Saturday, 28 December 2013

Let It Snow Books: Guest post by Amanda Usen + Giveaway

You all know how much I love cooking and baking, so it's no wonder I'm a huge fan of foodie (or culinary) romances. That's how I "met" Amanda Usen, who is not only a romance author of several delicious culinary romances like Luscious and Into the Fire (which was one of my favourite reads of 2013!), but also a real pastry chef!! So of course we discuss recipes and Amanda being the kind and nice person that she is, is always available to give advice or suggestions. :-) Please give her the warmest welcome, she even brought us a recipe illustrated with her own photos! ;-)

Coffee Cake of Christmas Past
by Amanda Usen

Present and Future! I know Christmas has come and gone, but I promised to share my Moravian Sugar Cake recipe with Stella! We bond over recipes, which is why I actually made this cake out of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, instead of Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix, like my mama does! I know, I know, I’m supposed to be all cheff-y and stuff. Truly, I am. I bake almost everything from scratch, which has caused some problems in the bakeshops of my past. You know why bakeries sometimes take shortcuts? Because it’s the only way to get the job done. But I digress. Why do I usually use a box mix for my Moravian Sugar Cakes? Family tradition. My mom used Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix. My grandma used Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix. So if you want to make this cake using the mix, follow the instructions on the box, and then pick up around step 4-5 of the recipe below, the dimpling and brown sugar/cinnamon/melted butter blanketing step.

Most of my holiday-constants involve food: numerous batches of Chex mix, fruitcakes out the wazoo, chocolate before breakfast on Christmas Day, and Moravian Sugar Cakes, hot from the oven. Maybe because my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas? It’s true. I’ve been married to a Jewish man for nearly fifteen years, and my parents STILL can’t believe we don’t put up a tree! We did, the first year—but then the cat climbed it. We were living in New Orleans then, footloose and fancy-free after graduating from culinary school. After we moved to Buffalo, NY, near my husband’s people, and had our first child, I think we put up another tree. Our daughter was one, and SHE tried to climb it. That’s when I decided, Hanukkah is a lovely tradition! We went one-on-one with the menorah every year after that. And we put it somewhere unclimbable.

Still, even though we don’t keep a traditional Christmas, I do a few things that keep it alive in my heart. I make Chex mix until I have emptied three boxes of cereal, and I eat most of it myself while watching Love Actually. Every year. I bake fruitcakes for my father, using dried apricots and cranberries, golden raisins, prunes, and crystallized ginger. I wrap them in cheesecloth and baste them with brandy once a week until it’s time to send them. We do stockings, an effort spearheaded by my Jewish husband, who loves Christmas. Shhhh! Mine is filled with hot romances and chocolate. The kids get socks (Seriously, where do socks go? Ours disappear daily) and chocolate. Chocolate before breakfast, for the win! And we have Moravian Sugar Cake with my neighborhood BFF’s family. I bake them in the morning, and we all pile into the van in our pajamas and go over to their house when they are finished opening presents. The husbands make omelets and drink bourbon, the kids run around playing with Christmas stuff, and we all eat way, way, way too much of everything. It’s Christmas!

Here is a recipe for Moravian Sugar Cake, adapted from Richard Sax’s CLASSIC HOME DESSERTS, one of my favorite cookbooks. For those of you wondering what the heck “Moravian” is: it’s Protestant religion, my father’s religion, in fact. There are pockets of Moravians left in various spots around the country such as Winston Salem, NC, and Hope, IN, my father’s birthplace.

Makes two 8-inch coffee cakes
Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes

The mashed potatoes are purported to keep this cake moist until the next day. However, I’ve been eating the thing my whole life, and I think it’s best in the first few hours out of the oven. It’s darn addictive and rarely last until the next day in my house. I find myself taking one more little nibble, then another…and another. If yours lasts until the next day, I recommend toasting it, and then putting EVEN MORE butter on it! It has a rather coarse crumb, but the irresistible combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, and massive amounts of butter make it so, so fine.


2 packages yeast (½ ounce)
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
½ cup lukewarm milk, divided
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cooked leftover mashed potatoes
6 Tablespoons (¾ stick) melted butter, slightly cooled
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt


1 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup (one stick) butter, melted

1. Stir together the yeast, ¼ cup of the lukewarm milk, and the 1 Tablespoon sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes, until your yeast becomes bubbly. (If it doesn’t bubble, your yeast is dead. Buy new yeast!)

2. Combine yeast mixture, remaining ¼ cup sugar, remaining ¼ cup milk, half of the flour (1 ½ cups), mashed potatoes, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Beat by hand or with an electric mixer and a dough hook until dough comes together. It will be VERY loose. Mix 2 minutes longer on medium-low speed. Add remaining 1 ½ cups flour. Mix 5 more minutes on medium-low speed. The dough will become smooth, but will be quite sticky.

3. Place the dough in a buttered bowl, turn to coat with butter, and cover. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

4. Butter your baking pans. Divide the dough into two pieces. Lay it in the pans and encourage it to cover the bottoms. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon for the topping.

5. Melt the butter for the topping. Then dimple the dough with your fingers to create deep pockets. Spread the brown sugar and cinnamon topping over the top of each cake, then drizzle the melted butter over the topping. As it bakes, the butter and sugar will sink into the pockets, creating deliciousness!

6. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, until it begins to get brown around any tiny edge that might not be covered by the topping. I tend to overbake them, and then complain about it, so watch them carefully. If your pans are shallow, place something beneath them to catch the drips. These cakes love to rise, and the topping might need somewhere to go.

7. Cool briefly and serve warm. Mmmm…Christmas!

It’s always a delight to visit Ex Libris, so thanks so much for having me! I hope ALL of your holidays were lovely and that your New Year is filled with joy!

Book #1 in the Hot Nights series

Jackson Calabrese has a lot of nerve. He beat Lila Grant in the Culinary Academy competition using her recipes. Now, he’s opening a restaurant and wants her help? Fine, she'll fix his menu, but it's going to cost him.

Heir to the Calabrese restaurant empire, Jackson can buy anything he wants, except creativity, so he buys Lila's instead. He can craft perfect paella, but to take New York by storm he needs her innovative spark.

Skillets aren't the only things hot in the kitchen, and an uneasy truce ignites into passion. They’re great in bed, but Jackson doesn't trust her, and Lila is contemplating revenge. The restaurant opening approaches, the menu is completed, and the tables are set for one final act of betrayal. How can love bloom in the midst of such a hot mess?

Buy at Amazon - B&N - Kobo - iTunes

Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast, and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise, and a new-to-them beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own hot chef husband.

Find Amanda and her books on her website - Twitter - Facebook - Goodreads


Amanda has generously offered a Kindle or Nook copy of Into the Fire to a lucky commenter!

To be entered just fill out the Rafflecopter form below:
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Giveaway is open worldwide and ends on 10 January 2014!

Good luck!

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