Baking Day 2014

Baking Day started several years ago in San Francisco. I carried it to my home state of New York when I moved back here in 2008.

Baking Day is like a cookie swap, only most of the baking happens on that same day, too. Whoever is hosting invites a bunch of people over, and for several hours, we all get our holiday baking done and out of the way. At the end, it works like a cookie swap. Everyone takes a few cookies (or bars, or candies -- the selection always changes based on what people feel like making) and can do what they want with them from there.

I use Baking Day as an excuse to put together a couple of trays of treats as gifts for people like my boss and building super. And I often make one extra tray that becomes the gift for the person who I plum forgot to get a gift.

This year I made black and white cookies and blondies, which I douse with bourbon and thus like to call "death to blondies" (and yes, I know "death by blondies" would make more sense, but I am not in the business of sense-making when I'm baking).

Recipe: Death to Blondies

The name "death to blondies" doesn't really make any sense. I know it should be "death by blondies," as in "death by chocolate" cake.

Whatever. I think it's a better name.

Death to Blondies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours.
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons bourbon
About 1 1/2 to 2 cups of any candy, chocolate, and nut mix-ins of your choice; suggestions include:
  •   1/2 cup chocolate-toffee candies, broken up, or 2 bars of almond-toffee chocolate
  •   1 cup walnuts or hazelnuts
  •   1/2 cup chocolate chunks (or white chocolate chips, or butterscotch chips)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Liberally butter a quarter sheet pan (13 by 9 inches; note that Dorie Greenspan's original recipe uses an 8 by 8-inch pan, which many people will feel more comfortable using, but I swear by the larger size).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large mixer bowl with paddle attachment (I use hand-held egg beaters), beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. This step may take longer than you'd expect. Just beat the hell out of it. It's the most important part. Add sugar and molasses. Continue to beat on medium for 3 more minutes.

Add the egg, and beat until combined. Stir in the vanilla.

Working in three batches, add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and stir until combined. Drop in your mix-ins, and work them in using a sturdy spoon.

Spread evenly in buttered pan. It's going to look like it'll never make it. But it will. It will spread a little and puff up.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is a golden brown. Allow to cool completely in pan before cutting into 1.5 by 1.5 inch squares.

The blondes will last in an air-tight container at room temperature for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months.

What Do Tech Analysts Buy With Their Own Money?

My job involves playing with, analyzing, and writing about technology, all day every day. In the lab where I work, we see more than 2,000 products a year. We have an entire aisle of HDTVs, another one for new laptop computers, and bins and bins of smartphones, fitness trackers, tablets, cameras, wireless routers, and other miscellaneous products in our inventory room. There's a lot of very cool stuff that we get to use and don't have to pay for.

Which got me thinking: What products do my colleagues actually buy with their own money?

The question, and resulting article, began from a genuine desire to know what people actually bought with their own money. I figured the public would be curious to know, too. I hear my co-workers from time to time say things like, "After testing such-and-such, I just couldn't give it up. So I ran out and bought one for myself."

The last three years running, around the holidays, I've asked this question and written an article to go with it. I always get reader feedback from the article. People love the "vote with your pocketbook" angle of the story.

I think it's really interesting to see how different this year's list is from last year's (2012) or the year before (2011). For example, this year's results really leaned toward utilitarian technology.

No one on staff is required to participate in the article, so not all of my co-workers are included in the results. And those who do answer can say anything at all that they've spent money on, so they aren't limited to products in their area of expertise. But it's always funny to see some people who stick to what they know. The camera analyst, for example, has purchased a new camera for himself three years in a row, and this year, he spent $7,000 on one!

Read the full article here.