Southern Living’s Easy Berry Ice Cream Cake

Ice Cream Cake

Perfect for Summer!

For whatever reason, I don’t usually make the recipe featured on the front cover of a magazine. I’m not sure why, I guess I just usually find even more interesting recipes buried inside the magazine. That was not the case with Southern Living’s July issue. Right on the front cover was a blurb advertising “Berry Ice Cream Cake.” It immediately got my attention. (The pasta salads pictured on the cover were also delicious – I’ve made one of those recipes and still have to try the others.)

I made the Berry Ice Cream Cake (officially called Red, White, and Blue Ice Cream Cake) for, what else, the Fourth of July. It was so yummy! It was really easy too.

I did make a few modifications. Even though frozen pound cake would be easy, I had the time to make my own. I halved the Joy of Cooking recipe, and even then had plenty of pound cake left over. Hooray for extra cake! I also made the raspberry sauce in advance – it was an easy thing to get out of the way. You can see from the picture that we didn’t skimp on adding the raspberry sauce.

I debated skipping the raspberry preserves step. Adding raspberry preserves to raspberry sorbet seemed to be just too much, but in the end I’m glad I did it. In the carton the raspberry sorbet is more of a pale pink color, and the raspberry preserves really gave it a richer red.

As with any ice cream cake, it needs to be eaten quickly! Luckily it was, and there were hardly any leftovers!


I’m Back with Graham Cracker Ice Cream

Hi! I had to take some time off to tend to things in my personal life, but all’s well and I’m back to baking and blogging! (I never stopped baking – I just ran out of time to talk about it!)

One of my go-to special occasion treats is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, which I purchase either at my local wine store or Whole Foods. Here’s where to buy Jeni’s in your area. I also love making Jeni’s at home, which is why I was super excited when her second cookbook came out. The first recipe I tried from the second book? Graham Cracker Ice Cream.Graham Cracker

It was great! I used crushed Trader Joe’s Honey Graham Crackers. The recipe only used a few, so there were plenty left for serving as a garnish (or munching while the ice cream churned).

Jeni’s suggestion to serve the ice cream with sliced bananas was spot-on. I also added homemade chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. I think it would also be nice with sliced peaches.

It was definitely a sweet treat, and perfect for those hot summer evenings when turning on the oven is too much.

Tip of the Cap

It might be a bit late in the summer to be posting a graduation party idea, since school is starting up again, but this is an easy crowd pleaser to file away for the next time you have a special graduate in your life.

Graduation party hats

Graduation party hats

You’ll need the following:

Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – you can use either the conventional milk chocolate ones, which can be purchased in bulk, or the new dark chocolate ones, which seem to only come in small bags, at least in my area.  Both are delicious, of course.

Square chocolates or chocolate-covered mints – I could not find plain chocolate squares in the right size that did not have an emblem or imprint on them, so I used After Eight mints.  I found them at my local supermarket.

M&M’s – I recommend getting just a single color, if you have access to one of those M&M separate color dispensers.  In this case, I used dark blue because it coordinated with the colors of the university.

Thin licorice – I used Twizzlers Pull and Peel.  I found it helpful to peel all of the strands I needed and cut them before I started.  I used 1 ¼” strips, but the exact length you need will be determined by the size of the square chocolate/chocolate mint that you are using as a mortarboard.

Chocolate frosting – I used Duncan Hones chocolate frosting as a glue.  You need just a small amount to fuse the peanut butter cup and the chocolate square.  A small spreading knife works well to then add a drop of chocolate frosting to secure the M&M and Twizzler tassel.

I suggested that people separate the pieces before eating, because I thought the flavors would be strange together, but I saw several people just bite right in to these cute and easy graduation hats!

The Saga of Making a “Better Nutter”

Belated Happy New Year!  Though I haven’t posted, I have been busy in the kitchen trying out recipes from some of the great new cookbooks I

A Better Nutter

A Better Nutter

received over the holidays.

On Monday, while watching the Inauguration on TV, I enlisted three friends to try making “Better Nutters” from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook.  Ten hours and four pairs of hands later, we had 10 majestic peanut butter sandwich cookies.

Let me explain.

The Bouchon Bakery cookbook (co-authored by Sebastien Rouxel) is gorgeous, full of great color photos and a ton of recipes.  It’s exactly the kind of cookbook you want to give (or receive!) as a gift.  However, if you are familiar with Thomas Keller, you know he demands a certain kind of culinary perfection that can be difficult for the novice home baker.  For example, he likes precision, preferring that you measure your ingredients in grams on a food scale.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it is new to me.  I’m a baker who throws everything together quickly and figures, well, it is “close enough.”

So why did following Thomas Keller’s recipe for Better Nutters take 10 hours?  Well, I’ll admit that I didn’t have

Piping the peanut butter buttercream onto one half of a cookie sandwich

Piping the peanut butter buttercream onto one half of a cookie sandwich

all of the ingredients on hand.  So there was a trip to the grocery store, plus a stop at a friend’s apartment for a pastry bag and vanilla paste (thanks guys!)

Around the start of the inaugural parade, we toasted the peanuts, assembled the dough, and began refrigerating it.  The cookbook offered an interesting tip for creaming the butter and peanut butter for the dough.  The book recommends holding your KitchenAid mixer bowl above a low flame on the stove to warm the bottom of the bowl.  This really helped the butter break down to a creamy (but not melted) consistency.

Two hours later, when it was time to cut the cookie rounds, the dough was too soft to get more than one cookie round at a time.  Thus, it had to harden in the freezer a bit.  Then the cookie rounds themselves needed to freeze for two hours.  By this time, the inaugural ball was beginning.

We finally got the cookies baked and cooling, and began production of the peanut butter buttercream filling.  I liked using simple syrup, which I had never thought to do in buttercream before, and the filling came out really fluffy.  It would be a great filling between cake layers.

In the end, the cookies were great.  Very buttery, very peanutty, and surprisingly, not that sweet.  I thought they were even better the next day, after they hardened in the fridge. They definitely deserved their spot of honor on the cookbook’s front cover, alongside a very necessary glass of milk.

Will I make them again? Probably not.  But it was definitely a fun experience!

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

I’ve never been a big fan of store-bought biscotti.  Unless it comes from a quality Italian bakery, it seems to be hard and stale by the time I eat it.  I know you are intended to soften it with an espresso or a steaming mug of tea, but I wouldn’t usually choose it over a soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie.  Or any cookie, really.

That all changed when I decided to make homemade biscotti for dessert after an Italian dinner.  I’ve been experimenting with different variations of this Giada recipe.  Strangely, the recipe title does not include the word “biscotti” but that is what you get.  Soft and chocolatey, with a pleasing crunch and a good shelf life.

I’ve left out the anise seed, but otherwise stuck to the recipe.  I’ve also added chopped dried cranberries and 1 teaspoon almond extract.  When using cranberries, I recommend reducing the amount of chocolate chips by about 1/3 cup.  Otherwise, the chocolate overpowers the cranberry taste.

I’ve also shipped the biscotti out-of-state via UPS and it has arrived whole and still fresh.  I definitely recommend this recipe for a homemade gift for that coffee, tea, or cookie lover in your life!

Zucchini and Yellow Squash Chocolate Chip Cookies

You can just see the little specks of zucchini in the cookie. The yellow squash has disappeared.

What to do with all the zucchini and yellow squash that the end of summer brings?  Make chocolate chip cookies, of course!  Not only are you eating sweets and getting some vegetables at the same time, but the cookies freeze well too.

You can experiment with the ratio of zucchini and yellow squash, though I would always keep the balance more on the zucchini side.  For these cookies, I used 2 small zucchini and 1 small yellow squash.  You can also omit the yellow squash entirely.

I also mixed the chocolate chips, based on what I had leftover from other recipes.  There were semi-sweet, full milk chocolate, and about ½ cup mini chips, forming 2 cups total.  I liked how the cookies came out with the varying chips.

Here’s my recipe:


1 stick of butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

2-3 small zucchini and/or yellow squash (about 2 ½ cups, grated)

2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease your cookie sheets.  Cream butter and sugar together with a mixer.  Add flour gradually as you mix.  Add beaten eggs, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  The mixture may be dry at this point, as the zucchini adds a lot of moisture.  Grate the zucchini and mix it into the cookie batter.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop by the tablespoon onto cookie sheets and bake 12-15 minutes.  Cool on wire racks.  Enjoy!

My New Cookbook: Rustic Fruit Desserts

I was just given a copy of Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson, and I can’t wait to give their recipes a try.  (Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend who found the book!)

The cookbook is conveniently organized by season, with spring featuring a number of great rhubarb desserts.  I plan to get some rhubarb at the local farmers’ market and start with the recipe for Rhubarb Fool.  I’ve never made a fool, but it can’t be too difficult, right?

I’m also looking forward to some of the heavier desserts (i.e. bread pudding) in the cooler months.

The book also includes a convenient glossary that defines the difference between cobbler, crisp, buckle, pandowdy, and more.  While I’ve understood the subtle differences, a glossary is helpful in explaining it to others.

The photography is excellent, and the book definitely makes me want to travel to Julie’s bakery, Baker and Spice, in Portland, OR.

 I’ll report back after I’ve made a few recipes from the book, but in the meantime, if you’re a fan of fruit desserts like me, I’d definitely recommend it!

All-Natural Elmo Cake

A dear friend recently asked me to make a cake for her daughter’s two-year-old birthday party.  Who is the most popular monster around when you are two?  Elmo!

I figured Elmo would be a good choice, because not only is he universally popular among the two-year-old crowd, but he is relatively simple.  An odd-shaped head, round eyes, orange nose, and open mouth are his defining facial characteristics.

I knew right away that I wanted to stay away from red frosting dyes and make an “all-natural” Elmo.  I was surprised to find very little advice online about how to accomplish this.

Here’s how I did it:

Not confident in my ability to create Elmo’s head shape just by carving a sheet cake, I bought the Wilton Elmo-shaped cake pan.  It is sold at Michael’s and AC Moore.  Be sure to use a coupon, since it retails for about $12.

I baked a yellow cake in the pan, using a lot of flour baking release spray.  Once it was cool, I frosted it with a simple white icing recipe.  I did need to double the recipe to fully cover Elmo.

I spoke with bakery staff at Whole Foods and Doron Petersan of Sticky Fingers Bakery, (thank you!) who both advised me that there is no such thing as an all-natural red dye that would get anything close to the color of Elmo.  While I might be able to make a pale pink, I would need another alternative for realistic Elmo fur.

Strawberries are the perfect red shade and they provide a bit of texture too.  Be sure to cut them in the different shapes.  You’ll need small pieces when you get around the eye and nose area.

For the nose, I used a hollowed-out half of a navel orange.  For the black pupils of Elmo’s eyes, I used upside-down dark chocolate Hershey Kisses.

The black mouth presented more of a challenge.  I used black licorice, which I trimmed into a mouth shape.  I recommend using kitchen shears for the trimming.  You may also want to leave the licorice out on the counter the night before so some of the tangy smell goes away.

The cake was a big hit!  My only disappointment was that the strawberries leaked juice and by the time the cake was served, there was a small puddle of strawberry juice around it.  I’ve baked with strawberries and raspberries since, and I continue to have this problem, even though I am drying the berries thoroughly.  I’ll have to continue to experiment with this.

Also, be aware that your Elmo cake won’t fit in a standard 13×9 cake carrier.  Oops!  Lesson learned.

Now for next year’s challenge: Who’s the most popular character when you are 3?!

My First Taste of Hummingbird Cake

I recently had the need to make a dessert that is specifically Southern.  I’ve always wanted to try Hummingbird Cake.  Initally published in Southern Living in February 1978, it is the magazine’s most-requested recipe.   There’s no consensus online about how the cake got its name, but it is likely something to do with hummingbirds liking sweet nectar.  Or maybe the woman who submitted the recipe, Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina, just really liked hummingbirds.

Last year Southern Living published a Hummingbird Bundt Cake recipe, which is a bit less time-consuming than the layered version.  It can also be frozen ahead of time and just glazed when ready to serve.  Cooking Light has Hummingbird Mini Bundt Cakes, but I didn’t have a mini bundt pan handy.  The recipes for the full bundt cake and the mini bundts vary greatly, so I don’t think you can just pour the regular bundt batter in the mini bundt pan or vice versa.

Anyway, I made the regular-sized Bundt cake.  It is currently in the freezer, but a little taste revealed a complex banana bread flavor.  I think the banana overpowers the pineapple a bit, but the cake is really moist.  The pecan top looks pretty, and I’m sure the cake will look even nicer once it is glazed. Yum!

A Slow Start to Baking in 2012

I’ve been on crutches since the day after Christmas, which has made baking a bit of a challenge.  I’ve been saving up recipes to try once I am back on two feet.  In the meantime, when I have had occasion to bake something, I’ve been more of a baking director, ordering my wonderful boyfriend around the kitchen.

I do have two notable recipes to recommend though.  If you like blueberry pancakes, you’ll love Stonyfield Farm’s Blueberry Shortcake Cookies.  Moist (thanks to Stonyfield”s yummy yogurt!) and fruity, they taste just like a pancake to me.  I was lucky enough to find fresh berries at the supermarket for a reasonable price, even in the midst of winter.  I’m not sure how well the recipe would work with frozen ones.

I made a Chocolate Banana Yogurt Trifle last Sunday for the Patriots-Ravens game,  Yes, I know that trifle has nothing to do with football.  It was, however, an easy dish for me to put together while sitting at the kitchen table.

I layered the following ingredients in a trifle bowl from bottom to top (quantity varies based on the size of your bowl):

  • Chocolate bundt cake (no frosting) (I used about 1 1/2 cakes)
  • Raspberry preserves
  • Greek yogurt (2 quarts) (whip in in a mixer for a few minutes to loosen up and become more spreadable)
  • Banana slices

    Photo courtesy of

  • Chocolate chips

Repeat this, ending with yogurt on the top.  You can decorate the top with a few chocolate chips or some banana slices, but soak the banana in a little lemon juice first so it doesn’t brown.

I didn’t get a picture of this before it was dished out.  Maybe next time!