November 13, 2009

I heart San Francisco

Fall is the best time to visit Northern California. The weather is amazing and the sun is shining, which isn't necessarily a given in San Francisco. Visiting my brother and sister-in-law is always wonderful, and always hard to leave. This time, Jason and I spent a long weekend and did all our favorite things:

honey-lavender ice cream at bi-rite market

picnic in dolores park

big brother josh

breakfast at blue bottle

On Saturday, we took a little day trip to Sonoma and Matanzas vineyard, which was beautiful and full of lavender fields. Amazing wine, lovely scenery...we loved it so much, we joined the wine club on a whim. We're so spontaneous.

And then this happened:
I said yes.
So now my boyfriend/roommate/best friend will become my husband. I still can't believe it. Life is so good. And so is California.

Erin & Brian

Last Saturday, our friends Erin and Brian got married at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas. The property was so amazingly beautiful, I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before. You drive up and up and up on curvy roads, and then finally you come to the top of the hill and look out over this:

The got married outside (a risky move for November, but the weather was perfect). They met while walking their dogs at a park, so the wedding had lots of reminders of their pups, including mentioning them in their vows. It was pretty cute. I was the lucky lady who got to make all the cupcakes for the wedding. It was a really special day.

The happy couple: Mr. & Mrs. Dail

Me and my trusty baking assistant.

Congratulations, Erin and Brian, and your little dogs too.

October 7, 2009

happiness is a french tart.

Something really exciting happened about two weeks ago. There's an item on my menu of baked goodies that almost no one ever orders. Finally, someone did. Maybe people are scared of them? I don't know. All I know is, I was like a kid in a candy store getting to stretch my baking muscles a bit and whip up some French-style mini tarts. The whole process - from making the pastry dough, to pressing it in to each individual tart pan, to whisking each all made me very happy.

The order was for my three different fillings: lemon, vanilla bean pastry cream with berries, and pecan-chocolate. I used the same crust for all three from my cookbook, The Modern Baker. All of them turned out really nicely (Well, ok, that's not entirely true; the only hiccup was that I had to re-make my vanilla bean pastry cream. The first recipe I used was B-A-D.)

The whole experience took me back to my days living in France, when the highlight of my week was going to the bakery on the corner and buying a tarte au citron. I completely fell in love with the French way of making pastries, and while I'm certainly no expert, I have such a respect for the method. There was this one boulangerie in particular in Nancy, where I lived, that had the best lemon tarts in the city. I would make a trip across town on foot just for one of those tarts.

It's the little things in life, I guess. For me, happiness is a french-style mini tart. Period.

Vanilla bean pastry cream (adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)
6 extra large egg yolks (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, the insides scraped out
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp heavy cream

Using a mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is lightened in color. On low speed, beat in the cornstarch.

Scrape the vanilla bean into the milk and bring the milk to a simmer in a large saucepan.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk into the egg mixture (temper it by pouring only a little bit at first, and then pour in the rest of the milk). Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook on low heat for about 3 more minutes. Mixture should be smooth.

Remove from heat. Mix in butter, vanilla extract and cream. Strain into a bowl using a wire mesh strainer. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard surface and refrigerate until cold.

August 27, 2009

a new favorite

I've been really bad about keeping up with this blog lately. Sorry about that. I went on a much-needed vacation to Mexico where I got to be lazy for four whole days. It was wonderful.

But I have been doing some baking in the mean time, believe it or not, and I think I've come up with a new favorite. Anyone who knows me realizes quickly that chocolate is my second boyfriend. But the thing I love even more than chocolate is chocolate + mint. Heaven.

It's sort of a weird coincidence that the city where I live, Springfield, Missouri, also happens to be home to one of the only artisinal chocolate makers in the whole country. Askinosie Chocolate was started by Shawn Askinosie, a defense attorney turned chocolatier, who makes amazing things from cocoa beans. Shawn is also the only chocolate maker who manufactures cocoa powder from the bean. It's pretty spectacular to see it all in action at his shop on Commercial Street.

Recently, Shawn was nice enough to provide me with some samples for baking, and I quickly fell in love with his product. Particularly the cocoa powder - it's hard to explain, but it's just so delicate.

In experimenting with the cocoa powder, I took my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and added mint to the batter. I also topped it with mint cream cheese frosting, just for good measure. They turned out really well; just the right amount of mint, and I think the creamy frosting really makes it. Jason eats at least two of them in one setting.

The weather is turning, all of sudden, to fall. I think I'm ready for it.
chocolate mint cupcakes with mint cream cheese frosting
[adapted from a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa]
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tsp pure peppermint extract
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 T brewed coffee
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup Askinosie cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees or 300 degrees for convection. Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy with a mixer. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. Set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Alternately add the buttermilk mixture and the dry ingredients to the butter mixter, starting with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Mix just until combined, and then use a spatula to make sure everything is well incorporated.
mint cream cheese frosting
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
4-6 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp pure peppermint extract.
Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, top with mint cream cheese frosting. Finish it off with a sprig of fresh mint.

July 14, 2009

417 Bride

Little Bird cupcakes in the Summer issue of 417 Bride.

July 13, 2009

birthday cakes

I have to be honest; I haven't been doing a lot of baking lately. I don't know if it's the summer heat or if I've just needed a break. Life has been so busy that I seem to have set it aside, with the exception of a few orders here and there. But the good news is that I had a birthday, and it involved two cakes, two key lime pies, and one blackberry cobbler. I think I'm still recovering.

Growing up, my mom was one of those mothers that set the standard so high for our birthdays that now, our expectations can't possibly be met, year after year. For my siblings and I, our birthdays were all-out, queen-for-a-day, no-holds-barred celebrations. The day normally started with my dad putting on the Beatles birthday song (you know the one) and playing it so loud that it woke us up, after which we proceeded to dance around the house in honor of whoever's birthday it was that day.

But the best part, for me anyway, was getting to choose my birthday dessert. I normally went for one of my two favorites: key lime pie or peanut butter pie. The latter might sound really gross, but I assure you it is not. Try one before you judge.
This year, my mom didn't disappoint, as usual. She made a pineapple coconut cake with cream cheese frosting, and then topped with shaved coconut-white chocolate. Amazing. I think I was caught at around midnight on my birthday, fork in hand, eating my cake off the cake stand with the refrigerator door open. But I'm not ashamed.

That same day, some of my dearest friends got together at Grad School to celebrate with me. To my wonderful surprise, my friend Nat had made two key lime pies for everyone to share! I was so touched - not only because I love key lime pie, but Nat doesn't bake very often (she claims to hate cooking but she's actually pretty good at it) so I felt very special. It was delicious. I wish I had taken a picture of it.
But it's not over yet! THEN, my mom and I flew to Chicago to be with my sister for our birthdays - my mom's birthday was a week before mine - and my sister had arranged for a beautiful, meticulously decorated cake to be made for us by the bakery where she works, Alliance. Hazelnut cake with raspberry and chocolate mousse layers. I still can't get over that cake.

And to top it all off, there was a blackberry cobbler waiting for me at work upon my return, made by the daughter of one of my co-workers. it was so good, I can't even try to describe it. Let's just way it was still warm from the oven and leave it at that.

What's going to happen some day when no one gives a crap about my birthday? I'm sure I'll be devastated or something. Who wouldn't, after all this love and attention?

Oh, and I also got this for my birthday:

The man and the bike - the best a girl could ask for.

June 5, 2009


This post isn't really about baking, but that's ok. Some times I do think about other things besides sugar and butter. Weird, I know.

Back in April, Jason and I decided that we would create a garden. And that it would be awesome, and full of tomatoes and basil. Neither of us had ever gardened, much less vegetable gardened, but we were fairly confident that we could figure it out. I bought a copy of The Square Foot Gardener and off we went.

Fast forward to now, and things are going quite swimmingly. Jason went a little crazy with his homemade "topsy-turvy" tomato thingys. We now have 13 tomato plants. For 2 people. I make fun of him now, but who'll be laughing when we have a huge bounty of beautiful tomatoes later this summer? Not me. I'm excited to eat from our own garden and to use home-grown herbs in some baking recipes.

I'd like to introduce you to Mater, our 3 year old Boxer. Mater James is his full name, actually. Or MJ, as we like to call him. Can you tell that we love this dog a little more than is probably normal or healthy? Anytime you wish, he would be happy to sit on your lap or give you a hug. He can be found most days in our yard doing this:

So, that is what we've been working on, before the stifling Missouri heat sets in. Some day soon, our friends will be getting the call to come over and eat big juicy tomatoes while sipping on a mojito with fresh mint from the little pot on our porch. You can thank us later.

May 18, 2009

parties and plane tickets

A lot has been happening over the past few weeks, including but not limited to a pretty cupcake party, an exciting opportunity, and plane tickets. Add that to my actual full-time day job at Drury and I'm still recuperating. You know you've worked hard when all you can do is lay on the couch and watch bad reality television on a Saturday night.

Let's start with the pretty cupcake party. Sharon Taylor of Sharon Taylor Designs had the idea to host a cupcake and champagne party to promote our businesses. Sharon is a very talented interior designer/event planner/creative genius. One other interesting thing about Sharon is that she has all these sisters who are equally creative in their own ways, and they all live in the same neighborhood in Springfield. I think that's really great. I would also like to add that the Arnold sisters have the most adorable names for their children: Goldie, Birdie, Sylvia, Eleanor...there are lots more that have escaped me, but you get the idea.

Anyway, my main job for the party was to make cupcakes. Sharon's main job was to decorate the courtyard of Tea Bar & Bites (thank you Mom!) as she would for a fancy bridal shower or dinner party. Sharon's sister Lizzie designed some cute invitations, which we sent to friends and family. On a beautiful sunny Saturday, this happened:

A good number of people came and it was really nice. I'm still trying to figure out how to get my hands on one of the beautiful chandeliers that Sharon hung up for the party.

The same week I got a phone call from 417 Magazine; specifically from their Bride editors. They wanted to know if I would be interested in making a wedding cake for their upcoming bridal issue. I told them that while wedding cakes aren't really my thing, I would be happy to make some cupcakes. They liked that idea; cupcakes are becoming trendy for weddings and I also told them they could eat the leftovers. I think the issue comes out in June or July, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that everything looks good.

One other exciting thing that happened last week: Jason and I booked plane tickets for a fall trip to San Francisco! My older brother, Josh, moved out there some five years ago for art school and never came back (I mean, can you blame him?), so of course I have to visit at least once a year. I can't wait to see Josh and his lovely wife, Vanessa, and do all those wonderful California things that we do when we're there, like drinking coffee at Blue Bottle and maybe(!) taking a road trip to Mendocino. October can't come soon enough.

April 24, 2009

ooh la la

Now what I really want to tell you about is the dinner that Jason and I went to last Friday night. Once a month, Tea Bar & Bites puts on a prix-fixe "theme" dinner with food from different countries or cultures. I've attended their theme dinners ranging from Peruvian to Irish and I'm never disappointed.

For April, the dinner was Parisian-themed, so of course I was excited. I really love French food, but it's hard to pin point exactly why. I think it's the simplicity of it. The French make a meal of meat and potatoes into something gourmet. But more than that, it's that they truly appreciate the experience of food. When I lived there, I attended dinners that lasted for five hours. Seriously. I would be exhausted after those dinners, trying to follow the conversations and pretend like I knew what everyone was talking about. But I loved it, too, because it was totally un-American.

Our dinner last Friday consisted of five or so delicious, well-thought-out courses, starting with a goat cheese crostata with asparagus and roasted red pepper; there was a mushroom soup with homemade pastry, celery and fennel salad, followed by a really really good salmon with potatoes and some braised red cabbage. But the coup de grace, as they say, was the dessert. Take chocolate cinnamon mousse sandwiched between two chocolate discs and topped with a chocolate covered cherry, and you have this:

Chef John Ruff, you're my hero.

happy earth day

To celebrate Earth Week, why not eat a lemon basil cupcake?

Now go recycle something.

April 14, 2009


I've been on sort of a citrus kick lately. I think it's my way of rebelling against winter, which thankfully, is over. I have a serious weakness for anything lemon or lime, and in particular, my mom's lemon bars. They're the best I've ever had, hands down. But you have to be serious about liking lemon. They're not those sissy lemon bars that mostly taste like sugar and butter with a hint of lemon. These are in-your-face lemon bars. And that's how I like them.

In keeping with my citrus kick, I decided to try creating an orange cupcake. This was Jason's idea, actually. I wanted it to taste like a creamsicle, or something like an Orange Julius (remember those?). I have a good basic vanilla cupcake recipe, so I did a little experimenting with fresh orange zest and juice, and topped them with an orange cream-cheese buttercream. I think they turned out pretty well. I sat in Tea Bar one day for lunch and watched six of them disappear in a matter of about 15 minutes. That's a good sign, right?

Then last weekend, I was flipping through my Baked cookbook. Baked is a funky little bakery with locations in Brooklyn and Charleston, and they make modern versions of old favorites, like seven-layer bars and malted blondies. I also like they way they use the color orange in their decor. Anyway, they happen to have a lemonlime bar recipe. I was intrigued. And a little shocked when I read the quantity of eggs needed: 13. Seriously?

Oh, they were being serious, alright. Instead of making them into bars, I used a springform pan to create more of a lemon tart. The recipe is a little time consuming, but I promise you won't be disappointed. The crust is an interesting graham cracker and coconut mixture. I served a little fresh whipped cream alongside, which helped cut the acidity a little bit.

The end result was like summer in your mouth; bright, creamy, refreshing. And that makes me very happy. Go buy a copy of Baked's cookbook right now.
Fresh Orange Cupcakes
Adapted from a recipe in "The Modern Baker" by Nick Malgieri
1 1/2 sticks of butter at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp pure orange extract
zest and juice of 1/2 large orange
1 3/4 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or 300 degrees if you are using a convection oven.
Cream butter and sugar together and beat on medium speed. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure to scrape bowl in between each addition. Add extracts and orange zest/juice. Beat until well combined, about 3-4 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape bowl, then add the buttermilk. Once combined, add the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape the bowl to make sure everything is well mixed.
Turn mixer speed up to medium-high, and beat for 3 minutes. It should look smooth and fluffy.
Scoop batter into a standard cupcake pan with liners. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until tops are lightly golden. Top with orange buttercream (recipe follows).
Orange Buttercream
2 sticks of butter
4 oz. cream cheese
zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1 tsp vanilla
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add orange zest/juice and vanilla and beat until combined. Turn mixer to low, and in one-cup increments, add the powdered sugar. Alternate with the milk to keep the icing smooth. Spread on cooled cupcakes.

March 31, 2009

Hello there.

I'm not sure how to start I'll just start by saying hello. My name is Meagan and I have a little baking business, Little Bird Bake Shop. I bake out of my mom's kitchen at Tea Bar & Bites Cafe. If you haven't been there for lunch, or for a lovely summer dinner on the patio, you really should. My mom has been kind enough to let me sell boxes of cupcakes out of her shop, as a start. Without her, Little Bird Bake Shop probably wouldn't exist at all.

I've been thinking about starting a blog for awhile, but to be honest, I think it's kind of weird. I love reading other people's blogs, but I've never been one to want to announce my thoughts and inner-most feelings to the rest of the world. I have a strong aversion to being the center of attention. You should see me speak in front of a crowd. It's frightening.

But I feel the need, for some reason, to chronicle the process of the bake shop and whatever it may become. It's such an infant thing right now, and I have no idea what will come of it, but I hope that it's something.

And even more than that, I'm starting this blog because I really love food. I love the way it makes people happy, the way it brings people together. What's better than creating a meal for the people you love, sharing a bottle of wine, and telling stories long into the evening? I can't think of anything, really.

Bye for now.