dessert

Strawberry Conserve

If early summer could be captured in a jar, Strawberry Conserve is how it would taste.

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Conserve is a fancy way of saying a jam made of fruit stewed in sugar. This one has just three ingredients: strawberries, superfine sugar and lemon. Pretty perfect for summer.With such few ingredients, it’s important to use the highest quality you can find, and not to make substitutes. Don’t fall for the large, watery berries from the grocery store (even at peak season). Get to a garden, farmer’s market, or pick-your-own farm. Superfine (caster) sugar is available at grocery stores, but if you can’t find it, you make it with granulated sugar and a food processor.

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Garden or farm-fresh strawberries are low in acid and pectin, which makes it tricky to preserve. That’s where the lemon comes in: the pith and rind are natural sources of pectin, which helps the jam to set.

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What does one do with a jar of summer? Why, just about anything you can think of. Spooned over ice cream or yogurt. Drizzled over pancakes. Spread on a biscuit or toast. On a picnic with crusty bread, Serrano ham and a little aged balsamic vinegar. Mixed into a cocktail. Folded into whipped cream. Eaten straight out of the jar.

Where did I leave my spoon?

Strawberry Conserve

From Bon Appetit

Yield: 2 cups

4 cups fresh strawberries (about 1 pound), hulled, halved
3/4 cup superfine sugar
Peel (with white pith) of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, wide pot. Cover; let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. (The berries will ooze and sugar will dissolve.)

Bring strawberry mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, until strawberries are just tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries to 1 pint jar. Continue simmering liquid until it thickens into a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes. Discard lemon peel and pour syrup over strawberries; seal and let cool to room temperature. Chill for up to 1 month.

Salted Caramel Sauce

I hate — HATE — making mistakes. Failure? Nope. Not happening.

I’m not perfect, but I *am* a perfectionist. (There’s a difference, right?) I love the idea of continuous improvement. I’m very self-critical, but I also seek out feedback constantly, whether it’s at work, at the gym (where I teach group fitness), or in the kitchen. It’s nice to know what I’m doing well — we all want and need positive feedback — but I’m much more interested in whats not working and how I can do better.

When cooking, I especially love trying dishes that involve a new skill, technique, or ingredient. I embrace the learning process, and I never expect anything to turn out perfectly the first time. Hopefully, it’s edible, and in the second batch, I’ll have ironed out any kinks.

At least, that’s the usual plan.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Enter: Salted caramel sauce. I’ve worked with boiling sugar before, including to make marshmallows, fudge, and other candy. I needed salted caramel sauce for a recipe, and it seemed like I could easily knock it out on a weeknight. No big deal.

Oh, but it was. I tried different pots of different size and material. I tried different temperatures. I tried using a candy thermometer and I tried winging it. I made thick black goo, crunchy brown brittle, crunchy golden brittle, and the most delicious chewy caramels ever (which I couldn’t even tell you how to replicate).

Four batches, four failures.

FOUR!?!? I never screw up FOUR times!

At this point, I was fuming, but it was late and I was out of both ingredients and patience. Ego bruised, I walked away.

Two weeks later, I was perusing the latest issue of Bon Appetit, and happened to notice that one of the recipes included a salted caramel sauce. I compared the ingredients and a special technique primer. What I learned is that many recipes for caramel, including the one I was using, are not forgiving; they require precise equipment, temperature and timing. One misstep, and you’ll either burn the sugar (see: thick black goo), or crystallize the sugar (see: brittle).

“For a smooth, anxiety-free caramel, every time,” BA recommends adding cream of tartar, which is acidic and stabilizes the sugar.

Sweet, salty victory.

Once the sugar dissolves, put the spatula away until it begins to caramelize.

Once the sugar dissolves, put the spatula away until it begins to caramelize.

The mixture progresses from honey to amber very quickly. Watch it carefully.

The mixture progresses from honey to amber very quickly. Watch it carefully.

Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the butter. The mixture will get very bubbly.

Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the butter. The mixture will get very bubbly.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Yield: about 1 1/4 cups

1 cup sugar

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

3 Tbs water

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tsp kosher salt

Choose a heavy-bottomed saucepan with high sides, as the mixture will bubble up. Whisk together sugar, cream of tartar, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As the mixture comes to a boil, the sugar will dissolve. Stir once with a heatproof spatula.

Keep watch as the mixture boils, but do not stir. Once you see it start to caramelize in spots, stir again to ensure even caramelization. When the mixture is the color of honey (about 10 minutes), lower the heat to medium-low, to give yourself more control. When the color reaches a deep amber color (about 5 minutes more), turn off the heat.

Note: cooking times can vary considerably. Stay close and judge with your eyes, not the clock.

Remove caramel from heat. Carefully whisk in butter (mixture will bubble vigorously), then whisk in cream and salt. Let cool slightly in pan, then pour into a heat-proof bowl or jar.

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

You didn’t think I’d forgotten, did you?

:)

Pumpkin Trifecta #3: Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

I first started making these pumpkin cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen a couple years ago. I love that they aren’t overloaded by oil or butter, which keeps them feeling light while allowing the pumpkin and spice to shine through. This is what a fall dessert should taste like.

These are a great treat all through fall, but they are especially fun for a Halloween party. For an easy but impressive decoration, pipe a few circles of black decorator frosting or gel and pull a toothpick from the center.

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 18 cupcakes

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)

For frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt into a medium bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth.

Scoop batter into cupcake liners, about 3/4 full. Tap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

In a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Beat in powdered sugar. Frost cupcakes.