Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Salted Honey Chess Pie

Salted Honey Chess Pie

I have been on a quest for some time now to create a dessert that really tastes of honey. I make amny desserts that have honey as a sweetener, but the rich, earthy taste of honey is often masked by other ingredients. I mastered the honey flavored cake with my  Honey Raspberry Cake, but then I tasted this amazing, almost creamy, honey tart at an afternoon tea in London. It was just one of several pastries on the lovely display. At first I thought it might just be whipped honey in a pastry case, but the server assured me it was a baked tart, but she had no recipe to give. When I returned to my kitchen, I googled around and found a number or English and Welsh honey tart recipes and got to work. But none of them had the potent hit of honey I was looking for. I experimented until I came on what I wanted – basically circling back to home to make a pie that tastes of honey with the texture of a classic chess. And I must say, I even impressed myself with this one.

With all things honey related, I use a locally sourced honey for purity of flavor. And there are lots of local sources of honey at farmers markets and local groceries. This pie is rich with honey, and I felt kind of genius when I added a dose of sea salt to cut through the sweetness and highlight the complexities of the honey. I love sprinkling the top with big flakes of sea salt, like Falk brand, but any flaky salt will do. I think this is best all on its own, but you could certainly add a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. Anything else will be too sweet and disrupt the beautiful salt-sweet balance.

I make my own pie crust – usually – but am not averse to using the ready-made rolls of crust. A removeable bottom tin works best here, but I sometimes fit the crust into a springform pan for an elegant straight sided look.

Salted Honey Chess Pie

For the crust:

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

2 to 4 Tablespoons ice water

For the Filling:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

¾ cup honey

¾ cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs

3 Tablespoons cornmeal

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup heavy cream

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

Flaky salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.  Drop in the small pieces of cold butter and pulse several times until the mixture is crumbly, but some minute pieces of butter are still visible.  Sprinkle the water over, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse to combine.  When the pastry just comes together, dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a disk about ¾ inch thick. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before rolling.

When ready to roll, place the disk on a lightly floured surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the pastry to a round about 14 inches in diameter, to fit a nine inch removable bottom tart pan.  Carefully drape the pastry over the rolling pin and transfer to the pie dish.  Gently fit into the bottom and sides of the dish.  Trim any overhanging pastry. Line the crust with parchment paper, then fill the paper with baking weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes until then remove from the oven, cool and remove the paper and weights.

For the Pie:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, honey and brown sugar until pale and shiny, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, cornmeal, flour and salt, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary, until thoroughly combined. Beat in the cream and lemon juice, scraping the bowl, until incorporated and smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until the filling is puffed and golden brown and not jiggly in the center. Cool completely, then chill, covered, in the fridge until firm, up to one day. Sprinkle the top with flaky sea salt before serving.

I find it easiest to slice the pie right out of the fridge, but best served with the chill off.

Serves 6

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Green Tomato Vanilla Cake

Green Tomato Vanilla Cake

Over the years, I have seen a number of recipes in old school Southern community cookbooks for green tomato cake. The idea intrigued me – it sounds so old fashioned and resourceful to me. I could just imagine a cook making the most of everything in the garden to create something special, or I like to imagine that this cake is born of scarcity, a recipe that uses what’s on hand rather than expensive or hard to come by fruit. I don’t actually know the origin. I marked those pages with little sticky flags and for a long time, never went back to them. The truth is, I’ve never really known what to do with green tomatoes, so I don’t usually have any to hand. Of course, fried green tomatoes (and there is a great recipe in my book Pimento Cheese the Cookbook) and once I made a fantastic green tomato marmalade, but I lost the recipe and can’t seem to find anything similar. So those little sticky flags languished and curled on the cookbook shelf. Until the day I bought a basket of green tomatoes at the farmers market to make some fried slices, but the dinner got cancelled, I didn’t want to do it just for myself etc etc, which left me stuck with some green tomatoes. I remembered those marked recipes and started to work. It took me many tries to land where I wanted. That the first attempt may not have been right, but there was something there to make me keep trying.

Some of those original recipes were of the old-fashioned kind that assume a lot of existing knowledge. One actually said to chop tomatoes fine and stir into a tube cake batter. Add cinnamon and nuts.  That’s the entire recipe. I searched the internet and found a few examples to try. There are sheet cake and Bundt cake ideas, but I like the dense beauty of a Bundt. Most of the recipes had nuts and/or raisins and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or apple pie spice. I liked those, but they really just seemed like spice cake with a stunt ingredient, not a special flavor all its own. I wanted more interest from the green tomatoes. So I stripped it back. Instead of beating butter and sugar, I went for a flavorless oil not to distract and to help keep things moist. A little lemon juice brightens it up and the vanilla is mellow and complimentary. This cake doesn’t shout green tomato, there is just this lovely, earthy mysterious background note.

I turn to green tomatoes from the farmers market at the end of the full, red juicy tomato season. They offer one last gasp of tomato as we move into Fall. This is one of those cakes that could be a dessert or a breakfast or an afternoon snack. You could try a simple glaze on top or drizzle it with honey or serve it with ice cream. It’s tender on the inside and with a wonderfully sweet crust.

Green Tomato Vanilla Cake

2 medium sized green tomatoes (a little less than 1 pound total)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup canola oil

4 large eggs

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Cut the tomatoes into rough chunks and place in the bowl of a small food processor. Pulse until the tomatoes are finely chopped – do not puree, just break them up into small pieces (you can also do this by hand). Scrape the tomato into a strainer and sprinkle over the salt. Leave the tomatoes to drain, stirring and pressing down a few times, for 15 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Put the flour, both sugars, baking powder and soda in the bowl of a stand mixer and turn it on low speed to stir together until combined and any clumps of brown sugar are broken up. Add the oil and beat to combine, then add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating in each egg before adding the next. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla until combined. Add the chopped tomatoes and beat for a few seconds, then use a spatula to evenly distribute the tomatoes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the cake out on a wire rack to cool completely.

The cake will keep tightly covered for a day.

Serves 10

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

Flaugnarde is a regional variation of the classic French clafouti, and similar to a more American Dutch baby. A simple vanilla and nutmeg batter surrounds the seasonal fruit and comes out of the oven puffed and golden, but settles into a lovely custard-y base for the juicy figs. And let’s face it fig flaugnarde is fun to say (it’s pronounced Flo-nyard). Nutmeg highlights the honeyed richness of the figs without detracting from their flavor. I love the speckled look of vanilla beans, and paste is a simple way to get the falvor and effect, but you can certainly scrape the seeds from a full bean, or just use a healthy dose of extract.

This could not be easier to make. Slice up some figs, swirl the batter in the blender and bake. It’s the perfect treat when you are surprised by the first figs at the market or on your tree – the ingredients are staples that come together in a flash. Flaugnarde is a dessert in the French tradition – not sugary sweet, just enough to bring out the flavor of the fruit. So that makes this perfect for dessert, but it is also a lovely breakfast. You can drizzle a little honey over the top, serve it with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, or leave it as is.

Fresh Fig Flaugnarde

8 – 10 fresh figs

2 eggs

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup half-and-half

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a 9-inch ceramic pie plate or baking dish with cooking spray.

Snip the stems from the figs and slice into about four vertical slices, around ¼ inch thick. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of fig slices, not overlapping.

Place the eggs, sugar, vanilla paste, nutmeg and a pinch of salt in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add the flour and half and half and blend until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. Pour the batter over the figs in the dish, then bake for 30 minutes, until the edges are puffed and golden and the center is set.

Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioners sugar.

Serves 6

Pavlova with Peach Curd, Fresh Peaches and Blackberries

Pavlova is a dinner party secret weapon. It is easy to make, can be done ahead in stages, is incredibly versatile and never fails to impress. Crisp on the outside, pillowy on the inside topped whatever delicious ideas you choose. I dreamed up this combination for a casual evening with friends inspired by an overabundance of summer fruit. I needed to use a lot of peaches, so adding a delicious layer of curd under some fresh slices upped the peach factor. When I served this, everyone oohed and aahed and took a small piece, but we ended up digging our forks into the slab right off the platter set in the center of the table.

The curd can be made several days ahead (just remember not to keep dipping into it too much while you wait!) and if there is any leftover it is wonderful on toast or swirled through yogurt. I like to make my pavlova the night before and leave it in the oven until ready use.  Humidity is not the friend of meringue and the oven is a nice, sealed storage unit. If you need the oven, transfer the pavlova to an airtight container. Assemble the whole right before serving or the pavlova will lose its lovely structure.

A note on the shape of your pavlova: Round is traditional, and you can certainly go that route. I like this rectangular version as well because it makes lots of space for the lovely toppings and is easy to slice and serve. Whichever way you go, pick out a serving platter and trace an outline on the parchment paper so that the finished product will fit. I used a 9 by 13 pan for this one or make about a 9-inch circle. Place the parchment paper on a baking sheet with the ink side down to use as guide to form the meringue. I like to use rimmed baking sheet flipped over so the parchment just slides right off without a risk of damaging the pavlova. You can spray a little cooking spray on the baking sheet to adhere the paper.

Pavlova with Peach Curd, Fresh Peaches and Blackberries

For the Peach Curd

2 peaches (about 14 ounces)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

4 egg yolks

2/3 cup granulated sugar

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

For the Pavlova:

4 egg white

A pinch of salt

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Assembly:

2 cups whipping cream

3 fresh peaches

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 cups fresh blackberries

For the Curd:

Put a strainer over a medium bowl and set by the stove.

Peel the peaches. For just two peaches, I use a vegetable peeler and leave a little bit of skin on to add color to the final product. Pit the peaches cut into rough chunks and puree in a blender with the lemon juice until smooth. Add the egg yolks and sugar and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the curd thickens. When you pull a spatula through the mixture, it should not run back together immediately. Dip a metal spoon in the mixture and when you run your finger through the clinging curd, the two sides should stay totally separate.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter a couple of pieces at a time, waiting until one addition is melted until adding more. When all the butter is incorporated, pour the curd through the waiting strainer, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and transfer to the fridge. The curd will keep in the fridge for 5 days.

For the Pavlova:

Preheat the oven to 250°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (see the note above) and set aside. 

Put the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium until the whites are foamy, then sprinkle over the cream of tartar. Beat at medium high until the whites hold soft peaks. While beating at medium high, slowly stream in the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, until the whites are really shiny and stiff. Beat until really stiff peaks form – run a spoon or a spatula through the mixture and the peaks should stand straight up and not flop over. The sugar should also dissolve. Take a pinck of the meringue between your fingers and when you rub then together there should be no grittiness. When the egg whites are stiff, sprinkle over the cornstarch and fold it in gently, making sure not to deflate your meringue. Add the vanilla and fold it in.

Scoop dollops of the meringue onto the prepared parchment paper, staying within the lines. Use an offset spatula to spread the meringue to fill your desired shape. Use the spatula to make a bit of an indention on the top of the pavlova to hold your fillings. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in for 4- 5 hours at least, but overnight is best.

Assembly:

Put the lemon juice in a bowl and add some water. Slice the peaches (leave the skin on) and drop into the water. Stir to coat, then drain the peaches. This will keep them from browning. (the peaches can be treated, drained and kept in covered bowl for about an hour).  

Right before you are ready to serve, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks in the stand mixer with the whisk. Carefully transfer the pavlova to a serving platter. Gently spread a generous layer of peach curd over the top of the pavlova, then spread the whipped cream over that. Top with the sliced peaches and blackberries.

Slice and serve.

Serves 8

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

This cake is absolutely the result of farmers market excitement. After being out of town for several weeks and missing my own local market, I couldn’t resist the abundance. I brought home with a basket of gorgeous nectarines and some fragrant lemon balm with no real plan to use them (there were also peaches, blueberries, blackberries and tomatoes in my bag). I have never really known what to do with lemon balm. I used to plant it in my herb bed and it grew like gangbusters. I’d use it to garnish plates or pitchers of tea. I dried some of it to make my own herbal tisane, but that was about it. So I stopped planting it. The thing is, I love the idea of lemon balm. It seems so delicate and old-fashioned to me. For some reason, it seems like something from Jane Austen or Miss Marple. With my unexpected market finds, I knew I needed to try a light and lovely cake, the kind of thing you might find on a linen draped outdoor tea table in an English country novel.

I am really pleased with myself on this one. The golden crumb is moist and tender and studded with pink and green from the fruit and herbs. The taste is really unique – lemony and fruity and herbal. A light sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar is enough for me, but a simple glaze could work. This cake is one of those ever-versatile treats, perfect with breakfast, with a lovely afternoon tea, or as a sweet summer dessert. If you can’t find lemon balm, you can use fresh garden mint and a little lemon zest. I have a small Bundt pan which is perfect for this and so delicate and lovely, but a loaf pan works just as well.

Nectarine and Lemon Balm Cake

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup finely chopped lemon balm

2 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 large nectarines, pitted and chopped

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 6-cup Bundt pan or a loaf pan with baking spray.

Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until combined, then add the lemon balm and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed, until thoroughly combined and the batter is light and fluffy. Fold the nectarine pieces into the batter with a spatula until evenly distributed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the pan, then turn the cake out onto a platter and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Serves 10

Lemon Blueberry Bars

Lemon Blueberry Bars

Sweet, sweet summer – the season bursting with berries. I try my best to eat seasonally – I very rarely have fresh blueberries when they are not in season, so I wait with anticipation for them to show up at the farmers markets. It makes them all the sweeter for the waiting. But that sometimes leads me to overbuy, so after the syrup and jams are made and I’ve eaten my fill out of hand, I look for some fun ways to bake with them. I found a blueberry lemon bar recipe in a magazine and the idea really excite me. I made it, but it was a disaster as a bar. It never set, the blueberries sort of bled out of the runny filling and all the crust was a sodden mess. I did taste the bit that had almost firmed up around the edges, and I will say, the flavor was delicious. The recipe, however, was a complete failure (that’s why I test and test). I went to work tinkering around until I ended up with what I wanted – a tangy lemon bar with delicious pops of fresh blueberry.

The lemon filling falls somewhere between custard and cake with a nice, tart finish and a sweet swirl of blueberry. They cut into lovely bars and make a wonderful picnic treat. They are nicely sweet, so you can serve them in small pieces. I get requests for these every summer!

Lemon Blueberry Bars

For the Crust:

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup granulated sugar

Zest of one lemon (see below)

1 Tablespoon milk

For the filling:

5 ounces blueberries

1 ½ cup granulated sugar plus 2 Tablespoons, divided

4 lemons, zested and juiced

4 eggs

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar

For the Crust:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper, with some edges overhanging.

Place the flour, butter, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and process until crumbly. Drizzle in the milk until the dough begins to come together. Spread the dough into the prepared pan and press into an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes.

For the Filling:

Wipe out the food processor and drop in the berries. Puree until smooth then push through a fine mesh strainer into a small sauce pan. Add 2 Tablespoons sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and boil for a few minutes until thickened. Set aside.

Rinse and dry the food processor completely, then add the zest of three lemons, the juice of all four and the eggs. Process until fluffy, then add the remaining 1 ½ cup sugar and blend until smooth. Add the flour and blend until completely combined and smooth, Pour the filling over the crust, then drizzle over the blueberry puree. It will sink into the lemon filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the center is set and no longer jiggly in the center. Cool the bars completely then sprinkle the tops generously with confectioners’ sugar and cut into small pieces

Makes 16

Fresh Peach Pound Cake with Bourbon Butter Glaze

Peach Pound Cake with Bourbon Butter Glaze

Last year, I accidently bought twenty-five pounds of peaches. An orchard that produces particularly delicious fruit had a special pop-up and I just happened to drive by. I couldn’t resist, even though it was the middle of the week and I was busy and had no particular plans for that much fruit. But boy was I glad I did. I ate as many as I could out of hand, made jars and jars of various peach-based preserves and revisited some favorite recipes. But I was a bit stumped on how to use the last few. Plans to have a family dinner reminded me that my sister-in-law loves pound cake, so that seemed like a good place to start. And bourbon is one of my favorite pairings with peaches (in pudding,pork tenderloinjamand one of my very favorite caramel saucesever). This particular iteration is reminiscent of a classic butter cake – tender cake drenched in buttery, sugary glaze.

When you use perfectly ripe peaches, they sort of melt into the batter, but firmer peaches will hold their shape a bit better Either way produces a delicious result. Use a good European-style butter to maximize the delicious buttery flavor in the simple recipe. It makes the peaches sing. Cake flour makes for a very tender cake and is very worth using.

Fresh Peach Pound Cake with Bourbon Butter Glaze

For the Cake:

4 peaches, peeled and pitted

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, the best you can find

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups granulated sugar

6 large eggs

3 cups cake flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup whole buttermilk

For the Glaze:

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup bourbon

3 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, the best you can find

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 10 -cup bundt pan thoroughly with baking spray like Bakers Joy.

Finely dice the peaches and set aside.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer to loosen it up, then beat in the sugar with the mixer on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Raise the speed to medium high and beat for five minutes or so, until the butter is fluffy and almost white, again scraping the sides. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, baking soda and salt in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk and scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thoroughly combined. Raise the speed to high and beat for five seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the peaches, making sure they are evenly distributed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. 

Place a sheet of foil on the oven rack and place the pan on top, to catch any drips. Bake for 1 hour or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top becomes too brown, loosely shield with foil. Take the cake from the oven and run a skewer or thin knife around the edges to loosen the cake. Leave to cool slightly while you make the butter glaze.

For the Glaze:

Put a piece of waxed or parchment paper under a cooling rack on the counter to catch drips. Cut the butter into small pieces and put in a small pan with the bourbon. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted stir in the sugar until dissolved and no longer granular. Bring the glaze to a boil and cook for one minute. Poke holes all over the surface of the cake with a skewer or toothpick, then spoon about a quarter of the butter glaze evenly over the top. Let the glaze soak in for 5 minutes, then invert the cake out onto the rack.  Poke holes all over the cake again, then spoon over the next quarter of the glaze and leave to soak in for 5 minutes. Spoon over the next bit of glaze, and brush some over the sides of the cake with a pastry brush. Leave to ask for 5 more minutes, then spoon and brush the last of the glaze all over the cake.  Leave to cool completely.

Serves 12

Strawberry Ginger Cake

Strawberry Ginger Cake

Strawberries ring in the start of the canning season for me. I get so excited, I buy quarts and quarts. Which means I sometimes end up with some surplus after I make jars and jars of jam, more than I can eat on my own. So I look for simple, quick ways to use them creatively. I love baking with strawberries that bleed sweet pink juices into the finished product and give a nice pop of berry in every bite. I keep this recipe in my back pocket for those extra strawberries, sure. But now I also make it for its own merits, as a treat for myself or to share with friends and family.

I adapted this super simple cake from a recipe that used raspberries. I figured it needed a little oomph, but I didn’t want to go with the typical vanilla or lemon zest. I love sweet tender chunks of zingy crystallized ginger which make a lovely complement to strawberries that’s a little unexpected. On its own, this cake is sweetly simple, perfect for breakfast or an afternoon tea or snack. It makes a lovely dessert as well – add a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or make a simple glaze of powdered sugar and milk and sprinkle a few pieces of the crystallized ginger over the top; you could even top it with a simple cream cheese frosting. I have loved serving it on my grandmother’s floral cake plate for a beautiful spring table.

Strawberry Ginger Cake

Strawberry Ginger Cake

3 large eggs at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ cup diced crystallized ginger

10 ounces fresh strawberries, halved or quartered

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with baking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Beat the eggs and the sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium high until light and fluffy and pale in color, about 3 to 5 minutes. Lower the speed and beat in the flour and ground ginger until completely combined. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds.

Fold the crystallized ginger and strawberry pieces into the batter with a spatula, then spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 5 minutes at 400°, then lower the heat to 350°and cook for 25- 30 minutes until golden and firm and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan.

Serves 8

Strawberry Champagne Mousse with Champagne Cakelettes

What could be more elegant during the short Spring season of balmy weather and strawberries? Wedding and baby showers, graduation parties, and end of school events all need a little sophisticated touch. What I love about these recipes is the result really surpasses the effort. For a little work, you get two delightful sweet bites that are simple to present. And they can be made ahead, which is always a bonus. I serve these in some lovely (inexpensive) pink toned wine tumblers on a plate with two little cakes and a fresh berry. For the picture here, I rimmed the glasses with some sparkling gold sugar for a little added style.

Use a drinklable champagne, but not a pricey bottle. I have also used prosecco and cava to lovely effect. These recipes are also good uses for leftover champagne, an idea I think is an urban myth. I love my little mini bundt pan mold – it wasn’t very expensive but I use it to make all sorts of little treats that impress. If you don’t have one, feel free to use mini muffin pans. You can make a glaze from a little champagne and some powdered sugar if you like, or just dust with the powdered sugar, but I like these plain and simple to go with the rich, creamy mousse.

Strawberry Champagne Mousse with Champagne Cakelettes

For the Mousse:

2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided

1 cup flat champagne or sparkling wine

2 cups heavy cream

Seeds scraped from half of one vanilla bean

For the Cake:

½ cup champagne or sparkling wine

8 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

Seeds scraped from half of one vanilla bean

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Mousse:

Place the strawberries, ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and ¼ cup champagne in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add the remaining champagne and blend until combined. Beat the cream and the remaining ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and vanilla seeds in the bowl of a stand mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold the strawberry mixture in with a spatula by hand, then beat with the mixer on medium high speed until stiff and thick. Divide the mousse between 8 small ramekins or champagne coupes and chill for at least four hours or overnight.

For the Cakes:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray 12 mini bundtlette pans or mini muffin pans. 

Place the champagne, melted butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds and stir until thoroughly combined. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until well mixed and no signs of dry ingredients remain. Divide the batter between the prepared molds and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. The cakelettes can be stored in an airtight container for up to a day.

Serves 6

Carrot Coconut Cake

Carrot Coconut Cake

Carrot cake, I have found, is an intensely personal taste. There are those on the side of nuts, and those against. The pineapple people and the anti-pineapple people. The cream cheese frosting advocates and the buttercream brigade. I am not ambivalent in my preferences, but not nearly as persnickety as some. I like carrot cake that is moist and full of flavor, with carrots at the forefront. I’ve tried almost every version imaginable to please various factions, but when I create a recipe I do it with my own preferences in mind, like this Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake. I love the idea of a carrot cake with coconut milk for flavor and moistness, and I was inspired to create a pretty white and fluffy version by some pastel Easter candy. I love the idea of filling the center of a perfect Easter cake with a special treat that spills in a tumble out when the cake is sliced.

The insane amount of candy available at Easter is astounding, easily rivalling Christmas and Halloween these days. And I’ll admit, I am tempted. I am a sucker for the specialty seasonal treats (carrot cake kisses, anyone?) and many of the Easter variety are terribly cute. I’ve used little candy coated mini eggs as decoration on a number of things as an afterthought, but this year I found some shimmer eggs that were just too beautiful to pass by (there from Cadbury). The fluffy coconut coating on the cake makes a lovely spring dessert, and you could certainly serve it at any time without the candy eggs.

Carrot Coconut Cake

For the Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder 

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

4 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups grated carrots (about 2 large)

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

For the Glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

6 – 8 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Pastel candy Easter eggs, such as Cadbury Mini Eggs (about 2 bags)

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup tube or Bundt pan with baking spray, such as Bakers’ Joy.

Stir the flour, baking powder, spices and salt together in a bowl to combine. Place the melted butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until pale, light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the coconut milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thoroughly combined and smooth.  Add in the grated carrots and coconut until combined. Give the batter a good stir with a spatula to make sure the carrots are evenly distributed, then scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 60 – 70 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes with few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Place a piece of parchment or foil under the rack to catch drips when you glaze the cake to make clean up easy.

For the Glaze:

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and whisk in the coconut milk until you have a thick, spreadable glaze. Use a spoon to drizzle and spread the glaze over the top and down the sides of the cake. As you drizzle, cover the glaze with the shredded coconut, lightly pressing it into the glaze with clean fingers.  You want a generous layer of coconut on the top and some of the sides of the cake. Leave the cake uncovered for a few hours to let the glaze and coconut set.

Transfer to a serving platter and fill the center with 

Serves 12