Sweet Summer

School’s started, and the days are getting shorter, true, but I’m not ready to let go of summer yet.  Fall officially arrived this weekend, but I’m still enjoying the sunshine and spending as much time outside as I can.  And since I can’t walk by blackberry brambles without wanting to pick every fat, juicy berry I see, I’ve taken to carrying empty yogurt containers with me whenever I leave the house.   The berries, they beckon, and I can’t resist.

While the sun is still allowing me to pretend that summer hasn’t left the Pacific Northwest, Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream has become my favorite use for fresh berries.   The ice cream — sweet vanilla with a tantalizing deep-magenta ribbon — tastes like blackberry pie a la mode in frozen form.

To truly enjoy this ice cream, though, I recommend scooping it into homemade Gingersnap Ice Cream Cones.

The crisp texture and warm, spicy flavor of these gingersnap cones adds a whole new dimension to the sweet and tangy flavors mingling in the ice cream.

And, as if discovering an amazing new flavor combination wasn’t enough, this project also taught me that making homemade ice cream cones perfectly complements the making of homemade ice cream.  Ice cream usually requires egg yolks, but no whites.  Whenever we make ice cream, I save the egg whites thinking I’ll use them later.   What really happens is this:  I discover them in the back of the fridge weeks later, chastise myself for being wasteful, and then dump them warily down the kitchen drain.

Ice cream cones have rescued me from this sad ritual;   the flat, round cookies used to make cones include egg whites.  Now that I know this, it seems almost crazy not to make ice cream cones to go along with freshly churned ice cream.

Making cones involves wrapping the oven-hot cookies around a conical shape;  this is relatively simple to master after a bit of practice and, to be honest, a few burned fingertips.

At first I tried wrapping the cookies around a cone-shaped form from a skein of yarn, but since it wasn’t pointy on the tip, it made sealing the ends difficult (and you definitely want the ends sealed to prevent the ice cream from dripping out the bottom!).  I popped a cream horn mold on the top of the form, and this did the trick.

Of course manufacturers sell waffle cone makers and cone forms, but you don’t need to spend a lot of money on special equipment to make your own ice cream cones.  I’ve made them three times already with my cobbled-together form, so I should know.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, the sun’s shining and the berries are calling.   If I keep making ice cream, maybe summer will stick around for a while yet.

Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

Adapted from The Perfect ScoopMakes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Ice Cream Base
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blackberry Swirl
1 1/4 cups blackberries, mashed and strained
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon vodka

Pour the cream in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.  Set aside.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Set aside.

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, and then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.   Pour the mixture through the strainer into the cream and stir.  Add the vanilla and stir until cool over an ice bath.  Chill for several hours in the refrigerator.

To prepare the swirl, mix the strained blackberry juice with sugar, lemon juice, and vodka.  Chill until ready to use.

Freeze ice cream base in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  As you remove it from the machine, layer it in the container with spoonfuls of the chilled blackberry mixture (if pour the blackberry mixture into the churn while it’s still mixing, as I did one time, you will end up blackberry ice cream. Not saying this is a bad thing, but you won’t have vanilla ice cream with a berry swirl if you do it this way).

Gingersnap Ice Cream Cones

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop.  Makes 16 cones.

1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/3 cups flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine the egg whites, sugar, and molasses in a small bowl.  Stir in the salt, spices, and half of the flour. Mix in the melted butter, and then stir in the rest of the flour until smooth.

Draw two 6-inch diameter circles on a piece of parchment paper.  Turn the paper pencil-side down on a baking sheet.   Use the back of a spoon or a small spatula to spread 2 level tablespoons of batter inside each circle, doing your best to make your circles smooth and even.

Bake one sheet (2 cones) at a time, until the cookies are golden brown (some light spots are okay), about 10 to 15 minutes.

Pull the sheet out of the oven and run a thin metal spatula under a circle to loosen the edges.   Transfer one cookie to a flat surface and quickly roll it around the cone shaped mold.  Press the seam firmly against the counter or cutting board to close the sides of the cone, and then pinch the bottom together to seal the point at the bottom. Let the cone cool slightly on the mold until it keeps its shape, and then let it cool completely in a tall glass. Repeat with the second cookie (if the cookie has cooled too much to roll, return the sheet to the oven for a minute).

Continue to bake and roll cones with the remaining batter.

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Dragonfly Cupcakes

When I agreed to bake cupcakes for a local fundraiser, I didn’t plan to get fancy.  Since I had also offered to help my friend Peg decorate four orca cakes (yes, four, sort of like this) for a birthday party the same weekend, I felt pretty sure I wouldn’t be up for another big project.

Here’s what happened, though.  I had so much fun working with Peg on Friday night that, when Saturday arrived, I felt inspired to try something new.

As my chocolate cupcakes baked, I browsed through Planet Cake, an intimidating book that includes instructions for cakes shaped like record players, spike-heeled boots, and meat-loaded grills. 

When I found the page with the dragonfly cupcakes, though, I knew I’d picked up the right book.  I’ve decorated fondant-topped cupcakes before, and these looked pretty simple.   The book suggests using a heart cookie cutter for shaping wings and  rolling seven small balls for insect’s body.  Florist wire or mung bean noodles add a finishing touch as antennae.  These cupcakes, I knew, I could  pull off in a couple of hours with materials I already had on hand.

After I mixed up a batch of marshmallow fondant,  I used my smallest heart-shaped cutter to create some white hearts to set aside for wings.  As I finished cutting the 48th heart–two hearts for each of my 24 cupcakes–I realized that I wouldn’t have enough fondant to finish the project.

I mixed up a second batch of fondant, colored it pale purple, and cut 3-inch rounds to top each cupcake.  I smoothed the lavender rounds onto thinly frosted cupcakes with the palm of my hand and gently massaged the edges toward the liners with my finger tips.

Once I finished topping the cupcakes, I colored a portion of the fondant deep purple for the dragonfly bodies.  Shaping and applying seven tiny balls each to 24 cupcakes seemed a bit tedious;  I decided three shapes would suffice — a round head, and oval thorax, and a narrow tapered cone to finish the abdomen.  A dab of water, brushed on with a small paintbrush, helped the segments stick to the fondant on the cupcakes.

Once I started piecing dragonflies, I realized that my 1 3/4-inch heart cutter had produced wings far too large to fit on the cupcakes. Rather than cutting the hearts in half and laying them neatly on the cupcakes as wings, I ended up trimming off just a portion of each half.

This worked well, but wasted a great deal of fondant.   If I had figured this out beforehand, I could have formed the wings earlier and used the scraps to top the cupcakes, thereby saving me the trouble of making an extra batch of fondant.

I actually like the look of the longer, narrower wings I ended up with better than the shorter-squat ones pictured in the book, but I might look for a tiny heart cutter for simplicity’s sake for the next time around.

I didn’t have florist wire or mung bean noodles on hand, but I did have some thin rice noodles.  These, topped with tiny balls of fondant, worked perfectly for antennae.

I ended up spending more time that I had planned, mostly because of the extra effort imposed by the wings, but all in all, these came together pretty quickly for such cute little cupcakes.

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to try working with fondant, these would make a great starting place.  Unless you’re like Peg, of course, who isn’t afraid to bust out four killer whale cakes on her first try.

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The Taste of Summer

blackberry-pie-2

One single blackberry, sun-warm and sweet on my tongue, can instantly transport me back to the summer-time of my childhood.

Back then, I spent  most of my summer days in the neighborhood pool down the street from my parents’ house.  Blackberry brambles almost completely surrounded the club, and whenever my friends and I got hungry, we’d snack on fat, juicy berries until our hands and faces turned deep purple.  When we’d eaten our fill, we’d jump back in the pool to wash away the mess, which surely drove the pool manager crazy.

On summer evenings, after my family had finished eating dinner, we’d often tromp back down the street with empty coffee cans to fill.   Since the low hanging fruit had been picked over all day long, my dad always managed to pick the most, but we all did our share.

The next day, my mom would turn the berries that we hadn’t gotten round to to eating yet into pie.  More often than not, I got to help help her.

I’d stand on a chair tracing shapes into flour scattered on the kitchen counter while my mom, wielding her wooden rolling pin, flattened a disk of dough into a perfect moon.  She’d nestle the round of pastry into a pie dish, and then we’d mound it high with berries. I couldn’t resist eating a few as we worked, grainy as they were from the white lumps of tapioca and sugar we’d mixed in with them.

My mom pretended not to notice the stolen berries as she made a few quick rolls with the pin, creating another crust to top the pie.  She’d seal the edges with a fork, trim them, and then her fingers magically transformed those rough edges into waves flowing smoothly around the outside of the dish, a skill that would take years for my little fingers to learn.

The  dough trimmings were mine, and I’d turn them into cinnamon-sugar pies that my mom baked for me in the hot oven.  Mostly, though, I’d gobble the scraps up raw, something my daughters now love to do.

When my mom pulled a steaming pie from the oven, bubbling thickly with crimson juices, none of us could wait for a giant slice topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Dinnertime always seemed so far away, and then, of course, we had to eat enough of our meal before we could eat pie.  My dad, years later, admitted that he agreed with us kids when we begged to eat dessert first.

When we finally polished off the pie,  we’d look longingly at the empty dish, scraped nearly clean of  thick fruity syrup and flaky crumbs.  My mom, like clockwork, would tell us, “Go pick me another can-full of berries so I can make you another pie.”

Off we’d go.

blackberry pie-3

Blackberry Pie

This recipe’s a variation of my mom’s.  Instead of using granulated sugar, I sweeten the pie with maple syrup.  If you prefer to use sugar, omit the flour from the filling.

Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks butter, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water, strained

Filling
5 cups blackberries
1 to 1 1/2 cups maple syrup, depending on the sweetness of the berries
1/4 cup tapioca
2 to 3 tablespoon all-purpose flour, depending on how much maple syrup you use
1 lemon, zested
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Whirl flour, powdered sugar, and salt in food processor with the blade attachment.  Add slices from one stick of butter and whirl until no chunks remain.  Add remaining slices and whirl briefly to chop them up slightly.  Turn food processor on again and quickly begin drizzling ice water through the feed tube, stopping before the dough comes together.  Pinch some crumbs together between your fingers;  if they don’t stick together, add a bit more water and whirl briefly.  Turn the mixture out onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to help you bring the dough together;  fold the edges of the dough toward the center and press down until it holds together, taking care not to overwork the dough.  Divide it in half and shape into two flat disks wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

While the dough chills, preheat oven to 425º F.   Combine blackberries with maple syrup, tapioca, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt.  Let stand for about 15 minutes.

Roll out one of the dough rounds into a 13- to 14-inch circle.  Transfer it carefully to a 10-inch pie dish.  Roll out remaining round into a 13- to 14-inch circle.  Fill bottom crust with the berry mixture.  Brush the overhanging edge with cold water, cover with the top crust, and seal gently by pressing down on the edge with the bottom of a fork.  Trim overhanging dough with a knife and flute the edge with your fingers, if desired.  Cut steam vents in the top.

Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any overflowing juices. Bake for 30 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven.  Reduce heat to 350º F and continue baking for 30 to 45 minutes, until juices bubble thickly through the vents and the crust is golden brown (if the top browns too quickly, slip a baking sheet on the top rack of the oven to diffuse the heat).  Allow to cool completely before slicing.  For a more solid slices, wait until the next day to serve.

blackberry pie-4
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Milk and Cookies

When Eliza said, “I was just thinking, Mama,” the other day, I braced myself.   Usually outlandish or extreme requests follow this phrase.  For example, “I was just thinking, Mama,  that maybe we could go to Disneyland next weekend,” or “I was just thinking, Mama, that maybe we could move to California and buy a house next door to Grandma and Grandpa.”

So when she finished her most recent, “I was just thinking, Mama,” with “that maybe we could have milk and cookies when I get home from school this year,” instinctively, I felt like I should say no.

I could tell she was pretty sure I was going to say no, too, by the way she causally worked in a literary reference:  “In books, kids always have milk and cookies when they get home from school.  Remember in Too Much TV?  That’s what the Berenstain Bears eat when they get home.”

When pressed, she couldn’t actually name another book that featured milk and cookies as an after school snack, but she went on to describe how the two of us would sit at the kitchen table sipping cool milk and nibbling sweet cookies as she filled me in on the details of second grade.

The girl, at seven, is good.

School started school this week, and I made her cookies.  Little lemon-rosemary pine nut shortbread cookies.

They probably weren’t what she had in mind when she asked for cookies, but she requested cookies with “crunched up nuts” in them.  I’m guessing she was thinking about the Chocolate Pecan Cookies I made recently, but I had just swiped some rosemary from the parking lot at my school, so I felt compelled to make these herb-spiked cookies instead.    Since they incorporate nuts and citrus and herbs, I could almost pretend they were healthy.

The rosemary adds a subtle savory note behind the sweetness of shortbread full of intense lemon flavor and pine nut richness.  And when you hit on one of those salt crystal nestled inside, this crazy flavor explosion makes you need to eat more.

We can’t stop eating them.  It’s a good thing they’re small.

For this week, anyway, I’m feeling a bit like June Cleaver.

Lemon-Rosemary Pine Nut Shortbread

Adapted from Elsa Cleland’s recipe.  Makes 4 to 5 dozen small cookies.

1 /2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pine nuts, finely ground
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 lemon, zested
1 1/4 cups flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all the ingredients except the flour.  Beat until well combined.  Mix in flour, stirring until the dough comes together.

Knead the mixture together gently and flatten it into a large disk.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Roll out dough to 1/3-inch thickness,  and then cut shapes with small cutters.  Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Re-roll scraps to shape more cookies.

Alternatively, when finished mixing the dough, roll it into three 1-inch diameter cylinders.  Wrap dough in parchment and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Cut logs into 1/3-inch coins and arrange them on parchment lined cookie sheets.

Bake cookies for 12-15 minutes, until they just start to brown.  Transfer to cooling racks immediately.

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