Meyer Lemon Pavlova Bites

Everyone (except me!) in our family has birthdays between March and April. It dawned on me this year that the gift of a homemade cake is the gift I give. It is a labor of love and I care about it deeply and we have a lot of fun planning each year’s cake. Apparently, we are bringing back the 80’s with this year’s birthday themes: Pac Man and Rubik’s cubes.

Kai’s cake was a 3-layer Neapolitan cake shaped like Pac Man. He picked out bright yellow sprinkles and we used black fondant for Pac Man’s eye. Vanilla cream cheese frosting separated each tender layer of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate cake. Silky smooth chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream coated the whole tasty concoction.

IMG_0594For JP’s birthday he picked a lemon cake.  He has become a pro at the rubik’s cube so I fashioned one out of store bought angel food cake and used different colored fondant for the cubes. We found 12 bright colored candles that gave off matching flames. The 3-layer white cake was separated with a bright lemon curd and sunshiny Italian lemon meringue buttercream frosting. It was pure delight.

IMG_0732Over the years, I have made many different types of frostings but my favorites are Italian meringue and Swiss meringue Buttercream. The first time I tried to make Italian meringue buttercream I couldn’t get the egg whites to transform into the voluminous mass it was supposed to. I realized that I needed to learn to make a meringue before successfully making the buttercream. Since then I have learned and am now adore meringues. I find them absolutely beautiful, something other-worldly. Edible clouds created by the magic of science.

 

IMG_0859There are three different types of meringues: French, Swiss and Italian. This recipe utilizes the french style. It was the first type of meringue I successfully made. It is a basic meringue of egg whites, cream of tartar and fine sugar. To create the marshmallow-y center that I so love, we add vinegar and cornstarch and flavor it with vanilla extract and lemon zest. Once these extra ingredients are added, I consider it a pavlova. Most pavlovas are topped with whipped cream and macerated strawberries but I find these delicious enough on their own. The outside is crisp and the inside is the texture of a gooey marshmallow. It melts on the tongue like cotton candy. Meyer lemon zest adds just the right amount of brightness and citrus zing to make the whole treat truly amazing.

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Successfully making a meringue is actually quite simple. I’ll let you in on the tips I learned:

  1. Let the egg whites sit out on the counter to warm up for at least 30 minutes. This will help the whites reach their full volume. As the whites warm, they will thin out and resemble liquid more than thick gel.
  2. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk. Residual oils can inhibit the whites from whipping.
  3. Whip on high. Turn that mixer up and let it do its thing. Medium speed just won’t do.
  4. Add cream of tartar to keep the egg whites from drying out.
  5. Go slow adding the sugar to prevent it from being gritty. Feel it between your fingers and if its gritty then put it back on high and whip until the meringue is smooth.

Meyer Lemon Pavlova Bites

The crisp outer shell and marshmallow-y center, make these mini pavlova bites irresistible. This recipe is adapted from Edible Seattle. Not only are these pavlovas delicious, they are also gluten free! These puff up slightly but I fit about 22 on each 11×17 baking sheet.

Makes about 45 tablespoon size bites

Ingredients:

  • 120 g (about 4) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cup fine sugar (or granulated pulsed in a food processor for 25 seconds)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon distilled vinegar
  • zest of 2 meyer lemons (about a tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Food coloring, optional

Directions:

Heat oven to 300 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Let egg whites stand in a bowl for 30 minutes on the counter while you prepare the other ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Start on low and mix with the whisk attachment. After 30 seconds start increasing speed until the mixer is at high speed. Continue to whip the egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage – about 3 minutes from start to finish. Once the egg whites are at stiff peaks, start adding the sugar one spoonful at a time. Go slowly to allow the sugar to be incorporated, about 4 minutes. The meringue will look shiny and thick. Once the sugar is incorporated, stop the mixer and feel the mixture between your fingers to be sure it isn’t gritty feeling. If gritty, continue mixing on high speed and check every 30 seconds. Once it feels smooth stop the mixer and sprinkle cornstarch, vinegar, lemon zest and vanilla extract over meringue and gently fold in with a flexible spatula.

To color: divide mixture into separate bowls. Swirl a couple drops of food coloring into the pavlova by using a toothpick. Use a cookie scoop or spoon to drop pavlovas on to cookie sheet.

Bake on a center rack for 20 minutes.  The pavlovas will be puffed and firm. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to let the pavlovas cool completely – about 1 hour. Once cool remove from the oven and store in an air tight container.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bites

Toddlers have truly stolen my heart. Being that my boys are past the age, I can now observe with an impartial eye. I teach baking classes with parents and their children and am absolutely smitten with these passionate creatures. Watching the pure joy that a child gets from whisking flour and then biting into the final baked product is so rewarding. Being around toddlers reminds me to look for the wonder in the small joys of life, be present in my environment and explore with all my senses.

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Toddlers liked making and eating these oatmeal chocolate chip bites. They are slightly sweet and resemble a cookie more than a bowl of breakfast mush. We had so much fun mashing bananas and stirring in the chocolate chips. By the time the class was over, there wasn’t a crumb left on their plates. Want to try it for yourself? I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bites

When I say a recipe is toddler approved, please know that I am giving it the highest form of flattery. This recipe is adapted from the cookbook “Home Baked”. They come together in a snap and are the perfect accompaniment to any meal or snack time. I love that these are nut free, which make them an easy choice to bring to the classroom.

Makes 12

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 2/3 cup old fashioned or instant oats
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 ℉. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, mash banana and egg white with a fork. Mix until the mixture has a few chunks and is creamy and frothy. Add honey, oatmeal, salt, cinnamon and chocolate chips and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed. It may look dry but that is ok.  Using your hands, firmly press the mixture together to form two inch balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the balls are golden brown on the bottom and dry to the touch. Cool and enjoy. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Snickerdoodle Bars

The Holidays seem like a long time ago at this point, right? Yet, the garland hanging on my porch reminds me that not even a month has passed. For me, when I think about this last Christmas, one moment stands out more brightly than the rest. One evening, as we were all sitting around my in-laws living room, my brother-in-law started playing old videos. The first one was from the day that Kai was born. I had no idea this clip existed. My heart was in my throat as I strained to soak in every moment. JP is three years old again and skipping down the hallway to meet his new brother. I am laying in the hospital bed, having given birth but a few hours ago. We get to see the first time JP meets Kai. The next video was JP’s second birthday. We were all together and full of love and laughs. He made a little pile of bows as he slowly opened up the presents. It was such a gift to relive these moments and to see the confirmation of how far we’ve come. Though not all my memories of those moments are positive; I can rest assured that the love we have for our children is evident.

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Another amazing gift this Christmas came in the form of cookbooks. Three (!!!!) new ones to be exact. I have been eager to jump in but have felt a little intimidated as well. So much talent and knowledge are inside these pages. I decided to start with BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts. I have been reading it through like a novel. It is so interesting! Stella Parks goes into detail about the history behind each recipe, as well as the science of why her version works. I also love how these recipes are classics that we all know so well but her ingredients and techniques update and elevate. Reading it made me realize how we as home bakers are making history. The food we make for our families will become part of the fabric of our country. I feel excited, energized and ready to make 2018 the tastiest year yet.

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Snickerdoodle Bars (Snip Doodles)

Snickerdoodles are always a favorite around here, with their chewy centers and cinnamon flavor. According to Stella Parks (I have a feeling I’ll be saying that a lot now) the recipe for snickerdoodles originated as a simple cake called snip doodles. Already, I can see that these will be a family favorite. The addition of freshly grated cinnamon adds an extra flavorful topping to the cake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (refined or virgin)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk

Cinnamon Sugar topping:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons grated cinnamon (or to taste)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F and place the baking rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a half sheet baking tray. Stella specifically says to spread the dough in a 15x11x1 inch layer on the tray. My tray was larger and I spread mine out on the whole thing. They were a little thin but no complaints. If you have a half sheet baking tray then you should be just fine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, coconut oil. sugar, salt, baking powder, nutmeg and vanilla. Mix on low with a paddle attachment and then increase speed to medium. Beat until light and fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula after two minutes. Continue for two more minutes. Add the egg and mix until smooth.

Turn the mixer to low and add 1/3 of the flour. Mix until incorporated and then add 1/3 cup of the milk. Mix on low to incorporate and then repeat with the flour and milk two more times. Scrape to ensure dough is uniform and all the ingredients are mixed in and the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Coat with cinnamon and sugar mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes. The cake will be firm to the touch and puffy. A toothpick with come out clean when inserted in the center. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then cut with a pizza cutter or knife. Once cool, store in an air tight container for 3-4 days.