Strawberries-and-Cream Pops

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Ok, I take back everything I said about turning on the oven during the summer being worth it. Being outside is unbearable as soon as you step out of the door. The only thing keeping me walking the dog is Pokémon Go. I just want to stay inside and lie on the couch and watch Netflix and read books all day long. At least, I think that’s what I want to do all day long, until my type A personality kicks in after about an hour and urges me to get up and go do something that’s somewhat productive. Like make popsicles with those super-ripe strawberries in the fridge.

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Over-ripe berries can be pretty gross if you were planning on eating them fresh. The strawberries get those little splotches on them; the blueberries wrinkle like fingers that have been in the pool too long; the raspberries practically liquify when you try to pick them up. However, as long as they haven’t passed over to the dark side and actually gone bad, they can still pack a lot of flavor. Just not a lot of texture. And this makes them perfect for whirring up into popsicles.

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I have tried many homemade fruit pops and never fallen in love with any of them. Here are my issues: if the recipe aims for a wholesome pop and hardly contains anything but fruit, I would rather just eat the fresh fruit than lick it in a frozen form. On the other hand, recipes that have too many other ingredients just dilute the flavor and don’t pack enough of a fruity wallop.

These pops were inspired by a Strawberry-Lime Ice Cream Pie published in Eating Well magazine; I had bookmarked it over a year ago but never made it, because I’m usually only cooking for two and need a party or a cookout to justify making a whole pie. The premise sounded pretty tasty though: strawberries puréed with whipped cream, vanilla yogurt, lime zest, and rum, piled into a graham cracker crust and topped with sliced berries. I wanted to take the same idea and make it into a single-serving popsicle.

Glancing over the recipe, it looked like it might not be strawberry-y enough, so I kept the amount of strawberries the same and cut back on everything else. I also reduced the strawberry purée into a delicious jammy goo just to be 100% certain that plenty of fruit flavor would come through. I removed the seeds with a fine sieve and used lime juice instead of lime zest because I didn’t want anything gritting up the texture. In the end, I got the creamy, tart, undeniably strawberry pop I’d be searching for. They are pretty sweet and fairly rich—it’s really more like ice cream on a stick than what I think of as a traditional popsicle—but they pair beautifully with lying on the couch and watching Netflix.

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Note: This is loosely adapted from Eating Well’s Strawberry-Lime Ice Cream Pie.



Strawberries-and-Cream Pops

make about 4 pops

  • 2 c. sliced ripe strawberries (about 3/4 of a 1 lb. clamshell pack)
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1/2 Tbsp. white rum
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. plain Greek yogurt (I used full-fat)
  • 1/4 c. whipping cream
  1. In a small food processor, purée the strawberries until liquefied. Remove the seeds by straining the purée through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible.
  2. Place the strained purée, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a bare simmer, then turn the heat to low / medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until thickened and jammy, about 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Add the lime juice, rum, vanilla extract, and yogurt to the strawberry purée. Whisk to combine well.
  4. In a medium bowl—preferably one with a spout—whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in half of the purée-yogurt mixture, and then fold in the rest of it. Stir with a whisk a few times if there are any lumps remaining—we’re not making a soufflé here; a few turns of the whisk isn’t going to ruin it.
  5. Pour into molds and freeze until solid. It helps to run hot water over the mold to loosen up the pops when you want to remove them.

 

 

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Flan Pâtissier: French-Style Flan

 

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It’s an intense situation that anyone who gets excited about food has been through: you’re out at a nice-ish restaurant for the first time, you’re waffling between two or three dishes, and you just can’t make up your mind. You can’t even fully participate in the conversation until you get your order figured out. You might as well be playing on your phone for how much attention you’re paying to your dinner companions. You want to try everything! It all sounds so good! And you know you’re not going to be making it back to the restaurant any time soon. What if you choose the wrong thing?? Oh, the agony!

Thank goodness for having friends and family who are just as happy as I am about going halfsies and sharing dishes so we can try more than one. There’s that moment when we finally decide what we’re going to get, and we high-five each other like our team just scored the winning point. (What, other people don’t do this to celebrate their awesome restaurant ordering skills?)

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Luckily for me, my husband and I frequently have the same tastes, with a few exceptions. For instance, he’s not a big dessert fan, and he doesn’t like chocolate. On one hand, this (ahem, weird and inexplicable) aversion means that I don’t have to share anything chocolate with him. When I order that fudge tartlet at the end of the meal, it’s all mine. On the other hand, this means that I don’t get to share anything chocolate with him… That batch of homemade cookies…it’s all mine. Every last one of them. I will end up eating every single cookie that doesn’t get given to friends or taken to work, because my husband will not touch them except to ask me to set aside some of the dough for him before I add the chocolate chips to it.

So, this throws a bit of a wrench in baking at home, especially during Snowzilla when you’re stuck inside and not pawning off your extra cupcakes and brownies on unsuspecting friends and coworkers. As I was stocking up for the blizzard, I actually went about it with the intention of not baking anything and contenting myself instead with mugs of Smitten Kitchen’s hot chocolate (sometimes spiked with bourbon). That mindset lasted for about two days, and then I started second-guessing my strategy and figuring out what spouse-pleasing dessert I could make with what we had.

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I settled on flan pâtissier, which is essentially a super-thick—as in, sliceable—custard cooked in a pie crust. (Not the same as Spanish-style flan.) I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit strange. In my (American) opinion, it’s not as sweet as most things you’d categorize as a dessert, but I noticed that many of the French reviewers of the recipe I followed commented that they had cut back on the sugar. The texture is unusual, too: it’s creamy, but imagine a cross between a pastry custard and a vanilla Jell-O jiggler. I remember trying flan pâtissier in France and not being blown away by it; in fact, this article by Ann Mah pretty much sums up my lackluster reaction to it. So why revisit it if I thought it was just okay? Well, first of all, it didn’t require trudging through 2 feet of snow to the nearest grocery store to pick up new provisions because it uses ingredients that are very basic: flour, butter, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, and cornstarch. Second of all, knowing what to expect is important, and I think I was imagining that it would be like a slice of crème brûlée when I first tried it. It’s not. It looks richer than it tastes. Don’t go into it thinking that it will be soft and spoonable like most custards or flans available in the USA, or you will be disappointed. It is also noticeably less sugary than anything that qualifies as a “pie” in the States. Know that you’re supposed to wind up with something pretty firm, and know that is mildly-flavored. Third, I really enjoy most dairy-based treats. Lastly, my husband will actually eat desserts like this. I searched some French cooking websites to find crust and filling recipes; the crust turned out great and didn’t get soggy even without blind baking, and the vanilla filling was smooth and creamy. If I had chosen this flan pâtissier in a bakery (and probably suggested going halfsies on an almond croissant too), there would would been some high-fives after ordering.

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Note: This was my first attempt making flan pâtissier, and there are a few things I’d consider changing the next time around, like trying a parchment-lined 9″ cake pan instead of a springform pan. (The recipe didn’t specify what size pan was needed.) I don’t usually cook with vanilla beans—we happened to have one that was probably 3 years past its prime—so I would also be interested to see how it would turn out without the vanilla bean, and rely instead on adding the vanilla extract and a tablespoon of rum (suggested in many comments) after the custard thickened. I might also pass the thickened filling through a sieve before baking it. The pâté brisée recipe comes from Meilleur Du Chef (which I just realized has an English version, although it’s still in metric), and the flan pâtissier was adapted (barely) from the recipe submitted by Eryn Folle Cuisine on Le Journal Des Femmes


 

Flan Pâtissier

says it serves 8, but I think it serves more like 12

  • 1 pie crust—most flan pâtissier recipes call for a store-bought or home-made puff pastry or pie crust; I used the pâté brisée recipe below
  • 1 quart (4 c.) 2% milk, divided
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 c. cornstarch (yes, you read that right)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split open and scraped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter and flour a 9 1/2″ springform pan. Roll out the chilled pie crust into a 14″ circle and mold in into the pan, going about 2″ up the sides. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, and let chill in the fridge while you prep the filling.
  2. In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup of the milk with the eggs, sugar, salt, cornstarch, and vanilla extract.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the remaining 3 1/2 cups milk and the scrapings from the vanilla bean over medium heat. When the milk just starts to simmer, remove the pan from the heat but don’t turn off the burner.
  4. Very, very slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture: beat the egg mixture constantly and add a few drops of hot milk at a time until you’ve incorporated about a cup of it, then add the rest in a slow stream, continuing to beat constantly.
  5. Return the mixture to the pan and heat over medium, whisking constantly until thickened.
  6. Pour the filling into the crust (no need to blind bake the crust), and cook for about 40 minutes. Turn the heat up to broil, and broil for 1-3 minutes to color the top. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn!
  7. Let cool for a bit at room temperature, then place in the fridge and let chill completely before removing from pan and slicing.

 

Pâté Brisée, or what I would just call Pie Crust, or what the British apparently call Shortcrust Pastry

makes 1 generous single-crust pie shell

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 9 Tbsp. butter, cut into chunks and at room temperature (cut first, then leave on the counter to soften)
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • cold water, about 4 Tbsp.
  1. Mound the flour in a bowl. Sprinkle the butter chunks and salt on top. Rub with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. (It’s less sticky if you make sure the butter chunks are coated with flour before you start rubbing.)
  2. Mound the butter/flour mixture into a little mountain shape again. Put the egg yolk in the center, and—working from the middle of the bowl to the edge—use your fingertips to gradually start incorporating the yolk into the flour/butter mixture. Add water, 1/2 Tbsp. at a time, to help the dough come together. (I added about 3 Tbsp. total.) Avoid working the dough too much. Once you can gather it into a ball, flatten it into disk, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill for at least 30 minutes.

 

 

Apple-Almond Tart

 

IMG_5673Confession: I didn’t make this tart because I was trying to clean some stuff out of the pantry. I went out and bought some crisp green apples, a new bag of blanched almonds, a jar of apricot preserves, and a bottle of brandy just to make this. Because Thanksgiving deserves special food. And this tart is amazing.

IMG_5666I count myself among the legions of people who think that Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year. And we’re right. Given that you get along with your family (check) and there are some decent cooks in your family (check), the only things you’re supposed to do on Thanksgiving are just enjoy and appreciate your family’s company, and eat. I’m sold.

This year, my parents and husband and I will be running a 5k together on Thursday morning—you know, so we can tell ourselves we’ve made a little more room for the turkey (one grilled one smoked) and the stuffing (I’m thankful I’m not on a low-carb diet) and the corn pudding (just as sophisticated as green bean casserole) and the cranberry sauce (confession #2, I like the jellied kind straight out of a can) and the whipped potatoes (the regular kind) and the sweet potato purée (with smoked paprika, so good) and the apple-almond tart (seriously it is exceptional).

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It is worth getting a tart pan with a removable bottom (like this one) to make this tart. The bottom layer is a rich ground-almond concoction, and it’s topped with Granny Smith apples that are brushed with butter and sugar before baking and then a glaze of apricot jam and brandy after it comes out of the oven. It does take a while to put together, but it is worth every second. I’ve made it many times and have always gotten compliments on it.



Note: This recipe comes from Epicurious. I barely changed a thing.


Apple-Almond Tart

serves 10-12

For the crust:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp. brandy
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 9 Tbsp. chilled butter, cut into 1/2″ chunks
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and the brandy.
  2. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
  3. With the motor running, add the egg/brandy mixture and process until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least an hour.
  4. After the dough is cold, roll it out into a 14″ circle on a floured surface. Press into an 11″ tart pan with a removable bottom; make the sides twice as thick as the bottom. Chill while making the filling.

For the filling:

  • 1 1/4 c. slivered blanched almonds
  • 3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. brandy, divided
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 6 Tbsp. butter, room temperature, divided
  • 3 medium Granny Smith apples
  • 1/4 c. apricot preserves
  1. In a food processor, combine the almonds, 3/4 c. sugar, eggs, 1 Tbsp. brandy, both extracts, and salt. Process until a paste forms, then add 4 Tbsp. of the butter and pulse until combined. Spread into the crust and chill for about 45 minutes.
  2. Peel and core the apples. Quarter them, and then cut into 1/8″ slices. Toss with 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1 Tbsp. brandy, and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400º.
  3. Drain the apples and overlap them in concentric circles on top of the filling. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter and brush over the apples, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar.
  4. Bake at 400º for 15 minutes, and then reduce the oven temperature to 350º and bake until apples are tender, about 45 more minutes.
  5. Gently heat the apricot preserves and the remaining Tbsp. of brandy until the preserves melt. Strain into a small bowl and brush over the tart (or just avoid the apricot chunks when brushing). Cool.
  6. Tart can be made 1 day ahead. Store at room temperature.

 

French Yogurt Cake

I enjoy trying new recipes to a fault—I’ll frequently be tempted to make something new just to see what it’s like instead of repeating a dish that I’ve cooked before and know is good. This cake, though, is so easy and crowd-pleasing, I’ve made it four times in the last month: for a bake sale fundraiser, for students who earned best student or most improved during first quarter, for my aunt who let us crash at her place instead of having to stay at a hotel for a wedding, and once just for me. It is super simple and comes together in no time, plus—bonus!—it involves minimal dishwashing. You only use one bowl to mix it in, which is pretty great, but the real fun part is that you use the empty yogurt container to measure the other ingredients. Which also means that you have a cute little anecdote handy if you make it for someone else.

This type of cake is extremely common in France (for cooking at home, not for buying in stores—sort of like banana bread in the States). If you go to google.fr and start typing in “gâteau,” the first suggestion that pops up is not chocolate cake or birthday cake, but yogurt cake. This one is similar to a pound cake but not quite as dense: it’s definitely cake, not bread, but it could be eaten for a snack or even breakfast (hey, it’s just a muffin in a loaf form (we all know that muffins are cake for breakfast, right?)) rather than dessert because it doesn’t taste too heavy or sugary.

Add the flour, then the eggs. Looks wrong but works.

The size is also pretty perfect for those of you who, like me, would like to make desserts more often but have to wait for whole-family get-togethers to roll around before you can try out that ginger-mascarpone icebox cake that you’ve been eyeing for over a year now because there’s no real reason for you to make a 12-serving cake for just you and your spouse.

The only flavoring called for in the original recipe is lemon peel, but I have tried it with both lemon and orange, and I much prefer orange. It also calls for plain yogurt, which is impossible to find in a 4-ounce container, so I use vanilla instead. I have seen other versions that suggest adding a tablespoon or two of rum; I am sure you could adjust the flavoring with that or other types of spirits or extracts.

The original recipe also did not specify what size pan to use, so I went for the smaller of my loaf pans: an 8.5 x 4.5″ one. It was a good amount of batter for the pan, and the cake turned out nicely domed—when you cut it, the slice is more like a square than a flat, squat rectangle. Most American loaf-style recipes I have seen call for a 9 x 5″ pan, and although you could probably sub that size, I haven’t tried it. The cooking time would be shorter, and your cake would be wider and not as tall. 



Note:  Adapted from this recipe for gâteau au yaourt from marmiton.org. For the yogurt, Dannon Activia and Stonyfield YoBaby both come in 4-ounce containers with a vanilla option.


French Yogurt Cake

makes one 8.5″ x 4.5″ loaf cake

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • one 4-oz. container vanilla yogurt, at room temperature for an hour
  • 1/2 container vegetable oil
  • 2 containers sugar
  • 3 containers flour
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature for an hour
  • 1 orange, zested
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Lightly butter a 8.5 x 4.5″ loaf pan, line it with parchment paper so it overhangs the long sides by about 1/2″, and lightly butter the paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the baking powder and yogurt. Add all of the other ingredients in the order listed, whisking to incorporate after each one. (You will have to rinse and dry the yogurt container in between measuring the oil and the sugar.)
  3. Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and bake until done, about 50 minutes.
  4. Cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the ends and remove the cake from the pan by grabbing and lifting the parchment paper. Let cool completely before slicing.

Peanut Butter Pudding Pops

Sometimes I think about the “If you were stranded on a desert island…” question, but with food. Instead of “What three things would you take with you?,” I ask myself, “If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

Mine would be ice cream, hands down. Cupcakes and cake aren’t even contenders. Pie, meh. I would have a hard time giving up cookies. But I don’t have to choose just one flavor of ice cream, right? So I can still get cookies ‘n cream ice cream every once in a while to get a fix of both? Also, by “ice cream,” I assume that includes gelato, frozen custard, and dairy-based popsicles. Sounds perfect.

In the category of Foods I Could Eat All The Time And Not Get Sick Of, peanut butter is right up there with ice cream. This could be genetic—my dad’s breakfast is not complete until he has had a Triscuit (or two) with crunchy peanut butter. Me, I’m a creamy girl myself, and I like to get my breakfast PB fix on a toasted English muffin with sliced banana. I’ve also been known to mix a spoonful of that peanutty goodness into a bowlful of granola. (It’s like a peanut butter granola bar in cold cereal form. You just have to smoosh the peanut butter into the cereal real good before you add the milk. Try it.)

I have tried the powdered peanut butter thing. While I firmly believe that it makes a crappy substitute for regular peanut butter when you reconstitute it and use it as a spread, it’s pretty dynamite for making banana-peanut butter smoothies. (Which are also in the PB-for-breakfast rotation.)

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So, imagine how much my mind exploded when I made some spectacular fudge pops from Smitten Kitchen and realized I might be able to tweak the recipe a bit and get the same pudding-y mouthfeel but with peanut butter instead of chocolate. It could just be the perfect trifecta: Peanut butter? Check. Pudding pop that’s basically a single serving of ice cream? Check. Icy cold dessert on a swelteringly hot summer day? Check.

The recipe from is pretty simple: you cook milk, sugar, cornstarch, and some flavorings until the mixture thickens, then pour it into some popsicle molds; the texture turns out pretty amazing, really smooth and rich. I subbed creamy peanut butter and powdered peanut butter for the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder, reduced the sugar a bit, and took out the butter. It turned out exactly as I had hoped: fudge pop texture, peanut butter flavor.



Note: This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s fudge popsicles, which itself was adapted from On A Stick! by Matt Armendariz.

I use plastic popsicle molds. Sometimes it can be a pain to get the pops out of the mold. The method that works most consistently for me is to remove the frozen popsicles from the freezer, let them rest at room temperature for 3-4 minutes, and then run the mold under warm water before gently removing.


Peanut Butter Pudding Pops

makes 4 pops, plus a little leftover (my molds are about 2 1/2 oz.)

  • 1 1/4 c. whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Put all of the ingredients except the vanilla into a medium saucepan. Set aside the liquid measurer that the milk was in—you’ll need it again.
  2. Turn the heat to medium and start whisking.
  3. Continue whisking frequently until the mixture thickens, about 5 or 6 minutes. For me, it started bubbling after 2 or 3 minutes and thickened up another 2 minutes or so after that.
  4. Remove from heat and pour back into the liquid measuring cup. This will make it easier to fill your molds.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and let the mixture cool a little—10 minutes or so.
  6. Fill your molds and let freeze until solid. I let them freeze overnight.