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.

Holiday Goodies 2018

Its the time of year where I want to hide in the kitchen all day and make ALL the family favorites. I’m having such a hard time deciding so I decided to make a list of everything on my mind and then choose a few (ha!) from there.

Peanut Brittle – I have never made nor eaten a better brittle so I think this is a must.

Jam Thumbprints – I slightly adapted this recipe for my holiday kids baking class and it was so good! I used only raspberry jam and rolled them in raw sugar for a nice crunch.

Granola – This makes a fantastic teacher gift or housewarming gift. I usually do 1/2 cup walnuts and add raw pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds to make the other 1/2 cup.

Chocolate Covered Pretzels – No recipe needed! Melt good quality chocolate (I use ghirardelli chips). Dip pretzel rods in chocolate and roll in crushed candy canes or sprinkles. Dry on parchment paper.

Mom’s Soft Sugar Cookies – Always my favorite and I included some easy decorating tips if you need any.

Sparkling Molasses Cookies – I’m a sucker for gingersnaps but I like the slightly deeper flavor and chewy texture of these molasses cookies.

Fresh Ginger Cake – If we’re on the topic of ginger, then I have to tell you about this fresh ginger cake. No matter that my batter overflowed the pan – it was still one of my favorite cakes ever.

M&M Cookies – These are Kai’s favorite and maybe I’ll get some red and green M&Ms and go for it.

Bittersweet Almond Toffee – Homemade candy is a staple of Christmas baking and toffee is always a big hit. So easy too!

Ok – what do you guys think? Do you have any favorites? Happy Baking!

Ice Cream Cake

Before having kids, I envisioned what motherhood would be like and to be honest, I thought it would be a constant party. Children scurrying through the kitchen while a pie cools on the counter. It was going to be so easy and FUN. I’m not exactly sure where I got this idea (our lying elders perhaps?) but needless to say, it has not quite lived up to the fantasy. Of course, I wasn’t all wrong, there is plenty of laughter, scurrying children and home baking going on – but not 100 percent of the time to be sure. So when it’s time to for a party, I like to go all out.

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Each year when February turns to March, I deem Birthday Season to have begun. It’s a whirlwind of seemingly constant parties. Three out of the four of us have birthdays in the span of one month. Cupcakes for the kid parties and cookies for each child’s class  and then the main event: the family party. Presents, birthday dinner, extended family, hopefully some decorations then, of course, CAKE!

As with all major life decisions, choosing ones birthday cake takes careful thought and consideration. Just Kidding!! Yet, birthdays do come around only once a year so its best to wish for the moon and back. This year we had light and fluffy strawberry cake with chocolate frosting for the 8 year old, creamy cheesecake for the husband and a homemade ice cream cake to celebrate the oldest turning 11.

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JP has a thing for ice cream so ice cream cake was a no brainer for this year’s birthday. All his dreams come true in one ginormous dessert. Ice cream, Oreos and whipped cream. Perfection. It takes a decent amount of rest time (especially if you make your own ice cream) but the pay off is totally worth it.

This is true for parenting as well. It takes patience and some work but, fingers crossed, it will pay off in the end. I know people say this all the time, but honestly I wouldn’t change a thing. I would marry the same man, have the same kids and make the same career choices. Yet, I would suggest to my younger self to take off the rose colored glasses and get ready to roll up her sleeves. There is lots of work involved but still plenty of reasons to throw a party.

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Ice Cream Cake

Without having actual cake in ice cream cake recipes, I find it a confusing term. Ice cream cake is actually a cookie crust with ice cream layered over it and covered in whipped cream. I don’t make the rules.

Feel free to use any two ice cream flavors you desire. I chose homemade vanilla ice cream and bought Haagan Daz chocolate to keep myself sane. I adapted Food Network’s recipe for Ice Cream Crunch Cake, with some help from Smitten Kitchen and Stella Parks to take it over the top. I will give you the breakdown of how I made mine, but just remember that you could make this all in one day if both flavors of ice cream were store bought. All the recipes and directions are below but here is a quick overview for ease.

  • 2 quarts vanilla ice cream (recipe below)
  • 1 quart chocolate ice cream (1 – 28 fl oz of Häagen-Dazs container)
  • 14 ounce package of original Oreos, divided (crust recipe and filling below)
  • 3 cups whipped cream (recipe below) for outside of the cake

4 days before serving, make the custard for the vanilla ice cream and make sure the bowl of your ice cream maker is frozen.

3 Days before serving, churn the chilled ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions. Churn in two batches so as not to over fill the ice cream maker. Freeze in a freezer safe container over night.

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These are more pulverized than I would do next time. I think chunkier would be better.

2 days before serving, assemble the cake.

  1. First, make the Oreo crust, as well as crushing the Oreos for the cookie layer (see below).
  2. While crust is firming, remove vanilla ice cream from freezer to soften if needed to spread easily. Once the crust is firm, spread vanilla ice cream over Oreo crust and up sides of pan and freeze, about 30 minutes until firm.
  3. Take the store bought chocolate ice cream out of the freezer to soften. Once the vanilla layer is firm, spread chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream layer, forgoing the sides of the pan. Freeze for about 30 minutes, until firm.
  4. Spread crushed Oreos evenly over chocolate layer to form the cookie layer. Freeze for about 30 minutes, until firm.
  5. Once firm, top cookie layer with more vanilla ice cream. Work gently so as not to disrupt the cookie layer. Soft ice cream helps this step. Freeze again for 30 minutes, until firm.
  6. Make whipped cream while cake is in freezer. (recipe below)
  7. Run an offset spatula around the edges of the pan and unlatch the springform pan. Remove sides and set on a baking sheet or cutting board.
  8. Using an offset spatula, frost the outside of the cake with the whipped cream (recipe below). Refreeze until firm. I found it a bit trickier to get the cake in and out of the freezer without the sides of the pan so be careful!
  9. Scoop some whipped cream into a pastry bag with a star attachment and pipe decorations along top and bottom if desired. Place back in the freezer.
  10. Serve cake by cutting with a hot knife. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and foil or move to an airtight container. Mine was not pretty when I moved it and hardly resembled the original – but we ate it without complaint a week later.

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Vanilla Ice Cream

I used David Lebovitz’s recipe but used vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean out of pure laziness. The recipe below is for a double batch. There will be a little left over after making this cake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract (I use Madagascar)
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 10 egg yolks

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl pour the heavy cream and set a strainer on top of it.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks.
  3. In medium saucepan stir milk, salt, sugar and vanilla extract and heat on medium-low. Stir occasionally and remove from heat when the mixture starts to steam and before simmering.
  4. While whisking egg yolks, slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks. Once all the milk mixture has been whisked into the egg yolks, pour it all back into the saucepan.
  5. Cook the egg and milk mixture over low heat, stirring and scraping with a heatproof spatula continually, about 5 minutes. The custard will thicken slightly and coat the back of the spatula when done with the color of buttermilk and the thickness of cream.
  6. Pour custard into the strainer to remove any lumps and combine with the heavy cream. Taste and add more vanilla extract if needed.
  7. Cover and refrigerate over night.
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    Sides of pan removed and now can breathe easy

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    Covered in Whipped Cream – Pipe some decorations and call it DONE!

Crust

This recipe is slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

  • 1/2 package original Oreos (7 ounces)
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Process whole Oreos in a food processor until finely ground. Pour into a small bowl and mix in salt and butter, starting with the smaller amount listed and adjusting if needed to get the right consistency and seasoning. The mixture should hold together but not be so wet that its slick with butter. Press firmly and evenly into a 10 inch springform pan. Place in freezer until firm, about 20 minutes.

Cookie Layer

  • 1/2 package original Oreos (7 ounces)

Directions:

Place whole Oreos in the bowl of a food processor or a gallon size freezer bag. Pulse a couple of times in the food processor or crush in the freezer bag until the cookies are small chunks.

Whipped Cream Topping

I now only use Stella Parks Make-Ahead Whipped Cream recipe. It tastes great and allows for making ahead, which I love. The recipe is doubled below to frost the cake and have some left over. Can refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week (though will want to re-whip a little before using).

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-low to dissolve the sugar, about 1 minute. Then increase to medium-high and whip until thick and holds firm peaks, about 3 minutes.