A few years back while at the school playground, my daughter ran up to me and asked if she could eat some “juneberries,” which she had found growing on trees planted around the play equipment. Wary at first (but figuring that it was extremely unlikely the school would’ve planted poisonous berries on their playground), I checked online and determined that the berries were edible, so she was allowed to try them. I even tried one myself, and discovered that they tasted something like a cross between a blueberry and a cranberry– sweet but with a tang. They were pretty good!
Since then, we’ve noticed juneberry bushes all over our neighborhood parks, and while the berries are only ripe for a very short period (in June, of course), they’re abundant as long as you can get to them before the birds do!
This June we decided to finally make a serious effort to harvest some, rather than just picking them here and there, so one afternoon we set out with a plastic Halloween bucket and managed to collect just over 2 pounds of berries. It didn’t look like quite enough to make a pie, so we decided to make jam.
Given my love for fancy, multi-component desserts, it’s not surprising that someone gifted me a silicone mold perfect for making mirror-glazed mousse cakes. What’s surprising is that the mold has been sitting in my cabinet for months without ever having been used!
With all this extra time at home lately, I decided that it was time to take the plunge. Since we’re coming up on strawberry season I figured that I could use them as my base flavor, and when I found myself with a half-drunk bottle of prosecco I knew that I had a winning combination. After that it was just a matter of browsing recipes online to find components that I thought would work well together.
So what we have here is a strawberry-champagne mousse, encasing layers of white chocolate panna cotta, strawberry gelée, and genoise cake. It’s all topped off with a mirror glaze. The panna cotta turned out a bit bland on its own, but the mousse was delicious– the champagne flavor really came through– and the gelée was nice and fruity, providing a good contrast. While I was initially dubious about the sponge cake (it was a bit tough the first day), it softened up well and I’ve come to realize that a sturdy cake is necessary to keep its shape in a moisture-heavy dessert like this.
With the warmer weather I’ve been craving ice cream– it can be tough to find it in stores these days, but who needs store-bought ice cream? I figured I’d make it no-churn to avoid having to sit through half an hour of the annoyingly loud noise of the ice cream machine. My standard recipe involves whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk, but I decided to liven it up with a big dollop of marmalade.
Of course, I never leave well enough alone, so I made some caramelized almonds to fold into the ice cream right before freezing. The almonds alone were amazing– so easy to make and addictively crunchy– and they added a nice layer of flavor to the bitter orange ice cream.
The other day I was in the grocery store, and they were having a sale on Meyer lemons! I’d heard so much about them, how they had a distinctly floral kick to their lightly lemony flavor, and had wanted to try them but never gotten the opportunity– so the fact that they were on sale when I’d be stuck inside for a while seemed like fate!
I immediately knew that the first thing I wanted to make was a lemon tart– one of those whole-lemon tarts where you throw in the whole thing, skin and all, because I figured that it would make the best use of the lemon. I settled on another Smitten Kitchen recipe, which ordinarily would be nothing unusual, but this time was different– I’d actually tried this recipe years ago and it was a disaster. The supposedly unshrinkable tart crust shrank, the filling baked up with a pool of butter on top, and it was just generally bad. Luckily, it appears that other people had the same issue and Deb tweaked the recipe to address the issues.
Lately I’ve been searching for a favorite store-bought orange marmalade– one that’s got the perfect balance of bitterness, sweetness, and orange flavor. Of course, marmalades that don’t turn out to be perfect have to go somewhere, and rather than waste my buttered toast on sub-par marmalade, I’ve been trying to figure out creative uses for the extras.
This cake (made from Bonne Maman marmalade, which had too much jelly and not enough peel for me) combined the idea of a cake with jam swirled into the batter, with the ricotta/chocolate/orange flavor profile of my favorite cupcakes in the world. I was kind of going for a cannoli flavor– heavy on the ricotta with a kiss of chocolate and orange to make it interesting.
This past Christmas I received something I’ve had on my wish list for a while– a silicone baking mat specially made for macarons. It has raised circles all over it that you pipe your batter into, and the tiny ridge around the edge helps contain the batter and direct it upwards to make perfect “feet” on your identical circular macarons. I admit to being a little skeptical at how well it would work, but it ended up being amazing! I was able to pipe 48 small (okay, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than I’d ordinarily want) macarons onto a single baking sheet without worrying about them oozing into each other, and they turned out beautifully!
I’m absolutely going to get a second mat so I can bake up a 4-egg-white batch of macarons all at once (I had exactly enough batter to fill the sheet twice).
It’s citrus season, and while my family usually just eats clementines as snacks (my daughter goes through three a day on a regular basis!), I decided this time to try something a little different for a lunch gathering– a cake! I wanted to keep things simple, with a minimum of equipment and effort, which ruled out a butter-based cake (since that requires creaming and my stand mixer), and also many other recipes that involved 2 hours of boiling the clementines to make them palatable. Instead I went for a recipe that called for just buzzing the clementines in a food processor and working from there.
The cake itself turned out nice and moist, with a sweet tang from the clementines up front, a roundness from the olive oil in the background, and a slightly bitter finish from the rind. A clementine syrup helped give it some extra sweetness, which cemented its suitability as a dessert– without the syrup it was almost breakfast-like.
Growing up, a staple of my family’s holiday season was a fruitcake from the Collins Street Bakery. At the time, my mother was the only one who really liked it– for some reason the combination of sticky candied fruit and masses of pecans just didn’t do it for the rest of us– but as an adult I’ve actually grown to enjoy it. We don’t buy them anymore (they’ve gotten so expensive, particularly with shipping), but this past Christmas, inspired by a fruit-and-nut-heavy mooncake recipe, I decided to make a reasonable approximation in individually-sized servings.
This Thanksgiving I volunteered to make dessert (of course), and in addition to a fancy pumpkin cake (you’ll see it soon!) I wanted to make something else for a little contrast. This sweet and tangy cranberry cheesecake tart was just the thing– the tart cranberries are nicely balanced by the creamy cheesecake, and the crumble topping adds a little textural interest.
I originally made this by using a mixer for the cheesecake filling and doing the crust by hand, but like my Berry Cheesecake Galette I’ll bet you could do both in the food processor to make it go faster. Plus, it travels well, can be served at any temperature, and I’ve been known to grab a slice for breakfast as well as dessert– hey, it has fruit in it, right?
In case you couldn’t tell, I kind of have a sweet tooth. But while I’m willing to put in hours of work and sacrifice the cleanliness of my entire kitchen to make something special and fancy (and often French), when it comes to everyday baking I prefer recipes that are quicker, easier, and don’t require quite as much washing up afterwards.
Enter this plum crumbcake. I cobbled it together when I had a surfeit of plums and wanted something tasty for breakfast one morning, and while it still uses a few different bowls, at least it doesn’t require creaming butter or separating eggs.
The finished cake is dense and moist, with a nice crunch on top from the almonds– they really do make the cake extra-delicious, don’t omit them– and of course, nice jammy pockets of plums. If I were to make it again, I might cut my plums in sixths or even quarters rather than eighths, just to amp up the fruit-to-cake ratio, but it’s perfectly fine (and probably more sliceable) this way as well.