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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2022, I’m still doing 99% of the blogging and holding out hope that these two lovely and excellent cooks will participate. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

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BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

Have only begun Geraldine Brooks’ brand new book, Horse. Oh my, is it a page turner. Loving it so far. It’s a fictional creation but based on a real racehorse owned by a black man, back in the 1850s. Technically, the story is about a painting of the horse but there are many twists and turns. If you’ve ever enjoyed Brooks’ books in the past, this one won’t disappoint.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel (no, not Hannah). Certainly a little-known chunk of history about a woman who becomes a master forger during WWII to help get Jewish children out of France. Not easy to read, meaning the difficulty of anyone finding the means and place to DO the forgery and right under the noses of the Nazis. Really good read.

Liane Moriarty’s first novel, Three Wishes, follows the travails of adult triplets, so different, yet similar in many ways. Two are identical, the third is not. So alike, and so not. It takes you through a series of heart-wrenching events, seemingly unrelated, but ones that could bring a family to its breaking point and test the bonds of love and strength.

Recently I’ve read both of Erin French’s books, her cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, and since then her memoir, Finding Freedom. About her life growing up (difficult) about her coming of age mostly working in the family diner, flipper burgers and fries (and learning how much she liked to cook). Now she’s a very successful restaurant entrepreneur (The Lost Kitchen is also the name of her restaurant) in the miniscule town of Freedom, Maine. She’s not a classically trained chef, but she’s terrifically creative. See her TV series on Discover+ if you subscribe.

Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy. To say that this book stretched my comfort zone is the least of it . . .think about a time in the not very distant future, when global warming has done it’s worst and nearly all animals are extinct. No bird song in the air or fish in the sea. There’s this woman, Franny, who is on a quest to follow the very small, but last migration of arctic terns, who fly from pole to pole each year. She somehow sees this migration as a paean to her own life (of many travails). Is this book a foretelling of what our world will be like?  There’s a lot of angst going on here in this book, with her marriage, with her career, with her perpetual need for travel . . . always needing to go somewhere else other than staying at home and finding peace and happiness there. Then this final, gritty, illegal at-sea voyage trying to find the terns. Very much worth reading if you can stomach the sadness in it. Soul-searching is a common denominator here, but then aren’t a lot of books?

Jo Jo Moyes has a bunch of books to her credit. And she writes well, with riveting stories. Everything I’ve read of hers has been good. This book, The Girl You Left Behind, is so different, so intriguing, so controversial and a fascinating historical story. There are two timelines here, one during WWI, in France, when a relatively unknown painter (in the style of Matisse) paints a picture of his wife. The war intervenes for both the husband and the wife. A German Kommandant enters the picture in this tiny berg in France. Knowing her husband is in a camp, most likely a death camp, she compromises her morals to save the picture and possibly save her husband’s life. Jump to somewhat current day and the painting, which has survived all these years, and is in the hands of a young widow who has an extraordinary connection with the painting. A lawsuit ensues having to do with art stolen by the Nazis and a convoluted trail of how the painting traveled in the intervening years. Even though this was WWI, not WWII, but the law encompasses the past. It’s a heart-wrenching story. There’s a love interest too. Well worth reading. Would make a good book club read.

Memoirs are such fun, especially if you really enjoy/love the author. This was the case as I read Rachael Ray 50, an ode to  her age. So I read online, Rachael discloses more about her personal life in this book than she has done in her many other cookbooks. I really enjoyed reading the book, as she told stories about her growing up, including some of her mother’s recipes and from other family members. She and her family eat tons of pasta, so lots of the recipes I probably won’t prepare, but okay, I still enjoyed reading all the stories.

Eli Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees. This book was just a page turner. If you’ve never read anything about the conflict in Cyprus (the island) between the Turks and the Greeks, you’re in for a big history lesson here. But, the entire story centers around a fig tree. You get into the head/brain/feelings of this big fig tree which plays a very central part of the story. You’ll learn a lot about animals, insects (ants, mosquitos, butterflies) and other flora and fauna of Cyprus. I’m not a gardener at all, but I found the story just fascinating. It chronicles the love story between a young couple, human ones, not trees, one a Greek, one a Turk and their relationship (verboten back in the 70s). It goes back and forth between the 70s (when the real conflict was going on) and current day (2010ish). Loved this book from page one to the last.

If you’re a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, you’ll find his newest book a league apart. Klara and the Sun. It takes place in the near future when we humans can go to a store and buy an AF (artificial friend). These robotic humanoid “things” have knowledge and personalities. The book follows along as a family buys Klara, an AF with perhaps a better personality than some. She has feelings, but not very many needs. The reader never really “sees” Klara except for a few descriptions of her human-type shape. You get into Klara’s brain (her PC chip) and know how she feels about her family. Her main job is to be a friend to the daughter, Josie, who has some kind of unnamed illness. The AF must spend a part of every day in the sunshine (some kind of hidden solar unit must be within Klara). There are any number of other characters in the story (mostly human, not AFs) which add dimension. I was quite mesmerized by the story and am in awe at the creativity of this author. Loved the book. May not be for everyone. I’m not a science fiction fan at all, but this was believable. And you’ll fall in love with Klara who wants so much to be wanted and loved.

Also read Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. Ohhh my, such a good book. I couldn’t put it down. Whatever you do, do not read the ending before you start the book. I’ve never understood people who do this. The book chronicles the day a mom just ups and disappears. The grown children come back home, in panic. The dad isn’t much help, and he becomes the prime suspect of foul play. There is no body, however. The husband and wife own a tennis school (this takes place in Australia) and the children grow up surrounded by tennis everything. The children don’t necessarily get along. The parents haven’t always gotten along, either, although through many years the parents were quite besotted with each other, to the detriment of the parenting. Much travail from all the family members. But oh what a story. It had me riveted and wondering, until the last 5 pages of so when the resolution occurs. Big surprise.

Amor Towles’ new book, The Lincoln Highway: A Novel. Literally it’s a page turner. I think it’s still on the best seller list. A young man, Emmett, is released from a youth work camp (back in the day) and is returned home (by the camp warden) following the death of his father, to find that the home they’d lived in was in foreclosure. His mother abandoned them years before. His intent is to pick up his 8-year old brother and they will head off for Texas, but then he discovers two of his work-camp-mates had hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Oh my goodness, such a tangled web. Fascinating, and Amor Towles has such a way with words. His sentences are like blooming flower vines, with metaphors in nearly every sentence. Such a gifted writer.

If you’d like a mystery read, try Dete Meserve’s The Space Between. It’s just the kind of page-turner I enjoy – a wife returns to her home after being away on business for a few days, to find her husband missing and what he’s left for her is an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean. Oh there are plenty of twists and turns. Couldn’t put it down.

Read Alyson Richman’s historical novel called The Velvet Hours. Most of the book takes place in Paris, with a young woman and her grandmother, a very wealthy (but aging) woman who led a life of a semi-courtesan. Or at least a kept woman. But this grandmother was very astute and found ways to invest her money, to grow her money, and to buy very expensive goods. Then WWII intervenes, and the granddaughter has to close up her grandmother’s apartment, leaving it much the way it had been throughout her grandmother’s life, to escape the Nazis. Years go by, and finally answers are sought and found. An intriguing book, based on the author’s experience with an apartment that had been locked up similarly for decades, also in Paris.

Susan Meissner is one of my favorite authors. This book, The Nature of Fragile Things tells a very unusual story. About a young Irish immigrant, desperate to find a way out of poverty, answers an ad for a mail order bride. She moves to San Francisco and becomes the bride, and mother to the man’s young child. But all is not right with the world. Sophie senses an undercurrent about her husband’s life. He’s elusive, leaves her alone for days on end, doesn’t share her bed, and she begins to feel the only reason he wanted a wife was to care for the child. Then the world turns upside down with the 1906 earthquake. And then there’s more. . . and more. . . very gripping read.

Also read Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk. You could call this a romance. A young professional, a writer of one successful book, has writer’s block. Then she’s asked to go to Florida to help her mother (from whom she’s mostly estranged) through chemo. She goes, hoping she can find new inspiration. Oh the various twists this book can give you. There’s a guy she meets, but she’s keeping her boyfriend at home on the string, sort of. Then there’s the desk itself, that has history. Oh my, does it have history. Really interesting story, light reading.

One of my book clubs has us reading Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library: A Novel. What a premise for a book. About a library you can whiz to in the middle of the night and discover other lives you could have lived. And experience them. To find out the answers to those questions we ask ourselves sometimes, “I wonder what would have happened if I’d . . . .” taken that other job, gone out with that guy, taken that trip. That kind of thing. You’ll find out what happened to one particular woman who thought she had nothing left to live for. Good read. Very different. A bit space-agey. Sort of time travel, but not really. But yes, maybe.

James Shipman has written an intriguing book, It Is Well: A Novel, about a man who has lost his wife. And about a woman who has lost her husband. But their relationship stalls, big time, because the guy made a promise to his wife, and he feels duty-bound to honor it. There is much angst about it all. Much wringing of hands, some tears on her part. Nice book; good read.

I wrote up a post about this book: Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World: The Twin Towers, Windows on the World, and the Rebirth of New York by Tom Roston. Go read the full write-up if you’re interested. The book is a complete history of the famous restaurant on the 107th floor of one of the Twin Towers.

Also recently finished The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. The book goes backwards and forwards in time, from the 1600s in London with the day-to-day lives of a group of Jews (who had to be very careful about how they worshiped) to current day as an old house is discovered to hold a treasure-trove of historical papers. The story is mostly about a young woman, educated, a Jew, who is the scribe (in secret) to an aging religious leader (in a time when women would have been verboten to hold such a position). And about her own curiosity about her religion and how she eventually begins writing letters (using a male pseudonym) to various Jewish leaders abroad, questioning their religious beliefs. The book is extraordinarily long – not that that kept me from turning a single page! – and complex with the cast of characters from the 1600s and the cast in today’s world of highly competitive experts analyzing the ancient papers. Altogether riveting book. Loved it from beginning to end.

I’m forever reading historical novels. The Lost Jewels: A Novel by Kirsty Manning is a mystery of sorts, going back in time in London in the time of aristocrats and their jewels (pearls, diamonds, gems of all kinds) sometimes made it into the hands of the digger or a maid. Then to current time as a young woman tries to ferret her family history and particularly about some old-old jewelry that they can’t quite figure out – how the grandmother came to have them. Fascinating tale.

Not for the faint of heart, Boat of Stone: A Novel by Maureen Earl tells the true tale of some misplaced Jews at the tale-end of WWII who ended up on Mauritius.

Colleen Hoover has written quite a book, It Ends with Us: A Novel, with a love story being the central theme, but again, this book is not for everyone – it can be an awakening for any reader not acquainted with domestic violence and how such injury can emerge as innocent (sort of) but then becomes something else. There is graphic detail here.

Erin Bartels wrote quite a complex story in The Words between Us: A Novel. We go alongside a young girl as she goes to high school, trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to be anonymous (because her mother and father are both in prison), taking on a fake name. She meets a guy and they share a bond of reading and some romance. Years go by and she’s now owner of a failing independent bookstore (and married, or separated) and suddenly begins receiving a used book (that she recognizes) every day from a different place in the country. A message for sure, but where will it lead? Yes, it’s a romance. Lots of introspection going on. Enjoyed it.

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. Very poignant story.

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. They escape, and they are “on the run.”

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young black woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress.  Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, and the second in current day as a group of friends purchase a crumbling chateau. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. It’s about her journey and escape to America.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice joins the Horseback Librarians in the rural south.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, who becomes a shepherd. Not just any-old shepherd – actually a well educated one. He knows how to weave a story.

 

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.

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Posted in Breads, Brunch, Desserts, on June 28th, 2022.

So easy to make with puff pastry dough, fresh fruit and some frangipane.

A post from Carolyn. I’ve been on a tear lately with frangipane. I made some recently for a rhubarb galette (don’t think I’ve posted that recipe yet), then decided to make it again using a different recipe for my book review group meeting at my home. I was expecting about 12-13 people, but at the last minute only 6 of us showed up (not sure if was the book, or just other circumstances). I sent everyone home with one of these plus some of the lemon almond tea cake (haven’t posted that one yet, either).

It was years ago when I was attending a cooking class near me and the hostesses served something similar to these as we all arrived for the class. They were quite easy to make, so I input the recipe in my files, but never had gotten around to making them. With fresh summer fruit in season, I decided to try these. But I decided to use some apricot halves (canned) and some fresh blackberries instead. And in lieu of the cream cheese filling (from the original recipe) that was going to be underneath the fruit, I made the frangipane.

If you’re not familiar with frangipane, it’s pronounced fran-jeh-payn.  Wikipedia says frangipane:

. . .is a sweet almond-flavored custard used in a variety of ways including cakes and such pastries as the Bakewell tart, conversation tart, Jésuite and pithivier. A French spelling from a 1674 cookbook is franchipane with the earliest modern spelling coming from a 1732 confectioners’ dictionary. Originally designated as a custard tart flavored by almonds or pistachios it came later to designate a filling that could be used in a variety of confections and baked goods.

You might know it from the center filling of a bear claw. Certainly that was my earliest knowledge of an almond filling. I remember stopping at a bakery in Europe (France, I think) one morning and we bought a little slice of a tart – sure enough, frangipane. Yummy is all I can say.

So these little numbers require puff pastry. Pepperidge Farms brand is probably the most widely available. My grocery carries a store-label also, but I opted for the Pepperidge Farms. There’s also one called Dufour, I think it is. Also very good, probably better than the Pepperidge. The unopened packages defrosted in the refrigerator for more than a day. If you decide to try these, be sure to look at the expiration date on the puff pastry box. Do not used any that are “old.” And be sure to give them the full 24+ hours to defrost fully.

The pastry sheets are lightly floured, but you need a bit more flour on your work surface to keep them from sticking as  you roll it out further, to about a 11″ or 12″ square. Then cut that square into quarters, so about 5 1/2″ squares. One box will make eight pastries.

Meanwhile you’ll have made the frangipane – some butter and sugar, some almond meal (flour), an egg and a little bit of regular flour, PLUS a jot of almond extract. Perhaps if you used freshly ground almonds the frangipane would have a significant almond flavor, but I wanted it stronger, so I used almond extract instead of vanilla.

Then you scoop a bit of the frangipane pastry cream in the center, position the fruit on top (they kind of look like sunny-side up eggs, huh?), then roll in the pastry edges and crimp them (similar to the edge of a pie crust). Onto a baking sheet they go. They got a brush of an egg wash and some sprinkled Turbinado sugar on top. They take about 30 minutes to bake, to get that lovely golden brown.

What’s GOOD: everything about these was good. Delicious. Loved the frangipane filling, loved the flaky pastry, ate one. Gave the rest away. Why did I give them away, you ask? Because I’d eat them all! And I had about 10 of them left.

What’s NOT: only that you’ve got to buy the puff pastry a couple of days ahead so it has time to completely defrost in the refrigerator. There are instructions for defrosting in the microwave, but I wouldn’t do it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apricot Frangipane Croissant Pastries

Recipe By: Adapted from a long-ago recipe from a cooking class
Servings: 8

1 pound Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets — defrosted in refrigerator at least 24 hours ahead
8 canned apricot halves — drained, or fresh apricot halves, and/or fresh blackberries
1 large egg — mixed with a teaspoon of water, for glazing pastries
1 1/2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar — for sprinkling on top
FRANGIPANE FILLING:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup almond meal
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

NOTE: Defrost pastry sheets for a minimum of 24 hours in the refrigerator.
1. Roll out puff pastry onto floured board. Use a floured rolling pin to flatten slightly and cut into squares approximately 5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ inches. You may want to cut off the corners so the pastries roll inward more easily.
2. FRANGIPANE: Using a hand mixer, combine butter and sugar until thoroughly mixed and crumbly. Add almond meal, egg, almond extract, adding flour last. Mix until there are no streaks in the batter.
3. Spread about 2 tablespoons of frangipane in the middle of the puff pastry square. Top with a drained apricot half, cut side down (or with about 7 blackberries in one layer). Roll the pastry edges toward the middle, leaving some space between the filling and the edges. Press the edges gently (crimping like a little pie crust) so they will hold in place.
4. Add about a teaspoon of water to the beaten egg and whisk. Brush the croissant with the egg wash. Top with turbinado sugar.
4. Preheat oven to 375°. Place the pastries on a Silpat lined baking sheet and bake approximately 30 minutes.
Per Serving: 143 Calories; 9g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 20mg Sodium; 11g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 28mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 135mg Potassium; 61mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on June 9th, 2022.

Have you learned to trust Ina Garten’s recipes?

A post from Carolyn. If you haven’t, you should trust Ina’s recipes. I’ve not ever thought of making a grand statement about Ina’s recipes, but here goes: I’ve never made an Ina Garten recipe that hasn’t been spot-on. She’s a genius in the kitchen. And almost never are her recipes difficult or laborious. Some are expensive since she uses nothing but the best ingredients like pounds of fresh crab right off the boat, or beef tenderloin, or imported cheeses. But many of her recipes are simple. Easy. And many use ordinary ingredients.

So speaking of lemon bars here . . . have you ever eaten some that were not quite up to snuff? I sure have. And I’ve made them too, and not been happy with the results. I mean – they were okay, but not exceptional. These – this recipe – goes into the exceptional category. Just the right amount of sweet to tart, and just the right amount of lemon filling to the sugary topping. And the right amount of crust too.

One time, years ago, I was making a recipe for an appetizer. Don’t even remember what it was, but it was a loosey-goosey kind of recipe – a little this and a little of that. Oh, I remember, it’s on my blog already, they’re called Ginger Picks. It required a little square of ham, a fresh piece of pear and a little nub of crystallized ginger. In making them, I needed to taste it to see if the flavors worked. They did, but I figured out that you needed a piece of ham in a just-so size, a piece of pear in a just-so size, and a piece of crystallized ginger in a just-right size. In order to be perfect, each needed to be a very particular size, otherwise it didn’t work. Hence the same with these lemon bars. They need to have each part – crust – filling – topping be just right.

What’s GOOD: that they’re perfect. Just the right amount of tart to sweet, filling to crust, all in one bite. Make these.

What’s NOT: really, nothing at all. Ina Garten is a wizard.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lemon Bars

Recipe By: Ina Garten
Serving Size: 40

CRUST:
1/2 pound unsalted butter — at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
FILLING:
6 extra large eggs — at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest — grated, 4-6 lemons
1 cup lemon juice — freshly squeezed
1 cup flour Confectioners’ sugar — for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.
3. Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
4. For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature. Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Per Serving: 156 Calories; 6g Fat (31.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 20mg Sodium; 18g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 8mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 30mg Potassium; 29mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on May 27th, 2022.

A post from Sara: I’ve always been a huge fan of chocolate and peanut butter. And when you use chewy brownies and melted peanut butter? Well, simply fantastic. I made these little jewels to ship to my kids in school in the South. It packages and ships well enough. I do put each in its own cupcake paper so they don’t stick. Then I boxed them up in aluminum 8×8 throw away containers with lids before packaging in a shipping box.

I used my go-to recipe for chewy, dense brownies. They’ve been posted here on the blog before. After pouring the batter into 9×13 pan, melt 1/2 cup peanut butter. I use a glass measuring cup and heat it gently in the microwave so it’s easy to pour onto the brownie batter. Then use a knife and swirl peanut butter into brownie batter for a marble effect. (See photo at left)

Bake according to directions. Once cooled, frost with a basic peanut butter frosting recipe.

I use a Betty Crocker recipe, and once frosted you need to place the pan in the freezer for a few hours. Then I cut out the shape I wanted using a cookie cutter. Since it was Easter, I chose egg shapes. You freeze again for at least 30 mins. Then use a chocolate glaze made with dark chocolate chips and a smidge of margarine. Using your hands, each one is dipped into the chocolate and set on a rack to dry, then sprinkled with decoration before the chocolate sets.

What’s GOOD: I was really surprised at how easy and professional they looked. They were a huge hit as every bit of leftovers pieces (photo above right) were consumed at Easter. I guess everyone loves peanut butter and brownies as much as I do! The number of servings is based on cookie cutter size. In this case the batch made about 32. Would make a great gift in an Easter Basket.

What’s NOT: it takes a bit of time to make the various layers, but altogether they’re very easy to make. Allow for freezing time in between.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownie Eggs

Recipe By: A combination created by Sara
Serving Size: 32

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES:
1 cup butter — PLUS 2 tablespoons
2 1/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour — PLUS 1 tablespoon
3/4 cup cocoa powder — PLUS 1 tablespoon
1/4 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped nuts — (optional)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter — for swirling in batter
FROSTING:
1 cup butter — softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon margarine — yes, margarine, not butter
decorative sprinkles for the top

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Line 9×13 pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.
3. Melt butter and sugar in a heavy saucepan on very low heat. Let the mixture cool slightly and transfer to a large bowl. Add eggs gradually, mixing well. Add vanilla extract.
4. Sift dry ingredients together and add to egg mixture, stirring gently and minimally. Add chocolate chips and nuts (if using). Pour into prepared pan and spread to edges if needed.
5. Melt the 1/2 cup peanut butter in a glass measuring cup in microwave on low power (spout is important here) until pourable. Pour on top of the brownie batter in the pan. Using a knife, swirl the peanut butter throughout.
6. Bake approximately 35 minutes – do NOT overbake or you’ll lose the fudgy, gooey texture! Cool completely.
7. FROSTING: Beat butter in medium bowl on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in peanut butter, 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar, the milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in remaining 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, beating after each addition until smooth. Spread frosting all over the brownies, then place pan in freezer for 1-2 hours.
8. Using a cookie cutter (in this case an egg shape) cut brownies into preferred shape. Freeze again for about 30 minutes.
9. GLAZE: Melt chocolate chips and margarine in small saucepan over low heat until completely smooth. (Once cooled the margarine helps the chocolate to set up more firmly.)
10. Using your hands, dip each cookie/egg into chocolate to cover the top and sides. Set on a rack to cool, then sprinkle decorations on top before the chocolate cools and sets. Cool completely. To package for shipping, place each egg in a cupcake paper to keep them from sticking together. Pack in a disposable aluminum pan with a lid.
Per Serving: 378 Calories; 23g Fat (52.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 60mg Cholesterol; 207mg Sodium; 35g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 24mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 128mg Potassium; 50mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on May 13th, 2022.

Are you a fan of Tres Leches Cake? Oh my. This version will rock your boat. It sure rocked mine.

A post from Carolyn. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you already know I’m a fan of tres leches cake. A big fan. There’s something about the luscious almost drippy cake with the gobs of whipped cream on top that sends me into reverie. One might think that’s bacon adorning the cake – no, just overly-toasted coconut. Daughter Sara and I laughed  – we thought we were going to have to start over, but Sara tasted the mighty-toasted coconut and pronounced it delicious. So we went with it. Even the totally blackened coconut tasted just fine!

This cake was our finale for Easter dinner. Taylor and I drove to Sara’s house and 12 of us enjoyed a delicious Mexican feast (birria tacos, beans, rice, salad, fruit, appetizers too, some Champagne of various types) then this cake was brought out. I think I can safely say we got raves from the recipe. It’s the coconut and the rum that made it so good. Not only is there coconut extract in it (you might have to hunt for that), but also coconut cream, plus rum in the cake, the tres leches and a little jot in the whipped cream too.

The cake was baked the day before in a 9×13 pan, and the three milks mixture was poured over the top of the cake (that’s the tres leches part). The whipped cream topping was made at the last minute. Some of the well drained canned pineapple was added to the cream, but most of it was spread over the top of the wet cake itself. And the overly toasted coconut sprinkled all over at the end. This recipe is an absolute winner. I’d started off with a recipe from The Pioneer Woman (hers was called a Pina Colada tres leches cake), but I changed it quite a bit, so I’ll call it mine at this point. Whatever its provenance, do make this.

What’s GOOD: every single little morsel of this extravagant cake was fabulous. I’ll be making it again soon. As soon as I have a good reason for baking a cake for 12 people!

What’s NOT: only that you need to start the day before (to bake the cake). It’s not difficult to make unless you consider having to separate the eggs and whip the whites and yolks separately. Yes, it did make a few dirty dishes too.

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Pineapple Coconut Rum Tres Leches Cake

Recipe By: Adapted from Pioneer Woman
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
Nonstick cooking spray — for greasing the pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour — plus more for flouring the pan
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large eggs — separated
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
TRES LECHES MIXTURE:
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
12 ounces evaporated milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup cream of coconut — or Thai Kitchen coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
1/4 cup rum — optional
TOPPING:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rum
15 ounces crushed pineapple — chilled, drained well (divided use)
1/2 cup coconut flakes — toasted

1. CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease with cooking spray and flour a 9×13 pan. If using glass, reduce oven temp by 25°F.
2. Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
3. Beat the egg yolks with 3/4 cup of the sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high until the yolks are pale yellow. Stir in the milk and coconut extract. Pour the egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.
4. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl (make sure beaters are clean with no residual egg yolk) with the mixer on high until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. Fold the egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour batter into prepared cake pan and spread to even the top.
5. Bake the cake until risen and lightly golden, 23-28 minutes, or until you can see the cake begin to brown on the edges and pull away from the pan. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan.
6. TRES LECHES: Combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, heavy cream, cream of coconut (this may need some mixing to combine the coconut fat with the milk/cream – use a whisk), coconut extract and rum in a medium-sized pitcher. Gently use a whisk to make sure it’s evenly mixed. Poke holes (using a large fork or toothpick) all over the cake, pushing the implement all the way to the bottom. There should be holes at least every 1/2 inch throughout. Slowly pour the milk mixture over the cake. Cover and chill for 4-24 hours.
7. CREAM TOPPING: Whip the cream with the sugar and rum until soft peaks form. Add about 1/3 cup crushed pineapple to the whipped cream and mix in gently.
8. FINISH: Spread the remaining pineapple all over the top of the cake, then spread the whipped cream all over the top of that. Chill (covered) for several hours, or you can serve it immediately. Sprinkle on the toasted coconut. Cut into squares and serve.
Per Serving: 635 Calories; 34g Fat (47.8% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 175mg Cholesterol; 293mg Sodium; 52g Total Sugars; 2mcg Vitamin D; 291mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 427mg Potassium; 347mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on December 13th, 2021.

What I’ll say is that this dessert received many, many raves.

This post from Carolyn. Aren’t those glasses the cutest? I bought them about 20 years ago, tall shot glasses, and I’ve never used them for shots. But then, I don’t drink shots. Hence, they’ve been used for little servings of soup (usually cold, since holding the glass of hot soup might be difficult) and for little servings of dessert. This time for a mini-serving of chocolate. My cousin Gary, who was visiting over Thanksgiving, can’t eat wheat, so I always make a GF dessert for him to enjoy. I gave him a choice of a GF flourless chocolate cake or torte, or rich chocolate pudding. He enthusiastically said the pudding.

So, on Thanksgiving morning he and I made this pudding. I started with a recipe from Circle B Kitchen, but changed it a little bit because I wanted more chocolate-truffle-like pudding that was decadent. This certainly filled that bill! My cousin is an engineer (retired) and I assigned him the task of figuring out how we were going to get the pudding into the narrow little glasses without getting pudding all around the top edges. Finally, a traditional funnel was found to be the best resource, although once the pudding began to thicken (as it cooled) it became more and more difficult to do.

There are a few steps to making this: combining the dry ingredients, cooking the milk/half and half mixture, then tempering the egg yolks, then pouring it all over the other ingredients .  Then the pudding is cooked – watched very carefully so it doesn’t plop all over – just below a simmer for two minutes. Then the bar chocolate (I used semisweet) is added, and because the pudding is very hot, it melts quite easily.

Then you add the Kahlua. And stir it in well. Gary and I worked feverishly to get the pudding into the glasses immediately. Once cooled, they went into the refrigerator. I have a tall square refrigerator container, so they went into that with the lid on top, so I didn’t have to attach plastic wrap to each shot glass. You don’t want the pudding to develop a skin.

Using the whipped-cream-in-a-can was the best way to get whipped cream on top – though you can certainly do your own whipped cream for this – just be careful as you add the dollop on top (if you’re using a similar tall, thin glass).

What’s GOOD: very rich. Quite decadent. Strong Kahlua flavor. If you’re not a fan of Kahlua, of course, leave it out. Substitute vanilla, if needed. There is no question this is a chocolate Kahlua dessert.

What’s NOT: this isn’t a simple whip-it-up-quick kind of pudding. Several steps. Needs to chill a few hours as well.

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Rich Chocolate Pudding (GF)

Recipe By: Adapted from Circle B Kitchen
Serving Size: 8

6 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 tablespoons cocoa powder — (unsweetened)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1 cup half and half
1 1/2 cups milk — full fat
1/2 cup sugar — or less
1/3 cup Kahlua — or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly whisk in the cream, a little at a time, until you have a smooth mixture and then whisk in the egg yolks.
2. Pour the milk and half-and-half into a 3-quart saucepan. Add the sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Slowly pour the hot milk into the bowl of cream and egg yolks. whisking until well-combined, then pour everything back into the pan.
3. Bring the pudding mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Watch carefully, stirring continuously and once it begins to boil, reduce heat and cook for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
4. Remove the pudding from the heat and stir in the chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and blended and then stir in the vanilla or the Kahlua, if using.
5. Divide the pudding into small ramekins or dessert cups, cover each with plastic wrap (to avoid creating a skin on top) and chill for at least 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream if desired. This will serve more than 8 if you use very small bowls or tall shot glasses.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 24g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 118mg Cholesterol; 125mg Sodium; 33g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 121mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 248mg Potassium; 153mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on November 29th, 2021.

Pure bliss. Chocolate and nuts make my day. These are wonderful any time of year, but particularly so around the holidays.

This is a post from Carolyn, but actually Taylor made these. I merely helped a little and took photos. It’s such a joy to have this granddaughter of mine living with me. She wanted to make some cookies, asked me for some ideas and this one popped to the forefront. It’s a recipe from Food & Wine. Since she made them a month ago, I’ve made them as well and served them at a luncheon, topped with sweetened whipped cream. As I write this there are still 8-10 squares (I served larger squares as a dessert rather than a triangle or bar) in the frig. I wish they weren’t so darned delicious because I know that box beckons me nearly every day.

These aren’t hard to make at all, although they do have two steps – the shortbread crust, then the chocolate topping. You can combine the shortbread ingredients in a stand mixer or a food processor, which makes a dough. I’d separate the dough into about 6 pieces, then place them strategically on the sheet pan – which makes it easier to push the shortbread into the corners. There is just barely enough dough to fill a sheet pan.

You can see all the fingerprints in the dough (at left). It might have been nicer if we had used a flat glass to flatten it out, but it truly makes no difference in the finished product.

That gets baked (watch it so it doesn’t burn). Then you make the filling which is butter, dark brown sugar, a little bit of corn syrup, bittersweet chocolate, and cream. Once it cools slightly you add in the beaten eggs, and pour it out over the shortbread crust. That is baked awhile, then cooled slightly before you add the sea salt flakes on top. Cool completely, and they’re done. Oh so good.

At right you can see the baked bars, with all the pecans pebbling the surface. Once cooled you can cut them, or you can wait until they’re chilled. Be careful as you cut so the knife or sharp spatula doesn’t crack the shortbread. I cut them when they were room temp. After cutting, I put them into a refrigerator storage box with waxed paper separating the layers. Don’t put the cookies right on top of one another or it’ll ruin the chocolate top.

What’s GOOD: oh my goodness, so much chocolate and nut goodness. Loved these bars as a cookie or as a square piece as a dessert with the whipped cream on top. Altogether fabulous recipe. The chocolate part is a bit sticky, so when you handle them, do have them refrigerated first. And store them in the refrigerator. They make a bunch – they’re an easy dessert or cookie/bar to make. Great for the holidays.

What’s NOT: nothing really.

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Chocolate Pecan Shortbread Bars

Recipe By: Food & Wine magazine
Serving Size: 32

SHORTBREAD:
2 sticks unsalted butter — softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
CHOCOLATE TOPPING:
3 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate — finely chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 large eggs — beaten
3 cups pecan halves — chopped (10 ounces)
Flaky sea salt

1. SHORTBREAD: Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 12-by-17-inch baking pan with foil, allowing it to extend 1/2 inch over the edge on all sides. Spray the foil with vegetable oil spray.
2. In a standing mixer or food processor, beat the butter with the confectioners’ sugar, flour and salt until a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, breaking it up into about 6 chunks and evenly place them on the baking sheet. Then use a flat-bottomed glass, to press the dough into an even layer. If you have difficulty, use your hands to gently coax the dough into the corners. Freeze the dough for about 10 minutes, until firm.
3. Bake the shortbread in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, until lightly golden. Do not overbake.
4. TOPPING: In a saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, chocolate and cream and cook over low heat just until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. If you add the eggs too soon, the hot chocolate mixture will “cook” the eggs, rather than thicken the topping. Add in the eggs, then fold in the pecans.
5. Spread the topping over the shortbread crust. Bake the shortbread bars for about 25 minutes, until the topping is set. Allow it to cool a few minutes, sprinkle lightly with sea salt, then cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until firm. Using the foil, carefully lift the bars out of the pan; discard the foil. Cut the shortbread into 32 triangles and serve. If you cut them into squares (larger) you can serve these as a stand-alone dessert with a topping of sweetened whipped cream. Or cut into triangles or smaller bars to serve as cookies. Store bars in refrigerator. You may stack them with pieces of waxed paper in between.
Per Serving: 312 Calories; 26g Fat (72.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium; 9g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 21mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 67mg Potassium; 52mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, IP, on November 8th, 2021.

This post comes from Taylor, Carolyn’s granddaughter. 

This part from Taylor. This is such a special cheesecake recipe! One of my dear coworkers, Candy, was famous for bringing this to birthday celebrations at work. Our department went all out for birthdays and Candy was known for her baking! Everyone had requests for what their special birthday treat would be. This was always mine. After my sweet friend Candy retired, she passed the famous cheesecake recipe on to me to continue making it for celebrations. It was an honor to take this on and while it may not ever taste the same as hers did, it sure is a good cheesecake! There are some special additions I’ve included that make it that much more delicious.

This additional info from Carolyn.  At right is a photo of Taylor – at her nursing school’s “white coat ceremony” recently. I was privileged to be the family member who helped her put on her coat. Taylor is living with me while she attends nursing school through Concordia University near where I live. Taylor is my daughter Dana’s daughter. Home for her is near Placerville (east of Sacramento). A few years ago, after she graduated from Sacramento State (with a BS in Health Care Administration) she began applying to nursing schools, which took awhile. She worked in a clerical job in the ER at her local community hospital while she applied to nursing schools. That’s where she met Candy. Anyway, now Taylor is in Concordia’s accelerated nursing program (13 months long, rather than the more traditional 2 years) and when she graduates next August, she’ll have a 2nd bachelor’s degree (this one a BSN). After that she’ll probably go back home to Placerville, study for and take the nursing exam, then try to find a job in the Sacramento area.

Taylor isn’t a cook – she’d be the first one to tell you that – but she does like to bake. As I write this, Taylor made some wonderful cookie bars recently that will be posted eventually. I’m just loving having this granddaughter of mine living with me. She’s a great companion, helps me out when I need things done around home, and we have a lot of fun together. Although she doesn’t have a whole lot of extra time – she’s in classes, working a day a week at a local hospital (part of her nursing program) or studying like crazy on her days off.

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Instant Pot Cheesecake with Cherry Topping

Recipe By: adapted from Pressure Cook Recipes
Serving Size: 8

CRUST:
10 whole graham crackers — finely ground, 120 grams
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — (42g – 56g) melted (3 to 4)
1 pinch sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar — or less if you prefer it less sweet – start with 2 tsp
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
BATTER:
16 ounces cream cheese — (454g) room temperature
2 large eggs — room temperature
2/3 cup sugar — (133g)
1/2 cup sour cream — (120g) room temperature
2 tablespoons cornstarch — (16g)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract — (10ml)
2 pinches sea salt
TOPPING:
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
CHERRY TOPPING:
15 ounces cherry pie filling

NOTES: Use a hand mixer, not a stand mixer, as it overmixes the batter.
1. Place cream cheese, eggs, sour cream on counter-top to reach room temperature. Then, melt the 3 – 4 tablespoons unsalted butter. This step is critical to the success of the batter.
2. Crust: Finely grind in a food processor. Or place the graham crackers in a Ziploc bag and roll them with a rolling pin. Then, in a small mixing bowl, mix finely ground graham crackers, a pinch of sea salt, brown sugar together with a fork. Mix in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Mix in roughly 3 – 4 tbsp unsalted butter until the mixture sticks together.
3. Line the side and bottom of cheesecake pan with parchment paper. Do not butter parchment paper. Pour in the graham cracker crumbs mixture. Gently press down the crumbs with a ramekin or Mason jar to form an even layer. You can also use a spoon for the edges. Blind bake crust in a 325°F oven for 15 minutes. Cool completely before continuing.
4. Mix cornstarch, 2 pinches of sea salt, and white sugar together in a small mixing bowl.
5. In a medium mixing bowl, briefly break up cream cheese by beating it for 10 seconds with a hand mixer using low speed. Add in HALF the sugar mixture and beat until just incorporated using low speed (roughly 20 – 30 seconds). Scrape down the sides and hand mixer blades with a silicone spatula every time a new ingredient is added. Add remaining sugar mixture and beat until just incorporated using low speed (roughly 20 – 30 seconds).
6. Add sour cream and vanilla extract to the cream cheese mixture. Beat until just incorporated using low speed (20 – 30 seconds).
7. Blend in the two eggs using low speed, one at a time. Mix until just incorporated (about 15 – 20 seconds with a hand mixer and less time if you are using a powerful stand mixer). Try not to overmix on this step.
8. Scrape down the sides and any batter on the hand mixer blades with a silicone spatula and fold a few times to make sure everything is fully incorporated. Pour batter in cheesecake pan. Tap cheesecake pan against the counter to let air bubbles rise to the surface. Burst the air bubbles with a toothpick or fork. Tap until you are satisfied. Ensure the surface is clear of air bubbles or fork marks.
9. Place a steamer rack and pour 1 cup water in pressure cooker. Bring water to a boil (Instant Pot users: Press manual/Pressure Cook and set the time to 28 minutes). When the water begins to boil, place cheesecake pan on the steamer rack with a foil sling right away. *Caution: Don’t wait too long to place the cheesecake in pressure cooker, as it’ll affect the cooking time. Place it immediately once the water begins to boil. This prevents too much water from evaporating. Immediately close the lid with venting knob at venting position. Turn venting knob to sealing position and let it pressure cook at high pressure for 28 minutes and full natural release. It should go up to pressure in roughly 1 minute. Natural release will take roughly 7 – 9 minutes. Open the lid gradually. Absorb any condensation on the surface by lightly tapping it with a soft paper towel.
10. Allow cheesecake to cool to room temperature with the lid open in the pressure cooker. Or place it on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
11. After cooling for 10 – 15 minutes, carefully run a thin paring knife between the sidewall and parchment paper to release the cheesecake from the pan. Pull the slightly wrinkled parchment paper lightly to straighten it out for a smooth side.
12. Once the cheesecake has completely cooled, place it in the refrigerator for at least 4 – 8 hours (preferably overnight).
13. Before serving, add sour cream mixture and spread it out fully to edges. Pour cherry topping over the top and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, to get the topping cold.
14. Serving: Remove cheesecake from the refrigerator and cut into wedges to serve.
Per Serving: 551 Calories; 32g Fat (51.3% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 60g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 129mg Cholesterol; 365mg Sodium; 29g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 110mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 220mg Potassium; 152mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on September 27th, 2021.

Such heavenly flavor from the almond paste in the cake. Beautiful to look at, too.

A post from Carolyn.  I’ve been a long-time follower of Luisa Weiss, from The Wednesday Chef blog. Some years ago she moved to Germany (Berlin, I think) and now has a venerable cookbook to her name, Classic German Baking. She’s a baker of the first order – my opinion from having made a few of her things over the years. Although I don’t own her cookbook. But occasionally one of her cookbook recipes pops up, this one on David Lebovitz‘s blog. I quick-like made sure to save it. So glad I did.

First off, though, you need to know that I’m a big fan of almond paste. It’s an intense almond flavor, and since it’s finely ground almonds and sugar, you can’t just add it to another recipe unless it’s called for. And as many of you have discovered, almond paste doesn’t keep on your kitchen pantry shelf for all that long. A few months at the most. After that it gets dried up and turns into the texture of a rock! I’ve learned that from experience. As I type this I have a 2nd tube of it on my shelf that needs to be used sometime soon before it’s over the hill.

When the 1st of September rolls around, my cooking brain begins to think about apples. I begin to long for cooler nights (hasn’t happened yet, as I write this), and cooler days as well (that won’t happen until mid-October here in SoCal). One year – decades ago – my DH and I took a driving trip in the New England states during September, and I was awed by the side-of-the-road fruit stands with baskets and barrels, displayed within inches of the paved road, just overflowing with apples I’d rarely heard of before, like Northern Spy, Empire, Macoun. Well, perhaps I’d read about them, but never tasted any. Is it because they don’t ship well? Probably they don’t do well with long-term storage? I’d never seen any of them in California. We ate some in the car, we bought some apple juice, and also used some of the apples in baking when we returned to Philadelphia to stay on with our friends Judy and Jerry. I have no recollection what I baked, but something. We all bought apples, and when we left to fly home, THEY still had apples overflowing in their 2nd refrigerator. I probably could have put a few in my suitcase that wouldn’t have been discovered (you aren’t supposed to bring raw fruit into California). What I did do, after I got home, was go online to one of the farms we’d stopped at, and ordered a 25-pound box of mixed apples to be shipped. What a treasure those were. Haven’t done that since, but it was fun.

So, back to this cake. This cake is a real winner . . . I’m just sayin’. Lovely moist cake (with some cubed-up apples in the batter) baked in a springform, with sliced apples angle-shingled on top, then baked to perfect tenderness, and then some apricot jam is brushed on top to let it glisten. This cake lasted for several days. I served it at that lunch I mentioned before, with some of my old employees from 25+ years ago. I sent slices home with several of them, and Taylor and I ate the rest.

There, at right, is an image of the about-to-be-baked cake. You nestle the apple slices into the batter – pressing in just a little. I used Granny Smith apples, and they held their shape well. In fact, some of those slices on the top were still bite-able. Not crisp, but certainly plenty of apple texture.

Thanks to Monica from Playing with Flour, for the photo

One of the interesting techniques mentioned in this recipe (one you need to remember) is to GRATE the almond paste using a box grater. Even the freshest of almond paste can sometimes be a bit firm, and I’ve always wondered how to best disperse it in a cake batter. A-ha moment with the grater.

Forgetting to take a photo of this genius technique, I found an image on the web, from PlayingwithFlour. Monica used a fine-grind. My tube of almond paste was perhaps a month old, and I couldn’t grate it finely, but did it using slightly larger holes on another side of my box grater. And it seemed to disperse easily in the cake batter. Hooray!

Luisa didn’t say to serve the cake with anything, but I had a tub of crème fraiche, so each piece got a dollop of that when I plated it.

What’s GOOD: everything about this cake was marvelous. Can’t say enough good things about it. Love-loved the intense almond flavor (from the almond paste) and the tender cake itself. Loved how beautiful it was. I served it at the table on a cake stand. So pretty! My recollection is that everyone loved the cake. Cake was easy to make. I’ll definitely make this again.

What’s NOT: only that you need a fresh tube of almond paste.
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German Apple Almond Cake

Recipe By: Luisa Weiss, blogger, Classic German Baking (cookbook)
Serving Size: 10

4 medium apples — (1 3/4 pounds, 800g)
1 lemon — zested and juiced
7 ounces almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted and cooled
1 teaspoon almond extract
4 large eggs — at room temperature
1 cup flour — plus 3 tablespoons (150g)
9 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder — preferably aluminum free
1/4 cup apricot jam — strained if lumpy

1. Butter a 9- to 10-inch (23cm) springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Peel and core the apples. Divide the lemon juice into two separate bowls. Slice two of the peeled and cored apples into 8 sections, and toss the apple slices in one bowl of lemon juice. Dice the other two apples into 1/3-inch (1cm) cubes, then toss them in the other bowl of lemon juice. The cubed apples are added to the cake batter; the sliced apples are placed on top.
3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
4. Using a grater with large holes, grate the almond paste into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and mix until the almond paste is finely broken up.
5. Add the melted butter, almond extract, and lemon zest, and continue mixing until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
6. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch and baking powder in a small bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the almond batter mixture by hand, then fold in the diced apples, along with any lemon juice in the bowl.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place the sliced apples in concentric circles on top of the batter, pressing them in very lightly.
8. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. If using a 9″ springform pan (meaning the batter is higher), it might take an extra few minutes to get the very center cooked through.
9. Remove the cake from the oven. Warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan and brush it over the top while the cake is hot. Let the cake cool completely, then run a knife around the inside of the cake pan to release the cake, and remove the sides of the cake pan. Keeps at room temp for a day or more; refrigerate after that.
Per Serving: 465 Calories; 24g Fat (44.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 60g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 117mg Cholesterol; 226mg Sodium; 36g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 129mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 227mg Potassium; 213mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, easy, on August 2nd, 2021.

What is more beautiful than summer fruit topping a cake?

A post from Carolyn. This recipe has been hanging around in my to-try file for awhile. It came from Beth Hensperger from her book: Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Shortcakes, Gingerbreads, Cornbreads, Coffeecakes, and More, I don’t own the book and can’t find a reference online to this recipe, but it’s a keeper. I think I must have borrowed the book from the library and entered it into my MasterCook program. Her recipe only contained peaches. I had nectarines, and I also had about a cup of blueberries that were on the over-ripe side, so decided to add those in also. The other change I made was to substitute 3/4 cup of artificial sugar (I use So Nourished brand Erythritol Sweetener Granular – 1:1 Sugar Substitute, Keto – 0 Calorie, 0 Net Carb, Non-GMO). And then I rounded out the quantity with 1/4 cup of real sugar. Otherwise, I used her recipe. You know, of course, that baking is all about chemistry. You don’t want to adjust measurements of dry ingredients or wet ingredients, or you’ll throw off the chemistry of it all. I used less nectarines (or you can use peaches) but then added in the cup of blueberries, so it all works out.

Beth’s recipe had you halve the peaches (after peeling and removing the pit) and simply lay them on the top of the batter. I cut the nectarines into wedges instead (peel on) and sprinkled the blueberries all over the top too (first). Some of the batter baked up beside the fruit. Makes for a very pretty dessert. There at right is the photo of the raw batter with the fruit on top. I didn’t mind the peel on the fruit (isn’t it good for us?) and I thought it looked more beautiful that way. I love the color contrast of the blueberries nestled in amongst the nectarine slices.

See, I couldn’t decide which photo was better – the cake whole at the top, of this photo below of the slice of torte.

The dry ingredients include almond flour – her cookbook was published before the recent craze for all things non-wheat flour, so instead of grinding up raw almonds, I simply used almond flour from my big bag of Costco’s blanched almond flour that I keep in my freezer. There’s nothing low calorie about this cake – it has a cup of butter in it and 4 eggs as well. I served 3 pieces the evening I made this. The recipe said it’s best eaten the day it’s made, but I can say that the next day (left out at room temp, covered) it seemed fine. But for me, baked goods don’t like hanging around very long before they begin to stale, hence I froze the remains. I served the cake with some vanilla ice cream.

What’s GOOD: everything about this cake was good – very tender, tasty. Loved the almond flavoring and with peaches or nectarines in season, so delicious. It probably could be frozen whole – but the top of the batter is kind of wet (from the juice of the fruit). If you do freeze, reheat it briefly. Freeze what you haven’t eaten after 2 days.

What’s NOT: nothing at all, really. Pretty easy cake/torte to make. I’d definitely make it again.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Peach or Nectarine Almond Torte with Blueberries

Recipe By: adapted from Beth Hensperger, The Best Quick Breads
Serving Size: 8-10

3 large peaches — about 1 pound OR use a 29-ounce can of peaches, drained, patted dry
1 cup blueberries — fresh
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter — room temp
1 cup sugar — (or substitute artificial sugar or part or all)
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1. If using fresh peaches, fill a deep, medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add peaches and blanch them for 10-15 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and cool under running water. Place on a cutting board, slip off the skins, cut peaches in half and pit them. Drain on paper towels. If peaches are very tart, sprinkle them with some sugar and set aside at room temp. If using nectarines, peeling is not necessary.
2. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. Combine flour, almond flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.
3. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add almond extract. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat well until fluffy, smooth and quite thick batter is formed. There should be no lumps or dry spots. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Cover surface evenly with blueberries, then add nectarine slices in a spoke pattern or place peach halves over the batter, with flat sides down.
4. Bake in center of oven until cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, the center springs back when gently touched, and a cake tester inserting into the center comes out clean, about 55-60 minutes. Let the cake stand for 10 minutes before removing the springform ring. Serve warm or at room temp, cut into wedges. This cake is best eaten the day it is made. It will keep for a day, covered, at room temp. After that, freeze. When defrosted, warm cake in a 200°F oven for about 10-12 minutes.
Per Serving (based on 8 servings): 547 Calories; 34g Fat (53.9% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 154mg Cholesterol; 108mg Sodium; 32g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 138mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 306mg Potassium; 257mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on June 7th, 2021.

In cooking terms, what does “outrageous” mean to you?

A post from Carolyn.  So, outrageous . . . the word? Out of the box? Rich? Decadent? Probably all of the above. And this recipe qualifies on all counts. Maybe not so much on “out of the box” except that it’s an outrageous amount of chocolate in them. You can see on the right all the various packages of chocolate I unwrapped – unsweetened, semi-sweet plus the dark chocolate chips too.

Of course, the batch, baked in a half sheet pan, makes 20 (or more) servings, so to tell you that it calls for a pound of butter and nearly 3 pounds of chocolate . . . it does make a lot. I cut them into smaller pieces, so I got about 30+ squares from the pan. Not counting the two small one-inch square pieces I ate while the pan was cooling. . .

The recipe comes from Ina Garten. I think I saw her make these on her TV show awhile back – that’s probably why I already had it in my recipe collection. And perhaps it’s in one of her cookbooks as well? I haven’t checked. As I write this I’m having a wine tasting event here at my house. To serve a variety of wines with appropriate appetizers to go with them. Some white, some red. I’ve made home made caponata (I’ll post it soon – couldn’t believe that recipe wasn’t already here on the blog). I’m going to open a bottle of red after-dinner wine, which will go with the brownies. I still have a couple hundred bottles of wine in the wine cellar – 99% of them from when my DH Dave was still alive (and he’s been gone for 7 years now). And 95% of them are reds. A few of the bottles got poured out as they didn’t cellar well, but mostly the wine has been fabulous.  I did go out and purchase a couple bottles of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc, one of my favorites if I’m drinking a white. Many years ago Dave and I spent time in New Zealand, and I fell in love with Cloudy Bay wines.

Know from the beginning, that there are several steps:

Melt the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate and butter

Mix the 7 eggs, sugar and vanilla together

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl

Mix the add-ins (chocolate chips and walnuts) separately, and coat with flour.

If you know all of the above when you start, you’ll get it all in the right order. First thing is to melt the chocolate and butter (either in the microwave – see the instructions – or over the stove in a double boiler or on top of a flame-tamer – the latter is what I did) and let it cool some. While you’re doing that, get all the rest of the ingredients together in their proper bowls. Heat the oven, then start mixing. The chocolate mixture does need to cool to room temp before you can proceed. Hot chocolate + raw eggs = scrambled eggs, maybe. So be careful.

The only unusual thing – after 20 minutes in the oven, open the door, pull out the rack, pick up the sheet pan a bit and rap the pan on the baking rack, to pump out any air trapped in between the pan and the parchment. After they finish baking, the brownies are cooled to room temp, refrigerated (yes) for an hour – THEN you can cut them. Makes for easier slicing. They’ll store in the frig (in an airtight container) for a week. Otherwise, freeze them, tightly wrapped in foil.

What’s GOOD: oh my gosh, are these wonderful. If you’re a chocoholic, you’ll be over the moon. I used dark chocolate chips so these were pure decadence for me. Wonderful. Marvelous. A keeper. Rich. Buttery. Yessss.

What’s NOT: don’t be on a diet when you make these.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Outrageous Brownies

Recipe By: Ina Garten
Serving Size: 20 (or 30)

CHOCOLATE BUTTER MIXTURE:
16 ounces unsalted butter
16 ounces semisweet chocolate — finely chopped
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate — bar type, finely chopped (not cocoa)
EGG MIXTURE:
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
7 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
DRY MIXTURE:
1 cup all-purpose flour — divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
CHIPS & NUTS:
3 cups chopped walnuts
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup flour

1. PREP: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13×18-inch rimmed half sheet pan (or grease and line with parchment paper).
2. CHOCOLATE BUTTER MIXTURE: Place the butter, semisweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl and microwave on 50% power in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth. (Alternately, you can also melt the butter and chocolates in a double boiler on the stovetop). Allow to cool slightly.
3. EGG & SUGAR MIXTURE: In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla with a wooden spoon. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
4. DRY MIXTURE: In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture and stir gently with the wooden spoon until mostly combined.
5. NUT & CHIPS MIXTURE: In a medium bowl, toss the walnuts and chocolate chips with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter and stir until totally incorporated. Pour into the baking sheet and spread into an even layer.
6. Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool thoroughly, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and cut into 20 large squares (and those are very large). Leftover brownies can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Freeze in foil for longer storage. If you cut smaller squares you can certainly have 30 servings that are more “normal” sized squares.
Per Serving (cut into 20 pieces): 670 Calories; 48g Fat (61.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 114mg Cholesterol; 205mg Sodium; 45g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 107mg Calcium; 4mg Iron; 335mg Potassium; 266mg Phosphorus.

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