Fake Baking

I can't think of baking when the weather is so hot and humid that all I want to do is just turn on the air conditioning and pretend my room is a fridge and I'm a lukewarm bottle of white wine in need of a good chill.

But a dessert was needed for a barbecue on a hot June day, so I decided to go with trifle since it was a no-bake dessert and since berries are in season. What better use of berries than in a trifle? Don't answer that, just check out the recipe and assemblage instructions below and you'll see what I mean.

Berry Trifle with Lemon Vanilla Cream

1 store bought Vanilla Angel Food Cake
1 recipe Lemon Vanilla Cream
4 cups mixed macerated berries
Whipped Cream, about 1 or 1 1/2 cups

I used store bought Vanilla Angel Food Cake (already prepared mind you) because I was trying not to turn on the oven. What you need to do with this is slice it into 1/4 inch slices and set aside until assembling time.

Regarding the berries, I used strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries - but you can use any summer berries you like. I added a 1/4 cup of white sugar, juice from half a lemon and zest from half a lemon to the berries, tossed to combine and set aside.

Now, for the Lemon Vanilla Cream (adapted from Mark Bittman's version)


2 1/2 cups half-and-half or whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
zest from half a lemon
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened


Mix together the 2 cups of half-and-half or milk, sugar and salt in a small or medium saucepan over medium-low heat. If using a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into milk or half-and-half using small sharp knife. Do not discard the pod.* Cook just until mixture begins to steam.

Combine cornstarch and remaining milk or half-and-half in a bowl and blend; there should be no lumps. Add cornstarch mixture; cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to thicken and barely reaches a boil, about 5 minutes. Immediately reduce heat to very low and stir for 5 minutes or so until thick. Stir in butter and lemon zest.

Pour mixture into a bowl or dish to cool. Put plastic wrap directly on the pudding to prevent formation of a skin, or do not cover if you like skin. Refrigerate until chilled.

*I put the vanilla pod in my white sugar bowl to make vanilla sugar - it's definitely added a little something extra to my coffee!


In a glass trifle dish, or in my case, an 8-inch square glass dish, lay down a layer of the sliced angel food cake. Then dollop on a third of the lemon vanilla cream on top of the slices. Add a third of the berries and the juice from the maceration. Repeat until all layers are complete and then pipe the whipped cream around the edges. Voila - Summer Berry Trifle! Perfect for a lazy summer evening after a BBQ.


Bears, Beets, Battlestar Gallactica

Let’s face it. It’s weird when you mix vegetables in with dessert – like something went wrong in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and all of a sudden instead of Turkish Delight, you have Broccoli Delight. Not the kind of delight I like in a sweet treat.

However, vegetables seem to somehow make their way into desserts and cakes all the time: Carrot Cake, Zucchini Bread, Pumpkin Pie, not to mention the southern classic –Red Velvet Cake, which got its coloring and name from beets.

Speaking of beets, a good friend of mine mentioned that she once had a wonderful Beet Chocolate Cake at a local restaurant and that it was her favorite cake ever. She then told me that they took it off their menu and she wished that she could find as good a beet chocolate cake so she could have it for her birthday. So, instead of buying her a gift, I offered to make her some beet chocolate cupcakes for her birthday get together. I had never made these cupcakes before before and I knew that I wanted to go more chocolate than beet. So I ended up with the following recipe (which is an amalgamation of research into different recipes and takes the best out of many to create something pretty darn tasty).

Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Rum Glaze


2 cups of fresh beet puree (use about 6 medium beets for this)
3/4 cup margarine
1 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup of dark cocoa powder (I used E.guittard here)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup skim milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare your cupcake tins as you would always – i.e. line with cupcake liners. Boil beets until tender, then drain and cool. Once cool, use a food processor (or whatever you use to blend boiled vegetables) to puree the beets into a fine pulp. Set aside.

Cream the margarine and sugar until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and add in alternating amounts with the milk. Add the beet puree and mix for a couple minutes or until very smooth. Using s small spoon, scoop the batter into your prepared cupcake tins. Bake for 15 mins, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the cake. Cool completely before glazing.

For the glaze,

4 oz dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon dark rum


In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the butter. Stir frequently until smooth and incorporated. Add corn syrup and rum and stir until smooth. Cool till room temperature before use. If the glaze is too runny, add some powdered sugar to it. If it’s too thick, add some more corn syrup.

I added some silver non-pareils to make these little mini bites more festive, but they taste good with or without a silvery sparkle. Enjoy!


It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Growing up I never used to have proper peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My parents didn't buy grape jelly for some reason; they preferred to have marmalade and strawberry jam in the house. So our peanut butter sandwiches were with marmalade or strawberry jams.

Sometimes, on very rare occasions, they would buy Goobers® for me and my brothers and we would be ecstatic. As I grew older, I grew used to the different jams with my peanut butter sandwiches, and didn't mind apricot or guava or even good old strawberry jam with my peanut butter. One thing that I grew out of was the taste and texture of over-processed peanut butter and preferred natural, no sugar added stuff. This was primarily due to my living abroad in a country where peanut butter was just ground up roasted peanuts - no bells and whistles attached. This is my favorite kind of peanut butter to use for baking because, well, it's peanutier (not a word I know)and it doesn't add anything other than a good, rich peanut butter flavor to a batter, frosting, filling. And it's better for you than processed, sugar-filled peanut butter.

This rambling introduction brings me to the point of this post - peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. Which I made as a ode to my lack of true peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and also because they are really cool).

There are 3 components to these cupcakes: the cake, the filling and the frosting - all of which are modifications to other recipes I've worked on/used before.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

1 recipe for peanut butter cake (use natural peanut butter versus processed and you'll have a better batter guaranteed)
1 cup of grape jelly, melted and cooled
1 recipe for peanut butter and jelly frosting (see below)

Bake your cupcakes as you would and let cool. Fill a piping bag with a No. 2 or 3 round tip with the melted grape jelly. Insert tip in middle of cupcakes and fill until you see the jelly poking through the top of the cupcake.

Using another piping bag with a shell tip, fill with frosting and pipe onto cupcakes.

And voila - peanut butter jelly time!

So, here's the frosting recipe I created for this cupcake:

1 cup (2 sticks), room temperature unsalted butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons natural no sugar added peanut butter
1 tablespoon melted grape jelly

n a large bowl, cream the butter until it's light and fluffy. Add the confectioner's sugar gradually, beating the sugar into the butter. Add the peanut butter and grape jelly. Continue to beat until the ingredients are well incorporated and the mixture is double in volume. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.