Delicious Scenes for a Novel

My Vision Board for The Cake Therapist

I enjoy writing cookbooks ever since my first one about Kansas City restaurant recipes was published in 1995 (I was in second grade). My cookbooks have been nominated for awards (IACP, James Beard, ForeWord) and won them (IACP and ForeWord). Some have become bestsellers. 

You can see all the cookbooks on my amazon author page.

I have a method for starting cookbooks, one that I call "The Box Method." Brilliant, no? 

I gather recipe ideas for a new book and put them in a plastic storage box along with photos. I brainstorm on a title for the book and from that comes the theme, then the recipe list, and then the chapters.

But a novel is different.

When my kids were little, I wrote a novel called Hadley's Dower about the story behind a mysterious antique. The story went back and forth in time. I wrote this in the days before Microsoft Word became the software of choice and you had to print everything out on paper, package it, and ship it to prospective agents. 

Of course, that took forever. My life changed. I moved three times. I put Hadley's Dower away in the proverbial desk drawer along with my dream to write a novel. I had to make a living.

A few years ago, still writing cookbooks, I decided to take that dream out and dust it off.

To help me focus, gather ideas, and spark my imagination, I created a vision board. I used a long piece of poster board, magazine clippings, photographs, postcards, and other visual elements like rainbow ribbon and a fanciful "Hand of Fatima" golden clip.  My vision board is not fancy, as you can see.

But it has been powerful.

My debut novel, The Cake Therapist, has become real.

Martha Beck, a life coach extraordinaire and Oprah Magazine columnist, has her own great take on creating a Vision Board --for whatever you want to set your sights on for the future. (Just don't let her catch you putting up photos of a new car, a guy with six-pack abs, or a new phone. Go big or go home.)

She recommends "regularly picturing delights that don’t yet exist, emotionally detaching from them, and jumping into action when it’s time to help the miracles occur. I’m barely learning this," she says, "to be (in T.S. Eliot’s words) 'still and still moving.' But in the moments I get it right, every step I take seems to be matched by a universal mystery, which obligingly, incredibly, creates what I can’t."

Amen, Sister.

Here's a flavor hint for a story line in The Cake Therapist. If you want the recipe--and it's yummy-- go this blog post . Sample a virtual cookie, then pre-order The Cake Therapist!

The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Days 10, 11, 12

The New Cookie Plate for a New Year

Gluten-free Chocolate Christmas Crinkle Cookie by Jennifer Peters of Vancouver’s NextJen Gluten Free (
Gluten-free Chocolate Christmas Crinkle Cookie 
by Jennifer Peters of Vancouver’s NextJen Gluten Free (

This year, make a resolution to create a much more interesting cookie plate. 

When you order the cookie plate, restaurants might serve the cookies on ho-hum, doily-dressed plates, maybe with a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of milk for a nostalgic dessert.

But why not make the cookie plate artful, visually appealing as Vancouver baker Jennifer Peters has done?

You'll need a little bit of Plate Paint, your cookies, and a scattering of little bits to add color and texture.  Peters used cookie crumbs, tiny pieces of fresh orange, and chopped pistachios. Simply put the Plate Paint in a squeeze bottle and squeeze out a pattern on a white plate. Arrange the cookies around the squiggles, then scatter the crumbs, orange segments, and pistachios.

And while you're at it, look for more great ideas and playfully delicious recipes in Bake Happy, which you can pre-order right now!

Plate Paint
Adapted from the upcoming Bake Happy, which will be out in May 2015.
I wanted a thick, viscous, translucent “paint” made with fruit juice in order to create dots, squiggles, zigzags, or spirals to plated desserts. So, I went into the kitchen and played around a little bit. 

The happy result is this Plate Paint, which is edible, colorful, easy, vegan, gluten-free, and very shapeable at room temperature. Use any type of colorful bottled fruit juice (cherry, cranberry, kiwi, mango, papaya, or pomegranate). You can also try frozen Goya “fruta" concentrates (pink passionfruit, deeper pink guava, or blackberry).
Makes about 2/3 cup (150 ml)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup (250 ml) colorful bottled fruit juice or frozen fruit juice concentrate, thawed
Spoon the cornstarch into a small jar with a lid. Add the fruit juice, secure the lid, and shake to blend. Pour the juice mixture into a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and whisk it constantly until the juice begins to boil and turns from a lighter opaque color to a darker, more transparent one. Keep whisking until the “paint” begins to thicken slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool to room temperature. Use the paint right away or store it in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Let the paint come to room temperature before using.

Plate Paint dotted around a meringue with fruit compote.
 Paint Your Plate
Add a playful or colorful dimension to a slice of pie, a meringue, a brownie, or any other dessert by embellishing the plate with fun, edible color..
To make a dot, let about 1/2 teaspoon of Plate Paint drip off a small spoon, held just above the plate.
To make a squiggle, spoon 1 tablespoon of Plate Paint at the 12 o’clock point on the plate. Use the back of a teaspoon to press down into the paint and zigzag down to the 6 o’clock point on the plate.

To make a zigzag, pour the paint into a plastic squeeze bottle and secure the top. Make sure the opening is at least 1/4 inch in diameter. Turn the bottle upside down and squeeze a zigzag onto each plate.

The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Day Nine

The Irresistible Un-Cookie

Crispy caramel. Chocolate-covered. Gluten-free. Easy.

This treat looks like a free-form cookie, you can nibble it like a cookie, but it isn't a cookie.

It's Chocolate-Covered Buttercrunch Toffee

After all the holiday excess of baked goods, are you ready for a taste break? 

Made with ingredients you probably have on hand, the toffee mixture comes to a boil in a saucepan. You simply let it cook until it reaches 300 degrees F. 

Carefully pour the toffee mixture onto a baking sheet, then strew with chocolate chips. Let them melt for 2 minutes, then swirl the melted chocolate with a knife or thin metal spatula.

Add-ons could include chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, flaked almonds, toasted pumpkin seeds, or coarse sea salt. 

 And the other amazing thing about Chocolate-Covered Buttercrunch Toffee is that is just seems to disappear. 

You start off with a full plate (okay, you may have had to taste just a little bit to make sure it turned out all right)

You come back a little later, and this is what you see

And before you know it, you have to make another batch.

Chocolate-Covered Buttercrunch Toffee

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebowitz

Makes enough toffee to last about 24 hours.

You can double this recipe and pour it out onto a large 11 x 17-inch baking sheet to cool. When the candy thermometer registers 250 degrees F., my advice is to stand watch. A watched pot does actually boil and will produce a perfect toffee.

2 cups (8 ounces) toasted, chopped nuts (optional), flaked almonds, or toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips

Optional: Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt to sprinkle on at the end

Use a vegetable oil (such as canola) to lightly oil an 8 x 10-inch baking sheet and set aside.

If using the nuts, sprinkle half on the baking sheets; reserve the remaining half.

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, bring the water, butter, salt, and sugars to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the mixture just reaches 300 degrees F, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Quickly pour the hot toffee mixture onto the prepared baking sheets, trying for an even layer. If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a metal spatula. 

Strew the chocolate over the hot toffee and leave to melt for 2 minutes. Use a table knife or a metal spatula to spread the melted chocolate in an even layer.

Sprinkle on the remaining nuts and fleur de sel, if you like.

The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Day Eight

Decadent Chocolate Chunk Cookies 
with a Latte for Dunking

Sometimes during the holiday season, the cookie baker needs a treat, too.

For maximum pick-me-up and minimal fuss, I vote for this chocolate chip cookie that is fortified by chopped walnuts and tastes fabulous dunked in a latte. 

Even better if the latte has a holiday ornament/apple/pomegranate artfully inscribed in the foam!

There's something positively therapeutic about warm, oozy chocolate and a milky, espresso-dark latte.

I feel better just thinking about that combination.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(Adapted from Judith Fertig's Bake Happy, to debut in May 2015)
Erin Brown of Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village, Kansas, welcomes the relaxed pace of baking in her home kitchen. Brown’s husband, a professional athlete, “trains like a beast,” she says, but he saves room for her Chocolate Chunk Cookies, adapted here, dipped in an Affogato . For these cookies, bigger is better to achieve a gooey interior and a crispy exterior. If you want to work ahead, mix and place the cookies on a baking sheet. Freeze, then remove the unbaked cookies from the baking sheet and freeze them in a sealable plastic bag for up to 3 months. Bake from frozen about 8 to 12 minutes  longer.
Makes 24 (2-ounce) cookies
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (265 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
11/2 cups (270 g) semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup (180 g) large bittersweet chocolate chips
11/2 cups (180 g) cups finely chopped walnuts
1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 packed cup (220 g) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a second bowl, combine the chocolate chips, chunks, and walnuts.
Place the butter and sugars in a large bowl and cream together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy , about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the dry ingredients on low speed, a fourth at a time, adding the chocolate chip and nut mixture with the last of the flour. 
Scoop 2 tablespoons of the dough at a time onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie.
Bake, one pan at a time, until browned and crispy at the edges and soft in the middle, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. To warm, microwave a frozen cookie on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until warm and gooey.

So Happy Together:
Chocolate Chunk Cookies + Affogato
A warm Chocolate Chunk Cookie dunked in an affogato can elevate a wonderful experience into the unforgettable—if you love coffee.  To make an affogato, Italian for “drowned,” simply put a scoop of ice cream or gelato in a coffee cup and pour a shot or two of hot espresso over it. Let the ice cream melt just a little, then dunk a still-warm Chocolate Chunk Cookie.

The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Day Seven

Shimmer Cookies

When I'm in the midst of a baking project, I have King Arthur Flour Company on speed dial. (And no, this is not a sponsored post. It's simply a fact.)

Whatever it is that I need--a special type of flour, unique flavorings, the right pan, or unique cupcake wrappers--I can find in their online or paper catalogue.

What's even better  is their treasure trove of baking recipes on their web site, kitchen-tested and approved by many readers.

That's where I found this recipe for Shimmer Cookies, flavored with Fiori di Sicilia (Flowers of Sicily), a unique blend of vanilla, citrus, and flower essences.  

Shimmer Cookies, photo courtesy of King Arthur Flour Company
These cookies sparkle just like snow. With their mellow, creamy citrus flavor, they're a refreshing complement to the usual spicy, decadent cookie selection at holiday time.

Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Makes  24 to 26 filled cookies

            1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
            3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
            1/4 teaspoon salt
            1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (or vanilla)
            2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

            coarse white sparkling sugar, for coating
            1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
            6 tablespoons unsalted butter
            1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
            1 to 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
            colored sparkling sugar or sprinkles, for coating

            1) Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.
            2) To make the cookies: Beat together the butter, sugar, salt, and Fiori until creamy.
            3) Add the flour, and mix just until incorporated.
            4) Shape teaspoon-sized balls of dough, and roll them in sparkling sugar.
            5) Place the cookies 1" apart on the prepared baking sheets.
            6) Bake the cookies until they're just beginning to brown along the edges, 16 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool completely.
            7) To make the filling: Beat all the ingredients together until light and fluffy.
            8) To assemble the cookies: Sandwich a 1/4"-thick layer of filling between two cookies, and roll the filling edge in the colored sugar or sprinkles.