homemade twix bars

Posted by on Mar 4, 2014 | 0 comments

twix bars
Hello. I’m back. It’s definitely been a while since I last logged into the wordpress panel and clicked “publish” on a post. Two notable signs that show that I’ve been absent from the dessert blogging world are: 1. WordPress password amnesia (but I finally got it right after the third attempt). 2. High accumulation of plugin updates on my wordpress page. But after dealing with both issues, I am finally here blabbling away, just like old times. Oh, how I’ve missed this. twix bars But I’ve done this before…leave and temporarily abandon posting from this blog that I created years ago. Most times I knew that I would come back to it. I was certain that I just needed a break from it either because of a lack of inspiration, desire, or due to scheduling interference. But this time, unlike all other times in the past, I thought that it was a definite good-bye and not just a vacation. Kind of sad. When I came to such realization, I was just being honest and pragmatic with myself. I thought that although I have offered a lot of work, thought, and passion to it, that it was time for a departure. My logic was simple, truthful, and somewhat ruthless: there was no way on earth that I could or would want to maintain this blog while holding my new position as pastry chef of two restaurants. So bye-bye sweet-lab. I will miss you. twix bars The truth is that I have been extremely busy during this past month. Being a pastry chef of two sister restaurants is definitely challenging, demanding, and exhausting. Your bones hurt, your muscles ache, your mind is tired, and working 14-hour days becomes the new normal. I’m starting to get some assistance at one of the restaurants and am finally starting to see the pieces slowly (but surely) fall into place. Knock on wood… Despite the aching and exhaustion, this line of work is extremely fulfilling to me. I dream of desserts and I’m lucky enough to make those dreams become a reality at work. One of my biggest challenges, however, is to learn how to let go. It just seems impossible to do, but I’m getting better at it for my health and sanity. Things won’t be superb all the time and I can’t always please everyone, especially if I can’t be there all the time to oversee how the desserts leave the kitchen. Let’s just accept that and move on. twix bars But going back to sweet-lab… If I got offered the position of pastry chef of two D.C. sister restaurants, I’d like to think that it was not only because of my strong work ethic, but because of this blog. This blog is an open resumé to my abilities and capabilities. This blog has helped keep me sane during difficult times and has given so much more meaning to ordinary days. So how can I just disconnect from it altogether? I can’t. So here is my new plan of action. I will continue to post from sweet-lab. Sure, the posts may or may not be as detailed or as frequent as before, but they will still make an appearance from time to time and I am okay with that. And by the way, how do homemade twix pieces sound to you? I’m making these for a new dessert I plan to include on the menu.

Oh and did I mention that I’m in the midst of planning my wedding? Gotta love all the craziness.

Until next time.

Homemade Twix Bars

Yield: About 100 Twix Bars


Shortbread Cookie Dough:
8 oz (1 cup) butter
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 oz (3 cups) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
Chewy Caramel:
10 oz (1 ¼ cups) corn syrup
12 oz (1 ½ cups) sugar
20 oz (2 ½ cups) cream, warm
2.5 oz (5 tablespoons) butter, soft
½ tsp salt plus a small pinch
Twix Bars:
shortbread dough
chewy caramel
about 2 ½ lbs milk chocolate, melted or tempered


Shortbread Cookie Dough:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine butter, sugar, and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix with a paddle attachment or a hand-held mixer on medium-high speed until butter is smooth, light, and fluffy. Turn mixer off and scrape sides of bowl.
2. Change speed on mixer to low and add flour and salt. Continue mixing until dry ingredients are well incorporated.
3. Flatten cookie dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, grease and cover an 18” x 13” baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap shortbread cookie dough. Work the cookie dough with your hands until it’s pliable, but not so much that it becomes too soft and warm. Place the dough into the prepared baking sheet and use your hands to press it into a thin, even layer that’s about ¼” thick. Bake for about 10 minutes and turn baking sheet halfway. Continue baking for an additional 10-12 minutes or until shortbread is light golden brown all throughout. Set aside for later use.
Chewy Caramel:
1. Cook corn syrup and sugar to 310 F.
2. Whisk in cream, butter, and salt. Cook to 220 F while whisking nearly constantly. Cook at 220 F for about 6 minutes. Test caramel’s consistency by placing a drop of caramel onto a cold plate. Caramel should be soft and chewy. Remove from heat.
3. Pour hot caramel into shortbread cookie crust and smoothen it out with a spatula into an even layer. (Note: Remember that if you’re using a baking sheet that’s smaller than 18” x 13”, you will have caramel left over. Place the left over caramel into a bowl or container and store it for another use).
Twix Bars:
1. Place baking sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until the caramel becomes firm. Remove baking sheet from freezer. Use a sharp knife to loosen the shortbread/caramel crust from the sides of the sheet tray. Turn sheet tray upside down onto a large cutting board and remove parchment paper. Turn shortbread/caramel crust over and onto a cutting area so that the chewy caramel is facing upward.
2. Cut the shortbread/caramel crust into finger-width bars with a large and sharp knife. First, cut the crust into vertical bars and then cut each vertical bar into 2”-2 ½ ” bars. Clean the blade of the knife with a wet towel whenever crumbs or caramel stick to it. Place cut bars onto trays that have been covered with parchment paper and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until caramel becomes firm.
3. Meanwhile temper or melt chocolate in a bain-marie or in the microwave using a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until chocolate is completely smooth. Dip the Twix bars in the melted chocolate using dipping tools or forks. Be sure to cover them completely in chocolate. Place the dipped bars onto a parchment-lined tray and repeat dipping procedure until all bars are covered in chocolate. Refrigerate the tray for about 10 minutes or until chocolate is set.


I used a half sheet tray (18” width x 13” depth) that is commonly used in restaurant kitchens. If you don’t have a sheet tray of those dimensions, you may use a 13” x 9” sheet tray. You will just have some shortbread cookie dough and chewy caramel left over and your overall Twix bar yield will be lower.

You will need a candied thermometer for this recipe.

Store Twix bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week and freeze for up to 3-4 weeks. For best results, allow Twix bars to sit at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes before serving so that the caramel can soften.


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double pretzel ice cream

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 | 0 comments

double pretzel ice cream

I have a story to tell you, but before I do, I will briefly explain why this is called a “double pretzel ice cream”. The ice cream base is: 1. infused with toasted pretzels and 2. candied pretzels are either folded into the ice cream right after spinning and/or sprinkled over the frozen ice cream before serving. If you fold and sprinkle the candied pretzels, then maybe we should call this a triple pretzel ice cream.

Does all of that make sense? Okay, good.

double pretzel ice cream

Also, this ice cream is wickedly tasty. Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but it has the salty character of pretzels paired with a perfect level of sweetness. The crunchy texture of the candied pretzels is such a delight to bite into.

But why did I write a recipe for pretzel ice cream of all things in the midst of winter? One, because I’ve wanted to do a pretzel ice cream for sometime and I didn’t mind that it was in December because I can eat ice cream at any time of the year. Secondly and most importantly, I was asked by the executive chef of the restaurant where I’ve been working at for some time if I was interested in becoming the restaurant’s pastry chef. A pastry chef!! Yes, I’m interested and this is one of the first ice cream flavors that I want to incorporate in the dessert menu!

double pretzel ice cream

I can’t even tell you how exciting this all is to me. For a long time, I’ve been correcting friends, relatives, and acquaintances when referring to me by the title of pastry chef. “No, no, no. I’m a pastry cook!” The title of “chef” holds a high level of prestige, experience, and knowledge in the culinary and pastry fields and that was a level that I didn’t feel comfortable owning, not because I didn’t feel like I could live up to the part, but because I hadn’t yet been promoted or discovered by an already established chef or manager that thought that my work was worthy of it. I hadn’t climbed the ladder to the top quite yet. In my mind (and in the mind of most culinary professionals) the fact that you cook professionally doesn’t make you a chef. A chef is more than just that. I try to explain it to my fellow non-culinary or non-pastry friends and make the following analogy: a pirate is to a ship as a chef is to a kitchen. An orchestra conductor is to an orchestra as a pastry chef is to a pastry kitchen.

double pretzel ice cream

I had left the restaurant about a month ago, thinking that I could explore other pastry jobs in the field, but I simply couldn’t turn my head at this new opportunity. For the first time, I will be able to not cringe or be apologetic when people refer to me by that title, but I’ll still be humbled by it. And now I can go to Spain for the holidays knowing that when I return I’ll be in the challenging yet extremely fulfilling road of being a pastry chef. And incase you’re wondering, unlike many chefs, I will not get a crazy and arrogant head because that’s just not who I am.

I wanted to thank my dear blog, sweet-lab. You have helped me get to where I am today and although I won’t be able to post as frequently, this is not good-bye. I thank you for keeping me focused and for helping me get to where I am today. I honestly don’t think this opportunity would have come if it hadn’t been for you. Thank you.

Double Pretzel Ice Cream

Yield: about 1 quart


Candied Pretzels:
2 oz (1/4 cup) sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon honey
1 ½ oz (3 tablespoons) butter
a dash of baking soda
1 cup chopped pretzels
Pretzel Ice Cream:
4 ½ cups (4 ½ oz) pretzels
8 oz (1 cup) sugar
16 oz (2 cups) milk
16 oz (2 cups) cream
6 oz yolks, about 12 each
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
candied pretzels, chopped


Candied Pretzels:
1. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicon baking mat.
2. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and mix gently with fingers to mix water and sugar well. Cook sugar and water over medium heat and add honey once sugar and water mixture looses its murky appearance and it becomes clear, after about a minute or so.
3. Add butter and continue cooking until it reaches a temperature of 300 F–305 F (hard crack stage).
4. Remove from heat and add baking soda, and pretzels. Stir until all pretzels are completely covered in toffee. Pour mixture over prepared baking sheet. Allow toffee to completely cool before cutting it into small pieces.
Pretzel Ice Cream:
1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Spread pretzels in a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until pretzels are lightly toasted or become a darker shade of golden brown. Set aside to cool completely.
2. Place toasted pretzels in a cheesecloth and tie it securely with twine. Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and submerge toasted pretzels into the milk and cream mixture. Cover saucepan with lid and infuse until milk and cream mixture taste like pretzels, about 20-30 minutes.
3. After the 30 minutes are over, remove infused pretzels from saucepan and wring over saucepan so that all the liquid that has been absorbed during infusion is returned to the milk and cream mixture. Discard pretzels.
4. Reweigh milk and cream to be sure that the liquid still measures 32 oz (or 4 cups). Since infusion causes some of the liquid to be absorbed by the solids, some of the liquid is “gone” and it is important to make up for it by adding more liquid to end up with the original amount of 32 oz (or 4 cups). Place liquid in a measuring cup or onto a scale. Figure out how much quantity has been lost and add half of that portion with milk and the other half with cream. Return milk and cream to saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
5. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. When milk and cream have come to a simmer, slowly temper egg yolks by pouring milk/cream mixture over egg yolks while whisking simultaneously.
6. Pour mixture back into pot and cook on a low and gentle heat so that eggs don’t become scrambled. Stir mixture in a figure 8 pattern with a wooden spoon so that all sides of the pot are touched as you cook it. Continue stirring until milk/cream naps the back of spoon. That occurs when the sauce in your saucepan is thick enough to stick to your spoon and therefore indicates that your mixture is ready. At this point you have made a sauce called a crème anglaise.
7. Pass crème anglaise through a sieve and into a large bowl. Place a sheet of plastic film on the surface of the ice cream base and refrigerate until base is cold all throughout.
8. Remove ice cream base from refrigerator and pour it into ice cream machine bowl. Make ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions. At this point you can fold about 1 ½ cups of chopped candied pretzels into ice cream after churning. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container. Cover and freeze for a minimum of 3-4 hours. Sprinkle chopped candied pretzels over ice cream when serving.


If you don’t have a cheesecloth to infuse the pretzels, you may use a double layer of kitchen paper towels instead. Additionally, if you don’t have twine, you may use a clothespin to tie the cheesecloth or kitchen paper towels. And if you don’t have either, you may also place the pretzels directly into the milk and cream to infuse. Then strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, collecting the milk and cream over a bowl. Wring the milk and cream out of the pretzels by pushing down on them with the back of a ladle. Discard the pretzels.

The coating of candy on the pretzels helps them remain crunchy after they’re folded into the ice cream. They would become soggy while freezing if they didn’t have the protective coating of candy.


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bourbon pecan chocolate bars

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 | 2 comments

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Bars
Bourbon, pecan, and chocolate…

What else do you need to hear before you come and devour these Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Bars?

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Bars

Okay, fine…I’ll try to soothe the bit of lingering curiosity that still remains within you.

Yes, they’re decadent. Yes, they’re gooey. Yes, they’re chocolaty. And in case you’re wondering, yes, these bars possess a smooth and creamy filling that contrasts beautifully with the crunchy texture of the candied pecans and the crispness and sandiness of the pecan shortbread crust.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Bars

And what about the bourbon, you may be asking? I’m so glad you asked. High-quality bourbon is reduced and used as the glaze of these indulgent bars. Bourbon is also used in the chocolate filling.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Bars

And once again…yes, the bourbon flavor is present, but it’s subtle and it hits you right at the end…Right when you may be getting ready to note its absence, you feel its notable kick and it leaves you satisfied and saying, “oh yeah, there’s the bourbon”.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Bars

Once again lovely people, these are Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Bars. If you want them, don’t just stand there. Do something about it. Come and get them!

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Bars

Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Bars

Yield: 24 2" x 2" pieces


Pecan Shortbread Crust:
7 oz (1 1/3 cups) pecans
12 oz (1 ½ cup) butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
6 oz (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) sugar
10 ½ oz (2 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
Chocolate Bourbon Filling:
12 oz (2 1/3 cups) 62% Scharffen Berger Semisweet Chocolate, finely chopped
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
8 oz (1 cup) milk
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons good-quality bourbon
Candied Pecans:
16 oz (2 cups) water
16 oz (2 cups) sugar
8 oz (2 cups) pecans
vegetable oil, for frying
Milk Chocolate Ganache:
6 oz (1 ¼ cups) 41% Scharffen Berger Extra Rich Milk Chocolate, finely chopped
6 oz (3/4 cup) heavy cream
Bourbon Glaze:
5 oz (3/4 cup) good-quality bourbon
1 ¾ oz (1/4 cup) turbinado sugar
Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Bars:
chocolate bourbon filling
one 13” x 9” x 2” tray of baked pecan shortbread crust
candied pecans
milk chocolate ganache, room temperature
bourbon glaze, room temperature


Pecan Shortbread Crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and cover one 13”x 9”x 2” rectangular baking pan with parchment paper.
2. Place pecans into a food processor and grind until pecans are finely crushed. Set aside for later use.
3. In the bowl of a stand-mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed with a paddle attachment until butter is light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and continue mixing until vanilla is well incorporated.
4. Meanwhile, mix all-purpose flour, salt, and ground pecans in a bowl. Stir to combine.
5. Change speed on mixer to low. Add all dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture until all ingredients come together. Turn mixer off.
6. Pour pecan shortbread cookie dough into prepared 13”x 9”x 2” baking pan and smoothen surface with a spatula until smooth. Bake for about 20-22 minutes until surface becomes light golden brown. Allow crust to cool off completely in baking pan and set aside for later use. (Note: Crust will be soft when you remove it from the oven, but it will firm up once it cools down).
Chocolate Bourbon Filling:
1. Place finely chopped 62% Scharffen Berger Semisweet Chocolate and sugar in a medium-sized bowl.
2. Heat heavy cream and milk over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Pour simmered heavy cream and milk over chocolate and sugar. Stir mixture from the center until everything is well combined. Allow mixture to cool down to room temperature.
3. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, vanilla extract, and bourbon and add to chocolate filling. Set aside for later use.
Candied Pecans:
1. Place a piece of parchment paper or a silpat over a 10” x 15” sheet tray.
2. Combine water, sugar, and pecans in a large pan. Cook over medium-high heat until liquid has the consistency of thick syrup and it reaches 225 degrees F on a candied thermometer. Stir occasionally and remove from heat once pecans are ready.
3. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy, high-sided pot over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 325 degrees F. Using a large slotted spoon or a kitchen spider, drain pecans from syrup and drop them gently into frying oil. Fry pecans for about 2-3 minutes, or until small frying bubbles disappear. Transfer pecans onto prepared sheet tray with slotted spoon or kitchen spider. Repeat frying procedure if necessary until all pecans have been fried. Allow pecans to cool to room temperature and set them aside for later use.
Milk Chocolate Ganache:
1. Heat heavy cream in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.
2. Meanwhile, put finely chopped 41% Scharffen Berger Extra Rich Milk Chocolate in a large bowl and pour simmered heavy cream over it. Allow cream and chocolate to rest for about a minute so that chocolate softens and melts.
3. Stir mixture gently from the center until everything is well combined.
4. Set milk chocolate-heavy cream mixture aside and allow it to cool completely to room temperature.
Bourbon Glaze:
1. Add bourbon and turbinado sugar to a medium-sized saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low once it comes to a simmer.
2. At this point, stir occasionally to maintain a gentle simmer all throughout the cooking time. Continue cooking bourbon until it has the consistency of syrup, its volume has reduced by 2/3-3/4, and it reaches 220 degrees F on a candied thermometer. Remove from heat and cool slightly before use.
Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Bars:
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Pass chocolate bourbon filling through a sieve and into prepared baking tray that is lined with pecan shortbread crust on the bottom. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until filling jiggles in the center when tapped. Remove from oven and allow it to cool completely.
2. Meanwhile, roughly chop pecans and set them aside for later use.
3. Pour milk chocolate ganache over baked chocolate bourbon filling and spread it into a thin layer with a spatula so that ganache covers the entire surface of the baked chocolate bourbon filling.
4. Sprinkle and spread roughly chopped pecans over milk chocolate ganache. Drizzle bourbon glaze all over the surface. Cut into 2” x 2” squares.


Cover tray tightly in plastic wrap for 3-4 days. Freeze for about 2 weeks.


Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Bars

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cream puffs with caramelized apples

Posted by on Nov 14, 2013 | 6 comments

cream puffs with caramelized apples

Today is a great day.

Today is a great day for various reasons.

Today is a great day because I went to work and I enjoyed it. It’s been quite peaceful and drama-free around there lately and that makes my soul calm and happy. While being in my pastry kitchen I made flour-less chocolate cake and it tasted wonderful. I also made hazelnut financiers and a few other treats that made me feel sweet inside. So yes, today was a great day at work.

cream puffs with caramelized apples

Today is also a great day because I will be eating dinner with a good friend of mine. She and I usually laugh, sip on wine, and share a few stories about our week. Okay, okay…we also gossip a bit, but we always keep it very light and innocent.

Today is also a great day because the official count down before Mark gets home has begun. He will be home soon. So soon. It’s been 5 weeks since he left and I can’t wait for his return. This tour has been kind of rough on me.

cream puffs with caramelized apples

And finally, today is a great day because I have the ultimate pleasure of guest-posting at Hip Foodie Mom, an outstanding food blog operated by my dear food blogger buddy, Alice Choi.

Did I mention that today I also got to munch on these Cream Puffs with Caramelized Apples? Well, I did. My day just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

That’s all I will say for now. To get the full recipe and story please feel free to check out Alice’s site. And while you’re there, why not stay a little while longer and browse through all the other delicious recipes that Alice has to offer?

But before you leave, let me just say one more thing…I hope you have a great day!

cream puffs with caramelized apples

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vanilla cake with black tea caramel sauce

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 | 14 comments

Vanilla Cake with Caramel

I’ve never been a vanilla type of girl. To me, the overall flavor can be too bland, too blah…”too vanilla” in comparison to other existing flavors.

For example, when considering different ice cream flavors to choose from, vanilla has never been in my radar, unless it’s served over warm apple cobbler or next to a slice of strawberry and peach pie. In my opinion, its qualities shine best when supporting and accompanying other desserts, but not by playing a protagonist role.

I mean, why would I ever choose vanilla when there are so many other exciting and interesting flavors in the dessert spectrum? I would choose salted caramel, chocolate mint, or hazelnut over vanilla any day….without any hesitation.

Vanilla Cake with Caramel

And when having to choose between cake flavors…let’s say, German chocolate cake or vanilla cake for example, the answer is obvious. German chocolate cake (DUH!). How about vanilla cake or carrot cake? The answer is evident once more…carrot!

Vanilla Cake with Caramel

This theory of vanilla desserts ranking low in my “must have” dessert list has proven to be true for many years…but then came this Vanilla Cake with Black Tea Caramel Sauce. It has a rich and pure vanilla taste that only the best quality vanilla could create. The black tea caramel establishes a hint of sweetness and bitterness that pairs really nicely with the strong vanilla flavor. This cake, along with the nice vanilla extract that I used in it, makes me become a vanilla believer.

Vanilla Cake with Caramel

And by the way, I’m completely hooked on Lágrima, one of the tastiest vanilla extracts I have ever tasted and the vanilla extract that is used in this specific recipe. I used tablespoons of it for this cake, since its smooth feel and neutral flavor is beyond pleasant. I even used the vanilla bean that’s inside the bottle to boost the vanilla flavor even more. To learn more about this beautiful product and to enhance your vanilla experience, be sure to check out the Lágrima web site.

So I believe that I have a new appreciation and view on this whole vanilla ordeal. Vanilla desserts can be wonderful and powerful in deed. What was that?…You still have a few doubts? Well, I guess it’s safe to say that this Vanilla Cake with Black Tea Caramel Sauce will restore all your faith and trust.

Vanilla Cake with Black Tea Caramel

Yield: 1 Bundt cake


Vanilla Cake:
8 oz (1 cup or 2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
8 oz (1 cup) granulated sugar
4 oz (1/2 cup) light brown sugar
4 eggs + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, cut down the middle and seeds scraped off
8 oz (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
Black Tea Caramel Sauce:
5 oz (3/4 cup) heavy cream
3 black tea bags, decaffeinated
1 vanilla bean (optional, use left over vanilla bean that was used for making vanilla cake)
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
1 oz (2 tablespoons water)
1 ½ oz (3 tablespoons) butter


Vanilla Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a Bundt pan with vegetable spray or butter.
2. Place butter along with granulated sugar and light brown sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Beat with a paddle attachment at medium speed until butter and sugar mixture becomes very fluffy and pale, about 3-4 minutes. Turn mixer off and scrape sides of bowl with a spatula so that all butter and sugar are well combined.
3. Turn mixer to medium speed and add eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, until they are incorporated into the batter.
4. Add vanilla bean seeds and vanilla extract. Turn mixer off and scrape sides of bowl with a spatula once more so that butter and eggs are well incorporated. Reduce mixer speed to medium-low.
5. Combine all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add dry ingredients into mixing bowl and mix just until flour is well incorporated.
6. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick that has been inserted in the center of comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Invert cake onto rack to cool completely.
7. Place a large piece of parchment paper or a sheet tray underneath the cooling rack. Pour black tea caramel sauce over Bundt cake. (Please see Black Tea Caramel Sauce recipe below).
Black Tea Caramel Sauce:
1. Pour heavy cream into a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Remove from heat and infuse cream with black tea bags and vanilla bean for about 45 minutes. Cover pot with lid during infusion time. (Note: using a vanilla bean is optional, but if you decide to use it, you can use the leftover vanilla bean that was used for making the vanilla cake recipe).
2. Once infusion time is over, remove vanilla bean and tea bags from heavy cream, being sure to squeeze the tea bags over the saucepan so that the absorbed cream is added back into the saucepan. Cream should have a darker brown color after doing this. Cut the tea bags open with kitchen shears. Add all of the loose black tea from the tea bags into the heavy cream. Stir to combine and set aside for later use. Discard vanilla bean and empty tea bags.
3. Meanwhile, combine water and sugar in small saucepan.
4. Cook water and sugar over medium heat until sugar reaches a uniform dark amber color.
5. Pour in the black tea and vanilla-infused heavy cream to pot while whisking continuously. Remove saucepan from heat.
6. Add butter to caramel. Whisk to combine.
7. Pour caramel sauce into a small bowl or container and allow it to cool down before serving.


Keep cake well wrapped at room temperature for 2-3 days. Freeze for 6-8 weeks.

Black tea caramel can be reheated gently so that it becomes more pourable. Simply warm it up in the microwave or in a small pot for a few seconds, just until it becomes a bit more lose.

This recipe uses decaf black tea. However, you may choose caffeinated black tea if that’s your preference


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apple bread with walnuts and dates

Posted by on Oct 13, 2013 | 10 comments

apple bread with walnuts and dates

How many times have I clicked the “play” button since yesterday? I have lost count.

But come on…if you were in my position, wouldn’t you be doing the same thing? Clicking “play” again, and again, and again (at least during the first hour of its release)? I think you would, simply because it feels incredibly gratifying to have a video made just for you, especially if it’s a video that shows the craft you’re so passionate about in such an elegant way.

So thank you Jeff.

apple bread with walnuts and dates

Yes, this is the first video for sweet-lab and I’m in love with it. Sure, there are a few things that I would’ve done differently if I could it all over again (mainly prop usage), but I love it even more for that. This video is simply real and very indicative of the sweet-lab way of being.

But without further ado, and because images speak louder than words, it is my utmost pleasure to present to you, sweet-lab’s promotional video.

(Please continue to scroll down past the video to view the recipe for Apple Bread with Walnuts and Dates, which is the recipe that I happened to be making that day and that Jeff was kind enough to capture with his lens).

Apple Bread with Walnuts and Dates

Yield: one 9” x “5 loaf


Apple Bread with Walnuts and Dates:
8 oz all-purpose flour (2 cups)
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 oz sugar (1/2 cup)
4 oz light brown sugar (1/2 cup)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 oz buttermilk (1 cup)
4 oz olive oil (about 2/3 cup)
2 cups apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped or grated
¾ cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup dates, finely chopped
2 oz butter (1/4 cup)
2 oz all-purpose flour (1/2 cup)
2 oz sugar (1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small pinch of salt


Apple Bread with Walnuts and Dates:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray loaf pan with vegetable oil.
2. Combine all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon, sugar, and light brown sugar into a large bowl. Mix dry ingredients with a whisk or a spatula until well combined.
3. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, vanilla extract, buttermilk, and olive oil. Whisk wet ingredients until they are thoroughly combined and eggs are evenly distributed.
4. Add dry ingredients into wet ingredients and whisk just to combine.
5. Add and fold in finely chopped apples, chopped walnuts, and finely chopped dates to batter. Allow batter to rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature.
6. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and sprinkle streusel over to cover the top. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick that has been inserted in the center of comes out clean.
1. Cut chilled butter into small cubes.
2. Combine cubed butter, flour, sugar, ground cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Stir ingredients with hands and rub butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers until crumbly.


Wrap baked loaf in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for 1-2 days. Freeze baked loaf for 1-2 months. Streusel keeps for 2-3 weeks in fridge.



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Dorie Greenspan, Keynote Speaker at IFBC 2013

Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 | 4 comments


This past Friday I had the pleasure of hearing Dorie Greenspan speak at the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. Just a quick word on some of the amazing accomplishments that Dorie has made throughout her lifetime—Dorie is author of 10 cookbooks and winner of six James Beard and IACP awards, including cookbook of the year, which she has won twice—once for Desserts by Pierre Herme and another time for Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan herself. She has also launched her own line of cookies, Beurre and Sel, with her son Joshua.

Dorie currently lives in Paris, but travels back and forth between Paris, New York City, and Connecticut, to which she stated, “Not bad…sometimes I have to pinch myself.” She admitted feeling so lucky at times for living her dream and for doing what she loves, that she would pinch herself really hard until her skin wouldn’t go down any further. But according to Dorie, she isn’t lucky just because. In her own words, “I am lucky because I worked hard.”


Dorie also mentioned that her life successes can also be attributed to seizing the moment and for never letting opportunities pass her by. She added that she never did anything just for economic compensation, but rather focused on the work itself because she knew that it would be fun, new, exciting and above all, that she would learn from the experience. She exclaimed and advised us to, “Always say yes!” , which drove a member from the audience to ask her what had been her best ‘yes’ of all. “You leave me no choice…my husband is in the room…Hi honey.”

As the speech came to a close, a member from the audience asked Dorie what food she would choose for her last meal. Dorie, filled with complete seriousness, offered a few simple yet decadent dessert choices, “but I hope that I don’t have it anytime soon!”

Aside from being a complete inspiration for her work and character, Dorie is also the ultimate sweet heart. She possesses many talents and is yet filled with humility and compassion, and you can easily feel her peaceful and positive presence with her calming aura.

Later in the night I saw Dorie walking in the hotel and I reluctantly asked if she could sign my recipe book. I briefly explained to her that this was my recipe book, the place where I wrote all of my sweet ideas, creations, and inspirations. She then wrote, “Vanessa—With the hope that times will always be sweet. XXX Dorie.”

I hope so as well Dorie, but you definitely gave me a pinch more of hope that they will be.



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pine nut shortbread cookies with figs, goat cheese spread, and balsamic glaze

Posted by on Sep 13, 2013 | 15 comments

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

Can I just make this post into one of those “educational” posts where I share several interesting facts about a certain topic? You know…those extremely crucial facts that I pretend to have created and founded myself after an extended time of research, but that you may have very well googled and found for yourself after typing one or two simple words into google?

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

Can I just make this post into one of those where I pretend to have always been truly knowledgeable about the subject matter? You know…one of those posts where I share critically important information that I pretend to have acquired years ago, in my extensive culinary and pastry academic work, but that I really just discovered a few days ago while surfing the internet just like you are right now?

In other words, can we make this into one of those posts where I pretend to know what the hell I’m talking about?

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

Okay, great. We can now proceed. Let’s talk about figs then. Please allow me to share with you some quick facts that I just learned about myself. It may make you view this underestimated fruit in a different light.

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

Figs are wonderful. They really are. This much I discovered at a very young age, when I took recent trips to my back yard in the house I grew up in southern Spain. There was a fig tree there that gave deliciously sweet delights. It stood so powerfully over the dried soil and I remember it possessing a strong presence; more than any of the other trees in my back yard.

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

But why else do I hold so much respect for figs, aside from their delicately sweet and unique taste? Figs are full of health benefits. Here are are some reasons why figs basically rule:

Figs are a high source of potassium which helps lower blood pressure. Figs are also high in dietary fiber, which helps with weight loss but more importantly, studies show that fibrous fruits such as figs, help reduce breast cancer by 34% in postmenopausal women. Figs are also known to improve cardio vascular disease by lowering triglycerides in the blood stream. But this is not all. No way. Figs are also a great fruit source of calcium, which as you may know, is a mineral that has many functions, one of them being bone density. Even fig leaves have benefits! I’m not sure if you think of the leaves as edible parts, but in some cultures, fig leaves are a common part of the menu and this is beneficial to reduce insulin levels in the bloodstream.

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

So, why not do your health and taste buds a generous favor? Why not enjoy all the greatness that this fruit has to offer on its own? Why not take it even a step further and make these delicious Pine Nut Shortbread Cookies with Figs, Goat Cheese Spread, and Balsamic Glaze?

Why the heck not?

figs, pine nuts, goat cheese, balsamic

Pine Nut Shortbread Cookies with Figs, Goat Cheese Spread, and Balsamic Glaze

Yield: 26


Pine Nut Shortbread Cookies:
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 oz butter, softened (1/2 cup)
2 oz sugar (1/4 cup)
¼ teaspoon vanilla
6 oz all-purpose flour (1 ¼ cups)
small pinch of salt
Goat Cheese Spread:
4 oz goat cheese (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Balsamic Glaze:
1 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
Pine Nut Shortbread Cookies with Figs, Goat Cheese Spread, and Balsamic Glaze:
1/4 cup pine nuts
pine nut shortbread cookie dough, chilled
goat cheese spread
about 7-8 figs, washed, dried, and thinly sliced
balsamic glaze


Pine Nut Shortbread Cookies:
1. Place pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until they’re finely ground.
2. Combine butter, sugar, vanilla extract in a bowl and mix with a paddle attachment or a hand-held mixer on medium-high speed until butter is smooth, light, and fluffy. Turn mixer off and scrape sides of bowl.
3. Change speed on mixer to low and add flour and salt. Continue mixing until dry ingredients are mixed well.
4. Add ground pine nuts and continue to mix on low speed until they’re folded into the dough.
5. Flatten cookie dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes before rolling and baking.
Goat Cheese Spread:
1. Combine goat cheese, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Using an electric hand mixer, mix on medium-high speed until mixture becomes smooth and spreadable.
Balsamic Glaze:
1. Add balsamic vinegar to a medium-sized saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low once it comes to a simmer.
2. At this point, add sugar and stir occasionally to maintain a gentle simmer all throughout the cooking time. Continue cooking vinegar on low heat and stirring until vinegar is thick, has the consistency of syrup, and its volume has reduced by 2/3-3/4, about 30 minutes or so. Allow it to come to room temperature before use.
Pine Nut Shortbread Cookies with Figs, Goat Cheese Spread, and Balsamic Glaze:
1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Place pine nuts on a baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until they become evenly golden-brown, about 8-12 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, grease and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set them aside. Unwrap pine nut cookie dough and cut it in half. Work one half of the cookie dough with your hands until it’s pliable, but not so much that it becomes too soft and warm. Sprinkle flour over working surface and place dough over it. Roll cookie dough to 1/4”-1/8” of thickness, sprinkling additional flour as needed and turning dough 90 degrees after each time it’s rolled so that it doesn’t become stuck to surface. (An offset spatula or a bench scraper are tools that will allow you to do this easily).
3. Make cutout cookies by pressing a medium-sized fluted cutter into the rolled dough. Place the cut out pieces on prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes so that cookie dough becomes chilled. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the second half of dough.
4. Bake cookies at 350 F for about 8-10 minutes. Place baking sheets on a cooling rack and allow cookies to cool down completely.
5. When cookies have cooled down, use a butter knife to spread some of the goat cheese spread on them. Place a few thin slices of figs over goat cheese spread and drizzle balsamic glaze over them. Finish with a few toasted pine nuts.


Cookie dough can be rolled out two to three times (depending on the specific kind of dough it is), so you may collect dough scraps after the first roll, pile them together, and roll them again to increase cookie yield.

If rolling out the dough seems like a tedious step and/or if you don’t have a rolling pin or cookie cutters, you could also shape the cookie dough into a log that’s about 1 ½” in diameter, freeze it until it becomes chilled and hard, and then cut the cookie log into thin slices. You can then place the sliced cookies onto a baking sheet that has been covered with parchment paper and bake them off.

The pine nut shortbread cookies taste lovely with ¼ cup of ground pine nuts, although their pine nut flavor is subtle. The pine nut flavor is stronger when using ½ cup of ground pine nuts instead. It’s up to you what quantity you want to use because the pine nut flavor comes through either way with the additional toasted pine nuts that’s used to finish them at the end.


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roasted nectarines with hazelnut toffee, saffron honey, and greek yogurt

Posted by on Sep 3, 2013 | 6 comments

Roasted Nectarines with Hazelnut Toffee, Saffron Honey, and Greek Yogurt

Many of us are upset that summer’s long and fun-filled days are coming to an end. People are rushing to their nearby beaches, trying to get the last bit of sun and sand before the cool and shorter fall days begin.

But personally, I’m not so much bummed out at the fact that summer is almost over as I am upset that I couldn’t go to Spain this year. A summer without visiting home and my family back in Spain is a different summer indeed. A summer without setting foot on the Spanish beaches where I grew up is kind of sad to me and has set me in a melancholic mood all throughout this season, especially since my significant other has also been gone for the majority of summer.

Roasted Nectarines with Hazelnut Toffee, Saffron Honey, and Greek Yogurt

The long distance between Spain and D.C. can really be hard at times. It’s alright though, right? That’s what I’ve been repeatedly telling myself.

But these are the facts: It’s been almost one year since I’ve visited home. From past experience, I have learned that I have an approximate 1-year deadline (and that’s pushing it) before I start to crave everything about being back in southern Spain: my extended family, the food, its lively people, its beaches, the house I grew up in, etc. Actually, there are just a few things I can do without, but I won’t even mention them right now.

This has also been the first year of my life that I’m not back home to enjoy at least some of the Spanish summer days. But, I’m looking forward to next year’s summer when I will do whatever possible to be there with the people I love. Whatever it takes, really.

Roasted Nectarines

Today, I can’t so much focus on being bummed out about not returning to Spain this summer. I’ve been really trying to focus more on the positives of life all around, because thankfully there is a lot to be happy and grateful for. Today, I’m celebrating summer by taking advantage of the stone fruits this season has to offer. They and I have had a special bond this summer. I’ve been able to enjoy them in various desserts.

Today I’m enjoying nectarines that have been roasted. Their sugars and juices have been caramelized in the oven, enhancing and bringing out the best of their sweetness and flavor. I accompanied them with chopped hazelnut toffee, saffron honey, and greek yogurt. The medley of flavors and textures in this dessert will really remind you why summer can be so special.


And just to be clear, notice I didn’t say that I will celebrate the end of summer with this dessert…Summer doesn’t technically end until September 22nd. I should know! The first day of autumn falls on my birthday!

There is still time to get in some summer quality time. And these roasted nectarines completely agree.

Roasted Nectarines with Hazelnut Toffee, Saffron Honey, and Greek Yogurt

Yield: 4


Saffron Honey:
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp saffron
2 oz honey
Hazelnut Toffee:
4 oz sugar
1 oz water
1 oz honey
3 ¼ oz butter
½ tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp baking soda, about a small pinch
¾ C hazelnuts
Roasted Nectarines:
4 nectarines, halved and pitted
2 T light olive oil
1 oz turbinado sugar
Roasted Nectarines with Hazelnut Toffee, Saffron Honey, and Greek Yogurt:
hazelnut toffee
6 oz Greek yogurt
roasted nectarine halves
saffron honey


Saffron Honey:
1. Add sugar and saffron to a small bowl or mortar. Use the back of the spoon or pestle to grind sugar/saffron mixture until you can smell saffron’s fragrance. Set aside for later use.
2. Heat honey in a small microwavable bowl or heat in a small saucepan until it liquefies, about 12 seconds.
3. Add sugar/saffron mixture to honey and stir. Allow honey to rest and become infused with the saffron for about a minimum of 2 hours before use.
Hazelnut Toffee:
1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until they are colored lightly, about 10-15 minutes. Allow them to cool off completely and chop them finely.
2. Cover that same baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicon baking mat.
3. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and mix gently with fingers to mix water and sugar well. Cook sugar and water over medium heat and add honey once sugar and water mixture looses its murky appearance and it becomes clear, after about a minute or so.
4. Add butter and continue cooking until it reaches a temperature of 300 F–305 F (hard crack stage).
5. Remove from heat and add vanilla, baking soda, and toasted/chopped hazelnuts. Stir and pour mixture over prepared baking sheet. Allow toffee to completely cool before cutting/breaking it up in pieces.
Roasted Nectarines:
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place nectarines in a glass baking dish. Drizzle nectarine halves with light olive oil and sprinkle them with turbinado sugar. Toss them lightly.
2. Place nectarine halves, cut sides down, and bake for about 10 minutes. Turn them over so that their cut sides are facing upward. Continue baking for an additional 10-15 minutes, until they are softened and caramelized.
Roasted Nectarines with Hazelnut Toffee, Saffron Honey, and Greek Yogurt:
1. Break up hazelnut toffee into a few pieces by hand. Chop broken pieces finely with a knife. Set small toffee pieces aside.
2. Place some Greek yogurt on a plate. Put 1 or 2 roasted nectarine halves, cut sides up, over Greek yogurt.
3. Drizzle some saffron honey over roasted nectarines halves and Greek yogurt and sprinkle with small hazelnut toffee pieces.


There will be left over toffee after making this recipe. You can cut it into pieces and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.


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happy 2nd birthday to sweet-lab

Posted by on Aug 26, 2013 | 6 comments

Happy birthday to you…Happy birthday to you…Happy birthday dear sweet-lab…

Happy birthday to you!

This is our second year together. You and I, me and you. This is awkwardly starting to sound more like an anniversary than a birthday.

But really, what can I say about you that you don’t already know, sweet-lab? You frustrate me at times (that’s the truth). But above all you bring me so much hope and happiness. Thank you for two wonderful years of sweetness and delicious creations!

To celebrate I’m doing a roundup/countdown of my top 10 favorite sweet-lab recipes of this past year. Sweet-lab, don’t get a big head, but today is all about you. Happy birthday, you silly little blog, you.

10. White Wine Sangria Jelly Shots

white wine sangria jelly shots

9. Crunchy Nutty Choco Toffee


8. Hazelnut Cheesecake

hazelnut cheesecake

7. Banana Mini Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

banana mini cupcakes with vanilla frosting

6. Chocolate Caramel Soft Pretzels

chocolate caramel soft pretzels

5. Chocolate Cranberry Nut Biscotti


4. Fudgy Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies

Fudgy Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies

3. Almond Cookies

almond cookies

2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Ice cream with Orange Ginger Cookies

extra virgin olive oil ice cream

1. Cherry Almond Stracciatella Ice Cream

cherry almond stracciatella ice cream

Ahhhh! There’s no more room. But these two were honorable mentions!

Apricot, Almond, and Pastry Cream Tart

apricot, almond, and pastry cream tart

Peach-Vanilla Sparkling Wine Float

peach vanilla sparkling wine float

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