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Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

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I usually like to pair my recipes and food photos with philosophical musings (or perhaps “ramblings” is more accurate), which is why months tend to pass by before I have the time and inclination to write any new posts. But sometimes sugar is just sweet. Sometimes, dessert just tastes good. And this is one of those times.

Yesterday, I made a recipe that was so good, and so deceivingly easy that I just have to share it. So I’m breaking my own rules, sparing you the life lesson, and keeping it short and sweet with a great recipe and some pretty photos. (Also trying to follow my own advice to simplify. Can you break your own rules and follow your own advice at the same time?)

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I used this recipe for “Lazy Mary’s Lemon Tart” by dymnyno on Food 52. I was intrigued by the technique: no futzing around making lemon curd, just throw a whole Meyer lemon in a blender (peel and all) with eggs, sugar and a stick of butter and voila: tart filling that’s ready to pour into your tart shell and bake. You don’t even have to melt the butter. I did “go the extra mile” and remove the seeds from the recipe, even though the recipe didn’t specifically say to do so. I’m a perfectionist like that.

I made my own tart shell using the recipe below, which was also pretty easy, but if you really want to be “lazy” and just pick up a pre-made tart shell from Whole Foods, I fully support that decision.

Classic Tart Dough from the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups AP flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces and chilled

Whisk egg yolk, cream, and vanilla together in a bowl. Process flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add chunks of butter, tossing to coat each one in the flour mixture. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 15x. With machine running, add egg mixture and continue to process until dough just comes together around blade, about 12 seconds.

Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten to 6″ disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour. (Can make ahead and store up to 2 days in fridge or 1 month in freezer).  Before rolling out dough, let it sit on counter to soften slightly for about 10 min. Roll out into 11″ circle on lightly floured surface. Loosely roll up onto rolling pan and gently unroll onto 9″ tart pan with removable bottom, letting excess dough hang over the edges. Ease dough into pan by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into corners with other hand. Press dough into fluted sides of pan, forming distinct seam around pan’s circumference. Crust should be 1/4″ thick all around. If some sections are too thin, reinforce them by folding the excess dough back on itself. Run rolling-pin over top of tart pan to remove any excess dough. Prick holes into bottom with a fork. Wrap dough-lined tart pan loosely in plastic wrap place on large plate and freeze until dough is fully chilled and firm, about 30 min. (Can be wrapped tightly and frozen up to a month).

Heat oven to 375. Set dough-lined tart shell on a baking sheet, line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dry rice or beans). Bake about 15 min, remove parchment and pie weights and bake for another 10 min. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before pouring in lemon filling and baking tart at 350 for 35-40 min.

Inspired by the lavender blooming in my garden I added a few drops of lavender extract to the whipped cream just for fun.

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Last week, my mother-in-law visited from Connecticut. She had only one request for her time in California: a trip to the farmer’s market. A request that I was more than happy to oblige. It was a deliciously gorgeous spring day and I savored the excuse to wander more slowly than usual, stopping at every stall to admire the bounty with the appreciation of outsider’s eyes.

We selected quite a haul for our Sunday dinner. A fresh chicken and carrots in assorted colors for roasting, potatoes for mashing, and sugar snap peas for munching. But the score of the day was definitely the strawberries. Luscious perfumy little jewels that seduced us at first bite. We picked up three baskets so we’d still have plenty left to make a dessert after we had greedily eaten our fill over the sink.

When we got home from the farmer’s market, I lugged a few of my favorite cookbooks out to a sunny spot in the backyard and we poured over recipes for a while (sorry friends, blogging is fun, but there are times when there is no substitute for the satisfaction of a heavy book on your lap), finally settling on the Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake recipe from the Gourmet Today cookbook by Ruth Reichl.

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Making this cake with my mother-in-law in the kitchen was one of my favorite moments of her visit. She did the dry ingredients, I did the wet. And we shared the delight in the heavenly smell of the cake in the oven. Sweet, bright and comforting, like family when you need it most.

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This is a really easy, no-fuss kinda cake, and it’s more delicious than it is photogenic. I guess they call it pudding cake because it’s so moist you could eat it with a spoon. The note in the cookbook says you can modify the recipe to use almost any fruit your heart desires, and you can bet I’ll be trying it with peaches come July. (Plus raspberries, perhaps?)

The only modification I made to the recipe was to add a little citrus zest (orange + lemon) because we had a few from our backyard trees that weren’t juicy enough for anything else, and it seemed the right thing to do. We served the cake warm with a dusting of powdered sugar, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a few slices of fresh strawberries.

I’ve heard the leftovers are great for breakfast. I’m not saying I’ve tried it, but it tastes great with coffee.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
from the Gourmet Today cookbook by Ruth Reichl. Recipe can also be found on Epicurious.

Makes 6 to 8 (breakfast or dessert) servings

1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon+ of citrus zest (lemon and/or orange. Optional. This part is Ms. T’s addition–not in the Gourmet recipe.)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish.

Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.

Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Add citrus zest.

Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Grate a little more citrus zest on top. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes before serving. (Can be made a few hours ahead of time and served at room temperature or re-heated.)

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A few years ago, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions. No matter how good my intentions in January, before long I always found myself holding a bag full of broken promises with nothing but a guilty heart to show for it. In an effort to make our commitments for the new year a little stickier, instead of a long list of resolutions, my husband and I started coming up with a simple word or two that we want to hang on to for the year. A motto of sorts. Something we can repeat to ourselves or each other throughout the year when we need a little kick in the pants. In 2011, it was “Jump In”, meaning “take risks”, “try new things” (like starting a blog, for example), “what the hell are we waiting for?”.

On January 1, 2012, with the year’s mantra still up for grabs, we decided to start the year with an impromptu adventure. We put the kayaks on the roof of the car, packed our overnight bags and headed north towards Pt. Reyes. It was one of those weekends that was good to the last drop: a late afternoon paddle, followed with cold beer and fresh oysters on the half shell, sleeping late under a pile of quilts at the Olema Inn, a hike that was long enough to make our legs ache for days, and lots of time to reflect on the ups and downs of 2011 and hopes for the year ahead. During one of those moments, we settled on the catch phrase for 2012: “Savor.” A reminder to slow down and enjoy. To appreciate the fleeting moments that threaten to pass by unnoticed. To find joy in simple pleasures.

And with that in mind, the recipe I want to share with you is simple and sweet. For all the wonderful restaurant meals and elaborate home-cooked feasts of 2011, our simple New Year’s eve dinner at home in front of the fire was one of my favorites. Our main course was Dungeness crabs, steamed with champagne, butter, garlic and fennel, inspired by this beautiful post on The Year in Food. For dessert, the limes from our backyard tree were the stars. After two years of nurturing and fertilizing, our little tree is finally beginning to yield some fruit, which seemed just right for our last taste of 2011.

Inspired by the Vanilla Lime Posset at Twenty-Five Lusk in San Francisco, and using mrslarkin’s Lemon Posset recipe from Food52 as a guide, I made a Lime Posset, which is a rich and creamy custard. With only three ingredients, fifteen minutes of active prep and cooking time, it really could not be any simpler…and yet so elegant and cleansing. Not a bad way to end the year. And it just so happens to taste great with champagne. Also not a bad way to end the year.

Lime Posset

2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup lime juice (you’ll need 2-3 limes)
zest from two limes

Heat cream and sugar in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Continue cooking at a gentle boil for five minutes. Watch the heat closely, and turn it down slightly if the cream begins to froth up–you don’t want it to boil over. The mixture will still be very liquidy, and you might be tempted–as I did the first time I made this–to keep boiling a little longer to let it thicken, because it’s hard to believe that this hot, runny liquid will turn into the beautiful, creamy custard you envision. Have faith. Five minutes, no more, no less, will get you the perfect texture.

Remove pan from heat and stir in lime juice, and half of the lime zest. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and then pour custard into small ramekins, espresso cups or port glasses. Sprinkle a little of the remaining lime zest on the top of each serving. This is a pretty rich and flavorful dessert, and a few bites go a long way. I like using a dish that holds about 1/4 cup if liquid, in which case, the recipe makes 6-8 servings.

Happy New Year! May you have many moments that are worth savoring.

PS- Right after I published this post, my friend The Wimpy Vegetarian turned me onto the concept of a bloghop, where the food blog community connects with other blogs to share recipes. It just so happens that the theme this month is “Citrus Love”, so I joined in on the fun. To read more about it and discover over 100 great citrus recipes from other food bloggers, pucker up and check out this post on The Wimpy Vegetarian.

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Today is my mom’s 60th birthday. That’s her on the left in the photo below, with her brothers, circa 1955.

It’s days like today that really make me wish I lived closer. But since I couldn’t be there to celebrate with my mom, I wanted to send something that would really make her smile. Something homemade and thoughtful. Something you couldn’t buy at Amazon.com. That’s when I stumbled upon this recipe for homemade Oreos on the smitten kitchen blog.

My mom has always had a thing for Oreos. She grew up in a 1950’s household with two parents who were astonished and amazed by the conveniences of “modern” food. Jell-O, Cool Whip, Velveeta–anything that came in a package and never ever lost its color or “flavor” held a special place in my grandmother Phyllis’ heart and kitchen. (Let’s just say that neither my mother nor I got our love of cooking from Phyl.)

When my mom got older and started her own household in the 70’s, the pendulum swung in the other direction. We were a home-grown, home-cooked, health food kinda family before the word “organic” was even invented (or discovered by marketers). Even our peanut butter required laborious stirring before it could be slathered on whole grain bread and dutifully gummed down.

Junk food was strictly verboden. Except of course, when we visited my grandparents. Their house was always stocked, and my grandmother made sure the cookie jar was filled to the brim with Jaynie’s favorite: Oreo cookies. My mom would go on a three-day bender of Oreos and Hershey’s kisses, only to repent with kale smoothies when we got home.

Now that my grandparents are no longer around, it’s probably been years since my mom’s even had an Oreo. So I hope that today, on her birthday, she pours herself a tall glass of ice-cold milk and enjoys a few of these–hell, maybe even the whole box. And I hope the sugar rush kicks in and makes her feel like she’s 6 years old again. Not that she’s ever had any problem looking or acting like a kid. If my mom is any indicator, 60 is the new hip.

Happy birthday, Mom. Thanks for teaching me that home cooking always trumps junk food. But today, you can have your cookies and eat them too.

      

For the Oreo cookie recipe, go to smitten kitchen, since I definitely can’t say it any better than she did. And you should see her mouth-watering photos. It’s a great recipe, and she is right: you’ve been warned.

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This month, Erica invited our cooking club to explore the theme “Quintessential San Francisco” during one of our epic four-hour eating fests. The meal did not disappoint: sourdough bread made from scratch, bay shrimp salad, an Alice Waters-inspired goat cheese souffle, and a hearty cioppino with lots of fresh seafood, including (of course) Dungeness crab.

I signed up for dessert duty and took my inspiration from the classic San Francisco treat I fell in love with when I first moved here years ago. No, I’m not talking about Rice-a-Roni (but wouldn’t that be an interesting dessert challenge?). I’m talking about “It’s It” ice cream sandwiches: vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and dipped in chocolately goodness. Developed in 1928 at Playland-at-the-Beach (San Francisco’s version of Coney Island), and still available at any respectable corner store in SF.

I didn’t want to drift too far from the original combination–why mess with a good thing?–but I did dress it up a bit. This is cooking club after all, which is nothing if not over-the-top. After a little rummaging around in the spice cabinet, I ended up with a creation that was sort of like It’s It‘s sassier granddaughter. And It was good. Damn good. Which is why I feel compelled to share the recipe with you.

I’m not gonna lie. This was an all-weekend commitment. If you’re looking for quick and easy, you’re better off getting your It’s It at the corner store. But if you like an excuse to spend the day making a big mess in your kitchen, and licking all kinds of yummy spoons along the way, It’s totally worth It.

“It’s It” Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Sandwiches with Oatmeal Molasses Spice Cookies, Dipped in Mexican Chocolate 

Step 1: Make your ice cream custard (see vanilla bean ice cream recipe below), and stick it in the fridge to chill. I chose to make vanilla bean ice cream, but I have to admit, once it was all said and done, the other flavors kinda stole the spotlight, so I’m not sure it’s worth wasting two expensive vanilla beans for this recipe. You might be better off with a simple vanilla ice cream, made with extract. But I’ll leave that up to you. Vanilla bean certainly sounds fancier, for when that sort of thing matters.

Step 2: Make cookies (see recipe below). I experimented with the cookie recipe. I looked up a bunch of recipes and then more or less decided to do my own thing. I thought that using molasses might help keep the cookies soft when frozen. I’m not really sure if that worked, but I did like the flavor. Kind of like a cross between an oatmeal and a ginger cookie. The dough really spread out a lot on the cookie sheets while baking, so I used a 3″ cookie cutter to trim all the cookies into uniform circles. I can be obsessive compulsive like that sometimes. If you’re going the OCD route, it’s easiest to do while the cookies are still a little warm. And you can save the cookie scraps to munch on or crumble over ice cream. (As if you’ll need any extra calories after devouring a chocolate-dipped ice cream sandwich or two…or three.)

Step 3: Freeze ice cream custard in your ice cream maker. BTW, don’t forget–like I did–to put the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer the day before you want to use it. Oops. Any sane person probably would have said “oh well, I guess I’ll use store-bought ice cream.” But not me.  My Martha Stewart gene kicked in and I was up until 12:30 am making ice cream sandwiches.

Step 4: Assemble sandwiches. I didn’t measure, but I’d guess that I put about 1/3 cup of ice cream in each sandwich. Next time, I’d put a little more, since I had plenty left over and the proportions of the final sandwich leaned a little too far in the cookie/chocolate direction. Wrap them up in plastic and freeze at least 3 hours, or overnight. I devised a little system to keep the ice cream from oozing out too much that–depending on how you look at it–was either incredibly anal (see Martha Stewart gene above) or incredibly lazy (because it was after midnight and I didn’t want to wait for my soft ice cream to harden up in the freezer). Regardless of your verdict on my motive, it worked incredibly well, and it went a little something like this: I took ramekins that were 3.5″ in diameter and 3″ deep, and lined them with plastic wrap, leaving a generous amount of plastic hanging over the sides. As I assembled each sandwich, I placed it into the ramekin, put a little wax paper in between, and then layered another sandwich on top (2 sandwiches in each ramekin). Then I closed the plastic wrap tightly over the top and stuck the ramekins in the freezer as I filled each one. This allowed me to get the sandwiches into the freezer faster as I worked, and it was also much easier to make room in my freezer than if all the sandwiches were on one tray.

Step 5: Make the Mexican chocolate coating.

20 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli, of course!)
6 oz. milk chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
dash cayenne pepper

Melt the chocolate and shortening in a deep saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly. Add spices and stir. As soon the mixture is smooth and melted, remove from the heat and set aside, letting it slowly come to room temperature.

Step 6: Time to dip! This is the fun/messy part. I looked at a few different references for technique, and the idea of adding shortening to the chocolate, but relied most heavily on Merill’s recipe for Mint Chocolate Harbor Bars on Food52.

Get a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer and line it with wax paper. Working with one sandwich at a time (keep the rest in the freezer), place the sandwich onto a slotted spoon and lower it into the melted chocolate. Turn the sandwich over with your fingers and lower it back into the chocolate to coat the whole sandwich evenly, and then lift it out with the spoon, letting the excess chocolate drip off. Transfer sandwich to the baking sheet and quickly repeat with the remaining sandwiches. Immediately return the sandwiches to the freezer until the chocolate sets, at least 15 minutes.

At this point in the recipe, me and my entire kitchen were covered in chocolate. It wasn’t pretty. All my sandwiches had little white finger prints where the chocolate didn’t cover and the ice cream was peeking out, so as soon as the chocolate covering hardened up a little, I re-dipped the bald spots. They looked pretty goopy gloppy, like a kindergarten art project, and my Martha Stewart side worried that I’d be kicked out of my cooking club. But in the end it didn’t matter. It just made them look legitimately homemade, and they were so damn delicious that nobody seemed to mind the fingerprints. It didn’t hurt that we were in the middle of a glorious mini-heat wave in San Francisco, and ice cream sandwiches seemed just the right thing to do.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

2 vanilla beans
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs

Cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into a large heavy saucepan and stir in pods, cream, milk, and sugar. Bring mixture just to a boil, stirring occasionally, and remove pan from heat.

In a large bowl lightly beat eggs. Add hot cream mixture to eggs in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into pan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (About 10-15 min.) Pour custard through a sieve into a clean bowl and cool. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, at least 3 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day.

Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden up slightly (30-60 min)—it will be easiest to assemble sandwiches while ice cream is still slightly soft. But the ice cream can be made up to one week ahead and stored in the freezer in an airtight container (ditto for any leftover ice cream). If you make the ice cream ahead of time, simply remove from the freezer and allow it to soften up a bit before you assemble the sandwiches.

Oatmeal Molasses Spice Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen.

1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup molasses
2 large eggs
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dried ground orange peel (I happened to have this in my spice cabinet, so I threw some in. I’m sure you could use fresh orange zest—I would do ½ tsp.—or skip this ingredient)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
3 cups whole rolled oats (old-fashioned)

Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses in a large mixing bowl. Beat in eggs until well blended.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda, and all the spices. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until well combined. Fold in oats with a wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough onto the paper in spoonfuls, spacing them about 2 inches apart. They will spread quite a bit while baking.

Bake until cookies are golden but centers are still soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes to cool.


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This recipe is inspired by the crostata recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Cucina Simpatica” by Johanne Killeen & George Germon (Chefs and owners of the fabulous Al Forno restaurant in Providence, RI.) Once you’ve mastered the dough–which is really easy–you can add just about anything to the tart. I happened to have a random assortment of stone fruits lying around–two different kinds of plums and two different kinds of nectarines–that were almost past their prime. Sometimes I divide the dough and make individual tarts instead. That works especially well for berries or cherries. I love the rustic free-form shapes that you get with this style of tart, a.k.a crostata or galette, and it’s way easier than fussing with a pie dish. Don’t even look at how much butter is in the recipe–just put it in and forget about it. It’s worth every crumbly bite.

Dough:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Filling:
2 plums
2 nectarines
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons peach, apricot or plum jam (totally optional. I happened to have some peach lavender jam from the farmer’s market that I thought would be a nice touch.)

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and stick back into the fridge to keep cold while you set up the other ingredients.

Place the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter, tossing quickly with your fingers to coat each cube with flour. Pulse 15-20 times until the butter particles are the size od small peas.

With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Process for about 10 seconds, stopping the machine before the dough becomes a solid mass.

Turn the contents of the bowl onto a sheet of foil, pressing any loose pieces together into the dough. Roughly form the dough into a 7-inch disk.

Cover the dough completely with foil and refrigerate for at least one hour. Can be refrigerated up to 2 days or in the freezer up to 2 weeks. (defrost on the counter for 45 minutes before use.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Cut the fruit into thin slices, leaving skin on, and place in a bowl. Toss gently with 1 tablespoon sugar and set aside.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch free-form circle. Transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Leaving a 1 1/2 inch border all around, cover the dough with the fruit, starting in the center and working out to arrange fruit slices into a pretty spiral (if you want to get fussy).

Raise the dough border to enclose the sides of the tart, letting it drape gently over the fruit.  Gently pinch the soft pleats that form in the dough with your fingers and press the sides down onto the baking sheet slightly to flatten.

Make an egg wash by beating egg with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Brush onto the dough with a pastry brush to coat lightly.

Optional: Drizzle fruit jam over the top of fruit filling. (My jam was pretty runny. If you’re using thick jam, you could mix it with a little water to make a glaze.)

Bake the tart for 20-25 minutes, until dough is golden and fruit is gooey and bubbly. Cool for at least 10-15 minutes, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Side note: I’ve been really liking Laloo’s goat’s milk ice cream. It has a lot less fat than normal ice cream (which makes me feel a little less guilty about all that butter in the dough! Sorry, didn’t mean to remind you. Do forget it. ) and I really like the tangy flavor, especially paired with fruit desserts.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” feast.

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