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Archive for the ‘baked goods and desserts’ Category

I hope you all had a great July 4th weekend. We spent the entire Saturday at Great America, and another day in the sun at a barbecue with friends. And then there was time with family to round out the three-day weekend.

It’s been almost a couple of days, but I’m still recovering. I didn’t even want to write this post, but J said that he would punch me in the face if I didn’t. I kid, people. I kid. We like to joke around like that.

Here’s a joke for you (warning – it may or may not be funny): “What’s black and blue and creamy all over?”

A: “Someone who gets punched in the face with a cheesecake.”

Ha ha! Okay, maybe not. (Is it even physically possible to throw a punch and a cheesecake at the same time? This must be a two-handed exercise.)

The real answer to “what’s black and blue and creamy all over” is this blackberry and blueberry cheesecake.  J said it would be a shame if I waited until next year’s berry season to write about this cheesecake (I was trying to hold off until then. I am that lazy…I mean, um, tired.) So, here it is.

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This cheesecake is a plain (vanilla) cheesecake topped with blueberry syrup, fresh blackberries, and blueberries. My original intent was to make a cheesecake with only fresh blackberries, but I thought a little something more was needed to hold the blackberries and cheesecake together. I had frozen blueberries on hand, so I cooked the juice of a large handful of blueberries down to a syrup. The top of the cheesecake was coated with blueberry syrup, and piled high with fresh blackberries. And then, to tie it altogether, some blueberries were dribbled on as well.

The black and blue cheesecake was a huge success with the family. It also passed the test of a ten-year-old who, without a doubt, knows his desserts. He didn’t eat much lunch that day, but interestingly enough, he did have room for two large helpings of cheesecake.


Graham Cracker Crust

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted (you can also use less than 1/2 cup; it should work)
15-16 cinnamon graham crackers from Trader Joe’s

First, take a 10 inch springform pan and wrap the bottom tightly with foil. (The pans are not leak-proof.) Place graham crackers in a large ziplock bag, and crush the crackers to a crumb by using a rolling and pressing with a large rolling pin. Press crumbs onto the bottom of the springform pan to form a tightly packed, smooth and even layer of crumbs. (Recipes I’ve come across call for baking the crust before adding the cheesecake filling, but I accidentally skipped this step and all was well).

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Creamy Cheesecake

3 – 8 oz package cream cheese
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt
3 tbsp flour
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix first seven ingredients together, beating on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the flour and beat until incorporated. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is just blended together. Pour mixture on top of the graham cracker crust and gently tap the pan on the counter top to ease out the bigger bubbles in the batter. Bake cheesecake for 45 minutes at 350°F. Turn off the oven and allow for cheesecake to slowly cool in the oven. (If the cheesecake cools too quickly, cracks will form as it shrinks and pulls away from the sides of the pan.) Leave the cheesecake in the oven for about an hour before pulling it out. Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature. At this point, you can either refrigerate the cheesecake overnight and serve it the next day, or you can chill it just so that it is firm enough to withstand the weight of the berry topping.

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Black and Blue berry topping

2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed
squeeze of lemon juice
12 oz fresh blackberries

Make the blueberry syrup. Mash 1-1/2 cup of the thawed blueberries through a strainer over a bowl, using a spoon/spatula. The blueberry skins should be left in the strainer. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the resulting blueberry juice and heat over medium-high heat until a thick (but not too thick) syrup forms. Allow syrup to cool (the syrup will also thicken as it cools).

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Carefully unmold the cheesecake from the pan. Spread blueberry syrup on top of the cheesecake. Pile on the fresh blackberries, and sprinkle on the remaining thawed blueberries (use fresh blueberries if you have them). Keep chilled until ready to serve.

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I don’t recall even knowing about millet until very recently, when my aunt tried to tell me about a certain grain that the Chinese like to use for porridge. We had to use a Chinese-English dictionary to figure out that she was talking about millet. (Its name in Chinese literally translates to “small grain.”) Shortly after this conversation, the prevalence of millet was revealed to me. While browsing through some Chinese snacks at the supermarket, I found that millet was a main ingredient for some of them. Who knew?

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Millet was a staple grain in northern China long before rice became popular. These days, millet is primarily grown and consumed in India and Africa. Millet is quite a versatile grain. It is used to make breads and porridges, and has about the same protein content as wheat. With its revival here in the states, it has also found its way into baked goods. Like these muffins here.

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I made these blueberry muffins for a simple Mother’s Day brunch a couple weeks back, served alongside fresh fruit, broiled shrimp on skewers, and quiche (which I’ll be sharing with you next). While millet is not the main ingredient in these muffins, it is certainly a star. I could not suppress the grin on my face that grew bigger and bigger as I worked my way through my first muffin, crunching down on the nutty millet embedded within.

Try it. I think you’ll like it.

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Blueberry Millet Muffins

Makes 12. Adapted from a recipe for blueberry muffins here

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted millet
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup milk

1. Toast millet by placing 1/2 cup millet in a shallow pan over medium heat. Occasionally move and stir millet until you hear popping sounds and smell a nutty aroma. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with squares of parchment paper or muffin liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Working over the bowl, toss blueberries in a fine sieve with about 1 1/2 teaspoons flour mixture to lightly coat. (If you are using frozen blueberries, like I did, there is no need to thaw them. Blueberries can be coated with flour mixture directly out of the freezer.) Set aside the flour mixture and the blueberries. Mix cooled, toasted millet thoroughly into the flour mixture.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a handheld mixer, beat butter and 1 cup sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Mix in vanilla and lemon zest.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add reserved flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add milk, beating until just combined. Do not overmix. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the blueberries. Divide batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups.
4. Bake, rotating pan halfway though, until muffins are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. (With frozen blueberries, the blueberries may still be cold after the muffins come out of the oven. Allow for muffins to come to room temperature if you want to bite into room temperature blueberries.)

Note: Muffins can be stored for several days in the fridge in an airtight container, or even at room temperature. For best enjoyment, reheat muffins in the oven before consuming.

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Hmm. I think I see a pattern here.

I must really love lemons.

I was waffling between making a lemon meringue pie or a lemon cake for dessert one day, and thought to myself, “Why not have both? Surely, there must be such a thing as lemon meringue cake.” And it looks like I was right.

Courtesy of Nigella Lawson, I present to you the lemon meringue cake.

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This cake’s got personality. It’s upside-down, it’s right-side-up. It billows like a cloud and oozes with delight. At its surface are turbulent waves; at its center, sunshine.

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You start by making two lemon cake layers, spread thin onto the bottom of each lined cake pan. Then, you top the layer off with a fluffy meringue, one decorated with peaks and one without. Bake. After these meringue cakes are cool and ready, turn the undecorated layer up on its head, onto the cake platter. Slather on some lemon curd (see lemon curd recipe from a previous post), and then some whipped cream. Top with remaining meringue cake. What you have now is pure whimsy and deliciousness, crisp at the edges.

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Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Meringue Cake
adapted from here (measuring units converted)

1/2 cup (1 stick) soft unsalted butter (left to soften at room temperature)
4 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cup granulated sugar (original recipe calls for caster sugar, which is a finer sugar)
3/4 cup flour
1-3/4 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
zest of 1 lemon
4 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp milk
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 cup whipping cream (I only had 1/2 cup on hand, so ended up with less whipped cream than desired)
2/3 cup quality lemon curd

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line and butter two 8 to 9 inch cake pans.
2. Whisk egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar, butter, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and lemon zest. Mix in the lemon juice and milk.
4. Divide the mixture between the prepared pans. You will think you don’t even have enough to cover the bottom of the tins, but don’t panic. Spread calmly with a rubber spatula until smooth.
5. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until peaks form and then slowly whisk in remaining 1 cup of sugar. Divide the beaten whites between the two sponge-filled tins, pouring or, more accurately, spreading the meringue straight on top of the cake batter.
6. Smooth one flat with a spatula, and with the back of a spoon, peak the other and sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the peaks. Put the pans into the oven for 20–25 minutes.
7. With a cake-tester, pierce the cake that has the flat meringue topping to check it’s cooked all through. (It will have risen now but will fall back flattish later.) No sponge mixture should stick to the tester. Remove both cakes to a wire rack and let them cool completely in their pans.
8. Unmold the flat-topped one on to a cake stand or plate, meringue side down.
9. Beat the whipping cream until thick but not stiff and set aside. Spread lemon curd onto the flat sponge surface of the first (upside-down) cake, and then spread whipped cream over the curd. Top with the remaining cake, with peaked meringue facing up.

Note: This cake is best eaten the same day. The meringue flattens out over time, and tends to get a little soggy.

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We discovered lemon pudding cake on our six month wedding celebration (you can gag all you want, but yes, we do celebrate monthly). After just finishing a filling dinner at a restaurant, we were presented with the dessert menu. The Meyer lemon pudding cake cried out to us. Pudding cake? Why, I’ve never heard of it. Well, the English do call cake “pudding.” Could it be cake-cake? How redundant! Would it be like bread pudding, then? But instead of bread, there’s cake?

When the dessert was brought to the table, it took us about, oh, thirty seconds to wipe the plate clean. It was a layer of pudding sitting on top of a soft, light cake with an ever-so-thin crust on the bottom — warm, and served with a honey-lavender cream and a slightly candied slice of clementine. Oh, it was heaven. Why lemon pudding cake and I have not met sooner, I do not know.

Since you all know me by now, you can guess that I was aching to have a couple more servings of this lemon pudding cake in the following weeks. And true to my form, I found the perfect recipe online. (Disclosure: I made a batch and had three of the cakes.* So did J. The last two went into two other mouths.)

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These cakes are cooked in a bain-marie, otherwise known as a water bath, so that the pudding layer does not cook too quickly and stays creamy. Take care not to burn yourself with scalding hot water going in and out of the oven! With the whipped egg whites, the cake layer is kind of like a soufflé — you can watch the cakes rise in the oven, forming a dome above the height of the ramekins. The top is browned, creating that thin crust on which the pudding cake sits. After the cakes are out of the oven, take them out of their water baths and allow them to cool completely before inverting onto plates. Serve with honey whipped cream (see below) and decorate with lemon or orange zest.

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Meyer Lemon Pudding Cakes with Honey Whipped Cream (adapted from here)
Serves 8.

1/3 cup(s) sugar
1/4 cup(s) sugar, plus additional for ramekins
1/4 cup(s) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
2-3 Meyer lemons (I used 4 smaller ones)
3 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoon(s) butter or margarine, melted and cooled
1 cup reduced-fat milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease eight 4- to 5-ounce ramekins; sprinkle with sugar to coat bottoms and sides. Shake out any excess.
2. On sheet of waxed paper, with fork, combine flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. From lemons, grate 1 1/2 tablespoons peel and squeeze 1/2 cup juice. In large bowl, with wire whisk, beat egg yolks and lemon peel and juice. Whisk in butter and milk. Gradually whisk in flour mixture.
3. In another large bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add one-third beaten whites to yolk mixture and, with rubber spatula, stir gently until incorporated. Gently fold in remaining whites until just incorporated. With ladle, divide batter evenly among prepared ramekins.
5. Arrange ramekins 1 inch apart in large (17-inch by 13-inch) roasting pan. (I used a 9×13 glass dish and a square glass dish.) Fill pan with enough hot water to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Carefully transfer pan to oven and bake 30 to 35 minutes or until cakes are golden brown and tops rise 1/2 inch above rims.
6. Cool cakes in pan on wire rack 5 minutes. With sturdy metal spatula, carefully remove ramekins from pan with water and transfer to wire rack to cool 15 minutes longer. (The cakes will deflate a bit and shrink from the edges.)
7. Run thin knife around edge of 1 ramekin. Place small serving plate on top of ramekin and invert plate and ramekin together; remove ramekin. Repeat with remaining ramekins. Garnish each cake with some honey whipped cream and lemon or orange zest.
Note – if you don’t get to eating all of the cakes at once, you can cover and refrigerate them in their ramekins. To serve, simply warm the cakes in the oven before serving. I have also noticed that the oven-warmed refrigerated cakes take on a cleaner form post-inversion.


Honey Whipped Cream

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp honey

Whip cream on high until soft peaks are almost formed. Add honey, and whip a little bit more on a lower speed to get a soft whipped cream. (I over whipped my cream, as you can see in the pictures).

*No, not all at once! That would be crazy, even for me.

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three holidays

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Conversation heart candies are so nostalgic. So are big sugar cookies covered in royal icing. I made these conversation heart cookies for J to bring to his lab on Friday. I thought it would be fun to include texting/messaging abbreviations in addition to lovey messages. J told me that some of his labmates had a great time deciphering them all.

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Wishing you lots of love, a happy Presidents’ Day, and a festive Lunar New Year this weekend. We’re getting together with family tonight to stuff ourselves silly, Chinese banquet-style.

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It is December 1st, and we are still working on leftovers. It’s been delicious (we’ve also had turkey soup and turkey melts), but I think it is now time to stop.

Here are just a few photos of our Thanksgiving dishes. We made roast turkey with herbs and shiitake mushroom gravy, cornbread stuffing, roasted butternut squash & purple sweet potatoes with sage, braised brussels sprouts with lemon and thyme (a favorite of mine), brown rice with black barley & radish seeds (a mix from TJ’s) with crimini mushrooms, and fresh cranberry sauce with orange zest. I was so excited to eat that I forgot to take a picture of our table when we sat down to dinner.

Turkey, three quarters of the way through. It turned a richer, deeper brown after all the basting towards the end. (Yes, that is my foot in the picture.)

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Stuffing.

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Cranberry sauce.

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And there was dessert. Butterscotch budino (pudding).

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The weekend before Thanksgiving, we were in Los Angeles for a friend’s wedding. J planned ahead and got us a dinner reservation at Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza. While the pizza was delicious, I was turning cartwheels over the butterscotch budino that we had ordered for dessert. Luckily for me, after a quick internet key word search upon our return home, I was able to find the recipe for Mozza’s butterscotch budino. I then turned some more cartwheels and instantly decided that this year, butterscotch pudding would take the place of pumpkin pie as Thanksgiving dessert.

With multiple components, the recipe (thank you, NY Times!) is a bit involved, but the pudding, caramel, and creme fraiche topping can all be made ahead of time. You may choose to scale down if you have a smaller party, but trust me, I wouldn’t. These are leftovers that you would love to have again and again.

Butterscotch Budino With Caramel Sauce (10 servings)
Adapted from Dahlia Narvaez of Pizzeria Mozza; Time: 1 hour, plus 3 hours’ chilling

FOR THE BUDINO

3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/8 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum (I used 2+ tablespoons, and it was just right)

FOR THE SAUCE AND TOPPING

3/4 cup heavy cream
Scrapings from 1-inch piece of vanilla bean, or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons fleur de sel (I pounded coarse sea salt into fine flakes using a small plastic sandwich bag and a rolling pin)
3/4 cup crème fraîche.

1. For the budino, combine cream and milk in bowl or pitcher, set aside. Whisk egg, egg yolks and cornstarch in medium bowl, set aside.
2. Combine brown sugar, kosher salt and 1/2 cup water in pot. Place over medium-high heat and let sit until edges start to brown. Tilt pot as needed to even the browning until caramelized, nutty and deep brown, about 10 minutes.
3. Immediately whisk in cream mixture, mixture will steam and caramel will seize. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Whisk a cup at a time into egg mixture until half is incorporated. Remove from heat, and immediately whisk egg mixture back into pot until custard is very thick, about 2 minutes.
4. Whisk in butter and rum. Pass through a fine mesh strainer and divide among 10 6-ounce ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool, and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours or up to 3 days.
5. For sauce, combine 1/2 cup of cream and the vanilla in medium saucepan. Heat until simmering. Add butter and remove from heat; set aside.
6. In large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine corn syrup, sugar and enough water (3 to 4 tablespoons) to make a wet, sandy mixture. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling pan for even cooking, until mixture is medium amber, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream mixture; set aside and let cool. (May be refrigerated and reheated before serving.)
7. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup cream in a large bowl until it begins to thicken. Add crème fraîche and whisk until thick and fluffy. To serve, spoon a tablespoon of warm caramel sauce over each budino. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon fleur de sel, and add a dollop of cream topping.

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When it comes to the presentation of dessert, I tend to love cute, individual servings a little more. That is why I’ve had my eye on ramekins for awhile now, but couldn’t justify accumulating dishes that I don’t necessarily need, or have the space for. “But just think of all the possibilities,” the other little voice in my head would say. “Custards! Crisps! Souffles! Oh my!”

Two weeks ago, the little voice succeeded in winning me over. When I had an urge to make apple crisp for dessert, I went out and bought myself some ramekins. Armed with eight ramekins — I am obviously daydreaming about all the dinner parties (that or all the desserts) we’ll have in the future — I was prepared to make eight servings of apple crisp, each in its own little dish. Sure, I could have made an apple crisp in a Pyrex baking dish, but it just wouldn’t have been the same.

I bought Pink Lady apples for the crisp. As far as tart apples go, I consider these my favorite. Pink Lady Apples are crisp, sweet, and tart, but not as tart as pucker-inducing green apples.

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These apple crisps can be made hours ahead of time. All they need is a bit of reheating in the oven. Serve ramekins of piping hot Pink Lady crisp (be careful if they are coming straight out of the oven – an additional holding plate is advisable) with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Melting vanilla ice cream meeting baked cinnamon and sugar-coated apples, with a touch of crisp…I still have dreams about this dessert. Let’s just say that I made sure we had enough leftover apple crisp to keep us giddy for a few days.

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Apple Crisp (adapted from here)

3 pounds tart apples (I used Pink Lady apples)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
4 tablespoons cold butter (1/2 stick)

Peel, core and chop the apples (I sliced each apple into 12 wedges, and then sliced those wedges into halves). Throw them in a bowl and add the lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine the nutmeg, cinnamon, and brown sugar; add to the apples and stir. In another bowl combine the oats, flour, and sugar. Cut the butter into eight small pieces; mix the butter and flour with a pastry blender, or by using two forks until the mixture is crumbly. Butter a 9 inch square baking dish (I used 8 – 6 oz ramekins). Spread apple mixture in the bottom of baking dish (pile the apples high if using ramekins) and sprinkle flour mixture on top. Bake at 375° for 30 – 45 minutes, or until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned. Serve warm to hot. Can be served with vanilla ice cream or a little heavy cream, if desired. (Ice cream, of course!)

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