IMG_3242 by you.

After a savory Challenge last month, I was ready for a diabetic coma-inducing sweet dessert and this month’s challenge delivered. This challenge was hosted by Dolores of Culinary Curiousity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food, and the amazing cake recipe was created by Shauna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater.  I was forewarned that the cake and frosting may be overly sweet for some, so I decreased the amount of sugar and increased the fluer de sel accordingly.  The end result was a rich, moist cake with a sweet, creamy frosting.  I used the optional caramel (see recipe below) to decorate the cake with floral accents.   I then drizzled some of the leftover caramel syrup over the cake slices, which some might consider overkill, but my children sure didn’t. 


10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients.

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

IMG_3167 by you.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers.

IMG_3160 by you.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS (from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, 2007)

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

IMG_3170 by you.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife.  Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

IMG_3172 by you.

I used two small floral cookie cutters to cut the caramel to decorate my cake.  And to mask the lumpy icing job.

IMG_3214 by you.


Summer Fruit Tart

July 19, 2008

I am a big proponent of using seasonal fruits whenever possible and it’s berry season right now.  This is a favorite summer party recipe since it has the biggest wow factor for a minimal amount of work.  I recently made this tart to bring to a friend’s BBQ pool party and sadly I didn’t even get to sample the fruits of my labor (can I get a rimshot for that terrible cliché/pun?) as it looked like a pack of wild wolves descended on this tart not long after I had placed it on the dessert table.

Oh well.  I suppose I’ll have to make another one.

SUMMER FRUIT TART (adapted from Martha Stewart)

Pâte Sucrée

2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
3 Tbs. sugar
1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2 large egg yolks 
2-4 Tbs. ice water or cold heavy cream

Combine flour and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter, and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 to 20 seconds. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg yolks; add ice water. With machine running, add the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. Pat into a disk and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 12-inch round, about 1/4-inch thick. Gently press dough into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing into edges. Trim the dough flush with pan. Chill tart shell until firm, about 30 minutes.(There will be left over dough and if you’re ambitious, make some mini-tartlets with the leftover dough.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Line with parchment paper.  Fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Bake until edges are just beginning to turn golden, about 15-17 minutes. Remove parchment paper and weights; continue baking until deep golden all over, 20 minutes. Cool tart shell completely on wire rack. Remove tart shell from pan.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

2 C. whole milk
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped to loosen
4 large egg yolks
1/4 C. corn starch 

Bring milk and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat.  Cover and let steep for 10-20 minutes.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl (or in an electric mixer) until pale and fluffy.  Add corn starch and mix until incorporated. 

With mixer on low, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of hot milk mixture into yolk mixture. Remove vanilla bean and slowly add remaining milk mixture until incorporated. Pour mixture back into the saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 4 minutes). Remove from heat.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold.

Spoon cold pastry cream into the tart shell.  Arrange fruit on top in whatever fashion you’d like.  I usually only need about a couple cups of any kind of fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, figs, kiwi, etc.)  Refrigerate. 

Top with apricot glaze if desired.  This is really necessary if you not serving your tart immediately as the fruit may wilt or even turn moldy.


3 Tbs. apricot jam
2 Tbs. water

Heat jam in small saucepan over low heat, stirring until thinned.  Pass through a fine seive into a small bowl.  Brush glaze over fruit.


I tried a different design this time instead of the ubiquitous concentric circles of fruit.  Have fun picking different colored fruits and designs.

Blueberries come into season at the end of June, early July in this area, so naturally, blueberries always figure prominently at our Fourth of July celebrations.  This recipe is for my favorite way to prepare blueberries – a good old-fashioned blueberry crumble pie.  The crust is flaky, and the crumble perfectly crunchy which is a nice counterpart to the softly sweet blueberry filling.  Add some homemade vanilla ice cream (my ice cream maker has been working non-stop this summer, poor thing)  and you’ve got yourself an all-American dessert.

Unfortunately for us, our blueberry bush is a favorite among the birds in the neighborhood.  I am sure the ripe berries in the photo taken just yesterday are digesting in some hungry bird’s belly now.  (Needless to say, the blueberries in the pie were store-bought).



(Adapted from Martha Stewart Living who in turn adapted it from Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pieby Rebecca Charles.  Sort of like a blog version of “Whisper Down the Alley.”

Serves 8 to 10


2 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt 1 C.cold (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 C. ice water


1 1/2 C. flour

1 C. firmly packed dark brown sugar

3/4 C. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


3 pints blueberries
1 C. sugar 
3 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest
Pinch of freshly ground pepper

To make the crust: In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and cold butter. Pulse until the mixture is the consistency of sand. Add the water while pulsing until the mixture comes together; being sure not to overwork it. Remove the dough from the food processor or bowl on a lightly floured work surface. Shape it into disk about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

To make the crumble: Combine the flour and sugar in a food processor until thoroughly combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms a crumble, being sure not to over mix. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Using the back of a spoon, crush about 20 percent of the blueberries so the juice mixes with the cornstarch and thickens the filling.

To make the pie: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch pie tin; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough. Place in pie tin, trim, and crimp the edges. Use a fork to poke holes around the sides and bottom of the crust. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with dried beans. Bake until the crimped edges are firm, about 10 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and beans, and bake until the bottom is firm, about 10 minutes. Fill the crust with the berry mixture, spreading evenly, and top with the crumble. (Do not be alarmed at how high this will be – it will settle down when cooled).  Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and bake until the filling starts to bubble, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy the fireworks.  Happy Fourth of July!

Olive Oil Gelato

May 30, 2008

Homemade olive oil gelato

 I’ve reached a bit of a landmark here on my blog – I’ve received my first recipe request.  My sister-in-law’s husband is a fan of Mario Batali’s Otto Enoteca Pizzeria on Fifth and 8th St. in Manhattan, and especially of their olive oil gelato. 

“You … you can make that?” he queried hopefully. 

“Absolutely,” I assured him with the bravado of the very arrogant or the very foolish.

A quick google search later, I discovered that Chef Mario had included the recipe for his famous olive oil gelato in one of his cookbooks.  Thank goodness.


Olive Oil Gelato

(adapted from The Babbo Cookbook)

6 egg yolks
1 C. sugar
2/3 C. extra virgin olive oil
3 C. milk
1 C. heavy cream

Combine the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Use the whip attachment to beat them for 5 min on medium speed, or until the mixture is thick and very pale and forms a ribbon when the whip is lifted.  Continue beating and drizzle in the olive oil; beat for 2 more minutes.

Warning:  this recipe uses raw eggs.  Williams-Sonoma has a variation of this recipe with cooked egg; however, it does add a couple of hours to your cooking time since you must wait for the mixture to cool completely.

Add the milk and cream and continue to beat until all ingredients are combined.


Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  This took some planning since I needed to pre-freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker for 8+ hours.

I thought it would taste fruity, but no, it tastes like olive oil.  However, olive oil paired with frozen cream is unexpectedly delicious and refreshing.  The sweetly salty fluer de sel is the perfect counter to the rich creaminess of the gelato.  Molto bene, Mario.

 Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of fluer de sel sea salt. 

(Your gelato is in the freezer, Blake.)