Cornmeal Cake with Mascarpone Cream and Strawberry Glaze

I created my dream cake! (And then found excuses to bake it twice in one week, naturally.) It’s perfect for the season, and also perfect in general–did I mention that this is my dream cake?

It’s strawberry season in New York. Like some bizarre fruit addict, I’ve been hitting up the farmers market at least three times a week for these small beauties. (Yeah, yeah, I’m strange, don’t worry about it.) In-season strawberries are typically tinier than the supermarket variety, also, a lot sweeter and more flavorful. They are maddeningly, delightfully fragrant from a distance, and bright red all the way through.

Also, they taste really very good stirred into mascarpone cream. In fact, you could simply offer guests a bowl of strawberries with a generous dollop of cool, whipped mascarpone cream and be well on your way.

But since you already went to the trouble of buying great strawberries, you might as well go ahead and make the cake, too. Why not? It’s low maintenance, as cakes go, and also very delicious. The crumb is tender, almost-dense, and not overly sweet–the cornmeal helps keep the sugar in check. Read more »

Eton Mess with Rhubarb-Gin Jam and Lemon-Basil Meringue

Beyond its role as a harbinger of spring, until recently, rhubarb didn’t excite me very much. I always thought the stalks were lovely, speckled in shades of sorbet-vivid green and fuchsia, but rhubarb’s tart herbaceousness was never my favorite. But then I tried a cocktail, made by a friend who knows her way around cocktails. She also knows how to bring out the best in rhubarb. Her concoction blended rhubarb syrup and bitters with gin, basil, citrus and vinegar. It was delicious–both complex and refreshing.

So when the first stalks of rhubarb appeared at the farmers market, I decided to run with her flavor combination, in my take on an Eton Mess.

The resulting dessert is a bit on the savory side, thanks to the basil, the rhubarb, and the gin. The strawberries and cream add sweetness, and a cool freshness, to the proceedings. I’m tickled by how the meringues turned out: taffy-soft on the inside and crisp on the edges, redolent of basil and lemon in equal measure.

You can serve this dessert in a variety of ways: Read more »

Chocolate-Banana “Piñatas”

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When I was very young, my father owned a Tex-Mex restaurant. (Apparently, one of the first of its kind in the New York area.) What I remember best are the cowhide booths; soft swirls of brown and white I could trace with my fingers. I remember fresh tortilla chips and runny, spiced salsa. I think I ate swordfish every time we visited, which was often.

And then dessert. There was, on the menu, something dubbed the “piñata”: an oblong ceramic dish, a mess of bananas and chocolate chips baked under what must have been sweet empenada dough. It arrived piping hot, a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the top. Even though there could not be a less fancy dessert, I have never forgotten it. Read more »

Put the Lime in the Coconut Muffins

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Sometimes, when I’m juggling eight tasks at once and feeling like a chicken sans tête, cooking needs to be simple to compensate. These muffins are simple. They take an hour to make from start to finish, and then you have breakfast and snacks for the better part of the week. Take half to work with you for instant office popularity.

There’s nothing complicated about this recipe, and nothing onerous about these ingredients. There is only the happy marriage of coconut, lime, and banana, each flavor in a supporting role. If you live somewhere as cold and gray as New York is right now, I hope these muffins will put you in mind of a beachy, tropical cocktail.

So take a minute to yourself. Enjoy one (or a few, who’s counting?) with tea or coffee. You deserve it. Read more »

Chocolate Shortbread with Crushed Pistachios

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I originally indented these cookies as an adult alternative to cloying Halloween candy–a sweet with sophistication, if you will–but considering the hurricane that ripped through New York (among other locales) last night, I think perhaps we should rebrand these cookies.

If you are lucky enough to have power, please consider an afternoon of baking. It’s an activity to occupy adults and children alike, a survival tool to get you through through yet another day cloistered with your nearest and dearest. And as these cookies are made in stages, baking them will carry you through the better part of an afternoon.

In fact, I think I will enlist the Frenchman’s help. He is currently watching local news, reading French news, asking me what changes he can make to the website, and making fun of the blanket I have draped around my shoulders. (Apparently, dear readers, I look like a grandmother.) What this boils down to is that two days home from work gives my French Fry de se sentir comme un lion en cage. 

(As it transpires, Monsieur French Dressing doesn’t appreciate being dubbed a French Fry. But as he is currently playing TV replete with shaky camera-post hurricane footage, listening to an electro pop track, all the while streaming piston noises from his mouth–after promising “not to be distracting”–I will desist pas.) Read more »

Banana Cake with Swiss Cream Cheese Frosting

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When my sister was in elementary school, one day each year was devoted to “Multiculturalism Around the World”. On this day, the lunchroom was transformed into a kind of culinary bizarre where each student should bring in a food item to share with their class to represent their heritage.

My mother, mightily dutiful to the plenteous needs of her three daughters, but at the same time a full-time lawyer, had to be clever. A full blown observance of her Costa Rican and Panamanian ancestry would have required the sacrifice of night hours she should have been..you know.. sleeping. And so she decided to make a recipe much loved in our house. Meanwhile, she told my sister to tell the teacher it was “plantain bread”.

Plantain bread, ha! ‘Plantain bread’ summons images of a somber, dense brick, does it not? What my sister passed around that day was tender and sweet. Of course it was. It was the dog-eared banana cake recipe from my mother’s 1965 edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, fragrant with butter, sugar, vanilla, and banana mash. Read more »

Strawberry-Kissed Walnut Sablés

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Butter, sugar, salt. When balanced properly, is there a happier confluence of ingredients? (The answer is no, unless you’d like to discuss the merits of cream, yolks, and sugar.)

My goal for this batch of cookies was to bridge the transition weeks from warm to colder weather. Toasted walnuts and notes of nutmeg tackle the ‘oh my, it’s quite nippy, I think I’d like something conforming’ aspects of fall, while drops of strawberry jam brighten each sablé and remind of sunny afternoons.

I decided these sablés (a word that means “sand” in French, in reference to both the cookie’s color and texture) should be pop-able, but ample enough so that a few would satisfy. Read more »

Madeleines

For Christmas this year, Paul’s grandparents gave me a book called La Cuisine Authentique de nos Grand-mères (translation: The Authentic Cooking of our Grandmothers). It is easily one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. I am currently working my way through all 400 butcher-paper pages, albeit slowly; there is only so much français a girl can read at a time, even when it pertains to la cuisine.

The book is full of the kind of French home cooking that made me fall in love with spending time in the kitchen in the first place. Best-quality ingredients are emphasized, and the recipes encourage slowing down for a minute. You simply cannot flambée les bananes au rhum with your mind on other things. (Well, I suppose you could, but in that I case I suggest you keep a fire extinguisher on hand.) Read more »