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Lemon Berry Crumble Breakup Bars

This is a hard story to write — hard enough that it’s taken me almost two months to even attempt it. I still feel raw about it, and I still don’t know how to address the situation head-on. So I’ll just muddle through it the best way I can.

On November 28, Mike and I broke up. It was a cold day, and I dropped him off at the train station so he could head back to Raleigh. Watching him close the door and walk into the station was like watching a movie, except that it wasn’t fiction. I knew we were about to travel a rocky road, but there was no way to switch off the television, no credits to roll — just the aftermath to clean up as best we could.

4,237 days (or 11 years, 7 months, and 5 days) earlier, I had just turned 15 years old. I was sitting in my room, looking out the window, and talking to Mike on the phone. He had something to ask me, but was obviously nervous: “If I were to ask you . . . something . . . what would you say?”

I helped him get to the point. Yes, I want to be your girlfriend. I couldn’t have imagined at that moment where the next 12 years would take us. Who knows when they’re 15 that they’re embarking on something monumental?

Over the years, our relationship brought us trials, for sure.

It also brought me through high school. Sometimes I’d leave school and drive straight to his apartment to watch Star Trek and eat Hamburger Helper (my early attempts at “cooking for him”).

It took me to college, coming home to see him every weekend. It took me off to the coast to study marine zoogeography for a semester — I remember the strain of distance, calling every night on my newly acquired cell phone, and his visit out to Atlantic Beach to see me.

Our relationship saw me through my first teaching job, a tumultuous experience for me. In the first hopeful, idealistic days before I began, he came and painted every single one of my lab tables a deep green to cover the graffiti. Later in the year, when my administration decided to switch my classroom and everything went wrong, my clean tables were mixed in with others and his hard work was lost. He was still there, though, helping me pack up boxes and carry them down the hallway to my new room.

The relationship also saw me through my year as a research technician and, finally, to my position at Woodlawn, the wonderful school where I now teach.

It saw Mike through college at UNCC. He rocketed through in 3 years with nearly perfect grades. It also saw him move his life three hours north to a new city this past fall to begin graduate school at NC State. It saw us through celebrations, new beginnings, and difficult endings. I wouldn’t trade a single day.

These Berry Crumble Bars were actually made at the very tail end of summer and are one of the only dishes I ever photographed at Mike’s apartment in Raleigh. I brought them up to share with him and my little brother, who is an undergraduate at NC State. The bars are buttery, crumbly, slightly lemony, and bright — almost cobbleresque, and perfect with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

The original recipe used only blueberries, but throwing in other berries or even combining berries is an easy way to create multiple varieties of crumble bars; I settled on blueberry and raspberry. Mike and I probably ate a billion of them over the course of my visit. I had a way of encouraging him to have dessert after every meal. I’m sure you’re not surprised.

So what do you say at the end of a story about a breakup? I think in this case, thank you. Thank you, Mike, for being who you are, and for 12 wonderful years. Thank you, God, for the promise that all things are working together for good for me (Romans 8:28). Thank you, friends and family and lovely readers, for your support during a rough time. Here’s to weathering loss and embracing the future — and to dessert!

Lemon Berry Crumble Breakup Bars



Recipe by: Adapted from My Baking Addiction
Yields: 9 raspberry bars and 9 blueberry bars

Ingredients:
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a separate, small bowl, beat together the egg, lemon juice, and vanilla. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, cut the butter and egg mixture into the flour to form a crumbly dough. Press half of dough evenly into prepared pan.

In two additional bowls, mix together 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch. Gently mix blueberries into one bowl and raspberries into the other. Sprinkle berries evenly over pressed dough — I did half the pan with blueberries and half with raspberries, but you could alternate or even mix the berries if you’d rather. Crumble the rest of the dough over top of the berries. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until slightly brown. Cool completely (and even chilling a little helps to ensure they’ll hold together) before cutting into squares. These bars are fun because you can have two different flavors (blueberry and raspberry) or cut your bars such that you have a combination of both berries.

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Secret Garden Recipe: Two Exquisite Tea Sandwiches

When I was little, I didn’t lust after coins or stamps or postcards or anything particularly, ah, collectible. Instead, I coveted tiny things. When my mother would head to torturous craft stores to pick up sewing supplies, the dollhouse aisle was a haven. Package after package boasted teensy soda bottles, itty bitty magazines (with readable headlines!), miniature lamps, pint-sized armoires, and on and on. I always tried to pick a particularly adorable item to ask Mom for, but then I’d realize with a measure of disgust that I didn’t really know what I’d do with a set of tiny kitchen utensils. At any rate, miniatures have always had my heart.

Maybe I am secretly a gnome.

One sort of miniature that did frequently end up coming home with me was tea sets. I sought them out everywhere I went — toy stores, souvenir shops, craft stores, department stores, gas stations. You’d be surprised where you can find tea sets. I had medium sets, tiny sets, super-ultra-tiny sets. There were teapots with elegant designs, cutesy designs, holiday designs, and even one where every dish was shaped like a flower.

Despite my plethora of tea sets, I never once sat down and had tea. I displayed them, fiddled with them, and every now and then acted out a sad little version of a teddy bear tea party, but I don’t think a drop of tea or a crumb of a crumpet ever touched a single dish. What a shame, because there are very few food events more classy and sweet than a tea party.

For my sister’s Secret Garden Party, I remedied the situation. It was a tea party to the extreme, complete with a colorful tablecloth, Mom’s best china, some sweet decor, and the most important part: an elaborate spread of indulgent finger foods. These savory, delicate finger sandwiches were one of the biggest hits on the table.

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches



Recipe by: Great Party Recipes
Yields: about 40 finger sandwiches

Ingredients:
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced very thinly
3/4 cup butter, room temperature so it’s soft and spreadable
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
20 pieces thin-sliced bread with crusts removed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt
Pepper to taste

Directions:
Place the cucumber slices in a colander, lightly salt them, and let them drain for 1-2 hours to remove some of the moisture.

Combine the soft butter and garlic in a bowl and spread onto one side of each slice of bread. In a separate bowl, stir together lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper. Place the cucumber slices into this mixture and toss to coat them well. On each of 10 slices of bread, arrange overlapping cucumber slices. Top with remaining 10 slices and quarter. Serve immediately.

Classic Cucumber Tea Sandwiches were cool, buttery, and satisfyingly crisp. Providing the perfect complement was the salty, bold flavor of Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches with a kick of paprika. Both sandwiches were devoured (daintily, of course) in between scones, croissants, and lemonade.

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches



Recipe by: Great Party Recipes
Yields: about 40 finger sandwiches

Ingredients:
1 cup cream cheese, room temperature so it’s soft and spreadable
20 slices bread, thin-sliced with crusts removed
1/2 cup capers
12 ounces thin-sliced smoked salmon
lemon juice
Pepper to taste
mayonnaise (optional)
paprika (optional)

Directions:
Spread cream cheese on each slice of bread (one side only) and dot with capers (I liked quite a few capers). Arrange the smoked salmon on 10 bread slices, with a squeeze of lemon juice on each. Pepper generously (to taste), top with remaining 10 bread slices, and quarter (using a serrated knife). Brush long side of each tea sandwich with mayonnaise very lightly and dip into paprika to coat. Tap to remove excess paprika. Serve immediately.

Don’t repeat my childhood mistake of overlooking the tea party. Whether it’s for a gardenful of guests, a roomful of family, or a handful of (conveniently disinterested) stuffed animals, whip up some of these simple tea sandwiches. With minimal kitchen time and a short ingredient list, they provide a ton of pinky-pointing deliciousness. How about you? What’s your favorite tea party friendly dish? Scones, croissants, muffins, pastries, petit fours? Or are you a savory tea sandwich person yourself?

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Ina Garten’s Lemon Loaf Cake and Raffaldini Vineyards

So what have you been up to this summer? As you know, up until this past weekend, I had not fulfilled my summer quota of fun sunshiney activities — no beach, no pool, no picnic. With school looming ahead of me (teacher meetings start tomorrow), something had to be done. Quickly.

My friend Vada saved the day (er, the season?). We Jazzercise together and she invited me to join her and a group of her fun friends for a road trip. It was her friend Lori’s birthday and they were headed to Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda, NC.

When she first suggested it, I wasn’t sure. I don’t drink, so what would I do at a vineyard? Would I end up counting grapes in the corner as everyone else played wine pong (that’s what they do at vineyards, right)? As it turns out, though, Vada doesn’t drink either, and she was certain it would still be fun. I’m up for fun! I told her to count me in.


Vada and Luca

I’m so glad I went, because it was fun. Turns out, vineyards are beautiful — or at least Raffaldini Vineyards certainly were! We drove about an hour out of Charlotte and suddenly it felt like we were in Italy. Vada’s friend Luca, our resident Italian, agreed that it reminded him of home — a nice stamp of authenticity. As promised, fun ensued.

First, we ate a lovely picnic on an outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards and mountains in the distance. The vineyards offered a whole menu of food you could purchase on-site, but I brought a little packed lunch to save money. I also brought this bright, summery Lemon Loaf Cake, which was moist and traveled so well. Vada, who is an absolutely extraordinary cake decorator, brought cupcakes along. We had quite a feast!

After our picnic, we took a brief tour of the vineyard, learning about the soil, growing practices, and types of grapes grown. While others enjoyed a wine tasting, Vada and I took a walk around the grounds and had a photo shoot. Finally, we took a tour of the winery and learned how the wines were made. It was so informative — not being a drinker, I tend to think of grapes as the basis of jelly and “tannin” as something you do at the beach. I learned a lot! The best part? The entire day only cost me $8 — and that included buying a bottled water on-site.


Vada’s gorgeous cupcakes and the quick Lemon Loaf Cake packed for traveling!

This one little day trip kind of made my summer! It was filled with sweet people, good food, beautiful surroundings. How about you? Does one event or activity this summer stand out as your favorite?

You can relive part of my end of summer fun by making this quick, simple loaf cake for yourself. It has a tangy, drenched lemon flavor that will help you kiss the summer days farewell.

Lemon Loaf Cake



Recipe by: Adapted from Ina Garten, using ideas from Two Peas and Their Pod
Yields: one 8-inch loaf

Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt or sour cream
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest or 2 teaspoons lemon extract
1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/4 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan (I use Wilton’s Cake Release). Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter and flour the entire pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, 1 cup of the sugar, eggs, lemon zest or extract, and vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet, whisking to combine (I did this in 2-3 additions). Use a rubber spatula to fold the vegetable oil into the batter until it’s fully incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester stuck in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, combine the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing it and placing it on a baking rack over a sheet pan. Use a cake tester, wooden skewer, or toothpick to carefully pierce holes throughout the cake (I used a toothpick so the holes wouldn’t be too obvious, but a skewer might have made deeper holes in the cake, allowing more syrup to get through). While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool completely.

In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice, whisking to form a smooth glaze. Pour over the cake. Slice and serve with fresh berries, whipped cream, or ice cream.

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Secret Garden Recipe: Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade

Dear Summer,

I know I haven’t always treated you the way you deserve to be treated. There were plenty of days this summer when I slept through the best part of the morning. I only went out for ice cream one time, and that was after nightfall. I didn’t get to the beach or the pool even once. I never accomplished the picnic I’d planned in the mountains.

Listen, Summer, I know that being a teacher makes this even harder to excuse. I, better than anyone else (besides my students, maybe), should know the value of a great summer. I should have played in sprinklers. I should have driven around town with a slushy in one hand (and hopefully the steering wheel in the other). I should have gone on at least a couple of spontaneous road trips. Trust me, I know.

Give me some credit, though, Summer. I did almost exclusively wear a rotation of 3 sundresses all summer long. I stopped wearing clothes with finicky washing/drying directions to facilitate my summer laziness. I stocked up on dollar store flip flops and barely wore a legitimate shoe the entire season — except for that one time I wore my sassy heels. I started watching some of the horrible reality television that I’m embarrassed to talk about. I met my friend Beth for Indian, and just the other day, met my friend Andrea for sushi.

I filled up my hummingbird feeder! Not with raspberry lemonade, true, but I think the hummingbirds were plenty happy with sugar-water.


Changing up garnishes!

And I didn’t just flit around, either — I also used you, precious Summer, to be productive in ways I love. I planned a Secret Garden surprise party for my sister, for which I made this gorgeous lemonade. I blogged and blogged and blogged. I wrote the syllabus for the new cooking classes I’m teaching this fall. I diligently kept up with Top Chef.

Wait, watching Top Chef counts as productive, right?


Aw, a few raspberries in the pitcher look so nice. Maybe I should have added a lemon slice or two, too?

Summer, even though I’ve made some mistakes, it’s obvious that I care about you. I’m begging you, pleading with you — stay just a little longer. I’ll make amends; I’ll make sparkling raspberry lemonade. I’ll sit on the balcony with little Byrd, sippin’ this tart, fruity, sweet summertime beverage, just like I’m supposed to. Pretty please?

Love,
Julie

Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade



Recipe by: Adapted from Sunset
Yields: about 5 1/2 cups of lemonade

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup raspberries, washed and patted dry
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cup sparkling water
2 1/2 cups water*

Directions:
Mash raspberries with sugar in a small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Press this mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher and discard the seeds. Add lemon juice, sparkling water, and water, stirring to combine. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Dip each serving glass’s rim into lemon juice and then into sugar. Serve lemonade in these glasses with ice, and garnish with raspberries, mint, pretty straws, lemon slices, etc. as desired.

*NOTE: I am so lame. I fiddled with the original amount of liquid in the recipe and of course didn’t write down the changes I made. This is my best guess as to how much water and sparkling water I added, based on memory, but you can always fiddle with the ratio of ingredients after tasting.

And, because I would be frustrated if someone mentioned their sassy heels on a blog without showing me a picture:

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Lemon Triumph Cake

The looming summertime has given me the perfect excuse to indulge my love of lemons. Oh! Lemons! The pungent aroma of lemon juice on my fingers from a fresh squeeze! The bright yellow, spoked discs dripping with juice! The tang! The sweetness!

I was thrilled when my mom was pondering what sort of cake she wanted for her birthday and mentioned lemon. She made a fantastic lemon and lemon cream jellyroll cake awhile back from a cake mix and thought she might like something similar. I put on my Dr. Frankenstein hat and began piecing recipes together to oblige.

My first dilemma was how to make a cake from scratch that tasted like a cake mix cake. I always get a kick out of foodies who disdain the taste of cake mix. Being an avid baker, I have news for those folks: many of us are constantly trying to attain a cake-mix-like level of moistness and buttery flavor. There are definitely downsides to cake mix (preservatives and the fact that you don’t get all the fun of baking from scratch, of course!) but in terms of taste . . . yeah, they’re pretty good at that.

So how to make a delicious, preservative-free yella cake that was just as moist and scrummy as a cake mix? While considering this conundrum, I happened to see this recipe for a homemade cake mix and decided to give it a try. It smelled buttery and magnificent while mixing it up, just as it was supposed to, and baked into a lovely lemon cake with a bit of additional flavoring.

Now about that lemon cream. I decided I wanted to do a lemon mousse instead, and had my heart set on a big ol’ fancy mousse layer cake. I was going to buy a cake ring and build the cake with two cake layers sandwiching a thick layer of mousse. Only problem? Well, that first part . . . the part about the cake ring. You let me know if you find one, but after visiting three stores, I’ve come to the conclusion that there aren’t any cake rings in Charlotte. Lame.


And again, with candles!

Well, kind of lame, but kind of awesome, because it gave me an excuse to buy this Wilton Heart Tasty-Fill Pan I’ve had my eye on for months (Note to calm your fears: I always mention if I’ve been asked to review a product or have received something for free to review, but that’s not the case here. Wilton, y’all are welcome to send me free pans and all, but I bought this pan with my own hard-earned money and decided to share it without being asked). I am so excited about this pan! All the filling possibilities! I’m already pondering: banana cake with caramel cream filling, chocolate cake with caramel cream filling, yellow cake with chocolate mousse filling . . . but I digress! Back to the Lemon Triumph Cake at hand.

I did love the Wilton pan, but I think it’ll take a bit of practice to get used to. As you can see in some of the pictures, the heart wasn’t aligned correctly on one side of the pan. This has to do with me forgetting to trim the sides of the cake so that the top and bottom were even. I feel like it might be a bit difficult to get it lined up straight, though, and it’s hard to know until you cut into it . . . at which point (after 8 hours of baking, in the case of this cake) you don’t really want to know if something’s wrong. I’ll let you know next time I use it (which will hopefully be soon!) if it’s easier to align, having had a bit of practice.


Crooked heart this time around!

If you don’t have the Tasty-Fill Heart Pan, don’t worry! You can make this as a regular mousse cake using a cake ring per my original plan. Just layer a 9-inch cake on the bottom and a thick layer of mousse on top of that. Chill until the mousse is firm and place another 9-inch layer of cake on top. Chill again before frosting, taking care around the mousse layer not to mix the frosting and mousse. Alternatively, if your city also has no cake rings, serve this as a regular two-layer lemon cake with the mousse on the side.


Better ❤ on this side of the cake.

Nevertheless, crooked hearts notwithstanding, this cake was worth the effort. The yellow cake drenched in lemon syrup was moist and buttery, just like I hoped. This method of making Swiss buttercream produces hands-down the fluffiest, smoothest, silkiest, tastiest frosting I’ve ever had the pleasure of licking off my spatula. And the lemon mousse was, well, a triumph! Lemon curd folded into mousse that sets up like a bright, creamy-tangy cloud in the middle of the cake. Close your eyes and imagine a satisfying summer day — birdsong, sprinklers, green grass, sunshine, lemonade, lounge chair, long naps and good books — with a little sophistication mixed in. That’s what this cake tastes like. If that doesn’t make you want a slice, I don’t know what will!

Lemon Triumph Cake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, compiled from Fine Cooking (lemon curd), Giada DiLaurentis (lemon syrup, adapted), Gina DePalma (Swiss buttercream, adapted), Bon Appétit (lemon mousse), My Kitchen Cafe (homemade cake mix)
Yields: one 9-inch, two layer cake

Yellow “Cake Mix” Cake Ingredients:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons lightly packed finely grated lemon zest
1-2 teaspoons lemon extract
strands of lemon peel for garnish

Lemon Curd Ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Lemon Mousse Ingredients:
1 recipe lemon curd (above)
2.5 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3 large egg whites
3/8 cup sugar
3/4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream

Lemon Syrup Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
1/8 cup lemon juice

Lemon Swiss Buttercream Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites , at room temperature
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Directions:
Note on scheduling: I might schedule this cake baking in the following way. Make lemon curd and refrigerate two days in advance. Bake cake and coat with lemon syrup one day in advance, wrapping carefully and freezing. On day of serving, make mousse, trim and fill cake (much easier with frozen layers!), make frosting, and assemble.

To make lemon curd: In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.) Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 min. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170°F on a thermometer. Don’t let the mixture boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

To make cake: Process sugar, flours, milk powder, baking powder, and salt in a food processor for 15 seconds to combine. Add butter and vanilla and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (you want this much finer than, say, a pie crust). Freeze the dry mixture in a zipper-lock bag for up to 2 months or use immediately.

To make the cake, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans (the Tasty-Fill pans, if you’re using those).

With an electric mixer, beat the prepared cake mix, 1 1/4 cups warm water and 2 large room-temperature eggs until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-27 minutes for two 9-inch layer cakes. Cool the cakes in pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack. Poke holes in them and spoon lemon syrup over generously. Cool for about 30 more minutes before placing cake layers in freezer for at least 30 minutes. This helps a ton with trimming, filling, and decorating!

To make lemon syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, about 20 minutes.

To make the mousse: Pour 2.5 tablespoons water into small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin evenly over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place 7/8 cups lemon curd in large bowl. Stir 3/8 cup curd in another small saucepan over medium-low heat until very warm.

Stir gelatin mixture over medium-low heat until dissolved and liquid is clear (do not boil). Whisk warm gelatin mixture into 3/8 cup warm curd. Gradually whisk gelatin-curd mixture into curd in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until whites are thick and glossy. Fold whites into curd mixture in 3 additions. Using same beaters, beat cream in another medium bowl until peaks form. Fold into egg white-curd mixture in 3 additions.

To make lemon Swiss buttercream icing: Combine sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil without stirring until syrup reaches 240° on a digital thermometer, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer on medium speed, gradually pour in hot syrup in a thin stream; avoid pouring syrup on whisk. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool, about 8 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. (If at any time buttercream appears curdled, beat on high until smooth, then reduce speed to medium and continue beating in butter.) Once all butter is added, beat on high speed until buttercream is smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla and lemon extract.

To assemble the cake: Level the layers using a long serrated knife. If using a Tasty-Fill Heart Pan, align heart and then trim sides of cake to make them even. Fill both sides of the heart with mousse, leveling it off using a spatula (see instructions in the note below for making this a regular mousse cake).* Place the top layer on the bottom layer, aligning the heart. Cover cake with a thin coat of icing as a crumb coat and chill until the icing is set, 20 minutes or so. Frost cake and decorate with slices of lemon peel. Store, covered, in refrigerator. Set out about 10 minutes before serving to soften the icing.

*NOTE: Make this as a regular mousse cake by using a cake ring. Layer a 9-inch cake on the bottom and a thick layer of mousse on top of that. Chill until the mousse is firm and place another 9-inch layer of cake on top. Chill again before frosting, taking care around the mousse layer not to mix the frosting and mousse. Alternatively, serve this as a regular two-layer lemon cake with the mousse on the side.


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Lemon Raspberry Cake

Willow Bird Baking is the namesake of my darling little noodle (read: poodle), Byrd. As I sit here writing this post (and listening to the cooing of mourning doves outside my window), she is at the veterinary hospital recovering from a double knee surgery. Judging by her exuberance about riding in the car yesterday morning, she wasn’t really expecting it.

Apparently both her little kneecaps were popping out of place, and she couldn’t do some of her favorite things (fetching, jumping) without limping. Poor puppy pumpkin. The vet tech just called and said she is standing, but won’t try to walk, and won’t eat a thing. No wonder, since she’s in a strange place without her mama. We go pick her up at 12:30 today, so keep us in your prayers.


Get it? It’s decorated to look like a lemon.

Because of this unexpected $2,400 surgery, my finances have not been my friends lately. I’ve been cutting back: we haven’t been eating out, I’ve been trimming my grocery budget, and the last time I got my hair cut or colored was last August — I’m about ready to pick up some scissors myself. In addition to limiting my spending, another issue needed to be addressed: waste!

I’ve been a bad steward of my kitchen for too long. Buying a bag of cheese with the best intentions, but letting it mold. Buying a bag of fresh herbs, using them once, and letting them brown in the back of my fridge. Buying expensive ingredients (hello, pancetta, I’m talking to you) with the intention of using every last hunk, only to open my fridge drawer a month later and guiltily remember that broken resolution.

So, I’ve been trying to be better. Leftover creams, frostings, and doughs from one pastry become the basis for the next. I survey the fridge for unused ingredients before deciding what to make for Saturday dinner. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it was!

This past weekend, leftover raspberry curd, nine egg whites left from making the curds, and some extra lemons provided my inspiration.

After buying only some butter, some fresh raspberries, and some white chocolate bark, I whipped up this cool, bright, summer dessert: Lemon Raspberry Cake. The cake itself is my favorite white cake recipe because it’s moist with the perfect crumb. Each layer is brushed with lemon syrup for moisture and tang before being coated in a luxurious raspberry curd. The frosting is rich and decadent, and even the white chocolate decorations added a nice dimension to the overall flavor of each slice.

My “lemon” decoration broke as I was trying to release it from the wax paper I piped it on, so I pieced it together on top of the cake. It’s a little crooked! I’m sure you can do better. I also completely forgot the poppy seed until I made the third cake layer (I mixed it separately), so you’ll notice that only my middle layer has the seeds. Oh well! Crooked citrus or not, seeds or not, we all loved the refreshing taste of this layer cake! Happy eating!

Lemon Raspberry Cake



Recipe by: compiled from adaptations of The Way the Cookie Crumbles (white cake), Notes from my Food Diary (frosting and raspberry curd), Bon Appétit (lemon syrup)
Yields: 12 servings

Cake Ingredients:
3 3/8 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 1/2 cups + 3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
9 large egg whites, at room temperature
3 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
18 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks and 2 tablespoons), softened but still cool
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seed (optional)

Lemon Syrup Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Raspberry Curd Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
Two 1/2-pints ripe raspberries or one 12-ounce package frozen raspberries, thawed
5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Lemon Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (I opted for a teaspoon or two of lemon extract instead)
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions: Make raspberry curd: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the raspberries, egg yolks, sugar, and salt and cook, mashing the berries and stirring frequently at first and them constantly at the end, until thickened, about 10 minutes (this took longer for me — about 15+). Pour this mixture through a coarse strainer, pressing to get out the maximum amount of liquid. Add in lemon juice to taste. Allow this to cool and then cover (with plastic wrap touching surface of curd to prevent skin from forming) and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Cake: Set oven rack in middle position. (If oven is too small to cook both layers on a single rack, set racks in upper-middle and lower-middle positions.) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds. Spray the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and invert pans and rap sharply to remove excess flour. (I brush my pans with Wilton’s cake release, then add the parchment circle and brush again. Be sure the parchment circles reach to the edges of your pan to ensure easily release).

Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended.

Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, poppy seed, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed. Add butter; continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.

Add all but ½ cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1½ minutes. Add remaining ½ cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium (or high) speed and beat 20 seconds longer.

Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops. Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If oven is small, place pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.) Bake until thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes.

Let cakes rest in pans for 3 minutes. Loosen from sides of pans with a knife, if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. Reinvert onto additional wire racks. Let cool completely, about 1½ hours.

Make lemon syrup: Place sugar in small metal bowl. Add 1/2 cup boiling water; stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in lemon juice.

Make frosting: Beat the butter and zest with an electric mixer on medium speed in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and beat for 1 minute longer.

Assemble the cake: I love Smitten Kitchen’s Layer Cake Tips — especially the one about freezing your layers before working with them. It makes it so much easier.

When cakes are completely cool, level each layer using a long, serrated knife. Use a little frosting to attach your bottom layer to a cake board or serving platter. Brush layer generously with lemon syrup. Spread a scant 1/2 cup raspberry curd on the layer (I may have used a little more). Continue building the layers this way, with syrup and curd, until all three layers are stacked. Frost with lemon buttercream frosting. I used white chocolate to create decorations for the sides and top of my cake. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh raspberries. Store in refrigerator.


Enjoy!


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Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade

Historically, I’ve been biased against beverage-making. First off, Coke Zero exists in the world — why would anyone feel the need to make a different beverage?! Would you be completely ashamed of me if I told you that I drink Coke Zero with breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Would it help if I promised that I drink a lot of water, too?

Second off, why make a beverage when you could be making cupcakes?! Or cakes, or pies, or tarts, or enchiladas, or . . . anything!

It took a great professor to show me the error of my beverage discriminating ways. First, a little background info. I was blessed to go to an amazing college — Davidson College, that is — where I learned so many important life lessons: how to pull an all-nighter studying for multivariable calculus, how to write more simultaneous essays than humans are actually capable of, how to illegally park to turn in an exam before the deadline, and, perhaps most importantly, all the lyrics to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby.” I jest, but really, I did learn an incredible amount, hone my work ethic, and generally enjoy every moment at that fantastic school.

One facet of Davidson I particularly valued was the faculty and the close bonds formed between professors and students. Classes were invited to dinners at professors’ houses, faculty doors were open wide to chat with students about academics or life in general. I had many wonderful professors (in fact, only one not-so-wonderful professor, which has to be a miracle in 4 years!), including Dr. Peroni. Dr. Peroni is a biology professor with an infectious laugh who is passionate about the outdoors and a great biostatistician. My turtle, Squirt, and I lived above her garage my senior year of college, when he was just a wee shellbaby. It was Dr. P who introduced me to experiencing a beverage, and I’m sure she doesn’t even know it!

One summer I was doing research at Davidson and Dr. P invited a bunch of us lab rats (ha ha) over to her house to make DNA earrings (like these). Shut up! What, you don’t have random biological jewelry?! I’ll have you know that I also proudly own neuron and microscope pendants. So there.

Anyhow, at her house she poured us some freshly brewed ice tea and offered us each a big sprig of mint from her garden to stir it with. The taste itself wasn’t even the point for me — but adding the home-grown mint, the act of sprucing up a beverage and enjoying it slowly instead of just glugluglugging it out of a Coke bottle . . . that was galvanizing. Oh, just like food, drinks can be an experience.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for possible drink recipes. All sorts of fantastic lemonades have been catching my eye on the interwebs lately — berry lemonades, herb and lavender lemonades, plain ol’ lemon lemonades. Also catching my eye have been mocktails — snazzy juice and seltzer concoctions that fellow teetotalers enjoy instead of their alcoholic counterparts. When working on my summer dessert, I decided it was also the perfect time to roll out a summer drink. Combining my mocktail and lemonade inspiration, I decided to make some gorgeous Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade — with lots of accoutrements, of course: slices of juicy lemon, plump strawberries, ice cubes, a sugar-crusted rim, green bendy straws, and of course, big sprigs of fresh mint! After all, it’s all about the experience.

Next time I might add more strawberries, because I want an even bolder strawberry-lemon ratio, but the lemonade was perfectly tart and sweet. After embellishing my glass with the above additions, I thoroughly enjoyed sip-sip-sipping my time away. Make a big pitcher of this fresh summer treat and enjoy it on your porch or balcony tonight!

Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade



Recipe by: Adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy
Yields: about 6.5 cups of lemonade

Fresh Strawberry Sauce Ingredients:
1 dry pint fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled (or maybe a little more)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons cold water

Lemonade Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup very hot water
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4-1/2 cups cold seltzer or sparkling water

Optional Accoutrements:
lemon juice and sugar for glass rims
sprigs of fresh mint
fresh strawberries
slices of lemon
crushed ice
bendy straws!

Directions:
Make strawberry sauce: In a food processor or blender, puree the berries, sugar, lemon juice and water until smooth. Strain the berry mixture into a clean bowl and discard the seeds. Stir in additional sugar, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until used.

Make lemonade: In a pitcher, combine the sugar and hot water and stir until the sugar has dissolved into a syrup. Stir in the lemon juice and cold seltzer water. Add the strawberry sauce and stir to combine. Pour over ice into tall glasses rimmed with sugar (dip rims into lemon juice and then sugar). Garnish with fresh strawberries and other accoutrements, if using. Strawberry lemonade keeps at least 3 days in the refrigerator.


Enjoy!


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