Tuesday, July 16, 2013


You may have noticed the lack of output from Picnic Bakery over the past few months.  Let me tell you why:

1.  Our new house looks like this:
(If you didn't already know, the house is a fixer that we are doing mostly by ourselves. Also, when I say "ourselves," I really mean "Ralph" because everyone knows I shouldn't be allowed to touch power tools unless the aim is to destroy something).

The temporary shower.  A la Dexter's kill-room

We are still waiting for electric updates.  The gas cook top works, but no oven yet.  Notice the orange cable that I move around the room to plug in appliances as I need them.  Ralph built the temporary shelving and worktops so we can have some function until he has time to build proper ones.

You can't miss the gaping holes in the walls.  There are parts of the house where you can see the outside from the inside where one normally shouldn't be able to.  It doesn't make me think about spiders at all.  
When we first moved in, we lived for two weeks without electricity, a bathroom, or a kitchen.  Fortunately, we managed to get by with a temporary sink Ralph made out of the taps for the washing machine and a bucket.  We made use of some battery-operated lanterns, borrowed showers at friend's houses, and did a lot of restaurant dining.  It wasn't so bad.  It was a lot like camping.  We got to act out my life-long dream of becoming a squatter in Berkeley.  I am totally the girlfriend you want to have during the zombie apocalypse.  Seriously, Ralph should marry me because we all know it's coming.

2.  On week two without electricity, we adopted Lillie:

Lillie, our Portuguese Water puppy

She may be cute, but she's hell on wheels.  She skipped childhood (except the bed-wetting part) and went straight into behaving like a teenager.  She even talks back when I tell her "no."  I have lost a lot of sleep and a lot of knickers to this little fur monster.  She's lucky she's so cute when she's sleepy.

3.  This stuff has been getting to me:

Lately, my sensitivity to gluten has caused me a lot of grief on baking days.  My reactions to gluten are thankfully a lot less severe than many people experience, but I was still getting mildly to moderately sick every single time I worked with flour.

4.  As a result of all of the above mentioned items, I have had a little bit of a melt-down in the motivation department.  My business has been going through an identity crisis.  Of course I want to keep making the recipes I worked so hard to develop, but they make me sick!  And it's hard to feed something to other people when it makes you feel unwell.  Something just feels intrinsically wrong with feeding people what your body tells you is poison.  Plus, there are so many people out there who suffer like I do.  I know how exciting it can be when you go someplace and discover they offer a gluten-free option.  An option.  Usually only one.  And it absolutely makes your day that someone was thinking about you.  You feel like you were just presented with a feast when you're handed a single gluten-free cookie.  And it's always so exciting to know there is one more dining facility where you can meet a friend and not "just have a drink, or something."

SO...after a lot of deliberation, I've finally arrived at a decision.  I'm shutting the imaginary doors of Picnic Bakery for a few months while I work from my (soon to be more complete) home test kitchen.  I'm going to get back to one of my favourite things:  recipe development.  Oh, look out you rock and rollers!  Picnic Bakery will be re-opening this fall as a gluten-free bakery.  I will keep you posted on my progress, share my successes and failures, and maybe even slip you a recipe or two.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Shop Worth Visiting

Please forgive me for sounding like an advertisement in this post.  Sometimes I get bored with talking about my life; and, today I'm feeling inspired to promote another local business that I'm affiliated with and love ever so much.

As I was making my delivery to Tea Here Now this morning, I decided to stop and enjoy a cup of tea.  I usually order a lady grey to go, but today I wanted something more exotic to sit down and "escape" with.  The woman in line ahead of me ordered a chai tea.  I watched as Andrea filled a cup for her from a big urn on the counter.  The room filled with the faint spicy aroma of cinnamon and clove, and I couldn't resist asking for the same.  Andrea explained that she makes her chai with soy milk, honey, and maple syrup.  It was the best chai I've ever tasted.  Andrea doesn't make the tea blend herself- she orders it from a company called Morning Glory which is based out of Seattle.  She also sells the tea blend at her shop, so you all now know where to go for my housewarming gift ;)

1721 1/2 Webster Street, Oakland*

If you haven't made your way into Tea Here Now yet, I really have to encourage you to do so as soon as you're able.  If you are anything like me, you will appreciate that there is easy metered street parking just outside of the shop.  While Andrea's dear little shop is not entirely vegan, nearly everything is, or has a vegan option.  She keeps both almond milk and soy milk for cooling your tea, and has agave nectar, maple syrup, and raw sugar for sweetening.  In addition to vegan baked goods from Oakland-based Fat Bottom Bakery and my own Picnic Bakery, there are also some darling non-vegan French macaroons and fruit galettes from Indie Cakes & Pastries.  Indie Cakes & Pastries also makes gluten-free scones and macaroons.   Stop in on a Friday for the Angel Cakes cupcake Pop-Up which also has vegan and gluten-free options.  Sweet treats aside, Andrea also serves up wholesome lunchtime meals in the form of beautiful salads, and seasonal vegan veggie pot pies (pot pies provided by yours truly).

Picnic Bakery's seasonal veggie pot pie being served up at Tea Here Now*

A selection of items on display at Tea Here Now*
It's not just the amazing teas and delicious locally-crafted  treats that keep Andrea's customers returning several times a day.  She has such a wonderful and cheerful demeanor that brings a little bit of sunshine to even the foggiest of bay-area days.  I'm sure her customers look forward to chatting with her every bit as much as I do every Monday morning.  She delivers a smile with every cup, and that is something I'm sure we all need more of in our lives.

The shop is open during the day on weekdays, and is occasionally open on Sundays when it could also transform into a pop-up location for such interesting things as tarot readings and shoulder massages.  To stay up-to-date on happenings (of which there are many) and menus, you can follow Tea Here Now on facebook.  I hope all of my local readers will take the time to sit, sip, and savor sometime soon.  And of course, be sure to order a Picnic Bakery peppermint panda and veggie pot-pie while you're there. Also, Andrea has informed me that due to popular demand, some of her customers are now ordering arctic pandas (peppermint pandas that have been chilled in the icebox creating a cool mint-chocolate cookie reminiscent of mint chocolate chip ice cream).  Go try one and let me know what you think!

*All photos in this post were taken from the Tea Here Now facebook page.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pot Pies and Post-It Notes

Do you ever go off on a "first week of school" tangent?  You know, that week when you buy all kinds of new gear and Lisa Frank folders and line up your neon purple and pink pens in straight little rows across the top corner of your desk?  You spend that entire first week taking notes in full sentences with careful, deliberate penmanship, marking pages with post-it notes as you go.  For an entire week, everything you do is neatly filed away behind tidy little tabs in binders.

I need that week in my life right now.

Business has been picking up, and all too soon my desk has been swallowed by a swamp monster of paperwork, receipts, clean laundry, and fancy dishes.  There is only one thing I can do at this point.  I have to go shopping.  I need a calendar with big boxes I can write in, new colorful pens, and paper clips shaped like rabbits.  How else can I possibly get anything organized?

No, seriously, come tell me to my face that I don't need bunny paper clips in order to clean my desk.  I'm all ears!

How did our house get to be such a mess?  I think what happened is we got to that point where we know we will be moving into our new house soon, so we've given up on tidying this one.  Okay, I'm definitely airing dirty laundry online and apparently also making bad puns.  Heh.  Dad jokes.  Gah, I'm such a dork!

One thing that's going well is business.  Picnic Bakery has been expanding with leaps and bounds over the past year.  And now, for the first time ever, my baked goods are available for purchase at a tea shop in Oakland.  I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea, the owner of Tea Here Now during a recent event at Kitchener Oakland.  She loved my winter vegetable pot pies and peppermint pandas and is now serving them up for lunch in her super adorable, teeny, tiny tea shop.  I'm so pleased to finally have a place to send people when they are craving a Picnic treat.   Not to mention tea.  I've already tried three of her blends and been blown away each time.  So, so good.  I hope all of my bay area readers will stop in to taste one of my pot pies:

Paula Wirth / Eat Drink Oakland
Winter Vegetable Pot Pies & Peppermint Pandas

They feature organic locally grown produce in a rich gravy wrapped up in a buttery flaky crust.  They've been VERY well-received by both vegan and non-vegan customers thus far, which means they will definitely not disappoint.  Hop to it!

What else is new?  Oh, Valentine's Day is coming and I have designed some special treats for your Valentine.  From now until February 14th, I am making every body's favorite peppermint panda cookie in heart shape.  They will come in pairs wrapped up in red and white paper liners and tied with bows.  They are $5 a bag and will make a great Valentine's day gift for your friends, coworkers, neighbors, mother, daughter, dog walker, and lover.  Email me to order yours!

Peppermint Panda Hearts

Valentine's Day Peppermint Panda Gift Bags

Oh, and if you decide not to order pandas (or even if you do), you should come out to the SF vegan bake sale this Sunday.  In addition to two dozen peppermint pandas, it promises to have lots of other yummy goodies for sale and the proceeds go to Animal Place.  Animal Place provides refuge to hundreds of neglected farmed animals.  Animal Place's Rescue Ranch is a 60-acre adoption center, placing needy farmed animals into permanent homes.  I think that's as close as you can get to guilt-free dessert.  If you're free on Sunday, I encourage you to come eat your hearts (out)!

Thanks for reading!  XOXO

*Potpie photo courtesy of Paula Wirth / Eat Drink Oakland

Monday, December 3, 2012

Coconut~Cranberry~Carrot Cake and a GF Cake Cusade

I'm wishing it wasn't so sunny outside on this brisk Novembery-feeling day so I wouldn't feel so guilty about being in bed, snuggled under the covers with my laptop at 12:15 in the afternoon.  I haven't been in bed all day- I walked a few blocks this morning, bundled up in sweaters, to scavenge for my new favorite food- sweet potato corn chips from Late July.  But, I am back in bed now with a gingerbread latte on one side and a dozy Labrador on the other.  I think I deserve this Friday afternoon in bed.  It's been a very busy couple of weeks (months!), I'm fighting a cold, and my doctor just diagnosed me with gluten intolerance.  There.  I just said it.  Gluten intolerance?  I have it.

Ralph says when he hears the words gluten intolerance, he pictures a person sitting on a stool being pelted in the face with bread rolls, holding up their hands in protest, and yelling, "I can not tolerate this!"  I imagine this person to be in a Monty Python skit.  In my mind it is very funny.  In my life, it's not so funny.

cat bread face
While browsing for a picture of someone being pelted in the face with bread, I came across this.  It's way better. Alarmingly, if you google "cat bread face" there are tons more where this came from.  You're welcome.

Like when I tried to multiply a recipe times 12 this past week; but, somewhere in there decided to switch from cups to ounces and (of course) did the math all wrong.  That was fun.  I was lucky enough to have two very accomplished and supportive bakers at my side who took the time out of their busy day to help me re-do the math and find the mistake that made my batter go from being a well-mixed batter to about 10 very expensive pounds of separated goop.  Yeah, that happened.  I am soooo lucky we (and by "we", I mean "they") found the mistake!  I was able to add the parts that were missing, and it appeared to make the batter right again.  BUT.  I couldn't taste the final product because it was probably 75% gluten (again, seriously, don't trust my math).  There was no way for me to be sure that something was not lost along the journey of recipe manipulation.  And that's when the implications of gluten intolerance really began to sink in.  

My first reaction was:  This must be what they were talking about with that whole world ending in 2012 thing.  But, after giving it some thought, I've decided this isn't the end of the world.  This doesn't even have to be the end of cake.  I mean, I've already been experimenting with gluten-free baking.  It's just time to step it up a notch.  My new challenge is to make gluten-free baking taste good.  If the GF chocolate cake I make is any sign of what's to come, we should all (gluten intolerant, or not) be in for a treat.

 Since starting this business, I've had so many people tell me about their various food intolerances.  I've always sympathized with their struggles to find food that is safe for them to eat and doesn't taste like sand.  Gluten freebies- I'm joining you!  I intend to make more options available to you, one recipe at a time.  I'm going to lead a cake crusade!  And to those who don't suffer from gluten intolerance, never fear.  The recipes I've already developed are solid.  I will continue to make those for you with all of their gluten-y glory.  This, my friends, would be a GREAT time to pipe up.  Do you have favorite gluten free recipes?  GF baking advice?  Favorite cookbooks?  I learn by immersion, so please send it all my way!

I will begin my gluten free cake crusade by sharing a recipe with you.  I made this cake last night.  It's modified from a recipe in The Guilt Free Gourmet by Jordan and Jessica Bourke.  It was already gluten-free, but I modified it to suit my pantry and palate.  The recipe makes an 8" double layer cake; but, I made cupcakes so I can freeze them (right, like they'll actually survive long enough to go in there) for snacks later.  I topped mine with my own bourbon vanilla "cream cheese" frosting.  Sorry, I'm not sharing that recipe just yet; but, you can find all kinds of recipes with a quick search on the Internet.

gluten free carrot cake, vegan, cranberry, coconut, pineapple

 Coconut~Cranberry~Carrot Cake
A gluten free, dairy free, egg free recipe


2 cups + 2 tablespoons white rice flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer + 3/4 cup hot water
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons grated carrot
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
8 oz can of crushed pineapple in juice
3/4 cup dried cranberries
Optional: 1/2 cup walnuts- I recommend doing this if you like walnuts.  This cake could use a crunch.  I personally hate walnuts, so you will never catch me adding them to my batter.


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 16 muffin cups with paper liners (or line 2 8" cake pans with parchment paper)

2.  In a medium sized bowl, mix together the rice flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk the hot water into the egg replacer, then add the almond milk, vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and vanilla.  Mix well.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet.  Mix well.  You can't over mix, because there is no gluten.  You want everything to be well distributed, so feel free to get carried away.  Crank the music and sing into your mixing spoon, if it helps.

5.  In a separate bowl, combine the carrots, dried cranberries, pineapple, coconut, and walnuts (if using).   Stir these into the cake batter.

6.  Don't taste the batter.  Gluten free batters generally have grainy textures and/or funny flavors which soften in the oven.
7.  Pour batter into prepared baking cups or pans.  It doesn't rise much, so fill them 3/4 or a little more.

8.  Bake about 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan until you can touch them, then transfer to a wire cooling rack.  The flavors of this cake really sink in as they cool.  If you can, wait to taste them until they've cooled completely.  Top with vanilla "cream cheese" frosting, or frosting of your choice.

gluten free carrot cake, cranberry, vegan, coconut, pineapple

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Autumn Happenings

I can't believe how long it's been since my last post.  SO many things have been happening!

First, I took Ralph home to Maryland for a week in October.   We went hiking with my family in the gorgeous autumnal foliage, took a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, attended a beautiful mountain wedding, and also managed to visit a few of my favorite restaurants (and people!) in Baltimore.

My family
My dear friend Kate & I at Golden West restaurant in Baltimore

Ralph & I at the wedding

Aside from sharing a terrible head-cold, the whole trip was really lovely.  It was so nice to catch up with old friends and visit with family.  We also made a little excursion to Virginia to visit my very elderly grandma and grandpa.  If you are ever thinking it's too late to start doing something, let my grandma be of inspiration to you.  She is 93 years old and just learned how to play the ukulele this year.  I won't go into any detail about how good (or not) she is, but she is determined.  I hope I am still open-minded enough at that age to learn new skills.

When we returned to San Francisco, things really began to roll for Picnic.  Suddenly, after months of very little activity, I have been getting lots of orders!  I can't tell you how good it feels to finally be spending my weeks in the kitchen instead of at my computer.  I've been boxing up and delivering apple pies, dutch apple cream cheese coffeecakes, gluten free cupcakes, pumpkin scones, and peppermint panda cookies.  

In addition to all of that, I also organized a vegetarian feast & pop-up market at Kitchener Oakland.  I gathered some of the food artisans that operate from the kitchen who were willing to make some vegetarian and vegan foods to sell.  We planned the event on election night; so, we had a red white and blue theme and streamed live election coverage.

Photos courtesy of Paula Wirth

New peppermint panda fans

The event was a HUGE success!  We were packed with hungry people the entire evening.  

A sea of hungry people
Some of the artisans even sold out of everything they brought to the party.  And, of course, there was a very happy ending when Obama won the election!  I love how the Kitchener has become a community hub, and I'm so glad I was able to make a night to celebrate the veggies in the bay area.

After all of that, I was pretty exhausted.  I still had to catch my breath and dive right back into the kitchen to get ready for Thanksgiving, though.  I catered several office parties and made a bunch of coffeecakes for a Thanksgiving pop-up sale.  In the midst of the coffeecake baking, I rushed out to look at a house with Ralph, which we are now in the process of buying, thus ending a year-long search!
Our new house!  It needs some work and will look very different when we are done.  It will be beautiful, though!

On Thanksgiving, we went to my cousin's house where we feasted with my very big and very thankful family:

My west coast family Thanksgiving

Needless to say, I am totally hung-over from all of the October/November mania.  I have actually not left our apartment for anything other than my dog's potty breaks in the past two days.  My kitchen looks a little bit like a bomb made up of sugar, flour, and ceramic serving platters exploded all over it.  I'm sure I'll do something about that tomorrow.  Today, I am staying in bed and planning my entire future home on Pinterest.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake Parfait with Cardamom Cream

This is what happens when my oven breaks.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Parfait with Cardamom Cream

The cold evenings we've been having here in San Francisco have brought out the pumpkin cravings.  A recent visit to Target where I was bombarded with spicy scented candles and Halloween decor didn't help.  I even bought some Celestial Seasonings chai tea (and was grossly disappointed).  I do not recommend.  

I've also spent the last few evenings watching The Wire (in preparation for a return visit to Baltimore next month), wrapped in an over-sized scarf, a knee length sweater over a thermal henley, sweat pants, and stripy socks on my feet.  I am such a wimp.  Clearly, San Francisco took the girl out of the country AND the country out of the girl.  To be honest, I think my brain likes to play this trick on my body so I can think it's fall.  We don't really get much of a fall here; so, I don't usually even know it's time to get nostalgic until Starbucks brings out their pumpkin spice lattes.  It's not fall until Starbucks says it's fall.  Sadly, in my world, this is true.

Anyway, I was dressed up in my new fall clothes (like new school clothes, remember those?  Ah, they were the BEST) with the windows open, so I could be more dramatic about the chill in the air.  I also had spiced candles burning and water for tea boiling when the urgency to bake struck.  I needed to make something with pumpkin, like, yesterday.  My mind immediately went to the pumpkin poppets I made last year at about this time.  Mmmm...fluffy pumpkin pillows with cream cheese filling:

Pumpkin Poppet

I got out some cans of pumpkin and the cream cheese.  That's when I remembered.  Our oven is broken.  As you can probably imagine, this is not ideal.

With my desperate craving for pumpkin refusing to be ignored, I decided to invent a no-bake pumpkin dessert, instead.  And, I have been eating it ever since.  I can't stop myself.  It's too good to be true.  I didn't even save any for Ralph to try.  This has something to do with the fact that he doesn't truly appreciate pumpkin.  Pumpkin could replace my sun & moon; and, he makes the "meh face" when he eats it.   I can't even be in the same room as someone who is eating pumpkin cheesecake and saying, "It's okay…could use some chocolate, though."  This is a purely fictitious statement; but, in my head Ralph is saying it.  And, I'm having a hard time forgiving him for it.  

This recipe only takes about 5ish minutes to throw together.  What?  Yes, 5ish minutes.  Ok, before you all get really mad at me for making dessert so easy to indulge in, I'm going to give you some tips on how you can make this dessert relatively healthy.  Typically I would have used homemade ginger cookies for this recipe; but, since the oven is broken I cheated with Newman's brand.  BTW, gluten free, grain free, and refined-sugar-free friends:  This ridiculously easy recipe is also for YOU!  

Pumpkin Cheesecake Parfait with Cardamom Cream
Original recipe by Emily Haydel of Picnic Bakery

Serves 4 conservatively, 2 generously, or 1 greedily


8 Newman's ginger sandwich cookies, graham crackers, or 1 cup chopped pecans

For the pumpkin cheescake filling:
1 cup pumpkin puree
8 oz container of  Tofutti or brand of choice "cream cheese"
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 Tbs maple syrup or agave nectar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

For the whipped cardamom cream:
1 can full fat coconut milk- refrigerated at least 4 hours until separated
seeds from about 4 cardamom pods ground to a fine powder in a mortar & pestle
2 Tbs maple syrup or agave nectar
1/4 tsp xanthan gum

Follow in order, and you won't have to wash your food processor between steps:

1.  Put Newman's ginger cookies into the bowl of food processor and pulse until they are crumbs.  If not using ginger cookies, skip this step.  Feel free to use any cookie, graham crackers, or nuts of your choice.  Use pecans if you are gluten-intolerant or if you are trying to keep this recipe on the healthy side.  Empty contents out into a bowl.

2.   Add all of the pumpkin cheesecake ingredients to the empty bowl of your food processor.  Blend until well incorporated, remembering to scrape down the sides.  Empty puree into a bowl.

3.  Scoop coconut milk solids into a medium bowl and add agave or maple syrup.  Whip until incorporated. Add cardamom powder and xanthan gum and whip until thickened.  

4.  Assemble the pumpkin cheesecake, crushed cookie (or chopped nuts), and whipped cardamom in layers in glass serving dishes.  Top with whipped cardamom cream, a sprinkle of crushed cookie, and garnish with pecans.

Tip:  If you would like to make this into a no-bake pumpkin cheesecake, just add some melted earth balance to the cookie crumbs, press into a pie or tart pan, fill with the filling, and refrigerate until set.  Serve topped with the whipped cardamom cream and a sprinkle of extra crumbs or chopped pecans. 

*For a gluten free version of the no-bake pumpkin cheesecake, pulse pecans into a course flour, stir in melted earth balance and proceed as listed above.

gluten free, vegan, no-bake
Pumpkin Cheesecake Parfait with Cardamom Cream

Monday, August 27, 2012

Parties and Pies

Wow, where did August go?  I baked my way through a whole month without stopping for a breath!  It's time for us to catch up.  Here's what I've been doing:

I joined a new kitchen in Oakland aptly named Kitchener Oakland.  This is the certified kitchen from which I will be doing all of my baking.  It is such a great space!  The lovely owner/operator Sophia (on the left in the photo below),  kindly held a party in the Kitchener for all of the new bakers and chefs who rent space there to sample out their fare.

Sophia of Kitchener Oakland (left)

Setting up
I brought peanut butter pies with chocolate chambord ganache:

chocolate chambord ganache
Peanut butter pie with a chocolate cookie crust, peanut butter mousse, and chocolate ganache with a hint of chambord
It was such a great time and we had an estimated turn-out of over 400 guests!  It was packed with hungry munchers for hours and hours:

The cake in the far right corner was infused with tobacco.  No joke.  It was addictive.  

Isn't it a cute kitchen?!  I love the pink walls :) 

This is one of very few good shots of me from the night.  According to the camera, I spent the entire evening hunched over peanut butter pies, drinking wine, and making horrid faces at everyone.  

At times it was hard to move through the crowd

There were so many options to choose from!  There were several cakes, muffins, jams, cold-brewed coffee, baked cheese balls, fresh juices, mock tuna salad (vegan!), gluten free cookies, and even some hot foods.  

The Kitchener will be having many more events in the future!  Please stay tuned here and here to be sure to get an invite to the next event.

I had to leave the party early because the very next day, I was entering a pie contest at Omnivore Books.  I got up super early and baked several more pies to give out as samples:

The pie contest was pretty fun up until the part where I didn't win.  I lost to a s'mores pie, which I didn't think was that exciting.  I thought the potato and cheese one was the best.  It tied for second place with an apricot plum pie.  There were something like 45 entries and mine was the only vegan one.  

1st prize s'mores pie: middle right

It was a very crowded affair.  Once again, Ralph and I found ourselves packed like sardines into a small room with lots of hungry people.  

The potato cheese pie

As I was leaving, there were several women hovering over my remaining samples, so I know it was going down well, even if it didn't win.  I scowled the whole way home.  I am obviously not as good at losing as I am at winning.  

The entire following week was spent in preparation for yet another weekend of baking.  I spent two days straight in the Kitchener, baking and decorating 250 cupcakes of 5 different flavors for a commitment ceremony.  

250 Cupcakes

Ready for the run-down?  Red velvet cake with vanilla "cream cheese" frosting, vanilla cake with coconut-lime frosting and a mango garnish, gluten-free chocolate cake with vanilla "cream cheese" frosting a strawberry garnish with chocolate drizzle, chocolate cake with caramel glaze and toasted coconut with chocolate drizzle, ginger cake with vanilla "cream cheese" frosting and candied orange peel.  Stop drooling for a minute and consider how much work each of those words implies.  Because I sure didn't.  

Not the best picture, but you get the idea
Since these were for my first real (non-friend) customers, I grossly undercharged for them.  Lesson learned!  When you don't break even after a week of planning and two high-stress days in the kitchen (no matter how lovely the kitchen is), you have to choose between laughing and crying.  Fortunately, it was all a very good learning experience and I was able to laugh about losing money on it.  I learned a lot about how long it takes to complete a project like this, and how useful it is to have a good natured and calm helper (or preferably a slave boyfriend because they are free) to wash dishes and bring you things.  Possibly the biggest lesson I learned is that more flavors = a LOT more work.  I'll be sure to remember this when taking orders in the future.   

I'm so glad we got the cupcakes to the venue on time.  I was scrambling to beat the clock; and, I was still covered in flour and sugar when we delivered them.  Another lesson learned: Don't wear black on decorating day, even if you think it will make you look more professional during delivery.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lemon Blueberry Porch cake

Ever since the cupcake contest, my life has been a whirlwind of activity.  Fortunately for me, that means I've been doing a lot of baking.  I put together a cupcake tasting for a couple who is getting married, whipped up a German chocolate birthday cake for a friend's sister, and finally I put together this scrumptious little number for a dinner party yesterday:

whipped lemon coconut cream, vegan cake, summer cake, picnic bakery

It should have been a relatively simple thing to throw together.

This cake behaved like a sneaky seven year old child.  It had a little temper-tantrum; but, I handled it with the gentle grace of a good cake-mother.  

What happened was, I loved the tanginess of the lemon coconut whipped cream so much that I initially tried to put it between the cake layers.  It seemed to be working.  I turned my back on it for a moment and turned back around just in time to catch the top layer in my open hands as it attempted to escape by slithering right off the bottom layer in a slip-n-slide of lemon coconut fluff.  

A little bit stunned by the very sudden appearance of foam-coated cake in my hands, I just stood there, in the middle of the kitchen, dripping whipped frosting on the floor.  It was awkward.  Luckily, there was a parchment paper sitting on the counter and I was able to wiggle the cake onto it.  Using a spatula, I scraped the cake clean and started over again, this time filling the layers with better-behaved blueberry filling.  After that little incident, all was right in Emily's little world of cake.  I can't be the only person things like this happen to in the kitchen, can I?  Anyone?

With the help of toothpicks, plastic wrap, and a blast of car air conditioning, I managed to safely arrive at the party with an intact cake.  The dinner was a lot of fun and happened to be in the most beautiful kitchen I've seen in a long time.  It was full of functional vintage equipment and was painted such lovely colors:

whipped lemon coconut cream, vegan cake, summer cake, picnic bakery

The hostess sells blueberries at local farmer's markets (in fact, my cake featured her berries).  Most of the guests were friends of hers from other market booths, including a woman named Emmy who makes pickles and preserves.  I got to try some of her beets, and they were reeeeeally good.  You can find her little jars of goodness, including her award-winning pickled cauliflower at Buyer's Best Friend on Haight Street at Cole.  

After a delicious home cooked farmer's market dinner eaten on the rustic front porch stoop of a beautiful Berkeley home; and, after a few glasses of wine and a couple of bad jokes, it was time for cake.  

whipped lemon coconut cream, vegan cake, summer cake, picnic bakery

I live for cake time.  Also, if kitchens were detachable, I would've stolen this one.  Then I would've felt very bad and given it back.  Except for the refrigerator.

whipped lemon coconut cream, vegan cake, summer cake, picnic bakery

Lemon Blueberry Porch Cake
Original recipe by Emily Haydel of Picnic Bakery

This cake features sweet lemon cake and blueberry filling offset by a cool and tangy lemon-coconut whipped cream frosting.  It makes a perfect summertime treat as it tastes best slightly chilled.

Blueberry Filling Ingredients:
4 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 Tbs cornstarch
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

Whipped Lemon Coconut Cream Ingredients:
3 cans full fat coconut milk (refrigerated over night, solid part only)
8 oz vegan cream cheese (room temp)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 Tbs lemon zest
Lemon Curd (see below)

Lemon Curd Ingredients:
2/3 cup sugar
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, pulp removed
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 Tbs earth balance

Lemon Cake Ingredients:
2 cups almond milk
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 Tbs cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
1 1/2 Tbs lemon zest

1.  Blueberry Filling Instructions:
In a medium sauce pan, mash 3 cups of blueberries with a potato masher.  Stir in sugar, xanthan gum, cornstarch, and lemon juice and heat over medium-high heat stirring vigorously to incorporate.  Once mixture begins to bubble, reduce heat to a simmer and cook an additional 2 minutes, continuing to stir.  There will be white lumps from the xanthan gum.  Try to press them out with the spoon, but don't worry if they are small, they will break down after the mixture cools and is stirred again.  Stir in the remaining whole blueberries.  Cool and then cover and refrigerate until you're ready to assemble the cake.

2.  Lemon Curd Instructions:
Whisk together the sugar, flour, and xanthan gum in a small sauce pan.  Turn on the heat to medium-high and whisk in the lemon juice.  Continue to whisk until mixture begins to warm.  Add the earth balance and continue to whisk the mixture as it melts.  Keep whisking until mixture begins to bubble and then whisk for another minute more.  Pour into a heat safe bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

3.  Whipped Coconut Cream Instructions:
With an electric mixer, mix the vegan cream cheese on low until light and fluffy.  Add the coconut milk solids and mix on medium until fluffy.  Add powdered sugar, xanthan gum, and lemon zest and mix on high until very fluffy and stiff peaks form.  Fold in the chilled lemon curd.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

4.  Lemon Cake instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two 9 inch cake rounds with parchment and spray with oil.  In a large bowl, combine the almond milk and vinegar and whisk together.  Let sit for five minutes to curdle.  In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cornstarch.   Whisk the sugar, lemon zest, oil, and extracts into the milk/vinegar mixture.  Slowly stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no large lumps remain (some small lumps are okay).  Evenly distribute the batter into the two cake pans.  Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes until toothpick in center comes out clean.  Cool for five minutes in pan, then dump out on parchment lined counter and lift (on parchment) to wire cooling rack.

5.  Assembly:
Once the cake layers have cooled completely, place one layer bottom-side-up on your cake plate.  Cover with a layer of blueberry mixture and then spread with a very thin layer of lemon coconut frosting.  Place second layer bottom side up on top and push down gently to make sure it is firmly situated.  Pipe some of the whipped frosting around the edges.  Make it thick enough and high enough to hold the blueberry filling in.  (I piped three rows around the outside edge).  Fill the center hole with the remaining blueberry filling and push carefully up to the edges of the piped frosting.  If they touch and get messy, just pipe another ring of frosting over top.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

6. Enjoy
Gather some friends, pop open a chilled bottle of rose, make your way to the nearest front porch, and eat cake!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Picnic Bakery Enters a Cupcake Contest

Last Saturday I entered a vegan cupcake contest hosted by Rock Paper Scissors Collective.

Poppy gives the best pep-talks!

The night before the contest, I couldn't sleep.  I was completely anxiety-ridden and haunted by images of a huge warehouse full of pretentious vegan bakers, neon lighting, and sabotage.  The morning of the contest, I couldn't eat breakfast or even drink coffee because my stomach was full of butterflies.  (This may also be because I ate cupcake batter for dinner the night before).  During the ride to the venue, I kept trying to think of reasons not to go and half-hoped we might get stuck in all-day traffic.

But we didn't.  And I'm really glad because every detail of the day was the opposite of the dreaded images I had conjured.  Upon our arrival, we were greeted by some of the collective members and we began to set up tables.  

I brought Samoa cupcakes.  Chocolate/vanilla marble cake, chewy caramel glaze, crunchy coconut topping, chocolate drizzle.  I know.  They were inspired by the girl scout cookies; so, I also made a Samoa cake in the shape of the cookie for display purposes:

I shared a table with a girl who made coconut cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  We managed to be friends in spite of our similar cupcake flavors.  At least we didn't wear the same dress!

Across the room, there was some more friendly cupcake competition.  A group with purple hair arrived to set up their display for Fluffer Nutter cupcakes:

Next to them, was a cute couple who brought a very inspired Thaikiki cupcake.  It was a peanut and coconut cupcake with avocado lime frosting.  The flavors were delicate and the presentation was adorable with little wooden crates and jars of sliced limes:

I love his cupcake vs. cupcake t-shirt

By the time we were all set up, a line had formed outside.  It wrapped around the block.

The next two and a half hours were a blur.  We were bombarded by hungry cupcake eaters.  The line moved consistently past the cupcake tables without break.  I served cupcake quarter, after cupcake quarter, after cupcake quarter.  My hands were totally covered in chocolate and caramel (as it turns out, that's not such a terrible situation to be in).

When I ran out of cupcakes, I was talked into cutting the Samoa cake.  It was gone within three minutes.

Then people started eating coconut crumbs off the demolished cupcake platter.  

We estimated that over 200 people turned out to judge cupcakes.  They did some serious damage.

Meanwhile, Poppy was busy making friends outside:

Finally, the tallies were in and the winners were announced by a couple of the Rock Paper Scissors ladies.

This is the girl who took home 1st place prizes and was voted "Best Vegan Cupcake In The Bay Area":

I deserved it.  If nothing else, for keeping those shoes on my feet the whole day!

I'm already looking for the next contest.  I think I might be addicted to winning.

For more pictures from the event, click here.