Monday, October 8, 2012



A bottle of half-drunk wine sits on a rumpled, faded tablecloth on the coffee table in front of the darkened television set, silent remnants of a meal eaten late in the evening by a family too tired to carry everything into the kitchen when it was done. Old, scruffed and battered moving cartons, decades-old packing tape, yanked off and pressed back into place too many times to count hanging loosely off the sides, are piled willy-nilly in the foyer, bags of paperback novels are lined up like soldiers down the long shelf-lined corridor. A move is imminent, the house groans under the weight of too many belongings, the pressure of time tilting in the wrong direction, coming perilously close. Neither focus nor energy to cook or shop, just barely enough time to dash to the other apartment and back again, stopping off on the way to pick up prepared foods and that necessary bottle of red or white, depending upon our mood.
So when the craving hits – whether that uncontrollable urge to measure, blend, stir, whisk or that crazy need to eat something sweet and homemade (all the time, as my husband never fails to remind me) – I turn to something simple, fast and easy. I love my one-bowl cake recipes, whether my brother’s Spicy Carrot Snack Cake or one of my amazing, please-everybody Chocolate Cakes, my Chocolate Chip Banana Bread or my latest discovery, Lemon Pecan Quick Bread with a swirl of jam down the center. Nothing fancy, no imaginative masterpiece, just simple and sweet, comforting and good. Staple ingredients that I have on hand at all times, measure the dry, measure the wet, whisk and in the oven and do some ironing or writing while it bakes. The hardest part of each of these recipes is the waiting until it is done and cooled enough to slice and enjoy.

And this is where Abby Dodge comes in. I love Abby. Call it friendship, call it admiration and respect, call it a girl crush, call it what you will, I love Abby. Yes, she and I are friends and I’ve had the great good pleasure to spend face time with her in both Paris and New York, the time in between punctuated by the occasional phone call. She is warm and funny, so kind and generous. Friend and mentor. But don’t think that I promote her cookbooks because she is a friend. I would never offer empty praise nor would I make promises to my readers and fellow baking aficionados about something that I myself didn’t absolutely love. Abby is an astonishingly talented baker and creates desserts and cake and treats that are often incredibly simple to make yet hit the spot every time – delicious, perfect, satisfying and homey.

 With Abby and Gail of One Tough Cookie

I am the happy owner of three of Abby’s cookbooks – The Weekend Baker, Desserts 4 Today and Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets and I love baking from them. Her Espresso Chocolate Cake with Mocha Mascarpone is a stunner and more than worthy of any celebration! Her Creamy Espresso Pudding soothes the coffee lover in me every time. Her Raspberry Blueberry Coffee Cake is tender and delicate with the sweet tang of fresh berries, a family favorite for breakfast. And her Nutella Fudge Brownie Bites? Do I even need to explain? I have come to have complete faith in Abby’s recipes; I know each will work and each will make my very hard-to-please family smile. And eat.

I recently went scrambling desperately through The Weekend Baker for something chocolate. My son was complaining that there was nothing to eat for breakfast, no snack waiting when he got home from class. He is as persnickety and fussy as they come, and for him I needed something that he calls “plain”, which translates as: nothing fancy, no creamy additions, no odd bits and strange flavors. Something that is familiar, that he recognizes. You see what I am up against? He’s lucky, because I just happened to be craving, for some inexplicable reason, chocolate cupcakes. Sometimes, those odd cravings just hit, don’t they? Happily, I discovered something called Emergency Blender Chocolate Cupcakes in the index and saw that, indeed, they were super easy and fast to make. Since simplicity and plain are the keywords around here and I knew that I would be topping those cupcakes with no frosting or whipped cream, I would definitely not be pushing a single red cherry down into the batter or hiding a rounded teaspoon of homemade Salted Butter Caramel Sauce (something I always seem to have hanging around these days) inside the center of each cupcake, I had to think in another direction, find something to make them special. So I made them into mini Bundts. And they were perfect.

And Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets (100 Delicious Desserts to Pick Up and Eat) arrived on my doorstep just as the last Chocolate Cinnamon Bundtlet disappeared (I do believe he ate the last four all at once). I had just made Abby’s Brown Butter Apple Hand Tarts from her most recent #BakeTogether – a recipe based on one from Mini Treats. I wanted to make something son, husband and I would love and I selected Almost-Instant Yellow Cupcakes. Which I refer to as Better-Than-Mix Yellow Cupcakes! Again, these were together in a flash. Abby suggests frosting these cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Frosting but I topped mine with our favorite Easy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. The cupcakes, like the Chocolate Cinnamon Bundt Cakes, are perfect! Dense and moist without being gooey or sticky, tender and so full of flavor that no frosting will hide the vanilla tastiness. I don’t often make cupcakes and rarely make vanilla cupcakes, but I cannot get enough of these. I haven’t eaten anything so delicious for ages! Yes, yes, I should write something much more poetic, descriptive, evocative, but how can I think anything other than “ooooooh mmmmmmm” as I am pushing one fabulous cupcake into my mouth after another they are that good?!

Serving up dessert from this Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets means no plates, no forks, no spoons – no kidding.” explains Abby. “Easy-to-make and even easier-to-serve desserts that will dazzle” is the aim of Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets and Abby, as usual, hits it on the nose. The cookbook is filled with great recipes: Double-Trouble Chocolate Cupcakes, Streusel-Topped Double Cherry Slab Pie (the next on my own list), Lemon Meringue Pie Poppers, Mini Mocha Roll Cakes, Blood Orange and Creamy Tangerine Pops, White Chocolate-Cherry Popcorn to name a very few. And Abby, as she does in all of her cookbooks, gives extremely precise instructions that will give even the beginning baker confidence and great results, fun suggestions for twists to change up and personalize each treat, and her own Kitchen Wisdom oozing with her long experience.

Abby’s Emergency Chocolate Cupcakes and these Almost-Instant Yellow Cupcakes should be at the top of your baking repertoire, both perfect when you need a fast, easy, versatile and extraordinarily delicious treat, snack, breakfast or dessert. For more of Abby's great recipes visit her blog.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy as a gift from The Taunton Press but the decision to post a review and all opinions are my own. The decision to bake as much as I do from Abby's cookbooks is my own as well.

From Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets by Abigail Johnson Dodge

1 ¼ cups (lightly spooned in the measuring cup and levelled with a knife) flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
6 Tbs (3 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup water
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 yolk from a large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbs vanilla extract

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C) – I have an unusually hot oven so I set mine to 180°C). Line 12 regular-sized (2 ¾-inch diameter) muffin cups with paper or foil liners (I used silicone cupcake cups).

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium or large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the melted butter, water, egg and yolk and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk until well blended. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk until well blended and smooth, about 1 minute.

Portion the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. (I poured the batter into a large measuring cup with a spout, which makes pouring easier and neater.) Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 14 to 16 minutes. Move to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan, set them on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Frost as you please. Eat as many as you like, in thoughtful moderation and saving some to share.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Delicious looking cupcakes and wonderful sounding book!

Have a great week!



Winnie said...

Jamie: this is such a lovely review (and I adore the photos of you, Abby, and Gail!)...I can't wait to get my hands on Abby's new book :)

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I have a girl crush and I've never even met Abby...mine started even before Twitter when I used a recipe of hers from Bon Appetit to help my daughter make the most fabulous that even won her a prize at the office!

I love this little book, so many delectable treats; you know I want to rush off and make these cupcakes now right?

Jamie said...

@Winnie: Thanks and I'm wondering if this will be my new favorite. I have so many recipes bookmarked but the double cherry slab pie is next. I can't even wait for cherry season to make it, will be trying it with dried and jarred!

Jamie said...

@Barbara: and that recipe is the Chocolate Espresso Cake I posted and it is one of the best cakes ever!

Helene Dsouza said...

I don't think so I had met or heard of Abby before. Its always nice to learn about talented food professionals online, especially if it come from you jamies.

No doubt, sometimes we need a quick emergency batter, something simple to whip up. By the way, they look perfect and very yumm! How do u do that, that the cupcakes don't crack on top while baking? just wondering.

Wish u a wonderful week Jamie! A tout.

Jamie said...

@Helene: Abby is someone you should know, especially if you love to bake! For these cupcakes, I was afraid my oven would bake too quickly and too hot so i lowered the temperature a bit and let them bake a bit longer. They are perfect. I will say though they didn't crack and split, they did shrink a bit once they cooled.

Junglefrog said...

Those cupcakes look absolutely perfect. As one who has made maybe one or two batches too much of cupcakes I can tell... Especially the one where you show the inside plus.... Cookbook addict that I am, I now want to have Abby's cookbook ofcourse! Good luck with the final moving straws Jamie!!

Rambling Tart said...

I've never heard of Abby until today, but she sounds delightful and so talented. :-) I'm glad her recipes and friendship have brought you so much joy. :-)

Maureen said...

Those two photos made me smile. Everyone looks so happy.

Those cupcakes look so easy to make and perfect to eat. I want one.

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

I understand your liking plain and empathise with your family wanting life too!

simonaskitchen said...

Fast and easy! That's what I ask to a recipe! Also because, it's not necessary to be difficult to be also good...isn't it? :-)
Great blog, thanx for your visit to mine! Simona

Not Quite Nigella said...

I really must check Abby out as I don't think I had heard of her before :) Hey I'm sure if she comes with your endorsement, she must be pretty special :)

WiseMóna said...

Mini treats and hand held sweets is now on my wish list for Christmas. The kids will love this book!
Your love and friendship for Abby shines Jamie and it is lovely and real. I feel your exhaustion too...but the end is nigh my dear. And it will all be worth it in the end.

Dewi said...

Those are pretty and delicious looking cupcakes Jamie!

Julia | said...

Pretty cupcakes! Saw your photo on FoodGaker.

Software Company said...

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Ivy said...

The cupcakes look delicious and such a lovely review. I understand what you are going through until you settle in your new apartment. It's a very difficult period but it will soon be over and you will be enjoying a brand new apartment.

tasteofbeirut said...

these cupcakes look and sound just perfect for a no-fuss, stress-free, foolproof baking that i 'd tell my daughter who is a super cautious baker to make any time! I had been following the author on various cooking magazines over the years and it is so cool that you are friends!

Deeba PAB said...

♥ no stress baking, ♥ Abby Dodge & her recipes... and love you too! Beautifully reviewed and so true of such a talented lady. Your words made her book come deliciously alive Jamie...nom nom nom! Bookmarked!

Lisa said...

Oh, much catching up to do. You usually don't post this much, albeit a lot more than I do lol I've got to get this book..everything you've made via an 'Abby' recipe looks insnely good! I'm a vanilla these cupcakes are right up my alley. Love the photos of you, Abby and Gail..very cute!


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