cake in a bowl




After last Monday’s photo shoot for the latest  Intermezzo Magazine article I was left with some “less than fresh” ginger sponge cake.( see issue 31 , coming soon! ) I was also left with no dessert  options for Saturday evening’s dinner with the in-laws. I looked into my fridge and took a look at what I could possibly pull together, quickly and deliciously. And I went to my “go to” dessert option, cake in a bowl.

Luckily, I had some of the season’s best strawberries. I grew up thinking everyone opened their refrigerator to a nicely chilled bowl of sliced strawberries macerated in sugar and vermouth. I didn’t  know people ate them a different way. I also grew up thinking everyone bought their produce the same way my family did.  Nick Sprotto  visited my Mom, grandma and aunts in the family compound.  Two or three times a week he’d sit and have coffee in the early am rattling off the contents of his truck in a friendly, but monotonous tone “pears , potatoes, and so on…  Pretty old school stuff. Farm to table circa 1970.

It really made a difference in the quality of the fruit. Be sure to seek out the best from your local farm markets and purveyors this season. It’s almost never been easier or trendier.

Strawberry Spongecake Trifle ( aka “cake in  a bowl”)

half a 9-inch spongecake cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
2 cups sliced strawberries

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dry vermouth

Make syrup.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring water and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove pan from heat and stir in vermouth.

Make whipped cream.Whip cream on medium high until soft peaks form. Add sugar. Whip until stiff.

Assembly: Toss sponge cake cubes with sugar syrup. In a medium bowl, layer whipped cream, cake cubes , fresh strawberries. Repeat. Refrigerate and enjoy.


Strawberry Cake in a Bowl

Strawberry Cake in a Bowl




Feeling Chip-a-licious



chocolate chip cookies



In case anyone missed it, yesterday was National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. Do we really need a designated day to celebrate this amazing cookie? Or any of it’s variations?  Chocolate Chip cookies, Chocolate Chip Biscotti, it’s all delicious any day!  It reminded me of our visit from the UK’s celebrity chef, James Martin. He stopped to check out our cookie class a couple of years ago. Great time showing ‘em how it’s done!

Check out his version of our Chocolate Chip Biscotti!



United Cakes of America

United Cakes of America








Saintly Sweets


Zeppolle with Almond Ricotta Cream and Blackberry Dipping Sauce from "Small, Sweet and Italian"

Zeppolle with Almond Ricotta Cream and Blackberry Dipping Sauce from “Small, Sweet and Italian”. photo by Scott Goodwin


Growing up American-Italian Roman Catholic, I’ve always loved feast days. Especially when these days are celebrated with food. Twelve years of Catholic school and a lifetime of my grandmother’s unique superstitious religiousness meant plenty of first Friday masses, many loaves of holy  bread for Saint Rocco’s day, ( August 17th) and an abundance of delicious fried zeppolle for St. Joseph’s day ( March 19th) .  I was never quite sure why these saints are celebrated with carbs, but I am more than happy to celebrate their inspirational lives this way.  Any readers with the answers, please advise. In the meantime, I think I’ll fry up a batch of zeppolle di San Giuseppe , a basic fried cream puff,  topped with a traditional vanilla pastry cream and maraschino cherry.Enjoy, and don’t forget to pull the ear of someone named Joseph or Josephine, it’s their feast day , too.


Zeppole di San Giuseppe

These are best when fried, filled and enjoyed the same day

Patsta Bigne

Makes 24 zeppole

8 tablespoons butter

1 cup water

Pinch of salt

1 cup flour

4 eggs, at room temperature

Vegetable oil for frying

powdered sugar and maraschino cherries for garnish

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine butter, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Add flour quickly, all at once, and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, and a film forms on the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.
  2. Remove pan from the heat. Spoon mixture into mixing bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after adding each one. Mix well for a smooth sticky dough
  3. Preheat oil in a medium pan to 350 F.
  4. Place dough into a pastry bag and  pipe dough onto a  2-inch square piece of oiled parchment paper. Slip into hot oil and fry until golden. Be sure to keep frying when dough puffs up and splits while frying. You wan to be sure they cook inside.
  5. Drain on absorbent paper.
  6. Fill with vanilla pastry cream, dust tops with confectioners sugar and garnish with maraschino cherry.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

2 cups milk

6 egg Yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup Corn Starch

1 stick Unsalted Butter

1tab. Vanilla extract

  1. In a medium pan, over medium-low heat, bring 1 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a boil.
  2. In a small bowl combine the rest of the sugar, cornstarch, milk and egg yolks.  Once combined, strain.  Add the egg mixture to the boiling milk. Whisk constantly on medium-low heat until thick and has come to a boil.
  3. Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter.  Stir until smooth. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to avoid a skin forming on top as it cools.
  4. Let cool before using.

For chocolate pastry cream, stir in 1/2 cup chopped chocolate with vanilla and butter.



Six Ways To Celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th

  1. Attend Mass.
  2. Feed the hungry and poor.
  3. Make a St. Joseph’s Table or Altar.
  4. Give a gift to someone in your family, or to a friend, named Joseph or Josephine; today is their name day!
  5. March in a parade.
  6. Eat zeppole!

courtesy of hub



zeppolle with pastry cream

zeppolle with pastry cream






The Business of Birthdays


B'day cupcakes

B’day cupcakes


Birthdays are my business. Everyday I bake and decorate birthday cakes for many people at many different stages of their life. I usually don’t think much about the numbers on the cake, or that person’s personal celebration. Surprise parties, intimate dinners, bucket-list getaways…anything goes in the name of celebration. When it comes to my own birthdays, I usually like to get away from my routine and mark the occasion without a fuss. This year there was no way to escape or avoid the fanfare. And there was fanfare….. it was a big one.

Many sweet people did very sweet things for me that day… and I enjoyed a celebratory chocolate cupcake, or two. Plus leftovers for breakfast. why not?

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Pudding Frosting ( like Mom used to make)

For Cupcakes:

1 cup cocoa

1 cup water, boiling

2 cups flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. In a small bowl, pour boiling water over cocoa. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. In an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Mix on low speed until blended.
  4. Add eggs and cocoa mixture. Blend on low speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl.
  5. Add buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat on low speed 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth. Ladle batter into cupcake lined pans.
  6. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until tester comes out with a fine crumb. Remove pan from the oven.
  7. Remove cupcakes from the pan and cool on wire cooling rack. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

Makes 20 cupcakes.


Chocolate Pudding Frosting

This was a classic topping for our chocolate birthday cupcakes throughout  my childhood.

2 packages Dream Whip ( yes, they still sell this !) whipped topping mix ( 2.6 oz.)

2 packages instant chocolate pudding ( 3.4 oz. each)

3 cups cold whole milk

With an electric mixer, whip all ingredients until thick and smooth. Spread on top of cupcakes . Sprinkle generously with sprinkles! Refrigerate.



mia's birthday

mia’s birthday




Valentine’s Day for All

Once upon a time,  Valentine’s Day was reserved for a select group of lovers, partners, spouses. Sure, we made construction paper cards for our parents in grade school and bought generic cards for the entire class, but there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of fuss and gifts. Now, office parties, lunches and gifts for the entire family are the norm. Great for business, of course! And why not?  take a single day to tell those we love that yes, we do love them. Take a day to celebrate love in all it’s forms. Celebrated sweetly, there is no better day to say it,  show it,  and mean it. Make it a practice day for the rest of the year.


Conversation Heart Cookies


Great Ideas to make everyone’s day sweet:

Cakes: All of our cakes are available in heart-shaped., a 9-inch heart serves 10-12 and a 6-inch heart serves 2.

Our famous Chocolate Overdose, Peanut Butter Cup, Cookies and Cream and more!


Pink Ombre Ruffle Cake

Pink Ombre Ruffle Cake



Minis, Regular, and Jumbos


Jumbo Cookies and Cream  Cheesecakes

Jumbo Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes


Choose from our regular menu, or these Valentine favs: Pink Champagne, Red Velvet Swirl, Almond Joy, Valentine Confetti, Chocolate Nutella,

Chocolate Mousse, Cookies and Cream, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Strawberry Mousse, Salted Caramel, Cherry Nut, The Godfather

Cheesecakes: Plain with Fruit Topping, Cookies and Cream, Chocolate and Caramel Swirl, Raspberry Swirl

Cookies: Heart-shaped Conversation Cutouts, French Macaroons, Raspberry Amaretti, Coconut Macaroons, and more.


Candies: NEW!

We have the chocolate and all the fixins so here’s a few more sweets to indulge:

Chocolate Almond Butter Crunch, Dark Chocolate Salted Butter Crunch. White Chocolate and Cranberry Bark, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bark, Chocolate, Almond and Toasted Coconut Clusters



Butter Crunch and Bark




Grade School Cards, circa 1976

Cupcakes Night Out

Photo by Allan Zepeda

Based on our popular “Do-it-yourself” in-store cupcake bar, we were recently asked to create a dressed-up version for a totally chic book launch party. Of course, as an author myself, I’ve been to my share of book launches, and even hosted a few of my own… but this night was positively sparkling. All the best wedding industry professionals gathering to check out  The White Dress Color”, the fabulous wedding-inspiration book by Beth Lindsay Chapman, Candace Dowling Coppola and Carla Ten Eyck

We designed three special flavors, each to capture the flavor ( no pun intended) of the authors. Candace’s  Pink Champagne, our champagne cupcake, white chocolate mousse filling and raspberry buttercream. Beth’s Peach Bellini, prosecco-infused vanilla cake, peach mousse filling and buttercream. And Carla’s Irish Car Bomb, devils food cake dowsed with Irish cream and topped with Guinness buttercream. (Sorry Candace and Beth, this was the most popular! )

Guests were also able to choose from various cupcakes , fillings and  frostings, all topped with an excess of edible glitz.  Why not add this pizazz to your next corporate event or wedding? We’ll design the flavors based on your favorites and give your guests a delicious treat of their own.



photo credit: rodeoandco copyright 2013





photo credit: rodeo and co copyright 2013





photo credit: rodeo and co copyright 2013

Photo by Allan Zepeda

Carla, Candace and Beth, sparkle on girls!                                                                                                          photo credit: allan zepeda 2013 copyright


Photography credit:   and

copyright 2013








Christmas Cosmo, for one…






Unwinding Christmas night on the couch is one of my favorite times. Sure I’d love to visit our awesome neighbors,  but I usually opt for a quiet couple of hours to relax.  ( they understand)  I shake myself a refreshing cranberry cosmo, made from the juice left after we bake cranberries at the bakery. I think back about what just happened in the past 6 weeks.  Rushing, rushing, keeping my head down just trying to make it through another one. Work, sleep, work, paperwork, sleep, work, shower, sleep.

The holiday prep starts early in the bakery business. Inventory, planning, staffing,, it all starts in October.  All the best plans, constantly evolving as the season moves along. Gift cards backordered, baskets discontinued, snowstorms, car problems, tantrums; all issues amplified as kitchen production triples.  Eventually , and somehow miraculously, through the sheer hard work of the staff and suppliers, it all comes together. Many thanks to all, and a special” shout out ” to my seasonal help that comes to help during the busy season. Many are Sweet Maria “alumni”  that have moved on to other careers and positions. They don’t have to come help, but they do…Thanks for coming back every December to share in the craziness of the season. I couldn’t do it , and wouldn’t do it , without you.  I’ll miss the late night batches of fruitcakes, carb-filled staff meals, and Taylor Dayne sing-alongs, but right now I’m enjoying my quiet, and my couch. At least until wedding season…..

Cranberry Cosmo

2 ounces cranberry juice

1 ounce  Ketel One Vodka

1 ounce Cointreau

fresh juice from half a lime

Shake with ice and serve in chilled glass.










Private Cookie Stash: Butter Horn Cookies



‘Tis the season for cookies! After spending all day prepping and baking for holiday cookie tray orders , I always find time to bake a batch of these delightful treats. A simple dough of butter, sour cream and flour is thinly rolled, filled with cinnamon, sugar, nuts or your favorite jelly, shaped into a crescent and baked until golden brown. You won’t find these cookies on the menu at  Sweet Maria’s, but I am happy to share the recipe. Taking the time to roll out the dough and roll up the crescents reminds me of the therapeutic  power of baking , and the simple sweetness of the season.


 Butter Horn Cookies


1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2-2 cups flour


1 cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

In an electric mixer, cream butter and sour cream until well blended. Add egg yolk. On low speed, Add 1 1/2 cups flour and mix until just blended.Knead in any additional flour to make a soft, not sticky dough.  Wrap dough inplastic and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a small bowl, combine walnuts sugar and cinnamon.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll first piece of dough onto a lightly floured surface to 1/8″ thick. Spread with one quarter of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Using a fluted pastry cutter, or knife, cut int wedges. Starting at the large end, roll dough into a crescent. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet, spacing each 2-inches apart. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cookie sheet from the oven. Cool cookies on wire cooling rack.

Makes about 40 cookies.

The Power of Possibility ( served with Cappucino Hazelnut Cupcakes)



In the baking world, it’s all about the power of possibilities. Baking is basically made up of components. Components such as cake, fillings, frostings, mousses, sauces… you get the idea. Once you have  a tried and true recipe repertoire, the combinations of these components are endless. Most of the fun in developing recipes and writing cookbooks is pairing flavors and components in a new and interesting way. Or, in the case of my latest cookbook, bringing authentic Italian flavors up to date. One of my favorite  flavors is coffee ( I think I’ve been drinking coffee since I was about 5! ) and another one is hazelnuts ( I grew up calling them filberts).  Putting them together in cupcake form certainly updates this classic combination. My tried and true hazelnut cake, filled with a rich coffee mousse ( cupcakes in my world should always have fillings) and topped with a classic chocolate buttercream. Possibly perfect.


Cappuccino-Hazelnut Cupcakes

My two favorite Italian flavors combine in this cupcake. This is one of our biggest sellers, especially for the holidays.


Hazelnut Cake

3 extra-large eggs

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

3 teaspoons Frangelico or other

Hazelnut liqueur

2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup hazelnuts, finely chopped, plus more for garnish

Coffee Mousse Filling

2 tablespoons boiling water

2 tablespoons instant coffee

¾ cup heavy cream

½ cup granulated sugar


Chocolate- Espresso Buttercream Frosting

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup unsweetened Dutch- process

cocoa powder

6 cups confectioners’ sugar

About 4 tablespoons strong brewed coffee



1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line standard-size cupcake pans with paper liners.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), on medium-high speed, whip the eggs until fluff y. Gradually add the granulated sugar and mix until very light, 5 to 6 minutes. Gradually add the oil and Frangelico and mix until well blended.

3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until blended.

4. Stir in the chopped hazelnuts.

5. Fill the lined cupcake pans three- quarters full with the batter.

6. Bake the cupcakes for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with a fine crumb.

7. Remove the pans from the oven. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the pans and transfer to wire racks to cool. Cool completely before filling and frosting.



8. In a small bowl, add the boiling water to the instant coffee. Set aside.

9. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the wire whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the granulated sugar and coffee mixture and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. Use immediately.



10. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), combine the butter, cocoa, 3 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, and 2 tablespoons of the coffee and beat on low speed until blended. Gradually add the remaining 3 cups confectioners’ sugar and beat on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. If the frosting seems too stiff to use, add some additional coffee. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Let the frosting come to room temperature and re- whip before using.



11. Fill a pastry bag with the mousse filling. Cut the tip of the pastry bag to make a small opening. Insert the tip of the bag into the center of the cupcake. Squeeze the bag to release the mousse into the center of the cupcake. Repeat until all the cupcakes are filled.

12. Fill another pastry bag with the frosting. Pipe the frosting onto the top of each cupcake, starting at the outer edge and circling in to the center. (Or spread the frosting on top of the cupcake with a small spatula.) Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Refrigerate until serving. Let the cupcakes come to room temperature for serving.


Makes 15 standard-size cupcakes


More possibilities!! Frost cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting or chocolate ganache or white chocolate ganache……….




Propping and Prepping : Adventures in Food Styling







For some reason I thought  sure , I can do the food styling for this new cookbook. I mean, I food style everyday . Whether it’s a simple birthday cake or an elaborate wedding dessert table, it all has to look great. Details are a part of my job.  Plus I’ve been a witness at multiple photo shoots as to how this stuff actually gets done. I’ve always been fascinated with the art of photography and how it transforms the subject . Cakes that look barely mediocre seem to shine on-set with the just the right lighting. Like a miracle.  So months before the manuscript was due, along with eight color photos, I starting raiding my Mom’s closets for vintage plates and linens for the shoot. Then I started shopping  like crazy. I think I bought every white tiered cake plate in this hemisphere. My dining room table was strewn with this stuff for months as I plotted each shot. Are there too many items in each shot? what items should I show? and on and on… Many sleepless nights and horrible practice shots later, I packed up the car for Boston. I knew that Scott ( would handle the photography for me as soon as I signed the book contract. We had worked together on numerous Intermezzo shoots and he had shot the The New Lasagna Cookbook, too. He is extremely talented . Talented and patient with my amateur food styling status. As was Kristin, his amazing assistant  for all her coaching much more experienced eye. Many thanks for the adventure!