Cake walk

For me, one of the most memorable scenes in “Bridesmaids” was not the infamously disgusting bridal shop debacle, although that one is pretty hard to forget. It was the scene where Kristen Wiig, portraying a pastry chef, goes into her home kitchen and proceeds to bang out one of the most drop-dead gorgeous single-serving cupcakes I’ve ever seen.

I enjoy cupcakes and prefer them to ice cream if I’m going out for a sweet treat, but they’re not something I seek out on a regular basis. In fact, I have a great basic cupcake recipe that I like playing around with at home as the mood strikes me. However, my recent trip to Parcha Sweets, in conjunction with the past few episodes of Top Chef Just Desserts, has been a stark reminder me that I am indeed a mere amateur when it comes to cranking out culinary creations of the pastry variety.

Parcha Sweets exterior

When I saw Parcha Sweets open last fall in the old Domino’s Pizza building on 62nd Street just east of Broad Ripple, I thought… huh? Now, after finally making a visit nearly a year later, I get it. If you look close, you can figure out what the repainted building used to be without much trouble, but inside, you’d never guess high school hacks used to sling pies here. It’s really warm, cute and cozy. Parcha encourages customers to take a load off and relax by providing organic coffee, magazines, free Wifi, and even a small table and chairs for the kiddos, a smart move if you want to appeal to the mom crowd.

In case you’re wondering about the name, “parcha” means passion fruit in the chef’s Puerto Rican homeland. Here in Indy, she offers cookies, pies, bread pudding, old-fashioned coconut macaroons and other baked goods, but the cupcakes the real rock stars, displayed in a countertop cluster of glass cake stands. And they are gorgeous. There are about a dozen flavors to choose from daily. Some of the stands had already been depleted by the time I stopped by mid-afternoon; thankfully, there were still plenty of mouthwatering choices.

I used my book club meeting as an excuse to visit, looking for a dessert to contribute to the evening’s group. I’d read online somewhere that Parcha Sweets offered mini-cupcakes, which I thought would be a great way for us to sample several flavors each. Alas, the nice young gal who waited on me said they’d stopped making the minis because they were too difficult to package without falling over. Hmph. Well, no matter, I figured we’d just cut the full-size cupcakes into fourths. Additionally, one of the ladies in my book club has a son who’s dealing with a list of food allergies that would make your head spin. As a show of solidarity, she’s following the same restrictive diet he’s on. So with her in mind, I asked about gluten-free, vegan cupcakes (I’d also read in another online review that Parcha did these as well). Found out they’re not regularly available, either. Just for special orders, apparently.

I had trouble making selections when so many of the cupcakes looked so tempting and finally just asked the server to pick eight and box them up for me. Packaging is thoughtfully designed to preserve the integrity of the cupcakes – sturdy cardboard boxes with molded holders inside to keep those little beauties from sliding around if you take a sharp turn. And a little ribbon and sticker on the top. Pretty.

Parcha Sweets cupcakes to go

Let’s get on to the main event… here’s what we sampled and our impressions of each:

the Red Velvet

Red Velvet – the hands-down favorite of the bunch. Rich, luscious claret cake topped with a mountain of creamy cream cheese frosting. Delectable. Everyone who tasted this one loved it.

Lemon – ricotta lemon cake filled with a lemon cream and topped with lemon buttercream. Another crowd pleaser.

Peanut Salty Caramel – tasted sort of like a Snickers bar. Chocolate cake with a caramel filling, peanut butter frosting and a few chopped nuts on top for garnish. I could have eaten the peanut butter frosting with a spoon, but the cake was a little dry, and the caramel filling was a little too liquid.

Carrot – a big hit with the gals who like carrot cake. Moist and delicious with more of that yummy cream cheese frosting on top.

the Chocolate Passion

Chocolate Passion – chocolate cake with a big pile of chocolate ganache topping. Almost overkill on the chocolate, if there is such a thing. The ganache was firm on top, not soft like frosting, which kinda threw us a little bit. However, I’m positive my son would LOVE this.

Wedding Cake – got mixed reviews, but I really liked it. Creamy vanilla cake topped with what tasted like amaretto buttercream frosting. The sweet almond flavor really comes through.

the S’mores

S’mores – chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, marshmallow filling (toasted on top) and graham cracker crumbs. Good, but not great. It looked really intriguing, but we found the marshmallow a bit chewy.

Caribbean Coconut – one gal in the group really liked this one, the rest thought it was ok. The cake was a wee bit dry, but there was tons of good coconut flavor.

Parcha Sweets prices are a little steep – $2.99 for a beautiful cupcake of average size, which is a few cents higher than what you’d pay at Flying Cupcake and Holy Cow. Although you do get a 10 percent discount if you order more than six. Just make sure you don’t eat all six by yourself in one sitting. It could happen…

For more information:

Parcha Sweets on Urbanspoon

Recent culinary exploits and obsessions

A few foodie items I’ve recently been jazzed about:

My French Fontignac 5-quart casserole dish.

Last year, I just HAD to have a Le Creuset something or other. (I think I was probably inspired by seeing Amy Adams make a beef bourguignon in one in the movie “Julie & Julia.”) I settled for spending some of my Christmas money on a lovely blue Fontignac vessel I found at Bed, Bath and Beyond instead. This was a pricy piece of cookware – even on sale, it was still $80 – but I had visions of using it to make gorgeous stews and braises through the winter.

Long story short, this beautiful pot sat on a shelf in my basement until about three weeks ago. For starters, I was intimidated about using it. Secondly, I wasn’t quite sure how to use it. It wasn’t until I was in Ireland this summer and used a similar pot owned by one of my sisters-in-law to make curry that I got over my fear.

So a few weeks ago, I took a deep breath, dusted off my Fontignac and broke it in. I finally found out what I’ve been missing all this time. The inaugural dish? Braised country-style pork ribs with a bourguignon-ish sauce of red wine, beef stock, tomato paste and rosemary. The beauty of this pot, I quickly realized, was being able to sear the ribs in it, then simply dump in the sauce ingredients, put the lid on and throw it in the oven for a couple hours. The heavy cast-iron construction means this is a pot I’m likely to have forever. Oh, and the meal was fantastic.

Since then, I’ve used this versatile cooking vessel to boil water for pasta, to make a delicious risotto, and yes, to prepare a beef stew. Looking back now, I don’t know what I was so scared of. HUGE bonus, it’s super-easy to clean. No matter how messy it looks, whatever’s left in there scrubs right out. I LOVE this pot. And it’s so pretty, I just leave it out on my stovetop on display when not in use.

Fontignac casserole dish

Cherry pie filling and preserves.

I’m in a big cherry phase at the moment. Given the choice between strawberries, raspberries and cherries, I’ll take cherries any day. This preference is approaching something of a fever pitch lately.

It all started about five weeks ago during a freelance assignment that required me to stay in some bed-and-breakfasts in Southern Indiana. (I know, I know… it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it!) For one of the breakfasts, we were served buttermilk pancakes with freshly made cherry preserves from one of the nearby Amish farms. The preserves were presented simply in a little white ramekin, and they looked like edible red jewels. Absolutely gorgeous.

When I volunteered to make a dessert for the monthly teacher lunch at my son’s preschool last week, I came across a recipe I made some years ago for cherry cheesecake brownies. Decision made. This is a yummy and fairly easy dish to make – you make a brownie mix according to the directions on the box, then top it with a simple cheesecake batter and bake for another 20 minutes to so. When it’s cool, you cut it into squares and top it with spoonfuls of cherry pie filling. According to the thank you note I received, it was a big hit.

I also had intentions of making a strawberry shortcake for dinner at a friend’s house the other night, but the strawberries I bought were sadly disappointing. Cherry pie filling to the rescue! I bought a can and we spooned it over slices of pound cake and topped it with a dollop of Cool Whip.

Which brings me to…


I’ve come across two new cake recipes lately that I’ve been whipping up like crazy. The first is a lemon yogurt cake I came across in Molly Wizenberg’s book “A Homemade Life.” (She specifically says in the book that she thinks recipes are made to be shared, and I heartily agree.)

The recipe uses ingredients you’re likely to already have on hand, with maybe the exception of plain whole-milk yogurt (which you can buy by the single-serving container at the supermarket for less than a dollar). I’ve made it several times within the past few weeks – it works well with the lemon glaze as directed in the book, or with a spoonful of fresh fruit sauce (or cherry preserves!) Plus, you don’t have to use lemons – they are easily be swapped out for oranges or even limes would be good. The recipe makes one 9-inch round pan full, not too much and not too little, and the cake itself is bright, lemony and luscious. I made it for a book swap I hosted last weekend, and several guests took leftover slices home for breakfast.

glazed lemon yogurt cake

The second new cake discovery is the pound cake I made for the strawberry-turned-cherry shortcake. I found it on, one of my go-to sites for cooking inspiration, and it contains the surprising ingredient of whipping cream. Whereas the lemon cake is light and fruity, this one is dense and rich, but still plenty moist. With the cherry pie filling and whipped cream topping, it made a pretty and delicious dessert. In fact, I made another one to take to my cousin’s house today and serve it the exact same way. I’m also planning to try this recipe again with some chocolate chips thrown in the mix. Because, after all, everything’s better with chocolate chips…

Sweet dreams!

My little pumpkin

To me, fall carries several food connotations. Chili, my hubby’s Guinness beef stew, caramel apples and pumpkin. I’m not big on pumpkin pie, but for some reason I love it in other variations. Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin frozen custard… Uh, YUM!

I headed down to a family reunion of sorts over the weekend and I knew I wanted to contribute something to the meal that would represent my mom. Lo and behold, I came across a recipe in my box that she had made years and years ago called Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Dessert. Perfect. Like most of my mom’s recipes, I believe she came across this one at a church function. Don’t know what it is about those church ladies, but they sure can cook!

This concoction is sort of like pumpkin pie, but in a brownie-ish form, and incorporates a box of yellow cake mix. Strange, you may think, to use cake mix to create a crust, but it works. And just like pumpkin pie, these bars/squares/whatever you want to call them scream out for a big goopy dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top. This is a great pitch-in dish, or a nice finale to any sorta special fall meal.

Here’s the recipe:

Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Dessert
18 servings

1 pkg. yellow cake mix
3/4 c. butter
4 eggs
1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
1/4 c. sweetened condensed milk
1 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease bottom only of 9″ x 13” baking dish.
Measure out 1 cup of yellow cake mix and set aside in a small bowl.
Melt 1/2 c. of butter in the microwave, then mix with the remaining cake mix and 1 egg.
Pour into bottom of greased baking dish and spread evenly in a thin layer.
Mix the pumpkin, 3 eggs, sweetened evaporated milk, 1/2 c. of brown sugar and cinnamon.
Pour into baking dish on top of the yellow cake layer and spread evenly.
Mix the remaining 1 c. cake mix with 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/4 c. softened butter to create pea-sized streusel crumbs.
Scatter streusel crumbs over the pumpkin layer.
Bake for 1 hour.
When cool, cut into squares.

Thanks, mom.

Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Dessert

Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Dessert

Chocolate sex

Hey ladies – I’ve found it. The ultimate chocolate dessert. I told my husband last night that this dessert is so good, I could have sex with it. Like many husbands (I’m sure… I hope), mine is always complaining that we don’t have enough sex. I fear he might have been slightly pissed off about my contemplating sex with a dessert as opposed to seeking opportunities to have more sex with him.

I’ve always been a fan of creamy, custardy foods (see my previous post about Zest’s French toast), and am currently exploring a creme brulee/pots de creme fixation. I’ve downloaded a bunch of different flavored versions to try, but the chocolate pots de creme recipe below is my favorite thus far. They aren’t hard to make, they just take a little bit of time and, be forewarned, you will dirty some dishes in the process. I made my first attempt in ramekins; last night, I got creative and used little espresso cups. Very cute presentation, and it pays to make these in small portions because they are sooooo rich. Trust me, a little goes a long way. Don’t pay any attention to the calorie count. When you need a little slice of chocolate heaven, give this a try.

I’m open to other pots de creme or creme brulee recipes or suggestions… Feel free to send a comment!

Dark Chocolate Sex, er, I mean, Pots de Cremes

This makes about 6 ramekins or 10 espresso cups worth of chocolaty goodness.


  • 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. whole milk (or, I’ve just used 2 1/2 c. of Half and Half instead of the milk and cream mixture
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 7 oz. really good quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 tb. white sugar


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Bring the cream, milk (or Half and Half), cinnamon and vanilla to a low simmer in a saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate pieces until they are completely melted. (It will look like an outrageously good hot chocolate at this point.)

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together with a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Ladle a scoop of the hot chocolate cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper, then pour all of the egg yolks into the saucepan and whisk vigorously to fully blend. Whisk fast, or you’ll end up with chocolate scrambled eggs!

Pour the whole custard mixture through a sieve into a bowl and let cool slightly, stirring occasionally to get rid of as many air bubbles as you can. Pour the custard to fill 3/4 of the way up your ramekins or bakeable espresso cups.

Place the filled ramekins or cups into a glass baking dish and carefully pour enough boiling water into the baking dish (not the ramekins) to come about halfway up the containers and create a water bath for even cooking. Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil and poke a few holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Transfer it to oven and bake at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes. Custards should look set around the edges, but still be slightly jiggly in the middle. (Kind of like your thighs after you’ve just eaten five or six of these in a row.)

Uncover the custards and let cool to room temperature (about 30-45 minutes), then cover with foil again and refrigerate for at least 3 hours until well chilled.

The pots de creme look lovely when served with whipped cream and topped with a chocolate-covered espresso bean, or dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a fresh berry.

It even looks a little bit like a boob, which I suppose is appropriate in keeping with the sex theme...

It even looks a little bit like a boob, which I suppose is appropriate in keeping with the sex theme...

Table for one

I don’t know why so many people, especially women, have such a hangup about dining alone. In this day and age of empowered women, there should be no stigma about a single lady enjoying a nice dinner or lunch by herself. So why does one still exist??

Last month, I enjoyed a few days on my own in Chicago. My husband had been away for work most of November and felt he owed me a little “me time,” an offer I gladly took him up on. I spent two days downtown, sightseeing, reading, just walking around, sleeping in and enjoying some great food. While some of my female friends expressed jealousy at my short-term escape, a few others said “Oh, sounds like fun, but I could never do that.”

My question is – why the heck not?? I suppose being single and living alone for nearly a decade before I got married at age 35 conditioned me to be comfortable in my own company. Nearly all of my friends married and had kids long before I did, so I grew accustomed to them not being able to drop everything on a whim to come meet me for a spontaneous (or even planned) drink, meal or movie. Therefore, I got to the point where if I wanted to do something and no one was available to join me, it became a matter of either going alone or sitting home seething because I was missing out on something I’d really wanted to do. I became quite adept at solo dining, even taking in the occasional concert or trip as well, and I grew to relish and enjoy it.

So, in Chicago, I decided to treat myself to a really posh meal on my last night there. I had originally planned on a juicy steak, but changed gears at the last minute and opted for Italian. I asked the concierge at my hotel for a recommendation – somewhere I wouldn’t feel like a sore thumb without a companion, but somewhere I could partake in a great meal and a glass of wine. I took his suggestion and caught a cab to a place called La Madia.

La Madia was a little trendier than I usually go in for, but classy and the staff made me feel welcome, not like a social outcast. I was seated at a two-top near the window with a view of the gas fireplace and bustling bar scene. True to the concierge’s word, I didn’t see any couples on dates, just happy hour groups and a few Sex-and-the-City-style duos and trios of single women out for drinks, apps and gossip.

The server made it his mission to keep an eye on me and keep me happy, making recommendations and checking on me just frequently enough to see how I was doing (more often than his other busier tables, I might add). The wine he suggested was fabulous, and the gnocchi with sausage and spinach in a brown butter sauce divine. The dessert was the high point of the meal, though – some kind of outrageously rich chocolate cake that was sweet but not too sweet, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with crushed pistachios. All in all, a lovely dining experience. I happily paid my bill, tipped big and left feeling on top of the world.

Here’s the thing about dining out alone – it forces you to slow down, take a deep breath, and just be in the moment. No one’s asking you to cut up their meat or converse about how you spent your day. It’s uninterrupted, quality you time, and really, couldn’t we all use a little more of that?!? If you can resist the urge to crack open a book or magazine, it makes for excellent people watching and eavesdropping opportunities as well.

My tips to pull off a successful solo restaurant visit: Firstly, dress well. There’s a aura of mystery surrounding women who dine alone and like it. Let people wonder what your story is… are you a foreign expatriate in town on business? Perhaps a food critic? An up-and-coming television star eager for a few incognito minutes away from your entourage? Just don’t wear sunglasses indoors. Unless you’re in Los Angeles, which is the only place you might possibly be able to get away with it.

Adjust your attitude. It’s all about confidence. If you look and act like a pathetic loser who has to eat alone because you have no friends and no life, that’s what people will think you are! Suck it up and embrace a short respite of solitude, for God’s sake! Are you telling me your husband and kids can’t live without you for an hour or two, and vice versa??? Come on! Get over yourself!

Work the situation to your advantage. Sometimes it may even buy you some special treatment… you don’t have to be overly friendly, just smile and act coy. I ate dinner alone at the hotel bar my first night in Chicago, and the bartenders swung me an extra-full glass of wine and plied me with free snacks the whole time I was sitting there.

So I issue a challenge to bold women everywhere – demand a free night from your significant other, throw on a dress and some lipstick and take yourself out on a dinner date sometime soon. Scared? So what! It’s good to do things that scare you sometimes, just to prove you can. Pick somewhere nice, don’t just slum it at a fast-food place, wolfing down fries as fast as you can to get the experience over with. Slow down, unwind and sit with yourself for an hour or two over a delicious meal and a drink. And don’t skip dessert. Do it! Tell ’em I sent you…

La Madia: