Category Archives: Cakes & Pies

Double Strawberries and Cream Cheese in Puff Pastry

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When last Jim and I were in Paris we had the good fortune to meet several times with my extended family.  They entertained us as only Parisians can, in fine restaurants with lots of yummy champagne.  My cousins also rounded up the family who were in town for a Sunday afternoon reunion in the house of my father’s cousin, Marie Claire, where we spent the afternoon reminiscing  over days long past and laughing at our young foolishness, sipping champagne and nibbling on a gorgeous mirabelle plum tart made by my cousin Hubert’s wife, Anne.  Marie Claire’s apartment had been her sister, Francoise’, and that was where I began my first adventure in France oh, so many years ago.  Whenever I went to Paris I stayed with Francoise and having gone all over the city by foot I came to know her neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine pretty well.  With Mama and without, I took the Metro to get around, and found the walk to the station and back to the apartment an absolute delight.  Magnificent  maple trees lined the streets leading to her house and, I have to tell you, I never felt prettier or happier than when I my feet hit those sidewalks.  I felt as though I was walking on air.  Francoise’ building was, and still is, magnificent.  The entrance hall was mahogany, the floor large black and white tiles whilst an antiquated brass elevator  waited at the right…or was it the on the left?  Regardless, it was there in all its creaky, rumbling glory.  However, if you chose not to wait, an exquisite caracol staircase was ready to take you to the second floor.  Although the elevator was majestic it was still a bit utilitarian so I always chose to take the staircase, resplendent with a dark ruby Persian runner held in place by old brass stair runners tacked into the well-worn mahogany steps,  stained obsidian and sunken in the middle by years of use.  And the apartment!  I remember some rooms being sea-green in color, enormous oils of our ancestors hung in heavy gold frames on most walls and the dining room and her generous bathroom completely beguiled me with its charming fireplace and mammoth, cast-iron claw-foot bathtub.  For me Francoise’ house was, and will always be, the height of luxury.  She introduced me to the French press for coffee, the beauty and pleasure of engraved calling cards, the importance of knowing how to read a map and the notion that a sterling porringer makes a fine ash tray.

Treasured bits from years past. Crazy about her calling card!
Treasured bits from years past. Crazy about her calling card!

Meals were small and only when necessary.  We were too busy to eat.  We left the flat early in the morning.   Most days Francoise went to her office where she wrote for various magazines while Mama and I were off to museums, shops and concerts, all possible by taking the Metro.  Towards the end of the day we met up for a glass of wine or champagne then back to the apartment to dress for dinner.  How I love that apartment and how special it was to be back in it with Hubert, Anne and their daughters and Grand-cousin, Marie Claire.  Still lovely and well-appointed with family pieces but now with bursts of life and color from the artwork of many grandchildren.  Merci encore, Marie Claire, pour un apres-midi splendide!

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This pastry is not only easy but dramatic in its presentation.  The puff pastry is store-bought and although it appears braided it is not.  Strips of dough are folded over and the end result is one good-looking dessert.  The dried and fresh berries compliment each other quite well, the dried berries mixed with cream cheese lend a creamy texture while the fresh give a juicy blast of flavor.

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Double Strawberry and Cream Cheese in Puff Pastry

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 12-14 fresh, ripe strawberries, sliced vertically 1/4″ in thickness
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, I like using vanilla sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1.2-ounce bag or 2 cups of freeze-dried strawberries, available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 (that’s 1 sheet) of a 17.3 ounce box of puff pastry, thawed but kept in the refrigerator until needed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil.
  2. Toss the fresh strawberry slices with tablespoon of sugar and set aside to macerate.
  3. In a blender, mini-food processor or magic bullet process the freeze-dried strawberries until they are the texture of powder.
  4. In a small bowl mix the cream cheese until it becomes loose and easy to handle.
  5.  Add the strawberry powder and confectioners’ sugar to the cream cheese and stir until both are completely mixed together.
  6. Remove the sheet of puff pastry from the refrigerator and gently unfold on top of the baking sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil.  Place the pastry so the fold marks run vertically.  The pastry will look like 3 equal rectangles attached together by the folds.
  7. Working as quickly as possible so the dough stays chilled, lightly roll out the dough so that it measures roughly 9 1/2″X 10 1/2″.
  8. Leaving the inside rectangle intact, make 1/2″ diagonal cuts into the two outside pastry rectangles.  Discard the 4 corners of the pastry.
  9. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly down the center rectangle all the way to the cuts.  Mound the fresh berries on top of the cream cheese mixture evenly.
  10. Fold the top and bottom flap of dough over the berry filling.
  11. Fold the diagonal cuts over the berry mixture alternating left and right until the entire pastry is braided.  Tuck in any loose ends.
  12. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
  13. Bake pastry for 30-35 minutes or until golden.
  14. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

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Spanish Fig and Almond Cake, the ultimate in fast and sophisticated

There’s nothing like a big box of presents coming from a foreign land to  catapult two little girl’s excitement for Christmas to a much higher level.  Well, maybe it wasn’t quite a foreign land but 55 years ago Puerto Rico was far away and exotic.  Mama’s family was old-world and traditional.  That meant sweet treats, heavy books and gifts from Spain.  And although the presents could not and would not be opened until Christmas morning, Mama always zeroed in on one particular box.  Cutting through the tape and ribbon, she would carefully smooth the festive paper, setting it aside to be reused some other time.  And as older sister, Cynthia, and I watched with huge eyes,  Mama would unwrap the thin, rectangular box deliberately but with enjoyment.  We all knew what was waiting within.  I ran to get Daddy’s one tool, a wooden handled hammer.  Slowly Mama pulled out a buff colored block of Spanish “Turron” or nougat, studded with  savory roasted almonds sweeping in shades from fawn to cafe au lait and swathed between two thin sheets of rice paper.  As if she’d been doing it all her life, Mama took that hammer and wailed on the confection until a fat, chunky corner came off.  Away Cynthia went with her little piece of paradise.  Bang, bang, bang and it was my turn to savor the Turron.  A few more whacks and Mama had her piece.  We had albums of Spanish Christmas carols playing on the record player, a magnificent, artisan made manger and massive family bible, all presents from her father and all from Spain.  Other than that our lives were understated and straightforward.  These were simple times when extravagance was frowned upon.   These were times when hours were spent in front of the Christmas tree practicing handwriting for our letters to Santa.  We always had a real tree but some years it was the size of a shrub as that was all my parents could afford.  Times when money was so tight Mama put our presents on layaway at Woolworth’s, the local five-and-dime store and we received one present apiece.  That was a wonderful Christmas, its essence captured below in that old black and white photo.  We felt an abundance of riches with our gift Mama had scrimped and saved to give her girls.

Look at the joy on Cynthia's face. We received our dollies, matching high chairs and cribs canopied with pompoms!
Look at the delight on Cynthia’s face. We received our dollies, matching high chairs and cribs canopied with pompoms!

These were times when a holiday outing was savoring the manger scene at our church after Mass.  A complete farm was displayed with donkeys, sheep and cows frozen in an Italianate style behind baby Jesus’ cradle.  Straw stuck out from every corner as the magnificently beautiful Virgin Mary gazed down with such immense love at her chubby, new-born toddler, golden curls shining in the candlelight; the angel of the Lord above the crèche announcing to all His birth.  It was heavenly to us, full of wonder and captivating our complete attention until Mama said it was time to leave.  Mama didn’t know how to cook so there was no such thing as baking Christmas cookies or cakes.   No.  We used our imaginations that Mama had so carefully cultivated to wile away the hours.  Our dollies danced ballet to the Spanish carols.  We unwrapped and wrapped the presents we had made in school for our parents…really they were for Mama.  I still have the hand print I made for her in first grade hanging in my kitchen.  I remember fretting and being worried sick that it would break after some classmate spread the vicious rumor that many pieces of pottery explode when fired in a kiln and I would be left with nothing to offer.  And we had the big box that came every year from her family in Puerto Rico making certain we knew our Spanish customs.  Making certain Mama didn’t feel alone in this town of Yankees.  And making certain that until Daddy’s business had taken off we would all have a generous, plentiful Christmas.

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This is one of those great recipes that takes two minutes and you walk away.  I initially purchased dried figs from the bulk section of my Whole Food store.  Before I began snipping off the stems, I ate one of the figs and, boy, am I glad I did.  Hard and tough was what I spat out.  I purchased another pound from my neighborhood Publix.  They were packed in 9-ounce, air-tight plastic boxes and worked out great.  These figs had been dried yet were still soft and moist.  Most recipes call for the ever pricey Marcona almonds from Spain.  Once again, glad I tasted the batch I bought.  I paid way too much to bring home this stale and salty mess.  Again Publix came to the rescue with a 7-ounce plastic box.  They had their skins on but here’s how to get those skins off lickety-split.  Place the amount of almonds you will be using in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover completely.  20 minutes to 30 minutes later, squeeze one almond at a time and the skin will slip right off.  Takes two seconds.  Here’s the most important part of this recipe.  This cake is good as is but served with cheese, preferably Manchego cheese, it will transform your taste buds.  Somehow the Manchego brings out a deep floral flavor from the figs.  The cloves and cinnamon disappear yet their earthy tones let you know they’re doing their part.  Served with hard salami, thick, crisp Cuban crackers, some nuts and a bit of fruit your guests will be amazed.  The cake does taste richer if allowed  to sit 2-3 days before serving but it’s still pretty terrific served the same day it’s prepared.  I hope you enjoy this Christmas treat!

Spanish Fig and Almond Cake or Pan de Higo

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 pound dried black Mission figs
  • 1/2 cup skinless, whole almonds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 4 tablespoons brandy
  1. Snip the tough stem off the figs and place the figs in a food processor, processing until almost smooth.  You want a little texture.
  2. Transfer the fig paste to a medium bowl and add the almonds, mixing well.
  3. Add the sesame seeds, cinnamon and cloves evenly over the fig mixture and mix well.
  4. Add the brandy and mix until all ingredients have been thoroughly combined.
  5. Line a small pan with plastic wrap.  I used a small, fluted cake pan that holds about 2 1/3 cups.  Transfer fig mixture to the lined pan and pat firmly and evenly in place.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.  The cake may be served right away but tastes better, more mellow, after resting up to a few days.
  7. This cake will keep well-covered and not refrigerated for weeks.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

No-bake Diplomatico Cake

Part store bought, part homemade, this cake is a winner.  How can you lose when you’re working with coffee, rum, chocolate and cream?  I started making this cake back in the ’80’s and it has never let me down.  Light yet rich and luxurious, Diplomatico cake is typically credited to Marcella Hazan.  I lost my original recipe, however, this one is quite close to hers.  A cheap, store bought pound cake is best as it’s sturdy and will keep its shape.  It’s a super easy going recipe…a little more of this and a little less of that is not an issue.

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I’ve made it with 4 eggs and I’ve made it with 6.  Sometimes I have espresso and at times I’ve only had the morning’s cold coffee available.  It all works beautifully.  The coffee and rum are strong and aromatic.  The intense chocolate mousse inside is…well, it’s chocolate, it’s heavenly.  And that cloud of whipped cream softens and compliments the entire cake.  Keep in mind the eggs are raw, not cooked, so if anyone has allergies or food issues maybe they should have their own little dish of berries.  Hope you’ll try it!

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No-Bake Diplomatico Cake

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 cup brewed espresso
  • 3 tablespoons rum, preferably dark or golden
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 12-ounce store-bought pound cake, cut into 1/4″-1/2″ slices, you’ll need about 16 slices
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Line a 1 1/2 quart loaf pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
  2. Lay the cake slices out flat so they are not overlapping each other.
  3. Combine espresso, rum and 3 teaspoons of sugar in a small bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Using a pastry brush,  paint the espresso mixture evenly over one side of each slice.
  4. Line the bottom and sides of the loaf pan with the cake and the pan and remaining slices aside.
  5. In a medium bowl whip the egg yolks until pale and thick.  Add the remaining 3 teaspoons of sugar and mix well.  Set aside.
  6. Melt chocolate over a double boiler and slowly mix into the whipped egg yolks.  Do not allow to cool completely.
  7. Whip the egg white until stiff peaks form.  Mix a little of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture just to loosen it up then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
  8. Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared loaf pan and cover with the remaining cake slices, coffee side up.
  9. Cover cake with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator over night.
  10. Prior to serving turn cake onto serving platter and discard plastic wrap.
  11. Pour whipping cream into a medium size bowl and whip until soft peaks form.  Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract and continue whipping until stiff, firm peaks form.
  12. Smooth the cream over the cake and garnish with berries, shaved chocolate or nuts.
  13. Store in the refrigerator.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Greek Spiced Pound Cake – Melomacarona Cake

I started working on the recipe for this cake after dreaming of the spice sheet cake of my youth.  And the creamy icing that topped the perfectly cut cake square the nice cafeteria lady handed me.  But I wanted the cake updated…steeped in a syrup of some sort…something denser than my grade school fluff cake…with hints of rum…and orange.  No easy feat for me.  My projects, culinary or otherwise, are typically crazy great or resounding, flat-out failures.  And if the project was too involved there was a good chance I might lose interest and walk away.  That happened often when I decided to rearrange my bedroom during those difficult teen years.  I couldn’t move my furniture around until I had separated the mountains of clothes  into ‘these are to be hung up and put away’ and ‘these are dirty’.  They had to be addressed; there was no manner of walking through my room without shuffling through clothes up to your knees.  That in itself was project and took the better part of a couple of hours.  But let’s pretend I did tackle that portion of redecoration.  Because after that labour books, shoes, plates, record albums, tennis racquets and tennis balls  all had to be dragged out from under my bed and also put away.  I know I drove my mother cray-cray.  By then I was exhausted and the bedroom truly looked as though a bomb went off.  There was a good chance my “new look” would take a day or two.  Dust bunnies the size of grape fruit were not uncommon.  Eventually I would finish because I had to sleep somewhere.  What a mess.  And Mama always, without fail, instructed our housekeeper, Frankie, NOT to help me in any way.  Well, sometimes my recipes are kind of like that.  I add this, I take out that.  I go back to the grocery store for the third time that day.  I forget to take out my butter…or eggs.  I spend a fortune on quality ingredients and the end result turns out to be disappointingly mediocre…at best.  But every now and again I come up with something even I like.  And this is one of those recipes.  It was a spiced rum cake steeped in a brown cane sugar syrup until my son, James, had a taste.  “This isn’t new.” Me, “Yes, it is!  I just made it for the first time.”  James, “Mama!  C’mon. You make this all the time.”  And that’s when I realized why the cake tasted so familiar.  The ingredients are somewhat similar to the celebrated Greek honey and spice cookie, the Melomakarona.  Except my cake doesn’t call for honey.  Rum, baby.  It calls for rum…not much, just enough to make its mark.  Hope you enjoy it!

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This cake has the density of a pound cake and, like pound cake, the flavor is markedly better, fuller, a day or two after baking.  The syrup is rich and earthy due to the base of panela, also known as piloncillo, a minimally processed product of cane juice boiled down to a thick syrup which is then hardened into a hard-as-a-rock brick or cone-shaped “pilon”.

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Panela is pure and clean with deep notes of earth and smoke…an almost scorched flavor.  It speaks of rum and caramel and butter.  Rock hard, it can be grated into baked goods, BBQ sauce, rum and tequila drinks or, as in this recipe, melted stove top.  It can be found in the Hispanic section of your grocery store or in any Latin American market.  Easy to find, it puts the standard, one-dimensional brown sugar to shame.  This stuff is cheap, stores well and is downright magical.  You’ll love it!

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Greek Spiced Pound Cake

  • Servings: 12-16
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups brown sugar, light or dark
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange zest, about 1 large navel orange
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup spiced rum
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 pound Panela or Piloncillo
  • 2 tablespoons spiced rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  2. Cover the inside of a 10″X3 1/2″, or 12-cup, bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Scatter the pecans evenly over the bottom of the sprayed bundt pan and set aside.
  4. In a medium size bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and salt.  Whisk the dry ingredients until all are completely combined.  Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl cream butter until light and fluffy.
  6. Add the brown sugar to the butter and mix well.
  7. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the batter at each addition only until you no longer see the yolk.
  8. Add the orange zest and mix just to combine.
  9. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with the milk and 1/3 cup of spiced rum.  Begin and end with the flour.  Mix only until ingredients are incorporated to avoid a tough cake.
  10. Pour batter into bundt pan and smooth the top of the batter.
  11. Bake for one hour or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.
  12. Cool on a rack
  13. While the cake is cooling, pour into a medium saucepan 2 cups water.  Add the panela and simmer, stirring occasionally to help break up the panela.
  14. Simmer until the syrup thickens and coats the back of the spoon.
  15. Remove from heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of spiced rum and vanilla extract.
  16. Spoon evenly over the top and sides of the warm cake, cover with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit in the bundt pan over night.
  17. So as not to scratch the pan, use a plastic knife to loosen the inner and outer edges of the cake.
  18. Invert onto a platter and serve.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Peanut Butter-Fudge Cake

This is the cake of your childhood.  This is the cake the sweet cafeteria ladies served you in grade school.  I went to East Side School, as did all my childhood friends, and I positively loved it.  Five minutes away from our house, East Side was our neighborhood public school.  Mint green in color, the stucco two-storied building was connected by open air hallways so, although we didn’t have air conditioning, we could always enjoy our tropical breezes.  Our playground was carpeted by thick, emerald-green grass and seemed immense to us.  Dotted through the campus were mammoth ficus and banyan trees, perfect for shady rests after rousing games of “dodge ball” and “red rover”.   The cafeteria was set away from the  school connected by a lengthy open-air breezeway.  I remember walking single-file in the heat of the day for lunch.  Everyone bought.  I don’t think I know of one child who brought his lunch.  And we ALL had our favorite lunches.  My older sister, Cynthia, loved fish sticks, always served on Fridays.  I enjoyed them as well except the cafeteria ladies only gave you two and I was always left hungry.  She also mentioned, as all the food was made from scratch and hand-made, they made a mean meatloaf and their mashed potatoes were the stuff dreams are made of.   I called my best friends, Dana and Andrea, to find out what their best-loved meals were at East Side.  Dana and Andrea both called me right back and it turns out we all have the same fave…spaghetti!   It had such flavor; something we never, ever had at home.  Dana’s little sister, Dawn, LOVED the tater tots.  She also reminded me the absolute worst to eat was the spinach and pointed out we always seemed to have it after the grass was cut.  To quote her, “Yuck!”  But what we all agreed was the best was the selection of desserts, again all made from scratch and by hand.   Thick, creamy chocolate pudding was scooped out of enormous bowls.  Generous wedges of apple pie were cut.  But the best had to be the chocolate cake squares with peanut butter on top.  Oh man.   The icing and peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth while the cake melted in your mouth, all washed down with a healthy gulp of cold milk.  Heaven on earth and all for a whopping 35¢!

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This is the Peanut Butter-Fudge Cake of your childhood.  It is beyond sublime and puts all those fancy-dancy, beet for color, salted, chocolate with ancho chile, corn flake and beer creations to shame!  This cake is simple, straightforward and ain’t nothin’ hoity-toity about it.  I suggest using only regular, store-bought peanut butter like Skippy or Jiffy.  A more “natural” or organic, grind your own butter is flat and bland tasting.  The only change I made is I added two teaspoons of vanilla extract to the cake instead of one and also to the chocolate icing but only because I love vanilla.  This recipe comes directly from a pulled out page of an old Southern Living magazine.  The paper is stained and water marked.  The article is titled “Make Mine Chocolate” and I treasure this recipe in the short collection.  So thanks, Marian T. Talley from Huntsville, Alabama who contributed the recipe for this cake.  You have a fan in Fort Lauderdale.

Peanut Butter-Fudge Cake

  • Servings: 20-25
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • Chocolate Frosting
  1. Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl; set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, stir in cocoa. Add water, buttermilk and eggs, stirring well.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils.  Remove from heat; add to flour mixture, stirring until smooth.  Stir in vanilla extract.  Pour batter into a greased and floured 13X9-inch baking pan.
  4. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Carefully spread peanut butter over warm cake.  Cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Bring first three ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Pour over powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring until smooth.  Stir in vanilla.  Yield: 2 1/2 cups

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Mango Upside Down Cake…go South!

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Summer’s here.  We’ve put down our bourbons, pulled out the tequila and now our blenders are humming happily on our kitchen counter and poolside in our tiki huts.  Sunday nights find us with sunburned shoulders making lunches and gearing up to answer the 412 emails waiting for us at the office.  I’m already thinking, heck, dreaming of the weekend ahead.  I want pool time with my family and early morning workouts where I can marvel at creamy magnolias and gardenias with their thick, glossy leaves, brilliant bougainvillea and tropical orchids seemingly growing out of palm trees.

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And although my clothes are sodden with perspiration 15 seconds into the workout, the damp sheen on my skin gives me perverse pleasure.  I want plenty of local fish and vegetables on the grill, the soft “plop-plop” of flip-flops slapping my floors.  Weekdays I take advantage of two major sales at our grocery stores… mangoes and Haas avocados are in season and dirt cheap.  In this house, avocados are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Sliced and on the side, in salads, stuffed or made into guac, we love ’em.  Mangoes, too.  In salads, blender drinks or salsas,  but especially in this summer favorite… warm Mango Coconut Upside Down Cake served with vanilla ice cream slowly puddling in the bowl.

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My family loves this cake.  Loves it.  I’ve had to bake it three times for this post as the first two times the cake was eaten before I had a chance to take some pics.  My boys had had a couple of long, stressful days and this was their reward for persevering.  I added a bit of good rum to the butter brown sugar which intensified the caramel overtones and depth of the syrup.  The alcohol burns off but know the rum is optional.  The recipe calls for creamed coconut, a product found in the international aisle of your grocery store.  The texture of the creamed coconut is that of hard wax.  When ready to use, it is melted stove top with the coconut milk.  Creamed coconut is unsweetened, has tee-tiny bits of coconut meat and adds a richness to foods that is unparalleled.  I keep a box or two in my pantry and boost the flavor of soups and curries with it.  Within the small box, the creamed coconut is in a cryovac bag so it keeps fresh for a good amount of time.  You won’t really notice a coconut taste in the cake but rather a creamy, richness.

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This Mango Upside Down Cake shines with a fat dollop of freshly whipped cream atop or a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream speckled with vanilla beans.  I have found, though, that this cake is at it’s best when served warm.  If it is baked in a 10″ skillet, the pan must  have at least 3″ sides to avoid spill over.  A nonstick pan is fine, however, I don’t recommend cast iron as the rum and/or mangos may react to the metal.

Frozen Peanut Butter and Chocolate Pie…hey, Lawdy mama!

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About a week I got the most fierce hankering for some peanut butter and chocolate pie, the kind with a chocolate cookie crust.  And cold.  It had to be freezing.  It’s gotten so hot out that, like Key Lime Pie, a cold, creamy pie with a crunchy cookie crust is most welcome.  I wanted those sweet followed by salty flavors in my mouth and pronto.  Growing up, Dad was the only person in our house interested in peanut butter.  We always had a jar which was rock-hard because Mama insisted it be stored in the refrigerator.  What does a lady from Puerto Rico, who has no idea how to cook or even maneuver through the kitchen, know about peanut butter?  The only time I was even vaguely interested in peanuts was driving to and from college.  My roommate, Cindy, was from Fort Lauderdale.  In fact, we even went to high school together.  Anchor love, roomie!  Anyway, we’d be flying along, always barefooted, probably singing, in her little chocolate brown Toyota on I-75 when we’d catch a glimpse of a giant, beige blob in the sky.  That meant  we were either entering or leaving Ashburn, Georgia and the world’s largest peanut was looming ahead.

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We’d laugh and laugh.  I mean, really.  Who cares that much about peanuts?  Well, I’ll tell you what.  I did.   Last week.  Roasted, salty, sweet, chocolate-y, creamy, dreamy, cold…  Bring it!  Perfect for Memorial Day weekend especially since this pie requires being made in advance and there’s no sweaty baking involved.  Slap this pie together and you’ll be a hero this weekend!

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This recipe calls for freezing the pie as opposed to chilling it.  Strange, but, although I initially chilled the pie for 24 hours, when my family tasted it they all, and I mean ALL, said, “It’s so good I just wish it was colder.  Can you freeze it?”.  Hell, yeah I can!  And I did.  That’s about all it needed.  The crust can be made with the cookie of your choice.  I like chocolate graham crackers but Oreo’s may be used and are just fine.  I feel Oreo’s make the pie way too sweet but that’s just me.  You could even use Nutter Butter cookies.  Whatever strikes your fancy.  It’s an incredibly rich pie so cut your slices smaller than usual.  To make serving easier, I cut the pie into quarters then cut the quarters into individual portions.  I use the largest chef’s knife I own to cut it after the pie has sat on the counter 10-15 minutes to slightly soften.  After buying the peanut butter cup candies at the store, chill them in the refrigerator before and after chopping so they don’t melt into the pie batter.  The PB mini-cups decorating the edge of the pie are optional.  They look good but were just too sweet for me.  I left them on the edge of my plate.  I had some leftover cookie crumbs and scattered them on top.  And I bought a single serving bag of salted, roasted peanuts, you know… the kind you’d drop in your ice cold bottle of coke if you lived in the South?  Tossed them all over that pie and it was a triumph to behold and perfect for a holiday weekend.  So happy Memorial Day to Daddy and all our veterans.  Have a piece of pie!