The Myth of Success

Recently, foodie influencer Alison Roman gave an interview to The New Consumer that can only be described as a “shit show.” While talking about her own Zen-like journey into fame, she performed an epic racially tone-deaf (I’m being kind) take down of Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, calling them sellouts while she remains pure as the driven snow because she doesn’t have a line of cookware at Target.

What bothers me, other than the latent racism of her entire platform (until this episode she used her whiteness to omit how different cultures influenced her food – just so you know, she is not the person who discovered garlic, turmeric, coriander, and cardamom create outstanding flavor), is that she is making her success seem like something that just happened to her. Like she didn’t try *at all* to become The Foodie with The Stew and The Cookies and The Whatever. Which we, as people who had found a modicum of success, know is not true.

It’s like beautiful people acting like they just always look that way naturally, when in reality it takes a twice daily application of cleanser, exfoliant, toner, serum, lotion, hair dye, and Botox to maintain those looks. It is a lie that inadvertently discourages people from trying – making success feel as if it will always be woefully out of reach.

That is bullshit.

You have to try in order to be a success. You have to try really, really hard. When I started writing articles, I got a hundred “nos” before I got one “yes.” I am still getting rejection emails from a manuscript I sent out six months ago. But I keep trying, because one day I will get a “yes.”

Bon Appetit and the New York Times didn’t pluck Roman off a subway platform one bright spring day, hand her column space, and say, “You look like you could be successful. Write about food for us.” She pitched them ideas and used the incredible amount of work she has done on her Instagram account to get in the door. (Those pictures don’t just happen, people.) She didn’t just luck into those recipes, either. Those were developed with intense hard work and repetition built on the knowledge from years of experimenting with flavor and spices and, yes, food from other cultures.

One quote in particular from the article about how she creates a recipe gets me completely worked up.

“You’re overthinking it. I think people would be fucking shocked at how little — There’s no formula. There’s no strategy. There’s no, like, “gotta have this, gotta have that.””

Actually, there is a formula. One she learned through years of tasting, learning, and cooking. One she developed through years experimentation, seeking out the flavors of other cultures, and through failure. I would bet a plate of cookies that none of those dishes in her cookbook came out perfect the first time. To admit to anything less is disingenuous at best and killing the career aspirations of thousands of young cheflings at worst.

The tone of her whole interview is why people hate Millennials. She is perpetuating the myth that success just happens to people. No effort is required. You are given what you get in life like a participation trophy handed out at a soccer tournament. Failure happens to other people, not those blessed to succeed.

That is a flat out lie.

Anyone can succeed if they try hard enough. I’m not saying that luck isn’t a factor, but as the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” Alison Roman is successful right now because she was ready with all the tools she needed when the opportunity came along.

As I said above, she did issue an apology on Instagram for her horrible treatment of Teigen and Kondo; however, Roman needs to learn a larger lesson about owning the effort it takes to make it and honoring the work of those who have gone before you that makes your path to the top possible.

Gardening!

All last year my amazing husband made me a garden. I helped, but it was mostly him doing the hard labor of a 1920’s prisoner.

I designed the plans – to scale, thank you very much – of 2 different gardens. One for veg and one for fruit.

All summer long he augered in the posts by hand to create an 8-foot fence that would discourage even the most determined deer. Then He and his dad put up the fencing and the mesh roof on the fruit bed. We used regular animal-proof fencing for the vegetable garden and then got hardware cloth to keep the birds away from the precious, precious raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries that we would be growing.

 

Then he started on the actual raised beds. We built the vegetable bed just about 3-feet high while the fruit beds were only about 18 inches high. I am particularly proud of the strawberry beds, which I designed to be squares that stacked on top of each other in a diamond pattern. It allows the strawberries to cascade down as they throw runners. It actually also makes it easier to plant and harvest, too, which was an unexpected bonus.

Then came the dirt. 7 cubic feet of soil specifically for raised bed planting. The dump truck came, he dumped, and then, wishing us good luck, he drove away. I would like to give a special thank you to our friends Trish, Bill, and Natalie who helped us take an uncountable number of wheelbarrow loads around the house and into the beds. Even the boys helped. And thank you to Karl and Nadine who let us borrow their wheelbarrows so that everyone could have one. And because of their amazing help, we were done in only 3 hours!

Just so you know, all this took the entire spring and summer of 2018. We didn’t get anything planted or harvested that year. It lay there, taunting me all fall and winter. So this spring I was very impatient to get things planted.

I started with radishes, as you do, since radishes a) like to be planted early and b) only take 80 days to be ready to harvest. And I threw in some lettuces and peas because they also don’t seem to care that it’s March. I also threw in some (a whopping 75) onions and some beets. Because why not.

Then we planted potatoes. H filled one entire bed all by himself specifically so he could grow potatoes. So, by heaven, there are little potato seedlings in this deep trench waiting to sprout.

Now that it’s April I’ve moved into cabbages and cauliflower and I just today planted some tomatoes!

Warning – photos ahead!

Onions and Beets

Tomatoes!! Which, I’d like to point out, were started by my students at The Journey School.

There are potatoes in there. I promise.

Cabbages, Cauliflower, and Onion

Peas are climbing up!

Baby Radishes

Teeny-Tiny Lettuces

The Veg Bed!

I’ve been learning a lot more about companion plantings. The tomatoes will have basil with them. There are some marigolds planted around to serve as a natural pest deterrent. Then I’m going to add nasturtium, which are edible and serve as a pest deterrent for a lot of plants.

More plants also need to go in. We are mulling around adding other plants we eat a lot of – bush beans, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers are only a few. (i.e. updates will be coming.)

On the fruit side of things, we have fewer decisions to make and more waiting to do.

We planted the strawberries last week and we are already seeing some fruit.

The blueberries are in. They were beautiful bright emerald green when I planted them. After a flurry of Googling I learned the bright emerald leaves turn purple when they get cold. They are greening back up rapidly, which is a relief.

I am waiting for the raspberries to show up. I found a variety called Joan J that is thornless (yay!) and produces a berry specifically for eating. We’ll let you know how delicious they are this fall. (Fingers crossed.)

And then for the part I am super, duper excited about. The terrace between the gardens! We are putting down landscaping cloth and spreading pea gravel over the top to create a nice area for a fire pit and a couple of chairs. It’s not done just, but we are getting close.

The garden is so lovely and inviting to dig in I am finding I want to spend more and more time out there in it. The fire pit will be a fun addition that will let us enjoy the garden in the evening as well.

Now to convince my lovely husband that we need lights out there, too!!

It’s Pi Day!!

March 14th! 3.14! It’s Pi Day!

I finally have it together enough to share a pie recipe on the actual Pi Day. This particular pie is a classic French apple tart decorated in an escargot pattern. This is not to be confused with a Tarte Tatin where you use puff pastry and assemble and bake the pie in a skillet and then flip it out when it comes out of the oven. This is a classic tart pie – baked in a fluted tart pan with a pate sucree, or sweet shortcrust pastry.

I got this recipe from Beth Le Manach over at Entertaining with Beth. Her recipe makes this pie SO EASY! I’ve linked to her recipe so if you want to try it click on over. I am sharing my thoughts below.

First – when making the pie dough do use a food processor if at all possible. The butter is super cold and the egg yolk is hard to blend in right without it. I started with my hands and ended up having to make the switch part way.

You end up with a lovely, soft dough that is really easy to work with, especially after you refrigerate it for 30 minutes, like Beth tells you to.

Second – Make the compote as she says. I used a stick blender to puree it and it ended up looking like apple sauce, but thicker. I would not use apple sauce for this recipe. The compote is really thick and really nice. Plus you can spice it as you wish and the lemon zest really adds a lovely bright flavor to the pie.

Now comes the hard part. Slicing the apples. They need to be sliced thin. Really thin. The recipe says 1/8″ thick, but I think that is the maximum it should be. They need to be bendy. Save back 4 or 5 of your thinnest ones for the middle of the pie where they really need to be pliable. And soak them in the lemon juice or you will end up with sad brown apple slices. I didn’t use the sugar she recommended because the Gala apples I used were already sweet.

What was really unexpected was where she said to broil the pie. Yes, you actually turn to oven to broil for the last 1 to 2 minutes of baking to give it those brown highlights that make it look like a rose. The melted apricot jam really highlights the swirl design and gives it a lacquered shine that makes it bakery quality.

It was a delight to eat. The crust was light and flaky and the apples were so delicate. The whole thing just melted in the mouth. A real 5 out of 5!

Happy Pi Day!!

GBBO Bake – Millionaire Jaffa Shortbread

I am obsessed with the Great British Bake Off. Like, so obsessed I’ve probably watched each episode of EACH season about 12 times. And as a baker myself, I find what they create so inspiring.

A while ago my friend Barbara and her son made the Millionaire Jaffa Shortbread desserts that Sophie made on season 8. She didn’t make them as individual rounds like Sophie did (she needed them to be patissere window quality, while any normal person does not), but she did tell me that they were “something special.”

I found the recipe and converted the grams to ounces so that this American cook could attempt it. And then I let it sit. For ages.

Until yesterday. I just really needed to bake. I needed something that could be fussy and take my mind off of the enormous amount of stress that I’m dealing with right now and yet have a really delicious pay-off. I didn’t want to waste my time and then have more stress because one of my bakes failed (yet again. someday I will tell you all about the Yorkshire Pudding Incident. Actually that could be a great band name. Dibs!)

Anyway, I decided to make the actual fussy, individual, cylinder-shaped Millionaire Jaffa Shortbread.

I’d never heard of millionaire shortbread before this episode. It turns out it’s like a Twix candy bar. Shortbread base, caramel layer, and chocolate on top. Usually these are made in a pan and just sliced into squares and served. Twix is my favorite candy bar ever and so I was pretty excited to find out that I could actually make these in my home!

I’d also never heard of Jaffa Cakes before GBBO. (The J in Jaffa is capitalized because it refers to a particular type of orange.) It was a technical challenge in Season 4, episode 1. The base is a sort of a yellow cake and is topped by a small dish of orange jelly and covered with tempered chocolate.

This particular recipe combines the orange of the Jaffa cakes with the shortbread and caramel goodness of the millionaire shortbread.

It also calls for a tempered chocolate disk, but I skipped that part because I just decided not to do it.

Here we go…

Sophie’s Millionaire’s Jaffa Shortbread

For the Shortbread
3.5 oz cornstarch
3.5 oz powdered sugar
5.6 oz flour
7 oz butter, chilled and diced (but I found that I needed the full cup of butter because American butter doesn’t have as much fat as the European butter)
1 tsp vanilla
the finely grated zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a food processor, pulse together the cornstarch, powdered sugar, and flour to blend. Then add the butter, vanilla, and orange zest and turn the processor on until it all comes together in a sort of ball.

(I started with the 7 ounces of butter and forgot the zest, but the dough wouldn’t come together and it was a pale crumbly mass that fell apart like beach sand when I tried to get this crap to come together as a dough. In desperation I put it all back in my processor, added the last tablespoon of butter and then the zest and it came together like a dream. And the zest gave the dough a really lovely light orange color, too.)

Dump it out of the processor and onto a baking sheet covered with a Silpat or parchment paper. I suggest rolling it out from here. I think I rolled mine out way to thin. It should be twice that thickness so the layers are all equal. Live and learn. If you are NOT crazy like me and cutting these into individual rounds you can press this into an 8-inch square pan lined with parchment paper.

Dock with a fork so the dough doesn’t puff up and chill for 15 minutes. Then bake for 17 – 20 or until a pale golden color.

If you are cutting them out, use a cutter that is 6cm across and do it while they are warm. They will cut much more smoothly. Use a spatula or pancake turner to scoop them out and then place them on a clean cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Take some acetate sheets and cut them into strips of 22cm long by 4 cm wide. Wrap them tightly around the base of the shortbread and secure the edges of the acetate with tape. The tighter the better as the caramel will leak down, as you will see. Set them aside for later.  (You can do this set while you wait for the caramel to cool.)

Salted Caramel

4 oz (1 stick) butter
125 ml heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
7 oz sugar
50 ml water

In a small saucepan, slowly heat the butter, salt, and the cream together until it is almost boiling.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat the sugar and the water together on medium heat until the sugar is melted. Then increase the heat to med-high and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil it until it turns from clear to a lovely light brown sugar color. Careful not to let it get too brown or it will taste burnt!

Remove the pan from the heat and very carefully add the hot cream and butter – pouring in a steady stream.

Warning! This will bubble, foam, and spit! You will burn yourself if you are not careful!

Put the pan back onto the heat and bring the temperature up to 230F/110C on a sugar thermometer. Cool the caramel to between 95F to 105F (35-40C). This will take at least 20 minutes and the caramel will thicken and look a little greasy. Once it is cool measure out 2T for each shortbread round and pour into your acetate molds.

Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Orange Chocolate Ganache

300 ml orange juice (I used the juice of the orange I grated the zest off of and then used store bought juice to make up the rest. If you can’t find a Jaffa orange grown on the hillside of Jerusalem, watered by the Jordan River, and picked by the descendants of Egyptian pharaohs, store bought is fine.)
2.6 oz dark chocolate
2.6 oz milk chocolate
2.6 oz heavy cream

In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to boiling and keep it boiling until it is reduced in volume to about 1/4 cup or 50ml. This will take about 20 minutes, but watch it because once you are near the end it can burn quite easily. (Ask me how I know!) Set it aside while you work on your ganache.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and combine them in a heat-proof bowl (I use metal or a Pyrex measuring cup). Heat the cream to the boiling point and then pour it over the chocolate. Let them sit together for 30 seconds and and then stir them together until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is very smooth.

Add the orange syrup you made and stir together well.

Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ganache over each layer of caramel.

Let this chill for about 20 minutes. At this point you can follow the directions from Sophie and temper some chocolate to make disks for the top, but I preferred to save my energy for the eating.

Right before you serve them, gently peel off the acetate from the rounds. The caramel, being caramel, will stick, so I had to use a very sharp parring knife to peel them away from the acetate. But here are the results!

They were gorgeous to eat! The orange in the ganache really packs a wallop of flavor. It’s almost overwhelming it’s so much orange. And the bitterness of the dark chocolate helps to cut the sweetness of the caramel really nicely. The shortbread has a nice subtle orange flavor and my oldest wanted to eat all my off-cuts. The ganache has a nice shine to it so you could get away with not having a chocolate disk on top.

You do want to keep these refrigerated as the caramel will start to loose it’s shape and bow out in the middle. But they would be lovely as a sweet treat at a small gathering with friends or as a special dessert for a larger party.

I had fun making them. I know I said they were fussy, but it was really just because of all the steps. If you have the time they are fun to make and even better to eat!

Goat Cheese and Green Onion Muffins

The holidays are here and with it comes holiday parties! Whether it is a holiday open house or a fancy party you need to have food. Lots of it.

When I entertain I like to have hors d’oeuvres and little bits and bites for people to munch on. One of my go-to entertaining dishes is the classic cheese platter. But one can only have so many cheese platters laying around for guests to eat. I searched the internet and found a great idea – goat cheese and green onion muffins.

They are a savory treat with all the light and fluffiness of a muffin and with a sharp bite of onion and a surprising hint of sweetness from the goat cheese. They are a perfect accompaniment to any entertaining menu. I even put them in the kids’ lunch boxes when I need to get out of the sandwich and cut veg rut!

Goat Cheese and Green Onion Muffins

  • 1 cup whole milk (I have used 2%, but the fat content of the whole milk is preferred)
  • 4 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 1 & 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 & 1/2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bunch of green onions, diced.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a mini-muffin pan with cooking spray or butter. (This recipe makes 24 generously sized mini-muffins.)

In a small bowl, whip together 2 T of the milk with the goat cheese until it is fluffy. Set aside.  In a medium sized bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl or measuring cup melt the butter in the microwave. Use 20-second intervals until the butter is melted. Then, in a 2 cup measuring cup measure out the milk and add the egg. Beat them together until the egg is pretty well mixed. Add the butter and pour the butter mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the green onions.

This will be a thicker batter than a typical muffin mix. I used two soup spoons to spoon them into the muffin cups. If you double the recipe you might want to use a piping bag to make this process go a little more quickly.

Once you have the batter in the muffin tins, spoon small dollops (about 1/2 -3/4 tsp sized) of the goat cheese mixture on top of the muffin batter. With your impeccably clean finger, press the goat cheese into the muffin batter a little bit. If you don’t, it will melt and slide off the muffin as it cooks and you will be left with goat-less muffins, burned cheese, and shattered dreams.

Bake them for 10 – 15 minutes or until the edges look golden brown. The goat cheese may brown as well. Let sit on the counter for 2 minutes or so before carefully taking them out of the pan and setting on a cooling rack. This time will let the cheese cool enough so you don’t get burnt.

They are best at room temperature. Put them on your favorite holiday platter and enjoy with your favorite wine, cocktail, or holiday drink. They are ideal on a platter with my French Gougeres. Store leftovers (if there are any) in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.

 

A Visit to JennyCakes

My friend Sandi posted a link to an article about the best bakery in each state. Imagine my surprise when Kensington’s very own JennyCakes was listed as the Best Bakery in Maryland.

I have been a fan of JennyCakes since it opened in 2012. They started in small storefront on Armory Avenue behind Safeway. I got lured there by their cupcakes, stayed for the cherry scones, and my boys were thrilled to find a place that made bars and cookies as well as beautifully decorated cakes.

And I wasn’t the only one. They quickly expanded into the neighboring store and have been flourishing. The number of cars adorned with a Jenny Cakes magnet – round and cookie-sized with her signature orange and white ‘J’ – is impressive. I don’t think there is anyone in Montgomery County who hasn’t been to JennyCakes.

They are a true neighborhood bakery. Jenny and her employees all live close by and it’s easy to fall into a conversation with the other customers about what baked good to pick.

I took my partner in crime, Shaun, to JennyCakes so she (and I) could sample their wares AND I could fulfill my promise to Sandi that I would get there and buy a lemon ricotta cookie.

First of all, the bakery case was FILLED with sweets and treats so delicious I immediately gave up my internal pledge of buying only one and I had to buy two.

This was the day before Thanksgiving and being the curious person I am I asked Bonnie (Jenny’s top lieutenant) how many pies they had on order for the big day. The answer was an astonishing 200 pies were being baked that day for pick up! Alas, none of them were ours. I had already baked a pumpkin and a pecan pie for our dinner.

We got down to business and selected our cupcakes.

It was so hard to choose! Even if we had decided we were getting a dozen cupcakes some would have been left behind.  Do we get caramel apple? Pumpkin? Chocolate with strawberry buttercream? Coconut? German Chocolate? The choices were staggering.

And then there were the cookies!

Jenny’s chocolate chip cookies are the cookie that started it all. If you have one cookie to choose get this one. I asked about the lemon ricotta cookies and was told that the bakery was featuring a seasonal menu right now. The lemon ricotta cookies would be back in time for summer.

But in the end we did make our choices. (And we snagged two cherry scones as well. Because we were feeling just a little Downton Abbey. #teamEdith)

Our 4 choices: Classic yellow cake with chocolate fudge frosting, chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake with a cookie dough frosting.

Every cake was moist and delicious. That chocolate frosting on the yellow cake was intensely chocolate and fudgey, not vague and watered-down like from other places. The peanut butter cupcake was equally intense in flavor and eating the whole cake and frosting reminded us of a peanut butter cup. The red velvet cake was moist and light with a nicely sharp cream cheese frosting. Together they create a great counter balance between sweet and tangy.

The last cake, chocolate with a cookie dough frosting, is now my entire reason for living. Ohmigod it is amazing. My two favorite things all crammed together. The moist and slightly fudgey cake topped with a creamy and thick scoop of cookie dough is genius. I ate the cake and the frosting separately, lingering through the final bites of cookie dough.  I was sad that I bought only one.

You, too, can find your reason for living. JennyCakes is located at 10419 Armory Ave, Kensington, MD 20895 – right behind the Safeway. They are open Tuesday through Saturday between 8am until 7pm. Treat yourself!

 

Gold Cake

I am putting together a cookbook for my family that celebrates all the recipes that we have grown up with. I come from a long line of really fantastic cooks and bakers and I decided that there are recipes that we were in danger of losing.

One that we almost lost is this recipe for Gold Cake. My cousin Cathy emailed this to me. I’d not only never eaten it before, I’d never even heard of it before. Naturally, I had to try it out – if only just so I could have pictures of it for the book. Plus I love to try out new recipes! And the whole point of a family cookbook is to try the recipes that our grands and great-grands loved enough to make and keep and pass down.

I hope you enjoy it!

Gold Cake

  • 1 ¾ cup sifted cake flour
  • 2 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp lemon extract
  • ¾ cup unbeaten egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Sift the flour and then measure it. Add in the baking powder and the salt and whisk those quickly in with a fork. Set the flour mixture aside.

In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon extract.  Add the egg yolks to the butter and sugar mixture and beat on high until the are light and a lemonade color. You need a lot of air whipped into this so don’t cheat yourself on time.

(A note about the egg yolks: I ended up using – I kid you not – *9* egg yolks. 9. Egg. Yolks. The look on my face increasingly become more horrified as I continued to crack and separate egg after egg. And the yolks need to be unbeaten as they go into the cup or your measurements will be off.  Given the price of eggs in the Great Depression I can only wonder if the name of this cake isn’t for the golden color the yolks provide, but for how much it would have cost to make it. Now I need to decide if I should make the world’s largest batch of Macarons or an Angel Food Cake.)

Fold in dry ingredients alternately with the milk – beginning and ending with the flour. And they mean fold, not beat with the mixer. You have just added a ton of air when you were beating the eggs, so folding will ensure you keep the air and lightness.

The finished batter is actually quite thick. Carefully spoon or pour into two lightly greased and floured 8” square pans. I didn’t have square pans, so I used round. I’m sure it ended up tasting just the same.

Do NOT tap it on the counter to remove the air from the pans.

Bake at 350° 25 minutes (just until cake begins to pull away from pan sides.) Watch this. You don’t want to bake it too long or the cake will end up dry.

Cool. Put together with lemon curd filling (recipe below).

Lemon Curd Filling

You will need a double boiler for this.

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 slightly beaten egg yolk (Holy crap, yet another egg yolk.)
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (this works out to be the juice of one lemon)
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel
  • 1 T butter

Get the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a simmer. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the top of a double boiler and set of the the top of the simmering water. Then add the egg yolk (Lord!), water, and lemon juice.

Cook until thickened stirring constantly. This took me about 45 minutes to an hour to get it really nice and thick. I had to remind myself that this is a filling and not a glaze or sauce. And it will thicken as it cools, but you do want it really nice and thick.

Remove from heat. Add the grated lemon peel and butter. Stir until the butter is melted. Leave aside to cool completely. Spread between layers of cake.

Our family traditionally frosts this cake with a simple powdered sugar frosting, but you can also adopt our family’s other time-honored tradition of opening a can of Betty Crocker and using that instead. (She’s practically a cousin.)  A nice mascarpone frosting would be awesome with this, too.

This cake lasted exactly 1 day. The kids loved it, Mark – who is not a fan of lemon – also enjoyed it, and then I took it with me to girls’ night and the rest of it was devoured. The curd is really sharp and very lemony and the sponge is light and airy with a hint of lemon itself which makes it perfect for a summer treat.

Blackberry Custard Bars

I am always on the lookout for a new spring/summer dessert recipe. Something that can go to a picnic or other event to be shared by friends. Something that is different than a cobbler or crisp or a fluff and more than simply plopping down ice cream bars or fruit pops. (Although I wouldn’t snub those at any picnic!)

Someone shared a recipe on Facebook for a rhubarb custard bar. I was totally game to make those except Safeway hadn’t gotten the memo that I would need 5 cups of rhubarb for this. In fact they had 0 cups of rhubarb and so I needed to think of an alternative.

Raspberries! Uh, not this time. Too expensive and the frozen berries were sugared. I needed something to mirror the tartness of the rhubarb.

Mixed berries? I don’t think so.

Pineapple? Absolutely not.

Blackberries? Yes! They had them in bags in the freezer section which made them A LOT cheaper than their fresh brothers and sisters. They were unsweetened and, frankly, I think they are a forgotten berry. No one sings the praises of blackberry pie or opts for blackberry jam on their toast. It’s always raspberries. Raspberries! Raspberries! Raspberries! Blackberries are the Jan of the fruit world.

More things need blackberries in them so blackberries would be going into my custard! I’m doing it for the middle children!

And they were delicious. A bright and tangy taste with a surprisingly fluffy cream cheese and whip cream layer on the top. You will definitely enjoy these at your next picnic.

Blackberry Custard Bars

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces

Custard

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 7 T flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 24 ounces blackberries, fresh or frozen – thawed, rinsed, and drained

Topping

  • 6 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream, whipped

To make the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350F/176C.

Prepare a glass 9×13 rectangular Pyrex baking dish with cooking spray or butter.

Using a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, sugar, and salt together using your fingers. A couple of quick turns with your fingers will do it. Then add the cold butter and smoosh (a technical term) the flour mixture into the butter mixture until you have a bowl of course crumbs.

Then dump the crumbs into the baking dish and firmly press the crumbs down to make a crust of about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until the crust is just lightly brown.

To make the custard:

As the crust is baking, take a medium or large mixing bowl and measure out the sugar, flour, and salt into the bowl. Give them a quick whisk to combine them. Then add the eggs and cream and give the entire mixture a good hard whisking until it is well combined. Then add the drained blackberries and very gently fold them into the custard mixture.

As soon as the crust is out of the oven pour the custard mixture on top of the crust. Return the whole shebang to the oven for another 45-50 minutes, or until the custard is set. This part is a little tricky. It should have a very slight wobble to it and be just slightly tacky on the top. The top will be browned and yet still look slightly wet. When in doubt stick it back in the oven for another 3 to 5 minutes or until you are satisfied it is done. Extra browning won’t hurt it as you will be covering it with the topping.

When you think it is done take it out and let it cool. As soon as it is room temperature or a little above chill it in the refrigerator until it is very cool.

To make the topping:

In a medium-sized bowl whip the 1 cup of whipping cream until it is stiff. You should be able to tip the bowl upside down and nothing will fall out.

Then in another medium-sized bowl beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. These should be completely combined and very smooth. Carefully dump in the whipped cream and gently fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream until it is completely combined with no streaks.

Remove the bars from the refrigerator and dump the whipped topping on top of it. Gently spread it over the bars until it is of an even thickness. Chill the bars for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Serve with coffee, tea, or champagne (save a bit of the berry liquid back to make a sort of blackberry bellini!).

These are delicious. They have a bright, fresh, light flavor. The crust and blackberry seeds give you a satisfying crunch while the custard and the topping are smooth and creamy. If they aren’t tangy enough for you add about 2 tsp of lemon zest to the custard for an extra zing.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

I love cookies. I love mixing them, baking them, eating them, and giving them away. They are the perfect size for an indulgent snack or for a light dessert.

Chocolate Crinkles are one of my kids’ favorite cookies to eat. They are wonderfully chocolaty with a crunchy outside and chewy inside. They are such a decadent treat!

The powdered sugar exterior make them wonderful addition to a holiday cookie platter and they are great when you want something other than the old stand-by of chocolate chip cookies. I just made these the other day as part of a cookie platter for Mark’s curling league and they were happily received. (In case you were wondering the others were chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, and a fantastic key lime pie bar.)

The boys have already requested another batch just for them!

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • powdered sugar for rolling

First melt the chocolate. You can do this in a small dish in the microwave in 15 second bursts. Stir after every 15 seconds and make sure the dish is microwave safe. When it’s melted correctly the chocolate should be glossy and smooth. DO NOT over cook this! It will be burnt and horrible and bitter and NO ONE WANTS THIS. If you burn your chocolate you must start over.  If you are worried about burning the chocolate you can always melt it in a bowl over some simmering water.

And remember, the flavor for these cookies depends on the quality of chocolate you use. The better the chocolate the better it will taste.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, or in the bowl of a mixer, measure out the oil and the sugar. Start beating it on a medium-high speed until combined. Add the melted chocolate and beat on a high speed for about 30 seconds or until the chocolate is fully incorporated.

Once the sugar and chocolate and oil and completely blended together start adding the eggs one at a time. Make sure the egg is completely mixed in before adding the next one. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides as necessary.

Now add the 2 teaspoons of vanilla and lightly whip the chocolate mixture together. Then add the salt and the baking powder (NOT baking soda. I messed up once and it was hideous. The rise was off and the flavor was salty and horrible). The batter will be smooth and dark and rich looking.

Now add in the flour. I stop the mixer and add in all the flour at once. Then I put the mix on low until the flour is just incorporated and then I put it on high to make sure the flour is completely mixed in.

At this point, if the dough feels sticky you can cover the dough with cling film and chill it in the fridge for a few hours. If you are happy with it you can go right into shaping and baking.

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

Prepare two cookie sheets by greasing them with oil or butter or you can use parchment paper or one of those wonderful Silpat mats.

Put about 3/4 cup of powdered sugar in a shallow bowl. Take the chilled dough and start shaping little bits of it into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Then roll them through the powdered sugar and give them a nice thick coating.  Place these little snowballs onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart from each other.

Bake them in the preheated oven for 10 – 12 minutes. Watch them carefully near the end so they don’t burn. They can go from done to burnt in about 3 seconds!

Take the cookies from the sheet and transfer them to a cooling rack. See the neat crackling effect? That’s what gives the cookies their Crinkle name.

You would think the sugar would make them too sweet, but it doesn’t at all. They are perfect with coffee and hot chocolate. Or with a red wine. Or alone. Or with another cookie.

Like all cookies, this one is great for kids. It let’s them be hands-on with the dough and the results are almost always perfect. And they get a bit of science thrown in seeing how much effect a leavening agent has in a recipe! (Learning!)

Enjoy!

Russian Tea Cakes

The winter holidays are filled with traditions. Growing up a lot of those traditions included food. Tons of food. And when I say “food” I mean “dessert.” Cookies specifically. Sugar cookies, thumbprints, peanut butter stars, chocolate covered pretzels, pecan tassies, chocolate drops, chocolate crinkles, candy cane cookies, and – a huge favorite – Russian tea cakes.

Russian tea cakes are also known as Mexican wedding cookies. I don’t care if you have them because it snows or because you are getting married, you should eat them.

They are so easy to make it’s a crime.  And they are delicious enough to get you out of multiple crimes. I know when I make them for Mark I can do no wrong.

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Russian Tea Cakes

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup of sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 2 & 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup very finely chopped nuts (pecans or hazelnuts are delicious)
  • More powdered sugar for rolling

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the butter and powdered sugar. If you use a mixer, beat them together on low or you will have powder sugar on every surface of your kitchen. Once they are well combined add the vanilla and mix.

Then add the flour and salt to the bowl. Beat on medium speed until all the flour is just incorporated. Then add the nuts and beat on low until everything is well combined.

At this point test the dough with your finger. If it is sticky refrigerate it for about 2 hours. It will be easier to work with then. If it isn’t sticky go right to shaping and baking.

Preheat the oven to 400F/204C.

Having an ungreased cookie sheet at the ready, start rolling the dough into 1-inch balls. Don’t be temped to go big here. They should be bite-sized. Maybe 2 bites at the biggest. Place the balls about 1-inch apart on the cookie sheet and back for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies should be set, but not brown. This is kind of tricky and you need to be patient. The cookie should be firm to the touch when you poke it, but still remain sort of white.

Straight out of the oven, roll the cookies in powdered sugar. This will be hot work. You can use two forks if you start burning your fingers. Put them on a cooling rack.

When they are totally cool, roll them in powdered sugar again. They look like little snowballs!

And this is why we want them bite-sized! The powdered sugar can be a little messy. 🙂

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They are wonderful treats for parties and just right for snacking at tea. I hope they will become a part of your holiday family traditions!