It’s summer, which means that it’s time to make ice cream! I haven’t made ice cream in ages, but I had my annual Ice Cream Social coming up, which meant I needed to get going again!
The first recipe that really caught my eye this season was Alton Brown’s Serious Vanilla Ice Cream. What intrigued me was the addition of peach preserves to the mix, which supposedly don’t affect the vanilla flavor but instead add a unique texture to the ice cream. I was eager to give it a try myself, but was mindful of the fact that plain vanilla wouldn’t necessarily tempt my guests when compared with the more exotic flavors that were sure to be on hand. So I gave the matter some thought and settled on the addition of bourbon-soaked cherries. And then chocolate, because why not?
Adding another dessert to the list of “summer BBQ contributions,” here’s a batch of dark chocolate brownies, topped with a layer of chocolate and a colorful surprise!
I shamelessly stole… er, adapted this idea from Ruthanne at EasyBaked, as it was so neat-looking I had to try it! Since I was going for fun and pretty rather than gourmet I subbed in a doctored-up boxed brownie mix for her brownie base, but I kept the topping recipes the same. I doubled the recipe to fit a 9×13″ pan, since I was going to be feeding a crowd, and changed up the stripe pattern to be sure that my brownie squares would be just as pretty as her tart slices.
I have to admit that peanut butter cookies are generally not my first choice when it comes to desserts. However, my husband is a HUGE fan of peanut butter in anything, so when I saw an old Smitten Kitchen post about these cookies– supposedly the ultimate peanut butter treat– I had to try my hand at them.
Interestingly, while they’ve been billed as soft and creamy and almost peanut-butter-cup-like in texture, with a domed shape that lends itself to soft centers and crisp outsides, I didn’t get that result at all. Instead, mine were flat and chewy– still very tasty and still devoured quickly by both my husband and daughter, but not what I was expecting.
A friend of mine is currently forbidden to ingest dairy at all (which is a shame because she loves cheese), so I decided to bake her a cake. Ordinarily I would just go with my standard chocolate cake recipe (naturally dairy- and egg-free), but no dairy means no frosting, no ganache, no whipped cream, nothing! So the cake would have to have a little extra oomph to it to make up for the lack of topping.
I’d previously bookmarked a recipe for a chocolate cake with poached pears baked inside, which sounded delicious, but the cake part looked a lot moister and denser than my standard recipe, which usually requires butter to achieve. I decided, therefore, to try to enrich my usual recipe with the addition of two eggs. Also, instead of poaching my own pears (fussy, tedious, and ultimately the delicate flavors of the poached pears would be drowned in chocolate) I opted for canned pears.
Results? Not bad. Even with the eggs, though, the cake without frosting lacked richness, and the pears were too soft (and too sparse) to stand up well to the cake. I think next time I make a chocolate-pear cake I’ll use raw pears, probably whole and cored so they can stand up in the pan and aren’t confined to the bottom of the cake. And perhaps next time I’ll use a cake recipe that involves butter and just substitute margarine, so my friend can partake despite her dairy problems.
The other day, my husband (by way of gloating) mentioned an amazing treat he’d had at a lunch out that he had– so sad– failed to save any of for me. It was apparently a fresh croissant, split and filled with Nutella and chocolate pastry cream. He gleefully described how he’d tried to save half, but then couldn’t resist eating just one more bite, and then another, and then another… until it was gone. I think he enjoys torturing me like this.
Not one to admit defeat, I promptly decided that I would make my own– so there! Croissants, of course, are easy to come by, and our pantry always has Nutella in it, but pastry cream isn’t something I generally just whip up. It’s so fussy, what with using only egg yolks, whisking constantly, etc., that I rarely make it.
Then it occurred to me that I had already solved this problem with regard to lemon curd– and my whole-egg microwaved lemon curd recipe is one of my favorites. Why not try the same thing with pastry cream? I found a basic whole-egg recipe online and used the same technique I’d applied to the lemon curd (though going to a higher heat due to ingredients), stirring in melted semisweet chocolate at the end. And what do you know? It was reasonably good. The texture was just a bit grainy– I think I overcooked the eggs just a tiny bit– and it wasn’t quite as rich as I’d hoped. Next time I might add an extra yolk to the eggs, or use half-and-half instead of milk. Or I guess I could just cook it on the stovetop where I’d have more control over the heat distribution.
But in any case, it’s a perfectly serviceable chocolate pastry cream if you’re short on time and want to make a point about sharing desserts. 😉
Out of the blue one day my husband emailed me a link to the apparently famous Chez Panisse Almond Tart. Since he rarely requests specific desserts I felt compelled to make it– also, we had a bunch of extra heavy cream left over from an earlier baking binge, so any recipe involving cream was welcome! I picked up some sliced almonds, and the rest of the ingredients were already in my pantry– always a plus.
The tart itself didn’t look too hard to make– fussy, sure, with repeated check-ins during the baking time to (weirdly) tap the surface of the tart with a spatula, but not difficult. Surprisingly for me, the crust baked up nicely with minimal shrinkage (I always have issues with that), and while I had my doubts about the filling consistency being too thin when I first poured it into the tart shell, it firmed up nicely in the oven.
When I asked my daughter what flavor of cake she wanted for her fifth birthday, she told me “chocolate with cookies and raspberries,” so what could I do but comply? Not a huge project, but it was impressive (and tasty) enough that I figured it was worth writing about.
The cake is my standard chocolate cake, divided into three 7″ round cake pans. I didn’t have sufficient time for my usual whipped frosting recipe, so I threw some frosting together out of what I had on hand– it was a bit denser than I prefer, but still tasted good. There wasn’t really enough of it to properly frost the cake, but that’s where the cookies came in!