Monday, April 29, 2013

Ombre Birthday Cake

Today I'm not sharing a cake recipe, rather just this icing technique.  Inspired by a pretty cake at Apt 2B Baking Co, and with a request for a purple birthday cake for a 30th birthday party, I started with three layers of white cake, filled with fresh raspberry sauce, and covered with a crumb coat of cream cheese frosting.  While the crumb coat hardened in the refrigerator for a half hour, I readied my frosting.  I made my cream cheese buttercream recipe, and I would estimate that I used about two cups of frosting.

I divided the frosting into three bowls, tinting them three different shades of purple - dark, medium and light - using the Americolor Royal Purple gel food coloring.  Instead of spreading the frosting onto the cake like the cake that inspired this one, I decided to pipe it on.  First, I spooned the darkest purple into the bottom of the piping bag, then medium right on top of the dark and lastly light.  Then, starting at the base of the cake, I piped the frosting around and around - this step doesn't have to be perfect since you're just trying to get the frosting onto the cake in the general area that you want each color to be.

Then I took a flexible icing knife, and starting at the base of the cake again, I dragged the knife around and around, up the sides and towards the center, wiping any excess frosting off the knife into a bowl as I went.  Again, this technique is not intended to look perfect, and it's okay if the colors blend together a little as you drag the knife around.  I think of this as rustic elegance or imperfectly perfect.

I finished the cake with a border of dark purple flowers piped around the base and the birthday message on top, with a little cake bling of dark gray pearl sprinkles.

The ladies who ordered the cake had a bachelorette party that day, followed by a birthday celebration that night, and I'm sure this cake was a yummy and sweet ending to their party.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Individual Peanut Butter Pies

I can remember a time when I didn't much care for peanut butter, unless it was in a cookie.  A strange thought now, not liking peanut butter.  I didn't like the way it stuck to the roof of my mouth, especially when sandwiched between layers of unsubstantial soft white bread, so I had to make sure that the peanut butter was crunchy and the jelly outweighed the peanut butter at least 2 to 1.  Then I discovered that if the bread was toasted, it melted the peanut butter a little so it wasn't quite such a sticky, soft combination.

There was the phase of marshmallow cream and peanut butter sandwiches - a nauseating thought, now, putting all that sweet marshmallow cream on a sandwich...  My niece used to like her peanut butter sandwiches with lemon curd, something I really enjoy, too.

Eventually, I grew to love just plain, all-natural peanut butter on hearty wheat toast, without the addition of jam, and now it's one of my favorite breakfasts in my weekday breakfast rotation of oatmeal with protein powder, Greek yogurt with frozen blueberries, peanut butter toast or sometimes a smoothie.

Just the other day I made the best smoothie for breakfast by blending 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1 scoop protein powder, 1/2 frozen banana (a whole one is good too, it just makes it a bit sweeter), 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter and 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder.  I put it in the freezer for 30 minutes while I was getting ready for work, and when I took it out, it tasted just like a banana peanut butter milkshake, so creamy and thick and cold.

Last Friday night we went out to eat, which we do rarely, and filled up on raw oysters, tomato salad, halibut for Jamie and mahi for me...  Too full for dessert, we went to a late movie - during which I had to poke Jamie several times to wake him up since the movie was his choice and not mine - and then fell into bed around 1am.  So our usual Friday night dessert was put on hold until Sunday.

I had only planned to make two servings of these individual peanut butter pies, but ended up making four, so that there were a couple left for Jamie later in the week.  These pies have layers of crushed chocolate cookies, homemade chocolate syrup and peanut butter cream, which is a mixture of cream cheese, creamy peanut butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream, topped with a few chocolate chips.  I love the idea of this kind of dessert for company - if you have enough small glasses or jars - since you could make as many of these as you want the day before, and then serving dessert is as easy as handing these out with a spoon.  Or you can double (or triple) the peanut butter filling and spread it into a baked, chocolate graham cracker crust for a whole pie.

I'm so glad I learned to love peanut butter...

Individual Peanut Butter Pies
printable recipe

  • 3/4 cup finely crushed chocolate cookie crumbs (such as Oreos or graham crackers)
  • 1-2 tablespoons cold coffee, espresso syrup or even melted butter (to moisten the crumbs)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 8 teaspoons chocolate syrup
  • 4 tablespoons chocolate chips
  • coarse Kosher salt

Drizzle the crushed cookies with the coffee, syrup or melted butter and toss with a fork to moisten.  Set aside.  Set out 4 small glasses or jars.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, powdered sugar and vanilla for two minutes, until smooth and creamy.  Beat in the cream for 1 minute.  Scoop into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.

Spoon half the chocolate cookie crumbs into the jars and gently tamp down with the bottom of a smaller glass (such as the bottom of a shot glass).  Pipe 1/2 of the peanut butter filling over the crumbs.  Drizzle half the chocolate syrup over the filling and sprinkle with half the chocolate chips.  Repeat with the rest of the crumbs, peanut butter filling, chocolate syrup and chocolate chips.  Add a pinch of salt over the top of each.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.  These can be prepared up to 1 day in advance.

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Oatmeal Almond Cookie Dough Bites

A healthy cookie that also tastes good...  are they both possible?  I'm not a big fan of healthy desserts that don't taste like, well, dessert, so when I set out to make a cookie with no flour, butter, oil or refined sugar, I hoped that it wouldn't taste like a mouthful of bland quinoa.  Nothing against quinoa - I really like it actually - just not for dessert.

Spices are important in a cookie like this to make up for the lack of butter and sugar, so I started with rolled oats and almond meal, seasoned with cinnamon and cardamom and a pinch of salt.  For sweetener, a few tablespoons of maple syrup or honey and a little vanilla, and to bind it all together, all-natural almond butter and a splash of skim milk, with a handful of sliced almonds for crunch.

This is a thick dough, so it's easiest to quickly mix it up in the food processor, and then it's ready to be shaped into balls.  The natural oil in the almond gives it a buttery flavor, so I really didn't miss the butter at all.

When I was planning these cookie balls, I first thought I might dip them in dark chocolate, but I didn't want to coat them in so much chocolate that they were no longer as healthy as I wanted.  So instead of dipping, I just drizzled a little melted dark chocolate over the top of the cookies and garnished them with a sliced almond.

I don't often include nutritional info on here, but for these I did, so that you can see that they are very close in nutrition to a handful of raw almonds, at just 100 calories apiece, and with very little sugar.  I plan to keep these in the refrigerator or freezer so I can have one when I'm craving something sweet, but don't want to undo all my hard work of eating right throughout the day.

Oatmeal Almond Cookie Dough Bites
(no flour, butter, oil, eggs or refined sugar; no bake)
printable recipe
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup all-natural almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons skim milk
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate

In the food processor, pulse the oats, almond meal, cinnamon, cardamom and salt a few times to combine.  Add the maple syrup, vanilla, almond butter and milk and pulse until very moist and crumbly.  Stir in the sliced almonds.

Shape the mixture into balls and set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the top of the balls.  Top each with a few flakes of coarse sea salt and a slice of almond.

The cookie dough balls will stay fresh in the refrigerator for several weeks, or in the freezer for several months, stored in an airtight container.

Yields 2 dozen.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Nutritional Info (each ball):
Calories - 100
Fat - 6.5 g
Saturated Fat - 1 g
Sodium - 13 mg
Carbohydrates - 9 g
Fiber - 2 g
Sugar - 3.5 g
Protein - 3 g

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Avocado, Orange and Basil Salad

One of my favorite meals as a kid - strange as it may sound (for a kid, that is) - was a big salad.  Probably not unlike the "big salad" that Elaine was always known to be eating in Seinfeld.  Starting with iceberg lettuce, we piled the salad bowl full of bell peppers, carrots and tomatoes, cubed cold ham and cheese, black olives and bacon bits... and of course, way too much creamy ranch dressing.  I remember eating our salad for dinner on the wide porch of the house we briefly lived in before leaving South Carolina to move to Colorado.  I loved when it rained while we were out on the porch, with the warm rain lightly misting our faces while we ate.  I've always loved the rain.

Over dinner the other night at one of our favorite restaurants, Jamie and I ate raw oysters with horseradish and lemon and a tomato salad with red onion slivers, blue cheese crumbles and a light vinaigrette.  It's been so long since I've eaten bottled salad dressing that I hardly miss it anymore, although occasionally I have a craving for creamy and tangy blue cheese dressing.

For the first 20 years of my life, I thought those chopped salads of my childhood were the only kind of salads there were.  But then while living in China, I tasted their version of a salad - cubes of cold cucumber and raw onion, tossed with crunchy peanuts and maybe a little shredded cabbage, piled high on a plate and drizzled with vinegar, then finished with a sprinkling of salt and sugar.  It was addictive, even with the raw onions.  What a wonderful meal that was on hot and humid summer days.

The first time I tasted caprese salad was on a business trip to the beautiful city of Boston about 6-7 years ago.  My boss took me to one of the nicest restaurants I'd ever been to up to that point in my life, and we ate expensive cuts of steak with overpriced drinks like white chocolate martinis.  One bite of my salad of tomato, mozzarella and basil began a love affair with those flavors that's never going to let me go.

When I ordered my caprese salad in that Boston restaurant, I didn't know it would have a vinaigrette on it, and so used to specifying a choice of salad dressing when ordering salad, I asked for blue cheese dressing on the side.  The server looked startled - as though I was committing some sort of food crime by combining blue cheese and mozzarella - but it was actually very good.

This stacked salad of avocados, oranges and basil is my winter/early spring version of a caprese salad.  Since tomatoes are not at their best until the summer, I've substituted oranges for the tomatoes and avocado for the mozzarella.  I eat avocados almost every day as a snack at work, and for the past few weeks I've been loving them with sweet navel oranges or tangelos.  With the fresh basil, a little oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper is all this salad needs.  I think red grapefruit instead of the orange slices would be delicious, too!

So simple and so pretty.

Avocado, Orange and Basil Salad
printable recipe

  • 2 avocados
  • 3-4 navel oranges
  • fresh basil
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • coarse salt and cracked pepper

Slice the avocados in half (around the width of the fruit instead of lengthwise) and remove the pit.  Use a spoon to scoop them out of the skin and slice the fruit into thin circles.

Peel the oranges and slice into thin circles.

On four plates, alternate the avocado and orange slices with the basil leaves so that you have 3-4 layers stacked on each plate.  Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crumb Bars

When Jamie came home last Wednesday after picking up some fish for our dinner that evening, his arms were full of other things I love - bright red strawberries, a bundle of the season's first rhubarb, and yellow and white daisies for me.  I had been talking about wanting to bake with rhubarb and strawberries soon, and he was listening.  As well as hopeful, I'm sure, that I would bake something for him that weekend.

I've been thinking about making and canning jam again, something I've done every summer for the past couple of years, and this year I think I will have to try a strawberry rhubarb jam.  But not quite yet.  I'll wait until the berries are at their sweetest and best before preserving them.

We ate strawberries for the next few days, whole or sliced on top of ice cream, as I thought about what I might make with the rest of the fruit.  I decided on a sweet tart crumb bar, with juicy strawberries and rhubarb baked on top of an almond shortbread crust and sprinkled with crumb topping.  The crumb bars smelled so fantastic as they baked, their warm, sweet almond scent filling the house.

I vaguely remember tasting rhubarb in high school - a friend's relative had baked a rhubarb sheet cake of some kind, and pieces of the pink rhubarb had sunken into the top of the cake batter, creating a very moist and very tart cake.  I don't really remember if I liked it at the time - it was definitely a new flavor to me.  But it wasn't until just a couple years ago, when I began baking and cooking with it myself, that I began to love it.

Jamie's parents grow rhubarb in their garden, the long stalks hidden under the huge leaves of the plant.  His dad likes to cut off pieces of rhubarb and eat them raw, dipped in a little sugar.  It's interesting to me that although rhubarb is considered a vegetable, it's treated as a fruit in baking, and I love the way its tartness balances the sweetness of baked treats.

There's a few more strawberries and stalks of rhubarb left in the fridge, and I'm wondering what to make with them.  Maybe strawberry pancakes with rhubarb compote...

Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crumb Bars
printable recipe

crust and topping:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 can (8 ounces) almond paste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 3 cups sliced fresh strawberries (about 12-15 large strawberries)
  • 3 cups chopped fresh rhubarb (about 3 large stalks), chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Note: If cutting the recipe in half, use just the egg yolk instead of a whole egg, and bake in a square 8x8 baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick spray.

In your food processor (or in a large bowl, using a pastry cutter) blend the flour, salt, butter, almond paste and egg until moist and crumbly, and pea-sized pieces of butter remain.  Stir in the sliced almonds.  Reserve 2 cups of the mixture for the topping.

Press the rest of the dough mixture firmly against the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, corn starch and vanilla and set aside to let macerate.

After the crust has baked for 15 minutes, spread the fruit over the hot crust.  Sprinkle the fruit with the remaining 2 cups of dough crumbs.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the fruit begins to bubble around the edges.

Cool completely at room temperature before cutting into bars.

Yields 24 bars.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Salted Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

"I'm ready for my bread pudding now."

Jamie says this with a straight face on random evenings while we're watching TV before bed, his blue eyes big and hopeful, with a hint of teasing behind them.

"Hmm, that's nice," I'll reply.  "There's bread, eggs and milk in the fridge."  I know, as I say it, that Ezekiel bread is completely unsuited for bread pudding, but it's usually all we have on hand, unless we've picked up a loaf of artisan bread for crostini or garlic bread.  I also know that he doesn't really expect me to make him bread pudding at 9:30pm on a weeknight.

A few minutes pass, and he turns to me again.  "How's that bread pudding coming?"

In many ways, Jamie and my sister's husband Chris are so much alike, and when I tell Laura stories like this, she laughs and says that it's just the sort of thing Chris would say or do.  One of Chris's favorite lines, after finishing whatever dessert Laura has made, is to say, "Okay, I'll have that," as though what he just polished off was just his "dessert appetizer" and not the main dessert course.

When I asked Jamie a few days later if he was still in the mood for bread pudding and suggested individual bread puddings for dessert that Friday evening, he pretended disinterest and said, "Nah, that was SOooo two days ago..."

But I knew he couldn't pretend for long, not when I said I'd be cooking tart apples with spices and brown sugar, then soaking buttery croissants in a custard spiked with bourbon and vanilla, and drizzling the baked puddings with warm caramel sauce before finishing them with a sprinkling of toasted pecans and a pinch of salt.

A scoop of butter pecan ice cream with more caramel sauce melted into a lovely ice cream and caramel river that soaked into all the nooks and crannies of the bread pudding.

If only spring brought with it rivers of melted ice cream and caramel instead of the muddy gray streams of melting snow and ice that we have everywhere with this endless cycle of snow, sunshine, snow, sunshine, snow....

After another late spring snowstorm last night, the sky is blue today, scattered with fluffy white clouds, the promise of a few days of warm weather.   Every time I see a little blue sky after it snows, I want to run towards it, like Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, and cry,  "There's some blue sky - let us chase it!"

Salted Caramel Apple Bread Pudding
printable recipe

  • 1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • pinch cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup whole milk, cream, or a combination of both
  • 2 tablespoons liqueur, such as good-quality Scotch, Bourbon or Captain Morgan Spiced Rum (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 croissants, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup salted caramel sauce (or use store-bought caramel topping), slightly warmed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter (or use non-stick spray) two individual, oven-safe ramekins or bowls.

In a small saucepan, combine the chopped apple, butter, brown sugar, spices and water.  Cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes until the apple is softened and the liquid is reduced and syrupy.

Meanwhile, in a bowl whisk together the eggs, milk/cream, liqueur, vanilla and salt.  Stir in the croissant pieces and set aside to let the bread absorb the liquid.

When the apple is cooked to your liking, set aside to cool for 10 minutes (so that the hot apple doesn't scramble the egg in the custard).  Stir the apple mixture into the bread mixture.  Divide bread pudding between the ramekins.

Bake pudding at 350 for 20 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then drizzle with the caramel and sprinkle with the nuts.  Add a touch of extra coarse salt right on top.  Serve with ice cream.

Yields 2 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chocolate Ice Cream and Peanut Butter Cookies

It rained last night.  A soft, pitter-patter type of rain that I didn't even notice at first as I was reading in bed, snuggled under the fluffy warmth of my white down comforter.

I was reminded of spring in South Carolina - well, every season really, since there's no time of year there that doesn't see rain.  We don't get much rain here in Colorado so I savor the moments that we do.

Sitting in bed, pillows propped up behind me, a glass of white wine on the nightstand, a bowl of ice cream balanced on my knees and a book in hand, I was so engrossed in my book that I didn't hear the rain bouncing off the roof and splattering the grass.  And when I finally looked up from the pages and noticed the rain, I opened the window a few inches to let the chilly air in.

Air that was filled with the cool, fresh scent of the rain.

I snuggled deeper under the covers.

The book I'm reading is What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty.  A little more than halfway through it, I had to force myself to put it down at 2am so I could get some sleep.  Jamie was already asleep next to me, oblivious to the lamplight.

The premise of What Alice Forgot is of a 39-year old woman, with three kids, who is in the middle of a divorce, who falls and hits her head while working out at the gym.  When she wakes up, the injury-induced concussion has wiped out all of her memories of the last 10 years, and she believes she is still 29, pregnant with her first baby, and happily married.

She doesn't recognize the person she's become over the last 10 years.  She and her older sister, who were once very close, have drifted apart, and she doesn't understand her sister's anger with her.  She doesn't know her children or have any memory of giving birth to them and raising them.  She doesn't understand why she and her husband, who were so happy together, are now getting a divorce.

I've read a few books lately where the main character has amnesia.  Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson was really interesting, where the main character not only has amnesia, but has lost the ability to create new memories, her mind wiped clean every night.  And my book club just picked Wait For Me, by Elisabeth Naughton, which I didn't think was particularly well written at all, but still had an interesting plot with the main character having no memory before the last two years of her life.  When her husband passes away in an accident, she starts learning things about herself that he never told her, and goes in search of answers.

Both of those books deal with conspiracies against the women, with someone using their memory loss as an advantage to control and manipulate them.  But the reason I like What Alice Forgot the best, besides it being more well-written, is that it deals with real human relationships - the joys, the pitfalls, the arguments, the happy moments, the ways we all interact and the ways we change.  Especially the way we change.  That she had changed so much in 10 years that she didn't appreciate or understand or even like her new self.  That she had to get to know her own children.  That she had to try to understand what had gone wrong in her relationships with her sister and husband, what part of it was her fault, why she was no longer the person she remembered being, and what she should do about it now.

I still have a third of the book left to read, so if you've already read it, don't tell me what happens!

Besides my impulsively written little book review, I suppose I should talk about the ice cream and cookies I made.  I've shared this peanut butter cookie recipe before, for those Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies a couple winters ago, and it's the only peanut butter cookie recipe I've used in years.  With a little Easter candy to use up, I pressed chocolate peanut butter eggs, Reese's peanut butter cups, chocolate chips and Reese's Pieces into the hot cookies right after baking, so they could melt right into the center.  Over the years, I've usually done this with Hershey's kisses.

And the rest of the peanut butter cups went into the ice cream.  A dark chocolate, rich, impossibly creamy ice cream.  The custard was so thick after chilling that it could have been used to fill a chocolate pie, and I knew even before freezing it that it would be fantastic.

And now, I have a book to go finish reading...

...It's later in the evening, and I finished the book.  I LOVE the ending.

Chocolate Ice Cream
printable recipe

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped Reese's peanut butter cups (optional)

In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk and salt.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat (not boiling).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cocoa powder - mixture will be very thick.  When the cream mixture is bubbling around the edges, slowly drizzle about a cup of the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking them to temper the eggs.  Scrape the egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Whisk constantly and cook for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, until slightly thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and pour through a mesh strainer to remove any bits of cooked egg.  Whisk in the chopped chocolate and vanilla until smooth and creamy.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, preferably overnight.

Whisk the chilled custard to loosen it up - it will be very thick like pudding.  Churn according to the manufacturer's instructions of your ice cream maker until soft-serve consistency.  Fold in the chopped peanut butter cups if using them, and transfer to a container.  Freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 1/2 quarts.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Peanut Butter Cookies
printable recipe

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar (plus 1/4 cup for rolling)
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Assorted chocolate candy, such as kisses, peanut butter cups, mini eggs, chocolate chips, etc...

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars (1/2 cup each) for 3-4 minutes until fluffy, scraping the bowl occasionally.  Beat in the peanut butter until smooth.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, just until moistened.  Refrigerate the dough for one hour until firm enough to roll into balls.

Roll the dough into rounded tablespoonfuls, then roll each in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar to coat each ball.  Set on a baking sheet and freeze the balls for one hour (this step will prevent the cookies from spreading too much as they bake).

Preheat the oven to 375.  Place the frozen cookie balls 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.  Bake for 8 1/2 - 9 minutes, until pale golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and immediately press the candy into the cookie while it's hot.  Let the cookies cool on the pan for 2 minutes, then carefully transfer to the counter and cool completely.  They will be very soft, but will set up as they cool.

Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Easter Coconut Cake

Easter isn't really over, in my opinion, until there is coconut cake.  White, light and fluffy cake with piles of frosting and sweet coconut.  If clouds were made of cake, I think they would be coconut cake.

So for my coworkers the Monday after Easter, I baked a light and fluffy coconut cake, and instead of filling the layers with buttercream, I filled them with a thin layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache.  Then I frosted it with swirls of coconut buttercream and finished it with a sprinkling of sweet coconut and mini Cadbury eggs.

Pretty, sweet and simple.

Easter Coconut Cake
printable recipe

  • 1 boxed white cake mix
  • 1 can unsweetened coconut milk (full fat)
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 4-6 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons coconut extract
ganache filling:
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces heavy cream
  • sweetened coconut
  • Easter candy, such as mini Cadbury eggs or peanut M&Ms

Bake the Cake:
Note: with only egg whites in the batter, the cake had a very light, very delicate crumb.  For a more structured crumb, use 3 whole eggs instead of the 4 egg whites.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray, line with parchment paper, and spray the paper as well.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the cake ingredients on low speed to moisten, then beat on medium speed for 3 minutes, scraping the bowl once or twice.  Divide batter between the pans.

Bake cake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean and the center of the cake springs back when gently touched.

Cover pans loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely on wire racks.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for several minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the powdered sugar and meringue powder on low, a little at a time, until moistened.  Add the milk, vanilla and coconut extract.  Beat on medium-high speed for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy, adding more milk if needed for desired consistency.

Make the Ganache:
Just before you are ready to assemble the cake, get the ganache ready.  Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.  Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat gently over medium-low heat just until the edges start to bubble.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes, then stir with a spatula until smooth.

Assemble the Cake:
Remove the cakes from their pans and discard the parchment paper.  Place one layer of cake on a cake board or serving pedestal.  Pipe a border of buttercream around the edge of the cake, to create a "dam" so that the ganache doesn't leak out.  Spread half the ganache evenly over the cake, up to the dam.

Place the second layer of cake on top of the ganache, and repeat with another dam of buttercream, filling the center with the rest of the ganache.  Top with the third layer of cake.

Frost the cake all over with a thin crumb coat of buttercream, then pipe or swirl the buttercream as desired around the sides of the cake.

Garnish with the coconut (toasted if you like) and candy.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, April 11, 2013

a Mouthful of Pie...

It's no secret I love baking and decorating layer cakes - I think it's their height that could almost be called majestic, and the limitless possibilities for fillings, frostings and garnishes that makes them so much fun to make.  But if given a choice between eating cake or pie, I would probably choose pie (mostly because I'm a little tired of buttercream at the moment).

So in planning the dessert I was bringing to our Easter dinner with some friends, I decided that a couple of cool and creamy pies to follow our meal of ham, rolls, potatoes and cheesy broccoli casserole would be a delicious end.

Coconut Cream Pie is pure, Southern comfort food, and I felt my inner raised-in-South-Carolina Southern girl come out as I baked pastry and stirred hot coconut custard on the stove.  And I'm not talking about plain vanilla pudding with a little coconut mixed in, but a rich custard made from egg yolks, cream and coconut milk.  After I stirred in butter and coconut, I could have eaten that creamy custard by the spoonful straight from the saucepan.

Lots of freshly whipped cream and a sprinkling of toasted coconut are all the garnish this pie needs.

My parents happen to love coconut cream pie, and if you peek into their freezer, you're likely to find one or two frozen cream pies by Marie Callender, just waiting to be thawed out for company.  But I dare to say mine is just as good, if not better.

Key Lime Pie is another favorite, and I adore the balance of tart citrus with the sweet and salty crust.  I started mine with a salted, chocolate graham cracker crust, but regular graham crackers would be yummy, too.

The filling for key lime pie doesn't need to be complicated - just egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk, with key lime juice and lots of lime zest for tartness.  A chemical reaction occurs between the sweetened condensed milk and the acid in the lime juice, and it actually works to thicken the filling, so this doesn't require a long baking time.  Really, the baking is just to cook the eggs a little, and then the pie finishes thickening as it chills.

Some swirls of whipped cream topped with maraschino cherries were a pretty garnish, but many people would cover the pie with more whipped cream, or maybe even piled high with meringue.

Which pie would you rather have a slice of?

Coconut Cream Pie
printable recipe

pie crust:
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk (not light)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • fresh whipped cream
  • 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted

Bake the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 375.

To make the pie crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.  Scatter the cold butter over the flour mixture and use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter until pea-sized pieces remain.  Sprinkle the ice water over the mixture and work in with your hands until the dough comes together.  Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface 1/4 inch thick.  Fit the dough into a pie pan and crimp the edges.

The crust will need to be "blind baked" to hold its shape.  Spray a piece of foil with non-stick spray and fit the foil against the dough.  Fill the foil with pie weights or dry beans.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Carefully lift out the foil and bake the crust for 10 more minutes until golden brown.  Set aside to cool completely.

Make the Filling:
In  a saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk, whole milk, sugar and corn starch.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium low heat.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks.  When the milk mixture begins to simmer, slowly drizzle a cup of the mixture into the egg yolks, whisking them constantly to temper them.  Scrape the egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Whisking constantly, bring the custard to a boil, then cook, continuing to whisk constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat.  Stir in the vanilla and coconut extracts, then the butter, one piece at a time, until smooth.  Fold in the coconut.

Spoon into the cooled pie crust.  Refrigerate for several hours until chilled and set.

Top with sweetened whipped cream and toasted coconut.

Yields 8-10 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Key Lime Pie
printable recipe

·         1 ½ sleeves graham crackers, finely crushed (I used chocolate graham crackers)
·         1 tablespoon granulated sugar
·         1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
·         6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

·         ½ cup key lime juice
·         1 tablespoon key lime zest (zest of 3 regular limes)
·         4 egg yolks (save the whites for another use, or use them to make a meringue topping instead of whipped cream, if you like)
·         1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

·         ½ cup heavy whipping cream
·         1 tablespoon powdered sugar
·         8-10 maraschino cherries, drained and patted dry with paper towels

Bake the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a pie plate with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, sugar and salt, then drizzle the butter over the crumbs and toss with a fork until moistened throughout.  Press the crumbs into the pie plate and bake for 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool completely on a wire rack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325.

Make the Filling:
In a large bowl, whisk together the key lime juice, zest, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk until well combined.  Pour over the cooled crust.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until the filling is somewhat set, but still jiggly.

Cool at room temperature for 1 hour, then chill in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled.

Garnish and Serve:
Whip the heavy cream and powdered sugar until medium/firm peaks form.  Scrape into a piping bag fitted with a star or swirl tip, and pipe dollops of whipped cream around the pie.  Top each dollop of cream with a cherry.

Yields 8-10 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen