Year End Wrap Up: The Best of Y2K+13

by kelly vass in , ,

Admittedly, 2013 has been my favorite year of my life so far. It was by no means a cakewalk (no pun intended), but it's been a year of tremendous personal growth, thanks to a really difficult but seemingly simple decision to stop living life leaning on the crutch of habit.

As I mentioned last New Years Eve, 2012 was a rough one.  With that in mind, I woke up on January 1, 2013 with the conviction to make 2013 a banner year because I willed it to be. And, frankly, it was. I told myself that, regardless of whatever unwanted stress came barreling into my life, I was going to have enough gratitude, joy and self-love to deal with anything. And, to add to my optimism, I was determined not to let any dregs of anxiety from 2012 sour the new year either.

To get there, I read a lot of books on happiness, mindfulness, gratitude and self-awareness. After finishing the first book, I was first met with the familiar but ultimately flawed urge to fix all my problems NOW and AT ONCE with unrelenting gusto. But as I read more about meditation, being present and being okay sitting in discomfort, I actually started to crave the uncomfortable. Instead of curling up in the lap of passive aggressiveness and settling in, I wanted to sit down with whatever made me unhappy, grab it by the hands and stare it in its face to try to understand it better. Rather than looking for easy answers, I started looking for patterns, identifying problems and then trying to fix things at the source. For someone who hates confrontation and huge changes, this was mortifying. I approached the first challenges with a shaky voice, a pounding heart and (just once) buckling knees. But in those milliseconds before I had to face my fears, I drummed up calmness from deep in my emotional reserves and just... did it. Whether it was handing in my notice at work, having a difficult conversation with someone I cared about, or pushing myself to run just a little bit farther when I wanted to quit, I stopped wasting so much energy agonizing ahead of time. And, when I was done, I was amazed at what I was capable of.

In blogging, this meant being intentional, planning posts ahead, participating in group posts, hustling and growing my readership 5x over. My Valentine's Day chocolate raspberry torte gave me a new approach to food photography--acknowledging that learning a skill was a process and not getting frustrated and yelling "GOD I SUCK AT THIS!" when it took me a while to get things right. And a post on homemade Reese's eggs that went absolutely viral taught me that sometimes you just have to keep it simple.

I also learned I could podcast. And by that, I mean, I realized that:
a) I have things to say worth listening to 
b) I can be pretty funny sometimes
It was amazing to see people's responses to Autumn and my podcast episodes and great to get to feel like we were hanging out with people all across the country. I'm grateful that the experience brought us closer as friends and helped us to make a slew of new ones!

Professionally, I finally accepted that I'm a creative person. I need to feel like my ideas are valued and be in an environment where I have the leeway to see them into fruition. Quitting a traditional 9-5 job was the scariest thing I've done, but I've never felt happier with a decision in my life. I was truly amazed by the outpouring of support I got to follow my blogging and baking dreams. I even got a few emails from people who said I inspired them to do something similar! And, as if all that wasn't awesome, I keep learning new things about myself and discovering talents and passions I didn't realize I had.

Toasted Coconut Ice Cream with Cajeta Drizzle  and thoughts on motivation and procrastination

Toasted Coconut Ice Cream with Cajeta Drizzle and thoughts on motivation and procrastination

Personally, I feel like a completely different person than I was in January last year. I spent my year ruminating about passion, motivation, creativity and goals--What the heck did I want out of life?--and was I in a good place to get there? The most important thing I learned this year was self-care. I was looking at photos from 6 months ago and couldn't believe how tired and unhappy I looked. Now, I make time for myself--for sleeping, cooking for myself instead of just eating what I bake, exercising, prayer, play and creative outlets. And, maybe most importantly, I make time to learn new things, like taking classes on Google Analytics, Adobe Illustrator or a refresher course in high school Math. I forgot how much I love to learn, especially when I love the subject.

As I look onward to 2014, I don't have any resolutions other than to continue what I started in 2013--to practice self kindness, make time for creativity, choose empathy over judgement and to always always always make time to learn something new. What are you looking to accomplish in the new year?

Thank you all for taking the time to read my blog this year. For following along with my crazy adventures, sifting through my ramblings, trying out my recipes and being patient with me as I took time off to get my shit together and figure out my life. I am overwhelmed with the support and encouragement y'all have shown this year and I wouldn't have kept this little piece of the interwebs going without you! So, thank you from the bottom of my grateful heart!

Wishing you a joy-filled 2014!



My year, in instagrams.

2012, TS Eliot, Dating & Chocolate Truffle Stout Marshmallows

by kellybakes in , , ,

Chocolate Truffle Stout Marshmallows

This is the way the year ends This is the way the year ends This is the way the year ends Not with a bang But a marshmallow. 

2012 started with both a bang and a marshmallow. Mummers masks. A raging dance party with a triceratops. Makers 46. Fireworks. A conversation about Peeps and making your own mallowy goodness.

Last New Year's Eve, friends of mine threw a party. I knew no one but the hosts, yet thanks to the chocolate covered oreos I brought, I was able to make friends quickly [funny how that happens]. After the ball dropped, we were talking and the conversation turned to sweets. and, as I chatted with one particular fellow, he mentioned that he had an unhealthy love of much so that not only stockpiled them at holidays, but he'd eat the odd-colored Peeps that should be outlawed [Red chicks for Easter? Really?!]. When I asked him if he'd ever had the homemade version, his eyes puffed like the treat in question and his jaw dropped in disbelief. I patted his arm and assured him: Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a homemade marshmallow. I even offered to make him a batch.

A few weeks and some witty texts later, I walked halfway across Philly, ready to meet up, armed with a plastic container of pillowy, freshly-made marshmallows in my mittened hand and a vanilla bean-sized fleck of hope that the afternoon would go well.

I don't normally have good luck on dates. I've been asked out by guys with horns glued to their foreheads [not at Halloween], ones who thought it appropriate to abruptly latch onto my upper thigh and cling for dear life in the middle of a movie theater, some who have said "I love you" on the first date, others who asked if I had a hit list and then immediately proceeded to describe theirs [Um...check, please?]. In the rare occasion that I end up on a date with a nice guy, I usually get too nervous and the whole thing bombs.

Though I was relaxed that afternoon and Marshmallow man was a good guy, our date wasn't all that stellar...and it lasted roughly 7 hours. I always imagined marathon dates to be romantic and taken straight from a movie--a montage of a couple at the beginning of their relationship, talking for hours at a coffee shop as the camera pans outward, snow falls outside the picture window they sit beside and, as the music dies down, the shop closes, they wonder where time has gone and have fallen in love, though they don't yet realize it. In my case, a marathon date meant fried chicken and a candy shoppe [no complaints there] and plummeted quickly into smokey divebars, awkward silences, and frigid jaunts through subzero windchills, hoping in vain that the next establishment we ventured to would spark a better connection between us.

Chocolate Truffle Stout Marshmallows

As I thought about summarizing 2012, that day came to mind because it seemed to set the precedent for the rest of the year. I went into 2012 hopeful, and though it had its good moments, for the most part, it was a really trying year that left me feeling exhausted and discouraged. When life got hectic in the past, I lived much more in my head, so posting and putting on a happy face these past few months was not only a challenge, but it seemed insincere. Looking back at my year, though, I realize that blogging captured many of the good moments--conquering fearstraveling,discovering brown butter [finally], meeting amazing people--and, though I didn't realize it at the time, each post was a way for me push through whatever struggles I faced and to find the positives when things seemed bleak.

As I look to 2013, I'm optimistic for what's ahead and the attitude I have to tackle the new year. After all that I've faced in 2012, I realize that if something doesn't work, I need to either change my approach or change the ingredients. These marshmallows are proof of just that--sweet, but simple vanilla bean mallows that recall a not-so-perfect day are transformed into an entirely new flavor: echoes of stout with a sweet cocoa finish. Though not quite as airy as their cloud-like cousins, they're a bit like me after this year--not quite perfect, but they bounce back when you push them and are a bit richer [in their case, flavor, in mine, spirit]. The recipe needed some adjustments and I tried two different methods, but in the end, I'm happy with the result. Hopefully, by this time next year, I'll have made some adjustments too and will be happy with what I have to post as I look back at 2013. Wishing you a bright, happy, year ahead filled with lots of laughter and sweetness! xo

I'd also like to thank Shauna Sever, the author of Marshmallow Madness, for all of the advice she gave via Twitter about golden syrup vs. corn syrup as I set out to initially make peanut butter marshmallows. I used her vanilla marshmallow recipe as the base for this one, with flavor adjustments. And, given how little I know about the chemistry and makeup of marshmallows, you can bet I'll be ordering her book!

Chocolate Truffle Stout Marshmallows

Recipe Type


dessert, sweets, snacks


adapted from Shauna Sever

A fluffy, chocolatey treat with subtle hints of stout. Makes approximately 24 1 1/2" squares.

**Note on golden syrup: Shauna's recipe calls for light corn syrup, however, I couldn't find any near me and was pleasantly surprised by the taste of golden syrup. Imagine if molasses and corn syrup had a baby--it's more flavorful than corn syrup without the punch of molasses.

**Note on flat chocolate stout: If you're impatient like me and don't want to let the beer sit out for a few hours to get flat, you can whisk it in a bowl until there's no more foam. Do this by hand; when I tried it with my standmixer, it turned entirely to foam. I used Hooker Brewing Company's Chocolate Truffle Stout from CT because I love my home state and love that beer, but use whatever chocolate stout you can find![br]

**Note on chocolate:[/b] I made this recipe two ways--once with 3 oz melted dark chocolate (72%) and once with Dutch process cocoa powder. I liked the cocoa powder version more because the melted dark chocolate masked the flavor of the beer quite a bit. If you'd like just a faint hint of beer, use melted chocolate and add it at the same stage you'd add the cocoa powder, but you can increase the mixer speed to medium once you add the melted chocolate.


  • 4 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin powder [approx 2 packets of Knox]
  • 3/4 C cold, flat chocolate truffle stout** (see above note)
  • 1/2 C golden syrup** (see above note)
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract [I used my own homemade vanilla extract!]
  • 1/2 C unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, divided** (see above note)
  • Special Equipment
  • 8x8" pan
  • Candy Thermometer
  • Stand Mixer
  • Pizza Cutter


  1. Grease an 8x8" pan with canola oil. Dust with cocoa powder.
  2. Place 1/2 C of the flat chocolate stout in a microwave safe bowl. Sprinkle with gelatin. Stir once or twice to coat the gelatin. Let sit for five minutes to bloom.
  3. Meanwhile, stir together 1/4 C golden syrup, sugar, salt and remaining 1/4 C chocolate stout in a saucepan over high heat. Heat until mixture reaches 240F, stirring occasionally. (If you don't have a thermometer, this is the 'soft ball' stage, which means you should be able to drop the mixture into very cold water, form it into a ball with your fingers, but it should lose its shape when removed from the water.)
  4. Pour remaining golden syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  5. Microwave the gelatin/beer for 30 seconds on high until the gelatin melts completely. [The bonus of subbing beer for water in this recipe is that it masks the smell of the melted gelatin!]
  6. Start mixer and set to low. Once the beer/golden syrup/sugar mixture has come to 240F, slowly pour it into the mixing bowl. Increase the speed to medium and whisk for 5 minutes, then increase the speed to medium for 5 more minutes and finally, increase the speed to the highest setting for 2 minutes. The mixture should be fluffy, light to medium brown and have tripled in volume.
  7. Stop the mixer and add 1/4 C cocoa powder. Mix on lowest setting until almost completely combined (If the speed is too fast, you'll wind up with cocoa all over your kitchen--trust me!)
  8. Pour it into the 8x8" pan and spread and smooth into the corners with an off-set spatula. Dust lightly with cocoa powder. Allow to set for at least 6 hours in a cool, dry place.
  9. After marshmallow sets, invert pan onto a surface dusted with cocoa powder. Dust a pizza cutter with cocoa powder and cut marshmallows into squares. Toss squares into cocoa powder to coat any sticky edges.
  10. Enjoy!


intentional words, as told through donuts.

by kellybakes in , ,

cake donuts

The other day, I made a batch of yogurt cardamom donuts with strawberry glaze. I had tried to make them several times, but thanks to a lack of cake flour and a bad encounter with a shower of broken lightbulb shards, it didn't happen. I adapted the Top Pot old-fashioned sour cream donut recipe to make them, but the finished product wasn't what I was hoping for...

The thing is, I know a good donut. I wasn't a fan until I studied in Galway and experienced hot donuts that were fried golden brown, simply coated in either cocoa or cinnamon sugar, but had the most ethereal texture I've ever experienced. They were so soft that they nearly melted in my mouth. On my last day, I bought a dozen and shamelessly ate each one through tears [half for leaving Ireland and half for leaving the Donut Man].


And, for the past few months, I've been spoiled by working at Federal Donuts, meaning that I willingly get up at 5:30am on Sundays and bike halfway across the city to be surrounded by flavor combinations of halvah pistachio, pomegranate nutella, chili mango, mandarin coffee, and strawberry rhubarb pie. The donuts are cakey and soft and hold up well to glazes, but fried fresh and sprinkled with sugar spice combinations like vanilla lavendar or appollonia spice (think: notes of orange blossom, cocoa powder and clove on a just-fried donut), they simply shine.

Good morning from the donut capitol of Philadelphia :]

My donuts were not good donuts by any means. I tried to pass them off by posting a picture on instagram with all of the ingredients listed, but they were too dry and the flavor just wasn't there. I had written down the recipe with hopes that it would be good, but it wasn't worth sharing.

cake donuts

I was going to start this post with an apology about how I'm not going to include a recipe, but then I realized that saying I was sorry would be a terrible idea. Ya see, I am a chronic apologizer. I'm not sure when it started, but it became terribly apparent recently... so much so, in fact, that when I let an "I'm sorry!" slip, my coworkers will say, "You should be!!" just to show me how unnecessary it was to say.

Apologizing isn't a bad thing when it's done with care and purpose. But, when it's overused, it seems to lose it's value. I've become so desensitized to the phrase "I'm sorry" that I worry that other people have given it a patterned usage too. A friend apologized to me for something pretty serious recently and I couldn't help but wonder if they had just said the two-word phrase because it was the appropriate thing to say or if they had really felt remorse for what they'd done.

It's not that I don't feel bad about things I sorrybomb--for getting in folks' way, for interrupting someone, for assuming things, for not bringing enough cupcakes to share with the group [okay maybe not that last one...].  It's moreso that I shouldn't feel as bad as I do and I shouldn't waste an apology on things that could easily be addressed instead with a "mea culpa," "pardon me," or a butterknife [ya know, to cut that cupcake in half].

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this year's "I'm sorry" was last year's "it's fine." I'd say that whenever bad news was delivered, regardless of whether someone was giving it to me or if I was talking about myself. It was my way of not dealing with the gravity of the situation: "I have two flat tires, but it's fine." "My debit card was stolen, but it's fine." I even said it to a guy I was dating as he broke things off with me. He responded with, "You say that a lot, but it's really not fine."

He had a point. It's not fine to abuse words. I'm guilty of it in other areas too. I'm sure we all are to some degree. So, to me and you and anyone who's read this far: When asking someone how they're doing, ask because you care about the answer [good or bad], not because it's polite. It took a lot to wipe "it's fine" from my vernacular, but I now I hate being asked, "How are you?" because I'm expected to say, "I'm fine," even when I'm not. Sometimes it seems as though people would rather I responded with empty words so they wouldn't have to get a taste of what's really going on in my life. So, if you ask, follow through on what you say. Be prepared to listen.

If you say you're sorry, also say what you're apologizing for. If you're saying it for good reason, it will show the other person that you're being intentional and care about making amends. If you're an overapologizer, it'll show you some of the ridiculous things you apologize for.

I'm not going to apologize for lackluster donuts and a recipe-less post. Sure, my donuts looked the part of a delicious homemade donut--they had the shiny pink glaze and the all-star list of ingredients--but the ratios were off, leaving them as empty in taste and as off in texture as my words had been in meaning and value. For that last part, I am actually sorry.

strawberry glazed cardamom yogurt cake donuts

hot mess tres leches cake & why it's ok to delete your facebook

by kellybakes in ,


Last week my friend Don invited me to a surprise birthday party for his partner, Benjamin. When I asked what I could bring, he coyly asked, "Do you remember that tres leches cake you made that one time? Could you make that?!" Of course by 'that one time,' he meant a dinner party two and a half years ago. I had to take a minute to think back to it and, as I did, I found myself wondering, if Don remembered the cake two years later, was it really that good?


At the end of the party, I went to hug Don goodbye and remembered that I had a pressing question that needed an answer. As I approached Don, I confronted him about an unfathomable decision he had made a few months earlier when, without warning, he quit facebook. I  meant to ask him about it when I got there, but found myself enjoying the company so much that I forgot all about his lack of internet presence [funny how that whole 'in-person interaction thing' works, isn't it?].


Talking to Don reaffirmed so much about what I had been ruminating over last week at Big Summer Potluck. In creating a facebook profile, you're presenting an image of yourself that's rarely a complete representation of who you are. Often times, I feel pressured to live up to this identity that's online because when I see people in person they see me as the Youtube videos I post, the snarky status updates, and, of course, the endless pictures of baked goods. But, if I wasn't worried about getting affirmation from a digitized thumbs up, what would I no longer be afraid to post? And would that profile really be a clearer, more multifaceted, accurate picture of me? Maybe, but most likely not. For all of the "other" things I put up, people associate me with food and respond most to those posts. **SPOILER ALERT** This may come as a shock, but I am way more than the cookies I bake. I have weird quirks, silly gestures, other hobbies (gasp!), and numerous interests that I like talking about... and some that I just don't. It can be exhausting to present a limited version of yourself to the world and even more so to then try to live up to it.

tres leches cake

The other issue that came up was memory--how facebook just won't let things die. Sure, you can untag yourself from that picture of you and your ex, but it'll still be floating around your timeline when 12 of your mutual friends comment on it. Let's not forget friendships that were once vibrant and happy. When things go sour or you grow apart, facebook is there to remind you that you don't talk, that you had no idea s/he got a new job, that you weren't invited to the wedding. Maybe this makes you angry or leaves you with a pang of regret. Maybe you try to salvage things and maintain a shallow friendship or maybe it moves you to make futile efforts to save the sinking ship that has become your friendship.

The beauty of memory is that we can look back with fondness and maybe a tear at what used to be. We allow ourselves to remember friends as we want to, perhaps in more joyful times, rather than being reminded of the current state of affairs and guilting us because things will never live up to that image again.


What does this all have to do with cake? Well, the tres leches was a hot mess. I poured the three milks onto the cake, let them soak in and hermetically sealed the pan in 8 layers of saran to safety bike it to South Philly. Let's just say that, despite my efforts, it wasn't going to win any beauty pageants by the time it got to the party. Don is a Georgia boy, so I smothered it in the rest of the bourbon peaches from my failed BSP3 cheesecake tarts and blanketed that with a layer of dimpled, slightly overbeaten whipped cream. It still wasn't pretty. But, as my friend Ted pointed out, the cake wasn't trying to be anything delicate or chic looking. I knew it'd be messy to cut into just by looking at it. Despite its appearance, both Don and Benjamin agreed that it was better than the version they'd had two years prior. I didn't take a picture of the final cake (and I'm glad) because, judging by the way people rolled their eyes back at the first bite or how Don clutched the bowl of leftover cake to his chest like he was hoarding gold, I knew that the joy that the hot mess tres leches brought them would stay in their memory longer than any Pinterest-worthy picture would.