Category Archives: Dessert

I Heart Cookies

hearts_26Ahhhh Valentine’s Day. Usually not my favorite holiday, but this year I decided to embrace that lovin’ feelin’ with these cookie sandwiches that captivated my attention on last year’s cover of Martha Stewart Living. Chocolate hearts, pink sugar cookie hearts and Oreo-like filling make for a batch of festive treats that are fun to look and even more fun to eat.

I had to make this one my own since I could only find 2-inch heart shaped cutters (a new problem I didn’t realize I had until this week). But, the great thing is that anything goes as long as you have an even number of cookies to sandwich. And even then, putting the odd numbers to good use is fairly easy.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Arnold Palmer Layer Cake

I feel like even when I get into trouble with a recipe – be that forgetting an ingredient, messing up a cooking temperature or missing a step – I have enough creativity to get myself out of it. That said, last year for Fourth of July I attempted to make this Arnold Palmer cake from Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi and it was an epic fail. It reminded me of the cake the three fairies try to make without magic in Sleeping Beauty (something like this). I tried to get by without a couple of key ingredients, but I could not resuscitate this thing. The cake was dry (the first major sin), my iced tea jelly was liquid (gasp), the mascarpone filling wouldn’t firm up and my almond tea crunch tasted like clumps of dirt. I still served it, because I had to have something to show for all of my surgical efforts, and my family was nice enough to grin their way through a slice.

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Pink Lady Cupcakes

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When I’m presented with a fruity confection and a flourless chocolate cake on a dessert menu, I will almost always choose the latter. My attitude about dessert is, if I’m going to go for it, I want it to taste rich and satisfying. These cakes delighted me with how much flavor they had for what I might have considered a dainty dessert.

These cupcakes would be ideal for impressing a crowd at your friend’s baby shower. I’d pair them with lemon meringue cupcakes and just sit back and watch your guests swoon as they circle the cake stand. Conversely, they would satisfy the dessert craving of the rib eaters at your Fourth of July BBQ. I took them to a Memorial Day party and I wasn’t finished explaining what they were before two had been plucked from the box. If you want to make an impact with a dessert that is unexpected, flavorful and is completely doable at home (even for the boxed cake cook), this is it.

This recipe is originally a Smitten Kitchen cake recipe that Deb Perelman adapted from one of her favorite cookbooks, Sky High. She used it for a pretty princess birthday cake, which I’m sure would be fabulous, but I decided to make them into individual cakes. Ina Garten maintains that adults are just like children when it comes to desserts: they want their own and they don’t want to share. I’m inclined to agree. This isn’t to say I don’t love a great big slice of cake, but these just seemed appropriate for the Memorial Day potluck I was headed to. If you’re inclined to think these are a little too cutesy for mixed company, just know the depth of flavor really balances the girly factor. Some fruit cakes try too hard to be light that they can end up tasting like the whipped air version of the original fruit. But this cake and frosting combination is like that solid strawberry shake (the kind with little bits of berry still intact) that would make you return to the burger joint. It has a richness that fills the small space of a cupcake wrapper.

A word to the chef: this recipe is a departure from the usual cake baking process because it tells you to combine the butter with dry ingredients and strawberry puree, rather than creaming the butter and sugar first. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind this at first, and I’m not sure I do now, but it works. Just go with it. And listen to the warning from Perelman to resist eating the batter in its pre-baked stage, you may not be able to stop yourself from stealing more than one spoonful. The recipe calls for frozen strawberries, which is great to know because they are so accessible, but I used fresh strawberries and found the flavor was bright, and the color was vibrant.

A word on the icing. I’m a big fan of cream cheese icing, especially when you want to achieve that rich but light quality for a dessert. This frosting really exceeded my expectations because it was only slightly sweet and didn’t taste like it was made of butter. The layer of icing really didn’t overpower the airy strawberry flavor of the cake, and I think it’s because the recipe is heavy on the cream cheese and easy on the butter and confectioners sugar (relatively speaking of course). I piped this icing using a star tip, but you can also spread the frosting and top with sugary items that strike your fancy. For me those were the strawberry gummies at the grocery store checkout.

If you decide to make the cupcakes and transport them to your next party, I suggest investing in boxes like these so all your icing labor doesn’t go to waste. I bought a pack of 10 and I would buy them again because they have the cardboard cup holders, and just make anything you put in them look professional. Let’s face it, in cooking, as with many things in life, presentation is important.

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Blackberry Mascarpone Tart

At least once a month, usually in the midst of a not so great work day, I get the overwhelming urge to feel sorry for myself that I’m not in Paris. Eating ham and cheese baguettes. Wearing a scarf. Sipping wine in a properly manicured garden. Generally absorbing Frenchness.

This past weekend, I tried to use that specific self pity for a good cause: a tart. I decided to get some inspiration for my tart quest by spending the better part of an evening reading Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook with the intensity of a tween reading Twilight. If you have never thumbed through one of his books, please do yourself a favor and do it. Even if you just go to Barnes and Noble and skim it quickly, pretending like you intend to purchase. He has such a gift for making OCD-ish technical skill look effortless in photographs and in his food. I was so amped that I felt like I could just buy the nice butter from Whole Foods and whip up a batch of almond croissants right in my very home (something I know I must attempt someday, but for now, a tart must do). He shares excellent advice that is just as applicable to home cooks as it is to the professionals in his kitchen: make working clean your philosophy, practice making the same recipe over and over to “become attuned to the nuances of the way the ingredients behave,” and you CAN make Nutter Butters into a sophisticated treat. Maybe the last one isn’t as universally valued, but still excellent advice.

My younger sister made this blackberry tart recipe for our family a year ago and it’s been one of my favorites ever since. I chose to use a different tart dough method, which came from a French cooking instructor and turned out to be a far more elegant preparation. The recipe tells you to combine heated butter with flour for a hot, pliable mixture. This is a departure from a traditional tart recipe that asks you to work bits of cold butter into flour, chill the dough and then roll it out into a tart mold. However, the result was the same flaky crust you expect from the chilled version, but in less time and with much less flour on the counter. I’ve doubled the recipe in the instructions below because the original recipe didn’t fill out the 9-inch tart pan completely.

The buttery crust, tangy filling and fresh berries make this dessert well balanced and surprisingly light. Now, I would love to say that I just happened to be strolling the farmers market in Santa Monica on Saturday, and I just stumbled upon the most ripe, photo-ready blackberries. But, in the spirit of being honest, I have to say I got them at Trader Joe’s and I had no guilt about it once I tasted the finished product. If the lack of farmers market berries is what would hold you back from making this, just give it a try. The tart also doubles as a decadent weekend breakfast with morning with coffee. Here’s to Paris!

French Tart Dough from Dave Lebovitz (recipe already doubled below):

6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 tablespoons water

2 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 oz, or 1 slightly-rounded cup, flour

Filling:

2/3 cup mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1/3 cup honey

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch ground nutmeg

Topping:

Fresh blackberries (about 12 oz.)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 410 degrees.

Combine butter, oil, water, sugar and salt in a ovenproof bowl, such as a Pyrex. Heat the mixture in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the butter begins to bubble and turn brown.blackberrytart_3

Carefully remove the bowl from the oven (it will be very hot) and quickly stir in the flour until it becomes a ball of dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.blackberrytart_11

Transfer dough to a 9-inch tart pan. When the dough is cool enough to handle, press it into the shell and up the sides of the pan to create a crust. Use a fork to pierce the bottom of the tart dough. There may be holes in the crust after baking, so reserve a small piece of dough to fill in any cracks.blackberrytart_20

Bake the tart crust for 15-20 minutes until it’s golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, combine the mascarpone, sour cream, honey, vanilla extract and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat until smooth.

Spread the filling evenly in the cooled tart shell. Top with berries in a circular pattern. Chill for about an hour before serving.

blackberrytart_finishedSource: Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Lemon Meringue Cupakes on StandThese cupcakes are the epitome of the season – or lack thereof – in L.A. at the moment. They are bright, airy and just cheerful as hell. I also love that they are still delicious, but don’t have that thick layer of buttercream that normally makes cupcakes so decadent. I’m a huge fan of lemon, whether it’s in desserts, chicken or sparkling water, so I love that these almost give you that pucker feeling when you bite in. These will definitely make my list of go-to cupcake recipes (because everyone should have one of those, right?).

I fully intended to set these under the broiler for a few seconds to get that toasted marshmallow look, but quickly discovered that I needed (read wanted) a kitchen torch. I really don’t regret this decision because I was able to strategically toast the piped meringue to my liking. I also enjoyed how when I called my baking-prodigy little sister to rationalize my purchase, she quickly responded with something like, “Well we can always use it for the marshmallows on S’mores cupcakes.” That’s why she is my sister.

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Lemon Meringue Cupcake
You could substitute a jarred version of the lemon curd, and I wouldn’t judge you for it, but it’s quite simple to make. I also think it just has that extra punch of lemon when you make it fresh at home. And don’t you want the full credit for creating something so sunny?                           Score one for Martha, yet again.

Source: Martha Stewart