strawberry tea-ramisu; a no bake summer recipe

if you give a pastry chef a bottle of pennington’s strawberry rye, chances are she will whip up a dessert.  and if said pastry chef is feeling a little daring, she might just reinvent the classic tiramisu into something totally southern.  guess what, this happened, it really, really happened!  to read the entire post and see the full recipe, visit my new blog page by following this link

strawberry cake

strawberry season sneaks up on us and does not linger; it is sensitive to the cold and it is fleeting.   the berries can be quickly saturated, left waterlogged and tasteless by a day of rain.  gardeners with strawberries generally keep close watch on the berries as they ripen with daily trips to the bed to gather the ripest, reddest, plumpest fruits.  those that make it back to the kitchen may become any number of treats.  sorbet, ice cream, jam or cake-too many choices and honestly, most are consumed as they are picked; who can resist just picked berries?  not me, that is a fact.

to read the entire post, follow this link to my new blog page

food styling, kinda-sorta: apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies for a magazine

ever wonder just what the person behind the food blog does in real life?  we read the blog, follow them, use the recipes and even communicate with them, call them “friends” but do we really know them?  not really, and that’s okay.  so many food bloggers are simply talented home cooks/bakers while others are professionals in the kitchen.  myself, i fall into the latter category; i am a pastry chef and cookbook author.  
for years now, i have heard people ooh and aah when i tell them that i am a pastry chef.  it’s as if it is something so fantastic and magical and oh how they wish they could be one too.  if i only had a dollar for every time someone said, “oh that must be so much fun!”  really, fun?  it can be on occasion.  most of the time, it is hard work, physically draining and a bit stressful.  even so, i still have fun and most of all, i love doing what i do and could not imagine holding down any other type of job.  
every now and then, i have the opportunity to do something exciting on the job.  remember back in february when my coworkers and i went to the james beard house in new york city?  i am still in awe.  there have been photo shoots and video segments and all sorts of exciting events.  one such event was a recent photo shoot for a big magazine, i won’t name it now-but i will when it hits the stands.  there was a country music star in the photos too but, i was just happy for the chance to make a few pies for a national magazine.
for the shoot, they chose apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies, six of each.
apple pies getting ready to go into the oven
and in the blink of an eye, they are ready!
so are the strawberry-rhubarb pies
i can almost smell them-can you?

probably my two favorite fruit pies, apple and strawberry-rhubarb.  yup, this is the sort of day i would call fun.  the sort of day that makes getting up at 2:40am worth the lack of sleep.  the sort of day that makes working on your day off just fine.  it’s true, i live to bake, absolutely love to bake, so there.

strawberry savarin; a tuesdays with dorie rewind

a while back, the tuesdays with dorie bakers made the savarin recipe.  first we mixed up a batch of baba au rum dough.  it was ridiculously easy to do-a simple yeasted cake batter was placed in a pan and allowed to rise for a brief period.

look at how light and fluffy it is, and it rose so quickly too!  it baked up fast as well.

we made a simple syrup to soak the cake with.  apparently, that is the key to an authentic savarin, lots of syrup soaked up by the cake.

by spooning small amounts over the cake, it all gets absorbed.

to decorate it, lots of whipped cream and fresh berries.  a classic, a true classic.  i brought it to a potluck dinner, i blinked, i missed it.  all i got was the dirty plate.  good thing they are easy to make, if i want to try this one myself, i will have to make it again.  and when i do, i’m not sharing…to see what the other bakers came up with, check out the tuesdays with dorie page.

food styling 101 and a strawberry ribbon cake

strawberry ribbon cake
photo by lindsay of love and olive oil
styled by teresa blackburn of food on fifth
learning to use a digital camera can be challenging.  my suggestion, take a few classes.  seriously, check out community colleges or art schools and take a few adult/community education classes on digital photography.  personally, i took basic classes during last summer and then again last fall and having the knowledge of the different camera functions has made a world of difference in my photos.
even so, i am by no means an expert but at least i have a better idea of how to go about things.  just as tricky is making the food look good enough to eat.  another big challenge.  staging a shot, picking props, lighting and so on.  it helps if you have the chance to watch and work with a pro.  when i wrote my first book, i had the chance to watch a very talented food stylist during the photo shoot.  but watching wasn’t enough.  when i wrote my second book, i had to actually prepare all of the food to be used in the photo shoots.  even with all of that experience, it still wasn’t enough.  but that hasn’t stopped my from trying.  
then came an opportunity to take a class with a successful food stylist.  as a member of the nashville food bloggers, i learned about a workshop to be put on by local food stylist, teresa blackburn; i quickly signed up.  we watched in awe as she quickly arranged a salad in a plate.  sounds goofy doesn’t it?  but it was how she did things that made it so amazing to watch.  she arranged the salad, leaf by leaf, garnish by garnish.  a drizzle of dressing, addition of background props.  it all came to a beautiful shot.
well beautiful when taken with something besides a cellphone camera!  however, i think you get the idea.  and the next time i try to photograph a salad, i will know exactly how to arrange the components so that it looks good enough to eat! 
one of the other tricks we learned was how to make the perfect dollop of cream.  first of all, it has to be non dairy whipped topping.  something no pastry chef wants to hear…but the technique was so simple, that i will have to practice it till it’s perfect.  but even so, we all had fun smoothing it out, creating furrows across the top and then scooping out the perfect dollop.  
 everyone’s plate arranged on the table for a group photo
teresa liked mine enough to use it to demonstrate adding a whole berry so that it will not sink into the cream.  it was all good fun and informative.  hopefully, there will be additional opportunities like this-i love learning something new.   if you are interested in seeing more of the photos, the nashville food bloggers website has a complete album of the photos that lindsay took during the workshop 
since this was a class centered around food, we were all invited to bring along a snack to share.  i brought my strawberry ribbon cake and if you go back to the photo at the top, you can see how wonderful it looked by the time teresa styled it and lindsay shot it.  and as always, when i go to the garden on sunday mornings, i take a cake.  this time, i took the leftover strawberry ribbon cake and tried to use some of the tips and tricks to get a good photo.  it was a challenge.  the lighting in the garden wasn’t the greatest and i was unable to bring any props.  but i must say, i at least know how to go about this better.  
strawberry ribbon cake
makes 1 (8″) square cake
adapted from the cake bible by rose levy beranbaum
(sour cream coffee cake)
crumb topping

1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup nuts-your choice
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

cake batter
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup strawberry preserves
powdered sugar

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8″ square baking pan.  to make the crumb topping, place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to chop the nuts and continue pulsing until it begins to clump.  don’t over do it or it will be one large clump rather than free flowing smaller lumps.  set this aside while you prepare the cake.

in a small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 of the buttermilk and the vanilla, set aside.  place the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and with the machine on low, allow it to mix to combine the ingredients.  add the butter and the remaining buttermilk and mix on low to combine.  scrape the bowl and turn the mixer to medium and allow it to cream until a little light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes.  add the egg mixture in thirds and mix to combine.  be sure to scrape the bowl.  scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top.  spread the preserves evenly over the top of the cake.  add the remaining batter and carefully spread it evenly over the preserves-this is a little tricky so take your time. top it all off by sprinkling the crumb mixture over the top.  bake until a pick comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes.  turn it out and invert it onto a rack to cool completely.  just before serving, dust it generously with the powdered sugar.

baked yogurt tart with summer fruit; a tuesdays with dorie post

what’s in a name?  when it comes to a menu or a recipe title, everything.  the title “baked yogurt tart” just does nothing for me.  a picture would help sell it but the publisher must have decided not to include one, too bad, it might have helped.  might being the key word.
so shy would i bother to make one?  curiosity and a husband who never fails to ask me, “what’s for dessert?” after every dinner we have together.  the catch, neither one of us eats much dairy.  sure a splash of half and half in coffee or a little butter on toast, maybe the occasional slice of cheese but a slice of a yogurt filled tart?  not likely.  while i tolerate it better than my husband can (physically-as in gastrointestinal abilities), i still prefer to avoid it since i generally feel better if i do.  the only way i could make this would be to use a soy or coconut yogurt.  honestly, neither one is something i eat much of just because of the long list of stuff they add to it to give it a texture similar to real dairy yogurt.  but since i want to bake along with the tuesdays with dorie followers and i know my husband will ask that burning question, i baked the tart.  
the recipe is easy to follow.  it calls for 1/4 of the pie dough recipe.  i cheated.  i had two prebaked mini pie shells in the freezer; i thawed them for the recipe.  to make the filling, i mixed up 1/3 of the recipe which resulted in the perfect amount for 2 little pies.  for the fruit, i topped one with peach slices and the other with strawberry slices.  the baking time had to be reduced to 25-30 minutes and they came out of the oven a tiny bit jiggly in the center.  they set up just fine.  the only criticism, they look rather dry and a little leathery on top.  i may have to brush a little warm honey over them before serving.  
to see the full recipe, check out this great website from a la carte communications.  and as always, to see the what the other bakers came up with, be sure to visit the tuesdays with dorie page.

coconut yogurt looks a lot like regular low-fat yogurt.  it has a lot of vegetable stabilizers in it to accomplish that so it is hardly an unprocessed food.  the taste was more vanilla than coconut but even more surprising was just how sweet it was since it was labelled “plain.”

 i love that the recipe was so easy to divide.  i just needed one egg.
 yeah, it was a lazy day in my kitchen; the hand mixer came out for this recipe.
 i love summer fruit, i was able to control myself and slice enough of it for the tarts.
 looking good
 fresh from the oven-pretty!

 the fruit looks a little dry and leathery.  it needs a little glaze over the top to give it a shine.

if my husband is lucky, i will let him have a bite or two…

strawberry swirl bundt cake

yes, another bundt cake to add to the collection.  why not?  there are endless possibilities and flavor combinations to try.  strawberries are in season and a pink swirled bundt cake sounded like a perfect use for them.

nothing says summer like a handful of fresh picked strawberries.  warm from the sun, they are juicy and sweet.  picking them is like having a treasure hunt in my own garden.  to find them, you must peek under the leaves of the plants and hope that the slugs and chipmunks have missed a few.  strawberry season is a short affair.  we enjoyed it while it lasted but i can see that we will need to add some more ever bearing plants to prolong the season.

a few notes about the cake.  if you think that you will have a strongly flavored cake, think again.  baking with fresh berries is tricky because of the effects on the batter that the ph balance of the berries can have.  besides, the box mix cakes you may be familiar with utilize lots of artificial color and flavor to get their results.  using strawberries adds a bit of flavor and a more pronounced floral note to the swirl.  mainly, the color of the swirl is what you get.  if you want a darker swirl, you can add a few drops of pink color, i left mine the natural shade from the berries.

strawberry swirl bundt cake
1 10 cup bundt cake serving about 12
1 cup strawberries, fresh or frozen(but thawed)
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 eggs
3 cups cake flour
4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a 10 cup tube or bundt pan and set it aside.  place the strawberries into a blender or food processor and process until a smooth puree is achieved.  measure out 1/2 cup of the puree and set it aside for now.  place the butter into a mixing bowl with the sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt.  cream this mixture until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  add the eggs slowly, scraping the bowl after each addition.  cream again till light, about 1 minute.  sift the flour and baking powder over the batter in the bowl and fold it a few times.  add the buttermilk and fold gently until completely mixed.  remove 1 1/2 cups of the batter and place it in a separate bowl, stir in the strawberry puree and mix until the color is evenly distributed.  dollop some of each of the batters into the prepared pan so that the colors alternate.  continue doing this until all of the batter is in the pan.  using a thin knife or a skewer, swirl the batter by inserting it and dragging it around the batter to mix the colors.  the less you swirl, the more marbleized the pattern will look; excessive swirling creates a fine pattern that is hard to see.  bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then carefully turn it out onto a serving plate to finish cooling.  
happy baking!

vegan strawberry-banana ice cream

my attempts to change my diet are a little hit or miss.  got the cholesterol under control only to lose the vitamin d level needed for strong bones.  frustrating to say the least.  so, to change that, i am spending time outside in the garden during sunny hours and i am eating small amounts of dairy.  one thing i won’t stop doing, eating sorbet and ice cream made without dairy products.  i recently picked a bowl of strawberries from the garden and mixed up a batch of ice cream using one of david lebovitz’s recipes.

strawberry blossoms are pretty.  when you look at them close up, the center of the bloom looks like a little yellow strawberry.

when you grow strawberries, it is a constant battle between you and the critters who eat them with a healthy dose of praying the rain doesn’t ruin the berries.  it is also a little like treasure hunting too.  each afternoon, i walk around the bed peeking under leaves in search of ripe berries.

a few notes about the recipe; strawberries soak up water like a sponge so wash them by giving them a quick dunk in a bowl of cold water and then pat them dry with paper towel to prevent waterlogging.  a ripe banana will add to the creamy texture but you can omit it and increase the strawberries to a pound and a half.  if you are not a coconut milk fan, use almond or hazelnut milk for a nutty flavor or switch it to rice or soy for a neutral flavor.  when you puree the mix, if you leave it chunky, there will be icy bits of fruit in the finished product-the fruit freezes to a hard texture because of its high water content, i recommend a smooth puree.  the added syrup and alcohol will also help prevent that rock hard frozen consistency but not much-let it soften before serving.

vegan strawberry-banana ice cream
adapted from david lebovitz
makes about 1 quart
1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1 ripe banana-the riper it is the stronger the flavor
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rice syrup (or wildflower honey if you are not a true vegan)
1 can coconut milk
2 teaspoons dark rum
2 teaspoons lemon juice
combine the strawberries with the sugar and the syrup and allow it to stand for an hour to juice.  add the remaining ingredients and puree in a food processor or blender.  place in ice cream freezer canister and process according to the manufacturers instructions.  allow the final product to set in the freezer for several hours before serving.

twd: french strawberry cake

what’s not to love about a cake loaded with strawberries and whipped cream?  i can’t think of anything.  if you are smart and save the juices strained off of the macerated berries and make strawberry-basil martinis, there is even more to love.  so why the frown on my face?  one word-genoise.  they are so finicky and temperamental to make and i did not have a good time with this one.

this weeks tuesdays with dorie-baking with julia challenge, french strawberry cake-page 273, and it is hosted by sophia of sophias sweets and allison of think, love, sleep, dine.  visit their pages to read the full recipe.

 first things first, genoise.  it is a classic sponge cake and that should set off warning bells.  now don’t go jumping out a window or running away.  it is just a cake, albeit a difficult one but still a cake none the less.  follow the rules and you shall have cake.

i followed the rules.  my cake turned out like a rubber disk.

 trudging along, i poured it into the pan hoping for success. after carefully folding in the flour and melted butter, the batter seemed so thin to me and you can see that it isn’t much.  it came out of the oven like a rubber disk-i set about mixing up batch #2.

 round 2; i over whipped the eggs and stiff peaks stood stock still rather than dissolving.  i forged ahead anyway.  batch #3 worked out better.  since i have made genoise before, i knew i could omit the butter and still get a proper sponge cake.

my first attempt-a thin rubber disk that was very dense at the bottom-there was no way to get 3 layers out of this thing!

 my second attempt was over beaten and it sunk in the middle and again, i wasn’t going to get 3 layers from this cake.
third time was the charm!!!
 josie couldn’t believe it either
 first cake-very dense with a fine crumb-it went into the bird feeder.
 second cake-a little better, still a little finer crumb than i would like to have but it was a lot lighter than the first cake.

the third cake had what i think was a perfect light and open crumb that you need for a proper genoise.
the key, not over or under whipping the eggs.  that is a challenge and just because the recipe said to whip for 4-5 minutes, it’s not set in stone.  the only way to know if you have the right consistency-check the ribbon and see how long it takes to dissolve.  to get the 10 seconds, i had to whip for about 6-7 minutes.

next came the berries.  i macerated them as the recipe instructed only i added a little vanilla bean and rose water to really punch up the flavor.  the maceration process takes about 3 hours and is well worth it.  the juices that remain after assembling the cake make awesome martinis!  we made them with basil from the garden and i could have had 2 or 3 myself-luckily we ran out of the juices!!!

 the whipped cream frosting is a little different;  it has sour cream added to it to give it a little something, kinda like creme fraiche in a way.  when i whip cream, i wrap plastic around the machine to prevent splashing.

 perfect soft peaks

strain the juices off by lifting the berries out with a slotted spoon.  spread them over the top of the layer.

 a thin coat of whipped cream frosting covers the berries

 then you do it again.  finally, the third layer is placed on top and the cake is frosted all over.

i think the recipe should call for the full 2 cups of cream in the carton rather than 1 1/4 cup.  i didn’t have anything left to pipe rosettes with.  i brought the cake to a dinner-i was lucky to get a sliver of a taste-they did give me back my dirty cake plate though…

many thanks to sophia and allison for hosting, well done ladies!

celebrate the solstice with a summer berry tart; #29 of 52 pies

the first day of summer, or summer solstice as some call it, usually means hot weather and in that respect, we have had plenty.  since it is so hot, i decided to make a fruit tart rather than heat the house up by using the oven to bake a pie.  right now, markets are brimming with fresh berries of all types.  for some reason, summer holidays mean truckloads of berries at almost affordable prices.  why is that?  in the summers of my childhood, picnics in honor of summer holidays always meant popsicles and watermelon slices-berries were for special occasions.  on my last trek through the grocery store, i stocked up on strawberries and raspberries and luckily, enough survived to decorate the tart!

first step is to make a classic pastry cream.  while it cools down in the fridge, you can make the tart shell.  milk is heated with a vanilla bean and some sugar until it just begins to boil.

 cornstarch is mixed with some milk to dissolve it and then the eggs  are whisked in.  classically referred to as a liason, this combination will thicken the custard filling.

while the milk heats/steeps, set a heat proof bowl, a mesh strainer and a spatula nearby to strain the custard.

 once the milk reaches a slow boil, whisk a portion of the hot milk into the liason and then return the remaining milk in the pot to the heat.  while whisking the boiling milk, the liason is carefully added. and whisked continually until it boils and thickens.

whisk the custard filling continually until it boils and thickens.  be sure to let it boil for a full minute to cook out the starch.

 once finished, pour the custard into the strainer and use the spatula to force it through the mesh into the bowl.

 the reason for the strainer, all the little rubbery bits and the vanilla bean need to be removed or you will not have a creamy filling for your tart.

 the simplest dough in the world!!!  flour, powdered sugar and butter are pulsed in a food processor until they resemble a coarse meal.  an egg yolk is added and the dough is pulsed until it comes together.

this buttery dough is so easy to work with that you can immediately press it into your tart pan-no chilling is necessary.

 make sure it is evenly spread out-thin spots could cause the shell to crumble later on.

 my favorite baking trick-line the shell with a large coffee filter (bribe a barista for some if you can or just use several home sized ones) and use beans or marbles as weights to prebake the crust.  why a coffee filter?  simple, they are designed to hold lots of weight-think about wet coffee grounds in a filter, they do not rip easily.  parchment paper crumbles when it is baked, foil can cause breakage when removed from the tart and waxed paper is waxed and who wants that in the tart?

 a perfect tart shell ready to be filled and decorated.

 my next big secret;  melt 2-3 ounces of white chocolate (or dark if you prefer) and carefully coat the bottom and the sides of the tart shell with it.  this will help prevent the crust from becoming soggy.  allow it to set by freezing it for 5-10 minutes then fill with the custard and decorate with the fruit.

 slice the strawberries and arrange them around the edge of the tart.  save the small end pieces that you cannot use and place them in the center of the tart before adding the raspberries.  it’s a shame to waste the end pieces and no one will know they are there!  if you must, you can seal the tart using a prepared tart glaze.  in the summer months, supermarkets by me sell small tubs of fruit glaze in the produce section but stick to the peach one and dilute it-the strawberry one has too much added color.  personally, i like mine naked!

solstice berry tart
1 (9″) tart serving 6-8
there are lots of hints above, be sure to read them!
custard filling
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 vanilla bean, split
place the cornstarch in a heat proof bowl and whisk in a small amount of milk to make a smooth paste.  whisk in the eggs and set aside.  place the remaining milk in a sauce pot with the sugar.  scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both the pod and the seeds to the milk.  over medium heat, bring to a slow boil.  temper the egg mixture with about half of the hot milk.  return the remaining milk to the stove and return to the boil.  while whisking the milk, add the hot egg mixture and while whisking, bring to a boil.  allow the custard to boil for a full minute then pour through a mesh strainer into a clean heat proof bowl.  press plastic wrap to the surface and chill completely.
easy tart shell
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
preheat the oven to 350.  place the flour and sugar into the bowl of a food processor.  sprinkle the butter cubes over the top and pulse to cut the butter in.  continue pulsing until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.  add the egg yolk and pulse until a smooth dough is formed.  press the dough evenly into a tart pan, place it on a baking sheet (catches any oily drips that may leak from the pan) and line with a coffee filter and weights.  bake until done, about 25-30 minutes.  remove from the oven and carefully lift out the weights and paper.  cool completely before assembling.
2-3 ounces chocolate (white or dark), melted
2 pints of strawberries
1 half pint raspberries
carefully remove the tart shell from the pan and place on a flat serving tray.  brush the inside of the tart with the melted chocolate and place in the freezer to set.  spread the custard filling evenly in the tart shell and arrange the fruit over the top of the custard as directed in the photos above.
happy solstice, y’all!  make one and send me a photo, i will post it here,