eggiest Challah


Breaking News: Chicago Buried in Snow, Stuck in Deep Freeze

For three days, continuous snowfall buried the city in a blanket of whiteness.  Snowplows barreled through the streets as the wheels of white-coated cars spun futilely on the side of the roads, unable break free from their icy entrapments. Without a car, and no buses en route, I trudged through the deep snow and muddy, exhaust-stained slush of the roads, dodging men as they blindly hurled snow from the sidewalks. With every step, salt stained my boots and splashes of icy mud covered my fleece-lined tights. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, the flurries gave way to arctic cold. By nightfall, temperatures dropped to negative forty degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature at which your flesh can freeze in a matter of minutes. It was a historic low for Chicago in over thirty years, and the day I was scheduled to begin the L’Art de la Patisserie program at the French Pastry School. Continue reading

Apple Pie and the Perfect Cream Cheese Crust

Cream Cheese Crust

Confession: a few nights ago, I stole a mug from a bar. I had been searching for this specific mug for months, but the coffee shop that made them halted production just weeks after I moved to Chicago. As the waitress handed me my spiked apple cider in the Intelligentsia mug, I howled in excitement and animatedly told the tale of my fruitless search. “I’m not looking” she responded. It was my cue; I was going to go home with the mug, no matter what. As she tried to clear our empty drinks, I lunged forward to protect my prized possession and flashed my best pair of puppy eyes. With a knowing smile, she turned around and within seconds the mug was in my purse and I was out the door, leaving an $8 tip and a “Thanks :-)” at the bottom of the bill. Continue reading

Gingerbread Men with Orange Royal Icing

Cubs-Themed Gingerbread Man

I’ve been racking my brain for the last several days, trying to think of a Christmas story to go along with the recipe for the day—gingerbread men. Unfortunately, the curse of the Jew is having a very limited selection of Christmas-themed stories; I’ve never decorated a tree, I’ve never seen A Christmas Story or Miracle on 34th Street, and Festivus dinner is about as close to a Christmas feast as I usually get. Though to be fair, the Festivus dinner I attended this year was pretty spectacular. And, as it turns out, I am actually attending a Christmas dinner tonight. Minor details. The fact of the matter is I have no good Christmas stories, and instead, would much rather tell the tale of my holiday season in Nepal last year. Continue reading

Strawberry Hazelnut Bread Pudding with Hazelnut Caramel

Strawberry Hazelnut Bread Pudding

I am a perfectionist in the hyper-self-critical sort of way. I am rarely satisfied with my baked products, which means that, far too often, my sweet creations stay hidden in the depths of my refrigerator, eventually finding their way to the trash. A few nights ago, while at a friend’s starkly stocked apartment, I found myself with all the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, (which, I should note, we specifically bought for the occasion), but no measuring devices. Talk about the epitome of a bachelor bad!  Unwilling to run to the store in the 9-degree Chicago cold, I eyeballed the measurements, and, in the end, the dough looked more like a wet batter. Out of flour and sure as hell not going to buy more (Chicago winter, remember?), I almost poured the “batter” onto the cookie sheet. Cookie cake is a thing, right?! In the end, I stuck the bowl in the refrigerator and decided to deal with it another day. As it turns out, I baked them the next morning and they turned out to be pretty delicious. As the Nepalese would say, “जीवन यस्तै छ | jiwan yastai chha.” Such is life. Continue reading