Christmas in July

This is embarrassing.

I still have a Panettone I received as a holiday gift.

How terrible is that? For one, it’s an embarrassment of riches to be able to say “woe is me, I have extra cake/bread that I haven’t felt like eating!” This problem is not unique to me, as I confirmed from subsequent Googling. The part that makes it so embarrassing is that I have come to JULY without touching it.

At one point, the cake was tucked in a cubby of a shelf while the months ticked by. Oh, it wasn’t hidden from sight. Just from my apparent consciousness.

Now I’m determined. Cautiously excited. I’m not sure how wise it is to eat the cake so late, and I’m not sure if it would be accepted as a donation. I will justify using it by pointing out that the cake was labeled by someone to be good for about 5 months. What’s another 2.5?
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I slowly removed it from the packaging, inspecting for decay. So far, so good.
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The perfumey smell of fruitcake hit me as I removed the paper covering around the sides and bottom. Determination: good to go.
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French toasts and bread puddings are the top ways to use this sweet, cake-like bread studded with dried fruit. Since I love soaking bread until it becomes a custard consistency, I’m all for it. But with whom am I going to share a large, rich casserole any time soon? To my delight, PJ Hamel’s blog and recipe came up in my searches. It transforms the cake into the form of moist bread loaves, a much more convenient way to keep (i.e. freeze) and share!

The original recipe calls for 9 to 10 cups of diced bread. The full cake totalled about 13 cups for me, so I scaled the recipe accordingly.
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Panettone Bread Pudding Loaf
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

4 large eggs
2 2/3 Cups
of some combination of milk and cream (I used 2 Cups skim milk and 2/3 Cup heavy cream)
1/4 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 panettone or about 13 Cups panettone or other bread
, diced into 1″ cubes
about 1 1/4 Cup fresh lemon curd, split (recipe below-prepare ahead of time to allow for chilling, or purchase pre-made)
coarse sparkling sugar, for sprinkling on top; optional

Microwave Lemon Curd Recipe
Also from King Arthur Flour
Makes at least 2 Cups (more than needed; feel free to halve the recipe, if preferred)

1 Cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup (8 Tablespoons) butter
, melted
2 large eggs

I ended up using 2 large and 3 small lemons to reach 1 Cup of freshly squeezed juice.

I ended up using 2 large and 3 small lemons to reach 1 Cup of freshly squeezed juice.


In a large microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, melt the butter. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to combine.
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Place bowl in microwave and cook in 1-minute increments. After each minute, remove from the microwave and stir to combine.

The curd is done when it is thickening and coating the back of the spoon. Or, when it reaches 185°F – the instant-read thermometer is your friend!
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Mine took about 6 minutes to reach 185, but after 3 minutes some of the egg already cooked! Straining is required in this case. I happen to notice my new pasta scoop might have the right size holes for simply scooping out the solids–and it was!
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Stir, transfer to a container, and refrigerate (or freeze, if in a rush) until firm.

    On to the bread pudding!

Prep your bread by cutting or tearing into pieces.
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In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, dairy, and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the bread and stir. Allow the bread to absorb much of liquid-anywhere from 30 minutes to, in my case, 90+ minutes.

When the soaked bread and curd is ready, preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter up some loaf pans.

Mix the soaked bread some more, and then scoop 1/4 of it into each pan. Plop a heaping 1/2 Cup of lemon curd on top of that layer.
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Cover with the rest of the bread/custard.

Now more fun stuff: the recipe calls for sprinkling with white sparkling sugar. It makes me laugh how out of season this is!
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Put the pudding loaves in the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top becomes golden brown.
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Allow to rest and cool at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour.

Another reason why the title of this post is so appropriate: one of my go-to loaf pans has this festive design!

Another reason why the title of this post is so appropriate: one of my go-to loaf pans has this festive design!


Slice the loaf and top each slice with a little sifted confectioners’ sugar, for good measure.
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The verdict? Delicious. The lemon curd adds some nice freshness to counteract the intensity of the dried fruit. The richness of the dessert goes a long way. The recipe author suggests serving the pudding with some less-sweet vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. To me, it begged for an espresso or coffee or black tea on the side.
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Now I just need some classy holiday dinner party guests. Are you in?

I decided to commemorate my “Christmas in July” in yet another way: dropping off donations to the Salvation Army. It was probably around the holidays that I last dropped off my extensive collection of rejected clothing and shoes.

The cat sitting on the sweatshirt? That's Riley. I didn't give her away.

The cat sitting on the sweatshirt? That’s Riley. I didn’t give her away.


The piles were doing no good in my closet. Here’s hoping they find a good home!
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Sourdough Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Icing

Sometimes you need to make cupcakes simply because you have some cute paper baking cups.
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OK, you caught me, the red, white and blue paper cups were not the only reason I planned to bake for our Memorial Day party on Monday. Another reason is that the recipe puts the sourdough to use again! Plus, I had all the other ingredients on hand.

Memorial Day certainly lived up to its reputation as the unofficial start of summer. I could not have asked for a more perfect day to spend almost entirely outdoors. Right away, I started the sourdough part of the cupcake batter so it could sit for its allotted time, and then spent the entire morning finishing up weeding and planting my flowers, herbs, and tomato plants in the gardens around my yard. During the afternoon, Matt and I socialized on the deck with friends and family, serving these cupcakes for dessert after enjoying a delectable shrimp boil and a couple of grilled pizzas.

Shrimp boil with potatoes and corn and a few crab legs--why not?

Shrimp boil with potatoes and corn and a few crab legs–why not?

DSC_8664The cupcakes were irresistible to our crowd, even members of which have a fair amount of self control when it comes to sugar. You can certainly swap in a different icing without the coffee flavor if you are serving to children. Espresso powder (another pantry ingredient that hadn’t been getting much use lately) has the magical effect of intensifying chocolate flavor in baked goods, so I suggest leaving it in the cake portion, if you have it in the first place. And if you don’t have sourdough? Well, if you’re the type who loves baking, get on that. Or just use another favorite chocolate cake recipe.

Sourdough Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Icing
Adapted from King Arthur Flour to make cupcakes
Makes about 18 full-sized cupcakes

Cake Batter:
1 Cup sourdough starter
, fed and “rested”*
1 Cup milk , whole or 2% is better (I improvised with skim plus a little heavy cream)
2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Cups granulated sugar

1 Cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
(optional)
2 large eggs

Espresso Icing: (this has been scaled down for cupcakes–you’ll need the original recipe’s quantity, or more, if making a layer cake)
2 teaspoons espresso powder or instant coffee dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 Cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) butter
~1/3 Cup plain Greek or regular yogurt
, or you can use buttermilk or sour cream
4 Cups powdered confectioners’ sugar

*This is where you have to plan ahead. The sourdough starter needs to be fed regularly anyway, so you could do the feeding the night before to have it ready for this recipe. Remember you may have to “feed” the starter again after taking out a Cup, depending on whether it is overflowing. The process we follow is to discard 1 Cup, add 1 Cup flour and 1/2 Cup water, stir, and let it sit out for 2-4 hours before returning to the fridge. I remembered late that the discarded cup can be used to start a new batch of sourdough, so I could have also fed that to make my batch for the cake.
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To make the cake:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the starter, milk, and flour. Let this mixture rest for 2 to 3 hours in a warm place. It may start to bubble a little bit, and should smell slightly sour in a pleasant way.
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In a second bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, baking soda, cocoa, and espresso powder.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the sourdough mixture to the creamed mixture, combining gently until it all comes together.
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The King Arthur Flour recipe warns you that the batter starts out very “gloppy,” and I agree with that description! Eventually it smooths out.
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Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease or spray your pans or muffin tins and then pour or scoop in the batter.
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Bake for about 25 minutes to start, and use a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center to check that it comes out clean–that means it’s done.

Remove and allow to cool.
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To make the icing:

My espresso powder had hardened into chunks, which wouldn't break up easily, so after a minute or two, I simply removed the chunks from the liquid.

My espresso powder had hardened into chunks, which wouldn’t break up easily, so after a minute or two, I simply removed the chunks from the liquid.


Dissolve the espresso powder or instant coffee in the hot water, and set it aside. I suppose you could use 2-3 teaspoons of strong coffee in its place.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. While it melts, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl. To the butter, add the yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream and mix well. Keep an eye on the pan and bring just to a boil.

Pour the mixture into the bowl with the confectioners’ sugar along with the espresso/water. Beat slowly until any lumps are gone. The icing will be very thin and drippy, so it is best to let it cool and stiffen for a bit before spreading on the cupcakes.

Let's just say that the drops of icing disappeared by the end of our party.

Let’s just say that the drips of icing disappeared by the end of our party.


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Green Cake

St. Patrick’s Day was last Monday. I enjoy the holiday, but it’s not because I am one-eighth Irish (in fact, I have very little personal connection to my European roots). It’s because I love the color green! Green holds a very close second place position to my favorite color, cornelian red (Let’s Go Red!). Green and brown were my main wedding colors (see below). And we all can agree that green has a positive connotation, especially this time of year.
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When I came across a recipe for a naturally green cake, on a new site I’ve been following, I couldn’t resist. It used up parsley I had been working through, and made a dent in a leftover package of mint. These herbs are frequently called for in the Mediterranean dishes I’ve been craving. Specifically, the first part of the mint was used in mint and pistachio tabbouleh I served alongside Red Pepper and Lamb Pita sandwiches.
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I was very intrigued by the recipe. The cake has an added benefit of freshening one’s breath. You can’t say that about just any dessert or breakfast item, can you?
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I didn’t have enough of the herbs for a full-sized cake, so I scaled it down to 1/4 of the original recipe. It is fairly easy to do if you have a kitchen scale and you can figure out divisions in your head, or, like me, you have a nerdy husband (or calculator) nearby.

For those of you without a kitchen scale, I tried to closely translate the ratios into measuring cups and spoons.

If I needed another reason to try it out, I saw that this recipe was adapted from a recipe in the cookbook from Roberta’s, a well-known restaurant in Brooklyn. I’ve only visited the restaurant once so far, and I can report only positive things about the food.

Roberta’s Parsley Cake
Adapted from Food 52’s Adaptation and scaled down by 75% to fit one 8″ cake pan (a smaller pan would work too)

1 Cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
1/4 Cup mint leaves, tightly packed
41 grams (3/16 Cup, or a little more than 1/8 Cup) olive oil, plus oil for the pan
72.5 grams (a little over 1/2 Cup) all-purpose flour
3.75 grams (1 1/4 teaspoons) cornstarch
1.75 grams
(a little over 1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
2 grams
(about 1/3 teaspoon) baking powder
1 large egg
, at room temperature
82 grams (a little less than 1/2 Cup) sugar

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First, make the herb-oil mixture. Add parsley and mint to a blender or food processor, and process at low speed. You may need to stop from time to time to stir the herbs into the blade.
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Increase the speed to medium and add the olive oil, a little at a time, until mixture is fully combined. The recipe says to keep the mixture a little stringy rather than obliterating it. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the parsley mixture out of the processor/blender and into a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.
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In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg for about 30 seconds.
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Add the sugar and turn up speed to high, running until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale yellow color, a few minutes.

Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the herb-oil mixture.
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With the machine on low, carefully add the dry mixture and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. This apparently develops the color. I transferred the mixture right away to my cake pan, which is lined with parchment paper and oiled, but you can also use a different container for the cake-batter-resting stage.
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How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!

How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!


Time to bake! Preheat the oven to 340°F. Bake time will vary significantly 12-20 minutes, so be sure to use a toothpick or cake tester to check for doneness. Rotate the cake at about 8 minutes. The top should only brown slightly; turn the heat down if it becomes too brown.
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Let cake cool in the pan. To serve, make serving-size squares or wedges of cake. The cake may be delicious with vanilla ice cream and lemon zest. Mine was enjoyed warm with butter.
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The cake was excellent, particularly the texture. I must have enjoyed olive oil cakes in restaurants before, but I don’t think I ever made it at home. This cake also had a wonderful herbal aroma–honestly, the best way to describe it is a mojito smell! I was skeptical about the cake’s appeal, and wondered if the color would be “too much” for some people. One of my favorite ways to keep food from being wasted is to share it with others, so I brought several plain pieces to test on–I mean, offer to– my church bells choir-mates at rehearsal.

As it turned out, no one even hesitated to try the cake. Everyone liked it. I would like to believe it was not only because they were in a festive St. Patty’s Day mood.
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Sourdough Carrot Cake

Have I mentioned that I am in possession of living culinary matter, matter that demands nurturing and care, also known as sourdough starter? I know I have mentioned my husband’s love of bread, and that is what led me to give him the starter as a birthday gift years ago. That same starter survives today, supplying tang to our breads, pizza doughs, and waffles, and this time, our cake.

The care I’m referring to is the regular “feeding.” Sourdough starter is kept in best tip-top shape by feeding it every week with some new flour and water. First, you dispose of, or use, 1 cup. And I will confess that we probably dispose of that cup more than 50% of the time, especially since many recipes call for FED starter.
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The latest King Arthur Flour catalog arrived, and one of the recipes that caught my eye was the Sourdough Carrot Cake that used UNFED starter! This recipe is a great example of my ability to cook my pantry with the addition of very few specially purchased grocery items. This time, that special item was crushed pineapple.

I followed this recipe almost exactly–I was surprised by how much oil it called for considering the pineapple added so much moisture, so I think I put in a smidge less oil than it called for, which I modify in the version below. This does make a generous amount of cake. It could also be served in a more bread-like form, similar to zucchini of banana bread. It would make at least two loaves. I completely eyeballed volumes with the various containers I used in an attempt to make cute little layer cakes. My output was the six ramekins (which puffed up) plus a full loaf pan.

Bonus: I ended up with little carrot cake cookies, when I sliced the top off these!

Bonus: I ended up with little carrot cake cookies, when I sliced the top off these!


Sourdough Carrot Cake
From King Arthur Flour

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 Cups sugar
1 Cup sourdough starter
, right from the fridge, not fed
3 eggs
1 Cup (8 oz.) crushed pineapple
, mostly drained
2 Cups grated carrots
1/2 Cup chopped walnuts
1/2 Cup shredded coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Cream Cheese Frosting
(optional)*

Grease desired baking pans – suggested single size is 9 x 13-inch – and sprinkle with flour. Set aside.

Combine oil and sugar, and stir in sourdough starter. Mix in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Fold in pineapple, carrots, walnuts, coconut and vanilla.

I was feeling lazy and used the food processor.

I was feeling lazy and used the food processor.


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In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
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Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring just to combine.
I tried to capture the whir of the KitchenAId with my camera...haven't quite figured it out.

I tried to capture the whir of the KitchenAId with my camera…haven’t quite figured it out.


Spoon batter into pan. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and cool completely before frosting.

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*The frosting made the cake totally decadent, but I don’t think it is necessary. Feel free to half the below recipe, to incorporate with some but not all of the cake.

Simple Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 to 1/2 Cup (1/2 to 1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups (1 pound) confectioners’ sugar
milk, as needed for consistency

Combine butter, cream cheese and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy. Add sugar gradually, beating well. Add milk, a little at a time, until frosting is a spreadable consistency.

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Perhaps this recipe is irrelevant to you because you don’t have sourdough starter! Well, if you’re interested (and local), I’d be happy to get some of my starter in your hands. If you’re not interested in taking on such responsibility, King Arthur Flour has another similar, highly-rated carrot cake recipe.