Friday, December 21, 2012

Holly Jolly Chocolate Cake Balls

I considered starting this post with some kind of Christmas/baking pun, most likely some sort of song lyrics with the words "cake balls" or "baking" inserted into a relatively sensical place. I didn't, so you can thank me later (the title doesn't count, so hold your tongue). But anyway, as you all know, it's a scientifical fact that Christmas is for baking, and I am not one to break the laws of nature, so I baked. This particular incident involved cake balls for a friend who works with my sister. She wanted to give some as Christmas presents, and let me design them as I pleased, as long as they remained relatively Christmas-y. (I just did a quick check, and I used the word Christmas 4 times in 5 sentences. So far, so good).

I had done some Christmas-esque cake balls for my work holiday party, and they were super cute (at least I thought so), so I used those as inspiration for these. At first I was going to do some chocolate, some white, and mostly gold decorations, but I couldn't resist red and green. And besides, as the cake was chocolate, it would have shown through on the white ones. Not cool.

I used the tried and true chocolate cake recipe from here, and cream cheese frosting (obviously). To make them, you can find my cake pop tutorial in the same place. The only difference between these and the cake pops is that these are not on a stick (hence balls and not pops), and I like to nestle them into little candy cups (which you can buy at craft stores). Dipping them is simple. I just dip the very bottom in the candy melts, place it on a fork, hold it over the bowl of melts, and pour the melts over the top with a spoon. Just pour it on there, as you will get rid of the excess once it's covered. After pouring a generous amount over the cake ball, gently tap the handle of the fork against the edge of the bowl. If you don't do this in a straight up and down motion, the cake ball might take a dive into the bowl, and then you'll have to fish it out and you might get crumbs in your melts. Neither of which is a huge issue, really. So have at it. Anyway, then you just gently slide the cake ball off the fork tines onto some parchment paper and add whatever decorations float your boat. You do want to add sprinkles and such while the melts/chocolate are still wet, otherwise they won't stick. Depending on how fast you dip/cover, you will want to stop and add decorations for every 1-4 cake balls that you dip.

My beautiful friend Ally came over to bake with me today, and I have to tell you all that she is a great baker, and I believe I will be bringing her on full time to help me with my cakes. Or at least to come over and eat cream cheese frosting. Here we are after we finished her cake balls that she took home for her family. She is super creative, and welcome in my kitchen any time.

And here's what I ended up with:

Dark chocolate and oh-so-precious gold stars.

Red with green sixlets and glitter. Glitter! And green with red sixlets and glitter. Because I like symmetry.

Red and green with white pearly-thingies and white sprinkles. 

Yummy. Festive, if I do say so myself. And I am totes gonna go buy those stars in literally every color they come in.

Merry baking to all, and to all a good night! 
(I am so sorry. Genuinely sorry. But I had to. Can't control myself with the Christmas-music-lyric thing. I tried my best.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! Maple Pecan Cinnamon Rolls (and an Ode to Thanksgiving Dinner)

Oh, Thanksgiving. How I love thee. Let me count the ways. Your juicy turkey goodness, your mouth-watering stuffing deliciousness, your sweet, buttery crescent rolls, your multiple kinds of potatoes and gravy. And pie. Oh goodness, the pie.
Seriously though, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days. This is the first year that we have ever done Thanksgiving without extended family or friends, with only the immediate family. And not even the whole immediate family at that. It doesn't lessen my thankfulness for each and every one of the wonderful people in my life though. Above all things, I am grateful for those I love and who love me, and make my life better every day.
Thank you.

This year, despite the much smaller crowd (only my parents, my sister, and me), we did the whole feast. Couldn't bear the thought of eliminating something. Probably could have made a little less of a couple things though. I'm going to be eating sweet potatoes for weeks (not a complaint, in case you were wondering). We had our celebration a day early, as my sister took a shift at her hospital on Thanksgiving day. The ER doesn't close for Thanksgiving, y'all. Here we are about to eat that glorious meal to celebrate all we are thankful for...

And pie. 

And more pie.

I didn't even get a picture of the turkey. But I can say that it was delicious, and that is what matters.

Today I got up and made cinnamon rolls. Because we needed something else to eat. Ha.
I recently stumbled across these Maple Pecan Cinnamon Rolls on Pinterest. Darla from Bakingdom (a goddess to whom I bow) posted them on her blog last year. As soon as I was done drooling over them, I bookmarked them for Thanksgiving morning. Actual Thanksgiving, as it turns out, because yesterday I was busy rubbing butter all over a turkey in the morning.
Turns out they really were super easy, and I totally could have made them on actual Thanksgiving morning.

They turned out amazing, and one consumer (my mother, who has been known to say nice things about me, and who might be a little biased) said "These might be one of the best things I have ever eaten. Like, ever. In my life." She likes cinnamon rolls. She is a bit of a dessert pastry connoisseur, actually. So that's awesome.

Anyhow, make 'em. you won't regret it. No-one will. They don't take long, and you might not eat anything else ever again. Until you make a leftover turkey sandwich. With gravy.

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!!


Maple Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

by Darla from Bakingdom



3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted


3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar (I used about 2 1/2, but 3 would be fine)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup maple syrup


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 to 2 teaspoons milk


First, make the filling. Mix the sugars, pecans, cinnamon, and salt together in a small bowl. Add the melted butter and stir together with a fork (or your fingers, if that's how you roll) until the mixture is combined. Set this aside.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush a 9-inch cake pan with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter.

For the dough, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. You could use your mixer, but it's just as easy to use a good old fashioned wooden spoon here. Add the buttermilk, maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and stir until combined. When it starts to come together, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until it is smooth. It might remain kinda sticky, but that's OK.
Chill the dough in a covered, lightly floured bowl for 20 minutes.

After chilling, roll the dough onto a floured surface, making a roughly 8x12 inch rectangle (this isn't geometry class it doesn't have to be perfect). Pour 2 tablespoons of the melted butter onto the dough and spread it across the surface with your fingers (you could use a brush, but who doesn't love to smoosh melted butter around with your fingers?). Pour the filling onto the dough and spread it out, leaving about 1/2 inch space around the edges. Press the filling into the surface of the dough. Try not to lick your fingers every 12 seconds.

Roll the dough (from the long side) into a tight log, and pinch the seam closed (leave the seam facing down to cut...). Cut gently into 8 pieces and lay each piece in the cake pan. Brush the rolls with the last 2 tablespoons of melted butter and bake in the 425° oven for 20-25 minutes. The tops should be golden brown. If the tops start to get too dark, you can use a foil tent for the last few minutes.

For the icing, cream the butter in a small bowl. Add the sugar and mix until they start to combine. Add the syrup and mix until smooth. If it is too thick, add the milk little by little until you reach the desired consistency. It should be pourable, but not thin and watery.

Allow the rolls to cool for about 5 minutes before icing. You can leave the rolls in the pan, or move them to a plate to ice. Totally up to you.
Pour the icing over the warm rolls and serve immediately (that sounded urgent, but I guarantee you won't need me to tell you. Really though, eat them warm, it's the best way).

Enjoy! Be Thankful!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happiness Lives High on a Mountain

Telluride, Colorado. Perfection in the form of a small town. Seriously, y'all, I'm this close to putting a down payment one of the cutest darn houses you have ever seen, because I am that ready to live there. I know I exaggerate, but no jokes here. Well, yeah, there will most likely be jokes, but that wasn't one.

They say that the name Telluride comes from an old expression "To hell you ride," with reference to the forbidding terrain surrounding this breathtaking mountain oasis (in the days before Jeep Cherokee Limiteds with automatic transmission and heated seats). I don't know who "they" are, but I really hope that's true. And they have magnets that say that for sale in the pharmacy across the street from our hotel. If a magnet says it, it must be true. Oh, and I just checked Wikipedia, and it makes reference to the same legend. The Wiki-gods have spoken. And we all know that you can't put anything on the internet that isn't true. So there you have it. To Hell U Ride...Telluride. And hell could not be farther from the truth. Telluride is officially my happy place. Or one of my happy places, since I can't seem to decide. Close call between this and Kiama, really. But I digress.

This trip was planned by my sister. She was working media ops for the USA Pro Challenge this summer, and Stage 1 wound through the Rockies from Durango to Telluride. As she tells it, she stepped into town, picked her jaw up off the ground, shook her head in disbelief that she had lived in Colorado for more than a decade and never been there, and then promptly began planning our return. The day after the Pro Challenge finished (and she recovered from a killer after party), she sat down and booked us three nights at The New Sheridan on Main Street.

The last week of September was chosen for its merits in the fall foliage department, and it could not have been more perfect. We woke up the first morning to this.

Swells the heart and brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it?

We spent the weekend sleeping in, eating delicious food, shopping, eating delicious food, hiking, eating in adorable restaurants, and staring all around us in disbelief that this exists on earth and is not overrun by people constantly. Oh, and riding the gondola. And eating.

The gondola is a really awesome form of free public transportation that takes you over Coonskin Ridge between Telluride and Mountain Village. The view is breathtaking on both sides of the mountain. Also, if you get to Allred's (the restaurant at Station St. Sophia at the summit) right at 5:00 for happy hour, you can snag the table in the corner and get a view like this to enjoy your drinks. And burgers. And truffle fries. Drool.
Dinner with a view.
...if you can tear your eyes away from the truffle fries...

Riding the gondola for the 8000th time.

On the gondola riding back from Mountain Village.

We had breakfast at The Floradora Saloon on Saturday morning...and enjoyed it so much that we returned the next morning and all ordered the same thing. Go there asap and get "The Trucker." Perfect biscuits, topped with crispy bacon, topped with two eggs over easy, topped with the best sausage gravy I have ever tasted. With a side of potatoes that are not even possible to describe with words. Why didn't I take a picture of it, you ask? Well, partly because I plain old didn't think of it in my rapture of breakfast deliciousness, and partly because the plate barely touched the table before all three of us were shoveling it into our mouths like some kind of crazed starving...something. Something that's starving. Words fail me. It was a gravybath. For those of you unfamiliar with that term (which is everyone, because it's made up), that's like a bloodbath, but with creamy, peppery sausage gravy instead. In case you didn't get it.

If you're there on the right weekends, you can catch the cutest little farmer's market you've ever seen.

We spent a morning there buying too much jewelry, and eating curried pumpkin pasties, spicy beef burritos, fresh kettle corn, apple tarts I would swim through shark-infested waters for, and this Colorado-made cider. A great way to spend a fall morning.

We hiked twice that weekend, once up to Bridal Veil falls in the box canyon, and once on Bear Creek Trail to another waterfall (not sure what that one was called...).

Back towards town from the box canyon on the way to Bridal Veil Falls.
About halfway up the Bear Creek Trail, you will find a clearing in which people have been constructing cairns. Like, for years. There are hundreds. It's a spiritual feeling to stand there, with that view, and see these little pieces of people who have stood there before you. It sounds cheesy, but when you see it, you'll know. We each built our own  before continuing on up the mountain.

The shopping there is great. It is the epitome of a small town, with only a couple blocks of shopping, but you'd be surprised. Every store was a gem. I spent way too much money.

The only thing that was less than perfect about the weekend was the fact that I did not realize until about 2 hours into the 6 hour drive that I had left my camera (my precious...(who read that in a Gollum voice? Be honest...)) sitting on the foot of my bed, all packed up in its best traveling outfit and ready to have a weekend in Telluride. I would say I was devastated, but I guess there are worse things. Are there worse things? Luckily, Telluride, being a ridiculously charming truly small town, pulled through, and more than one person offered the use of their own personal DSLRs. The concierge at the hotel and the guy that owned the computer store across the street (both of whom I had met within mere seconds of the offer) said I could have their Canons for the weekend. I do wish I had my own sweet Nikon, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, and thankfully I had the willpower to not let it spoil the weekend. And I got some OK shots out of the deal. The shots in this post are either from that camera or my iPhone.

Oh, fun fact. Did you know that Butch Cassidy's first bank robbery was in Telluride? Huh. I didn't. Anyway, excuse the strange lighting in this picture, but there you have it. The plaque says "Mahr Building - 1892 - Site of the San Miguel Valley Bank - Butch Cassidy's first bank robbery - June 24, 1889"

Thank you to my beautiful sister for planning this trip. It was a wonderful girls' weekend.

One last look on our way back to reality.
Go there. You'll thank me when you do. Happiness really does live high on a mountain.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Blue Baby Boy Shower Cake

I had the pleasure this spring of making the baby shower cake for one of my colleagues, who is having her first baby this year. She found out a couple weeks ago that she is having a little boy, so I just had to do blue. I saw an adorable cake on Pinterest that had pretzels around the outside that were dipped in chocolate and decorated with stripes and sprinkles. I immediately thought of the old cliche about pregnant women and their cravings for sweet-salty combos. Pretzels dipped in chocolate? Yes, please! Pretzels dipped in chocolate AND cake? Double yes, please!

This cake is a great one for a crowd, because the fun pretzel decorations double as snacks.

The guest of honor enjoys vanilla cake with fruit fillings, so to stick with the blue theme (can a color be considered a theme?) I made a blueberry filling to compliment a simple white vanilla cake. The cake itself was frosted in white buttercream, with a simple design on top, and surrounded with those aforementioned pretzels (more on those in a minute) on the sides. I also made some little white chocolate decorations (in blue, obvi.) as a topper for some visual interest.

Any simple white cake will do. Honestly, any cake at all will do, depending on what flavors you like, but if you are going for the baby shower look, you might want to consider using a white cake to contrast with a colored filling. Alternatively, you could dye the batter and really adhere to the color theme.
Anyway, I was talking about vanilla cake. I tried a new one. It actually turned out dryer than I like (so I will not be sharing it here...sorry. I will share a good one when I have found the perfect recipe that works well up here in the mountains), but it was too late to start over. I could have made a simple syrup or added a layer of fruit to moisten it up, but I ran out of sugar that morning (devastating, and kind of embarrassing for a baker, to be honest) and I did not have any strawberries or other juicy fruits on hand. And didn't have time to go to the store, what with having a day job and all...Holy Cannoli, it seems like I'm disorganized or don't know how to plan ahead or something. I can't believe that I'm admitting to these things on the internet.

OK, so here's how this works.

I refrigerate my cakes before I try to mess with them. This is them, all dressed up in their fridge outfits (cling wrap), next to the cardboard cake base that I was going to build the cake on.

Next, cut the cake layers horizontally to make four layers. If you prefer to use only two layers, skip this step. Here they are cut. Aren't you proud of me? Process photos! Told you I was working on it.

Start stacking the layers with a generous (or not so generous if you don't love frosting in a sort of unhealthy, obsessive way like I do) layer of filling. This one is super simple. I added pureed blueberries and a couple tablespoons of blueberry jam (more for color) to some buttercream. I just made extra of the  buttercream I intended to frost the cake with, and used that. Done deal. So good, by the way. I am not even a little ashamed to admit that I was standing in the kitchen making bizarre this-is-so-yummy noises and eating it by the spoonful. Repeat until all layers are stacked.

Holy crooked layers, Batman! 

Crumb coat the stacked cake. This isn't a very neat layer yet, but you get the idea. Stick this in the fridge. This is a good time to work on your pretzels. That's if you haven't already finished them, which would mean you're more organized than I.

When the cake is chilled, take it out and give it a final coat of frosting. If you are using the pretzels, don't worry about making the sides perfect, since they will be covered up anyway. On the top, I opted for a simple but cute design in the frosting. It's as easy as pie. Or cake. Whatever. Just frost the top of the cake generously. You have to this time. It's an order. Now take a small offset spatula and dip it in some very hot water. Wipe it dry on a clean towel, and then gently drag it from the outer edge of the cake to the center. Repeat the process, slightly overlapping the last track each time.

Oh, and you want to do that before you add the pretzels.

To apply pretzels to the side, you simply need to gently press each pretzel onto the side of the cake. You might want to kind of wiggle each pretzel a little bit to nestle it in the frosting if they are falling off as you go. If you lay your pretzels on wax paper to dry, like I did, you will have a convenient flat side to press against the cake. Simply keep adding pretzels right up against each other all the way around the cake, and you end up with this adorable little sweet, salty, fence-thing. I tied a bit of ribbon around the pretzels to assist them in staying put (some of them were quite insistent on falling off. It was actually quite comical. I would put one back up, and one on the exact opposite side of the cake would fall as if on cue).

The chocolate topper was a cinch. I just melted some blue candy melts (white chocolate would work too, dyed blue), poured them into a candy mold (this one, with darling baby-themed shapes), and waited. And did other stuff while I waited. Like eat frosting. Pop them out, and you have little blue candies. If I had more time (there I go again with the time thing. Goodness gracious, I'm quite the complainer today. My apologies), you can easily make these very colorful by painting the insides of the mold with different colors of melted chocolate. I think I prefer the way that these plain blue ones looked on the cake though. It really carried the 'blue' theme. I'm sticking to it.
Arrange them on the cake as the mood strikes you, and there you have it. A very blue baby boy shower cake.

To make the pretzels:
Depending on how tall your cake will be (or how much you want the pretzels to stick up above the top of the cake), you might need to break the pretzels. This is a whole barrel full of laughs in itself. I needed to break my pretzel rods roughly in half. Easy, right? Wowza. Not so much. Pretzels will pretty much break wherever they darn well feel like it, which 99.9% of the time is nowhere near where you actually want. I tried gently cutting them with a serrated knife. Nope. Worse, actually. Regular knife? Nuh-uh. Karate chop? Also ineffective, but fun. Teeth? Most effective of all the methods, but least hygienic. So I went with the breaking. Which is why you might notice that my pretzels have a rustic we-don't-need-to-be-all-the-same-size look, which is charming.
Once you have a stack of roughly/not-even-close-to same sized pretzels, you need to melt your chocolate. I used white and blue, but you could use anything you want. You also want to get any sprinkles or other decorations ready, as these will need to be applied before the chocolate dries. A word to the wise - if you will be sprinkling anything directly onto the pretzels, you probably want to do this on a tray or some other surface with a lip (a jelly roll pan works great). Why, you ask? Well, round sprinkles (such as those that I used), roll (and apparently jump, climb, and fly) like no-one's business, and will end up eve-ry-where. You can sweep, you can mop, and these little thingies will pop up when you least expect it for at least a week or two.
I poured my melted chocolate into a drinking glass, because I figured that a tall, narrow vessel would be effective for dipping the rod-shaped pretzels. It was. You could dip from a bowl, or even pour the chocolate over the pretzels with a spoon. Knock yourself out. The glass thing does work though. Just fill it up with chocolate and dip away. Leave a little section un-chocolatized at the bottom to hold the pretzel with for ease of consumption. Oh, and melt chocolate slowly and carefully. Nobody wants a clumpy chocolate-covered pretzel. Lay the dipped pretzel onto some waxed paper and let dry. If you are adding sprinkles or some other such accoutrements, add them while the chocolate is still wet. If you are adding a drizzle of another color, wait until it's dry.
These pretzels can be done in any color, with any number of different decorations. They are quick and easy to make, travel well, and are so yummy. Oh, the ideas.

Well there you have it. Congrats to a beautiful new family, and we look forward to welcoming a new little boy to the world very soon!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Your Geek is Showing - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts, Instagrammed. Cell phones are great, ya?

Remember a while back when I told you that I kind of like that one book series, the one with the boy wizard? You might have heard of it. Well, those of you that actually know me (as in, real life, face-to-face, not on the interwebs), are friends with me on facebook, or follow me on Instagram know by now that I recently made a pilgrimage to that most wonderful of wonderful places. That's right. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was magical. Pun intended. But really. That is the word of choice and I'm sticking to it.

I went with another HP Enthusiast, my future sister-in-law (yay!) Natalie. Nothing says fun like a couple of grown women acting like children for a week. It was fantastic. Here's how it went. 
We flew into Florida on a Sunday and went straight to our hotel, where we promptly discovered that our room had a view of Hogwarts. No, I'm not joking, you could see the castle from our hotel room. Cue "Hedwig's Theme," and picture us squealing a little bit like a middle-schooler at a Justin Bieber concert. 
See? Not exaggerating. Taken from the hotel room window.
After dinner, we hit the sack in preparation for an early morning at the park (we had early admission. Duh. I told you this would be nerdy). We hadn't been in bed for more than two minutes before we both started giggling, and heartily agreed that we both felt like five year olds on Christmas Eve. We felt like we were never going to get to sleep.
In the morning, we walked to the park. Yeah. Walked. It wasn't all that far, and we weren't going to wait for the shuttle like some schmuck who doesn't mind sharing Hogsmeade with all the muggles. Keep in mind that we left the hotel at about 6am. As in, actually walking out the door. Those who know me well know that there are few things that can get me out of bed at that hour. Let it forever be known that early admission to WWoHP (as it shall be know from now on) is one of those things.
Anyway, where were we? Right. Sun is coming up, we are walking to the park. Siri tried to make us go the wrong way, but luckily we are smarter than the robots, and we figured it out on our own. Muggle technology can be rather unreliable at times.

I don't think I actually can describe for you the moment when we walked under the Hogsmeade sign, so here is where the pictures start in earnest.
Welcome to Hogsmeade, and please respect the spell limits.
The moment. THE moment. We thought we were all early and stuff, but check out all these other peeps!

Love the train. Love. Also, this is another instagrammed pic. Honestly, sometimes I wonder why I even carry a real camera. Never mind, I immediately take that back. I'll be right back, I need to go apologize to my camera and promise to buy her nice things.
First full view of Hogwarts. Soak it in.
Another view. If you are at all interested in seeing pictures of Hogwarts Castle from every single angle physically possible by a human without possession of a commercial-grade cherry-picker and professional photography equipment, let me know. You're welcome to come over and see them. Just make sure you set aside a couple hours.
The first of many "honeymoon" pictures...first you take one of me, then I'll take one of you... 
Platform 9 3/4
Told you. Another view of the castle. Here it is in the near darkness.

Hogsmeade by night


My first piece of advice...if you just want Butterbeer (and not something to eat), grab it from a cart. You won't have to wait as long. Plus the carts are so freaking cute! Like seriously, look at that, will ya?

Let's look at it closer up. Goodness gracious. I'm having flashbacks. The good kind.

Try and get it early or late in the day though, as the lines can get really long in the middle of the day. There are also these guys that hover around near the entrance of the Three Broomsticks who will take your Butterbeer order and bring it out to you. If you don't need anything to eat, try and find those chaps.

About the Butterbeer itself. I have to say, this was a moment of great anticipation. We went straight for a Butterbeer cart the first morning we were there. Nothing quite like a flagon of liquid sugar to kick-start your day. You can choose between regular Butterbeer and frozen (but no warm option, which, even though the park is in Florida, would have been a nice in-universe touch I think...), and both kinds come with this imitation foam on top (being that it's not real beer and thus does not actually have foam). The Butterbeer was nice. Very sweet, but a pleasant taste if you ask me. I had three flagons over our two days at the park. Nat didn't like it that much on account of the sweetness. That and the fact that she gets motion sickness and we immediately went on a rollercoaster. Go figure. Anyway, I was saying that the Butterbeer is yummy. I personally liked the frozen better than the regular cold liquid variety. However, the real star of the show is the "foam." It is this butterscotchy, keep-your-dentist-in-business sweet, creamy, divine experience that I would have eaten by the bucketful. Maybe that's a little over the top. Let's just say it was pretty good. And honestly, this cupcake frosting that I made once was pretty close on the taste. I think this foam is one of those things where the recipe is probably guarded very closely (most likely by a couple armed security trolls or something), and no-one can ever get it exactly right, but the frosting'll do when I'm having a craving and getting the shakes.

Butterbeer!! And another "honeymoon" picture, in case you didn't notice.

The only major disappointment in the food/drink department? No pumpkin pasties. You can't get them anywhere. We asked about them at Honeydukes (and The Three Broomsticks), but no dice. The girl was quite apologetic, and told us we were not the first people to have asked. Oh, and also, they don't sell an alcoholic version of Butterbeer at the park. I don't mean like Spring Break get-you-faced kind of alcoholic, but just mildly, the way that they drink it in the books. I wanted to see what it was like. Other than those little quibbles (haha, get it?), the food was great. The WWoHP is not on the same food system as the rest of the park. Meal Deals don't apply there, and they don't sell soda. Instead, to drink you can get pumpkin juice, Butterbeer, regular muggle beer (Hog's Head Brew!), hot chocolate, milk, a couple different ciders, orange juice, or apple juice. Which I think is awesome. 

Like so. Pumpkin juice on tap.
They also don't sell any typical theme park food (hot dogs, turkey legs, churros, pizza, etc.). Their food is mostly traditional British food (or at least an Americanized idea of traditional British food).
Here is what we had for breakfast at the Three Broomsticks...
Oh, but first, the Three Broomsticks. Totally great.

But the food. Right. Here's breakfast:
Breakfast of British-American champions/theme park goers/people who like to eat a lot.
The English Breakfast came complete with Black Pudding. See that thing in the middle? It's black.
It's how it went down:
Looking optimistic, yet apprehensive. Looking kinda silly and excited. Tasting...and...not so much. Washing it down with some Butterbeer. What else?
Sorry Brits, black pudding is totes not my cup of tea. The rest of the breakfast was pretty great though. Beans, croissant, eggs, potatoes, a yummy little roasted tomato, some sausage (of the non-blood sort), some English bacon, and some mushrooms. So much food!

And here is what we had for dinner at the Three Broomsticks (the only sit-down eatery in the WWoHP)...

Cornish pasties and a large salad. Complete with Hog's Head Brew and a chocolate cake/strawberry/whipped cream dessert. 
Having a brewski at the Hog's Head!
Chocolate strawberry cream dessert thingie...

Here's the Pumpkin Juice. I thought these bottles were just so cute! I kept one for my classroom.

Next up, the sweets (for those who aren't bilingual, that's British for candy). Ah, the sweets are great! Honeydukes was spot on, super colorful, and smelled positively divine. It was also always crowded, no matter when you are at the park, but it kind of added to the charm. You can imagine it's a Hogsmeade Weekend, and that's what it would be like with all the students there.

We didn't actually eat any of our sweets until we got back to Colorado, partly because we were doing quite a fine job of stuffing ourselves on park food and didn't have room for candy, and partly because eating chocolate when it's 8000ºF outside is neither appealing nor neat. However, we did have ourselves a nice little feast when we got back. First off, the chocolate frogs are fantastic! They are packaged just like the ones in the movies, and we got a nice assortment of cards (Only one repeat in five boxes. Not too bad. We also got all the Hogwarts founders amongst us). The frogs themselves are massive. As in, you might make yourself sick if you try to eat the whole thing in one sitting. I'm holding it here for a comparison. Now to be fair, I don't have the biggest hands, but really. That is one enormous chocolate frog. The picture is from above, but I should say that it stands about 3 inches tall too (from the flat surface underneath to its back).

Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans are also a really fun treat. 

We spent time trying all the colors and having a good laugh at the less pleasant flavors. Some of them are gross. But that's the idea, so have some fun with it. Chase those ones with blueberry (of which we seemed to have plenty). The only flavor we couldn't find in our assortment was vomit. Not too torn up about that though.

So many beans!

I also bought some Peppermint Toads for my Mom. They were great! Really yummy, and so cute. They were about the size of the top of your thumb, perfectly minty, and super creamy.
I don't know what was going on in my mind when I failed to take a picture of their adorable-ness. Well actually, I do. I was in pepperminty bliss. Anywho, here is the Honeydukes display at least...

They have a large range of other sweets from the books and movies in could really do some damage in there (to your wallet and your teeth). I wish I could have sampled everything, but went with the basics (and the ones that would travel well in a suitcase). Had we the space, tooth enamel, and sweet-teeth for it, we could have also purchased:

Lemon drops (Dumbledore's favorite),

Pepper Imps,

Chocolate Cauldrons, 

Cauldron Cakes, 

 Exploding Bonbons and Fizzing Whizbees,

Blood Pops, Acid Pops, Sugar Quills, and Edible Dark Marks,

Fudge Flies, 

or Fred and George's Ton-Tongue Toffee.

And that's not even all of it.

Another must-see is Zonko's. 

Zonkos! I do wish they had Weasley's Wizard Wheezes too...
It's attached to Honeydukes, and is chock-a-block with jokes, toys, games, and Weasley's Wizard Wheezes products (including U-No-Poo). 

Look up, look down, and check out each shelf. It is chaotic. As it should be.

Snippets of Zonkos.

You guys ready for me to stand on a soapbox, or what?
Personally (and forgive my nerdiness here...or don't. Honestly, I would understand if you don't), I think people should have to take a simple quiz or at least answer a couple questions correctly before gaining admittance to this section of the park. I mean, I didn't ask people any inane questions in the Marvel part of the park, did I? A lady actually asked me what Ollivander's was, and why people wanted to go in there. The nerve. I was just like "One moment please, I'm having a mildly euphoric out-of-body experience over here, I'll answer you in a second." I mean come on, it's crowded enough in there ...

Seriously? Holy moly, y'all! This is why we spent the majority of our time here in the mornings and evenings.
...without people wandering around wondering what everything is, or body-checking you out of the way when you are trying to get a picture of each and every window, just to try and figure out what the big deal is. Whew! Rant finished. Moral of the story? Don't go there if you don't give two hoots about The Boy Who Lived and The World he Lived in. I can't imagine you would enjoy it anyway. If you're a casual fan, or you've read one or more of the books, or even half a book, or watched the movies, come on down! Happy to have ya! But if you can't name a single character, or you stare at the little boy in full costume with a scar drawn on his forehead (of which there were several) like he's some kind of alien, spend your day somewhere else. Come in to enjoy the rides, like this one...

HP Dragon Challenge...dueling rollercoasters.
but leave the "streets" and the stores to the HP fans and enthusiasts. OK, now the rant is finished. Scout's honor.

My parting thoughts are these. If you are a Harry Potter fan of any kind, and you have the opportunity to get to the WWoHP, do it. It's so fun. And it's not even the only thing to do down there. There's always the rest of the park, and Universal Studios next door. Plus the Citywalk, and Orlando itself. And Miami's only a few hours away.
For serious HP fans: take your time. Look at everything. LOOK UP! Like, above your eye level. Then go back and look at everything again. Then get up the next day and do it again. There are little details everywhere that you don't want to miss. 
Like this:
Gringotts Bank ATM. Totally cute. Nice touch, WWoHP people, nice touch.
And this:
Owl clock tower
And this:
Wands stacked to the ceiling in Ollivander's

Don't think twice about spending hours and hours just looking at stuff. It's totally acceptable. The rides are fun and all, but while you're waiting in line, check out everything around you. Like all these Triwizard banners in the line for the Dragon Challenge...

And the flying Ford Anglia and Hagrid's hut.

And in the Forbidden Journey line, where you wind through the castle, you can see...
The house point hourglasses, Dumbledore's office, the Sorting Hat, and people sticking their faces into the pensieve (who invited that girl, anyway?)...

The fun signage for the Dueling Dragons...

Just go ahead and let people in front of you so you can stop and take pictures when the line is winding through the castle. You won't regret it. Just keep your eyes and ears peeled. You can even hear Moaning Myrtle in the girls' bathroom next to the Three Broomsticks.

This is what it looks like when you are the last people out the gates at night. They firmly but kindly had to ask us to leave. So we walked out backwards, and I snapped this one last image. 

Until next time, Hogsmeade, until next time.