Monday, April 29, 2013

Whole Lemon Tart (ala Smitten Kitchen)

As the Dessert Dash coordinator for Annika's school auction, it seemed only fitting that I should actually make a dessert. In fact, I've donated cakes over the past two years and decided this was a good time to jump in as a volunteer on the committee. As the coordinator, I saw just how many cakes people signed up to donate, which made me start thinking outside of the cake box (hahaha!) when deciding what I should make.

The idea of checking the Smitten Kitchen blog struck fairly quickly, so I took a stroll through her dessert section. A few of items jumped out as possible contenders, but then I came across the Whole Lemon Tart recipe and a little choir of angels sang in my ears... ok, not really, but I was inspired nonetheless!

Before making it for the auction, I decided doing a trial run was the smart choice. Eric's best friend and his daughter came over for dinner last night, so I made the tart as our dessert. I didn't use the tart crust recommended in the recipe; instead, I used the tart crust recipe that I learned in the pie-making class I took awhile back at a local baking shop/culinary classroom. I knew it was tried and true ... and mighty tasty.

The thing about this tart recipe that caught my attention was the entire lemon (minus the seeds) is used... not just some zest and the juice, but THE WHOLE LEMON! Per the recipe, I sliced it (thin) and then put it (along with sugar and butter) in the food processor bowl and let 'er rip until everything is pureed! Talk about easy! After the initial whirl, I added the remaining ingredients and then poured the batter into my pre-baked tart shell. The biggest stress was wondering if the tart would be cool enough to serve for dinner (I didn't start the baking process until after we got home from the kids' swim lessons a smidge before 3!

The recipe couldn't have been easier and turned out mighty nicely. The lemon flavor was present but not overpoweringly tart. (In fact, I think I'll add a bit more lemon zest when I make it for the auction) I think Eric put it best when he said the tart reminded him of the lemon bars that I make.

I forgot to take a picture of the whole tart, so this single piece will have to suffice ... it
was the last man standing after I  took the leftover tart to work this morning.

Whole Lemon Tart (ala Smitten Kitchen)

Loosely inspired by a version from the Paris pastry shop, Rollet-Pradier

  • 1 partially baked 9-inch Great Unshrinkable Tart Shell, or your favorite sweet tart shell
  • 1 average-sized lemon (about 4 1/2 ounces; 130 grams), rinsed and dried*
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
  • 1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons (14 grams) cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven 350°F (165´C). Place the tart shell on a baking sheet, which you can line with foil or parchment paper to make any spills a breeze to clean up.

Slice the lemon into thin wheels, remove any seeds, and toss the rounds — lemon flesh and peel — sugar and chunks of butter into the container of a food processor. Process, scraping down the sides of the container as needed, until the lemon is thoroughly pureed. Add the eggs, cornstarch and salt and pulse until the batter is smooth.

Pour into prepared tart shell. It will fill it completely but if due to slight variances in tart pans, egg sizes, lemon sizes or crust thickness, you have too much, do not pour it past the top of of your crust or it will become difficult to unmold later.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the filling is set. You can test this by bumping the pan a little; it should only jiggle slightly. In my oven, I find that the point at which the filling is set is also when it starts to get very light brown on top.

Let cool on rack, unmold tart pan and serve. I actually prefer this tart completely chilled, which makes it a great dessert to make in advance of a dinner or party.

* Meyer lemons are the first choice here. They’re milder with thinner skin. But if you know that you do not mind a stronger lemon and rind kick, feel free to use a regular lemon, which will have a stronger flavor and a higher proportion of skin to flesh. If your lemon is not 4 1/2 ounces (Meyers often weigh in closer to 4 ounces) go ahead and cut a wedge out of a second one to keep the lemon flavor in balance with the sweetness of the tart.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 2013 Daring Bakers Challenge: Savarin

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was to make a savarin, which is a yeast-based cake. I'd never heard of this kind of cake and was anxious to give it a try.

The savarin began much as many of my bread recipes do ... by creating a yeast-based sponge. After letting it come to life, the sponge was incorporated into the remaining ingredients and left to rise. Fortunately for me, I had a very good supervisor (aka Conor) who oversaw much of the process. After creating the dough, I was instructed to poke a hole in the middle of the dough and then place it in a savarin pan, I used my standard bundt pan and think it worked grand and dandy. My dough never puffed up to the top of the pan, like the instructions indicated, but, again, I don't think that made a big difference.

As the cake baked, I made the pastry cream (YUM). I also made the flavored soaking syrup. This is where I deviated from the original recipe a bit.The original recipe called for peach tea and peach syrup, neither of which were in our pantry. Instead, I used the kiwi liquor that Eric and I bought in New Zealand back in 2003 but had never opened. Of course, we had to sample it before using it in the recipe. My, but that stuff was tasty!!

After the cake was done baking, I let it cool and decided to follow the recipe's suggestion of letting it dry out a bit so it could soak up more of the syrup. Unfortunately, I think I let it dry out too much. The final product was a bit on the dry side. On an up note, the lemon zest added to the pastry cream was amazing!


Working the sponge into the dough

My manager

Mixin, mixin, mixin

Nothing gets past this guy!

Dough ready for the pan

Rising complete, ready for the oven


Annika and Conor modeling the final savarin


Natalia of Gatti Fili e Farina challenges us to make a traditional Savarin, complete with soaking syrup and cream filling! We were to follow the Savarin recipe but were allowed to be creative with the soaking syrup and filling, allowing us to come up with some very delicious cakes!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Weekend of Sick Kiddos

Over the past few months, our weekends have been jam packed with various activities. I mean PACKED!! This past weekend was our first in a looooong time that was without plans, aside from swim lessons, of course. Even though our previous weekends were filled with fun things, knowing a quiet weekend was ahead of us was something I looked forward to.

Then a stomach bug attacked our kids.

The quiet, relaxed weekend turned into a weekend full of hurting tummies and cleaning up barf. Oh yeah, we totally know how to kick back!! On an up note, because this was our quiet weekend without plans, we didn't have to cancel anything (aside from swim lessons, of course).

We set up a sick bay in the TV room and had the kids lay low all day. They napped, they watched TV, they snuggled with the heating pad, they barfed.... correction, only Conor did that, but he picked up his sister's slack in that department. Fortunately, our kids are willing to nap when they don't feel well; in fact, we didn't put anyone down for a nap on Sunday, yet both kids took at least 2 naps.

From a mom's standpoint, it is horrible to see your kids sick. If they're injured, you kiss the owie, put some ice on it, and call it good. When they're sick, you just have to wait it out and feel helpless (while holding a bucket in front of your child). I hated knowing I couldn't fix what ailed them; I did what I could to help them through it, but that isn't the same as fixing it, huh?

Fortunately, by yesterday afternoon, the kids had recouperated enough to play with and annoy each other. Once again, all is right in the world.

Our little sickies

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Silly boy

Conor and I are home today because he had an every-so-slight fever (as in 99 degrees) at the end of his day at day care yesterday. A few minutes ago, he told me that he wanted ponytails in his hair. Sure - why not! The result was one of the funniest pictures I think I've taken of him thus far. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Elephant in the Room

Last night, Conor and I were playing balloon. What is balloon, you ask? Easy! Think simplified volleyball without the net, sub a balloon for the ball.

As we tapped the balloon back and forth to each other, I warned Conor to be careful of the trunk behind him. I didn't want him to step back, bump into it, and hurt himself.

This was how the conversation went:

Me: "Conor, be careful of the trunk behind you."
Conor: "The what?"
Me: "The trunk. That big wooden thing behind you."
Conor: (pointing) 'This thing?"
Me: "Yes, that's called a trunk."
Conor: "Is that where we put an elephant?"
Me: (biting tongue to keep from giggling) "A trunk is an elephant nose, but also something like that we put things in."
Conor: "Oh.... BALLOON!!!!!" (Vocabulary lesson = over.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Whidbey Weekend

What a full weekend!!!

On Friday, Eric's brother, sister-in-law, and niece (John, Wendy, Piper) made the long drove from Eastern WA over to Seattle and spend the night with us. Saturday morning, all of us packed up and headed north to Whidbey so we could celebrate Eric's dad's 70th birthday as a group.

Our kids LOVE to go to Bestemor and Bestefar's house. In fact, we use upcoming trips to their house as incentive for good behavior. Works like magic every time!! The kids love running around the big yard and especially adore going to the saltwater pool at the local athletic club. This weekend, they got to do both. We experienced some pretty heavy rains, but the kids were able to find a few windows of opportunity and get outside to play (aka: soak their shoes and socks). Fortunately, the pool is indoors, so that activity isn't weather dependent.

Saturday morning, the guys (aka, Eric, his dad, and brother) packed up some sidearms and headed to the gun range to shoot at paper targets (what those poor targets ever did to them, I'll never know!) After returning to the house, the guys proclaimed the day to be a great success and a lot of fun. I was mighty impressed with the groupings I saw on Eric's target!

Saturday afternoon, Eric's mom, Annika, Conor and I headed to to the pool. We always have fun swimming together, but this time was especially entertaining. First, we remembered to pack life jackets for the kids, so they were able to enjoy more freedom in the pool. Secondly, we discovered a toy at the pool that provided endless fun. It was a little dive toy shaped like a torpedo; the fun came from the fact it would make crazy turns as it sank. Conor (being buoyant in his life jacket) would throw the torpedo into the water and then one or more of us would clamor to be the first to recover it. Eric's mom and I were in hysterics as we scrambled to get the torpedo. Even as I write this, I smile thinking about how goofy we were and how hard we laughed. I gave the toy such rave reviews, that Eric wound up ordering one for us to take to Mexico so we have a fun pool toy on hand!

Eric's mom was struck with the idea of making homemade playdough (see recipe below) with the kids once we discovered the store-bought playdough was hard as a rock. I whipped out my phone, found a recipe, and within a short time, the kids were sculpting their dough into all sorts of creations.

Saturday night, we had a nice family dinner and birthday celebration. Eric's dad made some very tasty BBQ ribs that were coated in a fantastic sauce (I need that recipe!!). For dessert, we had the option of lemon meringue pie, pecan pie, and lemon sherbet (see below for recipe). The neat thing about this sherbet is the recipe came from letters exchanged between Eric's grandparents before they were married. The recipe is attributed to Martha Moulton, who was Eric's mom's grandmother (I think). No one went to be hungry, let me tell you!!!

On Sunday, we woke up, had breakfast, Eric's mom and brother freed a very confused and tired hummingbird from the garage (which was pretty neat!), and then headed back to our respective homes... exhausted, but filled with lots of fun memories.

The rest of Sunday was spent unpacking, doing laundry, taking the kids to swim lessons, making jam, doing yard work, spending way too much at Costco, starting my monthly baking challenge project, and staring into space with exhausted eyes. We need a weekend to recover from our weekend!! :)

Conor stirring the playdough

Annika taking her turn

Let the fun begin!

Annika's snowman

Conor modeling one of Bestefar's hats from the old lumber yard

Lemon Sherbet (Martha Moulton)
2 c milk
1 3/4 c sugar
1/3 c lemon juice
1/4 tsp lemon rind
1/4 tsp lemon extract

Mix together and freeze. Stir occasionally.

Homemade Playdough (
1 c flour
1/2 c salt
2 T cream of tartar
1 T oil
1 c water
Food coloring

Mix flour, salt, cream of tartar, and oil together in a pan. Add water and mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constatnly for 3-5 minutes. Dough will become difficult to stir and will clump. Remove from heat, knead for 5 minutes. Add food coloring during kneading process. Store playdough in a plastic bag.

Friday, April 12, 2013

MDA Hop-A-Thon

Yesterday, Annika's class participated in the annual MDA Hop-A-Thon. The kids have been practicing their hopping skills like hyper little bunny rabbits! Each day for the past week, Annika has told us how many times she hopped during her minute of practicing.

The night before the big event, Annika made sure to pick out her hopping dress, hopping socks, and hopping underpants... little did I know that parts of her wardrobe were specifically for hopping.

In addition to spending a few days building up their leg muscles, Annika and her classmates also learned about muscular dystrophy and disabilities on the whole. They talked about how some people use wheel chairs, other people can't see, etc. During circle time, Annika told her class about how her cousin Kat is special because she has Rett Syndrome; Annika was able to answer questions posed by her teachers and classmates about Kat's disability, specifically how Kat uses a wheelchair some of the time, but that she can stand, but definitely can't hop. She loves to tell people how we help Kat walk by putting our hands on her shoulders to help stabilize her ... Annika even occasionally asks us to walk with our hands on her shoulders, like we do for Kat. :)

Our little miss wound up hopping 320 times in 2 minutes during the Hop-A-Thon. She was a rock star!!!

The kids also learned a song that they sang while hopping, but the video I shot of her singing it is sideways. I need to figure out a way to flip it by 90 degrees.... please stay tuned!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Wee Conor

I was just cleaning up my computer desktop and ran across this photo taken by Conor's teacher when he was in the infant room at his day care. It is one of my favorites of him. Every time I see it, it makes my heart grow a bit more and a few tears well up in my eyes because I so often forget that he isn't this tiny baby any more. I'm so very proud of the little guy he is... but in many ways, he'll always be this little baby to me.



Saturday, April 6, 2013

Our 3D Dump Truck Cake

Awhile back, we asked Conor what kind of birthday cake he wanted. After seeing a picture of a dump truck cake, he knew exactly what he wanted. Even a few weeks later, he still wanted a dump truck cake. Eric, aka my artistic director, sketched out a wonderful design. I called my cake store guru and asked her for cake pan recommendations. She suggested an extra long loaf pan and then we could sculpt the cake from that. Cool!

I made a triple batch of the Velvet Devil's Food Cake from Cooks Illustrated (recipe to follow) which was amazingly wonderful. I'd never used the recipe before and think I've found my new go-to chocolate cake recipe. It is moist (to the point of being borderline fudgy) and very flavorful. Winner! I bought the red and black fondant (those colors are REALLY hard to mix); all the other fondant used was my homemade marshmallow fondant (much better tasting!).

Thank goodness that Eric is (a) artistic and (b) an engineer, because there's no way this project would have turned out nearly as well (or at all!) without him at the helm. Our one major issue? We assembled the cake on the warmest day of the year thus far and the buttercream started to melt and ooze (whoops!!)

After carving (again, all the credit goes to Eric) and stacking the first group of pieces, and then me gluing the layers/pieces with the soon-to-be melting buttercream. it was time to cover the cab and lower portion of the truck bed with the red fondant. Up next was stacking/covering the yellow dump truck bed. After that, the real fun began ... the details, which included Rice Krispy treats covered in black fondant for the wheels, fondant windows, headlights, and a "Conor" license plate. Last, but not least, we filled the bed of the truck with its load: jellybeans. Oh no, we didn't just toss some jelly beans on the back and call it good... we glued each bean in place using piping gel so we could ensure they stayed put and would stay mounded. Eric had the brilliant idea of adding dirt to the cake board to make the truck look even better; his first idea of coffee grounds didn't pan out once we put 2 and 2 together and realized the coffee grounds would blow around with the slightest shift in air flow, so we decided to crumble up the extra cake parts and it worked beautifully.

It took quite a few hours to complete the cake, but it was definitely time well spent!!

All baked, carved, and ready to stack
Eric piecing the cake together
Red fondant ... check!

Me adding dye to make the yellow fondant
Two by two ... hands of blue! (quick: name that movie reference)

Let the kneading begin!

I'm so weird!
The final product

The birthday boy admiring his cake

Velvet Devil's Food Cake (Cooks Illustrated)
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp instant espresso or instant coffee
  • 1 c boiling water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 12 T butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1.  Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 8 by 1 1/2-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening (I used Pam instead and used the extra long loaf pan, not two rounds) and cover pan bottoms with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper, dust cake pans with flour, and tap out the excess.
  2. Mix cocoa and instant coffee in a small bowl; add boiling water and mix until smooth. Cool to room temperature, then stir in vanilla. 
  3. Beat butter in bowl of electric mixer until shiny and smooth, about 30 seconds. Gradually sprinkle in sugar; beat until mixture is fluffy and almost white, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating 1 full minute after each addition.
  4. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. With mixer on lowest speed, add about 1/3 of dry ingredients to batter, followed immediately by about 1/3 cocoa mixture; until ingredients are almost incorporated into batter. Repeat process twice more. (Note: I did additions differently: 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 cocoa mixture, 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 cocoa mixture, 1/3 flour mixture). When batter appears blended, stop mixer and scrape bowl sides with rubber spatula. Return mixer to low speed; beat until batter looks satiny, about 15 seconds longer.
  5. Divide batter evenly between pans. With rubber spatula, spread batter to pan sides with smooth top. Bake cakes until they feel firm in center when lightly pressed and skewer comes out clean, 23 to 30 minutes. (It took closer to 40 minutes in the extra long loaf pan.) Transfer pans to wire racks; cool for 10 minutes. Run knife around perimeter of each pan, invert cakes onto racks, and peel off paper liners. Reinvert cakes onto additional racks; cool completely before frosting.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Easter & Conor's Birthday Party

We quickly realized that the people we would have over for Easter were the same people we'd celebrate Conor's 3rd birthday with; so being the smart people that we are, we decided to combine the two occasions.

The day started out as a typical Easter morning: baskets and then church. We let our visiting nieces (Emily and Anna) sleep in ... waking them up for 8:30 mass seemed plain old mean. (They went to 12 mass instead). At 2:00, Eric's parents, my brother and his family, and my mom all began to arrive. Our house quickly became a hive of energy and noise (thanks, mostly, to my side of the family!) :)

Our nephew Ian decided to host an egg hunt for Annika and Conor, which they thought was the best thing ever. They had a grand time running around the front yard scooping up the eggs that were scattered to and fro! It was a great treat to have a warm, sunny day on Easter ... egg hunts in parka and under umbrellas just isn't quite as enjoyable!

After stuffing ourselves with an early Easter dinner of ham, scalloped potatoes, salad, rolls, and carrots, we turned our attention to the birthday portion of the day. We all gathered in the front room to watch Conor open his presents and then stuff ourselves even more with chocolate dump truck birthday cake. (Don't worry, the cake construction will get its own future blog post.)

It is sort of funny how one present can take on a life of its own. This time, it was the spiky hat that Eric's parents gave to Conor as part of his present. The hat is insanely cute and really fun to wear. Whenever Conor wears it, he roars loudly, so we've dubbed him "spiky-a-saurus."

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who made Easter and Conor's birthday celebration so much fun!

Annika investigating her basket goodies

Chocolate bunny!!

Egg hunting we will go!

See what I got!!

Egg hunting fun

Present time!
Spiky hat boy!

Kat rockin' the spiky hat

Troy adding some cool to the spiky hat

Conor looooooooves the football from his big cousins

It is so hard to be the non-birthday kid!

Cake time

Conor blowing/spitting out his candles