brown sugar honey madeleines

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My poor madeleine pan doesn’t get a lot of use. I love it; I got it for Christmas years ago, and seeing it in the cabinet has always made me happy. But I seldom bake with it.

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There’s no good reason for this, because I love madeleines. They’re miniature handheld cakes. The batter is easy to mix up. They look fancy with no extra effort on my part. There are endless variations to experiment with. I think I just convinced myself to like madeleines more than cupcakes.

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It’s possible that it’s just this recipe I love so much, with its brown sugar caramel notes. I wouldn’t know, since my only experience with traditional madeleines was years ago and a very qualified success at best. Clearly I need to try that recipe for madeleines again – and many more.

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Di chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. It’s originally designed for a mini madeleine pan, but considering how rarely I use my regular madeleine pan, I think a mini version is the last thing I need. I just added a couple minutes to the baking time recommended for minis. I had a difficult time prying the cakes out of the pan, even though it’s nonstick and I sprayed it with cooking spray. Next time I’ll give it a more thorough spritz of floury baking spray.

One year ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake
Three years ago: Kugelhopf

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far breton

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This doesn’t seem to be a very popular opinion, but I love custards. Far Breton isn’t the most custardy custard I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly on the eggy side of the cake spectrum. I was looking forward to a light, lightly sweetened and beautifully browned cake.

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I wasn’t so sure about the dried fruit, but I thought using small fruits like a mix of raisins, cherries, and cranberries would meld better with the batter than large prunes, and softening them in brandy couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately my math skills failed me and I messed up the proportions of the batter, using one-third of the total amount of egg and milk, and one-half of the full recipe worth of sugar, flour, and butter.

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Dave and I both enjoyed the cake, even with the mixed up ratios of ingredients in the batter. I still think the dried fruit were out of place, probably because I like cake/custard so much more than I like dried fruit. I think, for my tastes, pure custard would be just right.

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Nicole chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. Like I mentioned above, I made a handful of involuntary changes that I don’t recommend (even if the final result was quite good)!

My post on the honey nut scones, also chosen for TWD this week, will be up tomorrow.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Blondies
Two years ago: Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte
Three years ago: Rugelach

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apple nut muffin cake

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I wasn’t expecting great things from Pisa, although that wasn’t Pisa’s fault. I had a cold, because I learned the hard way that you have to eat the occasional fruit or vegetable, even on vacation. We had to get up early and rush to the train station, spend 2 hours on a train to get to Pisa, where we had 3 hours before we had to board another train to get to Rome, where I had a suspicion we’d get lost looking for the hotel. I knew it would be worth it to see the iconic Leaning Tower, but I wasn’t looking forward to the trains, the constant concern over my Kleenex supply, or the crowds I assumed surrounded the famous tower.

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But I was wrong. Not about getting lost in Rome, which we did, and not about the need for Kleenex, which lasted for the next few days, but about Pisa having nothing to offer other than a poorly constructed tower and hordes of tourists. Instead, we took a relaxed walk down a lovely street full of bicyclists, shops, and cafes; peeked into a dark, quiet church that was perhaps my favorite of the trip; and detoured to a wonderful street market where, having learned our lesson, we bought some fruit to snack on while I ogled the squash blossoms, giant porcini mushrooms, crates of fresh figs, bins of artichokes, and baskets of uncured olives. Best of all, we found a farmacia that sold six-packs of Kleenex packets – a lifesaver for the 4-hour train ride ahead.

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But that was Pisa and now I’m back in southeast New Mexico, where fresh figs are nowhere to be found, to say nothing of squash blossoms and fresh porcini mushrooms. (They do have Kleenex here, gladly.) So I skipped the fig cake chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie – but here’s the apple cake I missed while traveling.

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I tried to pretty it up by adding streusel, but it melted into the cake and didn’t contribute much more than a delicious sugary crust. Not that the cake needed any help in the taste department, as it was already moist and sweet and pleasantly appley. Next time I’m in Pisa, I’ll pick up some fresh figs to make Dorie’s fig cake with; until then, apple muffin cake will have to do.

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Katrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie a few weeks ago, and she has the recipe posted. If you want to add streusel to the top, try this one; the one I used didn’t work very well.  I doubled the salt, as usual, since I like my desserts saltier than Dorie.

One year ago: Apple Pie
Two years ago: Sweet Potato Biscuits
Three years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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apple cider doughnuts

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It’s going to be 95 degrees here today, but I’m trying to force it to feel like fall anyway. It isn’t just the temperature; there are no trees here to change colors, the air is always dry and crisp, and the only place to buy pumpkins and apples is the grocery store. I often prefer living in the desert, even with months of over 100-degree days in the summer, but every fall, I miss upstate New York.

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I especially miss the cider mill I lived near when I was there, which was almost a fall festival of its own, every day. I loved stopping there and choosing one each of six different apple types, which made the best apple pies I’d ever eaten. In the weeks before Halloween, they’d cover most of the lot with pumpkins, not to mention the barrels of squash of every variety. Inside, you could watch them pulp the apples into cider on one side of the building, and on the other, they were frying doughnuts. Brushing fallen sugar off of our shirts after biting into fresh donuts became a yearly tradition.

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You can’t buy jugs of fresh cider here or the donuts made with it, but I can make my own doughnuts using pulpy storebought apple juice. By reducing the apple cider/juice until it’s syrupy, you can increase the apple flavor of the doughnuts without increasing the stickiness of the dough. Concentrating apple juice and frying apply donuts smells like fall, and, in a pinch, that will have to epitomize the season in the desert.

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One year ago: Burritos
Two years ago: Green Chile Rellenos
Three years ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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Apple Cider Doughnuts (slightly adapted from The Hearth Restaurant via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 18 doughnuts and 18 doughnut holes

Despite generally being anti-shortening, I tried it for frying this time. However, I wasn’t happy with it; it started smoking well before it reached proper frying temperature. The doughnuts also seemed to absorb more fat than usual.

1 cup apple cider
3½ cups (16.8 ounces) flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil or shortening for frying
Topping (optional): ½ cup granulated sugar + 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the apple cider to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to ¼ cup, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer), beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time; continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add half of the reduced apple cider and buttermilk, then all of the dry ingredients, then the remaining liquid ingredients, mixing just until combined.

3. Flour two sheets of parchment or wax paper; turn the dough out onto one floured sheet and cover with the second sheet. Roll the dough out to a thickness of ½-inch. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes.

4. Using a floured 3-inch or 3½-inch doughnut cutter (or a round cutter plus a 1-inch round cutter or backside of a piping tip), cut out rings of dough. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto one sheet of floured wax paper. Re-roll the scraps of dough, incorporating as little flour as possible. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Add oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet.

6. Carefully add three doughnuts and three holes to the oil; fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Flip the doughnuts and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on the rack for one minute. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the cinnamon sugar mixture (if using) and serve immediately.

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perfection pound cake

(The reason I’m talking about pound cake and not this week’s chosen recipe is because I’m off gallivanting around Italy and have been since before this month’s recipes were chosen.)

(Sorry to brag!)

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I’m under no illusions that pound cake is easy despite its simple ingredients. In fact, it’s just the opposite – without any fancy flavors spicing things up, there’s no disguising an imperfect texture. After struggling with a traditional pound cake recipe that kept baking up too dense, I finally gave up and moved on to one in which the egg whites are whipped separately, which is the only leavener in the recipe. It guarantees a light texture without drying out the cake.

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The majority of blog entries on Dorie’s recipe, which uses baking powder as the leavener, mention that it’s dry. I was tempted to tweak the ingredients to remedy any potential problems, but instead, I made the recipe exactly, following my best baking procedure – butter that’s soft but not too soft, all ingredients at room temperature, gradually adding each new ingredient, sifting the flour and gently folding it in rather than letting the mixer do the work (and potentially overmix the dough). But with ½ to ¾ cup more flour in this compared to my other recipes for the same amount of butter, and ¼ cup less sugar, I was worried that it was hopeless. If nothing else, I figured, pound cake is my absolute favorite thing to bake, so I wouldn’t be sad if it wasn’t perfect in the end.

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And while it may not have been as moist as my favorite pound cake, it wasn’t dry. It was dense, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a cake like this. And it tasted just like pound cake should – like sweet butter with a hint of caramel from the browned edges. In the end, I would call this a success.

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One year ago: Double Apple Bundt
Two years ago: Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart
Three years ago: Caramel Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake

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Perfection Pound Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

I used cake flour, and I strongly recommend that you do as well. As I show at the end of this entry, cake flour makes a lighter, more tender pound cake. I did not put the loaf pan on sheet pans during baking, because that trick tends to result in under-risen cakes for me. This could have resulted in a shorter cooking time – I took the cake out of the oven at 60 minutes, when it was golden brown and a toothpick came out dry.

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour (or 2¼ cups (9 ounces) cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan or an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the mixer speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you’re working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it is incorporated – don’t overmix. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all of it, by hand with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top.

Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after about 45 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. If you’re using a 9×5-inch pan, you’ll need to bake the cake for 70 to 75 minutes; the smaller pan needs about 90 minutes. The cake is properly baked when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 30 minutes.

Run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.

Storing:
Wrapped well, the cake will keep for 5 to 7 days at room temperature (stale cake is great toasted) or up to 2 months in the freezer.

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dulce de leche cupcakes

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This was not my first attempt at dulce de leche cupcakes. My first attempt resulted in cupcakes that rose out of their wells, spread over the top of the pan, and baked into one solid mass. And they tasted like pancakes.

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They weren’t even really dulce de leche cupcakes. They were brown sugar cupcakes with cream cheese dulce de leche frosting. I’m sure that combination is wonderful, but it wasn’t what I wanted, which was cake that was flavored with dulce de leche. Also cake that didn’t explode in the oven.

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This is the cake that I wanted. It’s based on a yellow cake recipe (similar to Martha Stewart’s, which did well in this comparison), with dulce de leche replacing a portion of the milk. I had my doubts that the caramel flavor would be evident after baking, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

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And then there’s the buttercream, which might be the best thing I’ve eaten in weeks. It’s so smooth and creamy, and so dulce de leche-y. With a drizzle of pure dulce de leche on top, these cupcakes were perfect, and a very far cry from my first attempt.

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One year ago: Beer-Marinated Flank Steak
Two years ago: Zucchini Bread
Three years ago: Crawfish (or Shrimp), Roasted Tomato, and Farmer’s Cheese Pizza

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Dulce de Leche Cupcakes (adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

I made these twice; the first time, they seemed dry, so I replaced a portion of the butter with canola oil and increased the buttermilk.

1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ cups (6 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1⅓ cup (9.33 ounces) granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup dulce de leche
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk, room temperature
Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue buttercream, recipe below

1. Adjust an oven rack to the idle position; heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin wells with paper cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and baking soda.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer running, gradually add the dulce de leche; beat another minute, until thoroughly incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix in the oil and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition just until incorporated.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Remove the cupcakes from the pan after 5 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue Buttercream

4 egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup dulce de leche
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

2. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add the dulce de leche and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

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chocolate chocolate chunk muffins

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How is a muffin different from a cupcake? Let me count the ways.

1) Frosting: A cupcake without frosting is just wrong. Muffins, while sometimes glazed, are never served with a tall swirl of sugary icing. But cupcakes with a coating of soft glaze are beautiful as well.

2) Add-ins: Many muffins have some textural contrast, whether it’s chunks of fruit or bran or poppy seeds. Most cupcakes are smooth-textured; fruit is pureed, chocolate is melted. But what about pumpkin muffins? Or carrot cake?

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3) Mixing method and texture: The classic cake mixing method starts with sugar beaten into softened butter, which is smoothed with egg, then thickened with flour and leaveners. It results in an even-textured, fluffy cake. Muffins, by contrast, are usually made by whisking together the dry ingredients, separately whisking together the wet ingredients, and then folding the two together. The resultant texture is coarse with large air pockets. But not all cakes are mixed with the cake method, and not all muffins are mixed with the muffin method.

4) Course: Cupcakes are dessert. Muffins are breakfast.

So while, by this set of guidelines, these chocolate chocolate chunk muffins do seem to be muffins, they could certainly pass for dessert. Or, if you can’t get enough of their sweet, tender, moist crumb and rich bites of solid chocolate, enjoy them for both breakfast and dessert. I know I did.

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One year ago: Tarte Noire
Two years ago: Tribute to Katherine Hepburn Brownies
Three years ago: Blueberry Pie

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Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Muffins (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, for Tuesdays with Dorie)

Makes 12 muffins

Two ounces of chocolate chunks mixed into the dough is a restrained amount that reflects the breakfast intentions of these muffins. For more richness, feel free to increase that up to as much as 6 ounces. I mixed in some white chocolate as well.

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Melt the butter and half the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; or do this in a microwave. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients and the melted butter and chocolate over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough — a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

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sour cream chocolate cake cookies

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Chocolate cake without frosting is just sad; likewise, chocolate cake cookies without frosting are clearly missing something important. Cream cheese frosting is important. Sprinkles are important.

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The cookies were soft and tender, as cake should be. Despite a full container of sour cream, they weren’t overly rich, and their chocolate flavor was more than subtle, less than overpowering.  (I like overpowering.)  They might seem plain and homely on their own, but that’s nothing that a dollop of frosting can’t fix.

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Spike chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the full recipe posted. I chilled the dough for about an hour before baking to reduce spreading. I also left out the raisins and spices so that the cookies would mimic a classic chocolate cake.

Two years ago: Perfect Party Cake (compared to 2 other white cake recipes)
Three years ago: Apple Cheddar Scones

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date nut loaf

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When I was a kid, I didn’t have many independent food preferences; I just absorbed my family’s dislikes as my own. My mom didn’t like coconut, so I didn’t like coconut – never mind that I can’t remember ever trying it. I remember one particularly foolish phase in which my brother didn’t like tomatoes, so I didn’t like tomatoes. Tomatoes! One of the best foods ever!

It seems I’ve developed my own opinions, because my older sister and brother both love dates. They think they’re like candy. I think they’re sickly sweet unless stuffed with tangy goat cheese and wrapped in salty bacon.

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Maybe sweet candy-like dried fruit chopped up into cake would be good? After all, aren’t chocolate chips just chopped up candy? Dates, however, are not chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are delicious pockets of rich bitter and sweetness. Dates are tooth-achingly sweet, even in cake. On the other hand, at least there was cake to eat. Never in my life have I – or anyone in my family – disliked cake.

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Mary chose this “loaf” (pound cake? quick bread?) for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I increased the salt slightly and substituted almonds for some of the walnuts.

One year ago: Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cake
Two years ago: Coconut Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise
Three years ago: Mixed Berry Cobbler

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brown sugar blueberry plain cake

Dave and I have fun during the winter teasing his family in Ohio about how while they’re bundling up and shoveling snow, we’re sitting outside drinking margaritas. They curse us, and then I try to temper this obnoxiousness by claiming that we’ll pay the price in the summer.

But I’m not sure we will. We have a good system for dealing with the heat. It involves a kiddie pool full of water to dip our feet in, frequent breaks to come inside and cool off (the perfect time to prep dinner), and, of course, margaritas.

I suspect that summer in the desert will be particularly awesome, and not just because of the heat that we love. There are also tomatoes, corn on the cob, and blueberries so cheap the stores are almost giving them away. Mostly I’ve been eating them straight, as the best snack you could ever ask for, but I’m never against adding my favorite fruits into dessert either. But as soon as the cake is baked, I’m heading back outside with my margarita.

Cindy chose this cake for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I doubled the salt and used a 9×9-inch pan instead of 7×11-inch. I originally had some ideas of things I might tweak for next time, but to be honest, as good as this cake was, I’ve had other blueberry cakes that I like more.

One year ago: Raisin Swirl Bread
Two years ago: Parisian Strawberry Tartlets
Three years ago: La Palette’s Strawberry Tart