Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

My coconut conversion:

Chocolate Dipped Macaroons - Gluten Free!

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the promising chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a chewy, shredded, nutty interior, that in, my opinion, had no rightful place in a chocolate bar. It was clearly the texture that I did not like. I was mystified by my friends, who bought super-sized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we went to the movies. Every Halloween, when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating and eyeing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to offer up with no regrets. Sadly, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

As a parent, it baffled me that my children loved coconut. But as chief cookie baker, I stepped up to the plate and used coconut more and more freely in bars, cakes, and cookies. And, you know what? I, too, developed a fondness for this tropical “nut,” appreciating its flaky fresh and nutty interruption like a cool breeze in a sea of sugar. I guess you could say I grew up.

I eat coconut now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best juicy-soft interior, which is what prevents dryness and distinguishes a great macaroon. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened, which I find reduces some of the cloyness, and add a whiff of almond extract. Oh, and I always give them a generous dunk in dark chocolate, which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes about 24

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
7 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark (70%) chocolate

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine the milk, coconut, vanilla, and almond extract in a large bowl and stir to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the coconut.
4. Drop heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut, about 1 1/2 inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake on the two center shelves in the oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets to ensure even baking. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
5. While the cookies are cooking, melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water over low heat, stirring until smooth. Dip one half of each macaroon in the melted chocolate and transfer to a board or platter lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set. Store at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Blood Orange Crostate with Salted Caramel Sauce

When Imperfect Desserts are Perfect:

Blood Orange Crostata with Caramel Sauce

When it comes to baking, I like my desserts messy – which is to say that I like desserts that are free-form, imprecise, and often referred to as “rustic.” Thank goodness for the generations of country kitchens which devised homey, family-style, and more-ish desserts. Often involving fruit and usually containing folksy and forgiving words such as crumble, slump, crisp, and fool, these desserts revel in imprecision, delightfully embracing dribbles, lopsidedness, and even mistakes (tarte tatin, we are looking at you). Sure, some technique is involved, but the overriding rule is a relaxed un-fussiness with a big helping of simplicity. Bring on the mess.

Blood Orange Crosatas

Which brings me to these *slightly* disheveled crostatas (actually, I believe that’s crostate in the plural). Citrus is abundant right now, and with that comes the ruby blood orange. Sweet and tart, murky and winey, the blood orange is more nuanced than its navel counterpart, and its brilliant hue is a sight to behold when presented in desserts. I bought a bag of these oranges this past weekend, and made this recipe. It takes inspiration from a recipe I found years ago on The Kitchn, to which I’ve added my own tweaks – including a sour cream crust and a luscious salted caramel sauce for drizzling.

Blood Orange Crostate with Salted Caramel Sauce

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time
Makes 8 (4-inch) crostate

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut in cubes
1/2 cup sour cream

For the filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 navel oranges, skin and pith cut away, sliced crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick
3 blood oranges, skin and pith cut away, seeded and sliced crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick, each slice cut into 3 to 4 sections
1 egg beaten
8 teaspoons demarra sugar, for sprinkling

1. Make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse to achieve a crumbly consistency. Add the sour cream and pulse a few times until the dough just begins to stick together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
3. Whisk the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a small bowl to lighten and combine.
4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll out each portion in a circle about 6 inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Place a tablespoon of mascarpone in the center of the dough, spreading it slightly, while keeping about 1 inch clear around the border of the dough. Place a navel orange slice in the center. Top with 3 to 4 blood orange sections. Fold the exposed edges of the dough in around the oranges, shaping and pinching to create a rim of crust (the centers will still be exposed). Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment and repeat this process with the remaining dough.
5. Brush the pastry dough with the egg and sprinkle each crostata with about 1 teaspoon demarra sugar. Transfer to the oven and bake until the crusts are firm to the touch and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe below).

Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1 cup sauce

1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons European-style unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon fleur de sel sea salt flakes, such Maldon

1. Pour the sugar into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar melts, whisking occasionally and swirling the pan to ensure even cooking. The sugar may clump, but that’s ok – keep stirring until it melts. When the sugar is the color of dark amber, carefully whisk in the butter (it will foam).
2. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the cream (it will foam again) and whisk until smooth. Add the salt. Cool for about 10 minutes and then pour into a glass jar and cool to room temperature. The sauce may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Holiday Prep: Orange Olive Oil Cake with Almonds and Cardamom

An easy holiday cake perfect for any time of day:

Orange Cardamom Tea Cake

This light and moist cake will carry you through the holidays, and, for that matter, any day. Redolent with orange and cardamom and slightly spiked with Gran Marnier, it’s delicious for brunch or afternoon tea and spiffy enough for dessert. Almond flour adds a slight nuttiness and wholesome crumb to the cake. And do not skimp on the orange zest, as it adds an important zing of citrus and fragrance. The sea salt is optional in the glaze, but if you lean that way, go for it. The flavors of the cake will develop while it cools and the glaze will ensure long lasting moistness, which makes this cake an entertainer’s best friend. Store the cake at room temperature for up to 3 days, but it will likely be eaten long before that.

Orange Olive Oil Cake with Almonds and Cardamom

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour plus cooling time
Serves 8 to 10

Cake:
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon (packed) finely grated orange zest, from an untreated orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
Pinch of sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch spring-form pan, line with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color. Add the olive oil, orange juice, zest, vanilla and almond extracts and stir to blend.
3. Combine the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and salt in a separate bowl. Add to the wet ingredients, stirring to blend without over-mixing. Pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes clean, about 45 minutes.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Combine the sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan. Simmer until the sugar dissolves and the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the Gran Marnier, if using, and sea salt and simmer briefly, about 1 minute, stirring frequently.
6. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the top with the glaze and cool 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and then brush the cake on the sides with the glaze. Cool completely.
7. Serve dusted with confectioners sugar and/or with whipped cream. If desired, add a tablespoon of the (thoroughly cooled) glaze to the cream while whipping.

Black-and-Blueberry Clafoutis

Got berries? Make a clafoutis:

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

If you have more fresh summer berries than you know what to do with (this is a good problem) then here’s a great way to add them to a dessert. Clafoutis (clah-FOO-tee) is a French flan-like dessert. It’s light and elegant with a baked custardy batter streaked and studded with fruit. It’s also a perfect lazy-cook recipe that is whipped up with little effort and a simple list of ingredients. You can get creative with how you present clafoutis. Bake it family-style in a tart or shallow gratin dish, or for dinner-party fun, divide it between individual ramekins. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the vessel you use, so simply bake the clafoutis until the top is tinged golden and the custard is set. This can take up to 45 minutes for a tart or 25 minutes for ramekins. Feel free to mix and match your berries. This recipe uses a combination of blueberries and blackberries. Raspberries and cherries are also delicious.

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 55 minutes
Makes six (6-ounce) or one (10-inch) clafoutis

Unsalted softened butter for greasing the pans
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces fresh blueberries
6 ounces fresh blackberries
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups half and half
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter six (6-ounce) shallow ramekins (or one (10-inch) ceramic tart pan). Sprinkle the ramekins with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and tap out any excess. Place the ramekins on a baking tray. Arrange the berries in one layer in the ramekins.

2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the half and half, flour, lemon zest, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt until just combined.

3. Pour the mixture over fruit. Transfer the clafoutis to the oven and bake until the top is tinged golden brown and the custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes for the ramekins (or 40 to 45 minutes for the tart pan). Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

4. Before serving, sprinkle the clafoutis with powdered sugar and garnish with additional lemon zest. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Chocolate Stout Pound Cake with Whiskey Cream

Luscious and rich chocolate stout cake

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, chances are you have a few bottles of Guinness Stout laying about. As the saying goes, when life hands you lemons you make lemonade. So when life hands you Guinness Stout, you should absolutely drink the stout – but be sure to set  a bottle aside to make this cake. This recipe yields one hefty cake, or 12 individual mini-cakes. It’s moist, tender, and lusciously dark. The stout disappears into the background of this rich cake, while grounding it in an adult sort of way, cutting the sweetness and mingling with the slightly bitter chocolate. If you’re feeling especially indulgent (and lucky), serve it with a dollop of whiskey-laced whipped cream.

Chocolate Stout Pound Cake with Whiskey Cream

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Makes 1 large pound cake or bundt cake  (or 12 mini-bundt cakes)

Cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup stout beer, such as Guinness
12 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream

Whiskey Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Irish Whiskey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and line a large loaf pan with parchment. Butter the parchment paper. If using a bundt pan or mini-bundt pans, butter the pans.
2. Heat the butter and stout in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the dark chocolate and stir until smooth.
3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
4. Whisk the eggs and sugar until light. Whisk in the sour cream and add to the chocolate. Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine without over-mixing.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan or mini-bundt pans. Place on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake until the cake is set and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes clean, 55 to 60 minutes for a large cake or 25 minutes for mini-cakes. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Turn the cake out onto the rack and cool completely.
6. Before serving, make the whipped cream. Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are visible. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to whip until soft peaks form. Cut the cake into serving pieces and serve with the whipped cream.

Very Lemony Lemon Bars

Bring a ray of sunshine to your plate with these bright and puckery lemon bars:

Lemon Bars with Sea Salt

‘Tis the season for lemons. Late winter offers up bushels of citrus, which transform into light and lovely desserts, such as these lemon bars. Whether you are knee deep in snow or lucky enough to live where lemons grow on trees, these lemon bars will bring a ray of sunshine to your plate.

The key to a good lemon bar, in my book, is that the filling must be intensely lemony, packing a wallop of tartness with just enough sugar, but not so sweet that it’s cloying. Picture a zingy, sweet and tart filling rippled with lemon zest, anchored to a buttery shortbread crust. The final touch is a smidge of sea salt, which keeps the sweetness in check and allows the pucker-y lemon to shine through. These bars are thoroughly addictive and guaranteed to brighten your day. One bar will never be enough.

Lemon Bars with Sea Salt

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Makes 32 (2-inch) square bars

Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool, cut into cubes

Filling:
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Garnish:
Confectioners sugar
Sea salt flakes, such as Maldon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, then line the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Combine the shortbread ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until the dough resembles coarse lumps and just begins to come together. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and, with your fingers, evenly press the dough to cover the bottom of the pan.
3. Bake the crust until it just begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, but do not turn off the oven heat.
4. Whisk the filling ingredients together in a large bowl until blended, then evenly pour over the crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is set but not coloring, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack.
5. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and lightly sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving.

Strawberry Cake and TasteFood News

strawberry cake tastefoodIt’s almost summer, and we deserve cake.

I am so excited to share with you 2 pieces of good news about TasteFood. It’s been a little quiet here on the blog lately, in large part due to 3 book projects I’ve been busy working on. I am happy to announce that the first book The Little Pink Book of Rosé, is now available for pre-order! It’s a light and sparkly little gift book, filled with quips, quotes and fun facts about rosé (my favorite summer wine), as well as 20 sweet, savory, and drinkable rosé recipes which I developed.

Now for the second piece of big news: As of June 8, TasteFood will be a syndicated weekly column coming to a newspaper near you! This means that you will be able to read TasteFood in many of your local papers throughout the U.S. each week. Once the dust settles, I’ll be developing a newsletter that will tie in news about my cookbooks, blog, and column. Finally and most importantly, I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment, ask questions, let me know about recipes, cuisines, or cooking topics you would like to read about, either here on the blog or the email address provided in my column – your feedback is highly valued!

So, now it’s time for cake…

Strawberry Cake

While nothing beats fresh sun-sweetened strawberries, au natural or swiped through a dollop of whipped cream, put aside a pint or two to make this simple cake. It’s light and simple, gently sweetened and generously studded with as many strawberries you can fit. I halved the jumbo-sized strawberries in the pictured cake, but recommend quartering them if very large, so they’ll begin to break down while baking, making a luscious juicy mess. Serves 6 to 8.

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, divided
1 pound strawberries, halved – or quartered if very large

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180C). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) pie or gratin dish.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Combine the butter and the 3/4 cup sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extracts, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Add the flour and mix to thoroughly combine without over-mixing. 4. Pour  the batter into the prepared dish and spread evenly. Arrange the strawberries, cut-sides down, on top of the batter, gently pressing to partially submerge. Squeeze in as many strawberries as possible – it’s ok to be greedy – and reserve the rest for serving. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 1 tablespoon sugar.
5. Bake the cake until the top is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Cool slightly and serve lukewarm or at room temperature with whipped cream and extra strawberries (if you haven’t already eaten them!)