One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and Ultimate Chocolate Toffee Crunch– Easy and Even Easier

Myself, I’m trying a blood orange version of the recent Shaker Lemon and Cherry Pie for Valentines Day, but this being a chocolate drenched holiday, I feel it incumbent to point you toward a couple of never-fail favorites.

Old Faithful, The Little Black Dress of Chocolate Cakes

one-bowl chocolate cake, with filling and frosting

This is the Almond Joy Variation of the chocolate cake. It's also just fine just plain with whipped cream, or with chocolate ice cream and fudge sauce if your dearly loved one is anything like mine.

Heath Bar Cookies, aka Chocolate Toffee Crunch

heath bar cookies/ chocolate toffee crunch

Heath Bar Cookies. All four major food groups: sugar, salt, fat and crunch. With chocolate on top. Most distressing part is how simple and quick it is to make rather a lot of it.

Indecision Pie (Shaker Lemon and Cherry)

Shaker lemon pie with cherries

The lemon is underneath the cherries

This floated into the kitchen because Jan 23 was National Pie Day*, an event that got a surprising amount of  PR, given that every day is pie day in most people’s estimations. It’s probably because good pie is still – compared to say, macarons  – in woefully short supply.

Ok. Deciding to bake a pie was easy. Deciding what kind of pie to bake was not, fresh local fruit also being in short supply in the Northeast just now. We’ve gone through all the frozen berries already; we’re eating too much winter squash to make pumpkin appealing, and while apple might seem obvious, it’s not if you breakfast on baked apples with yogurt pretty much every mortal day of the winter.

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Baking King Cake, Reflecting on Recipes

savory king cake

My take on King Cake, seasoned with thyme and marjoram, liberally studded with Gruyere, sprinkled with Parmesan instead of sugar but maybe next year I'll dye the cheese in the classic icing colors: green, yellow and purple

The classic King Cake of carnival season has many variations: coffee cake-ish, briochelike, or based on puff pastry. It may or may not include embellishments like candied fruit, frangipane, and colored icing. It may even be chocolate with coconut. But one thing will be for sure: it’ll be sweet.

Not around here. At this time of year I’m still recovering from the holiday cookie binge, and the idea of more of the same doesn’t hold much of a thrill. Yet I’ve always loved the idea of the thing, so our traditional King Cake is basically cheese studded brioche. Traditional tradition is honored in the ring shape and in the hidden token whose finder is the King.

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Here Cookie, Here Cookie, Cookie Cookie Cookie

Or, to put it another way: Stop her before she bakes again.

home made christmas cookies

The decorated dark ones are gingerbread; pale stars are sugar cookies. Little round coconut covered jobs are rum balls; crescents are vanilla crescents (known as Moth cookies in our family). Round ones in the back are two kinds of jumbles and the dark rounds in the middle are Mexican chocolate chocolate chip.

I expect to discuss the Christmas Ham in the very near future, and may also pony up a picture of The Tree.

But first, even without cues from the weather, little miss knee jerk has responded to the usual stimulae in the usual fashion. Five or six pounds of butter, along with a similar weight of nuts but vastly less sugar  –  one of the reasons home made cookies taste so much better than store bought –  have already been put to use and I can tell there’s more to come.

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Almost Al’s Ricotta Tart

plum-topped ricotta tart

Almost Al’s Ricotta Tart (with puree from our own Kaga plums and a few Johnny Jump-ups because why not?)

Summer and winter – and spring and fall; this is a treat that knows no season – my friend Alex Tuller’s ricotta tart has been a go-to dessert ever since I had the first piece, back in 2006.

It’s easy, delicious, handsome, ideal for making ahead…and on top of that it’s infinitely variable, which is why I call it “Almost” Al’s tart. Good as it is in the original I usually wind up playing around with it.

ricotta plum tart, sliced

The plum puree is so intense only a very thin layer is needed. If using freshly cooked peaches, for instance, you might want it a little thicker

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Mediterranean Lemon Cake

Its real name is Citrus and Olive Oil Cake, but I didn’t want to scare you in case you hadn’t noticed that olive oil in deserts is The Hot New Thing.


It’s hot all right, but it isn’t remotely new. Where olive oil is the dominant fat, it has been used in sweets for – I dunno – centuries at least, possibly a millennium or two.

lemon and olive oil cake with oranges

My new favorite cake, on a bed of Cointreau spiked orange slices, garnished with candy-ended clementines.

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Rugelach and Heath Bar Cookies: Searching For My Valentine

rugelach cookies

Rugelach, the cookie supreme: buttery, flaky, not too sweet, and small enough so you can pretend that eating a couple won't matter.

In spite of their undoubted splendor, I won’t be making Rugelach for Valentine’s Day this year. The problem is that I made them for Valentine’s Day two years ago and got reminded how good they are.

Doesn’t sound like a problem, but as a result I started making them frequently, and as a result of that they are no longer special enough to be this year’s Home Baked Gift of Love.

Besides, getting there is half the fun if you have a lot of clippings and cookbooks – and an appreciative husband to whom failed experiments are a kind of foreplay.

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Coconut Pumpkin Brioche – and Triple Coconut Sticky Buns

brioche ring with coconut crust

Winter Squash Brioche with Coconut Crust, where all this started out.

Backstory: Two years ago at around this time, I used the picture above as the coda to a long list of good things to make out of leftover mashed winter squash (an item that many of us will soon have in copious amounts).

What I did not do was post the relevant recipe – even after I was very politely asked. Why? Because the recipe didn’t exist.

That’s the great thing about bread. Unlike cake, you can just make it up as you go along, starting with pureed squash, for instance, faking your way toward brioche and then playing around with the dough.

The result was certainly good enough to revisit, but what with this and what with that I never did, so I never took the notes that add up to a recipe. Until now.

 coconut pumpkin brioches

Here they are

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SUMMER CAKE – Blueberry Peach Upside Down Cake with Raspberry Cream (and a variation, for reasons that will be explained)

blueberry peach upside down cake

Blueberry Peach Upside Down Cake ( actually this one is about half white nectarine)

My friend Nancy is not big on baking, but she does love belonging to the Maine Slice of The Cake Committee, so I suggested she try the impressive-for-how-little-fuss-it-takes Blueberry Peach etc. cake from The 3000 Mile Garden. Then I got to feeling uneasy, on account of not having made one for quite a while…

Decided it might be smart to bake one up, just to be sure I was still proud of it. Did. Am. But

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Maine Blueberry Hazelnut Oatmeal Cookies

hazelnut blueberry oatmeal cookies

The picnic classic, downeast edition

Usually, when I give a party, I prepare the food. But at our recent garden soiree for the Maine Farmland Trust, these cookies were my only contribution. (Food luminary Nancy Jenkins, an ardent Trust supporter, did all the rest, leaving me free to obsess about weeding.)

Because we wanted to showcase raw materials that come – or could come – from Maine,  the cookies were made from Maine-grown oats. Local eggs. Butter was my regular butter, Kate’s. The blueberries… well, of course

straw on garden path

The upper path is empty of people because everyone kept on going (the party was in the lower garden).

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