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.

Soft Sugar Cookies

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Growing up, my family’s holiday traditions were somewhat unconventional compared to those of my peers. I never believed in Santa Claus. Ever. Our holidays were focused on Jesus’ birth as well as spending time together as a family. Also, I didn’t open presents on Christmas morning. Can we still call it Christmas without Santa and morning presents? I think so. We traveled to be with my grandparents on Christmas so our family celebrated a couple days early. Still, our Christmas was full of excitement and wrapped in our own set of traditions that I looked forward to each year.

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Like most families, the dinner was an important part of our celebration. Our table would be covered in a tablecloth and set with china and cloth napkins. The lights would be dim and candles lit. This was the kick off to our special Christmas night, though it was December 23 instead of the 25. Mom would make clam chowder every year and every year she would say how it doesn’t taste as good as Mo’s. Mo’s is a chowder place in Portland, Oregon that my parents grew to love. The holidays were the only time I remember eating clam chowder, or any seafood for that matter. I always enjoyed it and the chewy canned clams. After dinner there would be sugar cookies followed by a trip around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights.

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Mom makes soft sugar cookies every year. Whenever I eat a sugar cookie I expect it to taste like this one. Pillow-y and tender and a little cake like. Yet none every do. Every year my sisters make these with their families and I decided this year that I wanted to as well. As adults we get to make our own choices about what traditions to keep from our past as well as what to add for the present. Making soft sugar cookies is one that I will be keeping around. I hear Santa loves them.

Soft Cut Out Sugar Cookies

Makes about 24 cookies

This recipe is slightly adapted from Food52.com and is slightly different than mom’s original one. More sugar and flour with the addition of baking powder and almond extract. I also upped the vanilla and salt. The dough is soft but not as sticky.

Some people love decorating cookies and others fizzle out by the time the cookies are out of the oven (me!!) I started using this quick decorating technique and thought you might like it too. Similarly to scones, before putting the cookies in the oven, brush lightly with heavy cream. Next, go wild with the sprinkles (I liked this) Wilton 710-1260 Gold Pearlized Sprinkles Mix though not the little the balls – they melt in the oven. The gold sugar is divine. Top with Wilton White Sparkling Sugar, Net Wt. 8 oz. . Sweetened shredded coconut is another fun option. The coconut gets nice and toasty in the oven and goes really well with the slight almond flavor of the cookie. Of course, these are great with frosting as well.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 egg

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

For topping: 2 tablespoons heavy cream, sprinkles, sparkling sugar and sweetened shredded coconut

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – about 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape bowl and add the egg. Mix on low until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Now add the sour cream, vanilla extract and almond extract. Mix on low to combine for another 30 seconds or so. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, making sure to get to the bottom of the bowl. Spoon flour mixture over the dough and mix on low to incorporate. Stop the machine when most of the flour is mixed in. Scrape the bowl again and then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or over night.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover baking sheets with parchment and set aside. On a moderately floured surface, work in small batches to roll out the dough to 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Don’t over work the dough – a couple pats and a couple rolls will do it. Sprinkle with flour as needed. Cut out shapes and place on parchment paper. Once the sheet is filled, use a pastry brush to brush heavy cream on the cookies. Sprinkle liberally with sprinkles and sparkling sugar or shredded coconut. I love that the sprinkles are contained in the baking sheet and not rolling all over my table and floor! Bake on the middle rack for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. You want a little color around the edges and the middle to be nice and puffed before taking out of the oven. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

These cookies taste best the day they are made but I doubt there will be much complaint a day later. Store in air tight container.

Tip: Not all sprinkles are heat proof so some might melt more than others. I really loved the gold and yellow tones. Colored sugar would work great as well. These cookies tend to spread. I like using the circle cutter or other non-intricate shapes. If you want a sharper shape, let the cookie cool slightly after baking and then use the cookie cutter to cut out the shape again. This will leave you with cleaner edges if desired.

 

Brown Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I can eat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies at any time of the year, but for me, fall feels like the perfect time. The cinnamon adds a hint of spice and the old fashioned oats add the appropriate layer for the colder season. I am starting to feel the change of the season from fall to winter. My children are talking incessantly about Christmas but I’m not quite ready to say adieu to fall.

While baking I feel grounded in the present. It helps me experience each season to the fullest. While I worked as the head baker at the Green Bean, I found that planning and testing recipes for the next season was one of my favorite parts of the job. This is why I love this space. It makes me feel fully alive.

I love this recipe! This is the first time that I have made cookies with brown butter and I assure you that it won’t be the last. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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Brown Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie

Makes around 40 cookies

I adapted the Oatmeal Pecan recipe on the back of the Kroger old fashioned oats container for this recipe. I used a few of the techniques from the Serious Eats chocolate chip cookie recipe. If you want to understand the science behind cookies then check it out. Besides browning the butter, we also incorporate the sugar differently in this recipe. Lastly, make sure to give the dough a rest over night. Resting the dough allows the cookies to have additional flavor when the cookie is baked.

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks/16 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 3 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Melt butter in a small pan on the stove on medium heat. Once melted, the butter will start to bubble and turn a little more golden. Stir butter and watch for brown bits on the bottom of the pan. The butter is beginning to brown. Continue to stir and allow the butter to continue to brown for another 30 seconds or so. We don’t want our butter to scorch though so I tend to err on the side of caution. The butter in the above picture is lightly browned and could’ve gone a little longer. Pour the butter into a small bowl and add an ice cube. This not only cools the butter down more quickly but it also adds back the liquid that was lost during the browning process. Put the bowl in the fridge and let cool for about 30 minutes. Don’t rush this part. Hot butter will curdle the eggs.

Whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside. Grab another small bowl and add the oats and chocolate chips and set aside, as well.

Using the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of the mixer. Whisk on medium for about 5 minutes. The mixture will be light in color and will fall in ribbons from the whisk. Remove the whisk and use the paddle attachment for the rest of the batter.

Add in cooled butter, vanilla and brown sugar. Mix on medium until combined, about 30 seconds.

With the mixer on low, add in your flour mixture. Mix until there are a few streaks left in the batter. Lastly, add in the oats and chocolate chips. Mix on low or use a wooden spoon until incorporated. Nice job!

Place batter along the length of a large piece of parchment paper and roll it up and twist the ends like a piece of taffy. Alternately, you could place batter in a bowl and cover. Place batter in fridge to rest.

Pull the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up. The cookies will spread easier with a dough that is closer to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. For smaller cookies, scoop cookies into 1 1/2 inch balls (about the size of a chestnut). For larger, big as your hand, cookies use a 1/4 cup scoop. Roll into balls and slightly flatten on the baking sheet. Bake until the edges are golden and stay firm when slightly touched. The center should be lighter in color from the edges but not look wet. Start checking for doneness around 10 minutes for smaller cookies. It might take 15 until they are done.

Once baked, let cool on the tray for a couple minutes and then move to a cooling rack. Success!