Custard-Filled Victoria Sponge Cake

This decadent twist on classic British Victorian sponge cake is filled with creamy custard and fresh, ripe strawberries in place of traditional jam. Perfect to serve as a standalone dessert or with a cup of afternoon tea! This article first appeared as part of UCLA Connect’s Alumni Newsletter–you can read the original here.

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Guess who’s London-bound?!

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few weeks now for several reasons, most of which have to do with the limited time I now have to bake, photograph, and blog. As it turns out, working in entertainment is most definitely NOT a 9-5 job and we’ve been 1000% slammed at work—though, thankfully, in a great way! Between that, computer science night classes at UCLA Extension, the kick-off of triathlon training season, and my stubborn determination to maintain some semblance of a social life on my off hours, it’s been hard to find a spare minute to sit down and really write. But the prospect of heading off to the UK again in a few months’ time—and finding a perfect excuse to make this cake that I’m sharing with you all today!—was too tempting to resist. Clearly.

I first discovered Victoria sponge cakes when I went to visit England nearly two years ago, on my first personal trip to Europe. I wrote about it in this post and wholeheartedly plan to pig out on at least five slices (over afternoon tea, of course!) the moment I land in London toward the end of this year. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this quintessential British treat, I explain a brief history of the cake here and will just add that this is THE perfect cake to lead into the spring and summer months. With its light, springy texture and irresistible hint of strawberries folded into freshly-whipped cream, it’s hard not to shove my face straight into this cake after a twelve-hour work day!… Read more

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Chocolate Sablés (or Chocolate French Butter Cookies)

These crumbly chocolate sables are a twist on the classic French butter cookie and every bit as good as the original. Stuff with dark chocolate chips and white chocolate bits for an even more dynamic taste.

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The Winter Olympics are here, and we’re SNOW excited! Settling into a full-time job and life in a new part of the city has been an intense process over the past four months, but thankfully all the late-night baking has been keeping me grounded…perhaps more than I care to admit! I’m still working my way slowly but steadily through the long list of travel-inspired recipes from last summer’s trip to ten European countries, but of all the recipes that I’ve tried so far, these Chocolate Sablés (or Chocolate French Butter Cookiesé) are certainly a French-inspired favorite.

Classic sablés consist of a few top-quality ingredients: Butter, flour, and powdered sugar. The word “sablé” means “sand” in French, which is fitting for these perfectly crumbly shortbread biscuits. Last year I shared a recipe for Classic Scottish Shortbread after visiting Edinburgh (Spoiler Alert: We visited again this year!), so I decided to shake things up by throwing a bit of smoky chocolate and cookies ‘n’ cream white chocolate into the mix. Because who doesn’t love a chocolatey twist, right?

The verdict was resounding and clear: The buttery crumb of these biscuits, coupled with their subtle sweetness and chocolate overtones, made them an instant hit with all of my friends. (To give you a better sense of what I mean: Four friends of mine polished off two dozen of these bad babies in a 5-hour period!) What’s more, they stand up to shipping and look beautiful however you package them, whether in a classy cellophane bag or your run-of-the-mill Tupperware. If only I could have doled them out as thank-you gifts while I was wandering around trying to speak terrible French during my last day in Paris!… Read more

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Extra-Easy Whole Wheat Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

This Extra-Easy Whole Wheat Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips is the perfect treat for the beginning baker. Filled with wholesome ingredients like whole wheat flour and ripe bananas, this recipe requires only one bowl and minimal brainpower to create. Sub in healthy extras such as walnuts, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds for an extra-healthy kick! (This post is sponsored by OXO. All opinions are, as always, 100% my own.) #OXOBetter ##healthyishcookbook

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There’s nothing more joyful to me than coming home to a deskful of sweet treats or baking supplies. When I went home last week to take care of family matters, I was anxious, nervous, and coming down with a cold from the hectic pace of things that have been happening around here lately. But while I won’t deny that it’s been a stressful past few months, things are finally looking a bit brighter, especially on the home front (fingers crossed)…which is why I’m back at baking and blogging! And today, I’m excited to share a new favorite discovery of mine with all of you.

When I returned from the Bay, I found two lovely, huge packages waiting for me on my desk. The first was an Australia Day care package from Marty, the incredible soul from Perch whom I had met at the Riverdance in Dublin (you can read about our first meeting here!). It containsed Tim Tams, an adorable kangaroo plush, Vegemite (still haven’t given this one another try…), a hilarious phrasebook of Aussie slang, a bunch of other quintessentially Australian snacks, and a full-sized Australian flag! The second was from the lovely folks at OXO who, to be frank, might very well be some of my favorite people in the world. As always, their box was filled with a bunch of high-quality baking items, including an optimized 360-degree air circulation cooling rack, a secure-grip-handle quality loaf pan, a stable oven thermometer, and a fancy magnetic set of measuring cups and spoons.… Read more

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Bakery-Style Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

These bakery-style pumpkin cupcakes remind me of all the fresh pastries I saw on display in Parisienne bakeries when I visited France this past summer. This recipe features a moist crumb and warm spices that serve as the perfect foil for a tangy cream cheese frosting. (You can catch up on my latest Europe travel stories & recipes here and here.)  

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While the pumpkin cupcakes that I’m sharing today are by no means Parisienne, making them transported me back instantly to the days that I spent in the heart of France at the end of July. Freshly-baked pastries filled every patisserie window that we passed: Shelves groaned under the weight of baguettes, macarons, petit fours, eclairs, and sometimes–yes–beautiful cupcakes of more assortments than I could dream up. We spent hours roaming the city this way, munching our way through the beautiful streets of Paris and bathing ourselves in an air that seemed soaked in the smell of fresh gateau.

I say “we” because even though I’d planned to explore Paris on my own, I was lucky enough to make a new friend (are you sensing a trend here yet? haha) on the front steps of Notre Dame during my first day in the city. Felipe and I met in a cathedral line that seemed to stretch for miles: Unsure whether I was in the right place, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he spoke English. Turned out that he did–and not only that, but he was traveling solo as well! As the line moved, we started chatting and he told me how he came from Mexico originally but was currently staying in Barcelona for research; it was one of his last weekends in Europe and he decided to visit Paris just for the day before heading back.… Read more

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Anzac Biscuits

These Anzac Biscuits are a popular egg-free Australian sweet biscuit with oats, golden syrup, and coconut. Perfect for holiday shipping and gifting!

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I’d almost given up on writing about Europe when we hit the crazy pre-holiday season at my new job a few weeks back, but just thinking about that summer adventure brings a goofy smile to my face and makes me slow down as I get used to working life. I don’t think I’m ready to write about work yet anyway, so now I’m determined to keep writing about Europe even if it kills me takes a few more months than originally anticipated. Mazel tov!

As it so happens, Anzac Biscuits aren’t a European invention at all: They’re a traditional Australian hard biscuit first created by wives during WWI and shipped to the front lines because the egg-free treats could last so long in transit. Or at least that’s what Marty–the cheery, enthusiastic Australian guy I met on my second night in Dublin–tells me.

Marty can only be described as the kind of inspirational that, if you’re lucky, you encounter once in a lifetime. Like me, Marty was making a solo trek through Europe, paying visits to friends along the way and stretching his wanderlust wings as he trekked through several of the continent’s largest cities. We met at the Riverdance, and it became immediately apparent that Marty’s joy for life–magnified tenfold by his thick, jovial Aussie accent–was effusive. By the time intermission ended, I’d agreed to grab a pint with him after the show (the friend he was visiting in town had work the next morning and couldn’t join us)–and an hour later, we were out roaming the streets of downtown Dublin, soaking in the sights of a rushing city thousands of miles from both of our homes.

After crossing the main bridge, we found a local bar with amazing live music (or, as Marty put it: “Ripper!”) and ducked inside to chat.… Read more

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The Big Move (and Some Uncommon-ly Good Decor!

The following post was sponsored by Uncommon Goods. All opinions are still (as always) 100% mine.

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Last week I started sharing exciting stories about my six weeks’ travel this summer in Europe, but I haven’t quite told you why it’s taken me so long to start blogging about it. Well, now that it’s November (say what?) I can finally tell that it’s because…I was busy moving into my shiny, big new adult apartment!

Now anyone who has ever had to do a “big move” knows what I call the Five Necessary Stages of Moving Out Grief:

1) Denial: For the first two weeks after I gave my one-month notice to my old apartment, I simply sat on my merry butt acting as if nothing needed to be packed, cleaned, or thrown away. It wouldn’t take me that long–I was just one tiny person living in a tiny studio. How bad could it be?

2) Anger: Okay, so “anger” is probably the wrong word to use here. Let’s say “well-seasoned panic with a dash of intense frustration” at just how many car trips it took to move all of my stuff. Read: It took twenty trips. HALF of those were for my kitchen supplies…

3)  Bargaining: Six days before my old lease ended, I was still on the phone with my previous property manager trying to negotiate a late end date, if needed. Thankfully, she was amenable to it and said I could take as long as I needed. Which lead me to…

4) Depression/Despair: On the eve before my extended move-out date, I was sitting on the floor of my mostly-emptied apartment playing fetch with my cousin’s dog. Said visiting cousins walked in around 11 PM to find me lolling aimlessly on the floor and had to haul up my sorry butt. … Read more

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Fudgy, Crackly-Topped Guinness Brownies

Three months have passed since my last post and so much good has happened since then that I can’t even apologize for going off the grid completely. I’m just now settling into my new routine as a post-grad adult (more on that in coming posts!), but first I want to rewind and fill you all in on one of the best experiences of my life: a six-week vacay in Europe, y’all!!!

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So as some of you remember, last summer I spent three weeks cavorting around the beautiful countries of Ireland, England, Scotland, and Italy. I spent nearly four months here gushing about the food, indulging my inner geek, and even sharing some personal details about some of the obstacles that I encountered during my stay.

That lingering emotional baggage in particular made me determined to travel again to Europe this year, once everything at school wrapped up. So in July–a scant month after graduating with my PhD–I packed my bags and flew over the pond to my first of TEN countries: Ireland!

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I’d been to Ireland for the first time almost exactly a year ago, of course, and had fallen in love while visiting my friend Alex in Cork. This time I’d be seeing him in London, where he’s moved for school, so I decided to fly into Dublin for the first leg of my six-week Europe grand tour. It was the first time I’d ever traveled so far alone–my trip was split into two weeks each of solo travel, staying with friends, and exploring with high school friends–and I was extremely nervous that first night when I touched down at Trinity College, Dublin. What if the entire trip turned out to be a dud after all?

As is usually the case with me, my fears turned out to be wonderfully unfounded.… Read more

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The BEST Chocolate Oreo Cake

My friends and former co-workers have all declared this Chocolate Oreo Cake one of THE best cakes of all time. Made with a fail-proof, rich chocolate cake recipe and featuring an unbelievably delicious cream cheese Oreo frosting, this gorgeous dessert will become an instant hit for any occasion! 

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I am SO excited to share this Chocolate Oreo Cake recipe with all of you that I can’t even pester y’all with travel planning updates today. (Gasp–respite from my travel fever blabber, you say? I KNOW!)

This one-of-a-kind recipe features all of the hard hitters that you never knew you needed in a cake: an Oreo-crumb-infused layer of cream cheese frosting sandwiched between the most gloriously moist, fluffy layers of chocolate cake ever invented by mankind! (While I’m pretty sure that mankind is the only species to have invented chocolate cake, I am so irrationally smitten by this particular recipe–which I also feature in my beloved Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting–that no hyperbolic statement seems to do it enough justice.)

The cake: I can’t praise this chocolate cake recipe high enough to the skies! It’s fluffy, rich, slightly smoky (with undertones of espresso/coffee), and pretty much failproof. It’s also my favorite chocolate cake recipe to date: I ended up making four variations on this recipe in just one week!

The frosting: Imagine your taste buds wading in a cream cheese pool of tangy, slightly sweet frosting that’s been bathed in Oreo crumbs. The result is an explosion of cookies ‘n cream-esque flavors–perfect for offsetting the rich chocolatey goodness of your cake.

The verdict: Hands-down one of the best-received cakes that I have ever made, period. I brought this decadent cake in for a surprise birthday/farewell party at the old workplace and received so many compliments on it that I was nearly hammered down through the floor with them.… Read more

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Miniature Bourbon Cakes

These miniature bourbon cakes are a boozy dessert lover’s paradise! With a fluffy yellow cake base, these mini morsels are soaked in a bourbon sugar glaze that’s bursting with flavor. Perfect for enjoying alongside a cup of tea (or hey, more booze!). 

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What could be more British than a bit of boozy cake at teatime?

Okay, to be fair–I don’t really know if bourbon + afternoon tea is really a thing across the pond. It sounded like such a romantic, proper excuse for encouraging daytime alcohol consumption that I’m pairing today’s recipe with a nice English breakfast tea regardless. But feel free to enjoy these adorable mini bourbon cakes any way (and any time of day) you’d like–I won’t judge, I promise!

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As Europe trip planning continues, I’m getting more mileage than ever out of this cute sky blue Cath Kidston tea towel, which I bought last year at London Heathrow airport. My list of things to do in each city is also expanding like crazy: from the British Library and Ashdown Forest to the Dublin Trinity College libraries and the Norwegian islands, I’m starting to feel like five weeks won’t be nearly enough to see everything! Still, I’m excited to be spending time with so many different friends in a round dozen countries and simply can’t wait to embark soon.

In the meantime, though, I’m dreaming of these miniature bourbon cakes! I started with a yellow cake recipe similar to the one that I used in my favorite rum cake recipe, then poked some holes in each little dessert and drenched it all in a killer bourbon-sugar glaze. The result is a slightly crystallized exterior and a perfectly fluffy, boozy interior in each bundt cake: everyone who tried it agreed that it was a home run hit! If you’re looking to add a bit of booze to your next teatime, morning snack, or posh gathering, definitely keep this recipe on the books.… Read more

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Vegetarian Bangers and Mash

“Bangers and Mash” is a quintessentially British meal with a predictably bizarre-sounding name. The word “bangers” comes from an early-twentieth-century reference to the fact that sausages would make popping sounds when fried (due to their high water content during meat shortages), while “mash” is simply short for “mashed potatoes.” This delicious vegetarian spin uses pre-made Italian veggie sausages and the fluffiest mashed potatoes recipe ever!

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Well, it’s official! GUESS WHO’S HEADED TO HARRY POTTER STUDIOS IN LONDON THIS SUMMER?!

Yeahhh, this girl is. Whoo-hoo!

Visiting the Hogwarts film set at Leavesdon Studios has been a dream of mine ever since prepubescent Daniel Radcliffe showed off his black-rimmed glasses (and terrible acting skills) for the first time back in 2001. I was, of course, majorly bummed when we didn’t visit the set during my trip to the UK last summer–but in a way I’m glad to be saving this special experience for one of the most magical years of my life to date. In addition to finishing my PhD, I’ve also started a brand new job and am incredibly stoked for this upcoming trip. The only real obstacle at this point–besides deciding which sites to visit and which ones to skip while I’m abroad–is trying to cram several weeks’ worth of clothing, shoes, meds, and essentials into my beautiful green 40-liter Osprey backpack. Wish me luck, and send me tips if you have them!

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In the spirit of my upcoming trip, my friend and I decided to co-host a Harry Potter-themed party replete with traditional Hogwartsian fare to boot. Twenty of us enjoyed Yorkshire pudding, treacle tart, shepherd’s pie, roast, and veggie sausages with mashed potatoes–or, as the British call it, (vegetarian) bangers and mash! The recipe I made yielded some of the smoothest, most buttery mashed potatoes that I have ever tried, and I would recommend it for your next big gathering without a moment’s hesitation.… Read more

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