new love of my life

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Miss Fats is devastated.  She writes to you en flight to Taiwan, where she soars away from the new love of her life: peanut pancake.  Miss Fats has been having an affair abroad with this insanely tasty treat.  It’s crack: she looks for it everywhere: hawk eyes constantly in search of her next fix.  But she needs to take a step back and tell you about how they first met, for it came as a serious surprise that hit like lightening on a hot, sticky day in Melaka…

Miss Fats and T had been wandering the streets of this tiny historical town for two days.  They’d been lost more time than they could count and nearly killed trying to bike on the opposite side of the roads.  She’d like to stress the absurdity of their directional problems: 1. Miss Fats has an excellent sense of direction; 2. Melaka is tiny: no more than 3-2 km from one side to the other.  Yet for some reason this town was seriously screwing with any form of navigation.  Finally succumbing to the nonsense of the city’s twisting streets, alleys, and roundabouts, they adopted a slow and circuitous roll through the sleepy town.  Now this was relatively early on in Miss Fats vacation, so T was still seriously whining about the walking.  After baking in the hot sun and being “forced” to walk from one neighborhood to the other (literally 3 blocks), they stopped at a row of street vendors selling fresh fruit, noodles and drinks.  T immediately went for the cendol, a super sweet and creamy coconut jelly drink, while Miss Fats eyed the lone old man with an almost-bare cart sitting right beside them.  Peeling red letters on his hot window announced “Apam Balik, 2 RM.”  It was a standard roadside cart that housed two gas burners and a two-tired window unit with shelves that typically displayed the heaps of ingredients that went into the vendor’s freshly prepared meals.  Instead, Miss Fats spotted a single, folded cake: an unassuming, thick, semi circle that could have easily slipped right past her.  However Miss Fats looked more closely at the cake, the burners and quiet old man sprinkled bits over the two cast iron pans in front of him.  She zeroed in on that cake and it hit her what she’d stumbled upon: mother fucking peanut pancake.

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She’d heard of this peanut pancake before: it had come up in her research into Singapore’s hawker fair, and was flagged as a “must try” for breakfast.  They’d spent their last day in Singapore desperately trying to track down the treat before departing to Malaysia.  Not knowing too much about this morning treat, they were unsure if it would be accessible once leaving the city, moving it to the top of their list.  They’d spotted one stall at Tekka Market, a couple of days before, so they planned to return for one last treat before catching their bus out of town.  Unfortunately when they arrived to the hawkers center they found the stall closed and no other vendors offering the mysterious cake.  Miss Fats was beyond disappointed.  She was pretty damn defeated, feeling that she’d failed Singapore and herself (Miss Fats does not miss out on peanut desserts).

So, when she caught a glimpse of what looked like toasted, crushed peanuts peeking out from in between the golden brown fold of that thick cake in the old man’s cart window, she completely freaked out.  Gesturing for T to come and inspect the mysterious item, she shared her hypothesis. This was it: the illusive peanut pancake.  Miss Fats is pretty sure she literally shook with excitement as she marched up to the old man and ordered one up right away.  Eyeing the cake batter bubbling away at on the burner, she pointed, asking for “that one” instead.  “Fresh! You wait!” the old man responded with a laugh.  Miss Fats eagerly nodded and took a seat at a plastic table beneath a tarp tent on the roadside.  T left in search of cendol, and ended up making friends with the juice man (of course).  In a few minutes, peanut pancake man brought Miss Fats the bundle of goodness, wrapped in newspaper and steaming hot.  Once T returned she carefully opened the precious package, revealing the semi-circle cake cut into snack-size pieces, ready for consumption.  Even though it was a bit too hot to the touch, Miss Fats picked up the fresh cake and took a big bite.  Mouth orgasm.  It was thick, springy, and slightly chewy: somewhere between a damn good pancake and crumpet.  The cake was then perfectly moistened with a center of sweet and salty crunchy peanut goodness (at this point Miss Fats had no idea what form of crack this was).  Then she hit the corn.  So weird.  So good.  She found the cake to be dotted with hits of creamed sweet corn that were like bursts of starchy sweet that managed to bring out just the right amount of sweetness in the cake and provide a bright contrast to the richness of and salt from the peanuts.  Brain gobbledy gook.  She was smitten.  Life/brain explosion beyond repair.

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Nomming hard on this cake, Miss Fats announced about two minutes later that she must order another one.  There were no other options: she had to have the ability to consume this cake at all times.  She marched back up to the small quiet man behind the stall, who continued to work away over those hot pans, sprinkling peanut crack and magic all over bubbling batter goodness.  Miss Fats asked for another with a dopey huge grin on her face.  He seemed rather amused by her enthusiasm as he gestured toward the fresh one cooking up on the second burner.  Miss Fats then brought out her camera, asking to snap a couple of pictures of the treat as it sizzled away.  To her delight, he seemed just as enthusiastic about showing her the process.  With a big smile on his face, in broken English, he showed her each of the magical sprinkles that went down to create perfect pancake sandwich heaven.

Quickly wiping down the scorching hot pan with butter, a big spoon full of batter is thrown down which immediately forms bubbles, creating the fluffy, doughy texture of the cake.  He sprinkled a healthy dose of toasted, crushed peanuts, a little shredded coconut, sugar and honey.  This continued to cook as he added more layers of peanut and sugar, ending with a final flourish: the sweet corn.  Peanut pancake man pulled out a can of sweet creamed corn, and using a spoon he carefully dotted the cake with just a kernel here and there.  With each blot he made a little noise to emphasize the move: Miss Fats realized she was watching pure genius.  She was a goner at that point.  Her heart only belongs to one now: peanut pancake man.

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Miss Fats took her bag containing the treasure wrapped up for consumption in the (near) future.  A few hours later, planning their last day in Melaka, Miss Fats announced that she would need to return to peanut pancake man.  There was just no way around it.  She had to consume as much of his salty sweet goodness while she could.  It was like her damn life source at this point: life sans cake wasn’t really an option at this point.  The only problem was that due to their mindless wandering and complete lack of orientation skills in the town, getting back to that little street would prove problematic.  They had only stumbled upon it after countless turns and hours of walking, so retracing steps wasn’t exactly the best option.  However, the next day, assured by the spiritual bond that now held Miss Fats and Peanut Pancake man together, they set off in search of his nondescript cart.  As they hesitantly took turns and tried to find familiar streets, Miss Fats dreaded the reality that it was a Tuesday and there was a damn good chance he wouldn’t be working.  Stress trickled down her back as they walked through the sweaty streets of Melaka, and she tried to reassure herself that what she and Peanut Pancake man had was forever: she would get that cake.  And she was right: they were connected.

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There was Peanut Pancake man, quietly cooking away, creating those perfect, folded sweet salty treats of joy.  Miss Fats basically skipped up to his cart and ordered two.  She hoped he recognized her from the day before, but honestly she has no idea.  He muttered something and pointed to a fresh one he was in the process of making.  Their secret brain language indicated that he was making a special fresh one just for her.  Needless to say, Miss Fats hoarded that pancake like it was gold.  Let’s get real: it’s basically twenty-four carat crack.

Since that first magical afternoon with Peanut Pancake Man, Miss Fats kept her eye out for them everywhere she went, but found them to be harder to come by than expected.  This was a huge problem.  She craved peanut pancake all day, everyday, and her stash only lasted her about 48 hours.  Kuala Lumpur and Cameron Highlands proved fruitless in the peanut pancake department and it wasn’t until they arrived in Penang that she was able to get her hands on one of those perfectly toasty, peanutty folds of joy.

In an effort to explore the island of Penang, Miss Fats and T rented a couple of mopeds to get outside the city of Georgetown.  While driving along the coast, out to the northern-most tip of the island, aptly named “the end of the world,” Miss Fats spotted a lone stand selling her prized peanut pancake.  She blasted three short honks (their code to pull over) at T, who was in the lead.  However, failing to adhere to their driving language she carried on all the way out to the park about a mile further down the road.  It wasn’t until they’d reached their destination that Miss Fats caught up, yelling at T that she’d broken their code and caused her to miss out on the salty sweet snack.  Naturally she demanded they return to the vendor.

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Upon arriving Miss Fats was introduced to a new form of the pancake.  Instead of the fluffy, slightly chewy cake that had hooked her, she found a crispy fold stuffed with the same goodness.  This version was more taco-like, with a slightly chewy, wafer-like shell that provided a delightful vehicle for all the buttery, peanut corn action.  Not the same, but still totally satisfying.  This version was much less expensive and smaller version that seemed to be the “snack” form of the fluffy pancake to be devoured immediately while still piping hot and crispy.  She likes to think this was the crepe-like version of the original.  She was into it.  Standing on the roadside with her peanut taco, damp from sweat and the light drizzle, bits of filling falling onto her shirt was total sensorial overload: the stuff of magic dream time.

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Now Miss Fats will spare you a detailed account of every pancake consumed in the last month (thought if anyone would like to hear about the delicate differences, she’d be happy to oblige), and she’ll skip right to her last days in Malaysia.  Way north, on the insanely beautiful island of Langkawi, Miss Fats had gone a whole forty-eight hours without a peanut pancake fix.  Their time in Malaysia was ending and she was beginning to fear that she might never get her hands on one ever again.  This island, despite its amazing landscape, lacked in the food department and tended to favor flavors closer to Thai.  She was afraid that their trek north had taken them too far from the cakey goodness of those roadside pancakes and ushered in a new realm painted with yam ice cream (more to come on that).  They’d spent the day riding around the island (again on rented mopeds) and finally found their way to a small night market for dinner.  They were on a serious food mission: they had limited time before they needed to return their bikes for the evening and raging appetites from all that damn nature they’d taken in.  About five stalls in Miss Fats noticed a man perched over a hot grill serving up something remarkably close to her beloved pancake.  Only these little versions were small, oblong crepes that he quickly fried, flipped and finally scraped off the grill, causing them to fold perfectly in half.  He then stuffed them with a mixture of peanut or kaya (the greatest coconut crack jam of all time).  Miss Fats basically ran to him and ordered up.  The excess of emotion at that moment was probably too much for T to handle.  Miss Fats was so damn excited to get one last bite of pancake before she left this magical land.  She probably could have cried.

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They continued their stroll in search of dinner only to find about three stalls later another peanut pancake operation.  Only this time they had all three forms: fluffy, crispy, and bite size.  Despite just having consumed two pancakes Miss Fats ran up with just as much enthusiasm and ordered a big fluffy one.  Joy Joy Joy.  How does it get better?  They discovered they had basically found the peanut pancake market: there seemed to be a vendor offering up at least one form of the perfect treat every three to four stalls, sending Miss Fats into pure salt-sweet heaven overload.  Needless to say all forms were consumed and pancakes were taken to go.

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Now that Miss Fats departs the land of magical peanut she remains loyal to that original pancake.  Peanut Pancake Man and Miss Fats are bonded for life (whether he likes it or not): he changed her mouth-life that day and hooked her on a nut drug that she’ll probably spend the rest of her life trying to find and recreate.  In fact, she’ll probably just quit life, move into a hut and work on her perfect canned corn to peanut sprinkle ratio. If Miss Fats goes missing you know where to find her.  Kind of.

just accept the jelly

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Never in a million years would Miss Fats think she’d be ok with jelly dessert.  Asian jelly desserts have been a long time problem for her.  Since she was little, the excess of bean and jelly in Asian sweets has created haunting nightmares: you know, the kind where all you want is an excessive amount of chocolate and all you get are wiggly “puddings” stuffed with canned fruit.  Terrifying.  As you all know, Miss Fats has an insane sweet tooth and has gotten used to a certain-standard-of-living that involves a sweet treat post meal.  Always.  It’s damn reflex.

Since she’s been professionally nomming in Singapore and Malaysia, the sweet treat reflex is constantly out of control.  Food here is often super savory and demands a little sugar to clean up the crazy spicy/savory/umami/sweet flavor mouth party.  Typically that means Miss Fats and T will pick up a cold piece of fruit, served up on the roadside, beautifully laid out in an ice-filled case and individually packaged in little bags.  However, sometimes a particularly hot night or especially rich dish demands proper dessert.  At the beginning of her travels, Miss Fats’ taste buds were still in chocolate town, which was problematic in a world of coconut and fruit.  Not to mention chocolate costs a pretty penny in Singapore, and stores seemed to only carry US and British brands like Nestle and Cadbury (and that shit ain’t cheap).  Not to mention, if you buy chocolate in Southeast Asia it basically melts instantly.  That’s recipe for messy purse bottom (believe Miss Fats: she’s made that mistake more times than she’d like to admit).

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Unfortunately this meant that Miss Fats made some pretty critical dessert mistakes in the first week.  Her brain and stomach were still craving the buttery, bready, cakey confections of the U.S.  Nothing sounded better than a cookie, a big ‘ol scoop of chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone, or flaky Danish.  So, if she’d see some sort of “puff” or cake that resembled her favorite baked goods, she’d snatch one up immediately.  Never a wise choice.  None of them were that good.  Not to mention they were often significantly more expensive than the local delights.  Most of her cake, pasty and ice cream endeavors resulted in massive disappointment and waste.  She’d take a bite into a dense croissant, flavorless gelato or spongy cake and throw that shit away.  The reality is that here real butter is damn expensive, so most baked items are in fact made with margarine, producing the fluffy sponge cakes with whipped topping filling and fruit that I’m sure most readers have tried at some point.  These Asian cakes have haunted Miss Fats’ family birthday parties for years.  She just never understood why there wasn’t a damn chocolate ganache ice cream cake.  Miss Fats cannot stand these synthetic oil cakes.  They leave a slippery trail of transfat on the roof of her mouth. Not acceptable.  So, after shelling out S$4 for a flat and oily chocolate almond croissant, Miss Fats made a resolution: she would only eat local dessert specialties.  No matter how good something looked.

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So how does one satisfy a sweet tooth here?  The answer is weird jelly, fruit, sweetened condensed milk and ice.  Most drinks either come standard with some sort of jelly business or condensed milk and they give you real weird looks if you ask for either to be omitted.  She can’t even tell you how many times her “black coffee” has been served up with creamy sweet milk.  Now you’re probably thinking: why not just skip the drink?  Certainly not that big of a deal, right?  Well you just try walking around the sticky streets of Singapore all day and not indulge in the magical drink cart.  These little metal pushcarts just taunt you with their colorful vats of cold cold drink, ladled into plastic baggies (preferred to-go cup) and served up roadside.  Miss Fats dares you to resist that when you’re drenched in sweat and sitting over a hot and spicy bowl of laksa.

At first this problem resulted in Miss Fats ordering drinks, filling her mouth with sweet creamy jelly business, making a face, and handing it over to T.  She was just not into those chunks of tapioca or grass jelly worms swirling around in her mouth.  She just doesn’t believe in chewing one’s drink.  And she’s still a pretty firm believer.  Though the heat has taught her that a cold cube of grass jelly can be a good little temperature break for your mouth in a pinch.  So why the foray into jelly drink versus dessert?  She wanted to contextualize the omnipresence of jelly that exists here, and just how damn tempting the sparkling gelatinous cubes of gelled seaweed and grass can be.  No matter how disgusting you find jelly, the stuff is everywhere and the oppressive heat can breakdown even the most reluctant travelers.

The fact that jelly is always around, taunting her, is what has created a major breakthrough in Miss Fats’ dessert palate.  She’d like to introduce you all to one of the strangest desserts out there: Ais Kacang.

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The name and combination of ingredients varies from place to place: ABC special is probably the most common.  This towering pile of ice starts with a base of jellies: grass cubes, green wormy-looking ones, clear, bright pink little chunks.  Then comes a freshly shaved pile of ice, topped with super-sweet, synthetic strawberry syrup, brown rice syrup, sweetened condensed milk, red beans and canned creamed corn.  Yep.  You read right.  And, if you’re real special, you’ll get a big scoop of cheap imitation vanilla ice cream.  Sounds pretty gross, right?  Yeah, that’s what Miss Fats thought too when she was served up this incredibly weird frozen treat on her first day in Singapore.

As Miss Fats and T sat in the sweaty seats of East Coast Lagoon Food Centre, after stuffing their faces with duck, satay and noodle as they could, they noticed everyone around them had a crazy looking dessert.  Ais Kacang.  It looks just as crazy as it sounds.  Therefore it had to be ordered.  Soaked in sweat, T and Miss Fats were so excited for their cold treat, completely unaware of what exactly went into this thing.  Each scoop unearthed a new ingredient: hmmm jelly; oh weird, bean; ummm, corn?  They found it real weird.  They agreed upon the assessment: “not bad. Just not sure I’m into it.”  The corn had set them a little over.  So Ais Kacang ended up on the back burner for a bit, having been ticked off the “to do list” of food items.  They felt they had bigger and badder things to eat (true, but at the same time naive).

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It should also be clarified that T absolutely does not share Miss Fats’ distaste for jelly.  In fact she loves all things jelly, coconut and tropical.  Perhaps the ultimate concoction being the coconut that is jellified and served up ice cold with a straw and spoon.  So Miss Fats has now had ample opportunity to try a number of jelly drink items via T’s wiggly obsession.  A turning point occurred when T ordered up a milky matcha green tea one day, filled with a soft grass jelly to be broken up and slurped through you straw.  “Actually, not that bad” was Miss Fats reaction, surprising T and herself.  Somehow, this drink’s not-too-sweet tea and springy black jelly business were the perfect combo in that moment: a slippery mouth delight of fun and flavorful textures.

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It wasn’t until Melaka, however that Miss Fats finally dove into the jelly dessert on her own.  Seeing hope after the grass jelly situation, she ordered up a strawberry ice one night following all-out binge fest on peanut sauce satay (more to come).  Full of fish cake, Miss Fats hesitantly ordered the safest looking item on their menu: what looked like a delightful pile of ice topped with syrup and fresh cut strawberries.  Little did she know the jelly that lurked beneath.  Diving into her ice mountain, she unearthed the kaleidoscope of wiggly bits at the bottom: clear chunks, springy tapioca, and delightful boba balls that popped like fish roe when you bit into them: a surprisingly fun array of treats for mouth playtime.   It was like unearthing a colorful and strange nest of jelly monsters for you to destroy with your face hole.

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After this life changing experience (literally.  You have no idea how much Miss Fats complains about jelly and bean.  Just ask T.), she was down on jelly desserts.  The heat and humidity in Asia has required Miss Fats to throw out her very short and flexible list standards (mostly related to sticky skin and hygiene), so out went jelly problems and in came the embrace of all things cold.  The climax of the weird ice jelly dessert came on the second day in Penang.  In a city without much public transportation and a heck of a lot of scooter traffic, Miss Fats and T found themselves walking all over the city, nomming on whatever street food took their fancy.  They had just indulged in the most incredible Nasi Kandar (Malay buffet-like eatery found all over every city) at Line Clear where they had stuffed their faces with mutton, biryani, okra, chicken, etc in an alley way filled with hot burners and hungry cats.  Having had their fill of savory, sweet was obviously required.  So they walked their way to the park located at the northeastern tip of Georgetown.  There, one can find Esplanade Food Centre that houses some of the best food in town.  Looking around, they saw almost everyone with an icy treat from this one stand.  They marched on up and ordered the ABC special, taking a spot at a table facing the water.  The mountain of ice and ice cream came served up looking all crazy as usual.  This variation boasted the usual array of jellies, with the addition of some white bean action, fresh bananas, and a healthy sprinkling of peanuts on top (Miss Fats cannot get over the addition of peanut to everything.  She might adopt this as her religion).  The ABC special provided layer upon layer of strange, cold delights as T and Miss Fats watched the water and sun set over Georgetown.  Unreal.  She was a huge fan of the little cubes of green jelly business as they mixed with the creamy cheap ice cream and crunch toasted peanut bits.  Pure food nonsense.  She was into it.

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With only about ten days left in Asia, Miss Fats is already missing her bizarre ice desserts and sorely regretting not indulging in them daily from the beginning.  She knows this shit is stuff you cannot really get stateside, and certainly not in the heart of Chicago.  However, today, with the beach stretched out in front of her, and Taiwan just hours away, she’s sure she can make up for lost time.

serious biryani business

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Miss Fats apologizes for the radio silence in the last week or so.  She feels like she left you all hungry and hanging with that last post.  The good news is that she is alive, well, and most importantly, full in Malaysia.  She’d like to say more about her time in Seattle, but figures you all deserve a little taste of what’s been happening in Asia. She promises a proper instagram round up of her second week in the PNW in the coming week (there were many new tasty adventures had).

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But first Miss Fats needs to introduce you to the biryani pot.  The first four days of her trip were spent running around Singapore like a crazy person.  T and Miss Fats have never been more sweaty and disgusting in their lives as they ate their way across the city’s mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian cuisines.  All long food stand lines were joined, all types of animal consumed, almost always with their hands (much more to come on this).  However on their last day, dripping in sweat from carrying their bags a whole eight blocks from the hotel to the MRT, they stopped for a breakfast at a banana curry shop just outside the Kallang rail station.  This wasn’t the first time T and Miss Fats had found themselves in this particular spot.  Just two days prior, T, always peering onto plates of unsuspecting restaurant patrons, had insisted they stop for a particularly tasty looking steaming flat bread with mysterious small bowl of sauce.  The bread resembled naan, but appeared flatter and bit chewier, as patrons pulled stretchy hunks apart using a spoon and fork (what they’ve deduced as the utensils of choice in this part of Asia). T immediately triggered her food alarm, piping up: “mmmm (two chop-licking hunger noises) I want that.”  Miss Fats was down with mysterious bread-sauce, naturally, so the two quickly sat themselves down on some weathered plastic chairs at the edge of a long communal table.  Banana Leaf curry (they actually have no idea what real name of this place is: only that it has “banana leaf” in it) resembles many of the cheap eateries that line the streets of Singapore.  Long, narrow, open air shops that house rows of plastic tables and chairs where ancient ceiling fans swish hot air around diners who mysteriously sip on hot milky tea and coffee.  Pictures of menu options line the walls with posted prices.  T eagerly pointed to another diner and went right ahead and ordered, “what they’re eating.”  It was mid-morning and the restaurant was fairly full of people: all had the same plate of bread and sauce with a coffee.  They learned that this unleavened Indian bread was called prata (also spelled pratha) and was served with a thick “gravy” which appeared to be a spicy meat-based curry-like sauce.  For S$ 1.80, you could get a fresh serving of this steaming bread business and a hot, sweet, milky coffee from the friendliest old Indian man ever (obviously he and T are now friends for life).  Miss Fats will take this over toast any day. 

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Ok, but enough on the bread.  Though she could honestly talk about that crispy, chewy taste good till the ends of time.  But she’s here to talk about the biryani pot.  Anyway, T, absolutely obsessed with both coffee man and prata from the moment she steps into this place, requested that their final breakfast in Singapore MUST be there.  Which landed the two of them soaked in sweat with all their belongings in those sticky plastic chairs.  However the two of them had a serious stretch of time without food access ahead of them (a whole three hours), so they needed a big meal to prepare them for the day.  Banana leaf also offered a wide array of curries, all displayed in a glass hot case, where one simply points at whatever steaming red, brown or yellow dish of their liking as its spooned onto a huge leaf-plate.  T told Miss Fats that she “trusted her” instructed her to order whatever. With prata, of course.  Miss Fats walked up to the window and happily perused the mysterious vats of bubbling spicy goodness and a waiter quickly walked up to take her order.  She makes some lame inquiries about what specific dishes are, not completely caring because she’d rather just eat away.  Probably sensing her indecision, he asks her: “you want biryani?” gesturing toward a giant pot perched on a rickety cart next to the case.  Miss Fats, eyes popping out of her head, peering over the side of the massive metal pot saw one of the most beautiful sights of her life: a steaming heap of fragrant, rice, dotted with patches of brown and yellow from the array of colorful spices, soaking up the juices of huge chunks of bone-in mutton.  The sheer quantity and realization that a whole lamb just might be in that pot, was enough to make Miss Fats giddy.  She got real excited and ordered 2 serving of biryani and prata for them both.

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This might be her favorite part.  In order to serve up with dish, the cook simply whips out a small bowl and scoops a huge pile of the spicy rice onto a banana leaf.  He makes a second dip for a huge chunk of mutton that is nestled down into greatest rice bed of all time.  This is then topped off with a big ‘ol spoon full of mutton curry to sauce it up real good. When these meat piles arrived along side their prata and crispy papadums, T and Miss Fats’ eyes basically just fell out of their faces.  T skeptically eyed the size of her platter and chastised Miss Fats for ordering too much.  Miss Fats simply shook with excitement, basically jumping up and down in her seat like a small child.  They formulated an attack on this meat/carb excess by carefully sorting through the ingredients in front of them: rich rice, soaked in meat sauce and slightly caramelized by the ancient metal pot and still somehow perfectly cooked.  Mutton curry provided a glorious layer of meaty, dark, spicy sauce that melded with the anis and cardamom flavors of the rice, creating endless layers of savory goodness.  The hunk of bone-in mutton lay on top like the greatest “cherry-on-top” you’ll ever see: a glorious piece of slow cooked meat just barely holding on to its skeletal support.

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T and Miss Fats went right for it, ripping off pieces of fresh prata to pinch up as much curry/rice/meat action as they could.  T ended up being less of a fan of the biryani rice flavors: for some cray reason she doesn’t seem to be into cardamom.  Whatever. Miss Fats doesn’t even know how she can be friends with this person sometimes.  However, T managed to prove herself by making some serious headway through that meat party pile (this is likely do to her new obsession with all things mutton).  As the two of them took their time to nom on their banana leaf laden with all good things, they watched as person after person came in to take part in the communal biryani pot.  The small restaurant was a busy cycle of customers all ordering the same thing: the best damn plate scoop/meat heap anyone could ever ask for.  And you know that shit had been cooking for hours: just one giant pot where all the meat magic anyone could ever wish for transformed a heap of ingredients into a spicy, sacred, communal “well.”

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The pot’s status as a holy object demanded that pictures be taken in front of it.  For scale purposes: duh.  The employees at Banana Leaf mystery name curry place thought she was pretty strange but gladly humored her.  IMG_5491

Stuffed to the brim and ready for their day ahead, Miss Fats and T moved on to a hawker center in Little India for one last attempt at a sweet peanut pancake (more to come. Holy god so much more to come).  They found that in fact everyone in the whole city of Singapore (slight exaggeration), was in fact partaking in the communal pot of biryani goodness.  Huge lines of people patiently waited in winding, hot, sticky crowded lines for a big scoop of the day’s batch of biryani.  All the Indian and Muslim stands posted a single-item menu, offering up massive portions of their day’s rice/meat blend for around S$5.  The most flavorful boasted long lines that would easily have you waiting the better part of an hour: serious business.  Apparently Sunday be biryani day.  Who knew?  Well… everyone.  Regardless, Miss Fats learned a real important custom that day: every Sunday should probably involve a giant communal pot of carbs and meat.  She may finally understand why the hell Sunday is the “holy day.”  Any day that honors a vat-like cooking container dedicated to the slow development of spiced meat flavor is sacred in her book.

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extended seattle layover

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So Miss Fats is going to indulge in a bit of a cop-out post for you all.  Here comes the first “instagram round-up.”  She’s not the biggest fan of this form of blogging, but is beginning to see the benefits of round-up post.  After all, Miss Fats is incredibly aware of the fact that not everyone is an avid follower of her ‘grams.  Why is beyond her. (Probably because she doesn’t actually provide you with any way to do so on this blog…oops. She’ll fix these things…)

So for those of you who don’t know, half of Miss Fats is about to embark on the most insane food vacation of her life.  For five weeks, she’ll be eating her way through Singapore, up the West Coast of Malaysia and Taiwan.  Absolute nonsense.  Instead of perpetually being covered in flour, she’s ready to be covered in sweat and smell of rich fish broth and spices as she consumes all meals with her hands on banana leaves.  Next week, Miss Fats will take on Asia with one of her oldest and most glutenous of friends, T.  Both are going to try real hard to not murder each other, but no guarantees.  No, for real: many childish battles will ensue.  Luckily, their mutual obsession with eating and all things weird and food related is what bonds them together for life.  Just wait for the fight over the fish eye. So Sunday Sundaes is going to Southeast Asia for August: readers should prep themselves to get real hungry as the mountain of food pornography actually breaks the interweb.

However before Miss Fats gets to eat Asia, she been killing time in Seattle.  Uninterested in paying rent in August, she chose to spend two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, dining on sushi with Obachan, smelling of B.O. after a big bowl of pho (folks know what I’m talking about) and enjoying a little break from the heat and humidity.  Eating has the been activity of choice for the last week as she made her way through many of her favorite spots.  And for the sake of time and energy, she’s giving you guys the abbreviated version of her activities in ‘gram form.  However she’d like you to consider this a visual travel guide for all future Seattle visits: take religious notes.

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moving from left to right, top to bottom
1. Day one, Miss Fats had to immediately consume Veggie pho at Pho Than Brothers. Seattlites will know this is a bit of a controversial statement to make.  Most hardcore pho lovers have their designated spot for the ultimate steaming bowl of soup and will fight tooth and nail to defend favorite joint.  Miss Fats holds fast with Than brother on the Ave. She’ll refrain from backing her choice here, because her love of that veggie pho on the Ave could fill at least ten separate posts (so much poetry could be written).  But for those of you who want a shouting match, feel free to call Miss Fats up and get ready for a fight.

2. The next day Miss Fats met her food friend J in Pioneer Square for some of the best cured meat of your life at Salumi.  Pictured above is the spicy spicy smoked paprika salami with fresh, house-made mozzarella, onions, peppers and garlic spread on their chewy, fresh loaf of bread.  This sandwich is perfect.  J ended up doubling perfection by grabbing the same as Miss Fats to go and then indulging in the grilled lamb with roasted red pepper business.  Meaty goodness.

3. Friday night brought Miss Fats friend, A into town from Portland.  It’s been over a year since she’s seen A, but whenever she and Miss Fats do get together, they do the food scene right.  (A is the ultimate city tour guide: she knows Portland and Seattle fun times like no other.)  This night was no exception.  They ended up at Little Uncle on Capitol Hill, which is just a little walk up front with a register, and exposed kitchen where you can see them get their wok-on as they fry up some fresh and tasty Thai goodness.  The menu is short and sweet (Miss Fats is a big fan of that) and features one or two daily specials.  Miss Fats went with the special: Dungeness Crab Fried Rice.  She’d like you to now just image giant hunks of sweet, fresh crab in your mouth.  Yep.  That’s what it was like.

4. A ended up going with the Kao Soi Gai, or chicken curry egg noodles, simmering in a crazy flavorful coconut broth and topped with a beautiful mound of crispy noodles and bean sprouts.  Squeeze that lime over top and enjoy.

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5. No line on a Friday night?  Miss Fats had to just do it: big ‘ol scoop of Molly Moon’s Strawberry Balsamic ice cream.

6. This may look like shitty food porn.  FALSE.  It’s the most crazy delicious Caribbean Pork Roast sandwich you could possible consume.  Miss Fats waited for forty-five minutes post hot yoga workout (if you know hot yoga hunger, you get just how dire circumstances were.  It was worth it.)  She can’t even begin to explain the mound of spiced pork shoulder, grilled onions, pickled jalapenos, all mounded on a chewy baguette.  Meat face mess. Pure bliss.

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7. What’s better than all this epic Seattle dining?  A big ‘ol pot of Obachan’s sukiyaki.  She’s gettin’ real with that giant pan of Japanese goodness.  You can’t really tell from Miss Fat’s ‘gram, but her preferred mode of cooking is seated on a step stool with the longest pair of chopsticks ever made.

8. Sukiyaki heaven.

9. Here’s T consuming the leftovers from Miss Fats and Obachan’s dinner.  This is pretty typical: T shows up at around 10 pm, mounds up a plate of food and demolishes it.  It’s like she’s a tiny magic elf that sneaks in the middle of the night and delivers gifts or cleans the kitchen.  Only she in fact steals all the food and never does dishes. Please also take note of the size of that helping.  Cleaned her plate, obviously.

10.  Miss Fats kept the Japanese feast going with a Chirashi lunch special over at Kisaku. Fish fest deal of the century.  Best part of this fresh meal, however, was the food conversation with her taciturn brother, K.  After offering her leftover miso soup, K garbled, “I made a sandwich out of a pizza this morning, so that kind of limits how much I can eat.”  No exactly sure how to respond, Miss Fats inquired what was on this “sandwich” and why there wasn’t proper documentation of it.  Apparently it was pepperoni “bread,” mayo, cheese and meatballs.  Kudos to K’s heart for not just giving out then and there.  Miss Fats isn’t sure if she doubts whether their related, or has never felt more certain that they are.

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11. This was Miss Fats failed attempt to “work” at her favorite donut shop, Mighty-O Donuts.  On the bright side, look at that crazy good lemon poppy seed donut.  (Not pictured: the cinnamon sugar one she immediately shoved in her mouth.)

12. This was the even more pathetic attempt at a “planning meeting” with T at Swirl Frozen Yogurt.  They thought it would be a good idea to meet for some fro yo and trip planning.  Only fro yo was consumed.

13. It’s beyond Miss Fats, but somehow she ended up at a Mariners game.  She has VERY strict rules about baseball: she only attends once a year if it’s free.  This was not free.  Miss Fats doesn’t understand what happened.  However, this trip to the ballpark was not actually motivated by the game (naturally).  Instead, Miss Fats friends’ T and K were more interested in the chicken and waffle sandwich.  Rather than shelling out a load of cash on stadium food, Miss Fats opted for sneaking in her favorite fish burrito from Rancho Bravo (sorry, not pictured).

14. After all the eating was done, Miss Fats got real bored.  Luckily that just meant it was time for dessert.

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15-17. Miss Fats had some serious bento box lunch special with Obachan at Fuji Sushi. For $10 she got sashimi, saba shioyaki, california rolls (obviously not eaten), miso soup, salad and rice.  Boom. Obachan demolished her bento (as per usual) and followed up the feast with an epic food coma.  Miss Fats sat down to check email and she looked over to see Obachan snoring in a blissful state of post-bento consumption.  Gurl knows how to live.

Thus concludes week one of Seattle images.  Miss Fats has many more pictures to share, but is currently headed out to Ocean Shores for some middle-aged vacation time.  She intends to do some serious grilling, paddle boating, biking and clamming.  Three slow days of lounging around with a book, rousing games of Yahtzee and binging on s’mores.  More ‘grams to come.

fancy pants coconut rhubarb cake

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Miss Fats returned to birthday baking with a particularly exciting project: she needed to turn out an impressive cake monster for one her closest friends in Chicago and new roommate, N.  Last week, the city’s miserable heat finally hit with full force, but managed to cool down just in time for N to throw a casual Monday night backyard birthday bash in celebration of her 28th.  Now it must be noted that despite its improptu planning, N never half-asses or disappoints when it comes to entertaining.  She is essentially the greatest hostess Miss Fats has ever witnessed; and the last minute birthday picnic was no exception.  Not to mention she makes it look entirely effortless and elegant at the same time.  We’re talking anthropologie/barefoot contessa status here (don’t pretend like you don’t know what Miss Fats talking about.)  Therefore Miss Fats was faced with the task of creating a cake to fit right in with the deceptively simple.

Miss Fats had been mentally preparing for this one for a while: she had noted an off-hand comment made months ago when N admitted her favorite cake flavor: coconut.  She catalogued this fact for future birthday surprises (Miss Fats loves nothing more than a good surprise).  She knew the classic, four-layer giant fluffy coconut cake would be the perfect pastry object in celebration of N’s 28th.  Sure, a delightful cupcake would have been a perfectly pop-able backyard birthday treat, but Miss Fats felt N deserved something more excessive in the spirit of being born.  A four-layer cake was a no brainer: no matter the size of the crowd, N definitely deserved a giant pile of sweet pastry lit up with candles and properly escorted in with song-accompaniment.

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Now there was no way she was going to make just a coconut cake.  There had to be a proper pairing (Miss Fats tends to ascribe to a three-component cake).  She knows just how much N loves rhubarb, plus Miss Fats loved the idea of a splash of pink in the center of a white fluffy cake.  Since N, herself exudes the easy-peasy elegance, Miss Fats knew that the cake had to perfectly mix a rustic, clean and polished exterior, punctuated with a tangy, coconutty surprise on the inside.  She felt that a decadent coconut pastry cream and sharp rhubarb compote would express N’s personhood: sweet, yet perfectly punchy with a sour hit, and always indulgent.

The exterior and decoration had to be clean and simple. Miss Fats knew the classic flaked coconut cake decoration would provide the ideal base.  The fluffy white strips of coconut pressed into a coconut buttercream has all the freshness and whimsy of N herself.  Yet it needed just the smallest of touches to elevate it to make it a bit more special in celebration of N’s birthday.  Miss Fats went with some shimmery light pink pearl sprinkles she had on hand.  Pressed into the coconut and buttercream base, the pearls added a bit of fancy to an otherwise nostalgic and slightly vintage cake.

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So now Miss Fats will go ahead and share all the components of this bright and summery cake.  The coconut cake, buttercream, pastry cream and rhubarb filling are endlessly useful and can be transferred to almost any other baking endeavor.  Go ahead and throw that cream inside a cupcake and top with ganache for a Almond Joy taste good.  Or slather a shortcake with some rhubarb compote and a dollop of whip cream for breakfast/dessert heaven.  Miss Fats highly recommends you go crazy with any and all cake components.  Some of you will recognize these recipes from J’s insane mini cake just a couple of months ago.  Both the rhubarb filling and buttercream are the new additions that Miss Fats chose to switch out for time and temperature purposes (too damn hot for that excessive swiss buttercream business.)

Fancy Pants Coconut Rhubarb Layer Cake:
makes one, four-layer, nine-inch cake
pastry cream adapted from Willow Bird Baking’s Ultimate, Moist, Fluffy Coconut Cake
cake adapted from What’s for Dinner?’s Truly Awesome Coconut Cake 

cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

coconut pastry cream:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
good pinch of salt
1 1/2 egg yolks
1 tbs corn starch
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

coconut buttercream:
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
approximately 1 tbs milk, if needed

rhubarb compote:
3-4 stalks of rhubarb, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sugar (to taste)
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of powdered ginger (optional)

2 cups of sweetened, flaked coconut
pink pearl sprinkles if desires

1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 six-inch cake pans.  Beat butter and sugar on high in a large bowl or stand mixer until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each.  Add coconut extract.  On low-speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and coconut milk.  Increase speed to medium high and beat until combined (5-10 seconds).  Pour into pans and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from pan.

2. Pastry cream: in a sauce pan, over medium, heat the coconut milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and coconut extracts.  In a small bowl, mix the corn starch and egg yolks until well combined.  Once the cream is hot, temper the yolks by carefully adding 1/4 cup of the milk to the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the yolk mixture back to the sauce pan, whisking constantly. Continue to mix over medium high heat for 3 minutes (for the FULL 3 minutes!).  Add the butter and coconut flake and mix.  Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (make sure you press the plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream to prevent skin-formation).  Store in fridge until cake assembly or until fully cooled. When you’re ready to assemble, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Fold into the chilled cream and set aside until assembly.

3. Rhubarb compote: In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, water and sugar. Cook until the rhubarb completely breaks down.  Check sugar and add more to taste.  Mix in extract and ginger.  Allow to fully cool.  This can be done way ahead of time, stored in a jar and enjoyed as frequently as possible.

4. Coconut buttercream: beat butter on medium high until fluffy.  Sift in powdered sugar in batches to prevent making a huge mess.  Beat in extracts.  Beat in milk if the frosting is too thick.

5. Assembly: Begin by carefully cutting your cakes into 4 even layers.  Place first layer on your cake plate and spread on half of the compote.  Add second layer and spoon on all of the coconut pastry cream.  Leave approximately an inch of space around the edge to make sure it doesn’t ooze out the sides as you assemble.  Add the third layer and spread on remaining compote and top with the final layer of cake.  Spread on a thin layer of buttercream as a crumb coat. Don’t worry: this will look terrible.  Chill the cake for about 30 minutes or until the frosting is firm.  Spread remaining buttercream all over the cake.  Press the flaked coconut into the side and top.  Use your fingers to press pretty pink pairs into the frosting. (Miss Fats recommends doing this in front of the TV or with some sweet tunes in the background.)

IMG_4104Now that says celebration.  The crumbly cake is perfectly balanced with the ooey gooey-ness of the compote and pastry cream.  It is definitely a coconut explosion, but Miss Fats likes to think that it won’t overwhelm the reluctant cake eater.  Not to mention the brightness provided by the rhubarb makes this a delightfully seasonal pastry object perfect for a backyard BBQ.  Miss Fats cautions you: this cake is deceptively light (in terms of flavor and texture), and can easily be consumed in excess.  However: worse things have happened.  Miss Fats has already received outrageously overzealous complements on this cake, so she knows she’s done some decent work here.  She’s just beyond pleased that N enjoyed herself in the form of excessive cake consumption.  N now just needs to get ready for future roommate cakes to come.

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spiced chocolate and peanut butter dulce de leche cupcakes

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Okay. Miss Fats will admit this is a bit of a weird combination.  On paper.  However, in practice, these flavors (cinnamon, peanut butter and dulce de leche) come together in a the form of a moist cupcake filled with oozing peanut butter and topped with a rich caramel-y frosting.  This is a flavor punch.  One that shouldn’t really work, but like that ugly/pretty girl you keep staring at, becomes something you can resist paying attention to.  What is it about the sticky sweet weight of peanut butter and dulce de leche that makes you both hate and love yourself?  Miss Fats likes to think that even as the thick peanut butter filling coats your mouth hole, all you want to do is linger in cupcake weirdness because the sugar-salt-spice rush breaks your brain a little.

This combo has emerged as Miss Fats’ go-to cake to pair with tacos. It last made the appearance as a decadent layer cake for an epic taco birthday bash last fall.  However for this taco housewarming, she felt the cake should be able to be consumed with a drink in the other hand.  (Or even better: double fist those cupcakes.)  What emerged is a mixed baby of mexican flavors and salty peanut goodness.  This cupcake features a cinnamon and cayenne spiced chocolate cupcake stuffed with peanut butter filling and topped with a dulce de leche frosting: a whole delightful spectrum of brown.  The odd addition of peanut butter creates that salt-sweet balance with the candy-sweet dulce de leche, and the cake brings a little spicy to the mix: salt-sweet-heat.

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The taco menu was not the only reason Miss Fats decided on this bizarre cupcake.  The dessert was in celebration of an incredible housewarming hosted by the coolest couple she’s ever known, in the craziest apartment known to man.  Team Miss Fats likes to refer to their magical game nights with them as stepping into the “hottest club in Chicago.”  She’s talking craft cocktails, multi-course meals and a space that Miss Fats is convinced isn’t real.  They used to attend game nights in the most outrageous studio/loft apartment that featured floor to ceiling windows, an amazing collection of handmade art that literally scaled the entire space, beautiful hand-built furniture, and proper entertaining dishware (oh hey, salad plate and dessert fork).  This list completely fails to capture the experience of Club A & D, which is probably akin to drinking from Willy Wonka’s chocolate river in magical candy land.  Miss Fats wants to stress that this was their OLD apartment.  She’s completely out of words for their new space.  She’d like you to fantasize about this studio/game night and then cube it: then you’ve maybe approached an idea of the Club A & D experience.

So the real question was: how can Miss Fats make a dessert that lives up this party?  Well the answer is: she can’t.  Nor should she really try, because it’s doomed to failure.  Miss Fats can’t bake flying unicorns, after all.  She decided to move forward with an indulgent cupcake that embraced the kooky mix of flavors that were as rich and celebratory as the evening itself.  Naturally this started with a base of chocolate.  Normally, a taco party would seem to demand something on the coconut-flan-y spectrum; and Miss Fats seriously struggled with herself on this.  She was so close to attempting a tres leches cake, but just could not seem to get herself out of the chocolate mind set.  Sticking to her guns, she decided to go with her weird flavor bomb from last fall and add a little heat to the mix.  Miss Fats paid homage to the mexican flavors by adding cinnamon and cayenne to her usual chocolate cake batter, to create a secret mouth fiesta and cut through the decadence of the rich peanut butter and dulce de leche.

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This recipe follows Miss Fats’ method of a three-part stuffed cupcake, that is incredibly easy.  Three bowls, three components, and about an hour of your time (outside of cooling and bake time that is).  As usual, these little guys can be broken down into two days: cakes baked off day one, and all the other ooey-gooey stuff on day two.

Spiced Chocolate and Peanut Butter Dulce De Leche Cupcakes
makes approximately 18 cupcakes
cake adapted from The Kitchn’s Dark Chocolate Cake

cake:
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup oil
1 cup hot coffee

filling:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup dulce de leche
1-2 tbs milk
1 tbs oil (optional depending upon your peanut butter)

frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup dulce de leche (or essentially, the remaining can)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

1. Make the cakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cupcake tins.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices.  Whisk in eggs, oil and butter milk.  Mix vigorously for approximately 2 minutes.  Pour in hot coffee and mix until fully combined.  Divide batter among cupcake trays. Bake for approximately 18-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to fully cool.

2. Filling: In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter and dulce de leche.  Add approximately 1 tbs of milk and oil.  This will depend on the consistency of your peanut butter.  Natural peanut butters will likely require more oil for a smoother consistency.  You’re looking for a filling that approximates the gooey-ness of a freshly mixed jar of natural peanut butter.

3. Frosting: In a stand mixer (or using a hand-held one), beat the butter, cream cheese and dulce de leche on high until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes).  Add the salt and vanilla and mix until combined.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until combined.

4. Assembly: Using a small spoon, scoop out a hole in each cupcake.  Spoon in approximately 1 tbs of the filling.  Finally, spread the frosting over top, or swirl using a pastry bag (or gallon ziplock bag with the tip cut off).

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Now Miss Fats can’t claim that these cupcakes objectify her amazing friends, but she hopes they in the very least approach the endlessly creative, fun and surprising times at Club A & D.  The salt-sweet-heat of these little guys can only account for a fraction of the flavors of the club: they are full force-flavor kind of people.  Miss Fats can only dream of creating a mouth party of that scale.  For now, she’ll leave the remaining flavors to D, who turned it out with the crazy taco bar.  She just hopes they enjoyed these dessert delights as they danced and drank the night away.

the 4th. finally.

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Miss Fats is embarrassed by the delay of this post.  She’s finally getting around to giving you the run down on her 4th of July…3 weeks later.  Part of the reason is that she’s been at work baking much more exciting cakes for celebrations and she frankly failed to properly document the backyard BBQ shenanigans of Independence Day.  However, as Chicago finally cools down, she thought she’d share the delights of a little garden party to remind everyone that summer is actually awesome and not a miserable hot towel wrapped around your face threatening to suffocate you (at least not all the time).

Part of the delay on posts is due to the fact that Miss Fats is currently in the process of moving.  The worst.  This is hardly the most difficult move she’s ever experienced, but there’s something about the chaos and constant movement of schlepping that puts Miss Fats into the worst mood.  She apologizes to all her friends who have now seen the effects of this process.  However, despite the fatigue, sweat and strange box bruises all over her body, she could not be more excited about her new apartment.  She doesn’t like to brag (false: she loves bragging) but this place is out of control: backyard, porch, fireplace, and a DISHWASHER.  And these are only a list of amenities.  She should probably throw in the fact that the place is absolutely gorgeous.

Miss Fats can’t take credit for this place: she’s moving in with her lovely friend N, who has been kind enough to allow her to inhabit this incredible apartment and put up with her constant baking and moving watching.  She could not be more delighted to begin life with N and her partner M, in September, where there will likely always be a new craft cocktail and cookie every night.  Cue exit from reality.

IMG_3959M was in town for a short summer visit during the weekend of the 4th, so the three of them decided it was an excellent chance to their first party as future roommates.  It was all pretty impromptu: they had to pull it all together in about 48 hours.  But for team N, M & M? Not a problem.  (Clearly: see above)

They kept it simple with burgers, brats, and hot dogs to be thrown on the grill, and asked friends to bring additional drinks and sides.  Thanks to M’s amazing bartending skills, there were fruity Pimm’s Cups for all. (Not to mention she kept Miss Fat’s excellent  G & T full at all times!)  Their awesome friends filled in all the gaps between spicy margaritas, and a huge haul of cool beers.  For the most part, they all just hung out in the backyard, nomming and drinking (as it should be on the 4th).

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Miss Fats was, naturally, in charge of dessert.  And she has to admit that she had alterior motives for this party from the beginning.  She’s just going to come out and say it: she suggested this party because she wanted to make a big ‘ol cheesecake.  Not that Miss Fats couldn’t just make one for the hell of it, but the 4th of July seemed to be begging for a proper red, white and blue, creamy cold cake.  To her, nothing screams backyard BBQ more than a bright dessert topped with a heaping pile of fresh berries.  And ever since her recent cheesecake success, Miss Fats has been itching to get a little more practice in while berry season is ripe.

So all set with a venue, Miss Fats baked up a bright lemon and vanilla cheesecake base, topped with rhubarb sauce and fresh blueberries.  Happy Birthday, America.  She used the same lemon cheesecake recipe from Food 52, with the same alterations as her first attempt.  Unfortunately, it didn’t come out quite as beautiful as her first attempt.  (Anyone who’s baked a cheesecake knows that the pesky beast is always coming out slightly different.  Damn that temperamental cooling process.)  So as you can see, the cake’s edges pulled from the pan a bit too soon and didn’t create the most elegant of corners.  Oh well.  However, the cake itself was close to perfect: Miss Fats was shocked.  She couldn’t believe the final texture and flavor of this thing.  Typically, a cheesecake dips slightly in the middle and loses it’s heft a bit.  Not this one.  Somehow, the cake remained perfectly fluffy, slightly firm and beautifully creamy from crust to center.  This sat a-top a thin and crisp graham cracker crust with good hit of salt and was topped off with a creamy and tart layer of sour cream.  Cake miracle.  Look at that thing:

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Miss Fats kept the toppings simple and tart to cut through the creamy cake base.  She made a simple rhubarb sauce (since she’d obsessed), that required cooking down a couple of stalks in a bit of sugar and vanilla.  Miss Fats worked the fruit through a fine strainer to get that beautifully clear and smooth sauce.  Then she simply mounded fresh blueberries (they needed nothing: so plump and crazy sweet) on top and let the rough, messy edge all hang out.  Miss Fats doesn’t need fancy perfection: she’s much more concerned about what happens in when the cake gets in your mouth.

Initially, she planned to just move forward with the cheesecake, since guests would likely be stuffing themselves full of grilled meat objects.  But as she was checking out at the grocery store, she happened to notice a bag of super processed, red, white and blue star-shaped marshmallows that obviously needed to be purchased.  Then it dawned on Miss Fats that it was fucking July and she hadn’t gotten her s’more on at all this summer: not okay.  Upon this realization, Miss Fats threw in all the necessary s’more makings and anxiously awaited the oozing toasted marshmallow fest to come.  Double dessert.

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Don’t pretend like s’mores aren’t always a good idea.  Come on: look at that thing.  Even blue ooze is beautiful.

In the end, the party was a big success.  Mostly because it was so little work and filled with so many taste-goods.  Lets get real: Miss Fats couldn’t care less about America’s birthday, but she’ll take any excuse to make an excessive dessert, char meat, and wind up covered in sticky sugar and chocolate.  And this party hit all of the marks.  There were even bubbles.  (M & N are the best.)  Miss Fats wishes she could say more, but there are leftover s’more ingredients calling to her.  More BBQ’s to come.

peanut butter chocolate cake and fancy fails

IMG_3889This might be the best damn looking cake Miss Fats has ever made.  It’s also probably why it ended up being one of the most disappointing.  She’s  going to refer to this cake as a “fancy fail” from now on (notice it’s similarity to Fancy Feast).  Now this is being incredibly over dramatic and a bit self wallowing, but come on! Look at that thing.  It’s promising nothing but decadent flavor on par with its aesthetic level.  However this was not the case.  Spoiler alert: this is not a love story.

Ok Miss Fats will stop being a bummer to talk a little more about what’s going on with this beauty.  Since she’s fundamentally incapable of attending just about any event without a sweet treat in hand, Miss Fats’ recent invite to a belated wedding reception/joint birthday celebration was no exception.  This event boasted a wedding and two birthdays and therefore required her to impose a cake upon everyone.  Hell, Miss Fats wasn’t even really invited to this thing but you better damn well believe she was bringing a big ass cake in celebration.

IMG_3884She asked for her usual flavor request to help send her in a general direction; “chocolate?” was all she got.  Now this was the second chocolate cake of the week for Miss Fats (she had just gone to cacao town with D’s birthday cake earlier in the week).  Since Chicago weather had been crap, she didn’t even feel obligated to work with a cake that celebrated the sunshine and flavors of the summer (because let’s get real, summer literally just started in Chicago).  So shit was about to get real.  IE Miss Fats was going to lay down her favorite flavor combination of all time: peanut butter chocolate.

She knew there would be another cake at the party, so she felt less obligated to craft a cake that perfectly encompassed the couple (a task that Miss Fats’ has actually never even tried.  Though she can’t wait for a Frankenstein cake soon).  Instead, she was hoping to simply highlight the importance of celebration, decadence and excess.  This party was a fun and simple backyard affair, so the peanut butter seemed to be an appropriate way to dial back the ‘smance in favor of some childhood ooey gooey peanutty business.

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She knew that this type of celebration definitely required an actual cake: three celebrations can’t quite be encompassed in a little cupcake object.  However she’d been struggling with the humidity over the last week and was seriously worried about her super-moist chocolate cake recipe not holding up for this thing.  With D’s cake days before, the wet air wreaked havoc on the removing-cake-from-pan process and she thought it might be a good idea to go with a butter-based cake instead.  She’s a big fan of Bakers Royale and has a good deal of success with many of her recipe components, so when she found her Best Chocolate Cake Recipe it seemed like the natural choice.  It followed many of Miss Fats’ baking rules: minimal bowl action, no cake flour, and no butter creaming (these are not steadfast rules: just wonderfully attractive features that she often looks for).  It essentially resembled Miss Fats’ oil-based chocolate cake, but used melted butter instead.  She ended up using milk instead of the cassis because: a) Miss Fats really has no fucking idea what cassis is anyway and b) she’s a grad student not going to buy a bottle of that fancy liquor for one cake.  Given that the recipe produced two 8 inch cakes, Miss Fats ended up multiplying the recipe by 1.5 to get three 9 inch layers.  The cakes cooked beautifully and easily held up despite the wet wet air.

Now came the filling.  Miss Fats has been trying to think through the ultimate peanut butter filling for quite some time now.  Peanut butter is not just some creaming thing you can slap in between cake layers.  It’s a sticky-salty spread that should be celebrated flavor-wise, but requires a bit more work to transform it into a perfectly crafted cake filling that works with the textures of the cake and frosting.  She liked the idea of something between a buttercream/mousse: she wanted the intense flavors of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, but a lightness that wouldn’t overpower the fluffy crumb of the cake.

She ended up going with Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting, that boasted intense peanut flavor in the form of a buttercream.  She was a little worried about how much frosting this recipe produced and the intensity of the peanut flavor, so Miss  Fats made a couple of variations that she’s sharing with you here:

Peanut Butter Filling:
makes about 3 cups of filling
adapted from Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup creamy, all natural peanut butter
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (dependent upon how sweet your peanut butter is)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt + more to taste
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Set aside in the fridge.

2. Beat the butter and peanut butter on medium high until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and salt and mix until fully combined.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until combined.  Adjust salt based on your own preferences (Miss Fats obviously added more).

3. Fold the frosting into the heavy whipping cream.

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Since she was diggin’ on the look and feel of D’s chocolate cake from earlier in the week, she ended up going with the easy, spreadable chocolate ganache frosting.  Fully riding the salt-sweet train at this point, Miss Fats needed to jazz this thing up to keep it on par with the celebration level of the party.  She figured in-line with the backyard, slightly nostalgic feel of the event, a chocolate-covered pretzel would be the ideal object of decoration.  What says salt-sweet tasty town more than a chocolate covered pretzel?  However to keep it elegant (and photographable), she needed a bit of color contrast, so she ended up deciding to do both chocolate and peanut butter-dipped treats.  Miss Fats isn’t going to give you a recipe for these, since all she did was melt down about a cup of chocolate chips and a cup of peanut butter chips and dunked those suckers in.  To make them all pretty, she made a mess of herself and kitchen by using a fork to whip lines of peanut butter and chocolate across them. The only trick of these pretzels is not eating them all before they make it on to the cake (so so hard). Let them firm up in the fridge and stack them in a circle.  Boom. So pretty, yet to easy.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Is Miss Fats seriously just whining about how good looking her cake is?  Ok so here begins the abbreviated discussion of the cake’s problems (skip ahead if you’d rather live in cake fantasy land and see this as perfection).  So this is pretty fucking epic looking right?  And when you make a cake like this one, you want that first cut and bite to match the level of beauty (Miss Fats has a HUGE problem with beautiful cakes that cannot live up to their looks in flavor).  However, cutting into this cake, it crumbled. Total frosting/filling/cake mess.  The chocolate ganache pulled at the crumbly cake, destroying the three, carefully stacked layers.  Hardly the kind of display for a wedding: no embarrassing (cue tiny violins).  And while this mess may have been acceptable given the casual celebration, Miss Fats regrets to say that the flavor just didn’t quite make up for the disastrous structure.  There just wasn’t enough peanut butter filling to balance with the fudge of the cake and ganache.  Salt-sweet fail.

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Ok ok.  Miss Fats will stop now, because for the most part, guests seemed to really enjoy the cake (naively so).  And in the end, the bride and groom/birthday boy and girl seemed to really enjoy it.  Which is all she can hope for.  However if Miss Fats were to attempt this cake again, she’d seriously amp up that peanut butter filling: literally double that recipe.  She’d also return to her oil-based cake, which just has a bouncier texture that holds up to a sturdy filling like peanut butter.  This is to say that Miss Fats is not completely discouraged: she will try the ultimate peanut butter chocolate cake again.  Though this cake will probably haunt Miss Fats’ sugar dreams for a while, she recognizes that this was not a complete fail.  The real success came in making a beautiful cake for a beautiful crowd and couple.  They should just wait for peanut butter cake the sequel: coming to birthdays next summer.

CHOCOLATE Cake

IMG_3835Why all the yelling? (Obviously all caps=yelling. Get with it.)  Because this is some serious chocolate cake up in herrrrre.  Yet as per usual, chocolate fails at food photography and this picture cannot even begin to express the hidden cocao-ness layered up in that shining brown round object.  Miss Fats is talkin’ moist chocolate cake sandwiching both dark and white chocolate mousse, all contained in a rich chocolate ganache frosting.  Rich bliss.

How did Miss Fats go crazy, you ask?  After a brief birthday break, she returned to her idealistic work of making sure that no birth celebration goes cakeless.  Her friend D was throwing a casual mid-week-come-celebrate-me-if-you-got-a-little-extra-time-on-your-hands-but-no-pressure birthday drinks sesh and Miss Fats offered (forced) her baking skills on the evening.  She is a big believer in the birthday cake request: everyone gets to make all their guests eat whatever damn cake they like on their birthday (even if it’s some bullshit like a bundt cake or whatever).  So as usual she asked the birthday boy his favorite flavors: Miss Fats doesn’t need you to dream up your crazy cake idea, but she appreciates a general direction. And D sent her a dangerous way; one simple request: chocolate.

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Part of Miss Fats love of baking is thinking up the ideal sweet for the situation.  So birthday cakes present a particularly fun challenge: how do you essentialize a person in a cake?  Basically Miss Fats gets REAL excited about objectifying people.  But hey, at least you become a crazy tasty pastry object that everyone chows down on all evening.  Plus if you’re lucky, you get all lit on fire with candles.  Now Miss Fats is half kidding on this one (she hopes all her friends don’t go psychoanalyzing their birthday cakes and wind up thinking Miss Fats wants them to confront their repressed mother issues).

However she does spend a good deal of time scouring the interwebs for flavor ideas and recipes to help build the ideal person-cake.  In this case, D’s chocolate request felt incredibly appropriate.  Simple, classic and could easily be jazzed up for celebration purposes (oh god, please don’t go over thinking the rest of this post, D).  Chocolate is Miss Fats favorite kind of cake (false: chocolate is in fact her favorite object in existence in this world), so the real challenge was restraint in this case (which, clearly she didn’t do a GREAT job at).  However she knew that D’s cake should be a rich balance that didn’t overdo it on the sweet.  Additionally, D suffers from an unfortunate peanut allergy that kept Miss Fats far from her favorite peanut butter chocolate nonsense (more to come on that: just you wait ’til the next cake).  So her theory was: if he asked for chocolate, he is damn well getting chocolate.

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The first question was cake versus cupcake.  She decided that since D said it had been an eternity since he’d had a proper birthday cake, that she should serve it up right with a classic layered round cake.  Miss Fats stuck to her guns, and used her go-to chocolate cake recipe that has now appeared a bajillion times on this blog, but she’ll link you to it anyway.  Now the next question was what should this cake experience be?  She was real into the idea of those rich chocolate fancy restaurant cakes that beautifully layer mousse, ganache and cake like a thousand times and take ten million hours and an insane amount of precision to produce.  However D is not that fussy.  And neither is Miss Fats baking style.  So she decided to bring all the flavors of fancy town to a rustic, classic layered cake that didn’t go seducing you with all its glitz and glam.

This cake ultimately ended up being composed of four layers of chocolate cake (two nine-inch cakes cut in half), with two layers of Food & Wine’s dark chocolate mousse and one layer of white.  For the filling she made a full batch of the dark chocolate mousse which ended up being a little bit light for Miss Fats’ taste.  (Though guests seemed more satisfied with the proportions that she did.)  She halved the white recipe which was just fine considering the super sweetness of white chocolate.

Miss Fats recommends breaking this cake into two days.  Day one: bake off the cakes and store them wrapped in plastic wrap.  Make both mousses and allow them to properly firm up in the fridge over night.  Day two: make the ganache.  Then assemble the cake and mousse layers and allow to freeze while the ganache cools to the right spreadable temperature.

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Now it has been pretty damn hot in Chicago, so Miss Fats had some serious melt situation on her hands.  For those of you working in warmer, humid climates, she highly recommends assembling the cake layers and fillings and freezing the whole thing for at least 30 minutes before frosting.  This will allow the mousse to firm up before you go encasing the beast in a solid wall of fortifying ganache goodness.  Miss Fats is sharing her super simple ganache recipe that easily molds itself to a whipped, spread or poured version depending on when you decide to use it.

Easy Chocolate Ganache Frosting:
yields enough for one nine inch cake or twenty-four cupcake

1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tbs butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a medium bowl (or the mixing bowl of your stand mixer if you’re planning to do a whipped frosting), dump the chocolate chips, butter and salt.  Heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe dish for about 1-2 minutes, or until quite hot.  Dump the heavy cream over the chocolate chip mixture and let stand for a couple of minutes.  Whisk thoroughly until you get a smooth, glossy ganache.

2. For pouring: allow the ganache to cool for at least 10 minutes.  Then go to town.  For spreading: allow the ganache to cool to room temperature or until it reaches a buttery, spreadable consistency (about 2 hours).  For whipped: allow the ganache to cool for about an hour.  Then whip on high until soft peaks form.

This cake, despite its many steps and components was not actually that difficult.  Spread over two days, you only have an hour or two of actual work.  There’s just quite a bit of the waiting game with chocolate.  However the end result is pretty damn worth it: you get to bite into an incredibly moist trio of chocolate forms that play between chocolate’s sweet and dark, bitter sides.  This is a damn chocolate symphony.  And like a festive concert, this cake needed a little pizzaz to remind itself that it wasn’t taking itself too seriously.  So Miss Fats went to sprinkle town:

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Rainbow sprinkles, polka dots and chocolate?  Ingredients to throw any jaded grad student into childhood nostalgia (or at least Miss Fats hopes).  To make these simple (yet effective) decorations, Miss Fats carefully placed round cookie cutters on top of the cake and spooned in the sprinkles.  Clearly she wasn’t as careful as she should have been, because a few pesky dots found their way across the surface.  Oh well.

In the end, Miss Fats likes to think of this particular birthday cake as a serious yet lighthearted chocolate monstrosity.  It spans the excess of childhood, yet indulges in the rich decadence of fantasy adulthood.  D was celebrating his twenty-eighth after all: a weird year somewhere between things, and this cake’s attitude is same.  She hopes D enjoyed his birthday cakery, even if he ended up leaving it sitting on the streets of Chicago (don’t even get Miss Fats started on this story).  She’s kidding: everyone gets to do what they want with their own damn birthday cake.

vanilla toffee swirl and peanut butter cookie ice cream

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Crack alert. Miss Fats does not like to brag about recipes.  She’s all about praising and reviewing other’s work, but she hopes description does more of the work than pure judgement.  But this ice cream demands a string of subjective adjectives that culminate in a child-like pool of giddy word nonsense: it’s-like-a-spontaneous-party-in-my-mouth-that-all-my-favorite-people-came-to-and-then-a-magician-showed-up-and-performed-tricks.  See: what does that even mean when you’re talking about ice cream?   Miss Fats is not even sure she’s talking about ice cream anymore: more like dream cream. And that’s what this treat is: the salty, sweet, crunchy, creamy stuff of dreams manifest in a frozen bite.

Following some semi-disappointing work with egg whites (more on that later), Miss Fats found herself with twelve egg yolks that demanded a custard of some sort.  Chicago has been disgusting the last couple of days (nothing in her life is dry any more) and some sweet cold ice cream seemed like the perfect remedy.  Since she’s moving in a month, Miss Fats has been determined to work through some of her freezer treasures.  So the first thing she did was unearth the unopened box of Girl Scout Do-si-Dos: how and why this managed to survive the last months is beyond Miss Fats.  She fears she may have actually had stroke at some point that caused her to forget she had cookie crack in her freezer that prevented consumption.  Anyway, lucky stroke cookies were all set for some ice cream lovin’.  She figured there should be some swirly, salty action, so she opted for a caramel-y toffee sauce that could stand up to the peanut butter goodness of the cookies and cut through the sweet creamy vanilla.

IMG_3822Now Miss Fats is no expert on ice cream making.  She was given her ice cream maker a couple of years ago but it unfortunately hasn’t gotten much use .  There’s all that freezing/sugar/temperature science-y business that’s just bamboozling.  Why can’t ice cream just be perfectly creamy and light every time you throw it in the magical spinning machine?  Anyway, in the last month or so, her attempts at ice cream have shown a lot more success.  Riding that (irrational) high, she decided she was capable of just throwing together her own ice cream recipe.  For some reason it worked, but she’s sure this is a total fluke.  You’re likely reading Miss Fats first and last original ice cream recipe.

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The recipe itself is fairly simple.  It starts with a basic vanilla custard base.  Following a good churn in your ice cream maker, you throw down that sauce and a heaping pile of crumbled cookies.  The hardest part is waiting.  Stupid ice cream and it’s freezing process.

Vanilla Toffee Swirl and Peanut Butter Cookie Ice Cream:
makes 1 quart

vanilla base:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp good vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups milk
6 egg yolks

toffee sauce:
2 tbs butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt

crushed peanut butter sandwich cookies (do-si-dos or Nutter Butters)

1. Make the vanilla base: heat the heavy cream, milk, about half of the sugar, vanilla and salt in a sauce pan.  Bring just to a boil and remove from heat.  In a small separate bowl, whisk the remaining sugar and egg yolks.  Carefully whisk in about 1/4 cup of the hot cream into the yolk mixture, stirring constantly (don’t go cookin’ those yolks).  Pour the remaining cream into the yolk/milk mixture and stir to combine.  Return the base to the sauce pan.  Over medium-low heat, cook the custard base until it’s thick.  Stir constantly heat until it coats the back of a spoon.  (Do not let it boil.)  Strain the custard and store in the fridge until it’s fully chilled (about 4 hours in the fridge or less in the freezer if you’re real lazy and impatient like Miss Fats.)

3. Skim any skin that may have formed on your custard and churn the ice cream according to your machine’s instructions.

4. While the ice cream is churning, make the toffee sauce: In a sauce pan, stir together the butter, brown sugar and half of the heavy cream.  Stir and cook over medium high heat until it caramelizes and bubbles.  Continue stirring and cooking for an additional 3 minutes as your sauce darkens.  Remove from heat and stir in remaining cream and salt until smooth.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

5. Working quickly, dump your churned ice cream base into your tupperware container.  Dump the cookies and sauce over top and use a knife to quickly stir in all that goodness.  Don’t over stir: you want to ensure a nice, fat ribbon of that sauce running though it.  Store in freezer and try to be patient for at least 4 hours while it freezes through.

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Four painful hours later you have a quart of the most addicting ice cream ever.  Dig that spoon into a whole mess of salty-sweet swirl and go to town.  Miss Fats is pretty sure this would reach critical flavor overload level if you crumbled some chocolate covered pretzels on top.  She’s almost too afraid to do it: not sure what would happen to her brain/taste buds at that point.  All impulse control would easily be lost and she’d probably just die.  So on that note: she hopes you all go out there and test death with this one: it’s worth it.