Spritz con Aperol for the Adult Trick or Treater

This Halloween, I will be enjoying an Orange Stinger Martini from my creative and quite devilish  friend Alison of  A Girl A Market A Martini.  Oops…I mean, A Girl A Market A Meal.  Her cocktail got my thinking about my (other) favorite orange cocktail.  The Spritz con Aperol.

It started in the spring of 2008 when my husband and I slipped off of the North American continent and disappeared into the wilds of Italy.

Oh Italy. My brother from another mother.

We saw them first in Bolzano I think.  Nearly neon orange and served over ice in large wine glasses with  fruit garnish.  It took quite a bit of gesturing and  an immense amount of effort in my own, horrible Fodor’s Italian but we soon learned the cocktail was called a Spritz con Aperol.  My understanding is that the original Spritz, made famous in Venice, was made with Campari.  I think this explains the “con” part when asking for it made with Aperol.

Aperol, like Campari is a low-alcohol liqueur.  As the color suggests, it tastes of oranges but also has the bitterness of the zest and an array of herbs.   This former cocktail waitress had never seen it until visiting Italy.  In fact, I was hard-pressed to find it once we returned to the states and originally had to order it online.  Lucky for us,  the tasty orange apertif has gained quite a bit of momentum in the last couple of years and can now be found in gourmet grocery stores and my own favorite big box store: Beverages and More.  In fact, this month, Esquire uses it as the main ingredient in its New Esquire Cocktail.  As if!

The spritz part of the cocktail comes from Prosecco.  Sure, you could use champagne or even sparkling wine but you would be taking a little of the Italian out of the whole experience.  The cocktail is light and refreshing and perfect for the summer–as well demonstrated in it’s most recent marketing campaign.

The lightness and icy cold part may not be appropriate for Halloween anyplace east of Arizona.  But, here in warm, dry California, a Spritz con Aperol could hold its own as a pre-trick or treating libation. Or, if you happen to be The Misanthropic Hostess, it simply reminds you of a late afternoon on the Western Italian coast when all there was to do was watch the sun slowly descend into the Ligurian Sea.

Or, perhaps Venice.

Or Verona

Or Bolzano.

Spritz con Aperol

  • 3 oz Aperol
  • 2 oz Prosecco
  • Fruit for garnish if desired.

To a large stemware glass filled with ice add Aperol.  Fill remaining glass with Prosecco.  Garnish.

Candy is Dandy: Scratch Twix Bars

Like any proper Angelino, I spend a good deal of time sitting in my car participating in that daily rite of torture called commuting.  In addition to keeping an eye out for the elusive chorizo truck during my morning pilgrimage up the 110 freeway, I also like to devote time to having deep thoughts.

Unfortunately for my chances at winning a Nobel Prize of any sort, the caliber and nature of my deep thoughts would be more at home in a Cosmo or Martha Stewart Magazine than Scientific American or The Economist.  Much of the initial planning for Gingerbread Royce happened while I sat idling on the freeway.  And more than once, I’ve found myself thinking through alternate ways of loading the dishwasher.  Like I said, deep thoughts.

The origins of this recipe came from one such commute.  And, given the nearness of my favorite holiday and the central role that candy plays in it, I thought now would be an apropos time to share.  On that faithful morning a couple of months ago, I was pondering the merits of the Twix bar and how one might go about making them from scratch.  In bar form.  I’m sure there are recipes out there but I wasn’t really interested in anything that already exists.  I wanted the challenge of creating my own.  So I did.  And after some trial and error that would make Goldilocks proud, I think I came up with a fairly decent version.

This recipe begins with a shortbread base.  Shortbread is sort of like curry.  While it categorically refers to a certain kind of butter-based baked good, the similarities between recipes end there.  In this case, I’ve used a shortbread that includes golden brown sugar as a complement to the caramel that will sit on the top bunk.

First cream the butter.  Then add the sugars and cream them as well.  Trust me, the abuse of ingredients has just begun. Ooohhh…fluffy.

Press the sticky dough into a parchment-lined pan.  Then poke all-over with a fork so that the steam can escape and you don’t get un-even shortbread.

Into the oven.  And when it comes out: golden brown.

While the shortbread is cooling, it’s time to play with chemistry.  Combine sugar, water and light corn syrup in a heavy sauce pan and bring it to a boil.

While things are heating up over here, melt the butter and add cream in a separate pan.

Soon (but really, it won’t seem soon enough.  In fact, it will feel like an eternity because, you know what they say about watched caramel sauce), things will get a little golden.

In what seems like no-time, things go from pale gold to amber and it’s time to get down to business.

Once the caramel is just a tad darker than the picture above. Very carefully pour in the cream and butter mixture.  Don’t be afraid, all hell is supposed to break loose at this point.

Don’t worry, things will calm down a bit.  And then you wait for the caramel to get to that magical 248F on the candy thermometer.

At precicely 248F it’s time to pull the plug, get this off the heat and pour it over the shortbread.  Now promise me something here.  Promise okay?  The aroma is going to be killing you…buttery, creamy, caramely.  BUT now matter how strong the impulse, do not touch the caramel.  If life was a game of Candy Land, caramel at 248 degrees would be the molten lava.  Get it?

Spread the caramel evenly and sprinkle with sea salt.  Then transfer the whole mess to the fridge and allow the caramel to set up.

When the caramel is firm, it’s time to crown our little project.  Melt about a cup of your favorite chocolate (I’ve used bittersweet here).  I’ve heard you can melt chocolate easy in the microwave, but I like to use a glass bowl over simmering water.


Once the chocolate is melted, spread it evenly over the caramel layer.  I like to use an off-set spatula for the job.  Yeah, I know, you’d like me to use some better skills when photographing stuff…

Let the chocolate set-up in a cool, dry spot.  DO NOT PUT IT IN THE FRIDGE.  Putting it in the fridge will cool the chocolate down too quickly and it won’t temper properly.  The result is dusty looking chocolate.

As usual, I recommend letting the whole thing rest over night.  Then.  Cut as desired and try not to eat the entire pan.

Of course, if three layers is just a jumping-off point.  Why not four.  Or five?

The Scratch  Twix Bar

Makes about 100 1 inch squares

Shortbread Base:

  • 20 TBS (2 1/2  sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature.
  • ½ C packed golden brown sugar
  • ¼ C superfine sugar
  • 2 ½ C sifted flour
  • ¼ t kosher salt


  • ½ C sugar
  • ¼ light corn syrup
  • 1 ½ C heavy cream
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • Sea salt for sprinkling

Chocolate Layer

  • 1 C chocolate bits (I used bittersweet but use what you like)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Add in sugars and cream additional 3 minutes.  By hand, gently fold in salt and then flour until dough comes together.  Press dough into a buttered, parchment lined 9X13 inch baking pan.  Create vents by poking dough all over with a fork.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until cookie is golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool.

For caramel.  Combine sugar, corn syrup and ½ C water in a deep saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer.  Bring mixture to boil.  Continue to boil until caramel is a golden brown.  Do not stir the mixture.  In a separate pan, melt butter and add cream, letting the mixture come to a simmer.  Remove from heat but keep warm.  Once caramel reaches the desired color, carefully add-in the cream mixture.  The liquid will bubble up immediately but will calm down quickly.  Stir in vanilla with wooden spoon.  Cook mixture for 10 minutes until it reaches 248 degrees F (note: the temperature will be this high when you pour in the cream but will drop some and then come back up).  Once the caramel reaches 248 degrees, very carefully pour over cooled shortbread.  Use a spatula to spread the layer evenly (do not use fingers and do not tough the caramel, it is extremely hot).  Sprinkle sea salt over caramel if desired.  Place shortbread and caramel into the fridge to cool.

Once the caramel is cool and firm, the final chocolate layer can be added.  In a double boiler, gently melt 1 C of desired chocolate pieces.  Once pieces are melted, gently spread an even layer over caramel.  Allow the chocolate layer to set-up in a cool dry spot.  Do not refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set (doing so will decrease the temperature too quickly and the layer will appear dusty or grey).  Once chocolate is set, cut to desired size and store in the refrigerator.

La La La Lemon Cake

Anyone who has ever dabbled in the kitchen has an arsenal of recipes that always work.  Call them what you want: sure things, shoo-ins, ace-in-the-hole.  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that they turn out every single time.  Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake is one of those recipes.  As versatile as Ryan Seacrest (wait…did I lose you there…sorry).  Let’s try this again.  As versatile as a pair of black Manolo Blahnik pumps, this little gem does everything.  Call it a loaf and you can serve it for breakfast or at brunch.  Call it a cake and magically, it’s dessert.  Smother it in blueberry sauce and you can call it whatever you want.  People will still devour it.

Let’s talk a moment about that “Y” word in the title.  Yes. Yogurt.  Or Yoghurt.  Back when I was a little girl, my mom used to make frozen yogurt pie as a dessert.  Yes, she also used to feed us carob by the pound.  Explains a lot doesn’t it?  Anyhow, her yogurt pie was literally yogurt from the carton (usually berry), poured into a pie tin and then frozen in the freezer.  And while it tasted about as good as you think it would, it was healthy.  True, Lemon Yogurt Cake does have yogurt in it.  However, I make no pretense that it is healthy.  The yogurt makes it extra moist.  And extra good.  And that should be enough without pretending to add “healthy” to the whole thing.

I should note here that while the recipe below makes a single loaf, I always double it because really, what else are you going to do with plain, full-fat yogurt?  Doubling the recipe works great.

Lemons abound in this recipe.  They are in the batter, in the syrup and in them glaze.  Mmmmm….lemony….

This is also a no-machinery, two bowl recipe.  Dry ingredients get mixed into one bowl.  In another goes all wet ingredients but the oil.  And please, take the time to whisk in each egg individually.

After the dry ingredient are mixed in to the wet ingredients, adding the oil is the final step. It’s a little laborious, but be gentle.  And patient.

While your loaf is loafing in the oven, it’s time to make the syrup.  This is just a simple syrup: lemon juice and sugar.  Pour them into the pan, bring to a simmer, turn off the heat and let it cool (you could strain-out the lemon pulp but I don’t).

When the cakes come out, let them cool for about 10 minutes.

Then, while they are still warm you want to remove them from their cozy little pans, ambush them, and stab them all over with a bamboo skewer.  This is where the “adapted” part of the recipe comes in.  I’ve always done this.  However, when recently reviewing the recipe I realized that Ina’s recipe in no way suggests this form of violence.  There is a reason we always hurt the ones we love.  In this case it is to better distribute the syrupy goodness.

Once the cakes are liberated from their pans and resting on a cooling rack over a cookie pan (or a similar contraption that will allow the wayward syrup to drain), slowly pour syrup over loaf.


Things can easily end here.  Just let the loaf cool and you are in business.  I usually end here if serving this for brunch.  But if you want to add one more layer of lemon, a simple icing of confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice makes this recipe even better.

Lemon Yogurt Cake

Slightly adapted from Ina Garten


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease, flour and line pan with parchment.

Sift  together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl.  In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pierce cake all over with a bamboo skewer than pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.