Category Archives: dessert

Coconut Macaroons

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I may have a new favorite cookie. (Well, okay, chocolate chip oatmeal pecan are pretty much always going to take the cake (so to speak)… but these are damn good).

The pros: Super fast to make (30 min?), gluten-free, dairy-free, pairs excellently with chocolate, good as dessert on their own or as an accompaniment to something else, could conceivably be eaten for breakfast, if you also have an orange or something…

The cons: Some people don’t like coconut? And coconut doesn’t grow in Maine yet, so… not local.

I tend to not like anything terribly sweet, so when my mother and I were playing around with these at Christmas (she’s always been my baking partner, even when we don’t live near each other anymore) we decided to mix unsweetened and sweetened coconut. It has the added benefit of changing up the texture a little.

I keep egg whites in the freezer, from whenever I use only the yolks (custard, hollandaise, molten lava cakes, etc), and can then just pull them out and defrost them before using. If you don’t have them on hand, I’ve heard you can freeze the unused yolks (never needed to try it first hand, though), or you could just whip up a quick batch of pudding—and actually these would be fabulous dipped in caramel pudding.

On another note, I try to keep up a bit on countries I’ve traveled to, and there is quite a bit of interest in Denmark’s food system, from cutting food waste to antibiotic use in animal raising. They also just opened the first food waste supermarket, to try to do even more to combat the problem.

And, if you are following the debates (as you should be—especially you single women out there, we’ve got lots of political power!), you may be curious about the candidates’ positions on food and farming. I don’t know much about the R side, if they even have thought about food (not that anyone seems to have a chance to discuss actual policy in those debates), but here’s a little about Sanders vs. Clinton.

Coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 oz chocolate, if desired (highly recommended)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Defrost egg whites, if using from the freezer. Otherwise, separate eggs, putting the whites in a large bowl and saving the yolks for another venture.

Toast the coconut (not required, but improves flavor). Spread out on a baking sheet and bake at 350ºF or so until just golden (it goes quickly once it starts turning, so watch carefully), about 5 minutes. Turn with a spatula halfway through. Cool.

Mix together egg whites and sugar until frothy. Stir in cooled coconut (you don’t want to cook the egg whites prematurely) and vanilla.

Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls with your hands and place on cookie sheet. They won’t spread out at all, so they can be closer together than other cookies—but do give them a couple inches in between balls for air flow, or they won’t get as evenly golden.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until evenly golden and crispy on the outside. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a cooling rack.

When cookies are at least mostly cool, melt chocolate in the microwave or double boiler. Dip the bottoms of the macaroons in melted chocolate, then balance upside down on the cooling rack to cool. The chocolate will take a while to solidify completely (you can definitely eat them in the meantime, it’ll just be a little messy).

Excellent as trail nibbles on a late winter (early spring…?) hike.

Deconstructed Summer Fruit Tart

deconstructed blueberry tart

Deconstructed desserts are very mod these days, you know. They also happen to be both a lazy and single person’s version of a tart, capturing the flavors and textures without the work of assembling an entire creation, which I like to save for parties or potlucks. I typically use an almond tart crust for the more official version of this dessert, but couldn’t quite be bothered without an occasion, so topped pastry creme and berries with loosely chopped toasted almonds instead. If you want to tie it together, drizzle a little honey or jam over top.

A few more items you may be interested in. First and most self-aggrandizing, I now have an Instagram! Follow me @dancingtreekitchen. I only have a few pictures up so far but if you want to keep up with what’s cooking in Dancing Tree Kitchen in real time, that’s the new spot! Expect lots of food and a few nature shots (mostly trees), because that’s what inspires me to pull out my camera.

blueberries

I don’t often share stories about trees, because I get so caught up in the food and ag-gy news, but it just so happens that there are many people who love trees as I do, and some of them expressed it when trees were assigned email addresses. I will now be accepting odes to your favorite tree…

Human vaccines have turned out to be rather controversial for parents worried about unknown side effects, but as a whole they have been hugely beneficial in that small task of preventing humans from dying… what about plant vaccines? Researchers are trying to find ways to help boost a plant’s immune system, instead of adding external protections like pesticides. Seems like a good idea to me, although of course it depends on implementation.

And if you’re wondering how the Greeks can become a little more stable, I think this guy growing his own food has the right idea.

deconstructed berry tart materials

“Summer fruit” is intentionally ambiguous in this -recipe-. Your particular landscape and certainly the weather and seasons will probably have different fruits coming up every week. Here in Maine, we are in that fantastically lucky timeframe when blueberries are beginning to proliferate but strawberries are still abounding, and sweeter than at the beginning of the season.

I love pastry creme with raw berries. Another fabulous option is grilled stone fruit, which I tested for the first time last week to the gastronomic delight of my roommates. Cut peaches or plums in half, remove the pit, and grill for a few minutes until soft. They get warm and caramelly; my plums highlighted the delicate almond flavor in the creme. Fabulous.

grilled plums with pastry creme
(I was too busy eating to capture a good picture, apologies)

Deconstructed Summer Fruit Tart
Pastry creme
1 1⁄4 cups half and half 
2 Tablespoons cornstarch 
3 egg yolks 
1 tsp vanilla, or 1/4 tsp almond extract
3 Tablespoons sugar 
2 1⁄2 Tablespoons butter

Summer fruit (berries, stone fruit, grilled stone fruit, a combination...)
Almonds, or other nuts, toasted and chopped to desired texture
Honey or jam for drizzling

Pastry creme (involves lots of whisking to prevent it from curdling): Heat half and half in the microwave until almost boiling. In medium saucepan, whisk together the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Add the hot half and half slowly, whisking continuously, then bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Keep at a boil, whisking, for 1-2 minutes—it should be thick and creamy. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl. Let sit for a minute or two, then whisk in the butter and vanilla/other flavoring. Let cool—once cool enough, press plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent a skin from forming, and place in refrigerator.

Serve a dollop of cold pastry creme with fresh or grilled fruit, sprinkled with nuts and drizzled with a little honey or jam. Happy summer!

P.S. I highly recommend going blueberry picking! Ask around for the non-secret secret spots near you and bring your friends and containers. Don’t go at dusk though, I ended up with an enormous array of bug bites (including one on my ankle that swelled up rather nicely for the subsequent few days).

Chocolate Rum Raisin Bread Pudding

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CHOCOLATE EVERYWHERE. That is the Internet this week. Complain not I, and far be it from me to snub such a worthy tradition. Enhanced with liquor and buckets of delicious fat, no less.

You can even make your own chocolate. I have not embarked on that particular mission yet, and I’m not sure that I will. Seems like a lot of time/effort/cost for something that is an international product anyway. Maybe if cacao starts growing wherever I am.

Not one of my typical vegetable semi-healthy (I’m going to be honest, I’m not a health fanatic or a vegetarian, I just like veggies. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those two categories of being) recipe here, folks. It’s mid-February and you need to indulge your sensibilities.

So, bread pudding. The beauty of this is that it makes use of old bread, in case you forgot to freeze half that loaf you made last week, or someone came by and left you extra bread from something that you couldn’t eat fast enough. Or, you could buy a loaf expressly for this purpose, cut it into chunks, and watch impatiently as it dries out enough to soak in eggs and cream and turn magically into rich, delicious custard smothered in deep chocolate (you don’t actually have to wait impatiently. You can just toast them in the oven. But, I’ve heard that pleasure comes more from anticipation anyway, so may as well take the time).

People sometimes ask me, “Are you a cook or a baker?” Like many other areas of my life, I have yet to figure this out, and shall continue to (naïvely?) ask, “Can’t I be both?” I have been getting more and more into cooking recently (evidently), but I got my start in baking. And there is something magical about the way something can transform fantastically in a hot oven.

There are many things you can do with stale bread. But this is the best, because it is chocolate. And not just chocolate, a deep, rich, thick, creamy, dark, warm, soft chocolate. I want more, now.

Recipe from NPR. I have explored a number and this is the greatest.

Chocolate Rum Raisin Bread Pudding
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 (+...)cup dark rum
Butter for pan
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 eggs, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, or more chopped chocolate
1 stale 10-ounce baguette (or whatever, although I'd avoid super seedy bread), cut roughly in 1/2-1 inch size chunks

Pour rum over raisins in a small bowl and set aside for a while (side note: this is a great trick for, well, everything. Best oatmeal raisin cookies EVER). Butter a 9×13 baking dish (size doesn’t matter as much here, unlike items like cakes, so use what you have, it will somehow fit. If you have extra you can always cook mini puddings in muffin tins or little bowls).

Heat up milk and cream together until quite hot (microwave or stove, your preference). Add chocolate (or pour over chocolate—I tend to heat up the milk in a Pyrex measuring cup and put the chocolate in a bowl; that way I only have a couple dishes to wash), let sit for a minute or so, then stir so chocolate is melted. Mix in eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon and stir quickly (make sure the mixture is not hot enough to cook the eggs—you don’t want them to curdle—and stir immediately. If you are worried, mix eggs, sugar, etc. separately first). Stir in raisins and rum and chocolate chunks.

Place bread chunks in pan, and pour the mixture over top, trying to get as much contact with the bread as possible. Let sit for a while (at least an hour), squishing it down every now and again so that all the bread gets soaked. It will expand considerably. I also moved it around a bit to try to get an even distribution of chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 325ºF, and when both oven and bread are ready, bake for 45 min-1 hour, until custard is more or less set and the top is crispy. A knife inserted in the pudding should come out streaky but not liquidy. Serve warm, with whipped cream (spiked with rum), if desired. When you eat leftovers, I recommend warming it up (microwave is fine) and dousing with rum before consuming.

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On an entirely unrelated note, don’t make these mistakes with cheese!

Red Wine Caramel Poached Pear Tarte Tatin

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Goodness, that’s a lot of words in a title. I’ve been trying to make them as descriptive as possible. Now you can make it without a real recipe, right? (Poach pears in red wine, caramelize, make into tarte tatin (=pastry dough on top of the filling, into the oven, then flip over when golden))

I’ll give you some pointers anyway, just for fun.

I made this with a friend a few weeks ago—another friend has a Magical Pear Tree that even survived the first Storm in the beginning of November, and had given me a bunch of pears, and the friend I made it with had an idea of red wine poached pears, so we researched some recipes and it all came together. It’s quite a bit of work for the end result, but a fun afternoon activity. A friend is recommended though.

I had started my Pear Tart Adventures with Smitten Kitchen’s pear and almond tart, which was awesome (although the sugar in each component adds up). But unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of that journey. Besides, Deb has already documented it beautifully, so what good am I?

Many pear recipes involve poaching the pears before use. The pear and almond tart cited above poached them in sugar syrup; others have you do it in tea (such as Earl Grey), white wine, or (this one) red wine. Depending on the size, ripeness, and type of pears, they may take a little while to peel and core (we found that coring was much more tedious than peeling, which happened to be rather satisfying).

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This recipe has a number of components; hence the friend recommendation. Projects are fun by oneself but time-consuming and can be a little tedious. Make a wine reduction, then caramel, mix in the wine reduction, add pears, cook, let cool, make crust (or use one you have in the freezer), top, bake, flip, cool, eat. Well. I guess most tarts have multiple parts: at least a crust, filling, and topping.

The original recipe is from Food and Wine, and we didn’t change too many elements. A few ingredients I didn’t have quite enough of (namely red wine and pear liqueur (one day, perhaps I shall be the kind of person who keeps pear liqueur on hand. Certainly not for a few years)). And a few processes were changed as well; the most significant is that the recipe calls for puff pastry. Puff pastry, granted, is pretty neat. And not a bad thing to have around. But, as you probably know by now, I am more into making my own things, and puff pastry is a lot of work. Fortunately, I had a pie crust in the freezer, thanks to some forethought. Turns out you can freeze homemade crusts too (I think that’s how store-bought ones come?)!—when I made pumpkin pie a while ago it seemed silly to only make a single crust, so I made a double crust, rolled out both, used one and froze the other.

Pie crust, and how to freeze it:
12 Tbsp butter (1 1/2 sticks)
~1/3 cup very cold water
2 cups flour (up to half whole wheat, preferably fine-ground, if you like)
1 tsp salt

Cut up the butter first and freeze it while you get everything else out. Throw some water in a cup and put that in the freezer too. Measure out flour and salt and mix together, then throw in the butter (I apparently like to throw my pie crusts together) and blend together quickly, either in a food processor, with a pastry blender, or your fingers (which is what I’ve been doing—just make sure the butter is very cold and work quickly, you don’t want it to melt). You should have roughly pea-sized chunks of butter, or a little larger smears, of course with a mix of sizes. Toss in a few tablespoons of the ice water and mix around—it may take a few times to be able to tell how much liquid the dough will need. You should be able to clump pieces of dough together and have them stick, but don’t let it get too wet, and don’t overmix or it’ll get tough (this is where a food processor is handy). Press together and separate into two rounds. Put in plastic wrap or a bag and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Clean a countertop and sprinkle with flour. Take the dough out and roll it out (if you don’t have a rolling pin a clean wine bottle works spectacularly) to something resembling a circle (size it to your pie pans).

Ready to use as is, or place between two sheets of wax paper and carefully roll up. I didn’t actually have any wax paper, so I took an old (clean) produce bag (one of the super thin kind of flaky ones), cut it up, and used that instead. Worked surprisingly well! Once rolled, place in another plastic bag and wrap it up completely before placing it delicately in your freezer (after it’s frozen you don’t have to be quite so fastidious). When you need to use it, remove from freezer and let thaw for an hour or two before unrolling.

I found that the frozen pie crust was actually flakier and more delicious than the one I cooked right away. Could’ve been imagining it—but other pie recipes have you freeze the dough before baking it; I always thought it was to prevent it from puffing up, so you don’t have to use pie weights, but it may have other properties as well. Things to be researched.

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Caramel! That is another piece of this recipe (I told you there were a lot). Caramel is basically browned sugar. Actual caramels (the kind twisted up in wax paper squares) and made by cooking sugar until deeply golden and a very specific temperature (candy thermometers = super helpful), then adding cream and whisking like mad as it all bubbles up. That’s my experience, anyway. It’s fun, if a little messy. This tart is nice because you get the caramel flavor without going too crazy.

Finalement, le tarte Tatin. Allegedly named after the Tatin sisters, French of course, who forgot to put the crust in the pan before the filling in a tarte they were making, so they decided to bake it on top of the filling instead. Apple is traditional, but the process is what really makes it a tarte Tatin. N’importe quoi, c’est délicieuse.

Red Wine Caramel Poached Pear Tarte Tatin
2 cups red wine (I actually only had about 3/4 cup; it worked okay but I'm sure would be improved with more)
Cinnamon sticks, or 1 tsp ground if you don't have the sticks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp butter
Pears (we used at least 10 smallish ones)
1 pie crust, or a sheet of puff pastry (see above)

Start with the wine: boil with cinnamon until reduced and a little syrupy. This could take some time. Meanwhile, peel and core the pears, trying to get the stringy center bit out if you can.

Mix the sugar and water together in an ovenproof pan, the one you’ll make the tart in. I recommend cast iron; I’d never caramelized sugar in cast iron before, and it is a little more difficult to see the color changes, so maybe choose something else your first time, but otherwise it worked great. Heat until a nice amber color, swirling or stirring occasionally (stirring can mess it up a little more easily, but this recipe is very forgiving). Add butter and red wine reduction, and dissolve any hardened pieces of caramel that will have formed. Add pears and cook covered at low heat, stirring or turning pears occasionally, until pears are tender—at least 20 min. Arrange the pears cut side up in the pan and let cool.

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Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Unroll your pie crust and place on top of the pears. Tuck in the edges. Bake for about an hour, until the crust is beautiful and golden and smells delicious. Remove from oven and let cool for 10ish minutes, then flip over. This is a little tricky, and I admit that we had a bit of trouble with it. Just be quick and confident, and don’t be afraid to rearrange if it gets messed up. No one will ever know, Julia Child style (although apparently she never actually dropped a chicken).

The recipe from Food and Wine said it serves 8. Incorrect. We polished off half of it right then, and split the rest to take home. I ate it for breakfast.

Bonnie’s Perfect Too Rich Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake

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I’m a little nervous about posting this online.

This cake is very special to me.

Disclaimer: it is not my birthday, and I didn’t make this recently. My birthday is in August (August 5, in case any of you want to send me fun kitchen supplies next year) but it’s taken me a while to share it with you. Apologies. This post is also a bit different from my usual repertoire of vegetable-based dishes, so this will not be catering to some of you. However, birthdays are a special occasion and they deserve chocolate. In cake form.

You need to be prepared for this. For one, it requires quite a lot of ingredients. I had to save up my eggs (I get 6/week with my CSA) to have enough (although in retrospect I should’ve just bought another 6-pack that week). And buy more butter. And sugar. And cocoa. And chocolate.

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But let me tell you, it’s worth it. This cake is amazing. As in, the best cake you will ever eat, ever. The cake is rich yet fluffy, chocolately and complex. And the frosting is pure luxury: smooth, luscious, deeply chocolate and altogether absolutely incredible.

You sold yet?

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I’ve made this cake every year for my birthday since I can remember. Used to be we’d have it for my mother’s birthday and my sister’s as well (my dad always had German chocolate) but now that we’re all grown up and out of the house, I make it by myself. Sometimes people find it sad that I make my own birthday cake, but it’s my favorite part about my birthday. Somehow, even living alone, it always finds a way to disappear (and happens to be a good way to make friends).

Have I mentioned chocolate? Let me tell you about it briefly. You see, chocolate is one of those products that doesn’t grow in Maine. I think we’ve been over this already. Discovered in the Americas way back when, now most of it is grown in Western Africa. As part of the legacy of colonialism (which I could go on about for a long time—I studied abroad in Cameroon), raw cacao beans are produced in these mostly developing countries and shipped over to Europe, where they make the finished product, and get to keep almost all the profits. Not ideal. Fortunately there are some chocolate companies that are “Bean-to-Bar” in Africa, meaning the Africans actually get to keep some of the profits of their labor (what a novelty), such as Madecasse, although of course it’s also wicked expensive. I confess, most of my baking is done with Ghiradelli chocolate, which is delicious but has no mention (that I could find) of sustainability or fair trade practices. It is one of those quandaries of trying to live conscientiously in the developed world and one that I attempt to justify by eating it a little less and recognizing it as the luxury it is. Please do as your budget and conscious allows, but remember that there are people across the world trying to make a living from this product, and they deserve to be paid for their labor.

As a side note, I read an article the other day that noted that Ebola may be threatening chocolate supply.

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Anyway, as long as we are enjoying luxury we may as well make it the best it can possibly be. The frosting is something we played with for years before getting right. This is the best frosting in the world, I kid you not. An Italian buttercream, you first make a rich yellow custard, then beat in butter, powdered sugar, and melted chocolate to get the silky, sumptuous smooth chocolate topping, which really you could eat by itself for dessert—it is not horridly sweet like many frostings. We had been making a normal chocolate buttercream for a long time, but it was too sweet and always turned out a little grainy. Finally we saw this recipe in the February (=chocolate) issue of Gourmet magazine one year, and gave it a try. Too much butter (=too rich and not the right texture) and not enough chocolate flavor (milk chocolate? Really?). But, after several adjustments to get both the best flavor and the right amount for our three-layer cake, we succeeded in creating the perfect frosting for the perfect cake.

Who is Bonnie? We don’t know—my mom got the recipe from the boyfriend of a co-worker in a lab she worked in after college. If you are Bonnie and this is your cake recipe, thank you.

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This recipe is in the baking book that my mother and I created and printed for family.  We are sharing it because we believe in sharing good things. Feel free to do the same. Love you, Mogs!

For the cake:
1 cup unsweetened cocoa (I use Dutch-process)
2 cups boiling water 
2 ¾ cups flour 
2 tsp baking soda 
½ tsp salt 
½ tsp baking powder 
1 cup soft butter 
2 ¾ cups sugar (use half brown sugar for a more caramel taste) 
4 eggs 
1 ½ tsp vanilla
For the frosting:
1 cup whole milk 
4 large egg yolks (freeze the whites for a later date)
1 T plus 1 tsp flour 
½ and 1 cup confectioners sugar 
¼ tsp salt 
1 tsp vanilla 
½ cup butter 
5 oz bittersweet chocolate 
3 oz unsweetened chocolate

The cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease, then parchment (cut out rounds), grease again and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans (if you don’t have metal ones, the aluminum one-use ones you can buy at the grocery store work fine. Just grease and flour, no need for parchment. I even reuse them, many times over (don’t have real ones)).

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Mix the cocoa and boiling water together until cocoa is dissolved. Cool.

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Do it in a bigger bowl than I did. It gets messy.

Sift together flour, soda, salt, and powder and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs one by one. Add the vanilla. Carefully beat in the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa liquid, adding the flour mixture in 3 parts and the cocoa mixture in two. Do not overbeat.

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Pour evenly into the 3 prepared pans. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You will need to check the cake frequently at the end, so it doesn’t become dry (dry cakes are the worst). Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to remove the cake and cool on individual racks (as you can see, I only have two cooling racks, so I used the broiler pan. Made sure it was clean first, worry not).

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For the frosting: Heat milk in microwave or in heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot.

Whisk together yolks, flour, ½ cup sugar, salt in a medium saucepan, then add hot milk in a stream, whisking (this tempers the yolks so they will not curdle).

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Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking.  Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture will be very thick), then transfer to a mixing bowl. Cover surface of custard with plastic wrap  and cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes. 

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Melt chocolates, either on top of a double-boiler or in the microwave, and cool.

Add vanilla and remaining cup of sugar to cooled custard and beat with clean beaters at moderate speed until combined well, then increase speed to medium-high and beat in softened butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until smooth.  Add melted chocolates and beat until combined well and fluffy. 

Assembly: Place first cake layer onto cake platter by placing your hand on top of the cake on the rack and quickly and confidently flipping the cake onto the platter. Spread with about 1/4 of the frosting. Repeat with the next two layers; with the final layer, spread the final quarter of frosting onto the sides of the cake to cover.

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Decorate as desired: swirl the frosting, or smooth it and add other decorations with a frosting tip. I’ve taken cake decorating classes (Wilton) and it can be fun, but I think it’s a little classier to have the same color and some neat shells on the side or something. Not as easy to write “Happy Birthday” on it though.

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Enjoy! This is a cake that is best the 2nd or even 3rd day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld.  And make sure you cut it properly! This is a very forceful pet peeve of mine. I don’t get angry very easily but man if you cut a piece of cake in other than an exact radius from the middle, messing up the careful ratio of moistness from the edge, I will yell and scream and utter all variety of curses at you until you apologize profusely and perhaps even offer to buy ingredients to make a new cake. There was a video cycling around a while back about the mathematical way to cut a cake and boy is he ever the most wrong. Seriously, buddy, it messes up the whole ratio of frosting, you start with the best middle moist piece (very selfish) but then you’ll end up with a bunch of dry cake with too much sugary frosting, which is actually fondant, because no way can you push a real, tasty cake together and even put a rubber band around it like that. He clearly has never ever had a good piece of cake, poor man (the guy in the video is really just demonstrating a method that someone else came up with, but still).

Good cake will stay moist for days, as long as you cover it properly, and if you are really worried about it you can put a piece of wax paper on the cut side.

Someday I’ll take a video of how I eat a piece of cake, which is very specific as well (designed to get the same ratio of frosting on each bite), but too difficult to describe. Besides, this post is long enough.

Concord Grape Muffins

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I must admit, I’d never done anything with Concord grapes before now.

I think maybe they don’t exist in Montana, or at least I never came in contact with them there. Not that they are particularly easy to find in Maine—I didn’t really look for them at the farmer’s market, but I don’t remember seeing them. But someone in the office brought a bunch in, so I took them home, hoping the Internet could help.

Turns out the Internet is correct about Concord grapes, and that is that they take FOREVER to seed. Especially in the large quantity that I had. I had been warned and thus was mentally prepared, so I listened to about 5 episodes of Radiolab and called a couple friends and it really wasn’t too bad, but you must also be ready.

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I found a couple recipes for focaccia, and one for pie (which I made later), and then later made a grape-apple crisp, which I am currently enjoying A LOT. But I decided to start with muffins, based on the recipe from In Jennie’s Kitchen.

Her recipe is a bit odd for muffins, honestly—it’s more like a scone recipe, cutting in cold butter, no eggs. I decided to add an egg to keep it moist longer and made a few other substitutions (brown for white sugar, yogurt instead of milk and therefore more soda and less powder, to balance the acidity). And I think they turned out quite well, thank you, not too sweet and with little sour juicy patches where the grapes are hiding.

Concord grape muffins
2 cups flour (I used 1.5 white, .5 whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup yogurt, as much whey (the liquid) as possible; you can stir in a little water to thin it if necessary
    Or, 1 cup milk; use more baking powder and less soda
A splash of vanilla
1 egg
8 oz seeded concord grapes

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter 12 muffin tins. If you want smaller muffins, you may need a few more—or do what I did, and bake the extra batter in a bowl.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter so there are small (pea-sized) pieces. Stir together yogurt, vanilla, and egg, then add to the dry ingredients, mixing just until the flour is moist. Finally, fold in the seeded grapes, including skins.

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Separate batter into the muffin tins, filling most of the way. Like I said, you may have a little extra; put it in a buttered bowl or small dish and bake it alongside the muffins.

Bake for around 20 minutes, until you get a clean toothpick and the tops are golden. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then gently slip a knife around the edge of each muffin to loosen it,  popping them out of the pans.

Enjoy warm, with extra butter if you’d like, and a nice cup of tea.

Strawberries, Chocolate Whipped Cream, and Pecan Shortcake

IMG_1878I know, this is late for the seasonality bit. I’m the worst. But if you have spent the fleeting strawberry season putting them in pies, jam, fresh on tarts, eating them for breakfast with yogurt and granola as a parfait, if your freezer is full of strawberries because you didn’t know where else to put them… you are missing out. Because this is the first and best use of strawberries. Well, second only to eating them sun-warmed from the field, staining your fingers with dripping red juice.

The three parts of this dessert are each delicious on their own. Even paired with only one other component they are fantastic. But all together, they are heavenly.

Shortcake is basically a slightly sweet biscuit or a soft scone cut in a circle. The pecans make it more complex and give it some texture. Flour can actually be found locally (Maine Grains makes a whole wheat pastry flour that is great, although definitely more expensive than other flours), as can butter and cream. No one grows pecans or chocolate in Maine, unfortunately. Although who knows how our climate will change in the next couple years.

Strawberries
Strawberries

Pecan Shortcake
3 ½ cups flour
½ cup pecans, toasted
2 T baking powder
¾ t salt
6 T sugar
12 T butter, cut in small pieces- very cold
1 ½ c cold heavy cream

Chocolate Whipped Cream
1.5 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup whipping cream
Vanilla

For the shortcake: Grind pecans briefly in food processor. If you have a large processor, add flour, salt, powder, sugar. Pulse briefly, then add cold chunks of butter. Pulse briefly – the mixture should have pea sized chunks of butter. Add cold cream. Pulse briefly until dough begins to clump together, but stop before it forms a ball (this can be done fairly easily by hand, just make sure you cut up the butter a lot before mixing it in. I like to cut it up in very small chunks then put it in the freezer to make sure it stays cold). Remove dough from bowl and knead briefly so it holds together, then flatten it to ½ – ¾ inch. Cut with 2 inch round cutter.

Bake in a preheated 425ºF oven for 12-18 minutes, until they are golden and puffy.

Meanwhile, whip the cream (I like doing this by hand, but whatever you like. With very thick cream you have to be careful not to overwhip it – and it’s easier to pay attention when you can feel it) until it has very soft peaks, then add a splash of vanilla and whip a little more. Gently fold in the melted chocolate (do make sure it’s not still warm before adding it, or it will melt all your well-made bubbles). Alternatively, you can heat up the cream and the chocolate together and chill it before whipping, although you have to be extra careful not to overwhip that, as it gets very thick and can easily become chocolate butter, which is just not the same.

When the shortcakes come out, split them open and serve them warm, topped with the room temperature strawberries and then cold whipped cream.

You will end up with far too many shortcakes. Freeze them. Or eat them for breakfast (they toast well).

No time for shortcake? Whipping up some cream and folding in some melted chocolate takes about 5 minutes.

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My chocolate didn’t quite mix into the cream here, as you can see. But it was still amazing. I’m drooling even thinking about it.