Sixty-six days on a bike, 1,300 miles pedaled, more miles walked, hiked, climbed, and canoed. Before we knew it, we were back home with thousands of photos and a lifetime of stories to prepare for publication. What better way to transition back from the world of bicycle trekking to our home in Chignik Lake than baking? I can’t think of one.
I arrived back home to my patiently waiting, full, lovely pantry. Translucent jars of raspberry jam caught my eye on from the shelf where they’d been stored. With this year’s fruit quickly ripening, it’s time to use up last year’s stores. What a great excuse to bake with one of my favorite flavors – raspberry. Jack “I-don’t-have-a-sweet-tooth” Donachy’s secret weakness is custard desserts. For no better reason than pure love (of custard and raspberry), this little baby was created. Wait… I’m not saying that little baby Jack was created just to eat custard. I’m saying that this dessert… never mind.
A crust infused with almonds. Then a creamy vanilla custard topped with a smooth, delicious layer of homemade jam – I prefer raspberry. I set it out to photograph, and it was gone in a flash.
For those of you following along, we will have plenty of photos and stories coming from our bicycle trek around Hokkaido. Jack is up to is elbows in the sorting and editing process as well as catching the last of Chignik Lake’s migratory birds before they head south. Stay tuned. For now, sit back and enjoy a slice, or two, of this delicious tart.
Raspberry Vanilla Custard Tart
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tbsp cold water
- generous pinch salt
- 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, almonds, and sugar.
- In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and water.
- Grate butter into flour mixture. Toss butter so that it is fully coated. Use two sharp knives (I used steak knives) to chop the butter into smaller pea-sized pieces.
- Pour egg mixture into flour mixture. Stir with fork until dough comes together. It should be shaggy looking. If it’s too dry add tiny amounts of cold water until it comes together.
- Turn dough out into a 9-inch springform pan or tart pan with removable bottom.
- Press dough into bottom of pan and up the sides of pan (about 1 inch) with fingertips.
- Prick dough with fork. Freeze for 20 – 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Bake crust for 35 minutes. It will be golden brown when finished.
- Let cool completely. You can store the crust at room temperature if it’s tightly wrapped in plastic.
Vanilla Custard Filling and Raspberry Topping
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- pinch salt
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup homemade raspberry jam (here’s a good recipe for quick jam)
- Bring milk and vanilla to a simmer in a medium pot. Remove from heat.
- While heating milk mixture, thoroughly whisk together egg, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.
- Slowly, while whisking, pour milk mixture into egg mixture.
- Pour custard back into the medium pot.
- Continue whisking mixture over medium heat. Mixture should begin to bubble and become thick. Remove from heat.
- Whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time.
- Transfer back to medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so that wrap is against surface of custard.
- Cool completely in refrigerator.
- To assemble, whisk cooled custard until smooth.
- Pour custard into cooled crust.
- Spread jam evenly on top of custard.
- Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine.
The best chocolate chip cookie on the planet? There’s one way to find out!
Break out all the best ingredients you’ve been hoarding and make yourself a batch of these…now!
A couple of years ago, I read about a cookie that really sells for $8. Could I create a cookie worth such a price? Oh boy, yes! The secret to this cookie is not gold flecks or a butler to serve it, but fine ingredients and an investment of some time. The recipe demands high quality chocolates, browned butter, toasted almonds, and vanilla paste. Serving them slightly cooled from the oven is a key to the experience. I make a batch of dough, cookie scoop out portions and freeze them. When we are in the mood for these decadent beauties, I pop a couple in the oven while we are eating dinner in order to serve them as a perfectly warm $8 dessert.
The $8 Cookie
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, browned
- 2 tsp vanilla paste
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- pinch salt
- 1/3 cup toasted almonds, chopped
- 1/3 cup good quality milk chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup good quality white chocolate, chopped
- Mix the sugars and the egg well.
- Add in the browned butter.
- Mix in vanilla paste and almond extract.
- Stir flour, baking soda and salt into the mixture.
- Fold in the almonds and chocolate pieces.
- Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C).
- Scoop tablespoon-sized balls using a small ice cream scoop onto the baking sheet. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes.
- Let the cookies set on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes before removing them to a wire cooling rack.
- Continue to cool for another two minutes on the wire rack.
- Serve cookies while still warm.
Makes 12 cookies.
Sunshine on a winter’s day… Lemon bars drenched in tangy-sweet raspberry jam
I love chocolate – in every form, flavor, and dish. I love dark, white, and milk chocolate. Except for a weird, avant-garde chocolate bar infused with pepper (??), I can’t think of a chocolate creation I haven’t enjoyed. Almost neck-in-neck with chocolate are desserts made with lemon. The difference with lemon is that it not only has a wonderfully tart flavor, but it also has a strong seasonal connection to summer. One bite or sip of lemon brings me back to sunshine splashed afternoons and evenings cooled by gentle breezes sitting in our little piece of paradise behind our home in California among Meyer lemon trees. When we moved to Alaska, I even made up a gallon’s worth of Meyer lemon simple syrup in order to ease the separation from those prolific trees.
As we hit the middle of March, our minds drift toward Spring! In our former life, I would be itching to get the planting pots and garden beds ready. In Chignik Lake, I’m ready to pull the Pack Rafts out and head down nearby rivers. Mother Nature has had three little words in response to these inclinations…”Not. So. Fast.” All the snow we didn’t see this past winter has been just now swirling around our windows and creating lovely white drifts. Our lake iced over, started to thaw, and is now covered in ice again.
As Jack tends to his culinary diversion, a slow-cooked moose roast, I decide on my own diversion…one that will bring a little sunshine into our home. I took a tried and true lemon curd bar recipe from my Williams and Sonoma Baking Book and adapted it with items from my bush pantry. All I can say is Wowee! After the initial mix of sweet and tart lemon, you are rewarded with a blanket of pure raspberry bliss. A definite blast of summer, in the best way possible.
Raspberry Lemon Curd Bars
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- pinch cinnamon
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- pinch salt
- 3 large eggs (I used powdered eggs)
- ½ cup lemon juice (I used good quality bottled lemon juice)
- 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream
- Raspberry jam (I used freezer jam which has a much brighter color and flavor)
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Make crust.
- Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C).
- Grease an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
- Mix crust ingredients together.
- Press dough into bottom of baking dish.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Crust should be a pale golden color.
- Let the crust cool in the baking dish on a wire rack while you prepare filling.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325° F (165° C).
- Whisk together filling ingredients.
- Pour the mixture over the baked crust.
- Bake until filling is set, about 20 minutes. It may slightly jiggle when dish is shaken.
- Let lemon bars cool in the dish on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
- When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan. Cut into 12 or 16 rectangles.
- Remove from dish with a spatula and place pieces to be served on a serving dish.
- Spoon desired amount of jam on each piece.
- Dust each piece with confectioners’ sugar right before serving.
Tis the season for decadent desserts! Imagine a bite of smooth, sweet almond swathed in fresh raspberry jam atop flaky layers of buttery piecrust. Oh yeah!
Sure, our Thanksgiving always ends with Jack’s pumpkin pie. It’s a delicious tradition we don’t skip. When we plan the big feast, one dessert never seems to be enough. Some years, the second dessert has been a caramel apple pie, a lemon meringue pie or even a chocolate layer cake. This year, I really wanted to use almond paste that I sent out in our annual shopping. It’s an ingredient I rarely use, but love so much. Many years ago, when I first discovered bakeries and baked goods, I would always go for almond croissants. The combination of the sweet, smooth almond paste and the buttery, flakey croissant were irresistible. This tart has the same elements along with an added bonus – homemade raspberry jam. Some of the jam I made this year was a freezer jam. In other words, it wasn’t cooked. The fresh berries are stirred with some sugar and pectin and put straight into the freezer. This method of making jam preserves the fresh bright flavor of the raspberries straight from the vine.
The tart starts with a buttery, flaky piecrust that is partially blind baked to keep it light and airy. The crust is brushed with jam and then covered with an almond paste mixture, which is the main event. The whole tart is sprinkled with almond slices which provide the finishing touch. What a delicious combination! We all enjoyed the beautiful and delicious addition to this year’s table. Sadly, it is now just a fond memory.
Raspberry Almond Tart
- pie dough for one crust
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 8 oz. almond paste, cut into small cubes
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup good quality raspberry jam
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- Roll out dough to a 12-inch disk. Cover a 9 ½ inch tart pan or a 9 inch springform pan.
- Trim off excess if using a tart pan. If using a springform pan, trim off dough 1 ½ inches up the side of the pan. The dough will shrink when baked, so make sure to extend the dough higher than you want your end product.
- Freeze the shell for 30 minutes or until firm.
- Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 375° F.
- Partially blind bake shell for 20 minutes. Shell will be done when it is pale gold and dry looking.
- Remove pan from oven and cool on a wire rack.
- Reduce oven temperature to 350° F.
- In a large bowl, beat butter until smooth.
- Add almond paste, a couple pieces at a time. Continue beating until smooth. Add more pieces and repeat beating. Continue with remaining almond paste pieces.
- Add sugar to almond paste mixture and beat until smooth.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
- Stir in flour.
- Spread jam evenly on base of tart shell.
- Spoon almond mixture atop jam. Smooth the top.
- Sprinkle almond slices evenly over tart.
- Bake until filling is golden and the middle is firm, 35-45 minutes.
- Cool on wire rack.
Serve at room temperature.
Recipe adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book
Warm and gooey, straight from the oven. Watch out – this cookie has been found to be highly addictive.
Several years ago, we were introduced to the cast iron skillet cookie. This giant chocolate chip cookie is best served nearly straight from the oven. No need for fancy serving dishes, we were handed spoons and in mere moments the 10-inch cast iron pan was emptied.
This terribly addictive cookie came back into my thoughts during our last trip to Anchorage. Jack and I went to a restaurant where we were served a delicious skillet breakfast of country fried potatoes, a fried egg, and an Alaskan reindeer sausage all presented in a cute, single-serving cast iron pan. That presentation was as clever as it was practical. The mini-skillet was the perfect serving size for one and kept the breakfast piping hot. We could imagine all kinds of tasty creations that would work perfectly in these clever pans. When we got home, I ordered two, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they are relatively inexpensive.
When the pans arrived, the first order of the day was a skillet cookie… but not just any skillet cookie. We love the flavor of bourbon. It happens to perfectly complement the buttery, carmely, flavors of a chocolate chip cookie. (See our post about melty chocolate chip cookies.) So I decided to punch up the skillet cookie with a bit of bourbon. After a couple of different successful experiments, I came up with just the right balance of ingredients for my recipe.
The bad things about this cookie? It is ridiculously delicious. We found it impossible to eat part of it and save the other part for later. It is easy to make, which only contributes to the addiction problem. And if you happen to have some rich vanilla ice cream to scoop on the top? You may as well call your boss and tell him/her that you won’t be coming in this week.
With fair warning, I give you the –
Bourbon Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie for Two
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 8 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp egg, whisked
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp bourbon
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C)
- Have a 6 1/2” cast iron skillet available
- Whisk melted butter with sugars
- Whisk in egg
- Whisk in vanilla and bourbon
- Stir in flour, baking solda and salt
- Fold in chocolate chips
- Pour batter into cast iron skillet
- Bake for 20 minutes. Cookie will be puffed up and will have pulled away from edge when finished.
- Let cool slightly. Serve while still warm plain or topped with creamy vanilla ice cream.
These sweet little cookies are common at Hanukkah, but filled with pecans and cranberries they will be welcomed at any Thanksgiving, Christmas or fall festivities table.
If you’ve been following our life off the beaten path, you know Jack and I love to read. The chilly, rainy days that encourage us to be inside only fuel our fires for reading. We read together almost every morning and most nights as well. We are in the midst of a tome of poetry for our morning sessions. The Top 500 Poems edited by William Harmon has been taking us on a poetic journey through the ages from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Ginsberg and Plath. In the evening, we are currently enjoying Truman Capote’s timeless classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In addition to our joint reading adventures, each of us is immersed in yet another read. My current book is excruciatingly nerdy – The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg. It contains details and procedures for doing things only a baking nerd would love to do – like making marzipan from scratch, for example. And, yes, that is on my goal list now.
‘Tis the season for making pies, so I’ve delved into the section on infallible pie crusts. The author didn’t claim infallibility, but I am certainly trying to find one that never fails. I would like to be known as “The Pope of Pie Crusts.” The author did say that “a mastery of dough making is critical to the success of a professional pastry kitchen.” My kitchen is not professional, but I would like my crusts to have the taste and texture like those of the professionals. One pie crust which caught my eye includes cream cheese as part of the primary fat.
However, before I take on the intimidating world of pie crust perfection, I thought I would inch toward it with a cookie called rugelach that uses a similar cream cheese dough. The cookie dough spirals around a tasty filling. They are lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat!
Bo uses apricots and walnuts as her filling. I adapted her published recipe to make the directions simpler, and I also swapped her choice of fruit and nuts for what I had in my Alaska pantry. The resulting cookie recipe makes it easy to substitute any dried fruit and nut for the cranberries and pecans I used.
Pecan Cranberry Rugelach
- 2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), room temperature
- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup Craisins
- 1 cup pecans, chopped coarse
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg, beaten
- Beat 2 sticks butter and cream cheese together with mixer.
- Add in flour by 1/2 cups.
- Divide dough into thirds. Form 3 discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Rehydrate Craisins. Place Craisins in pan with enough water to cover. Bring water to boil, then remove pan from heat and let Craisins cool.
- Drain Craisins.
- Combine pecans, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll dough into 10-inch circles.
- Paint circles with melted butter.
- Sprinkle dough with pecan mixture.
- Evenly sprinkle with Craisins.
- With a pizza wheel, cut each circle into 12 even wedges.
- Roll the wedges from edge to center. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet.
- Paint all the cookies with beaten egg.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Finished rugelach will be golden when finished.
Moist, cakey, fudgy… forget the description, just give me some of that!
Sometimes the lines get blurred between teaching elementary students and baking. *Warning* Do not read the following blog on an empty stomach. In writing, young students often find it difficult to add appropriately intriguing details to their writing. In order to teach these skills, I often model an example by writing in front of them. I will write something very simple like “My favorite dessert is a brownie sundae.” I will explain that interesting writing about food should make the reader hungry. They usually agree that my initial example didn’t accomplish this goal. Then I will write something like the following –
Imagine a brownie. Not just any brownie. This one is cooling from the oven. Its texture is somewhere between a rich chocolate cake and gooey chocolate fudge. The warm brownie has been saturated with melted chocolate chips that have been baked into this brownie. Atop this brownie mountain is a scoop of custardy French vanilla ice cream speckled with seeds from real vanilla beans. Homemade whipped cream with a faint aroma of vanilla is on top of the ice cream. Hot, thick fudge is dripped over the top of the dessert. It is warm enough to slightly melt the ice cream, but not hot enough to hurt your tongue. Of course, the whole sundae is topped with salty peanuts and a sweet, red maraschino cherry.
By the time I get to the description of the fudge, the students are usually squirming in misery. And my point is made.
The centerpiece and foundation of this favorite dessert is the brownie. Many people are staunch cakey brownie lovers. In the other camp are those who demand the gooey fudgy brownie. This brownie recipe results in a balance of moist cake texture with enough gooeyness to satisfy those who need that intense dense brownie. Enjoy this brownie in your favorite sundae – or straight from the oven. Do let it cool a bit before you dig in!
Super Rich Chocolate Chip Brownie
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1 cup canola oil (or other light vegetable oil)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
- generous pinch salt
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Grease a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- In a large bowl, stir together sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla extract.
- Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt into egg mixture.
- Mix until moistened, do not overmix.
- Evenly spread batter into prepared baking dish.
- Sprinkle chocolate chips over batter.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Brownies will start to pull away from edge of dish when finished.
- Be patient. Allow to cool a bit before cutting.