Strawberry Crisp with Orange and Cardomom

Save some strawberries for this dessert crisp:
Strawberry Crisp with Orange and Cardamom

Now that it’s officially June, I am obsessed with strawberries. When June rolls around, I behave as though I haven’t seen a strawberry since, well, forever. Full disclosure: I live in California (a.k.a. the land of strawberries), so this is not the actual case. However this hoarding reflex – which I fully embrace – originated when I lived in Denmark, and I’m sticking to it.

Danish strawberry season is fleeting and fickle. If you are lucky, the season cooperates and strawberries will grow, almost before your eyes. It’s a window of time when there’s no holding back; when the name of the game is to gorge on the berries while you can, ever aware that this moment will soon pass. Any surplus that you can’t devour (bless you) or bake into a nightly rotation of berry-full desserts, are frozen and preserved for later consumption as a nostalgic taste of summer sunshine during the dark winter months.

Now that I live in California and there’s less urgency in stocking up on these summery berries, I still revel in the memory and indulge in over-consumption. And when I’ve tired of stuffing my face with fresh berries, I add them to easy desserts, such as this fruit crisp.

Strawberry Crisp with Orange and Cardamom

Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 to 65 minutes, plus cooling time
Serves: 6 to 8

Topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped almonds (optional)

Filling:
2 pounds strawberries, hulled, halved if small, quartered if large
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of salt

  1. Make the topping: Combine the flour, sugars, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt in bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the topping resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the almonds, if using. Cover the bowl and chill until use. (The topping may be made up to one day in advance.)
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Combine all of the filling ingredients together in a bowl and gently stir to combine. Spoon the filling into an 8 by 8-inch baking dish or 6 to 8 individual ramekins. Evenly cover with the topping. Transfer to the oven and bake until the top is golden and the fruit is bubbling, 45 to 50 minutes for the baking dish, 30 to 35 minutes for the ramekins. Remove from the oven and cool to lukewarm or room temperature before serving, to allow the flavors to develop. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Brown Butter Toffee Bars

Sometimes, only chocolate isn’t enough.Brown Butter Toffee Bars

These golden blondies include chopped toffee and browned butter which makes for a sweet and very butterscotchy bar. Browning the butter is a technique that tips these bars to sublime. It’s easy to brown butter: Simply melt and simmer the butter until it turns a deep amber color and has a toasty, nutty aroma. This step takes minutes, so it’s important to keep an eye on the butter while it browns, as it can change quickly from light to dark. It’s a step worth doing, and a wonderful addition to your favorite cookies and bars. You’re welcome.

Brown Butter Toffee Bars

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes about 25 (1 1/2-inch) bars

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melt and brown, cool
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped toffee bars, about 5 ounces
1/2 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate, about 2 ounces
Sea salt for sprinkling, optional

1. Melt the butter in a medium heavy-bodied saucepan over medium heat, whisking frequently. Continue to heat the melted butter until it begins to foam and then subsides, 4 to 5 minutes. Continue to cook until the butter has a deep amber color with a nutty, toasted aroma. (Keep a careful eye on the butter, since it can quickly go from brown to burnt.) When the butter has browned, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a heat-resistant bowl to stop the cooking process. Cool completely. (At this point, you can use the butter as-is, or strain the butter through a cheesecloth or fine-mesh strainer to remove the brown bits. I like to keep the brown bits for extra flavor.)

2. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch baking ban and line with parchment.

3. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl

4. Whisk the sugars, egg, and yolk in a large bowl until light, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the cooled butter and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour and stir to combine. Stir in the toffee and chocolate.

5. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with sea salt, if using. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden and a toothpick inserted comes clean, about 30 minutes. Cool completely on a rack. Cut into squares.

Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

An all-day cake, because we need this:

Gluten free Lemon, Polenta, Olive Oil Cake

Let’s be honest, we can all do with a little pick-me-up. This lemony olive oil and polenta cake will help. Whether you call it breakfast, snack, or dessert, it’s a guaranteed sweet break that you deserve to take any time of the day. This cake is also gluten-free, thanks to the almond meal and polenta, which give it a nutty and slightly crunchy texture. Drenched in lemon syrup, each bite is a burst of citrusy sunshine.

The only tricky issue with this cake is that it tastes even better the day after baking, once it’s had time to sit and soak with the syrup and develop in flavor. So, the only challenge you may face is waiting, or at least saving some of it for later. To store, wrap it tightly in plastic and let stand at room temperature overnight (perhaps out of sight). Of course, if you can’t wait, that’s entirely understandable. No judging, friends.

Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes 1 (8-inch) cake

Cake:
1 1/2 cups almond meal (or almond flour)
1 cup fine or medium-grain polenta or cornmeal – see note below
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon almond extract

Syrup:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch spring-form pan and line with parchment.
2. Combine the almond meal, polenta, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk to blend.
3. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color, about 2 minutes. Mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine without over-mixing.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes clean, 45 to 50 minutes. If the cake begins to brown on top before finished baking, loosely cover with foil.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat over medium heat, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
6. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the top with some of the syrup and cool 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and brush the cake on the sides with the syrup. Cool completely. (You may not use all of the syrup.)
7. Serve as-is or with a dusting of powder sugar and/or candied lemon peel. To store, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze for up to one month.

Note: This recipe specifies polenta, which varies in texture, from fine to coarse. I used Bob’s Red Mill Polenta, which is coarser and gives a slight crunch to the cake. If you prefer a softer texture, use a fine-grained polenta or cornmeal.

Flourless Double Chocolate Cake

The quintessential little black dress of cakes:

Gluten-free Double Chocolate Cake

A flourless chocolate cake is the “must-have” dessert in your recipe repertoire. Minimal, simple and universally pleasing, it’s a classic for all occasions. And, short of intravenous therapy, it’s one of the most intense forms of chocolate consumption you will experience. A tiny sliver of this luscious, gluten-free cake goes a long way (or maybe not, depending on your will-power).

Since the cake is flourless, it demands a very short list of ingredients, which means that the spotlight is rightly on the chocolate. Don’t skimp in this department. Choose the best quality dark (70-72%) chocolate you can lay your hands on, because it makes all the difference, and you will be rewarded with a stunning cake. Like the go-to black dress, you can keep it simple or accessorize it with extra bling. Serve it “naked” with a dusting of powder sugar, or, for more sparkle, you can wrap it in a shiny sheen of chocolate glaze. Either way, feel free to serve the cake with gently sweetened whipped cream, which adds a cooling ethereal contrast to the inky chocolate wedge. And if fresh strawberries are available, for goodness sake, don’t hold back.

Glazed Flourless Chocolate Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake; serves 8 to 10

Cake:
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
12 ounces high-quality dark chocolate (70-72%), chopped
1 cup / 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze:
4 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dark corn syrup

Whipped cream and fresh strawberries, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch diameter spring-form pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder and tap out the excess.
2. Combine the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and smooth and remove from the heat.
3. Beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a large clean bowl and then stir in the melted chocolate, vanilla, and salt.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With the machine running, add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until medium-firm peaks form. Stir in 1/4 of the egg whites to the chocolate to blend, and then gently fold in the remaining whites, in 2 additions, without over-mixing. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
5. Bake until the top of the cake is slightly puffed and cracked and a knife inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan. (If desired, the cake can be served unglazed at this point. Dust with powder sugar before serving.)
6. To make the glaze, place the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just reaches a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Keep warm.
7. Remove the side of the cake pan, invert the cake onto a plate, and discard the parchment. Pour the glaze over the center of the cake. Spread the glaze over the top and down the sides of the cake, using an off-set spatula to smooth the glaze. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 10 minutes.
8. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

An elegant do-ahead dessert, perfect for a party:
Light and Luscious Semifreddo with Orange and Almonds

Are you still unsure of what to make for a party dessert this season? Try making this light and luscious semifreddo, topped with a compote of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine. Semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, and in this preparation, it’s flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is light and luscious, melting on the tongue in an airy poof. For a little extra sweetness (it’s the holidays, after all) a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.

The beauty of this recipe is that each component may be prepared at least a day in advance, so all that you need to do is assemble it when you are ready to serve, which is a perfect gift to the cook when entertaining.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Fig Compote

Active Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and freezing time
Serves 8

Semifreddo:
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs Compote:
16 dried figs, stems removed, halved if large
3/4 cup Port wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
1. Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang.
2. Place the almonds and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream, orange liqueur, and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:
Combine all of the compote ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the figs are soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid; discard the cinnamon stick. (Figs may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use. Bring to room temperature to serve.)

Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

Serve:
When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and a little juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve

Cranberry Orange Trifle for the Holidays

A Festive (and Do-Ahead) Dessert for the Holiday Table:

Do-Ahead Cranberry Trifle Dessert

This billowy cranberry trifle will carry you through the holiday season. It’s a great do-ahead dessert with impressive results: orange-infused pound cake blanketed with layers of cranberry compote, whipped mascarpone cream, and candied walnuts. Each bite is light and airy with the pop of sweet-tart cranberries, and the satisfying crunch of cinnamon-dusted nuts, so be sure to get a little bit of everything in every spoonful.

Don’t let the length of this recipe deter you. It’s composed of several separate short recipes for each component that can (and should) be prepared well in advance of assembling. And the entire trifle can also be assembled in advance of serving, which leaves you plenty of time to wrestle with that turkey.

Cranberry-Orange Trifle with Candied Walnuts

Assembly Time: 20 minutes
Makes one large trifle, serves 8 to 10; or 8 individual trifles

1 loaf Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake (recipe follows)
Cranberry Compote (recipe follows)
Candied Walnuts (recipe follows)
Orange Mascarpone Cream (recipe follows)
Finely grated orange zest, for garnish

1. Cut the pound cake into 3/4-inch cubes. Set aside a few whole cranberries from the compote for garnish.
2. Pour a thin layer of cranberry compote into the bottom of the trifle dish or individual serving glasses. Arrange a snug layer of pound cake over the compote. Top with a layer of cream. Sprinkle a few of the nuts over the cream.
3. Repeat the layering process, finishing with a layer of cream and nuts. Garnish with the reserved cranberries and finely grated orange zest.
4. Serve or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving.
Optional: Lightly brush each layer of pound cake with Cointreau or Gran Marnier for an adult version of this dessert.

Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Makes 1 loaf

Cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk

Syrup: 
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
3. Cream the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla.
4. Add half of the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the remaining flour, mixing to combine after each addition.
5. Pour into the loaf pan. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes clean, about 55 minutes.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Combine the juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, and then remove from the heat.
Remove the cake from the oven and transfer to a rack. Pierce the top of the cake all over with a skewer and brush with some of the syrup. Cool 10 minutes and then invert the cake onto a rack. Brush the sides of the cake with the remaining syrup and cool the cake completely.
Note: The pound cake may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until use.

Cranberry Compote
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Makes about 1 3/4 cups

12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the cranberries pop and release their juices, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Note: The compote may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use.

Candied Walnuts
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups walnut halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking tray with parchment. Spread the walnuts on a separate baking tray and bake 10 minutes.
2. Heat the sugar over medium heat in a small saucepan. As soon as it begins to dissolve, stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar liquefies and is amber in color.
3. Immediately add the walnuts, salt, and cinnamon and stir to coat. Remove from the heat and spread the walnuts on the parchment-lined baking tray. Cool completely, and then break into coarse pieces.
Note: The nuts may be prepared up to 1 week in advance. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Mascarpone Cream:
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Makes about 3 cups

8 ounces mascarpone cream, chilled
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup sifted powder sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus extra for garnish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Add the mascarpone to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire attachment and mix on medium-low speed to soften.
2. With the machine running, slowly add the whipped cream and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.
3. Add the sugar, liqueur (if using), the orange zest, and vanilla, and beat until stiff peaks form.
Note: The cream may be prepared up to 6 hours in advance of assembling the trifle. Cover and refrigerate.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

A light and fresh vanilla cake that’s all about summer berries:

When it comes to baking I keep it simple, preferring goodies that are fresh and light. This especially applies to cake. It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is a Danish lagkage (layer cake) which is the  traditional birthday cake served at celebrations. It’s a simple and easy cake to make and eat, with thin layers of vanilla sponge, gobs of whipped cream, and fresh berries. It’s flexible, kid-friendly, and pretty to look at. No piping or fiddly decorations needed. The only bling is a pile of fresh berries smeared into the cream and piled on top, and, if you’re so inclined, pretty snipped sprigs and edible flowers from the garden.

I have messed around with different vanilla cake recipes over the years, and this is the one I currently favor. This sponge cake recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Make sure that all of the sponge cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves: 8 to 10

Cake:
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Whipped Cream:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup good quality raspberry preserves
Assorted berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, currants, for garnish

Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two (8 or 9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest in a medium bowl to combine.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Briefly mix on low speed to blend.
4. Add 1/3 of the butter and mix on slow speed to blend and then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 10 seconds.
5. Add half of the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds to blend. Add the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be wet and granular.
Add half of the egg mixture and mix to just combine without over-mixing. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix until smooth without over-mixing.
6. Divide the batter between the pans. Transfer to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely. When cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cakes in half horizontally (optional).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm peaks form. Place the 1 cup raspberries in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently fold in to combine.

Assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of the raspberry preserves over the cake, and then smear a layer of raspberry-whipped cream (not too thick) over the preserves. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (You can leave the sides “naked” if desired.) Garnish with more fresh berries and sprigs. Refrigerate until serving, up to 2 hours.