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On my recent trip, I managed to get in a lot of reading on my Kindle. On airplanes, waiting for airplanes, waiting for the bus to load, waiting in lobbies for everybody to show up to leave, and at night when I couldn’t sleep. A fun book was Mr. Mac and Me, by Esther Freud. It takes place in England in 1914. In a time and place where a 13-year old boy has a lot of freedom. Although the war is looming, this little village is relatively quiet and safe, as life used to be. Boys will be boys, and he enjoys sort-of spying on people, especially people he doesn’t know well. He imagines that a man who arrives in town to rent a house with his paints and easels, might be a spy. Thus begins a story that starts from that premise, but eventually takes you into a very special friendship that develops between the man, Mr. Mac, his wife, and this boy. The story is absolutely charming. War brings some brutal truths for everyone in the village, yet this friendship flourishes. Great book.

Occasionally I’ll latch onto a book about food or restaurants. This one, The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, is a romance (not a sticky sweet one) about a youngish woman (and her dog) who take a big leap to Colorado when she’s offered a job as a chef. The restaurant is fraught with some issues, but the author weaves in a romance, her skills as a leader in the kitchen, throws in some recipes (that I have yet to extract from my Kindle pages, that I want to try) along with it, and you have a book that held my interest all the way through. Formulaic, I suppose, but it’s a cute story. Books about restaurants always divulge some new tangle of how a kitchen runs. I enjoyed the read.

If you haven’t already read it, you are missing a really good and insightful book, Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly. I was riveted from page one, all the way through to the end. O’Reilly has a very engaging way of re-telling history and making it ever-so readable and interesting. He weaves people’s stories, ones  you likely haven’t read or heard, into his narrative, to give you such a sense of place. You can just feel how these soldiers, pilots, prisoners and seamen made their mark, but likely all unsung heroes. It’s a must-read, it really is.

Having read some of Kent Haruf’s other books, I read Our Souls at Night. A lonely widow decides to invite a neighbor man, also a lonely widower, if he’d like to come to her home, at night, to spend the night. I simply can’t tell you anything else because it would give away the story. This isn’t a story about s-x, but about two lonely people who come together for friendship and companionship. It’s very sweet, not twee, but sweet. You really feel for both of these older people. Read it.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Desserts, on August 8th, 2016.

tres_leches_cake

I don’t know where I’d been, until 2-3 years ago when I first heard or read about tres leches (three milks) cake. I became a fan instantly. Shall I say I must have been on a turnip truck? I was served it somewhere and knew eventually I’d make it myself. But I needed a reason to make a big 9×13 pan full of it. There is a boxed mix for this cake, but as with most such mixes, it is a 4th cousin twice removed, to the real thing, this one, made from scratch.

Making this is NOT all that hard – I bake all the time – so don’t know why I’d put off trying it. But if I’d made it for myself – for some small gathering and only used 3-4 pieces of it, then I’d have had a huge pan of it. This isn’t something you’d want to eat every day for a week. Plan on the scales giving you bad news. As it was, my granddaughter Sabrina, the one who just graduated from HS in early June, wanted tres leches cake for the party her mom and dad threw for her a few days after the graduation. I took all the stuff to Sara’s house (my daughter, Sabrina’s mom) and made it the day before. Most recipes say it’s best if allowed to soak in the three milks for 8-24 hours. I’ve found some recipes that say it only needs an hour or so to soak up most of the milk, but I didn’t want to chance it, so I did do it the day before. It does need to be refrigerated throughout the process.

The recipe I used made a pretty large bowl of the milk-combo, and suggested you not add it all to the cake, but to reserve some to spoon onto the plate when it’s served. Well, with this being a buffet kind of thing, we didn’t do that part, but the cake itself was plenty oozy with milk without the addition. Sara has a cup or more of the milk mixture in her refrigerator. Don’t really know what you’d do with it once the cake is gone! Guess you could make a custard? Or a pudding. In the recipe I used it suggested adding rum, which I did, but truthfully, none of us could taste it. Not at all. We also used a few pinches of cinnamon in the whipped cream, and I couldn’t taste that, either. I guess the milk flavor predominated!

First you make a sponge cake (you know, egg yolks and whites whipped up separately so the egg whites folded in give the cake height and tenderness). Once the cake is baked and cooled, you pour the milks on top – evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and some other combination of half and half, regular whole milk or heavy cream. The milks absorb from the bottom. At that stage the cake is covered and refrigerated. If you happen to have a 9×13 pan that has a lid, I recommend it! I made this in a disposable foil pan just because it was easier for storage (they come with lids too).

I recommend you use an instant read thermometer for the cake – we  used a toothpick and it came out clean after 18 minutes of baking, but it definitely was not done as the center sunk once out of the oven. We were able to use all the cake around the outer edges and had plenty. Sara doesn’t have an instant read thermometer. Cakes should cook to about 205°. This cake had pulled away from the sides, so we thought it was done, but it wasn’t. I’ve included notes in the recipe about this aspect of the cake baking.

The next day you make whipped cream (with sugar and vanilla) and since we were serving a crowd, I cut the cake into small servings (there were other desserts served) and dolloped the top of each with the cream. The cake did sit out at room temp for several hours then, and the few pieces left over went back into the pan. If you were serving this as the only dessert, I guess you could get at least 15 servings out of the pan, maybe more. The cake is rich, so you don’t really want to serve a lot of it, delicious as it is!

Certainly the cake will keep for a few days, but not much longer than that. Eventually the milk mixture will spoil, especially if it’s allowed to sit out, so do plan to eat it up within 3-4 days at the most. As time goes by, the bottom of each cake piece becomes rather unstable because it’s milk-logged. The top half or third doesn’t absorb any of the milk, so when I tried to move the left over pieces back into the baking pan for storage, they kind of fell apart. I learned to only move one piece at a time, then it stayed mostly together.

What’s GOOD: I love this cake. Period. I like dairy, though, so it would be likely I’d enjoy this. I love the texture of the cake (the sponge part) and it’s altogether lovely. Wish I had a piece right this very minute.

What’s NOT: You do need to plan ahead and then be sure to eat it up within a few days. This cake isn’t a long-term keeper as the milk could spoil.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Tres Leches Cake [Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk’s Cake]

Recipe By: From Smitten Kitchen blog
Serving Size: 18

Butter and flour for cake pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch — (30 grams)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 large eggs — separated
1 vanilla bean — split and seeds scraped from pods or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
THREE MILKS:
12 ounces evaporated milk
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons rum — (optional)
TOPPING:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar — or granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon — or ground nutmeg (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9×13 baking pan, or coat it with a nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch (together, these make “cake flour” without you having to buy it), salt and baking powder. If using a fresh vanilla bean, rub seeds into 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar to disperse them and help release the most flavor.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. With the machine still running, gradually add the sugar (vanilla bean-infused or plain) and beat on medium-high until stiff peaks form. If you haven’t used a vanilla bean, now add your vanilla extract and beat to combine.
4. Add yolks one at at time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add milk and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture, one-third at at time, folding in each addition gently by hand.
5. Pour batter in prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, or until a tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Optionally, bake until the temperature in the center of the cake reaches 250°F. The sides may have pulled away from the pan, so don’t rely on that to tell you the cake is done. Let completely cool in pan on a rack.
6. THREE MILKS: In a large bowl, preferably one with a pouring spout, whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy or light cream. Add rum, if using. Use a wooden skewer to poke holes all over cake. Pour all but 1/2 cup milk mixture over cake and transfer to fridge, giving the cake several hours but ideally overnight to soak it up. (Save last bit of milk mixture for serving.)
7. TOPPING: Before serving, beat 2 cups heavy cream with 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Spread over top of cake.
8. Serve cake in squares, first pouring a little puddle of reserved three-milk mixture at the bottom of plate.
Per Serving: 374 Calories; 20g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 138mg Cholesterol; 198mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 21st, 2016.

blueberry_buckle_serving

Gosh, I can’t encourage you enough to make this dessert. It’s off the charts wonderful! Fresh blueberries stirred into a batter, baked with a brown sugar streusel baked on top, then drizzled with a bit of heavy cream.

Some weeks ago I was contacted by Finlandia, the company that produces cheese and butter products in Finland, but it’s imported here in the U.S. to a variety of mostly upscale grocery stores, but also to some Costco stores (not where I live, unfortunately). It’s carried at some Safeway stores and Gelson’s. Anyway, I guess they thought I might like to try some of their products, providing I’d write up something about it on my blog. I said sure, as long as I really liked the product (which I did).

Finlandia shouldn’t be confused with Finlandia vodka or with the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ musical opus by the same name (it’s beautiful – if you’d like to hear it, check out this YouTube 9-minute segment of it. Or with the annual ski marathon called Finlandia. I think if you live in Finland, the word is used in lots of ways!

They were kind enough to send me 2 packages of salted butter (7-ounces each), 1 of unsalted butter (also 7-ounces) and a package of deli-sliced Swiss cheese. They asked me to bake something with the butter, but I decided that before I did that I should have my visiting family sample the butter and we’d do a taste test.

butter_taste_test

So this was the first step – a taste test of both Finlandia types and my regular go-to unsalted butter from Trader Joe’s. I think this may not have been a very fair test because TJ’s doesn’t profess to be a premium butter. It’s good enough for my regular use, but it’s not anything extraordinary. Finlandia butter IS a premium butter for sure. I had a lovely loaf of crunchy baguette which was a kind of neutral slate on which to taste the butter. I probably shouldn’t have labeled them so they could see what they were eating. My visiting family hands-down liked the Finlandia salted type. They liked it so much the entire 7 ounces was gone in about 20 minutes. I often prefer unsalted butter and I always use it for baking (except the day I made this cake when all I had left was the Finlandia salted type).

The next morning we did another taste test, though. My S-I-L Todd frequents Starbucks, and he said they have some premium butter, called Gold, he thought. He brought home a few little Kerry Gold foil-wrapped squares and we taste-tested the Finlandia salted butter with the Kerry Gold salted. It was a mixed result – about half of us liked the Finlandia; the other half preferred the Kerry Gold. In past years I bought only Plugra, another premium butter made here in the U.S., but all of them are expensive.

My visiting family made sandwiches and used some of the Swiss cheese – they liked it just fine, they said. I’m not a fan, particularly of Swiss cheese (unless it’s Gruyere from Switzerland), so I haven’t had but a tiny bite of it. I’d guess if you’re a Swiss cheese fan you’d like it a lot.

With the remaining block of Finlandia salted butter I made this absolutely fabulous blueberry buckle. Oh my gosh it is so good. You simply have to make this!!! What I cannot tell you is if this blueberry buckle would be equally good with any old butter – it was off the charts, though, so I’m happy to say that the Finlandia butter might have had something to do with it. The recipe came from that same book I’ve been touting in recent months, Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More, by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. If you don’t have this book, and you’re any fan of cobblers and crisps, etc. you really need to buy it! I’ve made about 4-5 of the fruit desserts from the book so far and have been astounded with the results each and every time.

What makes a dessert a buckle, you ask? Here – Buckle or Crumble Is a type of cake made in a single layer with berries added to the batter. It is usually made with blueberries. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance. This info came from What’s Cooking America.

First I buttered my unusual Kaiser square springform pan (you can use any old 9×9 square pan) but I have blueberry_buckle_batterthis neat pan and thought it might look pretty if I could remove it from the pan to serve it. The batter is not all that different than many – it does contain buttermilk (makes it very tender) and cinnamon and at the last minute you very carefully stir in the fresh blueberries. You don’t want to overdo the stirring or you’ll get a purple cake with oozing juice. The recipe says you can use frozen berries, but leave them frozen when you stir them in or you’ll have the same problem with oozing blueberries and purple cake. Frozen, defrosted blueberries are very liquidy!  My advice? Use fresh blueberries.

Then you sprinkle on the brown sugar – butter – flour – cinnamon mixture all over the top and into blueberry_buckle_bakedthe oven it goes for nearly an hour. I left it in the pan for awhile to cool – then I actually transported in the pan when I stayed with family at a beautiful home in Big Bear (near the lake by the same name) and we enjoyed it after dinner one night, and again for breakfast the next morning. It worked equally well for both meals.

I had planned to make the lemon syrup (even though David Lebovitz who made this too, suggested that the lemon syrup took away from the fruit flavor, but as it turned out I answered the doorbell when I was making it, and the syrup burned up, burned my pan (and it may not recover – down the drain with a good Caphalon pan!), and smoked up my house! I wasn’t about to attempt it again. I loved it just the way it was.

I ended up not moving it off the springform pan as it was really moist, and tender, and I was afraid it would fall apart in the process. So I just left it on the springform base and cut squares to serve it with some cream.

blueberry_buckle_sideview

What’s GOOD: every single thing about this was delicious. The tender crumb (from the buttermilk), hopefully the nice high-end Finlandia butter, the fresh blueberries, the balance of fruit and sugar was perfect. The topping isn’t too sweet, either. Altogether a class act dessert! I’ll be making it again and again. It’s going onto my Favorites list, it’s that good. I think I’d make this without the lemon syrup again – it was just great the way it was.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. It’s easy to make and I just know you’ll hear purrs from everyone. And just as an aside, my only “beef” with Finlandia is that they package their butter in 7-ounce packages. Most U.S. recipe increments relatr to half pound or quarter pound, or call for cubes, half cubes, quarter cubes, from a 4-ounce cube, which makes measuring Finlandia a bit difficult at a 7-ounce cube. I wouldn’t want to have to cut the 7-ounce cube into 7 slices. You’d have to cut and weigh the Finlandia. Not ideal in my kitchen anyway. Using a scale would be best.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Blueberry Buckle (with optional Lemon Syrup)

Recipe By: Rustic Fruit Desserts (cookbook)
Serving Size: 12

STREUSEL TOPPING:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cubed and chilled
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
BATTER:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
1 cup sugar zest of 2 lemons (use the same lemons for juice in the syrup below)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — PLUS 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon baking powder — preferably aluminum-free
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon — or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs — at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk — at room temperature
3 cups blueberries —
FRESH LEMON SYRUP: (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons lemon juice

NOTES (from David Lebovitz’ blog about this recipe): Adding the lemon syrup is tangy but does take some of the spotlight off the berries. If you omit it, you might want to increase the amount of cinnamon or nutmeg slightly in the batter to give it a little more pizzazz. Other fruits can be used, such as sliced or diced plums, nectarines or apricots. Avoid fruits that are extra-juicy – it messes up the batter consistency. Raspberries can be used in place of the blueberries, or mixed with them. If you want to swap out other fruits, use the same amount by weight or volume as the blueberries listed in the ingredients. You can use frozen berries if you’d like, but do NOT defrost – too juicy. Add them frozen, right to the batter. If you don’t have buttermilk handy, you can put 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar in a measuring cup and add enough whole or lowfat milk to equal 1/2 cup (125ml). Stir gently, then let sit for ten minutes until it curdles slightly, and use that.
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.
2. TOPPING: crumble together the butter, sugar, flour and cinnamon with your hands or a pastry blender until the pieces of butter are broken up and are about the size of small peas. Set aside.
3. BUCKLE BATTER: In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a bowl using a spatula or wooden spoon, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer a few moments after you add each egg to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon or nutmeg into a medium-sized bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add half the flour mixture, then stir in the buttermilk.
5. Add the remaining flour mixture, mixing just enough so it’s barely incorporated (there will still be dry bits of unincorporated flour), then remove the mixer bowl from the machine and using a flexible spatula to gently fold in the blueberries in, just until they are incorporated. Do not overmix – you don’t want to smash the blueberries and stain the batter.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Strew the topping over the blueberry batter and bake until the buckle is lightly browned on top and feels just set in the center; it’ll spring back lightly when you touch the center. It’ll take about 55 minutes.
7. SYRUP (optional): When the buckle is almost finished baking, make the syrup by heating the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, cooking it until it thickens. It’s done when the bubbles get larger, and when removed from the heat (check a couple of times while it’s cooking), the consistency will be like warm maple syrup. It’ll take about 5 minutes.
8. Remove the buckle from the oven and pour the warm lemon syrup over it, letting it soak in. Serve the buckle when it’s cool enough to slice. It’s good warm or at room temperature. Whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or just a drizzle of heavy cream make a nice garnish, but it can be eaten just as-is.
Per Serving: 312 Calories; 11g Fat (30.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 182mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 15th, 2016.

moms_apricot_cobbler

Simple, but just plain delicious. Old-fashioned apricot cobbler.

I’ve been on a nostalgia kick lately. To make the pear pie the other day I had to go into my old-old recipe notebook to find it, and while there I saw mom’s recipe for apricot cobbler. Since I’d bought a small box of apricots the other day it seemed a done deal I’d be making this.

Without a doubt, this recipe was born of the depression era. And it’s a very simple concoction, much like the pear pie, except this one is a cobbler. It’s so simple it hardly needs a recipe, but yet it does, because you do have to make the batter with exact measurements. It’s merely a layer of apricots (I made a slightly smaller batch than shown below because I had a pound of apricots – plenty for me) and then a liquidy cake batter is poured over the top. I’m sure my mom made it in an 8×8 or a 9×9 Pyrex dish – I used one slightly smaller.

apricots_slicedThe apricots were perfectly ripe – they’d been sitting out on my kitchen island for about 3 days. One had spoiled, but the rest were still firm enough to slice without going to mush. No need to peel them, thank goodness. Apricot season is so short lived, which is sad.

I know my mother used to make this with canned apricots; so on a hunch, I went online to look up Betty Crocker recipes, and with only a couple of little changes, this recipe is very similar to a very old-time recipe. My mother’s family were from the Midwest. They didn’t use much seasoning on things and even desserts were simple affairs. I am certain my grandparents had an apricot tree in the farmhouse front yard. My grandma used to do a lot of canning and am sure also that I had this dessert many times over the years. Itapricot_cobbler_ready2bake says the recipe came from Aunt Nora, who was my grandpa’s sister-in-law, widowed early in life and spent 30-40 years as a widow. She was a very sweet lady and I can picture her in her house in Turlock, wearing a frumpy thin, cotton plaid housedress, almost always with an apron on. She was a very good cook, as I recall. At right, the dish with the batter poured into it, ready to go in the oven.

Betty Crocker’s recipe calls for canned apricots, and it also calls for butter. Since my grandparents suffered a lot during the depression years, I suspect the butter got substituted with vegetable oil, which is what was in my mother’s recipe. My mom wrote (her handwriting) underneath my hand-written recipe for this – “May add a little nutmeg or cinnamon, or both . . . Mom.” Gosh I miss my mom. It’s been nearly 19 years since she died. She’d lived a long life (she was 89) but I sure wasn’t ready for her to go.

The only bit of advice I have about this recipe is to use a dish that’s wider than you might think you need – the batter oozes down into the apricots some, and they do soften, but you don’t want too much thickness – of the topping on top – so it’s good to spread the apricots out a bit. apricot_cobbler_recipeThe dough is a tender cake mixture and you don’t want it to be too thick. Betty Crocker’s recipe adds sliced almonds on the top (which would have been nice if I’d noticed that before I slipped the dish into the oven – oh well) and uses almond extract in the batter. The batter completely covers the apricots – you can’t see any visible apricots at all – so you need to trust that the cake part is done. If you want to make sure, take the internal temp of it in the center of your baking dish – it should be about 190-200°F. At left, my hand-written recipe from the 1960’s with my mom’s added note below. Back in those days I used to do most of my writing as printing. There’s probably some psychology about that – I certainly don’t do that now and haven’t for decades. When I started college I started taking lecture notes by writing in caps. Who knows why.

What’s GOOD: if you like plain and simple, then this is right up your alley. I used almond extract, not lemon (I don’t have lemon extract – guess I could have used some lemon juice in lieu of some of the milk) and I liked the almond flavoring a lot. The cake is lovely – soft and tender. It was great with a little bit of vanilla ice cream on top. I think over the years I’ve had it with just a little half and half, or whipped cream too. The cobbler was super-easy to make. Satisfying too.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. This isn’t fancy, or different, or anything like that. Just plain, simple apricot cobbler.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apricot Cobbler

Recipe By: My mother’s recipe, but she got it from her Aunt Nora, in the 1930s.
Serving Size: 6

1 1/2 pounds apricots — fresh
BATTER:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon extract — or almond, or vanilla
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Cut and slice the apricots and place in an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish. Use a flatter dish rather than one that is smaller, but with taller sides. You want the ratio of apricots to topping to be about the same.
3. In a bowl combine the batter ingredients and mix just until combined. Pour over the apricots.
4. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.
Per Serving: 315 Calories; 5g Fat (13.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 213mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts, Veggies/sides, on June 29th, 2016.

moms_pear_pie

It’s been decades since I made this pie. And it’s SO easy to prepare (well, IF you have frozen pie crusts standing by). You can buy Bosc pears year ‘round now, so anytime could be pear pie season.

A few weeks ago I made an astounding pear cobbler I wrote up about just a few days ago. I don’t exactly post my recipes in order as I make them, but that pear cobbler made me think about a recipe I hadn’t made for decades, my Mom’s pear pie. I had to go hunting for the recipe – it was in my little orange binder that I used when I first began to have enough recipes to save. Some of the recipes in there are in my mother’s handwriting, though this one was not – my mom must have kind of dictated it to me. It’s hardly a recipe, so I had to write it a bit better for posting here.

The pear cobbler is long gone – I served it to a group and it all disappeared except for one serving that’s in my freezer. But it certainly did resonate in my palate, telling me to eat more pears. Then, in the interim I either read or heard from somewhere that when you’re baking pears, the best ones to use are Bosc. Well, it was too late; I’d already bought 4 Bartlett pears with the thought that I’d make this pear pie. I also bought a package of 2 Marie Callender’s pie crust shells (frozen). I know they’re good; good enough for this pie, for sure. I don’t bake pies very often – always because making the crust is just such a nuisance. That will forever be changed now that Marie’s pie shells are available. Whoopee! I have a number of pies I’d like to make, some that date back to the 60s that I’ve never bothered to include here on my blog. I’d also like to update two pies that are old favorites.

crust_with_raw_pearsSo, this pie. I don’t know the history of it, other than I know it was my mother’s mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s name was Isis, and she was a very good baker. She and my grandfather lived all their lives on a farm in the central valley here in California – in Stanislaus (pronounced STAN-is-law) County, near Modesto. My grandmother cooked 3 meals a day for the entirety of their marriage, I imagine. There were years when there was almost no money (my mother went to junior college, then worked and HAD to send money home to her parents because they might have lost the farm altogether). She had 2 older brothers and 2 sisters, and I expect they may have sent money home too if they had extra during those skim depression years. I have a number of recipes from my grandmother Isis. I recently bought some apricots, thinking I’d make an old time recipe for an apricot cobbler. That recipe might have belonged to my great aunt. Not sure.

Anyway, this pear pie is just so easy to make. I had 4 Bartlett pears (use Bosc if you have them) and after peeling them I just sliced them directly into the frozen pie crust. See photo above. They were quite juicy – maybe too juicy. Then I mixed up the “filling,” which was merely sugar, a little bit of flour, an egg and a jot of vanilla. That was stirred up and topping_pear_piedrizzled all over the top of the pears. See photo at right. I used a spatula to kind of help the topping/filling to cover most of the pears. Then I dotted the top with butter and into a hot oven it went for about 10 minutes. Then the temp was turned down to 325° and baked for another 35-45 minutes, until the filling was golden brown and set.

Letting it cool was essential, and it held onto the heat for quite a while. My mother almost always served this with whipped cream, but you could also use vanilla ice cream. I intended to sprinkle the top of the pears with cardamom, but forgot in my rush to get the topping on the pears. I did use almond flavoring rather than vanilla, however.

Photo here shows the pie with butter dotting the top, ready to go into the oven. pear_pie_ready2bakeI thought this might have been a Betty Crocker recipe, but no. I just searched for it and this is nothing like any of Betty’s pear pies. I’d guess it’s a depression-era recipe because it calls for no other ingredients like sour cream or even any spices. The sugar mixes with the egg and the presumption is that any of the juices from the pears will firm up with the flour added into the filling/topping. The eggy mixture does slip down between the layers of pears and surrounds the pears.

I enjoyed 2 slices, then gave the rest of it to my neighbors, who have 2 little girls with hungry appetites. Both girls do swimming and water polo – the mom is a full time “bus” driver for the girls.

What’s GOOD: if you’re looking for straight-forward pear taste, this is it. Nothing else, really, to distract your taste buds – pears, sugar, a little flour, an egg, flavoring and butter dotting the top. That’s all there is to it. It’s very juicy – if you use Bosc they may not be quite so much so. I actually liked it plain with no topping at all.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it’s easy to make if you have already made pie  shells, or will buy frozen ones. It took about 10-15 minutes to put it all together and stick it in the oven.

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Mom’s Pear Pie

Recipe By: My Mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother.
Serving Size: 8

1 pie crust (9 inch) — unbaked
4 whole pears — Bosc, preferably
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Peel the pears (if using Bartlett it’s not necessary to peel, but it will look nicer if you do), quarter, core and slice the pears into the pie shell. The pears should gently mound the pie shell (they shrink during baking).
3 In a small bowl combine the sugar and flour, mix well with a fork. Crack the egg into the middle, add the flavoring (almond or vanilla extract) and mix well. Using a spoon or fork, dab the mixture all over the top of the pears. There may be a couple of spots where pears aren’t covered, but do your best. Using a spatula, gently try to spread it over all the filling.
4 Cut tiny pieces of the butter and sprinkle over the filling.
5 Place the pie on a metal baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325° and continue to bake for another 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling looks set. Cool. Serve warm or at room temp with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If desired, add a tiny jot of almond extract to the whipped cream instead of vanilla. You can also sprinkle the top of the pears with about 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom (not in my mother’s recipe).
Per Serving: 266 Calories; 9g Fat (30.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on June 25th, 2016.

pear_cobbler_hazelnut_biscuits

Cobblers don’t always look sensational, but don’t let the appearance fool you. This is one fabulous, must-make-this kind of homey, comforting dessert. Get ye to the store for some pears and do it!

So, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t buy any more cookbooks, last year I succumbed to a fruit dessert one called Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schreiber. I think cobblers are just about my favorite dessert, so to have a cookbook that’s all about such desserts, well, I just couldn’t NOT buy it. I’ve posted two other recipes from this book already, a Peach, Blackberry & Almond Crisp, and a Stone Fruit Tea Cake made with peaches. The crisp was my favorite of the two, but now with this one, I’m not so sure.

My mother used to make a pear pie, a creamy filling (sour cream, I think) with fresh pears. I loved that pie. I should make it – I just don’t make many pies. Any day I’d prefer a cobbler or a crisp. I’m a sucker for ordering one at restaurants if they have it on a menu. But to tell you the truth, I think I’ve been disappointed with every one I’ve ever ordered out. They never use enough fruit. And, without fail, they make them too sweet for me. Anybody else noticed that? Some had good-enough toppings, but restaurants are in the business of making money, so they may cut corners (using a pre-made streusel, for instance, or just plopping a piece of flaky dough on top). But when you make it yourself, you know what goes into it and it’s made with love! Of course.

pears_sugaredI’d purchased a bag of 12 pears at Costco. What was I thinking? Oh my goodness. And yet, I needed to make a dessert for a gathering at my house, and it called for 10 large pears. Bingo! They’d ripened on my kitchen counter for a few days (and I lost one that had gotten bruised, I think). The day I needed this dessert the pears were to perfect ripeness. Yippee. That’s one of the problems with cooking/baking with pears – you can’t predict when they’ll be at their peak, because they’re almost never ripe in the bins at the grocery store. I used 11 pears – but I don’t think you’d want to use any less than 10 – pears wilt/sink/flatten when baked since they’re filled with some water/juice.

So, first you cut up the pears and combine them quickly in a bowl with brown sugar, cornstarch and spices. Don’t go off to talk on the phone – you don’t want the pears to turn brown . . . then they were turned into a large greased baking dish (9×13). Do use ceramic or glass, not metal. Then you mix up the biscuits.

What can I tell you – oh gosh, these biscuits are divine. First you whiz up some toasted and skinned hazelnuts (along with sugar, flour, baking powder and salt) in the food processor until it’s a fairly fine meal. I used the processor to add the butter (the recipe says to use your fingertips or a pastry blender) but I took the lazy way out. Just don’t over-process it once you add the butter. The dough was crumbly and even though the recipe indicates such, I added another tablespoon of cream so it would barely come together. It’s really a very dry looking biscuit. Then you roll it out to a rectangle, cut it into 10 square shapes. Those are slightly overlapped (that’s what the “shingled” means in the recipe title) in the baking dish. The biscuits do completely fill the baking dish with only a tiny bit of fruit peeking out around the edges. See photo. pear_cobbler_biscuits_unbaked

So there, at left is the photo of the cobbler before it was baked. The biscuits are brushed on the tops with a tablespoon of heavy cream. You could add a sprinkling of crystallized sugar on top if you’d like that look. It’s baked (partly with foil on top) and is done in about 55 minutes at which time the biscuits are gloriously golden brown and the filling is bubbling around all the edges. You remove the baking dish to cool, but serving this warm is just about heaven-sent.

pear_cobber_bakedThe book’s author says this is best eaten the day it’s made – but if you absolutely must have some left overs, have it for breakfast, she says. Okay, I did that. It’s not overly sweet, so with a bit of half and half poured over it, oh gosh, it was delicious for my breakfast. If you do have any of it left over, leave it out at room temp (in other words, do NOT refrigerate it) and just cover it with a tea towel. You can also bake this some hours ahead, reheat it in a 300°F oven for about 15-20 minutes. There at right is a photo of the baked cobbler, all golden brown. My mouth is watering since I made this a couple of weeks ago and it was completely gone the next day – I gave some to friends and kept ONE serving which is now in my freezer. Although you have biscuits for 10, when I put it out for people to serve themselves, nobody took a whole biscuit – so you could make the biscuits smaller, or just know that it will likely serve more than 10 people.

What’s GOOD: everything about this cobbler is good. Absolutely everything – the pears, the bubbling sauce, the hazelnuts in the biscuits, the texture of the biscuits. Oh my. It’s a keeper. Do save this recipe, my friends, and make it soon. If you use Bartlett pears, you don’t have to peel them, by the way.

What’s NOT: only that she says it’s not good to keep it past the day it’s made. I thought it was pretty darned good the next day, but that’s what’s in the recipe. Just so you know. Make a half a recipe in an 8×8 pan if you don’t want enough to serve 10-12.

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Pear Cobbler with Shingled Hazelnut Biscuits

Recipe By: Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson
Serving Size: 10-12

1 tablespoon unsalted butter — to grease the baking dish
PEAR FILLING:
2/3 cup light brown sugar — packed
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
10 large pears — ripe, but firm (see notes)
HAZELNUT BISCUITS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup hazelnuts — toasted and skinned
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 ounces unsalted butter — cold, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon heavy cream — to glaze the top of the biscuits

NOTES: All pears require peeling, unless they’re Barlett. If your pears are small, use more. The pears reduce at least a third during baking.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Grease a 9×13 baking dish (not metal pan) with the butter and set aside.
2. FILLING: Rub brown sugar, cornstarch, salt and cardamom together in a large bowl (pressing any lumps).
3. Peel, core and slice the pears (or you may cut the pears into small chunks) into the sugar bowl and add the lemon juice. Stir periodically as you prepare the pears so the flesh doesn’t turn brown. Pour the fruit into the prepared baking dish, scraping out all the juices.
4. BISCUITS: Combine flour, hazelnuts, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Then add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas, then transfer to a bowl. (Alternately, you can chop the hazelnuts by hand and combine with the dry ingredients, then use your fingertips or a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the size of peas.) Pour in the cream and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. (I had to add another tablespoon of cream to the dry mixture in order to get it to come together.) The dough may be crumbly and appear very dry, but it will come together.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently press the dough together to form a rectangle, then roll out in a rectangle measuring 8 x 15″, adding more flour to the board as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, each measuring 4″ x 15″, then cut each long piece into 5 rectangles (to equal 10 altogether). Just slightly overlap the biscuits on top of the pear mixture in a shingled pattern. The biscuits should completely fill the 9×13 pan. Brush the tops with the 1 T. of heavy cream.
6. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 35 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbling all around the edges. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or just unadorned.
7. STORAGE: This cobbler is best eaten the day it’s made, but leftovers can be covered with a tea towel to be eaten the next day. Reheat in a 300°F oven until warmed through.
Per Serving: 430 Calories; 25g Fat (49.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 49mg Cholesterol; 306mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 28th, 2016.

marie_helenes_apple_cake

Oh goodness, this is so good. So comfort food, and really quite easy.

My last post I shared with you a delicious Salade Nicoise my friend Joanne had made for me when I was invited to her house a few weeks ago. This post is about the dessert – this lusciously moist apple cake. The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan, from her cookbook Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Marie-Helene is a good Parisian friend of Dorie’s, and she’s an editor of a French guide book (and restaurant critic too). But Dorie explains in the copious head notes to this recipe, her friend doesn’t cook from a recipe – everything is in her head and she makes lots of adjustments, so Dorie found it larry_himpossible to write down an actual recipe. So, she went home to her own Paris kitchen and tried. And tried. And finally succeeded in making a cake that is as nearly identical to her friend Marie-Helene’s as she could devise. And what a great recipe it is.

One of the lovely things about this cake is that it will keep, out on your kitchen counter, for a few days. Dorie’s husband claims that the cake is even better on day two or three. I can’t imagine it lasting that long. The cake is not overly sweet, and one of the imperatives Dorie explains is that you must use different kinds of apples, so you’ll have some pieces of fruit that are sweet and tart, firm and soft, all mixed up together.

Joanne’s husband Larry served up the dessert for us so I snapped a photo.

The cake can be served plain, adorned only with some powdered sugar. Or with a little bit of heavy cream to pour on it. Or, a tiny scoop of ice cream, or crème fraiche. Dorie explained that her friend Marie-Helene serves it with cinnamon ice cream, which she thinks is a magical combination. I might have to try it that way. If you don’t want to make cinnamon ice cream, use vanilla, allow it to soften just a bit and mix in a bit of cinnamon. Mix thoroughly then refreeze it to allow the flavors to meld a little bit. Ideally, making it from scratch, I would think you would infuse the cream and milk with the cinnamon so it would permeate everything. Optionally, sprinkle the top of the cake with cinnamon. That might work too.

In any case, this recipe is a keeper. Thanks, Joanne!

What’s GOOD: the chunks of apple shine through, which is exactly what you want in this cake. Joanne used Fuji apples, I think she said, and they hold their shape well as you can see the chunks peeking through the top of the cake. There are lots of apples in it and just enough cake to hold it all together. A divine combination. If possible, try it with the a diverse mix of apples. The cake keeps for several days with no adverse effect – just press some plastic wrap against the cut cake sides. A keeper.

What’s NOT: nary a single thing. It’s a great recipe.

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Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake

Recipe By: From Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large apples — peeled, cored and cut into 1-2 inch cubes; it’s best to use various types of apples
A pinch of salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter — melted and cooled slightly
Whipped cream, heavy cream or creme fraiche for garnish

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F and generously butter an 8″ springform pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the pan on it.
2. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and pinch of salt. Put aside.
3. In a medium bowl, add the 2 large eggs and whisk until foamy. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended about one minute.
4. Whisk in the vanilla and the rum.
5. Add half the flour mixture to the bowl. Whisk until blended. Add half the melted butter, and whisk until smooth. Repeat again, finishing the flour and butter.
6. Using a spatula, fold in the apples chunks.
7. Place in the oven for 70-80 minutes or until slightly golden on the top or a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Place on a cooling rack.
8. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then run a knife around the edges of the springform pan and then remove it, allowing the cake to further cool. Be gentle with it, as it’s a very tender cake. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired – but only just before serving as it would melt into the cake in a matter of minutes. It’s a very moist cake.
9. After serving, it’s best not to cover it – leave it out at room temp for no more than 2-3 days. You can use plastic wrap or waxed paper to cover cut sides.
10. Originally the cake was served with cinnamon ice cream; lacking that, serve with some whipped cream, pouring heavy cream or a dollop of creme fraiche.
Per Serving: 289 Calories; 13g Fat (41.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 20th, 2016.

choc_dried_cranberry_cake

If you’re a chocoholic, well, this cake is right up your alley. Light sponge cake with only 2 T. of flour in the whole thing. A little bit of pecans ground up to give it some substance (but not much – the cake is as light as a feather), folded with whipped egg whites and loaded with good chocolate and dried cranberries soaked in bourbon.

When I write up these posts, usually I have some reason I’m baking a dessert. Someone’s coming to dinner; or I’m making something to take to a friend; or most often, I’m serving dessert to my bible study group. This time, there was no reason whatsoever. Do I need a chocolate cake to serve 10? Absolutely not! Did I need chocolate cake at all? Nope. But for whatever reason, my head said I should bake something. My bible study group is coming here in a few days, so maybe tomorrow I’ll freeze it and defrost it then. There’s plenty!

The recipe came from Tarla Fallgatter, a caterer and cooking instructor here in the county where I live in California. My friend Cherrie and I have taken innumerable classes from her, but she’s only teaching private group classes these days. Maybe we’ll wangle an invitation to one of them. Occasionally, Tarla posts a recipe on her website and that’s where I got this one.

choc_dried_cranb_cake_sliceThe cake was really easy to make, although you do have to grease and parchment-line a 10-inch springform pan (or a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom). Eggs must be separated and yolks added to brown sugar. Chocolate and butter must be melted and cooled slightly, then mixed in with the eggs. The whites are beaten to firm, with sugar, and gently folded into the chocolate batter, along with the flour/ground pecan mixture. And the dried cranberries. It bakes for 25 minutes, rests briefly, then is removed from the pan and cooled a bit more on a serving platter. I ate a slice warm with sweetened whipped cream on top (see photo). Oh gosh – did it ever satisfy my chocolate cravings. I will tell you, however, it dirties up a whole lot of bowls, pans, measuring cups and spoons. I’ve set them to soak in my sink and will wash them tomorrow . . .

What’s GOOD: the ultimate in chocolate (use good chocolate) and the sponge-factor. I prefer light, spongy cakes anyway (lighter) so this certainly satisfied my cravings. And I almost never turn down chocolate. If you’re going to serve 10, you’ll be serving fairly small servings – just so you know. Loved the texture and the flavor. Altogether delicious. It is a fairly thin cake – just enough, really, as you can see from the photo.

What’s NOT: the only thing I can say is that it uses a lot of dishes, bowls and pans. Maybe I’ll pile them into the dishwasher and be done with it! But, there’s nothing to dislike about the taste of this cake. A keeper.

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Bittersweet Chocolate Dried Cranberry Sponge Cake

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, 2015
Serving Size: 8-10

1 stick unsalted butter
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate — chopped
1 cup dried cranberries — or dried cherries
1/4 cup bourbon — or water or brandy
1/4 cup pecans — toasted
2 tablespoons flour
3 large eggs — separated
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar — (for the egg yolks)
2 tablespoons sugar — (for the egg whites)
sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with a little sugar and vanilla

1. Place oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350F. Line a 10-inch round pan with a removable bottom with parchment and butter the parchment. Pulse pecans and flour together in a food processor until finely ground. Set aside.
2. Simmer cranberries in the bourbon in a small pan over low heat until cranberries are tender and bourbon is absorbed – about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl set over simmering water until completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
3. Beat yolks and brown sugar until thick. Add the chocolate mixture and fold in. Beat whites until soft peaks, add sugar and beat until fairly stiff. Fold one third of whites into chocolate mixture along with the dried cranberries and pecan mixture just to lighten; fold in remainder gently. Turn batter into prepared pan and bake about 25 minutes or until firm. Let cool slightly. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Remove the ring and transfer cake (off the parchment paper) to a platter. Dust with sifted powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream.
Per Serving: 337 Calories; 28g Fat (70.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 12th, 2016.

ricotta_souffle_pudding

Lovely little cups of pudding made with ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar and cream. Then garnished with a strawberry sauce (fresh strawberries, please) that has some strained sauce and some strawberry pieces.

A dear friend is just recovering from dreadful surgery, chemo and radiation of a tumor on his tongue, but deep down in the throat. He’s only just begun to be able to swallow again. For weeks he couldn’t even do normal swallowing at all, and when I made this a couple of weeks ago he was just beginning to be able to eat puddings and soft, loose things like oatmeal and smooth soup. So I promised him, and his wife, that I’d bring them a pudding of some sort. I kept out two little cups (the above photo) so I could taste it myself. Since he’s lost a lot of weight through this, I thought it would be good to give some kind of protein substance to the pudding I’d make, so I found this old recipe for a ricotta pudding, but lightened up with a soufflé-like preparation.

This definitely is not a custard – you know what I mean – the kind that is almost silky in the mouth – this pudding has much more mouth-feel than that, but it’s not chewy. It’s light (because of the egg whites mixed to a peak, then folded into the pudding) yet the pudding does have substance to it. Hard to explain.

The strawberry part can be made really easily if you bought frozen berries, defrosted them, then just pushed them through a sieve (or whizzed them up in the blender, then drained them through a sieve). My friend has difficulty with acidic things (they still sting his healing, but tender throat tissues) so I made the sauce two ways – part of it whizzed up completely with pulp and all (the liquid part you see in the photos) and then some added small pieces of berries added in. I cautioned them to add some more sugar to the sauce as I thought it was way too tart – and especially for him with his tender throat. I suppose the sauce depends on how sweet the berries are. We should be mid-season with strawberries now, but in this case, the ones I had, although sweet enough for me, didn’t taste so sweet in the sauce. So you can use your own judgment with the addition of more sugar.

pudding_in_waterbathThe pudding itself was simple enough to make – I used full-fat ricotta which has quite a bit more flavor. As an aside here, I just watched a program on TV today, as I’m writing this, about diets and “low fat” or “lower fat” and the nutritionist on the program said don’t bother buying low fat milk, or low fat ice cream, or low fat cottage cheese, because the amount removed is so minor and it drastically changes (lowers) the flavor. I’ve been buying full fat for quite awhile because I’d read this a year or so ago. Anyway, so you mix up egg yolks, ricotta, sugar (only 1/4 cup for the entire batch), heavy cream, salt and vanilla. How easy is that? Then you fold in beaten egg whites and pour the mixture into ramekins or a baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes in a water bath. Do fill up the dish or ramekins all the way to the top – it doesn’t expand; in fact, once removed from the oven, the pudding deflates a bit – it was quite noticeable in the ramekins – so much so that I only had one worthy of photographing. You can see the 2 ramekins in my photo – and one of those deflated so much it only had about 2 bites of pudding in it. Perhaps it was mostly egg white.

The sauce is comprised of fresh strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Be cautious about using too much lemon juice – that will also make the berries too tart. That may have been my problem too, since I didn’t measure – I just guessed as I squeezed. If your eggs are large – like really large – the resulting pudding could be pretty sturdy – in which case you might want to have a little pitcher of pouring cream (half and half) at the table.

What’s GOOD: this is a bit of a different pudding – it has a different texture for sure with the ricotta cheese in it – and it’s very mild in flavor. Makes a pretty presentation. It’s comfort food, for sure, and the nicer the strawberries, the better the overall pudding will taste.

What’s NOT: nothing really – it’s pretty easy to make and tastes quite nice. No negatives.

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Ricotta Soufflé Pudding with Strawberry Sauce

Recipe By: Adapted just slightly from a little cookbook, Puddings A-Z by Marie Simmons
Serving Size: 6

PUDDING:
3 large eggs — separated
15 ounces ricotta cheese — full fat, at room temp
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt — added to the egg whites
STRAWBERRY SAUCE:
1 pint strawberries — rinsed, drained
2 tablespoons sugar — or more if needed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice — or lime juice

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the lowest position. Heat a kettle of water to boiling. Lightly butter a 1 1/2-2 quart souffle dish or other round casserole dish. Set the dish in a larger baking pan and set aside.
2. Beat the egg yolks, ricotta, cream, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl with a whisk or electric mixer until well blended.
3. Beat the egg whites and salt in a clean bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add a spoonful of the whites to the ricotta mixture and fold to lighten. Add remaining whites, gently folding until incorporated and no streaks remain.
4. Transfer mixture to the souffle dish. If using ramekins, fill almost to the top as the pudding doesn’t expand. Place the baking pan in the oven. Carefully add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the souffle dish.
5. Bake until the pudding is puffed and golden and a knife inserted just off center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the water bath. Serve warm or chilled, with berry sauce.
6. SAUCE: Slice enough berries to equal 1 cup. If berries are large, halve them first and then slice; set aside. Quarter the remaining berries and place in a food processor with the sugar and lemon or lime juice; puree. Transfer the puree to a sieve set over a bowl and, using a rubber spatula, press the solids through the sieve. Scrape the juices from the underside of the sieve into the bowl. Add the sliced berries to the strained juice, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. If the sauce gets too thick, thin with cold water, adding about a tablespoon at a time. Taste the sauce to make sure it’s sweet enough – the pudding has very little sugar in it, so you may want more sugar in the sauce, depending on how naturally sweet the berries are. Makes about 1 3/4 cups. Alternately, you can just whiz up the quartered berries, sugar and lemon juice in a blender until the mixture is pureed, and serve as is (with the seeds and pulp, obviously). If you want an easy alternative, defrost frozen unsweetened berries and whiz in the blender, then strain to get a clear juice. In all methods, just add the sliced berries for serving.
Per Serving: 295 Calories; 19g Fat (58.1% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 169mg Cholesterol; 125mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on April 18th, 2016.

lemon_pudding_cake_ATK

This kind of baked dessert isn’t new to me, and hopefully not to you, either. A batter is poured into ramekins, it’s baked in a water bath and when you dip your spoon into it there’s a nice pudding layer on the bottom and a sponge cake layer on the top.

Sometimes the chemistry of baking baffles me – I should go into my food chemistry books to read exactly how or why a pudding cake actually does the separation during baking. Because when you pour it in, it’s all one batter. I’m just thankful that it DOES work. I served this a few weeks ago, on Easter Sunday and I sent my family home with the leftovers. I’d watched a recent episode of America’s Test Kitchen, and they’d made this recipe. What’s different about their preparation is the effort to bring out, bring in more lemon flavor. How that’s done is by warming the milk and cream with lemon zest, allowing it to steep a little bit, then the zest is strained out. Otherwise, the recipe is nearly identical to any other pudding cakes I’ve ever made. I usually make it in a baking dish (and this one can also) but I decided to do the ramekins this time.

The baking process is also slightly different here – usually when using a water bath, you pour hot-hot water into the pan. With this, you pour COLD water into the pan around the ramekins. I think they said it provided a more gentle baking process.

With plenty of lemons in my yard, I’m always looking for new ways to use lemons. Do use an instant read thermometer when you make this, as you don’t want to over bake it – then it gets dry and too brown on top (mine was slightly over done). The recipe said to not let it bake higher than 172-175°F.  I “fixed” that by serving it with a sauce of melted vanilla ice cream. If you’ve never done that before, gosh, it’s SO easy – just scoop out some into a bowl and allow it to melt and pour it into a nice pitcher. No one will be the wiser and they’ll think you slaved over making a vanilla sauce. It’s a lovely, thick creamy vanilla sauce. Very pourable and was a perfect accompaniment to the pudding cakes.

What’s DIFFERENT: soaking the lemon zest in warm milk, and then using cold water in the water bath.

What’s GOOD: the lovely lemony flavor. I’m a sucker for lemon anything, so I loved it. Was it better than any I’ve ever made before? Not really sure – I guess I’d have to taste them side by side. I have another lemon pudding cake (lemon sponge pudding) here on my blog and my recollection is that it was marvelous. It’s very similar, but also contains butter, which gives that one a bit more richness and it’s got plenty of pucker power. But this one was really good too. Try them both and see what you think?

What’s NOT: really nothing other than the more elaborate preparation with whipping up the egg whites. Not a difficult dessert at all, though.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lemon Pudding Cakes with Vanilla Sauce

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from America’s Test Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 6

1 cup whole milk — (must use whole milk)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs — separated
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar — for the egg white portion
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
VANILLA SAUCE:
2/3 cup ice cream — melted completely

NOTES: To take the temperature of the pudding layer, touch the instant read thermometer tip to the bottom of the ramekin and pull it up 1/4 inch. The batter can also be baked in an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Serve at room temperature, but it can also be served chilled (the texture will be firmer).
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325°F. Bring milk and cream to simmer in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove pan from heat, whisk in lemon zest, cover pan, and let stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, fold dish towel in half and place in bottom of large roasting pan. Place six 6-ounce ramekins on top of towel and set aside pan. (When I made this, it made 8 ramekins – they sink once they cool.)
2. Strain milk mixture through fine-mesh strainer into bowl, pressing on lemon zest to extract liquid; discard lemon zest. Whisk in the larger amount of sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt in second bowl until combined. Add egg yolks, vanilla, lemon juice, and milk mixture and whisk until combined. (Batter will have consistency of milk.)
3. Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip whites to soft, billowy mounds, about 1 minute. Gradually add remaining sugar and whip until glossy, soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Whisk one-quarter of whites into batter to lighten. With rubber spatula, gently fold in remaining whites until no clumps or streaks remain. Ladle batter into ramekins (ramekins should be heaping-full). Pour enough cold water into pan to come one-third of way up sides of ramekins. Bake until cake is set and pale golden brown and pudding layer registers 172-175°F at center, 45 to 55 minutes. Do use an INSTANT READ THERMOMETER.
5. Remove pan from oven and let ramekins stand in water bath for 10 minutes. Transfer ramekins to wire rack and let cool completely.
6. SAUCE: Meanwhile, allow ice cream to melt at room temp (about 20-30 minutes), pour into a pitcher and serve with the pudding cakes.
Per Serving: 310 Calories; 12g Fat (34.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 110mg Cholesterol; 168mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on April 10th, 2016.

chocolate_guinness_cake

Guinness – a beer from Ireland –  is a stout with a wheaty kind of flavor and is notorious for providing a big head of foam. Hence the frosting is supposed to look like the foamy head. I don’t drink beer – I don’t like beer, though I’ve tasted it numerous times over the years . Maybe not to my taste for drinking, but it makes a mean addition to a cake.

One of the perks of having a bible study group that meets at my house with some regularity, is that I have the opportunity, and a reason – to bake something. I do love to bake, though cookies and cakes are probably my favorites. This time I was baking for a potluck luncheon and I chose dessert since nearly everything else was taken by the time the list got to me. I needed about 12 servings of something, so it meant choosing something that made a pretty big cake. The funny thing is – I had purchased the can of Guinness just a few days before my DH had his stroke in 2014, as I was going to make it that week. The can has been sitting on my pantry shelf ever since, and I wasn’t even sure it would still be any good. When I opened the can, it spouted some foam and plenty of whiiisssh, so I knew it was okay. Good enough for baking a cake, anyway.

The recipe has been languishing in my to-try file for a long time – it’s a Nigella Lawson recipe, and if you google the title, you’ll find ample other bloggers who have shared this or a variation of it. Nigella’s original recipe was made, as I did it, in a 9-inch springform pan, but many others have prepared it as a double layer cake, or maybe a triple layer cake. One commenter on Nigella’s website said she’d made it for her wedding cake and was astounded there wasn’t a single crumb left. She made it multi-stories high, apparently.

The only unusual thing about making this is you melt the butter, Guinness and unsweetened chocolate together, and it’s then added to the other wet mixture of sour cream and eggs, then you add dry ingredients. All done by hand – no mixer required. It was simple enough to mix up and into a buttered springform pan it went and baked for about 45 minutes, until it reached 200°F in the center. It cooled awhile, then I took it off the springform base and it went onto a pedestal cake stand. guinness_cake_top_sliced_off

One of the blogs I read about this cake mentioned that the cake sinks a bit in the middle, and she recommended taking a slice off the top. And yes, I was at first dismayed when I saw this happen as the cake cooled. But once you slice off the top, it was fine. The cake is firm enough for you to do that. I nibbled on the lopped-off top and gave the rest of it to a friend whose daughter loves any of my left over baking stuff.

I recommend that you not frost the cake until you’re within an hour or so of serving it – keep it covered in plastic wrap until then. You generally don’t refrigerate cakes (they stale very rapidly when refrigerated), but with dairy in the frosting (cream cheese and heavy cream) you can’t leave it out at room temp indefinitely, either. So, just plan ahead, that’s all.

The cake was a big hit. It served many more than 12, since I cut quite small slices – it’s rich, especially with the cream cheese frosting – and I still have some left over – unfortunately I had to keep it in the refrigerator, though. If you end up having to refrigerate yours, just bring it out for an hour before serving the leftovers, so the cake is more to room temp.

What’s GOOD: wonderful chocolaty flavor. I used Trader Joe’s (new) box of unsweetened chocolate and it’s very dark-chocolaty, for sure. You know there is something different in this cake (the Guinness) but you won’t know what it is. It’s a somewhat dense cake, but yet it has a light texture too. A contradiction, I know, but it’s true. The frosting is perfect on this cake – it definitely needs something, and the thick frosting does give the appearance of the foamy head from the Guinness. Would be wonderful for St. Patrick’s Day – alas, I didn’t make this until about then – should have written it up and posted it immediately! Sorry.

What’s NOT: just make sure you buy the Guinness – that’s not on anyone’s every day shopping list unless you regularly drink the stuff. Everything else was very straightforward. Not hard to make. Nothing at all bad about it! As I said, it was a big hit at the luncheon, and several asked me for the recipe.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Recipe By: Nigella Lawson’s Feast: Food to Celebrate Life
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
butter for greasing the cake pan
1 cup Guinness (stout beer)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocalate — 4 squares
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
FROSTING:
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
8 ounces cream cheese — at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
2. CAKE: In a large saucepan over medium-low, combine Guinness, butter, and chocolate. Stir and cook very gently until butter and chocolate melt and the mixture is fairly smooth; remove from heat. Whisk in the sugar. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk this mixture into the Guinness mixture. Add the flour and baking soda and mix again until smooth. Pour the batter into buttered pan and bake 45 minutes to an hour, until risen and firm (and has reached 200°F using an instant read thermometer poked into the middle of the cake). Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.
3. FROSTING: (Remove cream cheese from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you want to mix the frosting.) Mix the powdered sugar in a bowl to break up lumps. Add the cream cheese and mix until fairly smooth. Mix in the cream until it is loose enough to spread easily (but not so it’s a liquid). You can unmold the cake and frost it on the springform base, or transfer to a cake platter. If the middle has sunk a little, slice off a thin layer of the top to make it smooth. Frost only the top of the cake (not the sides), to resemble the frothy head on a pint of Guinness. Preferably frost the cake within an hour or so of serving (so you don’t have to refrigerate it). Leftovers should be refrigerated since the frosting contains dairy.
Per Serving: 506 Calories; 25g Fat (43.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 67g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 345mg Sodium.

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