Tag Archives: dessert

Gilding with Strawberries and Chocolate

16 candles

Somebody in our house turned sixteen this past week.

You might think summer is the ideal time to have a birthday, but in many ways it’s not – at least not while you’re a kid or teenager. Summer birthdays can be a pain. The thermometer usually reads in the 90s which means icing and ice cream tend to melt. School’s out so many of your friends are away at camp. Even if your school is really thoughtful and tries to celebrate folks who have summer birthdays with a half birthday it doesn’t always work out. Not if your real birthday is after graduation and your half birthday is during Christmas vacation. So someone in our house hasn’t had a friend birthday party in a while, but he has always had a family birthday party.

the birthday hat

In our house the family birthday means four things. One is you get to choose the dinner menu. Two you must wear the hat. Three you will get a cake, and four we will sing you the song. The exception to these birthday rules is our dog Oliver. He gets a partially cooked hamburger instead of a cake and doesn’t have to wear the hat since his head is so small. Of course that means he has a Pavlovian reaction anytime we sing the song since he now associates it with hamburger. What can I say? He’s smart, but not smart enough to know that not every birthday is his birthday.

strawberry chocolate cake

So for Russell’s birthday this year I got up early to bake the world’s best chocolate cake. I just wasn’t sure how to decorate it and the birthday boy had given me free range in the icing department. Fortunately his godfather Rick Ellis called mid-morning to talk to the birthday boy. After wishing him a happy birthday he asked what kind of cake Russell was having. My son’s response was, “I don’t know. I think it’s something chocolate-you should talk to my Mom.” For those of you new to this blog I should mention Rick is an amazing food stylist, a fantabulous cook, and always has inspired recipe ideas.

chocolate cake chilling

Developing a recipe or food concept with Rick is like playing food ping-pong. We talked about what was in my fridge (strawberries, heavy cream, and a jar of raspberry jam) and cupboards (lots of chocolate, several different kinds of cocoa, and some honey), what Russell liked (pretty much anything), and then Rick pondered. For all of 30 seconds. Since strawberries tend to weep (let their juices out) when they have been cut Rick suggested a layer of raspberry jam on top of the bottom layer of cake with the cut strawberries nestled into the jam. Thus solving the weeping problem. If raspberries had been in season we could have used them, plus if I’d had an open jar of strawberry jam it would have worked too. Once the fruit component was in place Rick wanted me to add the second layer of cake and frost the entire outside with chocolate buttercream. To gild the proverbial lily, just before serving the cake I drizzled chocolate ganache over the the chilled cake. Brilliant, over the top summer birthday cake. Perfect for a sixteen-year-old.

Chocolate ganache frosting

Here’s what you’ll need to make an Over the Top Chocolate Cake.

  • 1 baked and cooled Chocolate Cake, click here for the recipe
  • 1 – 1  1/2 pints strawberries, tops removed and cut in half
  • raspberry jam
  • chocolate buttercream (I made mine from a half batch of this recipe substituting some Valrhona cocoa for part of the powdered sugar)
  • chocolate ganache

Place cake on a cake plate, spreading jam on top of first layer. Add strawberries (the amount will vary depending on if you make an 8″, 9″ or 10″ cake). Top with second layer and frost outside with chocolate buttercream. Refrigerate. Just before serving pour cooled chocolate ganache over the top, letting it run over the sides and puddle along the bottom. Add candles and sing the song.

Chocolate Ganache

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

4 1/2 ounces heavy cream

2-3 heaping teaspoons honey

1 1/2 teaspoons butter

Bring the heavy cream to a boil and add the honey. Pour over chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Add the butter and let cool till pourable being careful it’s not too hot that it melts the chocolate buttercream.

lighting the cake


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A+ Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles were Grammy Caldwell’s signature cookie, the same way oatmeal bread was her signature bread. I remember making snickerdoodles with her in her kitchen on Strathmore Drive – rolling the dough between my hands into balls the size of small walnuts, coating them in cinnamon sugar, and then squashing them flat with the bottom of a tin measuring cup before popping them in the oven to cook. They were divine and we would devour them by the dozens.

"Grammy Caldwell"

Grammy Caldwell

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned why Gram’s snickerdoodles were so good. My sister and I were talking about Grammy and all the amazing things she used to make when Heather turned to me and asked, “You do know why her snickerdoodles were so incredible, don’t you?” Aside from all the butter, sugar, and cinnamon I couldn’t really say. Surprised at my ignorance she told me, “Grammy got an A+ for her snickerdoodles on her baking competency exam at Syracuse!” Grammy C. had been a 1925 home economics major at Syracuse University. A plus indeed.

"snickerdoodles waiting for ice cream"

When my sister got married this past weekend I couldn’t think of a better way to have Grammy with us in spirit than by having her snickerdoodles as part of desserts which I had offered to make as a wedding present. Heather and Paul had a fabulous wedding in Boston with their immediate family. Saturday saw everyone piling onto a Duck Boat tour followed by pizza and candlepin bowling.

"Heather & Paul driving the duck boat"

Heather & Paul driving the duck boat

Heather wanted a traditional cake. Paul was up for something a little different. I made a lemon chiffon cake with lemon curd and lemon Italian buttercream for Heather. For Paul’s “groom’s cake” I made two different kinds of ice cream sandwiches. An informal ice cream sandwich taste testing with my friends and neighbors had proclaimed the top winner to be Grammy’s Snickerdoodles sandwiched around strawberry ice cream. We included a chocolate brownie with chocolate  ice cream for the chocloholics (and a brownie with Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food for my nephew Bennett).

"snickerdoodles with strawberry ice cream"

Snickerdoodles with strawberry ice cream

Since my crew was running late (another Grammy Caldwell tradition*) I didn’t have time to make the ice cream sandwiches ahead. Instead I dropped off the cake and the cookies at Flatbread Pizza & Bowling and we dashed to the Duck Boat tour. We picked up ice cream on the way back  and I crossed my fingers that the eleven kids (nephews, nieces, sons and daughters) would want to help me put everything together. They did and we all had a blast eating pizza, smooshing together ice cream sandwiches and bowling. Grammy would have been thrilled. I know Heather and Paul were.

Grammy Caldwell’s Snickerdoodles

1/2 cup butter mixed with shortening, I use 2:1 butter:shortening ratio

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1  1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar mixed with 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400º F. Cream together the butter, shortening and sugar (make sure your butter is softened to room temperature first). Beat in the egg, then add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt over, mixing as you go. Grammy would always sift her flour first which completely changes the amount of flour you use. I’ve done it both ways and your cookie dough will be a little less sticky if you spoon and level your flour rather than sifting first. If you decide to sift first you may need to pop the dough in the fridge for 15-10 minutes to make it stiff enough to roll. Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts, then roll them into the cinnamon sugar mix. Place on parchment covered cookie sheet and smoosh flat with the bottom of a glass, which you occasionally dip into the cinnamon sugar to prevent sticking. The cookies spread so make sure they are spaced well apart from one another. Bake 8-10 minutes, reversing the baking pan once during baking. Cool cookies and store in an air tight container.

For ice cream sandwiches double the snickerdoodle recipe and when you are ready to serve sandwich a scoop of slightly softened premium strawberry ice cream (Hägen-Dazs is good) between two snickerdoodles. Make sure there is a generous amount of ice cream so the cookie to ice cream ratio is good.

* Grammy Caldwell was often referred to while she was alive as “The late Mrs. Caldwell”. Seems the late trait is genetic.


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Friday is Pie Day

I have to be honest here I have been out of control lately. My kids are asking if I have a problem. Even my husband raises his eyebrows when I crank the oven to 400º F again. It seems I have a bit of a pie obsession. I can’t stop making them. It started when I was planning this post on pies. Friday Pie Day had a nice ring to it reminiscent of the rhymes in Nick Sharratt’s The Green Queen. Thing is I started making pies last Tuesday and it has stretched till today, Wednesday, well beyond Friday. Of course if I ruled the world every day would be pie day, at least in summer so perhaps there isn’t a problem.


Besides, how is any sane person supposed to ignore all the farm stands, farmer’s markets, and bursting blackberry bushes in their own back yard? It simply can’t be done. So I succumb to the fruits. The peaches from Clarkdale Fruit Farm and Atkins Farm, the blueberries from Golonka’s and Quontquont Farm. I’ve even found a few farmers who have managed to keep harvesting local strawberries and raspberries. Plus the first crop of tart crisp Duchess apples are in. Then there is my own backyard where the blackberries are ripe and ready. It really is impossible to not make pies.

"Peach crumble a la mode"

Just so we don’t get into an argument I want to be clear that my definition of pie is pretty broad. I happily lump crisps and crumbles into the category of pies. If you’re a purist, I’m sorry. If you want more complete definitions I suggest Richard Sax’s book Classic Home Desserts chapter 1. Apologies and disclaimers out-of-the-way here are the two main ways I’ve been making pies this week.

"peach raspberry fruit base"

I have been making a variety of pies this past week. Blueberry Crumble, Peach Crisp, Blueberry-Raspberry-Peach Rustic Tart. I even did a crazy Peach-Raspberry-Blackberry-Blueberry-Strawberry pie which was pretty fantastic. All of them start with a Fruit Base. A fruit base is what the name implies – fruit with a little bit of sweetener plus a little bit of thickener. What are the proportions? I can’t really tell you since it varies from variety to variety. Blueberries have been pretty sweet this year so I have dialed way back on the sugar I add. The early peaches are so juicy I’ve actually not been adding all their juices since I don’t want to end up with Peach Soup Crisp. I’ve been thickening with a Tablespoon or two of flour, but I know some cooks who like to use cornstarch. With these simple summer pies I haven’t used tapioca, though you could. Tapioca tames fruit juiciness quite well. For drier fruit pies like apple I don’t bother with the thickeners (just keep that in mind for fall). Sometimes I add a smidge of cinnamon. Or a squeeze of lemon juice. The main thing I do is taste before I pour the fruit base into the pie plate or crust. Just a nibble to let me adjust things if I need to. I have been making smaller pies so the proportions are roughly as follows:

Fruit Base

4 cups fruit (2 pints)

3 – 7  Tablespoons sugar, brown or white

1 – 2 Tablespoons flour

1 – 3 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

If you are using peaches give them a 10 second dip on boiling water to help loosen their skins. Peel and slice. Otherwise dump the fruit in with the sugar, flour and any seasonings. Your sugar amount will depend on the sweetness of the fruit you are using. The flour will depend on the juiciness as well as how juicy you like your finished pie. I don’t like my pies so firm the filling can be sliced and not move, nor do I want them swimming in their own juices. It’s all about personal preference. Then it’s a matter of if you want your crust on the bottom or top. Crisps or crumbles have the fruit on the bottom and the “crust” on the top. Rustic pies are crust on the bottom with fruit on top.

"pie juciness"

In either case bake at 400º F for about 45-55 minutes until the fruit is juicy and bubbling and the crust or crisp is browned nicely. I suggest using a jelly roll pan to place your pie or crisp on just so you don’t end up with any overflow juices dripping onto the bottom of your oven where they will sizzle, blacken, and eventually set off your smoke detector.

"Peach blackberry crumble"

The easiest type of pie I make are crisps or crumbles. If you’re unfamiliar with them they are simply a fruit base plonked in a pie pan or some other vessel topped with a mixture of butter, sugar and flour which has been rubbed into crumbly goodness. When baked this results in a juicy fruit pie covered with crunchy, crumbly topping. Add some ice cream and you may be approaching heaven. My Mom is famous for her deep dish blueberry crumble, which was one of the first pies I learned how to make. Over the years I have tweaked the crumble/crisp topping by adding oatmeal. Occasionally I’ve even substituted the topping from Magnificent Muffins onto a pie since it is essentially a crumble topping. My friend Laura B. made us a fabulous mixed fruit and berry crumble a few weeks ago whose topping included almond slices and minced candied ginger. Delicious.

"a la mode"

Crumble Topping

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

3/4 cup white or brown sugar

1/2 cup cold butter or margarine (if you are making this dairy free)

pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/2 – 3/4 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Dump everything into a bowl and then rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips. You’re not trying to melt the butter, but simply to coat little chunks of butter with flour and sugar. You could do this with two knives or a pastry cutter. The mixture should be, as the name implies, crumbly. Nice fat crumbs the size of peas to small raspberries. I don’t recommend doing this with a food processor since the likelihood of over-processing is high. Also I tend to make this in the bowl I tossed the fruit in which serves two purposes. One it gives you less mess to clean up. Two it soaks up any lingering fruit juices that you didn’t get into the fruit portion of your pie. For the smaller pies you won’t use all this crumble topping. If you make a 9″ pie you will probably use it all. Depends on how thick you like your crumble. Bake as directed above, but don’t forget the jelly roll pan or you may have spillage in your oven.

* Now here’s a secret – you can make double, triple this amount of crumble topping and freeze it! Then any time you feel like pie, simply toss your fruit in some sugar and flour, pull out your crumble topping and sprinkle on a few handfuls and pop it all into a hot oven. Easy peasy!

"Laura's Mixed Fruit Crumble"

Rustic pies  are so much fun because you don’t bother with a pie plate, you just roll out the dough, plop the fruit on top, fold up the edges, and bake. They are elegant in their simplicity and I adore the fruit to crust ratio. The one draw back can be that pie dough scares some people. It shouldn’t but it does. Here’s some advice – #1 don’t over handle,  #2 think flaky and crispy, #3 stop worrying. The don’t over handle part is key. This isn’t bread dough so don’t knead it. If you use a food processor don’t let the dough form a ball in the processor. Over handling makes pie dough tough. My second point is using two fats. An easy to incorporate fat like vegetable shortening or lard combined with a tasty fat like butter. If you want to read more about flaky pastry I recommend the Pies & Tarts chapter of the 1997 edition of Joy of Cooking edited by Maria Guarnaschelli.

"Peach rustic pie"

Rustic Pastry

1 cup flour

2 Tablespoons cold butter

2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening

pinch salt

2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

2 Tablespoons ice-cold water, more or less

I like to make my pie dough in a food processor. I put the flour, sugar and salt in and pulse once. Then I add the butter and vegetable shortening and gently pulse. Do NOT switch it on. You are looking for crumbly pea size chunks of fat. Dribble on your water and pulse twice more. Give your dough a pinch. If it holds together dump it all out onto a piece of plastic wrap. If it doesn’t hold together dribble on a bit more water and pulse twice more. Once the dough is on the plastic wrap I squeeze it together with my hands, wrap it up, and pop it in the fridge. Do NOT knead. Let the dough chill and relax for a couple of hours or up to two days. This should be enough dough for the fruit base above. If you are serving a large number of people or you bought a lot of fruit double the recipe. After it has chilled roll it out on a floured surface making sure it isn’t sticking. Then roll the dough onto your rolling pin and lay it out on a parchment paper lined jelly roll pan. The dough may hang over the edges, don’t worry since you will fold it up after the fruit is on. Dump on your fruit base and fold up the edges. I often sprinkle the crust with some cinnamon sugar or coarse sugar for a little sweet crunch, but it’s optional. Bake as directed above. I often serve my Rustic Pies on wooden cutting boards.

"Pie dough pinch test"

This was a pretty epic post for something as simple as pie but I’m hoping that by sending it out on Wednesday you’ll be inspired to make some dough or crumble topping today, pick up some fruit tomorrow, then make some pie on Friday (Pie Day).

"all gone"

I’d love to hear what your favorite fruit and crust combination is.


Filed under 50 Recipes

A Childhood without Madeleines

I cannot claim to have had a Proustian moment with a Madeleine and cup of tea in my youth since the sad truth is I grew up in a Madeleine-less world. Somehow I managed to make it to adulthood on a diet which included snickerdoodles, sticky buns, and sour cream coffee cake but nary a nibble of the sweet cakes Proust remembered. Which goes a long way to explaining why I have become obsessed with rectifying this deficiency. Madeleines are divine and no childhood should be without a few dozen or more (over the years, not all at once). My friend Alexis, who lives in Paris, sent Shawn and I madeleine pans from France as a wedding present. Over the years I have acquired madeleine pans of all shapes and sizes am continually on the lookout for more (though I eschew the non-stick pans which the butter renders unnecessary). Next to the Best Chocolate Cake Cupcakes I find madeleines a quick, satisfying treat on the non-chocolate side of baking.

"madeleine pans"

Madeleine pans of all shapes and sizes

One of the advantages of learning to make madeleines in adulthood is that I got to teach my sister Heather how to make them. It seems my teaching skills are somewhat limited since I received the following phone call shortly after giving her the recipe:

Cindy you aren’t going to believe what happened to my madeleines. I used the recipe you sent me but they came out the size of baseballs and they’re hairy!”

It was very lucky I wasn’t eating a madeleine at that moment because I might have choked to death laughing. Yes I know I’m a rotten person to laugh at someone else’s cooking mistakes but hairy, baseball sized madeleines? You would have laughed too–admit it. The thought of these ginormous cakes in need of a haircut was amusing to say the least. Turns out she’d used an inexpensive pastry brush to butter the pans with and bristles had come out and stuck to the pan. Add to that the fact that Heather owns only one 12-madeleine pan which she used for all the batter rather than splitting it into two batches (the recipe makes 24). My advice was pragmatic – I suggested she get out her tweezers to remove the offending bristles and eat the oversized madeleines as long as they were cooked all the way through. No reason to waste a perfectly good madeleine just because it is deformed. I am happy to report that Heather now makes divine madeleines with nary a bristle in the batch.

"tea and madeleines"

Tea and madeleines

Years of madeleine taste testing has led me to a tweaked version of  Julia Child’s recipe from her book  Way to Cook. With recipes whose primary taste is butter my first bit of advice is buy the best butter you can afford. I always use unsalted butters though with the rise in the price of butter the brand varies depending what was on sale and how flush my pocket-book is that week. Land O’Lakes, Kerrygold, Vermont Creamery,  and Plugrá are all excellent choices. I also love the taste of lemon so my version has much more lemon peel and juice in it than in Julia’s version.

Lemony Madeleines

2 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces), plus 1 Tablespoon more for greasing the pans

zest of 2 medium lemons, finely grated

juice of 1-2 lemons

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup flour, plus 1 Tablespoon more for greasing the pans

pinch salt

powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375º F. Melt stick butter and let cool slightly. Mix eggs and sugar together until well blended. Add the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla. Mix in the cup of flour and salt then start beating in the melted butter. It will take a few minutes for that much butter to incorporate into the batter. Do not despair just keep folding. The batter will become smooth and glossy once you’ve fully incorporated it. Let the batter rest while you pop the remaining Tablespoon of butter into the butter melting pan along with the extra Tablespoon of flour and  whisk them around the pan with a pastry brush (not the cheap kind that drops its bristles) until the butter is melted. Then paint two 12 madeleine pans with the butter-flour slurry and spoon the batter evenly into the 24 spaces. Bake 15 minutes or until the edges are browned and the centers of each madeleine have domed in the middle.

"madeleine batter ready to bake"

Batter ready to bake

When they come out of the oven give each pan a good whack on the counter or cutting board which should loosen the little cakes from their pans. Turn out onto wire racks and cool. When cool dust lightly with powdered sugar (if desired) and serve with tea or a cold glass of milk or a glass of champagne.

"baked madeleines"

Just baked madeleines

Proust may have been wrong about the memory of how they crumbled in a cup of tea, but he wasn’t wrong to remember how fantastic these scalloped shaped little cakes are. In my opinion they don’t deserve to be dropped in a cup of tea, but rather nibbled out of hand while sipping your beverage of choice.

"madeleines and strawberries"

Powdered and ready to eat with strawberries for Charline's birthday

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Vegan War Cake

I find it intriguing to see how people put a different spin on the same old thing. During the second world war my Grammy Caldwell often had to make due with limited amounts of sugar, butter, and eggs in order to do her part for the war effort. Today I often do without those ingredients because I know or am related to so many people with allergies or special dietary needs. Same recipe, different rationals.

This applesauce cake comes from my friend Jessica and is a great example of the “something old is often the same as something new” theory. Her daughter V. was allergic to eggs and nuts as a baby and toddler and Jessica found this recipe in an old Fanny Farmer cookbook out of necessity. Before bookstores had shelves of cookbooks devoted to allergy free cooking and blogs targeted at any and all dietary quirks she needed a safe, quick, kid-friendly recipe to bring to school events and birthday parties ( after all it’s not too fun to be invited to a friend’s birthday party only to be told you can’t eat the cake or ice cream). This is the recipe she often used, leaving out the nuts and cutting back on the ginger and cloves which don’t often sell well with the under four set. It became her recipe for all occasions.

"applesauce cake"

Applesauce Cake

I first tasted the by then infamous applesauce cake after Jessica and her family moved to Massachusetts. She served it to our knitting group one night warm and fragrant, straight out of the oven. It was divine, not just roll-your-eyes divine, but sneak away from the group and sit in the kitchen scarfing the whole pan down in one sitting divine. It’s not that this cake is a looker–it’s a plain Jane of cakes, but it tastes fantastic.

More quick bread than cake it has become one of the signature dishes I bring to soccer games, potlucks, and church coffee hours. It works for many allergy issues (when you leave out the nuts) and has the added advantage of being really quick to make. This recipe is the reason my cupboards are rarely without a box of raisins, bag of walnuts, and a jar of applesauce.

Walnut Raisin Applesauce Cake

7/8 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup applesauce

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans or almonds), optional

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 3/4 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350º F and spray or grease an 8″ x 8″ pan.

Mix together all ingredients. Scrape into prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. If there is a nut allergy you can leave out the nuts and add an extra 1/4 cup of raisins instead.

"crumbs of applesauce cake"

What is left...


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