Where creativity grows

Category: The Artist’s Way

An Artist’s Date with Claire Saffitz

Last summer I finally ordered and started reading Julia Cameron’s iconic book Artist’s Way. While much of the book did not resonate with me (I am 100% in the minority here and totally ok with that), one aspect that did stick with me was her emphasis on the importance of artist dates. I have a long list of ideas in my inspiration journal and one area that I had not yet explored was diving into cooking as a creative exercise. 

Like so many others, Tom and I became master binge watchers during COVID 2020. Tom is the YouTube Maestro and he discovered the one and only Claire Saffitz. On her Bon Appetit show, she tried to recreate favorite snack items like everything from Gourmet Cheetos to Pop Tarts. While we did not necessarily have any desire to make any of these tasty treats, her show was witty and entertaining. She had a way of making everything lighthearted and look easy. Fast forward to December 2021 when I fell in love with the Netflix show School of Chocolate. It got me thinking about the conversation Tom and I had earlier in the year about wanting to try our hand at some fancy desserts. Afterall, I had pinned gobs of recipes, but I had yet to try any of them. Fast forward again to our stocking stuffer exchange on Christmas Eve. Tom bought me a beautiful copy of Claire Saffitz’s book Dessert Person. Let me start by saying I am a cookbook fanatic. I love reading them almost as much as I do making recipes from them. However, never have I devoured a cookbook the way I did this one. I was so inspired by the beautiful images, detailed directions and the incredible variety of recipes that I could not wait to dive in and try something. These recipes were different from anything I had ever tried before. Sure I had made cinnamon rolls before, but these were some serious next level stuff. Yes, I had made sous vide lemon curd, but I had never made a tart. Of course, I had made chocolate cakes, but nothing like Claire’s wave cake. Every night I would thumb through the pages and read another recipe. I would ooh and ahh about whatever recipe I was reading.

That is when I decided that I was going to take myself on a date with Claire and dedicate a whole weekend to diving into her book. Wednesday night, Tom and I mixed up the Meyer Lemon Curd for the Lemon Tart. I was apprehensive because I have heard so many nightmares about how hard it is to make homemade lemon curd. I had always let the sous vide do the hard work. Here I was signing up to stand and whisk the eggs and lemon juice and butter for ten straight minutes. The curd it yielded was OUT OF THIS WORLD! And it was no problem whatsoever to make. Tom whisked for me, but it really was easy to make. Friday night I mixed up the sweet yeast dough for the Walnut Maple Sticky Buns. Saturday morning, the buns went in the oven as soon as I got home from running. I commented on Claire’s youtube page that these sticky buns changed our lives forever. They are not the type you get at the mall covered in ooey gooey sugary sauce. These are sophisticated and brilliant sticky buns that will make you rethink everything you thought to be true in the world. And then Sunday morning, I made the Chocolate Wave Cake and finished the Lemon Tart. The chocolate cake and lemon tart were on the docket for a girls’ afternoon I was hosting. While my running tribe had had loads of my Christmas cookies, I had never baked anything like this for them (or anyone else for that matter). I was more than a little nervous. Tom reminded me that if anything went wrong, we could run to the store and pick something up. This was NOT an option in my head.

The awesome thing about Claire’s book is that she is in the process of making YouTube videos to accompany all the recipes. So I was able to see her talk her way through all the recipes I was making. These are not “throw together quickly” recipes. They all involved multiple steps and multiple recipes to make one final product. Claire’s videos humanized the recipes. They were no longer these elite fancy must graduate from pastry school to make recipes, but rather something even I could accomplish. Spoiler alert! Everything turned out marvelous. The girls loved all the desserts and we enjoyed the leftovers for the better part of a week.

Diving into this book was certainly an interesting creative endeavor for me. I love cooking and baking and trying new recipes. But this was all on a new level and it opened up creative circuits in my brain that had been dormant for a bit. I’m glad that I remembered that not all creative adventures have to happen in the Oodlearium. 

Side note- no idea how I did not get a picture of the lemon tart…it was heavenly!

Until next time,

Oodle On

The 12 Days of Hot Chocolate

This year, Tom and I decided that we were going to focus on making our own Christmas memories and infusing our home with the joy of the season. That is how the 12 Days of Hot Chocolate came to be. While we have always been somewhat snobbish about our hot chocolate consumption (ie no Swiss Miss and hot water allowed in this household), we have never searched for a recipe that takes our hot chocolate to the next level. 

 

Our basic hot cocoa recipe (2 servings)

  • 2 cups milk of choice

  • 2 TBSP dark chocolate cocoa powder

  • 2 TBSP sugar

  • Splash of vanilla

 Heat milk in the microwave and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Serve with your favorite toppings. 

 I turned to Pinterest to find twelve recipes for us to try. The teacher in me and the engineer in Tom of course had to make a rubric to score the recipes. We went back and forth on a lot of different ideas, but in the end opted to keep it nice and simple with a 3 candy cane rating system: 

 

  • 1 candy cane – we did not even finish the mug and won’t ever make it again.

  • 2 candy canes- we finished it, but probably won’t make it again

  • 3 candy canes- absolutely loved it and will add it to our personal cookbook

 I printed off the 12 recipes and made my shopping list. We were ready to get started!

 

The results:

I don’t want to disappoint you this early in the post, but full disclosure- we ended up not trying all twelve recipes. Very early on we discovered what we like, love and hate about hot chocolate. We used the recipes to explore different flavors, but in the end we didn’t need all twelve recipes to figure that out. I will include links to all twelve at the very end in case you want to do your own experiment.

 

All things being equal:

There are a few elements that we kept standard throughout the recipes, despite what the recipe actually called for. 

  1. 70% cocoa Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips

  2. Dark cocoa powder from Costco

  3. Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk or Organic Skim Cow’s milk

  4. Anywhere that called for heavy cream or half-half, we used Silk non-dairy half-half.

 And so it began….

 

Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate 

I am obsessed with all things chocolate and peanut butter, so I started our adventure with the only peanut butter and chocolate recipe. I was sure this would be my favorite before we even started. I mixed everything up and poured the concoction into the His and Hers penguin mugs we would be using for the challenge. I took a huge sip and let out a howl of excitement. Man was that yummy. Tom was less impressed. My initial impression was that I would drink it every day for the rest of my life. Tom thought he might finish it, but he is not a lover of chocolate and peanut butter like I am. Within a few minutes though we both felt like someone had stuck a straw into a jar of Skippy. To my shock and chagrin— neither of us finished our mugs! I don’t know if it would be better with higher quality peanut butter. I only had creamy Skippy on hand from my holiday baking as Tom prefers the chunky Crazy Richard’s peanut butter for everyday use. Perhaps more milk to thin it out or even less PB, but overall this one was a big bust!

Peppermint Hot Chocolate- 3 candy canes

Not much I love more this time of year than peppermint. Next up was a peppermint hot chocolate recipe that was sure to win our hearts— except for the fact that I cannot read. I made the recipe and we both agreed it was tasty, but it seemed really sweet. When I looked at the recipe, I discovered that instead of putting ¼ tsp of sugar, I poured in a heap ¼ cup. Oops! I made it again later that week with a more appropriate amount of sugar and we both really liked it. We started thinning out the recipes a bit with this one, because we prefer to drink our hot chocolate rather than chew it. This one was a WINNER! 

Colonial Hot Chocolate

 

Our third recipe was one that we were holding on to share with some friends when they popped by for a holiday visit. The Colonial Hot Chocolate recipe had a unique flavor palette and we knew our foodie friends would enjoy doing this taste test with us. This recipe involved me hunting down a few ingredients I had never used before (star anise & ground cardamom), but overall it was an incredibly easy recipe to make. Given the incredibly unique combination of flavors and how easy it was to make, we all agreed this was one of the best hot chocolates we had ever had. This is a solid dessert hot chocolate, but could also serve as a lovely regular recipe if thinned out a bit. 

Nutella Hot Chocolate

After the peanut butter hot chocolate recipe, I was a bit gun shy to try the Nutella Hot Chocolate. I could not have been more wrong! It was awesome— just nutty enough to be unique and the perfect balance of yummo chocolate flavor. 

Hot Chocolate

After a few recipes that were next level with flavors and add-ons, we decided to step back and try a basic recipe that could potentially be our go-to hot cocoa recipe. This one was a sure fire winner— with one change. Tom and I agreed that we much prefer to drink our hot chocolate rather than almost chew it— so I added in an extra cup of milk to the recipe. Yummo!

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

Next up was going to be a Mexican Hot Chocolate, but neither of us were excited about the idea of something spicy. Instead, I opted for a recipe for a cinnamon hot cocoa that I was hoping would be similar to the cinnamon crunch latte I had at Panera last week. We were both busy with projects and it was the perfect time to throw in a cup of holiday cheer. Tom proclaimed this was his absolute favorite recipe and I was very close to agreeing. Steeping a whole stick of cinnamon in milk for ten minutes produced a beautifully delicious hot chocolate. With some fresh whipped cream on top, this one was AMAZING! I actually made this again the very next day,

 

Parisian Hot Chocolate

We gave one last recipe a try before declaring the challenge complete. The Parisian Hot Chocolate recipe was elegant and grand, but it was WAY TOO MUCH of everything for us to enjoy. Even with me thinning out the recipe, neither of us finished the mug. We agreed that we know the basics of what makes a great cup of hot chocolate in conjunction with how we like ours prepared so that we can now mix and match a bit from the recipes we tried out. 

Here is a list of all the recipes in case you want to do your own comparison:

  1. Nutella Hot Chocolate

  2. Mexican Hot Chocolate (House of Yumm) / Mexican Hot Chocolate (Green Healthy Eating)

  3. Peppermint French Hot Chocolate

  4. Colonial Hot Chocolate

  5. Parisian Hot Chocolate

  6. Homemade Hot Chocolate Recipe

  7. Italian Hot Chocolate

  8. Maple Sea Salt Vegan Hot Chocolate

  9. Homemade Cinnamon Hot Chocolate Recipe ~ Barley & Sage

  10. London Fog Whipped Cream Hot Chocolate

  11. Thierry Rautureau’s Hot Chocolate (from Theo Cookbook)

  12. Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate

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