A Real Sweet Week

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For the best baked cookies use a light colored not a dark metal cookie sheet 

It’s been a real sweet week in the kitchen, but not without a few mishaps. Social media has a way of making one believe that all recipes look and come out perfectly, but for me that is far from the truth. On many occasions I have some real blunders. Like with Leena’s Finnish Slice Cookies from the blog Culinary Cellar. I got distracted by a phone call and over-baked them and then neglected to slice them while still warm as instructed. Instead of tender beautiful slices I had shards of brittle. Trial 2 gave me the perfect buttery delicious slice. These are the best cookies on the planet declared by my family. Bake them.

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Speaking of family the week was extra sweet because I got to spend it with, well, lots of family. We spent 4th of July with my daughter’s in-laws and their extended family and then my brother and sister in-law came to visit. Here is what I made for the 4th.

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Don’t those mini vanilla cheesecakes look grand. They look perfectly delicious, NOT. I had to fix them. The recipe was a little too sweet and after baked the cheesecakes were a little sunken in. Here is a hint…always bake extra so you can taste and adjust as you go along. The truth about cheesecake is that all it takes is some ingenious toppings to fix the defects. I filled the sunken in part with a dollop of sour cream to cut the sweetness and then topped with fresh seasonal fruit. The glaze is melted orange marmalade which adds just the right touch of bitter-sweetness to the tart fruit. It was a real joy to watch all the guests enjoy dessert.

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Annabelle’s first selfie

As much as I love to bake, the sweetest part of my week is spending time with these two ladies. KiKi is in her glory being a grandmother. Annabelle is a beautiful mix of her mom and dad. She is just beginning to discover her hands and give us a true smile. She completely melts my heart. The greater joy comes from seeing a daughter be a mother. I am inspired by how calm and nurturing my Caitlin is. She has incredible instincts and I could not be more proud to call her my daughter. A long time ago she told me, “mom, one day we will be happy again” and she sure made it happen. I love my family.

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But I am not loving my latest sweet treat. I think my fresh blackberry pie with a touch of orange is a little runny. Back to the kitchen.

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A clear glass pie plate makes testing a pie crust for doneness easier

Inspired & Spirited Birthday Dessert

all warm and melted Bill dug in before I could light the candle

all warm and melted Bill dug in to his sticky toffee pudding cake before I could light the candle

It was a good week celebrating Bill’s birthday with lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, The Whip Tavern, followed by dinner with Caitlin and Sam the day after. I was pretty certain what Bill wanted for his birthday dinner, but thought I’d ask anyway. Sure enough, “shrimp ‘n grits” followed by “sticky toffee pudding cake”.

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

The thought of shrimp n’ grits always brings me back to Charleston, SC. It was there that Bill and I last got to spend time with William. Just a few short days catching up and hanging out enjoying a little southern comfort. We also heard all about his future scout sniper training before we hugged and said good-bye.

very proud

very proud

Those days with Will are among our most priceless and I know this week Bill was missing that birthday phone call from his best buddy. He is working through his grief in his own quiet way and hopefully believing that Will is with us all the time, at least, in spirit.

first pheasant

first pheasant

And that spirit inspires me to create this dessert to celebrate Bill in a sweet way. Not a fan of dates? Sticky Toffee Pudding will change your mind, I guarantee!

Dark Muscovado sugar has a fine, moist texture with a high molasses content that blends well with strong coffee. I use the India Tree brand from Mauritius. Brandy plays well with both the dates and the coffee adding that spirited touch I love so much.

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

Inspired & Spirited Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

8 ounces pitted dates, coarsely chopped

1 cup very hot strong coffee

1 tablespoon brandy

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 large eggs, room temperature

SAUCE

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon brandy

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray (10) 1-cup ramekins with non-stick baking spray. Place dates in a bowl, pour coffee and brandy over dates; let soak 15 minutes. Stir in baking soda. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In large bowl, with an electric mixer on high, beat butter and sugar for 3 to 5 minutes or until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, add lemon zest and beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add half the flour mixture beating until combined. Add date mixture and remaining flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Scoop batter into ramekins filling about ¾ full; place on a baking sheet. Bake until cakes are puffed and spring back in center when gently pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, for sauce, combine butter, sugar, cream and brandy in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium (so sauce does not boil over) and boil, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, about 4 minutes. Remove cakes from oven. With a wooden skewer poke holes in cakes. Spoon half of hot sauce over cake (1 ½ tablespoons per cake) and let soak 20 minutes. Serve warm with remaining sauce and vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

*Note: dark brown sugar can be used in place of muscovado

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar

When Worlds Collide Make Dulche de Leche Coconut Cake

dulce de leche coconut cake

dulce de leche coconut cake

Never under estimate the power of being a good friend. When one is grieving having a sympathetic friend whether near or far is priceless. Having a friend that reaches out from time to time reminds those in mourning that they are never alone. An occasional call or visit to a friend who is grieving gives strength and hope for a better tomorrow.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by some great friends. Not only my friends, but William’s friends. Whit, for example, is one of William’s very best friends in the whole wide world. Whit and Will met in high school and were captains of the Taft lacrosse team. They had fun and they had plans. I can’t imagine how Whit felt when he got the news of Will’s accident. How it is to lose a best friend?

Whit & Will: Taft Formal

Whit & Will: Taft Formal

Lynn is one of my best friends and William’s godmother. We’ve known each other for nearly 35 years. My kids grew up in the same house Lynn grew up in (’cause we bought the house after her parents retired and moved). When one day I was digging in the garden I discovered an old silver US Navy ring-we’re talking WWll. Turns out that Lynn’s dad was in the Navy. She gifted that buried treasure to William. In fact, William always felt like he hit the jackpot with Lynn for a godmother because she always gave him the coolest gifts. How does it feel to lose a much loved godchild?

bff's

bff’s

Whit’s and Lynn’s worlds collided at Will’s funeral. I don’t get to see either one of them very often, but I think of them every day and hold them in my heart along with so many other friends. Too caught up in my own grief I probably have never told them how sorry I am that they lost someone so near and dear to THEIR hearts. A best friend. A godchild. I am so sorry. So sorry to everyone who ever loved him, too.

Whit and Lynn often send me stuff–good stuff! The kind of stuff that inspires me to cook and bake… So when Whit sent me some dulche de leche from his travels and Lynn sent me some Wadmalaw Island Firefly Distillery Southern Accents Coconut Cake Liqueur their two worlds collided again and out came something as sweet as they are: “A Little Dulche de Leche Coconut Cake”.

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A Little Dulce de Leche Coconut Cake

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1-tablespoon cornstarch

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

4 eggs

¼ cup Southern Accents Coconut Cake Liqueur

1-teaspoon coconut extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

½ cup buttermilk

Topping

2 tablespoons dulche de leche

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons Southern Accents Coconut Cake Liqueur

toasted coconut (as much or as little as you like)

Heat oven 325F. Spray a coffee cake pan or (6 cup) loaf pan with no-stick baking spray. In bowl, whisk flour, cornstarch, salt and baking soda; set aside. In a large measuring cup, whisk eggs, liqueur and extracts until blended; set aside. In large mixer bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add both sugars and beat on high until light and fluffy—a good 2 minutes. With mixer on low speed, slowly pour egg mixture in and continue beating until incorporated—mixture will look curdled. Add flour mixture, 1/3rd at a time, alternating with buttermilk just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a rack. Meanwhile, in small saucepan over medium heat, stir dulche de leche, heavy cream and coconut liqueur; bring to a low boil. Simmer mixture until it reduces down to ¼ cup. While cake is still warm spread glaze over top and sprinkle with toasted coconut.