Entries from October 10th, 2013

{Cookbook Review} The Art and Soul of Baking: An Interview with Cindy Mushet

November 26th, 2008 · 67 Comments · Cookbooks, Recipes, Reviews, Tarts

Edited 12:40 PM: Joy of joys!! I actually discovered the CIndy has already posted the recipe for the Warm Cranberry Crumble Tart on her own blog, here. Hope some of you have a chance to make it for the holidays! Check out the rest of her blog, as well – it’s great!

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Ok, before I move on to the topic proper of this post, thank you ALL for the lovely comments you left on the last post! I really loved reading about everyone’s favorite cookies, and I think I have enough cookie suggestions for a sequel to the cookie book;) Thanks also for the wonderful well-wishes; it almost felt like all of you were at my book release party helping celebrate with me! I loved it!

And now for the announcement of the lucky winner of a copy of Field Guide to Cookies. I used a random number generator so it was as random as could possibly be, and the winner is…Darla! I’m afraid I don’t have a last name, but I think there was only one Darla in the comments, and I’m e-mailing her, so congratulations, Darla! I hope you enjoy the book!

For the rest of you, be sure to go all the way to the end of this post (well, actually, I’d love if you had time to read the whole post too:) ) for another exciting book giveaway!

Without further ado, onto my interview with Cindy Mushet!

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It probably will not surprise anyone that Sur la Table is one of my most oft-visited stores; their selection of kitchen equipment is satisfying wide-ranging and high quality, and I’ve rarely gone there without finding what I need – or several other somethings that suddenly have also become quite necessary. The manager of my local Sur la Table and I are on a quite friendly basis now.

Recently, Sur la Table has ventured into the realm of cookbook publishing, a natural progression for a company dedicated to educating and outfitting cooks with tools and toys for the kitchen. Their Things Cooks Love and Knives Cooks Love have been well-received as much-needed resources for home cooks. Sur la Table turned their attention next to the arena of baking, and have come out with The Art and Soul of Baking, an encyclopedic encapsulation of, well, the art of soul of baking.

I was lucky enough to be contacted a couple weeks ago and told that Cindy Mushet, the author, would be in town promoting the book, and would I like to interview her. I eagerly accepted, and received in the mail the next day an astonishingly weighty, satisfyingly handsome book that promised to contain all the answers to any pastry question one might have between its covers.

Cindy Mushet is a charming, enthusiastic woman who clearly loves pastry, and loves to talk about it. She is currently an instructor at the Le Cordon Bleu California School of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles, and it’s clear from both talking to her in person and going through her book, that she is very accomplished at imparting what she knows about baking.

I was beyond thrilled to learned that Cindy had begun her own culinary education at none other than Tante Marie’s Cooking School – hey, if my endorsement of that school isn’t enough for you, take it from Cindy! After finishing the culinary program, she worked at Chez Panisse, and was part of the Baker’s Dozen, the renowned Bay Area baking group founded by Marion Cunningham and including such baking luminaries as Alice Medrich, Peter Reinhardt, Flo Baker, David Leibovitz, and Lindsay Shere, among others. What an amazing time that must have been in American baking, and Cindy spoke of those days with obvious fondness.

She eventually made her way down to Southern California, and found a new home at the Le Cordon Bleu California School of Culinary Arts, where she helps decipher the mysteries of pastry to eager new students. Since most of you know my opinions about pastry school, I asked her about her thoughts, and her response was gratifyingly similar to mine: she really believes that prospective students should get as much practical experience as possible, to get a realistic view of what a culinary career entails. Like me, she said she was often surprised at the students who would come to class with goals that did not seem to be in line with what they would learn, or be doing after graduation.

However, she still strongly endorsed the value of going to culinary school, for those who were serious about a career in food. Although real world experience is important, she also emphasized that there were many things taught in a formal classroom that one might never learn just by working in a kitchen; a teacher’s guidance that might help elevate you to the next level.

Cindy, like all the best pastry chefs, I suspect, is a strong believer in understanding the science behind baking, and that’s what she tries to teach her students. She really wants them to understand why recipes work the way they do, what role each ingredient plays, and how different techniques work. I talked with her about the frustration and fear of writing recipes and having turn out poorly for other people; she believes that many times recipes don’t work is because the person didn’t fully understand what was going on, and did something wrong or different and didn’t even realize it. Also, an experienced baker will understand there are many variables that can affect a recipe: humidity, temperature, ingredient freshness, oven size, etc. A baker that is aware of these variables might be able to compensate for them if it’s a rainy day or the pan isn’t the right size, but a less experienced baker might not know the difference and then wonder why the recipe didn’t turn out as expected even though the recipe was followed seemingly perfectly. What Cindy does as a teacher is to make her students aware of all these things, so they are more aware as bakers and have more understanding and control over how their baked goods turn out.

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Now, doesn’t she sound like the perfect person to write a how-to baking book? When I asked Cindy how this book project came about, she said that Sur la Table approached her and asked if she would be interested in writing a comprehensive guide to pastry. Although she was not sure what she could add to the long list of baking resources already available to both home bakers and professionals, she decided she wanted to do it. I’m glad she did – despite her modesty, Cindy has a lot of very valuable knowledge to share with all baking enthusiasts.

The scope of the book is most impressive: it really does cover just about everything in the bakers’ repertoire, from cookies to cakes to breads to laminated doughs. Every section begins with a short primer on the category, going over basic concepts and techniques; these introductions are great references. The introductions are followed by recipes ranging from simple must-knows for every baker, like tart crust and chocolate cake, to more creative ones to inspire you once you’ve mastered the basics.

Looking through the book, I have to say I’m quite jealous of Cindy’s book-writing experience! Apparently she was given a good amount of time to write and test recipes, and pretty much had free rein to write whatever she wanted! I’m sure a great deal of that was due to the fact that the editors recognized her talent and knew to stay out of the way, and I’m thrilled that they respected her skill and wanted a quality product enough to give her the time and freedom to do her job well.

Even if you already have “how-to” baking books, I’d highly recommend this book. It’s beautifully and clearly written, thoughtfully laid out, and just very well produced. There’s a wealth of information to be found in the beginnings of the chapters, in the headnotes for the recipes, and in the recipes themselves. Cindy includes “What the Pros Know” sidebars to helpfully emphasize little tips and tricks to make your baking better, like how to fold egg whites in batter without deflating them or how to improvise flavor variations for a recipe. Also, for all you who prefer to measure by weight, all the recipes include measurements in ounces! This is probably one of the biggest selling points for me, and made me totally fall in love with Cindy. Anyone who’s done any sort of professional baking knows that measuring by volume (cups and spoons) can so maddeningly imprecise, yet for some reason cookbooks continue to have only volume measurements. It used to be near impossible to find a cookbook for home cooks with weight measurements, but I think some authors are starting to have success, including Cindy, and that makes me really happy. Once you switch to a scale, there’s no going back!

I also was very impressed with the range of recipes in the book: Cindy mentioned that even though the book was supposed to cover the basics of baking, she didn’t want to only include basic recipes, which might be limiting for some people. So she fought to also include some more difficult and interesting recipes so the book would appeal to bakers of all abilities. Some that really jumped out at me were: Raspberry Souffles with Hidden Chocolate Truffles (cover photo), Rustic Olive and Thyme Bread, Coffee-Cardamon Pots de Creme, and Warm Cranberry Crumble Tart, which is what I made for this post.

When I asked Cindy about her experience teaching students, she said that the two things people always wanted to know was 1)how to make flaky pie dough, and 2) how to temper chocolate. I decided that I’d have to try her pie dough recipe after hearing this, and it’s a real winner. Just flour, butter, a tiny bit of sugar, salt, and water, and following her directions it becomes the flakiest, golden, perfectly-shattering-in-your-mouth crust. Filled with cranberries and topped with a sugary streusel topping, it is a simple but dramatic-looking dessert perfect for Thanksgiving! My boyfriend gobbled up the first batch of small tartlets I made; I baked a second larger one for my office party today and it vanished in minutes!

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I could wax on and on about Cindy’s book since there’s so many great things to say about it, but I think they best thing I can say it to go find it at your local bookstore. Or, you can win yourself a copy! Yes, I’m going contest crazy and holding another giveaway! I have one copy of The Art and Soul of Baking to give away to a lucky person. Again, to enter, simply leave a comment to this post, and tell me the one pastry item you’d really like to make or master  – your holy grail of pastry, if you will.

Thank you, Cindy, for a wonderful chat! She is a truly lovely person and if you are lucky enough be around Los Angeles and Le Cordon Bleu, perhaps you’ll be able to take a class from her. Or get a copy of The Art and Soul of Baking: it’s like a pastry course in a book, the next best thing to going to pastry school!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend with your loved ones, and get ready for the holidays and all the deliciousness it will entail!

P.S. It’s really late and I need to get some shut-eye – I’ll post up the recipe for the cranberry crumble tart tomorrow, if there’s interest! Thanks!

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Book Release Party!

November 19th, 2008 · 170 Comments · Field Guide to Cookies, My Books

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Oh my goodness, what a whirlwind it's been! I can't believe that it was just over a year ago that I started writing this book called Field Guide to Cookies, and now it's actually on bookshelves in actual bookstores! Yesterday, I was at my workplace and co-workers kept coming by with copies of my book for me to sign! You should realize that it's an engineering office, not a bakery or restaurant, so to see my book all over the desks of my co-workers was rather surreal – and very touching.

Life right now is rather surreal in general – not just because my book is really, finally out, but because all the ways my life is currently changed by it. I've been doing interviews for publications, trying to set up other promotional events, and, oh, there is this other little thing called my second book that I'm also working on! That leaves about zero time for this blog, so I really have to thank all my lovely blog hosts, who have gone above and beyond to write thoughtful and beautiful posts about their experiences with my book. They are doing a spectacular job putting my book in the spotlight, when I haven't had time to talk about it as much as I would have liked on this site. I am very lucky to have such great friends! I hope all of you are enjoying the posts as well, and also exploring their own amazing blogs!

Now, lest you think I'm getting a big head and getting carried away with delusions of grandeur, it's not like that at all. Even though there are so many great things happening right now, what I really wish I could do is just sit and absorb the moment, and capture it to savor in memory. It's like all the best, most precious moments in life, right? The first time you see a rainbow. The day you graduated from high school. Your first kiss. The first snow of winter. Your wedding day. Moments that always flit by so fast like butterflies winging towards the past, all the more precious in retrospect, because of course they never ever last long enough.

So all I'm trying to do is to take a breath, and see past all the other craziness filling my life, and just really, really appreciate this time. An acquaintance said that sometimes, when it feels like universe has decided to smile on you, you should acknowledge it – don't ever take it for granted. And I don't. So thank you, universe! Thank you for giving me with this wonderful experience. And thank you to every single one of you out there who has sent so much positive energy my way. I'll treasure this time forever.

I wish all of you could have come to my book release party last Saturday – it was an shockingly balmy November day in San Francisco, a record breaking 75 degrees. What winter, I say? And what better way to celebrate than with a little party?

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Tante Marie's Cooking School, where the party took place. Very fitting, since this was the place where I took my first footsteps into pastry! Thanks to my brother-in-law Doug who took all the photos for this post – I was in such a tizzy the day of the party I forgot my camera at home! At any rate, I was entirely occupied with talking to everyone during the event to even think of taking pictures, so thanks Doug!

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You can see some of the cookies that the talented professional pastry class baked for all the guests. I was so worried that we would run out of cookies, but fortunately there was plenty to go around! I felt very nostalgic wandering around the kitchen where I had learned pastry for six months. It was also a thrill to talk to the pastry students – one of them told me she had been inspired by my blog when she went to pastry school; a little intimidating and flattering all at once!

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This is me with Mary Risley, the owner of Tante Marie's Cooking School, who graciously let me host the party at the school  I also want to thank chef Greg Mindel, the current instructor for the professional pastry program, and the professional pastry class for helping bake all those delicious cookies and making the party a success! I'm sorry I didn't get a picture with all of your guys – if you all have a photo of your class taken I'll gladly put it up!

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Finally, as promised, to commemorate the official publication of Field Guide to Cookies, I am giving away a copy of my book to one lucky reader! To enter, simply post a comment to this entry with your favorite cookie. I'll hold a random drawing and announce the winner next week. Good luck!

I hope you enjoy the rest of the blog tour as well – there's two more days, finishing with Bea and Peabody. After this week things will be slowly going back to normal, and I'll be back with some non-cookie related posts (finally!) Thanks for sticking around!

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Field Guide to Cookies – The Blog Tour!

November 10th, 2008 · 51 Comments · Field Guide to Cookies, My Books

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In about a week and a half, Field Guide to Cookies: How to Identify and Bake Virtually Every Cookie Imaginableicon will be officially released. I know I've mentioned that it's already begun showing up in bookstores, but just like people have birthdays, so should books! So we're sticking to the November 19th date, and I'm so excited to see the culmination of a year-long project!

I took a look back at what I wrote about Dessert First when I began it, over two years ago. In one paragraph I had written,

"I had started Dessert First as a way to combine several of my interests: baking, photography, and writing. Now it had become a springboard for me to share with world how I feel about the beauty and joy of food."

At the beginning, when I was still figuring my way about the Internet and the myriad mysteries of blogging, when all I ever intended was to document all the things I'd made in the kitchen so I wouldn't forget what I'd done, I never dreamed of how far Dessert First would take me, all the wonderful people around the world I'd meet, and all the opportunities it would afford me. I believe that right around when I started blogging, was when the first, trailblazing wave of food bloggers like Clotilde and Pim, Heidi and Molly, were starting to make the great leap from blogging as a hobby to food as a career, and to me their successes seemed a faraway, amazing goal that I might one day be able to aspire to myself. That I managed to land a cookbook of my very own in just two short years is something I still pinch myself about daily.

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This has been an astonishing learning experience for me, and not the least lesson I've learned is that if you really love what you do and you keep at it, good things will come to you. It may take a lot of hard work, but anyone who has the dedication and energy to create and run a blog, I believe already possesses the qualities to be successful in many other endeavors. I learned so much doing this book, but I also realized that in many ways writing Dessert First was great practice for "the real thing": I knew what it was like to produce creative output on a regular basis; I knew about testing and writing recipes in a clear fashion; I knew about styling and photographing food attractively; I knew about working online with people I may have never met in person, corresponding and collaborating with others towards a common goal. Blogs are really such a great thing; I'm sure that's just repeating the obvious to all you other bloggers reading this, but I hope you all realize as well what a powerful platform it can be, both for yourself and for your life goals. I'm so happy that I started Dessert First, not because it helped me get a book deal, but because it also helped me improve myself in so many ways.

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So! There's so much to share about Field Guide to Cookies, but I thought instead of having me just blab on about it, it would be much more fun to hear what other voices have to say about it. To that end, I've organized the official Field Guide to Cookies Blog Tour, starting tomorrow, Nov. 11th, and running through November 21th.

I enlisted nine of my favorite baking bloggers to review my cookbook and give their thoughts on it. These are some of my best friends in the blogosphere, as well as the creators of some of the loveliest and most accomplished blogs out there, and I'm very, very grateful and excited that they all agreed to do this!

Here's the schedule:

Nov. 11th – Jen of use real butter

Nov. 12th – Ari of Baking and Books

Nov. 13th – Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy

Nov. 14th – Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice

Nov. 17th – Helen of Tartelette

Nov. 18th – Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen

Nov. 19th – Aran of Cannelle et Vanille

Nov. 20th – Bea of La Tartine Gourmande

Nov. 21st – Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

Isn't it exciting? So many gorgeous blogs with talented bakers to visit. I can't wait for tomorrow!

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I'd like to also take this chance to thank some of the many people who helped me on this book: Mindy, my publisher at Quirk Books who gave me the chance to write this cookbook; Margaret, my editor who tirelessly worked with a nervous first-time author to perfect the manuscript; Caroline, my pastry chef, who lent me invaluable advice and was an expert recipe tester – she's the most generous person I know, inside the kitchen and out; Robyn, my pastry school classmate and fellow co-worker who also contributed her time, kitchen, and encouragement to the book; Renee, who did double duty as a recipe tester and as my guide to the wild world of publishing; and Monica, who tested recipes and was also my fab hostess in New York when I traveled there.

The full acknowledgements are in the back of the book – I don't want to drag out this post by reproducing the whole thing, but I did also want to mention Mike, my super fantabulous boyfriend who probably didn't realize when I took on the book that he had agreed to long nights with me hunched over the computer, or cookie dough all over the kitchen, or panic attacks when I didn't think I could finish. He never, ever complained, and supported me unwaveringly throughout the whole journey. I love my boyfriend!

Also, I want to thank Mary Risley, owner of Tante Marie's Cooking School, where I did the professional pastry program. Mary generously agreed to host my book release party this Saturday, Nov. 15th. The current class of pastry students will be making cookies from my book, and we'll be having a little celebration!

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I really wish I could have all of you faithful readers come, and what I'd like to do is extend an invitation to the book release party to the first 10 people who respond. Simply leave a comment to this post saying you'd like to attend; the first 10 people to do so will be added to the guest list. This party is in San Francisco this Saturday, so be sure you can make it to the city!

For those who can't make it, don't despair: I'll be having a giveaway of my book later during the blog tour. I also hope you can visit all the blog tour hosts and get a bigger taste of Field Guide to Cookies!

Please be on the lookout for book at all major booksellers, or you can order online. Thanks so much again for all your love and support. I'll see you all tomorrow at Jen's use real butter!

Coconut-macs

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Sugar High Friday: Spice Up Your Life! Part Two

November 4th, 2008 · 16 Comments · Events

Hello to everyone – I hope your Halloween was sweet and whetted your appetite for the second part of the SHF round-up. I am very grateful for everyone's patience and indulgence as I sorted through a truly inspiring array of entries. I want to mention again just how blown away I am by all the baking talent out there; I was amazed and humbled by all your creativity and skill. Even as I trying to get all the entries up as fast as I could, I kept being distracted by all these wonderful blogs I was discovering, and wanted to spend my time reading them instead!

So thank you for letting me be your host, and for helping me expand my ever-growing circle of blogs to visit! Without further delay, onward to the second half of the Spices round-up!

Apple tart with crystalized ginger shf
Linda of Make Life Sweeter! baked this beautiful Apple Tart with Crystallized Ginger – I love the plate it's on as well!

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Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody used one of my favorite fall fruits in her Pear Nutmeg Bread Pudding.

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Ivy of Kopiaste used pumpkin, apples, and quince to make a true Autumn Pie.

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Madam Chow of Madam Chow's Kitchen is ready for the holidays with her Eggnog Ice Cream Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce.

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Mike of Mike's Table has a classic combination going with his Caramelized Apple and Cinnamon Cream Tart.

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Aimee of Under the High Chair sent in a truly gorgeous Tonka Bean Spiced Apple-Raspberry Cake – I always love seeing tonka beans used!

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Esi of Dishing Up Delights came up with a very restaurant-worthy dessert: Pumpkin Shortcakes with Apple Compote and Vanilla Honey Ice Cream.

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Vanille of @ Down Under contributed her Spicy Pistachio Candy – love the color and the photo!

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Yasmin of Almond and the Hazelnut makes an eyecatching SHF debut with her Persian Love Cake

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Amanda of Slow Like Honey sent in a gorgeously assembled and plated Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache.

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Elodie of Yummyaourt baked some Hackney Chelsea Buns – perfect for a chilly morning.

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Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen, the macaron goddess, sent in her latest version – Macarons with Saffron-Pear ganache.

Mele Cotte Spiced Pear  

Chris of Melecotte gets warms and cozy with Baked Spiced Pears.

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Leah of Wine Imbiber uses of my favorite savory spices in her Chipotle Apple Pecan Cake

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Kristin of Figue et Noisette made some really tempting Pear and Apple Compote with Spiced Butter Biscuits.

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Lauren of I'll Eat You contributed some Sweet and Spicy Pecan Brittle – brilliant, since I've been experimenting with brittles!

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Lisa of dandysugar made a Thyme-Scented Apple Galette – so perfectly simple and delicious.

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Vera of Baking Obsession gives an Asian twist to pumpkin with her beautiful 5-Spice Pumpkin and Date Loaf.

Spiced financiers SHF 

Sandra of Le Petrin turns financiers in a fancy dessert with her Spiced Financiers with Poached Spiced Pears.

Pumpkinmuffins

Paula of Half-Baked Baker baked these truly decadent Autumn Pumpkin Muffins with Pecan Toffee Streusel.

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Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater sent in these wonderfully named Spiced Sugar Coins.

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Monica of the sour plum baked some yummy-looking Macarons au pain d'épice  – lovely form!

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Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook made a Yorkshire Parkin, which I hadn't heard of before, so thank you for introducing me to this!

Laws of the Kitchen

Cakelaw of Laws of the Kitchen contributed her Spicy Banana Cake, an excellent way to use up ripened bananas.

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Denise of Chez Us made a really scrumptious Pumpkin Crème Brulee – I just had some at a restaurant last night and now I'm craving more!

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Holly of PheMOMenon goes over the top with her Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies.

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Mansi of Fun and Food Cafe makes a moist and hearty Chocolate Zucchini Bread.

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Jacqueline of Toxo Bread has some Kanelbulle – so exquisitely shaped!

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Anh of Food Lover's Journey amazes again with her absolutely stunning Star Anise Chocolate Mousse.

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Judith of Shortcut To Mushrooms made a cozy, tempting Spice Cake.

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Celia of English Pastis is making me long for a tropical vacation with her Mango & Cardamom Upside-down Cake.

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Mary of Alpineberry is all ready for the holidays with her All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake.

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Susan of FoodBlogga sent in these intricately formed, delicate Pizzelles.

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Marija of Palachinka created this stunning Strawberry & Poppy Seed Cake.

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Kate of A Merrier World gets everyone's spice senses tingling with her Chai Chilli Biscuits.

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Winnie of Bake From Scratch overachieved with two spectacular-looking desserts: Sticky Spiked Double-Apple Cake w/ Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce

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and Spiced-Quince Butter Cake w/ Candied Walnuts.

Pump Choc Chip

Kara of Kara's Kitchen makes me think of Charlie Brown with these Great Pumpkin Cookies.

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Renato of Sugar Nut gets most creative with these Spicy Fruit Skewers.

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Katharine of the Fresh Dish sent in a Plum, Pear, and Cardamon Coffee Cake with Southern Comfort, Saffron, and Ginger Ice Cream - yes it's a mouthful!

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Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar makes an adorable presentation with her Spiced Pumpkin Pots de Creme.

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Helena of MooseAbout sent in these very cutely named Zesty Date Cookies with Marshmallow Beaks.

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Bron of Bron Marshall contributes these delicious Spiced Manuka Oaties, all tied up for giftgiving!

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Nicisme of Cherrapeno made this wonderfully decadent, luscious Chocolate Gingerbread Cake.

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Andrew of Spittoon Extra finishes off SHF with some beautiful candy-colored Vanilla Poached Quinces.

Again, if I've made a mistake with anyone's photo, name, links, let me know and I'll fix it right away. Also if I've forgotten anyone, PLEASE e-mail me. I've gone through my inbox several times and I think I've got everyone who entered, but if I inadvertently left someone out, I will of course rectify that immediately.

Thanks again everyone! It was a fun and memorable experience, and I look forward to seeing more of all of your sweet creations in the future!

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