Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler


Every Tuesday at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market, the Rineer Family Farm from Lancaster brings the sweetest, most fragrant strawberries. Inspired by their prized berries and the rhubarb from the Livengood’s Produce stall, I made this strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. Unlike most rhubarb desserts — requiring masses of sugar to counter the rhubarb’s tartness — this cobbler, made with naturally sweet strawberries, needs much less. With a buttermilk biscuit topping, this strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, when paired with vanilla ice cream, makes a light and fruity spring dessert.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Cobbler
Serves 8-10

1 lb. rhubarb
1 lb. strawberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¾ cup sugar
zest of one lime
pinch of kosher salt

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cold
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons demera sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Wash rhubarb and cut into 1-inch lengths. (This should yield about 3½ cups.) Wash strawberries, cut off stem and slice in half. (This should yield about 3 cups.) Place rhubarb, strawberries, cornstarch, sugar, lime zest and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

In separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture in small pieces and stir with a fork to combine. Whisk buttermilk and vanilla together, then pour mixture into dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until mixture comes together — the dough will be very wet and sticky.

Transfer fruit to a 12 x 8½-inch (2 quart) baking dish. Break off portions of the dough (about 8-10) and arrange over the fruit. Brush the dough with the milk and sprinkle the sugar over both the fruit and dough portions of the dish.

Place in the oven for 50-55 minutes, until topping is golden brown and juices are bubbling.

Let cool on rack 30 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Lemon Tart


In lemon tarts, too often too much sugar compensates for the sourness of the lemon, making them cloyingly sweet. This tart finds a nice balance: at once sweet, tart and lemony. Light and springy, this pleasantly sweet tart is guaranteed to please.

Perfect Lemon Tart
Yield = 1 9-inch tart

1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon cold water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, not too cold

7 egg yolks
2 eggs
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
pinch kosher salt
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of two lemons
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy cream

confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
fresh raspberries

Whisk together yolk, sour cream and water. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and pulse for 10 seconds at 1-second intervals. Add yolk mixture and pulse until mixture gathers together and forms a mass around the blade. Add one more tablespoon of water if necessary.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough out approximately into a 10-inch circle, then transfer to 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. With lightly floured hands, press dough into bottom and sides of pan. Line dough with foil or plastic wrap, fill with dried beans or pie weights and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Place tart shell in the oven and bake with weights for 30 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown. Remove weights and bake for five minutes longer. Remove tart from oven and place on cooling rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Bring a wide-mouthed pot filled1-inch high with water to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the yolks, eggs, sugar and salt until just blended. Add the lemon juice and whisk until blended. Place bowl over pot of simmering water and whisk constantly until mixture begins to thicken, about five minutes. When mixture is the texture of thin pudding, remove bowl from heat and whisk in butter one tablespoon at a time. Strain mixture into clean bowl and stir in the heavy cream. Pour mixture into tart shell and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Mixture should feel spongy when gently pressed and filling will jiggle when pan is gently shaken.

Remove from oven, and let cool for 10 minutes on rack before removing shell. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Spinkle with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with fresh reaspberries.

Biscotti And Homemade Chai


The base recipe for these vanilla-almond biscotti (pictured above) can be adapted to all tastes. If you’re still looking for something to give your mother, or somebody else’s, on Mother’s Day, try making these. The almonds, pistachios and craisins can be replaced with anthing from chocolate chips to macadamia nuts to shredded coconut. Lemon and orange zests add a nice touch as well.

Although a chocolate coating is unecessary, white chocolate pairs especially well with the cranberry-pistachio variety. Truly, however, the biscotti taste delectable without any additions.

And the dark chocolate, I think, pairs best with the vanilla-almond biscotti. I use the large white and dark chocolate disks from Nuts to You for the glazes — regular chips probably work fine, but the Nuts to You chips harden relatively quickly, making the finished biscotti easy to store. Fante’s sells a similar brand as well.

To really spoil a mother this Sunday, make her a fresh batch of chai tea. Chill the tea in an old fashioned milk carafe, and adorn it with a festive bow. This recipe yields 8 cups, equal to about 16 servings, enabling the recipient to enjoy chai tea for weeks after Mother’s Day. The chai can be served hot, with steamed milk, or cold, over ice. A relatively new appliance, the Nespresso Aeroccino — my new favorite gadget — has enabled me to create tasty chai tea lattes at home. While this tool froths milk nicely, however, it is not critical — the chai, when warmed or chilled with equal parts milk, tastes equally satisfying.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Vanilla-Almond and Pistachio-Cranberry Biscotti
(White and Chocolate Covered)
Yield = 30-35

Note: If you just wish to make almond biscotti, which are delicious, omit the pistachios and cherries.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup chopped pistachios
¼ cup dried cranberries or cherries
½ cup sliced almonds
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk
turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)

6 oz. dark chocolate wafers (optional)
6 oz. white chocolate wafers (optional)

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and blend again.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and blend on low-speed until just combined.

3. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide into two equal portions. (Note: If you are just making almond biscotti, divide dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a log about 10-inches long. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour — three hours to overnight is ideal. Then proceed to step 5.) Return one portion to the bowl and add the pistachios and dried cherries. Mix until just combined, then remove. Return remaining portion, add the almonds, mix until combined, then remove.

4. Divide each flavored dough ball into two equal portions. Shape each portion into a log about 10-inches long. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Three hours to overnight is ideal.

5. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place 2 (or 1 … 3 seems to be too many) logs on a parchment paper- or Silpat- lined baking sheet. Lightly brush each log with the egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully transfer logs to a cutting board. Cut the log crosswise on a slight bias with a serrated knife or a bench scraper. Lay the cut slices on their sides on the baking sheet. Return pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biscotti cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. Cool completely.

7. Meanwhile, place the dark chocolate and the white chocolate each in separate bowls over barely simmering water until melted. Dip cooled biscotti into desired chocolate and place on cooling rack with dipped half facing up.

Let harden before storing in airtight plastic containers.

Homemade Vanilla Chai
Yield = 8 cups = 16 servings

4 cups water
4 cups milk
8 cardamom pods
1 knob ginger 1½-inches long
½ vanilla bean
1 tablespoon aniseed or fennel seeds
10 whole allspice
1 whole nutmeg
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
12 cloves
¼ cup black tea leaves such as Ceylon or Assam
¼ – ½ cup honey

Place water and milk in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to lowest setting. (Mixture should not even be simmering.) Crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds and add both the pods and seeds to the pot. Peel ginger, slice thinly and add to pot. Split vanilla bean lengthwise. Using a paring knife, scrape seeds into pot, then add vanilla bean to pot as well. Add aniseed or fennel, allspice, nutmeg, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves and tea. Let spices steep for 15 minutes. Add ¼ cup of the honey. Taste. Add more honey 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture reaches desired sweetness. (Mixture can always be adjusted later with more milk or honey.) Place a fine-meshed strainer over a large bowl. Pour mixture through strainer, pressing spices against the mesh to release all of the liquid. Chill until ready to serve.

For hot chai tea, heat ½ cup chai with ½ cup milk in saucepan or microwave until simmering. For iced chai, pour ½ cup chai and ½ cup milk into ice-filled glass. Taste, and add more milk, chai or honey if necessary.

For a chai latte, place ½ cup milk in the carafe of a Nespresso Aeroccino and froth. Place ½ cup chai in mug (or pot) and heat in the microwave (or stovetop) until simmering. Spoon frothed milk onto hot chai and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

Two Kentucky Derby Day Desserts


A panel of four judges from Jefferson Medical College, led by my sister Lindsey, polished off this mint julep cake in one sitting. A bourbon-butter sauce moistens the vanilla-buttermilk cake when it first emerges from the oven; and a crème de menthe icing coats the exterior once cooled. The boozy and minty flavors make this cake a truly festive Derby Day dessert.

And these assorted bourbon-spiked truffles, particularly the pecan-coated variety, are always a treat. The base truffle recipe is excellent and can be adapted in a number of ways: any alcohol or liqueur, from Grand Marnier to Port to Baileys Irish Cream, can replace the bourbon; and any coating from white chocolate to pistachios to toasted coconut can replace the cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar and pecans. Although the truffles do take more time to prepare than the cake, the elegant presentation when combined with fresh strawberries makes the work worthwhile, for any special event. Enjoy!

Mint Julep Cake
Yield = 12-18 servings

2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

½ cup sugar
½ cup butter
¼ cup bourbon

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon white crème de menthe liqueur

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with cooking spray.
Beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla.
Sprinkle half the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Add half the buttermilk, stir. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk. Pour into prepared pan and smooth evenly around center.

Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on cooling rack. Meanwhile combine the ½ cup sugar, butter and bourbon in a small saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Stir until smooth and remove from heat.

Using a skewer, poke holes into cake. Pour sauce evenly over the cake. Let cake cool to room temperature in the pan before removing.

Meanwhile whisk confectioners’ sugar, milk and crème de menthe until smooth. Add more milk or liqueur to reach desired consistency. Drizzle sauce over cooled cake. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Chocolate-Bourbon Balls
Yield = 35

10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup bourbon
12 oz candy-making chocolate disks*
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Place the chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 minute, stirring after the first 30 seconds.
In a small sauté pan heat cream, corn syrup and salt until simmering. Pour over melted chocolate mixture and let stand 2 minutes. With a spatula gently stir mixture until evenly blended. Pour the alcohol, about a tablespoon at a time, into the chocolate mixture, stirring well after each addition. Pour mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, preferably glass or Pyrex. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a #100 scoop or a melon baller, gently drag the balled end across the surface of the chocolate. Release the ball of chocolate onto the cookie sheet and repeat until all of the chocolate has been scooped. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Place the coating chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl. Fill a large wide-mouthed pot with one inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and place the bowl of chocolate over the pot — make sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. After a few minutes stir the chocolate with a spatula. Place the cocoa powder, pecans and confectioners’ sugar in shallow vessels, preferably with sides. Have a clean Tupperware ready for the finished truffles.
When the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Remove the chocolate balls from the refrigerator. Working one at a time, place one ball into the melted chocolate. Quickly coat the ball using a spatula or spoon, then transfer to desired coating vessel. Gently shake the vessel back and forth until the truffle is coated, and let sit while you move to the next one. Repeat with two more before removing the first finished truffle. After 3 or 4 of the truffles have been coated, remove the first completed truffle to the clean vessel.

Once all of the truffles are coated, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you prefer to eat them at room temperature, remove them from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving.
*Merckens brand from Fante’s or the dark chocolate disks from Nuts to You work well.

Passover Chocolate Cake

chocolate cake

chocolate cake

Of all the symbolic foods on the Passover Seder table, matzoh is the most important. Made without yeast and quickly baked, matzoh reminds Seder participants of the Jews fleeing Egypt who had no time to leaven their bread or bake it properly. Flour used to make matzoh is made from wheat that is “watched” from the moment of harvesting to ensure it never contacts any water, which might cause the flour to expand and rise.

As leavened flour is prohibited during Passover, flourless chocolate cakes are popular Passover desserts. This rich chocolate cake rises dramatically, cracks and then falls. When dusted with Passover “confectioners’ sugar” and garnished with berries, the cake looks striking on the table.

Flourless Chocolate – Almond Cake
Yield = 1 9-inch cake

8 oz semisweet chocolate
8 tablespoons margarine or butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon almond extract
4 large eggs, separated
2 large eggs, whole
1/3 cup plus ½ cup sugar
½ cup almond flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon potato starch
or confectioners’ sugar (for non-observers)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place chocolate and margarine or butter in bowl and microwave on high for one minute, stirring once after 30 seconds.
Coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom with round of parchment paper, then spray the parchment as well.
Whisk chocolate mixture until smooth, then add salt and almond extract and stir until blended.
Whisk the four yolks and two whole eggs with the 1/3 cup of sugar just until blended. Add yolk mixture to chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in almond flour.
In the bowl of an electric mixture, whip the four egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the ½ cup sugar and beat until egg whites become shiny and hold their peaks, but are not too stiff.
Stir one third of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten. Then, in two additions, gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour batter into pan and place in oven. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes.
Cake will rise and have cracks running across it. It should feel only slightly wobbly when gently pressed. Remove from oven and let cool in pan 10 minutes before removing sides and transferring to cooling rack. Meanwhile, pulse sugar and potato starch in a spice grinder to make a powder. Sift mixture over cake and serve.

A St. Patrick’s Day Feast


Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a feast featuring three of Ireland’s most renowned products: Guinness, Cashel Blue cheese and McCann oats. While I have been familiar with Guinness and steel cut oats for years — I prepare the oatmeal recipe below almost every morning — I only learned of Cashel Blue these past few weeks while researching Irish cheeses. For the past month at DiBruno Brothers, the cheese mongers have been luring customers to a table showcasing five Irish cheeses: Gubbeen, Durrus, Coolea, Adrahan and Cashel Blue. I happily tested all of them, and although I must admit that I am easily pleased by any variety of a cheese, each was truly delicious. I am partial to blue cheese, however, and the Cashel was my favorite: it melts nicely, and makes a nice snack on crisp toasts, as in the recipe below, but is also wonderful on its own, at room temperature, spread onto soft bread or crackers.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Cashel Blue

In the late 18th century the Grubb family, members of an Anabaptist sect, fled to Ireland from England, to avoid persecution. They settled in Tipperary, a town in south-central Ireland, and became millers and buttermakers. A descendant of the family, Louis Grubb, and his wife Jane continued the dairy tradition with their creation of Cashel Blue cheese in 1984. Made from the highest quality milk taken mostly from the cows on their farm, a herd of Friesian dairy cattle, Cashel has received countless honors and awards. Creamy, tangy, salty and sweet, Cashel Blue is truly a treat.

These biscuits take only minutes to make and freeze beautifully. (Place unbaked biscuits on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 30 minutes, then transfer to a Ziplock bag. It may be necessary to increase baking time by 2-3 minutes.) Also, for a simple plain buttermilk biscuit, omit the cheese and herbs, increase the salt to ½ teaspoon, and increase the sugar to 2 tablespoons. For a festive treat, however, the Cashel Blue and chives are a wonderful addition.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Cashel Blue Cheese and Chives
Yield = 10 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3¼ oz (a scant cup) Cashel Blue cheese
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon buttermilk
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour and using a pastry cutter or fork, mix the butter and flour until the butter has broken into small bits and flakes. Crumble the blue cheese into the mixture and toss to coat.
Whisk the ¾ cup buttermilk with the chives then pour mixture into flour mix. Stir just until the dough comes together to form a mass — Do not over-mix. With lightly floured hands, gently knead the dough in the bowl to bring together, adding the extra tablespoon of buttermilk if necessary, then turn out onto a lightly-floured work surface. Pat the dough into a ¾ – inch thick rectangle. Using a 2½ -inch round cutter, cut the biscuits and transfer to an ungreased baking sheet, spacing the biscuits 2-inches apart.
Brush each biscuit with melted butter and transfer sheet to the oven, immediately increasing the temperature to 425ºF. Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, transfer biscuits to wire rack for 2 minutes before serving.

A nice snack: Blue Cheese Toasts Drizzled with Lavender Honey

To make the toasts, cut a baguette into ¼ – inch thick slices, place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and bake at 400ºF for 8-10 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven, top with a generous portion of Cashel Blue and return to the oven for 3-5 minutes until melted. Meanwhile, place 1 tablespoon of lavender honey in a shallow bowl and submerge bowl into another bowl filled with hot water to help loosen the honey. When the cheese has melted, remove toasts from the oven, drizzle with honey and enjoy immediately.

Sautéed Cabbage and Radicchio with Bacon and Cashel Blue Cheese
Serves 4 as a side dish

1½ oz bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 small head cabbage, halved, cored and thinly sliced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 small head radicchio, halved, cored and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 oz Cashel Blue cheese

Place the diced bacon in a large nonstick skillet, cover, and cook over low heat for five minutes. Remove the cover, stir and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook for another five minutes or until the bits of bacon are beginning to crisp and brown. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate. Add the cabbage, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about five minutes or until the cabbage is slightly tender. Taste to test its texture, and cook a few minutes longer if necessary. Add the radicchio, and using tongs, mix it with the cabbage. Add the balsamic and sugar and cook until the vinegar has reduced and the radicchio has wilted, about 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the reserved bacon bits and serve. Sprinkle the Cashel Blue evenly on individual servings.

Guinness Draught

In 1759, shortly after signing a 9,000-year lease at £35 a year, Arthur Guinness began brewing ales from St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, a site that has since become Dublin’s most popular tourist attraction. Today, Guinness is Ireland’s best selling alcoholic drink and is one of the most successful beer brands in the world.
A dry stout, based on the porter style that originated in London in the early 1700s, Guinness is recognized by its thick, creamy, tan-colored head and its distinct roasted-barley flavor. A versatile beverage, Guinness complements both sweet and savory dishes as illustrated by these two recipes for Chocolate Guinness cake and Guinness-braised short ribs.

Guinness-Braised Short Ribs
Serves 4

3 lb short ribs (long cut), cut into 2-inch pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, stem removed
1 medium onion, peeled
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 11-oz bottles of Guinness
2 cups chicken stock, preferable homemade
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
4-5 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
Place a large oven-safe soup pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to pot, let heat for a few seconds until almost smoking, then add the meat skin side down. Let brown for about five minutes, flip, and brown other side for another five minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the leek into big chunks and soak in a bowl of cold water, separating the layers to make sure each is well cleaned. Roughly chop the onion and the carrot into medium-large pieces. This should yield about 3 cups leeks, and 2 cups each of carrots and onions.

When the ribs have finished browning, remove from pan and place on a plate. Drain off all fat and discard. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over high heat and add the vegetables and cinnamon stick. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let cook undisturbed for 2 minutes, then stir. Let vegetables sauté for 8-10 minutes. Add the tablespoon of tomato paste and stirring to coat the vegetables.
Deglaze the pan with the Guinness and the chicken stock, scraping browned bits from bottom of pan. Add the zests, thyme sprigs, bay leaf and short ribs, and bring pot to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the liquid is just simmering, cover and place in the oven.
Braise for 2 hours. Remove pan from oven and test one of the short ribs. If the meat is very tender and nearly falling off the bone, the ribs are done. If not, return the pot to the oven, testing every 15 minutes until done.
Remove the ribs from the liquid to a bowl or plate. Strain the braising liquid, discarding the solids. Pour liquid into tall narrow vessel and let chill in refrigerator for at least 10 minutes. Skim fat from surface and discard. Return ribs to pan, cover with liquid and bring back to a simmer. Serve immediately.
Note: Can be made three days in advance.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “Feast”
Hyperion (2004)

1 cup Guinness
1 stick + 2 T. butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
¾ cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 T. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
In a medium saucepan, heat Guinness with butter until butter is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder and sugar. Whisk sour cream with the eggs and vanilla, then pour into Guinness mixture and stir until smooth. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt, then add to batter, stirring just until combined.
Pour into prepared pan, and bake for 45 minutes. Test cake with a toothpick or paring knife. If utensil comes out cleanly, remove cake from oven. Let cool completely in pan.
Beat cream cheese until light. Add sugar. Add cream and beat until thick. If cream cheese mix is too soft to spread onto cake, let chill for 10 minutes or until firm
Spread cooled cake with cream cheese frosting.

John McCann’s Steel Cut Oats

Ireland’s fertile plains, humid climate and clean rivers have enabled it to grow high-quality oats since the fifth century. In 1800, John McCann built a mill on the east coast of Ireland in the town of Beamond, and began making steel cut oats. Several years later, in 1851, his product received two quality of excellence awards from exhibitions in London and Dublin, followed by first prize at the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876 — an honor still proudly printed on its old-fashioned tin can.
Steel cut oats are whole grain groats that have been cut into small pieces. They are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and protein, containing twice as much protein as brown rice, and 50 percent more than bulgur. Moreover, steel cut oats are nuttier and chewier than rolled oats, and create a creamier, more flavorful oatmeal. Low in fat and a great source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, steel cut oats make a delicious and nutritious breakfast.

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Medjool Date and Cinnamon
Serves 1

¼ cup skim milk
¾ cups water
pinch of kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup steel cut oats
1 Medjool date
1 banana
granola for crunch (optional)

In a medium saucepan, bring milk, water, salt and cinnamon to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add oats and stir. Gently simmer, stirring every five minutes for about 21-23 minutes. Watch closely at the end — add a splash of water or milk if oatmeal sticks to bottom of pan.
While oatmeal cooks, finely dice the date and slice the banana. Place fruit in a bowl, top with the cooked oatmeal and stir to combine. The date and the banana should sweeten the oatmeal sufficiently, but add a touch of sugar, brown sugar or honey if necessary. Top with granola if desired.

Coeurs à La Crème


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Coeurs à La Crème
Yield = 6 individual hearts (4 oz)

1¼ cups heavy cream
½ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
fresh strawberries

Special Equipment:
6 (4-oz) perforated heart-shaped coeurs à la crème molds

Cut a double-layer of cheesecloth into six 8-inch squares. Dampen and wring out lightly. Press one square into each of the heart-shaped molds and set aside.
In a large bowl, whip 1 cup of the cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer mixer to a separate bowl and store in the refrigerator.
In the same bowl used to beat the cream, whip the remaining ¼ cup of cream with the mascarpone cheese, the vanilla, lemon juice and Grand Marnier until thoroughly blended. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the chilled whipped cream mixture into the mascarpone cheese mixture. Spoon the finished mixture into the prepared molds and fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the tops. Lightly tap the bottoms of the molds on the counter to remove any air spaces between the mixture and the molds. Refrigerate on a baking sheet for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours.
When ready to serve, invert onto dessert plates, remove cheesecloth and serve with the fresh strawberries.

Note: Coeurs can be prepared up to 2 days in advanced.

Red Velvet Cupcakes


While I wish I could boast to my New York friends to having tasted a Philadelphia pastry shop’s Red Velvet cupcake that rivals one from their beloved Magnolia Bakery or Cupcake Café, I cannot. In fact, the inspiration to make these little treats stems from the cupcake connoisseurs themselves. When a group of my New York friends came to visit last weekend, and described these as “the best cupcakes ever,” I had to test a batch for myself. Indeed, the cake is moist and rich; the cocoa flavor, distinct; and the frosting, when soft and creamy, delicious. Impressive looking yet easy to prepare, these festive cupcakes make a wonderful Valentine’s Day dessert. Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

2¼ cups (9¾ oz) sifted flour (sifted, then measured)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoon red food coloring (2 1-oz bottles)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs

8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz butter, softened
1 teapoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place liners in 12-cup cupcake pan.

2. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend.

3. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.

4. Spoon batter into cupcake liners only 2/3 or ¾ of the way full—don’t be tempted to fill them higher: they’ll bake into mushroom caps instead of nice rounded domes, and if they are filled too high, there will not be enough batter for the 24 cupcakes. Bake cakes until inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 23-26 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan onto racks; bake remaining cupcakes; cool all completely before frosting.

Frosting: Beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.

Valentine’s Day Linzer Cookies


For an easy yet elegant Valentine’s Day dessert try these traditional Linzer cookies. The thin, almond-packed, slightly sweet cookie perfectly balances the tart raspberry jam filling, and a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar surrounding a brilliant red interior looks striking on a plate. Bake the cookies days in advance and assemble at the last minute for a simply delicious Valentine’s Day treat.

Linzer Cookies
Yield=2 Dozen

2/3 cup finely ground almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup almond flour*
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
raspberry or strawberry jam as needed
*another ½ cup of very finely ground almonds or ½ cup of all-purpose flour can be used in place of the almond flour

In a large bowl, whisk together ground almonds, flours, baking powder, kosher salt and cinnamon. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined and smooth. Add vanilla and beat till smooth. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the bowl and beat only until just combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and pat into two disks. Wrap each with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F and put oven rack in middle position.

On a lightly-floured work surface roll one of the disks to approximately 1/8 – inch thick. Cut out as many heart shaped cookies as possible and transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet spaced about 1 – inch apart. Place in the oven for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until lightly brown around the edges and golden on top (closer to 15 minutes). Remove from the oven then transfer cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.

Combine all scrap dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill while rolling out the next batch. For this batch, cut out the same number of large heart-shaped cookies but cut out the center of each with a smaller heart. Transfer the cookies to another ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, watching more closely as these cook more quickly.

I like to bake off the little heart-shaped centers as well, but if you prefer to make more Linzer cookies, combine the centers with the scraps, chill and reroll as many as you are able. Experts might advise to only reroll the dough once because rerolling could cause the cookies to become tough. This may be true, but I find Linzer cookies to be very forgiving in regard to this issue—I reroll until I’m completely out of dough. Note: If I am rolling and cutting cookies and transferring to cookie sheets, I place filled cookie sheets in the freezer or refrigerator until the oven is free.

When the cookies have cooled completely, spread jam onto center of each solid heart-shaped cookie. Don’t spread all the way to the edge—when the cookies are topped the jam will be forced out. Using a fine meshed strainer filled with ¼ cup of confectioners’ sugar (to start), lightly dust the open-centered cookies. Add more sugar to the strainer as necessary.

Carefully sandwich the cookies together (they are very fragile and will crack if pressed too hard) and serve immediately. The cookies can be made days in advance and stored in an airtight container. The assembled cookies can also be made a day in advance but the presentation will not be as beautiful: the confectioners’ sugar gets absorbed and smudged and it is hard to re-dust without disassembling the cookies. They are still delicious, however. Enjoy!

Two Heart Tarts for Two


Frog Commissary Strawberry Heart Tart
Since purchasing my copy of The Frog Commissary Cookbook, a popular Philadelphia cookbook based on two legendary restaurants, I have been meaning to make its prized Strawberry Heart Tart for Valentine’s Day. At the height of The Commissary’s popularity, the restaurant allegedly sold 150 of these tarts daily and over 400 on Valentine’s Day. Indeed, the tart’s ingredients combine to make a truly perfect Valentine’s Day dessert: a hidden semi-sweet chocolate lining very nicely complements a Grand Marnier cream cheese filling, and beautiful whole strawberries make a dramatic presentation in a flaky heart-shaped shell. (Truthfully, the whole strawberries are difficult to eat—I would just as soon cut them).

Rhubarb Heart Tart with Vanilla Syrup
If I had to pick between these two desserts on Valentine’s Day, however, I’d chose the rhubarb heart tart. Poached in a vanilla bean syrup, the rhubarb tastes deliciously sweet and tart, against the strongly-spiked creamy base. The rhubarb’s shiny pink surface, speckled with vanilla seeds, set atop the brilliant white filling, makes a natural and striking presentation. And with “forced rhubarb”—rhubarb that is ultimately grown in heated sheds in complete darkness—currently in season, the opportunities to enjoy its distinctive and delicate flavor are numbered. The Commissary tart can always be saved for a romantic summer evening, perhaps at the peak of strawberry season?

Each of these recipes yields enough for two heart tarts, and the pastry yields enough for six tarts. Freeze the extra portioned dough and thaw as needed. Enjoy!

Flaky Pastry Dough
Yield=Six Heart Tarts

1¼ cups (6¼ oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for the work surface
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

1 heart-shaped crème brûlée dish (or as many as you care to purchase)

Process flour, salt and sugar together in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Using a paring knife, quickly cut butter into small pieces directly into the bowl of the food processor. Pulse about 10 times until the butter is the size of large peas.
In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and ice water in small bowl until combined. Add half of this mixture to the food processor and pulse 3 times. Add remaining sour cream mixture and pulse 3 more seconds. Pinch dough with fingers, and if the dough is floury and dry, add more ice water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing and testing again after each addition. (Note: the dough might not appear moist enough, so pinching is important. The dough should not be wet enough so that it balls all around the blade; it should still appear crumbly)
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pat into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the dough from refrigerator. Divide into 6 equal portions, each weighing approximately 2¼ oz each. On a lightly floured work surface roll each portion into a circle, as thinly as possible. Layer the rolled portions, separating each layer with parchment paper. Drape one circle over the back of the heart-shaped dish. Chill the remaining dough. Trim off any excess dough and prick the molded dough several times with a fork. Set the dish in the oven, dough side up and bake 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and cool completely while still on the mold. Once cooled, repeat with remaining dough, making as many as desired, or freezing the additional dough.

Strawberry Heart Tart
Yield=2 Heart Tarts

Cream Cheese Filling:
4 oz softened cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer cream all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Simple Syrup:
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar

Heat together in small sauté pan and gently simmer until thick and syrupy. Set aside to cool.

1 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 pint of strawberries

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over simmering water. Set the two heart tart shells upright and divide the chocolate between the two, spreading to make a thin layer across the bottom.
Stem the strawberries and trim the edge to create a flat surface.
Remove the cream cheese filling and divide between the two tarts. Top with the strawberries and drizzle with the syrup. A light dusting of confectioner’s sugar is a nice touch but unnecessary. Enjoy!

Rhubarb Heart Tart:
Yield=2 Heart Tarts

For the rhubarb:
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
1 lb 10 oz rhubarb, approximately (1½ lbs once trimmed of dead ends)

Place sugar, water and vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, trim ends off rhubarb stalks and cut stalks into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl.
As soon as syrup boils, pour over rhubarb, cover bowl with a plate and let sit for 1 hour. After the one hour, taste a piece. If the rhubarb is still too crunchy and tart, strain the poaching liquid back into the saucepan, bring to a boil, and pour over the rhubarb again, this time leaving the bowl uncovered.
Test again, after 1 hour. This should be sufficient. Strain the rhubarb reserving the poaching liquid. Chill until ready to serve or keep at room temperature if serving within a few hours.

For the filling:
2 oz cream cheese, softened
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until slightly lightened. Add the cream, sugar and Grand Marnier and beat until nicely mixed and slightly thickened. Do not overbeat. Store in refrigerator until ready to assemble.

For vanilla-bean syrup:
6 tablespoons of reserved poaching liquid

Place liquid in small sauté pan and reduce by half or until thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

To assemble:
Set the two heart tart shells upright and divide the filling evenly between the two shells. Top with the poached rhubarb. Drizzle with the vanilla bean syrup and enjoy!