Category: strawberry

Linzer tart cupcakes.

Ohhh, Valentine’s Day is here. Time for hearts. Hearts everywhere. Heart-shaped everything! And of course, here that includes… cupcakes.

I go batty for holidays ’round these here parts, in case you didn’t know notice.

These particular little cupcakes are inspired by Linzer tarts, or Linzer tortes. In America, you low them as the cookies with a hole cut out of the top piece… its filled with a red or pink colored jam or jelly and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. However in Austria those are considered Linzer sablés (Linzer Augen or “linzer eyes”). They’re also a riff on the cupcakes I posted last year; which were chocolate cupcakes filled with pink frosting, all in a heart-shape.

Linzer tart cupcakes for Valentine's Day.

There are a few ways of doing this neat little heart-shaped hole trick, but I just use the method I find easiest: I push the cutter down into the middle of the completely cooled (preferably refrigerated for a few hours) cupcake. After some wiggling, the heart-shaped piece should pop out when you remove the cookie cutter. Another way: cut the top of the cupcake off, add a layer of jam, then cut the hole out of the top and stick it back on.

Linzer tart cupcakes filled with strawberry jam.

Whatever way you choose, the end result is adorable. And sweet.

Continue reading

Eating this True Blood cake did not suck.

This Sunday, June 16th, at 9 o’clock p.m. EST on HBO, season 6 of True Blood will premiere. I know all you “Trubies” are going bananas. As they say, “waiting sucks.” And I absolutely agree: it does totally suck to have to wait so long for a new season. But …while you all were waiting patiently (or not so) for the new season, I had this baby to keep me company. The True Blood cookbook! 

True Blood: Eats, Drinks & Bites from Bon Temps

It’s a delicious book- filled with beautiful photographs of scenes from the show and more. There are gorgeous shots of Gran’s kitchen & the outside of both her house & Bill’s house, as well as pictures of Merlotte’s and Fangtasia. The attention to detail is awesome; the picture of Gran’s kitchen makes you feel like you’re right there. Big, glossy, clear photos.

The food photography in and of itself is beautiful. Almost every recipe has an accompanying photo. And it’s not just food, or baked goods that are featured. There are cocktails & non-alcoholic drink recipes too…

An excerpt from True Blood: Eats, Drinks & Bites from Bon Temps

An excerpt from True Blood: Eats, Drinks & Bites from Bon Temps

A cake from the cookbook True Blood: Eats, Drinks & Bites from Bon Temps

So to celebrate the return of this beloved show, and all my favorite characters (Eric & Pam! Eric & Pam!)… I made me a True Blood Naked Cake. Also known (in the book) as “Totally Surprised Birthday Cake,” which is the stunning cake on the cover (and as seen above). My version of the cake is a “naked” cake; meaning it’s not fully frosted. The majority of the frosting is combined with the filling and put on top to create a naked effect.

A layer cake filled with lemon filling, vanilla frosting & a mixed berry topping inspired by and adapted from the True Blood cookbook.

In the book, the cake is fully frosted. But I wanted to make a naked cake for three reasons: one, I hate frosting cakes, two, it’s pretty. And three… ‘naked’ is kinda appropriate for True Blood. Lotsa people gettin’ all kinds of naked on that show!

A cake inspired by the cookbook True Blood: Eats, Drinks & Bites from Bon Temps.

This cake is comprised of two cake layers, a lemon filling, a frosting similar to a 7-minute frosting or an Italian meringue buttercream and a rich berry topping; made of macerated raspberries & strawberries. It’s decadent, it’s drippy, it’s smooshy. It’s complex. It’s amazing. And you know what? I’m just gonna say it- it’s sexy. Kind of like the TV show itself. There’s so much going on you’re afraid you’ll miss something, but it all comes together perfectly.

I mean, come on. Look at this cake. It kinda makes you wanna do bad things.

A "naked" cake celebrating the return of True Blood season 6! Inspired by the True Blood cookbook, it's a two-layer vanilla cake filled with a lemon filling & vanilla frosting, then topped with more frosting & a mixed berry macerated topping.

Thick, creamy frosting.

Sunny, bright, slightly sticky lemon filling.

Moist & light vanilla cake.

And a bunch of juicy berries in sugar.

True Blood "naked" cake; vanilla cake filled with lemon filling, thick vanilla frosting & topped with a macerated raspberry & strawberry topping. From the True Blood cookbook!

Thick vanilla frosting, tart lemon filling & sweet macerated berries come together with vanilla cake to create this True Blood "Naked" cake; inspired by & taken from the True Blood cookbook!

Cake inspired by the True Blood cookbook!

Beautiful.

It’s the perfect cake to crack open a Tru Blood with, before you get down with some vampire action on those hot, humid summertime Sunday nights. And right about now you’re wondering where the recipe is. Well, I hate to do this to you… but…

If you want the recipe- you’re gonna have to buy the book!

 

I know, I know, I suck (pun intended!). You can buy True Blood: Eats, Drinks & Bites from Bon Temps through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And be sure to watch the True Blood season 6 premiere on HBO this Sunday night, June 16th, at 9 p.m.

A vanilla layer cake filled with a bright, tart lemon filling, a thick vanilla frosting & topped with macerated raspberries & strawberries. Inspired by & adapted from the True Blood cookbook!

Don’t forget the cake! And remember, friends don’t let friends eat friends.

 

True Blood: Eats, Drinks & Bites from Bon Temps

“Sittin’ down to eat with the people you love, or even just like, life don’t get any better than that. Least not here in Bon Temps.”

- Sookie Stackhouse

(Pssst… I received absolutely no compensation for this post. I purchased the book myself, and any & all opinions are my own. I do not claim ownership of the True Blood logo, name or television show, nor do I claim to have any rights to any recipes in the book or anything to do with Charlaine Harris’ book series. For other desserts & eats that are True Blood inspired or could be used in relation to True Blood, check out my True Blood velvet cupcakes, blood spatter cupcakes, and True Blood orange cupcakes. Enjoy responsibly & keep your fangs in.)

Vanilla-strawberry jam cakes.

Sometimes you just want a really quick dessert that isn’t chocolate. Or maybe you don’t, but other people might. Some people are fruit people. I know a lot of folks that, when given the option, will take a fruit salad or blueberry pie over a dark chocolate cake or decadent seven layer salted caramel chocolate ganache thingy. Or maybe you want to start eating a bit lighter. Or perhaps you’re just wanting to use up some fruit jam or preserves.

I know how that is, sister.

Although in this particular case, I sort of made up the dessert around the fact that I had made the jam, not so much to get rid of it, but to showcase it. I was looking through the book Cake Ladies & I got inspired by all that Southern-ness. So I just decided spur-of-the-moment that I wanted to make a different spin on the strawberry shortcake. Well, that and it was 80 freakin’ degrees here in New York last week. I was not in the mood for heavy duty cakery or cupcakery. I wanted to make something fun & light. Strawberry shortcakes sounded fun, but I wanted to do a different twist on them, and so vanilla-strawberry jam cakes were born.

However, I cheated & used Bisquick because I wasn’t in the mood to labor over the dough. Plus… to be honest… I just felt like it. I’m not going to make any excuses. Sometimes you just have to take a shortcut. I’m not ashamed.

But if you’re anti-Bisquick or you just don’t have any/can’t get any, here’s a recipe for making your own. However, almost any drop-biscuit dough recipe will work here.

Or, you can make a traditional shortcake, if you have a family recipe you hold near & dear. A simple vanilla or unflavored scone recipe would work as well.

The jam is a great way to introduce yourself to making jam, if you’ve never made it before. It’s a really easy one, and it thickens easily. When it’s done, if you’re not making the cakes at all (and you just want the jam) or you aren’t making them right away, all you’ve gotta do is just put the jam in any clean, warm jar you’ve got. I say warm because the jam gets very hot (obviously) while it’s being cooked, and if you put it into a cold jar it could shatter or crack. I used canning jars, but old spaghetti sauce/pickle/mayonnaise jars or little jars with hinged lids work just fine since you won’t be “canning” it. Just be sure the jars are thoroughly cleaned.

VANILLA-STRAWBERRY JAM CAKES

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups fresh strawberries, washed & hulled (a little over a pound, depending on the size of the berries)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice
  • 2 1/3 cups Bisquick baking mix
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Slice the strawberries & using a potato masher or your (clean) fingers, mash & squish them together. If this doesn’t work, and the berries are too firm, cut them smaller.
  2. Place the strawberries in a large saucepan. Split and scrape the vanilla bean, adding the seeds to the berries. Add the empty vanilla bean along with the 1/2 cup sugar & lemon juice, stirring & cooking over medium-high heat, breaking up any large chunks of berry with a wooden spoon.
  3. Cook until it thickens and you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, roughly 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the vanilla bean with tongs and add the jam to your clean, warm jars. You aren’t canning this so just make sure the jars are cool before refrigerating them. If making the cakes right away, there’s no need to refrigerate them (unless you prefer the contrast of cold fruit filling to warm dough).
  5. Meanwhile, heat oven to 425°F. Stir baking mix, melted butter, milk, and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a mixing bowl until soft dough forms. Drop by 6 spoonfuls on to a greased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and let cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Move to a wire rack to cool until just slightly warm. Plate the cakes, spoon vanilla-strawberry jam on, then spoon some fresh whipped cream on top (see below). Dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired. Voila!


WHIPPED CREAM

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the three ingredients together with the whisk attachment until they’re thickened. Check the taste, add more sugar or vanilla as needed, by the 1/4 teaspoon.
  2. Continue beating until the whipped cream is the proper thickness, but don’t whip too much… you’ll get butter!

This very same recipe can be used without the jam, and with fresh strawberries. Or macerated strawberries if you prefer. I just think the vanilla-strawberry jam gives it a totally different spin. The jam is also great on oatmeal, English muffins, you name it. I should also say that this jam recipe would probably work well with raspberries or blueberries too, or even blackberries. The strawberries bright color lets you see the black vanilla bean flecks, but that doesn’t really matter. If you prefer blueberries, try making these jam cakes with them instead!

 

If you’d like to can the jam for shelf-stability, I’d recommend following a trusted canning-safe strawberry jam recipe and just adding the vanilla bean to that. Here’s a post I wrote up last year with more instructions on canning, and links to some reputable canning resources on the web.

Auld Lang Syne.

Here we are. Arriving at the end of yet another year. Another year older, and hopefully another year wiser. For many, NYE is a melancholy event, and for others it’s just an excuse to party hard & wake up the next morning with no clue of how/where the previous year ended. Neither of those describe me. Like I said on Facebook a few days ago, my idea of the perfect NYE? In my pajamas, eating take-out or a variety of appetizers while watching The Honeymooners. Then, right before midnight, switching over to the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve just to see the ball drop while drinking some bubbly. No parties, no bar-hopping. The furthest I’ll go is out to dinner. I am just not the partying type (anymore). And of course, being the significant other of a police officer means there’s not a whole lot going on on NYE anyway; he’s usually working, even if it’s a “day off.”

So on that note, every year for New Year’s Eve, since I’m usually home, I make something fun using champagne (or rosé or prosecco…). I think since champagne is the drink of the evening, it’s only right that any desserts or meals that are served not only compliment champagne & vice versa, but include it somehow.

This year, I was at a loss until I stumbled upon something on the Food Network website that gave me the perfect excuse to buy that extra bottle of champagne:

CHAMPAGNE PARFAITS. Whaaaat. I know.

This is probably the easiest dessert you’ll ever make. I know, I know, I always say that. But this time it’s 100% true: it takes absolutely no time at all to make, about 8-10 minutes, actually. And the rest of the time it just chills out in the fridge. You can make it the night before or that morning. It tastes just like champagne… but in a jiggly form. It’s a grown-up, classier, fancier version of a Jell-O shot… no fake fruit flavor added. Add some berries (berries bring out the flavors in champagne) if you like, or a little fresh whipped cream, or just eat it plain. You probably have all, if not most, of the ingredients already. And if you don’t? They’re easy enough to get a hold of.

Plus, it just looks spectacularly beautiful.

CHAMPAGNE “JELL-O” STYLE OR CHAMPAGNE GELATIN PARFAIT (adapted from a recipe by Claire Robinson at the Food Network)

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle champagne/rose/prosecco (750 ml)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packets unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoon’s confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup raspberries or strawberries (if you prefer, it’s optional)

Directions:

  1. Put the champagne, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes to burn off some of the alcohol.
  2. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the gelatin until completely dissolved. Pour into parfait glasses, champagne glasses or a 9 x 11″ baking dish. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to set up for at least 4 hours.
  3. When you’re ready to serve the parfaits, in a large bowl, whip the cream to medium stiff peaks, adding the confectioner’s sugar slowly. Then add vanilla. Whip with a hand mixer using a whisk attachment until desired thickness, but not so much it turns to butter!
  4. Remove the glasses with the gelatin from the fridge. If you’ve used a baking dish, cut the gelatin into 1 by 1-inch cubes and put into parfait or champagne glasses.
  5. Top each with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and berries.* Then enjoy!

*Another idea is to put the berries into the room temperature mixture before refrigerating it. Then they’d be “floating” in the champagne!

I am IN NO WAY encouraging anyone to pour a steaming hot liquid into a crystal vessel or a non-heatproof glass vessel. I can’t take responsibility for anyone ruining their good crystal by pouring hot champagne Jell-O mixture into it. That said, after allowing the mixture to cool (not to room temperature, just slightly above) and warming the crystal under hot water first (and gradually), I poured it into the champagne flutes and then let it come to room temperature. Once it was cooled enough, then I transferred them to the refrigerator where they stayed until serving time. Any quick change in temperature can cause glass & crystal to crack or even simply shatter. So if you are planning on serving these in the flutes, you have a few options:

  1. Do as I did: heat up your gelatin mixture, and let it cool off the heat enough so that it’s not scalding hot, but just very warm. Meanwhile, let cool water, then lukewarm water, then warm water, then hot water run over your crystal champagne flutes. When they’re prepared for the hot champagne mixture, place a thin tea towel on your table or kitchen counter and place the warm flutes on it. Put a small metal spoon in each one, then you can pour the mixture into them slowly. Then remove the spoons. Allow them to cool completely and come to room temperature, then place them in the fridge for 4 hours or until it’s time for dessert. The idea is that the spoons absorb the heat, and help disperse it, and the tea towel absorbs the shock making it less likely you’ll break the flutes. I’ve had no problem with this method- but again, do it at your own risk.
  2. Use cheap dollar store champagne flutes or wine glasses to attempt it- if you don’t want to risk your good crystal. I’d still use the method above.
  3. Use disposable plastic champagne flutes from a party store. If you personalized them (either the glass or the plastic) with Sharpies, your guests could then take them home! You don’t need to prep plastic first, they should hold up just fine with the warm liquid (not boiling!)
  4. Use parfait glasses. Since they’re usually thicker glass, there’s really less concern with breakage. I’d still run the hot water over them first like I said in #1.
  5. Use a heatproof glass baking dish, let it come to room temperature, and then put it in the fridge the same way. Then simply cut it into 1″ squares once it’s ready, and place it into the flutes/wine glasses/bowls for serving. Heatproof glass doesn’t need to be heated before having boiling hot liquid poured into it, it’s just fine to use & withstands drastic temperature changes pretty damn well.

If you’re frightened, then don’t do it. Use a baking dish, and cut it to serve, or use the plastic champagne glasses. But I will say that these are my grandmother’s crystal champagne flutes from 1940, and they held up just fine with the method I explained above.

Just as with the champagne jelly, you shouldn’t use an expensive champagne for this. Any champagne will do- don’t waste your Tattinger, Perrier-Jouet or Veuve Clicquot. Because after all, don’t forget, you’re boiling it & adding sugar to it anyway. Why use something really expensive when you won’t get the full taste? I used Andre extra dry which is about $4.99 a bottle for the 750ml, and it turned out excellent. Plus, there’s more sugar in cheaper champagne as a rule, so they make a better dessert. You don’t really want a parfait that isn’t sweet. If you prefer very dry champagne that isn’t sweet for drinking, that’s fine. But in a dessert, served with whipped cream & berries? You want a little bit of sweetness.

Save the good champagne for guzzling !

I hope you have a safe & happy end of 2012 & beginning of the year, and a healthy 2013 throughout. I’ll see you back here next year!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne…

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

 

The name “Jell-O®” is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods U.S/the Altria Group. & this company or the makers of J-ello have nothing to do with me, this recipe or this post. I’m using the name as a generic term for a gelatin -based dessert, i.e. the way “Band-Aid” or “Kleenex” is used to describe bandages or tissue paper.

Very cherry berry cobbler.

I want to thank everyone for all the birthday wishes! I know I posted the other day but that post was set up to go off in case I wasn’t around, and I didn’t get the chance to personalize it. But I was blown away by all the e-mails, messages, Facebook comments, Twitter messages/replies, Instagram comments, etc, etc. that you all left for me. As a matter of fact, I had to turn the sound on my iPhone off! The notifications were going bananas. You all really know how to make a girl feel loved. You’re very sweet.

I’m officially 31 now, which either makes me the coolest 30-something in New York or a 30-something very much in denial of her un-coolness. Either way, I’ve got a new recipe for you. So let’s go with the former & say that this is the coolest cherry-berry cobbler made by the coolest 30-something ever.

;

And speaking of sweet, cobblers are the easiest dessert to make, ever. I know I say that a lot. And it’s usually true- most people just assume because something is homemade it takes forever to make & is either complicated or difficult… and they’re wrong. Homemade stuff usually takes no more time or effort to make than prepared foods. But really, this time it’s 100% true. Cobblers require very few ingredients, very little mixing, and basically no little ahead-of-time preparation. If you use canned fruit- it requires even LESS than no preparation. Less than no… is that even grammatically correct? I don’t think so.

;

Cobbler refers to a variety of dishes, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom, consisting of a fruit or savoury filling poured into a large baking dish and covered with a batter, biscuit, or pie crust before being baked. Unlike a pie, cobbler never contains a bottom crust.

Cobblers originated in the early British American colonies. English settlers were unable to make traditional suet puddings due to lack of suitable ingredients and cooking equipment, so instead covered a stewed filling with a layer of uncooked plain biscuits or dumplings, fitted together. When fully cooked, the surface has the appearance of a cobbled street.[1] The name may also derive from the fact that the ingredients are “cobbled” together.

In the United States, varieties of cobbler include the Betty, the Grunt, the Slump, the Buckle, and the Sonker. The Crisp or Crumble differ from the cobbler in that their top layers are generally made with oatmeal.[2] Grunts, Pandowdy, and Slumps are a New England variety of cobbler, typically cooked on the stove-top or cooked in an iron skillet or pan with the dough on top in the shape of dumplings—they reportedly take their name from the grunting sound they make while cooking. A Buckle is made with yellow batter (like cake batter), with the filling mixed in with the batter. Apple pan dowdy is an apple cobbler whose crust has been broken and perhaps stirred back into the filling. The Sonker is unique to North Carolina: it is a deep-dish version of the American cobbler. In the Deep South, cobblers most commonly come in single fruit varieties and are named as such, such as blackberry, blueberry, and peach cobbler. The Deep South tradition also gives the option of topping the fruit cobbler with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.

-Wikipedia

I am not above using canned fruit for a cobbler. In fact, it’s a really easy shortcut to use and if you do what I did, which is add fresh fruit to it, there’s no reason why anyone has to even know you used a can at all. I happened to have beautiful strawberries that I needed to use, so that’s what I added. You can also add some fresh blueberries or some fresh raspberries too. And by that same token, you can use canned blueberry pie or peach pie filling and add other fruit to those as well. You can use canned strawberry pie filling and add some fresh rhubarb during rhubarb season, too. There are tons of combinations and possibilities for this. Just be sure you use a can that’s 21 ounces, no less. You want a nice, thick cobbler bursting with fruit.

It looks spectacular. Tastes spectacular. And it takes like, 95 minutes total to make, including the baking & cooling time (which is roughly 80 minutes). That means total prep time is maybe 15 minutes. I made this a while back, yes, and people have been harassing me about posting the recipe since they first saw a sneak peek on Facebook. But due to summer activities I’ve been playing catch up with posts and somehow I’m a few weeks behind in posting. I think it’s because I have so many things I want to share with you guys and not enough days in the week! Someone get on that. Maybe give us an extra day somehow.

;

CHERRY BERRY COBBLER

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 21-ounce can cherry pie filling
  • 5-6 strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 275° F. Add butter to the 2-quart 8″ x 8″ baking dish (this would probably also work in a 9″ x 13″ dish as well, though it won’t be as thick) and place in the oven just until the butter melts. Meanwhile, mix sugar, flour & baking powder in a medium bowl. Add milk, stir until combined.
  2. When the butter is melted, remove the dish from the oven and add the batter. DO NOT STIR. Add cherry pie filling randomly on top, again not stirring afterwards. Place strawberry slices evenly on top of the entire thing. Return to oven.
  3. Raise oven temperature to 350° F and bake for 50-60 minutes or until cobbler is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack for 20 minutes before serving.

It will seem, upon removing it from the oven, that there’s too much butter on top. There’s not. Let it sit for the full 20 minutes and you’ll see that the butter absorbs into the batter and makes a moist, delicious, cakey border for the cherry-berry filling. And as it cools further, the butter gets absorbed even more. Don’t believe me? Look:

;

That’s why the 20 minute resting period is necessary. Everything has to settle & absorb & cool off just enough that you can eat it without suffering 3rd degree burns on the roof of your mouth. Don’t try and dig in as soon as it’s out of the oven. It won’t be set & it’ll make a mess. Have patience & give it the full 20 minutes it needs.

This cobbler is actually slightly more a ‘buckle’ than a traditional cobbler; especially in that the fruit lays more on top of the batter than the other way around. It’s also interspersed in the batter itself. It’s a beautiful dessert that comes together extremely quickly and yet yields a gorgeous & impressive result. It holds up really well, and gets better as it sits a while, so it’s great to make the day of a cook-out or barbecue. It’s just as good warm as it is room temperature. And of course, you MUST serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It’s mandatory.

I’m not at all a cherry or berry person (I did not make this for me), but even I can see the beauty & deliciousness of it. Come on. Seriously. How can you hate on this?

;
Just a word of advice: because of the high butter content, it doesn’t really refrigerate well. The butter sort of re-formulates and forms a firm layer of, well, butter. So I suggest you make this the day you’re going to eat it or serve it. Or, perhaps chilling it and then heating it up slightly before serving it would be a better option. But seeing as how I didn’t try it, I can’t say.

Happy cobbling.

America, hell yeah!

Happy 236th birthday, America. You look pretty good for an old broad. To celebrate; strawberry “shortcake” cupcakes for the 4th of July; vanilla cupcakes stuffed with chopped fresh strawberries (after baking; cut a hole out of each cake & fill with chopped strawberries), topped with fresh whipped cream and more fresh sliced strawberries. And of course- little American flags & pinwheels.

O beautiful, for soft whipped cream

On moist & tender cake

For bright red berries majesties

Atop the fruited cakes

America, America,

Bakers shed thy grace on thee

And crown thy cakes with buttercream

From sea to shining sea

Take it easy today, my fellow Yanks. If you choose to light fireworks, don’t blow any appendages off. And don’t drink too much.

Remember what today is really about, and please remember our soldiers who’d give anything to be home watching fireworks explode instead of roadside bombs.

Oh honey, low sugar, sugar…

I hope that all you lovebirds had a nice Valentine’s Day. I did. I mentioned last week on Facebook that after my hand mixer died, Jay got me an even better, more awesomer kick-ass KitchenAid model for V-Day! Well its pretty dope; I can’t wait to use it. But that day I got a surprise delivery of some gorgeous red roses/white lilies with chocolates in a beautiful set of fancy boxes, too. I hope you all got equally kick-ass gifts. But more importantly, I hope you don’t need a specific day to show/tell someone you love them or buy them nice things, but I digress. Today’s recipe: low-sugar strawberry jam, made with just one half cup of real sugar. How sweet… or half sweet? Semi sweet? Warning: this is going to be a long post, full of information. But if you’re diabetic/know someone who is, if you’re interested in low-sugar canning or if you’re just interested in natural sugar substitutes in general, then read on. Even if you’re interested in making any kind of jam or jelly using a low-sugar pectin… then this post is for you!

A long, long time ago, back in early April of 2011, I received an e-mail from the folks at Xylitol USA asking me if I’d like to try baking with Xylitol. I had heard of it vaguely, but I didn’t know much about it. It intrigued me, so I said yes, I was very interested. I had forgotten all about it, and ironically, the day my uncle Pat was buried, I came home to find a box on my front steps. That box was the Xylitol delivery..The odd thing about that is that my uncle had diabetes for 40 years, and had lost his eyesight and was on dialysis for 12 years because of it. So to receive a diabetic-safe sugar substitute on the day I had to say goodbye to him was a strange little sign to me. So, Uncle Pat, you aren’t able to take part in this little experiment with me, but I know you probably got a kick out of the coincidence of all of it and you’re somewhere eating ALL the sugar-packed desserts & carbs you want without a care.

(Side note: this is why people talking shit about Paula Deen & her diabetes piss me off. Stop saying people deserve a disease- no matter what the reasoning, no matter what the disease- it’s hurtful, ignorant & insulting. And if you say it in front of me, I’ll knock your teeth out. Especially as someone whose lost an uncle & grandfather no thanks to diabetes & has a mother who is a breast cancer survivor. If you have an issue with her pushing a drug, that’s a different debate. But nobody deserves a disease this debilitating & potentially life-threatening, no matter what they do. And yes, it is indeed a life-threatening disease. It can be managed, but ultimately diabetes most likely will take your life. And honestly, if you don’t like her or her recipes, fine… then don’t watch her show & mind your own goddamn business.)

Okay now that I got that off my chest: back to Xylitol. Xylitol is actually really interesting.

Xylitol (from Greek ξύλον – xyl[on], “wood” + suffix -itol, used to denote sugar alcohols; pronounced /ˈzaɪlɪtɒl/) is a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. It is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms.[2] It can be extracted from corn fiber,[3] birch, raspberries, plums, and corn. Xylitol is roughly as sweet as sucrose with only two-thirds the food energy.

Xylitol was discovered almost simultaneously by German and French chemists in the late 19th century, and was first popularized in Europe as a safe sweetener for people with diabetes that would not impact insulin levels.[6] Its dental significance was researched in Finland in the early 1970s, when scientists at Turku University showed it had significant dental benefits.[6] Today, using hardwood or maize sources, the largest manufacturer globally is the Danish company Danisco, with several other suppliers from China.[7] Xylitol is produced by hydrogenation of xylose, which converts the sugar (an aldehyde) into a primary alcohol.

And for my purposes today, Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute for diabetics…

Diabetes mellitus, often simply referred to as diabetes—is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This high blood sugar produces the classical symptoms of polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyphagia (increased hunger).

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: results from the body’s failure to produce insulin, and presently requires the person to inject insulin. (Also referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, IDDM for short, and juvenile diabetes.)
  • Type 2 diabetes: results from insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to use insulin properly, sometimes combined with an absolute insulin deficiency. (Formerly referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, NIDDM for short, and adult-onset diabetes.)
  • Gestational diabetes: is when pregnant women, who have never had diabetes before, have a high blood glucose level during pregnancy. It may precede development of type 2 DM.

Other forms of diabetes mellitus include congenital diabetes, which is due to genetic defects of insulin secretion, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, steroid diabetes induced by high doses of glucocorticoids, and several forms of monogenic diabetes.

All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that usually cannot be cured. Pancreas transplants have been tried with limited success in type 1 DM; gastric bypass surgery has been successful in many with morbid obesity and type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after delivery. Diabetes without proper treatments can cause many complications. Acute complications include hypoglycemia, diabetic ketoacidosis, or nonketotic hyperosmolar coma. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, retinal damage. Adequate treatment of diabetes is thus important, as well as blood pressure control and lifestyle factors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy body weight.

As of 2000 at least 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, or 2.8% of the population.[2] Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common, affecting 90 to 95% of the U.S. diabetes population.[3]

The box, in addition to having a 1lb bag of Xylitol, also included a cookbook filled with recipes for cheesecakes & buttercreams and muffins and cookies! Xylitol is perfect for using in making baked goods or even jams & jellies for diabetics:

Possessing approximately 40% less food energy,[23] xylitol is a low-calorie alternative to table sugar. Absorbed more slowly than sugar, it does not contribute to high blood sugar levels or the resulting hyperglycemia caused by insufficient insulin response. This characteristic has also proven beneficial for people suffering from metabolic syndrome, a common disorder that includes insulin resistance, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and an increased risk for blood clots.

So pretty much, as excited as I was to try it, after my uncle died my spring/summer was a landslide of drama & the Xylitol got pushed to the back of the pantry. Besides- he was the person I was curious about the Xylitol because of, and he wasn’t here to try any of my experiments with it anymore. Then my grandma passed away, and it was further forgotten. Until recently. Recently, Jay asked me to make some jam for his grandma, who’s diabetic. I said sure, but I didn’t want to make her a full-sugar jam (obviously) so I needed to get a low-sugar or sugar-free pectin. I’d heard really good things about Pomona’s Universal Pectin (which requires no sugar at all to jell but instead is activated by calcium), but I couldn’t find it for the life of me! And I had a hard time finding most of the other low/no-sugar pectin options, if you can believe it. I did have my heart set on Pomona’s, though. And then… ta-da! The natural market by my house had a display of it.

It’s a little different from regular ol’ Certo or Sure-Jell. But not that hard. The calcium water thing seems intimidating at first, but in all honesty it’s really pretty easy to get the hang of. Just an extra step. In my jam I used 50% sugar & 50% Xylitol (for a total of 1 cup; mainly I used real sugar to help keep the color nice & keep it shelf stable & fresh for longer). If you’re going to make a smaller batch, or eat it quicker, you don’t even have to worry about that. However I was concerned that she wouldn’t get around to eating 2 pints of jam within a reasonable amount of time; not to mention I didn’t want the jam to look faded or be too blah. Better safe than sorry. Anyway Jay’s grandma likes strawberry jam, so that’s what she got (remember when I mentioned strawberries & a little experiment I was doing?). I got 2 pounds of gorgeous strawberries for $2.50 at the fruit stand by my house. They were so beautiful, which is rare this time of year. Usually the pickin’s are slim when it comes to nice fresh fruit that isn’t in season. Although Florida is right in it’s strawberry growing season now, & that’s where these are from. I’m just not used to seeing such a nice selection of them here.

The recipe is from Pomona’s; it comes in the box of pectin. Super easy, very quick, and you can use any sugar substitute that measures like sugar (Splenda, Xylitol, etc) to make it sugar-free or you can use honey! You can change the amount anywhere from ¾ cup sugar to 2 cups and ½ cup to 1 cup honey or any variation thereof, including artificial sweeteners. Go nuts. The recipe can also be doubled or tripled according to Pomona’s.

LOW-SUGAR STRAWBERRY JAM (adapted from Pomona’s recipe)

Makes about 4 half-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups mashed strawberries (obviously washed & hulls removed)
  • ½ cup Xylitol or Splenda or honey
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water (instructions & ingredient included in Pomona’s box)
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal pectin

Directions:

  1. Sterilize jars & lids, keeping both hot. Prepare water bath.
  2. Place strawberries in a large pot. Add calcium water and stir, then bring to a boil. Meanwhile, add pectin to sugar or honey (room temperature) and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  3. Once strawberries have boiled, add pectin/sugar mixture; stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes until completely dissolved. Return to a boil.
  4. Remove from heat. Fill hot jars to ¼”-inch from the top, and wipe rims clean. Place lids & bands on and process for 10 minutes in a water bath. Remove from water and allow to cool. Check seals- lids should be all sucked down. The pectin completes it’s jell once it’s completely cooled. Lasts about 6-8 months on the shelf (depending how much real sugar is used), 3 weeks once opened. Change in color is usually harmless & normal.

The weird thing is no matter how much I skimmed the foam, it seemed to never fully go away. As soon as I poured it into the jars, it was foamy again, so I skimmed them as best as I could with a small spoon… but it didn’t 100% work. Maybe that’s a low-sugar thing? Or a Xylitol thing? No clue. This was my first time using such a low amount of real sugar & a sugar substitute in jam. Although as the jam cooled & settled, a lot of it did “go away”; not sure what the deal is with that.

Anyway, I was pretty proud of myself for making my first low-sugar jam, but I was a bit worried about the flavor. I read online a lot of people saying they made low-sugar jam & it was bland or runny, that got me a bit nervous. However as it cooled it set really nicely, so my worries in that department were for naught. But I was still paranoid about the taste. So I called in the cavalry- my mother was my guinea pig taste tester for the batch, & in her words: “It’s delicious, it tastes just like regular strawberry jam.”

My job here is done. And now I take a bow & make my exit.

Yup- those are cupcake liners. I used cupcake liners to dress the jars up ’cause they were perfect for it. And just as an aside: Jay’s grandma has gone through about 3 jars & it’s only been not quite 2 months. I think she likes ‘em.

And that brings an end to a sweet post about low-sugar, but-just-as-sweet, jam.

Jar of hearts.

In honor of the month of love, I decided to share with you one of my latest creations: a tasty little jar of hearts.

Right now you may be thinking, “The song by Christina Perri?” or maybe you’re thinking “A jar of artichoke hearts? Hearts of Romaine? Celery hearts?” and the answer to all of those would be a resounding no. It’s a different kind of heart. And nope- it’s not an animal heart either. Okay, so it’s not really a jar of hearts at all. It’s a jar of preserved whole strawberries in a light syrup. The reason I decided to call them a jar of hearts is because when I picked up the jar to label it, I noticed the strawberries looked like little hearts. Perfect for this time of year.

See? That’s totally a little heart!

It really looks like hearts! That shit right there is so Snow White. I felt like the evil Queen Grimhilde surveying the heart of my enemy in a jar. Creepy, I know. Sorry. Too many fairy tales thanks to Grimm & Once Upon A Time. But it can also have a romantic spin. Hearts, love, etc. Remember back in the day there was a dude on The Real World (this was when it was still cool, so it must have been the first 5 minutes it was on) who’s girlfriend sent him a pig heart for Valentine’s Day? No? Whatever. This is far from a pig’s heart.

I had a few strawberries left over from a little experiment I had to do (more on that in a week or two) so I decided to do this. I couldn’t let them go to waste; they were perfect, huge, beautifully colored fresh strawberries. And I had already used them in the more obvious capacity (like I said, more on that at another time), so this was the only unique thing I could come up with to do. It was really easy too. They make a perfect ice cream, oatmeal or cheesecake topping & they’d be smashing served with some soufflés, not to mention the syrup is great for putting in ginger ale/seltzer/7-Up as a flavoring, or for making cocktails. It’s like an alcohol-free shrub (though it certainly could be made into one with alcohol, if you’re so inclined, there are tons of great ideas here). Or you could just add a little alcohol to it, & it’s an instant party. These are the things I think about. I’m a sicko, right?

Alright so now you’re probably wanting your own jar of hearts, possibly to give your significant other? Perhaps even just because the thought of telling nosy people who ask you what you got/gave, “Oh, I just gave ‘em a jar of hearts” amuses you? Well, all you have to do is this: take your strawberries (fresh, not frozen) & wash them. Then remove the hulls. Put them in a large saucepan & coat them in granulated sugar, just enough so that each berry has a nice coating & there’s enough sugar so that you don’t see the bottom of the pot. Let it sit, covered, for 3-5 hours. Then turn the heat up to medium high & with a wooden spoon, continuously stir to avoid scorching. The sugar & the liquid that had seeped out of the berries should combine to create a thick syrup. Take care while stirring to not break any of the berries, you want them whole (but if little pieces here & there separate or break off, that’s okay). Cook long enough so that the berries are cooked through or else they’ll float in the jar (this happened to me, even though I was sure they were cooked through). Once it’s ready, using a slotted spoon, scoop out the berries & put them in a hot, sanitized jar. Then pour in enough syrup to cover, leaving about ½”-inch headspace. Seal & process for 10 minutes in a water bath, and allow to cool in the water. If you have any syrup left over & no berries… that’s where the strawberry syrup comes in!

If you’d like to add some liqueur to it, maybe some vodka or maybe some vanilla bean, then do so. If you don’t add any liquid, add a little water if needed to fill whatever size jar you want to use for your syrup. Bring to a boil & then pour into a hot jar & process it, again for 10 minutes. Allow both jars to cool & check the seals. If they didn’t seal, use immediately & refrigerate. I did both of these at once & processed them together, then let them cool in the water bath overnight. I removed them, checked the seals, dried them & labeled them appropriately. Yes, I design & print my labels myself.

This is not a USDA approved recipe, but the incredibly high sugar content & the fact that I only made a half-pint of berries & 4oz. of syrup -both of which will be used fairly quickly- didn’t make that an issue for me. If you’re concerned, take appropriate measures, but I don’t really see any reason to be concerned. Once the berries themselves are done, the remaining syrup in that jar will be used just as the separate syrup. On ice cream, yogurt, cheesecake, pound cake, as a cocktail mixer or in seltzer or soda water. Waste not, want not. Although I doubt any of this will go to waste. As a matter of fact… it is so incredibly delightful as an ice cream topping, you wouldn’t believe it. Yes, I said delightful. Especially over a homemade French vanilla bean ice cream.

Mmm. Ice cream with fresh hearts.

The only warning I can give here is to avoid white clothing. I did, but I have white dish towels & somehow, I guess from spatter & the drips from the spoon, it ended up looking like Dexter Morgan was playing around in my kitchen. I wish. Well, not necessarily that he was killing people in my kitchen, but it’d be pretty awesome if Dexter was hanging out in my kitchen. He’s the bee’s knees; I can’t believe it took me so long to watch that show! I’m officially obsessed now. So yeah, anyway, keep an eye out for that, ’cause white can be bleached- yes- and that’s why it’s perfect for lab coats & chef’s coats & dish towels. But if you’re wearing that really nice light colored apron or your favorite white t-shirt while you make this and then bam- you’ve got a strawberry blood splatter problem, you might not feel as flippant about it. Remember, extra strength Hefty bags, gloves & tape. No… wait… I meant dark-colored aprons or clothing. That other stuff is for making a different kind of “hearts in a jar.” Which you could also do, really, depending on your level of childhood trauma or who you’re planning on gifting.

So now you too can have a jar of hearts in your pantry without being a creepy Disney-villain type. Even though I sort of am a creepy Disney-villain type, myself. I kinda like the witch who lives in the house made of candy, don’t you? Although I don’t want to lure any kids there to do terrible things. I just wanna sit on a marshmallow couch with a buttercream pillow & watch TV.

Your kids are safe with me.

Cupcakes in boxes for a Cupcake Rehab birthday.

If you’re a baker like me, or rather, I should say a person who enjoys baking/does it all the time/bakes for birthdays & holidays/gets requests all the time/pretty much rocks at it, then you know that there are serious problems presented when it’s time to transport said baked goods. Sure, you can use the old school way: a plate covered in tinfoil. But that’s kinda, well, ghetto. Or you could buy one of those silver foil take-out containers, or use a disposable foil cupcake pan… but those are also kind of cheap. And sure, you can go the “mom” route & buy one of those cupcake carriers (which are no doubt awesome, useful & very easy, but they’re kinda ‘bake sale’ & not very ‘bakery’). But you could also get yourself some bakery boxes.

How professional looking, right?

Recently, I was lucky enough to be sent a large box (yes- a box of boxes!) from Bake-A-Box. Inside was a variety of different-sized bakery boxes. Needless to say, I was super excited about this. And when presented with an opportunity to go somewhere for dinner, I decided to bring some cupcakes in my nifty new boxes. Killing two birds with one stone; bringing a lovely dessert to my host & also testing out these convenient little portable cupcake containers. Not to mention the fact that this coming Monday, September 12th, is my blog’s 4th birthday! Usually, I do a giveaway or a big birthday bash, but this year I just wasn’t into it. However, at the very least, I thought we I deserved some prettiful cupcakes after almost 4 years of bloggin’, rockin’ & rollin’… & beating people with whisks.

So me & Lola got to work.

Lola lookin’ foine & reppin’ Sourpuss Clothing! Have you met Lola?

You have to make a pretty dynamic cupcake to have it be prettier than Lola, just saying. My first attempt (strawberry shortcake cupcakes) was kind of a failure. Not for any other reason than they just weren’t “post-worthy.” They looked okay, tasted awesome, but just didn’t have enough oompf or pizzazz to blog photos of ‘em. I mean, look at these cupcakes I posted last week. They’re perfection. I can’t follow those up with average-looking, amateurish cupcakes. But not being one to waste perfectly good food, I packed up the boxes with them anyway to give to another deserving person. Not someone any less important, mind you, just someone who appreciates the taste more than the aesthetics. Then I went to Plan B: lemon marmalade cupcakes, all of them piped high with seven-minute frosting; some topped with marmalade, frosted, then toasted & some not topped with marmalade, but with candy lemon slices on the frosting. Ta-da!

See, I had an open 16 oz. jar of strawberry jam in the fridge & the urge to use it. Sure, it’s being eaten on toast & scones & bread, etc. But I wanted to bake with it. So the first batch was a vanilla cupcake filled to the bursting point with this strawberry jam, then topped with a Swiss meringue buttercream. Seeing as how those weren’t photo-worthy, I went on to make these, crossing my fingers they’d be better. But… the jam was mysteriously much emptier when I went back to use it. Not wanting to open another jar, I used the lemon marmalade I’d made recently instead of the strawberry jam (recipe here). The cupcakes are bright, lemony, sweet & tart yet had a slight complexity from the tea; plus they’re vintage-y looking. They were basically the perfect cupcake to showcase these awesome boxes- and celebrate 4 years of Cupcake Rehab!

LEMON MARMALADE CUPCAKES

Makes about 18 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 8-oz. jar Lady Grey’s lemon marmalade
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees F. Line cupcake or muffin tins with papers; set aside. Into a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg & mix thoroughly. Combine vanilla with milk in a glass measuring cup.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk mixture and starting and ending with the flour. Do not overbeat.
  3. Add ¾ cup marmalade, a ¼ cup at a time, until combined.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared tins, filling cups about ¾ full. Bake until a cake tester inserted near the centers comes out clean and the tops spring back when pressed lightly in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven; spoon a teaspoon of marmalade on top of each while still hot, then remove from pan after 10 minutes. Let cool completely out of the pan before frosting.

..

SEVEN-MINUTE FROSTING

Makes about 4 cups, plenty of frosting for 18, possibly 24 cupcakes depending on how high you frost!

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature

Directions:

  1. Combine ¾ cup sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230° degrees.
  2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add remaining tablespoon sugar, beating to combine.
  3. As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230° degrees, remove from heat. With mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream. Raise speed to medium-high; whisk until mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes. Use immediately.

For those of you who have trouble with 7-minute frosting: the key is to accurately measure the temperature of the boiling sugar/water mixture. It MUST reach 230°! If not, the frosting will probably not work. I’ve never had a failed attempt at 7-minute frosting, and that’s because my candy thermometer is my best friend. If you don’t have one- get one. Especially if you plan on ever attempting cooked frosting’s or if you want to start to make candy or begin canning. Also, you probably need a stand mixer to make it. If not, your arm will most likely become numb & fall off long before the frosting is done. Have you ever tried to mix something with a hand mixer for over 7 minutes straight? You can also double the above recipe for frosting layer cakes or 24+ batches of cupcakes. Also, when it says use immediately, it means immediately. Do not wait. If you wait even a little bit, it’ll get clumpier and not pipe as smoothly. So make this frosting only when you’re 100% ready to use it.

Anyway, I piped the frosting high with my favorite tip, then toasted it slightly. For the rest, I used a quartered slice of candy lemon. Then of course I put them in my new Bake-A-Box boxes for delivery. Thanks to Lyns for the cute little yellow scalloped liners; they were perfect with these! Not only did the scalloping match the boxes, but the yellow was just the right color.

The thing I hate about most boxes- the assembly- was a cinch with these. And they were really cute! Not boring or plain, even though they’re white they’re attractive. People even asked me where I got them, or suggested I bought the cupcakes at a bakery *gasp* AS IF! So yes, I’d definitely buy from them, and yes, I’d encourage my fellow bakers to do so as well. The cupcake holders inside pop in and out, so you could fill them with cakes, cookies or brownies too. And they come in a ton of different sizes. The shipping was super fast too! Go visit Bake-A-Box & tell them I sent you (I always wanted to say that).

Anyway, I love the yellow sunshine-y-ness of these cupcakes. The scalloped edges of the liners & the box not to mention the colors remind me of my marigolds.

It’s been a tough summer, and I know that there’s more rough spots ahead. And between my grandma’s passing, my crazy neighbor’s antics (another story for another day), an East Coast earthquake & then a friggin’ hurricane, it’s been full of excess drama & bullshit that I really didn’t need. But I’m making the best of things, and trying to enjoy at least a little bit of every day. I want to thank Nicole at Bake-A-Box for sending the fantastic boxes… all you bakers out there, go buy some! They’re awesome. And I want to thank all my readers & followers! You guys are the best & you make every blog post worth it, not to mention the past 4 years.

I may not have the most popular blog ever, I may not make the most beautiful or most creative cupcakes (however I do happen think they’re pretty amazing), I may not have the best or even the funniest blog (although, shit, I think I’m fucking HILARIOUS), I may not get so many hits my server overloads weekly, I may not have KitchenAid giveaways weekly or 560 comments kissing my ass on every post. But none of that has ever been important to me, nor was it why I got into doing this. I got into it for fun, all I really wanted to do was to bake fun stuff & share it with other cool like-minded people. So to me the fact that I have almost 1,000 Facebook fans & over 800 Twitter followers just blows me away. Every single time I get a comment or an e-mail that praise me or compliment me or the blog in the slightest, it automatically turns into a good day. That’s how much I value all of you. And don’t worry- I’m doing just fine in the visitors department, by the way, of course I ain’t on Dooce level… but who is? Other than Dooce, I mean. So no, I don’t make so much money off the blog that I can retire at 30, I don’t get any huge compensation for it, I don’t get money or trips thrown at me, nor is it always easy to do this; between the tech aspect, the design aspect, the social media aspect & the recipe aspect itself, it’s actually like a full-time second job. But I adore it. And it’s my personal opinion that anyone in anything JUST for money or fame is a phony, so rest assured when you read this blog, you’re reading the work of someone who puts 100% into it just for the fun & enjoyment of it, and for the community of it, not for any monetary gain. Not that that’s a bad thing at all… it’s just not where I’m at. I don’t give a shit about getting a TV show that might air after The Neely’s, getting an advertising deal with Le Creuset, or that I may have too filthy of a mouth to impress Martha. But again, I don’t give a flying fig about that or anything else; especially what people may think of me. Never have, never will. I’m in it for my amusement & yours, and that’s all, whatever positive things come from that are greatly appreciated & welcomed, but definitely not needed. I’m having a blast just the way things are & I hope my readers are too. The day it becomes a chore or just a way to make a buck is the day I quit. I enjoy it, I hope you do too, and I hope it continues for a long time.

So it’s been four whole years! And I, for one, am not going anywhere. Not anytime soon. But I just want to thank you all… you all who’s e-mails & comments make it doubly & triply worthwhile… all of the amazing bakers & cupcakers I’ve gotten the chance to “meet”… all the great businesses who I’ve had the pleasure of discovering… THANK YOU! YOU LIKE ME, YOU REALLY LIKE ME!

I look forward to spending many more with you.

Van Gogh’s “la fraise & la liqueur de chocolat” jam… & cobbler too.

I’m not exactly giving you a recipe today, at least not for the jam… I’ll explain all of that later. I’m really just giving an idea for the jam. The recipe is actually for the mini cobblers made with the jam.

I named this jam Van Gogh’s “la fraise & la liqueur de chocolat”  jam, which means roughly “strawberry & chocolate liqueur jam” after one of my favorite artist’s, Vincent Van Gogh, not because of any particular thing in common with him. He didn’t really paint strawberries, although in the 1880′s, he did write in several letters to his brother Theo about his efforts to “eat strawberries in the spring” ; a reference not only to his actually eating strawberries, but also a reference to learning to enjoy things in the moment. And to me, that’s a nice thought- enjoy things in the moment. Life is short, and we might as well enjoy the little things as we can. Too often we get caught up in the bullshit of every day life & we forget to stop & “eat strawberries in the spring.” I’ve been thinking of that ever since I read it, and especially with recent events I think it’s really important. My grandma lived every day to the fullest, and enjoyed every single day. She definitely ate her strawberries in the spring. And that’s a lesson we should all learn.

Sadly, Van Gogh was very troubled and cut off his own ear, so I’m guessing he wasn’t eating a lot of strawberries or enjoying a whole lot of things at the time.

Mirror image self-portrait, 1889

So all of that sounds nice (except the ear-cutting part). However there was another factor in my naming this jam.

That other factor: Van Gogh’s Amsterdam Chocolate liqueur, which, obviously, is a key ingredient in the jam. Say what?! Oh yes. Behold:

My liquor shelf be poppin’, yo!

 ..

Yep. That’s right. There’s no actual chocolate in this jam. Just chocolate liqueur. It’s so good. This one happens to have a great chocolate flavor, not bitter & not fake-tasting, with no cream (unlike the Mozart or Godiva liqueurs which are divine but being cream based, I can only imagine they would not bode well for jam making). Perfect in a martini or even straight up. It looks as though it’s a bit difficult to find now, I bought it a while ago but I’m fairly sure my liquor store still sells it. Anyway, you could just as easily use a chocolate vodka, vanilla vodka, regular vodka, any liqueur not cream based… and even Chambord or Cointreau. Whatever flavor you like. I just happen to think strawberries & chocolate are a great flavor combination, so that’s why this struck me as a good idea. But why not use blackberries & Chambord? Or raspberries & pomegranate vodka? It all sounds pretty awesome. And if you’re gonna make a jam, why not make one with liquor!? Isn’t there an Ogden Nash quote, “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker”?

Yes, those are fake strawberries.

Here’s the deal: I made this on a whim after a “buy one get one free” sale on strawberries. I was partially inspired by a jam recipe that Tania made & sent me from Poet in the Pantry, but I wanted to do a different spin on the chocolate/strawberry thing. So I kind of made it up as I went along. I can’t come close to telling you the exact process I went through, and I’d feel terrible if I wrote something up that was awful, & you wasted 2 pounds of berries. So I won’t lead you down a terrible path by giving you one of my mangy, sad, made-up jam recipes that might not work for you. But I will say this: find a good strawberry jam recipe that makes about 3-4 pints (with the use of pectin, unless you’re confident about your strawberries gelling naturally, which I am not), and add  ⅓-½ cup liqueur of your choice to it. I actually only used ¼ cup and it was too subtle for my liking. You could taste it, but not quite enough for me. My base recipe was this small batch one from Food in Jars (except I altered it to use 2 lbs of berries, I added pectin & took out the vanilla).

My jam also took a few days to firm up properly, even with the pectin. It was sorta gelling before I jarred it, but after I stirred in the alcohol it watered down a bit. However, it definitely got more firm as it settled. Possibly it took longer because of the alcohol addition? I’m not sure. If you don’t like to play with fire that way, do the cold plate test until you’re 100% positive it’s ready, then add the liqueur once it definitely is. I knew based on my sugar/acid/pectin that I’d be good, eventually, so I didn’t worry about it setting up. And even if it didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have cared. It was only a small batch, and let’s be honest: strawberry chocolate liqueur ice cream syrup sounds pretty awesome. I am no expert by any means, though, so don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of other people who know what they’re doing far better than I. I’m just a lowly canning neophyte.

Clearly backlit from heaven!

This recipe makes roughly 3 pints. I filled up two & a half-pint jars for the waterbath/canning process, and then had a bit left over that might have been a bit under 6-8 oz. I just put that right in the fridge in an old marmalade jar for immediate use. That little part of the batch firmed up right away, probably from the cold. I had some right away and it was a bit sweet, but I know a lot of jams “mellow” in the jar after processing & sitting, which the small jar did not get a chance to do. Plus, the colder the jam is, the less sweet it will taste, so if you refrigerate it after a few days, even before it’s opened, it’ll dull the sweetness. Same principle as when making ice cream- it may seem too sweet, but when it’s frozen it’s really not. Or something.

What a beautiful jewel-toned ruby colored jam this is. I could just stare at it in the jar all day. But that would be weird, right?

This would be a great cupcake filling, by the way. I’m thinking of a chocolate cupcake with this jam as a filling, and then an Italian meringue buttercream frosting made with some of the jam as well. Unf. That would be phenomenal. And how about a homemade pop-tart made with this? INSANE. Although… on two pieces of soft wheat toast it wasn’t exactly disgusting, let me tell you. Far from it.

But… you can also make it into a bunch of mini cobblers. Strawberry chocolate liqueur mini-cobblers made in little ramekins! Adorable. Totes adorbs. And everything tastes better when it’s homemade start to finish, amirite?

Yep. Take it all in.  Homemade mini-cobblers made with homemade strawberry chocolate liqueur jam. Are you loving this yet?

MINI-STRAWBERRY JAM COBBLERS WITH A KICK

Makes about 8 average sized ramekins

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-ounce jar strawberry chocolate liqueur jam
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold & cut into pieces

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400º F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil (because the jam will overflow & things will get very messy) and place ramekins on it. Spray ramekins with cooking spray, lightly & evenly, to make clean-up easier later.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder & salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Spoon jam into ramekins, filling almost up to the top, maybe ¾”  away from it.
  3. Top each jam-filled ramekin with a heaping pile of the flour mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until it starts to turn golden-brown. Remove, and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Best eaten when still fairly warm, but I know some people who wouldn’t turn it down room temperature either.

And there you have it. I finally got around to baking something! How exciting. Although it was my first time baking since my grandma passed, and it was pretty hard. I’d normally bring some of whatever I made to her, and she’d eat it and rave about it and tell everyone how amazing it was. But, life goes on, and I know the last thing she’d want is to hear me complain or stop baking or be weepy & sad. At least I keep telling myself that.

Either way, this is some excellent cobbler, and I bet my Nana is pretty pissed that she missed it.