Cleopatra (Vineyard) Cake

Does your mom like wine?  Of course she does.  That is why you should probably make her this cleopatra/vineyard cake for Mother’s Day.

I’ve made my devotion to Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh no secret around here, exhibits: damn cake, tahini cookies and chocolate Krantz cakes.  I recently spent a very enjoyable afternoon going through their book Sweet cover to cover earmarking recipes to try.

Intruiged by a cake with grapes, their cleopatra cake was first on the list.

According to the authors, the recipe came from Mr. Ottonlenghi’s friend who found the original in Gourmet magazine.  Got and Ottonlenghi then adapted it for Valentine’s Day, coronated it Cleopatra cake (on account of the grapes that serve as jewels on this crown of a cake).

The grapes are a lovely addition, but this really is a wine-forward cake.  Like, WINE forward.  The recipe calls for a specific dessert wine called Carte Or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.  I did a little research before I went hunting for it locally and while it seems well known in Europe (and a favorite of Nigella Lawson), it’s not as common in the U.S.

So, I substituted a nice muscat-based dessert wine.  One word of warning: if you decide to make this cake, be prepared to use the whole bottle.  I did not play close attention to the amount the recipe calls for when I bought the wine and was surprised when called to drain every last drop of the bottle into my measuring cup.

But, come on, your mom is worth it.  As I mentioned, this is a wine forward cake…kind of like your grandmother’s holiday rum cake.  It is rich, fragrant and very indulgent.  As such, a little goes a long way so this would be fantastic to bring to a Mother’s Day brunch.  As a bonus, because this cake is so fortified, it will stay fresh (nay, dare I say even get better) for a few days.

And happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.  I raise a toast (wine, cake or both) to you all!

Cleopatra (Vineyard) Cake

Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh in Sweet

Ingredients

for cake

  • 4 C (500g) all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 2/3 C (300g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 C (170g) unsalted butter, at room temp plus extra for greasing
  • 1/2 C (80ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • finely grated zest of 2 lemons (2 tsp)
  • finely grated zest of 1 orang (2 tsp)
  • scraped seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 C (450ml) Carte Or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise wine (or other dessert wine made from white grapes)
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100g) red grapes washed and halved lengthwise

for sugar crust topping

  • 5 TBS (70g) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/3 C (70g) granulated sugar
  • 3 /12 ounces (100g) seedless red grapes, washed and halved lengthwise

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch round 4-inch deep angel food cake or chiffon pan, tapping away excess flour.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into bowl and set aside.
  3. Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.  Add the butter, olive oil, lemon and orange zests and vanilla seeds and beat for two minutes on medium high until smooth and fluffy.  Add the eggs one-at-a-time beating well after each addition.
  4. Turn the speed to low and add a third of the flour mixture followed by half of the wine.  Repeat with the remaining flour and wine, finishing with the final third of flour and continuing to beat on low speed.  Once combined, pour into prepared cake pan and scatter the grapes evenly on the top.
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. To make the sugar topping (while cake is in the oven), place the butter and sugar in a small bowl and beat with a wooden spoon to form a thick paste.  When the cake has been in the oven for 20 minutes, quickly but gently remove it and dot the sugar crust evenly over the top, breaking it into small pieces as you go.  Scatter the grapes evenly over the top and return to oven.
  7. Lower oven temp to 350 degrees F.
  8. Bake cake for another 35-40 or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan.  The cake can either be served strait away or stored in an airtight container.

Ruth Reichl Said to Make These

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only recently discovered Ruth Reichl.  Earlier this year, a friend recommended Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table, by the former Gourmet Magazine Editor in Chief (among many the other accomplishments including four James Beard Awards).

Actually it wasn’t so much a recommendation as it was a reference to the book the friend assumed I had already read.  Again, embarrassed.  So, in turn, I’m assuming everyone else already knows (and has known for most of her more than 40 year career) who she is.

But, just in case not: she’s wonderful.

Anyhow, in April of this year, Epicurious ran a feature by Ms. Reichl titled “I’m Ruth Reichl, and These Are the Best Recipes from my Gourmet Years.

Knowing what I had learned just before this article came out, I was ready to take her word for it and, went straight for the first of two dessert recipes featured in the article: a Raspberry Crumble Tart by Ruth Cousineau featured in the August 2006 edition.

The first thing that jumped out at me was that the recipe calls for six, yes 6 cups of fresh raspberries (that’s four of those little containers these expensive little jewels usually come in).

Looking between my tart pan and the bowl of berries, I couldn’t quit figure out how I was going to get them all in there.  Me of little faith.

The next notable thing about this recipe is that the fruit does not get sweetened.  Here are in ingredients for the raspberry filling: raspberries.  There is some sugar in the crumble on top, but none in the fruit.  Again, me of little faith.

Finally, there is the crumble.  To be clear, you could put crumble on an old sock and I’d eat it.  With enthusiasm.  But, I at least, generally think of crumble as a topping on something homey and unrefined.  On an elegant tart? Well.

You don’t need to hear it from me because Ruth Reichl already said it–but I’m going to say it anyway: trust the process.  To begin, your house will smell like everything early spring and summer hint at being: tangy, sweet and full of promise.  Then there is the tart itself, as inviting as it is sophisticated.  Sweetened only by the berries, the filling is bright, clean and gorgeous against the crumble rich crust.  Serve it with a generous dollop of real whipped cream and nobody will remember the meal (or anything else) that came before it.

Raspberry Crumble Tart

Gourmet Magazine, August 2006

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 C) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 C cold vegetable shortening (butter works just fine here if you don’t have shortening…don’t sweat it)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 to 7 TBS ice water
  • 3/4 C whole almonds (3 ounces), chopped (TMH–I used blanched almonds because I already had them)
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 4 (6-ounces) containers fresh raspberries (6 cups)

Directions

Make dough:

  1. Blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Transfer 2 cups mixture to a bowl and drizzle 4 tablespoons ice water evenly over it (reserve remaining mixture). Stir gently with a fork until incorporated.
  2. Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring until incorporated. (Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.)
  3. Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all dough together with pastry scraper and press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk. If dough is sticky, dust lightly with additional flour. Wrap disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Make topping while dough chills:

  1. Add almonds and sugar to reserved dough mixture in a bowl and rub together until some large clumps form.

Assemble pie:

  1. Put a large baking sheet on oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out disk of dough into a 14- by 13-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit into tart pan and trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under pastry and press against rim of pan to reinforce edge. Fill shell with berries and sprinkle evenly with topping. Bake tart in pan on baking sheet until topping and crust are golden and filling is bubbling, about 55 to 60 minutes (loosely cover with a sheet of foil after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning). Cool in pan on a rack 20 minutes, then remove side of pan and cool tart completely, about 45 minutes.

Ginger and Hibiscus Scones

Usually, my trips to Traders Joes are surigcal.  I’m there right when they open.  I have a list. And, I follow the list with tunnel vision.  I do not stroll.  I do not look around me. This is because  I have to do my TJs run on Saturday mornings.  Just like everyone else.

A couple of months ago my parents were in town for a visit.  They live outside of Bozeman Montana.  And while it has a lot going for it, Bozeman does not have a Trader Joes (I think the closest one is in Salt Lake City).

My parents have lived there full-time for nearly 10 years.  My mom still hasn’t gotten over the lack of a local TJs.

For this reason, California visits by my parents involve multiple trips to Trader Joes.  I was out and about with them for one visit.  Because it wasn’t Saturday morning, my local TJs was actually hospitable.  So, we worked our way up and down every single aisle.  By aisle two I had to abandon my basket for a cart as treasures like I’d never seen were revealed to me.  Pancake bread?  Yes please.  Mushroom umami salt?  Sign me up.  Dried hibiscus flowers?  Sure–I know I can come up with a way to use them.

I am a collector of “things I’ll figure out how to bake with.”  I have two bins full of wonders like honey powder, freeze dried corn and dried blueberries.

This time, I actually already had something in mind when I picked up the dried hibiscus flowers.  Whole Foods makes a fantastic ginger scone.  They’re crumbly, spicy and just sweet enough.  I don’t eat them very often but every time I do I think “I gotta make these.” I then immediately forget until the next time I eat a Whole Foods ginger scone.  You know how it goes.

Luckily, I’d just had one the week before so the pump was primed.  Hibiscus flowers are aromatic, slightly sour (but in the good way) and at least to my taste buds, reminiscent of citrus.  I thought they might be good friends with candied ginger.

I used buttermilk in this recipe as opposed to the traditional cream because I already had it. I worked.  But, cream would work too.

And instead of traditional pie wedges, I decided to go with cut-out rounds.  That’s how Whole Foods does them.

But, I give instructions for both shapes in the recipe (and, next time I make them, I’ll do the wedges–these looked too much like biscuits to my eyes).

My guess was correct–ginger and hibiscus do pair well together.  The same combo would also be great in a muffin or loaf.

Ginger and Hibiscus Scones

adapted from Ginger Scones by Elise Bauer on Simply Recipes

makes 12-18 scones depending on size

Ingredients

  • 3 C (400 g) all purpose flour
  • 3/4 C (160 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 C (110 g) candied ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 C (73g) dried hibiscus flowers (found at Trader Joes)*
  • 1 TBS fresh ginger, grated
  • 3/4 C (200 ml)  buttermilk at room temp
  • 10 TBS (140 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 1 TBS coarse sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)
  • 1 egg + 2 TBS water (for egg wash)

* There are multiple kinds of hibiscus flours.  For this recipe, I used the kind that are similar to dried fruits like these dried eatable hibiscus flowers.  You can also get hibiscus flours that have been dried for tea.  This version is more desiccated like these organic hibiscus flowers.  The latter would work as well but the result would be more like adding dried tea to the dough rather than a dried fruit.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (or 200°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Stir in the gingers and hibiscus flowers until combined.
  4. Add-in the cold butter pieces. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry mixture until the “dough” resemble wet sand with larger pea-sized pieces of butter.
  5. Create a well in the center of the flour, pour in  the buttermilk. Gently mix with a wooden spoon until the flour mixture is just moistened. The mixture should look very shaggy.
  6. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface.  Give the dough two or three kneads (to just barely pull it together).  You have a couple of options here.  To make triangular scones, divide the dough into two and form each into a round disc.  Cut each disc into 6 pie parts.  You could also use a biscuit cutter.  To do this, flatten the dough into a disk.  Using biscuit cutter, cut out rounds.  Once all rounds that will fit have been cut, push remaining dough together and cut again. Repeat until you cannot cut any more rounds.  Do remix dough as you go.  Just squish together.
  7. Place triangles or rounds on baking sheets with a couple of inches in-between each.  Bruch the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until scones are lightly browned on top (start checking at 15 minutes).  Cool on cooling rack.  Best served the day-of but can be stored for a couple of days in an airtight container (you just lose the crunchy texture).

Blueberry Pancake Bread

Just when you start to think all the things have been baked, Trader Joes goes and invents pancake bread.

And, because it’s Trader Joes, pancake bread is now every where.  Impending recession?  Government shutdown?  Global warming?  Yeah, but have you tried TJ’s pancake bread?

First things first, pancake bread does not taste like pancakes.  Not even a little bit.  It’s delicious.  But, it doesn’t taste like pancakes.

Which is good for me because I make certifiably terrible pancakes.  I can whip up a batch of rough puff, no problem.  But, ask me to make pancakes and I’m at a loss.  Luckily, TD figured this out very quickly and doesn’t ever ask for the least elevated of all the cakes.  Parenthetically, I think I’m a poor pancake provider because I really don’t like them.  I know, it’s un-American and all that.  Pancakes just aren’t my jam so I’ve never been particularly motivated to master them.

But back to the pancake bread.  After trying the TJs version I thought I’d come up with my own.  With blueberries and an optional freeze dried blueberry crumble.

This loaf has all of the elements of a great stack of pancakes: fresh blueberries, buttermilk, and  maple syrup.

I’m of the opinion that in this case, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.  But that’s probably because this blueberry bread tastes nothing like pancakes.

If you decide to make this, especially for pancake adoring fans, I suggest you employ the placebo effect.  Tell them what it’s called.  Maybe list some of the pancake ingredients.  And leave it at that.

I’m fairly confident that believing in the pancake could make it so.

Blueberry Pancake Bread

makes two regular loaves

Ingredients

for the streusel (optional)

  • 1/2 C ground freeze dried blueberries, finely ground
  • 4 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 TBS flour
  • 3 TBS cold butter

for the bread

  • 3 C all purpose flour (plus 1/4 C for blueberries)
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 C butter, softened (I use unsalted)
  • 1 C sugar
  • 2/3 C maple syrup
  • 4 large eggs, at room temp
  • 1 C buttermilk, at room temp

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two 9X5 (or similar size) loaf pans with parchment.  Then butter or oil pans.  Set aside.
  2. To make streusel, in a small bowl, combine flour, blueberries and brown sugar. Cut butter into small pieces. Using the tips of your fingers, cut the butter into the sugar mix until combined (butter pieces should be pea sized, maybe smaller).  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
  4. Set blueberries in a fine meshed sieve and sprinkle reserved 1/4 C flour over. Gently toss blueberries so that they are covered in flour.  This will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter.
  5. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or electric mixer), cream butter until light, about 2 minutes.  Add-in sugar and syrup.  Beat for another couple of minutes.
  6. Beat-in eggs on at a time.
  7. Starting and ending with the flour, add 1/3 flour, combine and then add 1/2 buttermilk.  Mix after each until just combined.  Repeat until you end with the last of the flour.
  8. Gently fold-in blueberries with a spatula (do not use mixer).
  9. Fill loaf pans with batter and sprinkle tops with streusel.
  10. Bake, both loaves at the same time, for 45-60 minutes, rotating pans at the 30 minute mark.  At 45 minutes, start checking for doneness by inserting a wooden skewer into the middle of the loaf.  Loaf is done with skewer pulls out with barely dry crumbs.
  11. Allow to cool in pans for 5-10 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely on cooling rack.

 

Rugelach, Ugh

Over the years I’ve made a few attempts at rugelach.  At its best, this deli favorite is  flakey, nutty, just barely sweet and a little chewy from the carmelized jam.  Even not at its best, this cream-cheese based pastry is pretty delicious.

And then there are my versions.  My fault, I think, lay in attempting the lovely crescent shaped version.  Perhaps I was too heavy handed with the preserves because everything would leak out and sort of cement the cookie to the parchment.

A couple of years ago, Deb Pearlman of Smitten Kitchen did a sort of study on variations of the rugelach shape.  And, because she’s one of my kitchen heroes, I took good notes when I rediscovered the post earlier this year.

With her help, I made the move from crescents to rolls.  It’s made all the difference.  Fair warning, rugelach (even in easier shapes) is a finicky mistress.  While the dough comes together easily and quickly in a food processor, it is sticky and only behaves when really cold.

Rugelach also takes some diligence.  Not happy to be rolled out in a single attempt, the dough insists on being addressed one-quarter at a time.  Listen to the recipe.  I didn’t the first time.  I wished I had.   Funny (or maybe just typical) story about the rugelach pictured here.  I knew I had a jar of raspberry preserves in the cupboard and grabbed the new jar for this recipe.  On the first roll-out of dough I thought, ‘hmmm, the seeds in this raspberry jam are all clumped together, how weird.’ I pulled off the little ball of seeds and tossed them.  On the second round I thought, strange, this is really is pink for raspberry jam.  On the third round I observed how strawberry-like the jam smelled.  It wasn’t until I was doing the last roll out that I actually looked at the jar.  Yep, it was strawberry.

My rugelach competency leaves something to be desired.  Luckily, much of the fun is in the practice.  I’m also going to leave you with the link to Deb Pearlman’s recipe and instructions.  I haven’t advanced enough to add my own spin.  And, not that I’d question her (other than to ask her to be my bestie in baking), but I did my own research and she’s right.  There really is only one recipe for rugelach dough.  The success (or in my case, middling okayness) it seems, lies with the baker.

Smitten Kitchen’s Variously Shaping Rugelach

Have fun!

After the Girls Scouts are gone…

To be clear, there is no replacement for bonafide Girl Scout thin mints. Also to be clear, thin mints are the only Girl Scout cookie. O.N.L.Y.

And while I think many of us have gotten wise and learned to squirrel away a box or two in the freezer, let’s be honest–even the most stalwart of thin mint hoarders never makes it through the year.

I’ve got a stop-gap for you.  These aren’t quite thin mint duplicates.  But, they’ll do during the long, dark days of summer when that neatly stacked roll of  crumbly minty, chocolate goodness is but a distant memory.

True thin mints are more cookie than chocolate.  These are about two-parts chocolate to one part cookie.  This is because unlike the Girl Scouts of America, I have to hand-dip.  And, I use real chocolate, not chocolate flavored dip mixture.  I mean, you can use those melt things you find at Michaels if you want.  I won’t judge.  Too much.

As you’ll see in the recipe, there is very little sugar in the cookie dough.  Two reasons for this.  First, you’re going to use an entire tin of crushed Altoids.  Trust me.  Don’t hold back.  Second, because they are enrobed  in chocolate, the cookie doesn’t really need to be sweet.

A word to the wise on dipping.  See how the cookies are neatly lined up on the rack below?  Don’t do that.  I made a complete rookie mistake in thinking this would allow the excess chocolate to drip.  It did not.  Instead it allowed the chocolate to fuse with the rack grid making it nearly impossible to free the individual cookies without ruining them.  Instead do what I’ve got going on in the corner: dip and then gently set directly onto parchment.

I made another grave mistake when making these.  Once complete, I photographed them, packed them up and immediately gave them away.

This means I missed the crucial step of setting some aside to freeze.  Seriously?  SERIOUSLY?  Is there any other way to eat them?

Speaking of Girl Scouts, I only lasted a year.  It was the third grade.  I was a brownie.  In retrospect, I should have loved the experience–they did all the stuff I liked to do: socialize, earn rewards for completing tasks,  arts and crafts.  There were snacks.  However, eight year old me had strong sartorial objections to the outfit.  I hated it.  And, so ended my career.

(Okay, I also switched schools between third and fourth grade which is probably the real reason my mom let me off the hook.  But as I remember it, it was just one in a string of fashion boycotts that shaped my participation in youth activities.)

Thinish Mints

Makes about 48

the cookie base is adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Cocoa-Cayenne Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 tin of peppermint altoid mints, finely ground
  • 1 1/2 C (204 grams) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 C (42 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound, 8 ounces, 226 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 12 ounces chocolate of your choice for melting and dipping

Directions

  1. Sift together flour and cocoa powder, set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and salt on low until creamy; about 2 minutes.
  3. Add sugar and ground Altoids and beat thoroughly until incorporated; about 2 minutes.
  4. Add in egg yolk and combine.
  5. Turn off mixer.  Add all flour.  If you are concerned about flying flour, cover mixer with tea towel and mix on low (skip the towel if you are flying particle carefree) until just combined.  The dough will be soft and crumbly.  That’s good.
  6. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to a bout 1/4 inch thickness in-between two pieces of parchment.  Freeze for at least an hour, better over night.
  7. After dough has frozen, preheat oven to 350 degrees. You’ll cycle through about 4 sheet pans but can do 2 and 2 or even 1 at a time, depending on your supplies.  Line what you have with parchment.
  8. With a 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter (I obviously used round but use what toots your horn), cut out cookies and place about a dozen on eat sheet.  Once you cut out all you can, form scraps into a ball and re-roll between parchment.  Put back in freezer for at least 10 minutes and then repeat until you’ve used all the dough (note, you can start baking–no need to wait until all dough is rolled).
  9. Bake, two sheets at a time for about 14 minutes, rotating pans halfway through.  You’ll know the cookies are done when they feel slightly firm to the tough (and they’ll spring back a little when touched).  Allow to sit on sheet pan for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely.
  10. If you are short on time like me, you can stop here, wrap the baked cookies well in a freezer ziplock and freeze for up to a month.  Or, just wait for the cookies to completely cool before dipping in chocolate.
  11. Melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a simmering pot of water (or use a double boiler if you have one).  Have a couple of sheet pans lined with parchment ready.
  12. Once chocolate is melted, dip cookies one at a time, flipping them in the chocolate and then gently set to Harden directly on parchment.  I find using a fork works well here: set cookie flat on fork, dip and then allow excess chocolate to drip into pot of chocolate before sitting on parchment.
  13. Allow chocolate to set until hard.

Gunga Galunga (Via Corona yard update)

After writing the final check to our builders in early 2018, we laid low with Via Corona for most the year.  It was nice to just hang out, let her settle (literally) and, you know, not hemhorrage money.

Our one major task for Via Corona in 2018 was to address the remaining strip of dirt that was our front and side yards.

Lest you have forgotten just how awful Via Corona’s yard began, allow me to refresh your memory.  Though there isn’t much to it, when we moved in, Via Corona’s yard was derelict.

Though we encountered its destitution every time we visited the house, we somehow completely forgot to include it in our renovation plans.

Which turned out to be okay since TD and I watched a ton of YouTube videos and learned how to do some yard stuff.

You can see the entire madcap adventure (montage included) in our Working Har Har Hard on the Yard Yard Yard post.

We gave ourselves some serious back pats for our landscaping accomplishments and have continued to do so while we’ve kept everything alive.

YouTube learning (actually, let’s be honest, TD and I) has its limits however and alas, a significant portion of the yard remained, shall we say, au natural.

A couple of things were keeping us from moving forward.  First, we needed an irrigation system and we needed to figure out if we could do it ourselves.  I’ll cut to the chase tout suite.  The answer was no.  Like, NO! With that out of the way we had a second obstacle: our neighbors.  We’ve got a leaning wall between the two properties.  They’ve got a leaning fence.  We wanted to pull down the wall and have a nice redwood fence built.  They had some “concerns.”  After several months and unsuccessful attempts at understanding their concerns in a way that would cost us less than $50,000, we gave up on that version of the plan.  We’ve got bigger, badder ideas for that wall down the road and have decided to play the neighbor long game.

Obstacles out of the way, we had the irrigation and sod installed in something like 48 hours. Almost over night we went from “dirt patch alley” to “pass me a beer, where’s the corn hole?”

Cool slider alert:

While we may have conceded (temporarily) on the long wall battle, we did win some view.  We’re quick learners and when it came to the short wall, we didn’t consult with anyone and had the nice professionals open things up a bit for us.

Another cool slider alert:

 

Via Corona has wrap-around grass.  All my life’s wishes I didn’t know I had have been fulfilled.

Final cool slide alert:

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished.  The sod had been down less than a week before the gophers moved in.  And then the skunks and raccoons started taking advantage of the worm-rich soil and regularly aerating the sod.

So, we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

Want more Via Corona renovation stories?  Of course you do: Via Corona The Remodel

Mula Pie

Growing up in San Diego my family had a tradition of visiting Jake’s in Del Mar for special occasions.  Part of the TS Restaurant Group (think Kimo’s and Dukes), Jake’s edges right over the surf and is a favorite spot for watching the sunset while enjoying excellent seafood and fresh sourdough bread.

As much as we’d ooh and ahh over the the tenderness of the sea bass or buttery ahi, the whole meal was just prelude for the dinner’s denoument: the hula pie.

If you haven’t already been inducted (and you’d know if you were), hula pie is a concoction of mounds of macadamia nut ice cream perched on top of a cookie crust and drenched in hot fudge.  While meant to be shared, even a slice of the slice is enough to put you into a deep sugar coma in the very best way.

Since my parents moved to Montana full time nearly 10 years ago and Dukes in Malibu is a hearty drive, I decided to make my own version for my folk’s visit last month.  My parents live just outside of Bozeman Montana.  According to Sunset magazine and more than a handful of best places to live rankings, Bozeman is a happening place.  While this may be true, they still don’t have a Trader Joe’s and so as an homage to my mom’s favorite state’s away grocery, I used as many Trader Joes ingredients as I could muster.

The original hula pie I made with an alarming amount of academic nut ice cream.  This version has that in additional to a layer of coffee ice cream elevating the hula to a mula: the hula and mud pie love child.

I started with a nine-inch pie tin.  I quick baked a Joe Joe’s chocolate crust and painted on a thin layer of hot fudge.  To this I added a leveled-off layer of coffee ice cream.

Since macadamia nut ice cream can be hard to find outside of Hawaii, I came across an easy fix (that I really should have come up with on my own): soften the ice cream and then beat-in the macademia nuts.

The trick with the macadamia nut ice cream (that I somehow didn’t photograph) is to use a bowl with the same diameter as the inside of your pie tin.  Line that bowl with plastic wrap and then fill it with the softened ice cream.

This next part is important: freeze both the bowl and pie tin of ice cream over night.  The pieces need to be really, really frozen for what comes next.

Once everything is frozen and the pieces are fit together, it’s time for the fudge.  I’ll tell you, I had a hard time with this.  My suggestion is to have the fudge ready at room temp.  Then place the pie tin on a larger plate and working very quickly, pour out the fudge and “ice” the dome with an off-set spatula.  You are going to have some drippage over the side.  You may have more than some.  Don’t worry about it.  Just know–there will be chocolate all over your kitchen.

When you are ready to serve, heat up the leftover hot fudge, cut a thick slice.  Smother in the warmed fudge, sprinkle some macadamia nuts and garnish with whipped cream (if you dare).

It took four of us five sittings to get through the entire pie.  It was rough, but we’re not quitters.

Mula Pie

Ingredients

for the hot fudge

  • 6 ounces chocolate chips (pick your type)
  • 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 C corn syrup
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt

for the pie (this makes a nine-inch pie, adjust ingredient volume as needed)

  • One column plus two cookies of your favorite chocolate sandwich cookie (Oreo’s, Joe Joe’s, Hydrox etc)
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 1 Quart coffee ice cream (strongly recommend Trader Joe’s version) [you probably won’t use all…]
  • 1/2 Gallon vanilla ice cream [you won’t need all of it]
  • 4 + 1 ounces of macadamia nuts (I prefer roasted and salted) separated
  • Hot fudge sauce
  • Whipping cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. If using a 9-inch pie tin, find a bowl that fits just inside the inner rim of the tin.  It’s okay if the bowl is just under the diameter (up to 1/4 inch) but it shouldn’t overhang.
  3. Using a food processor or by hand (a ziplock and rolling pin will work), finely grind chocolate sandwich cookies until you’ve got chocolate dirt.
  4. Melt butter.  Combine with ground sandwich cookies and press into pie tin.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
  5. While crust bakes, pull ice creams from the freezer and allow to soften.
  6. Chop macadamia nuts.
  7. Once vanilla ice cream is softened to soft serve consistency, place in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add-in four ounces of the chopped macadamia nuts and mix on low until nuts are combined.
  8. Line your pie-tin fitting bowl with plastic wrap so that there is enough allowance around the edges to wrap across the top of the bowl once it is filled.
  9. Fill plastic-lined bowl with the macadamia nut ice cream.  Press ice cream into the bowl so that it is densely packed.  Wrap top of bowl with edges and freeze over night.
  10. Fill cooled chocolate crust with coffee ice cream so that the ice cream is densely packed and level with the top of the crust (I know there is a layer of fudge in the pictures–my recommendation is to wait until you are ready to cover the dome with fudge to make the sauce–it will be easier to work with than attempting to reheat and spread).  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze over night.
  11. To make the fudge sauce, in a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan, warm corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk, whisk to combine.  Remove from burner and add-in chocolate (chopped if not using chips) and butter.  Allow to sit for five minutes to melt.  Once chocolate is melted, add in salt and whisk until smooth.
  12. Pull pie tin and bowl of ice cream from freezer and unwrap. Fit ice cream dome on top of unwrapped pie.  The dome should fit level with rim of the tin (or just below).  Place pie tin on plate with enough lip to catch overflowing hot fudge.
  13. With the fudge sauce at room temp and starting at the top of the dome, quickly pour and spread 2/3 of the fudge with off-set spatula.  Work quickly and don’t worry if you have an occasional bald spot.  Place pie in freezer and allow to freeze for at least an hour.
  14. Check pie.  There is a good chance that some of the fudge will have migrated off the pie and onto the plate.  If so, scoop up and add to the top of the pie.  Freeze until ready to serve.
  15. To serve, gently heat remaining fudge sauce.  Cut pie, drizzle warmed fudge, sprinkle with remaining macadamia nuts and garnish with whipped cream.

 

 

Variations on a sable

At this point I must have half a dozen sable recipes scattered throughout TMH’s pages.  I just can’t help myself.  And, I have no intention of stopping.

When the Wall Street Journal published their mother recipe for sables in the Off Duty section just before the holidays I was on it like an otter on an oyster.

I had some leftover candied orange peel and ginger from my own holiday baking and decided to throw them in.

As a category, sables are a lesson in simplicity.  Just four ingredients: butter, sugar, flour and salt.  And this recipe my friends, is the closest I’ve come to the golden quadrangle.

Slightly sweet, crumbly and while delicious plain, just asking for fun and unique combinations.

If you decide to fancy-up your sables, you’ll need about 3/4 to 1 cup of goodies.  Need some ideas?  How about:

  • Any kind of freeze dried fruit, chopped (Trader Joes is a great source)
  • Citrus zest: lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange
  • Herbs: fresh mint, rosemary, thyme, lavender (as a note–start with 1 TBS chopped and go from there).  If you are going to herbs, a good way to further infuse flavor is to measure out your sugar and add it and your herbs to a ziplock bag.  Let “steep” for at least an hour.
  • Chocolate: any kind.  Chop it up and add it in
  • Teas: Chai, Earl Grey and fruity teas work well.  Depending on how strong you want the flavor,  start with a teaspoon and go from there
  • Candied fruit

Master Sable Recipe

The Wall Street Journal

makes 24 cookies

note–this recipe doubles very well

Ingredients

  • 11 TBS (1 stick plus 3 TBS) unsalted butter at room temp (use good quality here with high fat content like Plugra)
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
  • 1 3/4 C all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 C sanding sugar, turbanado or Demarara for rolling
  • 1 C total mix-ins of choice

Directions

  1. Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and whipped, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add sugar and continue beating until well incorporated. Add salt and beat to combine.
  3. Add flour and beat until almost all flour disappears into the dough.  Finish by giving the dough a few good folds with a rubber spatula.  The dough will be crumbly.
  4. Divide dough in half (I use the food scale here but eye balling works).  Gently coax first half into a general log shape.  Set the log on to parchment paper and roll it back and forth until you have an even log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 8ish inches long.  Set aside and repeat with other log.
  5. Sprinkle the sanding/decorating sugar onto your parchment and gently roll each log until the surface is completely coated.
  6. Roll each log individually in either plastic wrap or parchment.  As a note, I first roll the log in a sheet of parchment, then place in a paper-towel roll and THEN wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap.  Rolls can now be frozen for up to two months.  They can also be baked from frozen but I prefer to move them to the fridge a couple of hours before I want to bake, I think they cut more nicely.
  7. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds in the oven.  Line baking sheets with parchment.
  8. Remove parchment/paper towel/plastic wrap from logs.  Using a sharp knife, cut into 3/8 inch disks.  Arrange cookies on baking sheets with about an inch in-between (the sables will not spread).
  9. Bake for 18-21 minutes rotating sheets halfway through and until sables are lightly toasted.  Let stand for 1-2 minutes then slide the parchment off the pan and onto a heat-proof surface.  Allow cookies to cool completely before removing from parchment.
  10. These freeze well.

Chocolate Licorice Brownie Cookies

Hey, hey, hey wait a second.  Give this a chance before you run away screaming.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve made every cookie out there.  Were I enterprising, the next step would be to work out my own original recipes.  Alas, that will have to wait until my brain is less stuffed with other, more important things (eg whether our bathtub is big enough to keep a pet otter happy and, when I get a pet otter, what I will name it).

So, when I came across a recipe for salty black licorice brownie cookies by Charli Nowak over on Food 52, I was over on Amazon ordering ingredients before I’d even finished reading the article.

Now, I know what you are thinking–adding chocolate to black licorice is like putting lipstick on a pig.  But, stick with me. Something cool happens when you mix the earthy, herbal flavors of anise and licorice root with the smoky sweet flavors of deep dark chocolate.

I’ll admit, my own pump for licorice and chocolate were primed before I saw the recipe.  I’ve been thinking about creating an All Sorts French macaroon for a few months.  If you are a fan of these licorice candies paired with a host of flavors and stacked into colorful little blocks, you already know that chocolate and licorice are good friends.

These cookies are indulgent and immensely satisfying.  They’re deeply chocolate with enough je ne sais quoi to make them sophisticated and dare I say, sexy. Think Valentine’s Day worthy.

Still not convinced?  I’ve got you covered.

In the name of research, I offered up a couple to TD without mentioning the unusual ingredients.  TD is squarely in the no black jelly bean camp.

The verdict?  He was a big fan.

When I asked if he could identify the secret ingredients he guessed chocolate.

Did you know TD is the Latin abbreviation for Captain Obvious?

I ordered my licorice root powder and ground anise from Amazon in larger quantities because, as I mentioned, I have bigger plans for these flavors.  However, you should be able to find them at a spice shop like Penzy’s.  Or, if you live close and want to make these, let me know and I’ll share my stash.

Salty Black Licorice Brownie Cookies

adapted just a bit from Charli Nowak for Food 52

Ingredients

  • 7 ounces 60% dark chocolate chips
  • 2 TBS water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • stick (1/4 pound or 8 TBS) unsalted butter
  • large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 3 TBS black cocoa powder (or Dutch-processed cocoa powder)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 TBS licorice root powder (available in specialty spice stores)
  • 2 tsp ground anise
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (plus more or flaky salt for sprinkling on top)
  • optional: 6 ounces mini chocolate chips or finely chopped dark chocolate bits optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line 4 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. Place butter in a small pot over medium heat and begin melting. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until butter begins to brown and smell nutty. Immediately pour over chocolate mixture and stir until completely melted. Set aside.
  3. To the hot, melted butter, add chocolate, water, and vanilla extract.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes and then whisk until smooth.
  4. Place eggs and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on high speed for 7 minutes until eggs are pale and ribbony.
  5. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, licorice root power, anise, and salt. Set aside.
  6. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add melted chocolate mixture. Once combined, add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
  7. Gently fold in chocolate chips
  8. Using your choice of scoop size (I used my favorite 1 1/2 TBS size, the original recipe called for a 3 TBS scoop), portion batter onto prepared trays leaving two inches between each. Sprinkle tops with flaky salt and bake until puffed and crackly, about 11 minutes. Remove from oven, give the tray a good smack against the counter, and let cool for at least 20 minutes.