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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

Fresh Berry Shortcakes

Several years ago I had a terrific recipe for shortcake biscuits. Naturally, I lost it. I didn’t know this, of course, when I decided that it would be the perfect dessert to bring to a party I was attending. Even though it was late in the season, the warm, sunny days we’ve had has meant a never-ending abundance of strawberries and, even as I write this, it appears it’s far from finished.

If you’re reading this post in May, read on. You are at the welcoming end of the new season and the recipe I located is great. If you’re reading this in late September, this is the recipe to use with the last of the season’s berries.

Can you imagine warm shortcakes filled with juicy berries and whipped cream (or Greek yogurt if you must) for breakfast? This is what got me through a lot of cookbooks and ultimately led me online where I scored. The winning shortcake? Made by James Beard’s mother!

Here’s the surprise: James Beard wrote over twenty cookbooks but never included his mother’s recipe. However, he did confide in his friend, Larry Forgione that, “There can never be a better dessert, only fancier.” Forgione ended up with the recipe, included it in his book, An American Place (Morrow, 1996), and it was a hit.

Headlands Inn Peach Baked French Toast

 

If you’re looking for a perfect brunch recipe to serve for Mother’s Day, a special birthday, or are hosting guests, this recipe from the Headlands Inn in Mendocino, CA will surpass everyone’s expectations. Even the presentation creates a “Wow” response. First, a few words about the Headlands Inn and how we were served this beautiful breakfast.

Tahini Cookies

It’s fun to watch trends come and go and when a particular trend reappears, the recipes using the current ingredient are often uniquely different. For the past eight months I’ve noticed tahini in a large assortment of recipes. However this cookie comes by it honestly as it comes to us from Mamaleh’s, a new incarnation of the classic Jewish Deli, in Cambridge MA. Rachel Sundet, pastry chef at Mamaleh’s claims the honey keeps these shortbread cookies really soft.

Vegan Lemon-Vanilla Cupcakes

 

First, I admit I’m not a vegan or even a card carrying vegetarian (though I lean in that direction), but I have friends who are and I like wowing them with a new dessert on movie nights. I also love learning new techniques, culinary styles and recipes from different cultures and regions. So cooking and baking vegan intrigued me.

Chocolate Souffle

Courtesy of David Lebovitz from l’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home

About the following recipe, David says, “Chocolate souffle remains one of my all-time favorite desserts, and even though I now have a variety of porcelain souffle molds in my kitchen here in Paris, I prefer to bake a chocolate souffle in a shallow baking dish. Some can barely wait to get past the crust, to dive into the warm, tender pool of dark chocolate underneath, but I like the fragile, cocoa-colored crust just as much as what hides beneath it. It’s a balance between the tough, and the tender, and one rarely exists without the other….Although I have my share of regrets, using good chocolate to make a souffle is never one of them.”

Great Homemade Food Gifts for the Holidays!

The holidays are happening this minute! If you’re in deer-to-the-headlights mode, there’s still time to pull it together and make gifts for family and friends without needing to trek to the malls and deal with traffic jams and long lines. And, the good news is that homemade food gifts are far more appreciated than “stuff.” So roll up your sleeves and let’s get started.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

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During my time in Devon, England, one of my goals was to try Sticky Toffee Pudding. For those of you unaware of English vernacular, “pudding” is used interchangeably with “dessert” and includes cakes, and other baked goods. To add to the confusion, puddings can also be savory, such as Yorkshire Pudding, which is served with roast beef. So Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a cake that can be baked or steamed and is smothered in a caramel-like sauce.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

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Although I’m not vegan, I have dear friends who are. I’m also always looking for recipes that can accommodate family and friends with food allergies or food intolerance issues. When I read on food 52 about Joanne Chang’s cupcakes, I saw a winner. Joanne, who owns Flour Bakery in Boston, has created a recipe that is moist, deeply flavorful, and fully satisfies the craving for chocolate and the desire for a rich, moist cake or cupcake — vegan or otherwise!

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.

Peach and Cherry Pie

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No one I’ve ever known has declined a piece of fresh, homemade pie. Although some version of pie is eaten in nearly all cultures, fruit pies are an American institution, and it isn’t limited to apple! After writing this last sentence, I wondered if the expression came about because of Johnny Appleseed’s having started apple tree nurseries across many of our midland states at a time when women made pies (often for breakfast), because they required less flour than bread. But no, it apparently was an increasingly common expression beginning in the 1920s attesting the goodness of all things American. Okay, back to pie.

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.

Russian Tea Cakes

Whenever I think about holiday baking, Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) are at the forefront of my mind. What’s not to love about the buttery, crumbly deliciousness of these cookies. with their fragrant toasted nuts and powdered sugar spilling everywhere? Okay, the powdered sugar part can be annoying. What I do love about these cookies is that they’re pretty much popular worldwide with essentially the same ingredients though some come with a few special touches.

I recently found a unique version of these cookies in Sunset Magazine. Created by Yigit Pura of “Tout Sweet Patisserie,” they are noted for their extreme crispness and toasty-brown butter flavor. I also like that they’re made with vanilla bean paste. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy. Prefer a different alcohol or want to substitute a liqueur? Why not? And, if you don’t want alcohol, you can substitute milk.

Yigit suggests creating cookies 1-1/2 tablespoons each. I personally prefer these cookies smaller because the powdered sugar can be overwhelming with big cookies. Just like the alcohol used, you get to decide on the size you’d like to make the cookies. Just remember to adjust the bake time accordingly.

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.

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

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