Baking & Desserts

Dishes that were popular and now out of favor are finding their way back into my kitchen.  For a while I was nuts over savory soufflés (never much liked the sweet variety) and for a short time several summers ago I revived the classic quiche to serve to lunch guests on  North Haven.  But most recently my attention has turned to popovers.

Popovers fresh out of the oven.

It’s a bread that’s in a class of its own. They’re really the American version of Yorkshire pudding that relies on an egg and milk batter that rises magically in the oven without any leavening whatsoever.

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Pudding cakes are an alchemy of baking, a luscious dessert that has two layers: a creamy pudding underneath crowned by a sponge cake that rises like a soufflé.

It takes minutes to prepare and the one featured here is a lemon pudding cake.  The batter has just few ingredients: egg yolks, whipped whites, melted butter,  flour, sugar, lemon and milk.  Voila! It puffs up in the baking leaving behind a luscious pudding underneath.

Serve the lemon pudding cake warm or refrigerate and serve chilled with whipped cream

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The world of cobblers has many variations: biscuit, pastry or crumble toppings.  Then there’s the batter- dipped cobbler in which a simple batter is prepared and the fruit of choice is added on top.

The batter is put into a baking pan where a good amount of butter has been melted in the oven until both the dish and butter is hot so that when you add the batter it swells up; then you add the fruit and bake.

Peach cobbler

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With our farmers’ markets going full force rippling with tomatoes, corn, berries, fruits and every kind of harvested vegetable able to grow well enough in our climate, I look specifically at what I can use to make this–the quintessential summer cobbler with fruit, berries or a mixture.

Defining what a cobbler is can be tricky business.  In strict culinary parlance, it’s basically stewed fruit topped with a kind of drop-biscuit dough and baked.

Two types of peach cobbler: crunchy (left) and classic


But what also doubles in cobbler-speak are preparations like pandowdy, grunt, slump and sonker, which is a deep-dish pie unique to North Carolina country cooking.

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If there’s one dessert to make with strawberries, it’s this silken strawberry-rich pie with its distinctive addition of cream that lines the bottom of the pastry case before putting in the cooked jam-like strawberry filling.

I found the recipe in the excellent cookbook “The Farm” by Ian Knauer.  The recipes are a mix of the author’s old-family recipes and Knauer’s many years as food editor of Gourmet Magazine.

There are many versions of no-bake strawberry pie.  It generally employs the technique of crushing a portion of the berries and mixing in fresh strawberries enriched with sugar and cornstarch that cook until the mixture is clear and thick.

Cream Cheese Strawberry Pie

For the cream cheese filling (the cream cheese must be at room temperature) I used Casco Bay Butter company’s cream cheese, which is wonderfully rich and creamy.  I haven’t seen it at stores but found it at the Brunswick Farmer’s Market at Crystal Springs.


Strrawberries from Fairwinds Farm

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Two stars of the spring growing season—asparagus and rhubarb–are in high supply at farmers’ markets. Rhubarb especially is so versatile in sauces and desserts, and  at this time  of year I always start the flow of pies, crisps, cakes and breads where rhubarb is the main ingredient.

Rhubarb cream pie

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What’s often referred to as Old-Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a reference that I’ve seen many times in my collection of southern cookbooks.  They never interested me since they seemed like such old-lady cookies, the kind perched on the edge of a cup and saucer of tea. I’m not a tea drinker, though I realize that pairing the cookie with it is more a state of mind than a definitive combination.

Tea cakes

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It seemed so comforting to make this wonderfully rich, sweet cake as we got pelted by snow and ice earlier this week. It’s a messy cake to prepare: lots of  sifting of flour, powdery confectioner’s sugar, brown sugar and  tons of butter. Sometimes I use equal amounts of light-brown and dark-brown sugar (for ease of preparation weigh the two sugars to equal 430 grams or 14 ounces instead of packing them  into 2 measuring cups).

Pineapple upside-down cake

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Lemon meringue pie is one of the hallmarks of the American dessert repertoire. It’s not that difficult to make, though its three elements require care of preparation. For starters, use a rich, flaky pastry dough (see link for my flaky pastry dough recipe). This needs to be baked blind. Second step is the lemon custard filling. It’s thickened with cornstarch and flour so that when you add egg yolks to cook, the yolks when simmered to thicken won’t curdle because the flour and cornstarch prevent this. Then there’s the meringue.

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When the New York Times food pages ran an article (4/08/15) on the family recipes from poet Tracy K. Smith, it included one for pound cake and another for Alabama Lemon Cheese Cake. I was drawn to the pound cake recipe immediately because it sounded so good and I love pound cake.  The recipe was written with the Times‘ relatively new practice of giving both metric and traditional cup measures. I  made the cake  using the gram measurements.

The cake turned out to be one of the best versions of pound cake.  It was extremely buttery, dense and rich, improving in flavor the more it stayed in a covered cake dome on the counter. I published my version here last year, giving the ingredients in weight  as well as the cup measures.

My original pound cake adaptation using gram measurements

I made the cake many times since. Then I finally noticed a disparity in the Times’ calculation of equivalent measures of cups and grams.  Both the flour and sugar gram/cup equivalents were way wrong.

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