Cakes with Panache

Just before my daughter headed back to school last month, we went shopping and, on our way to the department store, we passed a cookware store. It was bustling, and unusually thick with customers for an early Saturday morning. With our curiosity piqued, we ventured in. Turns out, an author was there, getting ready to sign her cookbook, Extraordinary Cakes.

Extraordinary Cakes?” I eagerly inquired at the counter. “Any connection to Extraordinary Desserts, the restaurant that serves sumptuous delights?”

And, lo and behold, there was a connection! For the author, Karen Krasne, is the genius behind the two Extraordinary Desserts restaurants in San Diego, as well as the creator of the fabulous confections they offer, including, of course, cakes. Her trademark—which is what makes these delicacies so breathtakingly beautiful and truly extraordinary—are the flowers and edible gold leaf she uses to adorn them.

So, we purchased a book and joined the cue, because if you know anything about my daughter, you know that she loves to bake–a win-win for our entire family. The cookbook is divided by seasons, and features photos and recipes for cakes boasting such evocative names as Passion Fruit Ricotta Cake, Lemon Praline Torte, Strawberry Poppy Seed Cake, Chocolate Nirvana, Versailles, and Love Is Chocolate.

The book signing we attended offered an array of Krasne's extraordinary cakes. We sampled them all!

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Krasne, about her cakes, her must-have ingredient, and her pursuit of a spiritual life.

MTW:  How long have you been baking and how did you discover your talent for creating and decorating extraordinary deserts?

KK:  I’m from a family of bakers. As early as 11, I’d cook with my mom, aunts, and grandma, who all loved to bake. Some of my first desserts included apple dumplings and caramel cheesecake.  It was fun for me and everyone loved my cooking. In college, while I was pursuing a degree in nutrition, I found a part-time job working for a bakery in Honolulu.  I enjoyed it so much, it led me to study pastry-making at the Cordon Bleu in France.

MTW: Please share something many may not know about you.

Photo taken during Krasne's recent trip to Bali.

KK: I’m shy, and I love to be alone. I also love quiet time, to be far away in the world, in a secluded locale. Two weeks of being anonymous, helps you get to the true essence of who you are. My husband understands my need to travel solo once a year, and is very supportive.

MTW: So, you travel by yourself? For women who might be more hesitant to do so, what’s your secret?

KK: Thanks to my parents, I am fearless about traveling on my own. I started when I was 14. At 15, I went to Mazatlan with  three other girls and we rented a condo. Dad would tell you I walked to a different rhythm, that I was an older soul. I wasn’t a saint, and I was somewhat reckless. But I was very intuitive about character, and my parents knew they could trust me. It’s an adrenalin rush to land in places like Cambodia or Morocco. These trips are filled with spiritual growth and can be so stimulating.

MTW: Aside from the basics (flour, baking soda, etc.), what is the one ingredient you must always have on hand?

KK: I highly recommend keeping on hand many different kinds of chocolate—milk, dark, extra dark, white, light milk, etc.

MTW:  Any trade secrets or helpful hints for baking?

KK:  My recipes can be complex, with many steps involved, so make sure you have all the ingredients measured and weighed out before you start cooking. Review the recipe a few times, so you don’t get lost. Map it out.

MTW: Is there any ingredient that you’ve been dying to try in a dessert or are curious to find out how it would taste in one of your confections?

KK: I’ve dabbled in many flavors. I don’t get too esoteric, trying weird things, like cheese and chocolate. That’s not what my clients want. I have played around with yuzu (about the size of a tangerine) from Asia; and matcha tea, a green tea from Japan. We do have a tremendous number of clientele that like this.

MTW:  Your cakes are like a work of art, as if they belong in a museum. If they were to be displayed, what collection do you think they’d most fit in and are there any painters’ who inspire your work?  

KK:   I decorate my desserts with flowers from the South Pacific, so I’d say Gauguin. Also, Monet and other artists inspired by the Giverny Gardens. Each year, I make sure, too, to visit San Diego’s Art Alive, a celebration of floral interpretations of great art. It’s very inspiring.

MTW:  In your estimation, what would be the perfect meal to go with one or any of your cakes?

KK:  I’m a strict vegetarian, and I like to eat healthy. Light picnics are one of my favorite meals. You don’t feel guilty about eating dessert afterwards. I serve food fresh, so I don’t use the oven much (except for cakes, etc.). I love tomatoes, cauliflower, salads with strawberries, steamed veggies, tofu, pesto, and brown rice.

Name three famous people, dead or alive, who you would love to invite over for cake and conversation. What would you serve?

KK:  (Comedian/actress) Sandra Bernhard; (renowned author and mind-body healing pioneer) Deepak Chopra; and my daughter, too, who is eight years old, as I’d want her to meet my heroes.  I’d serve a three-course dessert buffet. Best to add my husband. I can’t possibly leave him out!

MTW:  Where do you find your bliss?

KK:  When I’m walking along the ocean, or doing yoga. Also, a day off with my husband and daughter. Finding my spiritual moments. Now, that’s bliss.

MTW:  What book are you currently reading?

KK:  I’m reading two. The End of Illness by Dr. David Agus, which is all about preserving our health and happiness, and Living with Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life, by Angeles Arrien. This is a wonderful book; I’ve given several away as gifts. For each month of the year, it tells you what’s going on in the universe. I just read April, all about spring, greenery, and flowers. A great book, with sweet messages.

MTW: What do you hope people will take away from your desserts and your cookbook?

KK:  I hope my cookbook helps people learn something new. It’s easy to read and shows them how to make the actual cakes we sell in the restaurant, so there’s lot of enjoyment after all the hard work. At some level, I hope my desserts bring people pleasure that they haven’t had otherwise.

My Daughter, the Baker

My daughter's delicious Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins.

Hooray! It’s winter break and my daughter is home from college. Back where she belongs. And you’re probably thinking, the reason I’m so ecstatic is because I’ve missed her and it’s so good to see her again, right? Well, That is part of it. A small part. Tiny, really. So you want to know the real reason I’m excited?

She’s baking again! Something she started doing when she was home last summer. She’s making all of our favorite cupcakes, cookies and muffins, including her famous Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins, which we devour as soon as they’re out of the oven.

In order to prepare for her return, we stop at the grocery store and purchase all the ingredients we figure she’ll need. Flour? Check. Baking soda? Check. Chocolate chips? Absolutely! The bananas are already in the kitchen, having been procured several days ago, in order to give them a chance to ripen.

We pick her up at the airport and greet her with open arms and kisses, too. My son carries her luggage to the car, and I catch her up on family news. Once home, we give her a chance to bond with Henry, of course. Based on his greeting—and hyper-tail wagging—he is also thrilled to have her back. Then comes the tricky part. Finding ways to coax her into the kitchen when all she’s craving is a little shut-eye; jet lag and cramming for exams can be tough, you know.

Henry goes wild with excitement that she's home.

While she’s filling us in on how exams went, we listen and nod, all the while slowly making our way into the kitchen. She soon notices the ingredients we’ve casually left out on the kitchen counter, which reminds her just how much she enjoys baking and also how much she’s missed it. We, in turn, tell her we’ve missed her baking, too, and love, love, love all the muffins and cupcakes that she bakes from scratch. Throw in, a little bit of guilt, and good dose of cajoling, and pretty soon she’s baking up a storm!

One of our favorites that she makes is Chocolate Chip Banana muffins, which can be found on the Allrecipes site.

Warm from the oven, they're yummy!

Only, she mixes it up by using a combination of semi-sweet and white chocolate chips. She’s also been known to substitute the white sugar for brown and that gives it a whole different taste. No matter how she bakes them, they always are yummy, especially warm from the oven.

Whatever she bakes, makes us happy. And having her home really does make us happy, too.

Don’t you just love, love, love the holidays?

A Winner, a Baker & BF

First of all, congratulations to Annie of Annie Off Leash! She’s a winner!

Annie is the lucky reader who is getting my first giveaway–a beautiful Art Meets Glass original, pomegranate pendant, created by Marsha Anderson. So, Annie, please email your mailing address to, so it can be shipped out to you. And, thank you to everyone else who participated. I so appreciate you tweeting the news!

Thanksgiving was at my house this year. Once a year, I cook to my heart’s content, and this was it. I made just about everything from scratch, which is why it’ll probably be another year before I do anything like this again. The best part was that I decided to bake the bread for our meal, something I haven’t done in over 15 years!

Here's what my Grand Champion Dill bread looked like just before baking.

Some people think baking bread is a daunting task. I know, because I used to be one of them. And I don’t know why I stopped (blame it on not enough time in the day), because baking is such a pleasure. It’s soothing, relaxing and rewarding. Now, I do not own a bread machine, as I don’t consider using one to be really baking.  If you ask me, it feels a bit like cheating.

I prefer the old fashioned way. I take the temperature of the water before I mix in the yeast. I let my dough rise several times. I split it in thirds and make long strands, which I then braid together. Brush on egg yolk, then I pop it in the oven.


I’ve baked this bread before and the recipe I used, Grand Champion Dill Bread, is from the 1979/80 issue of Better Homes & Gardens Creative Ideas: Baking Ideas. If you happen to have that issue around, as I do, it’s on page 16. If not, please see recipe below. Let me tell you, the aromas while it’s baking are absolutely heavenly and the bread itself, piping hot from the oven, delicious.  I was afraid I might have forgotten how to bake bread, but, happily, it all came rushing back. Like riding a bike. So, I may be baking bread again soon.

Now, here’s how I managed BF (Black Friday).  My son and I went on a reconnaissance mission. Which means, we gathered by his computer to review the Black Friday circulars at a website devoted to just that ( We then made a list of what we both wanted and, while I manned our secret headquarters (aka, my home), he plunged into the night, to stand in line at Best Buy.

Traveling incognito, he arrived a half hour before opening, and quickly discovered the parking lot was already full. He was about to yell, “ABORT, ABORT!,” when suddenly he realized there was parking available across the street. He then fell in line, with about several hundred BF shoppers, a line that wrapped once around the store. By 12:15 a.m. he was in, and our mission was underway: to search out the items on our list.

Meanwhile, my job was to be on standby (like one of those phone operators in India). Periodically, he’d call me to have me check prices online, verify product codes, and check availability. Isn’t technology amazing?

I only had two items on the list we made: the latest Harry Potter film just released on DVD, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. It was on sale for $9.99. Also on my list, a blu-ray disc player selling for a low $39.99, which we knew would be a long shot as, at those prices, they always go fast.

Success! More or less. Despite being told they were out of the blu-ray disc players, he found a lone one, discarded in another aisle, no doubt by someone who had changed their mind. As for the DVD, he picked up the right one, then at the last minute, he switched the it  for a version that claimed to be in 3-D, as he had recently purchased for himself a 3-D television and wanted to try it out.  Unfortunately, in the excitement of the moment, he didn’t notice that the 3-D version was actually part one of The Deathly Hallows and not part two.

The upshot was that I got to lounge around and relax with a movie on TV while he ran around like crazy gathering his purchases.  He did say that everything was nice and orderly and the people, including the customers, were rather helpful. The worst part? The line to pay. It took him over an hour to get through that line.

So how about you? How did you spend Thanksgiving and Black Friday?

Grand Champion Dill Bread

1 package active dry yeast

¼ cup warm water

1 cup dairy sour cream

1 beaten egg

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon dill seed

1 tablespoon dried dill weed

1 teaspoon salt

4 to 6 cups unbleached flour

1 beaten egg yolk

In large mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water. Stir in sour cream, beaten egg, butter, onion, sugar, dill seed, dill weed, salt and 1 cup of the flour. Beat with spoon till well blended. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can with a spoon. Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Continue kneading till smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl; turn once to grease surface. Let rise till double, 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Punch down; divide in thirds. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Roll each third to an 18-inch rope. Place on greased baking sheet; braid. Combine egg yolk and 2 teaspoons water; brush atop loaf. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Makes 1 loaf.