A few Christmases ago, my family and I spent an amazing week in Germany to take advantage of the outdoor Christmas markets– we had a fantastic time, indulging in innumerable sausages and mugs of mulled wine, and of course the traditional lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies). That being said, the traditional recipe wasn’t my favorite– the cookies were somewhat dry, and the flavor profile seemed to be missing something, at least to my American palate. I much preferred the less traditional confection that was being billed by one seller as “lebkuchen,” but which had a lot more “oomph” to it, being sandwiched with jam and marzipan, and coated in chocolate. I found out later that these were not technically lebkuchen, but were actually “Dominosteine,” which were popularized in the 1930s and which are basically gingerbread petits fours.
In any event, whatever they’re called they’re delicious– this recipe keeps the slightly dry lebkuchen layer (it moistens over time), but instead of sandwiching the jam and marzipan between two cookie layers, they’re both layered on top. I also simplified the process by dispensing with the whole “dipping in chocolate” step and simply using the chocolate as a thin top layer. The finished product is spicy, sweet, and Christmas-y– just tasting it takes me back to that lovely Christmas in Germany!
The recipe makes an entire 13×17″ half-sheet pan worth of cookies, which is a LOT when you’re cutting them into small squares, but which makes these perfect for gift-giving!
Bakewell Tart is one of those quintessentially British-sounding desserts that I’d never tried to make for myself– I know I definitely saw it on an episode of The Great British Baking Show (albeit with a sickly-sweet-looking icing on top… ugh), but it didn’t appeal to me at the time. That being said, when I found myself with some extra homemade plum jam and a refrigerated pie crust, I figured I’d give it a shot.
In case you didn’t know, Bakewell Tart is traditionally made with a shortcrust pastry, raspberry jam base, and a baked frangipane filling. That being said, a good-quality refrigerated pie crust worked just fine for me, and I think any reasonably tart jam would be delicious here. Tartness really is key, because the frangipane is pretty sweet– a nice apricot would be excellent, or sour cherry, and I can definitely see this working well with some infused herbs like rosemary if you wanted to be a bit adventurous.
This recipe couldn’t have been easier– the only slightly tricky step was the blind-baking process, which does require pie weights (I use dried beans). Aside from that, it whips up with a minimum of fuss and the finished tart is delicious. The crust is crisp, the interior is nicely plushy with a warm almond flavor, and it goes perfectly with a cup of tea. I highly recommend this one, and will be adding it to my go-to recipe box!
Remember how I used half a box of vanilla cake mix to make a small batch of cupcake sliders? Well, since I had the other half on hand, I went looking for a recipe to use it in– it was just kismet that we also had several jars of our Juneberry Jam in the refrigerator, which inspired me to make jam-oatmeal bars!
This recipe couldn’t be easier, and it’s very kid-friendly since there’s no special equipment needed! My daughter and I had it mixed up and in the pan in five minutes flat, and they turned out fine– a bit sweeter than I generally like due to the sugar in the cake mix, but the kids liked them. Definitely something that’s easy to whip up on short notice from pantry staples– you can double it to use up a whole box of cake mix and make a 9×13″ pan of bars!
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.
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.
Lately I (along with everyone else, apparently) have been baking bread– it’s really the perfect cooking project for when you’re stuck at home, since you have ample time to let the yeast do its thing without having to worry about timing it around your workday. After I made my last loaf of buttermilk sandwich bread I realized that my loaf pans were just not up to par, so I ordered a pair of new ones. And of course, that meant I had to inaugurate them with something new!
This one is similar to the last loaf, but the recipe makes two loaves and they turned out even lighter and fluffier than the other one due to the higher liquid content. I actually prefer the plainer flavor without the tang of buttermilk, and I can also see this making some delicious rolls, or even the base for a cream-cheese-and-jam breakfast pastry.
In this case, since I can’t leave well enough alone I decided to make it into a swirl bread for extra flavor. I was a bit concerned when I first mixed up the dough that it would be too sticky to roll– even after a lot of kneading in the stand mixer, it’s really more of a thick batter– but once it rose it formed a soft, airy dough that was just sturdy enough to roll out.
As you know, I’ve always had a thing for cute desserts, particularly if they’re tiny and pastel-colored. When considering what kind of sweet to make for this year’s historical picnic, I came across a recipe for strawberry lamingtons, and suddenly couldn’t get them out of my mind.
I admit I’d never actually had lamingtons before, much less made them, but they looked easy enough– cubes of sponge cake dipped in glaze and coated in finely shredded coconut. Traditionally the glaze is chocolate, but apparently strawberry is a common variation– and it’s made with jello!
As you may have noticed, I make mooncakes every year– just not in the usual flavors. While I really do like my chocolate-cherry mooncakes and my gingerbread mooncakes, I thought I’d try a new recipe this year and go with something almond-flavored.
For the centers I baked up an extremely moist almond cake. I actually tried two different recipes to see which one I liked better– the first is from Chez Panisse and is mixed in the food processor, and the second is from Amanda Hesser has a bit more flour in it and is made in the mixer. The first one turned out more cake-like, probably due to the fact that it incorporated whole eggs rather than just yolks, but the second turned out moister and squidgier, despite the fact that it had twice as much flour in it. I ended up using equal amounts of each cake, crumbled up together, to make my filling– it was the perfect mix!
I cut the sweetness of the almond cake with a tart raspberry jam center– Smuckers is my favorite raspberry jam, but not the seedless kind!– which I piped into the filling balls before molding the mooncakes.
The other day I was at Roche Brothers in the cheese section, when I spied a jar of jam.
I was immediately intrigued, as my love of the raspberry-rose (and often lychee) combination is well-known. I experienced momentary confusion as to whether it was quince and apple jam (due to the brand name) or raspberry-rose jam, but determined that it was the latter and decided to try it.
It’s really excellent– the raspberry is nice and bright, and the rose comes through just enough to avoid being overly floral. But what to do with it? It seemed a waste to spread it on toast, and I worried that the delicate flavor would be lost if I used it in a layer cake. But then I saw these lovely linzer cookies from Brina’s Bites and knew exactly what to do with it.
After blueberry picking, despite having made Blueberry-Chocolate Pudding and Blueberry Breakfast Cake, we still had a ton of berries left. Luckily, with a picnic coming up and a package of puff pastry in the freezer, I was able to throw together some last-minute pastries to use up another cup or so of berries!
These are actually almost exactly the same, technique-wise, as these Peach Almond Pastries I made at this time last year– and they worked out just as well! In this case the thick blueberry compote (microwaved, not stovetop!) was accented nicely with a layer of almond paste, and provided a nice contrast to the crisp, flaky layers of buttery pastry. Try this recipe the next time you have extra fruit lying around the house– you won’t regret it!