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  • Bourbon Peach Hand Pies
    • Monday June 21, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, with some notes.

      Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 10 (Mostly because it becomes tiring since there are so many steps!)

      Makes 14 to 24 (depending on cutter size) Liz: I could not find anywhere a biscuit cutter larger than 3.5 inches. Thankfully, we found a wide-mouthed coffee mug at home that was 4 inches. I would highly recommend finding something at the 4.5-inch measurement because you could actually fit some more filling in there. These were smaller than they probably look in the photos.

      For the pastry:

      • 2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
      • 1/2 tsp. salt
      • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
      • 1/2 C.p sour cream
      • 4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
      • 1/2 C. ice water

      For the filling:

      • 2 lbs. of peaches
      • 1/4 C. flour
      • 1/4 C. sugar
      • Pinch of salt
      • 1 tsp. bourbon
      • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

      One egg yolk beaten with 2 Tbsp. water (for egg wash)
      Coarse sanding sugar, for decoration

      In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour.

      Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

      Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough.

      I must comment on the step above. I didn't really like this method. First of all, the dough mixture started to clump to each of my fingers as I worked so I not only had fingers twice their normal size, but it was cold! Secondly, I only got maybe 3 or 4 things to form that might be considered "large lumps." I think you'd be fine using a spatula instead, just be careful, as she says, not to overwork the dough.

      Also, I needed to add extra water bit by bit because it never pulled together completely. Another reason why I'm starting to prefer recipes that measure by weight.

      Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

      Divide the refrigerated dough in half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough. You will have to re-roll the dough in between cutting the circles out.

      Make the filling: 

      Peel and chop the peaches into small bits (approx. 1/2-inch dice), much smaller than you’d use for a regular-sized pie. Mix them with the flour, sugar and pinch of salt, and add the bourbon and vanilla.

      Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie (Don't be shy; you'll have to mash it good to make it stay shut., and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat process with remaining dough.

      Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

      Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. (Next time, I will be more generous with my egg wash. I think it would've helped them golden up more if I hadn't been so sparing.) Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving. 

  • Summer Berry Pudding
    • Monday June 14, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, adapted from Cook's Illustrated, with tips from yours truly.

      Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 10. I'd give it a zero because it was so easy, but I figure you actually have to make it, so I won't ever go lower than 1. But this was only warming fruit with sugar, layering it with angel food cake and chilling it.

      My ingredients tip is that a pint of fruit is supposed to equal approximately 2 Cups, so if you can visualize that amount, that's your conversion. I do know the strawberry amount specifically. The rest you can just buy 1 container of each and it should be enough. I would err on the side of having too much because this pudding gets packed down. If you don't have enough, it won't hold its structure when you unmold it.

      • 2 pints fresh strawberries rinsed, hulled and sliced (32 oz. container or 4 Cups)
      • 1 pint fresh raspberries (2 Cups)
      • 1/2 pint fresh blueberries (1 Cup)
      • 1/2 pint fresh blackberries (1 Cup)
      • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
      • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
      • 1 Angel Food Cake (or 8 slices, challah, potato bread, brioche, etc.)

      Wash and prep fruit. If using angel food or pound cake, go ahead and slice about the thickness of a slice of bread. Figure out how many slices you will need to make 3 full layers in the loaf pan. I had to use 3 slices per layer plus a few smaller trimmed pieces to fill in the edges.

      Heat strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and sugar in large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until berries begin to release their juice and sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in lemon juice; let cool to room temperature.

      While berries are cooling, spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Line the loaf pan with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap lies flat against the surface of the loaf pan, leaving no air space.

      Because it wasn't clear to me, I want to elaborate on the instructions below that you're about to read: It's okay if your layers start to get taller than top of the loaf pan. In fact, I'd recommend that they do at least a little because the point is that you're going to compact everything so that it takes on the shape of the pan.

      Place the loaf pan on a rimmed cookie sheet and use a slotted spoon to place about 2 cups of fruit into the bottom. Lightly soak enough bread slices for one layer in juice and place on top of fruit. Repeat with two more layers of fruit and bread. Top with remaining juices, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and weight with a second cookie sheet and several heavy cans. Refrigerate puddings for at least 8 and up to 24 hours.

      Remove weights, cookie sheet and plastic wrap. To unmold, invert onto serving platter. Lift off loaf pan; remove plastic wrap lining and serve.

      If you would like to throw some whipped cream on top (and I highly recommend it because it cuts through the sharp sweetness of the fruit), you can use a hand mixer to whip 8 oz. of heavy whipping cream with 2 Tbsp. of sugar. It'll make enough to dollop each serving. 

  • Best Cocoa Brownies
    • Monday June 07, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, adapted from Alice Mendrich's Bittersweet.

      Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 10. Despite the novelty of preparing them a different way, there was nothing especially difficult about this recipe. I did substitute the unsalted butter with soy-based margarine and just left out the added salt altogether (I finally remembered!) I figure I will make the desserts dairy-free whenever it's an easy option, particularly in cases where the only dairy ingredient is butter and I don't have to mess around with other milks & creams. (Oh, and I measured the dry ingredients by the ounce since that measurement was available and I have a lovely new digital scale!)

      Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies

      • 1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
      • 1 1/4 cups (9 7/8 oz.) sugar
      • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 7/8 oz.) unsweetened cocoa powder
      • 1/4 tsp. salt
      • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
      • 2 large eggs, cold
      • 1/2 cup (2 3/8 oz.) all-purpose flour
      • 2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

      Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.

      Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

      Pour some water into a wide skillet and put on approximately medium heat, adjusting for your own stovetop. It needs to be barely simmering. (The instructions on how much water to use were nonexistent here. I'd recommend starting by covering the bottom of the pan and then filling it a little bit higher because it will help heat the contents of the bowl better. This is a lesson from my attempt where I feel I should've used more water.)

      Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in the skillet. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.

      Stir in the vanilla.

      Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one.

      When the batter looks thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. (Stir in the nuts, if using.) Liz: I do NOT like sprinkling nuts into things that are otherwise soft. I always end up scratching my palate and gums when I chomp into an unexpected nut. Plus, I just don't appreciate the texture differences. Nuts seem like speed bumps to get to the good stuff. You will never see me add nuts to anything where it uses words like "optional."

      Spread evenly in the lined pan.

      Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 25-30 minutes, depending on your oven.

      Let cool completely on a rack. (After they've cooled somewhat, feel free to place them in the fridge or freezer for a short period of time to help cool completely and make it easier to cut them cleanly.)

      Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares. (I'd recommend 16 brownies when cutting them for yourself and friends. If you're making a party platter, 25 brownies would be cute. But know that they will be nearly bite-size.) 

  • Chocolate Pudding Pie
    • Monday May 31, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, adapted from Gourmet.

      Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10. I've become pretty familiar with making and rolling out pie crusts, so I never worry about ruining them, but the challenge in this recipe was pre-baking a crust for the first time. You don't bake the filling, so the crust has to be baked before being filled and then put in the fridge to set. I skipped buying pie weights, though maybe I'll try using them in the future for the experience. The filling and the whipped cream were ... okay, I can't stop myself. I'm a Shiver now. They were easy as pie. There, I said it! Lol. Sorry, you guys.

      For the Crust:

      • 2 1/2 C. flour
      • 1 Tbsp. sugar
      • 1 tsp. salt
      • 2 sticks (8 oz., 16 Tbsp. or 1 C.) unsalted butter, very cold

      For the Filling:

      • 1/4 C. cornstarch
      • 1/3 C. granulated sugar
      • 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
      • 1/4 tsp. salt
      • 3 C. whole milk
      • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
      • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

      For the Topping:

      • 1 C. chilled heavy cream
      • 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
      • Bittersweet chocolate shavings for garnish (optional)

      Making the crust:

      If you're just making one single-crust pie, you will want to halve this recipe. This is for one double-crust pie or two single crusts.

      Fill a one-Cup liquid measure with cold water and add a couple of ice cubes, then set aside.

      Cut 2 cold sticks of unsalted butter OR margarine into cubes.

      In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. of salt. (You will want to reduce or eliminate salt if using a dairy-free substitute that's not unsalted.)

      Put the butter/margarine cubes into the flour mixture and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until crumbled to the size of small peas.

      Drizzle a 1/2-Cup of the cold water of the mixture and fold together with a spatula. Continue adding water 1 Tbsp. at a time until it starts to come together in large clumps, then knead together the rest of the way with your hands.

      Divide the dough in half, flatten into the shape of a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour before rolling out.

      After the dough has chilled for an hour, use a rolling pin to stretch it into an 11-inch round, lightly flouring the rolling surface and the rolling pin (and your hands). I find that it helps to roll in a couple of times, flip over the disk, re-flour the surface and continue rolling, otherwise it tends to start sticking. Place the dough in the pie dish, trim the edges to leave just a slight overhand and decorate the edges. Prick the bottom and sides all over with a fork.

      At this point, you can either chill the pie for 30 minutes and then use pie weights or you can use the cheat method I copied and freeze the pie for 30 minutes, then firmly place a buttered piece of foil buttered side down to bake for 25 minutes. After that, remove the foil and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool shell completely before adding filling, at least one hour.

      Making the filling:

      Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 C. sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk. It was recommended here to buy a square-edged or flat-shaped whisk, but I saved money again in the gadget area and just used my rounded one. It worked okay. Bring to a boil over heat just above medium, whisking constantly, then boil while whisking for two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

      Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming, until cold, at least two hours or overnight. You will definitely lose the top layer of pie this way, but I see no better way to avoid getting a skin, so just don't let it bother you when some of the pudding comes off with the paper.

      Just before serving, beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie and garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings, if you’re feeling fancy. 

  • Strawberry Chiffon Shortcake
    • Monday May 24, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, adapted from Joy of Cooking, with notes from me.

      Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10

      I think the challenging parts of this recipe were whipping both the egg whites and the whipped cream to the proper consistency, folding the whipped egg whites into the batter without deflating them and cutting the cake rounds as evenly in half as possible. But truly, a lot of that accuracy can be fudged. (The cakes themselves sank when they came out of the oven, so cutting even and usable layers was actually a challenge, but you can't even tell, right? It all worked out fine. I am really learning to be flexible through this project!)

      Cake layers:

      • 2 1/4 C. sifted cake flour
      • 1 1/2 C. granulated sugar, divided
      • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
      • 1 tsp. salt
      • 3/4 C. cold water
      • 1/2 C. vegetable oil
      • 1 tsp. lemon zest
      • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
      • 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
      • 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
      • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar


      • 2 C. heavy cream
      • 6 Tbsp. confectioners sugar
      • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
      • 2 quarts strawberries, hulled and sliced (I had to translate this for myself while in the grocery store, so I'll share my findings. My Google search told me the answer was 3 of the standard 16-oz. containers approximately, but I had a lot left over. I would recommend 2 containers or 32 ounces instead.)
      • 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
      • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice

      Making the cake layers: 

      Don't forget to take your 8 eggs out ahead of time. I cracked mine into two separate bowls (5 yolks, 8 whites) and set them out for ... I think it was about an hour and half to bring them to room temperature.

      Preheat the oven to 325°F. Have two 9-inch round cake pans ready, lined with parchment paper that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray, but otherwise ungreased. (Liz: Again, I have not yet found a good reason to use this method, so I still lightly grease and flour the pan instead. In future, I may use Alton Brown's suggestion and just buy pre-cut rounds from a bakery.)

      Sift the flour, 1 1/4 C. of the sugar, baking powder and salt together twice into a large bowl. (Liz: Another note here. Using another tip from my new Alton Brown book, I just pulsed these ingredients a few times in my food processor rather than sifting them. He's right: it definitely saved me time, energy and, as he puts it, the only reason you would sift is if you don't own a processor. I may get to semi-retire my little sifter!)

      In another bowl, beat the yolks, water, oil, zest and vanilla on high speed until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture until combined. In another large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks are formed. Add the remaining 1/4 C. sugar, and beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff but not dry. (None of us had any idea what "stiff but not dry" meant. We just beat it another minute or two until when we stopped and lifted the beater out, the egg white froth stood up on its own where the beater left the bowl. You can see our example in the picture above.)

      Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Do so gently, only until the egg whites are no longer visible. Overdoing it will deflate the egg whites and yield a denser, shorter cake.

      Scrape the batter into the two prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake them until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (This took us 30-40 minutes.) Check your cake every five minutes or so from the 30-minute mark on.

      While the cakes bake:

      Wash, hull and slice the strawberries. We don't have a special tool for this, so Thomas and I just used a small knife to get the job done. I don't even especially believe in hulling, so you're more than welcome to skip that step. Our slices were average, not too thin, not too thick. We kept the lemon that we zested for the cake batter and squeezed out 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice and stirred that, plus 2 Tbsp. of granulated sugar into the bowl of prepped strawberry slices (as recommended on smittenkitchen.com) and let the strawberries drip their lovely juices until we were ready to use them. I didn't think about it in time for myself, but I would recommend cutting the strawberries into a colander and setting it over a bowl while the juices collect. Saves a step.

      Finishing the cakes:

      Let cakes cool on a cooling rack for at least an hour. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides to release, then flip out onto a plate and then another plate.

      At this point, while the cakes cool and the strawberries juice themselves, you can kick your feet up for lunch or a little bit of reading time.

      Making the whipped cream:

      Beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until it holds stiff peaks. This took us just a few minutes, maybe 4 or 5? and we used a hand mixer.One tip, which I forgot to use myself, is to chill the bowl you are going to beat the cream in ahead of time in order to maintain a cool temperature.

      Assembling the cake:

      Carefully split each cake layer in half, leaving you with four cake surfaces. (Obviously, we used only 3 halves here, leaving one to go into the fridge for now. If you'd prefer, you could do a 4-layer cake instead or bake only one 9-inch round and slice it into 3 very thin layers. You can always freeze the extra bit of cake to use later. We'll probably just throw the leftover strawberries onto it for a dessert later this week.

      One by one, scoop between one-third and one-quarter of the whipped cream onto the surface of the cake and spread it evenly to the edges, without going over, with an offset spatula. Arrange one-quarter of the sliced strawberries over the whipped cream in two layers. Repeat with remaining layers. Try to allot the right amount of whipped cream per layer to leave enough for piping some decorations on top, if you'd like.

      The cake can be refrigerated for a few hours before eating it. 

  • Coconut Milk Fudge
    • Monday May 17, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, adapted from The Brazilian Kitchen, modified by me.

      Difficulty rating: 5 out of 10. This is probably the rating I'd give it if it had worked. I think that, with the proper instructions, this still would've had at least a moderate difficulty rating because candy is so fickle.

      If you want to see what they should have looked like, click here.

      • 1 C. sweetened condensed milk
      • 1/2 C. unsweetened coconut milk
      • 2 Tbsp. salted or unsalted butter (salted will give the candy more contrast)
      • 2 tsp. light corn syrup
      • 1/3 C. finely shredded unsweetened coconut (optionally toasted, for crunch)
      • 1/3 C. ground pistachios
      • 1/3 C. chocolate sprinkles
      • mini or specialty-sized cupcake liners

      In a medium-size heavy saucepan, combine condensed milk, coconut milk, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and whisk constantly until fudgy. The recipe notes that when mixture is ready, it will pull together into one soft piece, leaving browned residue on bottom of pan. This may take anywhere between 10-25 minutes. The candy should begin to take on a beige, caramelized color.

      Slide mixture into a bowl. (Don’t scrape the pan; leave any residue behind.) Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until very firm, at least 4 hours.

      Scoop out teaspoonfuls of the mixture and use your hands to roll into balls, about 3/4-inch in diameter. Having just a drop or two of water in your palms, just a little moisture, will help form them. Set aside on a baking sheet.

      Prep toppings and roll brigadeiros through them, covering the surface completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days or refrigerate for up to 1 month. Serve at room temperature. 

  • Almond Raspberry Layer Cake
    • Monday May 10, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, adapted from Sky High

      Difficulty rating: 3 out of 10. This difficulty is due to making homemade frosting, separating so many eggs and serving without destroying because of the height. (Also, my personal difficulty is how to bring the remainder of the cake to work to get rid of it!)

      Note: This cake can be made with either 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans. I made mine with 8" because I wanted it to be tall! I mean, it's 3 layers, you might as well go for it, right? But slicing a cake of this height was definitely tricky, so 9" might keep it somewhat more manageable for serving. Your call.

      • 4 1/2 C. cake flour
      • 4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
      • 3/4 tsp. salt
      • 7 oz. (1 tube) prepared almond paste
      • 2 2/3 C. sugar
      • 2 1/2 sticks (10 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
      • 1 Tbsp. almond extract
      • 10 egg whites
      • 1 1/2 C. whole milk
      • 1 C. simple syrup (to keep cake moist)(optional)
      • 1 C. seedless raspberry preserves

      Making the cakes:

      Take your butter out of the fridge! I ALWAYS forget this step and end up microwaving the butter for a few seconds to soften. Don't let this happen to you.

      Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch (but 9-inch will work just fine) round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper. (I say skip the parchment paper step and just coat with flour.)

      In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside. (In case you need to use a cake flour substitute like I did, the replacement is that for 2 cups of cake flour, you'll use 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of cornstarch.)

      Place the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Begin to cream the mixture on low speed to break up the almond paste, then increase the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until the paste is broken into fine particles. (Mine still had some pieces here and there that I wouldn't consider "fine particles," but it wasn't going to get any smaller and it turned out fine.)

      Add the butter and almond extract and beat it well, then the egg whites, two or three at a time, beating just long enough to incoperate after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times to make sure it is evenly mixed.

      Dust about a third of the dry ingredients over the batter and fold in with a large rubber spatula until just combined. Then alternate folding in half of milk, half of remaining flour mixture, rest of milk, rest of flour just until no streaks of white remain. Use a light hand and do not overmix. Divide the batter among the three prepared cake pans.

      Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. (I would recommend leaving them a tad longer. I let mine cool half an hour before turning out. Nothing bad will happen and you're less likely to have the cake fall out in pieces because it's still so hot.) Turn the cakes out on to wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners (if you used them) and let them cool completely, about one hour.

      Making the Frosting:

      • 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate
      • 1 C. heavy cream
      • 1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature

      Melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler or metal/glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk to blend well. Remove from heat and let stand, whisking occasionally, until the chocolate mixture thickens. (Mine didn't want to thicken for half an hour, so I gave up and refrigerated it for 30-45 minutes. Much better! I'd recommend just doing this in the first place, for as long as necessary.)

      Place the butter in a large mixer bowl and with an electric mixer on medium speed, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate cream and whip until lighter in color and somewhat stiff, about three minutes. Do not whip too long or the frosting may begin to separate.

      Building the cake:

      Place one layer flat side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Slide small strips of waxed paper under the edges to protect the plate from any messiness accumulated while decorating. Brush first layer with simple syrup, if using. (This is one part water to one part sugar. Boil 1 C. water and stir in 1 C. sugar until dissolved.) Spread 1/2 cup of the raspberry preserves over the cake, leaving a 1/4 inch margin around the edges. Repeat with the second layer, brushing syrup if using and using remaining preserves. Add the third layer and brush with syrup if using.

      Spread a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Pipe a decoration of your choice.

  • Sweet Cherry Pie
    • Monday May 03, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com.

      Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 10 (If you've ever made a pie crust before, you'll have a leg up on that difficulty rating. The filling itself, though time-consuming, is very easy.)

      Making the Crust:

      • 2 1/2 C. flour
      • 1 Tbsp. sugar
      • 1 tsp. salt
      • 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold

      Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside.

      In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Dice two sticks of very cold unsalted butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with a pastry blender or two knives. Stop when all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas.

      Drizzle half of the ice-cold water (but not the cubes, if there are any left) over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. You’ll probably need an additional 1/4 cup of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and use your hands to knead it together.

      Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Flatten into round disks, wrap and let chill in the fridge for about two hours before rolling it out.

      Making the filling & topping:

      • 2 1/2 lbs. fresh cherries
      • 4 Tbsp. cornstarch
      • 2/3 to 3/4 C. sugar (adjust this according to the sweetness of your cherries)
      • 1/8 tsp. salt
      • Juice of half a lemon
      • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
      • 1 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
      • 1 egg, beaten with 2 Tbsp. water
      • Coarse sugar, for decoration

      Preheat oven to 400°F.

      Pit cherries into a large bowl, then stir them together with the cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon juice and almond extract.

      Prepare the egg wash by beating the egg and the water with a whisk.

      Roll out one of chilled dough disks on a floured work surface to a 13-inch round. Gently place it in 9-inch pie pan, either by rolling it around the rolling pin and unrolling it over the pan or by folding it into quarters and unfolding it in the pan. Trim edges to a half-inch overhang.

      Spoon filling into pie crust, discarding the majority of the liquid that has pooled in the bowl. Dot the filling with the bits of cold butter.

      Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface, drape it over the filling, and trim it, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp the edge decoratively.

      Brush the egg wash over over pie crust, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. (I skipped the coarse sugar step.)

      Cut slits in the crust with a sharp knife, forming steam vents, and bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F. and bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack. (If you do attempt this recipe, let cool completely, maybe 5 to 6 hours, and see what happens!) 

  • Chewy Amaretti Cookies
    • Monday April 26, 2010

      From smittenkitchen.com, adapted from Gourmet.

      Difficulty rating: 1 out of 10

      • 1 (7-oz.) tube of pure almond paste
      • 1 C. sugar
      • Pinch of salt
      • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes

      Preheat oven to 300°F and place racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper.

      Pulse almond paste, sugar and salt in a food processor until broken up (in case you're unfamiliar with pulse technique, usually you want to hold the button for 1 second, release 1 second and so on).

      Add egg whites and puree until smooth.

      Transfer batter to pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch tip and pipe 3/4-inch rounds (1/3 inch high) about 1 inch apart in pans. (These are small as cookies go. You should fit more than a dozen per sheet, even with the wider spacing.)

      Dip a fingertip in water and gently tamp down any peaks.

      Bake, rotating and switching position of pans halfway through, until golden and puffed, 15 to 18 minutes.

      (I didn't understand these instructions until just now as I'm typing this! I guess this means you put two pans in at the same time and when you turn them around halfway, you also switch the bottom one with the top one. Hmmm ... this might also explain why mine turned more golden. Perhaps with one pan covering another, it affects the way the heat is distributed. Good to know. I couldn't figure out before which rack I was supposed to be using since the first part of the instructions is so particular about placement. Makes sense...oops! I think the directions could have been clearer. Well, at least now I can make them clear for you. My mistakes become your advice.)

      Let cookies cool almost completely in their pans. Once cool, they’re much easier to cleanly remove from the parchment. You can make them into sandwich cookies by spreading some jam or ganache between them.

      For ganache, melt 3 oz. of semi-sweet chips with 2 Tbsp. of heavy cream, then let stand to thicken. I usually prepare ganache in a ghetto-rigged double boiler where I put the ingredients in a glass bowl and rest it on a pot that has a small amount of water boiling in the bottom. Stir the chocolate mixture as it melts together to prevent burning.

      Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two or frozen up to one month. 

  • Big Crumb Coffee Cake with Rhubarb
    • Monday April 19, 2010

      From SmittenKitchen.com, adapted from The New York Times

      Difficulty rating: 1 out of 10. In spite of the uncertainty of dealing with a new food, this was very simple to make!

      • Butter for greasing pan

      For the rhubarb filling:

      • 1/2 lb. rhubarb, trimmed
      • 1/4 C. sugar
      • 2 tsp. corn starch
      • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

      For the crumbs:

      • 1/3 C. dark brown sugar
      • 1/3 C. granulated sugar
      • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
      • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
      • 1/8 tsp. salt
      • 1/2 C. (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
      • 1 3/4 C. cake flour or all-purpose flour

      For the cake:

      • 1/3 C. sour cream
      • 1 large egg
      • 1 large egg yolk
      • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
      • 1 C. cake flour or all-purpose flour
      • 1/2 C. granulated sugar
      • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
      • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
      • 1/4 tsp. salt
      • 6 Tbsp. softened butter, cut into pieces

      Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8"-square baking pan.

      (Two Notes here: #1 - I found that using two whole sticks of butter worked perfectly. One stick melted for the streusel, 6 Tbsp. softened for the cake batter and 2 Tbsp. left over to grease the pan.

      #2 - This recipe also almost didn't happen because I didn't have and couldn't find a square baking pan. Luckily, Whole Foods also saved me here. However, they only had a 9"-square pan. Surprisingly, the cook time was the same, but my squares weren't as tall as I would've liked.)

      For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2-inch thick and toss with sugar, cornstarch and ginger in a small bowl. Set aside.

      Making the crumbs:
      In a medium bowl, whisk brown and granulated sugars, the spices and the salt into melted butter until smooth.

      Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon and mix until combined. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

      Making the cake:
      In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla.

      Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

      Add the softened butter and a spoonful of the sour cream mixture, and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for an additional 30 seconds.

      Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 C. batter and set aside.

      Building the cake:
      Pour remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.

      Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), 45 to 55 minutes.

      Cool completely before serving. (Best enjoyed with fresh coffee or hot cocoa.) 

  • Pocky
    • Monday April 12, 2010

      Adapted from notquitenigella.com's Web publication from Pier Cookbook, heavily modified by me!

      Difficulty rating: 2 out of 10. (For me, making the conversions and figuring out how much extra flour to add - which really was endless additions, it seemed - was rather trying, but hopefully I've modified it well enough here that you wouldn't have so much trouble. The process itself is probably the simplest I've done so far. Oh, and don't expect it to look like real Pocky. Only a machine can make those perfect little sticks!)

      • 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
      • 1 C. bread flour
      • 1/4 tsp. salt
      • 1 1/2 Tbsp. powdered sugar, sifted
      • 1 1/2 tsp. dried yeast
      • 1/4 C. milk, lukewarm
      • 1 Tbsp. tahini
      • 1 Tbsp. honey
      • zest of 1/4 orange
      • 2 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
      • 2 fl oz water

      In a small bowl, stir to combine yeast and milk. Set aside to get frothy.

      In a medium bowl, stir together bread flour, all-purpose flour, powdered sugar and salt.

      In another small bowl, stir together the tahini and honey.

      Add the yeast mixture and the tahini mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with spoon until doughy.

      Add zest, butter and water, and stir until combined.

      At this point, if the dough looks sticky, add flour to keep it from being too "wet." If you add some and still aren't convinced it's enough but are afraid to keep adding, don't worry. You can always make up for it later. But in my experience, it's hard to overdo the flour in this recipe, so go for it.

      Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

      Preheat oven to 350F.

      At this point, it's up to you. The instructions I got were to roll the dough out into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick and cut strips at 5mm x 15 cm. My dough was way too difficult for this. So after figuring out the proper size (and really, if you've ever seen Pocky, I think the smaller the better), I just started tearing off balls (as you see in the picture above) and rolling them out by hand. I think the results are the same and it was a lot easier for us.

      Bake 12-15 minutes, keeping an eye on them. You definitely want them to have a golden brown look to them. If you don't bake them long enough, they won't have any crunch to them. Some areas that are thin (especially the ends) may brown faster. Don't worry about it.

      Dip in melted chocolate and decorate with toppings as desired (sprinkles, dried fruit, powdered cocoa, coconut, etc.)

  • Flower Cupcakes
    • Monday April 05, 2010

      Via Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Ina Garten.

      Difficulty rating: 2 out of 10. This is a pretty simple recipe. The only difficulty is having to separately dye the icing.


      • 18 Tbsp. (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
      • 2 2/3 C. sugar
      • 6 extra-large eggs, room temperature
      • 1 C. sour cream, room temperature
      • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
      • 3 C. all-purpose flour
      • 1/3 C. cornstarch
      • 1 tsp. kosher salt
      • 1 tsp. baking soda


      • 24 Tbsp. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
      • 1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
      • 3/4 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted (I did the math = 2 5/8 C.)
      • 1 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

      Side note: Does anyone else have the issues I do with sifting powdered sugar? It gives me such a rough time, trying to sift it through without it clogging up multiple times.

      Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with paper liners.

      Making the Cupcakes:
      Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, two at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

      Sift the flour, cornstarch, salt and baking soda into a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full with batter. Bake in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

      Making the Icing:
      Mix the butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, just until smooth. Spread the frosting generously on top of each cupcake.

      Liz's coloring technique:
      Scoop out about a quarter of the icing (mine somehow still had small clumps of what I have to guess was the powdered sugar; it bugged me, but if yours does too, don't worry about it), add a very small amount of food coloring to start and stir with spoon until completely mixed. Add more as needed until you've achieved the depth of color you want.

      I had only green as a liquid food coloring. The yellow, red and blue were gels. I would recommend buying all liquid versions (though I already had the gels on hand and decided to save the money) because you would be able to use them more sparingly. However, any type of food coloring will work. Use red the most sparingly to get a rosy pink color.

      Once you've gotten your icings toned to your satisfaction, frost the cupcakes and top with sprinkles of your choosing. Eat! 

Copyright 2004-2021 Elizabeth Shiver