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Berry Dutch Baby

August 3, 2011

Breakfast is sometimes tiresome.  We make eggs, pancakes, waffles, granola, but even with all of those choices, we are still sometimes bored.  Recently I remembered about Dutch Babies which my mother used to make for me.  They are essentially large popovers that are sliced and served with lemon and powdered sugar or jams and syrups if you prefer.  As a child I loved these, but I have not be able to completely sell my kids on them for some reason.  The other night however, as I said goodnight, my son requested a Dutch Baby with berries for breakfast.

Making Dutch Babies is simple, you whisk together a batter, preheat a cast iron in the oven, and pour the batter into the hot pan.  The batter then cooks in the oven until it puffs up and browns.  It is dramatic and beautiful, but have your audience near when you take it from the oven, because it soon falls.  Dutch Babies are best eaten very soon after being removed from the oven.

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Perfect Peach Cake

July 17, 2011

It is hard to beat a fresh summer peach.  At their peak, taking a bite of a perfectly ripe juicy peach is a transcendent experience.  I find that farmers’ markets are the best place to buy peaches.  The smaller farmers are much more likely to have a sense of the true maturity of the fruit they grow and allow it to fully develop.  They also often give samples so you can judge for yourself the quality of the fruit.  It was with these magical fruits in mind that I set out to make Perfect Peach Cake.

This recipe is slightly adapted from one in the last issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Once I saw it, I could not get it out of my mind.  I began searching for a reason to make it, which luckily was not too difficult.  The recipe involves some unusual steps such as roasting half of the peaches before adding them to the batter and sprinkling them with panko to absorb the excess juices that threaten to make a soggy cake.

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Raspberry Lime Popsicles

July 11, 2011

Nothing beats a great popsicle on a steaming hot summer day. Unfortunately, most of the popsicles sold in stores may be cold, but they are full of chemistry kit ingredients.  It is hard to find a popsicle made of the real fruit whose taste they claim to bear.  Luckily it is very easy to make your own.  Popsicles molds make this easier, but they are not essential.  You can make popsicles in small yogurt cups, ice-cube trays, or even small mason jars as Local Kitchen did recently.

Raspberry Lime Popsicles are loaded with raspberries and just enough sugar to bring out their flavor, without being overly sweet. The lime zest and juice adds a bright tang. Mmmm. Oh, and the color.  The color is so vibrant and real.    Simply whirl up the ingredients, strain out the seeds, and you are ready pour this raspberry goodness into a mold.

When the popsicles are solid, slip them from the mold for a truly refreshing treat. If you are serving them to kids, you may want to make this an outdoor dessert or at least have a wet rag on hand.  We had some very red faces at our house after the kiddos eagerly chomped these down. This is a dessert that grownups and kids alike will love. They are very, very good.

Update: Here is another popsicle recipe that has won over our hearts and appetites!  Red, White, and Blue Popsicles

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Our ice cream maker does not get much attention in the winter.  It sits lonely in the pantry, waiting to be remembered.  It is not that ice cream is not just as good in the wintertime, but I seem to be busy making other desserts and rarely break it out.  So the other day when our first hot days  coincided with my son’s case of strep throat, I knew it was time to make some ice cream.

The process of making homemade ice cream is simple.  Cream, milk, sugar and eggs cook into a custard.  The custard cools and then is poured into the ice cream maker to freeze.  The difficult part is making an ice cream that does not have an icy taste.  For a long time my go-to recipe was from Christopher Kimball’s The Dessert Bible.  It is a great recipe and as usual his descriptions of the process and what can go wrong are extremely helpful.  After reading a glowing review on food52 though, I decided to try a new recipe this time.  I was not disappointed.

This Vanilla Ice Cream is rich and smooth with beautiful bits of vanilla seeds flecked throughout.  It did not have the iciness that plagues so many homemade ice creams.  Do not be tempted to reduce the fat here.  Yes, this is a rich treat, but really you only need a small scoop.  Enjoy yourself in moderation.  If you really can not find a vanilla bean, you can use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, but it will not be as good.  If you are new to vanilla beans and have questions about how to scrape the seeds, check out Marissa’s great video on Food in Jars.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

June 16, 2011

Two weeks into my summer vacation, I had a serious itch to make some strawberry jam.  The problem was everywhere I looked the strawberries were either over-sized and under-flavored or ridiculously expensive.  On a tip from a friend, I headed out Highway 12 just outside Sebastopol to Lao’s Strawberry Stand.  It took three tries: first time he sold out, second time simply closed, but the third time is a charm.  It was well worth the trouble.  These strawberries bear very little resemblance to the strawberries sold year-round at the supermarket.  They are super small, bright red all the way through, and absolutely bursting with flavor.  They literally made me swoon.  It is such a pleasure to take the time to put up food when it is the best quality.  I was giddy with the thought that we would be able to enjoy these beautiful strawberries all winter.

The last few years, I have made strawberry rhubarb jam using low-sugar pectin and a standard process of heating the fruit and sugar to a boil, adding the pectin, and canning in sterile jars.  It has always turned out good, but not great.  Two problems I had were the strawberry and rhubarb both cooking down to a mushy pulp and the rhubarb turning a slightly greyish color.  After reading Eugenia Bone’s method of slow roasting the fruit in a low oven, I had to try it.

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There is a rule in our house: if I am going to make something decadent, there has to been people to share it with (preferably out of the house.) Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?  The problem is that from an early age I have learned to find the loophole in almost every rule.  And here is the loophole:  my brain is always inventing excuses to make decadent things and then share them.  My ear is cocked for someone celebrating a birthday, a friend with a new child, a neighbor in the middle of a remodel, an unexpected house guest, you get the picture.  So when a friend mentioned they needed a dessert for a moving party, I immediately jumped on the idea of making these brownies!

I adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart Living Desserts.  Her original recipe is excellent.  In fact it is so good that I have not been able  to bring myself to try a different recipe since I discovered hers years ago.  Martha’s recipe calls for baker’s chocolate but, I swapped that out for unsweetened ground cocoa because that is what I prefer to have on hand.  She also calls for a half cup of chocolate chips, which are a nice addition, but I feel they detract a bit from the phenomenal texture and taste of the brownie itself.  I left them out.  Taking a tip from Cook’s Illustrated, the walnuts are sprinkled on top of the brownie instead of mixed in the batter.  This prevents the top from cracking when you slice the brownies.  It also makes it clear that to anyone with allergies that the brownies contain nuts.  As a finishing touch, I sprinkle coarse sea salt over the top of the warm brownies.  This adds a nice salty contrasting crunch as well as gives a little sparkle to the brownies.

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It is birthday season in our family.  By some lucky roll of the dice, almost every member of our family was born between April and August.  We celebrate the birth of someone every couple of weeks, usually with the a candle topped Chocolate Birthday Cake.

This cake began as my own personal favorite.  I, like many, am a huge fan of chocolate. I am fairly certain that my birthday cake was chocolate for at least the first 25 years of my life (perhaps longer).   About 5 years ago, I came across this recipe for chocolate cake from Ina Garten.  Since then, I have made it countless times.

Imagine my delight when this cake became a favorite for my family as well!  This year already, I have made it five times.  In fact I have made it so much that I was reluctant when asked to make the most recent batch. I thought-  Hadn’t we already eaten that cake enough this season?  There are so many other good cakes to try.  But then I whipped up the batter, baked the cake, and tried a sample crumb, shhhhh.  This cake tastes sooo good! I would happily sign on to many more years of baking this exact cake.

Chocolate Birthday Cake is rich, chocolately, and incredibly moist.  The buttermilk gives it a pleasant tang and the last minute addition of brewed coffee deepens the delightful chocolate flavor.  As with any chocolate dish, it will be as good as the cocoa you use.  I prefer Ghiradelli or Scharfen Berger. The frosting choice will create the identity of the cake.  Mocha Buttercream is the frosting I most often pair with the cake.   I have also made it with vanilla buttercream and strawberry buttercream.  Really, you cannot go wrong.  This cake is absolutely decadent and delicious.  The very definition of a chocolate cake.  It is perfect for a birthday or any time you need a good chocolate fix.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

from Ina Garten

makes 1 8-inch layer cake

Parchment paper for lining pans

Butter for greasing pans

1 3/4 cup all- purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghiradelli)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 2 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment.  Dust pans with flour.

Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl: flour, sugar cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until just combined.  Pour in the hot coffee and mix until it is incorporated.  Be sure to scrape down sides and bottom to ensure all the flour mixture is thoroughly moistened. Batter will look very thin.

Pour batter evenly into the 2 prepared pans.  Slide pans in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Place pans on a cooling rack and let sit for 10 minutes.  Slide a knife around the inside edge of each pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto the cooling racks.  Peel the parchment off the bottom.  Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

Lay one layer, flat side up on your cake plate or stand.  Spread a layer of frosting over the top.  Place the second cake round on the frosting, flat side up.  Apply a generous amount of frosting to the top of the cake.  Spread the frosting over the top and down the sides.  Finish by filling in any places where the cake is exposed and smoothing the top and sides with a spatula.  If the frosting is too loose, put it in the refrigerator and allow it to set up before spreading.  The frosted cake can be kept on the counter until ready to serve.  If it is a very hot day, keep it in the refrigerator to prevent the frosting from weeping.

Note:

Unfrosted cakes can be made ahead and frozen.  After they are completely cool, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze for  up to three months.  Be careful not to place anything onto of the cakes.  Even though they are frozen, then are still delicate and will crush easily.

For a larger cake and crowd, you can double the recipe.  I have done this successfully many times.

Mocha Buttercream

adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

makes enough for 1 8-inch layer cake

1 cup butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup fresh coffee, cooled

Cream the butter.  Add the vanilla and mix.  Sift in the cocoa and sugar (Do not forget to sift.  If you add lumps in at this point, they are almost impossible to remove).  Add the coffee and beat.  It may appear curdled or separated at first.  Continue beating frosting until it is fully incorporated, light, and fluffy.  Spread on cake.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipes:

Chocolate Birthday Cake and Mocha Buttercream

You may also like:

Satsuma Vanilla Upside-down Cake

Chocolate Pudding

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