Sugar (cookie) Skulls

Growing up in San Diego, sugar skulls, or calaveras, were as much a part of Halloween and its neighbor, Dia de Los Muertos as carved pumpkins and witches.

Celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, Dia de Los Muertos originated in the cultures that lived in what is now Mexico.  When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs in the early 16th century, they attempted to convert the indigenous populace to Catholicism.  As happens with many efforts at colonization, the results were mixed.  The traditional Aztec celebration of Mictecailhuati evolved into Dia de Los Muertos as the Spanish attempted to align the tradition with the Catholic All Saint’s Day.  Based on my research, the interpretation of the folk-Catholic cocktail is loosely geographic: South of Mexico City the emphasis is on celebration whereas North of this, the holiday takes on a more religious tone.

As the name suggests, this Mexican holiday is a celebration of remembering and honoring the dead.  It is believed that on Dia de Los Muertos, deceased loved ones are allowed to return to earth and celebrate with their families.  Or, in true guilt-based family fun, harass those families who have neglected their dearly departed.

Sugar skulls are an important symbol of Dia de Los Muertos.   Traditionally molded from sugar (or clay), they are sold and made in the days leading up to the celebration and then exchanged as gifts to living and dead alike.    Intricately decorated with bright colors and an emphasis on sparkle, they are meant to be happy rather than scary.

When I found a skull-shaped cookie cutter over the summer, I knew it was time to make some sugar (cookie) skulls of my own.  I used my never fail sugar cookie recipe and Sugarbelle’s never EVER fail recipe for royal icing.  While I give myself a C+ for decorating prowess (I quickly found my decorating tips weren’t nearly fine-enough for detail work), it was serious A+ fun.

Next year?  Sugar skull decorating party at my house!  How fun wold it be to base-glaze these babies, invite a bunch of friends over, add some adult beverages and go to town with the crazy colors and themes?

Speaking of holidays…my holiday baking regime kicks-off this weekend.  I’m not kidding.  Stay-tuned for a Tuesday post about this year’s “contest.”

And of course, Happy Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos.


Day of the Dead

National Geographic Education

Bringing home the maple bacon

That’s right, I’m not above starting with a little bacon porn.

Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry, Milo and Olive and Rustic Canyon fame is another of my lady baker-crushes.  So, it wasn’t without anticipation that I patiently waited for her first cookbook, Huckleberry, stories, secrets and recipes from our kitchen to come out earlier this fall.

I’ve talked about Nathan’s iconic Santa Monica brunch (well, and lunch and dinner) spot before.  And even though I still don’t have any tattoos and still feel the same about coconut water, Huckleberry is still a favorite of mine.

And now, so is the cookbook.  I’ve been working my way through the cheery, yellow-polka-dot  edged book, and have to admit my favorite part so far is her double-page spread of “Apologies” that appears right before the index  like a little chocolate served after dessert and coffee.  She is my kind of lady. Oh, and the recipes are great too.

The maple bacon biscuits at Huckleberry are compulsory for any first timer (or second timer…or third timer).  Almost criminal in their decadence, these sweet-savory-crumbly-rich treats alone are worth spending 30 minutes in line listening to the couple in front of you discuss their call-back triumphs and whether that pilot where they had a walk-on will get picked up.

As if you needed further proof than “bacon” to try these, I’ll tell you, they woke Tom out of his general TMH-baking immunity.  People often comment that TD must love all of the baked-goods produced out of the TMH kitchen. And sometimes he does.  But mostly he just ignores it all.  It’s probably the peppercorns I use.  Well, these babies, baked before the sun came up one weekday morning for a meeting caught his attention.

Because they are baked from frozen, this is a great recipe to make through the baking, freeze and have on hand when someone needs a little extra loving’.

Maple Bacon Biscuits

from Huckleberry, stories and recipes from our kitchen, Zoe Nathan


  • 15 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 2 TBS bacon fat (reserve this from cooking your bacon)
  • 6 C (750g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 C (50 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 C (450 g) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1/2 C cold maple syrup + 3/4 C for glaze
  • 3/4 C cold buttermilk
  • 1 egg+ 2 TBS water for egg wash
  • fleur de sel for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Lay bacon on a sheet pan or on a wire cooking rack fitted into a sheet pan (TMH method) and bake until golden brown, about 15-25 minutes.  Allow the bacon and fat to cool.
  3. Chop up bacon and reserve 2 TBS bacon fat.
  4. In a very large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt.  Whisk or toss well to combine.
  5. Add-in the cold butter and work it/cut it in with your finger tips (it’s sort of a snapping-motion) until the pieces of butter are about the size of lima beans.
  6. Add the first 1/2 C maple syrup, buttermilk, bacon and bacon fat.  Lightly toss.
  7. Immediately dump everything onto a clean surface with plenty of room to work.
  8. Using only the heel of you palm, flatten out the the dough.  Gather the dough back together in a mound and repeat.  After 2-3 repetitions, the dough should begin holding together.  Do not overwork the dough, you should still see pea-sized pieces of butter in the dough.
  9. Flatten the dough into a 1 inch thick disk and cut-out the biscuits (remember to resist twisting the cutter as you pull up).
  10. Gently push the scraps back together and cut once more (TMH note-I got exactly 18 biscuits out of this).
  11. Freeze raw biscuits for at least two hours.  Can be frozen, tightly wrapped, up to a month.
  12. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  13. Remove biscuits from freer.  Space them with plenty of room to breath on two ungreased baking sheets.
  14. Bush with egg wash and sprinkle with flour de sel.
  15. Bake from frozen until cooked through and starting to brown, about 25 minutes.
  16. Pour 2 tsp maple syrup over each biscuit to glaze and bake an additional 5 minutes.
  17. These are best eaten the day, nay, minute they come out of the oven.

Pumpkin makes the girls go crazy

It’s funny because it’s true.

I’ve spoken of my…struggles…with pumpkin.  Savory gourd I can hang with.  Sweet, not so much.  However, if Trader Joe’s is to be believed, I am in the very slim minority.  Not sure if anyone caught this but nearly every single item in their latest frequent flyer news letter was pumpkin-ified.  Pumpkin yogurt.  Pumpkin macarons.  Pumpkin body butter.  Now I know those guys at TJs like to have some fun but they wouldn’t make it if it didn’t sell.

And this is why I have not one, but two pumpkin recipes this month.

Everyone’s favorite fall spice profile marries with pumpkin, oatmeal, white chocolate and pepitas.

While these aren’t exactly healthy, I bet you could eat half a dozen for the same number of calories in in tall pumpkin spice latte.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

adapted from


for the cookies

  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 C rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 C packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 C granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pie filling; about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 1 C white chocolate chips
  • 1 C pepitas (I used the roasted pumpkin spice from TJs)


  1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange the racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Whisk the flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl to  break up any lumps; set aside.
  3. Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until lightened in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla, return the mixer to medium speed, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl.
  5. With the mixer on low speed, add half of the reserved flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Add half of the pumpkin and mix until just incorporated. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and pumpkin.
  6. Fold-in chocolate chips and pepitas.
  7. Drop 8 dough rounds per baking sheet by the scant 1/4 cup, staggering them 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets.
  8. Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back and continue baking until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom and around the edges, about 12 minutes more.
  9. Place the baking sheets on wire racks and let the cookies cool on the sheets for 3 minutes. Using a flat spatula, transfer the cookies to the wire racks to cool completely.
  10. Repeat with the remaining dough using cool baking sheets.
  11. Place all of the icing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until evenly combined. (You may need to add more milk by the 1/2 teaspoon if the glaze is too thick to drizzle.)
  12. Place all of the cooled cookies on cooling racks or parchment. Dip a fork into the glaze and drizzle it over the cookies in a zigzag pattern. Let the cookies sit at room temperature until the glaze has set, about 20 minutes.

Chomely Challah

See what I did there?  Tired of me asking that question?

The weeks we spent on yeasted bread were favorites in my summer baking adventure.  There is something incredibly satisfying about producing a giant, golden, cross-hatched country loaf.  Or baguette.  Or brioche.

The instructor insisted we go old school: no mixmaster, just hands and floured surfaces for kneading.

Chef May’s reasoning was that we needed to understand by touch the difference between dough that is ready to rise and dough that needs more kneading.

Working with my hands is one of the pleasures of baking for me.

Challah was one of the enriched breads we tackled.  Something that’s long been on my list to try, I’ve always been intimidated by the complicated braiding involved.

Beautiful, elegant challah can be a work of art.  Often it is braided with six strands.

As you can see, I struggle with just three.  And this was my second attempt.

As homely as my version baked-off, it was a decided favorite at work.

Once the weather cools down a bit and my kitchen isn’t a rain forrest of heat and humidity I plan to considerably hone my challah-making skills.


from the New School of Cooking


  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 C warm water
  • 1 TBS dry yeast
  • 1/2 C oil (I use grape seed)
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 3/4-4 C all purpose flour
  • poppy seeds, sesame seeds or 1/2 C chocolate chips
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water


  1. Dissolve 1 tsp in 1/2 C warm water in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes.  Stir to dissolve.
  2. Combine yeast mixture with oil, remaining water, sugar salt, eggs and half the flour.  Mix well.
  3. Stir-in remaining flour.  Dough will be sticky.
  4. Cover dough and let rest for 10 minutes.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed.
  5. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to proof until doubled.
  6. Punch down.  Divide dough into 3 equal parts.  Shape into strands.
  7. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and braid loosely.  Fasten ends securely.  Let rise until doubled.
  8. Brush with beaten gold and sprinkle with seeds.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until deep golden brown.


And one for the road…Espresso Macarons

I know it’s October but I’ve got one more for you.

The theme of this run of macaron recipes seems to have been “stuff you can add to the shells without totally messing up their fickle, fickle structure.”  Maybe I should have started with this recipe because really, it’s a no brainer: espresso powder.  I was so lazy I didn’t even use the instant variety.  Nope, I just took a knife to a Nespresso pod (I do the same thing for my favorite brownie recipe) and the rich bitter results went straight into the batter.

A million years ago I worked as a cocktail waitress at Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Beverly Hills.  I’ve talked about this right?  Anyhow, when we made espresso we’d serve it with a lemon twist.  As a nod to the citrus brightness that plays so well with the espresso’s bitterness I added a drop or two of orange oil to the chocolate ganache filling.

Happy October!

Espresso Macarons with Bittersweet Chocolate and Orange Ganache

for the shells


  • 60g almond flour
  • 100g confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground espresso
  • 50 g egg whites
  • 20 g granulated sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 315 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.  I like to draw the circles with Sharpie on a couple of pieces of parchment as a stencil. In order to use them multiple times I lay another piece of parchment over the top.
  2. Weigh and measure out all of your ingredients.  When I’m making multiple batches I actually weigh out the almond flour, sugar and any other dry ingredients into separate zip-lock baggies and label them.
  3. In a food processor fitted with a blade, pulse together almond meal, espresso powder and confectioner’s sugar.  Give it a few pulses then sift into a medium bowl.  Set aside.
  4. In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or an electric hand mixer), add the egg whites.  Beat on medium low until frothy.
  5. Increase the speed and slowly add the granulated sugar and pinch of salt.
  6. Beat eggs until they form soft peaks.
  7. Working in three batches, add first portion of almond meal mixture to the egg-whites.  Gently fold until just combined.  Repeat with the additional two portions of meal folding to combine while using as few folds as possible.
  8. To test if the batter is ready to pipe, scoop about 1/4 tsp onto a flat surface.  The batter should act like lava and spread enough to lose its peak but not its shape.  I usually do this test several times starting at the point where everything is just combined.  If you under-mix the batter you can always give it a few more folds.  However, you are out of luck if you over mix.  So, err on the side of multiple tests.
  9. When the batter is ready, pour it into your piping bag.  To be honest, I don’t bother with a tip, I just snip the bag about an inch or so from the tip.
  10. Pipe your shells onto the parchment-lined baking sheets.
  11. Allow to sit for 10-60 minutes or until the shells appear dry.  I have found this process is heavily dependent on the weather.  The more moisture in the air, the longer they need to sit.
  12. Working with one sheet at a time, bake for about 20 minutes.  To test, gently grab one corner of the parchment and attempt to peel it from the shell.  A clean peel means the shells are done.  If they are sticky, back in the oven for another 5 minutes and test again.
  13. Let the shells cool but once cool, carefully remove from the parchment.  I have found that you don’t want to let the cooled shells sit on the parchment.

for the ganache


  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 TBS butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 drops orange oil



  1. In a small saucepan gently warm the cream until little bubbles form along the perimeter.  Remove from heavy.
  2. Add in chopped chocolate swirling the pan so that all the chocolate is covered.  Let rest for 2-5 minutes.
  3. Gently whisk chocolate and cream to combine.  Add-in butter, salt and oil. Whisk until smooth and silky.
  4. Pour into a heat-proof container, cover and allow to set in fridge.