mushroom farro soup

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What a difference a few drops of vinegar make. I sat down to eat my soup and couldn’t shake the thought that it was missing something. It seemed like enough salt, but I thought maybe if I dribbled in some umami-y soy sauce, that would do the trick. On the way to the cabinet, I saw the bottle of sherry vinegar that I’d put on the counter to add to the soup and forgotten about it. It turns out, that’s exactly what the soup needed.

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It isn’t that the soup is so bad without it, not by any means. With a flavor base of browned onions and carrots, then garlic and tomato paste, and finally a pile of sliced fresh mushrooms, there’s plenty of sweet and meat flavors (although no actual meat). A pinch of truffle salt didn’t hurt matters either, and porcini mushrooms along with their rehydrating broth take the mushroominess up another notch.

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Farro gives the soup substance, and altogether it adds up to a dark, deeply flavored soup that is, nonetheless, missing something. A spoonful of sherry (or red wine) vinegar adds a touch of brightness that balances the rich flavors of the mushrooms. And then the soup is just right.

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One year ago: Red Pepper Risotto
Two years ago: Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream
Three years ago: Sausage Apple Hash

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Mushroom Farro Soup (adapted from The New York Times via Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I added a stalk of celery too, because I had some in the fridge. I wouldn’t buy it just for this recipe though.

Feel free to substitute barley or wheat berries for the farro, but you’ll need to adjust the cooking time for different grains.

The photos of the final soup are of leftovers. Overnight, the farro soaks up some of the broth, making a thicker soup with softer grains. The soup is wonderful fresh, but I might even prefer it leftover.

¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onions, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine (or 1 carrot and 1 stalk of celery)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced ⅛-inch thick
¼ cup sherry
2 cups broth (I prefer chicken)
½ cup farro, rinsed
Salt and black pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl with ½ cup water; cover the bowl with plastic wrap, use a paring knife to make about 5 holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Set aside for 10 minutes to let the mushrooms soften. Use a fork to lift the softened mushrooms out of the liquid. Mince the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a coffee filter to remove grit, reserving the strained liquid. (This is the official method; I never do it this way, I just let the grit settle to the bottom of the liquid and leave the bit of gritty liquid behind when I use the liquid later in the recipe.)

2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just start to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add the fresh mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid, 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms just begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the sherry; scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the broth, farro, minced porcini, the liquid leftover from soaking the mushrooms, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 40 minutes, until the farro is tender. (The soup can be stored at this point for up to 5 days. Heat on the stove over medium heat just before serving.) Stir in the sherry vinegar. Add more salt and pepper if necessary; serve.

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puffed poached pear tart

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Just a handful of recipes left, and I’ll have baked every single dessert in the Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours!

Or at least I’ll have baked something vaguely resembling Dorie’s recipes. These stragglers at the end call for unseasonal unavailable ingredients, so I’ve had to make some significant substitutions. I was actually surprised to find that the plums I needed for this recipe weren’t available at all at my store, not even tasteless rockhard specimens shipped in from another continent.

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But when I saw that the plums in the original recipe are poached in wine, I immediately thought of pears. I exchanged the red wine for white and the prunes for dried apples. Raisins might have been a better choice for the dried fruit, because the whole thing ended up looking pale and plain. But it was nothing that a dusting of powdered sugar couldn’t solve, and anyway, after a bite of the buttery flaky crust and sweet winey pears, I wasn’t at all concerned about whether this delicious dessert was a little on the monochrome side.

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Julie chose the Puffed Double Plum Tart for Tuesdays with Dorie. I replaced the prunes with dried apples and the fresh plums with pears. I poached the two in a mixture of 1 cup white wine, 1 cup water, and ⅔ cup sugar for about 20 minutes, then arranged them on top of the puff pastry and baked according to the recipe.

One year ago: Apple Coconut Family Cake
Two years ago: Sablés
Three years ago: Buttery Jam Cookies

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sour cream pumpkin tart

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My brother majorly stuck his foot in his mouth a couple Christmases ago. He lives in the same part of the country as most of my relatives and had spent Thanksgiving with them; then he and my aunt and grandmother all visited for Christmas. As my aunt was mixing up the pumpkin pie, my brother recalled the apparently horrible (“completely tasteless”, I believe, were his words) pumpkin pie from their Thanksgiving festivities. “Who made that anyway”, he wondered?

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You know where this is going, right? Yes, my aunt had made the pie. And she was right there during this conversation, making more pumpkin pie. And it must have affected her confidence, because she forgot to add the sugar.

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(extra batter)

Fortunately, this pie was anything but completely tasteless. The spices were in perfect balance and it was just the right level of sweetness. I hope that my brother would approve – and that if he didn’t, he’d keep his mouth shut about it.

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Judy chose this pie (or tart) for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I exchanged the sour cream for 2% Greek yogurt, because I don’t often buy sour cream.

Two years ago: Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce
Three years ago: Truffles (chocolate comparison)

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cranberry apple brandy

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When I was simmering sugar syrup, smashing fruit, and measuring alcohol for these cocktails, my mom made the excellent point that opening a bottle of wine is a heck of a lot easier. And while I appreciate how wine compliments food and how beer signals relaxation, I love cocktails too. Cocktails are special. They mean fun and celebration. You can’t help but be happy when enjoying a cocktail with friends and family. And that’s why they’re worth the trouble.

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This one takes more work than the citrus squeezing, liquor measuring, and syrup simmering of my favorite vodka gimlets and magaritas, as apples need to be sliced, then crushed along with cranberries before the liquor and syrup are stirred in – and that’s in addition to the squeezing, measuring, and mixing of citrus, liquor, and syrup, respectively.

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It’s a strong drink, undoubtedly, as it is mostly brandy.  But it has all of the ingredients in a good apple dessert – sugar, a touch of citrus to brighten the flavors, cranberries in case you needed another reminder that it’s the end of fall and the beginning of winter.  Fortunately, that’s just the time for celebrations worthy of the trouble involved with mixing up a seasonal cocktail.

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One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Carne Adovada
Three years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

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The Normandy
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser)

Serves 1

9 cranberries
2 thin slices green apple
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces Calvados or other good-quality apple brandy

Combine 6 cranberries, 1 apple slice, the brown sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle (crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). Add the simple syrup, Calvados, and a few ice cubes, cover, and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with the remaining 3 cranberries and apple slice.

cranberry sauce with port and dried figs

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Have you ever looked at the ingredients of canned jellied cranberries? They’re exactly the same as homemade cranberry sauce: cranberries, sugar, water. The first time I made homemade cranberry sauce, I eagerly took my first bite and then…huh. It tastes exactly like the canned kind. Don’t bother making cranberry sauce from scratch if it’s because you’re expecting it to taste better than it is from the can.

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But there are other reasons to make it from scratch. The first is that it’s fun. Raw cranberries are neat, pucker-inducing and hard and dry. Then when you cook them, they pop. It only takes 15 minutes and can be done up to a week in advance, so why not spend a few minutes playing with your food?

The other reason is that you can play around with flavors, personalizing the sauce. Orange is the most common addition and after doing that for several years, I was ready for more experimentation. Sweet port wine and balsamic vinegar seemed like they would complement the tart cranberries perfectly.

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Even with all of the extra flavors in this – port, balsamic vinegar, figs, rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon – it didn’t taste so different from the stuff in the can. It had a warmer tone to it, and I liked the crunch of the fig seeds. But everyone would have been just fine with the canned stuff too. And that’s okay, because the few minutes I spent making this cranberry sauce were well spent just for the fun of it.

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Two years ago: African Pineapple Peanut Stew
Three years ago: Pumpkin Goat Cheese Ravioli

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Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

At first, I served this as you see it here, but for the leftovers, I put the sauce through a food mill to separate the skins, and I much prefer the smoother version.

1½ cups ruby Port
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed brown sugar
8 dried black Mission figs, stemmed, chopped
1 6-inch-long sprig fresh rosemary
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar

Combine the port, vinegar, brown sugar, figs, rosemary, cinnamon, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Discard the rosemary and cinnamon. Mix in the cranberries and granulated sugar. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is slightly reduced and the berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a bowl; chill until cold. (Cranberry sauce can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

white wine gravy

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Here’s why this gravy is so good:

First, homemade turkey stock. I know, I go overboard, and while you aren’t wrong, keep in mind that this is not a difficult step. You throw turkey wings – they’re not expensive – in the oven, caramelize vegetables in a stockpot, and then mix the two with water and leave it alone for a few hours while it simmers away. Oh, and deglaze the roasting pan the turkey wings were in. That’s where the good stuff is.

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Second, a medium-dark roux. You aren’t just cooking the raw flavor out of the flour here, you want the flour itself to contribute a nutty flavor. It loses some of its thickening power when you do this, but you didn’t want gloppy gravy anyway, did you?

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Third, wine. You might be doing this already, but if not, what the heck? Deglaze that roasting pan after your turkey roasts with wine. If you want flavor, and why wouldn’t you, water isn’t enough.

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The first time I made gravy like this, I poured it over everything on the plate, and that’s the thing about gravy – it affects the turkey, the stuffing, and the potatoes. That’s half the Thanksgiving plate, which means that gravy shouldn’t be an afterthought. This gravy was so good I ate the leftovers with a spoon. The method isn’t so different from any other gravy, so why not follow these simple tricks for such a payoff?

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One year ago: Prosciutto-Wrapped Neufchatel-Stuffed Jalapenos
Two years ago: Pumpkin Scones
Three years ago: Gratin Dauphinois (Potatoes au Gratin)

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White Wine Gravy (adapted from Emeril and Cook’s Illustrated)

4 cups Golden Turkey Stock (recipe below)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small saucepan, bring the turkey broth to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low; cover to keep warm.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour just starts to smell nutty and become caramel-colored, 6-8 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a simmer, whisking often. Turn off the heat and cover.

3. After the turkey has roasted, strain the pan juices through a fine-mesh strainer into a glass-measuring cup; skim or pour off the fat from the strained liquid. Discard the solids in the strainer.

4. Place the roasting pan on 2 stovetop burners over medium heat; add the wine and defatted pan juices to the pan, bring to a simmer, and scrape to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

5. Add the liquids from the deglazed roasting pan to the broth mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper if necessary.

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Golden Turkey Stock (from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Makes about 7 cups

If you’re roasting a salted or brined turkey, don’t add salt to the broth, because the gravy might end up too salty.

4½ pounds turkey wings, cut in half
1 large onion, chopped coarse
1 large carrot, chopped coarse
1 large celery stalk, chopped coarse
6 fresh Italian parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the turkey wings in a large roasting pan; roast until deep brown, turning once, about 2 hours total.

2. Transfer the wings to a large bowl. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the turkey fat from the roasting pan into a large pot (reserve roasting pan). Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pot. Sauté over medium-high heat until the vegetables are golden, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, add 2 cups of water to the roasting pan; place the pan over 2 burners and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits. Add the liquid from the roasting pan to the pot with the sautéed vegetables. Add the turkey wings, herbs, and enough cold water to cover the wings by 1 inch.

4. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until the stock is very flavorful and reduced to 7½ to 8 cups, about 2½ hours. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Cool 1 hour, then refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled. Can also be made and frozen 2 weeks ahead.) Spoon off the fat from the surface before using.

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apple brandy hand pies

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Adding ‘brandy’ to the title of this recipe is probably an exaggeration, because I suspect most of the brandy gets left behind in the sugary liquid given off by the apples. Plus, with two teaspoons of brandy in over a dozen hand pies, that’s approximately one drop per pie. On the other hand, how much more fun do apple brandy hand pies sound than apple hand pies? A lot more fun, that’s how much.

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And these are fun. To eat, that is; to make, they’re a lot of nitpicky chilling steps. You measure the ingredients and chill them; make the dough and chill it; roll it out and chill it; cut circles and chill them; fill the hand pies and chill them.

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It isn’t too bad though; you don’t have to actually do anything during those chilling steps, so it’s really just an issue of starting early. The reward at the end is crust so flaky it’s almost like puff pastry dough, not to mention a sweet and spicy apple filling – whether it’s actually spiked with brandy or not.

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One year ago: Coconut Cream Tart/Pie
Two years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Three years ago: Peter Reinhart’s Pizza

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Apple Brandy Hand Pies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and from Cooks Illustrated’s apple pie recipe in The New Best Recipe)

Makes about 14 pies

Dough:
1¼ cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup ice water

Filling:
2 large apples, peeled, cored, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple (or regular) brandy
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cups (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice

1. To make the pastry, in a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Using a 4-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

3. Toss the apples with the lemon juice and zest. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, flour, salt and spices. Toss the dry ingredients with the apples.

4. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat the process with remaining dough and filling. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut 3 small slits in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven; let cool slightly before serving.

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prosecco raspberry gelee

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One New Year’s Eve, I was standing in line at the grocery store buying sushi rice (because I had a very exciting evening of cooking ahead of me to ring in the new year), when I heard the person behind me tell someone on her cell phone, “I’m buying vodka…and Grandma got the good jello!”

raspberry gelee 4The advantage of only making a half recipe – half a bottle of champagne to use up!

What, I wonder, is the “good jello”? Jell-o brand, and not store brand? I assure you that the two will make equally gag-worthy but redeemingly drunk-making jello shots.

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I think I have found my own good jello, and it involves, as all good things must, bubbly wine. Not precisely prosecco, because apparently that Italian sparkling wine isn’t available in my area, but I’m sure my favorite New Mexico champagne will work just as well.

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And good wine is key here, because very little is done to it. It’s mixed with raspberries, of course, and solidified, and slightly sweetened, and that’s it. In the end, it’s a dessert that tastes almost exactly like champagne with fruit, and the best part is that it even keeps its fizz. It keeps its buzz too, as I accidentally learned on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. I wouldn’t call this a jello shot, but it’s definitely good jello.

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One year ago: Whole Wheat Bagels
Two years ago: Quick Baking Powder Pizza Crust
Three years ago: Eclairs

printer friendly recipe
Prosecco Raspberry Gelée (from Bon Appétit)

Mixing fresh raspberries with sugar doesn’t do much if you don’t cut or crush them, but just go with it. You’ll end up breaking them up slightly when you mix them with the rest of the ingredients, which will tint your gelée a pretty blush color.

I might add a couple tablespoons more sugar next time, just to make this feel more like dessert and less like a glass of wine that happens to be solid(ish).

I did use the orange-flower water, and I recommend it if you have it.

2 cups (9 ounces) fresh raspberries
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 750-ml chilled bottle Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), divided
3½ teaspoon unflavored gelatin (measured from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
¾ teaspoon orange-flower water (optional)

1. Place the raspberries, ¼ cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a medium bowl; toss gently to combine. Let stand at room temperature until the raspberries release their juices, tossing occasionally, 20-30 minutes.

2. Place ½ cup Prosecco in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and let stand 5 minutes to soften. Bring 1 cup Prosecco to a boil with the remaining ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat; add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.

3. Transfer the gelatin mixture to a large pitcher. Add the raspberries with their juices, the remaining Prosecco, the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and orange-flower water (if using), stirring to dissolve any sugar.

4. Using a slotted spoon, divide the raspberries equally among coupe glasses or other small wide shallow glasses or cups. Divide the Prosecco mixture equally among the glasses, about ¾ cup per glass. Chill gelée until firm, about 3 hours. (Gelées can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

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bourbon ice cream

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Dave and I have developed a little whiskey collection. The first bottle I bought for cooking, and one Dave wanted because it’s what Dirk Pitt drinks. Then I bought a bottle of Scotch for my dad for Father’s Day last year, but right before I was going to give it to him, he said he didn’t like Scotch so I ran out and bought some bourbon for him and kept the Scotch for myself. And then I bought another bottle of bourbon for my dad for Father’s Day this year (I’m very creative with my Father’s Day gifts, obviously), but then decided to get him something else.

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So Dave and I decided we should do a whiskey tasting with our collection. But somehow time got away from us over the weekend, and we didn’t get to it until Sunday night. And let me give you a piece of advice: Sunday night is not a good time for a whiskey tasting, assuming you have to go to work Monday morning. Which we did. Grudgingly.

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Dave and I apparently agree with my dad in his whiskey preferences, in that we both liked the bourbons better than the Scotch. I enjoy both, but the bourbon is so sweet and caramelly that it’s no wonder it’s my favorite. And doesn’t the sweet and caramelly description make it seem like bourbon is a perfect flavor for ice cream?

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Like all desserts, it’s difficult to get the flavor of the alcohol to shine through the creamy custard base. I even increased the amount of bourbon, at the risk of ice cream that would never freeze, and still the bourbon was a subtle overtone. Dave thought it was just right; he thinks bourbon ice cream should be ice cream first with just a taste of bourbon, which was exactly what this was. Me? I thought I liked my bourbon on ice, but now I think it’s even better on ice cream.

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One year ago: Rice and Peas
Two years ago: Strawberry Cake
Three years ago: Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies

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Bourbon Ice Cream (from Bon Appétit via Erin’s Food Files)

I had never seen powdered milk used in ice cream before, but if it’s what caused this batch to be so perfectly smooth and creamy, I’m sold.

Erin and a number of epicurious reviewers warn that this ice cream stays rather soft, but even with using an extra tablespoon or two of bourbon, my ice cream set up just fine.

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
6 large egg yolks
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Bring the cream, half-and-half, and milk powder to a simmer in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the milk powder dissolves completely. Remove from heat.

2. Combine the egg yolks, sugar, brown sugar, and coarse salt in large bowl; whisk until thick and blended. Gradually whisk the hot cream mixture into yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the same saucepan; stir over medium-low heat until the custard just simmers and the temperature registers 175°F to 178°F, about 3 minutes. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Mix in the bourbon and vanilla extract. Refrigerate the custard, uncovered, until cold, stirring occasionally, at least 3 hours. (Custard can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

3. Once the custard is completely chilled, churn according to the directions of your ice cream maker. When the custard has the consistency of soft-serve ice cream (usually after about 20 minutes of churning), transfer it to a chilled container, press plastic wrap directly on the surface, and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

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strawberry cream cake

Strawberries, cream cheese, and cake – is there any better combination? Strawberry shortcake is the iconic strawberries and cream dessert, and for good reason, but for me, this cake is a step above. Mostly because of the cream cheese, but I’m also partial to soft and tender cake over a craggy biscuit. And you can’t beat the wow factor of a beautiful layer cake with the innards exposed. Cake innards are my favorite.

Of course there’s a price to pay for alternating layers of sunny cake, swirled cream, and ruby strawberries, and that is in fussiness. And who doesn’t love fussiness? Not I.

Because this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, there are a handful of tricks that make it work. The cream cheese stabilizes and thickens the whipped cream, not to mention it tastes so darn good. Half of the strawberries are halved for maximum visual impact, and the remainder is macerated to remove liquid. The extracted juice, full of strawberry flavor and not to be wasted, is cooked down to a syrup that won’t make your cake soggy.

Three parts that must be separately prepared and then alternately layered to make a tall, striped, impressive dessert.  A dessert which, when sliced, will collapse into a jumble of fruit, cream, and cake that shows a remarkable resemblance to strawberry shortcake.  But it was worth the trouble of all that layering, because fussing is fun, right?


One year ago: Cream Cheese Spritz
Two years ago: Strawberry Lemon Sorbet
Three years ago: Ricotta Spinach Tofu Ravioli

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Strawberry Cream Cake (from Cook’s Illustrated)

12 servings

I hate splitting cakes. I baked my cake batter in three separate cake pans instead of one pan which would later need to be split.

I made a half recipe in 6-inch pans.  6-inch round pans are slightly smaller than half of a 9-inch pan, so my layers are taller than the original recipe will result in.

Cake:
1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling:
2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
4–6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch
Pinch table salt

Whipped Cream:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (3½ ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon table salt
2 cups heavy cream

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a round 9 by 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla; whisk until smooth.

2. In a clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir one-third of the whites into the batter to lighten; add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a greased wire rack; peel off and discard the parchment. Invert the cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.

3. FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of the best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter the remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries) in a medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain the juices from the berries and reserve (you should have about ½ cup). In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, give the macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about 1½ cups). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the reserved juices and Kirsch until the mixture is syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until the cake is cooled.

4. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: When the cake has cooled, place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the speed to low and add heavy cream in a slow, steady stream; when it’s almost fully combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2½ minutes more, scraping the bowl as needed (you should have about 4½ cups).

5. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Using a large serrated knife, slice the cake into three even layers. Place the bottom layer on a cardboard round or cake plate and arrange a ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around the perimeter of the cake layer. Pour one half of the pureed berry mixture (about ¾ cup) in the center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of the whipped cream (about 1½ cups) over the berry layer, leaving a ½-inch border from the edge. Place the middle cake layer on top and press down gently (the whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, the remaining berry mixture, and half of the remaining whipped cream; gently press the last cake layer on top. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top; decorate with the remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.