Sunday, May 26, 2013

Key Lime Pie

If there's one dessert that screams summer it's Key Lime Pie. Am I right? Even if you've never been to the Keys this pie will make you feel like you're on vacation touring the Hemingway house and watching the sun set over the ocean on the east coast. I happily received this recipe years ago from an old baking buddy and it makes thee best key lime pie I've ever tasted, even if I do say so myself and please let me know if you disagree!

Now you could go out and buy a bag of key limes and juice them but it's kind of like milking a cat (never do that, by the way). I took the easy way out and got a bottle of Nellie & Joe's Famous Key West Lime Juice. The funny thing about this recipe is it's also got lemon juice in it as well, again I opted for the bottled stuff. I almost never do that but I had some on hand and I hate to waste. Now go ahead and use fresh if you want, meow.

Layered into a graham cracker crust and piled high with toasted meringue, this key lime pie takes the cake. It is the perfect end to a cook out. Tart, sweet, creamy, crunchy, heavenly.

key lime pie


1 & 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl stir butter into crumbs and mix until all the butter is absorbed. Press into the bottom and sides of a pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes, cool on a wire rack.


3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, separated
2/3 cup key lime juice and lemon juice combined (more lime than lemon)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup sour cream
rind of 1 lime

In a medium, heavy bottomed pot whisk together 4 tablespoons heavy cream (reserve the 1/2 cup for later), sugar, lemon juice, lime juice and corn starch. Cook on medium heat, stirring often until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in sour cream and lime rind.

Whip the reserved heavy cream until stiff and fold into filling. Transfer filling to pie shell and chill for one hour.


3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar

Whisk together sugar and cream of tartar. Whip whites in a stand mixer on high until foamy, about a minute. On medium slowly add the sugar. Once all the sugar is added scrap down the sides of the bowl and whip on high until meringue is thick, about 3 or 4 minutes. 

Pile meringue on top of pie and use your preferred method of toasting it. I did have a propane kit going into this but as it turned out I used the broiler and was very quick and very careful!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Swirly Sourdough Brownies

I love when we do something sweet for Sourdough Surprises. And this month it's the sweetest of the sweet, Brownies! By now it must have dawned on everyone that adding sourdough starter to anything somehow makes it better. I don't know why this is, I'm a baker not a scientist Jim, but I just can't wait to discover the sweet new flavor sensations to come out of all this surprising sourdough magic.

Now, back to the brownies. There is no wrong way to make brownies. Sugar, chocolate or cocoa (or maybe not if you're making blond brownies), eggs, flour and butter. You can stop there or add X, Y and/or Z. You can keep it simple or make it as elaborate as the Taj Mahal. 

I'm sort of taking a middle road here. The brownies are simple but the swirly cheese topping just adds a bit of elan.  I started with my so so brownies and used a simple cream cheese, sugar and egg mixture for the topping. I'm not surprised by how awesome they turned out- chocolatey, sweet, moist and tangy, and they look just as good as they taste!

swirly sourdough brownies

1 & 3/4 cup raw cane sugar 
1 cup butter, melted and cooled

3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup cocoa, sifted
1/2 whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and butter and flour a 8 inch by 10 inch baking pan. In a large bowl whisk together sugar, melted butter, eggs, starter and vanilla extract. In another bowl stir together cocoa, flour, almond flour and baking powder.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet and mix just until combined. Pour batter in to prepared pan and set aside.

In a stand mixer combine cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract and beat on medium until creamy. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and the beater as necessary and do not over mix. 

Drop the cheese topping on to the brownie batter and using a small spatula or a knife, cut into the batter and run it through with a swirly motion, first in one direction and then the other. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tester comes out almost clean. Cool before cutting. Makes 15 to 20 brownies. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Berry Almond Upside Down Cake

When we moved into this house 12 years ago one of the most impressive things I found on the property was a giant rhododendron in the far end of the backyard. This was no ordinary garden plant, this was more of a dwelling. I loved walking around it and inside it, because it was that large. It was easily as big as those tiny houses that are so fashionable right now. I marveled at the branches which were twisted and arching and slung out in all directions and there were always birds flying in and out of it. 

Of course it goes without saying that when it bloomed every May it was kind of eye popping. Heavy violet blossoms as big as your head covered the entire tree from top to bottom.

Twelve years later the giant rhododendron is one of those things that aren't there any more. As the years went on more and more branches became sickly and it bloomed less and less. Pruning and acid fertilizer did nothing to stem the tide of a steady decline. Last year we declared it officially dead and pruned it back to a few core branches. 

For some reason we couldn't bring ourselves to remove it completely. It still commands a prime location in the back garden among the holly and the hostas, although I'm ashamed to say the old foot print is horribly matted with nasty weeds. 

I was back there the other day and I noticed a cat bird with a big piece of torn plastic in it's beak. He was hopping from one dead branch to another, the plastic sheet flapping with each new landing. I watched until the bird finally flew off and disappeared into the holly and for some reason it gave me a sense of immense joy. 

I guess the rhodie isn't one of those things that isn't there anymore. Just not there in the way we remember. It's still there for the birds and that's good enough for me. Of course I really, really must do something about those weeds!

Now, about this cake- almonds and berries go together like birds and branches. This is a great yummy cake to bring to your Memorial day bash next week. It is super moist and the flavor just gets better the second day. You can make it ahead of time and it's doesn't need assembly like some fussy strawberry short cake. The recipe was adapted straight from the Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour bag. I used a mix of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries because for me the more the berrier! It's great just as is, of course I can't stop you if you want to add a scoop of ice cream or a rosette of whipped cream!

berry almond upside down cake

1 cup butter, plus more for the pan
1 cup sugar,  plus more for the pan
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
rind of one lemon
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 pint blackberries
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries
toasted almonds for garnish
confectioners' sugar 
fresh whipped cream
extra berries

Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a 10 inch round cake pan and sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each and scraping down the bowl and beaters as necessary.

In a medium bowl whisk together almond flour, white whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add one half of the dry ingredients and mix on low. Add the buttermilk, vanilla extract lemon rind and the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix just until everything is combined and make sure to scrape the bowl and beaters. 

Arrange the berries in the bottom of the pan and cover with cake batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Place a plate or cake stand over the cake and carefully, it's still hot remember, invert the cake. Remove the pan and let the cake cool completely. If not serving immediately wrap cake and keep refrigerated and let it come to room temperature before serving. Garnish with toasted almonds and confectioners sugar, serve with fresh whipped cream and fresh berries if desired. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Israeli Couscous Salad

As grains go couscous doesn't have a lot of cachet. It's not as exotic as quinoia. It's not as pleasantly toothy as brown rice. It's not as earthy as buckwheat groats. And it's not as nutritious as millet.

It's not even really a grain at all. Well, it is but, it's complicated. Couscous is wheat. Wheat and semolina that's been ground and dried and rolled into tiny, tiny beads. It's kind of more like a pasta when you think about it. Couscous is convenient and bland and easy to cook. End of story. Or is it?

It's not, because if we were to talk about Israeli couscous, or as it's also known, toasted couscous, all bets are off. Israeli couscous is toasted instead of dried and the beads are tiny instead of tiny, tiny. It's a game changer.  Suddenly here's a couscous with a bit of character and presence, one that can represent in a grain salad; a couscous that's more than just a bed for a leg of lamb.

It holds it's own in this grain salad along side chick peas and carrots, dried cranberries and toasted pine nuts. It's the chewy note in this chewy, crunchy, sweet and lemony dish. A dish that's hefty enough to be a main course for lunch as well as a side for dinner. And it's a perfect salad to have in your arsenal now that BBQ season is upon us.    

Israeli couscous salad

1 box Israeli couscous, cooked according to the package instructions
1 cup grapes, cut in quarters
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 carrot, grated
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of one lemon juice
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
chive blossoms it you got um
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

In a large bowl combine cooked Israeli couscous, grapes, chick peas, carrot, celery, parsley, chives and cranberries; mix well. In a small bowl whisk together oil, lemon juice sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Pour over salad and mix well. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and chive blossoms.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pineapple Coconut Scones

I love baking with fresh ingredients, especially fruit, so when I saw this luscious pineapple at the supermarket (at a great price I must say) I couldn't wait to put my baker's hat on. I went through a few scenarios: hummingbird cake, pineapple upside down cake and pineapple cheese came first to my mind. And while they all would have been worthy of this stupendous pineapple, I came to rest on pineapple coconut scones.

The thought of having a sort of pina colada breakfast baked treat was too much to resist. Also, the weather has been gorgeous lately and I didn't want spend all day in the kitchen. I searched a few sites to compare recipes but in the end I just adapted my besty scone recipe. I knew I was going to like them, but I was worried that they wouldn't pass the Kenny test and I would have to eat them all. Luckily he thought they were pretty good, although he did say that adding chocolate chips to them would make them even better! I'll leave that decision up to you.

pineapple coconut scones

2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cut up
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup diced pineapple, 
2/3 cup shredded coconut
demerara sugar, or sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. After dicing pineapple drain on a paper towel and set aside. In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Mix in the coconut. Stir in coconut and buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Roll into a rectangle roughly 10 inches by 4 inches and one inch high. Cut dough into ten even pieces. Place scones on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle sugar. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Corn Meal Cookies

The Italians certainly know what to do with corn meal. Take for instance polenta, corn meal cake or zaletti. The latter, if you are not familiar with it, is a corn meal cookie made with rum soaked currants.

But for me a simple corn meal cookie with a bit of vanilla and lemon is all I need to start ironing the linens and scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees (although I wish I looked more like Sophia Loren while doing that).

These simple corn meal cookies are delightful and have, as my sister said, a "fatto in casa" quality about them. "They're buttery and cake-y... delicate and substantial at the same time, mmmmm" to quote her. And, might I add, they have a rustic finish from the corn meal but the lemon rind adds a hint of sophistication. Perfect with an espresso or a dunk in something stronger, if you know what I mean.

I don't know if it's because I'm just a 135 pound weakling, but I'm not going to lie to you, they were a bit of a bear to pipe out. I ended up using my cookie press with the star tip dye to pipe out. Having said that, I ended up loving the shape and of course you already heard how tasty they are!

corn meal cookies (adapted from Martha)

1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup corn meal 
1 cup soft butter
3/4 cup raw cane sugar 
1 egg
1 yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
rind of one lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour and corn meal together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer cream butter and sugar on medium, scraping the bowl as necessary, until light and fluffy.  Add egg, yolk, vanilla extract and lemon rind; continue beating for a minute or two. Add flour and corn meal and mix well. 

On parchment lined cookie sheets, using a pastry bag or a cookie press with a star tip, pipe out cookies in the shape of an "S". Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Makes 24 to 30 cookies.