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.

Caramel Coated Popcorn

Growing up in Iowa, corn was everywhere. Though sweet corn is beloved by all, it is only available in the summertime. For my family, to get a year round corn fix, we ate popcorn.

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Beautiful creamy colors from multi-colored popcorn kernels

Laying in my bed, I’d hear the shuffle of feet overhead with the whirl of the air popper spitting out hot popped corn. The microwave beeped and the mixing bowl clanked against the counter as the butter knife folded the butter into the hot popcorn. It was my parents’ reward for a job well done. How I loved the smell of the nightly popcorn!  As the years went by, mom and dad’s evening ritual became a family affair. The kernels squeaked when pressed against my teeth as I watched Barbara Walters on 20/20.

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For my wedding, I received my very own air popper. Seventeen years later and it’s still good as new. The popcorn maker and the bag of yellow kernels are brought out after the children have been tucked into bed. We attentively pop the corn, melt the butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt before settling the bowl in between our laps on the couch. It’s earthy aroma grounds me and I feel at home.The perfect reward for a job well done.

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Though I’ve eaten popcorn most of my life, I didn’t know much about it until recently. Did you know that popcorn is a special corn plant that is grown for just this purpose? Mostly grown in the Midwest, it is harvested and dried until the kernels reach the perfect level of hydration. Different varieties abound and each offers a slightly different texture and appearance. The multi colored variety, bought in the grocery store’s bulk bin, produced smaller, creamy colored and slightly sweeter popped corn.

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As the summer turns to fall, I find myself craving a popcorn treat to harold in the new season. As opposed to caramel corn or popcorn balls, This caramel coated popcorn is incredibly quick and easy. Unlike most caramel corn recipes, this one doesn’t require an hour of stirring in the oven. Unlike, popcorn balls, these have a richer flavor and no burnt fingers! The caramel coats the popcorn and creates a crisp shell.

Caramel Coated Popcorn

Though corn syrup seems the perfect accompaniment to caramel corn, I found that Lyle’s Golden Syrup imparted a fuller flavor to this recipe, plus I love the tin it came in. When using a candy thermometer, be sure to read the temperature when the tip is not touching the bottom of the pan. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Pop corn with whatever method you like best. Pick out and discard all unpopped kernels and pour into large bowl. In a small saucepan, add butter, syrup, water and sugar. Stir and bring to a boil on medium high. Turn down to medium low and clip a candy thermometer to the side. The mixture should stay at a boil. Turn the oven up slightly if not. Cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 300℉, about 15 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in baking soda and salt. The mixture will foam and bubble. Quickly pour over popcorn and stir with a wooden spoon. The caramel hardens quickly so no daudiling. Pour into greased sheet pan. Let cool slightly and then separate into smaller chunks as desired. Let cool. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 days.

Rocky Road Candy

For kids and parents alike, summer break is like Christmas in July. As parents we spend months planning vacations and scheduling camps to somehow make this summer just as good (or better!) than last years. The kids are giddy with excitement with each passing day, until finally school is out and summer break is here.

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A Christmas Puzzle in July anyone?

Right as summer break started this year, one child and then the other came down with pneumonia, added on top of oral surgery for the youngest sandwiched in between. Spending the first precious weeks of summer running to the doctor, taking medicine and staying inside day after precious day, and you can imagine that I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and my kids, too. I needed to salvage this summer somehow.

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With little thought or planning, I decided to break out the crafts and celebrate Christmas in July. I dug out the Christmas puzzle that we hadn’t quite had enough time to put together. Then, I bought soft wool and began needle felting delicate balls for a new garland for the mantel. Now all I needed was some special treats to munch on to top off our celebration.

In our family, making candy is as much a holiday tradition as baking cookies. Though summer is typically a time for fruit pies and homemade ice cream, making homemade candy is the perfect treat for a sweltering kitchen.

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Marshmallows snipped into perfect sized chunks

Candy is simpler than you may think. No oven required and done more quickly than the first complaints of summer boredom. Candy is the perfect summer concoction.

With dreams of marshmallows, instead of chestnuts, roasting over the open fire and cold lemonade, instead of hot cocoa, in my cup; I decide to make the dream a reality and make a batch of  rocky road candy. Gooey marshmallows combined with chocolate, nuts and a heavy sprinkling of smoked salt brings us right to the crackling campfire that summer nights are made of.

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Smoked salt for the win

Most rocky road recipes include sweetened condensed milk so when I found this recipe from Alice Medrich that contains only chocolate, marshmallows and nuts, I knew I had to try it. The simpleness of this recipe allows for the ingredients to really shine. Buy chocolate tasty enough to eat and you won’t be disappointed.

Happy summer and may all your summer dreams come true.

Rocky Road Candy

You will want a candy thermometer to make this recipe (and most candies for that matter).  I have a simple one that does the job but am putting an instant-read digital on my wish list. Successful candy making requires accurate temperatures and reading a foggy thermometer is stress I don’t need.

Use any chocolate that you want, but I used semi-sweet Callebrut, found sold in bulk for a good price, that I would highly recommend. Chocolate chips worked fine though and is definitely the most economical choice.

Also, buying regular sized marshmallows and snipping them into quarters, instead of mini marshmallows, is totally worth the extra effort. The quartered marshmallows are slightly bigger and are softer in texture than the minis.

Smoked salt is a finishing salt that I found in the bulk section. Maldon salt would be a great choice and it’s sold on Amazon for a few dollars.

Makes 1.5 pounds

Adapted from Alice Medrich

Ingredients:

  • 16 regular sized marshmallows, quartered (4 ounces)
  • 1 cup pecan halves, chopped and roasted and cooled
  • 1 pound chocolate, chopped (see headnote)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked salt

Directions:

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then, melt chocolate slowly in a saucepan and stir regularly to keep it from scorching. Once melted, take off heat and scrape into a medium bowl. Clip on a candy thermometer and cool to 90°F. This is important and will help the candy set correctly.

Once cooled to 90°F, dump in the pecans and marshmallows. Stir to coat marshmallows and nuts evenly. Scrape into a log shape, roughly 3×10 and sprinkle with smoked salt. Place pan in refrigerator until the candy is dry and firm to the touch. This will take about 20 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and cut into thick strips with a serrated knife. I found that pieces 1×3 were a nice size. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.