Category Archives: recipes

Lemon Blackberry Custard Layer Cake… blame the Great British Baking Show

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So in the midst of a blizzard my daughter and I started watching season 2 of the Great British Baking Show… it’s the purest form of guilty pleasure TV. It’s reality TV but with a very mannered bristish sweetness that I can’t get enough of, and it always makes me want to bake, always. The last episode I watched was “pies” and the custard pies made me hungry and wanting for custard (my daughter attempted this meringue situation after the an episode). This morning at the market I saw organic blackberries that didn’t require a second mortgage and so I figured I could get out my custard jones with some combo of blackberry and lemon… So this cake was born. It seems like a lot of steps, and it is but I rocked it out in one podcast of This American Life and half a WTF… so under 2 hours from start to all the dishes done and cake in the fridge (and lots of bowl licking).

The Lemon Cake (recipe from Flour Bakery)

  • 6 tbls butter at room temp
  • 6 tbls canola oil
  • 1 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of one lemon
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tbls baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk at room temp
  • 6 egg whites (save your yolks)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a mixer beat together until fluffy, butter, 1 cup of sugar and canola oil.
  3. Add vanilla and zest.
  4. In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. Add 1/2 flour mixture until combined.
  6. Add half milk, followed by remaining flour and milk.
  7. Set aside.
  8. Beat egg whites until slightly stiff, add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until really stiff.
  9. Fold 1/2 of egg whites into batter to lighten.
  10. Fold in remaining egg whites until combined.
  11. Spread batter between 3 buttered and floured pans.
  12. Cook 25 minutes. 

    While that’s cooking get to the other stuff:

     Custard:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and/or vanilla bean deseeded into milk (I used both because I like the pastry cream to have that vanilla bean look but It’s another step and doesn’t really add a ton more vanilla flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  1. In a medium saucepan bring milk to a simmer over medium heat, add vanilla extract and/or vanilla pod deseeded.
  2. In a bowl whisk together sugar, eggs and cornstarch until smooth.
  3. When milk simmers, pour half of into the egg mixture, whisking until smooth, then add it back into the saucepan with remaining milk mixture.
  4. Keeping the pan on medium heat, continue whisking until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
  5. Take off heat, push custard through a sieve with a spatula into a bowl to get a smooth texture and cover with plastic wrap to avoid the mixture forming a skin (although I kinda like the skin and never mind peeling it off and eating when no one is looking). Cool until assembly.

It’s probably about time to take your cakes out..cool them on racks

This is where I decide to rock out some Lemon Curd, because that’s pretty good too and more lemon never hurt anyone. It’s basically the same process as the custard.

Lemon Curd:

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbls butter
  • 1 tbls cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch o salt
  • splash o vanilla
  1. In a saucepan on medium combine lemon juice, butter and cream. Stir until warm.
  2. In a bowl combine eggs, egg yolk, sugar and salt until smooth.
  3. Whisk the warm liquid into the egg mixture and pour back into the saucepan.
  4. Stir a couple minutes until thick add vanilla and then strain through a sieve. Set in fridge to set up.

At this point I’m thinking open side cake but realize that buttercream on the outside might make it hold up better with the custardy filling and I’ve got some eggs left so…

Quick Buttercream:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Place 1 inch of water in a saucepan on medium heat, top with a bowl (or use a double boiler if you have one).
  2. Whisk egg whites and sugar in bowl until sugar dissolves (rub mixture between your fingers, when it’s not gritty you’re good.
  3. In a mixer with the whisk attachment whisk egg whites until stiff and cool.
  4. Add vanilla and room temp butter in slices until combined.
  5. This will look like bad oatmeal for a bit but eventually whip itself into lovely silky buttercream.

See now you have a million things done, it looks like a war zone in your kitchen, you wonder why you started this process when you could be on the couch playing on your phone but you’ve come this far… soldier through.

Assembly:IMG_0431

Cut rind off cakes (I also cut off the bottom crusties too but whatever you have the patience for at this point)

  1. Place first cake layer.
  2. Top with custard.
  3. Place second layer.
  4. Spread lemon curd.
  5. Add halved blackberries.
  6. Place third layer (realize you meant to do another custard layer back there at the second layer and instead you used lemon curd, set aside custard and eat the rest of it through out the day and pretend you didn’t)
  7. Frost the sides with buttercream and pipe around the top to make a damn for the lemon curd.
  8. Spread lemon curd on top and add blackberries.

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Now eat, rejoice, Spring is almost here.

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Custard Strawberry Cake… because it’s my Birthday and I made a cake

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Birthday Schmirthday but what better way to avoid all the stuff you’re not doing with your life (and the fury over that freaking school drill… see previous non cooking/rant post) than to bake a cake… and then read People while you treat yourself to a birthday pedicure? If you have a better/productive/world peace solving/inner peace way to spend your birthday I don’t want to hear about it. I had intended to brûlée the top of the cake and if you make it feel free but my torch is out of butane apparently and I’m not going to skip that pedi for a butane trip so onward and upward!

The Sour Cream Sponge cake:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbls. sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbls. sour cream
  • 5 egg whites
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Combine egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tbls. sour cream with paddle attachment in the mixer for 8 minutes until fluffy.
  3. Add the 1/4 cup sour cream and mix until combined.
  4. Beat egg whites and tartar with whisk attachment until peaks form, add the 2 tbls. sugar and whip to stiff peaks.
  5. Fold in 1/3 of egg whites to egg mixture. Fold carefully, add the rest of whites in 2 batches, fold.
  6. Fold in flour 1/4 cup at a time until smooth.
  7. Parchment paper 2 cookie sheets, draw 3 circles on the parchment (2 on one sheet 1 on the other).
  8. Spread batter or pipe into circles, bake for 15 minutes turning at the half point.
  9. Cool

Make your Custard:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and/or vanilla bean deseeded into milk (I used both because I like the pastry cream to have that vanilla bean look but It’s another step and doesn’t really add a ton more vanilla flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  1. In a medium saucepan bring milk to a simmer over medium heat, add vanilla extract and/or vanilla pod deseeded.
  2. In a bowl whisk together sugar, eggs and cornstarch until smooth.
  3. When milk simmers, pour half of into the egg mixture, whisking until smooth, then add it back into the saucepan with remaining milk mixture.
  4. Keeping the pan on medium heat, continue whisking until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
  5. Take off heat, push custard through a sieve with a spatula into a bowl to get a smooth texture and cover with plastic wrap to avoid the mixture forming a skin (although I kinda like the skin and never mind peeling it off and eating when no one is looking). Cool until assembly.

Cut the rounds of your cake back to plate size… like this

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then stack:

cake… spread 1/3 custard… layer berries… cake… 1/3 custard… berries… cake… 1/3 custard and either brûlée or top with berries.

Done, now go do something with yourself, you’re 46 for the love of God.

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Red Velvet cupcakes… because Valentines Day, which is stupid but it’s going to be 20 below zero so why not bake?

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I avoid Hallmark holidays as a rule. I went along with the whole Elementary school bullshit of buying my kids cheap cards at the drug store to hand out to their class, once or twice I might have been bored enough to even sit down and make homemade valentines with them… but I’m not really sad that they’ve outgrown it. That being said, it’s February and I want cake, even if it uses copious amounts of food coloring.

So this weekend while we find projects inside to entertain us so we don’t think about the fact that we have several more weeks of this weather, why not make cupcakes so when you give in to the Netflix binge on the couch with a blanket at least you’ve got something yummy to eat!

Red Velvet Cupcakes (makes 24)… because who would take the time to make 12 when you can make 24?

  • 1 stick butter at room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 container red food dye
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups and 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

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  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. In a mixer with the paddle attachment cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down bowl.
  4. Stop mixer and add cocoa, salt, food coloring and vanilla extract. Beat on medium until combined.
  5. With mixer on low add 1/2 cup buttermilk, mix until incorporated, add 1/2 flour, mix, add last 1/2 cup buttermilk, mix, and follow with remaining  1/2 flour until smooth.
  6. Add vinegar and baking soda, mix until incorporated.
  7. Fill lined cupcake tins 1/2 full and bake for 20 minutes.
  8. Remove to rack and allow to cool while making the frosting.

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Cream Cheese Frosting

  • one package cream cheese at room temp (8 ounces)
  • one stick butter at room temp
  • 4 cups powdered sugar (you can probably even get away with 3)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. In a mixer with the whisk attachment cream butter and cream cheese until smooth.
  2. Add sugar and vanilla and beat on medium high until light and fluffy.
  3. Pipe or spread on cupcakes
  4. Sprinkle with red sanding sugar or whatever topping you’d like.

Done. Wasn’t that easy? Now reward yourself for time well spent, leave the kitchen a mess and go sit down with your family to watch Harry Potter… it’s cold outside and you deserve it.

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coconut cake… because it’s March and cold and I needed to make a cake or I would cry

coconut cake slice

The downside of living in Vermont is the never ending winter. The older I get the less tolerant I am of winters grip on what should be Spring. I packed away my boots and huge parka the first week of March, because I’m an idiot and because I delude myself in thinking that if I pack my parka away it will no longer be cold enough for a parka and so I go through around a month of freezing my ass off whenever I leave my house. On the solstice this year it was 17 with a wind chill of 0. I walked the dogs in my Spring raincoat… I wanted to die. I came home and thought about going to bed and never getting out but then I thought that the solution to such bullshit was to bake a cake… a white light summery breezy airy sunny springy kinda cake as a way of pretty much telling winter to shove off. It didn’t work, it’s still in the 20’s but at least every mouthful of light moist cake, creamy frosting and toasty crunchy coconut made me feel better… kinda.

adapted from Americas Test Kitchen

Coconut Cake:

  • 1 large whole egg plus 5 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup cream of coconut
  • 1/4 water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  1.  preheat oven to 325
  2. grease and lightly flour 2 9″ pans
  3. Combine egg, egg whites, cream of coconut, water, and vanilla in a bowl and whip until combined
  4. In a mixer bowl with the paddle attachment combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, mix to combine
  5. add room temp butter, a slice at time into the bowl with the mixer on low, beat until mixture looks like corn meal
  6. add half the liquid and mix until combined and fluffed, add other half until combined, the batter will be thick
  7. pour into greased pans and cook for 30 minutes
  8. take cakes out, leaving the oven on, rest cakes for 15 minutes and then take out of pans and rest to cool on racks

while cakes are cooling spread shredded coconut in a thin layer and toast in the oven for 15-20 minutes stirring every 5 minutes, when brown and toasty cool coconut on counter

Coconut buttercream frosting:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup cream of coconut
  • teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. combine the egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl and place over a saucepan with 2 inches of simmering water, stir egg white mixture until you can no longer feel any grit when you rub the mixture between your fingers
  2. put egg mixture in a mixer bowl and whip on medium speed with the whisk attachment until mixture cools and stiffens (around 8-10 minutes)
  3. add butter one slice at a time until incorporated, when mixture begins to look like curdled milk don’t worry it will smooth out as it beats
  4. when mixture looks smooth and glossy add cream of coconut and vanilla, whip until combined
  5. frost cooled cake and then take the toasted coconut in your hand and press it into the sides and then the top of the cake.

coconut cake whole

it really is a beautiful project …a light and airy cake with a lusciously smooth and coconut infused frosting, it almost makes March acceptable, almost.

Hand Pies/Empanadas… because my kids will eat anything wrapped in dough

Call them what you will, I guess the dough is a basic Empanada dough but I like to do a more French Canadian Tourtiere filling. So call them Hand Pies, or Empanadas and fill them with whatever you have on hand and I guarantee you that everyone will be happy and no one will care what the hell you call them as long as you make them again. I made three fillings last night because I’m stupid like that and I had odds and ends hanging around that I could use. I did a roasted cauliflower, onion and cheddar, a ground beef and cheddar (for the small people) and a tourtiere (ground pork, onion, potatoes, cinnamon) in honor of my proximity to Montreal and my youth selling Meat Pies at Deslauriers Bakery in Woonsocket, RI. You could also do a roasted chicken and pea filling, a pulled pork filling, a cilantro and pork filling… really anything you can think of or find in your fridge.

Empanada Dough: makes 24 (enough for 6 people or dinner for 4 and lunch for them the next day)

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 cup lard, bacon drippings or shortening (or combo of all)
  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 1/2 -3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (omit if using bacon drippings)

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  1. Put milk in a microwavable container and microwave until warm, add shortening/lard and butter. Or put milk in a pan and heat until warm then add shortening/lard and butter and stir until melted.
  2. When milk and melted lard mixture is between 105-115 degrees add yeast and let stand 10 minutes.
  3. Measure out dry ingredients (starting with 2 1/2 cups flour and adding more if needed) in a large bowl and make a well in the middle.
  4. Add wet into dry and mix well until mixture forms a ball. Transfer to counter and knead until smooth and pliable.
  5. Return dough to bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 425.
  7. Punch dough down and roll it into a long log. Cut into 24 sections and roll the pieces into balls. One at a time, roll each ball into a circle around 4″.
  8. Spoon filling on 1/2 of dough and fold dough over sealing edges with fingers, move to lined cookie sheet and use a fork to crimp.
  9. When cookie sheet is full brush pillows of loveliness with an egg wash, prick top with the fork and bake for 15 minutes

empanada sheet cooked

and there you have it, add a salad or even better, throw some cut up carrots and cucumbers on the table and don’t even bother with silverware! I like mine with a side of sweet chili sauce, my husband likes a mango hot sauce and I’m sure some kids might like ketchup but mine eat them too fast to stop for any dipping… because they’re animals.

Spaghetti Sauce… because a pantry staple doesn’t need to be full of crap you can’t pronounce

Years ago my husband got me an awesome gift for Christmas, a 3 hour personal cooking lesson with a chef who owned a local high end authentic Italian restaurant… it was a REALLY good present for me, and him come to think of it. I arrived at his restaurant in the afternoon not really knowing what to expect and really nervous about cooking in front of a “chef” but he quickly put me at ease and we spent the afternoon cooking things I liked off his menu and talking about the reasons why you add this before that and Italy and all things holy and beautiful. When we were done we sat at his bar with our dishes, he poured us some wine and we ate and drank and chatted some more and I left that day with more knowledge about cooking then I would have thought possible in a couple hours. To this day I still have to stop myself from putting those few extra ingredients in dishes that really would be fine without them. The biggest thing I learned that day was:

Always salt your boiling water for pasta… duh, of course!.. but I mean REALLy salt it, like a huge dump, a handful of salt and you can tell in the final product that every part of your pasta dish is well seasoned.

I also learned that

  • fresh red sauce can be made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil and taste amazing
  • that the difference between good spaghetti sauce and mediocre is the way you cook your onions down
  • that browning all the bits of things in a braising sauce with some tomato paste makes a sauce you never want to stop eating
  • garlic is better in most dishes crushed and whole and not chopped (his story for this was that if a Italian man and woman were having dinner and eating a garlicky dish and the woman removed her garlic cloves and didn’t eat them than the man would do the same out of respect.. of course he totally could have made this up but it made me love Italy even more!)
  • all food is better with wine

So anyway, I got distracted… Spaghetti sauce, everyone uses it, it’s something you should always have on hand for the evenings you’ve got no time and dinner still has to happen. I also keep frozen meatballs on hand and heat them up with the sauce so it’s a more filling meal than just pasta or you can saute some mushrooms and sausage and add a can of sauce or you can add some zucchini and fresh tomato or you can make pizza or you can add some red pepper flakes and cream or you can just rock it out with a plain basil marinara over pasta. The point being you will go through it, so like most things if you’re going to make it you might as well make a fair amount because it lasts, and making a couple jars is not much harder than making one. Plus Costco has these boss cans of Italian plum tomatoes for cheap, like $4 and with 2 of those I can get 5 quarts of sauce.

ingredients

Basic Basil Marinara (you can scale this anyway you need, nothing needs to be exact)

  • 2 6lb. cans Italian whole tomatoes
  • 3 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, smashed
  • 1 tube tomato paste concentrate
  • 1 tbs. salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • handfuls of fresh basil torn
  1. In a large stock pot on medium add your olive oil, chopped onions and salt.
  2. Stir occasionally and cook for 20 minutes, not letting the mixture brown but allowing the onions to cook down into a nice soft pulp.
  3. Add crushed garlic cloves and tomato paste and stir frequently until the tomato paste starts to darken and smell wonderful.
  4. Add the whole tomatoes by grabbing them out of the can and squeezing them in your fist, letting them drop into the pot and reserving out any hard stem ends.
  5. When you’ve worked your way through the tomatoes pour in any remaining liquid from the can.
  6. Cook on low heat, uncovered and stirring occasionally for 2 hours
  7. Add the torn basil, let cool and pour into containers
  8. Can the ball jars or put into freezer safe containers and freeze
  9. Amen

sauce

Fried Chicken… because it’s pure awesomeness

chicken coolingI have always loved fried chicken but when it came to making it at home it seemed like too big a hassle, too messy, too hard, always undercooked or underseasoned or burnt to a crisp to cook it through. Since I’m not a fan of following rules or recipes I would just bumble my way through and nearly always end up with a plate of disappointing chicken and a kitchen that looked (and smelled) like a war zone. But as usual my craving for fried chicken was outweighing my loosey goosey cooking style. So I tried following some recipes and picked the things I liked from some and added some of my own ways and I think I’ve come up with a relatively easy, don’t ruin your kitchen, take 2 days brining and end up with a plate of dark brown raw chicken to serve to your family…. not that I’ve ever done that.

I find that cooking up one whole chicken for my family of four is enough for dinner but everyone wants leftovers for lunches and after school snacking. So last time I did a chicken and a cornish game hen, let’s just say everything was gone in 24 hours. This recipe will be enough for 2 chickens.

Fried Chicken

  • 1-2 whole chickens, cut into legs, thighs, wings and 2 boneless breasts cut into 4 pieces (sometimes I pull the tenders off before cutting) and save your carcass in the freezer for broth later. If you don’t feel comfortable butchering a whole chicken buy one cut at the market and then cut the breast portions in half.
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • enough oil for frying preferably peanut oil (at least 1 quart, usually more depending on the size of your pan) last time I used a combo of peanut, canola and bacon drippings, because why not?
  • flour for dredging (approx. 1 cup)
  • salt and pepper

Fried Chicken coating:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tbls. salt
  • 2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne

Take your chicken out of the fridge a couple hours before starting, it won’t kill you…. but starting with warmer chicken means less chance of ending with raw chicken. Cut your bird if you got whole chickens and lay the pieces out on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel. Pat the tops of the chicken dry. Salt and pepper the pieces.chicken rawGet out your heaviest bottomed pot, I use an All Clad soup pot. Pour in enough oil to give you 3″- 4″ at the bottom and turn heat to medium high.

While waiting for your oil to come to temp sprinkle a cup of flour over your chicken pieces.

Get out two large bowls. Fill one with the buttermilk and one with the fried chicken coating ingredients and stir them to combine.

Get out another cookie sheet or platters and working in batches of 3-4 pieces roll your chicken through the flour you’ve sprinkled over them (this saves you another bowl cleaning if you keep it on the cookie sheet) then into the buttermilk and then smash the pieces one at a time through the coating mix, really work in on the pieces because the more coating you get on there the crunchier it will be, rap pieces on the side of the bowl to get off excess flour and place chicken pieces on clean cookie sheet.

chicken dredgedCheck the temp of your oil, you want it to be at 375 to start and for your temp to hold at 350. Lower temps will result in greasy chicken.

When your oil is up to temp place enough chicken in the bottom to fill the pot but not crowd it… and here’s the part that I think is really weird but has so far kept me from serving raw chicken… you cover the pot. You might think, like me… cover the pot on hot oil, what if all that moisture off the pot lid falls in the oil and splashes and explodes oil all over my kitchen? Well it doesn’t for some odd reason but what it does do is keep your oil around the 350 degree mark which is what you want. Set your timer for 6 minutes, uncover carefully lifting the lid up and away from the pot. Turn your chicken with tongs and cook for another 6 minutes uncovered.

chicken fryingRemove your chicken and drain on paper then place on a rack while you fry up the next batch. 2 chickens take me three batches of frying. I usually make it through the second of the batch of frying before the family starts circling like vultures and I have to slap them away, so I end up serving the chicken while I fry up the last batch for all the leftovers. Some get eaten later that night as people roam into the kitchen, some are snatched for breakfast the next day and some end up being taken for lunch but there is never any left by the 24 hour mark.

chicken plated