Tag Archives: dessert

Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Dark Chocolate (and Orange Mascarpone Frosting, if you like)

There are a lot of ways that you can try to dichotomize people- Right-Brained vs. Left-Brained.  Introverts vs. Extroverts.  Cat-People vs. Dog-People.  (For a while I thought maybe I was an all-around “Animal-Person”, but after much consideration I have come to the conclusion that I am truly a Cat-Person who happens to like some dogs.)

One category that has always baffled me are the people who claim that they are “not a dessert person”.  As someone who, in an ideal world, would conclude every meal with at least a little something sweet, I have a hard time relating to people who claim to never be tempted by ice cream, chocolate, or baked goods.

As I have gotten older, though, my sweet-tooth has developed a more refined palate.  Although there are still a few super-sugary treats I have a hard time resisting (i.e., Dunkin Donuts or Cadbury Creme Eggs), the desserts I really appreciate are the ones that have a lighter touch with the sugar.  Strawberries with balsamic and basil, for instance.

Or this Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Dark Chocolate.  I think this is a cake that even the self-proclaimed non-dessert people would like.  It’s not too rich or too sweet, has a nice graininess from the spelt flour, and the rosemary is fragrant and earthy.

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I followed the recipe exactly, so just follow the link above over to The Vanilla Bean Blog.  While you’re over there, spend some time perusing all the delicious-looking recipes.

A technical note: The recipe calls for using a 9 1/2 inch fluted tart pan.  If you are wondering if you can get away with using a 9-inch tart pan, the answer is yes, but the cake will rise above the edge and bake over the side a little bit.  Absolutely no effect on the taste, just not quite as neat, if you’re concerned with such things.  You can also use a springform cake pan with higher sides; you won’t get the pretty fluted edge, but you don’t have to worry about overflow.

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If you are wanting something fancier, you can top the cake with an orange-scented mascarpone frosting, which makes it a little more decadent but still not over-the-top.   I did this for Mother’s Day, and no one complained.  If you should choose to do so…

  • While the cake is cooling, combine 1 pound mascarpone cheese, 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (or a little more, if preferred) in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Use the paddle attachment to beat at high speed, until soft peaks form- about 60-90 seconds.
  • Spread frosting on the top (and sides, if you like) of the cooled cake.  This recipe will yield way more frosting than you will need for the cake, but I’m sure you can find a way to use it up.  I’m thinking it would be lovely with ginger snaps or graham crackers….
  • Keep frosted cake chilled and serve within a few hours.

With or without frosting, leftovers of this cake (if there are any) are wonderful for breakfast.

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Filed under Cooking

It’s One Hundred Degrees Outside- Why Not Bake a Pie?

I never thought something like pie would lead people to question my sanity.  But apparently declaring via Facebook that you are going to bake a pie on a day it’s supposed to exceed 100 degrees will do exactly that.

I honestly hadn’t given the weather much thought.  I mean, it’s not like I’d be cooking the pie outside.  And with two dinky window air conditioning units and a west-facing kitchen that does not seem to benefit from either AC unit, heating up the oven didn’t seem like it would do much damage.  Or maybe this is a no pain, no gain kind of situation: if you’re not willing to sweat your [insert your choice of anatomy here] off, you’ll probably miss out on a pretty delicious pie. 

And to those of you who questioned my idea of an opportune pie-baking day, all I have to say to you is this (with love): You’re lucky there are crazy people like me who will hang out in the kitchen instead of the pool, because if it wasn’t for us, your summers would be sadly devoid of baked goods.

That being said, I might have backed out if it wasn’t for the giant container of sour cherries from the farmers’ market sitting in my fridge that needed to be used.  I considered pitting and freezing them for a later date, but these intensely red orbs were begging to be tossed with some sugar and tucked into a buttery crust.

Let me tell you, these cherries, and the pie filling they turned into, were so good.  They truly did deserve the butteriest, flakiest, homemade crust.  And I failed them there.  You see, while you’re pitting five cups of cherries, you have lots of time to think.  And to let those anti-pie naysayers on Facebook creep into your thoughts.  Which results in a conversation between you, yourself, and your most neurotic inner-self:

Lazy Sarah: Eh, maybe I should just buy refrigerated pie dough and get on with my day.

Overachiever Sarah: Are you crazy? You can’t half-ass a pie crust when you’re working with fresh cherries!

Lazy Sarah: But if the filling is that good, who’s gonna notice the Pillsbury crust?

Overachiever Sarah: Maybe they won’t notice, but deep down in your heart, you will know this could have been a better pie.

Third Sarah Who Just Wants to Complicate Matters: Hey, did you see that recipe for Sour Cherry Turnovers?

Lazy Sarah: Oh, that could be good.  I could just buy frozen puff pastry.

Overachiever Sarah: OR you could make cream cheese pastry dough from scratch…

Pragmatic Sarah: Well, we just wasted thirty minutes. We said we wanted to make a pie, so we’re making a pie.  And Overachiever Sarah, do you really want to be handling buttery dough in this heat?  Save your energy for the fancy lattice top.

Maybe people should be questioning my sanity.

If you think that’s bad, you should hear the argument I had with myself about buying Pillsbury versus store-brand dough.  But I won’t subject you to that.  In the end, Pillsbury won.  And it was… fine.  But I have to admit, later when I was enjoying some pie and vanilla ice cream, I was wondering how much more awesome it would be with homemade pie crust.

Next time.

I’m not going to post the whole recipe here, as I followed it exactly (other than slacking on the pie crust).  You can find the original recipe here: Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust.   It’s actually the same recipe I referenced for Nick’s Birthday Pie, when I actually made the crust from scratch, but failed to find cherries.

Overachiever Sarah was clearly not present at the time of pie cutting.

Random fact: This pie holds a special place in my heart as it was the cover recipe for the very first issue of Bon Appetit I ever received.  How do I remember that?  Probably because the cover is actually framed and on the wall in our kitchen.


Filed under Cooking, My Crazy Mind

Nick’s Birthday Cherry (or Berry) Pie

A few months after we started dating, I offered to bake something for Nick’s birthday.  His request: cherry pie.

Since then, I have baked him a cherry pie for every birthday.  (Well, every birthday except one, but that was the year I bought him a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, so I think I made up for it.)

The plan was to continue the tradition this year, but I hit a snag- Trader Joe’s did not have any frozen cherries.  I settled for what they called a “Very Cherry Berry Blend” but in reality was a bag of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries with about four cherries mixed in.  Ah well.  I had a feeling Nick wouldn’t complain too much.  Yes, I could have tried another grocery store, but more and more, I am embracing the challenge of working with what’s available and not wasting time and gas running around town trying to track down one ingredient.

This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit’s Classic Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust.  I love that the crust is all butter, no shortening.  It’s a little more challenging to work with, but it tastes so good.  For those of you who are intimidated by pie crust- you kinda just have to let go of the expectation that the end product is going to look like a magazine photo.  I never manage to get a pretty crimped edge, and it’s guaranteed that some of the filling is gonna bubble over the edge of the crust.  But you know what?  It still tastes awesome, and any type of lattice top, even if it’s not perfectly aligned, is going to look impressive.

I messed with the filling recipe a bit more.  Besides the obvious adjustments for the fruits used, I also upped the amount of vanilla extract and added some almond extract as well.  I used equal parts vanilla and almond, but I’m going to advise cutting back on the almond a bit.  Nick was happy with it and it tasted fine, but the almond extract was really fragrant.  And while the berry blend was fine, I am dying to make this again as a purely cherry pie.

Vanilla & Almond Cherry (or Berry) Pie with Lattice Crust (serves 8)


2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes*

5 tablespoons (or more) ice water

*I suggest cutting the butter into cubes, and sticking it in the freezer for a couple minutes before blending the crust

Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl to blend.  Add butter and rub in with fingertips until small pea-sized clumps form.  Add 5 tbsp ice water; mix lightly with fork until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed together.  Add more water one teaspoon at a time if dough is dry.

Gather dough together and halve.  Form each piece into a ball, then flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Let soften slightly before rolling out.


1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 cups frozen cherries or combination of berries, mostly thawed

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon milk

Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees.  Whisk 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend.  Stir in berries, vanilla, and almond extract.  Set aside.

Roll out 1 dough disk on a floured surface to a 12-inch round.  Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish.  Trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch.  Roll out second disk to another 12-inch round.  Cut ten 3/4-inch-wide strips from dough round.

Transfer filling to dough-lined dish, mounding slightly in center.  Arrange dough strips on top of filling, forming lattice.  (Bon Appetit has a great “how-to“.)  Trim overhang to 1/2 inch.  Fold bottom crust over lattice strips and crimp edges to seal.

Brush lattice (not edges) with milk and sprinkle with about one tablespoon sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 1 hour.  Transfer to rack and cool completely.

Serve with vanilla ice cream, obviously.


Filed under Cooking

Last Week’s Dessert: Rustic Apple Tart

Finally the rain has let up and the temperature has dropped (although tomorrow is supposed to be pretty warm for October).  I’m enjoying the sun and crisp air.  I can have the windows open and A/C turned off.  I can wear sweaters and boots.  And I can find apples that were actually grown in the US, not New Zealand.

Last Sunday, Nick cooked chili and cornbread for dinner.  I was hoping he would be willing to write about it, but he hasn’t seemed inspired.  I can’t blame him.  His chili is fantastic, but it’s probably one of the most free-form things he cooks.  Consequently there isn’t necessarily a lot to share in the way of a particular recipe, or anything close to a recipe.  It occurred to me when we were shopping that he either is doing some secret math in his head (knowing Nick, that seems unlikely), or intuitively knows the right ratio of beans and meat to tomatoes.  I’d be too worried about ending up with tomato soup with beans, or a thick lump of beans and ground beef with barely any tomato-ness to it.  But somehow Nick pulled random stuff off the shelves at the store and out of our pantry at home and successfully cooked chili that was a perfectly balanced mix of beans, ground bison, crushed tomatoes, peppers, and spices.  And bulgur.  And bacon.  And coffee.  And chocolate.  And dried cherries (which re-hydrated themselves in the chili… interesting).

Oh,  and the cornbread?  Cooked in bacon grease.

So, I guess it’s a good thing that the rustic apple tart recipe I made for dessert turned out to be from Cooking Light.  I actually didn’t notice that until I was well-into baking.  That’s the risk of Google searches, I suppose.  You never know where it’s going to take you.  Kind of like when I learned that searching for “Indian Delight” will take you to different websites than searching for “Indian Delight Restaurant.”

Anyway, this tart is not exactly fat- and calorie-free, but I guess when you compare the amount of sugar and butter to that in an apple pie, and the fact that it uses one pie crust instead of two, it really is on the lighter side, as apple desserts go.

Rustic Apple Tart (from My Recipes)

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp granulated sugar

3 pounds of apples, cored, peeled, and sliced; should yield about 9 cups (I used 4 Gala apples and 3 Granny Smith apples)

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 package (one crust) of refrigerated pie dough

1 tsp ice water

1 tsp granulated sugar

1 tbsp apricot preserves

1 tsp water

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add brown sugar and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, stir until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes (my sugar didn’t really dissolve… I mean, it doesn’t have much butter to dissolve into.  But it didn’t seem to cause any problems).

Stir in apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Cover, reduce heat, and cook about 20 minutes, until apples are tender, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and set rack to lowest third.

Place dough on parchment paper, and roll out to 14-inch round.  Slide parchment paper and dough onto baking sheet.  Arrange apples in center of dough, leaving a 2-inch border.

Fold edges of dough toward center, pressing gently to seal.  Brush edges of dough with 1 tsp ice water and sprinkle with 1 tsp granulated sugar.

(I got a little obsessive about making concentric circles with the apples… but it looked really pretty.  Also, I had a lot of extra juice in the skillet from the apples.  I drizzled some of it over the apples.  It did leak a little while baking, but hey, it’s rustic.)

Bake tart for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Microwave apricot preserves and 1 tsp water for about 30 seconds or until bubbly.  Stir mixture and brush over warm tart.

Cut into wedges and serve warm or room temperature.  (Obviously with vanilla ice cream.)

I apparently got too excited about eating it, and I don’t have an after-baking picture.*  But I do have this picture of Matilda helping Mike clean his plate, which is both cute and provides evidence that everyone enjoyed it.

*If you’re really that devastated about the lack of an after-baking photo, just look at the pre-baked photo, and imagine it a little more golden-brown.  There, you have an after-baking photo.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Nick’s Grilled Chicken and more, Part 2

This is the second part of the Grilled Chicken menu- fruits and veggies (well, fruits in the form of dessert).  If you’re looking for the actual chicken recipe or some awesome duck fat potatoes, go here.

Marinated Grilled Zucchini

Grilled zucchini doesn’t require a lot of fanciness, as far as I’m concerned.  But if you are in the mood to kick it up a little, briefly marinating the zucchini is all it needs.  For the two of us, one giant zucchini, cut length-wise into inch-thick spears, was plenty.  I whisked about two parts olive oil and one part balsamic vinegar together (3 tbsp of oil and 1 1/2 tsbp of vinegar was enough to thoroughly coat the zucchini spears).  Mix in a few chopped fresh basil leaves.  Toss zucchini in marinade, season with salt and pepper, and let it sit for about thirty minutes.

These cook fast.  Just a couple minutes on the grill until you have some nice grill marks and they’re tender, but not floppy.

Sauteed Broccolini

Even easier than the zucchini.  Place the broccolini in a skillet and add a little water (about a quarter inch deep).  Cover the skillet and heat over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes, until the broccolini is bright green and just a little tender.  (Or let it go another minutes or so… I like my vegetables crisp.)  Drain the water, add a little olive oil to the skillet and over medium heat, saute the broccolini for a couple more minutes.  Drizzle with lemon juice, if desired, and sprinkle with salt (fancy pink sea salt works particularly well with this).

Balsamic-Glazed Strawberries and Basil over Vanilla Ice Cream

From Epicurious: Balsamic-Glazed Strawberries Over Ice Cream.  I love when dessert recipes actually are written for two servings, although sometimes I worry that it won’t be enough since Nick can often eat two servings by himself.  The nice thing with this is that if it’s not enough, just throw another scoop of ice cream in the bowl.

The recipe calls for 6 large strawberries.  I don’t really know what qualifies as a large strawberry.  Are we talking about the larger ones from a package of average-sized berries?  Or the giant ones that barely fit in your palm?  (Well, my palm at least… I have small hands….)  Anyway, I just decided the remaining berries I had looked like a generous two-servings worth (probably yielded about 1 1/2 to 2 cups, sliced).

Hull the strawberries and slice them into wedges.  In a small saucepan over moderate heat, stir two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar with two tablespoons of brown sugar.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for a minute.  I actually let it simmer for a couple minutes to thicken a little bit while I ran outside to get a few basil leaves.  This isn’t part of the original recipe, but I’ve seen other desserts that combine strawberries, vinegar, and basil, and it sounded awesome.  Also, the recipe says to remove the mixture from heat and then toss the strawberries and serve immediately.  Instead I left the pan on low heat and stirred in the strawberries and just let it sit for a minute or two, to let the flavors meld, as some reviewers had suggested.

Scoop out some vanilla ice cream (we used Stonyfield Ice Cream, which was delicious) and top with the strawberries.  Sprinkle some sliced basil on top.

This took no more than ten minutes to make, and tasted amazing.


Filed under Cooking, Last Night's Dinner