Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
Pot roasts and pasta are in the rear-view mirror. Open windows and the fresh air of approaching spring chase away stale winter heated air. We jumped one hour forward with the promise of more light and late sunsets. Warm weather days are coming!
I was originally planning a post about lighter spring fare as we mindfully think about shedding the five pounds winter made us gain. We don’t need 10 layers of outerwear and we’re talking about riding bikes, taking long walks and enjoying open-air fitness. We don’t want the rib-sticking recipes that kept us warm all winter.
I am thinking about all of this when suddenly I see email from a favorite dessert blogger. Squirrel. I immediately go to her web site and gaze longingly at the edible work of art she has created. I start thinking about Easter desserts and the upcoming baby shower I am planning and my mind locks on the sugar rush of baking.
Spring throws parties and invites us to bake as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Passover. Not every recipe is complicated—in fact many are no-bake or call for ingredients you probably have on hand.
A Thing of Beauty
A colleague of mine is expecting her first child and we are planning a baby shower in her honor. No one questions who will make the cake, only what kind of cake I will make. I was not feeling any love for baby-themed ideas I found on Pinterest and failed to find inspiration from traditional concepts in my baking books. Then this photo of cake nirvana appeared on a friend’s Facebook timeline and I was hooked.
Speckled Malted Coconut Cake is a thing of beauty. It says Spring, Easter and yes, even new baby to me. It’s got a few steps to get to the finished product and you do need some baking savvy, but I promise it will be worth the effort for a special occasion.
Easter means candy aisles are full of the good stuff. Peanut butter eggs are my weakness and they are plentiful this time of year. I’ve never been a fan of any other peanut butter delivery system until I saw this amazing Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie. Most pies like this leave me wanting. The crust is meh, the filling is too runny, too sweet, or there’s too much of it. This is really a tart and it has the right combinations in just the right amounts. No special ingredients are needed and it brings peanut butter deliciousness. Don’t skip the sea salt. Deb Perelman from the Smitten Kitchen hits a home run every time.
If you feel like a trip down memory lane, these S’mores Fudge Bars will take you right back to the campfire tradition of graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallow. I’m not a fan of milk chocolate, but combining it with homemade marshmallow fluff wins me over. Using a quality product does make a difference. I prefer Ghirardelli but for some only Hershey’s will do. When there’s no campfire, this is a great stand in.
If you’re hosting a brunch and need an easy pastry these Cherry Dream Bars take very little time and disappear quickly from a buffet table. I don’t ever use canned pie filling, but this one works. Pinky Swear.
No Bake, Really Good
Desserts that require no baking have come a long way. There was a time when the ingredient list involved pudding mix and Cool Whip. Some still do—and here’s one that is a personal favorite, low calorie and really good. You can use fat-free pudding and whipped topping for even fewer calories. It’s Kraft Foods Angel Lush with pineapple and everyone loves it. It looks stunning when you serve it and if you use a store-bought angel-food cake it takes 15 minutes from start to finish.
If you’re serving a crowd, go for the Lemon Lush—It’s like lemon meringue pie in a pan. If you’re not a lemon fan you can make a chocolate version. It’s a fabulous four-layer dessert and I promise there won’t be any leftovers. You have to bake the crust on this one.
Another favorite is the no-bake cheesecake. There are so many variations on this theme and they are even better with a fruit topping. My home girl Martha starts from scratch and uses a springform pan for her lemony version and I admit the sweetened condensed milk makes it extra creamy. Sheila Lukens has a great No Bake Strawberry Cheesecake that uses a store-bought crust. Both are worthy. Here’s the Crème de menthe version for St. Patrick’s Day.
Big and little kids love Chow Mein Noodle Cookies, sometimes called Haystack Cookies. There are many versions and combinations and no limit to the add-ins you can use for a wonderful blend of sweet and salty. Start with crunchy Chinese noodles, melt chocolate or butterscotch chips (I use a combination) and the rest is up to you.
Sugar All Around Me
I live in a sugar world. I love cooking and the challenge of any new recipe but baking is where my heart lies. I don’t aspire to pastry chef greatness; just the joy of mixing flour butter and sugar—elements from which only good things come. It’s my personal form of meditation.
There is both art and science working with ingredients that demand attention as you measure, sift, melt, spread, mix, bake and chill. It involves patience, precision and chemistry and the reward is a blend of magic, beauty and taste. Welcome to my world.