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Posts from the ‘sweets’ Category

strawberries dipped in mexican hot chocolate

One of my fondest memories of my early college days was late-night Mexican hot chocolate in Wallach 9C. Our 11-person suite—which included a Chinese physics genius, a Russian pianist, two Cross Country runners and a reclusive boy by the name of Dante—would gather in the common room most nights around ten, when Homer’s poetry had lost its muse-song and a vague yearning for an (absent) TV set was communally felt. It was then that Matt would emerge with thick tablets of Abuelita hot chocolate from San Diego, dissolving them in half a gallon of cheap milk. We drank it steaming from mismatched travel mugs while playing a finicky card game that involved multiple decks, listening to—dare I say it—old Disney tunes. It was privileged nerd-ism at its best.

Here in Santa Barbara it’s been such a warm winter that even strawberries have become year-round fare, and whenever I go to Shepard Farms I marvel at the plump berries tucked in with the kale and butternuts. But even a California winter is an excuse to make hot chocolate, and though I’m still a fan of Nestle’s Abuelita (and her Hispanic Foods aisle cousin Ibarra) I’ve begun experimenting with Mexican hot chocolate rich enough for dipping winter strawberries. Make this spiced, chocolatey base as a decadent sauce for fruit and ice cream, or whisk it into hot milk for a warm evening treat. Want hot chocolate to rival Juliet Binoche in Chocolat? I’ve been coveting this milk frother for some time, and who knows–my birthday’s coming up.

Mexican Hot Chocolate for Dipping or Drinking

The following amounts are for a single serving, but they can be easily doubled or tripled if you’d like to share.

1 small square dark chocolate

1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)

3 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp almond flour (or ground almonds)


In a small saucepan, melt chocolate over low heat. Add cocoa with a small splash of milk and whisk to combine, then add cinnamon, sugar, and almond flour with an additional splash of milk and whisk until chocolate base becomes thick and shiny. At this point the sauce is ideal for dipping.

For hot chocolate, add 3/4–1 cup milk to the saucepan and whisk to heat and combine. Taste and add additional milk if necessary, and enjoy steaming in your favorite mug.

meyer lemon sherbet with honey

In my running list of potential ingredient combinations, ice cream with quinoa was probably—no, definitely—near the bottom.

But there we were on a Friday at 9 a.m., me and 20 high schoolers, happily munching homemade lemon sherbet studded with quinoa from the bottom of our paper bowls. I’d brought the grain and dessert to share with students at my alma mater Laguna Blanca, the plan being to talk a little about food and blogging and offer first something healthy and breakfasty (quinoa as cereal!) and then something sweet. In the frenzy of serving they ended up together, but what better lesson for young cooks than that making food is often a happy accident?

I’m still a young cook myself, and ingredient adventures are no small part of my kitchen. Often the idea is not wholly my own: a month or so ago I was making a pasta casserole with one of my fellow apprentices when he suggested topping the dish with thinly sliced potatoes. Pasta and potatoes? Together? I tried (unsuccessfully) to veil my skepticism, but I was the one swallowing my words when we cut into our steaming casserole with its perfectly crisped potato topping. Who knew?

This lemon sherbet is also the product of experimentation, particularly since I ended up making four batches over the course of last week. Some of you may remember the birthday ice cream maker I purchased for my mom back in October (an ulterior motive gift to be sure), and since my servings of iced desserts usually near half the quart, I decided to play around with ice cream and gelato’s svelter and oft-ignored cousin, sherbet. Made with milk instead of cream, sherbet falls somewhere between ice cream and sorbet, and using Jeni Britton’s ice cream-making method it is nothing short of delicious. The base for my final batch came out of the fridge a tad too tart, but as it was a bit late to add more sugar I spooned in some Avocado-blossom honey. Not quite as odd as potatoes on pasta, but a happy experiment nonetheless.

Meyer Lemon Sherbet with Honey

Meyer lemons have a characteristically mild and fragrant flavor which works wonderfully in sherbet, but I’ve made this recipe successfully with limes and other citrus so feel free to use what you have on hand. The same goes for the milk—I use 2%, but you can easily substitute according to preference.

3 cups milk

1/3 cup sugar

zest of three lemons

1 Tbsp cornstarch

3 Tbsp cream cheese

juice of five Meyer lemons

3 Tbsp honey

Whip cream cheese in a large bowl and set aside. Combine milk, sugar, and lemon zest in a saucepan over medium heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Dissolve cornstarch in a separate cup with a little of the milk from the pan, then pour into the main mixture when it begins to boil. Stir for a minute or so on the heat until the sherbet base thickens slightly, then pour onto the cream cheese and whisk vigorously until mixed. Set in the fridge or freezer to cool.

Juice your lemons and set aside. When the sherbet base is fully cooled, stir in honey and lemon juice a little at a time, tasting after each addition. When your base is the perfect combination of tart and sweet, freeze in your ice cream maker or follow these instructions for freezing your sherbet as a granita.

roasted cauliflower with almonds, raisins and capers

I’m a list-maker by nature, and the end of the year brings with it unlimited list-making opportunities: books read, restaurants visited, James Bond movies watched in a single week (thank you instant Netflix!). The most rewarding list, however, is always my “year in recipes.” Nothing reminds me more vividly of the distinct settings of my year–New York, Columbia, home, the farm–than the things I cooked and ate, and each of the following recipes was a genuine favorite, made multiple times and either shared or joyfully hoarded. I hope that you enjoy this selection, and that it reminds you of the recipes and meals that make up your own.

Guilt-free cookies with coconut, banana, ground almonds and dark chocolate.

Spicy spaghetti with fennel, lemon, pancetta and parsley.

— A goat cheese tart with Greek yogurt, honey, berries and oats.

Orzo salad with feta, lemon, broccoli, asparagus, and sprouts.

— Baked brunch oatmeal with bananas, berries, vanilla and almonds.

— Hearty meatballs with breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley and egg.

— A refreshing ice cream with cream cheese and handfuls of fresh mint.

— A perfect bread pudding with toasted bread, vanilla, raisins and pecans.

— And lastly, a personal favorite from our Christmas Day lunch:

Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds, Raisins and Capers

1 large (or 2-3 small) heads of cauliflower

olive oil

large handful almonds, chopped

1/2 cup raisins, red or golden

1/4 cup capers

salt and pepper

red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop the cauliflower heads into florets, then toss in a bowl with several glugs of olive oil. Add the chopped almonds, raisins, capers and salt and pepper to taste, and continue to toss until everything is nicely mixed and coated with oil. Spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with pepper flakes, then roast in the oven until the almonds are toasted and the florets begin to brown, tossing occasionally. Serve as a side, warm or cool.

christmas mince pies

I know—I’ve had rather a high proportion of sweets-related posts in the last few months. But I can’t let Christmas go by without writing something about mince pies, which are for my family the equivalent of chestnuts roasting on an open fire (or something like that).

Mince pies aren’t all that common in the US. They’re the sort of thing that as a child you imagine Christmas couldn’t exist without, until you encounter enough raised eyebrows at their mention to set you straight. You could think of them as a dessert, but their ideal counterpart is tea—steaming PG Tips served in china teacups with gold rims. In my family the mince pie-making starts early in December, and it’s all about the assembly: cutting the bottoms and tops with a tall beer glass, buttering my grandmother’s special indented pans, slicing little crosses on the tops for the steam to escape. To this end we’ve always kept it simple with store-bought pastry and store-bought mincemeat, though the jar is liberally doctored with rum as soon as it’s opened, of course.

When December arrived several weeks ago, though, I had no pastry in the freezer, no bottle of mincemeat mysteriously still fresh after a year in the back of the fridge. I’d never considered making the filling—a rich, jammy mix of fruit of spices—myself, but desperation drove me to eye the raisins and apples in our pantry and the ancient bottle of vermouth perched above the cottage stove. The following recipe comes after several tries, but I can safely say I’m a homemade mincemeat convert. Playing with it—trying different fruits, nuts, and liquors—has been lots of fun, and there’s little else I can imagine that will make your kitchen smell quite so delicious.

Christmas Mince Pies

Below is my own recipe for the mincemeat filling, and I also made the pastry from scratch using this recipe from the blog I turn to for all things baking, Smitten Kitchen.

1 Tbsp butter

2 apples, peeled and chopped into small cubes



1/4 cup brown sugar

zest and juice of 1 orange

generous splash rum (or sweet vermouth)

1 cup dried fruit, chopped (I used raisins, prunes, dates, and dried cherries)

1 recipe for pie pastry

To make the filling, melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan and add in the chopped apples. Sprinkle with liberal pinches of cinnamon and cloves, then add the brown sugar and stir until the apple pieces are coated with butter, sugar and spice. Add the orange zest, juice, and rum to taste, then add in your assorted dried fruit. Pour a bit of boiling water until the fruit is just covered, then turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, until everything is soft, thick and gooey.

Meanwhile either make or defrost your pastry and roll it out until it’s fairly thin. Use a glass to cut your circles, and place the bottoms in a muffin pan. Scoop a small spoonful of the mincemeat into each bottom and run a finger dipped in water around the circumference of the pastry–this will help the top adhere to the bottom. Press the tops on using your fingertips to pinch the edges together, then finish by cutting small crosses on your pies and brushing them with egg. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the pies are golden brown.

chocolate mila cake

I remember loving two things as a 13-year-old: my lilac stretchy halter dress and Mila cake.

The dress I thought “showed off my curves” (the non-existent ones), and I wore it to every dance at my school that year, not to mention trips to the grocery store, youth symphony rehearsals, and birthday parties. It was at one such birthday that I first encountered Mila cake, a hybrid brownie-cake creation of a friend’s Swedish mother that was crumby on the outside and irresistibly gooey in the middle. I was going through a bit of a “health phase” at the time, baking tasteless brick-like lemon loaves that oozed olive oil and dreaming of opening a soy-products store called “Edamame.” The Mila cake was the first glimmer of my return to butter, sugar and cocoa, a herald of the joyfulness eating could be.

I tasted it a handful of times after that, and then it was gone—disappeared into the vault of childhood memory along with Zoo biscuits, Nicole’s mom’s shepherd’s pie, and the curious sweetness of the chocolates that came in my Christmas Advent calendar. For years I imagined what it would be like to make it, and no brownie or chocolate cake quite lived up to that legendary first bite. A photo of me in my dress eating Mila cake became a sort of talisman, a perfect moment when all my younger, simpler desires were fulfilled. It only occurred to me this week, almost ten years later, that the cake might be a Swedish specialty, and a quick google search revealed my hunch to be on the right track—the photos of “kladdkaka,” a traditional Swedish chocolate cake, looked almost exactly like the cake that had eluded me for so long.

We all know no memory can ever be truly fulfilled—no tube of Nestlé Smarties tastes quite like the one you were given by your grandparents when they came to visit, and that crush you had in fourth grade definitely looked cuter with braces. But having made what I still consider “Mila cake” three times now, I feel I’m getting close (partly because no cake lasted more than three hours on the kitchen table). And along with the old memories, I now have a collection of new ones: my last winter nights in the cottage, with Christine playing music, Phillip and Ross playing zombies, Sara eating a bagel on the couch, Adam in his red sweater and hat, and an empty pan of Mila cake crumbs on the living room table.

Chocolate Mila Cake

Adapted from the recipe for Swedish Kladdkaka on It’s Time to Bake.

2 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

pinch salt

2 Tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs with the sugar until mixed, then add in the flour, cocoa powder and salt one at a time. Whisk the vanilla extract with the melted butter, then combine with the egg mixture and pour batter into a greased 8-inch pie plate. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges are set and the middle is still soft and gooey.

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