Strawberry Cardamom Upside Down Cake

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When I tell people about my sister (like the fact that half of my wardrobe is made up of clothes I’ve stolen from her, or that she terrifies me, or that she’s far better at doing her makeup and hair than I can ever be, or that she never calls), they assume she’s older than me.

She’s not.

She’s fifteen. She’s fifteen, but she’s the oldest fifteen you’ll ever come across. I once told her that sometimes I think she acts more grown up than I do. Her response was a knowing smile, a metaphorical pat on the hand, and a superior, “Sometimes I think that too.”

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Usually at the beginning of the summer, we go strawberry picking. By this, I mean I pick strawberries while she complains about the heat and gives me a recap of all the juicy school drama from the past year. It’s something we didn’t get the chance to do this year, meaning this cake was made with frozen store-bought strawberries. Next year, though, I’ll make sure that I make it from a crap ton of fresh lowcountry strawberries instead (so mark your calendar, Hali).

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Thanks to those (frozen) strawberries, this cake is juicy and sweet and needs very little in the way of toppings. In fact, the only addition I’d really suggest is a dollop of whipped cream (because when is that ever not a good idea). The base of the cake itself gets most of its moisture from greek yogurt, a heavy lifting baking ingredient that goes a long way in preventing your cake from drying out without letting it get gummy. The real key, however, is the cardamom. It’s one of my all time favorite spices, in that it’s so unexpected. Earthy and bright, it’s the perfect compliment to those summery berries. And it’s guaranteed to make whoever tries a slice ask “Now what exactly is that flavor…?”

It’s cardamom, hon. You’re welcome.

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But wait, there’s more…

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Espresso Granita with Coconut Whipped Cream

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Since the last time we talked, I have:

Written 40 pages for a paper about pie; survived a week of exams; become a college senior; turned 21 (bring on the booze!); eaten an official Hot Brown in Louisville; and moved to Cleveland! (for the summer).

One thing I have not done? Baked, with the occasional exception (including making an apple pie OUT OF RITZ CRACKERS. It fooled everyone and is now my new party trick). I didn’t even get to make myself a birthday cake, even though I’ve had Alice Medrich’s pistachio cake bookmarked since September.

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And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if this granita counts as baking. It’s so ridiculously easy and turns out as one of the most refreshing things you could enjoy on a hot summer day. I’ve only made granita once before, and haven’t really given it a second thought since until the other day, when a dude started chatting all about his trip to Rome and raving about the espresso granita he had there.  And then, armed with a lingering Starbucks giftcard, I knew I had to make it.

(PS: Unless you have your own espresso maker, the 2 cups worth of espresso you’ll need for this recipe is kinda pricey. I haven’t tried it, but I imagine you could also just use some super strongly brewed coffee instead.)

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This granita is a sweet, cold, bitter mess that remains pretty for all of two seconds before your spoon digs in and that beautifully whipped cream becomes stained brown and runny from the coffee, but you don’t care because it’s basically like you took your favorite latte and turned it into a grown up frozen dessert that has so much more coffee flavor than you could ask of your typical ice cream cone.

That’s the most offensive run on sentence I’ve ever written but I honestly don’t care.

Make this make this make this. It’s way more simple than making your own ice cream and far superior to your morning cup of coffee. Promise.

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Key Lime Curd

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Omg omg omg. If you’ve ever taken a peek at the About page over to your right —> or have picked up on random references throughout my posts, then you’ll know that I go to school at UNC. As in, the very same school that is competing for a national championship tonight.

As you are reading this, I’m probably both hyperventilating and excessively sweating (even if you opened this post as 7am when it was published)(…because I’ve been awake since 5:30 to stake out tickets to watch the game at a bar tonight). The point is, I’m a hot mess. A nervous, bumbling hot mess who is probably going to swear way too much tonight (sorry Mom) and wind up crying either from happiness or devastation.

Which is the main reason I made sure to post today. Because whatever happens tonight, there’s no way I’m going to care AT ALL about anything related to baking for the rest of this week. And this curd is just way too good to keep to myself for that long.

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A little over a year ago, I made lemon curd and fell in love. So I have no idea why it took more than twelve months for me to swap out the lemon for key limes. And now that I have made the switch, I’m kicking myself for waiting this long before letting this beautiful substance into my life.

This stuff is basically spreadable key lime pie. Except it’s a whole lot quicker to make and you don’t even have to bother with a crust. It’s super tangy and packs quite the punch, so a little goes a long way too.

At least, you’ll think that a little goes a long way. Until you start eating a spoonful straight from the fridge every time you enter the kitchen and you realize that once full jar of curd is dwindling alarmingly fast.

Good thing it only takes ten minutes to make some more!

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go resist the urge to throw up from nerves and remind myself that losing tonight would not be a good reason to drop out of school and give up on everything in my life.

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Candied Lemon Tartlets with Greek Yogurt Pastry Cream

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So I’m currently writing a research paper on pie (because college is awesome). Which means that my research heavily involves reading about different kinds of pie. And pie recipes. And whether or not Mississippi Mud Pie actually came from the South (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

Aside from being an awesome excuse to look through cookbooks and pie blogs, this paper is also seriously motivating me to make some pie. Except… I don’t have a pie plate in Chapel Hill. And while that’s a problem that could easily be fixed by a trip to the store, I’m too lazy/unwilling to pay money for that to actually happen.

Which is how these tartlets came to be! Because why make a giant pie when you could make a bunch of cute little individual ones. All it takes is a mini-muffin pan (which I realize you’re probably a lot less likely to have than a pie plate… whoops sorry), and you’re in business.

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The filling for these tarts is a pastry cream made from almond milk, with greek yogurt stirred in at the end for a light, smooth, slightly tangy cream that’s a perfect companion for the citrus. Speaking of… this was my first time candying lemons, and it was 1) super easy and 2) super delicious. Get on this, stat, and be sure to make an extra lemon or two for snacking purposes before, during, and after the consumption of these tarts.

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This recipe is a bit more complicated than most things around here: you’ve got to make a pie crust and bake it… and cook the cream and chill it… and candy the lemon and cool it. So make sure you’ve got a bit of time before you embark (weekend baking, anyone?) or make each component separately on your own time and then assemble them together whenever you’re ready.

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Angel Food Cake with Berries and Cream

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WHOA. So it’s been a month and a half… yikes. I wish I had a good explanation for that, but really the only reason is that things have been crazy busy and the amount of time I’ve had to spend in the kitchen to make anything more than eggs and toast has been zip. But (hopefully) things will start to pick up again soon.

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I thought I knew what angel food cake was. I thought it was that strange dry white cake that you bought at the supermarket and went untouched at the post-church coffee every Sunday.

I was wrong, and I’m willing to bet that you are too. Because real angel food cake, the homemade kind that involves a scary amount of egg whites, isn’t dry or bland at all. It’s as soft as a cloud, springy and light and fluffy, and it’s delicate enough that cutting a slice involves a sharp knife and a bit of care not to smush things.

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Making angel food cake is a little bit quirky. Some warnings: this recipe requires 12 egg whites (!) You can bake this cake with all of those leftover yolks, or just go to town and make a ridiculous amount of ice cream. Either way you can’t go wrong. Also… I highly recommend separating each egg white into a small bowl before adding it to the rest of the whites, because no one wants to crack that twelfth egg and accidentally break the yolk into their bowl and waste a dozen eggs.

You’re also going to need a tube pan with a removable bottom (I’ve heard of making angel food cake in a bundt pan if that’s all you have but no promises), and make sure not to grease it or else the cake won’t be able to rise. Aaaaand after you take it out of the oven, you’ll cool the cake upside down. It won’t fall out, I promise.

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When all is said and done and the weirdness has passed, all that’s left to do is whip some cream and prep your berries. To top my cake, I just used a bag of frozen mixed berries that had defrosted so that they were soft and juicy. If you have fresh fruit or don’t have time to wait for things to defrost, you can just cook your berries in a saucepan for a few minutes until they have released their juices to become soft and spoonable.

It’s spring! Time for cake and cream and berries!

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Skillet Cornmeal Cake

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So I mixed this cake and put it in the oven and then took a phone call.

And by the time I took the cake out of the oven, I had a dream internship for this summer, so basically this cake is magic and you should make it.

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As a girl who grew up in the South, I obviously love cornbread. Duh. And since I already combined it with biscuits, I figured it was time to take another incredibly delicious thing and smash it together with cornbread (in a cast iron skillet, of course, because then you can pretend you live on a farm and are cool enough to wear overalls in public, which, sadly, I am not yet able to do).

The result is this cornmeal cake, which despite being one of the humbler cakes you might pull out of your oven, is also one of the most addicting. Sometimes simple is best.

The approach here is straightforward. You’ll mix together dry ingredients. Beat together wet ones. Then give it all a good stir. It’s intuitive baking– we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. Now for the fun part: the completed batter gets poured into the preheated cast iron skillet with a subtle sizzle that is way too satisfying. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, then no cake for you.

That’s a lie: you can just use a regular cake pan. Just don’t expect a sizzle.

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The cake comes out golden and smelling like sweet corn-y deliciousness…which is exactly what it is. It’s best served with a dollop of yogurt or whipped cream. Alternatively, you can just keep cutting small slivers directly out of the pan while it cools until you realize you’ve eaten half a cake and need to stop.

Your choice.

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Snow Day DIY Butter

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Maybe you got snowed in this weekend. Maybe you didn’t have any butter because you forgot to go to the store, or all of the crazy people in the south who don’t know how to handle snow bought it all right before the flurries hit. Maybe you figured that sitting around watching movies all day and eating anything you can find in your pantry isn’t exactly the best thing in the world healthwise, so you want to give yourself a nice little arm workout. Maybe you have a bunch of extra cream left over from filling cream puffs and don’t know what in the world you’re going to do with it.

Or maybe you just want to be Laura Ingalls Wilder.

No matter the reason, you should make your own butter. Because all it takes is one ingredient (cream) and one utensil (a jar), plus a whole lot of arm movement, and suddenly you have BUTTER (and buttermilk too, but that’s not nearly as exciting).

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What you’re going to do is put some cream in a jar. Screw on the lid. And then just shake it. The cream will begin to thicken and expand, like whipped cream. This is good. Keep going. It’ll get thicker and thicker, and there might not be all that much movement going on in the jar. You might be tempted to stop, but you’re not there yet! Eventually, the cream will “break” and you will have clearly separated liquid and solids. This is your buttermilk and butter. You did it!

One of the best things about making your own butter is that you get to choose what kind of milk you make it out of. By choosing high quality, grass fed cream, you can make butter that is actually full of nutrients and other health benefits. Grass fed butter is five times higher in conjugated linoleic acid (a beneficial fatty acid that supports heart health and can actually aid in weight management) than grain fed butter. It’s also a great source of Vitamin A and K, as well as other antioxidants.

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I once saw this butter making process referred to as 1 + 0 = 2. That is, cream (1) plus exactly nothing else (0) gives you both butter and buttermilk (2). And that’s definitely the kind of mixed up math I can get behind.

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Coconut Oil Cream Puffs

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There are some things that are just straight up fun to make in the kitchen. Meringues, obviously. Swedish cinnamon buns, once you get past all the yeast-induced and “how in the world am I supposed to turn this mound of dough into those pretty twisty spirally things” panic. This 2-ingredient ice cream, because hot damn who knew that a can of evaporated milk could become so dreamy and delicious.

One of my favorite things to make is pate a choux, which is basically just a fancy French name for an eggy dough that starts with water, butter, and flour on the stove top (although this recipe uses coconut oil in place of that traditional butter), and then involves beating in a whole bunch of eggs to form a glossy, dripping batter that’s ready to be piped onto a baking sheet. It’s the dough that’s used to make everything from eclairs to gougeres, but here it’s just spooned straight as is to form the base of one of my favorite desserts, cream puffs.

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If you’ve never made pate a choux before, it might seem a little weird at first. After boiling your water and oil, you dump in the flour all at once, cooking it over heat until you have a smooth mass of dough that, frankly, seems a little too thick and dense to be right. Surely this isn’t going to puff up into lighter-than-air cream puffs, right?

No… but it will after we add the eggs!

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Eggs are beaten in one at a time, waiting just long enough for your dough to get just a little bit smoother and glossier before adding the next one. Eventually you’ll get a rich, slightly yellow batter that’s just spoonable enough to plop onto your baking sheet. Then into the oven, where those mounds will puff up into golden brown clouds as effortlessly as Jennifer Aniston’s hair.

Let them dry out, slice in half, then fill with an assortment of options. I love just plain, slightly sweetened whipped cream, but coconut whipped cream or a pastry cream of your choice are also wonderful. And chopped chocolate will never not be a brilliant idea. Obviously.

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