As we say good-bye to summer, I give you this lovely Peach Lemon Thyme Upside Down Cake. Local ripe peaches are still available at farmers markets around New York and New Jersey while fresh herbs such as lemony thyme remain abundant in many of our gardens. Pair these seasonal favorites with buttery cake, and summer may finally feel complete.
Chocolate and peanut butter is a recent classic American dessert combination. By recent, I mean it seems to have surged in popularity in the last 10-15 years or so even though the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup was first introduced back in 1928 (per Wikipedia). We just can’t seem to get enough of this perfect pair. Although it existed when the likes of my grandmother, James Beard, Julia Child, and other great American foodies were making their mark, there seem to be few recipes that utilize this mix of sweet chocolate and nutty creamy peanut butter from that time. Perhaps this was due to the emphasis on sophisticated French desserts and the reputation of chocolate and peanut butter as a simple candy combination with little depth or complexity in flavor. Whatever the reason, that lack of old fashioned recipes has delayed my use of this amazing match on this site and I’m happy to finally introduce it in this simple indulgent bar that still includes a blast from the past.
Marshmallow is not just for kids anymore. In the past few years, there’s been a surge of gourmet marshmallows. I frequently see lavender, lemon, and chocolate flavored marshmallows for sale in clear plastic bags with a bow at price that usually exceeds $5. Even the good old Jet Puffed marshmallows from the grocery store have expanded into different sizes and flavors. This may be why I love marshmallows more now than I did as a child. The light fluffy texture is irresistible and when combined with chocolate, it’s easily one of the best confectionary combinations.
Homemade marshmallows take these sweet airy puffs to another level. Not only can you control the texture, you also have some control over the sugar content. This recipe is based on a classic version by David Lebovitz. A process similar to Italian meringue, the use of egg whites makes a super fluffy, almost spongy marshmallow that can easily be eaten on its own. If you’ve never made marshmallows, this is the recipe to try.
Crème brulee is one of those semi-fancy French-American desserts that often seems too pretentious to make at home. This rich custard, also known as burnt cream – a reference to its hard caramelized top layer, is not as fussy to make as it looks. Those familiar with crème brulee may think you need those cute little kitchen blow torches to make it properly. A blow torch is definitely more fun but not necessary. This dessert was around long before anyone determined a blow torch was the best way to caramelize the sugar on top of the cream. I can’t imagine my grandmother using a blow torch in the 1960’s, when she did the majority of her cooking and baking. Although this is not her recipe, it was published around the same time period in 1961 in “The New York Times Cookbook,” by friend and colleague, Craig Claiborne.
So what can you use instead of a blow torch? The broiler, of course. The texture may not be as perfect but a similar sugary glass-like shell can be achieved. Shallow ramekins (unlike the ones shown here) will also help the cooking process. They simply allow the crème to bake faster and provide more surface area for caramelization. Blow torch or not, that first spoonful of the crispy burnt caramel with rich vanilla crème will make the few extra steps to make this impressive dessert, well worth it.
3 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons sugar
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Heat cream over boiling water (in a double boiler) and stir in sugar. Beat the egg yolks until light and pour the hot cream over them gradually, stirring vigorously. Stir in the vanilla and strain the mixture into ramekins.
Place the dishes in a pan containing one inch of hot water and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, or 35 minutes. Do not over-bake. The custard will continue to cook from retained heat when it is removed from the oven. Chill thoroughly.
Before serving, cover surface with brown sugar. Set the dishes in a pan with cracked ice and put under the broiler until sugar is brown and melted. Serve immediately.
It’s funny how a simple butter cookie can inspire such nostalgic memories. As a child, Cats’ Tongues or Langues du Chat was one of the first recipes I tried from “The Art of Fine Baking.” Although I enjoyed piping the buttery dough onto baking sheets, I didn’t really understand this plain cookie. Perhaps my taste buds were too accustomed to the corn syrup filled treats that were so readily available. Or maybe I just didn’t try these delicious little bites while they were still hot and fresh from the oven (by far the best time to eat them). Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until my father shared his memories of my grandmother making them that I really began to enjoy and appreciate this simple sweet treat. However, the addition of chocolate didn’t hurt either.
Cats’ tongues cookies were the go-to cookie in Paula Peck’s kitchen. She would often make them for my father and uncle, who as children, eagerly watched as she piped the skinny pencil thin drops of dough onto a baking sheet. Fascinated with the pastry bag, my father often begged to try it and on the occasion that my grandmother relented, he promptly made a big mess of cookie dough and whatever baking sheet or other kitchen equipment/utensils it came in contact with. Once the cookies finally made it out of the oven, they were consumed by fist full.
After whipping up a batch of these in under 30 minutes, I now see why they were a popular treat in my grandmother’s kitchen. Not only are they easy to make, it’s hard to stop eating them. This recipe is fairly large and can be easily halved but if you don’t finish them while fresh and hot, dip the cooled cookies in chocolate. The chocolate adds a twist to the original plain cookie, making these buttery delights irresistible to all of us choco-holics.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 egg whites
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
melted chocolate for dipping (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg whites, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in flour, salt, and vanilla. Fit a pastry bag with a large star tube and fill bag with 2/3 of the cookie batter. On prepared baking sheets, pipe pencils of batter about 2 inches long. Leave one inch between cookies for spreading.
Bake about 7 minutes or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Centers should remain light. Remove cookies from baking sheets at once. Once cool, dip in melted chocolate (if using).
Yield approximately 50