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.

Chocolate Dutch Baby with Vanilla Roasted Strawberries

Chocolate Dutch Baby with Vanilla Roasted StrawberriesIt is hard not to want to eat something called a Dutch Baby. It’s such a sweet and inviting name. The puffy oven pancakes have experienced something of a renaissance in the last few years, with lots of recipes showing up on the internet for sweet and savory versions with all sorts of flavorings and toppings. I, however, sometimes find a plain Dutch baby a little too plain, so I’ve amped it up with chocolate here, and paired it with chocolate’s natural spring partner, strawberries.

There are a lot of things I love about this recipe. The baby is rich and chocolate-y without being cloyingly sweet. Roasting the strawberries heightens their sweetness, and vanilla adds such an aromatic note. Roasting is particularly helpful if your berries are not super-sweet to begin with, or just a little past their prime. Each component of this recipe is delicious on its own, or paired with other things. Most of all, this could not be easier to make. The berries can be roasted a day ahead, and making the baby in the blender literally takes minutes. If you like things a little sweeter, you can serve this with vanilla ice cream, or a cloud of sweetened whipped cream. Most recipes I have read say serve the Dutch baby immediately out of the oven, but I can tell you I’ve had it at room temperature and it was fine.

Chocolate Dutch Baby with Vanilla Roasted Strawberries
Serves 6
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For the Strawberries
  1. 1 pound strawberries, hulled
  2. 2 Tablespoons sugar
  3. 1 vanilla bean
For the Dutch Baby
  1. 2 Tablespoons butter
  2. ¾ cup whole milk
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  5. ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  6. ¼ teaspoon salt
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. ¼ cup granulated sugar
For the Strawberries
  1. Cut the berries in half and spread them in a single layer in an 8 by 8 inch baking dish. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Drop the seeds into the sugar and toss it all around to blend. I like to toss the bowl a few times, then use my good clean fingers to get the vanilla distributed through the sugar. Sprinkle the sugar over the strawberries, then cut the vanilla bean into three pieces and tuck them into the berries. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the berries are soft and lots of juice has run out. Don’t overcook or the berries will break down and become mushy.
  2. You can serve the berries immediately or cool, cover and refrigerate them for up to a day.
For the Dutch Baby
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Melt the butter in in a deep oven-safe skillet, about 9 to 10-inches, over medium heat. Do not let it brown.
  2. Place all the ingredients in the order listed in a blender and blend until combined and foamy, about 1 minute. Pour the batter into the hot skillet, then transfer it to the oven and bake until the Dutch baby until puffed and set, about 20 minutes.
  3. Spoon the strawberries over the Dutch baby immediately and serve.
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Buttermilk Brownies with Bourbon Caramel Frosting

Buttermilk Brownies with Bourbon Caramel FrostingNothing is quite so simply satisfying as a good brownie. Even the plainest, unadorned chocolate bite can fulfill the needs of any sweet tooth craving. But the simple brownie can also be a brilliant canvas for creativity, taking on stir-in surprises, creamy frostings or decadent drizzles. Serving a plate of brownies at a party or to family and friends always gets a lively response. So I like to mix it up sometimes – take the simple brownie concept to a new and indulgent level.My penchant for baking with buttermilk comes into play here, making these rich chocolate treats tangy and ultra-moist. I add some Southern flair with a rich frosting of caramel set off with a good kick of bourbon.

These brownies are easy to make – they only use one pan and the 13 by 9 inch size makes sure there are plenty to go around (even a few to squirrel away for yourself). You can use the same pan for the caramel, but I have found that transferring it to a mixer makes for a smoother, fluffier icing over beating it in by hand. The rich, buttery notes of the caramel, enhanced by a generous tot of earthy bourbon, is a revelation. I’m sure I’ll find many uses for it.

Buttermilk Brownies with Bourbon Caramel Frosting
Yields 20
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For the Brownies
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  2. 1 cup water
  3. 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  4. 2 Tablespoons bourbon
  5. 2 cups granulated sugar
  6. 1 cup all purpose flour
  7. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  8. ½ cup buttermilk
  9. 2 eggs
For the Frosting
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  2. ½ cup heavy cream
  3. 4 Tablespoons bourbon, divided
  4. 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  5. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  6. 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
For the brownies
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13-inch brownie pan with parchment paper or non-stick foil.
  2. Place the butter, water, cocoa powder and bourbon in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Stir in the sugar until combined, then add the flour and baking soda and stir until thoroughly combined. Measure the buttermilk in a 2-cup jug, then beat in the eggs. Add this to the batter and stir until combined. The batter will be thin. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan.
For the Frosting
  1. Place the butter, cream, 2 Tablespoons of the bourbon and the brown sugar in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a slow boil and cook for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
  2. Pour the cooked caramel into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and add 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar. Beat until smooth, then add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of bourbon, the remaining 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar and the salt and beat until smooth. Spread the batter over the cooled brownies and leave to set for at a few hours.
  3. Cut the brownies into generous squares
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Persimmon Pie

Persimmon Pie

Some years ago I came across some American persimmons, which are a little hard to find in this part of the country nowadays. I got a little overexcited and bought quite a few of the rare gems, so I had to go searching for recipes. A friend gave me an old recipe from her family for persimmon pie, and I quickly made it. I appreciated the novelty of it– I’d never even heard of persimmon pie until she gave me the recipe – so I continued to make it with imported Japanese persimmons, which are readily available in the cold of winter here. But at some point, I realized that the original version, loaded with classic pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves really didn’t taste that much like persimmon. In fact, it was pretty close to pumpkin pie. I have tinkered with the basic recipe, reducing the spice to the barest hint of subtle mace and adding a nice dose of complimentary orange that brings out the fruitiness of the persimmons, while highlighting the slightly floral undertones. Now I feel like this is a unique dessert that makes the most of lovely persimmons.

I revisited this recipe recently, because I happened to find some dried persimmon slices in the store, and I couldn’t help but think how pretty they would look as a garnish. A dollop of whipped cream is also a nice touch.

Persimmon Pie
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. Pastry for one 9-inch pie, homemade or rolled store bought
  2. Zest and juice of one orange
  3. 1 large Hachiya persimmon (about 9 ounces)
  4. 3 eggs
  5. 1 cup heavy cream
  6. 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
  7. 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  8. 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
  9. ½ teaspoon vanilla
  10. ¼ teaspoon mace
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry, then line with parchment paper and fill with baking weights or tried beans. Blind bake the crust for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and gently remove the paper and weights. Leave to cool slightly.
  3. Zest the orange into a large mixing bowl, then squeeze the juice into a bowl or measuring cup. Place 2 Tablespoons of the juice in a blender. Cut the stem from the persimmon and cut into pieces and add to the blender. Blend until smooth. You should have one cup of puree. Crack the eggs into the mixing bowl and lightly beat, then stir in the puree, the cream and the butter until well combined. Add the sugars, vanilla and mace and beat until well combined.
  4. Pour the filling into the crust and bake the pie for 50 minutes to an hour until the filling is set and only slightly jiggly in the center. Cool completely, then refrigerate until firm.
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Chocolate Buttermilk Pound Cake with Buttermilk Ganache

Chocolate Buttermilk Pound Cake with Buttermilk Ganache

Valentine’s Day gives us all a chance to indulge, and what better way to treat yourself than a rich chocolate cake that is simple to make and completely decadent. I’ve made some version of Chocolate Pound Cake for years, but I kept thinking “this is good, but it could use more chocolate.” So with some tinkering, I figured out how to pack in some really intense chocolate flavor. A healthy dose of deep chocolate cocoa powder set off by tangy buttermilk, with just a little hit of semisweet chocolate. Using buttermilk in the ganache sets it apart – rich chocolate with tang and zip.

This simple cake makes a wonderful dessert for a family dinner or a thoughtful gift for a friend. And I’m just saying, a leftover piece for breakfast with a dollop of strawberry jam keeps the indulgence going.

Chocolate Buttermilk Pound Cake with Buttermilk Ganache
Serves 8
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For the Cake
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  2. 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  3. ½ cup granulated sugar
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  6. ½ cup bittersweet (or semisweet) chocolate chips
  7. 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  8. ¾ cup natural cocoa powder
  9. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  10. ¼ teaspoon salt
  11. 1 cup whole buttermilk, well shaken
For the Ganache
  1. 6 Tablespoons whole buttermilk, well shaken
  2. 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  3. ½ Tablespoon butter, cute into cubes
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray a standard 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with baking spray (like Baker’s Joy).
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until creamy. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the egg until completely combined. Beat in the vanilla and the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.
  3. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together into a small bowl. Really do take the time to sift, as cocoa powder tends to clump. Beat the flour mixture into the butter, alternating with the buttermilk, into two additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 – 70 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan to the rack to cool completely.
For the Ganache
  1. Place a piece of parchment or waxed paper under the rack where the cake has cooled to catch any drips.
  2. Heat the buttermilk in a small saucepan over medium heat just until it begins to bubble. Do not boil. The buttermilk will begin to separate; that’s fine. Drop in the chocolate and turn off the heat. Beat vigorously with a spatula or spoon until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Beat in the cubes of butter until melted and smooth. Because the buttermilk curdles slightly, this ganache is not utterly smooth and silky, but I like it that way – it gives it a homemade look. If you like, you can pour the ganache through a fine strainer into a bowl before spreading it on the cake.
  3. Slowly spread the ganache over the top of the cake. I love to leave most of the ganache on the top, with just a little overflow dripping down. Go slowly and you can do this to. This way you don’t loose too much frosting in drips. Let the ganache cool and firm up for at least an hour, then slice and serve.
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Peppermint Cookie Bars

Peppermint Cookie Bars

A good, thickly frosted sugar cookie bar has all the old-fashioned comfort we look for during the holidays. I like to take that recipe and zuzz it up for Christmas, with some rich white chocolate and bracing peppermint. The shower of crushed peppermint candy adds a festive touch and couldn’t be easier to do. These are simple to make, but look gorgeous on a festive platter and will really stand out on a display of other sweets. I took them to a party last year and another woman picked one up then asked what they were. I told her they were peppermint and saw her hesitate – but clearly wasn’t going to put it back on the plate – so she politely took a bite. Her face lit up and she declared “I don’t really like peppermint but these are yummy. My son would love these!” She promptly asked for the recipe.

You could tint the icing pink if you are so inclined and I have been known to add some edible white glitter to the peppermint candies to add an extra sparkle. The soft peppermint puffs work best, rather than the classic starlight style mint, because they crush more easily and are not as hard to eat.

Peppermint Cookie Bars
Yields 26
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For the Base
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  2. ½ cup sugar
  3. 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  4. ½ teaspoon baking powder
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. 1 egg
  7. 2 Tablespoons sour cream
  8. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  9. ½ cup white chocolate chips
For the Topping
  1. ½ cup butter, softened
  2. 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  3. ¼ cup milk
  4. ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  5. 10 soft peppermint candies (such as Bob’s Sweet Stripe)
For the Base
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8 by 8 inch square pan with nonstick foil or parchment paper.
  2. Beat the butter and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat until well combined ans smooth. Gradually beat in the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until you have a smooth, thick dough. Beat in the white chocolate chips.
  3. Press the dough into the prepared pan in an even layer. Smooth the top with your fingers to make a flat surface. Bake the base for 20 – 15 minutes until lightly golden at the edges, firm, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the bars completely.
For the Topping
  1. Clean and dry the bowl of the stand mixer, then beat the butter until light. Gradually add the confectioners sugar alternately with the milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently, until you have a luscious, spreadable frosting. Beat in the peppermint extract.
  2. Spread the frosting in an even layer over the top of the cookie base. I like to use an offset spatula. Smooth the top.
  3. Unwrap the candies and place them in a sturdy zip top bag. Use a rolling pin or other heavy object to smash the candies to rubble and dust. Evenly sprinkle the candies over the frosting and use your clean hands to press the candy into the frosting so it doesn’t just fall off when served.
  4. Cut into small squares.
Notes
  1. For the batch in the photo, I found white chocolate chips with a red swirl which make a pretty addition. They were not peppermint flavored, but if you find those, I am sure it would be lovely.
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Cranberry Gingerbread Cake with Butter Sauce

Cranberry Gingerbread Cake with Butter Sauce

I am very nostalgic about gingerbread, though it is not part of some long-standing family holiday tradition. Other than the occasional hard gingerbread man cookie, I was well into my teens before I ever even knew there was any other form. But soft, cake-like gingerbread seems to hark back to the olden days. It has a Little House on the Prairie or Frances Hodgson Burnett kind of quality to it. Maybe it’s the gingery smell of Christmas when the cake is baking, or the rich, warm spices so associated with the holidays. Gingerbread makes me feel like I am continuing a tradition, though I never had one to begin with. And it does play nicely into my anglophilia, for it is definitely an British tradition.

I’ve upped the American ante here though with our native cranberries for a festive touch. This cake perfectly straddles the Thanksgiving – Christmas line, featuring flavors perfect for both. Make it for either or both. This recipe can be made ahead, which is always a bonus during the hectic season. I serve this as dessert, and the butter sauce adds a touch or decadence fit for the season. But this would also make a lovely breakfast without the sauce.

Cranberry Gingerbread Cake with Butter Sauce
Serves 9
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For the Cake
  1. 2 cups fresh cranberries
  2. 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  3. 4 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  4. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  5. 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  6. ¼ cup molasses
  7. 1 egg
  8. 1 cup buttermilk
  9. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  10. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  11. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  12. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  13. ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  14. ½ teaspoon salt
  15. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  16. 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  17. For the Butter Sauce
  18. ½ cup (I stick) butter
  19. 1 cup granulated sugar
  20. ¾ cup heavy cream
For the Cake
  1. Pulse the cranberries in a food processor (the mini one works fine) until roughly chopped. Add the flour and 1 Tablespoon sugar and pulse until you have a fine rubble.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and place it in a 9 by 13 glass baking dish. Melt the butter in the oven for about 5 minutes. Swirl the butter around to cover the sides of the pan, then pour the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat on medium low for a few minutes until thoroughly combined and smooth. Add the egg and beat until combined. Beat in the buttermilk and vanilla until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Mix the flour, soda, salt, and spices together in a small bowl, then beat into the wet ingredients until combined, scraping down the bowl a few times. Add half of the cranberries and mix in gently. Take the bowl off the mixer and give the batter a good stir to distribute the cranberries. Scrape the batter into the buttered baking dish.
  5. Spread the remaining cranberries evenly over the surface of the batter. I find my clean fingers the best tool for this, breaking up the cranberry mixture as best I can and distributing over the batter. The batter will not be completely covered, just do your best to evenly spread the cranberries and press them lightly into the batter.
  6. Mix the cinnamon and remaining 3 Tablespoons sugar together for the topping and sprinkle evenly over the top of the cake. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. The cake can be cooled and covered and kept for one day.
For the Butter Sauce
  1. Melt the butter over medium high heat in a medium saucepan until it is bubbling and spitting and just beginning to brown. Stir in the sugar and the heavy cream and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then remove the sauce from the heat and stir well. The sauce can be served warm or a room temperature. You can cool, cover and refrigerate one day ahead, then loosen the sauce by heating it in the microwave.
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Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake

Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake

You may notice a little theme this month, though it wasn’t actually by design. As autumn rolls around, I start cooking with (and eating) a lot of apples. In season, locally-grown apples are a wonder, on par with eating seasonal, local strawberries, instead of the chemically ripened fruit flown in from miles and miles away. So I make the most of the bounty in cooking both sweet and savory. Last week, I included apples in my deliciously autumnal Roasted Pork with Sweet Potatoes and Hard Cider Cream Sauce, and here I use the little beauties in a sweet preparation, that makes a wonderful dessert with a scoop of ice cream or a perfect breakfast treat.

An upside down cake is a chance to be really artistic in the kitchen. Feel free to arrange the apple slices are creatively as you can manage. Flip the cake over and you’ve got a really beautiful creation to share. Ginger and apple is an amazing flavor combination, and I incorporate the ginger in layers here, using fresh, powdered and crystallized.

Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. For the Apples
  2. ¼ cup butter
  3. ¼ cup light brown sugar
  4. 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
  5. 2 apples, I prefer golden delicious
For the Cake
  1. ¼ cup (1/2 stick) of butter, softened
  2. 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  6. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  7. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  8. ½ teaspoon salt
  9. ½ cup buttermilk
  10. ¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger
For the Apples
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes and drop it the pan. Place the pan in the oven for 3 – 5 minutes until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle over the brown sugar and the ginger. Stir with a spatula to combine, then spread the sugar mixture around the pan. It won’t cover the bottom completely, just make sure the sugar is not all in one place. Core and slice the apples into ¼-inch slices and fan out over the butter mixture in an attractive pattern. Some apples can overlap, but you only want one layer.
For the Cake
  1. Cream the butter and brown sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla, then beat in the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt alternately with the buttermilk, scraping down the bowl, until the batter is smooth. Beat in the crystallized ginger until evenly distributed. Dollop the batter over the apples in the pan, then use dampened fingers to press it out to cover the apples.
  2. Bake the cake fro 20 – 30 minutes until firm, golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge to loosen it. Invert the cake onto a platter, leave for about a minute to loosen, then remove the pan.
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Caramel Cobbler

Caramel Cobbler

I have a small obsession with Mississippi made McCarty Pottery. I am sort of a latecomer to it. When I was of an age that all my friends were getting married, McCarty was on the top of everyone’s gift registry. But I just didn’t see it. Not my style, I thought, too rustic. But for my 40th birthday, a generous friend gave me a beautiful jade platter and I was hooked. I went on a spree, searching out interesting pieces to add to my growing collection (that same friend is my favorite enabler). This all culminated in my first visit to the McCarty Pottery in Merigold, Mississippi. Merigold is a little hamlet of just a few streets, right off legendary Highway 61. Part of the pottery pilgrimage is a stop at the Gallery Restaurant. Hidden behind a wall of bamboo, the jewel box of a restaurant serves a set menu of simple dishes. Start with some hearty vegetable soup, chicken crepes, tomato pudding and spinach, all served on McCarty Pottery of course. The kicker is dessert. A choice of caramel or chocolate cobbler. I chose the caramel, as I am wont to do, and ate every last bit of it drenched in vanilla ice cream. All the way home, driving through the flat Mississippi Delta with my new pottery pieces carefully tucked in the back of the car, I thought about that cobbler and how I could recreate it at home. I’ve been forced to go back just to try and get it right, and if I buy a few pieces while I’m there, who can blame me.

So here’s my attempt, and it’s a pretty good one too. I won’t say I got it exactly right, but this is a rich and homey dessert you won’t soon forget. I like to serve it in McCarty bowls, but that’s up to you.

McCarty's Caramel Cobbler

McCarty’s Caramel Cobbler at The Gallery Restaurant

Caramel Cobbler
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  2. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  3. 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  4. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. ¾ cup milk
  7. 2 Tablespoons bourbon
  8. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  9. 1 ½ cups light brown sugar, packed
  10. 1 ½ cups boiling water
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the butter in a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and place in the oven until the butter melts, about 6 minutes.
  2. While the butter is melting, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder in salt in a large bowl. Mix the milk, bourbon and vanilla in a 2-cup measuring jug, then add to the dry ingredients and stir until smooth and combined. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and pour the batter over the melted butter. Do your best to distribute the batter evenly, but don’t worry about it covering the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the top of the batter, then slowly pour over the boiling water. Do not stir, just carefully place the dish back in the oven.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes until the batter is firm with craters of lovely caramel bubbling up through the top. Serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
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Whole Lemon Squares

Whole Lemon Squares

My mom made great lemon squares. I say did, because she just doesn’t do it anymore. They were her go to take-along to school events and family functions, and a special treat for us. She had volunteered to bring lemon squares to a school field trip for me when I was in elementary school, but shortly before the scheduled date, she broke her leg and was completely laid up. But she worried about those squares, and insisted that my Dad and I make them the night before. My Dad was a very good cook, and I was getting there, but we made a complete mess of it. The lemony filling never set up, so our cookie base turned hard as a rock. We even tried a second batch to equally disastrous results. I can’t remember how my Dad remedied the situation (probably stopped at the bakery on the way to school), but the experience scared me off of lemon squares for many a year.

I make a wonderful Blender Lemon Pie that’s uses a whole lemon, peel and all, to great results. Its an old community cookbook recipe, so when I ran across a recipe for lemon squares using whole lemons in another community cookbook, I worked up my courage to try again. And then they became a sort of go to for me as well. My mom even asks me to make them for her. This version has all the sweet-tart tanginess of classic lemon squares, but not the wobbly texture from a filling that uses more eggs. This method takes a lot of guesswork out of the baking and yields easily perfect results.

As with the Blender Lemon pie, the lemons are best with a thin skin, which can be kind of hard to tell when buying them. Too much white pith makes the filling bitter. Look at the pointy end of the lemon – if it’s very elongated, there is likely to be a thick skin. If the skin feels tough and hard, as opposed to having some give when you press on it, it’s likely to be thick. You can poke through with your fingernail to see what you’re looking at. Buy a couple of lemons with appropriate skins. Cut into them and use the thinnest skinned one. Use any other lemon for you gin and tonic. No great loss.

Whole Lemon Squares
Yields 16
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Ingredients
  1. 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  2. ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  3. 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
  4. ¼ teaspoon salt
  5. 2 medium lemons
  6. 4 eggs
  7. 2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  8. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  9. confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 brownie pan with parchment paper.
  2. Place 2 cups of the flour, the confectioners’ sugar, the butter and the salt in the bowl of a mixer and blend until combined but crumbly. Scatter the crumbs in the bottom of the prepared pan and press evenly into a uniform crust. Bake for 20 minutes until firm and golden in places.
  3. Cut each lemon into eighths and pop out all the seeds. Drop the lemon pieces in a blender and add 2 eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Blend until smooth and the lemons are pureed, then add the remaining 2 eggs and 1 cup of sugar, ¼ cup of flour and the baking powder and blend until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the carafe if needed.
  4. Pour the filling over the crust in an even layer and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the filling is set and no longer jiggly in the center. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes, then sprinkle a thick layer of confectioners’ sugar through a sieve in an even layer over the bars. When completely cool, lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper, then cut into squares.
  5. The bars will keep covered for up to a day. If not serving right away, I wait to cut them into squares and sprinkle some more confectioners’ sugar on before serving.
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Blackberry Sage Skillet Cake

Blackberry Sage Skillet Cake

Fruit and herbs are a wonderful combination. I’ve made Peaches Poached in Basil, a Blueberry Basil Compote, even a Strawberry Mint Vinaigrette. Blackberries and sage a re a lovely pairing, the berries are sweet and the sage woodsy, but together they sing. Sage isn’t generally associated with sweet recipe, but it should be for the lovely herbaceous tone it adds.

I’ve added sage to blackberry jam for years – its one of my standard summer recipes, but I hadn’t really considered using sage in baking. I’ve been experimenting with various herbs in baking recently, and when I decided to use some fresh farmers market berries in this classic upside down cake recipe, I wanted to give sage a chance. It creates this elusive note of herbal freshness under the dark, sweet juiciness of the berries. The cake is tender and moist enough to soak in some of the juices, but not terribly sweet so the berries really shine. A bright note of lemon zest helps bring the whole together.

This cake is lovely on its own for dessert, though I could easily see it at breakfast. A dollop of whipped cream – perhaps infused with sage – or a big scoop of rich vanilla bean ice cream wouldn’t go amiss. And don’t these simple skillet cakes make an impressive presentation?

Blackberry Sage Skillet Cake
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 10 Tablespoons butter at room temperature
  2. 1 nice bunch of fresh sage, 5 -6 leaves and 2 Tablespoons finely chopped
  3. 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  4. ¾ cups granulated sugar
  5. 2 cups blackberries
  6. 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  10. 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  11. ½ teaspoon salt
  12. ½ cup buttermilk
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in a 10–inch oven safe skillet over medium heat. Drop in 5 – 6 sage leaves to infuse the butter. When the butter is melted and fragrant from the sage, remove the sage leaves, squeezing them against the side of the skillet to remove as much butter as possible. Stir in the dark brown sugar and cook briefly, just until smooth and melted. Do not let it burn. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 Tablespoon chopped sage. Spread the sugar mixture evenly over the skillet, then sprinkle the blackberries in an even layer over the sugar.
  3. Beat the remaining 6 Tablespoons of butter with the ¾ cup granulated sugar in the bowl of a mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 Tablespoon of chopped sage, the lemon zest and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending thoroughly before adding the next egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt in two additions, alternating with the buttermilk, scraping the sides of the bowl.
  4. Scrape the batter over the top of the berries and smooth the top. Bake the cake for 30 minutes, rotating the skillet half way through the cooking time, until the top is a lovely golden brown a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/