grenadine and orgeat

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Tiki might sound like it’s all fun and games, but it helps to go at it with a liberal dose of snobbery. I’ve found that ingredients in cocktails matter significantly more than they do with food. Use store-brand artificial vanilla in your cookies instead of “good” vanilla and no one will be the wiser, but cutting corners on your rum quality can make your drink taste like rubbing alcohol.

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The quality of your syrups won’t be as distinct as the rum, but they do matter; plus, the ingredients to make your own are often cheaper than purchasing the pre-made syrup. Not only that, but it’s a lot easier to find almonds for sale than orgeat, even a cheap artificially-flavored version. Grenadine, by contrast, is readily available, but check out the ingredients – is it high fructose corn syrup and citric acid? If you’re using good rum and juicing fresh citrus, doesn’t your cocktail deserve real grenadine based on pomegranate juice instead of artificially-colored HFCS?

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Grenadine couldn’t be simpler to make – mix unsweetened pomegranate juice with sugar, heat it up until the sugar dissolves, and stir in lemon juice and orange flower water. Unfortunately, orgeat is not nearly so easy, but homemade orgeat is so rich, so aromatic, I can’t imagine that a commercial version comes close.

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Orgeat, by the way, is pronounced “oar-zsa”, as in Zsa Zsa Gabor, and it’s a syrup made from almond milk. The first step is to milk the almonds, and there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a chore – soak, grind, soak some more, squeeze, add sugar and orange flower water. (Okay, so orange flower water might not be so easy to find, but it is readily available online, and you don’t need much.) Then taste it, and you’ll immediately see why it’s such a common ingredient in tropical cocktails.

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It’s a lot of work for a drink when you could just open a can of beer or a bottle of wine instead, isn’t it? Tiki is more of a hobby for us than just a cocktail. But with richly flavored homemade syrups, it’s a very tasty hobby.

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Grenadine (slightly adapted from CHOW)

Makes about 1½ cups

1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon orange flower water

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the pomegranate juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Add the lemon juice and orange flower water. Store, refrigerated, for up to a month. (Can also be frozen for longer storage.)

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Orgeat

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups (8 ounces) almonds
4 cups water, divided
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 ounces vodka or brandy
2 teaspoons orange flower water

1. In a medium bowl, mix the almonds with 2 cups of water. Cover and set aside to soak for 30 minutes.

2. Strain the almonds, discarding the water. Transfer the soaked almonds to a blender or food processor and process until most pieces are approximately the size of a grain of rice. Transfer the ground almonds back to the bowl and mix with another 2 cups of water. Cover and set aside to soak for 4 to 5 hours, stirring occasionally.

3. Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth; place the strainer in a larger bowl. Strain the almonds through the cheesecloth. When most of the liquid has been removed from the almonds, wrap the cheesecloth around the almonds and squeeze out any remaining liquid, massaging the almonds to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the almonds and cheesecloth.

4. Transfer the liquid to a medium saucepan and add the sugar. Heat over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves. Let cool to room temperature, then add the vodka or brandy and the orange flower water. Store, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to a month. (The orgeat can also be frozen.)

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goat cheese and braised lamb shank ravioli

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I do use my pasta roller for dishes other than ravioli – but not often. I make the occasional lasagna when I can carve out half a day, but cut pastas like fettuccine are rare. Homemade ravioli lets me get some of the creative flavor variations of lasagna with less – although not insignificant – effort.

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Some of my favorite ravioli recipes lend themselves to a nice plated first course, particularly the ones with fillings based on vegetables. But with braised meat as the star of this one, it’s rich enough to be the main course. I think the slight funkiness of goat cheese is the perfect complement to the gamey lamb.

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I didn’t want to lose or overpower any of that wonderful lamb flavor, so I reduced the winey braising liquid down to a sauce. Instead of using a starch for thickener, which could turn the sauce pasty and dull the flavor, I used gelatin. This makes a sauce that forms a glossy coating on the pasta. A little soy sauce (you could also use fish sauce) amplifies the meatiness of the whole dish. This is definitely a dish worthy of getting out the pasta roller.

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Braised Lamb and Goat Cheese Ravioli

Makes about 32 ravioli, serving 4 as a main course or 8 as a first course

I made my pasta using this method and the following ingredients: 5 ounces flour, pinch salt, 1 egg, 2 egg yolks, and ½ teaspoon olive oil.

1½ teaspoon gelatin powder
2 cups chicken broth
2 (1-pound) lamb shanks
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large carrot, diced fine
1 celery stalk, diced fine
1 onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup unoaked red wine
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1½ teaspoons soy sauce
10 ounces goat cheese
1 egg
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
8 ounces fresh pasta, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a measuring cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the chicken broth.

2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Add a drizzle of oil to the pot and add the lamb shanks; cook, without moving, until darkly browned on bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn and brown on all sides. Transfer the lamb to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the carrots, celery, and onions to the pot; cook, stirring constantly, until softened and lightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste, and cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the red wine and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the broth with gelatin, rosemary, thyme, and browned lamb to the pot. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the lamb is tender and can be easily shredded, about 3 hours, turning the lamb shanks every hour.

3. Transfer the lamb to a clean plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and finely chop it.

4. Remove the rosemary and thyme from the liquid remaining in the pot and discard. Over medium-high heat, simmer until the liquid in the pot is reduced to ½ cup, about 8 minutes. Add the soy sauce. Cover and set aside.

5. Combine the shredded lamb, goat cheese, egg, and ¼ cup parmesan cheese.

6. Place one rounded tablespoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wet the pasta along the long edges and between the filling. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling, pressing around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

7. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to a serving platter or individual plates or pasta bowls. Top with the sauce and addition parmesan and serve immediately.

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tonga punch

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Our experiments with rum cocktails have progressed from comparing how well different fruits infuse into rum (strawberries and raspberries work the best; apples don’t work at all) to trying a new tiki drink almost every week. Over the last year, we’ve tried over thirty tiki drinks!

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On Sunday evenings, after the chores are done, workouts are finished, food for the week is prepped, we reward ourselves with a couple cocktails. Sometimes we sit outside in the backyard while we sip; sometimes I sit inside on my computer and plan our next vacation. (We’re going to Iceland, which is about an untiki-y as you can get.) It’s one of my favorite times of the week, even though I know we have to go back to work the next day.

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Of all that we’ve tried, this one is both Dave’s and my favorite. It’s so refreshing – not too sour, not too sweet, not too strong, not too weak. As a bonus, it doesn’t require any particularly rare ingredients. It also doesn’t require tiki mugs, but if you’ve got them, they make the best time of the week just a little bit better.

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Tonga Punch (rewritten from Stephen Siegelman and Maren Caruso’s Trader Vic’s Tiki Party)

Makes 1 drink

I recommend Shellback, Flor de Caña, or Appleton white rums.

Technically, triple sec and orange curaçao are different and not interchangeable (Grand Marnier is curaçoa; Cointreau is triple sec), but using triple sec instead of curaçao won’t ruin this drink. We use Clement Creole Shrubb, which is neither triple sec nor curaçao.

Look for grenadine with pomegranate in the ingredient list; otherwise you’re just buying a combination of high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, and food coloring.

2 ounces silver rum
1½ ounces orange juice
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce orange curacao
¼ ounce lime juice
¼ ounce grenadine
1 cup ice

Combine the liquids in a blender. Add the ice and pulse until the largest pieces if ice are approximately ½-inch. Pour unstrained into a glass and enjoy.

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strawberry crinkle cookies

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It’s May, and strawberries are in season! Delicious red fresh strawberries are available for snacking, baking, and daiquiris. And I’ve done my share of snacking and daiquiri-ing. But when it comes to baking, I have to confess, I often prefer frozen strawberries, no matter what time of year it is.

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Maybe using frozen strawberries defeats the purpose of eating seasonally, but I like that they puree more thoroughly. Plus, because they’re not so perishable and delicate, frozen strawberries can be picked when they’re really ripe, unlike fresh strawberries you buy at the store, even this time of year. I have no shame in using frozen strawberries for baking, even in the peak of their season.

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I was impressed by how much strawberry puree was in these cookies. The dough (almost more of a batter) was delicious – like strawberry ice cream, except without the brain freeze. Once baked, the strawberry flavor was more muted, but still evident. These might become a spring tradition for me – or any other time of the year, since frozen strawberries are available whenever I want them.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Strawberry Crinkle Cookies (slightly adapted from Merry Gourmet)

I used one drop of Americolor red food coloring, which made the batter the perfect color, but the baked cookies weren’t quite as pink as I wanted.

3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick; 113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus ¼ cup for rolling
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup strawberry puree (from 6 ounces or 2 cups strawberries)
2 drops red food coloring (optional)
½ cup confectioner’s sugar

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking powder.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and 1½ cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla, strawberry puree, and red food coloring. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Chill the dough for 4 hours or up to 3 days.

3. Transfer the ¼ cup granulated sugar and the confectioner’s sugar to separate small bowls. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Coat the balls of dough with granulated sugar, then powdered sugar. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are puffed and do not look wet in the cracks, 12-16 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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fresh pasta with braised quail

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I have never seen a Meyer lemon for sale where I live. My local store used to stock blood oranges in the winter and rhubarb in the spring, but I didn’t see either this year. Sheets of nori? I’ve started ordering them online, along with golden syrup, peppermint extract, a big container of sprinkles, espresso powder, 00 Italian flour, herbal tea, looseleaf black and green tea, passionfruit concentrate, and my favorite brand of soy sauce. Living in a small town has its disadvantages.

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But I seem to have a steady supply of game meats. I’ve bought quail a few times, and this is my favorite way to use it (which isn’t to say that chicken drumsticks or thighs wouldn’t also be great in this dish). What I’ve learned about quail is that they are so tiny that it can be hard to find the meat. As someone who doesn’t much appreciate messing around with their food as they eat it, a salad topped with a whole quail was frustrating (although pretty).

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This pasta dish, with so little in it besides the quail, cooks it down to its essence. What sauce there is is concentrated quail stock. It’s intensely savory. It coats the pasta in the thin layer, with bits of shredded quail meat dispersed throughout. You can garnish the dish with teeny tiny drumsticks. And, amazingly, this is a dish I can actually find all the ingredients for in my little town.

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Fresh Pasta with Braised Quail (adapted from Marcella Hazen’s Marcella Cucina via epicurious)

Serves 4

4 whole quail, washed and dried
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
½ stalk celery, minced
½ medium carrot, minced
1 fresh sage leaf, minced
6 rosemary leaves (remove from 1 sprig), chopped very fine
½ cup dry white wine
1 roma tomato, diced small
1 pound fresh pappardelle or fettuccine
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1. Season the quail generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and quail, and cook without moving for 3-4 minutes, until well browned. Flip the quail; continue to cook until all sides are browned, propping the quail against the sides of the pan if necessary. Transfer the browned quail to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the vegetables and herbs; cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, return the quail to the skillet, and cover. Cook, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomato, cover, and cook for another 20-25 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the pan from drying out, until the meat can easily be removed from the bones.

3. Remove the quail from the pan and shred the meat, discarding the bones. If desired, reserve the drumsticks with their meat for garnish.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just tender, 2-4 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.

5. Add the shredded quail meat, pasta, ¼ cup pasta cooking water, and parmesan to the pan with the sauce. Toss the contents together until well mixed, adding more pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan and the reserved drumsticks.

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confetti cookies

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I had this great idea at the beginning of the year to send my eight nephews and one niece cookies for each of their birthdays. That’s less than one package per month, how hard could it be?

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Of course, that’s assuming that their birthdays are evenly dispersed, which they definitely are not. There were three the first week of February, which I scrambled to keep on top of, and then there are three the first week of April. At least I get two-thirds of them out of the way within a few months, I suppose.

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I haven’t been able to find the perfect cookie for each kid, but for my girlie-girl niece, it was an easy choice. Sprinkles! Pink! Crumbles of cake within the cookies that have more pink sprinkles! These really do scream “Happy Birthday!”, which makes them the perfect package for the birthday girl halfway across the country. And the Facebook picture of the cookies being enjoyed makes it all worth it. Only three more birthdays to go this year!

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Confetti Cookies (from Christine Tosi’s Momofuko Milk Bar via Eva Bakes)

I doubled the sprinkles in the cookie dough. The cookies needed more color, I decided.

Birthday Cake Crumbs:
50 grams (¼ cup) granulated sugar
13 grams (1 tablespoons) light brown sugar, lightly packed
45 grams (6 tablespoons) cake flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Cookies:
400 grams (3 cups) all-purpose flour
50 grams (⅔ cup) instant dry milk powder
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
80 grams (½ cup) rainbow sprinkles
16 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1¼ teaspoons salt
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Birthday Cake Crumbs

1. For the Birthday Cake Crumbs: Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles. Add the oil and vanilla and stir until the mixture forms small clusters. Spread the clusters on the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch; they will dry and harden as they cool. Let the crumbs cool completely before using. (Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the freezer.)

3. For the cookies: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, dry milk powder, cream of tartar, and baking soda.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter, salt, sugar, and corn syrup on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla; continue to beat on medium-high speed for 6 to 7 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the Birthday Cake Crumbs.

5. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the dough 4 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Transfer the pans to the refrigerator and chill for at least one hour. (The prepared and portioned dough can be chilled for up to 1 week; if storing for longer than an hour, wrap the pans tightly in plastic wrap. If you’re storing for a while, you can save space by arranging the dough portions closer together on one baking sheet, then dividing them onto separate pans right before baking.)

6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies until very lightly browned around the edges, about 18 minutes.

7. Cool the cookies completely on the pans before transferring to a plate or to an airtight container for storage. The cookies can be stored for up to five days.
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blueberry lemon date bars

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Dave and I had a Serious Discussion last year about hiking. He loves it; I’m okay with it. I like the part that involves relaxing exercise (usually an oxymoron) in a pretty place, but not the part that requires several hours of driving. Dave doesn’t love the driving either, but for him, it’s worth it for the hiking. So we’ve compromised and are making more of an effort to get miles in; Dave’s goal this year is 100 miles.

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The more often we go, the more we get into a routine. Make coffee at home; stop for breakfast burritos to eat on the road; almonds, these bars, and camelbaks full of water for snacks; and a grain or pasta-based salad for lunch if it’s a long enough hike. Having a series of tasty foods lined up definitely helps get me motivated.

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Breakfast burritos win as my favorite food of the day, of course, but these bars are delicious too. They’re a perfect mid-morning treat, when you’re just over halfway up the mountain, the burrito has worn off, lunch is still a ways off, and your feet could use a break. They’re easy to make and last a while tightly wrapped in the fridge. I need to keep a stock handy; the easier it is to get out the door, the more likely we are to get those miles in.

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Blueberry Lemon Date Bars (slightly adapted from Use Real Butter)

Makes 8 bars

I should probably mention that I’ve never eaten a real Larabar, blueberry or otherwise.

I’ve found that these are great for plane rides too.

2 cups unsalted cashews
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup dates, pitted
grated zest from 1 lemon
⅛ teaspoon salt
seeds of ½ vanilla bean

Transfer the cashews to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until coarsely ground. Add the blueberries, dates, lemon zest, salt, and vanilla seeds; process until the mixture forms large sticky clumps. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with parchment or wax paper, with the paper coming up the sides by several inches. Press the mixture tightly into the lined pan. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to several days). Use the ends of the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Cut into 8 bars; wrap individually. Can be stored in the refrigerator for several months.

coconut cake

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I’ve been plastering pictures of this cake on all of my social media outlets, and I’m starting to feel like quite the attention whore, but I’m just so dang proud of it. The decorations are cute; the buttercream is smooth; the tiers are centered. The railroad tracks have wood grain! And then, someone at the shower told me it was the best cake she’d ever eaten.

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Not only that, but there were no tears in the making of this cake. There was certainly struggle, and there wasn’t as much sleep as I would have liked, and I was sore the next day from all the fondant-kneading, but it was overall a much smoother process than the last fancy cake I made.

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The recipes were all familiar to me, so that helped. I keep meaning to do a comparison of vanilla cakes, but in the meantime, this one has always served me well, so I made that for the bottom layer. The middle was my favorite red velvet cake, and the top was a coconut cake I made years ago. People raved about the coconut cake more than either of the others, which was a surprise to me. The host and I had chose it for the smallest tier because coconut can be polarizing; either you love it or you hate it.

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The cake gets a lot of its flavor from cream of coconut, which seems to me to be the coconut equivalent of sweetened condensed milk. It’s very rich, and very sweet. You can use it to make a calorie-buster of a piña colada, which is maybe why it’s usually sold in the drink section. It also makes great cake – the best cake some people have ever eaten, and the best cake I’ve ever decorated.

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Coconut Cake (from Cook’s Illustrated)

1 large egg plus 5 large egg whites
¾ cup cream of coconut
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces), sifted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), cut into 12 pieces, softened, but still cool

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with shortening and dust with flour.

2. Beat egg whites and whole egg in large measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.

3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2½ minutes.

4. With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.)

5. Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

6. Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans with paring knife, invert cakes onto racks and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.

7. While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

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carrot-ricotta ravioli

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I recently made potstickers, and it reminded me how much easier dumplings like these ravioli are to make with homemade dough than with those little square wonton wrappers. With homemade pasta, you have a long strip of dough; after you drop dollops of filling along the strip, you can just fold the whole thing over at once, sealing the long end before cutting in between the filling. Contrast this with individually folding and sealing each square of dough when you use pre-made wonton wrappers. Granted, my method based on homemade dough can only make square dumplings, but it’s so easy that I’m tempted to make square potstickers from now on to avoid individually sealing each one.

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This is an easy filling too. The carrots and shallots are roasted in large chunks, browning and sweetening in the oven. The vegetables are transferred to the food processor with ricotta and parmesan, and then your filling is made with the touch of a button.

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The sauce, if you can call it that, is simply melted butter with parsley. A generous shaving of parmesan on the ravioli provides some salty contrast to the sweeter filling. Homemade ravioli is one of my favorite starter courses, and it really isn’t that hard – provided you start out with sheets of pasta and not a tedious stack of tiny squares.

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Carrot-Ricotta Ravioli with Herbed Butter
(slightly adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy)

4 main course or 8 first-course servings

3 large carrots (12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
5 ounces (½ cup firmly packed) ricotta
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg yolk
1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced parsley
salt

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, toss the carrots and shallot with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Let cool slightly.

2. In a food processor, combine the carrots, shallot, and cream and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk.

3. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with ¼ teaspoon salt and the parsley.

5. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to the skillet with the butter. Once all the ravioli are boiled, lightly toss them in the butter to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan.

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lemon cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese frosting

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Two years ago, I made this cake for a Tiffany-themed baby shower (and I’m just now telling you about it), and it became infamous for the cake that made me cry. I wouldn’t have told anyone that myself, but Dave blurted it out when we delivered the cake. “Never again!”, he told our friends.

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I’m actually proud of the cake, but it’s true that it wasn’t a smooth process. When my friend showed me a picture of the cake and asked me to reproduce it for the baby shower she was hosting for her daughter, I ambitiously agreed. I had never worked with fondant before, but how hard could it be?

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Well, pretty hard, actually, at least when you’re both inexperienced and a perfectionist. I found a few opportunities to practice before the shower and learned some valuable lessons, but on the morning of the shower, the ruffles and lace were still uncharted territory. Looking back, I can’t remember what caused the tears, but it could have been any number of things – the lace sticking to the mold, running out of fondant, running behind schedule.

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Fortunately, whether the lace had obvious seams or the fondant cracked at the corners, I knew the cake itself would taste good. I’m much more confident in my baking skills than my decorating skills. I took one of my favorite white cakes and added lemon zest, so that, at least, was one part of this project that wasn’t complicated.

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Despite my struggles, I think the cake turned out great, and the host seemed pleased. It tasted at least as good as it looked. Still, it was two years before anyone asked me to make a tiered cake with fondant for them again. That is what I’ll be doing this weekend. Any bets on how many times I cry this time?

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Classic White Cake)

Makes a double-layer 8-inch or 9-inch cake

1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites (¾ cup), at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 small lemon
1¾ cups granulated sugar (12¼ ounces)
2¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened but still cool

1. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch-wide by 2-inch-high round cake pans and line with parchment paper. In a 4-cup liquid measure or medium bowl, whisk together milk, egg whites, and vanilla.

2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt at low speed. With the mixer running at low speed, add the butter one piece at a time; continue beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs with no visible butter chunks. Add all but ½ cup milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1½ minutes. With mixer running at low speed, add remaining ½ cup milk mixture; increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium speed and beat 20 seconds longer. Divide batter evenly between cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops.

3. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes for 6-inch pans, 22 minutes for 8-inch pans, and 26 minutes for 10-inch pans. Loosen cakes from the sides of the pans with a small knife, cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto greased wire racks; peel off parchment. Invert the cakes again; cool completely on rack, about 1½ hours.

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Lemon Curd Filling (from Cook’s Illustrated)

⅓ cup lemon juice, from 2 lemons
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
½ cup sugar (3½ ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch table salt

1. Heat lemon juice in small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Whisk eggs and yolk in medium nonreactive bowl; gradually whisk in sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour hot lemon juice into eggs, then return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until mixture registers 170 degrees on instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to cling to spoon, about 3 minutes.

2. Immediately remove pan from heat and stir in cold butter until incorporated; stir in cream, vanilla, and salt, then pour curd through fine-mesh strainer into small nonreactive bowl. Cover surface of curd directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate until needed.

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Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 6 cups

You can use 12 ounces powdered sugar instead of 16 if you’re going to make pretty swirls with the icing instead of decorating. It’ll taste less sweet and more cream cheesy.

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter room temperature
4 cups (16 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat on low speed to combine.

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