Raspberry Lavender Honey Tart

There are 3 things I can always make in a hurry when I have a last minute guest coming over that I want to force-feed my baking: 1. Cupcakes; 2. A fruit tart; and 3. A mess.

#3 always happens whether I want it to or not, and this past weekend I decided to go for a fruit tart, because honestly, it’s super hard to f-k up fruit.

Because it’s the end of summer, and because I love raspberries, I thought: “Let’s make a raspberry tart…wait, wait, wait. No…Let’s make a raspberry tart with CREAM CHEESE and more cream stuff, and vanilla beans, and let’s cap that off with some ultra-fancy lavender honey. YES.”

[*Side note: I’m having this weird thing with lavender right now-I want it in my Earl Grey tea, I want it in my face masks, my body lotion, and now in my tarts. Is this a sign that I’ll be 30 in a few months? Does this mean soon I’ll start salivating over prunes and writing checks to buy groceries? #30Year-OldQuestions.]

The crust is a pâte sucrée, or a sugar crust, used for a lot of fruit tarts, especially somewhat acidic fruits. The crust is still very buttery and flaky, however, and between the slight buttery sweetness, the cold vanilla cream, and the lavender honey-drizzled raspberries, all the flavors and textures come together to make one hell of a tart.

I tried to make the raspberries do this really cool circular thing with almond slivers, but that failed hard, so I just piled it on with wild abandon; which leads me to my final thought: Just remember: even if your baking doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to, you will always have one thing ready for your guest: A huge mess 😉

rasptart4

I found this recipe in Gourmet and modified it a smidge. It’s supposed to make 6 servings but my friend and I ate it in about 3. Mmmmm.

Equipment:

  • 9-inch fluted round tart pan [1 inch deep] with a removable bottom
  • Pie weights or raw rice
  • Dough blender or food processor
  • Electric mixer

Ingredients:

For crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 7 Tbl. cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg

For filling:

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche [I used the Madagascar vanilla bean kind. If you can’t find this at your grocery store, just scrape the beans out of one vanilla bean and add].
  • 3 1/2 Tbl. lavender honey [same applies here. If you can’t find lavender honey, add about 1/4 tsp. lavender extract to about 1/4 cup of honey].
  • 4 cups raspberries [18 oz]
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds [optional]

rasptartMake crust: Pulse together all crust ingredients in a food processor just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Or, if using a dough blender, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the butter using a dough blender until the mix resembles coarse crumbs. Using your hands [I use disposable gloves to disperse heat] mix in the egg.

Put your tart pan on a baking sheet and press the dough evenly onto the bottom and up the side of the tart pan with your fingertips. Chill the shell, covered, on the baking sheet until firm, about 30 min.

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the shell with a buttered sheet of aluminum foil [buttered side down] and fill shell one third of the way up with pie weights.

Bake on the baking sheet until edge is pale golden, about 20-25 min. Carefully remove the pie weights and foil, then bake until the edges and bottom are golden, about 20 min. more. Cool completely in the pan on a rack. [*Note: Tart shell can be made 1 day ahead, but keep it in the tart pan and wrapped in plastic wrap at room temp.]

Make the filling: Beat the cream cheese in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until smooth, then add the crème fraîche and 1 1/2 Tbl. lavender honey and beat until well-combined. [*Note: Filling can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.]

rasptart2Spread the filling evenly in the shell and let cool in the fridge about 30 min-1 hour. Top the tart with raspberries and slivered almonds. Heat the remaining honey in a very small saucepan or microwave on low heat for about 30 seconds until liquefied. Drizzle honey over the raspberries and almonds. Serve with additional melted honey on the side.

Tart with a view

rasptart3Pile of goodness

rasptart6Side view

rasptart5Slice of everything amazing in life

rasptart8Oh yeah.

rasptart9

Cranberry Eggnog Tart

Well hello, again. After being off the blogging radar for a few weeks, thanks to a move and now a long trip, I’m back to my barefoot and baking existence. Thank you for your patience!

Kicking off the pre-holidays, I’m here in Ohio visiting the fam for a healthy dose of Addam’s Family living.

Nothing says “hello” to the wee baby Jesus like Spock and T-Rex

xmasI’m also here to keep the Frenchie nugget company while she recovers from the inedible orange jello at the hospital.

Ladies of leisure, darling

leisureBut it’s my dad who sparked my natural inclination towards butter and sugar concoctions by requesting I make Gourmet‘s cranberry eggnog tart from their annual Holiday magazine.

I must admit that the thought of anything cranberry around this season seems fitting, but it’s the smoothness of the gelée, the bourbon in the cream filling, and the buttery cookie-like crust that make this tart, as Gourmet so snootily phrased it, “a choice centerpiece for any table.”

Now before you tell me you’ve never liked eggnog or other such nonsense, think of this more like a layered cheesecake than a milky filling: there’s nothing but cream cheese, crème fraîche and a healthy dose of bourbon…eat a few slices and you’ll be telling your uncle how you can barely notice his hair piece in no time.

Happy almost-holidays, everyone. Stay tuned for the onslaught of baking that can only happen when there’s the perfect storm of holidays, enthusiastic family, and Midwest boredom!

eggnog2[Serves 8-10. *Warning: I found Gourmet‘s recipe to be off in terms of quantity. There wasn’t enough crust to hold the amount of filling made. I’m printing this recipe as is, but if you make it and don’t want to throw away half the filling, either double the crust or halve the eggnog filling recipe. The cranberry gelée is just fine, though.]

Equipment:

  • 10-inch fluted metal quiche pan [2 inches deep] with a removable bottom
  • About 3 cups pie weights or rice/beans.
  • Small offset spatula [optional]
  • Food processor or blender
  • Disposable gloves [optional]
  • Fine-mesh sieve

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 7 Tbl. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg

Filling:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbl. crème fraîche [I found one at Whole Foods that was Madagascar Vanilla Bean so I used that] or heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbl. sugar
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 Tbl. bourbon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Scant 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • Scant 1/4 tsp. salt

Cranberry gelée:

  • 1 [12 oz] bag fresh or frozen cranberries [NOT thawed]
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice [from about 1 large orange]
  • 1 cup water

Make the crust: Either using a food processor on pulse, or using your hands with disposable gloves, mix all of the crust ingredients together just until a dough forms. Press dough evenly onto the bottom of the pan and 2/3 the way up the sides. Chill until firm, about 30 min.

This is what 2/3 looks like

eggnogMeanwhile, make the gelée: Bring all gelée ingredients to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 20 min. [jam will thicken as it cools].

Force jam through a VERY fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding skins and seeds [this might take a while, but it’s worth it for the smooth presentation of the tart]. Cool, stirring occasionally.

Finish your crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle. Line the shell with foil and fill with weights. Bake until the edge is PALE golden, 20-25 min. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake shell until edge is golden and bottom is PALE golden, 15-20 min. more. Cool completely in pan on rack. Reduce oven temp. to 300 degrees.

Make the filling: Blend the cream cheese, crème fraîche, and sugar in a food processor or blender until creamy, about 1 min. Add whole eggs, yolks, bourbon, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt and process until smooth.

Melt gelée with 1/4 cup of water in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth. Spread half evenly over the bottom of the tart crust [reserving remaining gelée in the saucepan]. Let layer of gelée stand until set, about 10 min. [this is IMPORTANT. If you don’t, the gelée will blend with the filling and you won’t get layers]. Gently pour filling over the gelée.

eggnog3Bake the tart: Cover the edge of the shell with a pie shield or foil and bake until filling is set but still trembles slightly in the center, about 35-40 min. Cool tart completely in the pan on a rack. Reheat remaining gelée over low heat, stirring until pourable, then SPOON over filling and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Chill tart, uncovered, until cold, at least 2 hours.

Just before serving, remove side of pan. Tart can be chilled up to 2 days [cover after 2 hours].

eggnog5

Summer Send-Off Peach Cupcakes

“To everything-turn, turn, turn/ There is a season-turn, turn, turn”

You know it’s time to switch gears into cinnamon, pumpkin and apple when the temperature lowers to a nice, cool 85 degrees in D.C. and you find yourself paying $11.95 for a fall baking magazine at the checkout counter 😉

One of the fruits I’ve always had the most problems with is peaches: They’re hard to ripen, removing the skin is a bit–, and they always seem to make my pies runny.

But two can play that game, Peaches! Instead of slicing them and surrounding them in some kind of crust, I thought I’d purée the hell out of them and stuff it inside a batter. Who’s laughing now?!

I was making these for a last-minute dinner invitation and at first I thought I could cheat by using a recipe I found on the internet that uses a white boxed cake mix as the base. If you see this recipe DO NOT USE! You can’t taste the peaches because the only flavor that comes through is Betty Crocker.

So after indulging in about five of those cupcakes [hey, I like boxed cake just as much as the next person] and then saving the rest to throw to the abnormally large catfish in Georgetown’s river, I started from scratch using my recipe for berry cupcakes and subbing in peach purée. I modified it just a smidge to bring out the peachy-ness and I’ll re-provide it below. I also made a nice peach frosting using more of the purée and a healthy dose of schnapps to cap it off.

Now, because I was in a rush, the frosting wasn’t as thick as I would have liked to make my roses [I’ll discuss this more below] but you gotta’ just say ‘to hell with it’ sometimes.

Adiós, summer! “I really love your peaches/ Want to shake your tree”.

[Makes 12 cupcakes]

Equipment:

  • Food processor or blender
  • Stand or electric mixer

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

  • 2/3 cup peach purée *Note: To remove peach skin, see instructions below
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. peach schnapps
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • Dash cinnamon

For the frosting:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 6 Tbl. peach purée
  • 1 Tbl. peach schnapps
  • 3 Tbl. peach jam, puréed [this will turn your jam into a different consistency but will help stabilize your frosting. I puréed the entire jar of jam then took out 3 Tbl.]
  • 8 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted [this makes an extremely sweet frosting. If your frosting doesn’t need to be piped for a design, I would decrease the sugar by 2-3 cups]
  • Terracotta gel food coloring [optional]

For the cupcakes:To remove the skin from peaches they MUST be blanched first. If you try to remove the skin with just peeling they will turn out mushy and pulpy. To blanch, boil a large pot of water on high heat. Once it reaches a good boil, turn off the heat and submerge your peaches for about 45-50 seconds. Remove the peaches with a spoon and place in a cold ice bath to halt any cooking of the peach. Using a sharp paring knife, make an incision in the peel and peel using your finger-it should come right off. If you’re still having trouble, place back in hot water for another 30 seconds. To see a video on this, click here.

Slice peaches and purée. Keep purée, covered, in fridge overnight or up to a day to let sweeten. It will turn color-from orange to brown-but that’s okay because the purée is still good and your cupcakes will still be a nice color, promise!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan or grease pan. In a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt until well-mixed. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, and schnapps and beat until mixed. Add the milk and peach purée and beat until mixed. Add the cornstarch and baking powder and mix to incorporate. Add the flour and cinnamon and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.

Divide batter among cups. Bake for 20-22 min. Let cool completely.

For the frosting: Mix shortening, butter, and peach schnapps with a stand or electric mixer on low speed. Add purée and jam and mix on low. Add confectioner’s sugar and beat until incorporated. Add terracotta gel coloring [optional].

To learn how to pipe an inverted cupcake rose, click here. To do this, you will need a 1M piping tip.

Pie Pops, Pocket Pies, and Big ‘Ol Pie

When I was a little eater, one of my favorite foods was packaged pie-specifically, the Hostess ones at the gas stations in the middle of nowhere during our annual car trek from Myrtle Beach to Cincinnati. The god-only-knows-what’s-in-it crust was always crisp and buttery and the filling to crust ratio was perfect. Of course, back then, all I knew was that it tasted good, and between that, my juice box, and my Walkman playing my Bangles/Milli Vanilli mixed tape, I was set!

Whether it’s a jonesing for pies that will straight up kill me, or my rediscovered affinity for fat blueberries, I decided to go PIE CRAZY this weekend and make more pie than I can even give away. I didn’t want to do just the standard deep dish [though that’s always a winner], but also try some new things like pie pops and pie tarts. I mean, why the hell not?

Here’s a break down of the ratios:

  • Deep dish pie: Filling > crust
  • Pie tarts/Pocket Pies: Filling = crust
  • Pie pops: Filling < crust

I used a basic filling recipe for all three, which is jazzed up thanks to a bit of lemon, cinnamon, and cardamom, and used a very flaky & buttery crust recipe-I think this type of crust works the best with blueberries. The crust is made with half butter and half shortening, and uses heavy cream instead of water and vinegar. It’s for these reasons that the crust is extremely tender. The Big ‘Ol Pie [the deep dish one] has an almond paste crumble on top, which gives the pie a bit of a crunch to balance out all the moist and bursting blueberries.

The pie pops were fun to make, but as many have said: If you want more than just crust with a little tinge of berry flavor, pie pops are not for you…though, they are damn cute, and I’m sure someone in my office will eat them.

After all, when it’s a “Manic Monday,” everyone could use a little something sweet & baked 😉

[Makes enough dough for (2) 9″ crusts. Filling makes enough for one deep dish pie]

Equipment:

Ingredients:

For the crust: *Note: Because the crust is super flaky and buttery, it’s hard to work with. If you want an easier, more pliable/bendable crust, make a classic one with just butter, water, and cider vinegar.

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 5 Tbl. heavy cream

For the filling:

  • 32 oz. fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed [blueberries are in season now, so there’s no reason not to go fresh!]
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbl. sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Dash of cardamom

For the topping:

  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 4 oz. marzipan or almond paste, broken into small pieces
  • 1/2 stick [4 Tbl.] unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Crust: Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter and shortening and blend with the dough blender until the mix resembles coarse meal. Add 5 Tbl. heavy cream and mix until clumps form [I mix using my hands, but wear disposable gloves to keep the heat from melting the butter]. Divide in half and flatten each half into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Filling: whisk sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Add the blueberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon and cardamom. Cook over medium heat until the mix bubbles and thickens, stirring frequently, about 13 min. Chill in the fridge, stirring occasionally, until cool, about 1 hour and up to overnight.

Topping: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it clumps. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill 30 min. and up to overnight.

Deep dish pie

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly flour a work surface and gently roll out one of the disks to roughly 14″. Place in pie dish and trim edges. Fill with filling, leaving about 2″ of room for the filling to rise and bubble. Take out topping and crumble between your fingers, coating the top of the pie.

Roll out the second disk. Cut shapes or designs out of the disk and line the top part of the crust with the designs.

All ready for the oven! For deep dish pies that bake evenly, I like to use my special Emile Henry pie dish I got as a gift a few years ago. It’s worth the price for how evenly it bakes…plus, it’s pretty 🙂

Bake on the bottom third of the oven for roughly 50 min., covering the designed edges with foil or a shield for the last 20 min. or so. Let cool at rm. temp. about one hour.

Pie tarts

For the pie tarts, I used one flattened disk of dough and cut out the shapes using Williams-Sonoma’s pocket pie molds, which change every season. The one I used here I bought a few years ago, but it always comes back around during the spring/beginning of summer.

The pocket pies work by being cutters and crimpers at the same time and the diameter measures roughly 4.5″. If you have a large enough cutter, you certainly don’t need this mold and can do them yourself!

I covered these with an egg wash [1 Tbl. heavy cream lightly beaten with 1 egg yolk] and sprinkled with sugar in the raw. I baked them at 400 degrees for 20 min.

Pie pops

After making cake pops, it seemed only natural to make pie pops as well, especially since desserts on sticks are becoming all the rage now…sorry, Mary, still not a lot of meat on sticks.

These are ridiculously easy to make and there are really only a few tricks to incorporate:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Start by rolling out a flattened disk of dough, enough for the base of a 9″ pie. Using round cutters [or any shape you want], no more than 2.5″ in diameter, cut out enough rounds to make 10 pie pops [that’s 20 rounds total-bottoms and tops]. Place 10 rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place a sturdy lollipop stick halfway up each round and cover with a little flap of dough to make more secure.

Take your filling [only one piece of fruit with a little filling; otherwise, the filling will spill out] and plop in the middle of the of the round. Using an egg wash, brush the edges of the round.

If your fruit is bulbous, like blueberries are, the top round of dough will need to be slightly larger to accommodate the size. Using your hands, pat the dough tops out so they’re a bit larger. Place a round on top of each pie pop.

Cut off a piece of a lollipop stick and crimp the edges of the pie pop. Brush the pie pop with the egg wash. Using strips of foil, cover the sticks so they won’t burn in the oven.

Bake for roughly 15 min. Let cool for about 10 min. on the parchment, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

Next time I might use a more pliable dough so there won’t be as many cracks due to the roundness of the fruit.

Fourth of July Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

After spending the past week in San Diego for a conference, nothing says ‘Welcome Home’ like a mini-hurricane and temps rivaling hell’s inferno. As I stood in my kitchen, AC blasting and contemplating wearing a bikini into the office this week, I thought: ‘Meris, do you really want to crank the oven on? Roll pastry? Melt butter?’ F- no!

So here’s to this frozen dessert perfect for 4th celebrations requiring nothing but a working freezer and a love of dairy. This ice cream is a literal interpretation; meaning, that it’s simply all kinds of variations of cream, mixed with fruit and grahams, then frozen. No ice cream machine needed, and, to be honest, it tastes even better than store-bought…probably because of its rich consistency and tons-o-fat. But hey, you’re going to sweat it out in the outdoor sauna anyway, right? 😉

This makes a lot and is enough to feed all of your relatives camping out this 4th in your backyard: The cousin who’s above anything that’s not organic, your uncle who brings his own 6-pack and jokes about blacking out drunk by the end of the night [not joking], and your grandmother who can’t stop talking about her bladder infection.

Sorry lactose-intolerant girlfriend of a 2nd cousin who over-dresses to impress the family but keeps giving you the stink eye, this one’s not for you.

[Makes enough to feed a small army…or a huge tub full] *Note: You will need to make this the night before so it can freeze overnight

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer
  • Blender

Ingredients:

  • 1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest or 1 tsp. dried lemon peel
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries (or any berry/fruit of your choice)
  • 4 whole graham crackers, coarsely chopped
  • Chopped strawberries and some blueberries for toppings [optional]

Put strawberries in blender and blend until your desired consistency [I like my ice cream smooth, so I puréed the strawberries, but if you like a chunkier consistency, chop them]. Let sit in fridge, covered [this draws out the sweetness].

Using and electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, condensed milk, whipping cream, and lemon zest in a medium-large bowl on medium-low speed until smooth. Freeze for 4 hours or until almost solid.

Take out of the freezer and beat the mixture using an electric mixer on low-medium speed until creamy. Pour in the strawberries and chunky grahams and stir in using a spatula or wooden spoon. Mix well. Freeze 8 hours or until firm.

Remove from freezer and let soften 5-10 min. before serving.

Chocolate Raspberry Éclairs

Happy Father’s day to my Texan dad who also happens to love everything French. I couldn’t be with my French-Texan-Kentuckian family this holiday, but that doesn’t mean I can’t cook like I’m in their eccentric kitchen.

At our house in Myrtle Beach

There are many great memories I have of my dad: being thrown high into the air and into the pool; dancing to Billy Idol and David Bowie in the living room; having the flu and, even though I was 3 hours away at college and it was blizzarding, having my dad bring me chicken noodle soup and Vitamin C (did I mention I was an only child?).

With Father Andrew

But some of my favorite memories with my dad include food, like when he taught me how to make chocolate chip cookies; how to keep your recipes organized; and how to accidentally order 25 calzones from Papa Johns instead of 2 (long story). So if I can’t be there to celebrate, these éclairs make a decent tribute.

At my high school’s father-daughter dance

There are a lot of steps involved in these bite-sized éclairs from Spoon Fork Bacon, but they’re easy and well-worth the time spent. The pâte à choux (a light pastry dough) is easy to make and bake, and the light, very raspberry-laden pastry cream filling is so good I ate way too much by myself and had to forgo lunch because of it. Best non-lunch EVER. The good food stylists/photographers/chefs at Spoon Fork Bacon make exquisite and fun foods, but sometimes leave out more specific instructions that us non-professionals need to know, so I’ll try to be more detailed in this post.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa, may you enjoy these éclairs visually…I’ll be sure to eat at least a handful in your honor 😉

[Makes roughly 12-18 tiny éclairs]

Equipment:

  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Stand mixer
  • Blender
  • Whisk
  • 2 pastry bags
  • Round piping tip and a large star piping tip

Ingredients:

Pâte à choux:

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 Tbl. unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 eggs

Raspberry pastry cream:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbl. cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 bag frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 1/2 Tbl. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped or in pieces
  • Edible pink decorations

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place water, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add flour and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir with a wooden spoon about 1 1/2 min-3 min until a sticky dough forms. Place dough into a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat for 2 min to release some steam. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Scoop dough into a piping bag fitted with the large round tip and pipe 2 1/2-3 inch long strips about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 min or until éclairs have puffed and turned a golden brown. Remove from oven and turn oven off. Allow them to cool slightly [about 5 min] before carefully slicing in half lengthwise with a very sharp knife. Place them back onto the baking sheet and allow to dry out in the still-warm oven for another 15 min.

Puree your raspberries in a blender, then strain through a fine mesh strainer. Set aside. Place milk, sugar, salt, cornstarch, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan and whisk to mix well. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring almost constantly. Simmer for about 2-4 min or until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in 1/3 cup raspberry puree and vanilla until fully incorporated.

Strain the mix through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and place over an ice bath until completely cooled, stirring occasionally. [*Note: If the pastry cream is still lumpy, though mine was fine, pass it through the strainer again and stir in 2 Tbl. melted unsalted butter. This will remove the cooked egg bits and give the cream a smoother, glossier texture]

Place 1 cup whipping cream in a large bowl. Beat until very stiff peaks form. Gently fold in 1 1/2 cups of the whipped cream into the pasty cream. Place in the fridge about 15 min to harden a bit.

Scoop the cream into a piping bag fitted with the large star tip. Pipe onto the bottoms of the éclairs.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl at 50% power for about 2 min. Stir and continue heating on 50% for 30 seconds, stirring, until chocolate is completely melted. Take the tops of the éclairs and dip in the chocolate. Decorate with pink decorations. Place back on the baking sheet and let solidify [putting them in the fridge if you want it to go faster]. Place the tops on top of the cream-covered bottoms. Serve within 2 days, keeping refrigerated.

Perfect bite

Fresh Strawberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

I like pregnant women because I tend to eat like one, and anyone who can keep pace with my appetite gets a thumbs-up. I also like pregnant women because they like to eat everything and I like to feed people everything. Win-win.

My editor and good friend, Laura, is awesome at what she calls “making humans,” and is about to pop another one in a week or so. Perfect time to feed her cupcakes, take her out to lunch, then send her on her way to out-of-the-office bliss.

Laura, Me

Shana, Laura, Denny

Laura, Denny, Victoria

Since it’s spring and I’m still drooling over the ripe strawberries on parade at the moment, Laura [and the office] received some strawberry lemon cupcakes with some decorations-gone-wild, courtesy of the Container Store [click here for the set] and Crate & Barrel [click here for the pinwheels].

The cupcakes are made with fresh strawberry purée-the trick is to draw out the sweetness of the berry by letting the purée sit overnight in the fridge. This way, the sugars release and you get a sweet cupcake without all the artificial flavoring. The strawberry and lemon frostings are made with cream cheese and mascarpone cheese, giving the frosting enough body and silk without needing too much confectioner’s sugar…plus, it just tastes damn good.

Happy baby producing, Lady Laura. May your son be as enthusiastic about baked goods as you are 😉

[Recipe for the cupcakes adapted from The Cooking Photographer] [Makes 12 cupcakes]

*Note: You will need to make the purée for the cupcakes the night before [ideally].

Equipment:

  • Blender or food processor
  • Stand mixer or hand mixer
  • Fine sieve
  • Zester or grater

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

  • 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberry purée [about 1 quart of fresh strawberries]
  • 1/2 cup [1 stick] unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • Few drops of pink food coloring [optional]

Strawberry frosting:

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, rm. temp.
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups SIFTED confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/3 cup seedless strawberry jam
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon peel
  • Few drops pink food coloring [optional]

Lemon frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup SIFTED confectioner’s sugar
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, rm. temp.
  • 6 oz. mascarpone cheese, rm. temp.
  • 1 Tbl. lemon juice
  • Zest of one large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Few drops yellow food coloring [optional]

Cupcakes: Gather enough strawberries to make the purée [almost an entire quart of strawberries]. Blend/process the berries until smooth and press through a fine sieve, to remove all seeds, into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with liners. In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt until well-mixed. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract and beat until well-mixed. Add the buttermilk and strawberry purée and beat until mixed. Add the cornstarch and baking powder and mix to incorporate. Then add the flour and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Beat in food coloring.

Fill liners evenly with all of the batter. Bake for 25-30 min. or until toothpick comes out dry. Cool completely before frosting.

Strawberry frosting: Using a stand or hand mixer on medium-high speed, beat together cream cheese, butter, and salt in a large bowl until creamy. With mixer on low speed, beat in confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in strawberry jam and lemon zest. Beat in food coloring.

Lemon frosting: Pour the granulated sugar into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the zest of the lemon. Beat until sugar is tinged yellow and smells very lemony [2-3 min]. Add cream cheese and mascarpone. Beat until smooth. Add lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar. Beat until smooth. Add vanilla and beat. Beat in food coloring.

To assemble: Using a piping bag or ziplock with a slit cut in the top, pipe a round of strawberry frosting onto the cupcake. Using the same method, pipe a round of lemon frosting on top of the strawberry frosting.

Keep refrigerated until ready to eat. Keeps, covered and chilled, about 5 days.