Testing Pillsbury's $1M Winning Bakeoff Recipe

Categories: Recipes, Sweets

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Peanutty Pie Clusters

In early December, Pillsbury announced "Peanutty Pie Clusters" as the grand prize-winning recipe of its 47th Bakeoff contest. The $1M recipe, submitted by Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia, is particularly distinctive for its incorporation of toasted pie crust squares.

This innovation in combination with a short, ostensibly simple ingredient list prompted me to test it for a holiday cookie exchange. The Huffington Post didn't think much of the look of these clusters, but whatever.

Here's where my troubles began.

Actually, they began specifically in the baking aisle at H-E-B while I was searching for one particular ingredient: "white vanilla baking chips." There were white chocolate chips. There were some generic "white chips." No "white vanilla baking chips." Isn't white vanilla sort of redundant? And "white chocolate vanilla" soft of oxymoronic? Also, are "morsels" the same as "chips"?

This recipe is not for neurotic language scholars.

This story continues on the next page.

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Dish of the Week: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Categories: Recipes, Sweets

Photo by Juliana Su
You may as well serve the chocolate drink with churros for good measure.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

Just in case the weather actually gets colder for good this time, this week we're sharing a recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Mexican hot chocolate is like classic hot cocoa in that it's made with heated milk, chocolate, and sugar. This drink, however, has added spices like cinnamon, vanilla, anise and chiles.

The beverage traces back to Mayan and Aztec cultures, where seeds from cocoa trees were ground into a paste, mixed with water, and flavored native spices and herbs to cover up the bitter taste. The word cocao is derived from the Nahuatl word xocolātl, meaning bitter water. Since it had a very sacred place in Central American culture, the scientific name of the cocoa plant is Theobroma cacao, with theobroma meaning "food of the gods."

Cold, thick, and intensely flavored. traditional xocolatl was quite the acquired taste. Once Europeans introduced sugar, however, it morphed into the slightly sweeter hot cocoa that we know and love today.

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Chocolate and Charity: Cacao & Cardamom and the Chester Pitts Foundation

Categories: Sweets

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Annie Rupani, Chester Pitts and kids from his foundation received exposure to the fine art of chocolate-making at Cacao & Cardamom.

Sometimes when people are trying to do something good, challenges arise. Such was the case when Cacao & Cardamom at 5000 Westheimer joined forces with former Houston Texan Chester Pitts last week to host a group of kids, show them how chocolates are made and sell chocolates to raise money for the foundation.

Traffic all around the shop was excruciatingly slow, making almost everyone on the way to the event late. The Galleria area intersection of Westheimer and Post Oak seemed to be the nexus of the problem. I left from Uptown Park and it was a 25-minute slog to make it a mile down the street. My photographer-husband was coming from the other direction and it took him longer to get from Highway 59 and Sage to the shop than it did for him to get to that exit all the way from Katy.

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Dish of the Week: Classic Bread Pudding

Categories: Recipes, Sweets

Photo by opacity
A drizzle of caramel or whiskey sauce makes the sweet bread pudding extra decadent.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

This week, we're indulging in a classic comfort food: Bread Pudding.

Bread pudding is a dessert consisting of stale bread that is soaked in a custard-like mixture before being baked. It is often spiced with things like cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla and served with a sweet sauce (whiskey, rum, chocolate or caramel based). We know the dish as a Southern classic, however it is popular all over the world, including in places like Argentina, Belgium, India, Ireland, the Philippines, Slovakia and the Puerto Rico, to name a few.

Food historians have traced the dish's origins to the early 11th and 12th centuries, where it was created as a frugal way to use stale bread. In 13th century England, it was referred to as "poor man's pudding." Then, it was likely a simple mixture of stale bread, milk, and some form of fat and sweetener.

Today, the addition of eggs and other flavors, spices, and add-ins like liquors, fruit, nuts, and chocolate have turned the humble dish into something a bit more luxurious. It can even be made savory through the edition of cheese, herbs, vegetables, and meats.

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Recipe: Kit Kat Cake, or How to Get Rid of Extra Halloween Candy

Categories: How To, Sweets

Photo by Irwandy Mazwir
Classic Kit Kat Cake

If you've been saddled with the unconscionable burden of having leftover Halloween candy, this recipe is for you.

If you can't imagine how anyone celebrates Halloween without consuming all available candy, this recipe is also for you, though you'll have to go to the grocery store to stock up on some ingredients.

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Best and Worst Halloween Candy of the Past 5 Years

Categories: Sweets


In 2009, J.C. Reid (who now handles barbecue coverage for the Houston Chronicle) wrote a memorable post called "Top 5 Creepiest Halloween Candy" in which zit poppers, box of boogers and scab-a-roni were some of the attention-getting highlights.

In referencing the scab-a-roni (do they even make that anymore?), Reid poignantly wrote: "Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of our minds is the memory of that kid -- that one kid -- in junior high school who would quite un-self-consciously pick at the scab on his elbow and then pop it into his mouth."

Ah nostalgia! And in keeping with the spirit of the season we decided to take a stroll along the dark and haunted version of memory lane, peopled by a certain attraction for grossness and occasional lapses into healthiness. Read on.

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Season's Sweet Eats at Dunkin' Donuts

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Pumpkin Spice Donut Holes and Seasonal Iced Donut

This October, bring donuts to that office/neighborhood/coven Halloween party. And, yes, you could go local and bring a Shipley's dozen, but for festive purposes, think Dunkin' Donuts.

The international chain may not serve up the best donuts in the world, or, for that matter, in Houston, but they do a more than decent job of dressing up their offerings for the holidays. And while at one point, such seasonal editions only came out at Christmas, now DD pulls out all the stops for calendar celebrations. (Twenty bucks says there will be Administrative Professionals' Day donuts next year.)

There's the requisite vanilla or chocolate iced doughnut with Halloween-appropriate sprinkles, which this year include ones shaped (but not flavored) like pumpkins. That variety is perfect for those who want to celebrate the holiday without actually trying anything different, so, basically picky five-year-olds.

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Baker Spotlight: Annie Rupani, Chocolatier and Owner of Cacao & Cardamom

Categories: Sweets

Photo by Molly Dunn
Annie Rupani combines spices and exotic flavors into her chocolate creations at Cacao & Cardamom.
Annie Rupani makes some of the most beautiful chocolates you have ever seen; each creation is like a work of art. After graduating from Boston University with a degree in Anthropology and Religion, she set her sights on becoming a lawyer. And like every person studying for the LSATs, she found ways to de-stress during breaks. But unlike everyone else, her stress-reliever was making chocolate.

That passion and love for the sweet confection helped her discover what she really wanted to do in life, and law school wasn't in the picture anymore.

"I was just obsessed with food; I was obsessed with cooking. Chocolate was just one of those things that I had a certain affinity to just because of the process," Rupani says. "Chocolate somehow captures people's hearts. There are so many things that surround chocolate that are just so intriguing and people have a strong memory to it, and I was one of those people. I was really intrigued by the process. I wanted to be a chocolate maker."

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The 5 Best Cinnamon Rolls in Houston

Categories: Sweets, Top Five

Photo by Whitney via Flickr
Cinnamon rolls aren't complete until they are drenched in cream cheese frosting.
Ahh. Cinnamon rolls. You can recognize that smell anywhere. Most of us probably have nostalgic memories of the smell of baking cinnamon rolls in the morning. And when the melted cream cheese frosting is poured over the top, it takes every muscle in your body to resist diving in before all of the rolls are completely covered.

Unraveling the dough to discover the hidden cinnamon-sugar gems stuffed between each layer is fun, but without a doubt, the best part is eating the warm, soft, gooey center. And no matter what anyone says, a cinnamon roll is not to be shared, regardless of the size; that center cannot (and should not) be split in half.

To help you satisfy your morning sweet tooth, we have listed five of the best cinnamon rolls in the city. And yes, the centerpiece for each of these is amazing.

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Eat This: The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite

Photo by Molly Dunn
The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite is a work of art.
Before Tout Suite opened in East Downtown, I knew the cafe would be serving incredible desserts and pastries, like those delicate macarons and beautiful cupcakes sold at the sister bakery, Sweet in CityCentre, along with a savory menu served throughout the day. But, the tarts and treats were a surprise.

As I stared at the gorgeous display of bright yellow mango passion tart cakes, matcha green tea chiffon cakes and lemon yuzu tarts, one of the employees approached me asking if I had any questions about the offerings at Tout Suite. I told him I was interested in purchasing the "Paris Houston," a chocolate almond cake with a fruit filling and a generous topping of swirled frosting, but he advised me to choose a different pastry, the Salted Caramel Peanut Tart.

He said it is one of the best offerings in the display case, and that he was one of the chefs who makes the pastries at Tout Suite.

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