We are huge fans of The Great British Bake-Off here, and so of course it was quite upsetting to learn of the departures of most of our favorites from the show. But perhaps it was the influence of this program, with its absence of inflated drama and the genuine enthusiasm and camaraderie of the contestants that inspired me to enter a local baking competition this weekend. And, much to my surprise, I won best cookie! I can’t say it was a crowded field, but it was still satisfying to be the holder of a blue ribbon.

I wanted to make something original for the contest, knowing that I was unlikely to beat anyone through skill or know-how; I was aiming for a good concept, as well as a good bake, naturally! Last year some time, I made Christina Tosi’s (yes, a familiar face from another cooking competition show) cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip cookies, particularly the amazing crispiness the cornflakes add. Do you remember the old cereal commercials, which always showed a kid eating a bowl of Sugar Smacks or whatever, alongside a plate of toast and a glass of juice, with the voiceover announcing, “part of a good nutritious breakfast” (what kid eats toast AND cereal, I ask you)? Well, that was my jumping off point.

These cookies are probably not part of a good nutritious breakfast, but they take their flavors from that most important meal of the day. I started with the basis of a lacy, Florentine-style cookie with butter and oats and sugar, and added banana for extra caramelized goodness. Then I stirred in a mix of my favorite cereals; you could easily vary these depending on your preferences. Finally, to make a real showstopper, I sandwiched them with a slathering of coffee cream, using cream cheese to keep the sweetness from getting overwhelming.

It’s not the best looking cookie, I’ll be the first to admit, but it’s a winner taste-wise. And I’ve got the ribbon to prove it!


A Good Nutritious Breakfast Cookies
These sandwich cookies with a hint of banana flavor feature your favorite cereal, with a slathering of coffee cream in between.
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
For the cookies
  1. 2 small, ripe bananas
  2. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  3. 3/4 cup brown sugar
  4. 1 egg
  5. Dash salt
  6. 1 3/4 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  7. 2 1/2 cups breakfast cereal of your choice - I used a mixture of Cheerios, lightly crushed corn flakes and Rice Krispies
For the filling
  1. 2 Tb unsalted butter at room temperature
  2. 3 Tb cream cheese at room temperature
  3. 2 Tb + 1 tsp strong brewed coffee
  4. 2 cups powdered (confectioners) sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone pan liner.
Make the cookies
  1. In a large bowl, mash the bananas until mostly smooth. Beat in the melted butter, brown sugar, egg and salt. Stir in the oats.
  2. Gently fold in the cereal and mix until well combined.
  3. Drop dough by scant tablespoonsful onto prepared baking sheet. I found it helpful to use a spoon to pat down and shape the cookies gently, since they will spread some while baking and you want them to be as consistent as possible when you sandwich them.
  4. Bake until edges of the cookies are beginning to brown and the tops are dry, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
While cookies are baking and cooling, make the filling
  1. Beat together the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Sift in about a cup of the powdered sugar, then stir in the coffee.
  3. Add more powdered sugar until the filling reaches a spreadable consistency; you don't want it to be drippy.
  4. Spread the filling on the bottom of one cooled cookie, then sandwich another onto it.
  5. Eat and enjoy!
Emperors Crumbs



While we were in Slovakia, we had an amazing opportunity to visit the CHOCOMAZE workshop and try our hands at making some beautiful—and delicious—chocolate treats.

CHOCOMAZE is based in Komárno, our sleepy home town in Slovakia. It was founded in 2013 by Katalin Vargha, and while it’s still a small business, it has already received recognition from all over Europe. CHOCOMAZE specializes in handcrafted chocolate bars and delights; and not only did we get a peek at how they do all this, we got a chance to make our very own treats with the help of the lovely Marti, who herself has only been working at CHOCOMAZE for about six weeks! 

We closely examined all the different add-ins that they have to work with!

First, Marti showed us the tempering machines. They have two, one for milk chocolate and one for dark. Tempering helps the fatty acids in the chocolate crystallize into a more stable, which gives the finished product a glossy look and a nice snap when you bite it. Very important! Here’s a good explanation of tempering.


Our first volunteer worker chose to make white chocolate heart lollipops. For a little added flair, we also used edible ink transfers on one side. Marti prepared the mold, placing the ink transfer paper on one side. One of the main components of the ink is cocoa butter, so it practically melts into the surface of the chocolate bar.ec2-chocomaze


The white chocolate was already in a warming pan, but needed a good stir, and then Marti used the cool marble slab to get it down to the right temperature for molding. This was mesmerizing to watch. Since we were the only ones eating this product, we used a very simple instrument to see whether the chocolate had reached the right temperature: the finger test! White chocolate should be about body temperature when it’s ready to work with.



Marti drizzled the chocolate into the molds, then tapped them to get rid of any bubbles.



She added the sticks, and it was time to decorate!

Volunteer worker number two went for dark chocolate mignons. Since the chocolate came straight from the tempering machine, there was no need to cool it on the work surface. The tempering machine even has a setting to jiggle the bubbles out of the chocolate.




Then the chocolate goes in the fridge to continue cooling and solidifying. CHOCOMAZE does every step by hand, even the packaging. So that’s what we did too.



It was too bad that we had just a few too many to fit in the box, so we had to eat them. The sacrifices we make! Everyone gave the finished products a big thumbs-up. The chocolate is rich and melts in your mouth, and we all approved the choices of tart dried fruits and little crispy dragées. We certainly gained an appreciation for the painstaking work it takes to produce these beautiful creations. If you’re in Slovakia or Hungary, you can try CHOCOMAZE’s treats for yourself. You can even special order your own mix of chocolate flavors and add-ins.


Thank you Marti, Kati, and CHOCOMAZE!




When I was a kid approximately one million years ago, my parents gave me a Donvier ice cream maker. When we moved back to California four years ago, my mom revealed that she had been hanging on to it all this time, and gave it back to us; I promptly put it in the bottom of the freezer and forgot about it.

You’ve probably seen this type of ice cream maker, which has a bowl that you freeze for 24 hours and then use to chill and churn your mixture. I remember being super disappointed as a kid, because despite cranking the handle furiously, I didn’t immediately get perfect scoopable ice cream. Remarkably, however, my mom managed to save the instruction booklet that came with the machine, and when I, you know, actually READ the directions thirty years on, I understood that you need to just turn the handle once every few minutes, and when the mixture is thick but not solid, decant it to a separate container to freeze to the right consistency. Armed with this knowledge and the lowered expectations of middle age, I have made some really great ice cream.

Because you don’t churn a lot of air into it, the ice cream is very creamy. My one failure was when I made a rice pudding and tried to freeze that – it was so thick I could barely turn the crank! But I have overwhelmingly relied on the recipes in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and have had amazing results. Jeni Britton Bauer’s basic method uses cream cheese and no eggs, and the flavors she thinks up are so unexpected and delicious.

I wanted to come up with a Central European riff on her technique, and was inspired by miláčik for the base, with a swirl of chocolate and crispy wafers in homage to our beloved Tatranky and Mila snacks.

The directions here are what works well for our little Donvier. It can’t hold a full recipe so I have to churn it in batches, but it stays cold enough. Adding chocolate drizzle directly into the maker has never been successful, so I’ve taken to layering it in the freezer container. Just be patient, because the ice cream really isn’t at its best until it’s had a good 4-6 hours to firm up in the freezer.

Tangy ice cream with a chocolate wafer ripple
A Central European twist on ice cream - with sour cream, wafers, and chocolate swirls
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Prep Time
5 hr 15 min
Cook Time
17 min
Total Time
5 hr 30 min
Prep Time
5 hr 15 min
Cook Time
17 min
Total Time
5 hr 30 min
  1. 2 cups whole milk
  2. 2 Tbs cornstarch
  3. 2 ounces cream cheese
  4. 1/8 tsp salt
  5. 2/3 cup sugar
  6. 2 Tbs light corn syrup
  7. 1 cup sour cream
  8. 1 1/2 cups wafer cookies (I used Loacker hazelnut flavor), chopped
  9. 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  10. 1 Tbs milk or more as needed
  1. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl and add a splash of the 2 cups of milk to moisten and make a paste.
  2. Put the cream cheese and salt in a large bowl, and set aside.
  3. Heat the remaining milk with the sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a boil; boil for 4 minutes taking care to stir from time to time.
  4. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and whisk smooth; return to a boil for another minute or so, or until slightly thickened.
  5. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese, and whisk until smooth (I sometimes find an immersion mixer is helpful). Stir in the sour cream.
  6. At this point, I prefer to just allow the mixture to cool in the bowl in the fridge overnight. Jeni Britton Bauer's instructions call for pouring the mixture into a Ziploc bag and cooling it in an ice bath, but whatever time I've saved that way I've regretted, since it's messy and I wonder about the wisdom of having hot liquids against the plastic. The main thing is, you want the base to be really cold before you put it in your ice cream maker, so whatever method you prefer, make sure it's fully chilled when you start to churn.
  7. Pour the base mixture into the frozen canister and churn until thick and creamy.
  8. While you're churning, melt the chocolate chips either in the microwave or on a double boiler on the stove. Stir in the tablespoon of milk to get it to a drippy consistency.
  9. When the base has reached the consistency of soft serve, layer the ice cream: put about 1/3 of the mixture at the bottom of your storage container. Drizzle about 1/3 of the chocolate sauce over the top, and sprinkle a third of the chopped wafers. Spread half the remaining ice cream over the top, and repeat the drizzling and sprinkling. Spread the final portion of ice cream and toppings, place a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper against the surface, seal with a lid and put in the freezer.
  10. Allow the ice cream to freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.
Emperors Crumbs

While I was growing up eating Jell-O pudding cups,* halfway across the world Valerian was snacking on miláčik. Now, miláčik means “darling” or “dear” in Slovak, so if you run a search on it, you’ll get a rather surprising selection of results, particularly pet photos.

Last time he was back in the Old Country, Valerian noticed that miláčik is basically sweetened, flavored sour cream, and so when he returned to California, he decided to whip us up a batch himself. It’s not quite as firm as the kind you buy in the store, which sometimes is called tvarohový miláčik because it’s made with tvaroh, the local cheese that’s similar to ricotta. Valerian’s recipe here couldn’t be simpler, though, and while the vanilla bean gives you those authentic little speckles, just bump up the amount of good quality vanilla extract if that’s what you have. Sour cream makes a perfect consistency to top or fill crepes, or, honestly, just slurping it up all on its own. Good thing I’m wearing these elastic-waist pants.

Sour Cream Desert
This creamy delight falls somewhere between a pudding and a sauce. If vanilla seems, well, too vanilla, sift in a tablespoon of cocoa powder and make a chocolate version instead. Could you use yogurt instead of sour cream? Sure, but then you'll have flavored yogurt.
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Prep Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
  1. 1 16 oz. container sour cream
  2. ¼ cup brown sugar
  3. 1 vanilla bean
  4. ½ tsp vanilla extract
  1. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and their surrounding paste.
  2. Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and vanillas in a medium bowl.
  3. Serve in small bowls, as a topping or filling for crepes or pound cake.
  1. Your kids will fall in love with this. It is easy to make so let them do the work.
Emperors Crumbs

Right around the time I stopped eating meat as a teenager, I spent a summer working at a local wildlife care clinic. If squeamishness about meat had played any role in my decision to become vegetarian, that would have been the shortest internship ever. Without going into detail, let’s just say that the recipes for a raccoon’s lunch or a hawk’s afternoon snack have no place on a food blog. At least not this one.

I stopped eating meat mainly because I was 14 and it seemed like a cool thing to do, but then found I didn’t miss it and haven’t really missed it  in the [redacted] years since. While I believe that it makes sense to reduce the number of animal products we use, I have never had much of a rationale for vegetarianism, and never felt much inclined towards being vegan. I’m way too lazy to monitor my diet that closely – living with three committed omnivores, I am okay with picking the sausage out of my favorite lentil soup. I’ll cook meat for everyone else, although they have to make their peace with the fact that I won’t taste it to check how it is. What about your family? Do you have a pescatarian in your midst? Or lurking lactose intolerance? How do you handle multiple dietary needs around the table?

So back to the subject of this post. Despite being happily ovo-lacto myself, my most beloved cake recipe is, by chance, vegan. It’s a Bundt cake and pretty much my stock answer to “what should your birthday cake be?” Although it’s extremely easy to make, it falls into the category of a special occasion cake so it’s not a one I make or eat too often, and that’s not right. When I started seeing cookies baked from cake mix around the internet, a little light  went off over my head. Could this be a way to get a dose of chocolate spice deliciousness whether it’s a birthday or not?

Indeed. Baked for ten minutes, these cookies are delightful puffy, pillowy little cakelets, gooey with chocolate chips and perked up with cinnamon and cloves. But try underbaking them by a minute or two, and you will get what I consider the ideal consistency, which is amazing, almost pudding-y. And  what with them being vegan and all, no worries about raw eggs – go ahead and eat a spoonful or two of the dough, you have my permission.

The canonical version of the cake does not include raisins, although they are in the recipe as written on an index card in my mother’s file. These are to be soaked in brandy or other liquid, and while I scornfully cast out the raisins, I do include that liquid; coffee (what else?) in our household. Feel free to booze it up if you have some handy.

Chocolate spice cookies

Since the original cake is by nature a bit heavy, I used some whole wheat flour in the cookies to give them some heft. You could use all all-purpose, but add the coffee/liquid gradually to see that the mixture doesn’t get too thin. It will thicken some if you refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight.


Makes about 3 dozen smallish cookies

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup applesauce
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup brewed coffee, cooled (or brandy, or other liquid of your choice)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips


  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, spices, baking soda, salt and cornstarch. Add the sugars. Stir in the applesauce and oil, then add the coffee and mix until fully combined. The dough will be soft.
  • Scoop the dough out in rounded teaspoons on the baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until just puffed – leave them to set for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a plate to be gobbled immediately cool.