Happy Birthday Sourdough Chocolate Cake

We celebrated a birthday in our home this week for the newest member of our happy family. Little Pete turned 5 years old on Wednesday, and the occasion nearly escaped my memory, had it not been for the convenient date and time stamp my iPhone put on this photo.

February 24, 2016; 4:49 p.m.

Yes, my sourdough starter has been with me now for just over five years, and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally given it a name. “Pete” the sourdough starter is the namesake of Peter Reinhart, the James Beard Award-winning master baker whose instruction inspired me to begin this lively journey. Many years ago at a local festival of authors and books, I purchased The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Reinhart’s comprehensive collection of bread rules, formulas, tips and recipes—it’s a 300-page hardcover guide for mastering the art of extraordinary bread. And it was positively overwhelming.

It took me several years to gain enough gumption to actually make my first loaf of real bread and, once I took the greater plunge into building a sourdough culture, I never looked back. Pete began in the tiny kitchen of my former apartment, in a small bowl containing a mixture of whole rye flour and fresh pineapple juice (this was Peter Reinhart’s idea). There were plenty of midnight feedings and nervous watchful moments along the way, and at least once, I feared Pete would not survive my mistakes. Thankfully, the hotline experts at King Arthur Baking talked me off the ledge and helped me correct my feeding rituals. Pete has been thriving ever since. On one occasion, I shared a little bit of Pete with a friend whose daughter wanted to make sourdough, and when the daughter headed west, she took Pete’s offspring with her, and is now making beautiful artisan loaves somewhere in Montana (I’m so proud). I have already shared a few of my simple sourdough recipes here on Comfort du Jour, including English muffins and our beloved N.Y.-style Pizza Dough. If you’re a bread lover, you might also appreciate a glimpse of some of the incredible loaves Pete and I have made together since this adventure began.


It’s exciting for me to see and remember all those loaves. But for this occasion, I wanted to let Pete really show off, and so here’s the exciting news—Pete made his own birthday cake! I’ve mentioned several times that sourdough isn’t merely a flavor of bread, but a method of leavening, and in this richly dark chocolate cake, sourdough discard is the star.

The salted caramel flavor is a perfect match for the ultra dark chocolate cake.

I found the recipe for this cake on one of my favorite sites, King Arthur Baking Company, and I will proclaim out loud that, ingredient-wise, it is the oddest cake I’ve ever made. I will also tell you that it tastes nothing at all like sourdough. It’s a bouncy, spongy very chocolaty cake, and though the KA recipe is for a rectangle cake, I changed it up and did 9-inch layers. I also swapped the coffee-infused icing for one of our most-loved flavors to pair with chocolate, salted caramel. It may strike you odd that I am not sharing a recipe for either, but here’s why—King Arthur already published the cake recipe, and you can find it here (I followed it pretty much to the letter). I’m not sharing the salted caramel frosting recipe because, frankly, I was flying by the seat of my pants when I made it, so I don’t know exactly how much of what went into it. Besides, the texture was a mess. I wanted something akin to buttercream, but I didn’t get the ratios right and my frosting, though delicious and perfectly salted, wasn’t very stable. I will, however, share the photos, purely for comedic value. Those Great British Baking Show contestants have nothing to fear in me! Next year, when Pete turns 6, I’ll probably make challah. 😊


Chocolate-Cherry Tiramisu

“No tiramisu for me, because I don’t like coffee.” This was the reply I’d come to expect from my husband, Les, who definitely does not share my love for a freshly brewed morning cup of java. The classic Italian dessert has long been one of my favorites—its not-so-sweet flavor is perfect for my not-so-sweet tooth. But this issue of coffee has been a real problem for my tiramisu goals. I could make it for myself, of course, but then I would have to eat the whole thing (yikes), and I really wanted to find a way to make it enjoyable for both of us.

Tiramisu is traditionally made of delicate biscotti cookies that have been soaked in rum- or liqueur-spiked espresso, layered with a rich and creamy mascarpone custard and dusted with real cocoa powder. It is, essentially, an Italian version of an icebox cake, and with no baking required, everything about it works—except, for my husband, the darn coffee.

A few months ago, I couldn’t help noticing the ads that kept popping up in my Pinterest feed: “brews like coffee, benefits of cacao.”

OK, I thought, a coffee substitute that might give me an occasional break from the caffeine crashes that disrupt my sleep. So, without any specific intended purpose, I ordered some. I wasn’t blown away by the flavor of it on its own, and though it was interesting, I couldn’t see myself actually trading in my beloved dark roast coffee. Until the day it suddenly hit me: this brewed cacao might work in tiramisu!

As with several other recipes I’ve delayed trying, tiramisu has turned out to be remarkably simple. I leaned on the expertise of Ina Garten, the “Barefoot Contessa” whom I admire not only for her seemingly effortless cooking style, but also for her absolute devotion to her husband. She is always preparing special cocktails and favorite foods for Jeffrey, and I can relate. Ina’s recipe for tiramisu seemed simple enough, and it was very easy to cut the ingredients in half for a smaller portion for the two of us. I made several swaps—cacao for espresso, amaretto for rum, and cherry juice and preserves to flavor some of the mascarpone filling. But the technique and ratios of ingredients are the same, and it turned out perfect for our at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

Chocolate and cherry together, my valentine’s favorite! The unsweetened flavor of the brewed cacao was a perfect stand-in for the espresso, and I will definitely make this again!

If you’re considering trying this little “pick me up” (it’s what tiramisu means in Italian), here are a few helpful things I learned along the way.

Tips for Tiramisu Success

Eggs are more easily separated while they are cold, but the yolks should be room temperature when you begin whisking for the recipe. The eggs are not cooked in this mostly-traditional recipe, and if you’re concerned about health risks from this, you can find pasteurized eggs in a well-stocked supermarket. They will allow you to stick to the recipe but with complete safety.

The mascarpone, like the eggs, should be room temperature for this recipe. If it is cold, it will clump rather than blend into the yolk mixture.

Brew extra cacao beverage (or espresso) than recommended in case you need it for dipping ladyfingers. The delicate cookies absorb the liquid very quickly, even when dipped for no more than five seconds, and it’s good to have a little extra on hand. This should be cooled to room temperature.

As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients, tools and dishes ready to go when you begin. Ina’s recipe recommended a 9 x 13” glass dish; I halved the recipe and used a 2.75 quart Pyrex dish that measured 8 1/2 x 7″. The recipe yielded six generous portions of tiramisu. With some fiddling, I think you could split the cookies and make it work in an 8 x 8″.

You probably need an electric mixer, either handheld or stand mixer, for this recipe. It would be difficult to properly whip the eggs and mascarpone by hand.

Finally, this dessert needs several hours in the fridge to set up properly, so plan accordingly.

Adapted from:
Barefoot Contessa | Tiramisu | Recipes

Ingredients

3 egg yolks, room temperature (save the whites for your next omelet)

2 Tbsp. caster sugar* (see notes)

1/4 cup amaretto, divided

1 cup brewed dark roast cacao*, cooled

8 oz. mascarpone, room temperature

2 Tbsp. cherry juice

4 Tbsp. premium cherry preserves*

7 oz. (200g) package ladyfingers (biscotti savoiardi)

Double Dutch dark cocoa* for dusting between layers and top of tiramisu

Luxardo premium cocktail cherries, for garnish (optional, but fun if you have them)


*Ingredient Notes

Caster sugar is sometimes called “superfine” sugar, and I’ve chosen it for this recipe because it dissolves more readily than regular cane sugar.

The roasted cacao is made very similarly to coffee, and I prepared it in my French press. You can find the product I used online (just search it once on Pinterest and you’ll get ads for the rest of your life), or check with a local chocolatier to see if they have a similar product. Of course, you could also make tiramisu with espresso, as is traditional.

I made a midstream decision to fold cherry preserves into part of the mascarpone mixture, given that Valentine’s Day was already a chocolate-and-cherry kind of day. This brand is delicious, but a similar thick fruit spread would also work.

The Double Dutch dark cocoa powder is a King Arthur Baking product; it’s a 50-50 mix of regular Dutch-processed cocoa and black cocoa, which is very dark and somewhat bitter. It’s a richer color and flavor than most grocery store cocoa powders, but you could certainly substitute Hershey’s dark or any other cocoa.


Instructions

I have pictures of my adventure, of course! See how it went, and keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable recipe for your files. 🙂


  1. Prepare brewed cacao according to package instructions (or use espresso as instructed in a conventional tiramisu recipe. Combine brewed cacao with 2 Tbsp. amaretto in a shallow dish and set aside.
  2. Using the whisk attachment for stand mixer, whip egg yolks at high speed until smooth and slightly thickened. Gradually add caster sugar while eggs are being whisked and continue until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light, fluffy and lemon-colored.
  3. Add cherry juice, 2 tablespoons of amaretto and mascarpone. Whip into egg mixture at low speed until the mixture resembles that of soft whipped cream.
  4. Divide mixture into approximately half. Fold in cherry preserves to one half of mixture.
  5. Sift cocoa over the bottom of glass baking dish.
  6. Moving quickly, dip the ladyfingers (one or two at a time) into cacao-amaretto mixture, for no longer than five seconds. Arrange them in a single layer over the cocoa powder.
  7. Spread the cherry-infused mascarpone mixture evenly over the ladyfingers, to the edges of the dish, and then sift cocoa over the layer.
  8. Repeat with the remaining ladyfingers, topping the second layer with the remaining mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably a full 24 hours ahead of serving.
  9. At serving time, cut tiramisu into squares. Sift additional cocoa over the top of each serving and finish with a Luxardo cherry garnish.


Want to give it a go?


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my brand recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀


Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies

Pardon me for a moment, as I ponder the best part of Super Bowl LV—I don’t mean the game, though I’m sure that Tampa Bay fans everywhere are still celebrating and bragging on social media about the blowout win. I’m not talking about the fun party, because as much as I love chilling at home with my husband (and making great food together), we were definitely feeling the void and missing our usual houseful of friends and neighbors. Nope, I am calling out the best part. For me, it was these brownies.

With a winning combination of all the right flavors, these brownies deserve their own trophy.

I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s diet or anything; just hear me out for a sec on these brownies. Soft and fudgy, peanut butter swirly, crunchy pretzel salty, holy moly, yum. They smelled fantastic while baking, and I don’t feel one bit ashamed for taking a major shortcut—a box brownie mix.

There, I said it. Though I love my time in the kitchen, especially creating fun, new twists on foods everybody loves (pizza, for instance), I don’t make desserts very often because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. That’s probably what attracted me to these brownies in the first place—they are not only sweet, but also nutty and salty and crunchy. I’ve adapted these from a scratch recipe by Valerie Bertinelli, the actress who now has her own cooking show on Food Network. I considered (for about a second) making them from scratch myself for our quiet, at-home Super Bowl festivities, but the reality is that Ghirardelli does it way better than I do. It was the peanut butter swirl and salty pretzel topping that won me over, anyway.

I gleaned a few bits of wisdom from the reviews for Valerie’s scratch-made recipe, such as using a smaller pan and a lesser amount of the peanut butter swirl mixture, and then I settled in to enjoy a shortcut version of what so many fellow bakers had to say—”best brownies ever!”


Ingredients

1 box Ghirardelli brand “dark chocolate” brownies, + ingredients to make them, which included an egg, 1/2 cup oil and 1/4 cup water.

1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder

1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks

1/2 cup smooth and creamy peanut butter (not the “natural” variety)

1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted to remove lumps

3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted

A handful of salted mini pretzels, broken by hand

An extra sprinkle of coarse sea salt, if you like a bit more of this contrasting flavor


Instructions

The photos tell the story, but if you keep scrolling, you’ll find a downloadable PDF you can save and print for your recipe files. Enjoy!


  1. Preheat oven to 325° F, with rack in center of oven. Butter a glass 8 x 8” baking dish.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar and melted butter. I used my handheld mixer for this step, but Valerie mixed it up just fine with a spoon, so do what you like there. Set this mixture aside while you prepare the brownie base.
  3. Add dark cocoa to the brownie mix. Add the egg, oil and water, blending together until all dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in the extra chocolate pieces. Spread batter evenly into baking dish.
  4. Spoon dollops of the peanut butter mixture randomly over the top of the brownie base. You may find that you have a little bit of the peanut butter mixture left over, as I did. But if that’s the case, just follow my lead and eat it straight off the spatula, the beaters, the bowl, and that little bit that spattered on the counter. No problem (it’s delicious).
  5. Use a butter knife blade to drag the peanut butter dollops through the brownies, marbling as much or as little as you like.
  6. Use your hands to break the mini pretzels into pieces, scattering them all over the brownies. Sprinkle on a few pinches of coarse sea salt (optional).
  7. Bake brownies 45 to 50 minutes, according to package instructions. Cool completely before cutting, and try not to eat the whole batch in one evening.

The center of the brownie is soft and fudgy, the corners and edges are perfectly chewy, and that whole peanut butter swirly pretzel thing? Totally elevating my happy!

Want to make these brownies?


New York Cheesecake with Spiced Cran-Cherry Topping

One day, I’ll learn that if I’m going to ask my husband, Les, to pick a dessert for me to make, I should make it a multiple choice. When I gave him free rein to decide on dessert for our tiny Thanksgiving for two, I imagined he’d choose from the obvious traditional sweets. You know, maybe pumpkin pie or bourbon pecan pie, or maybe this would be the year he’d ask for the apple cranberry pie I’ve mentioned for the past three Thanksgivings. Nope.

“Make a real New York cheesecake,” he said.

Cheesecake? C’mon, that’s not a Thanksgiving dessert. But maybe I could do a maple cheesecake with a caramelized apple topping, and that would be delicious and appropriate for Thanksgiving. But my hubby was clear about it: he was craving the authentic New York-style cheesecake—tall, dense and creamy. Oh, and topped with bright red cherries. His memory was based on the desserts made by one Miss Grimble, who was apparently an institution in the city of his youth. Not to set the bar too high, right? I’m good at researching, so I was on it.

Most recipes for this style cheesecake require baking in a water bath, which promotes even baking and a smooth top without unsightly cracks. That made me nervous right out of the gate. I know for certain that my springform pan is not watertight, a truth I learned when a birthday quiche I made for a gal pal a few years ago leaked out all over the oven. I wasn’t up for a repeat of that performance, for sure. And I was also insecure because there were differing opinions about the right temperature to bake a New York-style cheesecake. Some “authentic” recipes insisted the cake should bake in a water bath at 500° F for the first few minutes, then about half that temperature for almost an eternity. Other “real cheesecake” recipes said skip the water bath and just cool the cake in the oven to avoid the cracking on top. With so many opinions, I made the only decision that felt safe: I searched the King Arthur Baking Company website, read all the way through their recipe instructions as well as the accompanying blog post written by baking expert P.J. Hamel, and then I donned my apron and got to it.

The King Arthur recipe included instructions for a shortbread cookie-style crust, which I promptly replaced with a homemade graham cracker base (Les swears this was how Miss Grimble did it) and the blog post suggested two major rules for perfect cheesecake: start with room temperature ingredients, and don’t whip air into the filling mixture. One thing that attracted me to this recipe was that it did not emphasize a need for a water bath. Whew.

This turned out to be one of the tastiest and prettiest desserts I have made at home, and I did find a way to adapt it to the flavors of the season. Les got his cherry topping, but I spiked it with fresh cranberries and real cinnamon. We both loved it, and the cranberries are making it a festive dessert option all the way through the rest of the holiday season.

I’m glad my hubby requested this. It was delicious! 🙂

Adapted from NY Cheesecake | King Arthur Baking

Ingredients (crust)

1 sleeve honey graham crackers

1 handful ginger snap cookies (I used Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger cookies)

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Pinch of kosher salt


Ingredients (filling)

4 packages (8 oz. each) full-fat cream cheese*

1 3/4 cup organic cane sugar

5 large organic eggs*

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia flavoring*

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup full-fat sour cream*


Ingredients (topping)

2 cups frozen dark sweet cherries

1 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted

1/4 cup pure cherry juice (or water)

1/4 cup organic cane sugar

1 cinnamon stick, about 4” long (or a few pinches ground cinnamon)


*Notes

The most helpful thing I learned from the King Arthur experts is the importance of bringing all ingredients to room temperature before blending. This helps prevent clumping of the cream cheese and ensures the cheesecake mixture is the best temperature headed into the oven. Plan wisely, and take all the refrigerated ingredients—cream cheese, eggs and sour cream—out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before you begin.

Fiori di Sicilia is a specialty ingredient I purchase from King Arthur Baking Company. You may not have heard of it, but you would find the citrus-vanilla flavor reminiscent of Italian panettone or a frozen creamsicle treat. The ingredient is not essential for this cheesecake, but I love the “special something” it brings to desserts. This was my substitute for lemon zest in the original King Arthur recipe.

The recipe that inspired me did not require a water bath, but P.J. Hamel suggested in her “cheesecake tips” using cake strips, which are soaked and wrapped around a cake pan to promote even baking. Find these online or at a gourmet kitchen store, or give the recipe a go without them. I already had them, so I used one and it worked great.



Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, then cut a piece of parchment paper to size for the bottom, and butter the parchment.
  2. Use your hands to break the graham crackers and ginger snaps into smaller pieces. Pulse into fine crumbs in a food processor or use a rolling pin to smash them into fine crumbs in a large zip-top bag. Pour melted butter into crumbs and stir to mix well. It should resemble the texture of wet sand.
  3. Press crumbs firmly into a springform pan, evenly covering the bottom and about a half inch up the sides. I used the bottom of a small glass bowl to compress the crumbs.
  4. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then remove pan and allow crust to cool at room temperature.
  5. In a stand mixer on the lowest speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again briefly.
  6. Beat in vanilla, Fiori di Sicilia (or lemon zest) and salt.
  7. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended and scraping bowl after each egg.
  8. Stir in sour cream and give the mixture another thorough scraping.
  9. Carefully spoon in part of the filling mixture, taking care to not disturb the crumb crust. Gently pour in remaining filling and use rubber spatula to smooth the top of the cheesecake.
  10. Reduce oven temperature to 325° F and slide the cheesecake into the oven on a center rack. Bake 50 minutes, or until filling is set around the edges and slightly jiggly in the center. Turn off oven and prop door open, allowing cheesecake to cool slowly. This will help prevent the top of the cheesecake from cracking.
  11. When cheesecake is completely cool, cover cheesecake with aluminum foil and refrigerate at least overnight.

Cinnamon Cran-Cherry Sauce

Combine frozen cherries, cranberries, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan. Stir and cook over medium heat until it reaches a low boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Berries and cherries should be softened and thickened. Transfer mixture to refrigerator overnight. Try not to eat it all with a spoon!


To serve

When cheesecake is completely cooled and chilled, run a clean knife carefully around the inside of the springform pan, then release to plate the cheesecake. Cut into wedges and top with cinnamon cran-cherry topping.

Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. We found that we liked the flavor and texture even better after a few days in the fridge. Enjoy!


Want to make it?


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products or companies I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion about recipes, products and gadgets. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 🙂


My Gram’s Molasses Cookies

Childhood is one of the greatest examples of selective memory banking ever. I remember the smells and sounds of baking these molasses cookies at my grandma’s house, all the way back to when I needed to stand on a chair to reach the counter and make the cookie shapes. What I don’t remember is working so hard to get the dough right. Perhaps I’m overthinking it and not taking a simple, intuitive approach. Or could it be that these were a cinch for Gram because she made them all the time and I haven’t dared an attempt for 25 years?

As I was rolling out the dough for these—my favorite cookies ever—I found myself missing the metronome-like cadence of the cuckoo clock that hung on the back wall of my grandparents’ family room, and the rising aroma of potatoes simmering on the stove, much less the patient encouragement of Gram saying something like, “That’s it, now change direction and roll it the other way—good job.” What I had last weekend at my house was the sound of Led Zeppelin blasting from the Bose speaker in the next room, me cursing up a storm and vowing to NEVER make these freaking cookies again, and my husband and the dog just staying the heck out of the way. Yes, I’m certain that Gram had this process down to a science, and she probably handled all the hard parts of this exceptional recipe and let us grandkids show up just in time to have all the fun.

This was the first time I’d flown solo on this family heirloom recipe for Molasses Cookies—and yes, I do believe it should be capitalized, same as a classic novel or an epic film, because they’re just that good. For as long as I can remember, visiting my Gram’s house (anytime, but especially at Christmas) meant that I could reach my short, grubby fingers into the brown and tan beanpot she used as a cookie jar, and pull out one of these super-sized, super soft, sugar-crowned molasses cookies. Several years ago, I spotted a similar bean pot in an antique store and bought it without even checking the price tag. Last year, I found another bean pot and sent it to my younger cousin, Brad, who was my sidekick for so many baking adventures at Gram’s house. Just after we lost Gram in the summer of 2019, I found on Etsy a sweet creative soul who helped me turn our family recipe into a tea towel keepsake. Yes, these cookies deserve serious respect.


Brad and I have been reminiscing a great deal as the holidays approach, and though he was eager to share other memories of Christmas with Gram, he deferred to me the task of recreating her wonderful cookies. I’ll admit that I was terrified.

Mixing the dough was not complicated. It was just a little confusing, without solid direction on which order to add certain ingredients. The recipe card says, in Gram’s distinctive scrawl, “Mix. Chill at least overnight.” A more thorough explanation might have suggested first creaming together the butter and sugar, then adding eggs one at a time, blending completely after each one, and scraping down the sides, etc., but I suppose that knowledge is meant to be in my genes (and apparently it is). I did OK to that point, but lost my confidence when I got to the baking soda. Oh, how I wished I could just call her up and ask, “should the soda be dissolved in boiling water, or just hot tap water? Also, is it alright if I use butter instead of shortening? And the card says 6 or 7 cups of flour, but how do I know when the dough is right? I’m so confused, Gram, and I need you here.”

For these challenges and more, I had a helpful assist from my aunt, who offered her own experiential wisdom, plus a bonus family history lesson that I never knew. It seems that my great-grandmother, original author of this recipe, ran some kind of underground cookie business. These molasses cookies and her famous-to-our-family sugar cookies were her top sellers. Great Gram also saved up her own money to buy laying hens, and had an eggs-for-sale business. She was an entrepreneur long before women were supposed to be! I do remember the old hen house in back of her house, come to think of it. And suddenly, I realized again that these are big family shoes to fill.

I took deep breaths and followed the advice Gram gave me so many times on so many things—she’d say, “try it and see.”

For starters, I halved the recipe, which is a little tricky given that the original calls for 3 eggs, but I’ll explain what I did when we get to the instructions. Gram’s recipe card lists shortening, which was a common ingredient when money was tight (and before research showed how awful the stuff is), so I subbed in real unsalted butter. I never bake anything with only white flour, so I swapped about a third of it with whole wheat pastry flour, which is nice and soft and perfect for cookies, quick breads and pastry dough. Finally, to aid in keeping the dough soft, I used a combination of white and brown sugar, hoping that the latter would help compensate for the softness that would be lessened with the butter swap. Yes, I think Gram was also my first science teacher.

This was it for ingredients, plus the eggs. Be sure your baking powder is fresh for any cake or cookie recipe.

This is at least a two-day recipe (the dough must be thoroughly chilled), and several kitchen tools will be needed on baking day. I recommend review of the entire recipe before committing to the baking step. Once you begin rolling the dough, things move quickly and you’ll want to have your ducks in a row.

The ingredients list reflects my own changes I made to the recipe, and I’m certain my grandma would have approved these choices. 🙂


Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, but not room temperature

3/4 cup cane sugar* (see notes)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 large eggs*

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. molasses (unsulphured)

3 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1/2 cup hot tap water

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour* (measure for success; see notes!)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour*

3 tsp. ground ginger*

1 tsp. baking powder*

1 tsp. salt

Coarse sugar for decorating


*Notes

For all baking and cooking, I prefer organic cane sugar, which is not as processed as common white sugar. The fineness of cane sugar varies by brand, and I’ve found the Florida Crystals brand to be my favorite, as it is closest in texture to typical fine baking sugar. It’s slightly tan in color, compared with pure white sugar that has been heavily refined.

My recipe adaptation is half the original recipe, which called for 3 eggs, meaning I had to get to 1½ eggs. Here’s how to divide one of them to get the proper amount: crack 1 egg into a glass measuring cup, and beat it well to fully blend the white and yolk. Note the total volume of the egg, and pour half of the volume into a separate bowl for another use. Voila!—half an egg. Add a whole egg to it, beat lightly and you’ll be ready to go.


One of my grandma’s golden rules of baking was correct measuring of flour, so listen up. Always begin by sifting or fluffing up the flour before you measure. Spoon the fluffed flour over your measuring cup and fill to overflowing. Then use the back of a knife to scrape off the excess flour. Do not plunge your measuring cup directly into the flour bag or canister, or you will not have successful cookies.


Whole wheat pastry flour is a low-protein variety of flour, and can be substituted 1:1 for all-purpose flour in many recipes. It doesn’t have the strength needed for yeast-risen breads, but it is perfect for cookies, quick breads, pancakes and pastry dough. It also meets one of my primary goals of introducing whole grain into our foods. For this recipe, the whole wheat pastry flour is approximately 1/3 of the total flour in the cookies. If you prefer, combine for a total amount of white, all-purpose flour.

Ginger and baking powder both lose their power after a period of time. Ground ginger should provide a pleasant “zing” to the cookies, and active baking powder is needed for leavening. If you can’t remember buying the containers you have, they are probably too old. This is less a concern for the ginger, as that will only affect flavor. Baking powder that is old will give you poor results, because your cookies won’t rise during baking. I use aluminum-free baking powder with excellent results.


Dough Instructions


  1. Using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and both sugars. If you want to go old-school, as my great grandmother would have done, you can do this in a large bowl with a good strong wooden spoon, and it would help you to have biceps like Rosie the Riveter. The mixture should be beaten until it looks uniform and slightly fluffy.
  2. Combine all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour in a medium bowl. Scoop out a heaping cup of the flour blend to a second bowl, and add the ginger, baking powder and salt, stirring to combine. This ensures the ginger and leavening agent will be evenly mixed into the dough. Set both flour bowls aside.
  3. Add beaten egg mixture, half at a time, to the creamed butter-sugar mixture. Beat until well blended, and stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  4. Dissolve baking soda in hot water and set aside briefly.
  5. Add molasses to the creamed mixture and beat until fully blended.
  6. With mixer running, slowly pour in the soda water. This mixture looked very unorganized and messy; it reminded me of quicksand.
  7. Add the second bowl of flour (with ginger and baking powder) to the molasses mixture and stir until blended. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides. Stir in remaining flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until all flour is blended. Scrape down the sides. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate at least overnight, or preferably a day or two.

On baking day, gather your supplies:

  • 2 or 3 large cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper
  • Rolling pin (a round wine bottle works nicely in a pinch)
  • Dough mat (or board, or a really clean countertop)
  • Cookie cutters (preferably round, or anything not too intricate as the cookies will spread)
  • Extra flour for dusting (keep it handy, you’ll use this a lot)
  • Paper towels for wiping your hands
  • Small, thin spatula to assist with moving cookies to baking sheet
  • Large spatula for moving baked cookies
  • Cooling racks (at least two will be helpful)
  • Coarse-grained sugar for decorating (I used turbinado sugar)
  • A baking timer
  • Christmas music for inspiration (I recommend Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack)
  • A glass of wine (seriously, I found this very helpful when things got ugly)
  • My aunt on speed-dial (oh wait, that was just for me!)
Best Christmas music, ever!

Baking Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° F (much hotter than most cookie recipes, and they bake fast)

Generously flour your rolling mat or board, and begin with about 1/4 of the chilled dough. Put the rest back in the fridge until you’re ready for the next batch.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. My aunt suggested that I use “a lot of extra flour,” and I think she meant to say, “Make it look like you had a blizzard in the kitchen.” You need a lot of flour to keep this ultra-soft dough from sticking. Roll it gently to about 1/2” thick.


Dip your cutter gently into the cookie dough bowl, then liberally into the extra flour to prevent sticking. Cut as many shapes as you can from the first rolling, and transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheet. Aim for only 6 cookies at a time, as they will puff and spread quite a bit during baking. Knead up remaining dough scraps and add them to the next batch.

Generously sprinkle each cookie with turbinado sugar.


Bake for 5 to 8 minutes (depending on your oven) until cookies are soft and puffy but not brown on the edges. Transfer cookies as quickly as possible to a cooling rack. Place the hot cookie sheet somewhere to cool.


Prepare a second batch of cookies on the extra pan. This whole scene was very stressful for me, and I found myself wondering how my grandma did this with such grace and ease, and with excitable grandchildren “helping.”

Repeat this process until all cookies are baked. You should have flour everywhere (including your hair), about 5 molasses-coated spoons stuck to the counter, a sink full of bowls and random sticky objects, a dining table covered in molasses cookies and an empty wine glass bottle. If you’re crying, well, join the club. If you’re crying and laughing simultaneously at the end of it all, you get bonus points and a commemorative recipe tea towel.


Is it OK for me to share your recipe, Gram?

She would say—no, wait, she would sing, “Oh, ya, sure!”


Pumking Ice Cream

Didn’t I promise this would happen, when my beloved Pumking ale was released this year? I have been obsessed with the idea of turning this seasonal spiced ale into an ice cream, and here I’ve gone and done it!

Many of the recipes I make are merely altered versions of something I’ve made before. In this case, I followed the lessons I learned when I made the Black Mountain Chocolate Stout Ice Cream I shared back in the summer. As with that recipe, I’ve reduced the beer to intensify its flavors, giving immeasurable boost of pumpkin-y-ness to my standard custard-based ice cream. Throw in a fair amount of pureed pumpkin, and what do you suppose I got?

I can’t wait to dig my spoon right into this!

The pumpkin flavor is amped up three times—first with pure pumpkin puree, and then with the infusion of the pumpkin butter, which is essentially cooked pumpkin with sugar, spices and lemon juice. Finally, the Pumking ale accents the ice cream with a spiced and slightly hoppy flavor that is exactly the right balance to the sweet richness.

Triple threat! The reduced Pumking, pumpkin puree and pumpkin butter will each bring their own flavor to the party.

The other ingredients are straight off my go-to list for homemade custard-based ice cream. Equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, three egg yolks, just shy of one cup of sugar. I heated the milk and cream, plus half the amount of sugar, to the just-barely-boiling point.

While that was working, I whisked the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until it was lighter in color and fluffed up in volume. Sometimes I do this in my stand mixer, but this time it worked fine in a glass pitcher bowl and a little elbow grease.


I gradually streamed half of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking the whole time to prevent scrambling the eggs. Then, I returned the tempered egg mixture to the pan with the remaining cream mixture, and cooked (stirring constantly) until the custard was slightly thickened and coated the back of my wooden spoon.

The cooked custard mixture went back into the pitcher bowl, and I blended in the pumpkin puree, pumpkin butter and reduced Pumking ale. As always, I laid plastic wrap directly on top of the custard (this prevents a skin forming on top, and also prevents condensation that could screw up the texture of the finished ice cream. Into the fridge for at least 8 hours (I usually leave it overnight), then into the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Here’s how the rest of the recipe went:

This ice cream surprised me with its super-creamy, unbelievably pumpkin-y flavor and texture. You don’t taste beer in the ice cream—just a complex layered flavor that seems more complicated than it was.

As Thanksgiving desserts go, this is a winner, not only because it’s delicious and satisfies the desire for a rich, creamy pumpkin dessert, but also because you can make it several days ahead to free up time in your schedule for more pressing dishes.

Serve it in an ice cream cone or bowl, or on top of a square of gingerbread or a brownie or a big fat oatmeal cookie or…OK, straight from the container. Why the heck not?

Just like this. 🙂

Ingredients

8 oz. Pumking spiced ale (or another pumpkin seasonal ale)

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 egg yolks

3/4 cup organic cane sugar, divided

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

1/4 cup Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter* (see notes)

1/4 cup crushed ginger snap cookies (optional)

1 oz. vodka (optional, for texture; this is added during final minute of freezing)

*Notes

If you cannot get your hands on the Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, I would recommend increasing the puree to 1 cup, and cook it with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spices. Cook until it’s caramelized and thickened, then refrigerate overnight before adding it to the ice cream. It won’t be exactly the same, but darn close.

This tastes exactly like a frozen scoop of creamy, spicy pumpkin pie.

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Follow the steps and pictures above, or click to download a copy for your recipe files. Please let me know how you like it!


The Best Bread Pudding

It strikes me funny that a dessert as simple and humble as bread pudding shows up so frequently on upscale restaurant menus. Rarely do you find it an option in a sandwich shop or a casual dining joint. But go to a “nicer” place, and there it is—usually spiked with some kind of liqueur and almost always drenched in a rich creamy sauce. They can make it as fancy as they like, but as far as I’m concerned, my grandmother set the bar on bread pudding. Hers was never quite the same twice, but it was always delicious.

Of all the cooking lessons Gram gave me in her small upstate New York kitchen, one of the most important—that she lived out every day—was to “waste nothing.” As a survivor of the Great Depression, she saved things that most people threw away, including scrap pieces of aluminum foil, fabric remnants, even used twist ties. But the best things she saved went into a bread bag in her freezer, until she had collected four cups worth, enough to make a batch of her famous bread pudding. End pieces of stale bread, that last uneaten sweet roll and even the occasional hamburger bun were revitalized into a delicious, custardy dessert that was cinnamon-y and sweet and tasted like a day at Gram’s house.

I was taken aback recently to realize that I only have four handwritten recipe cards left to me by my cooking mentor, but I’m thrilled that one of them is titled “Basic Bread Pudding.” When I got the news last summer that she had passed away, just as I was awaiting delivery of my new gas range, I pulled out every bread scrap we had in the freezer, and this pudding is the first thing I baked in it.

Like everything else she made, Gram’s recipe for bread pudding is flexible; it’s meant to make use of whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. The formula is simple, and you can dress it up (or not) however you like. If you like it more custardy, she had a suggestion for that on the back of the card (I’ve included it below, as a direct quote from Gram).

In honor of what would have been Gram’s 99th birthday this week, I’m proud to share her recipe with you. She would have been tickled pink, and also a little surprised, because to her, bread pudding was a given.

No matter what I add to the recipe, somehow it always tastes like Gram made it! ❤

There’s a reason that bread pudding today is showing up on upscale restaurant menus. It’s rich, dense, custardy, and so, so comforting. You can flex the flavors to match the season, serve it warm with a creamy sauce or chilled, straight from the fridge. Frankly, I’m in favor of having it for breakfast. Bottom line, it’s a fantastic dessert that you can make yourself, and (by way of my pictures and descriptions) my grandma is going to show you how easy it is.

For this batch, I’ve followed Gram’s lead in pulling some scraps from the freezer. I made sourdough challah a couple months back, and I also found some leftover cinnamon rolls, just minding their own business in the freezer. I swapped out the raisins for chopped dates and dried apples, and some of the cinnamon for cardamom. Oh, and I also boozed them up a little bit by soaking the dates in some Grand Marnier (of course, I did).


Ingredients for “Basic Bread Pudding”

2 cups milk

4 cups coarse bread cubes

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 beaten eggs

1/2 cup raisins (or other fruit)

1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg

Pour into 1 1/2 quart casserole. Set in pan of hot water. Bake at 350° F for about one hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

For more “custardy” pudding, use 4 cups milk and reduce bread cubes to 2 cups.

Gram (on the back of the recipe card)

Follow along, to see how easy it is to create this luscious dessert! You’ll find a downloadable recipe to print at the end of the post. Enjoy!


I suppose you want to know about the rich caramel sauce that’s drizzled all over the pudding? It’s salted caramel sauce, which I might have made from scratch (but didn’t). This time, I took an easy shortcut by warming salted caramel ice cream topping in the microwave with a few tablespoons of heavy cream. It thinned out nicely and provided the perfect finishing touch. Gram would’ve loved that idea, I’m sure of it. Just wait ‘til Christmas, when I share her recipe for molasses cookies!


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Two Fun Ways to Celebrate National S’mores Day!

Not that there’s anything wrong with just plain s’mores. I love them, personally. The crispy graham cracker, melty gooey chocolate and perfectly toasted (or “accidentally” burnt) marshmallow, all pressed into one delicious little sugar sandwich bite—takes me straight back to 1977 and Allegheny State Park in the middle of summer family camp.

But that was a long time ago, and although I still love the idea of s’mores in my grown-up years, I’m less inclined to imagine making a campfire or even firing up the chimenea on our patio. I mean, it’s the middle of summer, you know? I’d rather crank the oven up to 450° F because inside, I have air conditioning. And why would I do something as simple as s’mores, when I can over-complicate them into something more visually decadent?

Consider instead these two tasty treats, bearing every last detail of s’mores, but without the campfire smell permeating your clothes, without the bugs and without smoke getting in your eyes. First of all…


S’mores Pizza!

Oh yes, all the flavors of the campfire classic.

Warm and gooey, stupidly sweet and completely kid-friendly. If I had kids, I would expect them to want this for sleepover parties, or maybe even in lieu of a birthday cake.

For the crust, I leaned on my pals at King Arthur Baking (did you notice, they changed their name!), and did a quick modification to their recipe for whole wheat pizza crust. Who knew that every kid’s favorite cracker is whole grain? Yes, whole wheat flour is also sometimes called “graham flour,” and it’s the basis for graham crackers, so it also will be the base for my s’mores dessert pizza. I took the King Arthur recipe, cut it in half, converted for sourdough, increased the sugar by four times and swapped in coconut oil.

This crust took a good while, because it’s a slow-ferment yeast bread, and the sourdough conversion and extra sugar slowed it down even more. I was OK with this delay because I’m a bread nerd. If you want something quicker, pick up some whole wheat dough at Trader Joe’s, or go with a basic chocolate chip cookie dough, but use whole wheat flour and save the chocolate chips for a topper. In fact, I want to make my next s’mores pizza that way to appease my husband, who has s’mores apathy. This is not his fault. First of all, he was not a Girl Scout. Secondly, he was raised in NYC, and they didn’t exactly have campfires on the fire escape of his apartment building. But if the s’mores are piled onto a giant cookie? That, I suspect, would be right up his alley. I might even go nuts next time and pile the s’mores toppings onto a brownie base. For crying out loud!

For the toppings here, I got things started with a thin slathering of Nutella. I know, hazelnut is not “traditional” for s’mores, but I haven’t found a spread that is only chocolate, so it’ll have to do. Besides, you barely taste the hazelnut underneath all the other stuff that is traditional for s’mores—the graham crumbs, chocolate bits and (of course) the pillow-y miniature marshmallows.

Want to try it? Check your pantry for these items, or mask up and head to the grocery store to get them.


Ingredients

Whole wheat pizza dough or cookie dough substitute

Nutella or similar chocolate spread

Graham crackers, some crushed, some pieces

Chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I used semi-sweet for my experiment, but I think milk chocolate would melt better)

Miniature marshmallows

A big glass of cold milk (trust me, you’ll want this after a big sticky slice of s’mores pizza)


Instructions


And then, into a 450° F oven, just long enough for the chocolate to melt and the marshmallows to get toasted. This didn’t take long, maybe 5 more minutes.

The marshmallows got SO puffy during the baking!


This pizza satisfied my once-in-an-adult-blue-moon craving for s’mores, but I will tell you honestly that the end result (by the time I finished taking pictures and slicing it) was a bit on the chewy side, which was oddly addictive for me, but my hubby did not love it and it was a total “no-go” as leftovers. The best thing about real s’mores is that they provide immediate gratification, a fleeting taste of pure and simple decadence.  Once a marshmallow has been toasted then allowed to cool, it becomes overly sticky and loses the gooey deliciousness that makes a simple s’more so ridiculously good. So, if you intend to give this a go, may I suggest you have a few hungry friends nearby (safely distanced, of course) and ready to indulge? Everyone grab a slice and eat it, straight from the oven.


Or, if your properly distanced friends are all members of the over-21 crowd, lean into this adaptation instead:

S’mores Martini!

For adult s’mores lovers, only.

The distinct flavors of your favorite summer camp treat, with vanilla and chocolate spirits, and neatly dispensed in a chilled 4 oz. glass, complete with graham crumb rim and floating a toasted mini marshmallow garnish.

Kumbaya, y’all.


Ingredients

1.5 oz. vanilla vodka (I used Absolut)

1.5 oz. crème de cacao (light or dark, but not creamy)

Graham crumbs

Mini marshmallows

You will also need a petite cocktail glass and a kitchen torch or stick lighter. A cocktail mixing glass or shaker will be helpful, or improvise with a glass measuring cup.


Instructions

  1. Combine the vanilla vodka and crème de cacao in a cocktail mixing glass (or a bowl that is wide enough to dip your glass rim into). Carefully lower the rim of your chilled cocktail glass into the alcohol mixture, then roll the edges into the graham crumbs until coated all around. Put the glass in the fridge or freezer while you prep the marshmallows.
  2. Arrange the mini marshmallows in a heated cast iron skillet, and use a kitchen torch or stick lighter to gently “toast” the edges of the marshmallow. Watch it closely to keep them from burning (unless you like the burned edges, as I do). The goal is to get a nice toasty color on them and help them stick together in a cluster. Use a small spatula to transfer the garnish to a plate or cutting board to cool.
  3. Add ice to the cocktail mixing glass (or pour the alcohol from the bowl into a shaker with ice) and stir (or shake) about 20 seconds, until the outside of the mixing container is frosty. Strain into the cocktail glass. Top with marshmallow garnish.


Southern Peach Shortcake with Sweet Tea Syrup

What could be more southern than summer sweet peaches and cream on tender, salty butter biscuits? How about all that, plus a sweet tea syrup? Oh, yeah.

This idea came to me after my first taste of an Arnold Palmer, a non-alcohol summer beverage made of equal parts sweet tea and freshly squeezed lemonade. The drink is attributed to, and named for, one of the greatest American pro golfers of our time. Apparently, after a hot afternoon on the links, it was his go-to beverage, and I can understand why. I still have enough Yankee in me (despite 30+ years living in the South), that sweet tea on its own is decidedly not my drink of choice. But lightly sweetened and combined with tart lemonade, it’s light, refreshing, and I cannot get enough of it. When a flavor combination takes hold of me this way, I can’t help myself from thinking, “what else can I do with this?’”

I had four plump, juicy peaches on the counter—not enough for a cobbler, which would be too much for the two of us anyway.

So here we are. I boiled down the Arnold Palmer blend to concentrate the flavors of the tea and lemonade. My tea was light on sugar to begin with, so I added a couple of teaspoons when the syrup reached the reduction level I wanted. The syrup underscores the sweetness of ripe, juicy southern peaches, which are still undeniably the star. Go ahead and use frozen or canned biscuits if that’s easiest or knock it out of the park with some homemade fluffy biscuits if you’re a rock star (and how about sharing that recipe with me because biscuits are not my forte).

This recipe made exactly enough for 3 generous servings, dessert that night and one leftover for hubby’s lunch.

Of course, it’s topped with freshly whipped cream!

Ingredients

4 ripe freestone peaches, peeled* (see notes for peeling tip)

Juice of 1/2 small lemon

3 tsp. cane sugar

3 cups Arnold Palmer* tea-lemonade beverage (see notes for suggestions)

1 Tbsp. corn starch

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

3 fresh buttery biscuits (I cheated and used purchased biscuits)

Sweetened whipped cream for topping


*Notes

Freestone peaches differ from “cling” peaches in that the soft fruit flesh will release more easily from the pit. The peaches at your market are likely to be freestone unless otherwise labeled.

Here’s a tip for peeling peaches without subjecting them to boiling water or crushing them: Use a sharp paring knife at a tight angle to the skin of the peaches and “scrape” against the peel, but not in a way that slices or cuts it. The best way I can describe this process is to pretend you are giving the peach a close shave. This gentle, all-over pressure will cause the skin to loosen from the soft flesh of the fruit. Then, you can slip the point of your knife under a small section of the skin and peel it right off.


For the Arnold Palmer beverage (named for the champion golfer who loved the drink), I mixed equal parts of lightly sweetened tea and Trader Joe’s freshly squeezed lemonade. Simply Lemonade brand would also be good, and homemade would be best of all. Steer clear of instant lemonade drinks such as Country Time. You’ll appreciate the flavors of real lemonade. This blend is so refreshing and summery, I could honestly drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If you’re not already making your own sweet tea at home, here’s the quick rundown for success. First, get some Luzianne blended tea—this is the real-deal “southern” tea, specifically blended for iced tea (though I can’t identify what makes it so). Seriously, if you aren’t in the South or cannot find Luzianne, there’s nothing wrong with Lipton or another brand, but for this recipe, stick with black tea rather than herbal. If you have the jumbo tea bags, you’ll only need two of them, or six regular sized tea bags.

Southerners swear by this stuff.

May I suggest also, if you expect you’ll be enjoying this beverage in the evening, consider getting the decaf version of the tea bags. On my first experience with the Arnold Palmer drink, I kept filling my glass without a thought about the caffeine (the stuff is that delicious). It was a decision I regretted the entire next day, after having only slept about three hours. I think I’d rather have a hangover than an all-night caffeine buzz. On the plus side, it was a very productive day. 🙂

Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle or pan and pour 6 cups over two family-size tea bags in a heat-safe pitcher. Allow the tea to steep 5 minutes, then remove and discard the tea bags. Add about 1/2 cup pure cane sugar (give or take, depending on your taste) and stir until dissolved.

Allow it to cool a few minutes, then add 2 cups of fresh ice cubes and stir until melted. Refrigerate the tea until you’re ready to enjoy it or, in this case, blend it with equal amount of fresh lemonade.


Instructions


  1. Toss peaches in lemon to prevent browning
  2. Sprinkle sugar over peaches and macerate several hours or overnight in the fridge.
  3. Simmer Arnold Palmer blend down to about 3/4 cup volume.
  4. Taste syrup; if too tart (lemony), add 1 tsp. sugar at a time to taste
  5. Combine 1 Tbsp. cornstarch with 1 Tbsp. cold water. Bring sauce to gentle boil and slowly stream in the slurry to slightly thicken the syrup. You may not use it all. Stir in butter. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate if you aren’t using it right away.
  6. Split a biscuit, drizzle syrup on the bottom half, then layer on peaches and biscuit top. Drizzle generously with sweet tea syrup and top with whipped cream.
The first bite of a sweet summer dessert is the best, am I right?

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Grilled Pineapple-Jalapeno Ice Cream

Inspiration for nearly every original recipe I’ve made comes from my experience with the same combination of ingredients in a different type of dish. For example, I love the balance of flavors in pineapple salsa, especially served up alongside fresh grilled foods in the summertime. So why not take the two key elements of the salsa—pineapple and hot pepper—and cross them over into new territory as a dessert? That’s precisely what I’ve done with this unusual ice cream. Holy. Moly. The distinct jalapeno flavor is subtle throughout, thanks to an infused simple syrup, but it’s definitely the sweetness of the pureed pineapple taking the lead. The creamy ice cream is accentuated even further with pieces of sweet grilled pineapple and the tiny bits of candied jalapeno, left over from the syrup creation.

I love the smooth and creamy texture of a custard-based ice cream, so that’s where this recipe begins. Proper tempering of the egg yolks is key to the outcome, so be patient and watch it closely. If you’re not quite ready for the jalapeno flavor, I’m quite certain the ice cream would be good without it. But if you’re game for a tropical flavor adventure, I promise you won’t be disappointed!


Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar, divided

3 egg yolks

Pinch kosher salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1/8 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia* (optional, but yum)

2 oz. jalapeno simple syrup (recipe below)

1 cup pureed fresh pineapple*

1/2 cup grilled pineapple pieces*

2 Tbsp. candied jalapeno pieces

1 Tbsp. neutral alcohol, such as vodka or light rum* (optional, but improves ice cream texture)

*Notes

Fiori di Sicilia is a unique Italian extract, featuring very concentrated citrus and vanilla flavors. It’s optional in this recipe, but adds a special flair. Look for it in specialty stores or online from King Arthur Flour.

It may be best to puree the pineapple just before freezing the ice cream, to preserve the beautiful fresh color.

Earlier in the week, I had grilled pineapple for our Jamaican Jerk pizzas, and I reserved enough pieces to use for this ice cream. If you like pineapple with bold spicy flavors, you’ll want to circle back and check out those pies!

Grilling the pineapple really elevates its sweetness in a lovely way, but don’t let this be a deal-breaker. If you’re pressed for time, skip the grilling and use fresh pineapple bits or even canned tidbits (but drain them first).

The addition of alcohol is optional, but it helps to improve the texture of the ice cream. I used 1800 coconut-flavored tequila, another nod to the tropical flavors.

Instructions

  1. Stir together milk, heavy cream and about half the sugar over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, and mixture comes to a very slight boil. Reduce heat to lowest setting or turn off burner.
  2. While milk mixture is heating, whisk egg yolks, the remaining sugar and kosher salt until light, fluffy and lemon colored. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed, to ensure all sugar gets incorporated.
  3. Prepare an ice bath to be used for cooling the custard. Place a heat-proof glass bowl over another bowl filled with ice cubes and water. It will be helpful to have this ready when the custard has finished cooking.
  4. Ladle out 1 cup of hot milk mixture into a measuring cup with a pour spout. Temper eggs by slowly drizzling hot milk into the mixing bowl, whisking the entire time. Then, return the egg mixture back to the pot with the remaining hot milk and cream. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard retains shape on the back of a spoon.
  5. Remove from heat and pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl over ice water to cool custard. I’ll confess here that I often skip this step when making a custard-based ice cream, but the flame seemed a little hot under my pan this time and I wanted to cool it down quickly before the eggs got any ideas about curdling. Stir in vanilla, Fiori di Sicilia and jalapeno simple syrup. Lay heavy plastic wrap directly onto surface of custard, then cover entire bowl with another layer of plastic or tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate overnight.

Here’s a slideshow to help you visualize the process:

The next day, add pineapple puree to chilled custard just before freezing according to manufacturer’s instructions. After 20 minutes, add grilled pineapple pieces and candied jalapeno pieces for final few minutes of churning, adding vodka or rum in final minute. Transfer ice cream to insulated freezer container and freeze at least four hours to ripen. I know it’s tempting to dive right in for a scoop, but this ice cream will be at its best after an overnight freeze.

Oh my, is that a perfect looking scoop? 🙂

Jalapeno simple syrup

1 cup pure cane sugar

3/4 cup filtered water

2 smallish jalapenos, seeded and diced

Heat sugar and water over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and syrup begins to lightly boil at the edges. Add jalapeno pieces and stir, cooking about 2 minutes at low heat. Turn off heat, cool completely, strain jalapenos (reserve them) and keep syrup in a covered jar in the fridge up to 2 weeks.

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FYI, you will only use 2 oz. of the jalapeno syrup in the ice cream recipe. Save the rest for elevating your tropical flavored cocktails—maybe this Watermelon Jalapeno Mule!

A refreshing taste of summer, perfect for sipping in the backyard.