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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


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 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.

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