Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

Wet Walnuts

I had never heard of wet walnuts before my Pennsylvania-born husband started looking for them in the grocery store. Apparently it is a very popular ice cream topping in that region. However, it doesn’t seem to be very popular in New England, so he had to find a recipe for making them. His favorite, or the one that sounded the most authentic to him, was Mama Lisa’s at Mama Lisa’s World Blog. It’s easy to make; we make it easier and even leave out the cinnamon.

The resulting concoction is not too syrupy, not too sweet, and the walnuts have a warm, somewhat smoky flavor that permeates the whole mixture, especially if you let it sit. This will keep in an airtight container on the countertop for at least a week, or you could refrigerate it. I don’t think the syrup would get too sludgy and you could always gently re-warm it if you preferred warm wet walnuts with your ice cream.

Are there any other regional ice cream toppings we should try??

Wet Walnuts

1 c. walnuts, chopped
3/4 c. maple syrup
1/8 c. corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the chopped walnuts in one layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Monitor them fairly closely so they don’t REALLY start burning. My oven is a little touchy and I usually take the walnuts out around 10 or 11 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the walnuts, mix together the maple syrup and corn syrup.

Mix slightly cooled walnuts in to the syrup mixture. And you’re done!

Particularly good with plain vanilla ice cream, which lets the maple and smoky walnut flavors really shine.


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Seized by the desire to make a carrot cake, I found myself confronted with multiple recipes. Some recipes called for whipped egg whites to be folded in to the batter, but after my encounter with whipped egg whites in the lemon meringue pie, I decided that was too much trouble. So I turned to my trusty Better Homes and Gardens carrot cake recipe, which didn’t ask me to whip any egg whites.

Carrot Cake
serves 12

1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. finely shredded carrots*
1/2 c. cooking (vegetable) oil
2 eggs
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting

*First of all, what an adventure I had figuring out how to use the shredding blade on the food processor attachment on my stand mixer. I had carrots everywhere, but it was fun, it made my life a heck of a lot easier, and I think I’ll do a better job next time.

Grease an 8×8 pan and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda. Then add the finely shredded carrots, cooking oil, and eggs. Beat until just combined.

TIP: Do not use the whisk or paddle attachment on your mixer if you choose to mix this batter in your electric mixer. Use the dough hook. The shredded carrots will wrap around your whisk or paddle and you will have one big carroty blob. Either use the dough hook, or mix by hand.

Pour batter in to prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Mine took about 35 minutes before I was well and truly pleased with it. Cool pan on a wire rack. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

Since I was making this cake in the morning to serve in the evening, I put the cooled cake in the fridge unfrosted, then mixed up the frosting later in the day and frosted the cake right before serving. Pop it back in the fridge for five minutes to let the frosting firm back up, if the ravening hoardes will allow it.

Cream Cheese Frosting
makes 1 recipe

In a medium mixing bowl (electric helps), beat together 6 or 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened, and 2 teaspoons vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar, beating well. Gradually beat in 2 to 2 1/2 cups additional sifted powdered sugar until the frosting is optimal spreading consistency. Makes about 1 and 1/2 cups.

And because this is the Better Homes and Gardens potluck cookbook, we know there are directions for a larger recipe, right? Right!

serves 16
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 c. finely shredded carrots
1 c. cooking (vegetable) oil
4 eggs
1 c. chopped pecans
1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting

Prepare in a 13×9 inch baking pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.

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Marjorie Standish is, like, the Julia Child of Maine. In her two cookbooks, Cooking Down East and Keep Cooking the Maine Way, she collates every early-20th century Maine recipe you could imagine, many involving the fruits de mer, many utilizing everyday ingredients like crackers and mayo and cocktail sausages to create inexpensive yet festive fare. Sometimes she calls for an ingredient I’d have to do research to figure out, but overall she is confident, no-nonsense, and thorough. Which is why I was rather pleased to find that she had a lemon meringue pie recipe that didn’t sound too complicated…

Marjorie Standish’s Lemon Meringue Pie (and Never Fail Meringue)

For the pie:

1 1/2 c. sugar
6 Tbsp cornstarch or 3/4 c. flour*
3 egg yolks (keep the whites for the meringue!)
grated rind of 1 lemon
6 Tbsp of lemon juice**
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. boiling water
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter

*Cornstarch, sayeth Ms Standish, “makes a clearer pie.”
**It occurs to me now that I didn’t measure out the lemon juice; after grating the rind off, I just juiced the lemon to within an inch of its life. I poured the juice through a sieve to get out the pulp and the seeds.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Mix, then add to slightly beaten egg yolks (in a larger bowl). Add to this the grated lemon rind and the juice, then add boiling water. Mix this well, then cook it on the stovetop in a saucepan, stirring constantly using low heat until it is thick and clear. I hope you have no where to be this afternoon. You’re going to be standing over this lemon curd for a long, long while. Once thickened, add the butter, then cool slightly, and turn in to a prepared, pre-baked pie shell. I cheated and used a store-bought frozen shell pre-baked per package directions for a meringue pie. Top this with Never Fail Meringue.

Never Fail Meringue
3 egg whites
3 Tbsp cold water
1 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp granulated sugar (separated)
pinch of salt

Put the egg whites, water, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl, beat until stiff, add sugar gradually. If you do this by hand, you will be beating for a long while. Rumor has it you can use an electric stand mixer if you have one to hand. Pile the stiff meringue on to the pie, and bake at 425 degrees for a few minutes. Watch carefully. In fact, watch it like a hawk. Do not walk away from the oven. The meringue will burn. You will be sad.

Now, Marjorie Standish doesn’t say to refrigerate this pie, or chill it, or even cool it. I left it on a cookie sheet on the counter to cool while we ran an errand, and when I returned home an hour or so later the lemon filling had — and there is no other way to describe it — begun to melt. Once we whisked the pie in to the refrigerator, however, this strange phenomenon stopped, and did not reoccur. So after letting the pie cool for a half hour or so, I recommend refrigeration.

Makes 1 heavenly homemade lemon meringue pie. Serves as many or as few as you feel like.

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The actual name of this dessert in the recipe book is “Streusel Strawberry Bars,” but that just didn’t sound right. So I changed the name. Now that summer is almost upon us, make room in your picnic baskets for some strawberry goodness!

From the Better Homes & Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites recipe book.

Strawberry Streusel Bars (or Streusel Strawberry Bars…take your pick)
recipe makes about 24 pieces

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. pecans, coarsely chopped
1 10-oz. jar strawberry preserves or seedless red raspberry preserves*
1 recipe Powdered Sugar Icing or sifted powdered sugar

*I use Trappist strawberry preserves from St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. You can buy their preserves online here, if your local stores do not carry it. It’s satisfyingly sweet and an excellent thickness for baking. 10 ounces is almost a full jar, with a couple of ounces left over for your morning toast or oatmeal or your lunchtime peanut butter & jelly sandwich.

In a large bowl, beat softened butter and granulated sugar together using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, scraping occasionally. Beat in the egg. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then switch to folding in remaining flour by hand. Add pecans. Mixture should be somehwat crumbly but buttery. Set aside about two cups of the pecan mixture.

Press the remaining pecan mixture in to the bottom of an ungreased 9×9 pan. Sometimes I will dip in to my reserved pecan mixture for a few more clumps of dough, if I feel like I have thin spots in the base layer. If you have a silicon pan, use that, because it’s a dream to remove the finished bars from. Spread the preserves to within about 1/2 an inch from the edges. Dot the reserved pecan mixture all over the top of the preserves.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once the bars are cooled, I remove them from the pan, cut them to desired size, then rearrange them on the wire rack over a cookie sheet or cutting board. Then, drizzle over the Powdered Sugar Icing or sift over regular powdered sugar if you are short on time. Excess icing will drip through the wire rack to the cutting board beneath, leaving your bars all very neat-looking and your work surface clean. I use the same trick when icing my Soft Pumpkin Cookies. I let the icing set up until it starts to get hard, or about half a day at room temperature. Plan ahead for these bars if at all possible.

Powdered Sugar Icing
In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. milk, and 1/4 tsp vanilla. Stir in additional milk, 1 tsp at a time, until icing achieves desired drizzling consistency. You will probably have a lot of icing for one little batch of strawberry bars, so ice just until they’re the way you want them. No one’s going to make you use up all the icing, unless you want to.

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Fudge is delicious but it takes forever, right? Wrong! Not when it’s done the Nigella Express way.

Nigella’s Chocolate Pistachio Fudge
from Nigella Express

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 14-oz can condensed milk
pinch of salt
1 cup shelled pistachios
2 Tbsp butter

Melt the chocolate, condensed milk, butter, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over low heat.

Put the shelled pistachios in a freezer bag and bash them mercilessly until broken up into both big and little pieces. To prevent turning some to dust and leaving others intact, move the bag around as you bash and pause occasionally to see if any are escaping altogether; go after these ones personally with the quick rap from the smaller handle-end of your rolling pin.

Add the nuts to the melted chocolate and condensed milk mixture and stir very well to mix.

Pour in to a 9×9 or 8×8 square aluminum foil pan, smoothing the top. Nigella says use a 9×9 but I misremembered when I was at the store and bought an 8×8 pan. This worked out quite well, as the recipe should yield about 64 pieces, and from an 8×8 pan that’s 1-inch squares and easy to cut. As it was, I cut 2×2 squares and then cut each of those in quarters as I plated and served them. I am pretty sure I was able to get 64 1×1 squares from this approach, even if Jim did sneak some of the larger pieces whole before I could cut them. I’m pretty sure my strategy is sound.

Let the fudge cool, and then refrigerate until set. Once cut, you can keep it (for as long as it lasts!) in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. No need to thaw, just take out and eat right away.

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Guinness Chocolate Cake

Three words to make your mouth water. Guinness. Chocolate. Cake.

You may recall that back in July, I made Guinness Cupcakes. That was all well and good, but I had yet to make the Guinness Chocolate Cake that the cupcake recipe was based on. I knew an opportunity would come. I might not be a Guinness-drinker, but the flavors do magical things in baked goods.

So we were invited to a friends’ house for Christmas dinner. The chef is an eminently talented former restaurant chef, so when I volunteered to bring dessert I knew it would have to be something that really stood up to what I knew would be an ambitious, tasty dinner. I immediately had my options down to two choices, both from fantastic Nigella: a Boston-cream-style Victoria sponge, and Guinness cake. The Boston cream Victoria sponge was simple in flavor, elegant, and Bostonian; the Guinness cake seemed to encompass all the flavors and spices of Christmas, the richness of the season, and the darkness of winter nights. Plus, it seemed to me a cousin of the traditional plum pudding with hard sauce that I’m used to on Christmas.

I decided to try the Boston cream Victoria sponge to see how I could get it to turn out. It was mostly a success, but very involved. I’m sure I could conquer it after a couple more attempts. I hemmed and hawed for a day or two, wondering what to do and wondering if I hadn’t gotten in over my head, but then I decided I’d just go for the Guinness cake. After all, I’ve done Guinness cupcakes with fair success.

The recipe is available on Nigella’s website, but it requires metric conversions and I never have faith in my math. It’s also in her book Feast, which amazingly neither I nor my partner-in-culinary-crime have. So I searched the web for it, and found it on a Washington Post blog A Mighty Appetite with Kim O’Donnel. She compares the Guinness cake to a dark gingerbread or Caribbean black cake, which I guess is a sort of very dark, moist fruitcake based on English plum pudding and usually eaten at Christmas and at weddings. These are two comparisons I hear quite often, and though I have never had Caribbean black cake, I thoroughly agree with the parallels to plum pudding.

Even if you don’t like drinking pint upon pint of Guinness, get yourself a 4-pack and make this cake as soon as you have a semi-plausible excuse. This cake is especially tasty when eaten accompanied by a cup of hot coffee, or as we had it, with so-called Spanish coffee, a mix of 151 rum, triple sec, Kahlua, and coffee in a wine glass with a caramelized sugar rim, with a dollop of whipped cream.

photo by Rachel

Guinness Chocolate Cake

For the cake:
1 cup Guinness stout
1 stick unsalted butter, sliced
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the icing:
8 oz package cream cheese
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, or heavy cream as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Into a very large saucepan, pour Guinness, add butter, and heat gently until melted. When the butter is fully melted, whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar. In a separate small bowl, beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery mixture. Whisk in the flour and baking soda.

Pour cake batter into greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour (check at 45 minutes for doneness, poking a skewer in center). Leave to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, as it is quite a damp cake. Take the cream cheese out to allow it to soften.

When the cake is cold, gently peel off parchment paper and transfer to a platter or cake stand. Place softened cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a mixing bowl, and whip with an electric beater, until smooth. Add the heavy cream in small pours until the icing reaches a good spreadable consistency.

Ice the top of the cake, starting at middle and fanning out, so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Makes about 12 servings. Smaller slices are recommended, as this is a cake very rich in both texture and flavor.

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I made this a while ago but had to wait to post it, in case it seemed to my readers, few though they are, that I had been doing nothing but baking. Which was, in fact, true. I had been doing nothing but baking for about a week.

Nigella Lawson calls this “My Mother-in-Law’s Madeira Cake,” but this isn’t my mother-in-law’s recipe, so I can’t call it “my mother-in-law’s madeira cake”; so I call it “Nigella’s Mother-in-Law’s Madeira Cake” and that name encapsulates, to some extent, the nostalgic, homey recipe-sharing-ness that is Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

Madeira cake doesn’t have any madeira in it, but could be served with a glass of madeira as a rich but light dessert. It is, as far as I can tell, a glorified pound cake, rich, with a heavy crumb, and very buttery. Nigella’s recipe is also very lemony, so if you are not a huge fan of lemon, feel free to tone down the amount of juice you use in your batch.


photo by Rachel

My problem with these breads, or cakes, is that the first time I try them, they always come out flat and, honestly, lacking. I’m not sure why that is, unless I’m somehow being timid with the ingredients. My grandmother has proved that at least with flowers, the more sure you are with them, the better they do. The first time I made Nigella’s banana bread, for example, it came out flat and tough; the second time, it was airy and moist. Go figure. So my madeira cake came out a bit flat on top and heavy; maybe next time it will be a light, airy, moist masterpiece?

At least give it a try, and if you perfect it, let me know?

Nigella’s Mother-in-Law’s Madeira Cake

1 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups self-rising cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
9×5 inch loaf pan, buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and 3/4 cup sugar, and add the lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of flour for each. Then gently mix in the rest of the flour and, finally, the lemon juice. Pour batter into preprared pan. Sprinkle with sugar (about 2 tablespoons should do it) as it goes into the oven, and bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester come out clean. Remove to a wire rack, and let cool in the pan before turning out.

Makes 8-10 (generous!) slices.

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