French Strawberry Cake

Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of a very special person, Pete’s mom Ginny, over a delicious Italian restaurant lunch and had a wonderful time.

But a birthday just isn’t a birthday without a special cake, so I decided to make a dessert that we could have back at Ginny’s afterwards.

There were only four of us, and not wanting a lot of leftovers, I looked for a single layer cake recipe. With spring FINALLY having sprung in Minnesota, I wanted something fresh and bright in keeping with this new season. Seeing beautiful strawberries at the store, I looked in that direction and found a recipe for French Strawberry Cake, a variation of the classic French Apple Cake.

Exactly what I was looking for, not too big, bursting with spring flavors, and suited for a special occasion. Accompanied by lightly sweetened whipped cream, it was just right, and a cake I will definitely make again. In fact, now I’m wishing we had lots of leftovers!

Fast and easy enough to whip up on whim, but with an almost custard-like center and a sugar-topped crunchy dome, it has a fanciness that elevates it above an everyday cake. Enjoy!

French Strawberry Cake

Adapted from this Foodtastic Mom recipe

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sour cream

1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus extra whole berries for garnish

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

1 ½ tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan or a 9-inch spring-form pan with removable sides.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing just until combined after each addition.

Fold in all but about 1/3 cup of the sliced strawberries. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Arrange the rest of the sliced strawberries evenly on top of the batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar.

Bake until the top is golden and the center is set, about 45 minutes.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan. If using a pan with removable sides, run a butter knife around edges and release sides. If in a cake pan, run a butter knife around edges, invert cake onto a plate and turn over onto a serving platter.

Just before serving, place cream and powdered sugar in the chilled bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed for several minutes, until soft peaks form.

Slice cake and serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a whole strawberry. Makes six servings.


Tiramisu Cupcakes

When I asked our three February birthday people at the office what they’d like for the monthly party, two deferred to the third, who responded “anything chocolate or coffee/chocolate.” That sent me in search of recipes and I settled on King Arthur Flour’s Tiramisu Cupcakes, plus a couple other coffee/chocolate treats, but the cupcakes were the stars.

Who doesn’t like a boozy dessert? Tiramisu, but in the form of a cupcake—a very vanilla cupcake, with a Kahlua espresso soak and a creamy amaretto mascarpone frosting dusted with cocoa. Yes, please! Homemade tiramisu without the need to hunt down a decent package of lady fingers (or figure out how to make your own!).

The recipe reviews are what sealed it for me—they were all great. And they were right. These are a special cupcake. Unique with the “soak” that provides that boozy bite in the middle of a really vanilla cake, and the frosting—oh, the frosting! A not-too-sweet, whipped cream-mascarpone cheese mixture spiked with amaretto (almond liqueur). Wow!

The original frosting recipe called for Instant Clear Jel, which, conveniently, you can order from King Arthur Flour. It’s actually modified food starch, which is chemically processed and not something I want in my food, so I used less processed corn starch. It still keeps the frosting, which contains a lot of whipped cream, from deflating. Arrowroot powder might work as well, but I didn’t want to chance it. Next time I make these at home, I’ll try it and will update the recipe if results are good.

Don’t skimp on the soak. After making a smaller test batch, I told myself to use more of the soak mixture. When I made the larger, “for real” batch, I thought I had used more of the soaking liquid (brushed each cupcake many, many times), and I was worried it was too much liquid (afraid they’d be soggy), but the cupcakes could have used even more of it, so be generous.

Keep in mind that because the alcohol in both the soak and the frosting isn’t cooked off, these should be adults only cupcakes. And all the adults at the office birthday party gave them rave reviews. Enjoy!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Tiramisu Cupcakes

Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 3/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

3 large eggs, room temperature

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua

2 tablespoons espresso powder

3 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup hot water

2 cups heavy cream

4 teaspoons corn starch 2/3 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup amaretto liqueur

1 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature

Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust tops of frosted cupcakes.

To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk into the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again, to be sure everything is incorporated.

Scoop the batter into paper-lined cupcake pans. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and place the pans on a rack for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, turn the cupcakes out and return them to rack to cool completely.

To make the soak: Mix the espresso powder, liqueur, and sugar into the hot water.

Using a fork, poke the tops of each cupcake two or three times. Sprinkle or brush a small amount of the soak over each cupcake, and allow it to soak in. Repeat until virtually all the liquid is used.

To make the frosting: Beat the whipping cream until medium peaks form.

Whisk together the powdered sugar and corn starch and slowly add to the whipped cream, along with the amaretto.

Gently and briefly whisk in the mascarpone cheese by hand until the frosting is thick and creamy (this shouldn’t take more than 4 or 5 passes with the whisk); more than that and the frosting will get grainy.

Pipe the frosting over the cupcakes, then dust with cocoa. Keep refrigerated. I think the cupcakes taste best if they are removed from the fridge about 1/2 hour before serving.

Yield: 18-24 cupcakes (I got 18, but the original recipe said 24).

Pavlovas with Chambord Cream, Raspberries Two Ways and Chocolate Sauce

Until last summer, when checking out the blog of Amy Thielen, chef, writer, and host of the Food Channel’s Heartland Table, I had not heard of the dessert pavlova. Her recipe was for individual pavlovas with whipped cream and a passion fruit sauce that sounded amazing.

I sort of filed the recipe in my mind as one to maybe make one day. Similar to meringue, but better, pavlova has a somewhat soft, almost marshmallowy inside under the palest of ivory crusts—this discovered shortly afterward when we went to Pete’s parents’ for a party, and guess what his mom made for dessert? Yep, pavlova. One large plate-sized pavlova, the center filled with whipped cream and topped with plump, ripe strawberries. I assumed it would be dry all the way through like meringue, but was so pleasantly surprised to find the exterior crunch give way to a softer, delectable texture. How wonderful!

Last week when planning the menu for a girls’ night dinner party celebrating one of my best friend’s birthdays, I remembered Amy’s recipe and decided to give it a whirl. With passion fruit not exactly being in abundance during a Minnesota winter, I decided to take it in a different direction with vegan whipped cream made from coconut milk that I’ve made many times before, to rave reviews, and incorporate raspberries two ways. And with the way raspberries get along with chocolate, why not make a little chocolate sauce for the final drizzle?

The end result was a swoon-worthy dessert and one I will make again and again. With the different components involved, it may seem too putzy, but the Chambord cream and sauces are quick and easy and can be made ahead of time, with all but the pavlovas able to be made a day or two before. Valentine’s day is only a month away–this would be the perfect dessert to share with someone you love!

MixedBefore bakingBakedPavlova plated

Pavlovas with Chambord Cream, Raspberries Two Ways and Chocolate Sauce

Pavlovas by Nicky Major, as posted on Amy Thielen’s blog

For the Pavlovas:
Scant 3/4 cup egg whites (from 5-6 large eggs), totally yolk-free

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

A pinch of salt

1 2/3 cups superfine sugar*

5 teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot, more for the baking sheet

2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chambord Cream (recipe follows)
Raspberry Sauce (recipe follows)
Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries

*If you don’t have superfine sugar, just pulse sugar in a food processor for a minute, and measure it afterward.

Position the oven rack just below the middle of the oven, and preheat to 275 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment, sticking down the corners with dabs of honey. Dust the sheet with cornstarch or arrowroot to help the meringue come off easily after baking.

Run a large, stainless-steel mixing bowl under hot water to warm it. Dry the inside thoroughly, add the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt.

Whip the whites at medium-high speed until they’re stiff and start to pull away from the sides of the bowl; they’ll look like they’re about to separate. Immediately start adding the superfine sugar by sprinkling it in slowly, about 1 tablespoon at a time; incorporating the whole 1 2/3 cups should take about 10 minutes. Combine the cornstarch with the last 2 tablespoons sugar and add them together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, continue whipping, and slowly add the vinegar and vanilla. Whip for another few minutes. The mixtures should be extremely glossy and fluffy.

For individual pavlovas, use a 3-oz. ice-cream scoop and stack two scoops, snowman-style, for each one. Make a depression in the center.

To bake, put the pavlovas in the heated oven and immediately turn down the heat to 250 degrees F. Bake, without opening the door for at least the first 45 minutes, until they’re crisp and dry looking on the outside with just a hint of ivory color.

To serve, place a big spoonful of the Chambord Cream into the divot in the center of each pavlova, drizzle with Raspberry Sauce, Chocolate Sauce, and top with fresh raspberries.

Chambord Cream
Solids from one can of coconut milk (not light), (chill can overnight; don’t shake can before opening)
¼ cup powdered sugar (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Chambord

Chill a bowl and beaters in the freezer for 30 minutes. Place coconut solids (solids only–none of the liquid) in bowl and beat until smooth and thick. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and Chambord and beat to incorporate. Refrigerate at least two hours. Give it a whisk just before serving. You may want to add another teaspoon of Chambord at that time. This keeps in the fridge for several days.

Simple Raspberry Sauce
2 cups fresh raspberries, rinsed and patted dry
¼ cup organic sugar

Place raspberries and sugar in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or strainer, over a dish. Push sauce with back of a spoon until nothing remains in strainer but the seeds. Sauce keeps several days in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Sauce
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard)
1 ½ tablespoons coffee liqueur
1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Place all sauce ingredients in a double boiler and stir until the chocolate chips are melted. Whisk until smooth. Alternately, you can melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and whisk the remaining ingredients into the melted chocolate. If not serving right away, you’ll need to reheat it over low heat because it thickens up as it cools.


Chocolate Lava Cakes with Raspberry Sauce and Chambord Cream


My in-laws recently downsized to a smaller home, and thus, downsized some of their belongings. In the process, a beautiful set of crystal water goblets found a new home with us. The goblets pair so nicely with my late grandmother’s crystal water pitcher, a lovely piece that evokes warm & wonderful memories of holiday dinners at Grandma Decoster’s when I was a kid in Michigan. Like most people, we don’t use the good crystal on a daily basis, so when you’re having special lunch guests, of course that good crystal is going to be excitedly used.Goblets

Our special lunch guests, two of the nicest people on the planet, Pete’s parents, my in-laws, Jack & Ginny. Getting together with them is always fun—lively conversation flows, and usually a new story or two is told of the days long before Pete was in my life. It’s a little window into a time I would have loved to experience.

cakeThe dessert I planned to top off our lunch evolved a little as I thought about it. I wanted to make chocolate lava cakes, but wasn’t sure what to accompany them. After tossing around a few ideas, I settled on something raspberry. A simple sauce of fresh raspberries blended with sugar, pressed through a sieve to make it smooth and seedless, topped off with the creamiest cream-less Chambord-spiked cream—whipped coconut cream with a little powdered sugar, vanilla and a splash or two of the delicious black raspberry liqueur. A few fresh raspberries sprinkled on top, with a mint sprig for garnish. Perfection!


Prior to the last year or so, I had only experienced coconut milk in Thai restaurant dishes. Yummy, but nothing I had used at home. More recently I’ve used it in homemade curries, but a whole new creamy world opened when I first saw a recipe for whipped coconut cream. It’s crazy easy! It’s vegan! And it is totally scrumptious! You simply refrigerate a can of coconut milk (not light—it won’t work) at least a few hours, preferably overnight. Open the can and remove the solids on top to a chilled bowl. Don’t use any of the liquid, just the solid “cream.” Add a few tablespoons of powdered sugar and beat with chilled beaters until stiff. Add a teaspoon or two of vanilla and beat a little longer. Then the options are endless for adding another flavor profile—almond extract, lemon juice, orange zest, Kahlua, Chambord, whatever strikes your fancy. And unlike dairy whipped cream, this doesn’t deflate if not used right away—it keeps great in the fridge for a few days!

Chocolate Lava Cakes
Adapted from Chloe’s Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli

1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup organic, natural sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup almond milk
½ cup grapeseed oil
2 tbls. apple cider vinegar
1 tbls. pure vanilla extract
6 tbls. semisweet chocolate chips (I used Guittard—the best I’ve tasted—even better than Ghirardelli!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins and line the bottom of each with a small parchment paper circle. I have a jumbo muffin pan with six 6 ounce cups, and that worked swell.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together almond milk, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Fill each ramekin one-quarter way full. Place a heaping tablespoon of chocolate chips on top of batter in the center. Fill the ramekins with remaining batter.

cake8Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of each cake and gently unmold.

A make-ahead tip: After filling ramekins with batter and chocolate chips, they can be frozen for several weeks. Bake straight from freezer for 20 minutes.

Simple Raspberry Sauce

2 cups fresh raspberries, rinsed and patted dry
¼ cup Sucanat or other natural sugar

Place raspberries and Sucanat in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or strainer, over a dish. Push sauce with back of a spoon until nothing remains in strainer but the seeds. Sauce keeps several days in the refrigerator.

Chambord Cream

Solids from one can of coconut milk (not light), (chill can overnight; don’t shake can before opening)
2 tbls. powdered sugar (or more to taste)
2 tsps. pure vanilla extract
2 tsps. Chambord

Chill a bowl and beaters in the freezer for 30 minutes. Place coconut solids in bowl and beat until smooth and thick. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and Chambord and beat to incorporate. Refrigerate at least two hours. Give it a whisk just before serving. You may want to add another teaspoon of Chambord at that time. This keeps in the fridge for several days.

To assemble dessert, drizzle raspberry sauce on plates, place a cake in the center, top with a generous dollop of Chambord Cream, sprinkle with raspberries, another drizzle of sauce, and garnish with a fresh mint sprig. Unmatched creamy, ooey-gooey, vegan goodness!cake9