lemon ginger scones

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I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now, years actually, that scones would be a perfect treat to bring in to work. I could do most of the work the night or weekend beforehand and then just bake them in the morning before work. It would be easy for me, and my coworkers would have fresh scones to go with their morning coffee.

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It sounds good in theory. In reality, it was a harried morning of showering, emptying the dishwasher, making smoothies, chugging my morning tea, skipping a couple makeup steps, hoping the blue of my scarf didn’t clash too much with the blue of my shirt, oh and garnishing, baking, cooling, and snapping a few very quick pictures of lemon-ginger scones.

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So I was wrong about the convenience of baking scones in the morning before work. But I was right about my coworkers loving them. It was a nice morning of compliments – not on my outfit with its clashing blues, obviously, but the tender and slightly spicy scones made up for the unavoidable shortcomings that resulted from my rushed morning.

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One year ago: Pasta with Tiny Meatball Sauce
Two years ago: Stromboli
Three years ago: Baked Ziti
Four years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Five years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

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Lemon-Ginger Scones (inspired by Bon Appetit’s Lemon Cream Scones, but when I realized I didn’t have nearly enough cream, I adapted Tartine’s Buttermilk Scones instead)

Serves about 8

As always, you can freeze scones after shaping, before baking. Bake directly from the freezer, adding 2-3 minutes to the baking time.

2½ (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
3 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 1 teaspoon
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes, very cold
2 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2.Pulse the flour, ¼ cup sugar, 3 teaspoons lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor until evenly mixed.  Scatter the butter cubes over the dry ingredients and pulse until the largest bits of butter are no larger than peas.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the ginger, then the buttermilk.  Knead a few times to bring the dough together.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, pat the dough out to ½-inch round.  Cut the round into 8 wedges or use cutters to cut other shapes.

4. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet.  Rub the remaining 1 teaspoon of zest into the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Brush the scones with the melted butter and top with the sugar mixture.  Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 16-20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

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banana cream pie cupcakes

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This is the first of his birthdays since I met Dave over eleven years ago that I haven’t made a banana cream pie. This is okay with me; for one thing, it isn’t one of my favorite things to make; I don’t get to use the mixer and there’s no batter to eat, where’s the fun in that? For another, I’ve pretty much expended the banana cream pie category, making versions with regular and graham cracker crusts, richer and lighter pastry creams, traditional and tweaked whipped cream toppings, even additional layers of chocolate and caramel. There’s not much for me left to explore in the banana cream pie realm.

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Except turning it into cake. Dave actually requested green tea crème brûlée for his birthday dessert this year instead of pie, but I also offered to make cupcakes to bring to work. This would hopefully head off our standard office procedure of a coworker making an emergency trip to the grocery store to pick up a cake for an afternoon birthday celebration. (It sort of worked; instead, someone made an emergency trip to the store for cheese and crackers and fruit for the afternoon birthday celebration.)

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These are not so different than all the various banana cream pies I’ve made over the years. There are still sliced bananas, pastry cream, whipped cream, and a buttery mixture of sugar and flour. The difference is that the butter and flour is baked into cupcakes instead of rolled into a pie crust. Dave is generally a bigger fan of pie than cake, but he enjoyed these, and our coworkers raved. And by my standards, they’re a heck of a lot more fun to bake than a pie, so everybody wins.

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One year ago: Asian Lettuce Wraps
Two years ago: Feta and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Three years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Four years ago: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins
Five years ago: Lasagna Bolognese

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Banana Cream Pie Cupcakes (from Annie’s Eats and Cooks Illustrated’s Yellow Cake recipe)

Makes 24 cupcakes

For 23 cupcakes, I fitted a slice of banana into the bottom of the carved out center before spooning on pastry cream and topping with a portion of the removed cone. For the last cupcake, I decided to try adding the pastry cream first and then topping with a banana and discarding the entire cone. This was much more successful because you can fit in more pastry cream and the banana makes a stable surface for the whipped cream topping.

Filling:
1 cup half-and-half
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar, divided
Pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
bananas, peeled and sliced

Cake:
2½ cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

Topping:
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup (1 ounce) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ bananas, peeled and sliced

1. To make the filling, heat the half-and-half, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds. When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

2. To make the cupcakes, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake wells with paper liners. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar together in a large bowl. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and yolks.

3. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

4. Add the flour mixture to the now-empty mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape the whisk and sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

5. Using a rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the whites into the batter to lighten the mixture, then add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners. Lightly tap the pans against the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove them from the wells and cool completely on a wire rack.

7. Use a paring knife to remove a 1½ inch-diameter cone from the center of each cupcake; discard the cones. Spoon 2 teaspoons of pastry cream into the well of each cupcake, then top with a slice of banana.

8. To make the topping, beat the heavy cream on medium-high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until frothy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, scraping the bowl as necessary.

9. Pipe the whipped cream onto the cupcakes. Top with a slice of banana.

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apple cake

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When I saw this beautiful apple walnut cake, with those perfectly arranged apple slices on top, I wanted to make it as soon as possible. I bought the walnuts and apples, I printed out the recipe, and then I…I made a different cake.

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I just couldn’t get past the step that required slicing apples fussily thin and fussily arranging the slices in the pan. I want to be the type of person who spends the time to precisely arrange fruit for the prettiest possible dessert, but I am just not.

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But I have no regrets. The cake I made instead is more rustic than the one that had initially caught my eye, but no less delicious for it. In this case, instead of paper thin apples painstakingly arranged in a pretty pattern, the apples are unceremoniously spread in two layers, one in the middle of the cake and one on top. You still have to peel and core the apples, but the coarse cut takes a fraction of the time as getting out the mandoline to make even slices.

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In its own tall, straight-sided way, this cake is just as impressive as the other. It’s also rich and moist and just sweet enough, filled with baked apples that taste just like fall. I still want to try the apple walnut cake, but it’s going to require magical amounts of free time and patience, especially now that I have an easier recipe in my back pocket.

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One year ago: Notes on planning a Thanksgiving feast
Two years ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Three years ago: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Four years ago: Breakfast Tacos

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Apple Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Apples:
3 pounds apples (about 6 medium), peeled, cored, chopped into ¼- to ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar

Cake:
2¾ cups (13.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
¼ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 eggs

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a tube pan, preferably with removable sides, with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the apples, cinnamon, and 5 tablespoons sugar.

3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the oil, butter, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the oil mixture and stir to incorporate.

4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples, then arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

5. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the pan. Cool at least an hour before serving. The cake will keep, covered tightly, for up to 2 days.

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raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes

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I did a lot of things I’m proud of this weekend. I didn’t have to work Friday, so I kicked off the three-day weekend with the second-longest run I’ve ever done, and the longest run that wasn’t part of a big race. Then I made Dave give me hourly high-fives for the rest of the day.

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The next day, I had my first-ever paid baking order. A coworker hired me to make a dozen each of two different types of cupcakes for her daughter’s wedding. Two dozen isn’t a lot of cupcakes, but I wanted to get them just right, with great taste and beautiful garnishes.

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Less than an hour after I dropped those off, we had a bunch of people over to watch football – the first time Dave and I have entertained more than a couple friends at a time since we’ve been married. By keeping things casual (or at least, my version of casual), enlisting a lot of help from Dave, and being creative with what I already had around, I managed to entertain the way I like to – with a lot of food, of course – but without a lot of stress.

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One of the ways I made the most of what I had available was to make extras of these cupcakes. The wedding’s colors were black, ivory, and red, so the bride chose these raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes drizzled with chocolate and topped with raspberry truffles, as well as chocolate cupcakes with champagne frosting topped with chocolate-covered strawberries. While I was at it, I went ahead and made extra chocolate-covered strawberries and raspberry truffles for my friends too.

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Both sets of cupcakes turned out every bit as good as I’d hoped, and that never happens! The swirls on the cheesecake were pretty and not sloppy, the drizzle didn’t cover up as much as the swirls as I was worried about, the fresh raspberries fit nicely onto the tops. The chocolate cupcakes rose into a perfect mound, and the swirls of frosting didn’t look too amateurish. My first time making chocolate-covered strawberries went just fine, even the stressful part that involved melting white chocolate. I dropped the cupcakes off and then entertained guests all evening, only spitting half-chewed chips on someone once! This is about as successful as my life gets.

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One year ago: Croissants (Tartine Bread)
Two years ago: Coffee Break Muffins
Three years ago: Green Chile Huevos Rancheros
Four years ago: Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

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Raspberry-Swirled Cheesecake Cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 32 cupcakes

The truffles and drizzle make for a nice presentation, but the swirled cupcakes are plenty tasty and pretty on their own.
For the crust:
1½ cups (about 8 full crackers) graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

For the raspberry swirl:
6 ounces (¾ cup) frozen or fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the filling:
4 (8-ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 32 muffin wells with paper liners.

2. For the crust: In a food processor, process the graham crackers and sugar until evenly ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Press 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of each liner. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, maintaining the oven temperature.

3. For the raspberry swirl: Combine the raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. (Or press the raspberries through a food mill, stirring the cornstarch and sugar into the puree.)

4. For the filling: Beat the cream cheese on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and salt, then the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

5. To assemble, spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner. Dot ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to lightly swirl the puree.

6. Bake until the filling is set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Raspberry Truffles (seen on Annie’s Eats, but I didn’t use the same recipe)

6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. Gently wash and dry the raspberries.

2. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

3. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until it’s thick enough to hold a shape, about 45 minutes, then, using a pastry bag with a small opening, pipe into the stemmed opening on the raspberries.

Chocolate Drizzle (adapted from Tartine’s Chocolate Friands)

I didn’t make this separately, I just stirred in more cream to the ganache leftover from the raspberry truffles. I’m offering it here separately as a good chocolate drizzle recipe.

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

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For the chocolate cupcakes, I used this recipe for the cupcake portion; this champagne buttercream for the frosting; and this method for the chocolate-covered strawberries.

strawberry white chocolate brownies

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I know white chocolate isn’t as sexy as its darker sibling, but I think it has its own charm. It’s not much beyond sweet and soft, which could be boring, but you can use those traits to the advantage of the treat you’re making with it. Mixed into a batter, it adds a little more interest than plain white sugar would, although I think you’d be hard-pressed to pick out the white chocolate flavor if you didn’t know it was there.

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That being said, while I expected these to turn out quite nice, they exceeded my expectations. I reduced the sugar from the original recipe, suspecting that the white chocolate would contribute plenty of sweetness, and that, combined with an extra dose of salt, resulted in the perfect balance. Bright, juicy strawberries added a welcome flavor and texture contrast. Forced to choose between these and my favorite dark chocolate brownies would be a tough call, but these tamer white chocolate brownies would stand a good chance.

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One year ago: Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens
Two years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Three years ago: Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies
Four years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Strawberry White Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Makes 16 squares

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅓ teaspoon salt
5 ounces white chocolate, chopped fine
5 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
4 ounces strawberries, hulled and quartered

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

2. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter; stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the sugar (the mixture will appear curdled), then add vanilla and the eggs one at a time, whisking constantly.

3. Switch to a rubber spatula and add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the strawberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it into an even layer.

4. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool completely. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into 2-inch squares. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

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strawberry rhubarb pie

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My parents have a cabin in the mountains in Colorado, where they have a neighbor who is officially a Mountain Man, with a long scraggly beard, horses running around on his property, and the requisite amount of woman trouble. One day the Mountain Man and I got to talking about pie. He declared that pie is simple – it’s a mixture of fruit, flour, and sugar baked in a crust. I don’t recall whether we discussed his crust recipe, but I have to believe it comes from a vacuum-packed tube.

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While I can agree that fruit pies are, at their most basic, a mixture of fruit, sugar, and thickener, I would disagree that that makes them simple. In fact, it makes them particularly tricky. First, the best thickener for each fruit varies – is it flour, cornstarch, tapioca, or something impossible to find in the average grocery store? Second, and worse, is that the perfect amount of thickener will vary depending on how ripe the fruit is. Exceptionally juicy peaches will need more thickener (and less sugar) than just barely ripe peaches.

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I’ve gotten strawberry rhubarb pie wrong at least as often as I’ve gotten it right. Cook’s Illustrated has a recipe for it that starts with sautéing the rhubarb with sugar to get rid of some of the excess liquid. I did make an awesome pie with this recipe, but it resulted in the worst burn I’ve ever had when a chunk of super hot sugar-coated rhubarb landed on my foot. Plus it’s a hassle – who wants to deal with pre-cooking the filling in addition to rolling out dough and chopping filling ingredients?

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I tried Deb’s recipe last year, which calls for tapioca as the thickener, but didn’t like the bits of gelatinous tapioca mixed with the fruit filling. I thought the answer was grinding the tapioca to a powder with a spice grinder (aka repurposed coffee grinder) until I saw Cook’s Illustrated comment (in The New Best Recipe) that tapioca and rhubarb don’t make a great pair. I happen to have arrowroot powder in the cabinet, so I used that instead.

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And what I got was a perfect strawberry rhubarb pie. When the first slice was removed, the filling didn’t flow in to fill the void, but it wasn’t dry. It was just sweet enough. I didn’t use flour in the filling, but I still think that even Mountain Man would approve.

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One year ago: Whole Wheat Almond Bread
Two years ago: Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Three years ago: Strawberry Tartlets
Four years ago: Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I used Deb’s recipe for pie crust.

If you can’t find arrowroot powder, use ¼ cup of tapioca, ground in a spice grinder.

Baking the pie on a baking sheet catches any drips; preheating the baking sheet helps the bottom crust become crisp and flaky instead of soggy.

dough for a double-crust pie, rolled into two 13-inch circles and refrigerated
½ cup + 2 tablespoons (4.4 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) light brown sugar
¼ cup arrowroot powder
¼ teaspoon salt
24 ounces (about 3½ cups) rhubarb, sliced ½-inch thick
16 ounces (about 3½ cups) strawberries, hulled and sliced if big, halved if small
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg beaten to blend with ¼ teaspoon salt (for glaze)

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven; heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, mix the sugars, arrowroot powder, and salt. Add the rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon juice; stir to combine well.

3. Line a 9-inch pie plate with one round of dough. Transfer the filling to the lined pan. Scatter pieces of butter over the fruit. Top with the second round of dough, sealing and fluting the edges. Cut 8 slits in the top crust and brush with the egg wash.

4. Transfer the pie to the hot baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees; bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

5. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool at least 4 hours before serving.

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roasted rhubarb jam

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One of the things I’m trying to do with my rhubarb surplus this year is not mix it with strawberries. (Please disregard this statement when my next post is strawberry rhubarb pie.) It isn’t that I have anything against strawberries and rhubarb together. Those two are often paired up for reasons beyond their aligned seasons. Sweet strawberries are a natural match for sour rhubarb.

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But now that I’m starting to realize how much I enjoy rhubarb for its own merit, I want to use it more often by itself. Mixing it into batter for muffins was a good start, but a simple mostly-hands-off jam is an even more direct way to enjoy rhubarb. All it takes is cutting it up, mixing it with sugar, and giving it a few stirs while the oven softens and sweetens the stalks.

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I used a spatula to mash up the roasted rhubarb, but if you wanted something smoother, you could puree it in a food processor or press it through a food mill. The chunky version would go wonderfully with tart plain yogurt, especially with some crunchy granola on top. And I can guarantee that it makes the perfect topping for brown rice pudding – along with some sliced strawberries, of course.

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One year ago: Grapefruit Honey Yogurt Scones
Two years ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart’s recipe)
Three years ago: Rhubarb Scones
Four years ago: La Palette’s Strawberry Tart

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Roasted Rhubarb Jam (from hogwash)

2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch salt

Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a 9-by-13-inch dish, mix the ingredients. Bake them, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is soft enough to mash into a spread, about 1½ hours.

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watermelon agua fresca

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This is the first watermelon I’ve ever bought. The thing is, I don’t actually like watermelon. Because it tastes like water. And if I want water, I’ll just drink some; no need to eat faintly sugary overly soft fruit.

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But, I see now – sugary water, isn’t that the perfect base for a drink? It isn’t quite enough on its own; after all, watermelon is bland. But with some tart lime juice to brighten it up and maybe some mint, now we’re talking. Basically, think of the most supremely refreshing ingredients you can, then blend them up and serve them over ice.

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This is so good that Dave had to verify with me that there was no alcohol in it. Yes, a refreshing summer citrusy drink without tequila or rum! I will be buying many, many more watermelons.

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One year ago: Strawberry Cream Cake
Two years ago: Turkey Burgers
Three years ago: Potato Galette
Four years ago: Pecan Honey Sticky Buns

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Watermelon Agua Fresca (adapted slightly from sunny vegan)

6 servings

8 cups cubed, seeded, peeled watermelon (about a third of a medium watermelon)
6 tablespoons lime juice
4 sprigs mint (optional)
ice
sparkling water

In a blender or food processor, puree the watermelon, lime juice, and mint. Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer (or a colander lined with a single layer of cheesecloth); set aside for 30 minutes for the liquid to drain, stirring occasionally. Discard the solids in the strainer. Serve the remaining liquid over ice, topped off with sparkling water.

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meyer lemon semifreddo

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I traveled to Santa Fe last month for work, and while I didn’t love the day-long meetings all week, it was worth it to eat at Santa Fe restaurants and shop at Santa Fe grocery stores. I stopped at Whole Foods before I even checked in to my hotel, picking up some healthy snacks for the week and some sushi for dinner. I got pizza the next night (pizza – good pizza! – that I didn’t make myself!), but it was back to sushi the third night. The last day, after only six hours of meetings instead of the usual eight, I drove home, but not before making stops at both Whole Foods (where I got, you guessed it, more sushi to snack on during the drive home) and Trader Joe’s.

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Whole Foods had what must have been the last Meyer lemons of the season, and I couldn’t resist buying a few, even though I already had a bag of organic regular lemons in my cart. I could not, however, decide what to make with them. Like the last time I bought Meyer lemons, well over four years ago, I wanted something that would showcase their flavor so I could figure out just how much different they are from regular lemons.

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I diluted the flavor only slightly by mixing it with heavy cream, sugar, and egg yolks to make semifreddo. And if you’re paying attention while eating this dessert, the flavor has a little extra something, even beyond the sweeter orange hint of Meyer lemons. However, if you’re distracted by the light and airy texture that comes from freezing whipped heavy cream, I won’t blame you. And this indulgent dessert with a popular but elusive ingredient is all thanks to a week of meetings; traveling for work has its advantages.

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One year ago: Barbecued Pulled Pork
Two years ago: Grilled Artichokes
Three years ago: Basic Lentil Soup
Four years ago: Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar

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Meyer Lemon Semifreddo (from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Serves 8 to 10

While the recipe indicates that you can use Meyer or regular lemons interchangeably, Meyer lemons are significantly less sour than regular lemons. I used Meyer, but if you use regular, you should probably increase the sugar.

I used a round pan instead of a loaf pan, but other than that, followed the recipe exactly.

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
1¾ cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
7 large egg yolks
½ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel
¼ teaspoon salt
4 cups mixed fresh berries (such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and quartered hulled strawberries)

1. Line a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang. Sprinkle almonds evenly over the bottom of the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the whipping cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Refrigerate the whipped cream while making the custard.

2. Whisk 1¼ cups sugar, the egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt in a large metal bowl to blend. Set the bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the yolk mixture is thick and fluffy and instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 170°F, about 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the simmering water. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture until cool, thick, and doubled in volume, about 6 minutes. Fold in the chilled whipped cream. Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf pan; smooth the top. Tap the loaf pan lightly on the work surface to remove air pockets. Fold the plastic wrap overhang over top to cover. Freeze the semifreddo until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. (Semifreddo can be made 3 days ahead. Keep frozen.)

3. Gently mix the berries and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes.

4. Unfold the plastic wrap from the top of the semifreddo; invert onto a platter and remove the plastic wrap. Dip a heavy large knife into hot water; cut the semifreddo crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Transfer to plates; spoon the berries alongside and serve.

strawberry lemonade bars

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I’m always trying to find desserts that Dave will eat because they’re so good he can’t resist, and not just to be polite. It isn’t that those desserts don’t exist – crème brulee, eclairs, and tapioca pudding come to mind – it’s just that the desserts he loves don’t require me to use the mixer, and where’s the fun in that? So the real challenge is finding a dessert that Dave loves to eat as much as I love to bake it.

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Strawberry lemonade bars weren’t a sure thing, but it was a good bet, I thought. He does like lemon bars – not as much as, say, snickerdoodles, but more than brownies at least. And his favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry, so strawberry lemonade bars seemed like they’d have potential.

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The browned flaky crust, taken from my lemon bar comparison last year, didn’t hurt, and neither did the creamy filling. The filling was not just a lemon bar filling with some strawberry juice added; it incorporated a generous portion of flour, necessary to hold all the extra liquid together. The result was a bar that was soft and gooey (maybe I should have cooked it longer) and tasted perfectly of lemons and strawberries. I loved the bars, and as for Dave – he liked them enough to eat a couple to be polite.

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One year ago: Caesar Salad
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Brioche
Three years ago: Blueberry Crumb Cake
Four years ago: Spinach Feta Pine Nut Tart

Printer Friendly Recipe
Strawberry Lemonade Bars (adapted from Annie’s Eats via Sophistimom)

For the crust:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup (1.33 ounces) powdered sugar
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
⅔ cup (3.3 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons lemon zest (from 3 lemons)
⅛ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (8 ounces) frozen strawberries, thawed
3 large egg whites
1 large egg
⅔ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8 inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt, mixing just until incorporated.

3. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan, pressing into an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust for about 25 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove from the oven, maintaining the temperature.

4. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Combine the sugar, flour, lemon zest and salt in a blender. Add the strawberries; blend until smooth. Add the egg whites and eggs; blend until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, processing just until evenly mixed.

5. Pour the filling over the crust and bake until the center is just set and no longer jiggles when gently shaken, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Dust the top with confectioners’ sugar before cutting and serving.

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