Cacio e Pepe with Fried Shallots

CHEESY, PEPPERY, AND PERFECTLY AL DENTE CACIO E PEPE WITH FRIED SHALLOTS.

An overhead view of three bowls of pasta on a grey table surrounded by a dark green linen, a glass of white wine, and a bowl of fried shallots.
A side shot of a white bowl of pasta on a grey background, surrounded by more bowls, a green linen, a bowl of fried onions, and a glass of wine.

So far this week, I have done enough squats for my legs to turn into jelly, planned (but not yet planted) a small front-porch garden, and made a Sunday dinner consisting of leftover Easter brunch cinnamon rolls and chicken with brown rice and veggies. I even *meal prepped* and took a two-hour nap which, for me, is unheard of. The line between productivity and self-annihilation is thin, but it is one I’m willing to ride out.

Anyways, I know it’s important to stay healthy right now, so we’ve been eating lots of veggies and working out every (week)day. But sometimes, things still feel a bit overwhelming, yes? And we must indulge ourselves with self-care and comfort food akin to mac and cheese! And that, my friends, is when we put on cashmere drawstring sweatpants and make cacio e pepe!

What is cacio e pepe?

Cacio e pepe is a Roman pasta dish that literally translates to “cheese and pepper”, a.k.a. two perfect ingredients. It’s made up with only the most basic pantry staples: pasta, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano cheese, and it’s pronounced “ka-chee-oh eh peh-peh” (which borderline reminds me of Lightning McQueen, but let’s not go there). Think of it as adult mac and cheese, but without all the fancy stuff that comes in “adult” mac and cheese recipes, like gruyere or prosciutto or spring peas. It really is the most basic of dishes but it’s a dream of a comfort food. And in this version, we take it up a notch with fried shallots. Because tbh, there’s really never a bad time for fried onions. 🙂

An overhead picture of a jar of pasta, a bowl of parmesan, a pinch pot of salt, a plate of peppercorns, a bowl of parsley, a spaghetti spoon, and a few shallots on a grey background.

Cacio e pepe ingredients

I really can’t think of a recipe with more basic ingredients, but in this version, we’re getting a little *fancy* with fried shallots! However, this only requires two extra ingredients, so we’re really keeping it simple here. Pantry pasta forever. <3

  • Shallots: Go for two large or three small! Sometimes, I make extra just to have around.
  • Neutral Oil: You’ll want something neutral for frying like vegetable or canola oil. I usually go with canola!
  • Pasta: You’re going to want a long pasta here. I believe that bucatini is the most traditional, but I usually use regular spaghetti since I always have it around!
  • Freshly Cracked Black Pepper: The freshly-cracked part is important. The fresher the pepper, the more flavorful your pasta will be!
  • Pecorino Romano/Parmesan: Some people swear Pecorino Romano is the only way, but I’m fine with Parmesan, and I think you should be too! Use what you have or what’s available to you.
  • Salt: For flavoring the pasta water!

Let’s make fried shallots!

An overhead photo of a black pan filled with shallots frying in oil on a grey speckled counter.

I know, frying, ugh. I can undoubtedly tell you that I usually hate frying. But, shallots are the exception, because they are sooo easy and not messy! Plus, the leftover oil is actually useful and doesn’t need to be thrown away immediately.

To fry shallots, I use the Bon Appetit method! You start by thinly cutting a few peeled large shallots. The best way to do this is with a mandolin, but I don’t like washing a mandolin over two shallots, so I just do it by hand. 🤷 You just want them to be about as thin as a dime! Next, place them in a pan, and fill the pan with just enough canola/vegetable oil to cover the shallots (about 1/3 cup).

Set the heat to medium-low, and cook until the shallots are deep golden-brown about 20 minutes. Stir often with the tines of a fork to separate the shallots! (Pro tip: Keep an eye on these, especially towards the end! Once they start browning, they will brown quick). Drain the fried shallots through a fine-mesh strainer (reserve the oil!) and place on a paper towel to mop up any extra grease. Season with salt and let cool! Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

How to make Cacio E pepe with fried shallots!

A bird's eye photo of a pasta strainer filled with spaghetti on a grey speckled table.

While you are frying your shallots, you will want to start your pasta! Fill a large pot with water and add a few heavy pinches of salt. Cook your pasta for one minute less than the package directions recommend. (We will continue cooking the pasta in the sauce later). Before you drain the spaghetti, make sure to save at least one and a half cups of the cooking liquid which will make up our sauce!

Overhead shot of a white pot filled with oil, fresh pepper, spaghetti, and parmesan.

After draining your pasta, dry the pot, and return it to the stove. Heat three tablespoons of the leftover shallot frying oil over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly cracked pepper (about 50 turns) to oil, and cook to bloom the flavor, about one minute. Stir in half a cup of the leftover pasta water until everything is combined. Add the pasta, and coat well with the sauce, stirring until perfectly al dente. Add more pasta water as necessary until the cacio e pepe is perfectly saucy.

Remove the pasta from the heat, and quickly stir in the Pecorino Romano/Parmesan until you have a smooth, silky sauce. Taste, season with salt, and divide between four bowls. Top with fried shallots and enjoy!

Parmesan or pecorino Romano?

Traditionally, Pecorino Romano cheese is used in cacio e pepe. But, I’m all about accessibility and not every store has the cheese aisle of a French market. If you can’t find Pecorino Romano, just use some grated Parmesan! P.S. of course freshly grated is always better than pre-grated. But I don’t like shredding cheese, and if you don’t either, let’s just use pre-grated and not feel bad about it, ok?

How do I know when spaghetti is al dente?

Pasta is al dente when it has just a tiny bite to it. It will not be mushy or crunchy, and the center will have a slight white core. Package directions are not always clear, so it’s important to try your pasta to make sure it’s perfectly al dente!

You need to use freshly cracked black pepper, trust

Ok, I know this seems fussy, but it’s v important for cacio e pepe! When pre-ground black pepper (or any herb for that matter) sits around exposed to air, it rapidly loses flavor over time. But, when we use freshly ground black pepper, it isn’t exposed for the air for too long before we start cooking with it. This will lead to bright, aromatic, spicy flavors, not dull and boring nothing-ness.

cacio e pepe is great with all kinds of pasta

Bucatini is the most common pasta used in cacio e pepe, but it’s not the only option! Usually, I use spaghetti because it’s what I can find in the grocery store. While long, thin pastas work best with the cheese and pepper sauce, there are a few other types of pastas you can use! Besides bucatini or spaghetti, I would also recommend:

  • Fettuccine: A flat, long pasta
  • Pappardelle: A very thick, long pasta. One of my faves!
  • Linguine: A little thicker than spaghetti but not as thick as fettuccine.
  • Stuffed pastas: Tortellini, ravioli, etc.

Unfortunately, tubed pastas such as penne or rigatoni don’t work great, because they don’t hold on to the sauce quite as well.

A close-up overhead shot of a bowl of cacio e pepe next to an emerald green linen, bowl of fried shallots, and a small wooden bowl of salt on a grey background.

pasta water vs. regular water

The reason we use pasta water to bring everything together is the starch! The salts and starches in the water not only adds flavor, but it also binds the oil, pepper, and cheese to the pasta so you get a smooth, silky sauce! If you use regular water, you’ll just end up with a puddle of water at the bottom of the pot instead of a sauce.

Butter or shallot oil?

A lot of recipes call for butter in the sauce, because butter is just straight-up delicious. However, I like to use the reserved shallot oil, because 1. it’s adds soooo much good flavor, and 2. less waste. You will probably have more shallot oil leftover after this recipe, so just store it in a jar and use it for other sauces, stir fries, and salad dressings in the future!

Storing Cacio E Pepe

Cacio e pepe is really one of those dishes that is just better day-of. The pasta will dry out a little bit once you put it in the fridge. It’s not necessarily bad, just not as good as fresh cacio e pepe! If you refrigerate the leftover pasta, just keep it in an airtight container, and add a small splash of water before you microwave the pasta. Stir well, top with leftover fried shallots, and enjoy! Definitely don’t store the cacio e pepe with the fried shallots in the fridge, or the shallots will get soggy!

How to serve cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe is honestly good on its own, but if you’re like me, a veggie or side completes a meal! Here are a few things we like:

  • An arugula salad with a simple vinaigrette
  • Roasted broccoli or green beans
  • Grilled asparagus or zucchini
  • Caprese salad
  • Melon with prosciutto!
  • Garlic bread (duh)

Cacio e pepe ad-ins

If you want to take cacio e pepe up a notch, you can always add:

  • A couple handfuls of arugula or spinach (let it wilt before serving)
  • Fresh spring peas!
  • A few cloves garlic
  • Cooked chicken, bacon, or prosciutto
  • A squeeze of lemon!
  • Fresh herbs. I like a little fresh parsley once in a while.

A few tips!

Cacio e pepe is a pretty simple dish, but there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure it’s perfect!

  • When boiling the pasta, make sure not to use too much water! We want the pasta to cook in a small amount of water so it gets very starchy and flavorful.
  • Reserve some of the pasta water right before you drain to make sure it’s nice and starchy!
  • Bloom the freshly ground pepper by cooking it in the oil for about a minute. This will bring out all of the amazing flavors!
  • Remove the pasta from the heat before you add in the cheese, or it will get too hot and clump up.
  • Add more pasta water as necessary to get a nice, silky sauce.
  • Top with fried shallots right before serving so they don’t get soggy.
A side shot of a bowl of spaghetti with fried shallots on top, surrounded by a green linen, more bowls of pasta, fried shallots, and a glass of wine on a grey table.

Some other italian dishes you’ll love!

Marinated White Beans with Toast
Best Sicilian Pizza
Marc’s Meatball Subs
Lasagna Bolognese
London Fog Tiramisu with Lavender

cacio e pepe with fried shallots



xo Sara Lynn

*Song of the day: He Loves Me by Brittany Howard

Cacio e Pepe with Fried Shallots | Serendipity by Sara Lynn
Cacio e Pepe (literally "cheese and pepper) made with spaghetti, freshly-ground pepper, Pecorino Romano, and topped with homemade fried shallots.

Chocolate Fondue for 2 (or 4 or 6 or…)

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For my boyfriend’s birthday, I promised I would make him dinner, because in all reality, I am much better at making food than I am trying to figure out what to buy people.  When I get a good gift idea in my head, I can’t be stopped, but when I cannot think of an amazing gift, dinner and dessert happens instead.  Not that dinner and dessert isn’t a good gift (because it’s one of my personal favorites), but it’s also fun to hand an SO something wrapped in a big bow.  But back to the boyfriend b-day dinner!…Long story short, the guy’s birthday was in late March and I just got around to making the dinner about a week ago.  Aaaaaand the best girlfriend award goes to…not me.  At least not in the timeliness category.  However, I think I made up for it plenty with chicken pot pie and chocolate fondue!  You can’t be sad with chocolate fondue, right?  RIGHT?

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How you choose to fondue is up to you (I’m having too much fun with the rhyming, someone stop me), but the bf and I enjoyed it sitting on the floor at my coffee table while watching Lady and the Tramp (his choice, not mine!  Ugh <3).  I’m not going to tell you that doing it any other way is wrong, but this is probably the right one.  Lady and the Tramp included.

Now a quick story about the chocolate fondue:  The reason you see the fondue itself in a ramekin stuffed in a fondue pot is simple…When you are making chocolate fondue for 2, there is not enough volume for a large fondue pot which leads to the chocolate seizing, burning, and thickening.  Now, if you want to spend your dipping time adjusting temperature, stirring, and adding more cream, I promise you’ll still have fun, because that’s what my boyfriend and I had to do.  However, if you want to make your life easier, I have found that placing the chocolate fondue in a ramekin surrounded by water in the in a hot fondue pot leads to a smoother, less fussy product.  Wah-lah!  If you are making this recipe for 4 or more people, no need to worry about it!  There should be enough volume to cause no problems.  Also, if you do not have a fondue pot, you can easily make this in a heat proof bowl and just heat it back up in the micro as necessary!

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I served my fondue with strawberries and homemade almond pound cake, but you can do marshmallows, pretzels, donuts, oranges, grapes, pineapple, potato chips, or whatever fun thing you have laying around your house.  However, I cannot recommend almond pound cake enough!

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XO Sara Lynn

*Song of the Day: Lust for Life by Girls

Sweet Poppy Bread

Sweet poppy bread flavored with almond and drizzled with a light vanilla glaze.

Poppy Bread with Almond | Serendipity by Sara Lynn
How to make vanilla glaze.

As we speak, I am sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops writing a blog post.  I swore I would never be this person, but considering my absolute love for coffee shops I have expressed countless times in the past, it was bound to happen at some point.  I’m even wearing a cardigan and my Warby Parker Buddy Holly-esque glasses. The National’s older albums are playing in the background.  It’s almost too cliche to handle, yet I didn’t drag in a typewriter, and I have never claimed that I identify with Hemingway on a spiritual level, so I’m still passable.

However, I am knee-deep in caffeine right now, which is making me remarkably honest, so it’s confession time.  This is not my first visit to a coffee shop today…but it might be my second.  Now, before you judge, first let me tell you that my finals today range(d) from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. And I only got a few hours of sleep last night. In my personal opinion, my multiple coffee shop stops are a little more excusable now.  I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Perfect poppy bread recipe.
How to make a loaf cake!

If I was a good little student (which I am I swear), I would be studying right now, but I have coffee-drank myself into some full blown anxiety, so I’ve decided studying would only create harm.  However, an hour before a final exam, you either know your stuff or you don’t, and I have decided that I know business law.  I understand contracts!  I understand corporate liability!  And the Commerce Clause!  It’s all going to be okay….!!!

And while I have drank enough coffee for the caffeine to suppress my appetite and make me feel full, I still can only think about food.  Specifically, this poppy bread.

Easy loaf cake with poppy seeds, vanilla, and almond. | Serendipity by Sara Lynn

My aunt made this recipe a few years ago, and in that instant, I fell in love with poppy bread.  It was like eating cake without the frosting, which is actually how I prefer my cake, but it was deemed more socially acceptable.  The recipe only has ten basic ingredients. And the batter can be whisked up in literally five minutes if you believe hard enough like I do.  Plus, if you have a mini loaf pan (not kidding, mine weighs like, 8 pounds), it makes the cutest tiny loaves of bread to distribute to friends and family. Which is obviously more fun than muffins.

A few notes: 1. Please use 1 c. + 2 Tbs. of oil in the recipe.  Last time I made it, I accidentally only used 2 Tbs. and it led to a rather disappointing product. 2. I prefer to make a simple syrup (1/4 c. sugar + 1/4 c. water heated until boiling) and brush it on the bread hot out of the oven.  It keeps the bread tasting fresh. However, this is not necessary, especially if you’re drizzling it with vanilla glaze! 3. This needs to be served with plenty of softened butter.  Hot poppy bread + melty butter = <3 <3 <3

(And on a completely different note, a guy at the next table just told his friend that he met a girl that “didn’t have the best face, but he couldn’t get past her midriff”.  PSA: If you’re going to be a caveman, please be one in your head or in private but not in a room full of intelligent, beautiful women shooting you death glares.  Oh the joys of living in coffee shops!  You hear some interesting stuff for sure).

Poppy seed bread that only needs 10 ingredients and 10 minutes!

Sweet Poppy Bread with Almond



XO SaraLynn

*Song of the Day: Baby, We’ll be Fine by The National

Almond poppy seed bread with vanilla glaze.
Almond Poppy Seed Bread | Serendipity by Sara Lynn

Vanilla Crème Brûlée

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If you follow my Instagram, then you probably know that I promised a recipe with vanilla beans.  You also probably know that I have an obsession with vanilla beans that can only be compared to Gollum’s relationship with the ring.  *ahem* However, do not fret if you don’t have vanilla beans just laying around the house (most people don’t).  You can substitute with real vanilla extract or paste.

If you need a quick Valentine’s Day dessert that seems kind of fancy (but you don’t want to try too hard) this is it.  Crème brûlée seems daunting, but it’s actually so, so easy.  Take it from me, since this is my first attempt, and it turned out *very successfully*.  Plus, it only takes about 15 minutes to put together and uses 4 ingredients.

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Oops.

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Do you see the vanilla?!

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Bye.

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I hope you end your Valentine’s Day with crème brulee and your special human.

XO SaraLynn

*Song of the Day: Indian Summer by Beat Happening

How to Make a Kombucha SCOBY

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I know that you probably have lots of questions right now.  SCOBYs aren’t the prettiest things, so you’re probs confused and wondering if you’re supposed to eat that thing (please, God, no), or if it’s some kind of facial mask or what.  I promise, all questions will be addressed, but just hang with me.  SCOBYs are not easy to photograph, and it’s extra hard to make them look appetizing enough to be featured on a food blog.

A SCOBY is an acronym for ‘symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast’, and it’s used to make kombucha.  Now what’s kombucha?  It’s a naturally carbonated, sweet-and-sour drink made by fermenting tea.  Like wine and coffee, kombucha takes a few times to get used to.  It contains a little bit of alcohol naturally, but it’s perfectly safe for kids to drink!  Mixed with fruits and juices, it’s very versatile and tons of flavor combos can be made.  If you’re a big soda-fan looking to cut the sugar-y chemical-laden drink out of your life, kombucha is for you.  Why?  It has tons of health benefits!

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Funny story:  Don’t use earl grey or decaffeinated tea to make kombucha!  I just grabbed the box without thinking (because it’s pretty), but I actually used a regular, caffeinated black tea to make my SCOBY.

Kombucha helps with gut and digestion health, detox, immune health, etc.  However, I personally like kombucha, because it helps with stomach problems.  My stomach is sensitive to all kinds of foods, and on certain days it can make me quite nauseous.  Friends with similar stomach problems recommended kombucha, and I really love how it makes me feel!  I don’t necessarily drink it every day, but every couple of days does the trick and really limits my ‘sick days’.

The only downside to kombucha is that the cost can add up if you’re consuming it in large amounts.  My solution was to learn how to make it, starting with the SCOBY!

The SCOBY is necessary, because it helps ferment the tea, which also adds health benefits.  You can buy SCOBYs online, but I’m incredibly impatient and don’t like waiting for things in the mail.  My next option was to learn how to make one.  (Bonus: buying the stuff to make a SCOBY is cheaper than buying a SCOBY online).  Once you make one SCOBY, a new SCOBY will be made with every kombucha batch.  You can start a farm of SCOBYs, or you can gift the new SCOBY to a kombucha-loving friend.

*Disclaimer: Some people recommend not making a SCOBY, but rather buying one, the main reason being that SCOBYs do not always grow if they’re homemade (has not been a problem for me at all).  However, I see no real risks in growing a SCOBY, and mine turned out successful!  Choose whatever option you’re comfortable with.

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Don’t use earl grey or decaffeinated tea!  Grabbing this box was a Sara-moment.  I used caffeinated, regular black tea.

Let’s get started!

First, you’ll start by making a sweet tea.  The best tea to use is regular black tea, because it helps the SCOBY grow.  Once you have your new SCOBY, you can try other teas for the next batch, but try to use black tea at first!  Kombucha works best with caffeinated, non-herbal teas.  Herbal teas can damage the SCOBY, so be cautious.  Alternatively, you can use 1 1/2 Tbs. loose-leaf, but make sure to strain the leaves out before making your SCOBY.

Next, you’ll mix together your (cooled) sweet tea with a cup of your organic, raw kombucha.  You’ll want unflavored kombucha so that your SCOBY grows.

Then, you’ll put the mixture in a large jar.  You’ll want to wrap the mouth of the jar with paper towels or coffee filters to keep out bugs.  Then secure the paper towels with a rubber band, and pop on the lid!

Place your SCOBY in a dark room with an average temperature (not too cold, not too hot).  Leave it there for about 4 weeks.  You’ll start to notice a little film forming over the top.  It’ll get thicker and thicker, it may change colors, get bubbles, etc.  Don’t worry.  As long as it doesn’t grow grey or green mold, it should be fine.

Once it’s all grown up, you can use it to make your own kombucha!  The remaining liquid is drink-able, but it will be very strong.  You can use some of the liquid to make your first batch of kombucha, but you’ll probably want to just discard the rest.

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Start looking for new kombucha recipes in the near future!  I’ve been coming up with all kinds of flavors (:

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*Song of the Day: Youth Knows No Pain by Lykke Li*

Cinnamon Rolls

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[Update 1/12/16: I made these rolls last weekend for the first time since I posted this recipe.  I changed the recipe up a little bit for experimentation, and ended up liking the new recipe more.  I added more butter (yikes, I know), tried traditional scalded milk instead of buttermilk, and used a different icing.  The original recipe is in the body of the post, and the new recipe is on a recipe card at the bottom of the post.  The new rolls are more fluffy, but if you prefer the old recipe, it’s still there, no worries!  I also updated some new pictures, since my photography has gotten significantly better (but still left the old ones with instructions and whatnot).  Hope you guys love!  Xo.]

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Guys.

These are so good.

Have you ever had like, a really really really good cinnamon roll?  Not like a Cinnabon one, but a really delicious, homemade cinnamon roll?  It’s a special kind of experience everyone should get to have.

I’m happy to report that you may now make your own if you truly wish to experience the phenomenon of eating an out-of-this-world cinnamon roll.

I have truly done it.  I have created the perfect cinnamon rolls.

They take pretty much all day to make, but they’re super easy.  I promise, you can make these!  Just make sure you have new yeast and everything is going to be okay.  You can do anything.

Sara Lynn: motivator and cinnamon roll goddess.

Maybe that’s a little dramatic.  Maybe it’s not.  Maybe you should make these cinnamon rolls and let me know if you think that I’m a cinnamon roll goddess.

A disclaimer about the following pictures:

1. My nail color randomly changes from red to sparkly pink because I got my nails done while the dough was rising.  I highly recommend you find something time consuming to do while you wait because cinnamon rolls take a long time to rise and a long time to make in general (but still so worth it).

2. The pictures change from good quality to bad quality because, again, they take a while to make and I ran out of daylight.

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Shall we get started?

Cinnamon Rolls:

1/2 c. warm water

1 package instant yeast

1/2 c. + 1 Tbs. sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 egg

1/3 c. melted butter

4 1/2 c. flour

Filling:

1/2 stick butter

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. white sugar

2 1/2 Tbs. cinnamon

Pinch salt

Icing:

4 oz. cream cheese

2 Tbs. butter

1 1/2-2 c. powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you like your icing!)

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2-3 Tbs. milk, to thin

Pinch salt

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First, you’re going to want to mix together your warm water, yeast, and a tablespoon of sugar.  Set it aside to double in size!

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Mix 1/2 c. sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl.

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Nice and doubled!  Yay!

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Mix together buttermilk, egg, and butter.

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Add half of the flour mixture until it’s incorporated.

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Add the yeast mixture and stir together.

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It might not mix very well because it’s going to be very lumpy and thin like pancake batter.

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Mix in the rest of the flour and knead a few times with your hands.

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Knead until smooth and beautiful.

Set aside in a warm place covered with plastic wrap or a towel.  Let rise for 1-2 hours.

*insert random photo and nail color change*

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Once it has risen, punch the dough a few times.DSCN4128

Roll until about 1/8 inch thick.

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Brush with melted butter.

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Mix together cinnamon, sugars, and salt for your filling.

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And spread it all around!

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Roll it up.

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Brush it with more butter (sorry cholesterol).

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Cut into rolls that are about 2 inches wide.  You should have about 8 pretty ones.

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And a few not so pretty ones 🙁  Oops!

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Brush a parchment lined casserole dish with more butter.

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Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon and sugar.

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Line the cinnamon rolls in the casserole dish.  Set them aside, covered, to rise for another hour or two.

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Look how pretty!!!  (That top left one is so sad.  Poor little guy.  Still delicious).

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Bake at 350* F for about 14-16 minutes, or until a light golden brown.

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Meanwhile, mix together the icing!  Whip butter and cream cheese together until incorporated.  Add sifted powdered sugar and vanilla.  Thin with milk.

(Uhm, is this not just the worst picture you’ve ever seen?  Did I even try?  Just trust me, it’s a delicious icing).

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Yay, they’re baked and beautiful!

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Spread frosting over warm cinnamon rolls.

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Hell yeah.

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Do you see that cinnamon filling?  Oh my gosh.  I might go grab one of my extras from the freezer right now.  They’re sooooo good.

Which reminds me, if you have too many because you made 11 cinnamon rolls and you live by yourself, just go ahead, wrap them in some plastic wrap individually and then place them in freezer bags.  They’ll stay good for a few months and you can indulge in cinnamon bun goodness whenever you want!

Go make these.  Right.  Now.

cinnamon roll recipe

cinnamon roll icing

* Notes*:  1. I use my mixer with dough hook, but these can also be made with a mixing bowl and wooden spoon!  I’ve done tries both methods and either works! 2. If your dough won’t rise, try heating oven to 250* F, turning oven off, and placing covered bowl of dough in warm oven (make sure bowl is oven proof!).  Leave alone for 2 hours.  3. If dough still won’t rise, your yeast is probably old.  Buy new yeast and start again.  4. Rolls can be made one night, and baked in the morning!  Just form the rolls and let them do their second rise in the fridge overnight (8-12 hours).  In the morning, remove from fridge, and let warm up for about an hour.  They will take longer to bake (upwards of about 30 or 40 minutes, so don’t worry if they don’t bake quickly!  Cover with foil halfway through if they start to brown too much.)

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*Song of the Day: Won’t You Come Over by Devendra Banhart

Butter Cookies with Walnuts

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Times my family uses my great grandmother’s china:  1. When I’m in town and pull it out of the cabinet with the upmost precision so I can take pretty, feminine pictures of cookies delicately sprinkled with powdered sugar.  2. For a holiday about once ever four years when my mom doesn’t talk herself out of using the plates, because they have to be handwashed.  Other than that, they essentially sit in little boxes, covered in bubbly plastic wrap stacked neatly on top of one another.  I’d like to think that someday I will have a fancy Alice in Wonderland themed tea party or host an extravagant ball that requires black ties and antique, fragile plates laced with gold.  But for now, they’re the host of my grandma’s crumbly butter cookies that are filled with walnuts and literally melt while you eat them.

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I love these cookies, because they’re extra easy, only six ingredients, and it makes lots of cookies to gift to your neighbors and coworkers.  My family has been making these cookies for as long as I can remember, although, if we’re being honest, I got all creative and added the almond extract.  I really think it adds extra flavor to these cookies, but you can also leave it out if you want simpler, more vanilla-flavored cookies or if you just don’t have almond extract laying around.

On the other hand, you could also go crazy with these cookies and add whatever you have laying around your kitchen.  Dried fruits, nuts, citrus zest, cocoa powder, vanilla bean, etc.  The cookies are so versatile that you could get extra creative and add some matcha powder or lavender buds or even dip them in chocolate.  If you don’t have time to bake, these cookies are the effortless, buttery, icebox cookies your kitchen needs right now.

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Song of the Day: Everlasting Arms by Vampire Weekend

Cinnamon Butter Candy

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About once a year, my mom visits me in Reno and we take a day visit to Virginia City with my aunts, cousins, and grandmas.  Since I’m already aware that you have no idea what Virginia City is, Mark Twain used to write there, and it’s a pretty popular place to take “old-timey” photographs dressed in stockings and boas with a sepia filter.

Virginia City is also the home to multiple candy shops, which are famous for their cinnamon candy.  If you ask my mom or aunts, all of them will tell you about how much they used to look forward to visiting Virginia City just to get their famous cinnamon butter candy.

This year for Christmas, my mom and I decided we would try to recreate the recipe for our friends and family.  It took 3 batches and multiple trips to the store, but we got pretty close.

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First off, let me give you a few opinions on cinnamon oil vs. cinnamon extract.  We first tried cinnamon extract, because it’s much cheaper and easier to find than cinnamon oil.  First, we tried 2 tsp., and it was not flavorful enough.  The next batch, we tried 4 tsp., and it still wasn’t what we were looking for.

We then researched where we could find cinnamon oil, called a special store, made a trip to said store, spent $15 on a bottle, and used it in the third batch.  While it was spicier than extract, it still wasn’t exactly what we wanted out of our cinnamon candy.

The candy isn’t really what we thought it would be (since we had the high expectations from Virginia City), but we ended up loving it!  While we were looking for that artificial cinnamon flavor (like in Red Hots or Cinnamon Jolley Ranchers), we actually got a real cinnamon flavor, which was a pleasant surprise.

In the end, if you like spicy, get some cinnamon oil online (it’s cheaper over Amazon!), or just go the easy way and buy cinnamon extract.  Either way, you’ll end up with a buttery, unique hard candy that’s really easy to make and can be packaged up as a gift (alternative for peppermint bark??)

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*Photos courtesy of my brother*

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*Song of the Day: Inside Out by Spoon*

Cheesecake Crumb Bars

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After some things didn’t go *quite* according to plan today, I ended up taking on the 7 hour drive to my hometown all by myself.  This made an abundance of room for Sara Lynn time, which included motivating self-talks, judging everyone’s driving besides my own, and running through Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not three times.  Recipes were developed, life plans were made, and I’m pretty sure I had at least four revelations.

All in all, it was a pretty spiritual day.  And now, I have a cheesecake crumb bar recipe.  Sometimes, things just work out.

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While I won’t say that cheesecake is one of my favorite desserts, I also never pass it up when offered.  Realistically, I had big plans of making a huge cheesecake before reminding myself that 1. I didn’t have the ingredients to make a whole cheesecake and I was already wearing pajamas, which meant that there was no way in hell I was going to the grocery store, and 2. No one should ever make a whole cheesecake when they live alone.  But cheesecake bars?  Portable.  Sliceable.  Freezable.  Slightly more social acceptable to have hanging around the house.

These ended up being a mix between cheesecake, shortbread cookies, and crumb cake.  They’re everything you want from each of those desserts, but I think next time I’ll cut the dough in half and double the filling.  If you like more of the “cheese” part of cheesecake, I would recommend following that method.  If you prefer shortbread, stick with the original.

Customize with pumpkin, raspberry, lemon, caramel, chocolate, etc.  If it fits in a cheesecake, it fits in these bars.  I opted for simplicity and added a little vanilla.  Okay a lot.  Whatever.

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Song of the Day: Fake Tales of San Francisco–Arctic Monkeys