Chocolate Dipped Ginger Snaps + 5 Ginger Cookie Links

After training for and completing my third marathon, my words and stories are struggling to emerge.  Heart to head to hand, muddled pathways and tired bones continue two weeks after crossing the finish line.  So, I bake a simple and delicious cookie to share with you…and wait for my words to return, the exhaustion to pass.  Until then, enjoy this cookie with others and a glass of cold milk.

Chocolate Dipped Ginger Snaps

A soft-baked gingersnap cookie, covered in raw sugar and dipped in semi-sweet chocolate. 

Recipe barely adapted from Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

Makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 + 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 stick + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup raw sugar

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted (I used Guittard chocolate chips.)

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.  Set aside.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue mixing, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl once or twice.  Next, add the vanilla extract, molasses, and egg.  Beat until combined.  Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients.  Continue mixing on low-speed until just combined.

Pre-heat your oven to 350F.  While the oven is preheating, chill the dough.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pour raw sugar into a bowl.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop the cookie dough into rounded balls.   Dip cookie dough balls into raw sugar, covering completely and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough slightly, until the ball looks like a 2-inch circle.  Bake until set, about 10 minutes, one cookie sheet at a time.  Allow cookies to cool for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  While the cookies cool, melt the chocolate.  Once the cookies are cooled completely, dip half of the cookie into the melted chocolate.  Allow the cookies to set completely before packaging.  Enjoy!

5 Ginger Cookie Links

Ginger infused caramel and bittersweet chocolate come together in this delightful chocolate caramel cookie.  Head to I am Baker for the recipe.

Looking for an easy, go to cookie for the holidays?  Head to Not Without Salt for a brown butter ginger cookie with mascarpone cream.  This recipe is now on my must-try list!

Bon Appetempt’s ginger cookies with chocolate and dried apricots is a cookie that cannot be missed this holiday season!

If you are a fan of white chocolate, check out Cooking Classy’s white chocolate dipped ginger cookies.

Prefer crispy gingersnap cookies over soft?  Head to A Thought For Food for Brian’s recipe.

Apple Cider Doughnut Cake + 5 Unique Fall Desserts

 

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Hail Mary, full of grace.  Hail Mary, full of grace.  Hail… 

Hazel rubs her rosary beads between her thumb and index finger, gently at first and then harder, much harder as if the act in itself will make her recall the prayer she has known since she was a child.  Russell, can you believe this?  She says to no one.  Oh Russell, when I need you the most…you disappointment me Russell.  She calls to the air.  She calls to the dust particles floating in the stale air, and the old cat riddled with tumors, purring near her feet.  She sets her rosary beads next to her mother’s bible which rests on a black marbled, plastic folding table circa 1970.  Water rings mark the table where Hazel’s nightly whiskey on ice with a splash of water once sat.  Hazel reaches for her walker and slowly pulls it towards her, clipping the cat’s tail.  The cat doesn’t seem to mind her carelessness, stares up at her lovingly, and quickly falls back asleep.

Hazel’s body is now turning against her, every step is a chance and yet she makes her way into the kitchen.  Just as determined now, as she was playing basketball many decades ago. Hazel stands at the counter hoping her knees won’t buckle or her legs betray her before she gets a chance to smell the apple cake her daughter left behind.  A peace-offering, a gesture of love, whatever her daughter tells herself to rationalize making decisions about Hazel’s life without much input from Hazel.

She inhales the cake deeply allowing the cinnamon, nutmeg and baked apples to fill her where she feels empty.  Hazels thinks of a fork.  Fork to cake, cake to mouth.  Chew.  Swallow.  Easy enough, and yet, Hazel’s hand fails to make the connection to the fork.  She plunges her long, skeletal finger into the cake.  It feels good being inside that cake, a bit of a relief having part of her body encased in something else.  Hazel pulls her finger out, grabs a chunk cake with her arthritic right hand, and free throws it into the cat’s bowl.  One point, she thinks.

Hazel’s legs feel weaker.  She must sit before she falls.  So, she slowly makes her way back to the living room, the cat just steps behind her, and plunks down into her chair, with bone-weary breath.  An old western plays in the background, like a friend carrying on with a conversation long after your mind has drifted elsewhere.  The western doesn’t reach Hazel, but the sound is comforting.  Hazel closes her eyes.  Rests.

Not today, Russell?  She asks to no one.  Then when, Russell?  She asks to to the air.  She asks to the dust particles floating in the stale air, and the old cat riddled with tumors, purring near her feet.       

Apple Cider Doughnut Cake

Serves 8-10

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 + 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 + 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup apple cider

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 unsweetened apple butter (store-bought or homemade)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs at room temperature

Ingredients for topping:

1/4 cup raw sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Generously butter and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan and set aside.  Grab a large bowl and add the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk together until combined.  Set aside.   In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together sugar, apple cider, oil, apple butter, vanilla, and eggs.  Add wet mixture to dry mixture and whisk until well combined.  Pour batter (it will be thick) into prepared pan, spreading the mixture evenly with a spatula.

Bake for about 50 minutes (check at 45 minutes), rotating the pan halfway through until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.   Transfer pan to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  While cake is cooling, melt butter.  In a small bowl mix together raw sugar and cinnamon.  Invert cake onto wire rack.  Brush cake with melted butter and then sprinkle sugar/cinnamon all over the top of the cake.   Serve and enjoy!

*Cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to two days.*

5 Unique Fall Desserts

Looking for the best of two sweet worlds in one pie?  Check out Food & Wine’s apple cider cream pie.

Apple pie in cookie form?  Yes!  Head to An Italian In My Kitchen for the recipe.

Celebrating a fall birthday soon?  Head to Adventures in Cooking and make Eva’sapple spice cake with salted caramel frosting.

There is nothing I love more in the fall than apple crisp with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and then I stumbled on this recipe.  Yes, please!

I am from New England and yet I have never made a New England Apple Cider Cake.  A Family Feast’s recipe is now on my must make list.  Check it out!

 

Cherry Crumb Pie + 5 Must Try Pie Links

 

 

We planted bamboo in our backyard, placing the roots in a thick plastic bag so as to prevent the invasive species from taking over our yard entirely.  The roots were then covered with a thick layer of soil and neatly outlined with gray stone bricks.  We made a choice: restrict the plant’s natural growth pattern.  Watch and see.  Wait and wonder. Will it flourish in such restrained, unnatural conditions?

Yes.  It reached for the sun, ached for it really.  Absorbed the rain like a drunk, waiting patiently for a change of state, until finally, its branches hung heavy with delicate chartreuse leaves.  It pushed itself to the very corners of the neat space it inhabited, hoping, I think, to cross the stone barrier and when it realized some things are just not possible, it reached for the moon and sun, Orion and the Big Dipper.

The bamboo tolerated dog piss, little hands shaking and pulling at it, suffocating mounds of snow, branch breaking ice, drought and heavy rains.  Many long and relentless days and nights tested the bamboo season after season and yet it stood, reaching higher every day.

Today I watch the bamboo from our kitchen, my view partially obscured by an old air conditioner rattling away, attempting to bring relief to an old house surrounded by more concrete than grass.  In the stove, a cherry crumb pie bakes.  I can smell cinnamon and vanilla build in the air while the heat from the stove thwarts the cool air blowing from the AC.  The kids play outside on the swing set.  Red-faced, dirty feet, sticky skin, happy. The dog surveys our small yard, weaving in and around the kids, the toys.  [Life’s junk, carried from one place to the next as if it holds value.]  Nose to the ground she sniffs the same smells.  [Are you hoping for something new, sweet girl?]  And the bamboo? The bamboo bends a bit with the wind.  It waits patiently, absorbing what it can, not asking too much, quietly preparing for the next growth spurt.

I envy the bamboo.

Cherry Crumb Pie

Pie crust recipe adapted from The Washington Post

Cherry filling recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction

Crumb topping adapted from My Recipes

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for Pie Crust:

1 + 3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 tablespoon raw sugar

1 + 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

16 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 of very cold water

Directions for pie crust:

Grab a medium bowl and sift flour into the bowl.  Whisk in the sugar, salt, and vanilla bean seeds.  Add the butter.  Combine butter and flour with your fingers until the butter resembles small peas.  Stir in the cold water, a little at a time, until shaggy dough forms.  If the dough is too wet, add a bit more dough or if it is too dry add a just spoonful of water.  Knead the dough into a ball.  Wrap in plastic, refrigerate and allow to rest while you make the cherry pie filling.

Ingredients for cherry pie filling:

5 cups of fresh cherries, washed and pitted

1/2 cup of sugar

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1/2 cup water

4 tablespoons of cornstarch

Directions:

Add cherries, sugar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon to a medium sauce pan.  In a small bowl mix together the water and cornstarch to make a slurry.  Add the water/cornstarch mixture to the cherries.  Stir to combine.  Over medium heat, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  **Filling can be made several days ahead.  Be sure to store in an air-tight container and refrigerate.**

Ingredients for crumb topping:

1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter

3/4 brown sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

3/4 old fashion oats

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions for topping:

Add all of the dry ingredients to a medium bowl and stir together.  Next, add the butter.  Combine the butter and dry ingredients with your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand.  Set aside or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

Pie Assembly Time!

Preheat your oven to 350F.  While the oven is preheating, flour a work surface.  Divide dough in half.  Roll out one portion of the dough into a 14-inch round.  Place gently in pie plate, pressing into the corners.  Trim the excess to 1+1/2 inch overhang.  Fold the overhang to the middle to create a 3/4 inch border all around that sits on the rim of the pie plate.  Refrigerate the pie crust for 20 minutes before proceeding.  (While the pie crust is chilling wrap the second portion in plastic wrap and refrigerate for another use.   Clean up a bit and before you know it the crust will be ready!)

Add filling to pie and spread evenly.  Top cherry filling evenly with crumb topping.  Brush a bit of heavy cream on the border of the pie crust.  Place the pie in the oven on the middle rack and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 50-60 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.  Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or as is.  Enjoy!

**Pie can be kept at room temperature lightly wrapped in aluminum foil for a couple of days but I doubt it will last that long.**

5 Must Try Pie Links

Take advantage of peach season and make my peach ricotta pudding pie.

If a pie feels like too much work, try Whole Hearted Eats dark fruit galette.

Craving ice cream?  Try Jelly Toast’s marshmallow ice cream pie or my recipe for bourbon brown sugar ice cream pie.

Fall is just around the corner and I can’t wait to make Pastry Affair’s caramel apple crumble pie.  Yum!

Strawberry Buttermilk Birthday Cake + 5 Unique Birthday Cake Links

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Wilson May didn’t care much for birthdays.  And yet he acquiesced, celebrating with family, [family he didn’t care much to see], at the request of his pushy daughter, year after year, cake after cake.

Why the hell does my daughter need to mark every goddamn birthday? He thought while his phone vibrated in his pocket.  It was her.  [Who else would it be?]  Calling to remind him about his birthday celebration later in the day.

As if Wilson needed a reminder that yet another year had passed.

He silenced the vibrating phone in his pocket [God damn phone.] just as the nurse he dreaded seeing pushed open the door to the long, stark hallway he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to walk down.

Wilson May?  Wilson May?  the nurse said, her squirrel like eyes darting around the waiting room.  [Did her nose wiggle too? Is she sniffing me out?]

Wilson removed his cheap, cockeyed reading glasses placing them in the 3 button placket of his pink polo shirt, adjusted his now wrinkled pants and debated leaving.  In 20 minutes he could be home.  Alone.  A beer in hand and sitting in the sun on a large wooden deck only one rocking chair occupied, where he’d have more time to think about what was next for his tottery body, his tired soul. [If the pain dissipated? Golf everyday. Gone entirely? Travel, fucking, drinking.  Wilson as he imagined himself 25 years ago.]

And yet, Wilson’s inner thoughts never matched his outer life.  For the past sixty-six years he had lived and loved two very different lives.  The life the outside world saw, a life well-lived [to others], consisted of obligations, dependability…sometimes love varied immensely from the impractical, reckless and solitary life Wilson imagined daily.

[At times becoming so engrossed in the romanticized version of his life, Wilson was unreachable. Lost to his castle in the air, his black coffee growing cold in his large, hairy hands, the local paper left unread.  His now ex-wife called them staring spells.  Wilson knew better.]

Wilson May…Wilson…?  He sensed a bit of hostility in the squirrel nurse.  He had aggravated her now and in turn she would likely be less gentle with him.  Tit for tat, like so many relationships he once knew.

Squirrel nurse surveyed the room one last time before giving up on Wilson.  The beige door gradually closed behind her, as if allowing chance to take over.

Wilson stared straight ahead, unmoving.  No decisions would be made today.

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Strawberry Buttermilk Birthday Cake

Cake and frosting recipe adapted from Sweetapolita

Italian pastry cream recipe adapted from An Italian in My Kitchen

makes 1, 3 layer, 8-inch round cake

Serves 10-12

Ingredients for cake:

4 eggs at room temperature

2 egg yolks at room temperature

1 + 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

3 cups cake flour, sifted

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup or 2 sticks, unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces

Ingredients for strawberry compote:

2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup sugar (a bit more if strawberries are not sweet)

1 tablespoon orange juice

pinch of kosher salt

Ingredients for Italian pastry cream:

1 cup + 1/2 cup whole milk

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

2 + 1/2 tablespoons flour

Ingredients for whipped vanilla frosting:

1/4 cup whole milk

3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

good pinch of kosher salt

few drops of food coloring if desired

Directions for cake:

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Grab 3, 8 inch round cake pans and butter the bottoms and sides of each pan.  Line the bottoms with parchment paper and dust with flour.  Tap out an excess flour.  Set aside

Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, 1/4 cup of buttermilk and vanilla in a large measuring cup or small bowl.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Reduce the speed to low and add the cold, cubed butter, one piece at a time, leaving a few second in between each addition.  Continue to mix on low until butter  is well blended and looks like wet sand or cornmeal.

Next add the remaining buttermilk (1 cup) and mix on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated.  On low-speed, slowly add the egg mixture.  Increase speed to medium and beat for about 1 minute.  Stop the mixer and fold the batter once or twice.

Divide the batter evenly among the three pans.  Bake two of the pans until the cake is golden and springs back gently when  touched in the middle or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a couple of crumbs, about 25-28 minutes.  Cool cakes on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan to cool completely.   Next, bake the last pan for 25-28 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely.

Directions for strawberry compote:

Combine 1 cup of strawberries, sugar, orange juice, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the berries start to break down, about 10 minutes.

Lower the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  The compote is ready when it covers  the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Using a handheld masher,  mash the strawberries until juicy.  Add remaining fresh strawberries.  Store in an air-tight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

**The compote can be made up to 3 days ahead of time!**

Directions for Italian pastry cream:

Heat milk in medium sauce pan over low heat.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat.  Using another sauce pan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until combined.  Next add the vanilla and flour.  Slowly pour in warm milk and cook over low heat, whisking constantly until it thickens, about 10 minutes.  Cool slightly and stir in the Grand Marnier.  Pour into glass bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

**Pastry cream can be made several days in advance.  Store in air-tight container with plastic wrap covering the surface of the cream and refrigerate.**

Directions for whipped vanilla frosting

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes.  Add sifted confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, salt and milk.  Mix on low-speed for about a minute.  Increase the speed to medium and whip for 5-6 minutes.  Add food coloring, if desired.  Frosting will be very light and creamy.

Assembly Time!!!

Place first cake layer on cake stand, face up.  Using a pastry bag, filled with the Italian pastry cream, pipe a two-inch circle around the perimeter of the cake layer.  This will keep the compote from leaking out.  Add a few spoonfuls of the strawberry compote to the center of the cake layer.  Spread the compote just to the pastry cream.  Add your next cake layer, pressing gently in place.  Again, pipe a two inch circle around the perimeter of the cake layer.  Add the remaining strawberry compote to the center of the cake layer.  Spread the compote just to the pastry cream.  Next, add the final cake layer, pressing gently into place.  Cover the entire cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Once the cake is chilled add the whipped vanilla frosting  to the entire cake, decorating however you wish.   Flowers, sprinkles anything goes!  Serve at room temperature.  Enjoy!

**Cake can be made 2 days in advance.  Be sure to keep it refrigerated.**   

5 Unique Birthday Cake Links

Looking for a special gluten-free cake for the chocolate lover in your life?  Head to the Tartelette blog for Helene’s flourless chocolate cake with salted butter caramel sauce.

Take advantage of fresh summer berries and make Camille Styles’ summer berry ice cream cake.

My husband loves chocolate chip cookies so I may need to make him Pastry Affair’s cookie dough cake for his next birthday.  Check it out!

Key lime pie in birthday cake form?  Yes it exists.  Head to Bakerella for the recipe.

My birthday was last week.  I’m thinking I’ll take some me time and celebrate a new year alone with a fork and this angel food cake.

Key Lime Pie + 5 Pie Free Key Lime Links

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I wish I had a story for you, a perfect snippet that makes you feel great, big wonderful things.  But, writing is a slog even in the best of circumstances.  So on this cold, rain-swept June day (damn you New England!) I’ll share a bright, tasty key lime pie recipe with you.  And hope.  Hope the rain clouds move elsewhere (literally, move anywhere else) my mind clears (sleep come back to me!), my chest feels less heavy (the weight of just too much + a cough) and remember this bit of wisdom from T.S. Elliot’s East Coker:

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

 

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Key Lime Pie     

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

serves 6-8

Ingredients for the crust:

1 + 1/2 cups of finely ground graham cracker crumbs  (takes about 10 graham cracker sheets)

3 tablespoons sugar

a good pinch of kosher salt

a good pinch of ground ginger

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned

Ingredients for key lime filling:

4 large egg yolks

1 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of Nellie and Joe’s key lime juice

Ingredients for topping:

3/4 cup heavy cream, cold

2 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla

zest of two limes

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Make the graham cracker crust.  To make the graham cracker crust, use a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and pulse the graham crackers until fine.  Add the sugar, salt, ginger and melted browned butter.  Pulse several times until the crumbs resemble wet sand.  Pour the crumbs into a 9 inch pie pan and press firmly but evenly across the bottom and up the sides.  Bake until light brown, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Next, make the filling.  Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until pale and thick, about 5 minutes or so.  Add the sweetened condensed milk and beat until combined and thick.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and whisk in the key lime juice until well combined.  Pour filling into cooled crust.  Bake for 10 minutes or until filling is set but not brown.  Allow the pie to cool completely on a wire rack before adding the whipped cream.

While the pie cools, beat the cold cream, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Do not over beat!  Spread whipped cream evenly over the pie.  Add lime zest decoratively.   Chill for a couple of hours before serving.  Enjoy!

**Pie will last for a week in the refrigerator.**

5 Pie Free Key Lime Links

Looking for a quick and easy key lime recipe?  Head to Cake Whiz for Abeer’s key lime cookie recipe.

Key lime pie in bar form with a twist: a pistachio graham cracker crust.  Yes, please! Head to Hummingbird High for the recipe.

Craving chocolate?  Check out Sally’s Baking Addiction’s dark chocolate key lime truffles.

Every home baker should try making a magic cake.  A little bit science, a bit of magic and you end up with three layers of cake: sponge, custard and fudge coming together in one subtly sweet bite.  Curious?  Head to Foodness Gracious for key lime pie magic cake recipe that is sure to surprise your taste buds.

For all of the vegans out there I found a vegan key lime pie recipe at Minimalist Baker. Check it out!

Chocolate Cake Pan Cake + 5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

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I think of her most often when the lilac bushes bloom in May.  I inhale their sweet floral scent deeply and see her as she was: short, dark curly hair framing her square face, beautiful brown eyes shining below thick eyebrows; strong hips sitting wide, above long skinny legs.  Her easy smile.

I kneel on the damp ground, searching for a four-leaf clover while blades of grass, small stones and drying mud stamp petrified impressions on my bony knees.  Looking haphazardly for luck, searching, minute after minute, for a clover windfall.  She walks by, the white rubber soles of her navy Keds grass-stained, her khaki chino shorts a bit stained with the morning’s bacon grease spatters and long tan arms brushing past her hips as she moves towards the grape vines and lilac bushes.  She pops a grape into her mouth, smiles. She pulls a pair of shears out of her back pocket and cuts a few clusters of lilacs, gathering them in her tanned, slightly wrinkled hands.  I love her absolutely, as only a child is able to love.  She is the great love of my life.

“What are you looking for, Kel?”

“A lucky clover.”

“You won’t find any luck around here.”  She says with a quick laugh and a half hearted smile.  [Decades later I will understand the multiple meanings of that one powerful sentence.]

Thirty years later, hip to hip, we inch across the driveway to my father’s car.  I carefully hold her twiggy arms.  Veins, tendons, bones now evident underneath her bruised paper-thin skin.  The weight of her body leaning against mine is barely felt.

[Time passes.  Time is an unsparing critic.]  

I want a chocolate cake for my birthday,” she says out of the blue.  I kiss her on the cheek and breathe in her powdery scent, hoping some of her smell will latch onto my shirt.  

“Ok, I’ll make you a chocolate cake.” I say as I ease her into the passenger seat pulling the seat belt across her concave chest, buckling her in like I do with own my children.  She smiles, turns away from me and stares straight ahead through the bug splattered windshield.  I know she is moving away from me, letting go.  She knows I understand this.  And yet, come August, with some luck, I’ll make her a chocolate cake.

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Chocolate Cake Pan Cake with Whipped Chocolate Ganache Frosting

cake recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Original Cake Pan Cake

whipped ganache recipe barely adapted from allrecipes.com

serves 8-10

Cake Ingredients:

1 + 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 cup vanilla sugar

1/4 unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk ( I used 2%)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease an 8 inch square pan and set aside.  (You may also use a 9 inch round pan.)

Place dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla extract, vinegar, oil and milk.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.  Pour the  batter into your prepared pan.

Bake the cake for about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs.  Begin checking the cake around 22 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan sitting on a wire rack.

While the cake cools make the whipped chocolate ganache frosting.

Fluffy Whipped Ganache Ingredients:

9 ounces of semisweet  chocolate, chopped or use chips

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon dark rum

Directions:

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.  Heat the heavy cream in a sauce over medium heat until it just begins to boil.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes.  Add the rum and whisk until completely smooth and shiny.  Cool the ganache until thick.  (I let it sit on our counter at room temperature for a couple of hours.)  Once cool whip the ganache using a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment until very light and fluffy.  Spread evenly over cake.  Slice the cake and serve with a cold glass of milk.  Enjoy!  (Cake will last up to two days stored in air-tight container at room temperature.)

5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

Treat your crazy mom to a crazy cake: strawberry pazzo cake with herbed creme fraiche. Pazzo means crazy in Italian which describes this cake well; balsamic vinegar drizzled over a sweet strawberry cake.  I’m intrigued!

Speaking of strawberries, check out my recipe for a cold oven strawberry pound cake mom is sure to love.  Or head to My Name Is Yeh for Molly’s cardamom vanilla cake with strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting.  I’m drooling.

Looking for a simple yet delicious cake recipe?  Head to Food 52 for their olive oil cake recipe.

Don’t feel like baking? Check out Baker’s Royale lemon ice box cake.  Yum!

Baked Strawberry French Toast with Oat Crumble Topping + 5 Can’t Miss French Toast links!

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“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” Mary Oliver

I sat on the cold hardwood floor in my office furiously sifting through a box of photos as if my life depended on finding this one particular image taken so many years ago.

Photographs.

My husband’s  worry-free face 14 years ago [oh how I miss you!], my girl, maybe three? curled up so small sifting through wet sand, weddings, sunsets, Fenway, misty beach mornings, graduations, forced smiles and genuine ones, baby boy 1, big chocolate-brown eyes [ you haven’t changed yet…] baby boy 2 smooth cheeks, a big under-bite, almond blue eyes [ a compilation of many generations all present in your sweet, chubby face], drunken fun with best friends, worry, innocence, love, in love and love past, Christmas, Mama [happy?] surrounded by her 3 ducklings circa 1989, Dad in the old orange rocking chair, beer in hand, absent yet physically present, school pictures of my littles…I sink momentarily into these memories, my heart full, blessed, nostalgic and then I let them go and take a giant, slow breath.  I had stopped breathing.

I didn’t find the picture I was looking for, nor is it relevant I tell you about the photograph, or the people captured in it.  It is gone just like the moments captured thousands of hours ago, the photos now scattered on the creaky wooden floor in our tiny home office.  I sat and stared at the mess of memories, grateful for almost all of them. And yet.  I carelessly tossed them back into a nondescript, beige box because that is where they belong.

Hours later I wash the kitchen floor, scrubbing away at the faint paw prints, yogurt droplets and strawberry stains left marking the events of another day.  One pound of fresh strawberries gone, consumed by my hungry little monsters before dinner.  Another pound still in the refrigerator.  I’ll need to hide them.

I empty the bucket of dirty water into the sink.  A small spider, no bigger than my pinkie nail scurries to the lip of the sink and willingly crawls in, brave yet unaware of the possibilities.  The spider explores for a bit, his movements becoming more cautious each second.  I turn on the faucet, pull out the hose and aim it right at him.  The current sweeps him off his minuscule legs, pushing him towards the drain.  I turn off the faucet. He fights, finds his sea legs, tries to avoid the impossible.  With a half jealous smile, I turn on the water.  One final flush and he is gone.

bakedfrenchtoast-4951

Baked Strawberry French Toast with Oat Crumble

Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking

Serves 12

Ingredients:

9 cups good quality French bread cut into 1 inch cubes (challah or brioche will also work)

Cooking spray or butter for baking dish

8 large eggs

2 cups whole milk

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound strawberries, cored and halved

Ingredients for topping:

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup old fashion rolled oats

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ginger

1 teaspoon cloves

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup or 1 stick cold unsalted butter cut into cubes

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Cut bread into 1 inch cubes and spread out on a baking sheet.  Toast the bread for about 12 minutes.  Cool and set aside.

Spray or generously butter a 9×13 baking dish.  Add bread cubes to baking dish.

Next make the custard.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, honey, vanilla, ginger, cloves and salt until smooth and well combined.  Pour custard over bread.  Toss with your hands until all the bread is wet.  Press down gently on the bread so it forms an even layer.  Spread strawberries over the top.  Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to 48 hours.  Overnight is best!

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Prepare oat crumble.  Grab a large bowl.  Add the flour, oats, brown sugar, ginger, cloves and salt and stir together.  Add the butter.  Work the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand and is crumbly.  (Topping can be made 48 hours in advance.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.)

Sprinkle topping over the strawberries/bread.  Bake until golden brown about 40-45 minutes.  Turn on the broiler for the last two minutes for crunchier crust.  Serve warm with real maple syrup.  Enjoy!

5 Can’t Miss French Toast Links!

Traditional French toast dipped a subtly sweet Panko breadcrumb mixture, fried to perfection and topped with lots of butter and syrup sounds like a bit of heaven to me. Head to Pioneer Woman for her crunchy French Toast recipe.

French toast in sandwich form? Yes it exists.  Head to Handmade Charlotte for Sarah Kieffer’s French toast sandwiches with peaches and mozzarella.

Lemon French toast topped with in season strawberries screams spring.  Head to Simply Delicious for the recipe.  Yum!

Want to wow your brunch guests?  Make Smitten Kitchen’s morning bread pudding with salted caramel.  This is on my must make immediately list.

If you a more of a savory than sweet person, head to Food 52 and check out their recipe for crispy salt and pepper French toast.