Baking Up My First Book

Baking Up My First Book

I have a book now: The Sea Islands Dining Guide. Click here for a link to it.

Yo Bo Cantina Marks My 20th Story Published!

I am very excited that this week marks my twentieth (20th) published food story for Wiser Time Publishing, better known as the West Of and James Island Messenger newspapers. I joined the team last October. For a full slideshow of the stories in print, and links to the submitted stories, click here.

Charleston’s food industry hot trends are taco and tequila joints, Neapolitan (aka wood-fired) pizzerias, and kitchens serving farm-to-table dining. The craft beer scene continues to grow as well–I look forward to the Bay Street Biergarten (if you remember the Boathouse, Arizona’s, Rice Mill on East Bay, it’s in that building) opening in September. There’s also a new brewery in the Upstate (Greenville-Spartanburg), Quest, which I hope to see distributed in this area soon.

Feast Your Eyes: Babette’s Feast (1986)

As Bastille Day arrives this coming weekend, it’s hard to pick just one food film with a French connection. The French have contributed so much to the language, flavor, and art of food (much like politics and fashion).
But this go ’round, I choose Babette’s Feast. I know, I know, it is a foreign film in Danish with English subtitles, but its heroine, Babette, is French. 

When revolution breaks out in her native country, French refugee Babette appears at the door of two sisters in Jutland, Denmark. She carries a letter from an old friend of one of the sisters, and she seeks shelter in exchange for performing domestic work, including cooking. The sisters accept, though running a parish they inherited from their father, they are used to a diet of dried fish and fairly plain food that reflects their outlook and devout faith. Fancy, succulent French cookery is not their style, and they do fear its potentially soul-corrupting influence. The film delves into each sister’s past.

The film is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen. Dinesen is most famous for her memoir, Out of Africa. Coincidentally, it too was made into a film in the 1980s, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

TRIVIA: Denmark has no official independence or national day.

Not all White Chocolate Melts…

As a followup to Spring Kookys, here’s a behind the scenes explanation of what I used for decorating, and why, with some photos.

With this batch I wanted to decorate the Kookys with more fluffy realism, have great flavor, using sweet but ‘nutritionally straightforward’ ingredients. I think I achieved that, but if I find something better I will try again. I also want to give umbrella Kookys another try and not have them fall apart at the handle.

But here’s what I have learned:

White Chocolate As Frosting/icing:


I used melted Godiva chocolate bars flecked with vanilla beans as the base icing for these kookys (see glass on the right, above.

Why didn’t I just pick up white chocolate chips (see glass on the left, above)? Well, I’ve been burned by them in the past. Literally.

I order to achieve melted chocolate with the ideal consistency–fluid, glossy, yet quick to dry with a matte finish, you must have cocoa butter as an ingredient. This is true with traditional brown chocolate as well.

As I was saying, I learned this the hard way. I would buy white chips, and try to melt them in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, 30 seconds to one minute. First they weren’t melted after one rotation, then they were crumbly and turning brown in the second rotation. I recreated my results for this post. They didn’t burn this time, but they still look nasty after multiple rotations in the microwave; stirring doesn’t help (see image below):












At first I thought adding butter or water might help, but it just made a bigger mess.

I researched the issue, and I learned that cocoa butter was the crucial ingredient. Then I went to multiple grocery store’s baking aisles to see if there were any white chips containing cocoa butter. Store brand, gourmet brand, it didn’t matter–none of them had it:



And there is a product called CandiQuik and a White Bark Covering, but it’s a poor man’s fondue. It’s intended for dipping pretzels and such, like candy melting disks I used to see more frequently. [I am suspicious of any candy product that says “vanilla flavored candy” or “chocolate flavored candy”. If it’s not truly chocolate and had to be flavored that way, just what is it? What am I potentially eating or serving here?]



So I walked to the candy aisle, and along the top shelf there were white chocolate candy bars. Their label indicated they contained cocoa butter.


So I bought it and gave it a shot. It worked like a charm, see below:


Not only does it look much better, but it does a job that the chips couldn’t.

This isn’t to say white chips aren’t good for chunky chocolate pieces in brownies, blondies or cookies; it is just to say, without cocoa butter, you can’t completely melt them for use as a liquid. It will not happen.


From what I’ve found, these chocolate brands have cocoa butter ingredient 100% of the time:

Green & Black; Hershey’s Bliss, Nuggets and Kisses; Dove; Perugina; Taste of Inspirations; Godiva; Lindt.

Chocolate brands that only sometimes have cocoa butter–basically it depends on the product type:

Ghiradelli, Nestle, ScharffenBerger

I did notice that Ghiradelli had “baking bars” that look like large candy bars and they contained cocoa butter;  Ghiradelli white chips do not. At the same time, Nestle had a white “baking bar”, but it nor the premier white chips contain cocoa butter. The only way to know for sure how packaged chocolate can be used for your next baking project is to check its ingredients list before buying it. Gourmet branding, the price, and vague product names don’t follow any consistent logic.

Prepared Frosting

Prepared frosting, whether it comes in a canister, a box, or a pouch, is really convenient and simple to use.  So are gel food colors. Unlike melted chocolate, frosting/icing it can thicken up and get a sugar crystalled skin on it, but it won’t harden like chocolate does unless its Cookie Glaze in a tube (like a runny fondant; when the cookie is chilled or left to set for an hour at room temperature, the glaze will harden).

But these products, Cookie Glaze included, have a lot of mystery chemical ingredients, like partially hydrogenated ‘schmeckle-zoink’ (thanks Mike Myers Coffee Talk) and other oddities in them.

Here’s some images of labels:




These additives aid the color, the consistency, and the shelf life of the product, but they only hurt the health of the consumer, the more they are consumed over a lifetime. Think about all your birthday cakes, others’ birthday cakes, wedding cakes, job change cakes, anniversary cakes, romantic dessert cake. That’s a lot of artificial sweeteners and chemicals going into your system–and who knows, maybe they never really leave, they just build up over a lifetime.

Sugared Coconut

While I’m on the subject of baking aisle atrocities, store bought sugared coconut found in the baking aisle is not healthy either. The bags I see sold in stores are practically ‘sweating’ sugar and high fructose schmeckle-zoink. UGH. You can’t taste the coconut anymore.

Here’s some ingredients lists for those:



I would swear propylene glycol is also used in hairspray. Wikipedia mentions its role in the dispersants used after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There’s nothing sweet about the idea of eating that.

So I walked to the granola/organic foods/dried fruit aisle and found plain dried coconut for my Kookys.


Below is an ingredient list I could get used to!



Tip My Toque: Old Bay Seasoning

Here on the coast of South Carolina, it’s the time of year when the shrimp boats are blessed by local ministers. Blessings and prayers are made for a safe season and a bountiful catch. There are also many seafood festivals along the coastline for shrimp and blue crab. [Oyster season is traditionally over until next fall.]

Since it is seafood festival season, I was curious about the story behind Old Bay seasoning.


Old Bay hails from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. It was created by Gustav Brunn, a German immigrant, in the early 1940s. It contains allspice, bay leaf, black pepper, cardamom, celery seed, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, paprika, red pepper, and salt. (In recent years, a lower salt variety has been introduced to the product line.)

Old Bay was named for the Old Bay Line, a steamship that made regular trips between Baltimore and Norfolk in the early 20th century.

It’s trademark packaging is a mustard yellow canister or label, with 2 perpendicular royal blue bands on the left side. In the horizontal blue bar, OLD BAY is written in bold white capital letters. Seventy years later, the packaging has a unmistakable look and a vintage quality. Old Bay had consistent branding, long before everyone was talking about the importance of “branding”. And it continues today.

In the Chesapeake area, Old Bay is offered as a condiment in movie theaters, at delis, sandwich franchises, and many restaurants. In other areas, Old Bay is available at any establishment serving fish and shellfish.

While it was designed for seafood, other uses include seasoning popcorn, cooked eggs, potato chips, tater tots, french fries, corn on the cob, and salads.

What are….Tahini Benne Wafers?

I thought it would be interesting to try tahini in the Lowcountry classic, the benne wafer, in lieu of butter. I am BakingKookys, after all. Today I brought these Tahini Benne Wafers to a lunch meeting.

People tried the cookies. But I learned that not many people knew what tahini or a benne wafer was.

But that’s okay, because:

  • In Charleston, just about everybody is from somewhere else anymore, so I wouldn’t expect non-natives to know our foodways.
  • Food is something we all share, yet it’s full of mysteries. Food has a boundless vocabulary.

Food education is one of the reasons I started this blog.

I think it’s safe to say if you like nut flavors, you will like tahini.

Tahini is sesame seed paste. It’s much like creamy peanut butter, but imagine sesame seeds were used instead of peanuts. When you buy a jar or can of tahini,  its oil has separated from the drier, thicker paste. Before using it, you will want to stir it up to redistribute the oil with the paste.  [You’ve probably noticed your peanut butter develop a pool of oil on top if you haven’t used it for a few weeks, too.]

You can also make your own tahini with a bag of sesame seeds and food processor. Just pour them in, put on the lid and grind away. Store the liquid in a bowl. It does not have to be refrigerated and it never spoils.

If you wish to buy a jar or can of tahini at a local US supermarket, it is usually in the same aisle as other foreign specialty packaged foods. In the South, the Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Israeli packaged foods are shelved all on one row. Tahini is also available online at Amazon.


And what are benne wafers? They are crunchy sesame seed cookies created in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. “Benne” is the Bantu word for the sesame seed; as you may have guessed, benne wafers are an African creation, like Charleston’s sweetgrass baskets.

For traditional Benne wafers, whole sesame seeds are toasted in the oven on a foiled cookie sheet. I toasted mine at 400ºF for less than a minute. Once they were cool, I poured them into a small bowl.

In a separate small bowl, mix the wet ingredients: half a stick (or 4 tablespoons) of unsalted butter; 1 beaten egg; 1 teaspoon lemon juice; and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. In a separate larger bowl, combine the dry ingredients: 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 cup of bread flour.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir. Last, add the toasted sesame seeds. Stir until the seeds are evenly distributed. Then roll out two 6″ disks of dough between 2 sheets of wax paper. Ch them for 1/2-1 hour. Cut out circles (or another desired shape) and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 325ºF for 15 minutes each. Allow to cool, then serve.

For my Tahini Benne Wafers, I replaced the butter with 4 tablespoons of tahini. The cookies had a very rich sesame flavor. Next time, I may attempt other shapes.

NOTE: The sesame seed is high in protein and many nutrients. Rather than indulging in an afternoon sugar fix that will only make you sleepy later, seeds, nuts, and nut spreads like tahini, provide lasting energy.

Tahini is also used in hummus along with crushed chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), fresh minced garlic, and other herbs. Hummus is a dip served with toasted pita bread as an appetizer at Greek, Lebanese, and Middle Eastern-themed restaurants.