Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dessert: Cinnamon Roll Cookies

This is a meandering musing about Christmas cookies. It’s kind of two unrelated stories that I’ve joined together, but it’s what popped into my head when I started thinking about what to say about the cookies I made.

I was having a conversation with a friend about Christmas cookies a week or so before Christmas, and we got to talking about the deterioration of quality of baked goods as people age. I won’t lie—it was a pretty mean conversation, in some ways. She was complaining about her mother’s poor execution of the sausage balls over Thanksgiving (Bisquick, bulk sausage, and cheddar cheese, the recipe is here, if you want it; in the manner of so many things that are made with what I call “low rent” ingredients, they are embarrassingly tasty), and I was telling her about Alex’s grandmother’s Christmas cookies.

I was assured that at one time, Grammy’s cookies were second to none. I’m not sure if that was an opinion clouded by the passage of time, or biased by affection, or possibly both, or if Grammy’s cookies had really once been great and had just gotten awful. But trust me, they were horrible. The only ones I can actually remember her making are Mexican wedding cakes. I think the truth was that she made several things—chocolate chip, fruitcake cookies and some fudge as well as other things, but they all seemed to be little stones covered with powdered sugar (they were all little stones, but I think the fact that they were all covered in powdered sugar had to do with them all being in the tin together and the sugar sifting off of the wedding cakes and on to every other thing around them). We always thanked her profusely and assured her we’d eat them on the way home.

Of course we never told her how they really were, nor what we really did with them (I can be mean, but I’m not that mean), which was to sow them along the roadside between Adams, MA and Falls Church, VA at regular intervals. Every so often we’d declare it to be time for a cookie, choose one, and announce the type. Only what we’d say was something like, “Mexican wedding anvil!” or “Chocolate chip brick!” or similar, and hurl it out the window. Then we’d say something witty like, “Oops! Sorry about that, Mr. Squirrel! I’m sure the swelling will go down in a couple of days!” or “Uh oh—that Jersey wall will never be the same again!” And you’re wondering why CBS still has Letterman in its late night line up instead of us.

And then when I started making my own Christmas cookies this year, I realized I’m bored with the same old Christmas cookies we’ve made every year. Chocolate chip. Oatmeal raisin. Peanut butter. “Magic” cookies (which aren’t “magic” cookies in the Eagle Sweetened Condensed Milk recipe definition, and in fact are actually a recipe called Favorite Chocolate Caramel Nut Bars and came out of a package of Kraft Caramels in the 1980s, but for some reason my grandmother always called them magic cookies, so that’s what I call them, but it always confuses people, who think they’re the kind made with a can of sweetened condensed milk, shredded coconut, and chocolate chips, and my high school English teacher just had an aneurism because this whole parenthetical aside is textbook case of comma abuse). Toffee Nut Bars. Brownies. I guess I’m just jaded, but all of those things just sound boring, boring, boring.

So I decided to come up with something a little different, and all my own. I got to thinking about things I’d like to translate into cookie form, and for some reason I thought of cinnamon rolls. At first I thought about doing them as an actual roll, but that experiment wasn’t much of a success. The dough I chose is pretty easy to work with, but doesn’t lend itself to being rolled out, filled, and rolled back up. It would make an admirable refrigerator log cookie (in fact, that’s its true application), but as a rolled up filled deal, not so much. So I decided to make them a thumbprint cookie, something I’ve had trouble with in the past, but figured I’d give another try.

I won’t keep you in suspense--they did work. My husband even liked them (he’s my harshest critic when I’m developing my own recipes, and he usually curls his lip at about 1/3 of everything and sends me back to the drawing board. With, I should hasten to add, constructive feedback for improvement). I got feedback from some other tasters, primarily about the distribution of filling within the cookie, which I’ve included within the recipe instructions.

The cookie part of these isn’t particularly sweet, which is good because the filling would make your teeth ache if you ate it on its own, and they both have a sort of crumbly tenderness to them. So they balance and complement each other pretty nicely. The topping could be piped on or spread on with a spoon, or if you prefer to drizzle for aesthetic purposes, you could—just add a bit more heavy cream until the icing is thin enough.

It’s possible that in another 40 years, my children or grandchildren will toss these out a car window yelling, “Cinnamon Roll rock!” but as long as they thank me profusely when I give them the cookies, I’ll be none the wiser.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
makes 24-30 cookies


Cookie dough
2 sticks butter, softened
½ cup + 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Pecan Sugar Filling
½ cup pecans
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup light or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon water

2 ½ ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2-3 teaspoons heavy cream (enough to make a
spreadable or pipable paste)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar.
3. When butter is light and fluffy, and sugar is fully incorporated, add the vanilla, salt, and cinnamon. Beat to combine.
4. Add flour slowly, mixing until just combined.
5. Form dough into 1” balls and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
6. In a food processor, combine pecans, sugar and cinnamon, and process until pecans are finely ground. With the motor running, add the teaspoon of water and pulse 8-10 more times until the mixture forms a thick paste.
7. Using your thumb, make a depression in each cookie. You can spread them out a bit
and make a fairly wide, shallow indentation, or make a deeper, more narrow indentation (the feedback I got was that the taster would have preferred the wide shallow configuration, because then they would have gotten a bit of filling in each bite; it’s a personal preference). These cookies don’t spread much as they cook.
8. Using a spoon or your fingers, fill each indentation with about a teaspoon of the pecan/sugar paste.
9. Bake 17-22 minutes, or until cookies are light golden and filling is set. Allow to set up for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
10. While the cookies bake and cool, make the frosting. Combine cream cheese, lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl and mix to combine. Pour cream in ½ to 1 teaspoon at a time, beating after each addition, until the mixture reaches a consistency you can either pipe or spread on the cookies (it should be a bit thinner than toothpaste).
11. Once the cookies have cooled completely, top each cookie with a dollop of icing (the icing can be piped using a pastry bag, a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, or you can just use a spoon to spread it gently over the filling).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Desserts: Butterscotch Sauce

The Salted Caramel Cheesecake I posted here back in September has taken on a life of its own. This is entirely thanks to Pinterest. It got pinned once or twice, and has been repinned and repinned. I'm delighted that so many people are interested in it, but I have to tell you, it's somewhat harrowing as well.
This particular recipe is my own creation, not something I "adapted" from another source. It's rather like looking at your child and hoping that people find him or her as appealing as you do.
At the same time, "salt" is a very personal taste. What you find salty, I may find bland. What I find unpalatably saline, you may taste as perfection. Also, I am very sensitive to both the disappointment that comes from making something for a special occasion that turns out to be less than expected, and additionally to the wastefulness that comes from having to toss 3/4 of a finished dish. So when a few people said it was just too salty for them, I felt personally responsible.
And so I am back today with another dessert concoction, but not a "salted" one. This time I am resurrecting my love affair with butterscotch. From a child I have felt that a butterscotch sundae beat the pants off of hot fudge. True butterscotch (as opposed to caramel sauce, which is what many sundaes are made with) has the same warm, sugary notes that caramel has, but with an added complexity from the molasses in the brown sugar that generally goes in butterscotch. Also, caramel is such a small amount of butter in a greater amount of cream and sugar syrup. My butterscotch is almost as much butter as sugar and cream.
I read dozens of butterscotch and sticky toffee recipes before making this. I thought about including some kind of liquor--rum or similar--but decided to keep it pure. But I did want to emphasize the molasses, so I added just a smidge. I have Lyle's Golden Syrup in my pantry, but I realize not everyone has access to this, so I used dark Karo syrup instead. The difference in flavor is minimal in the finished product.
It took a lot of self control not to eat the whole recipe with a spoon right out of the container. I'm planning on serving this on Christmas Day for dessert with a Brown Sugar and Brandy Pear Turnover served with homemade vanilla ice cream. This isn't the best picture of it--I just shot it with my phone because I was worried that if I didn't, I'd eat it all and then I wouldn't have anything to show you.
Butterscotch Sauce
Makes a little more than 1 cup of sauce
2T butter
1/4 cup + 1T dark brown sugar (you can probably use light, but I had dark on hand)
1/2 teaspoon molasses
1T dark Karo syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Detailed Instructions
1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter with brown sugar, molasses and Karo syrup. When butter has completely melted, add vanilla and salt and stir to combine.
2. Increase heat to medium, and add heavy cream. Over medium heat, cook stirring frequently until mixture has the consistetency of cream of tomato soup, about 5-7 minutes. It's fine if it's at a strong simmer (lots of medium sized bubbles around the edges) but you don't want the whole thing to boil or you'll end up with pralines.
3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Resist the urge to eat it all as though it were soup. Transfer to a container and refrigerate. The sauce will thicken up as it cools.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Appetizers: Puff Pastry Bacon Spirals

N.B. I wrote this over the weekend. I am no longer quite this cranky. But boy was I ever when I wrote this.
I want to apologize because I’m kind of cranky today. I really don’t know why. I don’t have anything to be cranky about, when you come right down to it. And it almost feels wrong to be cranky over the Thanksgiving holiday.
I mean, I know people are—their families drive them crazy and they get grouchy. I’m lucky because I genuinely like my family. They’re people I’d want to be friends with, even if I wasn’t related to them. And I live close enough to all my family that we don’t have to go and stay with them to celebrate with them. We can eat and go home to our own space and our own beds and so on.
And today is my birthday. You might think that’s what’s making me crabby—another year older and all that—but honestly that’s not it. I kind of like birthdays and I don’t get grumpy about getting old or anything like that.
We’re decorating for Christmas, which I always really like too. Getting all the lights up, taking out all the fun things we bought on clearance last year (I mean, really—I bought one of those Charlie Brown trees, the sad little stick with the five needles and a single red ball to put on it—last year for a buck, and now I’m seeing them in stores again for twelve and fifteen dollars; it’s just crazy).
I think one thing that’s contributing to my cranky is that I cut my finger a week or so ago, and now I have this massive bandage on it. I was slicing leeks, and while I had my fingers in the correct curled under position when I was cutting most of the way along, I got to that last quarter inch and changed my grip, and nearly cut off the tip of my left middle finger. I’ll spare you the graphic description, but suffice to say there were sutures involved and it wasn’t pretty. So with this massive bandage, it takes me three times longer to do much of anything, and I’m supposed to be making another Thanksgiving dinner again tomorrow night so we have leftovers for next week. On Thanksgiving day, we had 18 people, so had very little left over (well, not the stuff I wanted left over—stuffing and gravy, and besides, I want to make my stuffing, which I love but which consists primarily of a bag of Pepperidge Farm and some cooked bulk sausage).
So I’m kind of just accepting my cranky. But I think that’s putting me in a worse mood. Being in a bad mood is putting me in a worse mood. How’s that for logic?
So I decided to share a recipe for something that, if I had it, would make me feel better. Puff pastry bacon spirals.These are great party food. You can make them up ahead and cook them off just before you need to serve them, although they also are pretty decent at room temperature. They’re not supposed to be particularly pretty, so kids can help with the assembly. And they’re bacon. How can you go wrong?
I’m not usually much of a one for “during” shots, but I’m including two for this recipe because I wanted to make sure you got a feel for how done “halfway” is for the bacon, and to illustrate the “twist.” If you cook the bacon too done in the first step, you’ll have a hard time twisting it in the second step. If it’s not done enough, it won’t get nicely crisp.
Bacon Spirals
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed and cut into ¼” strips (about 36 strips, about 3” long—if your pastry comes folded in thirds, you can cut each third into 12 or so strips; I use Pepperidge Farm brand)
1 pound bacon, each strip cut in half the short way (don’t use the really thick cut artisan bacon for this—you really want the thinner cut because it’s easier to twist; you probably won’t use the whole pound but how many pieces are in a package will depend on the brand and the thickness of the slices; I use Smithfield brand)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment, lay out the bacon slices. Bake for about 7-10 minutes, or until partially cooked (see picture).

Cooked about halfway--a bit of browning around the edge, and the fat starting to render, but still flabby and pliable.
Remove bacon from the oven and allow to cool slightly, until it can be handled, about 10 minutes.

Twist together one slice of bacon with one strip of the puff pastry. Pinch the ends together to keep them from untwisting. You’re sort of wrapping the pastry around the bacon. As you twist, you can pull the pastry out slightly to make it longer, if necessary, to get it around the whole piece of bacon. (See picture.) Place each spiral on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment (you might want to use a new liner, and not just return them to the pan the bacon cooked on the first time, because the residual bacon fat from baking off the bacon half way may make them too greasy).

See? Not very pretty or tidy.
Return the pan to the oven, and cook 18-22 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden, and the bacon is cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Follow Up

There were a lot of questions about the dulce de leche--what kind, how much, can I make it myself? Here's the comment I posted in the comments:

OK so to address everyone who is asking about dulce de leche--I buy it in the "latin foods" section of the grocery store. And that's in my local Super Wal Mart. If you're buying it by the can, I think it's a 14 oz can. Also, you can buy it on Amazon in a 6 or 8 pack.

Now, if you simply can't find it and don't want to order it, you can make it yourself. Take 1 can of sweetened condendensed milk (the 14 oz size), pop a couple of holes in it with a churchkey (the pointy single-hole style can opener) and put it in a water bath with the water almost to the top of the can. Bring the water to a simmer and keep it there for about four hours. You'll have to watch it and top up the water as it boils away. The longer you let it cook (and you can't really overcook it) the more caramely and rich it will be.

The salt in all three parts is kosher salt. DON'T USE TABLE SALT.

I don't use a water bath when cooking the cheesecake--just goes right in the oven. :)

Here's a link to Amazon--this is the brand of dulce de leche that my grocery store carries.

I hope everyone enjoys this!!

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments either on the original post, or on this one, and I'll be better about checking, I promise!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Side Dishes: Potato Stacks

I’m always looking for something new to do with potatoes. I oven roast the small ones—the ones that are about the size of a ping pong ball--whole with some olive oil, I mash russets, I slice Yukon Golds thin and cook them with a little cream and some Gruyere cheese for a gratin. I’ve also cooked the small potatoes in boiling water, smashed them, and roasted the smashed potatoes. Sooner or later, though, I just can’t face another potato, roasted, mashed or gratineed. Enter this recipe. But there’s something distinctive about this recipe, or rather, about its name.
Sometimes a family has a name for something that other people would find unpleasant or even downright gross. My grandmother used to call every fairly sticky, globy food “goop.” At the dinner table she’d hold up a serving spoon full of something like macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes and ask, “Would anyone care for more goop?”
What always made this unfortunate was that's what she called what came out of your nose too. My mother always had a particular dislike for this reference, as she said the association always took her appetite away.
My grandmother’s reference was a sort of all-purpose one. Ours is more specific. We have this recipe--we call it potato piles. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but really potato piles (or potato stacks, to use the term we use around company) are quite wonderful. The reason we don’t call them potato stacks in our day to day vernacular is…well, because we just don’t, but really these aren’t stacks. They really are just little piles of potato slices with some herbs and olive oil. As a result, they’re less of a recipe than a technique.
The herbs can be to your taste. Swap out sage or finely chopped rosemary, if that’s what you happen to have. Or use a combination of herbs. They can be as large or as small as you like, but for my purposes I like about piles that are an inch or so high, and spread out about 5” .They settle a bit as they cook. The higher they are, the longer they’ll take to cook, and you could end up with overdone edges and an underdone middle. The beauty of these is that you get the contrast of soft and crisp in the same dish.
One average size russet potato makes about four stacks, which can be either two servings or four, depending on what you’re serving with them. They’re easy enough that they could accompany a simple weeknight dinner, but fun and tasty enough to serve to company. And you can call them stacks or piles, depending on how proper your company is.
Potato Stacks (Potato Piles)

1 medium baking potato, peeled
1 -2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

·         Peel potato into strips
·         Toss with herbs and olive oil
·         Season
·         Pile on baking sheet covered with parchment
·         Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes
Detailed Instructions
1.     Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.     Using a vegetable peeler, remove potato in strips. Some strips will be very narrow (1/4” wide) and some will be much thicker (up to 1”). When it becomes difficult to get the strips off, either because of the position of the peeler, or because the strips are getting too wide, rotate the potato slightly, and begin on another section. As you go around, you’ll end up with something that looks like an elongated apple core. When you’re in danger of adding sliced finger to the mix, stop and discard the remaining potato. You’ll have about 3 cups of loosely packed potato strips.
3.     In a large bowl, toss the potato strips with olive oil. Add the thyme and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.
4.     Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Using tongs or your hands, make piles of potato strips about 5” across and an inch or so high. Scrape any remaining oil and herbs out of the bottom of the bowl, and distribute over piles. Scatter with a little additional salt and pepper.
5.     Bake for 15-20 minutes or until piles are golden brown. The edges will be crisped and the center will be cooked through.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Desserts: Salted Caramel Cheesecake (Updated with A Note on Salt)

This post has gotten so much traffic via Pinerest that I have to comment further on those who say, "It's too salty." The idea is that it's a salty caramel dessert. But, everyone has a different level of salt tolerance. So, here's my suggestion--make the crust with just a little salt--a teaspoon or two. Then make the filling with just a teaspoon or two of salt. Then TASTE IT. People watch Food Network and see those people just scatter in some salt, take a small taste, and go, "Mmmm GOOD!" But that's just TV--they're supposed to say that so they don't spend precious air time adjusting the seasoning. You MUST TASTE as you go. Make the filling with everything but the eggs (raw eggs can be dangerous--I can't recommend eating anything with raw eggs in it) then TASTE it. The idea is that you taste some salt, but not that you go, "Ugh, salty." You're supposed to taste the contrast between sweet and salty. If you don't like things pretty salty, just leave the majority of the salt out and make a caramel cheesecake--caramel cheesecake is delicious too! If you taste it and it's not salty, and you want it salty, add a 1/2 teaspoon salt at a time until you get it to where you think it tastes OK. But I strongly recommend you taste as you go.

N.B. It was brought to my attention that if this recipe is made with regular salt, it is WAY too salty. I always use kosher salt. Don't use table salt or this will be truly inedible. My apologies to anyone who may have tried it already without that caveat!

Here it is at last. I’ve been trying to get a picture of a single slice of this for months. And you know what happens? That’s right—every time I’m ready to photograph it, I look for the slice I saved as my “model” and it’s gone. Someone has eaten my model. So you’re just going to have to content yourself with the picture of the whole cheesecake that I happen to have snapped once with my camera phone. It doesn’t really do it justice, but you get the idea (and yes, it’s also my profile picture).
I made this for Thanksgiving in 2010. It was proclaimed, “The best dessert you’ve ever made.” Praise, indeed. Well, actually, considering all the desserts I’ve made in 15 years of marriage, plus probably 3 years of dating, that could be saying quite a bit. In the event, I was asked to make it again for Christmas. And again for Alex’s birthday. And again for our anniversary. And every time I made it, I would post about it on Facebook, and my friends would say how much they wanted a piece. Finally, in August of this year, I made a cheesecake, and invited all my friends over for a Friday night Happy Hour and Cheesecake Devouring Event.
I could have taken numerous pictures of my friends eating it, but when the dust settled, once again, I was left with no model. In fact, I didn’t even get a piece. So the next day, I made another Salted Caramel Cheesecake. I took it to a birthday party for a friend, where once again it was completely consumed, and while I didn’t have anything left to take a picture of, at least I got a slice of it this time.
So, rather than make you wait until November for this recipe, when I might actually be able to get a decent picture of it, I’m giving it to you now and you can make it for Thanksgiving and Christmas and your husband’s birthday and your anniversary. I hope it’s the best dessert you’ll ever make.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake
Serves 2
Ha ha! Just kidding—I’ve served up to 20 people with one cheesecake. Ideally it probably serves about 10-12 people.

For the crust

About 15 graham crackers
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (note: I reduced this from 2 teaspoons. A number of folks in the comments said they found it was too salty. I made this recipe 4 times before posting this, and checked the measurements pretty carefully, I thought. However, I made it for Thanksgiving 2011 and realized that they WAY the crust is distributed in the pan can make it seem quite salty--if there's a significant slope between the bottom and the sides, that fairly dense piece of crust can be overpowering to the rest of the recipe. So I'm recommending the reduction to the salt to account for the possible variations in the way people make the crust.)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a food processor, grind graham crackers to crumbs. (If you’re using premade crumbs, you want about 8 oz or 2 cups, and you’ll want to do all these steps in a bowl.) Add sugar and salt and pulse to combine. With motor running, add butter through feed tube. Process for another few seconds until combined.
2. Transfer the mixture to a 9” or 10” (I have a 10” myself) springform pan sprayed with cooking spray. Pat crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan, and up the sides about 2”. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly even around the top; you just want to be sure it’s deep enough to hold all the cheesecake mixture.
3. Bake crust until slightly brown. You’ll just be able to smell it. This will take anywhere from 10-12 minutes. Remove crust from the oven and allow to cool on a rack. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F.
For the cheesecake

3 8oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 13-14 oz. can dulce de leche
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. In a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment beat cream cheese until smooth, add dulce de leche and beat to combine.
2. Add flour and salt, beat to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. There should be no lumps.
3. Add the sugar and beat to combine.
4. Add the vanilla, and then beat in the eggs one at a time until just combined, about 30 seconds each. Don’t overbeat once the eggs are added; the cheesecake will puff up too much while baking, and the top will crack.
5. Pour the cream cheese mixture into the cooled crust and smooth the top.
6. Bake at 300 degrees F for 55 – 65 minutes. The center will seem to be only slightly set, and will be wobbly if you nudge it. The sides will puff slightly.
7. Cool completely on a rack, then cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight (I have gotten away with a 5 hour cooling, but I was on edge that it wouldn’t turn out; overnight is really best). When I put it in the refrigerator to set up, I remove the ring from my springform, and put the cheesecake on a cake stand. You can leave it in the springform if you don't have a cake stand.
For the caramel

½ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Swirl to combine. All those warnings about stirring caramel and brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to avoid crystal formation? I avoid all that by just never stirring it at all. If I need to move it around the pan, I just swirl it.
2. Continue cooking until the sugar turns golden brown, swirling occasionally. You’re looking for something that’s about the color of dark honey. The problem with caramel is that it goes from perfect to burnt in the blink of an eye, so just when you find yourself thinking, “Any second now…” pull it off the heat. It should take 3-5 minutes.
3. Off the heat, carefully add the butter, then the cream. Don’t wait until the butter is melted; toss in the butter, give it a whisk, then pour in the cream. It will foam up, seize, and otherwise look like a total failure. Persevere! Add the vanilla extract and salt and continue whisking.
4. Return to medium low heat and whisk until smooth. (Added note: if your caramel is too thin, let it cook for awhile over a low heat. I've actually let it boil a bit--unintentionally--and just when I thought I'd ruined it, it turned out to be perfect.) Allow to cool slightly, about 15 minutes.
5. Remove cheesecake from the refrigerator and pour caramel over the top. I try to encourage mine to pool in the middle, but if you’re more of a drip-down-the-sides type, you can go with that. I just think the drippy makes sort of a mess on my cake stand, but maybe that doesn’t bother you.
6. Return the cheesecake to the refrigerator to let the caramel set, about 30 minutes. To serve, cut in slices (it’s pretty rich) with a sharp knife, wiping the blade clean after every slice.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Appetizers: Rosemary Honey Hazelnut Crackers

My local grocery stores used to carry crackers that were specifically flavored to go with certain types of cheeses. At this point the only one I can recall is that the celery-flavored crackers went with blue cheese. The amazing thing was, they really did complement the cheeses they were supposed to accompany. Often in the food world, you hear about things that are supposed to go together, and really, it's just a vile combination. The one that springs most readily to mind is chocolate and red wine. I'm not sure if this is the chocolate lobby, or the red wine growers association, or an evil alliance between the two, but it needs to stop because red wine with chocolate is just gross.

So like many good things in life these crackers seem to have vanished (and it's always the good things, with Exhibit A being Stouffer's vegetarian lasagna, and Exhibit B being Stouffer's broccoli in cheese sauce you could boil in the bag--clearly Stouffer's has let me down over the years, although in this case the crackers were not, to the best of my knowledge, made by Stouffer's). But something got me started thinking about those crackers, and I know crackers are a cinch to make, so why not make my own? And then I started thinking even more (your suspicions are confirmed--I admit I spend about 45 minutes out of any given hour thinking about food and food-related topics), and realized what fun I could have with cracker flavors. So I started with one that was inspired by another cracker I saw at the grocery store: rosemary raisin pecan. I swapped out the raisins and used honey for sweetness instead, and went with hazelnuts instead of pecans, because I like hazelnuts better than pecans.

I let my husband have one, and was accused of being "subtle." This rather surprised me, because I'm almost never accused of subtlety. He didn't think the flavors were super assertive, but that's the point. They're not supposed to clobber you over the head. And I think if you taste them carefully, you can in fact taste every flavor. However, if you want them stronger, add more rosemary, honey, and hazelnuts (keeping in mind that they're not intended to be a particularly sweet cracker in my execution, and if you add much more honey, you may need to add more flour--I haven't tested this).

On a technical note, it's best to try to cut all these crackers the same size, so they cook evenly. They may be a bit on the soft side when they come out of the oven, but they'll crisp up as they sit. And don't worry about appearances--they're intended to look rustic. Rustic, of course, is what we say when we mean "homemade and unprofessional." Rustic just sounds more deliberate.

Next I'm thinking of trying something like a Thai flavored cracker, with red curry paste, peanuts (or maybe peanut butter?) coconut milk and possibly curry or ginger or maybe even lemongrass. I also think if the basic dough were made with basil that they'd be an excellent thing to serve with tomato soup. I have a long list of things to try. I might even try to recreate the ones that went so well with blue cheese.

Rosemary Honey Hazelnut Crackers
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
2 tablespoons honey

  • In a food processor, combine flour, salt and rosemary, and pulse to combine
  • Add nuts and butter cut in 8 pieces and pulse 5-6 times
  • Add honey and pulse, then add water and pulse again
  • If dough is sticky, add 1-2 tablespoons of the additional 2 tablespoons of flour
  • Roll out 1/4" thick on a lightly floured board
  • Cut and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned
Detailed Instructions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the workbowl of a food processor, combine 1 cup of flour, salt and the chopped rosemary. Pulse a couple of times to combine.

Cut the butter into 8 pieces and add it, along with the nuts, to the flour mixture. Pulse a few times to combine.

Add the honey, and then the water, and pulse a few more times to make a dough. Feel the dough, and if it feels quite sticky, add an additional tablespoon of flour, pulse, and check again. You may need the second tablespoon of flour as well. If so, add it and pulse a few times to combine.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or counter. Roll out with a rolling pin to 1/4" thickness. Using a knife or a cutter, cut to desired shape. I make little rectangles, but you could certainly stamp out circles or something decorative. You can't overwork this dough, so don't worry about that. You can reroll the scraps as often as you want.

Transfer the cut out dough to a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove to a rack and allow to cool slightly. You can serve them warm, or let them cool completely and put them in a tin to keep at room temperature. They keep well for several days, and if they're a bit soft when they're warm, they'll crisp up quite a bit over time.

Makes about 2 dozen crackers, depending on what shape you cut them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Desserts: Chocolate Caramel Tart

Caramel Chocolate Tart
For the crust:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
½ cup + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 egg yolk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups flour

For the caramel:
2 cups granulated sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
½ cup cream
2 tablespoons crème fraiche

For the Chocolate Glaze:
3 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate
½ cup cream

· Cream together butter, sugar, and cocoa in a bowl
· Mix in egg yolk and vanilla
· Sift over flour and mix in
· Wrap dough in plastic and chill 30 minutes to an hour
· Preheat oven to 350 degrees
· Roll out dough and transfer to tart pan
· Blind bake crust for 15 minutes, remove weights and liner and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes
· Remove crust from oven and allow to cool

· Combine sugar and corn syrup in a large saucepan
· Cook over medium heat until golden brown
· Off the heat, add in butter, cream, and crème fraiche
· Once butter is melted, pour into cooled crust
· Allow to set up for 30 minutes (refrigerate if possible)

· Heat cream over medium heat
· Pour over chocolate and whisk until smooth
· Pour over tart and tilt pan to distribute evenly over caramel
· Let set 1 hour (refrigerate if possible)

Detailed Instructions

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or on a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, and cocoa powder. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and beat in. Sift in flour and mix to combine. Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, pat into a circle, and wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9” or 10” tart pan with a removable bottom. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 10-11” circle (depending on the size of your pan). Transfer the dough to the tart pan (the easiest way to do this is to set your rolling pin at one end of your dough, then roll the dough up on the pin, just as though you were rerolling an unrolled length of paper towel. Position the “loaded” rolling pin over the tart pan at the edge, then unroll the dough and drape it over the pan. Press the dough gently into the pan, letting the excess hang over the side. When the dough is fitted in, roll the pin over the top of the pan and let the edge of the pan “cut” the dough. If there are places that are in any way uneven—the dough tears before you can pat it into the pan, etc—just use some of the scraps to “patch” those places). Gently line the dough with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and fill with either ceramic pie weights or dried rice or beans, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the filling, return to the oven, and bake for 10-15 minutes more. It’s hard to tell with a chocolate crust when it’s truly brown, but when you start to smell that chocolaty smell, it’s time to take it out.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool, about 20-30 minutes. This is about how long it will take to make the filling.

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Bring sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. This will look strange at first, until the sugar starts to melt, but it will eventually all be liquid. Keep cooking until the sugar mixture is the color of dark honey. Watch it carefully—sugar goes from perfect to burnt in a twinkling. Just when you think, “Maybe ten more seconds…” pull it off. Off the heat, carefully add the butter and cream (mixture will foam up), then the crème fraiche (don’t wait for the butter to melt, just add it and stir to combine and melt the butter). Once the butter is melted, pour into the tart shell and let set, at least 30 minutes. If you can refrigerate it, this will help.

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Pour glaze over set caramel, tip pan to distribute chocolate evenly, and let glaze set, 1 hour. Again, refrigeration is helpful here.

Serve in slivers, each scattered with a few grains of fleur de sel. Makes 10-12 servings.


Have you ever had the feeling that certain aspects of your life were jinxed? I've often heard people say they have "bad luck" with this or that. They go through three DVD players in two years, or they keep buying travel mugs that keep breaking, or every time they have the battery changed in a watch, it dies within two months. You know what I mean.

When I decided to make this tart, I had one of those moments when I was convinced I was just cursed. Rather than use my stand mixer to make this, I decided to use a hand mixer. I was feeling lazy, and the clean up would be easier, I reasoned. Years ago we bought (or were given, I sort of forget now) a hand mixer. It was just your basic hand mixer, nothing remarkable. Then one day, about three years ago, the beaters vanished. I mean they disappeared into thin air. One day I used them for something, and ran them through the dishwasher, and the next time I went to look for them, they were gone. My kids were too little to have put them in a weird place, we hadn't had any houseguests (often after we have guests, I discover things in odd places--well, odd to us, obviously not odd to them), and my husband didn't know where they were either.

We looked everywhere those things could be, and in three years they have yet to materialize. Every so often (usually when I had the bright idea to use the hand mixer) we'd say, "Really, we should just buy a replacement set--this is silly!" but it was never a priority except in the 10 or so minutes around the time during which I wanted to use the mixer. Then it was gone from my mind until the next time I wanted to use it.

Flash forward to maybe a month ago, when my grandmother was moving out of her condo and getting rid of things she no longer used on a regular basis. I asked if I could have her hand mixer, and she gave it to me. I wanted it for two reasons: first, it was a 1950-something Westinghouse (my grandparents always bought either Westinghouse or GE appliances--my grandfather worked on the Westinghouse and GE accounts when he was in advertising in the 1950s and 60s, and he was a firm believer that if you were going to tell other people to buy the products, you should use them yourself) and after 50+ years it was still going strong, and second, it had beaters.

So, to make a long story short (too late), I now have a mixer with two beaters, and this great tart recipe to make. I get out the ingredients. I get out a bowl. I get out the mixer. I get out the...wait, where are the beaters? Where are the beaters? You're never going to believe this. I couldn't believe this. I could not find those beaters for love or money. I looked everywhere. I could only stand there in bewilderment, and assume that when it came to mixers (or, more accurately, beaters for mixers), I was simply doomed. Going forward I would be one of those people who says, "I have terrible luck with..." and would finish that sentence with, "hand mixer attachments." I was completely floored. I checked every drawer, every cabinet. Could. Not. Find. Argh!

Finally, after doing what anyone in this day and age does when something utterly maddening happens (which is to say, I posted about it on Facebook), I looked one more time. And I did find them. Not in any bizarre or unreasonable place. Just toward the back of a drawer. Now I've put them in the drawer with the whisks (which I think makes sense, since that's essentially their function). We'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, this tart is amazing. I've made it twice now, and the first time it was a bit overly gooey (but really, overly gooey caramel--so what?) and the second time the consistency was perfect, but I decided that the chocolate glaze constitutes lily gilding, and I'd skip it next time. In fact, I think it would be better without the glaze, but with some chocolate whipped cream (cream with a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder and some powdered sugar beaten into it, then whipped).

Lately my recipes have been my own. I shamelessly admit that I got this directly out of Amanda Hesser's new New York Times Cookbook (and she got it from the pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern who developed it in the first place). I wrote up the detailed instructions from my own execution. It's very rich, so a little goes a long way, but this is truly an amazing dessert. Assuming you can find the attachments to your mixer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Side Dish: Fennel Cabbage Slaw

Fennel Cabbage Slaw

½ head of green cabbage, shredded (4-6 cups)
1 medium fennel bulb, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, grated
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup apple juice
2 teaspons fennel seed, toasted and ground
Salt and pepper to taste

• Combine vegetables
• Combine dressing ingredients
• Toss dressing with cabbage mixture

Detailed Instructions
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, fennel and carrot. In a smaller bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Toss the dressing with the cabbage mixture. You can refrigerate this for a couple of hours before serving. If so, give it a good stir when you take it out of the refrigerator to redistribute the dressing.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that can be intimidating. Which part do you eat? Do you cook it or eat it raw? It’s not unlike a carrot, in that you’re supposed to lop off the fronds and eat the bottom, but unlike a carrot, it’s not a vegetable that we’ve been watching cartoon rabbits gnaw on since we were little tykes.

I happen to love fennel, both raw and cooked. It’s a great winter vegetable when you get tired of the usual suspects (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower). In the summer, it’s great raw, with the sort of cool refreshing flavor you get with cucumbers. In fact, I add it to my cole slaw every chance I get because I think it’s a nice flavor twist with the usual cabbage. Unlike cucumber, it’s not watery, so it doesn’t weep uncontrollably into the dressing and make it nasty. (Caveat: since all vegetables have a high water content, the dressing will eventually get nasty, but not in 30 minutes or an hour, the way it would if cucumbers were involved.)

So this recipe has a double shot of fennel, with the toasted ground fennel seed and the raw fennel. The toasted fennel seed gives the dressing another dimension—it’s not just mayonnaise cut with vinegar, as so many slaw dressings are. Also, sugar in slaw dressing makes it gritty to my taste. A little is needed to balance the vinegar, but the grit is off-putting. Since I was using apple cider vinegar in this, I decided to use the juice to sweeten it. I have four kids, so there’s always a gallon of apple juice lurking around in my refrigerator.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that will eventually oxidize and turn colors that we normally associate with a bad bruise. It takes a little longer, so you can safely make this the day before you serve it, but in my experience within two days it’s looking a bit suspect, and within three it has a distinctly sad appearance. It’s still fine to eat, and tastes OK, but after the second day I do take the time to cut the little darkened bits off the fennel when I eat the slaw. It seems to mostly change at the corners and tips, so they’re easily removed and pushed aside. However, you might want to take that under advisement in your planning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Side Dishes: French Fries

French Fries

2-3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut to desired “fry” size
Canola or vegetable oil to cover

  • Arrange potatoes in a large skillet, cover with cold oil
  • Turn heat to medium, turning fries after 15 minutes
  • Drain on paper towel, add salt to taste
Detailed Instructions
Using a pan large enough to hold the potatoes in no more than two layers, scatter the fries, making sure to separate them as much as possible. Any two fries that are right next to each other may stick together. It’s not possible to get every single one separate, but arranging them so that most of the fries are perpendicular to one another, versus side by side, is preferred.

Add enough canola or vegetable oil to just cover the fries. Turn the heat on to medium, and bring to a rapid simmer. You probably won’t have to adjust the heat much, but keep an eye on it. You don’t want it to boil over.

In the first 15 minutes, don’t stir the fries. After 15 minutes you can move them around gently. After about 20 minutes, use tongs to move them around and flip them over so you can see the undersides. When they start to turn golden, they’re close to done. You’ll end up with a few that get a little more brown than golden. Once they’re done, remove from the hot oil with tongs and drain on paper towel. Salt to taste.

This makes enough fries for 4 people.

Dinner at my house on Thursday night is the same thing every week in every season. We have hamburgers and French fries (the exception being the fourth Thursday in November, of course). By the end of a long week I’m ready for a meal that I can prep in 12 minutes, let cook largely unattended, and serve without having to listen to any whining. Everyone likes it, I get no groans of protest when I announce what’s for dinner, no one saying, “Why can’t we have x instead?”

I read about these fries in several places and they really are as easy as they sound. There are a couple of small caveats, but nothing too daunting. I use a 12” nonstick skillet. I’ve used a 12” chefs pan (with straight sides, as opposed to the sloping sides of a skillet) that was not nonstick. I recommend the nonstick because it does make it easier to get the fries out. If you use a regular pan, you’ll have to pry a few off the bottom of the pan, which is a bit tricky when what you’re doing is attempting to dislodge something that’s under an inch or two of boiling hot oil. I’m not saying it can’t be done—it can—but be very, very careful and be prepared to still do some scrubbing once you’ve removed the oil.

A word on the oil—I use canola. I buy a big jug of it at Costco. You can reuse the oil 2-3 times before it starts to break down. We just pour it back into an old oil jug and keep it on hand. When it’s time to dispose of it, we usually line a trash bag with lots of newsprint and pour the oil on that. The newsprint absorbs the oil, and goes out with the garbage. The plastic jug gets recycled.

The primary trick to these fries is not to stir them until they’re mostly done. I made them once with great success, then made them subsequent times and couldn’t understand why I was ending up with piles of fried potato bits. Then I realized I was trying too hard to keep them from sticking, and kept stirring them every few minutes. Don’t do it. Wait 15 minutes, then you can move them around. I use tongs to flip them over because the ones on the bottom get a bit more brown than those on the top. Turning them over and rearranging them gives them a more uniform appearance.

We’ve been making these for so long that I actually have a commercial French fry cutter. It can be mounted on the wall (I’m not quite to that stage yet) and the potato rests in a sort of trough that has a grid cutter at one end. There’s a plunger or pushing mechanism with a handle on it. As you lower the handle, the potato gets pushed up to and through the grid cutter, making perfect ¼” square fries. Before I owned it, I had one of those round apple slicers that switched out the apple sectioning insert for one that had a ¼” fry cutter. The fry insert never stayed in very well, and I often had to trim my potatoes so that the cutter would fit over them. After months and months of Thursday night hamburgers and fries, we bought the more efficient commercial one from Amazon. The price was surprisingly reasonable.

I’m not suggesting you rush out and buy a commercial French fry cutter (they are rather heavy and bulky to store, and they really do only do one job), but these fries are worth a try—they don’t make as big a mess as a “traditional” deep fry (admittedly they make some mess, but it’s not to the degree of the deep fry method), nor do they make your house smell like burning fat for two days. And I’ve never met anyone who whined about being served French fries.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Appetizers: "Mascarpone" Torta

"Mascarpone" Torta

½ lb butter at room temperature
½ lb cream cheese at room temperature
2-3 tablespoons prepared pesto
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
French bread slices, to serve

  • Process cream cheese and butter in a food processor until smooth
  • Spread half of cream cheese mixture into a mold lined with damp cheesecloth
  • Spread pesto over cream cheese mixture, scatter with walnuts
  • Spread remaining cream cheese mixture over pesto and walnuts
  • Chill to set, unmold, serve with bread, toasts or crackers
Detailed Instructions
In the work bowl of a food processor or stand mixer (or in a regular bowl with a handheld mixer), combine the butter and cream cheese. Whir it around until they’re completely combined and quite soft. In the food processor the mixture will appear almost liquid as it flows around. That’s fine—you’re going to chill it back up in a few minutes.

Dampen and wring out a square of cheesecloth large enough to fit in your cake pan and fold over the top of the cheese. Drape the cloth over the pan and push it in a bit. Spoon about half of the cream cheese mixture into the pan and smooth it out. Carefully spread the pesto over the cheese. You want a nice layer of pesto, but it shouldn’t be thick. Just enough that each bite contains enough that the flavor comes through, and it’s obvious that it’s pesto. You want to leave as little border as possible—you don’t really want the pesto to show, but neither do you want the first few servings around the edge to be nothing but cream cheese mixture. Scatter the pesto with the chopped walnuts. Spoon the remaining cream cheese mixture over the pesto and walnut layer. This is where it gets a bit tricky, trying to smooth the cheese without disturbing the filling. Remember that what is the top right now will be the bottom, so any flubs won’t show when it’s turned out.

Fold the extra cheesecloth up over the top, press down gently, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to unmold, unfold cheesecloth and position a platter over the cheese. Flip the platter and pan over and lift off the pan. If it should resist at all, tug gently on the edges of the cheesecloth to loosen the cheese from the bottom of the pan. Remove the cheesecloth. You can serve it at once, or let it sit at room temperature for a half hour or so to soften up.

Slice French bread into rounds for spreading. Toast in a 350 degree oven until lightly crisped, if desired. I often just leave the bread plain. You can also serve this with water crackers.

Originally this was to be a, "What do you DO with all that basil?!" post, a suggestion to make pesto, and then this recipe. And that may still be your problem if you live in most of the United States, but if you live where I live, you're wondering not what to do with all that basil. No, you're wondering if you're ever going to have any basil at all ever pretty much as long as you live. Then you sigh. Then you go buy a tub of pesto to make this recipe. Which, to be fair, is pretty great, no matter what the weather.

This was something we used to make when I worked in catering. It serves a large number of people for a very low cost per person, and it can be made in a huge batch, so it’s not labor intensive. The hardest thing to do is slice (and toast, if desired) the bread. A food processor (or mixer) does all the work for the torta. It’s molded in a cake pan, so you can get fun with the shapes if you like. We used to make this in a heart shaped pan for weddings and decorate the platter with flowers. I have also used just a plain 9” round cake pan. I cut the usual recipe in half because it makes a simply enormous amount when you use the proportions we used in catering. It’s really enough for 30 or 40 people. This reduced version I made in 6” loaf pan and it was perfect for the 15-18 people I was entertaining. To serve the larger number, just double the butter and cream cheese, and increase the pesto and walnuts to get the same even coverage (you'll just about double them as well).

The name of this recipe is in quotes because there’s actually no mascarpone in it. Perhaps at one time it was all mascarpone (if you're not familiar with it, it's a soft cheese that’s sort of half way between ricotta and cream cheese, often found in tiramisu), but by the time this recipe made its way to me, it was completely devoid of it. Just as well—it’s a little pricey to use in this volume. If you have recently won the lottery, or inherited a substantial fortune, you might try using all mascarpone, but if you’re like the rest of us peasants, the (relatively) inexpensive ingredients here will work just fine.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Desserts: Strawberry Cream Cheese-Sour Cream Ice Cream

Strawberry Cream Cheese-Sour Cream Ice Cream

1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup granulated sugar
1- 8 ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup half and half
½ cup sour cream
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 ounce plain vodka

• Cook strawberries down with sugar until syrupy and soft, and cool
• Combine cream cheese, ½ & ½, sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla & salt in food processor until smooth
• Combine cream cheese mixture with strawberry mixture in a bowl
• Chill in an ice cream maker, adding vodka at the very end
• Spoon into containers and freeze until firm

Detailed Instructions
Combine strawberries and sugar in a small saucepan (I used a 2qt). Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. This will take about 5 minutes. The strawberries will end up swimming in a light syrup. At no point do you want the syrup to boil (you could end up with strawberries in caramel if you do, which probably wouldn’t be horrible, but I haven’t tested that); if you start to see lots of bubbles, turn the heat down slightly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries are soft, but not falling apart, another 3-5 minutes. Set aside and let cool until almost room temperature, about 10-25 minutes, while you make the cream cheese mixture. You don’t want it to be too warm when you add it to the ice cream maker, or it won’t set up properly.

In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and ½ & ½ and pulse until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary. With the motor on, add the heavy cream, sour cream, vanilla, and salt and process until well combined and smooth. You’ll have a very thick liquid, kind of like melted ice cream.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese mixture and the strawberry mixture. Stir well to combine. In an ice cream maker (I have the kind with a cylinder and a motor base) add the ice cream mixture to the cylinder and chill according to manufacturer’s instructions (mine calls for letting it run for about 15 minutes). Don’t worry if it’s not really ice creamy—it will firm up nicely in the freezer. In the last minute before you turn off the ice cream maker, add the vodka and let it blend through the ice cream.

Spoon the chilled ice cream into containers (I just use disposable plastic ones) and chill in the freezer for 4-6 hours or until set to desired consistency. You can take it out and stir it from time to time (you have the opportunity to lick the spoon you use for this when you do it), and once it reaches the consistency that you like, you can serve it. Because of the vodka it won’t freeze solidly. The ice cream will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator. Eventually it will start to form ice crystals and ice chunks. Eat it before that happens. I’m not worried about that, to be honest.

This is not an ice cream in the classic sense. That is, it doesn’t start with a cooked custard base. That’s a plus for me—I don’t have the patience to wait for a custard to cool overnight in the refrigerator, which is why I seldom make ice cream. This recipe is largely attributable to my friend Julie Tiramisu (as I think of her—she has a real last name, but she also has a degree in Pastry, so I think of her as Julie Tiramisu).
I first made this for Mother’s Day as a cream cheese-ice cream mixture. When I described it to Julie, she said, “I’d put some sour cream in it, but that’s what I do—I tweak recipes.” I said, “Me too,” and made a mental note. I jotted down some changes in my recipe book along the lines of switching out some of the ½ & ½ in the original recipe for sour cream and moved on.

Then my neighbor gave me some strawberries from her patch, because they were just rotting on the vine, she said. While the first use for them that came to mind was strawberry daiquiris, the strawberry ice cream recipe seemed more family friendly, so I went with that. The berries weren’t terribly big, but they had big flavor, so I used them, making the changes I’d noted to the recipe when Julie T and I had talked.

There are only a few words appropriate to describe the result, and all of them should be followed with exclamation points. Wow! Incredible! Amazing! You get the idea. The sour cream makes the ice cream silky, while the cream cheese adds that lovely tang. You’d think that was the sour cream that added the flavor twist, but having had it made with and without, I can assure you it’s not the sour cream that adds the zing—that’s the cream cheese—while the sour cream changes the consistency. The sour cream makes it taste like liquid pink silk. If it were possible I’d have a dress made out of this stuff, it’s so beautiful.

It’s nice to have it in the freezer for any time, but I did serve it as dessert on Mother’s Day with great success. Because homemade ice cream is somewhat out of the ordinary, it makes a nice “special occasion” dessert. When I took some over to the woman who gave me the strawberries in the first place, her whole family said, “You made it? You made ice cream?” People just don’t expect it, but it’s easy with an ice cream maker, and with a base like this, that doesn’t require overnight chilling, it’s right up my (impatient) alley.