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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

Delicious Baking

Lamingtons

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While there seems to be some debate regarding the origin of their name, which you can read more about here, there is no debate that Lamingtons are a favorite treat among Australians – So much so that they have a full day dedicated to them – July 21st! We found them to be such a clever way to repurpose left over pound cake or sponge cake that you no longer have to go down under to enjoy this adorable little treat. Enjoy these tasty morsels of chocolate and coconut dipped confection in July or any other time of the year. Tiny bite sized cakes, they’re perfect for tea or an after supper sweet.

Flo Braker’s Tangy Lemon Custard Tart with Pomegranate Gelee

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Flo Braker is a fabulous baker and her book Baking for All Occasions is filled with wonderful creations. One of our all time favorites, which is a hit with everyone who tries it, is her Tangy Lemon Custard Tart with Pomegranate Gelee. Decorate the top with halved cherries and blueberries and it makes a perfect dessert for the Fourth of July, but don’t be limited to these fruits; use any stone fruits you’d like!

Saffron Bread

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Saffron has been a coveted spice used by people across many cultures for roughly 3,500 years. A little more than 200 years ago England was the world’s largest producer of saffron, growing it in the loamy soil in Essex County. Interestingly enough, David Smale has revived the art of growing saffron near the village of Saffron Walden. The town’s name was changed to its current moniker during the Middle Ages when saffron was first grown there.

Guinness Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lime-Vanilla Frosting

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 Adapted from David Lebovitz’ Ready for Dessert

In honor of Irish heritage (mine and a lot of other Americans who also have Irish ancestors), I wanted to make something special for those who celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. Unfortunately, the Irish are not known for their desserts. However, Guinness Stout is in every Irish pub and is the beverage of choice on March 17th.

Buche de Noel

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Although the French name for this beautiful dessert means Christmas Log, the origins of the custom of bringing in a Yule log, building a blazing fire, then lighting candles from it are pagan in origin as is the Christmas tree and decorating with holly and other greens.  I like to think of these ancient traditions as a way to bring light and joy into the dark nights of winter for everyone, regardless of our ancestry or religion. And what could be prettier than a chocolate sponge cake filled with cream, frosted with chocolate ganache and dusted with snowy powdered sugar? Add some meringue mushrooms or sprigs of holly, and you have a lovely and meaningful completion of a holiday meal. 

Gougeres

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Gougeres are a French comfort food. Not a mac ‘n cheese kind of comfort food, but the kind that’s served fresh from the oven with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Or maybe stuffed with warm brie or some crab or smoked salmon and creme fraiche. The fun part is deciding how you want your gougeres (goo jeres)– small or medium in size, what kinds of cheese to add to the dough, or whether to stuff them with something substantial that works perfectly with a drink or as part of a small plates party.

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie

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This is an especially rich and creamy pie, one that is memorably delicious. You remove it from the oven before the custard splits but after it has cooked long enough to set up when it cools. It some respects, this Sugar and Spice Pumpkin pie is more like a cream pie than a regular pumpkin pie. If you bake the pie on a pizza brick in the oven, the bottom crust will get enough heat to remain crisp, one of the challenges when making a custard pie filling. This is a recipe you are likely to reach for more than once during the holiday season.

Cream Puffs and Profiteroles

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Cream puffs and eclairs aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of versatile desserts. But in reality they’re wonderful edible containers that can be big, medium or small, round or elongated, and filled with all kinds of delicious options sweet or savory! Whipped cream? check. pastry cream? check. crab salad? You bet.

Tips for Great Choux Paste

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The year I turned 15 I spent the summer with my cousins in Connecticut. I had been cooking since I was very young and especially loved to bake. One afternoon when my cousin and I were hanging out with a friend down the road, the friend’s dad asked if I would teach his daughter to cook. Being 15, cream puffs seemed like a great idea as we could eat the lesson.  Much more interesting than something practical like French toast, hamburgers or soup.  In the middle of making the cream puffs there was a thunderstorm. As California doesn’t get rain in the summer and we rarely have thunderstorms, I was quite surprised when we ended up with a soupy mess. While I don’t know that the thunderstorm and the humidity caused the fail, they were the likely suspects.  This is the first — and only — time I ever had trouble with cream puffs. Until this week.

Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze

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 This is an adaptation from a recipe off of one of my favorite blogs, Food 52 – Terrific for an autumn day like today when a storm is rolling in. It’s especially good with homemade applesauce, but this isn’t a requirement. Given most people don’t bake these days, I’m finding people are overjoyed to have fresh, homemade desserts and fancy is not necessary. In fact, recipes that bring up childhood memories seem to be the most appreciated.

Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked pumpkin cake or pie — or latte, I might add? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.

Apple Fritters

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It’s apple season again. Makes me think of returning to school with the ubiquitous apple in my lunch box. How about you?
 
While the supermarkets carry the standards like Red Delicious, you can usually find the tastier heritage varieties filling the farmers markets and countryside fruit stands. Yesterday when I drove the back roads of Watsonville to visit a friend, there were rows of trees loaded with Yellow Delicious, Newtown Pippins, Jonagolds and other heritage varieties. I picked up some Jonagolds and Yellow Delicious at my local farmers market; the old fashioned apples are worth seeking out.
 

Simply Fabulous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Like most of us who were raised on chocolate chip cookies, I’m crazy about them. However, I find a lot of ccc’s boring because they’re a little too bland and sugary. Kind of the “white bread” version. That’s why I like them with toasted oats and nuts.  But what makes these cookies most interesting is the chocolate. Chocolate chips are fine, but most of the brands contain paraffin so they don’t melt easily and become gooey. If you can find them, I like Guittard’s pistoles, which are chocolate discs that have a lower melting point and are quite tasty. I chop them coarsely. They come in an extreme milk chocolate at 38% or bittersweet at 66%.

Easy Pie Hacks for Great Results

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A Quick history of pie
According to historical accounts, pie has been around since the Egyptians, and they probably learned about pies from the Greeks. The crusts weren’t always eaten, however, but acted as a way to encase meats. The first English pies were made from crows and meat fillings are still a popular Pub entree. Crow pie? Not so much.

Blackberry-Vanilla Pie

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Those of us crazy about fruit watch the farmers markets and stores like hawks, waiting for the first berries to arrive as the signal that yes, summer is coming! Similarly, we know that summer is in full swing before blackberries are ripe on the vines and ready to harvest though technically they’re available somewhere in the States between mid-June and early September.

Cherry Clafoutis

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Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert that originated in Limousin. The name comes from clafotis, which means “to fill up,” in Occitan, an old French language with regional dialects throughout parts of Southern France. Traditionally the dessert was made with dark cherries, pits included, with a custard batter similar to pancake batter or a thin flan. Leaving the pits in the cherries creates a stronger cherry flavor, but can cause tooth damage to the unwitting diner. The same recipe using different fruits and vegetables are technically flognardes. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s as easy to make as a fruit-filled, baked pancake that you can serve anytime, whether for a special breakfast or as dessert.

Given that cherry season is so fleeting, take advantage of the beautiful cherries coming from the Pacific Northwest or, use apples, berries, rhubarb or plums. In fact, now that Limousin is known for their specialty apples, they are the more commonly used fruit.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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