I am not known for overt patriotism, but I am also not one to pass up an opportunity to celebrate.  And isn’t it a happy coincidence that our nation’s birthday falls smack dab in the middle of berry season?  We are surrounded by luscious reds and blues hanging from the bushes and trees throughout our neighborhoods and farms.  To pass these by is a shame and perhaps even unpatriotic.

My kids and I went on a west county adventure yesterday, and came home with a bag full of blueberries from Sonoma Swamp Blues (great spot to pick up super tasty local blueberries!).  Most of them are destined for shortcakes with strawberries and cream, but I could not resist tossing a few handfuls into the blender to make these popsicles. Believe it our not, my kiddos will happily gobble up a popsicle every day of summer!

Red, White and Blueberry Popsicles are a tasty treat to cool you off while savoring the sweet tastes of July.   Also they only take about 10 minutes to prepare (and freeze overnight), so you have more time to sit around sipping on lemonade (or an ice cold margarita).  You can test your luck and pull them out of the mold after 4 hours or so.  We did.  Waiting until the actual 4th of July was more than our patience could take.  Use caution though, if they are not fully frozen they are more likely to break off or for the stick to come loose from the popsicle.

*Don’t have a popsicle mold?  Check out this one.

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Meyer Lemon Pudding Cakes

February 25, 2012

The birthday spirit lives on around here, but the cake does not.  Given one more chance to sing a Happy Birthday, I whipped up a second birthday dessert, this one a bit brighter and lighter than the first (Caramel Cake).  There have been a lot of posts about sweets and liquor lately, but to be honest, that pretty much sums up the month of February around here.  I did mention the “birthday month“, did I not?

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake is just the thing for a sweet wintery treat.  A cross between a souffle and lemon curd, but so much easier to prepare.  Prepare the batter and bake.  As the cake bakes it separates into two delightful layers, a lemon pudding on top and an incredibly light and moist cake on the bottom.  Serve with a gently sweetened berry sauce.  I used ollalie berries from my parents bushes (thanks Mom!), but blackberries, raspberries, even blueberries would be delicious.  This can be made one day in advance, making it a great dessert for guests.

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My search for the perfect banana bread ended years ago.  There are plenty of recipes out there, but none that fit my tall list of criteria.  So many have a dead bland banana flavor, others are too dry, or full of overpowering seasoning.  This recipe, which is my standby banana bread, is to my taste, the best. It has just the right amount of sweetness (not a lot), a crispy , crunchy, buttery crust, a moist bananay interior, and a delightful tang from the baking soda.   Chunks of dark chocolate melt into the bread making it just a little more special.

This is why, though I attempted to give another recipe a try last weekend, I simply could not find another one worth baking.  Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread, developed from years of tinkering, is the one for me.   We ate this bread for dessert after a disappointing football game, the rest served as a happy surprise in my son’s school lunch.

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My holiday baking got off to a late start this year.  There are still many edible holiday treats still on my to-do list, but this was one recipe I was not going to let pass.  In fact, this the only batch of holiday cookies that I was able to fit into my schedule this year.   They are so tasty!

Chocolate Candy Cane Crackle Cookies combine rich fudgy chocolate with a hint of peppermint flavor and crunch from candy canes and peppermint schnapps.  If you like dark chocolate and peppermint, these should definitely be on your “To Bake” list. The recipe is based on one from Dorie Greenspan that ran in the November 2006 Bon Appetit.  I made the original recipe years ago and enjoyed it very much.  The seasoning (cloves and cinnamon), make it more of an adult flavored cookie.  My adaptation below follows Dorie’s basic recipe, but leaves out the spices.  In their place are chunks of candy canes and a touch of peppermint schnapps. (Finally a use for that bottle I picked up at a white elephant gift exchange last year!)

There are a few things to keep in mind when you make these cookies.  First, the candy cane chunks are bound to melt in the oven.  There is nothing really wrong with this since they will still impart their flavor, but if you, like me, want to be able to see the candy canes in the final product, be sure to leave the chunks rather big (1/4 to 1/3 inch long).  Second, the dough is tough to work with.  It is super dry and firm and  tough to roll in your hands.  Both my kids were helping to roll and we ended up with chocolate crumbs everywhere and a bunch of squarish cookies.  The good news is, it does not really matter.  The cookies will still taste great.  Lastly, do not overcook these cookies.  Since the dough is so dry, it is much better to undercook them.  Think of brownies.  You want to pull them when the dough just begins to set, but is not completely cooked through.

My happy helpers bagged these up and delivered them to our friends and neighbors.  What are your favorite cookies to bake during this time of year?

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Soft Ginger Cookies

November 26, 2011

Perhaps it is illogical to bake the day after Thanksgiving.  Perhaps I should be following up a long run in the rain with salad and a nap.  But on the other hand, it may be best to let oneself down easy after a big feast.  No use going cold turkey (pun intended) on the rich food when the air is cool, and everyone is still lounging around the house enjoying the long weekend.  Why not break out the butter that did not make its way in the mashed potatoes make up some delicious treats?  When you really think about it, cookies seem to be an appropriate coda to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Soft Ginger Cookies are tender, buttery, intensely ginger flavored treats.  Roll the chilled dough in balls and then spin through a dish of sugar to give each cookie a sparkly look.  Slices of candied ginger add a decorative touch, as well a strong gingery spice.

This recipe makes a generous number of cookies, which provides a good excuse to drop in on your neighbors and friends.  You can also form the cookies and  freeze them to bake up later.

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