Manda Cooks: Chocolate Chips Two Ways

Sharing two recent favorite cookies today, in case you are on the hunt for something sweet for your sweetheart (or just for yourself!) Each of these is a big step above your standard chocolate chip, but serves a different purpose.


The Brown Butter Chocolate Chip cookies are like a more sophisticated and richer version of standard chocolate chips. They’re still classic, but much more interesting. And, don’t worry, you can still eat about four in a sitting – they’re not too rich for that. I highly recommend dark chocolate chips, walnuts or pecans and a sprinkle of sea salt. When I made these last, we had them with black-cherry soda/whiskey drinks – really good pairing (because you can’t go wrong with either). These are also sort of impressive cookies – they have a much deeper flavor than standard chocolate chips, so they make you seem like a super fancy shmancy baker.


The Copy Cat Levains are a whole ‘nother animal. I wouldn’t describe these as sophisticated or interesting, but they’re hella good. Do you even know what Levain is? It’s a bakery on the Upper West Side that has THE BEST giant cookies. These babies came pretty close to the real things – dense but fluffy and chewy on the inside without being too cakey. I brought them into work and people basically flipped out – they’re probably the new crowd-favorite.

I feel like if the Cookies were people, you’d go wine tasting with the Brown Butters and watch Teen Mom with the Levains. Does that make sense? Good. Now go make them. Brown Butter Recipe & Levain Copy Cat Recipe.


Manda Cooks: Birthday Cake


Confession: Baking cakes sort of terrifies me because I don’t get to taste-test the finished product before EVERYONE taste-tests (or I guess just tastes) the finished product. Eep! I also don’t have any go-to cake recipes (other than Ina’s Coconut Cake), so every time I bake a cake I go through a cycle of panic, anxiety, and let’s-just-cancel-the-party. It’s really lovely.


Brett and I planned to have friends over for drinks and cake to celebrate his birthday. I’ve somehow gotten out of making Brett a birthday cake the past two years — I substituted homemade chipwiches once, and a donut cake at last year’s brunch party, but the time had come — Brett needed a birthday cake! During part of my panic cycle, I asked if I could make a cheesecake instead (for some reason that seemed less daunting, even though I’ve never made one), but he said he preferred cake… and whatever the birthday boy wants, the birthday boy gets, so cake it was.

(And those same New Year’s sugar cookies too, because a) I had some Brett-themed cookie cutters that I’d been waiting to use, b) in case the cake was a disaster, I’d at least have cookies, and c) cookies are delicious! Some pictures below, because they turned out to be pretty stinking adorable.)

I decided to try Smitten Kitchen’s “Best Birthday Cake” – figured with a name like that, it had to be good. And it was! I think I overcooked it by just a few minutes, and might double the vanilla extract next time but! there will definitely be a next time, which is a good sign for the future of me and cakes.



I didn’t alter the recipe at all, so you can find it here. A quick note, though: I had a bit of trouble with the frosting the first time around — I didn’t wait for the sour cream to warm up OR for the chocolate to cool down, so my “frosting” was just chunks of chocolate in sour cream, and I threw it out. Don’t worry, one meltdown and one trip to the grocery store later, I tried again. The second time, I poured myself a drink while I waited for the sour cream to come to room temperature (and even put it close to the fireplace at one point – ha!), and I also let the chocolate cool down before I added it. The whole “pour slowly, stir quickly” confused me, so the second time I had Brett pour the chocolate in slowly, while I stirred quickly… not sure how else you accomplish this one : )

So, Happy Birthday Brett! I love you so much and I am so happy every day that you are my bean.