I guess I’ll have to take the blame for Brion’s love of dessert. When we were first married years ago, he really didn’t care much about sweets. I, on the other hand, had grown up in a German family where every meal was finished with something sweet. It didn’t have to consist of anything more than a dish of vanilla pudding, but it was sweet and that’s what mattered. Funny how something like that can become so ingrained in your life. Of course, over time Brion has come to like dessert as much as I do, not really a good thing now that we are getting older … hmmm!
But I need to explain today’s decadent blog dessert. I just happens, we are celebrating Brion’s birthday so we are pulling out all the stops and having cheesecake! Of course, some of it will probably end up in the freezer but that works to.
Brion and I have never been much on giving each other ‘gifts’ for special occasions. Our time spent together ‘just living’, whether its at home or on a vacation has always been the best gift. Throughout our married life Brion has always gone above and beyond to look after us. I’m grateful to have the privilege of such a loving and caring husband.
So here we are, celebrating you, my love with rhubarb cheesecake and all the trimmings. Life is good!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY WITH LOVE!
Candied Rhubarb Curls
Make the simple syrup, combining the sugar & water in a small pot and heating until dissolved. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, add gel food coloring stirring to combine. Using a paring knife (or try a vegetable peeler), slice long, thin strips of rhubarb from the outer stalk. Soak the ribbons in the cooled simple syrup for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 F. Line or lightly grease a baking sheet. Lay each ribbon on the baking sheet. Bake until the ribbons have dried out. Note: they will still be sticky and flexible from the heat.
If you want to make curls, work with one or two ribbons at a time so the remaining ribbons can stay soft in the oven. Wrap each ribbon loosely around skewers or the handles of cooking utensils, and let dry for around 10 minutes before gently sliding the curled ribbons off.
Cook rhubarb, sugar & water. Simmer for 8 minutes over medium heat. Add in the cornstarch & cook 2 more minutes. Set aside to cool.
Beat together the cream cheese with icing sugar until smooth then add eggs. Try not to overmix at this point. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Line a 9-inch springform pan with foil paper. Crumble together butter, flour, oats, brown sugar & salt. Add two thirds of the mixture to springform pan & press firmly. Add walnuts to the remaining crumbs & set aside.
If using a silver springform pan, bake at 325 F. If using a dark nonstick springform pan, bake at 300 F. Bake bottom layer of crumbs for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, pour cheesecake mixture over the crust & spread with a spoon, being careful not to disturb the crust layer too much.
Spread the rhubarb mixture on top of the cheesecake.
Crumble the remaining crust/crumb mixture evenly over the top & lightly press down.
Bake until topping is golden brown & cheesecake is set, about 50 minutes.
Cool completely, then decorate with fresh strawberries, rhubarb curls, chocolate malt balls & silver sugar pearls or as you wish.
- You will have extra candied rhubarb to nibble on!
The small pleasures of life are found in the little things, in the landscape by the window, in the sky in spectacular colors, in the great sea that sends waves towards us, in a quiet strip of endless beach.
In people who make us smile, in people who understand us even without words, in dishes that go into the oven and create the most incredible smell throughout the house, in rolls of stuffed pasta that are slowly baked in the oven.
The little pleasures in life lie in the little things we almost always take for granted, just assuming they will always be there. Over the last number of years, it has come very clear to me there are so many ‘little’ things to appreciate and be grateful for daily. My sister, Loretta once said to me, ‘nothing ever stays the same’. At the time I was much younger and didn’t give much though to those words. As the years have passed, I understand what she meant.
Today, July 25th is Loretta’s birthday. I am very grateful to have her in my life. Although we don’t live in close proximity, our connection is always there.
I find this quote from Steven Aitchison so fitting, ‘If I could give you one special ability in life it would be the gift of seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you …. then you would realize just how amazing you truly are’.
Today, I am making a blueberry themed dessert in honor of Loretta’s birthday because she is a huge blueberry fan.
BIRTHDAY WISHES LORETTA WITH LOVE!
Lime Berry Tart
Preheat your oven to 375 F.
In your food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt & butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. This should only take about 30 seconds. Press the crumbly mixture into a 4 X 14-inch tart pan (making the sides slightly higher than the center. Do this by pressing the mixture up towards the edge of the pan).
Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are lightly golden brown. Make sure to watch it carefully to make sure the crust doesn’t burn. Once the crust has finished baking, remove it from the oven and set it aside to cool completely.
In a medium heatproof bowl, place eggs, sugar, lime zest, lime juice, and heavy cream, if using, & whisk to combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (bain-marie). Cook on moderate heat, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes thick (mine was ready in 10 minutes, but it can take up to 20). It should coat the back of a wooden spoon and leave a clear pass if you run your finger through it. The filling will thicken more once cooled.
Remove from heat & immediately strain mixture through a sieve. Add butter, a few cubes at a time, and whisk until completely melted and incorporated, and mixture is smooth. Take your time with it—the whisking makes for an airy and light texture. Allow to cool to room temperature before filling the tart.
Fill the tart shell with the lime filling, smooth it as best you can & decorate to your liking. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until chilled.
It’s summer and there’s nothing better than the simple sweetness of fresh fruit. Barbecues are the highlight of the season and no doubt you will be making numerous ‘cool’ desserts.
I realize fruit marinated in alcohol is not for just any barbecue, but if it fits the occasion, it adds a nice finishing touch. Marinating fruit in alcohol is nothing new. Many cuisines have special recipes that include dried fruits such as raisins, currants and prunes. You can create endless combinations using fresh fruit with wine, spirits or liqueurs. Of course, the added bonus is this dessert does not require you to turn on your oven.
Limoncello is a traditional digestif of southern Italy, where the lemon trees give an abundance of bright, yellow fruit. The drink concentrates the flavor of those fresh golden fruits, making it the perfect palate cleanser after a rich meal. If you wish, store it in the freezer and serve it over ice.
Fruit is thirsty stuff and will soak up basically any kind of wine or liqueur you chose to pour over it. Put together your own personal ‘magical’ concoction and enjoy!
Fruit Salad w/ Limoncello
In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, lemon curd, honey & vanilla; set aside at room temperature.
Prepare & carefully toss fruit together with sugar & limoncello. Allow them to stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes to let fruit macerate with sugar & liqueur.
Serve in dessert dishes with a dollop of lemon yogurt on top. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
- If limoncello isn't what you enjoy, other suggestions would be cognac, grand marnier, marsala or Kahlua.
While the origins of the black forest cake aren’t all that clear, some historians believe that its origins can be traced back to the Black Forest Region of Germany. This part of Germany is well known for its sour cherries and ‘Kirschwasser‘ … a clear cherry brandy.
This iconic creation is a layered confection of a liqueur ‘soaked’ chocolate cake with rich whipped cream and sour cherries between its layers. The liqueur and cherries give the cake an intense and unique fruity flavor. It’s these sour cherries which gave it its German name: Schwarzwald Kirsch Kuchen or Black Forest Cherry Cake.
There are many origin stories about the cake. Some sources claim that the name of the cake is inspired by the traditional custom of the women of the Black Forest region, with a characteristic hat with big red pom-poms on top called a ‘Bollenhut’. The earliest published written record of black forest cake was in 1934, by a German confectioner. Today, the cake is well known worldwide and probably one of the most popular cakes in Germany.
Since we just happen to have a nice little sour cherry tree growing in our garden, why not put some of them to good use in these cakes?!
Black Forest Desserts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cherry juice in the bottom of each of two 8-ounce ramekins. Microwave ramekins until butter and brown sugar are melted and bubbling, about 1 minute. Arrange cherries in a tightly packed layer in the bottom of each ramekin.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In another small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup brown sugar with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stir in egg yolk, then flour mixture and milk. Divide batter between ramekins.
Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out with only a few crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, beat cream, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and cherry brandy until soft peaks form. Run a paring knife around edge of each cake and invert onto a plate. Serve cakes with brandy whipped cream.
- Kirschwasser is German for 'Cherry Water', and while it may be as clear as water, it packs quite a punch. This double distilled brandy made from the sour Morello cherries is, more often than not, simply referred to a Kirsch. This 'not too sweet with a subtle cherry/almond flavored' liqueur is a vitally necessary ingredient to make a traditional Black Forest Cake; for that is where both the cake and Kirschwasser hail from... The Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, in southwestern Germany.
Strawberry-rhubarb … raspberry-peach … blackberry-plum … the possibilities for combining summer fruit in amazing ways are truly endless. I’ve recently became aware of the apricot, strawberry & rhubarb combination. This combo had never occurred to me, superseded as it is by the mighty strawberry/rhubarb duo.
Fruit tarts are stunning desserts that look like they should be in a French bakery window, but the truth is they can easily made at home. This super simple, mixed fruit tart with an oat pastry really celebrates the flavors of the season.
Apricot Strawberry-Rhubarb Tart
In a bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, spices & salt. Add melted butter & vanilla; stir to combine. Press 2/3 of mixture onto the bottom & up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan; set aside.
Prepare fruit & place in a mixing bowl; add the orange juice, vanilla, sugar & spices. Stir to coat & set aside.
Pour the fruit over crumble mixture; sprinkle the rest of the crumble around the outside of the fruit.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until crust turns golden brown. Serve warm or cold.
There’s just something incredibly refreshing about pineapple tarts with their tangy, bright, acidic flavor nestled in shortbread crusts. Adding meringue puts a tropical twist on the classic meringue pie making them a perfect summer treat.
When it comes to making meringue, simple ingredients and instructions can lull you into thinking preparation is quick and easy. Make it once under the wrong conditions, however, and you may quickly change your mind.
Meringue is temperamental. Getting it right can be a tricky process. Weeping meringues aren’t very pretty. The meringue pulls back from the crust, moisture beads on the topping, and a clear liquid forms below the crust. It doesn’t hurt the pie but it’s not presentable.
Years ago, when I worked in the commercial food industry, I started using the idea of adding cornstarch to meringue to help stabilize it. Cornstarch is especially helpful in hot, humid weather when a meringue is most likely to absorb extra moisture.
The science behind this ‘secret ingredient‘ is that cornstarch is composed of long molecules that it is believed insert themselves between egg white proteins to prevent them from clotting too much while meringue is baking. Corn starch molecules also provide more hold for meringue. It will be easier to cut and is less likely to weep.
Brion & I are not crazy about meringue but do enjoy it for a treat once in a while.
Pineapple Meringue Tarts
In a bowl combine butter & sugar; beat until light & fluffy. In another bowl whisk together flour & baking powder; add to butter/sugar mixture. Blend together. Divide pastry between 6 individual tart pans. Using your fingertips, evenly press the dough into pans. Place on a baking sheet & blind bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
In a saucepan, combine cornstarch & sugar. Gradually add water, stirring until mixture is smooth. Add lemon zest & undrained pineapple. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture starts to boil. Reduce heat, boil 2 minutes while continuing to stir. Remove from heat, quickly stir in butter & egg yolks blending well. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
In a small saucepan, combine water & cornstarch. Heat & stir until it boils & thickens. Cool thoroughly.
Beat egg whites & salt until a stiff froth. Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff & sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla & cornstarch mixture. Beat until blended & stiff.
Divide pineapple filling between tart shells. Pipe meringue over tarts sealing to edges. If not sealed well, meringue will shrink when cool. Bake in 350 F. oven about 10 minutes until golden. Cool away from drafts.
Rhubarb is the rebel of the vegetable world. It looks like celery, tastes like sour candy, its leaves are poisonous and unlike most spring and summer produce, its barely edible raw. With such a feisty personality, its no wonder some are intimidated to cook it.
More than any other fruit or vegetable, rhubarb to me is the sign of the changing season. It is the signal that summer is arriving in those ruby red or speckled green & pink stalks. I snap up what I can in the garden and when I see it at the supermarket. I take all I can and more, slicing and freezing the excess for rhubarb cravings that come in winter.
Year-round, I save rhubarb recipe ideas I hope to make once I get my hands on the first stalks of the season. No summer would be complete without cinnamon rhubarb bread …. still warm from the oven and the heavenly smell of cinnamon in the air!
Cinnamon Roll Rhubarb Bread
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except vanilla & food color. Heat to medium high & stir occasionally until rhubarb begins to break down completely. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla & food coloring; allow to cool to room temperature.
In a small dish, combine yeast with lukewarm water & 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Allow to sit for a few minutes until frothy.
In a large bowl, slightly melt butter; cool a couple of minutes then whisk in egg. In another bowl, whisk together flour, salt & remaining sugar. Add yeast mixture to butter mixture, whisking together. Add flour mixture, combine then turn on a floured work surface & knead for about 5 minutes. Dough will be very soft but not sticky.
Lightly grease bowl, place dough ball in it & cover with a towel. Place in a draft-free place & allow to rise for about 20 minutes. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan; set aside
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface & press down to deflate it. Fold in the two opposite sides to meet in the middle, then fold in the remaining two sides to meet, so that you've formed the dough into a square. Press down to flatten it slightly, then cover loosely and let stand for 10 minutes
With a floured rolling pin, rolling the dough to form a rectangle that's 12 by 22 inches. Make the corners as square as possible. If you're having trouble with the dough shrinking back, pause briefly before trying again.
Spread rhubarb/cinnamon filling over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Now fold the two long sides of the dough in one at a time, so that the meet each other in the middle. Pinch them together gently to seal the seam. Gently roll over the surface with a rolling pin to flatten the folded dough to about 7 by 25 inches.
Starting at the narrow end, roll up the dough, making a thick spiral. When you get to the end, brush a little egg wash on the loaf at the spot where the end will hit. Pinch the end a bit to seal it.
Carefully & gently place the roll, seam side-down in the buttered pan. The roll of dough should nearly fill it. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap & place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for about 25-30 minutes, until almost doubled & about 2 inches above the top of the pan. Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks so that you have one rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven.
Lightly brush remaining egg wash over loaf & bake for about 20 minutes. You may need to cover the top loosely with aluminum foil towards the end of baking to prevent over-browning. Bake until the loaf, when removed from the pan, sounds hollow when tapped with your fingertips. Cool on a rack.
Make glaze by whisking together 2 Tbsp rhubarb filling, 1 cup powdered sugar, and enough lemon juice to make the glaze pourable (1-2 tbsp should do it). When bread has slightly cooled, drizzle with glaze if desired.
Glazed fresh fruit tart looks so elegant and summer-ish. They are the perfect dessert, whether your meal is casual or formal. In some ways, I guess its a version of a fruit pizza.
Apart from the fresh fruit and glaze, pastry cream adds a nice base to the tart. A custard pudding hybrid, pastry cream is used for ‘filling’, in the cold form, not as a pudding. Widely used to fill desserts like napoleons, cakes, cream puffs, tarts, etc.
To define, pastry cream is basically custard thickened with cornstarch and has a higher stability as compared to custard puddings which use just eggs to achieve their creamy texture. Vanilla is the classic flavor because it has to complete other flavors of the dessert. Pure vanilla is always best as the artificial flavorings add bitter taste profiles. In addition, some alcoholic desserts use pastry cream mixed with rum.
This tart has a layer of vanilla pastry cream, topped with raspberries and blueberries then brushed with an apricot glaze.
Berry Custard Tart
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the milk & 1/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks & egg. Stir together the remaining sugar & cornstarch; then stir them into the egg until smooth. When the milk comes to a boil, drizzle it into the bowl in a thin stream while mixing so that you don't cook the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan; slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly so the eggs don't curdle or scorch on the bottom.
When the mixture comes to a boil & thickens, remove from the heat. Stir the butter & vanilla, mixing until the butter is completely blended in. Pour into a heat proof container & place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled then beat until smooth with an electric mixer before using.
Other Prep Work
Line an oblong tart pan with thawed puff pastry. The short ends of the pastry should be even with the bottom of the pan but the long sides should come up to the top of pan sides. With a sharp knife, score the long sides where the sides meet the bottom of pan. Do not cut all the way through. Pierce the center of the pastry with a fork. Whisk together the egg and milk. Brush the edges of the pastry shell with the egg wash.
Bake the pastry shell for 15-20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool completely. If needed, press the center down lightly to create an indentation. Cool while preparing filling.
Rinse & carefully dry fruit on paper towels. In a small blender, puree apricot preserves with water or liqueur until smooth.
Place smooth pastry cream in a piping bag with a large flat tip. Carefully pipe pastry cream in long strips to cover the bottom ONLY of the puff pastry shell.
Arrange a row of raspberries down both sides of the tart; close to the edge & close to each other. Using a long straight edge helps to place the fruit in an even line.
To 1/3 of the apricot glaze add some red food coloring to help accent the natural color of the raspberries. Apply a couple of light coats of the glaze carefully to the raspberries.
Fill the center of the area with blueberries, being careful to distribute evenly in rows. Using the remainder of the un-colored apricot glaze, give several light coats to blueberries. Chill until ready to serve.
Limoncello, (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) the Italian lemon liqueur, is known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol and sugar. Although, traditionally served as an after dinner drink, it is a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking and baking.
Families have passed down recipes for limoncello for generations, as every Italian family has their own recipe. In the winter of 2013, Brion and I spent some time travelling Italy. It was in Sorrento where we tasted limoncello for the first time and loved it. As we walked through the quaint artisan shops packed together onto a maze of medieval alleys, we came across one that sold liqueurs & confectionery. One of the treats that they made were limoncello sugar coated almonds … to die for!
Limoncello origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks or nuns while others credit the wealthy Amalfi Coast families or even local townsfolk. In any case, its roots are in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine Peninsula known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons are considered the finest lemons for making limoncello. Prized for their yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid.
Today, I’m using limoncello not only in the cake but the glaze as well. This is definitely a refreshing cake, great for a summer picnic or dinner.
Glazed Limoncello Cakes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with cooking spray or baking pans of your choice.
Whisk sour cream, white sugar, canola oil, eggs, 3 tablespoons limoncello, and lemon zest together in a large bowl.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in another bowl. Add flour mixture to sour cream mixture; stir with a wooden spoon until batter is just combined. Pour batter into prepared cake pan or pans.
Bake for about 35 minutes OR until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake(s) in the pan for 5 minutes.
Whisk powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons limoncello liqueur together in a bowl until glaze is thin and smooth. Drizzle glaze over the top of the cake. Cool cake completely before serving. Top with a bit of whipped cream if desired.
- You may need a bit more glaze if you have made individual cakes as I did here.