It has been fun revisiting some old favorites and looking into a pretty new cookbook to add to the collection. As you can see, there is a little more room on the shelf for the next volume.
In celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s historic Platinum Jubilee, I ordered myself a new-to-me tea cookbook. Drawn in by Fortnum & Mason’s signature blue cover, I liked the creamy graphics right away. Published in 2014, in association with the British Historic Royal Palaces, Tea Fit For a Queen with introduction by Lucy Worsley is an engaging little confection. You may be familiar with the impish blonde historian from her programs shown in the United States on public television. She is joint chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces and was awarded the Order of the British Empire. You can find out more about her and her work here: Lucy Worsley
Historic Royal Palaces is a non-profit in charge of six royal palaces, including Tower of London, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Hillsborough Castle, Kew Palace, and the Tudor royal residence where Rose visited on her last trip to England, Hampton Court Palace. These lines from the British Historic Royal Palaces organization, “We are a team of people who love and look after six of the most wonderful palaces in the world. We create space for spirits to stir and be stirred,” puts the feeling perfectly. It is lovely to browse their website, planning armchair or future travel to visit these evocative and romantic places. Historic Royal Palaces website Make sure to read Rose’s blog for more on this beautiful and extremely historic castle.
Though Lucy is the “face” of Tea Fit for a Queen,” writer Imogen Fortes and recipe developer and food stylist Emma Marsden are the creators of the stylish book. Though none of the recipes are particularly ground-breaking, they are presented in a charming manner with end papers done in repeated pattern of the Historic Royal Palaces crown design. The cookbook includes all the traditional recipes one expects for afternoon tea and is beautifully photographed with the bespoke bone china “Royal Palace” from Historic Royal Palaces’ own shop.
Recipes for Coronation Finger Rolls, Fruit Teacakes, All-Butter Almond Shortbread, and Sultans & Spice Biscuits all look delicious and make me want to give them a try on a future tea party menu. The Welsh Rarebit with Wholegrain Mustard & English Ale looks especially yummy and would be a perfect lunch when accompanied by a green salad. The cookbook also delves a little bit into some history of the palaces under their care.
My dedicated tea cookbook shelf came about because my tea cookbooks outgrew the finite space for cookbooks in the kitchen. As is the case with Tea Fit for a Queen, most tea cookbooks are slight variations of usual afternoon tea recipes which is not a complaint! British-style afternoon teas adhere to a fairly traditional menu of scones and tea breads, savories and sandwiches, followed by various sweets, petite desserts, and cakes, of varying degrees of lavishness. It is fun to see what a new tea cookbook will come up with in presentation and recipes, while fitting into the tea menu norms. The book styling can be quite beautiful and charming, adding to the pleasure of reading about and imagining tea parties you might have. Many tea cookbooks are quite small in size, a jewel in the hand. Many are works of art, featuring the illustrator’s artistry with watercolor paintings decorating the recipes or photographs of beautifully designed tea tablescapes and food styling. I keep the ones which put me in a tea party mood, transport me to an elegant hotel tea lounge, or inspire me to bake up a new variation on an old favorite.
Above are some snapshots of my tea bookshelf. Some old favorites are Time for Tea by Michele Rivers and Afternoon Tea Serenade by Sharon O’Connor. Time for Tea is a book I often pull out to reread. The author has based her 1995 book on interviews with thirteen British women about their relationship to tea drinking and how it fits into their lives. The look of the cookbook is charming with ladies photographed with their tea things at hand, from simple farm house to estate drawing room to country tea room. The latter supplied my favorite quote from their little outdoor sign, “Polite Dogs Welcome,” which I think is what we’d all prefer. Cats, of course, will do whatever they please.
Afternoon Tea Serenade is quite different. I received a press copy from the old kitchen store where we sold Sharon O’Connor’s Menus and Music line of CDs that each came with a cookbook, such as dinner music or jazzy brunch. The idea is to play the CD when you are hosting an event or serving a festive meal. I almost immediately lost the CD and never did bake any of the recipes but the descriptions of the hotels from which she collected them was fantastic. She had visited the best hotels here and abroad, seeming to have a grand old time doing so, and good for her, making the book a fine read.
It has been fun revisiting some old favorites and looking into a pretty new cookbook to add to the collection. As you can see, there is a little more room on the shelf for the next volume.
June 2022 - June Cake Round-Up
What could be more June than berries, weddings, and roses? In this month’s Cakes and Tea, we’ll revel in all the pretties and look at some birthday cakes, too.
The wedding cake, above, is the one I made at the very end of April for a garden wedding, near Gilroy, California. It was three tiers, 2 layers each, filled with the lemon mousse from my May blog, filled and topped with lemon curd, frosted with vanilla buttercream, and finished off with about 6 baskets of Driscoll’s berries.
Here is the same cake, resting in the refrigerator before being transported to the reception, topped with lemon curd, and decorated with the berries, on site. It is so handy to have a fridge with removable shelves to chill a big cake before its car ride. I used some plastic dowels to keep the bottom two tiers from sliding. It is a little extra insurance that the cake will arrive in good condition.
Going through some old photos, I came across a picture of a birthday cake I made for a baby’s first birthday. The “baby” is turning 30, and our friend Peter Rabbit is turning 120; some things are just timeless.
Here is a rosy birthday cake which had to conform to some dietary restrictions. The birthday girl is following a low carb diet and provided me with Pillsbury sugar free white cake mix and a can of frosting. The cake mix makes one 9” cake layer, but I baked the batter in two 6” cake pans so we could have a classic layered birthday cake. The cake was not bad tasting, but the frosting seemed extremely sweet which is the case in many sugar free items, oddly enough. I decided to alleviate the sweetness by filling the cake with sliced strawberries, tinting the frosting pink with food coloring, in case the strawberries oozed any juices. (And because I do love a pink birthday cake.) A few halved strawberries and one gorgeous garden rose made a quick and appropriate garnish. Here in California, roses bloom almost all year, but peak season starts in May and goes all summer. Our organic garden roses are a beautiful option to decorate desserts.
Another pretty flower blooming in the garden from spring into early summer are cheerful nasturtiums. We haven’t planted any in years, but they are naturalized now, so they show up every spring, wherever they like. Their peppery taste makes them a colorful addition to salads and tea sandwiches, but their somewhat strong smell is a bit too fierce for delicate desserts.
In the photos below, I styled this tester cake with a few nasturtium blossoms then removed them after taking the pictures. The smell did not linger on the cake, but I would probably not repeat the experiment. The cake slice photo reveals fillings of lemon curd, lemon mousse and a tester version of a mango mousse cake filling. I had been musing on a 4-layered cake tentatively named “Sunrise,” a pale yellow butter cake, filled with raspberry mousse, mango mousse, and lemon mousse, hopefully resembling a sunrise. The mango mousse was yummy, and I will be using it in future cakes.
As readers of this space have most likely figured out, I am very fond of vintage things in general and vintage kitchen gear in particular. Recently, I fell hard for this Swan’s Down promotional tube cake pan at a vintage boutique in Redding. Too rusty for proper baking use, it now graces my kitchen as a bit of décor. It makes me smile every time I see it.
Isn’t it a beauty? I can imagine some 1940’s homemaker baking lots of chiffon and angel food cakes in this pan.
No cake round-up would be complete without mentioning this year’s version of the divine Golden Eggs made by Suzi, this Easter. Here served on a bed of toasted coconut, they posed for their close-up before being gobbled down by the brunch guests. So crazy good!
Toasted coconut garnishes the sides of this year’s birthday cake for Suzi, made by Peggy Reber. Frosted with luscious cream cheese frosting and decorated with pecans, Peg came up with the elegant finishing touch to our traditional Ivy Lane carrot layer cake. Bravo, Peggy! You’ll find the recipe in my June, 2019 blog, here: Ivy Lane Carrot Cake recipe
From the Recipe Box: Here is an old recipe from the box that you might try this summer. Fresh or canned peaches or apricots would be great in this kuchen recipe. Use a springform pan to release the cake from the pan with ease.
Serves 6 to 8
Special equipment: 9” springform cake pan, sprayed with baking spray, outside bottom wrapped with aluminum foil to catch drips, mixing bowl, wooden spoon, silicon spatula, sieve or colander
*a German-style coffee cake, especially with fruit baked on top, great for breakfast, brunch, or with coffee or tea any time
Notes: The kuchen pictured above is 1 ½ times the original recipe because I could only locate a 10” springform pan. I used a bag of thawed frozen peach slices for the top but would have used more, if I’d had more. I didn’t have any cream to beat with the egg yolk for the last step, so I used milk and beat in about a tablespoon of melted butter. The ¼ cup of cinnamon sugar did not make it too sweet, as I had first thought.
Variation: use fresh or canned apricot halves in place of the peaches. Fresh plum slices would also be yummy.
“Light and fruity” was what the bride requested for her wedding cake. A country wedding in late April does suggest something fresh and joyous. I decided on a traditional white, tiered cake with fillings of raspberry jam, fresh lemon curd, and a heavenly light mousse filling. We had perfected the lemon curd long ago, but I had not found a mousse filling that was both very light and fluffy while being sturdy enough to hold its shape when sliced, as well as being able to hold at room temperature for the duration of a wedding. After fooling around with my standard white chocolate mousse recipe, I hit on this version which is tasty enough to eat on its own yet sturdy enough to slice perfectly after sitting out at room temperature for 4 hours!
If you are considering making a large special occasion cake, I highly recommend looking at our Wedding Cake for 75 information on our website. The lemon mousse would be a perfect addition. Check out our entire wedding tea menu here: Wedding Reception Tea Menu
Lemon Mousse Filling
Makes 3 cups
Special equipment: 2 mixing bowls, wooden spoon, hand or stand mixer, fine grater such as Microplane, silicon spatula
I grew up with a set of tiny, green hard backed children’s books; I imagine most of you, dear readers, did too. Our friends Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck and the rest of the sweetly drawn creatures took us on adventures in gardens and quaint towns in a comforting Britain of the last century. Beatrix Potter wrote 23 of these just-right-size-for-children books, beginning in 1902 with The Tale of Peter Rabbit and ending in 1930 with The Tale of Pig Robinson.
The exquisite illustrations immediately drew readers in and her non-sanitized stories entertained both parents reading aloud to children and children just beginning to figure out new words for themselves. Children have always appreciated some gore and mildly perilous situations: note that in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter’s father has previously been “put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor” and Mr. McGregor is a perfect, mildly scary villain. The realism and charm has kept the books in print for over one hundred years and inspired numerous writers, illustrators, products, pilgrimages, movies, and spin-offs.
Best known in America as a children’s author, in Britain, Beatrix Potter is a cultural icon, representing the ideal British countrywoman. Even as a young child growing up mainly in London, she longed to spend more time in the country, as the family did on annual Scottish vacations. She began drawing and painting from the natural world at an early age, one reason her animal characters are so accurately and beautifully drawn. As soon as her stories were published and became profitable, she moved permanently to the Lake District and began living her country life, ultimately preserving great swaths of traditional wooded farmland through a bequest to the National Trust. This 4000 acre gift helped preserve 20% of England’s Lake District that she loved so much.
I came across The Beatrix Potter Country Cooking Book, published in 1991, way back in 1997, after Louise and I had tried unsuccessfully to visit Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, near Windermere, in the Lake District. (We learned that most tourist destinations in rural Britain, at that time, closed for the winter, ahem.) The charming cookbook is illustrated with Potter’s drawings and paintings as well as photographs of Lake District folks and time-honored country dishes.
From the introduction:
“This cookery book was inspired by the works of Beatrix Potter and her love of traditional British cooking. Author Sara Paston-Williams, who specializes in researching recipes of earlier periods and creating delicious dishes from natural country ingredients, is a great admirer of Beatrix Potter.”
“Beatrix Potter’s little books famously celebrate the pleasures of country life. This cookery book reflects her enthusiasm for one most important feature of country living – the enjoyment of appetizing and wholesome food.”
Even when I have no intention of actually cooking anything from the book, it is a pleasure to read through its chapters, learning tidbits about Beatrix herself or what folks were baking in the 1900s or country food ways and lore. For American readers, a measurement guide and glossary help us figure out puzzling British terms and ingredients. The editors have not relied on everyone’s having read mounds of British novels in preparation for using their book, though I always recommend that course. (I believe Rose would agree.)
Chapters include the usual such as Starters, Fish, and Meat but intriguingly include Herbs and Flowers, Preserves, and Puddings. Of course, I delved right into Breads, Cakes, and Biscuits. Each and every recipe would be perfectly at home on any tea table. On page 133, we see a Potter drawing from The Pie and The Patty-Pan in which Duchess the dog is having pussy cat Ribby over for tea. On page 127, soft light spills onto Lake District baker Mollie Green’s tea room, replete with scones and cakes. We can imagine pussy and Mollie enjoying treats such as Buttered Oat Biscuits or Dear Little Muffins. Herby Soda Bread would be a cozy accompaniment to tea or a hearty soup but the compellingly named Hawkshead Seed Wigs might win my favor. Author Paston-Williams offers these clues in her introduction to the recipe:
“Small cakes of spiced dough, known as wigs, used to be sold in Hawkshead, like many other Cumbrian villages and towns. They were usually eaten at Christmas, dipped into elderberry wine or mulled ale. The original wigs were made with yeast and were split and spread with rum butter while still warm. The more modern recipe is easier and very tasty. Beatrix was a regular visitor to the little market town of Hawkshead for shopping and business.” Who knew?
At the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, a new show is celebrating all things Beatrix with a new exhibition, Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature. The show is up until January of 2023 so there may be time to get ourselves across the pond and take in her watercolor paintings, ephemera, and the original illustrated letters to children that turned into such classics.
I first read about the exhibition online, in an article by New Yorker contributing writer Anna Russell, titled somewhat melodramatically “The Secret Life of Beatrix Potter.” The secret part being that she wrote her diaries from age 14 through 30 in very small handwriting, using a self-invented code that wasn’t decoded until 1958. Nothing very alarming seems to have been discovered, save that she was a woman of strong opinions and didn’t want people to read her innermost thoughts, much like many angsty teens of today and yesteryear. Apart from any manufactured drama, the show sounds wonderfully enticing.
Find the article here: The Secret Life of Beatrix Potter, newyorker.com article And here is the link to the Victoria and Albert Museum website, for more details and how to get tickets for the show: Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature exhibition V & A Museum There is also a book to support the exhibition, Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature by Annemarie Bilclough featuring cover illustration of Mr. Jeremy Fisher being pulled into the pond, fishing pole first.
I’ll leave you here with my favorite quote from Beatrix herself:
“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”
People have definite opinions about angel food cake. Chiffon cakes seem to cause less polarization. Angel food has no fat or added baking powder or soda; the air beaten into the egg whites acts as the only leavening. Chiffons have a bit of oil or egg yolks. I love the airy, snowy-white angel food cake but like chiffon cakes, too.
For spring, you may want to try a daffodil cake. Technically a chiffon cake, daffodil cake is really an angel food cake dappled with bursts of egg yolk-enriched batter. Flavored with orange zest, the yellow swirls are meant to look like daffodils against a pale background. Seeing the daffodils in the random cake swirls may require imagination but is worth the effort.
As I write this in February, the days are in the 60s and trees are blossoming early. All the tender greens in the garden had me thinking about adding a touch of green to my daffodil cake, representing stems and leaves. I wanted a natural green food color so came up with matcha powder to make pastel green “foliage.” I love the particular pastel tint of green tea ice cream, naturally colored and flavored with the traditional powdered green tea.
Four or five test cakes later, I backed way off from my original 2 tablespoons of matcha powder. The green parts of the cake tasted, um, like grass? And not in a good way. I finally ended up with one teaspoon matcha powder which made a vibrant green color and had a pleasant, subtle green tea taste. My spring daffodil cake would work beautifully for any spring celebration from Saint Patrick’s Day to Easter to Mother’s Day to a spring birthday to an afternoon tea party.
Spring Daffodil Cake
This pretty pastel cake is baked in a rather old-fashioned pan called a tube pan. Foam cakes, such as angel food and chiffon cake and some sponge cakes, are traditionally baked in an ungreased straight-sided pan with a removeble bottom with a hollow tube in the center. The tube allows heat to flow through the center, helping the cake cook evenly and more quickly, preserving the delicate loft formed by beating the egg whites. Leaving the tube pan ungreased helps the batter cling to the side of the pan. The angel or chiffon cake needs to be turned upside down immediately upon coming out of the oven, again, helping to retain the airy loft of these feather-light cakes. Some old recipes call for cooling the cake upside down on a wine bottle which works very well. However, you’ll notice little legs on the top of some tube pans that are meant for upside down cooling. Please do not try to substitute a bundt pan as you will be scraping out bits of stuck-on cake for days. Your local thrift store is the perfect place to purchase an inexpensive tube pan.
The upper left photo shows the tube pan I bought at Goodwill a few weeks ago, featuring legs for cooling, for only $4.99. The bottom left tube pan is the one I grew up with which sports legs that fold down for easier storage. The center lifts out on both models.
Preheat oven 375˚
Makes one 10” tube cake
Special equipment: 10” tube cake, ungreased, hand or stand mixer, 2 mixer bowls, 2 or 3 silicone spatulas, fine zester such as Microplane, 2 small mixing bowls (I use a 2-cup and a 4-cup glass measuring cups,) thin-bladed knife
Variation: substitute lime zest and a few drops of green food color for the matcha powder
My beloved measuring cups in 2 cup and 4 cup sizes with the 8 cup batter bowl on top.
Our feline assistant Steve, “helping” at the photo shoot in the garden.
Breakfast baked goods tend to have their moment in the spotlight then get replaced by the next popular thing. Bagels, doughnuts, croissants, cronuts, scones, and biscuits have all taken their star turn. Along with scones, muffins have had the best traction in the popular imagination. Though not as exciting as some of the newer morning pastries, muffins have held their own and can be found in super markets across the land. However, the once ubiquitous bran muffin has fallen out of favor and been eclipsed by blueberry, banana, and chocolate. All delicious flavors to be sure. Another problem is the once humble muffin has super-sized itself and added plenty of sugars and fats until it barely has anything left to recommend it. A muffin should not be a cupcake in disguise.
Recently, two friends were lamenting the lack of available bran muffins and how they’d been searching for a muffin packed with satisfying, tasty, and somewhat healthier ingredients. I made the rounds here in my hometown and found bran muffins in only one store. While we weren’t looking, bran muffins seemed to be fading into the sunset. I have always appreciated the homespun somewhat coarse nature of the bran muffin and understand that it is not for everyone, but I believe it has earned a permanent place in the baker’s recipe file.
During my bed and breakfast cooking days, we generally baked 4 to 5 dozen muffins each morning, changing flavors daily. I gathered a lot of really yummy muffin recipes and came to understand its versatility. The range of acceptable texture for muffins is much higher than any other baked good, making the muffin the ideal vehicle for ingredient swaps, substitutions, and leaps of fancy. A muffin can be anywhere from somewhat dry to almost too moist and still be a great muffin. I decided to break out the wheat bran and begin looking into creating a versatile bran muffin recipe.
I’ve always liked my bran muffins to be more on the moist side and to be packed with as much fruit as possible. The plain-Jane look of the bran muffins takes to bits of colorful fruits and vegetables very well. I am partial to a very dark bran muffin, so I stick with wheat bran instead of the paler oat bran. The other ingredient that makes bran muffins dark is using molasses as the sweetener. To take the darkness even further, I use coffee as some of the liquid.
One of my other favorite muffins was the very popular and fruit-filled Morning Glory Muffins. These classic muffins have been served since the 1970s at the Morning Glory Café in Nantucket and include coconut, pineapple, shredded carrot and apple, and walnuts. A super tasty combination that was a reliable crowd-pleaser.
What if I married the fruity flavor profile of Morning Glory Muffins with my extra dark bran muffin? Several tests later, the answer was a complex, fruit-forward, hearty, delicious muffin that you can feel good about having for breakfast or at tea time if you are in need of some real sustenance with your hot beverage. I christened it the Stormy Morning Bran Muffin. I wrote out the recipe below, but a word about the possible additions and substitutions that are possible first.
The five components of these muffins are: dry ingredients, liquid ingredients, purees, sweeteners, and mix-ins. Besides swopping out all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour or unbleached flour, which is fine, you can adjust the spice to your liking. I have 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in this recipe, but you could add or change any warm spices you like. Ground ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, mace would all be nice.
The moistness of these bran muffins comes from liquid ingredients, liquid sweeteners, and a fruit puree. Below, I have made a chart of some different swap-outs for each of these categories. The mix-ins are almost limitless, and I will give a laundry list later on.
A quick note on the purees: these mashed fruits or cooked, pureed fruits or vegetables are a building block in moist muffins. For example, besides adding flavor, the pureed pumpkin in pumpkin muffins helps create that tender, moist crumb. Banana does the same job in banana muffins. The extremely old, black banana adds such great moistness, taste, and sweetness; old, frozen bananas are one of the baker’s best friends. For example, Fannie Farmer’s classic banana bread recipe does not call for any added fat because the extra ripe banana acts as fat in the quick bread. Also, applesauce and prune puree (known as lekvar) can be used to replace fat and add sweetness in baked goods. I have a quick recipe for lekvar following the Stormy Morning Bran Muffin recipe.
These mix-ins are the part where you can try any combinations you can think of or use whatever you have at hand.
Favorite nuts and seeds, including flax, sesame, poppy, and pumpkin seeds
It is a good idea to toast walnuts and pecans before using in a recipe as toasting really enhances the nutty flavor.
Stormy Morning Bran Muffins
Makes 14 to 16 standard-sized muffins
Preheat oven to 400˚F
Special equipment: large mixing bowl, wooden spoon, small whisk or fork, medium mixing bowl, muffin pans, lined with muffin papers or sprayed with baking spray, silicone spatula, cooling rack
Oh, there is no added sugar (except honey) in this recipe, as I like the fruit to sweeten these muffins. Add up to 1/3 cup brown or white sugar, if you prefer a sweeter muffin.
Prune Butter (Lekvar)
Lekvar is a Hungarian cookie filling usually made from dried apricots or plums (prunes.) Three-cornered Hamantaschen cookies are traditionally filled with this thick prune puree, fruit preserves, or dried apricot filling. Typical lekvar has spices and lemon juice added but here is a simplified version. Besides being tasty, it lends natural fruit sweetness to baked goods, thereby allowing less white sugar to be used. Bakers also use prune lekvar (or applesauce) to replace fats in moist baked goods. Solo brand is widely available in grocery stores and comes in prune as well as apricot. It does have added sugar but sometimes point-and-pay is the way!
Makes about 1 cup
Special equipment: microwave-safe bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup, food processor, scraper
1 cup prunes
½ cup coffee or water
In January, you may be in one of two possible states of mind: exhausted from the recent holidays and all their accompanying ado or at loose ends and ready for an absorbing project. Or perhaps just reading about one.
In the autumn, I began thinking about a pear dessert that would showcase the beautiful claret color of poached pears. I had previously baked poached pears into soft gingerbread cake and loved the flavor pairing and attractive presentation. I wondered how these complementary flavors would play against a creamy background. Panna cotta, a gelled Italian dessert, would serve as a vanilla-y base for the sweet wine and spice fruit.
Testers really loved the combination; it was even a hit with folks who were doubtful about the idea of red wine being introduced to a mild pear. I added ginger flavor in the form of little cookies in the shape of leaves. I used my old standby gingerbread cookie recipe, swapping out the molasses for a light colored honey so the cookie leaves would be a paler color. You may use your own recipe, and I’ve put in a link to a recipe for gingerbread cookies further down, if you need a recipe.
The game plan for this pretty layered dessert is to break it down into steps over a few days or however it works best into your schedule. I would recommend baking the cookies first, as they freeze well, then poaching the pears up to a week ahead. Two days before serving the parfaits, make the panna cotta layer; then when that has thoroughly chilled, top with the poaching liquid gelatin layer. When ready to serve the parfaits, lean a poached pear against one side of the glass, crumble a cookie next to the pear then situate a leaf cookie on the edge of the glass. Here is a possible time frame:
Poach the pears. They can be made up to a week ahead and kept, covered, in the refrigerator.
Shown above, an early sketch of the poached pear dessert idea, with the addition of pastry cream piped over the panna cotta rather than the poaching liquid gelatin layer, with chopped candied pecans instead of crumbled cookies. The version as shown above would be delicious. Adding pastry cream to virtually ANY dessert is a grand idea. I decided to add the poaching liquid gelatin layer after tasting it and discovering it was too good to discard. It adds a deep, wintery flavor and pleasant contrasting color.
Gingerbread cookie recipe from Taste of Home
I cut out a leaf shaped cookie with a paring knife, making a notch in the bottom of each cookie so it would hang on the edge of the glass. This only worked moderately well as it was difficult to get the notch just the right size for the thickness of the glass edge. Next time, I will probably make the leaf cookies about 2 ½” tall and set them right in the parfait, slightly behind the pear. Alternately, you could buy some gingersnaps and use them. They just wouldn’t be nearly as cute.
Makes 12 pear halves though only 6 are needed for the recipe
Special equipment: large sauté pan, wooden or large metal spoon, sheet pan or platter on which to chill the pears, fine mesh strainer
1 bottle inexpensive, fruity red wine such as shiraz, Syrah, or merlot
32 ounces pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar
1 or ½ a vanilla bean
1 star anise, optional
1 cinnamon stick, optional
6 small pears, halved, peeled, and cored
Panna Cotta Layer
Makes enough for 6 parfaits
Special equipment: small bowl, mixing bowl, whisk, medium saucepan, silicone spatula, 6 small serving glasses or ½ pint canning jars
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon gelatin (an envelope of gelatin may have more than 1 teaspoon so do measure it out)
1 cup Greek yogurt, full fat recommended
1 cup heavy cream, divided
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
Gelatin Layer Made the from Poaching Liquid
Makes enough for 6 parfaits
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon gelatin
¾ cup reserved poaching liquid
2 tablespoons pear brandy or other favorite liqueur or brandy
Place a poached pear half on top of each gelatin parfait, leaning against the side of the glass. Crumble a cookie over each pear. Place a leaf cookie on edge of each glass. Serve immediately
I’m planning to mix up the Italian Christmas Eve menu. Though I generally come down on the side of the traditional holiday, I’m not a huge fan of the salt cod stew, and sure, pizza is always welcome, but I make it all year. Delicious cannoli is always a “yes, please!” to eat, but who wants to deep fry the shells? I’d much rather get cozy by the fire and eat a big bowl of something creamy, yummy, and sweet. Yes, I am going to make baccala stew and anchovy pizza for my dear father this Christmas Eve, but I will add a lovely dessert from another tradition in our American melting pot.
I didn’t have to look any further than my own beautiful sister-in-law whose family is of Danish descent. The former Miss Garroutte grew up with grandparents who returned from visits to the old country with clogs for the little girls along with handmade mittens and socks, and ornaments from the outdoor Christmas markets. What a darling picture the four little blonde children must have made in their new clogs and socks, hanging simple, traditional ornaments on the Christmas tree.
As hinted at by Danish modern home décor seen in American homes from the 1960’s on, Danish design is simple and makes use of the natural world for color and materials. The sleek lines of wooden furniture and uncluttered interiors make a clean background for a Nordic pine type of live Christmas tree. A limited palette of ornaments keeps it looking fresh and crisp.
Of course, being Italian and Scottish, I am too fond of Christmas tartan, gold ornaments, and elaborate Christmas cookies to go completely minimal with my holiday décor. A photograph of our Christmas Eve table from last year celebrated the tartan and buffalo plaids but we did mix in embroidered red Dala horse napkins along with fresh holly and holly-themed china. I suppose a little Nordic was sneaking in even then.
Back to my creamy Christmas dessert. Enter Risalamande, or the creamiest rice pudding on the planet. It starts with rice porridge, ricengrod. According to Annette at the Soquel Curves, my expert on all things Danish, the ricengrod is made and eaten on December 23rd. The unsweetened milk and short-grained rice porridge is stirred over a low flame for about half an hour, similar to how risotto is made. This is eaten with cinnamon sugar.
About this constant stirring for the better part of an hour. I usually avoid recipes with prolonged stirring, as I am most likely doing several other kitchen tasks at the same time. However, this holiday season I am instituting a less frantic pace, hoping to enjoy the season more and run around crazy less. In aid of this goal, I slid a kitchen stool up to the stove and gave myself over to stirring the pudding. It was almost mesmerizing watching the raw rice and cold milk slowly turn into this thickened, creamy, white mass. I also noticed that if you stay in one place, people can come to you, if need be, and as nothing is more important than not burning the rice pudding, most likely they will not bother you. Score!
On Christmas Eve, the leftover porridge is turned into risalamande by having sweetened whipped cream and chopped almonds folded into it as well as one or two whole almonds. This is important because whoever finds the whole almond is the winner of this game. And there is strategy; the finder hides the almond under their tongue or surreptitiously in their napkin because guests are tasked with eating more and more pudding until the almond is “found.”
Here is where I am going to diverge from the traditional pudding forced feeding game, fun as that sounds, because I (and you) really, really want to have leftover rice pudding to make rice pancakes, klatkager, from the remaining pudding on Christmas morning. These pancakes are truly a revelation in how delicious a pancake can be. As a bed and breakfast cook, I have flipped my share of pancakes, but these are special. The chopped almonds, which a few testers thought odd when encountered in the rice pudding, combined with the slightly chewy rice and heavenly whipped cream component, make the pancakes light and hearty at the same time. You definitely would love these cooked-in-butter pancakes with maple syrup and perhaps sausage or bacon at Christmas breakfast, preferably served fireside, with strong black tea.
Wait, I forgot about the rice pudding’s ruby-hued cohort, the cherry sauce. The contrast of the creamy pudding and slightly tart cherry sauce is magical as well as visually stunning. I used frozen cherries from Trader Joe’s, to make a simple cherry, water, sugar, and corn starch cherry sauce. Opening a can of cherry pie filling, thinned with a little water or cherry brandy would also be great. However you do it, just get some cherry sauce on top of your pudding.
I used the recipes for klatkager, ricengrod, and Risalamande from Nordic Living Christmas which is run by an adorable Danish guy, Kim Nielsen. Not only is the website graphically clean and fresh looking, his photographs are mouth-watering and his writing charming. Do look not only for his recipes for the rice porridge, rice pudding, rice pudding pancakes but aebleskiver, Danish butter cookies, rum balls, and many other tantalizing savory and sweet recipes.
I hope you all can find a cozy fireside to gaze at the lit-up tree, be with loved ones, and eat some creamy sweet stuff.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and God Jul!
In a Brown Pallete
Most baked goods, in their natural state, are some shade of ecru to golden brown to deepest espresso: the shiny hard tops of freshly baked baguettes, the sandy beige of sugar cookies, the deep mahogany of a chocolate cake. Browns make us feel warm and cozy and that there may be a delicious treat in store.
Delicate tender greens, rosy rhubarb, and many lavender shades of crocus are showcased in spring while vibrant vegetable and fruit hues celebrate summer’s produce. The New England autumn is justifiably famous for the bright gold, orange, and vermillion of its turning leaves, but here in Northern California, dusty golds and olive greens mark the subtler changing of the season. California gold is not only the famous ore deposits but the soft color of our hills when spring has ended. We love the deep golds, honey and deep amber, perhaps chesnut brown and freshly grated nutmeg’s sienna hue. The palette of ground spice browns is one of the familiar favorites of fall.
I look forward to getting into the spice cabinet at the beginning of fall baking season and seeing what needs updating or replacing. In addition to the spices in the above photo, I also like to keep two spice blends on hand: apple pie spice and pumpkin pie spice. Each spice company makes their own blends, but in general, apple pie spice is made up of mostly cinnamon, with lesser amounts of nutmeg and possibly allspice and or cardamom. Pumpkin pie spice is also made up of mostly cinnamon but then usually ginger and cloves, as well. You can mix either spice blend up yourself, of course, but a I really like Penzey’s blend of apple pie since, so I keep theirs on hand.
Last year, Rose gifted me with a set of charming miniature baking forms in the shape of pinecones and I have been waiting for fall baking season to try them out. The recipe that came with the set is for gingerbread pinecones, but I changed the spice profile to cardamom, mace, and nutmeg. I followed the somewhat skimpy directions, and the mini-pinecones turned out of the non-stick molds beautifully. They tasted really good warm but as with gingerbread and other heavily spiced baked goods, even better after being stored for several days in a cookie tin.
A little powdered sugar sifted over the top just before serving looks like a light dusting of snow over your pinecone. The molds don’t seem to be available this season at the beloved baking website Fancy Flours, so I tested part of the dough without molding. I rolled walnut-sized pieces of dough into balls then rolled the balls in granulated sugar. I flattened each ball with an old fashioned potato masher which made them look somewhat like a peanut butter cookie and they baked up very well. Feel free to customize the recipe using your favorite warm spices.
Molded Spice Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen
Special equipment: mixing bowl, hand or stand mixer or wooden spoon, sieve or sifter, silicone scraper, baking sheet pans lined with silicone mat or parchment paper, potato masher or fork to press down dough balls, cooling rack
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Stir togther flour, mixed spices and baking soda. Sift if lumpy. Set aside.
Autumn Tea for Six Adults
Some random thoughts from Kathleen...
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