caramel apple cinnamon rolls

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Okay, my coworkers are officially spoiled. Usually I pass off the treats I share with them as more for me to play in the kitchen than for them to indulge, but when your coworker brings you a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls still warm from the oven, covered in caramelly cream cheese frosting, you’re spoiled. And I’m spoiled too, because I got to eat a nice warm sweet roll (or two) at work too.

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It did take me all week, but that’s how yeast breads go on workdays. I could have skipped a whole wheat pre-dough on something so obviously not health food, but since it’s so easy and I knew it wouldn’t make anything worse, I figured a little extra fiber couldn’t hurt. After that rested overnight, I mixed the rest of the dough and let it rise most of the way before stashing it in the fridge. The third night, I rolled, filled, and cut the dough, then again let it partially rise before putting it in the fridge overnight. Finally, three days after starting the rolls, I woke up in the morning and preheated the oven to bake them.

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Well, the rolls took a little longer than I expected to bake and I was late to work that day, but no one minded. (My diabetic boss couldn’t care less about cinnamon rolls; he’s just a nice guy.) And I got a few “this is the best thing you’ve ever made” comments from my spoiled but appreciative coworkers, which, combined with indulging myself, makes it all worth it.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls (adapted from Annie’s Eats)

Makes 12 full-size cinnamon rolls or 24 smaller cinnamon rolls

I made these partially whole wheat by making a pre-dough by stirring together 5 ounces whole wheat flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ cup water and letting it sit, covered, at room temperature overnight. The next day, I mixed this pre-dough with the butter, milk, yeast, sugar, and eggs before adding the remaining 1¼ teaspoons salt and 15-16 ounces flour.

Because I made small cinnamon rolls to share at work, even ¼-inch diced apples seemed too big. I gave them a few pulses in the food processor to chop them finer. The larger dice would work fine for full-size rolls though.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup milk
½ cup water
1 envelope (2¼ teaspoons) yeast
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons salt
4-4¼ cups (20 to 21¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) brown sugar, divided
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup caramel sauce
1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1. For the dough: Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the milk and water. Transfer this mixture to the mixer bowl with the yeast, sugar, eggs, and salt. Mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment until evenly combined. Attach the dough hook, and, with the mixer running on medium-low speed, gradually add 4 cups (20 ounces) of flour. If the dough sticks to the bottom of the mixer bowl during kneading, add the remaining ¼ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic (or knead for about 10 minutes by hand). It will be soft. Coat the bowl and dough with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Cover and set aside to rise until doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.

2. For the filling: Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the apples, ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are softened, about 12 to 16 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. When cool, add the remaining ½ cup (3.5 ounces) brown sugar and the cinnamon.

3. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with oil. When the dough is sufficiently risen, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Roll it out to a 12-inch by 16-inch rectangle. (If you want to make small rolls, divide the dough in two and roll each portion out to 12-inches by 8-inches.) Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border along one longer edge free of filling. Starting at the longer edge with filling (for both full-size and smaller rolls), roll the dough tightly, sealing it with the clean edge. Using either a serrated knife or unflavored dental floss, cut the dough into 12 (or 24, for smaller rolls) evenly-sized rolls. Arrange cut-side up in the prepared pan. Cover and set aside to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the rolls and transfer the dish to the oven. Bake until the tops are browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted near the center of the pan reads about 185 degrees. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack.

5. For the icing: Using a whisk or electric mixer, combine the caramel sauce and powdered sugar. Mix in the cream cheese until the mixture is smooth. Once the rolls have cooled for about 10 minutes, pour the icing over them. Serve warm.

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berry jam and chocolate mousse tart

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It doesn’t always rain here, but when it does, it’s on the day of the backyard party you’ve been planning for six months. Fortunately, it wasn’t my party, but by the time the host decided she had to cancel, I had already spent several hours preparing several thousand calories worth of tarts to contribute. Of course we’d had nothing but warm, sunny days for weeks beforehand.

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With our plans suddenly cancelled, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves – or what to eat for dinner. We ended up inviting a few people who were also invited to the party over to our house, hoping we could cobble together a meal from everyone’s party contributions. Unfortunately, that left us with a random assortment of mushrooms, two seafood dips, two tarts, and four cocktails.

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I stashed the tart with the longer shelf life in the fridge to bring to work on Monday, defrosted shrimp for the dips, and sautéed the mushrooms and put them on toast with melty cheese. We ordered in chicken wings to round out the meal (and to satisfy Dave’s craving) and passed around cocktails. It wasn’t the night I’d planned, but it was fun nonetheless.

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I didn’t let anyone leave until they’d eaten a slice of tart, and then I foisted (most of) the leftovers on them too. After eating my way through baking, having a slice with guests, and knowing I’d be having a slice of tart #2 on Monday, I figured I should limit myself to just a sliver for Sunday. But don’t think I didn’t have regrets after I’d indulged in my tiny sliver.

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Yes, this is a rich dessert and should be shared with a crowd, but it’s also so good it’s hard to give it away. The berries brighten up all that chocolate, and the airy mousse layer disguises the heavy cream that makes it so fluffy. As it was, I enjoyed this much more than I would have after stuffing myself with seafood boil, so maybe it’s good that the original party was cancelled.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Berry Jam and Chocolate Mousse Tart
(adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

The original recipe calls for a homemade jam made from tart cherries, but it’s been years since I’ve seen frozen tart cherries for sale, and I’ve never seen them fresh. I went to amazon to order my own tart cherry jam, but then fell down the jam rabbit hole and ended up with marionberry instead. Any good berry or cherry jam would do here.

I don’t know if baking the tart crust is necessary. It’s not called for in the original recipe, but I was worried it would be crumbly without baking. I baked it at a very low temperature to avoid burning the chocolate. I also reduced the filling because I had too much (which I happily ate with a spoon).

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (from about 7 ounces cookies)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt

5½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces) berry jam

1. For the crust: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat or a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave, melt the butter. Remove from the eat and add the chocolate; stir until the chocolate is melted.

2. In a food processor, process the cookies until finely ground. (Alternatively, place the cookies in a large ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them, then transfer to a bowl.) Add the sugar and salt; pulse to mix. Add the melted butter and chocolate and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch round or equivalent tart pan with a removable bottom and press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until firm.

3. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Transfer the crust in the tart pan to a baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

4. For the filling: Transfer the chocolate to a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat ⅔ cup of the heavy cream until it simmers but is not boiling. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate; gently stir until the chocolate and cream are evenly mixed. Add the butter in ½-tablespoon increments, stirring until each one is melted before adding another. Stir in the vanilla extract.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk (or use a hand mixer) the remaining ⅓ cup heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then add the remaining cream, folding until no white streaks remain.

6. To assemble, spread the jam in an even layer over the bottom of the cooled crust. Pour the chocolate mixture over the jam and spread into an even layer. Refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours or overnight.

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sventiki 1

It started casually enough when my brother asked me to share a few tiki drink recipes with him. I sent him some of my favorites and some information about rums, and he seemed happy enough. Then Christmas rolled around, and, at a loss for gift ideas, I got him two tiki cookbooks. In the months since, the student has far surpassed the master in tikiness – and that was before he started garnishing.

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What you see here is but a poor example of Todd’s garnishing prowess. My bachelor brother has now planted flowers and mint plants in his yard so that he always has some available for tiki garnishes. These pictures were taken on vacation, when he had to make do with just maraschino cherries, pineapple leaves, lime wedges, umbrellas, and citrus curls. Too bad he didn’t pack his Moai ice/jello molds. My garnishes, by contrast, are far less fun more restrained.

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We were limited in our tiki ingredients on vacation, but we’d packed enough grenadine and good rum for this one. I like it because while it’s still light and fruity, the dark rum makes it more interesting. The bubbles from the club soda are refreshing and fun. Maybe not as fun as creative garnishes, but it all comes together for a great drink.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Sven-Tiki (slightly adapted from Jeff Berry’s Beachbum Berry Remixed)

Makes 1 drink

Recommended rums: Shellback or Flor de Cana for light/silver rum; Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old or Old Brigand Black Label for dark rum.

1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ounce grenadine
1 ounce dark rum
2 ounces light rum
½ ounce club soda

Put all ingredients except the club soda into a cocktail shaker. Add 1½ cups crushed ice; cover and shake until the shaker is frosted over. Pour unstrained into a glass. Top with club soda.

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blueberry muffin comparison

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left to right: CI Best, CI Classic, Jordan Marsh

I set out all three sets of muffins at work with a note that said that if my coworkers ate more than one type, I’d love to know their favorite. Someone said he was sure they were all good, but I told him I wanted to know which one I should choose if I could only make one blueberry muffin recipe for the rest of my life. He asked whether I ever repeated recipes anyway. Well…it isn’t common, to be honest. But for something as classic as blueberry muffins, it’s possible that I could. And if I do, I obviously want to make the best recipe.

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I chose three recipes that seemed as different as blueberry muffin recipes get:

Cook’s Illustrated’s Classic – I wanted to make sure I included a somewhat traditional recipe with no tricks up its sleeve. This one is mixed using the standard quick bread method, in which the dry ingredients are mixed separately from the wet ingredients, and then they’re folded together. The source of dairy is sour cream, and there’s quite a bit of it, and therefore less butter (or oil) than in the other recipes. It also specifies frozen blueberries; Cook’s Illustrated recommends frozen wild blueberries, but those aren’t available at my store.

Cook’s Illustrated’s Best – Often with “best” recipes, I wonder if the extra effort is really worth it. In this case, that extra effort involves cooking and mashing half of the blueberries and simmering them until they’re reduced. This mixture is then swirled into each muffin. Other than that step, which was quite easy, the recipe is fairly traditional, with oil standing for half of the fat (in addition to butter).

Jordan Marsh-inspired – These are mixed like most cookies and cakes, with sugar beaten into the butter, then the milk and dry ingredients alternately added at the end. A small portion of the blueberries are mashed and evenly mixed into the dough. This recipe had more blueberries than either of the others.

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Out of the twenty or so people who work in my building, only a handful gave me their opinion on the muffins. I can’t blame the rest though, because not everyone wants to eat three half-muffins, and that’s okay. Even with a small response, some trends were clear.

blueberry muffin comparison 8
left to right: CI Classic, Jordan Marsh, CI Best

Cook’s Illustrated’s Classic (orange sprinkles) – These baked up pale. This was no one’s favorite, but it was one coworker’s second favorite. I thought they tasted the least blueberry-y, which is not a surprise since they did have slightly less blueberries than the other recipes.

Cook’s Illustrated’s Best (yellow sprinkles) – These browned quite a bit, maybe more than I would have preferred. However, these were the favorite of three people, and one did say that he liked that they tasted darker. One friend liked that it was the least sweet. Despite the blueberry swirl on the top, I didn’t think they had much blueberry flavor, although I have to admit the swirl was pretty. It’s interesting to me that CI’s goal with this recipe was to maximize the amount of blueberries in the muffins without reducing their structural integrity; however, normalized per weight of flour, this recipe has only a tiny bit more blueberries than CI’s Classic recipe.

Jordan Marsh-inspired (green sprinkles) – These were my favorite, as well as the favorite of two other coworkers. However, straight out of the oven, I almost discounted them entirely, as they collapsed when removed from the pan. You can see in the pictures that they have so many blueberries, by far the most of the three recipes, that the fruit sunk to the bottom. That hot juicy fruit couldn’t hold up the dough above it, hence the collapsing. However, they did, unsurprisingly, have the strongest blueberry flavor, as well as a nice tanginess. That tanginess is surprising considering that this recipe uses regular milk, not sour cream or buttermilk as in the other two recipes.

blueberry muffin comparison 7
left to right: CI Classic, Jordan Marsh, CI Best

So which will I make in the future? I’m thinking the Jordan Marsh will be my preferred recipe, with slightly less blueberries. Yes, it won’t taste as much of blueberries then, but it will be worth it to have muffins that can stand under their own weight. Even if the the blueberries are reduced from 2½ cups to 2 cups, this recipe has more blueberries than the other two. If I was really ambitious, I could use the method in Cook’s Illustrated Best recipe to simmer a portion of the blueberries and make pretty swirls on the top. As I found, the extra effort of simmering down the blueberries wasn’t much work at all. Was it worth the effort though? Well, maybe not, since I thought a simpler recipe was even better.

blueberry muffin comparison 10
left to right: CI Best, CI Classic, Jordan Marsh

Printer Friendly Recipe
Classic Blueberry Muffins (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 12 muffins

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1¼ cups (10 ounces) sour cream
1½ cups frozen blueberries, preferably wild

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl until combined. Whisk egg in second medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add sugar and whisk vigorously until thick and homogenous, about 30 seconds; add melted butter in 2 or 3 steps, whisking to combine after each addition. Add sour cream in 2 steps, whisking just to combine.

3. Add frozen berries to dry ingredients and gently toss to combine. Add sour cream mixture and fold with rubber spatula until batter comes together and berries are evenly distributed, 25 to 30 seconds (small spots of flour may remain and batter will be thick). Do not overmix.

4. Use ice cream scoop or large spoon to drop batter into greased muffin tin. Bake until light golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time. Invert muffins onto wire rack, stand muffins upright, and cool 5 minutes.

blueberry muffin comparison 4
dough for CI Classic

Printer Friendly Recipe
Best Blueberry Muffins (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 12 muffins

2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh blueberries, picked over
1⅛ cups (8 ounces) sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
2½ cups (12½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 teaspoon sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to ¼ cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk remaining 1⅛ cups sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)

3. Use ice cream scoop or large spoon to divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion.

4. Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.

blueberry muffin comparison 6
dough for CI Best

Printer Friendly Recipe
Jordan Marsh-Inspired Blueberry Muffins (barely adapted from King Arthur Flour via epicurious)

Makes 12 muffins

In the future, I’ll either reduce the blueberries to 2 cups (mashing ½ cup and leaving 1½ cups whole), or I’ll follow the simmering step in Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Blueberry Muffin recipe with 1 cup of the blueberries, still mashing the same amount (½ cup) and mixing the remaining 1 cup in whole.

2 cups (9.6 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2½ cups blueberries (about 12½ ounces), fresh preferred
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray the bottoms of a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray or line with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Mash ½ cup of the blueberries, leaving the remainder whole.

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. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add half of the dry ingredients, then all of the milk, and then the remaining dry ingredients, beating just until evenly combined. Stir in the mashed and whole blueberries.

3. Divide the dough evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake the muffins until their tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into one comes out with no raw batter attached, 20-25 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan, transferring them to a wire rack.

blueberry muffin comparison 5
dough for Jordan Marsh

blackberry plum streusel pie

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Usually it works out that I get a bunch of birthday cakes – one that my mom makes whenever my family is all together near-ish my birthday, one I make for my birthday weekend, and one I make to bring to work. But this year I didn’t get any birthday cakes.

blackberry plum pie 1

I did, however, get birthday pie, and that was better this year anyway. Not only had I just baked, sampled, and eaten the trimmings of this huge cake, but I baked another pretty cake for a friend’s birthday just a few days before mine. I was pretty much caked out by then, which is perfect timing, because August is time for fruit desserts.

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I love combining stone fruits and berries, and I’d never had plum pie before. Plus, as good as I think my pie crust is, streusel is even better. And as a bonus, I had a batch of vanilla ice cream in the freezer that I’d made to use up egg yolks leftover from one of the cakes, and of course vanilla ice cream, baked fruit, and streusel is a perfect combination.

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It being my birthday weekend and all, I had pie for breakfast, lunch, and dessert. I only added ice cream for the lunch and dessert servings though; let’s not get crazy. But after all that pie, I think I’m ready for some cake now.

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Blackberry Plum Streusel Pie (pie adapted slightly from Gourmet via epicurious; crust from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes one 9-inch pie; about 8 servings

When tapioca is used as a pie thickener, I prefer to grind it up first, so it doesn’t form little beads of juicy filling after it’s baked. However, if you don’t have a method to easily do this, it certainly won’t ruin your pie. My spice grinder is broken and I was too lazy to clean out the coffee grinder, so I tried grinding the dried tapioca in a mortar and pestle. It didn’t work, but the pie was still delicious.

I didn’t peel the plums and didn’t notice any textural issues in the pie. I cut each plum into 8 wedges, but I thought the pieces were too big in the baked pie, so I recommend cutting them smaller.

Pie crust:
1¼ cups (6 ounces) flour
1½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
⅓-½ cup ice water

3 ounces (1 cup) old-fashioned rolled oats
2.4 ounces (½ cup) all-purpose flour
3.5 ounces (½ cup) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

1¾ pounds ripe plums, pitted, cut into 8 wedges, each wedge halved crosswise
12 ounces (about 2 cups) blackberries
7 ounces (1 cup) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon salt

1. For the pie crust: Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until mixed. Add half of the butter; pulse once, then add the remaining butter, and process with 1-second pulses until the largest pieces of butter are about ¼-inch across. Add ¼ cup of water; pulse once, then add 2 more tablespoons of water. Pulse a couple times to incorporate the water, then pinch a portion of the dough together; if it crumbles, pulse in another tablespoon of water. If it barely holds together, transfer the mixture to a large piece of plastic wrap. Form the dough into a ball, kneading it once or twice so it holds together. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight. Do not wash the food processor bowl.

2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the pie dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate, folding the edge of the dough under itself so the edge of the fold is flush with the outer rim of the plate, and flute the edges. Refrigerate while preparing the streusel and filling.

3. For the streusel: Pulse the oats, flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor until mixed. Add the butter and process until the mixture begins to form clumps.

4. For the filling: In a large bowl, combine the plums, blackberries, sugar, tapioca, cornstarch, and lemon zest. Transfer the fruit mixture to the dough-lined pie pan. Evenly distribute crumbles of the streusel topping over the filling. Transfer to the oven and bake until the fruit is bubbling and the streusel is browned, 75 to 90 minutes. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for at least three hours before serving.

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mai tai

mai tai 6

So you’ve got a nice batch of rich, aromatic orgeat, but what do you do with it? It’s time for a mai tai. I used to think mai tais were fruity over-the-top frou frou drinks. Like daiquiris, maybe that’s true in some cases, but a true mai tai, like a true daiquiri, is relatively simple. The original mai tai contains only lime juice, sugar, orgeat, orange liqueur, and two types of rum.

mai tai 1

With all that alcohol, it’s a strong drink, and I’ve found that I’m particularly picky about the alcohol quality in a mai tai. I’ve already told you about my favorite light (or silver) rum, Shellback, which fortunately is relatively easy to find. Amber and dark rums, the types used in mai tais, aren’t quite as available, but if you have a favorite liquor store, you should be able to find what you need.

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Technically, a mai tai calls for an amber rum from the island of Martinique. Clement VSOP is the most widely available, but even it’s hard to find. Dave and I usually stick to a Jamaican amber rum; Appleton Estate Signature Blend (recently renamed from Appleton Estate V/X) is our favorite, because it’s really good and readily available. My brother likes Denizen’s Merchant Reserve, although I’ve never seen that one for sale where I live.

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There are a number of dark rums out there, although quality varies. My favorite is Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old (just renamed from Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old), but my favorite liquor store doesn’t sell it. We use Old Brigand Black Label when we can’t get the dark Appleton, which isn’t Jamaican, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to dark rum. The most common dark Jamaican rum is Myer’s, which I haven’t tried in years. I remember it being harsh, but it should work in a pinch.

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You might have different options available to you, and they’re worth trying. Trying new rums is part of the fun of tiki, although I understand that not everyone wants a liquor cabinet that’s overflowing with rum bottles like ours is. Fortunately, a mai tai is a very enjoyable way to test out a new rum.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Mai Tai (rewritten from Rum Dood)

Makes 1 drink

If you can find it, our favorite orange liqueur is Clemont Creole Shrubb. It’s rum-based, instead of brandy-based like most other orange liqueurs.

Dave prefers this without the sugar syrup, but for my taste, that seemed off-balance. Ideal level of sweetness is a personal preference, but this is a good starting point. The sugar syrup we use is an equal volume of sugar and water, heated until the sugar dissolves.

¾ ounce (1½ tablespoons) lime juice
½ ounce (1 tablespoon) orgeat
¼ ounce (1½ teaspoons) simple syrup
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Martinique or Jamaican amber rum
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Jamaican (or other) dark rum
½ ounce (1 tablespoon) triple sec, such as Cointreau
mint sprig (optional)

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add 1½ cups crushed ice; cover and shake until the shaker is frosted over. Pour unstrained into a glass. Garnish with a mint sprig (or lime wedges, maraschino cherries, pineapple leaves, and cocktail umbrellas, as my brother did here), if desired.

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brown butter peach shortbread

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I’m in fruity dessert mode lately. Blueberries, blackberries, plums. The peaches came from my coworker, which is always fun – people bring me fruit at work, and I bring it back to them a few days later, mixed with butter and sugar.

peach shortbread 1

I have another coworker with an apple tree, and that’s a little easier on me since apples have a long shelf-life. The peaches I was given were already very ripe, so I needed something simple that I could bake when I already had dinner to make and mountains of post-vacation laundry to do. Unfortunately, I’d just used up my ace-in-the-hole tart dough on store-bought peaches.

peach shortbread 2

Fortunately, I found a simple but delicious recipe. This shortbread has the extra step of browning and chilling the butter before cutting it into the dry ingredients, which doesn’t take long and adds a little extra specialness to the dessert. The peaches were small and impossible to remove from the pit, so I skipped peeling, pitting, and slicing in favor of cutting chunks directly from the seed.

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It might have been easy to put together, but the flavor didn’t reflect that. With just a few basic ingredients and plenty of peaches, it tastes like the best of summer fruit. That’s exactly what I’m in the mood for right now.

peach shortbread 4

Printer Friendly Recipe
Brown Butter Peach Shortbread (rewritten but not changed from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 24 2-inch squares

The only part of this recipe I thought was annoying was chipping the hardened browned butter out of the bowl. I might line a bowl with wax paper next time so I can just lift the butter out and scrape it off the paper into the food processor.

The peaches my coworker gave me were very small, and I used eight or nine of them, not two. I did not peel them, which was not a problem in the final dish.

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons (12.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between ⅛- and ¼-inch thick)

1. In a medium not-nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until the milk solids brown and sink and the butter smells slightly nutty. Immediately remove it from the heat and pour the butter into a heatproof bowl. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

2. Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon to the bowl of a food processor; process until the ingredients are mixed, a few pulses. Add the browned butter and process until the largest butter pieces are the size of peas. Add the egg; process until the dough just comes together into a crumbly ball.

3. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick spray. Press three-quarters of the dough into the bottom of the pan. Evenly spread the peaches over the dough, then scatter the remaining dough crumbs over the fruit.

4. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the crust is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature before serving.

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lavender almond peach tart

lavender almond peach tart 3I shouldn’t complain about too many good things happening at once, but there were moments when it all seemed just a little overwhelming. Within a month, there were two big international vacations, trips for work, nephews’ birthdays to bake for, and another tiered baby shower cake to deliver. I probably didn’t have to keep up with my normal routine of baking something for my coworkers once a week, but I figured if I planned ahead, I could handle it. lavender almond peach tart 1

So I prepped this tart dough and put it in the freezer, waiting for rhubarb to appear at the store, when I would mix up the simple filling for a quick dessert. Unfortunately, I never saw any rhubarb this year. It was peach season and a vacation later before I gave up on it.

lavender almond peach tart 2Life hadn’t slowed down by then, so it was lucky I had something partly prepped. It was easy enough to press the dough into a tart pan and make a simple peach jam. With nothing but tart dough and peaches, I thought the tart might be plain, but I loved the peaches with the floral lavender. As a bonus, it’s fun to bring a fairly fancy dessert to work and pretend my life is so effortless, when really I’m barely keeping up. lavender almond peach tart 5

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Lavender Almond Peach Tart (adapted from Desserts for Breakfast; jam recipe rewritten from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 8

I started with ground almond meal instead of almonds.

I sliced the reserved dough and layered it over the jam, which was easy, but I don’t think it made for the prettiest presentation.

¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
¾ cup (3.75 ounces) almonds
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon dried lavender buds
¼ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
11 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup peach jam, recipe follows
powdered sugar

1. Add the sugar and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor; process until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the almonds, flour, lavender, salt, and cardamom; process until the ingredients are mixed and the almonds are finely ground. Add the butter and process until the largest butter pieces are the size of peas. Add the egg yolk and almond extract; process until the dough just comes together into a crumbly ball.

2. Press three-quarters of the dough into a 9-inch round or 14-by-4-inch rectangular tart pan. Freeze the lined pan for at least 30 minutes. Cover the remaining dough and store in the refrigerator. (Both the dough in the pan and the reserved dough can be stored in the freezer, covered tightly, for up to a month.)

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cooled jam over the dough in the pan. Break the remaining dough into ½- to 1-inch pieces and scatter over the jam. Transfer to the oven and bake until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling, 40-45 minutes. If the tart browns too quickly, loosely cover it with foil after 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve, dusted with powdered sugar, or loosely cover and store for up to 24 hours before serving.

Simple Peach Jam (rewritten from Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes about 1 cup

This jam cannot be canned. It probably makes a little more than 1 cup; I used it all in the tart.

8 ounces peaches, pitted, sliced, peeled if desired
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4.4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine the peaches, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and syrupy, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using in the tart.

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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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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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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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