Back when I was young and unafraid, I had the experience of a lifetime studying in Europe for a summer during college. It was the ultimate summer school–noisy pubs and boy chasing in England, sunbathing and karaoke at a dive bar with the Manchester United soccer (football, whatever) team in attendance in Malta (where did I put that photo of David Beckham and me, anyway?), lots of great chocolate in Germany and Austria. That sort of thing. And I think there may have been some schoolwork in there somewhere. Amazing what you can accomplish with a two-month-long hangover while a college student, really. Comes in second only to what a crazed mother of a 10-month-old can create when thinking of the days she was footloose and fancy-free. Like, say, working out a recipe for Nutella cupcakes.
The constant in my European summer, along with Boddingtons, was Nutella. It sustained Erin (she of Scotch-a-Roo lore) and I through the London portion of our trip, along with bread and Coke Light and a smartly-packed jar (her brillance, not mine) of American peanut butter. And to the delight of shoestring-budget college students like us, it seemed that you could find Nutella just about anywhere on the continent for dirt cheap. The hazelnut-chocolate combination is all over Europe in various forms, and is celebrated deliciously in the adorable Mozart Kuglen that I devoured by the dozen in Austria, making a huge dent in what was supposed to be a haul back to the states to gift to my family, who literally never really knew what they were missing.
The Supermodel Cupcake look doesn’t give away how simple, simple, simple this recipe is. The most difficult thing about it is toasting and peeling hazelnuts for garnish, which, if pressed for time, you could forgo altogether. But even that is pretty simple–just throw the hazelnuts into a baking pan and into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until toasty and fragrant, then let them cool completely before wrapping them in a little bunch in a dish towel and rubbing them in your hands like a bag of marbles–the peels will flake right off. Do a bunch at once and freeze the rest and you too can have peeled hazelnuts at a moment’s notice. The American dream, right?
To arrive at this gorgeous and delicious specimen of a cupcake, I had to really rework the aforementioned chocolate syrup cake recipe (chocolate syrup is fat free, Nutella is pretty much just sugar and fat), and I baked up a couple test batches before declaring number three the winner. The cakes are moist and somewhat dense, almost chewy, and come out of the oven with perfectly flat tops, which beg for a slick of ganache and end up having that gorgeous, streamlined European bake shop vibe.
Even better, these elegant lookers are perfect dinner party make-aheads–they taste so much better with a more pronounced hazelnut flavor the next day. I can’t recommend them enough, people. Have a glass of milk or a nice strong cup of coffee nearby, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at a little scrolly wrought iron table someplatz special.
Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
The ganache in this recipe is my go-to ganache–it firms up nicely with a slight chew and a satiny sheen. The recipe also works with dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolates. After the ganache sets up, I highly recommend storing the cupcakes in an airtight container overnight before serving them–the flavors are so much better the day after they’re baked.
For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces Nutella
2 tablespoons whole milk
For the ganache:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.
With an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well-blended. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in the Nutella until well-incorporated, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl while beating. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. On low speed, beat in half the flour mixture just until it beings to disappear into the batter. Beat in the milk. Fold in the remainder of the flour mixture by hand until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them no more than 1/2 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs–if in doubt, pull them from the oven a bit early–do not over bake. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. Place the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval, until the mixture is shiny and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
When the cupcakes are completely cool, using a spoon, top each one with about two teaspoons of the ganache, and with the back of the spoon coax it as close to the edges as possible without letting it drip down the sides (or go on and let it drip…drippy chocolate is rarely a bad thing). Sprinkle on a bit of the chopped hazelnuts. Let the ganache set before storing in an airtight container at room temperature overnight–these cupcakes truly taste better the next day. But if you want to defy me and serve the cupcakes immediately, refrigerate them for about five minutes and the ganache will quickly set.
Shirley’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake has ended my search for the absolutely perfect yellow cake–sweet, tender and toothsome with a tight, velvety crumb, perfect for layer cakes and cupcakes alike. It’s a true food scientist’s cake recipe, so it took a few tries to wrap my brain around the recipe, but man, is it worth the details. Even though every time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve had to pull the pans from the oven in a panic a minute after putting them in because, really, it’s just not natural to “drop the pans from a height of four inches onto the countertop to knock out the air bubbles” before putting them into the oven (P.S.–if you forget to do this altogether, your cake will still be delicious, though pockmarked with air bubbles, so it’s more of a problem to neglect to do this with layer cakes, and a smaller problem with cupcakes). And the relatively small amount of butter in the recipe being offset by the folding in of whipped cream? I’m listening, Shirley.
My first attempt with this cake was a small 6-inch layer cake that had the husband and I closing our eyes and having a moment of silence upon the first tasting. Nom, nom, nom. It was really something.
The second time I used this recipe was to create cupcakes for a crowd of Southerners at a belated wedding reception and not-a-one purty little cake remained on the platter. And those people know cake.
And since I am a freakin’ American, I believe yellow cake belongs with a milk chocolate frosting. The end. So I tweaked Shirley’s Luscious Chocolate Icing a bit for my tastes, and really, truly, you will never find a more beautiful (and simple!) chocolate frosting. The chocolate is the true star here, there is no butter or confectioners’ sugar involved, and it doesn’t crust or run or do anything but just sit like a gorgeous chocolate pillow atop anything you put it on. I’ve spread it and piped it and swirled it on with a spoon and fallen in love all over again every time. I’ve found that as long as you use the right total weight of chocolate, the chocolates can be interchanged to give you exactly the right balance of bitterness and sweetness that you are looking for. So while I use mostly milk chocolate to pair it with a yellow cake, I might do a higher ratio of semi-sweet or bittersweet to milk chocolate for a deep chocolate cake or somesuch. Love.
Shirley Corriher’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake
The original recipe calls for a single standard 9-inch cake pan for this recipe, with the intention of slicing the one thick layer into two or three layers. But I’d use a springform pan for the higher side for that purpose, or just use two standard pans and adjust the baking time. Quarter the recipe for a 6-inch two layer cake. The rise on this cake can be pretty amazing, so be conservative with how full you fill your cake pans and/or cupcake liners–I stick to just about 2/3 full in both cases. Unless, you know, you like scraping molten cake batter off the floor of your oven. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Makes 2-3 9-inch cake layers or two dozen cupcakes
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan or two (or three) 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and dust them with flour, or line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners for cupcakes.
In a large measuring cup or similar vessel, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk and vanilla.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of your standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the butter, oil, and remaining buttermilk on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, then crank it up to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add one third of the egg mixture, and beat for about 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl again. Repeat two more times until all the egg mixture is incorporated and the batter is smooth.
In a cold bowl with cold beaters, whip the cream to just beyond soft peaks. Stir a quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining cream.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 2/3 full for cupcakes). Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of about 4 inches to knock out air bubbles. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean but moist–about 40 minutes for one thick layer, 25-30 minutes for individual layers, and 17-20 minutes for cupcakes (checking progress early and often). Do not overbake. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Shirley Corriher’s Luscious, Creamy Chocolate Icing
I adjust the proportions of milk and semi-sweet chocolates depending on the sweetness I’m after, and suspect dark and bittersweet chocolates added to the mix would work too. Chips or chopped bar chocolate work equally as well in this recipe.
Makes enough icing to frost and fill 1 9-inch 3-layer cake or 2 dozen cupcakes
12 ounces milk chocolate, chips or chopped
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sour cream
Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe vessel and microwave on 50% power for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after every interval, until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt, vanilla and corn syrup. Stir in the sour cream until nearly smooth. Add the melted chocolate. Beat on low speed until very smooth–it will get stiffer as you go, so beat just until it’s a nice spreading consistency and don’t overbeat. Use generously.
I’ve begun to dabble in the idea of baking more for other people, like maybe, possibly for profit. So I’ve been doing quite a bit of volunteering to be the dessert bringer for various parties and get-togethers as a way to perfect recipes and get feedback. Plus it gives me excuses to patronize dreamy places like Cooks Boulevard and the baker’s paradise that is Spun Sugar to pick up little baubles and piping bag tips and other things that make me dorkily, maniacally joyful. Is there a support group out there for people who clap their hands and bounce on their heels when presented with a shelf full of glistening sanding sugar in every imaginable hue?
A few weeks ago, a great opportunity to pass on some baking love arose. See, my darling husband, whose sweet tooth rivals (read: enables) mine, will eat and at least pretend to love anything I bake. So he likes to ask me to make stuff that he can bring into work and sort of “show me off”, kind of the married guy’s version of posting a hot picture of his girlfriend in his office. In this case, the stand-in for me posing in a short dress and suntan was a riff on Martha Stewart’s One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and a simple vanilla bean buttercream to make some girly cupcakes for an office baby shower.
You know that lovely smell of a freshly baked and American buttercream-frosted cake, all sweet cream butter and sugar, that explodes from whatever vessel in which you are storing said cake in as soon as it’s opened? Well, that kind of gorgeous scent was driving me bonkers, wafting through my car all the way downtown when I went to drop off these beauties. The kind of heady, sweet smell that has got to be caloric. And for that experience alone I highly endorse this combination.
One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart
I get about 18 cupcakes out of this recipe, but you can stretch it to a full 2 dozen if need be. It also makes two great 9-inch cake layers. Using brewed coffee instead of just water makes the chocolate taste more…chocolatey.
Makes 18-24 cupcakes
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Ghiradelli or Valhrona)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Spray the top of the muffin tin with cooking spray for extra non-stick insurance, as these cupcakes can have a serious rise and often puff over the edges of the tin’s wells.
Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well-mixed.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well here), filling each cup no more than 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Adapted from Amy Berman of Vanilla Bake Shop
I nabbed the idea of letting the salt dissolve in the liquid for American buttercreams from the fantastic Shirley Corriher, and will never go back to just adding it straight to frostings. I like a nice dose of salt in my icings, and this trick allows you to add a touch more without risking having a random crunchy salt grain in the mix. Love.
Makes enough to moderately frost 2 dozen cupcakes
1/4 cup milk
Scant 1/8 teaspoon of salt (one generous pinch)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Add the salt to the milk in a measuring cup and set aside to let the salt dissolve. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla seeds and vanilla extract, beating to incorporate. Beat in the milk last, adding a bit more milk if necessary to reach the desired consistency.
Use immediately or store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week. Bring the buttercream to room temperature and rewhip before using.
That old, teeny kitchen we left behind, well, she was good to me. With about six square feet of counter space all told and yet a full-size oven and brilliant natural light, we laughed, we cried, and managed to churn out a few last recipes the weekend before moving day, like some pretty little lemon curd-filled cupcakes for a Mothers’ Day fete.
Meyer Lemon Raspberry cupcakes (with sweet little sugar flowers in lieu of raspberries) inspired by Vanilla Bake Shop (one of my very favorite places in the world–Santa Monica, I really miss you sometimes, sniff) was the perfect kind of thing to make for my favorite comrades in motherhood as we all celebrated our first mama’s holiday together. It was a great day full of abundant sunshine, amazing pulled pork and some pretty little cupcakes fit for exhausted, yet radiant, new mothers.
The cupcakes received raves, and they were indeed beautiful and delicious, but I am making a few tweaks next time to reach cupcakery nirvana with this one. I’ve made the complete cupcake with filling and frosting a couple of times now, and though it the cake part always has very good flavor, I personally find the texture a bit dry against the lush vanilla bean buttercream, even when the cake is fresh and served the day it’s baked. And truthfully, I feel like it’s difficult to not toughen up the cake at least a little because whipped egg whites are folded in after the flour has been incorporated into an already really stiff batter and I’m all folding and folding and getting all nervous at the thought of the heaps of gluten that must be developing before it gets smooth. Shudder. I just don’t need that kind of stress.
Anyway, I still like my version of this cupcake better. But if you’re up for a challenge, or are looking for a nice, sturdy, flavorful vanilla bean cake for a special project, by all means give this one a shot. When making the entire cupcake recipe, I adjust the amounts for the frosting and filling because the original recipe makes way too much curd for two dozen cupcakes. And I find it to be way too skimpy on the frosting, which should be illegal. So I halve the curd recipe and make about 1 1/4 batches of buttercream to make enough to create pretty piped pillowy tops that beg to be sprinkled with something pretty.
For the aforementioned Mother’s Day celebration, I also made a recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis (do you even need to indicate this woman’s last name anymore? She is like Madonna or Cher now, if they had a limitless arsenal of adorable measuring cups and spoons). Her espresso brownies are a brilliant thing to have in your repertoire for those times when you make a somewhat involved dessert that’s on the light/fruity side, but want to have one more little thing on the dessert table for the chocolate people.
Normally I don’t do mixes, especially for brownies, which are so simple to make from scratch it’s almost criminal. But the additions to the mix in the form of good-quality chocolate chips and espresso powder and the gorgeous coffee-colored glaze add enough personality to give it a from-scratch feeling. My name is Shauna and I approve this boxed mix recipe. And come to think of it, I’m also a huge hypocrite, because if Sandra Lee had come up with this recipe and not Giada, I would have deemed it a trashy abomination of a brownie. But these are really fabulous.
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Makes about 20 smallish brownies
1 (19.5 ounces or 9×13 inch “family size”) box fudge brownie mix
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (available in better grocery stores, instant coffee is not nearly as good here)
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very soft
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper with enough overhang on two opposite sides to create parchment “handles” to make for easy removal of the brownies later. Spray the parchment with cooking spray, too.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brownie mix, eggs,1/3 cup of water, oil, and 2 tablespoons of the espresso powder until well-blended. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack.
For the glaze, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons of espresso powder in 2 tablespoons of water. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla, then the butter until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled brownies, coaxing it across the entire surface into a smooth, even layer. Refrigerate until the glaze is firm. Remove the brownies from the pan, remove the parchment paper, and cut the brownies into about 20 small bars.
We were probably a little old for a slumber party at the time, but it was the cap-off to Erin’s bachelorette party that involved a few bars on Hartford’s main drag outfitted with neon signs, dark wood paneling and jukeboxes blasting John Mellencamp, Foreigner and Boston. I vaguely remember bachelorette party essentials like cupcakes in questionable anatomical shapes and there may have been some karaoke as well, but the one thing I’m sure of is that there were Scotch-a-Roos at the afterparty.
At first glance, the Scotch-a-Roo looks somewhat familiar–a golden-hued Rice Krispy treat dressed up with a slick of chocolate over the top. But the first bite reveals something else altogether–an unexpected punch of peanut butter and butterscotch taking the whole thing to the next awesome, chewy level. But I should warn you: if you’ve never had them, it’s probably better to just try one and fall in love with them before you ask how they’re made. Because any recipe that starts with a cup of corn syrup and a cup of sugar makes your molars hurt just hearing about it. But if you think about it, that’s pretty much what marshmallows are minus their incorporated air plus! there is a cup of peanut butter involved as well, so hello, protein! Nevertheless, I usually halve the recipe to curb the extent of their damage–this way my Scotch-a-roo benders can only be a couple days long because my supply runs out faster.
And once you figure out other ways to justify eating half a pan of them in a weekend, you will be oh-so-pleased to learn how delightfully simple they are to create and how quickly they come together. Just bang a few ingredients (ahem, sugar and more sugar) together in a saucepan until bubbly, stir in the PB, toss with the cereal to coat, and while you’re waiting for the sugar to bubble, throw the topping chips into the micro to melt. And then chain yourself to a large piece of furniture in the other room while you wait for the bars to set up in the fridge for a few minutes.
Risking a few cavities never tasted so good. Enjoy!
Makes 16 bars
Lining the pan with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (sprayed with a bit more cooking spray) will allow for easy removal of the Scotch-a-Roo slab and make for neat, even cutting of the bars. This recipe doubles easily–just use a 9×13 inch pan instead.
2 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (not a time for natural peanut butter, people)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
Spray an 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper if desired (see recipe note).
Pour the cereal into a large mixing bowl.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar into the corn syrup and bring to a bubble, stirring often.
Meanwhile, place the chocolate and butterscotch chips into a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes, stopping to stir every 30 seconds or so, until the chips are melted and smooth. Set aside.
When the sugar has started to bubble, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until melted. Pour the syrup over the cereal and stir until evently coated. Press the mixture into the prepared pan. Spread the melted chocolate in an even layer over the bars. Refrigerate until cool and the chocolate is set, about 20 minutes, before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
To start at the beginning, when I haven’t been busy literally chasing Baby C around the place (boy, she sure does roll fast–I mean, why crawl when you can roll at warp speed?), my new thing is entering recipe and cooking contests. I know, I know–how kitsch, right? But there is crazy prize money involved in some of them, so hey, why not? And it is fascinating, this world of contesting. For instance, I have learned that there is a difference between recipe contests and cooking contests. What now? Well, recipe contests are just submitted recipes, with or without a photo, and almost always can be submitted online these days, so really, they are the perfect thing for lazy creative people with lots of good ideas for original recipes. So you know I’ve been getting in on that.
Cooking contests are like “offs”. You know, cook-offs, bake-offs, that sort of thing. Competitors actually have to congregate and cook for judges in a live contest. The “offs” are hard core and I’ve been submitting entries for some of those, too, even though I am kind of scared of actually getting selected to participate in an Off. Like the Granddaddy of All Offs, the Pillsbury Bake-Off. So flippin’ great and Americana at it’s best, right? Well, I got in really late in the game, like a month before the deadline. So for four weeks, I ran around like a deranged Sandra Lee, conjuring up recipes using items from the eligible list of Pillsbury family products.
A few were pretty good–those got submitted for the Off and can’t be shared here yet lest I make myself ineligible because I’ve “published” them on the internets. Other experiments for the Off were, at best, very confusing in the mouth and are dead to me. There were so many processed foods in our personal refrigerated section at one point that I was sure we were becoming part of the epidemic. I’m no hippie when it comes to food, but I do like to make prepared foods with long, mumbo-jumbo ingredients lists just an occasional thing, and for a few weeks, everyday was an occasion.
But the deadline for the Pillsbury Bake-Off has passed, and things are getting back to normal around here on the baking front (read: scratch cooking, recipes developed by experts), much to the relief of the ever-supportive husband (thanks for pretending to like that crushed sugar cookie/marscapone/jam thing, babe). But there was one lone pie crust and half a quart of buttermilk rattling around in the fridge. In these waste not, want not times, I opted for the obvious utilization of said quickly expiring ingredients: Buttermilk Pie.
Nothing makes you feel like you instantly live on a farm than saying you are making a Buttermilk Pie, even if you use a packaged pie crust. I mean, Pillsbury shows people on farms eating their products a lot in their commercials, but I’m not so sure that’s really the case. But so what? This pie is everything a great dessert should be and the star is the filling. It looks, smells and tastes like it should be on a sprawling buffet at some small town’s ladies’ luncheon where all the husbands show up at the end and scarf up what’s left and everyone raves about the pie. It’s somehow at once subtle yet abundant in flavor, tasting of fresh eggs and sweet butter and a swirl of nutmeg, with tangy buttermilk and a bright squeeze of fresh lemon keeping everything from getting to be just too much.
You’ll find lots of different recipes for buttermilk pie in cookbooks and online, but I love this recipe because the eggs are separated, and the meringue folded into the filling right before baking gives an incredible weightlessness to the custard–so unexpected in the mouth because the pie appears so rich in color and lush in texture, like whipped cheesecake filling. The custard also separates in the pie shell in the most gorgeous way when you pour it into a warm crust before baking–fluffy, set and almost cake-like at the top, with a layer of lemon curd-like custard underneath. Delicious, delicious, delicious. Say it with me now: My, oh my, Buttermilk Pie.
Adapted from Robert Sehling and Food and Wine
This is the perfect dessert to pair with good strong coffee. It also would be a great match with fresh seasonal fruit of all kinds, and of course a bit of freshly whipped cream. Even better the second day after a night in the fridge.
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 9-inch pie shell, your favorite homemade or store-bought variety
Place an oven rack in the center position. Bake the pie shell according to the pie crust recipe or package directions. Begin baking the shell while you make the filling so that the pie crust will still be warm when the filling goes in. When the shell is done baking, set the oven to 350 degrees.
To make the filling, beat the butter until creamy with an electric mixer. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the egg yolks and flour and beat until incorporated–batter will be very thick at this point. Switch to a whisk and energetically stir in the buttermilk, lemon juice, vanilla, nutmeg and salt (you can use an electric mixer for this step, but have a kitchen towel ready, because it tends to make a big mess). Set aside.
Clean the beaters well, and in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff, but not dry, glossy peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks of white remain (whisking gently a bit if necessary to help things along). Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and bake until the custard is set, deeply golden and a toothpick inserted in the very center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack completely before serving. Refrigerate before serving if desired.
Sablés are yet another fantastic French invention, crisp and buttery rounds with one of the shortest ingredient lists in all of baking and a perfect canvas for adding any number of flavors (like a smattering of fragrant Meyer lemon zest). They are so unassuming in their rustic shape and simple recipe, you never see it coming when you sample one and then suddenly have an instant craving for a second and third; you know the feeling–like a warm, snug rope wrapping around you and pulling you back towards the cookie plate. You are powerless against the sablé. It’s okay, it happens to everyone.
Meyer Lemon Sablés
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Makes four dozen
This dough freezes beautifully. I love to slice and bake one log of dough the day I put it together, and keep the other log in the freezer for any situation that calls for cookies, of which there are plenty. Serve with tea or coffee or for a last-minute elegant dessert, add a couple to a dish of premium ice cream and fresh berries.
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest of two Meyer lemons
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
Sanding sugar or other coarse decorative sugar
Pour the sugars into a small bowl and add the lemon zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant with lemon with the bits of zest evenly distributed throughout the sugar. Set aside.
In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is soft and creamy-looking. Beat in the lemon sugar just until the mixture looks smooth again, being careful not to let it get fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat in just two of the egg yolks, mixing until well-blended. Turn the mixer to low and stir in the flour until it is fully incorporated. The dough will be very soft and not quite clear the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide it in half.
Shape each dough half into a even log about nine inches long and wrap each log in a sheet of plastic wrap (the plastic wrap can also help the dough-shaping process along if your dough is especially soft and sticky). Refrigerate for at least three hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Coat each log of dough with the remaining egg yolk, and coat liberally in decorative sugar. Slice each log into 24 discs (most easily achieved by slicing the log in half, then each half in half, etc.) and place on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until the edges turn golden brown and the cookies are mostly firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheets for one minute then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
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