Archive for the 'sweets' Category



looking back

Believe it or not, there is a special place in my kitchen for Pillsbury Pop n’ Fresh Biscuits. Normally I’m more of a “do it from scratch” sort of girl, but the Dough Boy has long held a spot in my heart. This most likely stems from early childhood, when I became very attached to the whole Pop n’ Fresh family.
This was in the 70’s – pre action figures. My Pop n’ Fresh toys are more like static rubber dolls, but the heads on all of the adults do spin. I have the whole Fresh clan. Grandpa Fresh, Grandma Fresh, Mrs. Fresh, Poppin and Poppie (the kids), BunBun (baby Fresh), Biscuit (the Fresh cat), Flapjack (the Fresh dog), and of course Pop n’ Fresh himself. I was especially taken with Biscuit. He went everywhere with me.
pop n fresh family
When I was about six my family took a trip to Sweden to trace my mother’s roots and visit long lost relatives. This was my first big trip and I packed carefully. I singled out Biscuit to keep me company on the long overseas flight. But after we were settled in our seats, I was dismayed to find my little cat was missing. Really the only thing I remember about my one and only trip to Sweden is the agony I felt over loosing my best companion. That and I got nipped in the stomach by a pony at some relative’s farm while trying to feed it an apple slice. It was a traumatic trip.
But my luck shifted upon arriving back to the States. It turned out that Biscuit had spent the entire trip to Sweden under the guest bed at my grandmother’s where I had slept the night before our flight out. And oh the relief to have the whole Fresh family reunited again! I think this incident is what really sealed my allegiance to Pillsbury.
That and my mom was good enough to fuel my love of being in the kitchen by supplying me with kid-friendly recipes. One of my signature dishes was weekend Sticky Buns – made with a tin of Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits. It was so thrilling to pop open the roll of biscuits. And the gooey warm buns that resulted were a treat to be sure. Gradually, I evolved in the kitchen and outgrew my Sticky Bun phase. But not without having made them often enough to commit the recipe to memory.
sticky buns
Several years ago, after what seemed like an arduous amount of time in the kitchen preparing fancy meals and copious holiday baking, I was racking my brain for something quick yet festive to ring in the new year with. Frankly the thought of my usual homemade cinnamon rolls for the first breakfast of the year felt like too much effort. And that’s when it hit me. Sticky Buns. Ten minutes to assemble, ten minutes to bake. Exactly what I was looking for. And they were even – a little to my astonishment – as good as I remembered.
For a slightly more grown up flare I switched from light corn syrup to honey and added a hint of vanilla. But beyond that, I’ve never looked back. A strong pot of coffee and a plate of Sticky Buns has become my New Year’s Day morning tradition. I look forward to it every year. Even though popping open the can of refrigerator biscuits still makes me jump.
When I was at my mom’s this Christmas, I asked if she remembered the binder of recipes she had assembled for me as a kid. Neither of us could recall what became of it, but she still had some of my favorites filed away. I felt like a ten year old all over again reading the stained, dog eared page. And I was surprised to realize that there are Sticky Bun variations. I’m a raisins only fan. But according to the recipe, Peter likes chocolate chips, Maggie likes raisins, and Katie prefers coconut and nuts mixed together. I don’t know who Peter, Maggie, and Katie are, but I am firmly in Maggie’s camp. And like the recipe says, they are “really good and really sticky!”
bun recipe
Sticky Buns

3 tablespoons butter
dark brown sugar
honey (or substitute light corn syrup)
raisins (and/or chopped nuts, toasted coconut, chocolate chips)
vanilla (optional)
1 can (8 ounces) refrigerated biscuits

Cut each square tablespoon of butter into quarters. Take two of the pieces and grease 10 cups in a standard muffin tin. Take the other 10 pieces and put 1 in each of the 10 muffin cups. Add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon honey to each cup. For a little extra flavor you can also add 5 to 6 drops of pure vanilla in each cup.  Sprinkle a few raisins in each cup (or if you want to branch out like Peter and Katie, add any combination of coconut, chocolate chips, and nuts). Pop open the can of biscuits and put 1 on top of each cup. Bake the Sticky Buns in a 400ºF oven 8 to 10 minutes, until the biscuits are gently browned. Run a knife around each bun. Then put a cookie sheet or tray over the muffin pan and invert the whole shebang. Give the bottom of each cup a tap with the base of the knife, wait about 2 minutes and lift up the muffin pan. Gently pry out any stuck buns with the knife. Makes 10 buns.
biscuit

somethin’ extra

Ah. I love Christmas cookie season. I typically start thumbing through magazines and cookbooks sometime in mid-November in anticipation. I have my usual standbys, but I always like to try a few new ones too. And every once and a while one will shine through, upgrading it’s status from trial to permanent.

mittens

I seem to be especially taken with cut-out sugar cookies. I have sort of a sick habit of using the tiniest cookie cutters I can find and then spending an inordinate amount of time decorating them. December can be a ridiculously busy month. But despite everything there is to do, somehow I find it very therapeutic to sit and put little carrot noses and itty-bitty buttons on a plate of one inch tall snowmen. I especially like doing this late at night, when the house is dark and quiet with only the glow of the tree and a glass of wine to keep me company.

cut-out cookies

To facilitate my cut-out cookie fetish, I have orchestrated scads of sugar cookie trials. But a few years back, I finally quit. None of them ever made the jump to permanent. The reason, I finally concluded, is that nothing can top my Great Aunt Mabel’s sugar cookies. These cookies have to be one of the first things I ever baked, and certainly one of the first “real” recipes I ever copied down into my now overstuffed binder. They are buttery, flaky, and just sweet enough.

But there is something else that sets them apart. Something that I didn’t realize was unusual until I really started baking. The dough gets a shot of vinegar. And this, I believe, is why in blind taste test after blind taste test, I always pick Mabel’s cookie. It just has a little somethin’ extra. I sure wish she was still here to ask “why the vinegar Mabel?!” It no doubt reacts with the tiny bit of soda, eliminating the need for baking powder, but still, I’d love to hear her take on it. That’s Mabel, below on the left, with her sister-in-law (my grandma) Myrtle (the table setting diva). Have you ever seen two women so happy over a bowl of mashed potatoes?

sisters

Mabel’s recipe is the traditional, flatten with a glass sort of sugar cookie, but many years ago I started using it for cut-outs too. In either rendition, it’s a lovely cookie. And as far as cut-out are concerned, I don’t limit myself to the Christmas season. In my book any holiday is reason enough for cut-out cookies – valentine hearts, easter eggs and spring chickens, four leaf clovers, canoes and sailboats, witches, even turkeys – I don’t discriminate. But in the off-times, a plain old, glass-flattened sugar cookie and a stiff cup of afternoon tea can certainly do no harm.

Great Aunt Mabel’s Sugar Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
(the original recipe of course calls for shortening, which was very vogue in the day – use whatever combination of butter and/or shortening you’d like)

Cream together. Then add and mix in:

1 egg
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla OR almond extract

Sift together and add:

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Form into balls. Press flat with a glass dipped in sugar. Bake in a 350º F oven for about 10 minutes, until just barely golden.

* For cut-out cookies:  After the dough is mixed, divide into 3 rounds. Flatten each disc between 2 large piece of parchment. Roll the dough through the parchment until it is an even 1/8″ thick. Chill the rolled out sheets for about three hours. Once chilled, peel off the top sheet of parchment from one packet at a time and cut out shapes. Use a small spatula to transfer cut-outs to a baking sheet. Cold dough is your best friend! Keep the other sheets chilled until ready to use. If the sheet you’re working on starts to become unruly – stick it back in the fridge or freezer for a quick chill and then resume cutting out. Save the scrap piles from each sheet and re-roll between parchment, chill, and cut again. This dough is pretty easy to work with as long as it is chilled. If you don’t have the patience to periodically re-chill it, you can add up to an additional 1/2 cup of flour during the original mixing. This will help the dough be a little more forgiving.

Smaller cookies take less time to bake. Watch carefully – the bottoms should be light golden, with almost no color on the tops! Once cooled, frost (or, sprinkle cookies with decorative sugar before baking)

Glossy Frosting

1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white

beat well with electric mixer. Add:

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat again. This makes about one cup. I usually make 2-3 batches, divide  into small bowls and stir in a teeny bit of coloring to the bowls. Let the frosting harden before storing finished cookies in an airtight container.

cooling cookies

constant vigilance

When my dad unexpectedly died eight years ago, he left me with a lifetime of memories and a handful of his possessions. Probably the most treasured of his things are the dozen or so carefully chosen books that now reside on my shelves. My dad was a big underliner. I love that glimpse into his brain when I stumble across passages that intrigued him.
The garish orange jacket that I incessantly tried stealing from him as a teenager now hangs in my closet legitimately. The thrill is gone and it truly is an ugly jacket. But that hardly seems to matter. I still wear it.
pals eyeglasses
I have his first pair of eye glasses as a kid. They are in a little hard case with two black and white puppies on it. You can tell that at one point the dogs were fuzzy. In small silver script between the dogs is the word “Pals.” My father and I had a lot in common, but our terribly bad eye sight was a bond that ran deep. I keep his glasses along with my first pair of glasses in an old coffee cup that he and I traded back and forth as a joke for years.
The jar of marbles that he used as slingshot ammunition to scare the crows and deer from his tart cherry orchard sits on my desk. Lucky for the wildlife population he was a lousy aim. I declined to take the actual slingshot, because his jar of colorful marbles is all I need to recall his pluck and persistence.
And I also inherited some living things. Shortly before he died, a hazelnut farmer from southeast Minnesota had arranged to send my dad a half dozen hazelnut shrubs as a gift the following spring. My mom told me she would have them sent to me instead. I had all but forgotten about it, until an oversized envelope arrived the next spring with six bare little wisps. It actually took me a minute to figure out what they were.
hazelnut-bush
I headed out with my hazelnut sticks on a windy spring day, and for lack of a plan, stuck them in a temporary nursery bed in the garden. In the seven years since, they have been transplanted more often than any living thing deserves. I finally realized it was time to quit moving them when I had to hire a high school kid for the heavy digging and lifting.
But after all these years of putting up with my shenanigans, the bushes bore their first respectable hazelnut crop. I knew something was up when I started noticing a gang of bluejays congregating on the garden fence. And it didn’t take long to see them them flying away with fat nuts in their beaks. “Hey!” I would run out, shaking my dad’s jar of marbles at them. It was a pretty good defense really. More often than not the jays dropped their prey, leaving me to finger through the grass for the treasure.
hazelnut-harvest
With constant vigilance, I slowly amassed a small basket of nuts. I’ve never grown any sort of nut before and it all felt quite exotic. Hazelnuts grow in clusters of three or four and are protected by fancy outer coats. The nuts are ready to harvest when the husks turn brown – or when they are dropped from the mouths of bluejays. Whichever comes first. I brought my small harvest in to cure and started dreaming about what I would make.
By the time I got the husks and hard shells removed I was left with just under a cup of raw nuts. Not a bumper crop, but still worthy of something. I decided on a teeny-tiny tart. My dad liked to think that he was the type of person to decline dessert, but in all honesty, he could not resist a simple, rustic sweet. So in his honor I made a brown-butter, honey hazelnut tart topped with sea salt. He might have said he that he’d pass, but I know better. He’d be right at my side, dipping his spoon into that caramelized goodness, again and again.
teeny-tiny-tart

Brown-Butter Hazelnut Tart for Two
Adapted from Food & Wine

Tart Shell
(Makes enough for an 11″ tart. I used half the dough and froze the second round for another teeny-tiny tart down the road)

1 stick butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 small egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons flour

Beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour until just combined. Shape the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a one disk for a full size tart, or divide in half for two smaller 5-6 inch tarts, Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

After the dough is chilled, roll it out on a floured surface to fit your tart pan. Press into pan and trim edges as necessary. Return the pan to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes to firm up the dough. Line the tart shell with parchment or foil and fill it with pie wights or beans. Blind bake the pastry on the bottom rack of a 350º F oven for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden. remove from oven and let cool.

Filling
(Makes enough for one 5-6 inch tart. Double for a full 11 inch tart)

4 ounces shelled hazelnut, roughly chopped (*see note)
1 tablespoon butter
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
coarse sea salt for topping
Crème fraîche (or lightly whipped cream) for serving

Toast the hazelnuts in a 350º F oven 10 – 15 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.

Heat the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat for one to two minutes until nutty and golden brown.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar. Whisk in the honey, vinegar, brown-butter, vanilla, and salt. Stir in hazelnuts. Pour filling over pre-baked tart shell. Return to the lower oven rack and bake for 20 – 30 minutes (depending on the size of your tart). In the last half of baking, sprinkle tart with coarse sea salt.

*A word on hazelnut skins. My crop had tender, pale skins, unlike the dark brown skins found on most hazelnuts. I’m not sure if this is due to freshness, or size of nut, or variety, but either way, I did not bother peeling off this outer skin – as is often recommended. A good method for this, however, is to boil 2 cups of water with 3 tablespoons of baking soda added. Add a cup of nuts and boil just briefly until the water turns black. Drain the nuts and rinse with cool water. The skins will rub right off. Blot them dry and proceed with toasting.

fresh nuts

season finale

Every once and awhile keeping honeybees feels like a chore. There are times when I just don’t feel like running out to the hives to do a mite count or to check that the fence is still working after an electrical storm. And there are days when the weather doesn’t cooperate with my schedule, forcing me to readjust – or worse – to rush. But really, those times are few and far between. The reality is that beekeeping provides me with a perfect excuse to take a long lunch, or better yet, to cut out of the office a couple hours early and spend the rest of the day outside.

fall colors
I’ve noticed that the urge to impulsively go visit the bees seems to increase with the diminishing day length. Perhaps it’s because I feel the cold breath of winter lurking on the horizon. Certainly the stunning fall landscape might have something to do with it. Or maybe it’s just a plain old love affair with bees. Whatever the reason, I don’t fight it. Last week I headed out to the beeyard for a quick task and found myself lingering. I decided to have “just one more look” in my queenless hive “just in case.”
I pulled a frame from the outer edge, not expecting to find much. I was just about to set it aside for another frame when I saw her. A queen. A petite queen, but undeniably a queen. Here is where I can’t decide if the world sped up, or went into slow motion. Before her presence could even fully register in my brain, I watched as she zipped off the frame and flew away, high into the sky. It’s a good thing I was wearing a veil, because I’m pretty sure I just stood there with my mouth open, dumbfounded, for a good minute. A rogue bee flying into my mouth would have only clouded the situation.
I pulled myself together and, of course, immediately started second guessing what I had seen. It couldn’t have been the queen, I told myself. I must have just imagined her, out of sheer hopefulness. I made her up, I was sure of it.
But I didn’t. A queen can be tricky to spot, but when you see her, you know. There is no maybe about it. I saw the queen I had been hoping to find for weeks just a clearly as I saw her fly away.
honey jars
It doesn’t happen often, but it is possible when working with a hive that the queen will accidentally get out. I remember one occasion after a particularly rigorous hive check, I had everything put back together, ready to head for home when I happened to look down and see the queen sitting on the front porch of the hive, looking disorriented and maybe even a little miffed. I begged her pardon as I scooped her up and led her back into the safety of the hive. If you actually see the queen unintentionally fly from the hive, I’ve heard it is best to stand right where you are for 10 to 15 minutes and wait. The idea being that the queen has hopefully sighted you as she left and will use you as a guide to return.
So I stood. And I stood some more. I may have been standing still, but my brain was not. Was this new queen just waiting around for the exact right moment to depart on her mating flight? A moment which I had just indadvertedly created? Or had she already been on her mating flight but not really settled back in? Did I spook her out? Had I just undone a summer’s worth of effort from the hive to raise a new queen? And was that really the queen I saw?
Humph. That perfect golden afternoon light that drew me out to the hives in the first place was starting to fade. I put the hive back together and sent as many good thoughts as I could think out to the fly-away queen. Wherever she was. I drove home, wondering how the season finale would write itself. Would it be a gripping cliffhanger? A storybook ending? Hopefully not a tearjerker. It’s certainly been a roller coaster ride this summer – full of anticipation and thrills. And let me tell you, it’s been encourging to have so many people along for the adventure.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you just dangling up there at the top of the ride. I couldn’t. Because I’d burst if I had to wait all winter to tell you that the hive is now home to Queen Freeda’s magnificent daughter. That’s right! The petite little queen made it back to the hive. I know, because this week, I saw her, plain as day, no maybe about it. And I found cell after cell of perfectly laid eggs. At this late in the game, I may need to borrow a few bits and pieces from other hives to make sure they have a fair shake at surviving the winter. But if their perseverance thus far is any indication, I’m not too worried. Those girls are troopers.
After a summer of meddling and fussing and worry, I finally have a daughter of my all-time favorite queen.This called for cake. But not just any cake. I wanted a simple, sturdy cake. One I could wrap up in a piece of waxed paper and head out to the beeyard with. Honey, of course, should be the star.
honey cake
The recipe sort of formed from what I happened to have on hand. But after enjoying several pieces, I’ll make it a point to have these ingredients on hand again – it was just the combination flavors I was looking for. I intentionally used half spelt flour, because it adds a subtle sweetness to a not overly sweet cake. And I have to admit that I am drawn to cakes that go just as well with a late afternoon espresso as they do with a smear of butter for breakfast. This is that cake. Oh, and it tastes especially lovely outside on a fall day – with or without some bees to enjoy it with.
Honey Cake
Adapted from Tom Herschfeld

1 cup spelt flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup half and half or milk
1 cup dried blueberries

Sift dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl. In a another bowl, whisk together honey, eggs, yogurt, butter, and half and half. Stir wet ingredients into dry with a wooden spoon. Gently fold in blueberries.
Spoon batter into a well greased 8×8 baking pan.
Bake at 350º F for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
honey cake

the comeback kid

I got the best sort of e-mail last week. It was from a farmer down the road wondering if I wanted to experiment cooking with fresh red currants. I believe my response was something like “heck yeah!” The farm has recently introduced some currant trials into their thriving blueberry and raspberry operation. But the problem with currants is that they have (rather unfortunately) fallen out of fashion. Luckily there are places like Highland Valley Farm that are making an effort to reintroduce them into modern cuisine.

pink, red, white currants

I have to admit that a fresh currant has never managed to make its way into my own kitchen. Which of course, made me wonder why. Magdalen, at the farm, directed me to asktheberryman.com for a brief history lesson. I learned that there was actually a federal ban on growing most strains of currants (and their cousin gooseberries) from 1900 until 1966. And even still, many states prohibit the cultivation of black currants. Evidentially, the shrubs can host a serious disease harmful to white pine trees. And since the white pine was a major player in the timber industry at the turn of the century, currants and gooseberries were forced to take a back seat. In fact, they pretty much got ditched all together. The white pine blister rust that the shrubs can carry is still a concern, but modern day commercially available cultivars generally have a greater resistance to the disease. Whew.
I was now feeling educated enough to head over to the farm to pick up my berries. Magdalen had told me they have a few different varieties, but what she didn’t mention is how positively gorgeous they are. I was expecting a carton of plain-jane little red berries. But what I got was a mix of stunning jewels – Pink Champagne in the most perfect shade of light pink, striking ruby red Rovadas, and almost translucent white Blankas. I had my fingers into each bag before I was even out of the driveway.
All of the berries were juicy and tangy – sort of like miniature grapes with a tiny seed. But right away I could detect subtle differences between the varieties. The white Blanka berries are firm and have a soft, more subtle seed. The lovely Pink Champagne seems the most delicate of the three – soft, but with an exciting flavor twist. Is “pink” a recognized  flavor? Because they taste pink. And the Rovada reds are a perfect blend of both. The berries are tart, but not overwhelmingly so. Of course I’m the type that also enjoys sour cherries right off the tree. I love the rush of something tangy on my tongue.
After I ate my fill of them raw, I realized my education was only half complete. I had no clue how I was actually going to cook with them. I flipped through the indexes of about a dozen cookbooks. Nothing. Not even in The Joy – my standard go to for all things old fashioned. Searching on line yielded a bit more, but I was hard pressed to find anything much beyond jam and jelly recipes. Not that I’m opposed to preserves, I just wanted something a little more adventurous. Which meant I was on my own with this comeback kid.
I decided to start by baking them – straight up. I wanted to keep the currants as unadorned as possible to see how their flavor might change in the oven. So I made simple little rustic cornmeal tart shells for the berries to rest in and laced them with just a bit of honey. The tarts were lovely, and as I suspected, the currants mellowed somewhat in the oven. There was more of a caramelized sweetness shinning through, but still enough of a tang to warrant a small scoop of vanilla on the side. I can certainly see kicking this up a notch and making a custard based tart studded with these little gems.
currant tarts
As I was enjoying my tart, pondering what my next experiment might be, I remembered a great appetizer that my friend Kris made a few weeks ago. She simply plated up some soft cheese, scattered red currants about and drizzled honey over the whole shebang. A delicious accompaniment for a basket of pita crackers. So simple, yet elegant and complex tasting. The flavor combo was such a knockout that I decided to take it one step further and turn it into a savory scone. I knew it would involve some Sassy Nanny chev and a bit of honey. But my real dilemma was which variety of currant to use. The bright red Rovadas would be the showiest for sure, but something in me really wanted to use the white Blanka. I liked the idea of a scone riddled with secret little land mines of flavor. It worked, just as I had hoped. A little bit tangy, a little bit sweet, and all with an element of surprise.
currant scones
I had some leftover berries mixed with honey from the tart trial, so next I decided to cook them down a bit on the stove and make a currant syrup. I learned in my online research that currants are naturally high in pectin, meaning the juice thickens up nicely on its own. I opted to slow simmer them just for a bit before taking them off and straining them though a jelly bag. I think you could cook them down longer for a thicker sauce for meats or spooning over yogurt, but I wanted a nice light syrup to add to a glass of soda water or lemonade. I set the syrup in the fridge to chill while I went to the garden for some sprigs of chocolate mint. I muddled a few leaves of mint in the bottom of a glass, filled it with ice, and proceeded as planned. Not only was my drink striking, I felt especially good knowing that I was getting a healthy dose of vitamin C and potassium to boot.
fizzy-currants
Thinking about the currant’s great nutrient value reminded me that I should not overlook using them raw. They make an amazingly bright addition to my morning granola. And I can easily see tossing them into green salads and grain based pilafs. Which lead me to the idea of using them in a fresh salsa. I had an avocado in waiting on the window sill. So back to the garden I went, for a jalapeño and cilantro. I mixed this all together with my usual culprits – honey and garlic – for a cooling summer salsa. This time around, I knew without hesitation that I wanted to use the Pink Champagne berries, simply for the preppy pink and green color scheme.
chip with salsa
Even after all of this playing around, I still had a few leftover berries for the freezer. Which will be perfect to make a small batch of David Lebovitz’s currant jam. I love the simplicity of his recipe. And If I don’t get to it, that’s okay too. I’m perfectly fine with having a bag of zesty jewels in my freezer. It’s nice to have a secret weapon tucked away.
I’ve had a great week welcoming this newcomer into my kitchen. We are strangers no more. Though I’ll be honest that it took a while to get my head around the little seeds. They add a certain chewiness that can be awkward at first. But it’s sort of refreshing to be introduced to a new texture. And let’s face it, currants haven’t exactly had an easy go of things. I sort of like the notion of eating such a renegade berry. And how lucky we are to even have the chance to do so. I say hats off to places like Highland Valley Farm and home gardeners willing to give currants a second shot.
Fresh Currant Tartlets 
Note: Be sure to use a parchment lined baking sheet. I definitely experienced some honey ooze from the filling. If the thought of this frightens you, and/or your currant/honey mixture seems particularly juicy and runny, you can add a teaspoon or so of cornstarch to thicken it up.

Filling
3 cups fresh currants (ideally a mix of varieties)
1/2 cup honey

Gently mix together in a bowl and set aside.

Crust (adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain)
1 1/2 cup very fine cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
2 egg yolks

Sift dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in butter and mix until the butter is coarse and mostly broken in, increasing the speed a bit as you go. Add the cream and egg yolks and mix until combined. The dough will be crumbly, but it should come together nicely when turned out onto a floured work surface. This dough is best shaped right after making while it is still at room temperature. Form the dough into a clump and divide it into 10 equal pieces. Use the heel of your hand to flatten each piece into a 5-inch round circle, making the edges slightly thinner than the middle. Use a bench scraper and flour to aid in working with the dough. Transfer discs to a parchment lined baking sheet. Working with one tart at a time, spoon about 1/4 cup filling onto the dough and gently fold edges up toward the center. You want an imperfect, slightly ruffled looking  edge. The dough is pretty forgiving, so just work with it as you go. When all the tarts are filled and formed, bake in a 375º F oven for about 35 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the edges are slightly browned.  Makes 10 3 1/2-inch tarts.
currant tart

– –

Savory Chev and Currant Scones

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cream
1 egg
3 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup crumbled chev (soft goat cheese)
3/4 cup fresh currants
cream and honey for wash

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream, egg and honey, then stir. Add the butter cubes to the food processor and pulse just long enough to cut in the butter. There should be some pea size pieces of butter remaining. Dump the dry butter mix into the cream and egg bowl, along with the chev and currants and mix until the batter is just combined and comes together. Again, you still want to have some nice flecks of butter. Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface and pat it into a round disc that is about 1 inch thick. You can make one 8 to 9 inch disc or two smaller 6 inch discs for 2 rounds of slightly smaller scones. Brush the top of each disc with a bit of cream and a drizzle of honey. Cut each round in half and then portion each half into thirds for 6 larger or 12 smaller scones. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and  bake in a 350º F oven for 15-20 minutes until scones are just slightly golden and brown. Makes 6 large or 12 smaller scones.

scones

– –

Red Currant Syrup

Fresh currants
Honey, to taste

Put currants in a saucepan and drizzle a spoonful or two of honey over berries. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook over low heat, sort of mashing up the berries as they cook. Taste occasionally and added enough honey to reach your desired sweetness. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. remove from heat and strain mixture through a jelly bag of fine meshed sieve. Store syrup in fridge. Add 1 to 3 tablespoons syrup to club soda, lemonade, or vodka. Garnish with mint or lime.

Alternatively, cook down the currants further and use it as a sauce for meats, yogurt, or ice cream.

– –

Currant-Avocado Salsa

2 avocados, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch chunks
3/4 cup fresh currants
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1-2 tablespoons honey
1 minced jalapeño
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix lime juice, honey, and jalapeno together in a bowl until well combined. Stir in remaining ingredients and gently mix. Serve with tortilla chips or pita crisps. Serves 4

salsa

ka-boom!

Fourth of July for me means two things. Sugar snap peas and tart cherries. Which is why I always resist traveling on this particular holiday. I swear the snap peas time it so their sugar content is the absolute sweetest four days into July. And after all they’ve been through, it’s just not right to let the peas down by not being available to pick them. Only recently have I been able to honor this commitment.

tart cherries
And so it was that I spent my fourth ever Independence Day at home, gorging on peas and cherries. To each their own, right? My holiday was particularly lovely this year because I had Earl to keep me company. He’s as about as quiet and reserved as I am. We’re a good match that way.

At four o’clock, I cracked a bottle of French rose and retired to the shade of the patio with Earl, a book, and a basket of peas. I should mention that Earl was looking particularly festive, sporting his new red-starred-spangled neck buff. My friend Julie surprised Earl with this chic gift when she came to dinner a few weeks ago.

star spangled earl
I wiled away the late afternoon, indulged in my book, but still managing to keep my glass full and slip Earl an occasional pea pod. Before I knew it, afternoon turned into evening and I realized I had no plans for what to have for dinner. Until I remembered the dish of roasted tart cherries in the fridge.

I had made them the other night, on a whim, when I had the oven on for something else. Fresh cherries, honey, vanilla, and a splash of wine, simply roasted until they are soft and bubbly. This is actually a riff on one of my favorite ways to eat spring rhubarb – a recipe courtesy of The Canal House. So with rhubarb on the way out and tart cherries moving in, I thought I’d swap them in. Ka-boom! An explosion as good as any fireworks display.
roasted cherries
The preparation is ridiculously simple and it’s one of those where the complexity of each flavor really shines through. The roasted fruit is perfect eaten plain by the spoonful right out of the pan (my usual approach), and great spooned over ice cream or plain yogurt – which made for a refreshing, low-key Independence Day dinner.
This was my first Fourth of July with Earl, but I suspected many months ago that he might not appreciate fireworks. My hunch was undeniably confirmed. But we settled in together and made the best of it. Luckily we discovered his buff can provide ear protection as well.
earl hates ka-boooms!

Roasted Tart Cherries

1/2 pound tart cherries, pitted
2-3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons wine (rose is a lovely match, but white or red works too)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 small vanilla bean, split
1-2 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca flour (optional)

Mix together in a small oven proof roasting pan. Bake in a 350º F oven for 30 – 50 minutes until fruit is soft and bubbly. Depending on how juicy your cherries are, and considering if you want a thinner or thicker consistency, you may want to add cornstarch or tapioca to thicken it up. This can be done before it goes in the oven, or at any point during baking. Serve warm, chilled or at room temperature, depending on your mood and the weather. This makes enough for two nice servings. Double, triple, or quadruple as needed!

Earl


cake conscious

My mother is a bonafide clipper. She is notorious for tearing out magazine pages and snipping out newspaper articles. Any potentially useful bit of information must be saved! Clip, clip, clip. I can pretty much guarantee that one of the first agenda items on any visit with her will be to sit down and go through what she has come to call “the stack.”
There will be recipes for sure, maybe a few household tips, perhaps an article about honeybees, definitely some ideas for the garden – generally involving some cool thing that my husband Mark should build, usually a sales flyer or two for some purchase yet to be made, and almost always some bit of financial advice that I should “read up on.” Aren’t moms great?
sweet-flowers
Here’s how great my mom really is. I did the daughterly thing and invited her to come for a visit over Mother’s Day Weekend. But I also suggested she throw some cleaning supplies into her car. You know, to help get the new house ready to move into. My mom also happens to be a bonafide cleaner. Is it wrong to take advantage of your mother on Mother’s Day? I sheepishly promised to make her dinner.
My mom pulled into the driveway, unloaded her supplies, sat down to a quick lunch, and breezed through her latest stack with me. With that out of the way she slipped into her energizer bunny costume and got to work. Once my mom starts, there is very little that will stop her. She dusted, and swept, and mopped. She vacuumed, and wiped, and swiffered. And then she did it all over again. It’s amazing how dirty a brand new house is. Was.
clean house
When my mom ran out of things to clean, she started packing and hauling. Loading up the garden cart and wrangling it across a landscape that doesn’t really qualify as yard. I was really starting to feel guilty. But I suspected this might happen, and so luckily, I had planned accordingly.
I had the perfect recipe tucked away. Fittingly, it was an article/recipe saved from a former stack. The subhead reads “Instead of a bouquet of flowers for mom, consider a flowered cake.” I remember my mom jokingly hint that I might one day take this advice. And so before she arrived, I did as the article instructed and baked her a Triple Layer Honey Lemon Cake. I even hand sugared violets for the top of the cake. The only hard part was moving it from room to room, trying to keep it a surprise. But my mom was in and out of rooms and cupboards faster than I could keep up with. Finally, I gave up and just put the cake on the counter.
The sight of it though seemed to make my mom work even harder. My plan was backfiring. We did eventually get her to stop, but I think Mark had to sit her down in the adirondack and force a gin and tonic into her hand. After a simple meal of crispy oven fries and grilled burgers we wasted no time rummaging around for suitable cake plates. I felt a little less guilty with every moist, lemony, honey scented bite.
honey-lemon-cake
My mom got up and did it all over again the next day. Luckily for my conscious, it was a big cake. There was even enough left to send her home with a nice big wedge. As she was packing up her supplies, she turned and handed me her Swiffer. “You’re going to need this,” she said. And she’s right. I had no idea, but anyone with dark floors and light colored pets needs a Swiffer. It’s an incredible little tool. I’ve only had it two days, but I’ve already used it several times. How do moms get so smart?
Honey Lemon Triple-Layer Cake
(Adapted from the Rochester Post Bulletin)
There are two things that set this cake apart – the intricate flavor from the honey, and the addition of Earl Grey tea in the lemon filling. The tea flavor is subtle, but adds an amazing complexity to the filling. It’s a great idea that I never would have thought of. I increased the lemon just about everywhere in the recipe, but I would even bump it up even more next time. The other unusual addition to the batter is ginger ale. I was a little skeptical pouring it in, but it seemed to yield fine results. And, clearly, I need to practice the fine art of hand sugaring flowers. Mine looked a little pathetic. Fortunately, the lovely billowy honey-meringue covered for me.  The recipe looks long, but really it’s not so bad. My mom was worth every step.
meringue

For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
6 eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces butter, melted and cooled
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
12 ounce bottle ginger ale

For the filling:
3/4 cup water
1 bag Earl Grey tea
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 eggs yolks (reserve the whites for the frosting)
2 tablespoons butter

For the honey meringue frosting:
1/2 cup honey
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the sugared flowers:
1 egg white
Pinch of salt
Edible flowers or petals
Ultra-fine sugar

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat three 9-inch cake pans with baking spray, then line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper.

To make the cakes, in a large bowl use an electric mixer to combine the sugar, honey, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and salt. Beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the butter and beat again.

In another bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder.

With the mixer on, beat the ginger ale and flour into the honey-sugar mixture in 2 additions, alternating. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the filling, in a small saucepan over medium-high, combine the water, tea bag, lemon juice and honey. Bing to a simmer then remove from the heat and steep for 3 minutes. Discard the tea bag.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the 3 egg yolks. While whisking, add a small amount of the hot lemon water to the egg yolks. Continue to whisk while adding small amounts of the liquid until half the lemon water is incorporated. Pour the yolk mixture into the pan and whisk to combine. Continue to cook until the mixture returns to a simmer and thickens. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until cold.

Once the cakes and filling have cooled, assemble the layers.

Use a large, serrated knife to carefully slice the top dome off each layer horizontally to create 3 level layers of cake. Be sure to remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cakes. Place one layer of cake on a serving platter, then spread half of the filling over the cake. Add a second layer and repeat with the filling. Top with the third layer of cake, overturning the final layer so the bottom is up. Set aside.

To make the meringue, in a small saucepan over medium, heat the honey until simmering.

In a large bowl use an electric mixer to beat the 4 egg whites and the cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the hot honey while continuing to beat. Continue to beat the whites until they form stiff, glossy peaks. Frost the cake with the meringue, swirling it with the back of a spoon.

To sugar the flowers, in a small bowl beat the egg white and salt until frothy. Using a small, clean paintbrush, paint the flowers with the egg white. Sprinkle with sugar. Decorate the cake with the flowers.

(Serves 12-14)

recovery mode

Dorothy is right. There is, as it turns out, no place like home. Last week was a flat out whirlwind and being back home in my quiet little house has never felt better. And good news! All of your well wishes and hopeful thoughts for my eye seemed to have worked! It’ll be a bit of a waiting game to see how things settle out, but so far so good. So thanks for the energy. This little piggy appreciates it.

This latest procedure was far less invasive than my previous surgery, and really, looking at me, you’d never guess. My hands and forearms are more worse for the wear than my eye. My anesthesiologist was not nice. I have battle scars to prove it. I’ll refrain from using his name, but it coincidentally happens to rhyme with Dr. Mean. Still, he got the job done without serious issue, and for that I am thankful. My surgeon, on the other hand, I will boast about proudly. If you ever need a glaucoma specialist, Dr. Martha Wright is your woman. She knows her game.

This is me (obviously) with my surgery dream team – Mark and Earl. I could not do things like this with out them. They are the glue that holds me together. Pardon my post-surgery, post-nap hairdo. And Earl wants it to be known that I managed to get every shot he was looking his cutest in out of focus. Or at least more out of focus than this shot. I had a long day. And the light was lousy.

The only hard part that comes along with getting home is the inevitable game of catch-up. Which I am currently in the thick of. But I’m also still in recovery mode. And I’m milking that for all it is worth. It’s complicated though. Because for a myriad of reasons (most of which currently seem insane) I have been trying to, at least temporarily, avoid sugar. So I’ve been conflicted – lying on the couch, feeling like I deserve a cookie more than ever, yet still wanting to honor my decision not to eat sugar. Sigh.

I wrestled with this dilemma for a few days and finally resolved that I would bake one perfectly sublime treat in honor of my recovery. Just the one, and then I’d call it good. Here’s where the real torture ensued. What was it going to be? This amazing sounding chocolate-stout bundt cake that Heidi just published on 101 cookbooks? A batch of my favorite cupcakes?  A lovely, spring lemon pudding cake? I pulled out cookbooks. I thumbed though magazines. And then, out of left field, it came to me. Cream puffs.

I have never in my life made a cream puff. I’ve never even thought of making cream puffs. But this seemed as good of a reason as any to give it a go. I checked several books for a recipe with no luck. Finally, I resorted to the tried and true Joy, and sure enough, Irma has a detailed entry about Choux Paste and Cream Puffs. I did my prerequisite reading, gathered my supplies, and got to work.

The recipe looks a little daunting, but really it isn’t. I whipped the pastry cream up the night before and made my puffs the following morning. It was so thrilling when they actually puffed! I didn’t stray too far from Irma’s recipes, except I didn’t have whole milk. Oh, and as a nod to the Irish, I added a splash of Bailey’s to the pastry cream. That was a fine idea. I also decided to make my puffs more bite sized – which are technically called profiteroles and are generally filled with ice cream.

Cream puffs turned out to be an excellent choice in more ways than one. There really isn’t too much sugar involved. Just 1/3 cup, plus whatever lovely sweetness the Bailey’s has. Overall, the whole recipe doesn’t seem that bad – only a half stick of butter, a handful of eggs and just over a cup of milk. I’m capable of far worse damage – even in the best of times. And now that I’ve been appeased with a few cream puffs, things feel all the more manageable.

Cream Puffs
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

Pastry Cream:
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks, room temperature
1 1/3 cups milk
1-2 tablespoons Baileys Irish cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Choux Paste:
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 stick butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sifted flour
2 eggs, room temperature

For the Pastry Cream: Using a mixer, beat sugar, flour, cornstarch, and egg yolks on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a heavy, medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Slowly pour about one third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring to combine. Scrape the egg mixture into the milk pan and cook, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom and corners of pan to prevent scorching, over low to medium heat until the custard is thick and begins to bubble. Continue to cook for one minute longer, whisking and scraping all the while. Using a clean spatula, scrape the custard into a clean bowl. Stir in baileys and vanilla. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool and then refigerate before using. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.

For the Choux Paste: Bring water, milk, butter and salt to a full boil over medium heat. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. Continue to cook and stir the mixture for about 1 minute, to eliminate excess moisture. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Beat in one egg at a time by hand, with a wooden spoon, or on low speed with a mixer. Make sure the paste is smooth before adding the next egg. Beat the dough until it is smooth and shiny.

Scoop the paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip. Pipe the paste into 1-2 inch roundish mounds on an un-greased baking sheet. You can also just spoon out dollops of dough if you don’t have a pastry bag. Bake in a 400º F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º F and continue to bake until golden brown and very firm to the touch, about 20 minutes more. Turn off the oven. Use a skewer to poke a small hole in the bottom or side of each puff. Turn puffs upside down on the baking sheet, and let dry in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove to a rack and let cool to room temperature before filling.

To fill the cream puffs: Either slice the tops from the puffs and spoon in filling, OR use a pastry bag fitted with a long narrow tip to pipe filling into puffs via the air hole poked into the side or bottom. Sprinkle the puffs with confectioners sugar and serve immediately. Makes about 24 bite size puffs, or 15 large puffs.

knock your socks off

Remember Earl? Our foster dog? Well, it’s official. We’ve gone and adopted him for keeps. Earl (like a lot of rescue dogs) arrived at our door with some baggage. Something tells me he still has a bit of unpacking to do, but I’m not too worried. So far we’ve been able to deal with everything he’s pulled out of his case.

Near as I can tell, his main ambition is to sit as close to people as is physically possible while making curious little squeaking noises. It’s become clear to us that Earl is not familiar with the concept of the personal space bubble. Still, it’s sort of endearing. He’s a funny little guy. Baggage and all.

But here’s the thing about Earl. Actually it’s two things.
1. You simply can not, in any way, be in a hurry around Earl. It doesn’t work. He’s nervous enough as it is, but he gets especially anxious when people start rushing around. So it’s best to just move slowly and yawn a lot. And you should sort of plan on things taking a while. It could take 45 seconds to load up in the car, or it may take 17 1/2 minutes (a new personal record). You never can tell.
2. There should always, always be a stash of treats in your pocket. Always. If nothing else, it increases the odds of things going a little quicker. Earl is partial to beef flavored Pup-Peroni sticks. I myself like a nice butterscotch button.
So far these have pretty much been Earl’s only special needs. And really they aren’t such bad rules to live by. Who here couldn’t stand to take it down a notch? Anyone? And keeping a stash of nice little treats on hand? That’s pretty much a no-brainer. So I’m gradually learning to pad my schedule a bit – it’s kind of refreshing to feel a little less rushed. And I really have been eating a lot of butterscotches lately. Which is nice, because I’d sort of forgotten how much I enjoy butterscotch. And it has also reminded me of a delicious cookie combination. Ginger and butterscotch.

I first had this cookie a few years ago at Rabbit’s Bakery – a cozy little shop near my Mom’s in Lake City, MN – and it knocked my socks off. It might not be for everyone, but if you dig these two flavors, I assure you they were meant for one another. It’s a perfect fall weather cookie too.
So yesterday, on our first real cool, rainy day of the season, Earl inspired me to slow down, turn on the oven, and bake. And on our next sunny fall day, I plan to head out to the nearest leaf pile, cookies in one pocket, Pup-Peroni sticks in the other and take in the last rays of fading summer sun with my new friend. Why not?
Ginger-Butterscotch Cookies
(adapted from Nestle Tollhouse)
3 cups flour (I like a combo of white and whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup full flavored molasses
8 – 11 ounces butterscotch chips
Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt in small bowl.
Beat butter, sugar, egg and molasses in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in flour mixture until well blended. Stir in butterscotch chips. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350º F until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes and remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes about 4 dozen

the dirt dog

I had a milestone birthday last week. It was the big 4–0. My friend Jeremy turned forty a full week before I did, so at least I had someone to walk me through it. Jeremy’s main issue with it all was that people kept asking him how he was doing, and was he okay – as if he had just been diagnosed with some strange illness. If anyone had doubts about my health and well being they kept it well hidden. For the most part, I just found that people were extra special nice on to me on this particular birthday. To be honest, I thought turning forty was really pretty fun.

I decided to take full advantage of the occasion. I even played the “I deserve a big gift” card with my husband. But I’m embarrassed to admit that my heart’s one true desire upon turning forty was . . . was, well, a vacuum cleaner. Yes, I could have probably asked for just about anything, and I go and pick a vacuum cleaner. But a nice vacuum cleaner. The truth is, I love to vacuum. I find it immensely satisfying. Therapeutic even. The fact that the house gets clean in the process almost seems like an added bonus. But I’ve always been underwhelmed with the performance of my vacuum. For years, I’ve suffered from serious vacuum cleaner lust.

Mark went above and beyond the call of duty and even agreed to go vacuum cleaner shopping with me. He patiently stood by while I test drove various models, hemming and hawing over hose lengths and onboard attachments. In the end, I settled on a Dyson. And I LOVE it. It’s purple, it’s cute, and weighing in just shy of 12 pounds, it is extremely maneuverable. It’s relatively quiet, it sucks up pet fur like nobody’s business, it’s compact and easy to store. I often worried that my old vacuum had as much dust billowing out of it as it was taking in – not with the Dyson. There isn’t a single thing I don’t love about my new vac. Mark calls it the Dirt Dog. Loyal and eager to please. It might just be my new best friend.
I even got to try out my new toy a few days prior to my actual birthday. A handful of friends were coming over to celebrate with cocktails on the deck. True, we were going to be outside, but still, shouldn’t the rest of the house be clean too? Mark conceded and let me vacuum till my heart’s content. Bookshelves, couch, ceiling fan, floor vents. Nothing was safe from the reach of my new wand. With the vacuuming out of the way, I turned to the party food. I decided to keep it simple and settled on a few of my favorite finger food type hors d’oeuvres. Drinks to combat the hot weather were easy too – refreshing minty bootlegs and icy tart cherry cosmopolitans. Leaving only the cake to figure out.
I grew up with pineapple upside down cake. I’m pretty sure as a kid it was all about the maraschino cherries. But somewhere along the line, the rest of the ensemble grew on me too. I still love the unmistakable sweet tang of pineapple mixed with plain old vanilla cake. Plus, there’s no denying how fun and silly it is. Which is why I thought this would be just the cake to ring in my fourth decade.
Even though I was throwing a little party to celebrate, I pondered over how to avoid a big fuss over an actual birthday cake. And then it hit me. Cupcakes. Just the discreetness I was looking for. So I took my grandmother’s pineapple upside down cake recipe and modified it for the cupcake tin. I also decided for a more grownup approach with the cherries. I took a handful of fresh picked tart cherries and soaked them in rum and honey for a few days. I think it’s safe to say I’ve found my maraschino cherry replacement.
The cupcakes were adorable. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to my standard skillet version. Each cupcake was so personalized with its mini ring of pineapple and cherry. And topped with a dollop of rum spiked whipped cream, theses little handheld cakes gave the typical wedge of cake a run for the money.
Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes
Makes 16 average size (2 1/2″)  cupcakes

For the cherries:
16 tart cherries, whole and pitted
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons dark rum

Mix rum and honey well and leave cherries to soak, covered, for 3 to 4 days.

For the topping:
4 tablespoons butter
16 teaspoons dark brown or muscovado sugar
16 pineapple rings
16 rum and honey soaked cherries

For the cake:
3 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon slat

Preheat oven to 375º F. Grease 16 muffin wells with cooking spray or butter. Cut each tablespoon of butter into quarters to make 16 little cubes of butter. In each well, put a cube of butter and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Pop the muffin pan(s) into the warm oven for a few seconds to melt the butter and sugar. Remove from heat. Depending on the size of the pineapple rings, slice anywhere from a  1/4″ to 1/2″ section out of the ring. Do a test ring to determine how much you need to slice out. The cut ring should lay neatly into the muffin well, sort of reforming a complete circle. Put a ring of pineapple in each well, followed by a cherry pushed into the center of each ring.

For the cake, separate the three eggs, reserving the whites into their own bowl. Beat the yolks until light and smooth. Add the sugar, pineapple juice, and vanilla. Beat until the sugar is well dissolved. Sift together the flower, baking powder, and salt. Stir into the egg mixture. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold whites gently into the batter. Pour over the fruit, filling each well 3/4 full.

Start the cupcakes baking at 375º F and trun down the heat to 350º F after about 5 minutes. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven. After a few minutes, run a knife around each cupcake until they seem loose. Put a large cookie sheet on top of the muffin pan and carefully flip the whole works over to release the inverted cakes. Let cool.

For the spirited whipped cream:
I cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat everything together in a cold mixing bowl until desired consistency is reached. But don’t do like I did on my birthday and almost make spirited butter instead.


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