I decided the other day that I was going to bake something– not an uncommon occurrence, but this time I had a specific reason: to welcome new neighbors. The problem was, it was the middle of the week, which foreclosed the possibility of shopping for specialty ingredients, and I had to be careful to keep the recipe generally inoffensive. No nuts, in case of allergies. No really unusual spices or flavors (which foreclosed my peanut butter chili crisp cookies as an option). And they had to look at least marginally appetizing, since I couldn’t rely on my reputation for tasty baked goods to encourage people to try them.
I found a jar of raspberry jam in the pantry and decided to make thumbprint cookies– chocolate ones, since raspberry and chocolate is a fantastic combination. I did some digging into various chocolate thumbprint recipes, many of which seemed rather short on chocolate flavor, and finally found one with some unusual-seeming proportions, but which looked interesting. There’s relatively little butter, but the addition of melted chocolate makes up for it while adding a nice dose of chocolate flavor. While the dough starts off soft (and therefore requires thorough chilling before use), it shapes up nicely when cold and doesn’t crack too much when gently flattened onto the cookie sheet.
The finished cookies were really delicious– the cookie base was soft and tender, the jam added the perfect bit of tanginess and interest, and the chocolate garnish was a nice finishing tough. I will definitely add these to my recipe box!
Shortbread is such a classic cookie that I can’t believe I’ve never made it before– I mean, sure, I’ve made variations like pink peppercorn shortbread, or cocoa nib shortbread, but regular, simple shortbread has never made it onto my radar. Until now, of course.
I was looking for a cookie to make on short notice (meaning, no room-temperature butter allowed), with a minimum of fuss, so a basic, no-frills cookie was definitely called for. I didn’t want to have to deal with rolling and cutting, or even portioning into balls, so with those restrictions in mind shortbread seemed perfect. Add in the fact that this recipe calls for melted butter, and it was a no-brainer!
I will note that once you make the dough (which takes no time at all), you’re supposed to let it rest in the pan at least 2 hours, or overnight– however, I didn’t have a problem with this because I just mixed it up the night before and baked it the next morning. The only slightly tricky part was cutting the par-baked dough into even fingers, but I wouldn’t skip this step– it makes the cookies so much easier to separate once baked. I’m certain that if I’d tried to cut them after baking they’d have crumbled into pieces!
The finished cookies are elegant in their simplicity, with an added crunch from the raw sugar and salt sprinkled on top. Baked in a fluted tart pan, they look almost fancy, but still homemade in the best way possible. I think I may add this to my list of recipes for cookie trays– easy to make, easy to overlook, but addictive once you have the first bite!
Okay, I’m going to admit at the outset that I did not use golden syrup for this cake. What I did use was a double batch of maple syrup that I had spent two days trying to turn into maple cream, without success, resulting in my endless frustration, a blister on my stirring hand, and my firm belief that the maple syrup had somehow managed to convert too many of its sugars into invert sugar, thus preventing the crystallization that is crucial for the formation of maple cream. In any event, as I appeared to have a good four cups of invert syrup on my hands and no hope of maple cream, I couldn’t let it go to waste, could I? Of course not. So I made cake.
Two loaves of cake, actually, using a whopping 400g of syrup (plus more for glazing), which neatly used up the excess I had on hand. The recipe couldn’t be easier– you melt your syrup with additional sugar and butter, then beat in eggs, milk, and self-raising flour (I substituted regular flour with leaveners added), and there’s your cake batter, ready to bake!
I will note that my leavening ratio may have been a bit off– my cakes both sank in the center, which is often a sign of too much leavening (rises before it has a chance to firm up, then sinks back down)– or possibly it could’ve used a slightly hotter oven. Or maybe my inverted maple syrup had a different water content than true golden syrup. But the cakes themselves were moist and plushy, with a sticky sweetness that made it easy to try just a tiny bit more every time I passed them sitting on the counter,
It feels like everyone’s using chili crisp these days– the spicy, crunchy, garlicky condiment goes well with all different kinds of cuisines, adding punch to soups, sandwiches, pastas, and basically any other savory dish. But what about sweets? That’s what I asked myself when I spied some chili crisp peanut butter cookies in a Korean bakery the other day– could it really work?
Being, well, me, I opted not to buy a cookie, but to make one. Ever-so-slightly adapting a recipe from Zoe Kanan, I ended up with these– they’re soft, with slightly crisp edges (I may have underbaked mine, but better under than over), with a complex flavor profile that combines spice, umami, and the unmistakable echo of garlic that comes from the chili crisp. It totally works, though I’m glad I followed the instructions and made the cookies on the small side. I don’t think you’d want to eat a dozen of these in a sitting, but they are definitely interesting, tasty, and will earn you some points for creativity at your next cookie swap!
Now that you’re all finished ooh-ing and aah-ing over the adorable kitten in my pie photo, I’ll admit that I made this pie solely to use up a can of pineapple pie filling that I’d purchased ages ago (for reasons now forgotten). The pie starts with a frozen pie crust (because I made two pies and wanted to give one away without having to worry about getting my pie pan back), a layer of pineapple pie filling, a layer of coconut cheesecake, and then swoops of whipped cream topped with toasted coconut. I only wish I’d had a jar of maraschino cherries to decorate the top!
The creamy coconut cheesecake goes nicely with the pineapple layer, and the whipped cream lightens the dessert up a little while still staying rich. I think coconut is the dominant flavor– the pineapple is more of an accent– so if you really like pineapple you could adjust the proportions by decreasing the cheesecake amount and increasing the pineapple accordingly. I used one can of pie filling for two pies, so it would be easy to just make one pie instead!
Since you’re not using a water bath to bake the cheesecake, you’ll need to be careful not to overbake– jiggle your pie plate to see if the custard is set. It should be gently jiggly in the center, not firm– it’ll firm up the rest of the way as it cools, and you’ll get a creamy cheesecake rather than a grainy, overbaked one.
All right, readers– it’s definitely been a while since my last post. Part of it I can attribute to computer issues– for some reason WordPress refused to allow me to upload photographs, and since I didn’t want to post without pictures I was basically unable to post anything for a while. And then I got out of the habit, which was unfortunate. But I’m back now, WordPress is cooperating, and I’ve got a bunch of new projects to tell you about! Starting with this one: chocolates!
I recently acquired a set of silicone half-sphere molds in various sizes, figuring I would use them to make some neat layered mousse desserts (you know, the kind that look like those models of the earth showing the crust, core, etc.). Well, I still haven’t done that, but in the meantime I figured that I could use them to make chocolates!
I broke out my immersion sous vide machine and tempered some dark chocolate (Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bars are the best!) using this very useful technique— annoyingly, my chocolate firmed up extremely quickly, making it a bit difficult to work with, but it was definitely tempered!
For the filling, I made a chocolate ganache and stirred in a big dollop of strawberry jam and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar– it tasted good, but to amp up the fruitiness I decided to make a strawberry-balsamic gel to pipe in as well. It was easy– I just brought more jam and vinegar to a boil and let it bubble away for a bit, then let it cool down again. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone I didn’t make it from scratch!
Once the chocolates were unmolded– some in full-size and some mini– I decorated them. For the larger chocolates I mixed gold luster dust with vodka to make a paint that I splattered over the tops, but for the minis I tried a technique I’d seen online to coat them in an even shimmer of luster dust– rather than paint them with brushes (which resulted in streaky coverage), I took a few spoonfuls of nonpariel sprinkles– the kind that look like tiny balls– and mixed them with a small spoonful of luster dust. I swished the chocolates around in the dust-coated sprinkles, which made a gorgeously even coat of shimmery color! It’s like magic!
The finished chocolates are beautiful and delicious, and have whetted my appetite for making more! So much so that I bought a set of polycarbonate molds (so much easier to work with than silicone), and have made a list of potential fillings, so keep an eye out for more chocolates in the future!
I’ll admit it, I was obsessed with parasols (and little white gloves, and tiaras, and all that stuff) as a child. I had a little white lace one, and a paper one painted with cherry blossoms, and I insisted that my rain umbrella have ruffles on it. So to go with my Squirrel Bustle Dress, I knew I wanted a coordinating parasol. Not just a coordinating parasol for this gown– a bunch of coordinating parasols for all of my future bustle gowns (whenever those may manifest). So I had to figure out how to make interchangeable covers. This was going to be interesting…
First, I had to get a basic parasol frame with a wooden handle. Unfortunately, nice parasols of the right kind are in short supply– there are plenty of Battenberg lace ones, but the handles were too short and they were kind of generic. Paper parasols didn’t get popular until the turn of the century. So I knew I’d have to find a different option. Luckily, you can get basic nylon parasols with long wooden shafts and handles from various sources for a reasonable price– I got mine from Oriental Trading Co. ($14.99 for me, with free shipping) They’re not particularly attractive, but they’ve got good bones.
The first thing I did was to remove the nylon cover and unpick the stitching along the edges of one of the six nylon fabric triangles. I ironed it flat to make a pattern for my new cover, taking into account an extra-wide seam allowance so I could use a “parasol seam” (explained below).
I cut new cover pieces out of a plum-colored quilting cotton, and then used some more of the fuchsia shot cotton from my Squirrel Bustle Dress to make a length of pintucked trim. For the trim, I cut two 10″ strips across the width of the fabric and seamed them together to make a 90″ strip, which I then sewed pintucks into. My pintucks were just about 3/8″ each, with about 1/2″ in between them– to keep the spacing even without having to mark off the fold lines, I made a template out of a strip of cardboard and just folded the fabric over it, slipping the cardboard out before pinning the fabric in place and stitching 3/8″ away from the fold.
I ironed my tucks flat after they were all stitched in.
Then I sliced the whole thing in half lengthwise with my rotary cutter to make two 5″ strips of trim. (okay, slightly less than 5″ since I had to even out the edges of the pintucked 10″ strip before slicing it, but it was more than wide enough)
Once I had my trim, I figured out how wide I wanted it to be on my parasol– definitely less than 5″, and I wanted more of the plum fabric at the bottom for contrast. I measured my triangles and carefully pinned my trim to each triangle, right sides together, so I could stitch it down and then flip it over for a clean seam. I trimmed the trim evenly with the lower edge of the triangle, and pinned it flat so I could assemble the parasol cover, carefully matching the sections of trim so they lined up at the seams.
So, in a “parasol seam,” you first fold over the seam allowance so the cut edge is just inside the seam line, and stitch through all four layers of fabric for a really strong seam. Because I wanted to ensure precise seam placement for a snug fit, I traced the seam line on the wrong side of my fabric so I could stitch directly along it.
Once the cover was sewn together, I took a long strip of plum fabric and bound the lower edge the same way I’d do for a quilt– I just used a strip cut on-grain rather than on the bias, since there were no curves to deal with and I wanted to avoid any stretching. I made it extra-wide just for proportion’s sake; in retrospect, I probably should have cut away the excess fuchsia trim from beneath the binding to keep it from getting too thick once folded over– the finished edge was kind of bulky this way. But since I’m not willing to unpick all of my hand-stitching on the inside, this will have to be good enough!
I ran a line of machine stitching all around the hole in the center of the cover for reinforcement, then did some buttonhole stitching by hand through all of the layers to make a reinforced circle that I will slip the top of the parasol through when I change out the covers. It could be neater, I admit, but no one is going to see it anyway.
Finally, I made a 3/4″ strap out of plum cotton, stitched it to the parasol, and put a button on one end and a buttonhole on the other– I’ll use it to keep my parasol closed when it’s not being used.
It’s strawberry season! And you know what that means! Yes, it means delectably juicy and flavorful strawberries… but it also inevitably means slightly-past-their prime berries that are going mushy, or never-quite-ripened berries that sneaked their way into your box. This recipe turns those berries into pure summer perfection. Plus, it has yogurt in it, so you can claim that it’s healthy…
I based these strawberry yogurt popsicles on a strawberry frozen yogurt recipe I fell in love with from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, which is full of fabulous recipes. It’s a fantastic fruity frozen yogurt– full of bright strawberry flavor with none of the heaviness of regular ice cream. There’s so much fruit in it, it’s practically a sorbet. But I really didn’t feel like waiting to freeze my ice cream maker insert for 24 hours before I could use my fast-ripening berries, so I decided to just make the mix and freeze it in popsicle molds instead.
It was perfect. Ordinarily the churning action lightens the yogurt and makes it soft and scoopable, but frozen in molds it turned out to make the perfect popsicle texture– icy and firm, but still bite-able. And of course, that summery strawberry flavor still comes through perfectly. I’m betting you could make these with frozen strawberries just as well, if you’re looking for a taste of summer when it’s not the height of strawberry season. Enjoy!
“More carrot cake jam?”– you may ask, wondering just how many more recipes for this delectable condiment I have planned. Well, this is my last variation, and it’s just as delicious as the previous ones. It’s simple, really– standard bite-sized cheesecakes with a swirl of jam baked into them– but irresistible once you’ve tried one. I like them best frozen, and really can’t decide whether I like these or the Carrot Cake Ice Cream better. Obviously, the recipe would work equally well with a jam or preserve of your choice– I’m thinking sour cherry next time?
I will note that this recipe makes 40 bite-sized cheesecakes in a mini muffin pan. I used a silicone pan, which made it a snap to remove the chilled cheesecakes– if you’re using metal, I recommend using paper liners. If you don’t have two mini muffin pans, the unbaked crumbs and filling will keep at room temperature while you bake and freeze your first batch– just don’t let it sit overnight or anything.
In the course of my reading about constructing Victorian ensembles, I’d come across various methods for making lengths of pleated trim– using a ruffler foot, fork-pleating, eyeballing it, and the “Perfect Pleater.” That last is basically a length of pleated cardboard that you tuck your fabric into and iron to form uniform pleats. Unfortunately name-brand Perfect Pleaters can cost upwards of $150.00, which is kind of insane for something that simple. I knew I’d be making my own at some point, so when I started on my 1880s Squirrel Bustle Dress I figured it was time.
After viewing a couple of online tutorials I decided to follow this one, which seemed the most straightforward and efficient. Instead of posterboard it uses unpasted wallpaper lining paper, which is a nice, heavy paper that comes in rolls so you can make a long pleated section without having to join up separate sheets. Once you’ve marked off your pleating lines and folded them together, you use spray adhesive to glue the whole thing to a fabric backing so it stays together.
I decided to make my pleater board 12×24″ to fit onto my fold-down ironing board– that meant the total length of paper pre-pleating would be three times that long (plus an inch on either end). Since my wallpaper lining was something like 27″ wide, I figured I’d just cut it in half, lengthwise, to make two identical pleater boards– obviously, I did this *after* measuring, marking, and forming my pleats, to avoid having to do twice as much work.
For 1″ pleats with a 1″ return, I marked off alternate lengths of 2″ and 1″ on each side of the paper, then drew in the fold lines with a pencil. Using the tip of a butter knife, I scored the lines to make it easier to fold them later.
I used my metal yardstick to help fold the paper along the scored lines, then ironed the paper flat– or at least, as flat as I could. The large sheet of paper was a little unwieldy to work with at first, but I managed to wrangle it into pleats. Since the iron didn’t do the best job and making those pleats stay flat for long, afterwards I weighed down the whole thing under a flat surface to encourage it to stay flat in preparation for my next step.