blackberry cake with raspberry filling

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I require a weekend for my birthday. Not a week, certainly not a month, just two days and one evening to do as many as my favorite things as possible and as few of my least favorite things. So wine and a new novel are in; laundry is most definitely out.

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Baking and eating my birthday cake is in, but I was really on top of things this year and did all the steps I don’t like so much beforehand. That includes digging around in the messy, nearly unreachable cabinet for pans, lining the pans, and pureeing and straining the fruit. All that was left to do on my actual birthday was add things to the mixer and nibble on frosting while assembling the cake.

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I’d originally made this cake for a friend’s bridal shower, but there were two issues: 1) I only got one piece, and 2) I didn’t save any for Dave. He’s pretty adamant about not being a dessert guy and even less so a cake guy, but our friends had such good things to say about the cake after the party that he was sorry he missed it.

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So choosing this year’s birthday cake wasn’t a hard decision. Making the cake wasn’t hard either, since I’d left only my favorite parts of baking for my birthday itself. I made a small cake, but I had just enough to last for my entire birthday weekend. Cake everyday is definitely on the list for an awesome birthday.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Blackberry Cake with Raspberry Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting (cake adapted from Cook’s Illustrated White Cake recipe; filling is just barely adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Raspberry Coulis)

The bride’s wedding colors are Tiffany blue and red, so I originally made a blackberry cake hoping that it would turn out blue, like Elly’s, with raspberry filling as the red. I ended up with a purple cake with pink filling, but no one complained. However, you could mix this up with other berries – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries can be used in both the cake and the filling. Fresh or frozen and thawed berries can be used.

I made a three-layer cake for my birthday, and a four-layer cake for the shower, which I preferred. I love the raspberry filling, so an extra layer of it is very welcome.

For heavy decorations like the roses, increase the frosting recipe by 50% (using 12 tablespoons butter, 12 ounces cream cheese, and 6 cups powdered sugar).

Cake:
¾ cup pureed and strained blackberries (from 8 ounces of blackberries)
⅓ cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ (9 ounces) cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
4 egg whites, at room temperature

Raspberry Filling:
6 ounces fresh raspberries (or thawed if frozen)
2½ to 3½ tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch table salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
pinch salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar

1. For the cake: Heat the oven to 350F. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray (or grease and flour the pans). Line with parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.

2. Using a blender, puree the blackberries. Transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl; use a spoon or rubber spatula to press the liquid through the strainer, discarding the seeds. Measure ¾ cup of puree. Stir the milk and vanilla extract into the blackberry puree. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.

3. Place the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the blackberry mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the blackberry puree, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on medium-low speed for 15 seconds longer.

4. Divide the cake between the prepared pans. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Invert and turn out onto wire racks and peel off the paper liners. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least one hour.

5. For the filling: In a medium saucepan, bring the raspberries, 1 teaspoon water, 2½ tablespoons sugar, and salt to bare simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally; cook until the sugar is dissolved and the berries are heated through, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the mixture to the blender; puree until smooth, about 20 seconds. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl, pressing and stirring the puree with a rubber spatula to extract as much seedless puree as possible. (there’s no need to wash either the blender or the strainer between the blackberries and the raspberries.) Stir in the lemon juice and additional sugar, if desired. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour. Stir to recombine before serving. Can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 4 days.

6. For the frosting: Place the butter, cream cheese, and salt in the (clean) bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium speed until smooth. Switch to the whisk attachment; on low speed, gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until it’s just incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

7. To assemble: To make the cakes easier to handle, wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or up to overnight. Working with one cake at a time, unwrap it and use a serrated bread knife to cut the cakes horizontally in half. If you’re using a cake board, put a small spoonful of frosting in the center of it to glue the cake to the board; if you’re not using a cake board, line the perimeter of your serving dish with strips of wax paper, then put a small spoonful of frosting in the center of the serving dish. Center a layer of cake over the frosting, cut side down. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting over the cake layer. Spoon 3 tablespoons of raspberry filling over the frosting, spreading it to within about an inch of the edge. Center another cake layer over the filling, cut side-down. Repeat the layering of frosting, filling, and cake twice more. Spread a thin layer of frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake to seal in crumbs. If the layers slide around while you’re spreading the frosting, push wooden skewers from the top to the bottom of the cake in three places to secure the layers. Chill the cake, uncovered, for 30 minutes to 2 hours to set the frosting. Remove the skewers if necessary, then spread the remaining cream cheese frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake, decorating as desired. Either transfer the cake on the cake board to a serving platter, or carefully remove the strips of wax paper to leave a clean serving platter around the sides of the cake.

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cocoa nib peanut butter bites

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You can call these Peanut Butter Bites if you want, but for me, they will forever be known as Hippie Cookies. Sweetened with dates? Fat from all-natural peanut butter? Cocoa nibs, of all things?! I kept hearing people talk about cocoa nibs, so I bought some, and it turns out that they’re not even good. They’re like chocolate, but mean. There’s no sugar in them at all, just bitterness, like that time when you were a kid and accidentally ate your mom’s unsweetened baking chocolate.

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Still, the cocoa nibs are perfect in these cookies, because it turns out that you don’t need processed sugar to make a very sweet snack; dates are plenty sweet on their own. The bitter cocoa nibs are actually the perfect balance.

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I just loved these cookies so much, and not just because I filed them under “snack” instead of “dessert” and therefore enjoyed them without guilt. They’re shockingly good, or maybe it’s just shocking to someone used to adding refined sugar and butter to everything sweet. Who knew hippie cookies would be so delicious?

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Cocoa Nib Peanut Butter Bites (adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

Because these aren’t baked, feel free to taste and add – more salt, more cinnamon, more cocoa nibs – to your taste, as well as more peanut butter to bring the mixture together, if necessary.  The amount of salt you add will also depend on whether you use salted or unsalted peanut butter.  You could also add dark chocolate instead of cocoa nibs, although the cocoa nibs balanced the sweet dates really well.

1 cup almonds
¼-½ teaspoon table salt
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup cocoa nibs

In the bowl of a food processor, process the nuts and salt until evenly ground; do not, however, process long enough to make almond butter. Add the dates, vanilla, and cinnamon, and process until the dates are minced and evenly dispersed. Add the peanut butter and pulse to combine, then repeat with the cocoa nibs. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls, then flatten gently to about ⅓-inch thick. Cookies can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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pan-seared halibut in white wine sauce with green beans and tomato-scallion relish

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I have found the perfect single-person dinner. Not because it’s easy, although that’s nice. Not because it only uses one pan to cook, although I’m not complaining about less dishes to wash. Not because it tastes good, because of course it tastes good or why would I be talking about it?

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No, the key for bachelor(ette) meals is that they don’t leave you with half a can of tomatoes or beans, or half a cucumber or pepper, or the vast majority of a roast leftover. If you’re cooking for one, this recipe uses one fish filet, one tomato, one scallion, and a handful of green beans.

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Because I have been cooking for one a lot lately, while Dave travels for work, I’ve been making this dish often. The original recipe instructs that the green beans be steamed in a separate pot, but that seemed like a lot of hassle and dishes just for me, so I saute them quickly in a skillet, then add just a bit of water to cook them through. Any remnant green bean bits are scraped up with a glug of wine. I like to transfer the green beans to a pasta bowl and cover them with a big plate while the fish cooks in the same skillet. The fish gets laid over the green beans, the pan is deglazed with wine again, then a simple relish is heated briefly in the pan before it’s time to eat.

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I don’t know if fish served over green beans (although you could put yours on the side if that’s more your thing) sounds weird. The relish really brings everything together, since it’s so bright and flavorful, mixing perfectly with both the beans and the fish. It’s an easy, healthy, one-pan, delicious meal that won’t leave you with a bunch of half-used ingredients, and one of my newest favorites.

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Pan-Seared Halibut in White Wine Sauce with Haricots Verts and Tomato-Scallion Relish (adapted from Alfred Portale’s The Twelve Seasons Cookbook via epicurious)

4 servings

Regular green beans work just as well as haricots verts in this recipe. I’ve also successfully made it with both halibut and mahi-mahi. The pictures show mahi-mahi.

It’s easy to adapt for one person; just divide all of the ingredients by four and use a small skillet.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 ounces haricots verts or green beans
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup water
6 tablespoons white wine, divided
4 halibut or mahi-mahi fillets, each approximately 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
4 small roma tomatoes, diced fine

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the beans, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are spotty brown, 4 minutes. Add the water, cover, and cook until the beans are bright green and still crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the cover, increase the heat to high, and cook until the water evaporates, 30 to 60 seconds. Divide the beans between four plates or shallow bowls. Add 2 tablespoons of wine to the pan, swirling it around and scraping the pan with a rubber spatula to dissolve any stickiness on the bottom of the skillet. Transfer to liquid to the dishes with the green beans; cover set aside.

2. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Cook the fish for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the fish, reduce the heat to medium, and cook about 4 minutes longer, until the fish is opaque in the center and browned on both sides. Put the fish over the green beans in the bowl; cover again.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons wine and the lemon juice to the pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits with a rubber spatula. Stir in the butter. Add the scallions, capers, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, and pour over the fish in the bowls. Serve immediately.

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blueberry pie

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The two weeks a year when blueberries are reasonably priced are almost a tease. Blink and you miss it! Down here in the desert, some years it doesn’t happen at all (or maybe I blinked). They went on sale recently, and I loaded up my cart. I didn’t know what I was going to make for dessert that weekend, but I knew it would have lots of blueberries in it.

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Pie. Pie is so classic, and like I recently said, I don’t get many opportunities to make it. While pies aren’t the easiest desserts to make, at least blueberries don’t require any tedious prep like most other fruits – that is, unless you choose a high-maintenance Cook’s Illustrated recipe for blueberry pie.

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I did, because I hate soupy pies enough to pre-cook the filling and peel and grate an apple into the mix. And clean out the coffee grinder to powder the tapioca when the grinder I keep in the kitchen for non-coffee things broke. All the cleaning, dough-rolling, pre-cooking, and apple-shredding was worth it when I was rewarded with a flaky crust over a juicy but not soupy filling of my favorite summer fruit.

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Blueberry Pie (pretty much straight from Cook’s Illustrated, except for I don’t use their crust)

CI notes: This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1¼ cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons.

dough for double-crust pie (I always make this one)
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) (see note)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
¾ cup sugar (5¼ ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground (see note)
pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 ½ cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

2. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

3. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about ⅛ inch thick. Using 1¼-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1½ inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least ½-inch overhang on each side.

4. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving ½-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

5. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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crab towers with gazpacho and avocado salsas

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I once made twenty of these in one night. I also made twenty tiny caramelized onion gruyere tarts, six baguettes, three types of sorbet, and smoked popcorn with bacon. (Not totally true: The baguettes and sorbet were made in advance, just served that night. Thank god.) My friend made Thai chicken slaw, twenty tiny shepherd’s pies, braised venison over mashed potatoes, and chocolate pudding cake. Each dish had its own wine paired with it. It was an epic party. (And the next day was an epic hangover.)

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It was, as you can probably imagine, a lot of work. Building twenty tiny stacks of three different mixtures actually went pretty fast; no, the truly tedious part is creating teeny tiny squares of vegetables. But making your food into confetti is so pretty, sometimes it’s worth it.

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And it isn’t all about looks. It’s about combining my favorite foods into one elegant salad – avocadoes and crab and gazpacho, neatly layered and colorful. And if you aren’t making twenty of them, as well as twenty each of several other small dishes, the mincing isn’t too bad.  You might not have an epic party in that case, but you’ll still have a dish worthy of one.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Crab Towers with Avocado and Gazpacho Salsas (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home)

Even when I’m making these for just a few people at home, I use Dixie cups with the bottoms cut off for the molds. You can make the gazpacho salsa a day in advance.

Makes 8

Gazpacho salsa:
1 cup grape tomatoes, minced
½ yellow pepper, minced
1 Persian or ½ regular cucumber, minced
1 small shallot, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil

Crab salad:
1 pound crabmeat, shredded
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Avocado salsa:
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, shallot, salt, pepper, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. In a separate medium bowl, combine the crab, vinegar, and mayonnaise. In a small bowl, combine the avocado, salt, and lemon juice, mashing very lightly so the mixture holds together.

2. Divide the avocado mixture between eight 2-inch molds. Divide the crab salad between the molds on top of the avocados, pressing lightly again. Top with the gazpacho salsa. Serve immediately.

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margarita cupcakes

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I haven’t really been drinking margaritas lately, since we’ve moved from daiquiris into experiments with all sorts of tiki drinks, but eating them is another thing. I hosted a taco bar party recently, where I supplied corn tortillas and beef barbacoa and everyone else brought sides or toppings. I thought about serving margaritas, but I wasn’t excited about squeezing a hundred limes; sangria for a crowd is a whole lot easier.

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But a taco party without margaritas in any form just isn’t right, so we’d have them for dessert instead. This is a white cupcake flavored with lime zest, then brushed very liberally with a mixture of tequila and orange liqueur. The buttercream, light and airy swiss meringue, is flavored with more lime juice and more tequila.

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I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to get the flavor of liquor in the batter to come across after a dessert is baked (bourbon pound cake seems to be an exception), so I don’t even attempt that here, just brushing – and then brushing some more, and then more – the baked cakes with liquor. The cupcakes aren’t so strong that you’ll gag on the fumes, but they do have a hint of bite to them, just like the best margaritas. And I had way more fun making cupcakes and frosting than I would have had squeezing lime after lime after lime.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Margarita Cupcakes (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake from Baking: From my Home to Yours)

Makes 24 cupcakes

It seems like a lot of liquor to brush into the cupcakes, but trust me that you will use it all, and the cupcakes won’t be soggy.

Cupcakes:
3¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons (13.5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
6 large egg whites
2¼ cups (15.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
12 tablespoons (1½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lime juice
6 tablespoons tequila
3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Buttercream:
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons tequila

1. For the cupcakes: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

2. Put the sugar and lime zest in a mixer bowl mix with paddle attachment until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the lime juice, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

3. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them ⅔ to ¾ of the way. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-24 minutes, rotating the pans once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly. Transfer the pans to wire racks; cool about 5 minutes, them remove the cupcakes. Cool cupcakes completely on a rack before frosting.

4. Combine the tequila and orange liqueur in a small dish. Using a toothpick or skewer, poke about 10 holes in the top of each cupcake, almost to the base. Brush with the alcohol mixture. Keep brushing the cupcakes until all the alcohol has been used.

5. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a metal mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees and the sugar has dissolved. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more. Stir in the lime juice and tequila; mix just until incorporated. Use a wide star tip to pipe frosting onto the cupcakes, garnishing with tiny lime wedges and lime zest.

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black bean burgers

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I actually don’t have any need for a black bean burger. Because Dave and I eat either vegetarian or fish during the week, I’m always ready for some meat by the weekend. And I don’t eat much bread on weekdays either (other than my daily bagel at work – best part of the workday!), so I wouldn’t pair vegetarian burgers with buns. But on top of slaw, now that works.

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This recipe doesn’t have (much of) my other issue with most vegetarian burgers, which is that they’re usually bound with large amounts of breadcrumbs or other grains, so you’re, in essence, putting carbs on a bun. This mix does have some bread crumbs, but it’s also bulked up with extra protein from cheese and nuts. They’re not there for your health though – they provide a nice variation in texture, so the burgers aren’t uniform, and they’re certainly not mushy, thanks to some time the beans spend in the oven getting dehydrated.

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The mix itself was so good that I couldn’t stop eating it. Formed into patties and browned, it was that much better. What isn’t better with crisp, caramelized sides? I’m sure they’re great on a bun with your favorite burger toppings, but I loved them on a simple lime-cilantro slaw. I have finally found a place for black bean burgers in my life, and I have found the black bean burger to take that place.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Black Bean Burgers
(rewritten but hardly adapted from The Food Lab)

Makes 8 to 12 burgers (the patties in the pictures are each one-tenth of the recipe)

If your cashews aren’t toasted already, put them in the oven before the beans. Don’t do what I did and combine the two on one baking sheet; they’re treated separately in the food processor.

The recipe makes a lot. I formed the mixture into patties and froze most of them. They defrost and cook up perfectly.

According to the original recipe, you can grill these as well as pan-fry them, but I didn’t try it. You’d want to brush the sides with oil before grilling.

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large poblano pepper, finely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 teaspoon sauce
¾ cup toasted cashews
½ cup finely crumbled feta or cotija cheese
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the black beans evenly on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until the edges are splitting, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, poblano, and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just beginning to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the chipotle chile and sauce. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

3. In a food process, pulse the cashews until the largest pieces are about ¼-inch. Transfer to the bowl with the vegetables. Transfer the dried black beans and cheese to the food processor and pulse until the largest pieces are about ¼-inch. Transfer to the bowl with the cashews. Add the bread crumbs, mayonnaise, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper to the mixing bowl. Stir until evenly combined.

4. Form the mixture into patties ¾-inch thick. You can make them any size you want; I made about ten patties from this recipe, and they were each about 4 inches in diameter.

5. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add half of the patties and cook, without moving, until crisp and browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip the patties and continue cooking until the second side is browned, another 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining patties.

Lime-Cilantro Slaw

½ cabbage, sliced thinly
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup Greek yogurt
4 green onions (or half of a small red onion), minced
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large or 2 small carrots, shredded
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients.

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strawberry rhubarb crisp bars

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I never make pies anymore. Most of what I bake is meant to be easily shared by a large crowd, either at work or at a party. That’s fine, but pies are fine too.

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This was part of my annual frenzy to use rhubarb as much as possible during its short season. When the grocery store has it, I buy it, whether I have a plan for it or not. That’s easy when you have a bunch of coworkers who will eat anything – preferably anything handheld, easy to grab along with a cup of coffee.

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Until I find a small gathering – with plates and even forks – to make a pie for, these bars are a good stand in. The balance of tart, juicy fruit to buttery flour is spot on, and although the crispness isn’t like a flaky pie crust, the oaty crunch is a good stand-in. Best of all, I actually had an opportunity to share them, unlike a silverware-demanding pie.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars (adapted from Yvonne Rupert’s One Bowl Baking via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 9 to 16 bars

I un-one bowled this. I’m spoiled by my dishwasher and would rather mix things conveniently than use less dishes.

1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats
¾ cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
½ cup (95 grams) light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (125 grams) small-diced rhubarb (from about 1½ medium stalks)
1 cup (155 grams) small-diced strawberries
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8 inch square pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add the butter and stir until clumps form. Set aside ½ cup of the crumble mixture and press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan.

3. In a medium bowl (you could even use the same bowl; see, one less dish to wash!), combine the rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Evenly distribute the fruit over the crust, then scatter the reserved crumbs over the fruit.

4. Bake the bars until the fruit is bubbling and the crisp portion is golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

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rustic bread (comparison of 3 recipes)

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baguette: PR; slices: CI; round loaf: T

I love bread so much. I always have – who doesn’t? – but I’ve been having even more fun with it lately. Besides hot dog and burger buns, my focus has almost exclusively been on rustic breads for the last couple years. If we spend Saturday night at home, I’ll often make a really nice meal, and wine seems like a natural accompaniment (to be honest, often the meal is planned around the wine), and bread and wine are so good together.

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CI biga

With all these opportunities to experiment, I started working on this comparison years ago. I slowly narrowed down recipes until I had three that were so good that the comparison would undoubtedly be a reflection of personal taste and not quality of the recipe, thus defeating the purpose of doing a tasting at all. But at least I (and my friends) got to eat a lot of good bread along the way.

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CI dough

The recipes that made the cut were Cook’s Illustrated’s Italian Bread recipe (CI), Peter Reinhart’s Pain a l’Ancienne (PR), and Tartine’s Country Bread (T). I’d previously made all three of these recipes many times and loved them all. I’d need to taste them side-by-side to choose a favorite.

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CI dough mid-turn

CI – This bread starts with a biga, a mixture of flour, water, and yeast that’s stirred together, left at room temperature for a few hours to ferment, then transferred to the refrigerator overnight. A second mixture of flour, water, and yeast is later mixed and allowed to set for just 20 minutes before the biga and salt is added and the dough is kneaded.

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CI dough completed turn

The dough goes through a long rise at room temperature with several “turns” in the middle – basically folding the dough over itself a couple times. It’s supposed to lead to the final loaf rising up and not out, and it’s a trick I like enough that I incorporate it in other bread recipes. After shaping, the dough goes through a second rise and is baked on a stone at 500 degrees for 10 minutes and then 400 degrees. The dough is sprayed with water before baking, but no other steam is added.

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CI risen dough

PR – This is the easiest bread in this lineup. Flour, yeast, salt, and ice water are mixed and kneaded, then chilled overnight. The next day, after it warms up and rises a bit, the very sticky dough is cut into smaller portions, which are pulled and pushed into something vaguely baguette-like. These are baked soon after shaping. Reinhart calls for a few shots of water to be sprayed on the sides of the oven, plus a pan of hot water in the oven with the bread to create steam during baking.

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CI ready to bake

T – This dough requires a lot of babysitting and a lot of patience, although not necessarily a lot of work. The flour and water are mixed with sourdough starter and allowed to rest for a bit, then salt is mixed in. The dough isn’t kneaded, it’s just turned, as described above, every half an hour or so for about four hours. After being shaped into rounds, it’s chilled overnight in the refrigerator. It’s kept covered in a heavy Dutch oven for the first part of baking to trap steam, then the lid is removed so the crust can brown.

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CI

In retrospect, the breads are pretty different. The Italian bread (CI) has an even, relatively tight structure, while the pain a l’ancienne (PR) is open and airy. Tartine’s country bread (T) has a slight but unignorable sourdough flavor.

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CI

CI – Described as denser and drier. The chewy crust got compliments. While one friend thought it was sweeter than the other breads, to me, it didn’t have as much flavor. This might be because I eat so many whole grains lately that a bread made with all white flour seems plain.

PR – Tasters thought the bread might be buttery or eggy, despite a lack of both of those ingredients in the recipe. They also thought it was chewy and moist and liked the crust.

T – The sourdough flavor was picked out immediately. It was also described as yeastier and more floury.

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CI

With five people comparing the breads, no clear winner emerged. A friend who grew up eating sourdough pancakes preferred Tartine’s country bread. An Italian friend loved CI’s Italian bread, as did a friend who liked the sweeter flavor. PR’s pain a l’ancienne was Dave’s favorite and no one’s least favorite. Those who favored Tartine country bread said CI’s Italian bread was their least favorite and vice versa, although everyone liked all of the breads. I was just happy because I got to eat — and bake — so much bread.

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clockwise from top: PR, T, CI

Tartine Country Bread

Pain a l’ancienne

Printer Friendly Recipe
Italian Bread (from Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

This recipe requires a standing mixer to make the dough, a spray-bottle filled with water for spritzing, a rectangular baking stone, and an instant-read thermometer for gauging doneness. It also requires a bit of patience — the biga, which gives the bread flavor, must be made 11 to 27 hours before the dough is made.

This recipe makes a gigantic loaf of bread.  I always divide the dough into two portions and make smaller loaves.

I really didn’t intend for all of the pictures in this post to be of this recipe.  Fortunately, there are separate entries dedicated to the other two recipes.

Biga:
11 ounces bread flour (2 cups)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
8 ounces water (1 cup), room temperature

Dough:
16½ ounces bread flour (3 cups), plus extra for dusting hands and work surface
1 teaspoon instant yeast
10.7 ounces water (1⅓ cups), room temperature
2 teaspoons table salt

1. For the biga: Combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed (stir on KitchenAid) until it forms a shaggy dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer biga to medium bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until beginning to bubble and rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate biga at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

2. For the dough: Remove biga from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while making dough. Combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook; knead on lowest speed until rough dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Turn mixer off and, without removing dough hook or bowl from mixer, cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap; let dough rest 20 minutes.

3. Remove plastic wrap, add biga and salt to bowl, and continue to knead on lowest speed until ingredients are incorporated and dough is formed (dough should clear sides of bowl but stick to very bottom), about 4 minutes. Increase mixer speed to low (speed 2 on KitchenAid) and continue to knead until dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute. Transfer dough to large bowl (at least 3 times dough’s size) and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in cool, draft-free spot away from direct sunlight, until slightly risen and puffy, about 1 hour.

4. Remove plastic wrap and turn the dough by sliding a plastic bench scraper under one side of the dough; gently lift and fold one third of the dough toward the center. Fold the opposite side of the dough toward the center. Finally, fold the dough in half, perpendicular to first folds. Dough shape should be a rough square. Replace plastic wrap; let dough rise 1 hour. Turn dough again, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise 1 hour longer.

5. To shape the dough: Dust work surface liberally with flour. Gently scrape and invert dough out of bowl onto work surface (side of dough that was against bowl should now be facing up). Dust dough and hands liberally with flour and, using minimal pressure, push dough into rough 8- to 10-inch square. Fold the top left corner diagonally to the middle; repeat step 2 with top right corner. Gently roll dough from top to bottom until it forms a rough log. Roll the dough into its seam, and, sliding hands underneath each end, transfer the dough to parchment paper. Gently shape dough into 16-inch football shape by tucking bottom edges underneath. Dust loaf liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap; let loaf rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

6. To bake: Using a lame, single-edged razor blade, or sharp chef’s knife, cut slit ½ inch deep lengthwise along top of loaf, starting and stopping about 1½ inches from ends; spray loaf lightly with water. Slide parchment sheet with loaf onto baker’s peel or upside-down baking sheet, then slide parchment with loaf onto hot baking stone in oven. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and quickly spin loaf around using edges of parchment; continue to bake until deep golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loaf registers 210 degrees, about 35 minutes longer. Transfer to wire rack, discard parchment, and cool loaf to room temperature, about 2 hours.

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braised artichokes with creamy dipping sauce

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My sister’s kids aren’t particularly picky, but sometimes I push their limits without meaning to. Like the time I thought they’d get a kick out of eggs cooked in bacon toast cups, but instead they were like, Hey, now where does the jelly go? And at least that wasn’t a vegetable.

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I don’t even remember why I thought artichokes would be a good idea in the first place, but then when I started thinking about it, I got worried. They tend to turn a military shade of green once they’re cooked. I tried to get the kids excited about saying “okey dokey artichokey”, but I was pulling at strings and knew it.

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And then, oddly, they loved the artichokes. I think it was the number one rule of feeding children that worked in my favor – opportunities to dip. Plus, maybe, just maybe, I was right, and the fun of pulling off leaves and scraping the “meat” off with your teeth was more important than the brownish green shade of the vegetables. It certainly is for me, as this is one of my absolute favorite foods.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Braised Artichokes with Creamy Dipping Sauce

Serves 3 to 6 as a first course, depending on how big your artichokes are and how big your appetite is

Trimming artichokes isn’t hard, but you might want to watch a youtube video or two if you’re not familiar with the process.

99% of artichoke recipes call for transferring the trimmed ‘chokes to a bowl of water with a lemon squeezed into it to keep them from browning. Not only does it not work, but they look and taste the same after cooking, so I’ve skipped this step. (But a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated tested it and found it the lemon water worthwhile.)

If your artichokes are really big, you might need to use a 12-inch sauté pan instead of a Dutch oven to fit them in a single layer.

If you’re mayonnaise-adverse, crème fraiche would be a great substitute. Greek yogurt or sour cream would work if you stir it in off the heat so the dairy doesn’t curdle.

3 medium artichokes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup water
½ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced

1. Working with one artichoke at a time, cut off the top 2 inches of the artichoke. Working around the artichoke, use scissors to cut off the sharp tips of the leaves. Trim the base of the stem, then trim off the outside millimeter or so of the stem. Cut the artichoke in half from top to bottom and use a paring knife to cut out the sharp purple leaves and fuzzy choke from the center. Rinse the artichoke under running water to remove any remaining fuzz.

2. Heat the olive oil in a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Arrange the artichokes cut-side down in the pot, overlapping the stems in the middle. Add the water, wine, pepper, and salt. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and braise artichokes until tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes for small artichokes and 40 minutes for very large artichokes. (If you’re not ready to serve the artichokes right away, remove the pot from the heat and leave the cover on; the ‘chokes will stay hot for up to 30 minutes.)

3. Transfer artichoke halves to a serving platter or plates. There should about ⅓ cup liquid remaining in the pot; if there’s less, add water until there’s a total of ⅓ cup liquid; if there’s more, simmer the liquid to reduce it slightly. Add the mayonnaise and parsley to the liquid; whisk to combine and pour into individual dipping containers.

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