Tag Archives: Dessert

Grain Cake

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It’s not a very tantalizing name for a cake, is it? This cake is a riff on that Italian Easter time  dessert, Pastiera Napoletana di Grano, a dessert made with whole cooked wheat grains and ricotta. It wasn’t a big thing in my house growing up, but we did have it every once in a while. It’s delicious in a very comforting way, slightly chewy, slightly custardy and not too sweet. I used cooked barley in it, as opposed to wheat, and impastata ricotta, which is a richer, smoother ricotta used for cannoli filling. I’m pretty sure regular ricotta will work just fine. And other cooked grains? Why not give it a try? Cooked grains add a great texture to cake, and the grains in it feel virtuous. I’m a proponent of anything that makes daily portions of cake a “healthy” option.

Last week, I started finishing up the items in the pantry that are more wintry, like pearled barley. I had a small amount left and got the idea to make a sweet dish, something like a rice pudding. I pressure cooked the small white grains (1.5 cups) in half coconut milk and water (equaling 3 cups) and a pinch of salt. Almost half way done, the liquids started coming out of the pressure cooker and it was a bit of a disaster, burnt coconut milk all over the stove. I went ahead and cooked it until tender with the lid off despite the mishap. (Not sure why it happened? My cooker is fine, as I cooked rice in it afterwards and it came out perfectly, no mishaps. It wasn’t overfilled. Maybe it was the fatty nature of the coconut milk? I’m noting it here, so that you may be warned.) I ate that coconut barley (which is what is was, a cooked grain, instead of a pudding, but whatever) for breakfast a few days in a row, adding cinnamon and maple syrup. It was tasty, with that slightly unyielding chewiness that barley offers. But I was over it after a few days, and there was still a bit left.

What else to do with it? I thought baked in a cake of some sort was the answer. But what kind of cake is that? And the idea of the grain pie came to me. I liked it because the grain pie is sort of involved, and I liked the idea of the filling but not bothering with the pie shell. The grain pie will often have candied citrus in it, but I wanted to use up some pear jam, so the fruitiness of this cake come from that. The jam also gives it moisture and cohesion, so I’ll bet you could swap it with applesauce and then add about a third of a cup of chopped candied citrus, if you prefer. This cake stayed moist for a good five days sitting out. It was quick to put together and a good easy breakfast. Who doesn’t want cake for breakfast?

Grain Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch springform pan.

1 cup cooked barley

1/2 cup impastata ricotta

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup pear jam

2 eggs

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Add the ingredients in the order they are listed here, but mix the flour, powder, soda, and salt together before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. Poured and smoothed into the pan, it was baked for about 25 minutes. Let cool.

Apricot Almond Tart

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Soon all the summer fruits will have had their fifteen minutes. Strawberries seem like forever ago! All you have to do is go away for a week, and you’ve missed something. I almost missed the elderberries this year, but luckily I now have portions of it’s intensely colored juice mixed with honey from my neighbor’s bees to stave off winter viruses. (The coming winter is predicted to be more of the same as last year. Shiver!)

One of my very favorite fruits to make jam out of is apricots, and I was gone right when they were at their peak. So when I returned, I was on a mission to find the last of this precious bounty! I called a few places I know of to no avail. Finally, I found some! It was the very last case of the very last apricots, probably about 18 pounds of them. I made two large batches of jam for Half-Pint Preserves. My son must have eaten about five pounds all by himself. And the last few I made into this tart. It is incredibly good.

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The original recipe is nothing short of genius. Lazy person that I am, I wanted a tart but didn’t want to make a pie crust. I searched around and found this brilliant recipe for plum almond crustless tart from Kitchen Vignettes. I take no credit for this very easy and very delicious recipe. I only tweaked it a little.  I’ll be making it again soon with plums, but I think I may add a sprinkle of cinnamon so it’s a bit like a German plum kuchen. It works as breakfast with a spoonful of Greek yogurt, but also is an elegant dessert.

Apricot Almond Tart

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, greased well.

2 cups almond flour (or start with raw almonds–about 1 1/2 cups should yield 2 cups flour)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs

1 pound of apricots, pitted and halved

(Optional: 1 tablespoon of sugar to sprinkle on top before baking)

You can use a food processor for this entire recipe. First put the almonds in to finely grind them into flour. Then add the butter and sugar to cream well. Add the flour, the extract and the eggs, pulsing after each addition. Spread batter into pan. Push each fruit half into the batter leaving room between each piece. The pieces can be up or down, or both. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 45 minutes.

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Canned Pear Cake

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This time of year the empty jars start piling up, and the full jars start to disappear. The jar management game, if you’re a canner,  begins. I might be a little early this year. I tend to be somewhat of a hoarder, which means that by the time asparagus and rhubarb starting producing in the garden, I’m still using up pantry items. This year I want to have a clean slate by that time. And to defrost the freezer! Big plans over here. This cake was a success on all fronts, even though it’s name sounds dull. Not only was it delicious, but it used up almost two jars of pantry goods. And it’s a healthy breakfast cake to boot. Success!

Success feels good. Of course, I don’t post failures, but don’t be fooled, they are legion. I’m never truly bothered by a kitchen fail. It’s disappointing, sure (especially when I think something is going to turn out great and spectacularly fails), but it never deters me from forging ahead. I’m so matter of fact about the failures: huh, that didn’t work. Guess I’ll try this. I wish I could be that forgiving with the rest of my life. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately after reading this article on Brain Pickings about fixed  and growth mindsets; in particular I liked the quote about how growth mindsets  instill “a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.”  People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, “see risk and effort as potential giveaways of their inadequacies, revealing that they come up short in some way.” My cooking life definitely has a growth mindset. The rest of me? Not so much.  I think my personal life could learn a lot from my cooking life–the biggest lesson being: keep going in the face of failures (big plural!).

The success of this recipe is that it’s adapted one of my favorite recipes from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, a simple one for banana bread. My spin is that I’ve used some pears canned in light syrup, and a pear jam. I also like date molasses (try it!) for this, but maple syrup or honey would both be fine. Keep in mind the honey will be sweeter, so maybe use 1/4 cup, and maple perhaps 1/2 cup? It also depends on how sweet your jam and pears are, so adjust for that.

Canned Pear Cake

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8×8 pan.

2 cups canned pears (this can be pear sauce, or canned pear halves that have been mashed)

3 tablespoons of oil or melted butter

1/3 cup of date molasses (or 1/4 cup of honey; 1/2 cup maple syrup–see note above on sweeteners)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

2 cups white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pear jam (mine was a chunky style with no embellishments)

1 tablespoon of sugar for topping (optional)

Mix the first five ingredients well. Whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix them together. Smooth in prepared pan. Spread the top with jam, and sprinkle with sugar for a little crispness, and bake for about 40 minutes. Look for the sides to be golden, and the very tips of the jam beginning to brown a little. You can also check with a toothpick inserted coming out clean.

Even a few days out, this is still good. I put a slice of cold butter on a untoasted piece of this, and it was heavenly.

Bloomington, NY

Frozen Yogurt with Boozy Figs

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I don’t want to forget this one! I’ve been on a bit of a frozen goodies tear, because according to my son, the winter is the best time for ice cream! I’m sure he’ll say the same thing in summer, but I’m going with it. We made raspberry sorbet for Valentine’s Day–he’s more of a fruit-loving kid than a chocolate one (the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree). But this one here was just for me. And what’s best about this dessert is that it came together with leftovers.

The figs: There were some dried figs that I had been meaning to use for a long time, so I soaked them in some hot water for about thirty minutes, before draining them and then covering them in a mixture of bourbon and nut liqueur (Pisa, a mixed nut liqueur). I picked these two liquors because they were taking up valuable real estate in the liquor cabinet, with only a finger or two of booze left in them.

The yogurt: Lately, I’ve been putting cream in my yogurt; say a fifth of the milk gets replaced by cream. The last batch I put a touch too much, making the mistake of using a carton of cream up. What could be wrong with yogurt that’s too creamy? Well, it ended up being a bit too rich for breakfast, but not for dessert. I thought it would be perfect for frozen yogurt.

The details: 

1 1/2 cups of full fat yogurt

1/2 cup of milk

1/2 cup superfine sugar

some boozy dried figs, about a 1/4 cup, drained of the booze and chopped

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 teaspoon of the bourbon/liqueur mixture

1/2 teaspoon of almond extract

Mix the (very cold) ingredients gently. Put in an ice cream machine and run for 20 to 30 minutes. I found that this stayed a perfect texture after being frozen, I’m guessing due to the alcohol.

The side benefit? The leftover bourbon/nut liqueur mixture is a great nightcap to sip by the fire. Happy weekend!

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