nailed it! sioux falls edition

hi, friends! it’s been a while. how has winter been treating you? if you’re like me, you’ve probably been waking up every single morning, checking the temperature and stalking google flights for cheap tickets to ANYWHERE THAT HAS AN AVERAGE TEMPERATURE OF 80 DEGREES. sigh.

this winter, in particular, has been hard. I’ve found myself feeling less motivated to get out and more motivated to binge on Netflix and Hulu while living under a pile of blankets. I have managed to get to the yoga studio at least twice a week and I bought vitamins so, points for that, yeah?

anyway, a few weeks ago my BFF Abby texted me to see if I would be interested in judging/hosting a valentine’s day version of Nailed It! at her friends house. (side note, if you haven’t seen Nailed It! it’s on Netflix. start with the NYE episode. you’re welcome.) in the spirit of trying to feel more motivated to leave my house, I said “of course!” not knowing how this was really going to work.

well, friends, I’m happy to report that it was the MOST FUN THING EVER. seriously. I can’t remember the last time I smiled for so many hours in a row. I am now convinced that there’s absolutely nothing better than getting together with a bunch of awesome people, eating a ton of cake AND grilled pizzas— thank you, Nathan!

here are some of my favorite moments from the day. enjoy!

P.S. would you be interested in having a Nailed It! party of your own? let me know in the comments!

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Sara Damjanovic Comment
this isn't cake! recipe 001: mom's chicken soup
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if I had to choose one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be soup. more specifically, my mom’s soup.

growing up, soup or “juha” was the precursor to any home cooked meal. I remember watching in awe as my mom would throw a bunch of vegetables, some kind of protein and broth into a pot and create a delicious, heartwarming soup packed with flavor.

now, I know what you’re thinking: I thought this was a cake blog? why are you talking about soup?

you are correct. BUT, if you’re like me, you tend to lean towards the savory end of the food spectrum. salt + fat are necessary, thus I introduce to you the first recipe in what I will call the “this isn’t cake!” series. it’ll be great, trust me!

a few weeks ago, after I came down with what I deemed as the plague (otherwise known as a really bad cold) I decided that it was time for me to learn how to make “the soup” since the chances of my mom coming over and making it for me were pretty slim.

I rummaged around in our fridge and found a lone chicken breast, celery, carrots, garlic, half of an onion and thyme, threw it into a pot with chicken broth and water and cooked according to my mom’s directions: “when it tastes good and the vegetables are cooked through.” got it. 30 minutes later, I tasted it, and guess what?

it was PRETTY DARN GOOD.

peppery, chicken-y, vegetable-y and everything that I needed to feel nourished and somewhat alive again.

I’ve tested it a few times with different combinations of water/broth and different variations of chicken. I’ve found that using chicken thighs (bone in, not trimmed) creates a deeply flavored broth that isn’t overly rich. if you’re not a fan of chicken thighs, you can certainly use chicken breasts instead and slightly adjust your cooking times.

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Mom’s Chicken Soup
Serves 6-8

for the soup:

3 tablespoons olive oil
16 ounces (1 pound) chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
1 large onion, sliced into thick pieces
5 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
12 ounces celery (roughly 1/2 stalk), chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
10 ounces carrots (roughly 1/3 of a 2lb bag), trimmed and chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 cups of chicken broth (I use Orrington Farms Broth Base & Seasoning)
3 cups water
Cheesecloth and strainer
Noodles (if desired)

directions:

1. In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat
2. While olive oil is heating up, season your chicken tights with the kosher salt, and pepper. don’t be afraid of the salt here!
3. Add sliced onions and smashed garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned
4. Place chicken thighs in stockpot, skin down and cook until crispy (3-4 minutes). Flip and repeat with other side.
5. Add celery, carrots, thyme, chicken broth and water— give it a good stir!
6. Bring broth to a boil and then reduce to a simmer
7. Simmer broth for 30 minutes, until vegetables and chicken are cooked through
(Note: your broth will look fatty— this is okay! try to refrain from skimming the fat until it’s fully cooked through.)
8. Grab a slightly smaller pot, place the mesh strainer over it and line it with cheesecloth
9. Carefully pour your broth and vegetables through the strainer/cheese cloth; remove chicken and set aside
10. Using a large spoon (or your hands, but be careful! it’s hot!) squeeze as much liquid as you can out of your vegetables
11. Remove skin and bones from your chicken thighs and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces; return to broth
12. Taste your broth and adjust seasoning as desired! I usually end up adding another teaspoon or so of salt and lots of pepper. serve with crackers or crusty bread!

bonus step: If you plan to use noodles, bring your broth back up to a boil and cook your noodles of choice according to the directions on the package.

your soup can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week without noodles and 2-3 days with noodles. reheat leftovers on the stove.

happy souping!

Sara DamjanovicComment
dark chocolate coconut tahini cakies with tahini buttercream

happy new year! can you believe it’s already day two? there are approximately 106 days left until I see ariana grande in concert, but it’s not like i’m obsessively keeping track or or anything.

in the past, I’ve always completely dreaded the new year. despite spending time with loved ones and friends, the celebrations would always be followed by a weird melancholy feeling accompanied by thoughts like, “ugh, we have to start overrrrrrrr?”

this year was so different! the holiday season was cozy, fun and so fulfilling. we rang in the new year with fireball (never again), champagne and some rousing games of super smash brothers and ping pong (yes, we have a ping pong table, come visit!!)

I decided not to set resolutions. rather, I chose to set some short-term and long term goals. short term: find some part-time odd jobs to help pay for all of the butter I need. long-term: start strategizing and saving for my own bakery!!!! (lol did I just post this on the internet? I guess I have to do it now)

another short term goal of mine: recipe development!

the other day, I was wandering through the local co-op and stumbled upon Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate. it was on mega sale and I bought 5 bars. if you haven’t heard of this company, they are pretty damn awesome. long story short, all of their chocolate is fair trade and produced without the use of slavery or child labor, it’s delicious and it was the inspiration for my first recipe of 2019: dark chocolate coconut tahini cakies (cookie + cake) with tahini buttercream!

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after making a bajillion cakes this holiday season, I decided that I wanted to make something a little easier than cake but more fun than a cookie. hence, the cakie! plus, it’s really fun to say cakie over and over again.

I loved the taste of the dark chocolate/pecan/coconut bar and I’ve been hoarding seed + mill tahini and decided they would complement each other really well. the results? absolute magic.

the tahini adds a perfect amount of nuttiness to complement the sweetness of the buttercream and chocolate and I love coconut, so there’s that.

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Dark Chocolate Coconut Tahini Cakies with Tahini Buttercream

makes 24-36 cakies, depending on size

for the cakies:

2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (3 oz) brown sugar, tightly packed
¼ cup (3 oz) granulated sugar
½ cup (4 oz) tahini
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 oz dark chocolate of your choice, chopped (I used Tony’s 51% dark chocolate with coconut and pecans!)
½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

1. preheat your oven to 350 F
2. in a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and set aside
3. in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (3-4 minutes)
4. reduce the mixer speed to low and add tahini, making sure it is well incorporated before increasing speed back up to medium
5. add eggs, one at a time until well combined
6. add vanilla extract
7. reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture, followed by the coconut and chopped chocolate
8. scoop out even amounts of the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about two inches apart. (I used a #40 cookie scoop to get uniform cookies).
9. bake cakies for 10-11 minutes, until just brown on the edges— you don’t want your bottoms to get too crispy!
10. let cool (in the meantime, you can make your buttercream!)

for the buttercream:

1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (2 oz) tahini
2 cups (6 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole milk

1. in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together tahini and butter on medium until smooth (2-3 minutes)
2. with mixer on low, slowly add powdered sugar until combined before increasing speed to medium
3. add vanilla extract, salt, milk and mix on medium-high until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes)

using an offset spatula or butter knife, frost cakies, drizzle with tahini, sprinkle with shredded coconut and enjoy!

happy baking!

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Sara Damjanovic
defeating impostor syndrome: one cake at a time

today is such a lovely day. i’m currently hanging out at my favorite coffee shop, in my favorite city and enjoying some much-needed me time. last night, caroline and I went to see rupi kaur. this was my first time attending a live poetry reading and I didn’t really know what to expect. the venue was filled with so much feminine power and magic— it felt electrifying. it was one of the best experiences of my life, filled with laughter, pride and of course, lots of tears.

leaving the venue, I felt so empowered and rejuvenated. I thought a lot about where I’m at in life and how much progress I’ve made in this last year alone— especially in finding myself and learning how to find self-worth and excitement within myself.

have you ever heard of impostor syndrome?

if not, it's a concept that describes individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud" and it's characterized by feelings of anxiety, depression and major self-doubt.

feeling like an impostor feels like I'm constantly running away from something or someone that will "expose" me. some days, it's nearly impossible to acknowledge my accomplishments in life because of this nagging feeling telling me they are completely invalid, or that I haven't truly worked hard enough to get where I am today.

it's exhausting.

it's so easy to say to someone who feels like an impostor, "don't be so hard on yourself, be proud of your achievements!" in my mind, though, recognizing my achievements would be a form of bragging, and I don't brag about myself.

until right now.

when I was younger, my parents let me stay at home alone during summer break while my sister went to daycare. A typical day at home included: sleeping in, watching MTV music videos, a bajillion hours of the Sims and baking or cooking when I got tired of my Sims.

the first person to teach me how to bake was my grandma. I remember baking really simple cakes with a little flour, some eggs and sugar and being completely mesmerized by my creations. I would experiment with different amounts of flour, sugar, and eggs and watched with pride as my tiny little cakes rose to perfection. I also grew up watching my mom dominate in the kitchen and worked to recreate some of her best recipes on my own during those long summer afternoons.

as I grew older, baking and cooking became creative outlets for me. I enjoyed learning new techniques, learning how to feed myself on a budget and experimenting with new ingredients.

fast forward to today: when I bake or cook, I feel whole. when I mess up, I get pissed and sad, but I also feel determined to fix my mistakes and try again. when I conquer a recipe, I feel unstoppable and confident. I no longer feel like a fraud-- I feel like my true self.

in a world that feels so overwhelming and over-saturated, it’s easy to get lost in the noise and think, “why bother? thousands of people are already doing this.”

last year, I read a post on Instagram that still resonates with me to this day:

"If what you’re doing is coming from a place of honesty and as a service to others, abundance will most definitely come your way. You will find your people and your supporters, I promise. There is enough for everyone in the creative world to experience success and fulfillment."

whether or not I choose to become a professional in this area is a decision that i’m still working through. for now, I feel so much pride and joy knowing that the cakes I give to others are create with care, precision, patience and a whole lot of love and that they are good. so, i’m gonna keep doing what makes me feel awesome. *insert sunglasses emoji dudette here & start playing “feelin’ myself” by beyonce*

happy baking, friends!


Sara Damjanovic
behind the design

happy weekend, everyone! I don’t know about you, but three-day weekends are my absolute favorite thing ever. i’ve spent the entire week brainstorming recipe ideas and blog ideas and I love having all of the time in the world to make them come to life!

i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want my first post to be about. then, as I was designing a wedding cake for a client, it hit me: why not show my customers what the process of designing a cake actually looks like?

typically, the process starts on pinterest or instagram. I spend considerable amounts of time looking for inspiration and unique color palettes. some of my favorite accounts include: molly yeh, alana jones-mann, rifle paper company and leslie vigil. once i’ve found enough inspiration, I get to work!

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I start with basic sketches of what I have envisioned. I try not to let myself get too nit-picky about my sketches and instead, I let the idea flow. once i’m happy with my sketches, I begin to work on identifying my color palette.

as a side note— I did not go to school for art. in fact, the only art class I took in college was a drawing I course that kicked my ass. I don’t have any formal “color theory” knowledge. essentially, I “go with the flow” and let the colors pick themselves.

first, I build my color foundation which is determined by the colors that my clients provide me with. in this case, my clients want a cake that accentuates their wedding theme of navy/blush pink (which is one of my favorite color combinations ever!). from then, I always like to include a couple of muted colors and one accent color that adds a little bit of a pop.

if I ever feel truly stuck on a palette, I’ll browse adobe kuler for a little while until I find something that meets my needs. otherwise, 99% of the time, I create my own palettes which is the most fun. I then refer to my trusty box of food coloring to nail down my palette.

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if you’ve never used americolor gel food coloring, you need to drop everything you’re doing and purchase one (or three?) of their student kits online. gel food coloring has changed my life and americolor never fails to produce the prettiest, most vibrant colors.

now that I’ve picked my colors, it’s time to make my sketch come to life!

in the past, i’ve done sketches and designs the very old-school way (pencil, paper and colored pencils). knowing that I need to be a little more tech-savvy, i’ve convinced my dude to let me borrow his ipad pro and draw cake shapes to scale for me! he’s the best.

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from that point on, it takes me about an hour or so to transfer my color palette and paper sketches to the ipad pro. sometimes, it’s tricky because I want everything to look perfect, and then I remind myself to save those perfectionist tendencies for when i’m baking and decorating the actual cake.

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voila! here’s the final product! this particular cake won’t come to life until mid-february.

in the meantime, i’ll continue to work on other recipes and designs and i’ll be sure to share them here! if you’re interested in a custom cake like this, don’t hesitate to reach out! i’m always willing to work with new and fun ideas.

happy baking (and designing)!!!

Sara Damjanovic