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Cheesecake Centerpiece: Daring Bakers April 2009

This month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge is another first for me: cheesecake! Baked in a water bath and everything!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I left the flavor choosing up to Z and my dad, since they both love cheesecake. They agreed that chocolate was what they wanted, with Z being interested in the idea of chocolate shavings on top. As you can see, I got a little more creative than that.

Guess what's getting good? Strawberries!

Guess what's getting good? Strawberries!

The strawberries are getting goooood (so is the corn…I was feeling like a true Mainer happily taking in the combined scent of fresh sweet corn and ripe strawberries at the grocery store) and since I had used the blackberries I originally bought for the cheesecake for some incredible ice cream, I decided to go with a chocolate-covered strawberry theme. I wandered downstairs yesterday morning, pulled out some chocolate, my Silpat and some strawberries and went to work.

I arranged the strawberries around the edge of the cheesecake and melted the chocolate, tempering it all ghetto-style by melting half in the microwave and mixing in the rest of it in until it was smooth. I had to re-melt it a couple times so certain pieces weren’t as nice as the first ones, but I had fun swirling shapes. I made one piece look (sort of) like a strawberry and stuck it to the giant swirl that I stood in the middle of the cheesecake.

The edges looked a little sad and ragged so I made some round chocolate disks and used some more melted chocolate to affix each one to the exposed end of a strawberry.

I probably should have gotten a picture of the plain cheesecake before putting stuff all over it. It was PRISTINE.

I probably should have gotten a picture of the plain cheesecake before putting stuff all over it. It was PRISTINE.

Oh yeah – I also made my own graham crackers for the challenge. I followed Alton Brown’s recipe, which turns out a tasty, full-flavored batch of graham crackers. I also don’t own a food processor and used a pastry cutter to blend the dough, so my graham crackers come out a bit “healthy” tasting with the whole grains in them. But they’re totally delicious that way and easy enough to make yourself.

I also made the crust a bit chocolate-y by adding 1 Tbsp cocoa powder. The crust doesn’t have an overt chocolate flavor, but between the cocoa and molasses it does have a lot of deep, rich flavor that contrasts well with the creamy cheesecake.

I used blackberry brandy for the liqueur in the recipe, just because it’s the easiest berry-flavored liqueur to get my hands on. I also had about 4 oz. of leftover mascarpone from some fabulous pasta, so I substituted that for 4 0z. of the cream cheese. I don’t think it made much of a difference, though it probably balanced out the small amount of milk I had to substitute for a few missing Tbsp of cream.

Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake

There's that strawberry!

There's that strawberry!

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too – baker’s choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil “casserole” shaped pans from the grocery store. They’re 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Z absolutely loves this cheesecake. I would definitely make it again – it was a little time-consuming but it was all very easy. The water bath was probably the most nerve-wracking part, and even that wasn’t so bad.

I used a very shallow pie plate and ended up with quite a lot of leftover filling, so I baked them without crusts in some shallow, oblong ramekins I happen to have (transferring them in their very shallow, sloshy water bath was even more nerve-wracking than the big one). They’ll be seen over the next few days, as the things I bought to top them are perishable and I can’t eat all that cheesecake at once!


Swirlberries, Or How Everything Is Better With Booze In It

I thought I had seen the last of the Meyer lemons for a while, but found some that were a little sad but still perfectly acceptable at Whole Foods the other day. I had no idea what I’d be using them for, but I figured they’d get used somehow.

It’s going to be very hard to go back to regular lemons after they’re REALLY gone.

I'm getting the hang of this ice cream thing.

I'm getting the hang of this ice cream thing.

The normal grocery store  happened to have had blackberries on special this week, and they looked surprisingly fat and juicy, so I picked up a couple containers. Once I got the lemons home and saw the blackberries, I knew I had to put them together, even though I had originally bought the blackberries with something else in mind. That something happened to also have included liqueur, and I’d bought blackberry brandy to go with the fresh blackberries. So I figured I’d see if I could make a softer homemade ice cream by adding some brandy to the custard before freezing it.

The color is great on this stuff!

The color came out so awesome.

It totally worked! There are no gigantic crystals crunching in your mouth when you eat this stuff. Though I will mention that the swirls are a bit harder than the swatches of creamy lemon ice cream – you could add a bit of the brandy to the stewed blackberries before swirling them in, if you want to try to keep it softer all the way through. It’s not hard to scoop or eat the way it is, however.

Add ice cream to the list of things I don't want to buy anymore.

Add ice cream to the list of things I don't want to buy anymore.

You could use one Meyer lemon and one regular lemon if you want a more sour lemon flavor, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The cream really brings out the floral notes in the Meyer lemon, making it taste refreshingly of lemons without making your mouth pucker. The blackberry also matches perfectly, providing a deliciously earthy backdrop to the lightly-flavored ice cream.

Meyer Lemon Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

You will have extra stewed blackberries. And you WILL want to pour them all over the ice cream.

You will have extra stewed blackberries. And you WILL want to pour them all over the ice cream.

First, Make the Ice Cream:

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups sugar

Zest & juice of 2 Meyer Lemons

6 egg yolks

Pinch salt

2 Tbsp blackberry brandy

Combine the cream, milk, sugar and lemon zest in a large saucepan and just bring to a low boil to dissolve the sugar. In a large bowl, whisk together the yolks and salt. Once the cream mixture has cooled a bit but is still very warm, whisk a quarter cup of it into the yolk mixture. Gradually add the rest of the cream mixture, whisking constantly. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened (not quite custard-like but enough to coat the back of a spoon). Do not allow it to boil. Return it to the bowl and whisk in the brandy and half of the lemon juice (set the rest aside for the blackberries). Allow to cool fully, stirring occasionally. Once completely cool, pour into a container, seal and freeze. In about 3 hours, stir the ice cream until any frozen chunks are broken down. Repeat every hour until the ice cream is semi-solid but still a little soft.

Then, Stew the Blackberries:

2 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed & drained

1/4 cup water

Pinch salt

1/4 cup sugar

Remaining lemon juice

Place the berries and water in a medium saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes, gently shaking or stirring every few minutes to keep the berries from clumping together. Add the salt, sugar and lemon juice and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Allow to fully cool (the refrigerator can be your friend here) and drizzle 1/3-1/2 of the juice and berries into the ice cream, stirring until it is swirled throughout but not fully mixed. Refreeze and serve with remaining juice and berries poured over each serving.

So homemade ice cream is yet another thing that can be made better by adding booze. I’m going to keep this in mind and keep on experimenting with flavors, with or without an ice cream maker.

Speaking of which, what’s the best choice for a small but sturdy ice cream maker? Anyone?

Iron Cupcake Earth: Soda

This month, I was a little “meh” about the theme for Iron Cupcake. I don’t really drink soda (I’m a tea and water kind of girl), and considered sitting this one out. But, it wouldn’t be a challenge if I didn’t do it, and besides, I was able to make something for the coffee challenge, and I drink coffee even less frequently than I drink soda.

They look so innocent, don't they?

They look so innocent, don't they?

One of the few sodas I do enjoy is ginger beer. Why ginger beer instead of ginger ale? Spiciness! I love the kick of a good ginger beer, and heck, I just really like ginger.

I knew I was going to need more than a little stale powdered ginger to give these cupcakes the bite I wanted, so I chopped up a bunch of the homemade candied ginger I pretty much always have on hand. That wasn’t going to be enough for me, though, so I added some ground white peppercorns and a pinch of cayenne. To make things EXTRA gingery, I used all ginger sugar: I reserved the sugar I had rolled the last batch of candied ginger in and ground out all the big clumps.

You put de lime in de ginger beer...

You put de lime in de ginger beer...

Jamaica is known for its ginger beer, and I decided to go with that and cut the spiciness with a smooth buttercream full of sour lime flavor. I also used brown sugar in the frosting to give a hint of molasses flavor.

I got a little creative with some of the frosting. Star tips always make me want to be creative.

I got a little creative with some of the frosting. Star tips always make me want to be creative!

Another thing about these cupcakes – they’re bite-sized. And the correct way to eat them is all at once. At first, you’ll taste the lime and butter as the frosting melts in your mouth, then soft, sweet cake with chewy little bits of ginger throughout. Finally, you’ll feel the heat in the back of your throat from the pepper and ginger. They’re Bites because they’re bite-sized and they bite back!

Although, if I made them again, I’d probably replace some (or all) of the milk with some nice dark rum.

Jamaican Ginger Beer Bites

Tasty ginger everywhere!

Tasty ginger everywhere!

First, make some candied ginger. Reserve the syrup and sugar. Pour syrup into jars, seal and refrigerate for later use. Allow the sugar to dry, grind any large lumps with food processor or mortar & pestle.

Then, Make the Cakes:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, soft & in Tbsp

1/2 cup ginger sugar

1 cup cake flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 large knob fresh ginger, peeled

1/2 cup minus 2 Tbsp milk

2 egg whites

2 Tbsp chopped candied ginger

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp (10) ground white peppercorns

Pinch cayenne pepper

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Grate the fresh ginger and squeeze by handfuls into a clean bowl. You should get about 2 Tbsp; combine with milk in a liquid measure. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer. Add the dry and wet mixtures into the creamed mixture alternately, by thirds. Stop the mixer and scrape it down (or not if you have one of those sweet scraper paddles). Turn the mixer on medium-high and add the egg whites. Beat until fluffy (5-10 seconds). Add spices all at once and quickly incorporate (5 seconds). Preheat the oven to 350. Carefully pour the batter into lined miniature muffin tins. Bake 10-12 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of one comes out clean, but not until the cupcakes are browned at all. Allow to cool completely before frosting. I generally let cupcakes rest overnight to allow the flavors to develop.

Then, Make the Frosting:

2 egg whites

1/2 cup brown sugar (I used light, you could try dark if you wanted more molasses flavor)

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

2 sticks unsalted butter, soft and cut into Tbsp

Zest & juice of 1 medium-large lime

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Sprinkles, if you want ’em

Place the egg whites, cream of tartar and brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and place over a saucepan of simmering water, whisking constantly for about 5 minutes, or until light and frothy. Immediately transfer to mixer and bead on high 2-3 minutes, until you have a stiff, glossy meringue. Switch to a paddle attachment and beat on medium-high. Add the butter one piece at a time, waiting for each to be fully incorporated before adding the next. If it gets curdled or isn’t fluffy and awesome, just let it mix for a while; eventually it’ll fix itself. Once the butter is all incorporated, mix in the lime and ginger. Place in a piping bag by thirds. Using a fun star tip, pipe the buttercream onto the cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles and keep refrigerated.

About Iron Cupcake:

You can vote for me starting on the 29th at No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner!

Our April ETSY PRIZE-PACK is from artists:

Last and certainly not least, don’t forget our corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS,, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson,, JESSIE STEELE APRONS; TASTE OF HOME books,; a t-shirt from UPWITHCUPCAKES.COM Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers, .


I’m sure by now most everyone in food-bloggy-land has heard The Big News about The Next Big Thing. That’s right, whoopie pies. Being from Maine and having lived here all my life, I’m definitely familiar with them. I had no idea that they were a New England thing, though. You learn something new every day I guess.

Not quite the whoopie you're used to...

Not quite the whoopie you're used to...

I’ve never really been a big fan of whoopie pies in general. I could probably count on one hand the number of them that I’ve eaten over the course of my life. They’re generally too sticky and sweet for me, and I’d generally rather have a cookie or a piece of actual pie instead of a whoopie pie.

I’d never tried making them before, though, so I figured what the heck. Plus, they’re on the Sweet 100, which I am trying to not only eat my way through, but make, too.

Probably the most colorful whoopies I've ever seen.

Probably the most colorful whoopies I've ever seen.

I will say that the one exception to my whoopie-disliking ways would have to be pumpkin whoopie pies – I’ve had little homemade bite-sized pumpkin whoopies around Halloween and they were terrific, but anything pumpkin is superior as far as I’m concerned, and all the better if it’s homemade, too.

However, pumpkin season is a good six months away.

Nice contrast there, Mr. Whoopie.

Nice contrast there, Mr. Whoopie.

Enter the matcha whoopie pie.

Once again, no clue where my ideas come from. Just on a tea kick lately, I suppose. I also thought green whoopie pies would look cool. Which they totally do.

I happened to have just enough whoopies to fit on my cupcake tower, so that's where they went. I think they had fun.

I happened to have just enough whoopies to fit on my cupcake tower, so that's where they went. I think they had fun.

I originally considered a fruity cream for the filling, but ended up going with white chocolate. I felt like I don’t really give white chocolate enough love. I used to adore it as a kid, but lately I’m into way dark chocolate. As in, so-dark-it-doesn’t-even-taste-like-chocolate dark. Matcha and dark chocolate are a nice pairing, but I thought I’d give white chocolate a chance. I’m glad I did, since the matcha flavor is relatively subtle and would probably get lost with a darker filling.

Another thing I did with the filling (which could be considered sacrilege if you’re the kind of nut who takes whoopie pies of all things too seriously) was replace the shortening called for in most whoopie fillings with butter. I just prefer real butter these days – you don’t get that nasty coating on the inside of your mouth like you would with shortening. And I think it makes the filling much lighter and fluffier. I hear you are also supposed to use marshmallow fluff, but that doesn’t seem quite as important as the shortening.

I also forgot to buy buttermilk for the cake/cookie part and ended up subbing 6 oz. of nonfat Greek yogurt and 4 Tbsp whole milk (the milk was only because the yogurt came in a 6 oz. container and I didn’t want to open and partially use another container that I didn’t plan to eat right away). It obviously didn’t hurt any since they puffed up just like they’re supposed to. The yogurt also made the batter incredibly fluffy and light. So I would recommend doing that instead of putting vinegar or lemon juice in milk if you don’t have buttermilk.

Matcha Whoopie Pies

Leaning Tower of Tastiness.

Leaning Tower of Tastiness.

For the “Pies”:

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 cups AP flour

2 Tbsp matcha

1 cup buttermilk/plain yogurt

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and creamy. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the dry mixture and buttermilk/yogurt alternately in thirds to the batter, mixing well after each addition. Preheat the oven to 350. Depending on the size whoopie pies you want, scoop the batter anywhere from 1 Tbsp to 1/4 cup at a time onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Leava about 1″ between each scoop on the sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes, until puffy and springy when poked. Allow to cool fully before sandwiching.

Then, Make the Filling:

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature and cut into Tbsp

3/4 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

5 oz. white chocolate, melted, slightly cooled (white chocolate is tricky because of the cocoa butter content and will solidify while still quite warm; you need it to be soft enough to be at least spreadable but not too hot)

In a double boiler over high heat, combine the eggs and sugar (in the metal bowl of a stand mixer is perfectly fine and preferable if you have one). Whisk over simmering water until the sugar dissolves (will be about 180 if you have an instant read thermometer). Immediately whisk to a glossy meringue. Switch to the paddle attachment on medium speed and add the butter one piece at a time, waiting for each piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla, salt and chocolate and beat for one minute. Spread the filling generously between similarly shaped and sized cookies/cakes/pies/whatever you want to call them.

Making these hasn’t really changed my opinion of whoopie pies – I still don’t think they could possibly be as big as cupcakes are. They are definitely fun to make, and tasty, but I don’t think they have as much room for creativity as a cupcake, which you can flavor, fill and frost in any combination imaginable. Plus I’d like to see some more mileage out of the incomparable macarons before they’re replaced by fatter, less dainty whoopie pies.

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from trying this recipe, however, especially if you like matcha. It’s a fun twist on the regular chocolate and marshmallow flavoring and a neat way to use matcha. I think if I were to make whoopie pies again, though, I’d probably attempt a red velvet with cream cheese filling. I bet they’d be stunning (get to work, people, or I will…eventually).

A Brief Break From Tea

Sick of tea yet? A little? I’m not, but I made something reeeally good for dinner last night and thought the internet might be interested!

I saw a yummy-looking dish over at the kitchn, and decided that before the Meyer lemons disappeared for the rest of the year I’d have to make it. So I bookmarked it, and thought of it any time I had some lemons or passed the mascarpone in the store. But only a little…and every time I thought of it, my brain changed it, like a game of telephone.

Hello, food. I miss you.

Hello, food. I miss you.

And what was once Meyer lemon, mascarpone, spinach, hazelnuts and spaghetti turned into Meyer lemon, mascarpone, spinach, fresh basil, chickpeas and fresh homemade pasta.

Those are some fat noodles!

Those are some fat noodles!

I haven’t made pasta before, aside from the last Daring Bakers Challenge, but really wanted to practice making it some more. I originally intended to make fettuccine, but since I don’t have a pasta machine I did everything by hand and couldn’t get the dough thin enough. In fact, I’m going to mix the dough in my Kitchenaid the next time I make pasta. I don’t have the height or the strength to knead pasta dough as well as I’d like.

Even though the pasta took some effort, I think this was worth it, and letting the dough rest every once in a while over the afternoon helped a lot. Then all I had to do was zest and juice the lemon and cook everything up together!

Homemade Noodles with Meyer Lemon and Mascarpone

Giant flakes of shaved parmesan are optional, but extra-good if you like things extra-cheesy.

Giant flakes of shaved parmesan are optional, but extra-good if you like things extra-cheesy.

First, Make the Noodles:

2 cups flour

2 eggs

Pinch of salt

Up to 1/4 cup lukewarm water

Sift the flour onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs and salt. Using clean hands, combine the eggs and flour, making sure not to let the eggs escape. Do your best to knead the ingredients into a cohesive dough, and dribble a few drops of water onto the dough as needed to help the dough form. Continue kneading until you have a smooth ball of dough. OR, do this in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Allow the dough to rest, lightly covered with plastic wrap for 1-3 hours. Divide dough into fourths. Use a rolling pin (preferably a pastry roller) to roll the pasta dough out as thin as possible, allowing it to rest for 10 minutes at a time if it becomes uncooperative. Or roll out in a pasta machine. If not using a pasta machine, cut into thin noodles with a long, sharp knife. Lay noodles out flat on the work surface, or hang, until dry.

Then, Put it All Together!:

Zest & juice of 1 Meyer lemon

Small handful of fresh basil

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

Dried handmade pasta

1 cup cooked (or drained canned) chickpeas

5-6 oz. fresh baby spinach, washed & dried

Ground nutmeg, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Freshly shaved parmesan, if desired

Set a medium-large pot of salted water on to boil. Combine lemon, basil and cheese in a small bowl and mix well. Once the water boils, add the pasta and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until cooked through but still firm. Set aside about 1/2 cup pasta water and drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot over low-medium heat and add the lemon-mascarpone mixture and chickpeas, then add the spinach a handful at a time, stirring constantly. Once the spinach is wilted, season with nutmeg and pepper, sprinkle with shaved parmesan and serve immediately.

I would definitely make this again, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes pasta, lemon, cheese, basil…basically everything awesome. You could use a different bean or a nut in place of the chickpeas (pine nuts would be yummy, or pistachios…ooh or cannellinis) but I’d probably use the chickpeas again because they are truly the greatest beans.

Teacup Full of Tastiness

I promised more recipes with tea in them, didn’t I?

Mmm, so creamy and spicy.

Mmm, so creamy and spicy.

This recipe was created out of a need to use up egg yolks. I’m always ending up with extra yolks, because I like making meringue so much. And my standard cupcake recipe only has whites in it.

I would so make this again. You should make it at least once.

I would so make this again. You should make it at least once.

Even though I love homemade ice cream, I know I can’t make it as nice as I could if I had an ice cream maker. So I decided to stop short and just make a custard.

If I owned a restaurant I would definitely serve this as a fall dessert. In teacups, of course.

If I owned a restaurant I would definitely serve this as a fall dessert. In teacups, of course.

I have no idea where I got the idea to make a chai-flavored custard. I just know that once I had the idea, there was no turning back. And I had to add vanilla bean. Just because chai is always better with vanilla.

Look at that color! It's not caramel but it sure looks like it.

Look at that color! It's not caramel but it sure looks like it.

Just like there was no turning back once I dipped the spoon into the little teacup.

Oops...I didn't mean to eat that much.

Oops...I didn't mean to eat that much.

I preferred this custard hot, though, just like the tea itself, it’s equally delicious cold. Just keep in mind that it will want to form a skin very quickly as it cools, so if you’ll be serving it cold you should cover it with plastic like you would for a curd.

Vanilla Chai Custard

I went out and bought this teacup and saucer just for the photo. See how dedicated I am? (They were $1 at Goodwill...shhh)

I went out and bought this teacup and saucer just for the photo. See how dedicated I am? (They were $1 at Goodwill...shhh)

2 cups whole milk

1 whole star anise

6-8 whole cloves

6-8 allspice berries

1 small cinnamon stick (about 4″ long)

6-8 white peppercorns

1-2 crushed green cardamom pods

1 small vanilla bean (I used a small, about 4″ Tahitian bean)

2-3 Tbsp looseleaf English Breakfast tea

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Pinch fine salt

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Place the milk, spices and tea in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds and add the seeds and pod to the milk. Heat to a boil over medium heat. Remove immediately once it comes to a low boil. Allow the milk to steep in the tea and spices for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk until no lumps remain. With a large slotted spoon, remove the cinnamon stick, vanilla pod and as much tea and whole spice as you can from the milk, then pour it into the yolk mixture by fourths, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. Whisk in the salt, strain into a clean medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until the custard thickens. Remove from heat and stir in butter. If serving hot, pour into individual teacups and serve immediately. If serving cold, pour into a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressed down onto the surface, with holes poked into it to allow steam to escape. Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge.

This would make a great fall dessert, for a somewhat fancy Thanksgiving dinner or a sit-down Halloween meal. But it’s just as good now in the spring, because chai is delicious any time of year. You could serve it cold as the ending to a casual spring or summer meal, or as a treat to a group of tea-loving friends. Basically, this is delicious, and you should make it.

Syrupy Goodness

Prepare yourselves for an onslaught of tea-related treats. This is one of three.

It almost looks healthy - look at all that green and those carrot-like shards of orange!

It almost looks healthy - look at all that green and those carrot-like shards of orange!

Though I haven’t begun to make the other two things yet, they are my projects for the next couple of days. This, however, is something I made before I left on my trip. I just put the elements together yesterday after getting home from the store (to buy things that I needed to make the upcoming stuff).

I like veggies, but this is good, too.

I like veggies, but this is good, too.

I know I said I wasn’t going to try making ice cream again until I could get an ice cream maker, but I had leftover egg yolks and just felt like playing with matcha.

Zesty, yummy and dainty. No, really, those are small scoops.

Zesty, yummy and dainty. No, really, those are small scoops.

I also constantly have a small collection of flavored syrups in my fridge, since I really enjoy candying things. It’s fun! I actually candy ginger more for the ginger syrup than for the candied ginger itself now, though I do love hot, chewy little shards of candied ginger.

So many things I love in one dessert!

So many things I love in one dessert!

I’m always trying to come up with new ways to use the syrups – in marshmallows, drinks, I use ginger syrup to make a glaze/sauce for tofu stir fries…But I rarely use them straight-up. I happened to have both ginger and kumquat syrup on hand and knew they’d both go great with matcha ice cream, so I created this little sundae.

Though the first time I made candied ginger I used Alton Brown’s method, I’ve used this one since, because it actually results in a ginger syrup as opposed to a ginger water that needs sugar boiled into it. I never posted the recipe for candied kumquats because I just didn’t really like them candied as much as fresh, which is kind of a shame because the syrup is incredibly good. It’s not bitter at all (which is good, considering it’s a flavored sugar syrup), and has an earthy, floral quality that is absolutely delicious. I don’t know if you’d get different results using whole as opposed to sliced kumquats, but I’d slice them so you can de-seed them. There’s a recipe for candied kumquats on this page, along with lots of other kumquat recipes. The simple candied ones I made are in the left column, almost all the way down.

Matcha Ice Cream Sundae with Kumquats and Ginger

That's syrup, not water. The color in the syrup is hard to see in small quantities, but the flavor is definitely there.

That's syrup, not water. The color in the syrup is hard to see in small quantities, but the flavor is definitely there.

First, Make the Ice Cream:

1 1/2 cups (whole) milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

5 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 tsp fine sea salt

1 Tbsp matcha powder

1/4 cup hot water

Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear (do not allow it to boil). Immediately remove from heat and set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the yolks and gradually mix in the sugar and salt. Whisk for about 3 minutes, then slowly add the milk/cream mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes until it is thickened.  Remove from heat and set aside. Whisk the matcha into the hot water until dissolved, then pour it into the custard and whisk until fully combined. Pour the custard through a sieve into a large bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and allow to cool to room temperature. Once it’s fully cooled, pour into an ice cream maker or freezer-safe container. Follow ice cream maker directions, or if not using a machine, stir thoroughly every 40 minutes until evenly frozen and scoopable.

To Make the Sundae:

3 small-medium scoops of matcha ice cream

2-3 Tbsp kumquat syrup

2-3 Tbsp ginger syrup

1-2 tsp finely chopped candied ginger

1 kumquat, pulp removed and sliced into thin strips

Arrange the ice cream scoops onto a chilled plate, drizzle with syrups. Arrange the kumquat strips on top of the ice cream and sprinkle with chopped candied ginger.

This will definitely wake up your tastebuds! The matcha provides a mild, earthy backdrop for the flowery kumquat syrup and zesty ginger, and the fresh kumquat provides a nice sour contrast.

I want an ice cream maker more than anything now, because though the ice cream turned out tasty (Z ate half the container when I was out the day after I made it), the ice crystals are way too big and the ice cream doesn’t come out as creamy as it should without the proper equipment.

A Very Squirrely Inside Joke

Everyone has a few inside jokes. Something that isn’t funny at all to everyone else is hilarious to you and maybe a childhood friend or two. This is one of mine.

Glad I reserved a handful of each of these kinds of nuts...

Glad I reserved a handful of each of these kinds of nuts...

Squirrels are funny to my best friend and I.


Oh noooooo!

Oh noooooo!

…rabid squirrels.

From being warned when we were eating outside that friendly squirrels might be rabid, to leaving messages on answering machines that made one sound like a rabid squirrel, rabid squirrels have been funny to us for over ten years.

Interestingly enough, rabid squirrels are pretty uncommon in nature – rodents (and lagomorphs) don’t really get rabies. So they’re not much of a hazard.

I have tasty chestnut and almond (and a little rice!) flours on hand lately, and decided to put my squirrel cookie cutter  to use to make a gluten(and dairy)-free in-joke cookie. And I thought they needed eyes. And remembered I had recently bought royal icing eyes. And thus, the Rabid Squirrel Cookies were born.

The rabid part is optional, but I’m including it in the recipe. Because I wouldn’t make them without the rabies.

Rabid Squirrel Cookies

Mmm, squirrels...

Mmm, squirrels...

1/4 cup Earth Balance (or butter)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 cup chestnut flour

1/4 cup rice flour

1 tsp double acting baking powder

(pinch salt, if using unsalted butter)

To Decorate:

1 tsp soy milk (or real milk)

1 1/2 Tbsp powdered sugar

Royal icing eyes

Cream the fat with the sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt, if using. Combine dry with creamed mixture. Turn out and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 3-4 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375. Roll out between layers of plastic wrap or parchment to 1/8″ thickness. Cut out squirrel shapes and arrange on Silpat(or parchment)-lined baking sheet at least 1″ apart (about7 or 8 to a sheet). Bake for 7-14 minutes, turning halfway through if your oven has any hotspots (if you see some getting browner than others). Cookies will be slightly puffed with light brown edges. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before removing to cooling racks, and allow the sheet to cool fully before loading up the second batch (you can refrigerate the dough while you wait if it’s getting too soft). Makes 12-16 squirrels (and one little lump of excess dough).

Allow the cookies to cool completely. In a small, shallow dish, mix the milk and powdered sugar together with a small whisk. Once it forms a thin paste, use a toothpick to carefull smear a little on the backs of the eyes. Place on squirrels and allow to dry.

These cookies are kind of sandy, naturally sweet from the chestnut flour and earthy from the brown sugar. They would be excellent with tea or maybe coffee. And because of their roll cookie nature they are sturdy and will keep for up to a couple months if well-wrapped.

A (Sort of) Basket of Goodies

Happy Jelly Bean Day!

That's supposed to be grass underneath the candy, not green spaghetti.

That's supposed to be grass underneath the candy, not green spaghetti.

Oh, right, Easter too. I’m really just here for the jelly beans, though.

Originally in my head, these cupcakes were supposed to have tuile cookie handles. But I ran out of time and didn’t bother.

Poor excuse for a handle.

Poor excuse for a handle.

I made some paper ones, even colored them to match the cupcake papers. But I couldn’t come up with a good way to attach them, so I skipped them. No one seemed to mind.

Some had jumping bunnies and fat little chicks.

Some had jumping bunnies and fat little chicks.

I did consider making my marshmallows look a little more Peep-ish, but I got an old set of tiny farm-themed cookie cutters from my mom and had to use them. They’re very cute.

And some had sitting bunnies and little duckies!

And some had sitting bunnies and little duckies!

The marshmallows are made from the basic recipe I use, with the addition of crushed, strained strawberries (about 3 large ones) in the strawberry bunnies, and strained Meyer lemon juice in the lemon chicks and duckies. I ended up using the juice of an entire lemon but should have used closer to half that; they are intensely lemony.

Oh, also there’s food coloring in them. But that should be obvious.

The cake was so WHITE. And vanilla-y.

The cake was so WHITE. And vanilla-y.

In keeping with the lemon and strawberries theme, I stuck a piece of balsamic-soaked strawberry in each cupcake and made a Meyer lemon-basil cream cheese frosting. A word of warning: if you’re going to try to pipe any frostings with bits of stuff (say, shreds of fresh basil) in it, don’t use the “spaghetti” tip on your pastry bag. You’ll be picking bits of whatever’s in your frosting out of the holes the entire time.

The cakes themselves also got a double hit of vanilla – I scalded the milk with a vanilla bean and used some vanilla sugar, which will be reflected in the recipe. If you use extract or something, you lose – it definitely will not be as vanilla-y and good. Don’t complain about vanilla beans being expensive, either – just go on eBay or Amazon and buy a bulk bag. It’s not very expensive and totally worth it. I usually have more vanilla beans than I know what to do with. Sometime I even give them away!

Springy Easter Basket Cupcakes

Better than Peeps any day! Though I do still love me a stale Peep every once in a while.

Better than Peeps any day! Though I do still love me a stale Peep every once in a while.

First, Make the Cakes:

1/2 cup plus a couple Tbsp milk, to allow for volume lost in cooking

1/2 large vanilla bean or 1 small bean

1/4 cup unsalted butter, soft and cut in Tbsp

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup vanilla sugar

1 cup cake flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 egg whites

Pour the milk into a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape it into the pan, then add the pod itself. Cook over medium heat until the milk just barely boils. Immediately strain it into a measuring cup and remove the vanilla pod (which you can clean and use to make more vanilla sugar). Allow the milk to cool.

Sift together the dry ingredients. In a stand mixer or with a handheld electric mixer on low, cream the butter and sugar together. Alternately add the wet and dry ingredients until fully incorporated. Add the egg whites and turn the speed up to medium-high. Mix until the batter is light and fluffy. Pour into lined muffin tins and bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Do not allow the tops of the cakes to get browned – mine were just cooked through and completely white. Allow to cool fully before assembling. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Next, Prepare the Strawberries:

1/2 lb. strawberries

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp vanilla sugar

Wash and hull strawberries, and cut into 1″ pieces. Place in a shallow bowl. Drizzle with balsamic and dust with vanilla sugar. Gently stir to coat with a spoon, then cover the bowl with plastic and allow to sit out for 1-4 hours. You will have extra, as you only need 12 pieces. You can either scale the recipe back or do what I did and sprinkle the leftovers with black pepper and enjoy with a spoon.

Once the strawberries are done macerating and the cakes are fully cooled, use a sharp knife to cut cones out of the cupcake tops. Trim the removed parts so that only a thin lid remains, and remove any extra loose cake on the inside. Plcae a piece of strawberry into each cupcake and cover with their lids.

Then, Make the Frosting:

Zest & juice from 1 Meyer lemon

2-3 large basil leaves, very finely chopped (either in a food processor or by hand, and by very finely I mean VERY finely)

8 oz. (1 package) cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

Green gel food coloring (about 1/4 tsp)

In a stand mixer or with a handheld electric mixer, cream together everything but the sugar. Gradually add the sugar by cups. Once fully combined, scoop the frosting into a pastry bag by thirds and pipe on top of cupcakes. Garnish with homemade (or storebought, I guess) Peeps/marshmallow bunnies and sour Jelly Bellys (because they look the cutest).

You wouldn’t expect a candy-topped cupcake to have such “grown-up” flavors in it but it’s a good match for my personal tastes – a little fresh fruit, some jelly beans and marshmallows, and a few odd little twists thrown in to make it interesting.