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.

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

Recipes are born from many things. This one came one summer when I had promised to bring cookies to a gathering. When I volunteered, I was no doubt thinking it would be the easiest assignment – just whip up some chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies and go. But when it came down to it, I had this desire to make something lighter and more summery. I had some lemons on the counter, so I turned to an old recipe for a lemon poppy seed cookie and that seemed more like what I wanted. I opened the fridge to get out the butter, eggs and sour cream and found some blueberries I’d picked up in bulk at the farmers market. Why not, I thought. Thus this cookie was born.

These are a lightly sweet cookie in the old-fashioned Southern tea cake style. Pillowy and cakey with a simple glaze to sweeten things up. I love the burst of juicy berries this version has, and the poppy seeds add interest, and make them very pretty. By the way, they were a big hit at the event.

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
Yields 24
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Ingredients
  1. 10 Tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
  2. 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  3. 2 eggs
  4. ¼ cup sour cream
  5. zest and juice of one lemon
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1 ½ teaspoons poppy seeds
  8. 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  9. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  10. ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  11. 1 cup fresh blueberries
  12. 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer to break it up, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the sour cream, most of the lemon zest (save a pinch for the glaze) and 2 Tablespoons lemon juice (save the rest for the glaze), vanilla and poppy seeds. Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt until the batter is smooth and well combined and there are no dry ingredients visible in the bowl. Fold the blueberries into the batter with a spatula.
  3. Use a cookie scoop or large spoon to scoop mounds of dough an inch or so apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until firm and just lightly golden on the bottoms, about 15 minutes. Cool on the pan for a few minutes, the remove to a wire rack placed over paper to catch drips from the glaze. Cool completely.
  4. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and a little lemon zest together with enough lemon juice to make a glaze you can drizzle over the cookies. If you don’t have enough lemon juice, add a touch of milk. You can add a pinch of poppy seed to the glaze as well if you’d like. Drizzle the tops of the cookies with the glaze and leave to set.
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Raspberry Orange Pudding Cake

Summer fruit desserts are such a sunny joy. And whether you call this type of dish a cobbler, a slump or a pudding cake, it makes the perfect summer dessert. Sweet and juicy summer fruit melts into a saucy layer tucked beneath a tender cake. I’ve shared before my Saucy Peach and Bluebbery Cobbler version. Raspberries are a rare local treat and when I find them I make the most of them. If I find them in abundance, I freeze them, and can then use them throughout the year for this lovely dessert.

Part of the beauty of this recipe is its adaptability. I love the twist of using fresh orange to compliment the raspberries, but you could certainly use lemon, or even lime. Add some scraped vanilla beans to the cake to pump up that flavor, or a little raspberry liqueur to the berries. This dish is perfect on its own, but there is something special about hot pudding cake served with a scoop of cold ice cream. You could also top it with whipped cream, plain, sweetened or with a little liqueur. I love bring the dish to the table, and watching the looks of delight when the juicy raspberry layer is revealed on the first scoop.

Raspberry Orange Pudding Cake
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. Raspberry Orange Pudding Cake
  2. 2 cups fresh raspberries
  3. 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  4. 2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice (zest before squeezing for the cake)
For the Cake
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  2. ¾ cups granulated sugar
  3. zest of one orange
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 1 large egg
  6. 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  8. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  9. ½ cup whole buttermilk
  10. 1 Tablespoon orange juice
For the Topping
  1. ¾ cup granulated sugar
  2. 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  3. ¾ cup hot water
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Spray an 8 inch square pan with cooking spray.
  2. Spread the raspberries evenly on the bottom of the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the top, then sprinkle over the orange juice.
For the Cake
  1. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer to break it up, then add the sugar, orange zest and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg until the batter is smooth. Beat the flour, baking powder and baking soda in two additions alternately with the buttermilk, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the batter is smooth. Dollop the batter evenly over the berries, then spread it out to cover the berries completely. I find lightly damp fingers the easiest way to do this.
For the Topping
  1. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl, then sprinkle evenly over the batter in the pan. Place the pan on the oven rack, then pour over the hot water evenly, making sure the entire surface is damp.
  2. Bake the cake for 50 minutes, until firm and golden. Serve warm
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Mexican Chocolate Chewies

As Cinco de Mayo approaches, thoughts often turn to tacos, queso and margaritas. But let us not forget the sweet side of life. Chocolate goes with everything and it’s nice to have a little sweet nibble at any fiesta.

These cookies are a classic recipe, one I have made since I was a kid. I pulled it out recently to make a batch to send to my niece in college, and as I was working, I thought a could jazz it up in some way. Then I had a thought – I bought a fancy, Tennessee-made chocolate bar in Mexican Chocolate flavor a few days before, and was really excited about the special treat. But I accidently threw it away when unpacking the huge load of groceries. I’d been kicking myself for the carelessness. So I decided to verve up these cookies to replace my lost candy bar. The rich chocolate cookies get a twist with cinnamon and just a dash of chili and cayenne. The cookies are soft and chewy and chocolate-y and perfect at any time.

Mexican Chocolate Chewies
Yields 20
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Ingredients
  1. 1 (12-ounce) bag semisweet chocolate chips
  2. 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  3. ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  6. ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  7. 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
  8. 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  9. 1 cup all-purpose flour
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Put the chocolate chips, condensed milk and butter in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat, strirring frequently, until the mixture is smooth and combined. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and stir to combine. Add the flour, and stir well to make sure the flour is completely blended in to the batter. Pull the pot of the heat and let the cool for a few minutes.
  3. Scoop the dough by Tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. I like to use a medium cookie scoop. Press the dough lightly with your fingers to slightly flatten, then bake the cookies for 12 – 13 minutes until firm. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
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Strawberry Basil Chiffon Cake with Strawberry Basil Sauce

Chiffon Cake always sounds so delightfully old-fashioned to me. Maybe because chiffon just sounds like a frilly, girly, poufy tea-party dress. I always see chiffon cake recipes in older community cookbooks, in all sorts of flavor combinations. I don’t think people make chiffon cakes much anymore, but the light, foamy sponge is a treat that shouldn’t be missed. Add some fresh in-season strawberries for a lovely light and and airy spring treat. I like to up the berry flavor with a sweet sauce and complement the whole with pillows of sweetened whipped cream.

Strawberries and basil work together beautifully, adding a lovely herbaceous note. And the fragrance is mouth-watering. The cake itself is such a pretty pink with little speckles of green, like a berry itself. This is a break-out the crystal cake plate dessert, colorful and bright on any spring table.

Strawberry Basil Chiffon Cake with Strawberry Basil Sauce
Serves 10
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Ingredients
  1. 2 ¼ cup cake flour, sifted
  2. 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  3. 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  4. ¼ teaspoon salt
  5. Roughly 1 cup of hulled strawberries
  6. 7 egg yolks
  7. 7 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  8. 5- 6 large basil leaves
  9. ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  10. a drop or two of red or pink food coloring (optional)
  11. 7 egg whites
For the sauce
  1. 3 cups hulled, quartered strawberries
  2. ½ cup granulated sugar
  3. 6 large basil leaves on the stem
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325.
  2. Sift the flour, 1¼ cups of the sugar, the baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Drop the strawberries into a blender and puree. You will need ¾ cups, so measure it out and add more berries if needed. Put the puree back into the blender and add the egg yolks, vegetable oil, basil leaves, vanilla and food coloring, if using. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and stir to mix well, making sure there are no dry ingredients visible.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they become foamy. Slowly drizzle in the remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Stir ¼ of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it up, then gently fold in the remaining whites in three additions. Make sure there are no streaks of white visible. Scrape the batter into a 10 – inch angel food cake pan and bake for 50 – 6o minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the top springs back at a light touch. Immediately invert the pan, centering the hole over the neck of a bottle, or over a rack if your pan has “feet” the raise it from the surface. Cool completely.
For the Sauce
  1. Put the quartered berries and sugar in a medium saucepan and stir. Pluck the basil leaves off the stem and tuck the stem into the berries. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the berries have broken down and the sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 - 7 minutes. Pick out he stem. Use an immersion blender to roughly puree the sauce – it’s nice to have a few pieces of berries in there, but do give it a whirl with the blender. Cook for a further five minutes or so to reduce the sauce slightly. Take the pan of the heat. Finely chop the basil leaves and immediately stir them into the sauce. Leave to cool, then cover and refrigerate. The sauce can be made up to two days ahead.
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Lemon Lovely Bars

The story I was going to write here was about the joys of bright citrus in the gray and gloomy weather of winter. A nice tale about citrus fruits being the sunshine in season during the bleak midwinter. But we’ve had a spring likeFebruary with 75 degree days this year and lovely sunny weather. I ate lunch on a patio. In February. I thought about putting off this post, but the truth is, sweet and tangy lemon treats are perfect for any time of year, no matter the weather, so why wait? Whatever the weather, whatever the mood a sweet, tart and tangy lemon treat always lifts my spitits.

These bars make a nice little change of pace from chocolate brownies or cookie bars for a party, and they really do take on this fresh, lovely yellow tint that makes them stand out. The tart lemon glaze makes all the difference, adding the tart note to the sweet bars. I find these a little simpler to make than a classic lemon bar, (not that lemon bars are all that difficult) and I almost always have the ingredients on hand to make a quick treat. You could also use Meyer lemons, which won’t be quite as tart but still have a lovely citrus note.

Lemon Lovely Bars
Serves 16
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For the Bars
  1. Zest of two lemons
  2. Juice of one lemon (4 Tablespoons total)
  3. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  4. ¾ cup granulated sugar
  5. ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  6. ¼ teaspoon salt
  7. 2 large eggs
For the Glaze
  1. 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  2. 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  3. lemon zest
For the Bars
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8 by 8-inch square pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer to break it up, then add 1 Tablespoon lemon zest and the sugar. Beat until fluffy then add the flour and salt and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in 2 Tablespoons lemon juice until the batter is smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out into an even layer. Bake until firm and lightly golden at the edges and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 – 25 minutes. Cool completely in the pan.
For the Glaze
  1. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice and the remaining lemon zest together in a small bowl. Pour the glaze evenly over the cooled bars and tilt the pan to create and even layer. Leave to set, then remove the bars from the pan by lifting out the foil liner. Open the edges of the liner and allow any pooled glaze to set, then cut the bars into small squares.
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Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Red Wine Rosemary Pears

I love taking classic dishes and adding a little twist, without adding a whole lot of work. Cheesecake topped with syrupy fruit is definitely a classic. In my younger years, cheesecake with strawberries, or later the more fanciful raspberry coulis, was the go to dessert for romantic dinner menus. With this recipe, you get the brilliant, creamy sweetness of a classic cheesecake, but the goat cheese adds this lovely tang. Pears poached in red wine are another cool-weather dessert stand-by, but add a little rosemary and it reaches a whole new dimension. So a simple classic becomes a sophisticated new dessert, perfect for a party or a romantic dinner. And I have to say, leftovers make a pretty good breakfast as well.

Use a wine you would want to drink to poach the pears, but don’t sacrifice your best bottle. I have also made this cheesecake with a crust made of gingersnaps which adds a little spice. The rosemary in the poaching liquid is such a special and unique twist, but you could swap it out for a cinnamon stick and a few pods of star anise for a spiced version. The presentation of this dish is striking, with the creamy cake and ruby-tinted pears. A little sprig of rosemary on top adds flair and a hint of the tastes to come.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Red Wine Rosemary Pears
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. For the Pears
  2. 1 ½ cups red wine
  3. ¾ cup sugar
  4. 3 sprigs rosemary
  5. 4 pears, forelle, Anjou or bosc
For the Crust
  1. 15 graham crackers (the whole sheet)
  2. 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  3. ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the Cheesecake
  1. 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  2. 12 ounces soft goat cheese, at room temperature
  3. zest of 1 lemon
  4. 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  7. 4 large eggs
For the Pears
  1. Peel the pears and cut into small chunks. Pour the red wine into a saucepan and stir in the sugar. Heat over medium high heat until just boiling and drop in the rosemary, pressing it down to submerge it in the liquid. Add the pears and stir gently to cover with the wine and cook until the pears are soft and tender and the wine is reduced to a syrup about the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and for the wine to soak in and tint the pears red. Remove the rosemary stems and any stray needles before serving. The pears can be prepared a day ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated.
For the Crust
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.
  2. Break the graham crackers into small pieces and drop into a food processor. Pulse until broken up into crumbs, then add the sugar and process until very fine. With the motor running, drizzle in the melted butter and process until the crumbs are all moist. Dump the crumbs into the prepared pan and press into an even tight layer. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325.
For the Cheesecake
  1. Beat the cream cheese and goat cheese together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to break them up. Add the lemon zest, juice and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times. Beat in the sugar until light and fluffy and smooth. Beat the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently. Spread the filling over the crust in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes until lightly golden and firm, but slightly jiggly in the very center. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack, then transfer to the refrigerator loosely covered and chill for several hours, but overnight is fine.
  2. Remove the springform ring, slice and serve topped with the pears and syrup.
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Egg Nog Bread Pudding with Hot Buttered Rum Icing

Egg Nog Bread Pudding with Hot Buttered Rum IcingYou have to love a dessert that ticks all the holiday entertaining boxes – feeds a crowd, can be made ahead and is full of festive flavor. And this dish does that in spades. Not to mention that is easy to prepare, but impressive in taste and presentation. And I’ll be honest with you, it’s hard to mess this up. I made it once thinking I’d be so smart and set the oven to a timed cook while I was off opening presents with family so it would be perfectly ready for its icing and transport to the Christmas brunch. But I set the oven timer wrong and it didn’t cook in time for the festivities. So I let it cook later in the day, iced it and stuck it in the fridge. The next day I heated it up and it was still delicious. I wouldn’t recommend doing that though. But if you cook the bread pudding, pour over the icing and let it sit while you eat the main meal, it will be nice and warm and saucy for dessert.

All that being said, I also like it on the buffet with a large brunch spread, not just as a dessert. It is not cloyingly sweet, just a nice hint of rum and spice and that perfectly Christmas taste of egg nog. While I prefer it warm, I can assure you it is equally good at room temperature, so it can hang around while everyone makes their way through the buffet. The icing could be served as a sauce to pour over, but I find it so much easier to during the hectic holiday cooking to serve it all in one dish with no sauce boat or ladle hanging around.

Egg Nog Bread Pudding with Hot Buttered Rum Icing
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. For the Bread Pudding
  2. 1 (1 pound) loaf of soft crust Italian bread or challah
  3. ½ cup dried cranberries
  4. 5 eggs
  5. ¼ cup granulated sugar
  6. ¾ teaspoons nutmeg
  7. 1 quart (4 cups) dairy egg nog
For the Icing
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  2. 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  3. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  4. ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  5. dash of ground cloves
  6. dash of allspice
  7. 1 cup heavy cream
  8. ¼ cup dark rum
For the Bread Pudding
  1. Cut the loaf of bread into small chinks and spread on a baking sheet. Cover lightly with a clean tea towel and leave dry out for several hours, or overnight.
  2. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and spread the bread cubes evenly in the dish. Sprinkle the cranberries between the bread, doing your best to distribute them evenly. Whisk the eggs, sugar and nutmeg together in a large bowl, until well combined, then whisk in the egg nog. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread and press down the cubes of bread so they are submerged in the liquid. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  3. When you are ready to cook the bread pudding, preheat the oven to 350. Take the dish out of the refrigerator and leave it to take the chill off for about 15 – 20 minutes, then put in the oven, still covered with foil, and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until the custard is set. Remove the foil cover and cook for a further 5 -10 minutes until the bread turns a lovely golden brown. Take the bread pudding from the oven and immediately prepare the icing.
For the Icing
  1. Put the butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat to melt. Sift the powdered sugar and spices together in a bowl, and when the butter is melted, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar. Add the cream slowly, whisking until the icing is smooth, then whisk in the rum. While the bread pudding is still warm, pour the icing evenly over the top, making sure to cover it all. Leave the icing to soak in for a few minutes, then serve the bread pudding. The icing does not totally soak into the pudding, but the remainder forms a nice puddle of sauce for each serving.
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Sweet Potato Fruitcake

Sweet Potato FruitcakeI adore fruitcake. Some think that a controversial opinion. But I couldn’t have Christmas without it. Every year, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, I make my classic Fruitcake. To be honest, I start in the summer by making bourbon Cherry Bounce to soak the cake, and I pour a good dose over every couple of days until Christmas. My mother and I are sometimes the only ones who eat it, but I simply can’t imagine the holiday without it. So when I came across a recipe for sweet potato fruitcake in a community cookbook, I had to make it. It was one of those old recipes with very few specific measurements and spotty instructions, so it took me awhile to get it right, but I did and I love it.

My favorite thing about this fruitcake is fruitcake for Thanksgiving! I get the immense pleasure of extending fruitcake season, which makes me very happy. This cake is colorful and beautiful on a cake stand on the Thanksgiving dessert spread. The sweet potato adds a lovely, earthy note and is a great counterpoint to pies and fluffy cakes. The cake keeps well for up to a week in an airtight container, but it doesn’t have to be made weeks ahead. The color and texture is a lighter than the traditional version, but no less rich and flavorful.

Fruitcake lovers unite!

Sweet Potato Fruitcake
Serves 10
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ cups grated sweet potato (from about 1 large potato)
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  4. 4 eggs, separated
  5. 4 Tablespoons hot water
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 2 ½ cups sifted cake flour
  8. 3 teaspoons baking powder
  9. 1 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
  10. ¼ teaspoon salt
  11. 1 pound chopped candied fruit
  12. 2 ½ cups chopped pecans
  13. ¼ cup bourbon
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 250. Spray a tube (not a Bundt) pan with baking spray (such as Baker’s Joy).
  2. Beat the sugar and the oil in the large bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment until pale and combined. Beat in the egg yolks until combined. Pour in the hot water and vanilla extract and beat until blended. Add the sweet potatoes and beat just until combined. Beat in the flour, baking powder, salt and spices until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the candied fruit and nuts. Set aside.
  3. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in the small mixer bowl using the whisk attachment. Fold the whites into the batter in the large bowl using a sturdy spatula. This takes a little elbow grease, but don’t be too harsh, you still want the eggs whites to retain some air. Make sure the get the batter from the center of the bowl combined with the whites as well. Fold until the whites have completely disappeared into the batter.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared tube pan, making sure it is evenly distributed and the top is flat. Pick up the pan and drop it on the counter a few time to knock out any air bubbles.
  5. Bake the cake for 2 ½ hours. A tester inserted in the center should have a few crumbs clinging to it. When you remove it from the oven, immediately drizzle the bourbon over the top, very slowly. Leave to cool completely (even overnight covered with a towel) before removing it from the pan. The cake can be kept for a week in an airtight container.
Notes
  1. You can grate the sweet potatoes on a box grater or use the food processor grating blade. But then you have to clean the food processor.
  2. I separate the eggs putting the whites in the small mixer bowl and the yolks directly into the sugar and oil.
  3. My market sells mixed candied fruit during the holidays and I use that to make things easy. You can also make up your own blend of candied fruit (cherries, lemon peel, orange peel, pineapple etc.) and chop it finely, or toss it with a little flour and pulse in the food processor.
  4. The cake may crumble when you slice, but it can be easily pressed together and the taste is still delicious!
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Swedish Waitress Apple Cake with Vanilla Custard

Swedish Waitress Apple Cake with Vanilla Custard

A recipe developer asks a lot of questions. It’s the best way to learn the secrets of cooking – the little tips and hints and tricks people use, things they learned from mothers, grandmothers and aunts, secrets from fathers, advice from magazines, cookbooks and the back of boxes, or lessons learned from failure. So I ask questions. In restaurants, stores, markets, from neighbors, friends and strangers. Thus this cake. I was in a bakery in London having tea on a rainy day, and the very sweet waitress said that on a gloomy day, one should always have a piece of cake. I had to agree and asked for recommendations. She suggested the apple cake – with the caveat that it was her second favorite apple cake, as her mother made the absolute best version. So I asked her to describe her mother’s cake. What struck me was the apples. Her mother, she assured me, peeled and chopped the apples and tossed them with sugar and cinnamon and let them sit for hours, until they produced their own syrup. She then put the apples on top of a simple butter cake and drizzled the juices over. I was intrigued, and wrote the idea in my little travel notebook.

The waitress was Swedish, working at the bakery while she studied at university in London. I could tell describing her mother’s cake made her a little wistful for home. I don’t know if this method is typically Swedish or the whole-cloth invention of her mother, but I knew it was an idea I had to try for myself. As I was in London at the time I learned about this method, I thought I would add a classic British custard sauce – no British dessert is complete without it!

Swedish Waitress Apple Cake with Vanilla Custard
Serves 8
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For the Vanilla Custard
  1. 2 cups milk
  2. ½ a vanilla bean
  3. 2 egg yolks
  4. ½ cup granulated sugar
  5. 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
For the Cake
  1. 1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  2. 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  3. 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  4. ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  5. 3 baking apples
  6. 5 Tablespoons butter, softened
  7. 3 eggs
  8. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  9. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  10. ¼ cup milk
  11. 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Custard
  1. Put the milk in a medium saucepan and scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into it. Heat over medium just until small bubbles appear around the edges and on the surface.
  2. While the milk is heating, mix the yolks, sugar and corn starch together in a medium mixing bowl. When the milk is warm, slowly drizzle a little into the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time, then continue to whisk in the milk slowly until well combined and smooth. Pour the custard back into the sauce pan and heat over medium, stirring frequently until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through a sieve back into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cold. This can be made up to one day ahead.
For the Cake
  1. Mix 3 tablespoons of sugar, the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves together in a medium sized bowl. One at a time, peel and core the apples and chop into small cubes, dropping them into the bowl and tossing with the sugar mixture to coat completely. Leave the apples, completely coated in the sugar, to sit for several hours, until some juices have been released (I usually wait about 4 hours, longer is fine).
  2. When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour and baking powder, then add the milk and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top of the batter. Spread the apple pieces over the top of the batter, pressing them into the cake a little, then drizzle over the accumulated juices. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool at least 20 minutes, then release it from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. The cake can be made one day ahead.
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Fresh Fig Mousse

Fresh Fig MousseI adore figs, and during their short growing season here, I really try to make the most of them. I make jars and jars of Fig, Bourbon and Vanilla Bean Jam. It is one of my signature preserves now, one people always ask me for. My Fresh Fig Cake with Buttermilk Glaze is a summer favorite as well – it’s a wonderful way to incorporate figs into baking. And of course, I eat the figs on their own, maybe with a little country ham wrapped around them, sometimes then thrown on the grill.

I saw a recipe for a simple fig mousse in an old community cookbook and honestly couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of the idea before. I tweeked and modernized the recipe a little, so it is now a very simple and refreshing summer dessert with a real touch of elegance and panache, with the added bonus that it needs to made ahead so it is ready and waiting. Figs in their natural state are so pretty, that a simple slice of pink flesh with delicate purple tinge makes an absolutely beautiful garnish on the soft pink, marbled mousse. This mouse can be served frozen, or just chilled until firm – I like equally either way. I prefer to use darker purple figs for the rich color, but if brown are all you have access to, they are delicious as well.

Fresh Fig Mousse
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup halved fresh figs (about 8) plus more for garnish
  2. 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  3. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  4. ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  5. 1 cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Place the fig pieces, lemon juice, vanilla and powdered sugar in a blender and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the carafe as needed.
  2. Whip the cream in an electric mixer until it forms stiff peaks. Gently fold the puree into the cream a little at a time, making sure the cream and puree are combined. Spoon the mousse into eight small or six larger glass bowls or ramekins and smooth the tops.
  3. You can freeze the mousse, each covered with plastic wrap, for up to two days and serve frozen or slightly softened, or you can cover the dishes with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 4 hours or up to one day ahead.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/