This gingerbread cake with orange buttercream & bourbon caramel is lightly spiced, insanely fluffy, and perfect for a Christmas party!
Perfect for holiday parties and potlucks, these pumpkin whoopie pies are made with pillow-y pumpkin cookies and a spicy Masala chai buttercream. Oh, and they take less than an hour to make!
Reno just finished second winter. It’s like when hobbits eat second breakfast, but in this scenario, Reno is a hobbit and winter is breakfast. Normally, I’m totally pro-snow, but the combination of negative temperatures, daylight savings, and sudden warm weather mixed with a doctor’s recommendation to tone down the caffeine has turned me into an unmotivated Doughboy who only wears baggy sweatpants. But, Sunday was the first official warm day of the year, so to celebrate, I made a cake, packed up my favorite vintage tablecloth, and headed to the arboretum for a brunch/picnic. I wore a sundress and even got a bit pink from the sun! After, I went to my favorite coffeeshop and enjoyed a cappuccino in front of the Truckee. It was ~perfect~.
Picnics have always been the epitome of spring, in my opinion. When I was little, my mom would have picnics for us practically on a weekly basis. (One of the perks of growing up in Vegas – picnic weather is year-round). In some ways, I think it was a way to avoid making a mess in the kitchen at lunch, but I also think it was just her fun way of entertaining me and my little brother. We had these super strange, tiny grass hills in my childhood home — I would probably actually call them lumps — and they were my favorite picnic spot. I have a very specific memory of a lunch that consisted mostly of Goldfish crackers and those rainbow-colored Nilla wafers that tasted like food coloring. Those were the good days before we acknowledged how bad Red 40 is for your insides.
Now, my brunch tastes are slightly more refined and consist only of homemade food that is filled with all kinds of organic, Red 40-free ingredients. It almost makes me feel ok about eating cake for breakfast while the athletes of Reno jog around my picnic blanket. This brunch in particular consisted of my croque madame galettes, lots of fresh coffee, oj, skillet cake, and red fruit salad!
For the skillet cake, I made one of my favorite desserts ever. It’s filled with almonds and blueberries and kind of looks like a giant muffin, which essentially makes it a breakfast food. However, it’s also perfect for a spring BBQ or basically any time you need to use up some berries ASAP. The hardest part of the recipe is flipping it from the skillet to a plate, and even that isn’t really a requirement.
One of my favorite parts of spring is getting to bust out all of my sundresses and fun accessories. By the end of the cold season, I get a little lazy with the whole “getting dressed” aspect of adult life, and I tend to rely exclusively on oversized sweaters. When you spend your days getting splattered with coffee, climbing rocks in Lake Tahoe, and spilling cookie dough all over yourself, high-quality, durable pieces are a must! I’ve been looking into updating my wardrobe with some more staple pieces lately, so it was perfect timing when Jord asked me to be a part of their spring campaign! Jord makes a series of unique mens’ and ladies’ wooden watches, and they’re so beautiful! I’ve actually been wanting to buy a watch for forever, but I was never able to find one that matched my style or looked good on my petite frame. I’m not a super blingy girl, so the organic, simplicity of the wood was perfect for me.
Another bonus was the option to get a personalized, engraved watch. I chose to get some lyrics from “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty engraved on the back of mine. The song has a lot of meaning to me, and having it on the back of my watch is so special.
If you love these wooden watches as much as I do, enter my Jord giveaway for the chance to win $100 off a watch! Even if you don’t win, you still get 10% off just by registering. To enter the contest, click here. The giveaway will be announced on April 1!
P.S. Pretty watches also double as fancy cake timers!
Blueberry-Almond Skillet Cake
10 Tbs. butter, softened and divided
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 c. buttermilk
1 c. sliced almonds
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. blueberries
Preheat oven to 350* F. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Butter and flour a 10-inch skillet.
Mix 6 Tbs. with the sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time until incorporated, and then mix in extracts.
Mix in half the flour and half the buttermilk, and then repeat with remaining ingredients. Fold in 2/3 c. almonds.
Melt remaining 4 Tbs. butter. Stir in brown sugar, and mix with blueberries. Spread in pan, and sprinkle remaining almonds over the blueberries. Cover with the cake batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.
Cool, flip onto a plate, and serve with cream or ice cream.
Xo Sara Lynn
Thanks so much to Jord for sponsoring this post! As always, all thought and opinions are my own. I am wearing the the Cassia series watch in zebra and ivory. Make sure to check out their other products too! Shop Women’s watches. Shop Men’s watches.
I have this new hobby now where I come home on Friday night and immediately start baking. Gone are my college days where Fridays meant getting excited about actually going out in public. Now, I just want to make some brownies, eat Chinese takeout, and try to stay awake until 11 p.m. While I can firmly say I would not trade working full-time for studying until midnight or being the only participant on “team projects” anymore, I also 10/10 understand why adults don’t do things. At best, I can mentally prepare myself to go out on a Saturday night after a proper day of sleeping in and lounging around the house. On the other hand, I have extreme FOMO, so if you offer something really tempting, I’ll probably down a few cups of coffee and make myself socialize. But only if I can bring my dog.
One of the most stressful things of late has been deciding what I actually want to bake on these Friday nights, because if you see my “Recipes to Try” list, it’s as long as the Game of Thrones books. Granted, not all of it is baked goods, some are cocktails which actually would be the perfect for Friday-night recipe developing, and a lot are rando health-foods that are not acceptable for Fridays. But the baked goods list is long and arduous, and when I have to spend three weekends developing a cake, I get sad 🙁 Mostly because it means I have nothing to share for a weekend, but also because it means no cake for that weekend!
For example, this cake took me three fing times to figure out. THREE. And ok, I know that’s typical, if not modest, in recipe development world, but I’ve made cakes similar to this formula literally hundreds of times, so for it to not work three different times was appalling. As a person who considers herself an experienced baker, I was fairly offended about screwing up such a simple cake and felt like I had to prove myself worthy to baked goods. And although my salty-af first attempt inspired me to write a fairly impressive Vday-inspired caption, I also just really wanted this cake to work out some way or another, because black sesame + blood orange = 😍
In a perfect world, this cake would have been ready in time for Vday, because I don’t think it’s a coincidence that blood orange season is right around Valentine’s Day. That’s just way too damn convenient. However, I’m kind of fine that it didn’t end up working out that way, because the first batch of blood oranges I bought for this recipe were so-so, and the last batch I bought were unreeeeaaaaaal. They were the most beautiful color, and their frangrance made my whole kitchen smell like it had just been professionally cleaned, although I can guarantee that wasn’t the case. I think blood oranges are so underappreciated, because like, besides their ruby-red hue, they are so sweet and floral. Maybe we should be adding lavender to this cake instead of sesame?
However, I really liked how the sweetness of the blood oranges meshed with the earthiness of the sesame seeds. This color combo is perfection, and I liked the polka-dot look of the cake itself. I’m putting black sesames on everything from now on thankyouverymuch.
A few notes about this recipe before we get into things:
- Citrus is already somewhat salty, so it’s important to be stingy with the salt. My first two attempts at this cake were soooo salty (for various reasons, but still).
- Whip the butter, sugar, and eggs for much longer than you believe to be necessary.
- Definitely don’t over-bake this cake. Since it’s pound cake, it doesn’t use moisturizers like oil, so it’ll get dry if you wait too long.
- Use aluminum-free baking powder, or the metallic taste will be very present in this recipe.
- Use a higher-quality powdered sugar for the glaze. Since the glaze is almost exclusively powdered sugar, you will notice any chalky tastes and textures found in cheaper versions.
- Oh, and one more thing! These do great baked in mini loaf pans, but make sure to butter the bejeezus out of the pan, or they will come out as little hot messes like mine did (see below). However, if yours do come out that way, trash them up with extra glaze and maybe a little sprinkles, and you’ll be A-ok. I highly recommend this method, because baking mini loaf cakes means extras for the freezer, and they are the best way to eat cake for breakfast in a socially acceptable way!! #science
Black Sesame + Blood Orange Pound Cake
Ingredients for the cake
1 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. blood orange zest
3 c. flour, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. milk
2 Tbs. black sesame seeds
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. Heat oven to 350* F.
Meanwhile, cream butter and sugar until it’s very incorporated, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly until the butter mixture is very light and fluffy, about another 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and blood orange zest.
Stir in half of the flour and half of the milk until just mixed. Repeat with remaining flour mixture and milk. Stir in the black sesame seeds.
Pour batter into a buttered and floured bundt cake pan. Bake for about 16-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached. Flip it onto a cooling rack and let it cool before glazing.
Ingredients for glaze
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 c. blood orange juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Milk, as needed
In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, blood orange juice, and vanilla extract. Mix in milk 1 Tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. If the glaze gets too thin, add more powdered sugar a couple Tablespoons at a time.
Pour glaze over cake. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds!
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Become the Warm Jets by Current Joys
In high school, I went to a baking and pastry high school and to make a little extra money, I would sell homemade cupcakes. Some of my bigger projects were for weddings and bridal showers, and I also did smaller events like 9 year old’s birthday parties. I actually won third place next to a bunch of professional pastry chefs at a couple of competitions, which was my crowning achievement at the time. I was famously known for my marshmallow buttercream that people used to call “crack frosting”. Obviously I lived that rockstar life back in the glory days of my youth.
Honestly though, going to my high school taught me invaluable lessons about food and the melding of flavors. It helped me land my first job in the industry that eventually led me to my coffee-career and love for food blogging. In a way, it was kind of like a weird, food version of Glee, but I got to do cool things like meet Vic Vegas and work in a bunch of kitchens in the casinos on the Strip. I think going to my high school gave me the confidence to actually start this food blog like, almost 6 years ago?! And luckily, I’ve come a long way since my first post, because *wow* I did not know how blogs worked 😬 I still have memories of having a mental breakdown, because I couldn’t figure out how to make an “About Me” page. I’m still not quite sure why I couldn’t just have a Tumblr page like every other 16 year old in the early 2010s.
I haven’t been making cupcakes “professionally” for a while, but of course, I still love to bake, especially now that I’ve gotten more adventurous with my flavor profile. So when a few weeks ago (well, before Christmas) Molly Yeh posted a recipe for marzipan buttercream, I diiiiiied. Marzipan buttercream is everything I dream about. Plus anytime I make anything with almonds, I immediately have the instinct to shove oranges in there somehow. And (!) since I’m not still in high school, I added orange liqueur, because boozy cupcakes = the best cupcakes.
This recipe is adapted for high altitude, because as I’ve mentioned in the past, for some reason I have to use high-altitude recipes for cakes and nothing else ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’ve been celebrating extra hard, because I *finally* figured out how to adapt my fave cupcake recipe to high-altitude almost five years after moving to Reno!! If you need me, I will be celebrating with extra orange liqueur.
Orange Liqueur Cupcakes + Marzipan Buttercream
Makes about 16 cupcakes
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder*
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter
1 c. sugar*
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbs. orange liqueur (I used Triple Sec)
1 tsp. orange zest
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. flavorless oil
3/4 c. whole milk**
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Preheat oven to 375* F***.
Beat the butter and sugar together until thoroughly mixed. It will likely remain grainy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing completely. Add the vanilla extract, orange liqueur, and orange zest. Stir in the buttermilk and oil.
Mix in half of the flour mixture and half of the whole milk. Repeat with the remaining flour mix and milk, stirring just until combined.
Using a scoop, fill cupcake tins about 3/4 of the way with batter. Bake, checking for doneness at 15-18 minutes. Cupcakes are done when an inserted toothpick has a few crumbs stuck to it.
Let cool and frost with Molly Yeh’s marzipan buttercream (1/2 recipe). Top with sprinkles!!
*use 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder for sea-level
**use 2/3 c. whole milk for sea-level
***bake at 350* F for sea-level
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Misty Morning by Travis Bretzer
While Insta has proven to me that the ~hip~ people of the world have been spending their weekends partying in bunny costumes, I have spent mine doing laundry, petting my hedgehog, and watching Stranger Things. *raises the roof*. I just got back from Toronto, where my friend Stephen took me to all kinds of breweries, Niagara Falls, aaaaand (!!) I had poutine for the first time! Where can I get poutine in Reno?? I need it more frequently in my life! Usually when it comes to deep-frying foods at home, I dodge it like it’s hot (the messssss), but for poutine, I might be willing to pull out all the stops. Or maybe I can rig it with some extra-crispy tater tots right out of the oven? Canadians: would that be sacrilege??
On another note, I will be spending my Halloween night eating white chili with my cousins and taking the kids trick-or-treating! I found an amazing vintage 1960s dress at a thrift store the other day that I was planning on utilizing in my costume, but now that I’ll be walking around in the cold weather, I’m thinking of pulling out my classic Rosie the Riveter costume and calling it a day. It’s almost a tradition at this point after all.
A couple of weeks ago, I surprised my parents for their birthdays by coming home from London a week earlier than I told them. (Although, they did end up going on vacation for their birthdays, so I had to pretend I was still in England for a few extra days yikes!). I showed up at their front door and rang the doorbell cake-in-hand. They were so excited, we went to a delicious steakhouse for dinner, and then we celebrated with this cake for dessert! It was exactly what I wanting, and they loved their birthday present (me, obvs). This cake was the perfect addition: a lightly sweetened pumpkin cake with a touch of sage flavor and a sticky brown sugar icing that tastes faintly of caramel and butter. It’s the perfect fall dessert and makes a great addition to a Halloween party or even a Thanksgiving dessert table (it has sage in it after all!). Plus, you can decorate it like a pumpkin or turkey or something if you really want to make it festive. Obviously, I went the easy way with a few sage leaves and a rustic ‘happy birthday’ sign. Have a spooky night!
Pumpkin + Sage Cake with Brown Sugar Icing
*Cake is for High-Altitude baking. Please refer to alternative measurements if you do not live at high-altitude!*
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. + 6 Tbs. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder*
1/2 tsp. baking soda**
1/2 c. Tbs. buttermilk
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. milk
Preheat oven to 350* F. Grease and flour two 6-inch cake pans. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, cream the brown sugar, sugar, egg, buttermilk, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk. Then add the remaining flour mixture and milk. Divide the batter between the two cake pans.
Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick shows a few crumbs. Let the cakes cool. Meanwhile prepare the icing (below). Level each cake, and cut each cake in half so you have 4 even layers. Spread frosting between each layer, stacking them until there are 4 cake layers. Frost the outside of the cake. Decorate as desired.
* Use 3/4 tsp. baking powder for regular-altitude recipes.
**Use 3/4 tsp. baking soda for regular-altitude recipes.
1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1/4 c. milk
1 3/4 – 2 c. powdered sugar
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add brown sugar. Boil over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm – add milk. Gradually add powdered sugar, and beat until thick. If it becomes too stiff, add a little hot water to thin. Frost over cake!
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Atmosphere by Joy Division
I am unashamed to admit that I am currently involved in a love affair with a cheesecake. I have to say, this is fairly out of character for me, considering I’m not a huge cheesecake fan – cheese = yay! cake = yay! cheesecake = meh. Many of my friends and family are cheesecake lovers, but I tend to fall more towards the creme brulee side of the custard spectrum – I can’t resist a burny-caramely top, and I hold firmly to that belief. I find many cheesecakes to be a little too creamy, or even worse, crumbly, and oftentimes they aren’t sweetened enough, leaving the filling reminiscent of a bagel that’s been sitting on the counter getting cold. Not a pretty visual there? Well, that’s how the
cookie cheesecake crumbles, and I think there absolutely needs to be a seminar on how to properly bake a damn cheesecake. Sorry, not sorry – I’m putting an end to this.
Okay, maybe I have a holier-than-thou attitude towards cheesecake, but seriously, have you ever read reviews on any NY cheesecake recipe? Good lord, those east-coast peeps have a cheesecake power complex of epic proportions. (Okay, I really do get it though – you’re a tried and true New Yorker, and you’re desperately trying to recreate the cheesecake your grandmother used to throw together sans recipe. I promise, my family has been trying to do this with my grandmother’s enchiladas for years, and we can’t get it right – this is what happens when you let a Norwegian woman make Mexican food).
Anyhow, let me tell you, those recipe-reviewing-cheesecake-aficionados know their craft – crumbly cheesecake? Waterbath. Chunky chunks of cheese? Room temp the cheese and eggs! Genius. Props to you guys (and your grandma’s tips!). I appreciate you and your power complex (;
And on another note, here I am about to crush your OG-cheesecake loving souls. Because I added mascarpone to my cheesecake. And I added orange zest. And I added amaretto. And the crust is made with almond cookies. And it’s the most delicious, light, wonderful cheesecake I ever did eat. If it makes anyone feel better, I’ve heard a lot of Italian cheesecakes use mascarpone and amaretto! Does that help? Bueller, Bueller?
Anyways, I decided to use mascarpone, because as I said earlier, I don’t love the super-thick, creamy cheesecake in most restaurants (I’m especially looking at you Cheesecake Factory). However, the mascarpone rids of that overly-rich cream cheese taste and adds a fluffy, light texture that I adore. Orange zest was added to get away from the lemon that typically adorns cheesecakes. As for the amaretto, it was almost not added – I stared at that bottle in the grocery store for approximately 15 minutes, walked away from it, and thought, “Sara, that is so not the spirit”, turned back to the liquor aisle, and added it to my cart. It was a dilemma of vast proportions, but it made the cut, and I’m so relieved it did. Alcohol helps desserts always.
Btw I brought this cheesecake to my parents’ house for a family dinner and, I almost freaking DROPPED it while slipping on ice. But not to fear, my clumsy footing still appreciates the sanctity of $12 worth of cheese. I held onto that cheesecake like Harry held onto the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Yes, I did just make a HP reference, and I stand by that decision.
XO Sara Lynn
*Song of the Day: Stay This Way by Peter Bjorn and John
Merry merry merry merry merry merry Christmas! Yesterday, I spent the entire day making Christmas treats with my mom. This year we made my grandma’s butter cookies with walnuts, snickerdoodles, nut caramels, sugar cookies, and I also made a new recipe I’ll be posting about soon! After all the baking commenced, we went to look at a huge Christmas light display held in Reno every year, and then we grabbed beers and burgers for good measure. It was the perfect way to celebrate my day off after my last final exam!
Although I will not be active over the next couple of days due to Christmas, I wanted to post one last recipe if you’re looking for yet another thing to bake for neighbors and friends (: Around the holidays, I get a little cookied out (okay, sugared out in general), but every once in a while, I want to grab a piece of bread or pudding or something instead of another cookie. This year, I decided to make spice cake with my grandma’s penuche frosting. If you’ve never had penuche frosting before, 1. Um, why?, and 2. It’s this amazing, brown-sugar, caramely flavored frosting you make in 5 minutes on your stovetop. It’s a frosting I never remember to make enough, and when I do, I’m transported back into family dinners as a little kid, eating this frosting but not knowing quite what it was. And now I present it to you as I share some of my family nostalgia!
As I’ve shared in the past, Reno is higher-altitude, so I made my high-altitude cake recipe, but I also have adjustments to make it at sea-level. I like to use a different combination of spices each time in my cake, depending on what I have in my pantry at the time, but cinnamon always makes an appearance, because, well cinnamon. Feel free to add spices if you like reeeally spicy cake, or cut back if spices aren’t your thing. I love adding ginger, but you could always add a few grinds of black pepper and some cardamom for a chai-spiced cake, or you could add a little cayenne if you’re really feeling really crazy*. Do what feels right.
*Clearly, my idea of getting crazy is disappointing, but if you add a little whiskey or wine to your holiday-baking spree, I’d be supes proud.
P.S. This recipe is not exclusive to Christmas – it’s good year-round, especially in the fall! I just posted it at Christmas, because I’m missing my grandparents (: One of my favorite memories is making lefse with my grandma around the holidays for our traditional Norwegian dinner on Christmas Eve! This year, I didn’t get around to making any, so if you’re a fellow Norwegian (Norski? Norwegianite?) and have some laying around, send it my way!
XO Sara Lynn
*Song of the Day: Must Be Santa by She & Him
My life of late has been one big mess of a situation, and normally when that happens, I like to revert to simplicity rather than complicate things with multiple different factors. Aside from a number of other difficult life events happening, last week I lost my grandmother unexpectedly. Don’t worry though, this isn’t going to be a gloomy post :). While of course I am incredibly sad, I also have some amazing memories of my grandma, growing up visiting her ranch out in Washoe, Nevada and riding horses. My grandma loved Native American history and traveled around Nevada for archaeological digs. She had a huge passion for animals, particularly horses and dogs, and she loved making large, comforting meals for the family – and the dogs. True story. One time, my aunt had a friend over, and when she learned that the 2 roasted chickens resting peacefully on the counter were for the dogs, she may have lost her faith in humanity.
However, that was my grandma. She was quiet, but she always made me laugh with her simple, non-obvious sense of humor. Before we went shopping one day, we were walking out the door, and she raised her fist in the air and said with passionate spirit, “Let’s go kill something!”. She could go to Sephora and spend $400 on just eyeshadow and nail polish. She loved going to restaurants and talking to me about my plans for my education and travel. She taught me to never take no for an answer.
And yellow cake with chocolate buttercream was her favorite cake. She passed that on to the whole Hunt family, and aside from a special recipe for chocolate cake, this was always a family favorite that I associated with my grandma.
Going back to simplicity, I think yellow cake with chocolate frosting is one of those classic recipes that everybody has some kind of connection with. I love when food has a story behind it, and I definitely can think of happy memories behind this recipe.
Since moving to Reno, I have not been able to make a normal cake without it sinking and turning crusty. I can make any other type of baked good, and it comes out beautifully, but cake does not come out ever. I have since resorted to using high-altitude cake recipes, which at first I was sad about, because I have a perfect sea-level cake recipe, but luckily, I was able to find an amazing high-altitude cake recipe that I have tweaked to my liking. It’s super easy, delicious, simple, and adaptable. (But no worries! If you live at sea-level, I have those adjustments for you also).
*Adapted from Good Life Eats
Sea-level adjustments: Use 1 Tbs. baking powder, 1 1/4 c. buttermilk, and 1 1/2 c. sugar. Bake at 350*F for 14-16 minutes.
Cheers to an amazing lady. I love you Gram!
*Song of the Day: Songbird by Fleetwood Mac