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I’m not a huge coconut fan, but my dear husband is and it’s his birthday so there you have it. I had visions of a beautiful two-layer cake with fluffy white frosting and loads of golden toasted coconut sticking out in curly spikes. Well, this is nothing like that but man alive, it’s the best darn coconut cake I’ve ever tasted.

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Now I’m not making any claims that this is the cake it was intended to be. Let’s face it, it looks nothing like the picture. I cut the recipe in half and used a 9″ round pan, so I’m guessing mine is a thicker version of its Martha Stewart self. Oh, and there’s the matter of frosting (specifically, the fact that mine has none).

I’ve never made 7-minute frosting, but they sure did make it sound easy. Not so much. I started by scrambling the eggs. Now I know this wasn’t in the instructions but I was not deterred! So as not to waste six eggs and a whole lot of sugar, I put it through a sieve and kept going. I cooked and cooked and cooked those strained eggs until they almost reached the appropriate temperature. Then I threw them into the stand mixer and went to town on high speed for 10 minutes (as instructed). That was where the volume was supposed to quadruple, producing a light, fluffy, and highly stable frosting with a lovely sheen. Or, in my case, marshmallow fluff.

Meanwhile, I cracked, peeled, and shredded a fresh coconut and toasted it to a lovely shade of tan, only to find that it had very little flavor and a somewhat bark-like texture. With no frosting to adhere it, it just didn’t make the cut.

A little powdered sugar and a lovely cake stand to the rescue – by the time we dug in, the cake’s appearance was the last thing on our minds. Tender crumb, delicious coconut flavor, and a slightly crispy and chewy outside edge – heaven.

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It all started with some leftover whipped cream.

Leftover whipped cream is a sad sight. Before long, it turns into a floating island of whipped cream on top of a milky puddle. Mmmm.

But if you’re careful, and you act quickly (say, by the next day) you can save the part on top from being completely lost.  In fact, I once learned that whipped cream is best stored in a sieve propped over a bowl.  I had not done this in my sleepy haze the night before, so I had no time to waste.

Rewind to Sunday, grocery store day. Beautiful rhubarb in the produce section and a recipe from Gourmet Live just waiting to be tested.

That’s when this happened:

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The recipe isn’t too fancy. Chop some rhubarb and toss it in a pan with just enough sugar to keep it tart. Simmer until it turns jammy. Cool.

Whip some cream, add some sour cream and powdered sugar, whip some more, then add a splash of sherry.

Layer them together in a pretty cup and crumble some ginger snaps on top. I used the ginger snap recipe from my dear old copy of Joy of Cooking, subbing about 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat flour…combined with dairy and fruit, this might even pass as breakfast!

What’s the problem with this recipe?  Too much whipped cream. Fast forward to Wednesday.

I was going to make a quiche, so first I made some pastry dough. I like to use Julia Child’s recipe from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (signed by Jacques no less — thanks Rob!). It’s classic and easy and I realized that my past failings with pastry dough came largely from lack of confidence. Using the same recipe over and over has helped me overcome.

Letting the dough rest in the fridge gave my taste buds just enough time to start thinking about the whipped cream…and the leftover rhubarb jam…and the apples on the kitchen table…and then the quiche became a frittata with a lovely fruit pie for dessert. Perfect!

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After watching many Cook’s Illustrated test recipes come and go from my email inbox, I finally received one that interested me enough to give it a try. I have mixed feelings about the experience, but judging by how quickly these ginger snaps disappeared, I’d say it was a success.

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The recipe called for lightly browned butter with spices added to bring out their flavor. And flavor they do have!

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A little thicker and darker than I would like, but perhaps that’s a problem with our oven temperature…note to self: pickup an oven thermometer for future accuracy.

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Ginger Snaps

2 ½ cups (12 ½ ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups packed (8 ¾ ounces) dark brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch cayenne
1 large egg, plus 1 large yolk
½ cup granulated sugar
 
Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl.

Place brown sugar, molasses, and fresh ginger in second bowl.

Heat butter in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook, swirling pan frequently, until foaming subsides and butter is just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and cayenne. Cool slightly, about 2 minutes.

Add butter mixture to bowl with brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add egg and egg yolk add whisk to combine. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined (use a wooden spoon and be prepared to work for it!). Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen for up to a month.)

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place granulated sugar in shallow baking dish or pie plate. Divide dough into heaping teaspoon portions; roll dough into balls about the size of small walnuts. Working in batches of 10, roll balls in sugar to coat. Evenly space dough balls on prepared baking sheets, 20 dough balls per sheet.

Place one sheet on upper rack and bake for 15 minutes. Transfer partially baked top sheet to lower rack, rotating 180 degrees, and place second sheet of cookies on upper rack. Continue to bake until lower tray of cookies just begin to darken around edges, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Remove lower sheet of cookies and shift upper sheet to lower rack and continue to bake until beginning to darken around edges, 15 to 17 minutes. Slide baked cookies, still on parchment, to wire rack and cool completely. Cool baking sheets slightly and repeat step 3 with remaining dough balls.

(Note: After reading this through again, I just realized that I completed messed this last part up – I put both sheets in then rotated and swapped them after 15 minutes…much less complicated but could account for the very dark edges on half of my cookies.  I guess I just have to try again!).

So I discovered another blog that I love (what happened to using my cookbooks for a while?).  The Transplanted Baker is a treasure trove of Scandinavian delights.  The best part is, it’s written in English!

Of course, I started with a cookie recipe (though I have to admit, I am drawn to the Geitost Bling after trying this brown Norwegian cheese for the first time a few years ago).  This Maple-Pecan Shortbread gave me the perfect reason to pull out the miniature cookie cutters that Rob brought home from a recent tag sale excursion.  After further reading, I discovered that these are not actually Norwegian, but they certainly were delicious!

According to the Spar website (read with the assistance of Microsoft Translator), the seven traditional cookies of Christmas in Norway are smultringer, sandkaker, sirupssnipper, berlinerkranser, goro, krumkaker and fattigmann.  Now I know which recipes to look for next year!

This year, I asked Rob what he would like for his birthday breakfast, choosing from any treat in the world. Without hesitation, he responded, “sticky buns”.  I immediately thought of Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), who seems to always have the most perfect recipes for decadent brunch treats.  To my surprise, I could only find reference to an amazing older recipe, along with a newer “easy” version employing frozen puff pastry.  Well, I’m sorry.  Her sticky pecan topping may have looked perfect, but this was no time for shortcuts. 

Next stop, Smitten Kitchen.  If anyone would have found a deliciously sweet breakfast treat and perfected it, it would be here.  Right?  Well, turns out Smitten is more of a cinnamon swirly bun type of gal.  You know the ones…spiral buns with cinnamon and raisins in between the layers, frosting on top.  Close, but not the upside-down gooey, nutty, caramelly jobs that I was aiming for.

Time to improvise.  Could I combine Ina’s luxuriously sticky topping with Smitten’s homemade dough?  Worst case scenario, it’s only somewhat amazing, and I make another batch.  Or some eggs to wash them down.

Most Amazing Upside-down Pecan Raisin Sticky Buns

Start with Smitten’s dough recipe for Cinnamon Swirl Buns

While rising, prepare Ina’s topping.  Combine 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature with 1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed until smooth (she recommends a stand mixer with paddle attachment, which I did).  Measure out 1/2 cup pecans, chopped in very large pieces.  Distribute the butter/sugar mixture evenly among 12 muffin cups and top each butter mound with the pecans.

Press down dough. Transfer to a floured work surface and roll out to a rectangle (this is where my instructions start to get a little loosey goosey), about 12″ x 15″. Brush the dough with melted butter (a couple of tablespoons should do it). Sprinkle about 1/2 cup brown sugar and a few teaspoons of cinnamon, then about a cup of raisins over the dough. Starting at the longer side, roll dough into a log. (Note: this is where I refrigerated mine the night before.  In this case, the second rise takes a little longer). 

With seam side down, trim the ends off if needed. Cut the log crosswise into 12 equal slices (about 1″ wide each).  Place one spiral in each muffin tin, then cover with a towel and let rise once more until the dough is nice and soft (one hour; two if you refrigerate after the first rise).  They will be bulging out of the muffin tin at this point and you’ll wonder how on Earth they will keep from exploding all over the inside of your oven, but fear not.  I suppose you could try putting them into one big pan if you like.  Say, they might even come out lighter and more delicious that way.  Round two?

Anyway, once they’ve risen for a while in a nice warm spot, bake them off for about 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  I recommend a lined baking sheet on the rack below to catch the butter drippings (I never said these were good for you).

Allow them to cool for a few minutes in the tins before turning them out onto a platter.  You do have to scoop out the extra nuts and gooey bits, but that’s not such a bad problem to have.  Plan on having a crowd at the ready to eat these when they’re warm and fresh (or at least one other person).

I found this recipe in Bon Appetit this month and decided to give it a try for Valentine’s Day.  It looks amazing!  Very easy to make but does take some time since you have to chill it between adding layers.  If you’re in the mood for something extremely decadent, reminiscent of a turtle but slightly more elegant, give it a try.  Sinfully delicious.  Full recipe can be found on the Bon Appetit website.

Ironically, this did not originate as a family recipe despite its name (both my grandmother and cousin are named Adele) but it has become one.  During my family’s bed and breakfast days, this was a regular on the breakfast table.  More recently, I discovered that it can be doubled and baked in a standard Bundt pan – invert and then pour the glaze over the top (a little at a time, otherwise it will all run off before absorbing into the cake).  Also nice with orange zest and juice instead of lemon.

From the Forum Feasts cookbook, contributed by Mrs. Graham B. Conklin of Ridgewood, NJ
A note about Forum Feasts: this cookbook was published as a fundraiser for The Forum School in Waldwick, New Jersey.  According to the book, the Forum School is “a non-profit, cooperative institution…established to provide day care for children suffering from severe emotional disturbances, allowing them to be treated and schooled while living at home.”

Ingredients
Cake
1 c. sugar
5 T. butter
2 eggs
grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
optional: 1/2 c. nuts, chopped fine

Glaze
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c. sugar

Blend butter and sugar until creamy.  Beat in eggs.  Add milk and mix well.
Sift dry ingredients together, add to batter and beat until smooth.  Add lemon zest and nuts.  Place in a greased bread pan about 4×8 inches and bake at 350 for 1 hour (check at 45 minutes).  While bread is baking, mix the lemon juice and sugar for glaze until sugar is disolved.  Spoon glaze over hot bread until bread has absorbed all of the glaze.

We went apple picking yesterday and stumbled across some end-of-season raspberries in addition to our 14 pounds of apples (!).  I searched for a recipe and decided to try this one from Cooks Illustrated – delicious!  Ours came out a little too tart so I might add another tablespoon of sugar next time if the raspberries aren’t fully ripened.  The topping is just right – crunchy, nutty, buttery, perfect.

Note: To make a larger crisp that serves 10, double all the ingredients, use a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, and bake for 55 minutes at 375 degrees, without increasing the oven temperature. We used a combination of Jonathan, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious apples. Half a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger makes a nice flavor addition to all the fruits.

Topping Mixture
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar , packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
3/4 cup pecans or whole almonds, chopped coarse
(or chopped fine if mixing topping by hand)

Fruit
5 cups apples (apples have been peeled, cored, and cut into one-inch chunks), about 3 medium Granny Smith and 2 medium McIntosh
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup fresh raspberries , rinsed
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest from 1 lemon

Place sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade. Add chilled butter and pulse until mixture moves from dry sand-like appearance with large lumps of butter to a coarse cornmeal texture, about three 4-second bursts. Add nuts and pulse until mixture resembles crumbly sand, about five 1-second bursts. Do not overprocess or mixture will take on a smooth, cookie-dough-like texture. (To mix by hand, allow butter pieces to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter; toss to coat. Pinch butter chunks and dry mixture between fingertips until mixture looks like crumbly wet sand. Add nuts and toss to distribute evenly. Do not overmix.) Refrigerate mixture while preparing fruit, at least 15 minutes.

Toss cut apples, raspberries, sugar, lemon juice, and zest in medium bowl.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Scrape fruit mixture with rubber spatula into 8-inch square (2 quart) baking pan or 9-inch round deep dish pie plate. Distribute chilled topping evenly over fruit; bake for 40 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees; bake until fruit is bubbling and topping is deep golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.