Why small-batch baking is my new favorite cooking trend

It’s February, so I’m finally recovering from the crazy Year of Baking we had last year.

We ended the year with cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. Then I went into a monthlong cooking challenge where I needed the oven and baking sheets for roasting meat and vegetables. The only time I used my pie crust recipe was to make quiche.

But February is here, and I’m starting to get the sweet tooth again. We’re also dealing with a serious case of technology overload in my house, so a few weeks ago, just after we got home from school one Friday afternoon, I made my elementary-age boys put the devices away and do a project together. Any project. We’d just made chocolate butter earlier in the week, so sweets and Valentine’s Day were also on their minds.

One of the shows they watch on those Internet-abled machines is Nerdy Nummies, Rosanna Parsons’ superfun geek baking show. She made a motherboard cake in a recent episode, complete with graphics card slots, plugs, a processor mount and capacitors made with chocolates and candy. My kids were inspired to make a basic motherboard using fondant, the Play-Doh of icing.

While they got to work kneading the fondant with food coloring, I made a quick brownie recipe that stands out only because of its size. It’s a small-batch recipe, which I have finally figured out is perfect for my family of three.

Here’s why small-batch baking makes sense: Traditional baking just yields too much sugary deliciousness.

If I bake a whole tray of brownies, either I’m eating them, the kids are eating them or I’m taking them to work. Not bad options, but not great if I’m trying to make sure we eat a sensible amount of “whoa” foods. Small-batch baking means making a quantity of treats that we could responsibly eat over a few days.

Turns out that the big baking companies are already onto this. The week after we made this baking project, I discovered a new line of smaller boxed baking mixes from Duncan Hines called Perfect Size. The Key lime pie I picked up called for two cups of heavy cream, but it included a smaller baking dish that would serve two to four people.

Like baby bear’s porridge, that CD-size brownie from a souffle dish — and the small plate-size key lime pie — seemed just right for us. After the brownie cooled, they started decorating it like a motherboard with the fondant they’d been busy kneading and rolling out with a rolling pin. (Feel free to break out the cookie cutters if you try this at home.)

Seriously, that fondant kept them busy for an hour. And then we got to eat the results, without a mountain of leftovers to tempt us all week long. That’s a win-win if you ask me.

FYI: You can buy fondant in the baking section of many nicer grocery stores, and it’s definitely for sale at Make It Sweet Bake Shop and some arts and crafts stores, such as Michaels and Hobby Lobby.


BrisketU expands to Austin with brisket classes at breweries

If the instantly-sold-out Camp Brisket is any indication, Texans just can’t get enough barbecue education.

That annual event at Texas A&M with Foodways Texas takes place over several days, and it’s pretty hard to get tickets. But a Houston-based company has created another concept that involves craft beer.

BrisketU, which recently expanded to Austin, offers three-hour Backyard Pitmaster classes on a Saturday or Sunday at a local brewery. For $69, attendees get to learn about choosing the right meat, trimming it and preparing it for the smoker, as well as all the info you need about wood, tools and techniques to get that brisket right once it’s in there, all while enjoying a beer from the host brewery.

Right now, brisket is the only class offered on upcoming weekends with the Austin outpost of BrisketU, helmed by Ken and Debbie Reed, but the Houston operation has expanded to include even more kinds of meat.

“Cooking is a passion of mine,” says new BrisketU manager Ken Reed. “I attended a BrisketU in Houston and knew that bringing these classes to Austin would be a wonderful opportunity to share something I really enjoy.”

Here’s the upcoming schedule: Feb. 18 at Whitestone Brewery, Feb. 25 at Oskar Blues Blues Brewery, March 4 at 4th Tap Brewing Co-Op, March 11 at Oskar Blues Blues Brewery, March 18 at Whitestone Brewery and March 25 at 4th Tap Brewing Co-Op.

All the classes start at noon. For more info and tickets, go to austin.brisketu.com.


Fais Do-Do gumbo cookoff slated for Feb. 25

It’s Mardi Gras season, so you better have plans to get some gumbo in your belly if you haven’t already.

If you make a really great pot of gumbo, there’s still time to enter the Fais Do-Do & Gumbo Cook Off at Rain Lily Farm, 914 Shady Lane, from 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 25.

Farmhouse Delivery is hosting the event, now in its fifth year, with live Cajun music, beer and food from more than a dozen gumbo cookoff contestants. Tickets cost $25 at the door, and all proceeds benefit Brighter Bites, the Houston-based nonprofit we profiled in today’s section that distributes nearly 40,000 pounds of produce a week through local schools.

Want to compete? Email lisa@farmhousedelivery.com for details.


Homesick Texan’s next book to explore surprisingly wide world of queso

Queso is about to go big. Lisa Fain, the New York-based blogger behind the popular blog Homesick Texan, announced this week that her next book, coming this fall, will be all about what is arguably one of Texas’ most beloved foods.

Cheese dip — I cringe typing the words — isn’t just a Texas thing, though. When Fain started thinking about the concept of the book, she knew it would have to be about more than just the typical quesos you’d find around Texas. It turns out that cheese dips are popular the world round, and Fain spent the next few months uncracking the history, culture and regional variations on queso. The book will be published by Ten Speed Press on Sept. 24.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Austin360 Eats

REVIEW: Alvvays is just as light live, and it’s all good
REVIEW: Alvvays is just as light live, and it’s all good

There wasn’t a fog machine at Alvvays’ Tuesday night Mohawk show, but lead singer Molly Rankin’s voice still seemed like it was making its way through a thick haze. It wasn’t your ear buds. The band’s signature light-as-air sound was just as fuzzy live. Alvvays does not pack a punch. But the dream-pop group, whose...
From sexist to schmaltzy, 10 terrifyingly awful classic country songs
From sexist to schmaltzy, 10 terrifyingly awful classic country songs

If October is the time for all things spooky, perhaps I should emerge from my Spotify cocoon and and tune in to the radio and the mainstream. For there is nothing more terrifying to me than … Modern! Country! Music!  Or is there? Sometimes at night, when the midnight drive home leaves me alone with my iPhone and only a few hundred cars...
The secret sauce to Fischer & Wieser’s success? Family and new flavors
The secret sauce to Fischer & Wieser’s success? Family and new flavors

No jam, jelly or savory sauce is too weird for Fischer & Wieser’s product development team to try out. Weird is what won them the country’s biggest specialty food award in 1997. That’s the year the Fredericksburg-based food manufacturer became nationally known for its roasted raspberry chipotle sauce, a smoky-sweet sauce that became...
Weekend music picks: Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and more
Weekend music picks: Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and more

Friday: Tom Petty birthday tributes at Hole in the Wall and One-2-One Bar. Tom Petty cover bands had popped up all over the country long before his death earlier this month, including at least two in Austin. Both will be in action on Friday, which would’ve been the iconic rocker’s 67th birthday. The Damn Torpedoes, with ...
How to get stuffed peppers right — the peppers, the sauce, the filling
How to get stuffed peppers right — the peppers, the sauce, the filling

Fresh peppers, hot and spicy, sweet and crunchy, are the ultimate quick change artists. I roast poblanos and jalapenos for Mexican-style rajas, puree red and orange bells into soups and sauces, dice green bells and Anaheims for omelets and gingerly tuck habaneros into salsa. When the farmers market baskets overflow with varieties not regularly found...
More Stories