Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake • Mother’s Day • Handmade Accordion Book

justbakedloaf

On one Mother’s Day many years ago, my sister and I ordered our mother a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Although unoriginal and basically thoughtless, the idea might have been somewhat good had we not used mom’s credit card to pay for the transaction. Oops. Let’s just say once the details of the purchase surfaced, mother was less than pleased.

“Have I taught you nothing?!” she cried. “All I want is a card! All I EVER want is a card! It’s so simple. A handmade card!”

Roger.

While I likely knew all of that back then, over the years I have learned that I can’t go wrong on gift-giving occasions when I keep in mind the things that truly make our mother happy, namely said handmade card, photos, phone calls, tins of sardines, cold beer, popcorn, Jack Black, tea (preferably PG Tips served in thin-thin porcelain cups), an extra pair of scissors… simple things, really.

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Mascarpone Sorbet

mascarpone sorbet

Last week, a series of brilliant ideas led to a series of kitchen mishaps. Not only did I waste some food along the way, I also unjustly (perhaps) lashed out at my three-year old. For this, I feel it my duty to warn you about what could happen should these same brilliant ideas enter your brain, too.

So, upon deciding that it’s finally time to try your hand at making ricotta gnudi, you might decide you want to make the ricotta from scratch, because you can’t help but think homemade gnudi would be all the more delectable if you were to start with homemade ricotta.

You might even decide, once you make your ricotta, to save that whey — waste not want not! — and to make a couple of loaves of homemade bread with it, because you know that making bread is no big deal, it is adored by all, and it is so nice to have on hand.

In the meantime, you might breeze through the gnudi-assembly process pleasantly surprised to discover there’s not much to it — a little mixing, piping, snipping, and flour dusting. You might even photograph the process and with each snap of the shutter get a little more excited to share this project with a few of your friends. But you know, too, you must be patient, because gnudi require some pampering: three-days in the fridge with a quick flip every day to make sure they are nicely coated in that semolina flour.

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Happy Easter, Passover & Weekend

E&G

On Easter Sunday 2003, my sister made Nigella Lawson’s Easter Egg Nest cake, a cake that had been featured in The New York Times the Wednesday prior. Studded with flecked pastel eggs, this cake could only suit my sister better if a flock of Peeps and a colony of white chocolate bunnies were nestled among the eggs.

I’m not sure anyone in the family including my sister has made the cake since, but upon finding an old photo of Lindsey presenting her creation at the dinner table, I felt I had to make it. At the very least, I knew it would look festive on the table, the kids would find it enchanting, and my few guests would welcome a sliver of anything chocolaty.

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Torta Caprese — Flourless Chocolate Almond Torte

chocolate almond torte

On Christmas Eve my mother served this torta caprese — a flourless, chocolate-almond torte originating from the Isle of Capri — for dessert. If this is any indication of how it was received, not a single person sitting at the table, nine in total, turned down seconds. Later that evening, Santa even helped himself to thirds.

I love this class of cakes, those that can stand on their own, that don’t beg for layers of buttercream, pools of crème pâtissière, glazes of chocolate ganache or even dollops of whipped cream. This one, like the orange-and-olive oil cake and the Chez Panisse almond torte, fits into this class.

Containing no flour and leavened only by whipped egg whites, this torte is at once light, rich and moist. Ground almonds give it a wonderful texture throughout, and a splash of Grand Marnier offers a hint of orange. Made with bittersweet chocolate, it is perfectly sweet, and when it bakes, that brownie-like, most-delicious, paper-thin crust forms on the top-most layer. It is every bit elegant the finale of a special occasion should be, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. I hope you find an occasion to celebrate it soon. [Read more…]

Brown Butter Blondies with Sea Salt

blondies with brown butter and sea salt

After a month of abstaining from serious dessert (inordinate amounts of dark chocolate, providing heaps of antioxidants, don’t count), a sugar craving and a magazine blurb had me unearthing baking pans and once again scribbling down butter, chocolate and brown sugar on my grocery list. The blurb described a treat offered at San Francisco’s Black Jet Baking Co — brown butter blondies made with Maldon sea salt — which I needed to have in my mouth immediately. Sorry, but I did. [Read more…]

Gingerbread Biscotti And A Few Favorite Holiday Recipes

gingerbread biscotti in jar

Biscotti lovers seem to fall into two camps: those who view dipping as essential and those who view dipping as optional. As you can see from the photo above, I fall into the dipping-is-optional camp. I like my biscotti with a chewy center (a texture achieved by butter, which dipping-biscotti recipes generally do not call for) and a crisp crust, and I like them on the larger, meatier size — I want to eat one (not ten) and feel satisfied.

While I am partial to classic almond biscotti, these gingerbread biscotti are a treat this time of year. This recipe is just a variation of my favorite recipe with molasses replacing some of the sugar and the addition of traditional gingerbread spices: ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. With coffee or tea, a latte or hot cocoa, this dunking-is-optional treat will put anyone in the holiday spirit. [Read more…]

Chez Panisse Almond Torte

Chez Panisse Almond Torte

Some of you know my sister Lindsey. Some of you have only read about her here and thus only know about her penchant for crust-based dishes — pies and quiches in particular — and her love for Peeps and leftovers.

Let me tell you a little bit more. Lindsey, while a wonderful cook, doesn’t quite share the enthusiasm for cooking that many of the women in my family do. She doesn’t go to bed with a full belly dreaming about what she might cook up tomorrow morning nor does she subscribe to a single cooking magazine; to her, nothing could be more boring than a tv program on cooking and a discussion about recipes might send her straight into another room; and she has been known on more than one occasion to exclaim, “Why does everything have to be such a production?!” [Read more…]

Orange-and-Ricotta Pound Cake & A Few Gift Ideas

orange-ricotta loaf

As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit. [Read more…]

Maple Cream Tart

maple cream tart, just baked

Sometimes things just work out for the best. Just as I was about to declare Thanksgiving ruined — my third corn syrup-less pecan pie tasted just as curdled and watery and messy as my first — I took a stab at yet another recipe, making a most-delectable discovery in the process: maple cream tart, a recipe Food52 adapted from NYC’s Left Bank.

I am in awe of this tart’s texture. The absence of eggs makes it exceptionally light yet somehow it tastes as smooth and creamy as an untorched crème brûlée. For maple syrup lovers, nothing could be more delicious, and best of all, it’s a cinch to assemble. The custard, as promised, comes together in two minutes and while the tart shell requires a blind baking, the assembled tart bakes in just twenty-five minutes.

I know it’s very late in the game to start switching up dessert menus, but if you’re still looking for something to serve or perhaps to bring to a Thanksgiving feast, this one is just as festive as any of the classics. For me, it’s even better and will always be considered the tart that saved Thanksgiving 2012. Gobble Gobble. [Read more…]

Double Chocolate Cake, Fair Trade Cocoas, & A Giveaway from Lake Champlain Chocolates

chocolate cake with chcolate glaze

Nearly a decade ago, a pan of brownies emerged from my oven that changed everything. Before discovering this recipe, I couldn’t stash enough brownie recipes away, particularly those sounding most outrageous, the ones loaded with chocolate, the more varieties the better.

What inspired me to give this recipe a go, I do not know. There is nothing eye-catching about the ingredient list — unsweetened cocoa powder is the sole chocolate product — or intriguing about the method — it’s a simple two-bowl, no-mixer job. But I did, and while I know there are lots of fantastic brownie recipes out there, I have not tried another recipe since. And every time I bite into one of these brownies, I wonder in amazement how unsweetened cocoa powder on its own can impart such a deep, intense chocolate flavor all the while producing a fudgy, moist and utterly delicious brownie.

I still do not know its secret. I am no food scientist. But over the years I have gotten better at eyeing up recipes and am not so eager to bite at the ones sounding most outrageous. In cakes and quickbreads, it’s ingredients such as buttermilk and oil (as opposed to butter) and unsweetened natural cocoa powder that catch my attention. So when I saw the ingredient list in this chocolate cake recipe on epicurious, I suspected it would be a good one. (The 1,517 positive reviews and blue ribbon decoration may have played a role in that, too.) [Read more…]