NEWSFLASH: Caramel cake is amazing. And delicious. And amazing. Seriously though. Up until a short while ago, I had lived my life without knowing about caramel cake and now my life before caramel cake seems so…bland.
Here’s how my dessert world changed: My friend Blair and I were texting about Treat Tuesday, because obviously it’s now a pretty central part of life. And she said, “Why don’t you make caramel cake?” And I said, “Why what’s so special about that? You mean just a caramel flavored cake with some frosting?” And Blair said, “No. Caramel cake. It’s a thing. How have you never had caramel cake?” And even though we were just texting, I could sense her shock/dismay/pity for my tastebuds. Blair raved about this cake, so naturally I had to try it.
And apparently caramel cake really is a thing. When I asked some of my favorite Southerners if they had ever tried caramel cake, they looked at me like I had grown 4 heads and slowly replied “yeeeesssss” like it was a trick question or something. Sorry I grew up in the Northeast and we don’t have caramel cake, guys!! And here’s the thing. Making a cake that you have never had before (like my Derby Pie adventures) can be very tricky, especially when this is a cake that is so well-loved in the South. This can prove especially challenging when you ask people questions about how it’s supposed to taste, the texture it’s supposed to be, etc. and their reply is, “Well, let me tell you about caramel cake. All you really need to know it, it tastes gooooood.” Super helpful.
Well, well, well. Let me tell you. I went ahead and tried to make a caramel cake, using a popular Southern recipe that Blair sent me from a cookbook called “Sweetness Follows” (and go read the story behind this cookbook – precious!!) And it was a snap. Seriously so easy, and the cake turned out perfectly. But let’s get on the honesty train for five seconds and talk about the real star of this recipe, which is the caramel icing. RIDIC GOOD. It’s made with half and half – only in the South, I swear – so I don’t even think I need to say more. Just that wow. This cake is seriously goooooood.
Also, I would like to take this opportunity to express my anger and disbelief at all my Southern friends who allowed me to live my life for so long without caramel cake. It’s just unacceptable. To make up for lost time, I think I’m just going to have to make one of these every week from now until the end of time…
1 package of yellow cake mix
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup half and half
3.5 cups confectioner’s sugar
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly butter and flour a 9×13 in baking pan and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix on a low speed for 1-2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat on medium speed for an additional 3-4 minutes, or until the batter is thick and smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the cake is a golden brown color and the top springs back when gently touched. Let the cake cool on a wire rack, but do not remove from the pan.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add the dark brown sugar and cook until smooth. Make sure to stir constantly. Once the mixture is smooth, slowly pour in the half and half and continue to stir. Remove the saucepan from the heat and mix in the confectioner’s sugar. Whisk until very smooth.
Pour the warm icing over the cake in the pan, and smooth the surface lightly with a spatula. The icing will set once the cake and icing begin to cool completely.
Cut into squares, lift out of the pan, and enjoy!!
Let me also quickly say that if there are any other regional desserts that people are holding out on, I will expect those recipes sent to me ASAP so that my life can become instantly more fulfilled. I don’t ever want to be left in the dark about such a wonderful dessert ever again.
Derby weekend = Derby drinks = Derby fun. Most people will be sticking to mint juleps or straight up bourbon for the festivities this weekend, but guess what? I do what I want and what I want to do is drink dark and stormies from silver cups. You should try it sometime because it’s straight up fantastic. Anyway, I have no idea why this drink is not more popular, because it is delicious. Maybe I just don’t hang out with the right people. Or maybe it’s because it doesn’t have its own awesome designated cup…
Regardless, I first had this drink in a restaurant called “Southern Hospitality” so I suppose I was just destined to be smitten with it. And it’s super easy to make – no crazy ingredients or instructions, just the perfect beverage for a sunny day and a horse race. Or just a sunny day. Or just a day, really.
Dark & Stormy
1 cup ice
3 oz. dark spiced rum (I like Kraken rum the best)
6 oz. ginger beer (Barritt’s is pretty good but really any will do!)
1 lime wedge + lime juice
Put ice in glass. Pour in rum and ginger beer, then add a splash of lime juice, toss in the lime wedge, and stir gently. Then enjoy responsibly, rinse and repeat.
Let’s also be honest about this. Measuring ounces? Not usually. Just pour ingredients to taste – especially true if you are making a big batch of the stuff for a gathering! This weekend is just all about living life on the edge, I tell you. But seriously. Put down the mint for a hot second and get acquainted with this drink. It’s a winner.
Stormy in my cup, not in the sky please,
Oops. Where does the time go? Somehow my “I’ll just write that post tomorrow” turned into a couple of weeks away from blogging. How do days turn into weeks so quickly?? Luckily, a little event this Saturday snapped me back into focus. The Kentucky Derby!
That’s right, the Kentucky Derby is this weekend, and there are not many activities more fun than a day devoted to Lilly Pulitzer, fun hats, day drinks, sunshine, parties, and picking horse winners based on their totally ludicrous names. And obviously, with all the rituals and traditions of Derby Day, they HAD to have a special dessert – Derby Pie! Now, I’m going to be completely honest here. I have never had real, Kentucky-made Derby Pie. So I couldn’t actually tell you a lot about it, except that I read a whole mess of recipes all claiming to be the original Derby Pie, and well, let’s just say it probably would have been easier and faster to take a trip to Kentucky, buy a pie, and eat it myself to try and figure out what it should be like. I mean, most of the recipes couldn’t even agree if the pie should contain pecans or walnuts!! (I went pecans. I’m not a huge fan of walnuts anyway.)
Regardless of what “real” Derby Pie is supposed to taste like or include, I think that this amalgamated version of Derby Pie would probably go over pretty well in Kentucky. It’s full of pecans, and chocolate, and tastes rich enough that you could eat it and probably not care if you just lost your life savings gambling on horses. (That’s a lie. You would still care. At least I would hope that you would still care. And if you wouldn’t, I will save you the gambling and you can just hand over your life savings and I’ll give you two pies of your own. Deal?)
So make this pie for Saturday, especially if you have eaten Derby Pie in Kentucky before, and then you call tell me whether or not this tastes anything like what real Derby Pie tastes like. But let’s be honest. With a Lilly dress on, silver cup in hand, cheering for a horse whose name practically takes longer to say than the time it takes to actually run the race…pie is pie. And it tastes good.
1 9-in pie crust (use your favorite recipe or a boxed pie crust)
1 stick unsalted butter
.5 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup coffee
1 1/4 cups milk chocolate chips
1.5 cups chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 450F.
Lightly butter a fluted pie plate. Roll the pie dough out and press into the pie plate, trimming and then crimping the edges. Sprinkle 1/4 of a cup of chocolate chips on the bottom of the pie crust.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add the corn syrup and the vanilla extract, and beat for 1-2 minutes, or until combined. Slowly pour in the coffee and continue mixing until well-combined.
By hand, mix in the pecans and 1 cup of chocolate chips until they are evenly spread throughout the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust.
Place in the oven and bake at 450F for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350F and continue baking for 45 minutes. The crust will be golden brown, and the top of the pie will be dark brown and look almost caramelized. Be careful not to overbake, as the pie will solidify more once it has been removed from the oven and it has cooled.
To be honest, the next time I make this pie I will probably also add at least a tablespoon or two of bourbon. I mean, this IS a Kentucky pie after all. But I still wouldn’t skip the coffee, because I think it heightens the chocolate flavor.
I have another Derby confession to make: I know the silver cups are for mint juleps, but I do not like mint juleps. Blegh. I do, however, really and truly love those silver cups. So…I fill my classy little cup with dark and stormies. I know, I’m a rebel and a rule breaker. And I love a good dark and stormy. That recipe, coming Friday!
See you at the races,
It’s spring and the sun is shining enough that you don’t look crazy if you wear sunglasses and people are starting to walk outside without their winter coats on but those people are IDIOTS. Do not believe what you see…it is still freezing outside. Yes, cold enough that I actually needed to wear gloves on my way home today, despite the sunny deception in the sky. I am not sure how much longer this cold snap is supposed to last, but I am for sure ready to move on from my winter coat. I am also over tights. In short, spring is technically here according to my calendar but I would like to have the proof.
Anyway, because it should be beautiful outside and we should be sitting on patios, refreshing and light desserts should be out in full force. And that means hello, citrus. So I decided to try and tempt some warmer weather to come out and play by making key lime cheesecake bars. Key lime = Key Largo = Beach Boys = Beach = Warmth. See how that works?? Anyway, despite the fact that I had to eat these bars while shivering inside in front of a space heater, they were still pretty darn good. And they’ll be even better when I finally get to eat them on a patio in some sunshine!!
Key Lime Cheesecake Bars
For the Crust:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup pecans (after measuring, finely chop them in a food processor…)
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
.5 cup granulated sugar
For the bar filling:
4 egg yolks
2 cans (28 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup lime juice (fresh if possible)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the bottom of a 9×13 in baking pan, and then line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang for easy removal.
For the crust: Make sure the graham cracker crumbs and pecans are finely ground. Whisk together with the sugar, then blend in the butter. Once the crust mixture is clumping together, press into the bottom of the prepared pan, also spreading the mixture up approximately one inch on each side of the pan. Bake in the oven until the crust is set and golden brown, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the crust cool. (*Note: If you get distracted like I did when I was making this and you forget the prebake the crust, it’s not the end of the world. It will mostly set if you leave the bars in about 5 minutes longer. But if you prebake, you definitely get better results!)
For the bar filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk under smooth. Add the lime juice and continue whisking until well-combined. Pour the mixture into the cooled crust and use an offset spatula to make sure it is evenly distributed in the pan.
Place in the oven and bake until the filling is set, approximately 15-20 minutes. Once set (the bars will still seem a little jiggly) remove the pan from the oven and let the bars cool in the pan. Once cooled, place the bars in the refrigerator to chill for about an hour. Remove from the fridge, lift the bars out of the pan by the parchment paper, cut into squares, and serve!
So hurray for key lime cheesecake bars. But seriously, if it doesn’t hurry up and warm up soon, I am boycotting this city and moving somewhere warmer. Although I was told today that even Mississippi isn’t as warm as it usually is in April. I repeat, 45F is not April weather. Hashtag sigh. Hashtag crisis. How’s that for global warming???!!
Thinking sunny thoughts,
There comes a time in everyone’s life where they have a lot of egg yolks left over because they made a lot of meringues, and the only reasonable thing to do is to make homemade lemon curd. And then someone asks why you felt obligated to make lemon curd in a pretty substantial quantity, and you explain your very rational line of thought because what else are you going to do with 8 egg yolks, and that person looks at you like you are not rational at all and then you think to yourself oh my goodness am I actually the least fun person ever? And then you contemplate that while you’re eating a spoonful of fresh homemade lemon curd and you’re all, whatever! I made lemon curd! That’s so fun!
And then you realize that this time probably does not come in all that many people’s lives and yikes maybe you really need to get out more and then you eat another spoonful of lemon curd and you thank the Lord that you somehow still have so many good friends.
ANYWAY. I seriously do not know what else you would do with so many leftover egg yolks – whether from meringues or other egg white-only recipes – and making lemon curd is probably the best way to put those yolks to good use. (I mean, yes, you could technically just scramble the egg yolks and eat them…but I am fairly certain that’s nutritionally frowned upon.) I thought that making lemon curd would be tedious, but it’s actually very easy, tastes delicious, doesn’t take a lot of time, and makes a great addition to a hostess gift or to give to people just because.
I whipped up this batch of lemon curd, gave a jar to my parents, and then decided to make some cookies with the rest. I used my coconut drop cookie recipe (here) and substituted lemon curd for the salted caramel center for a very spring-like, refreshing cookie. FUN!!
Homemade Lemon Curd (adapted from Martha Stewart Living magazine December 2012)
8 egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon zest (optional)
.5 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh is best, but in a pinch…!)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1.25 sticks unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon zest (if using), lemon juice, and sugar until combined. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan and place over medium-high heat. Heat the mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon and the temperature registers 160F. This will take approximately 8-10 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the butter (cut into pieces) and salt. Stir until smooth and lump-free. If there are any lumps, strain the mixture until it is completely uniform.
Place in a bowl and cover the top with saran wrap touching the surface of the lemon curd. Chill for about 2 hours and then serve, place in jars, or use in these cookies!
Lemon curd keeps well but must be refrigerated.
So the next time you have egg yolks lying around and you have no idea what to do with them…well, now you can follow my rational line of thinking and do the obvious…make lemon curd. You’re welcome in advance.
Meringues are fluffy-looking little puffs of basically pure sugar. Ok, sugar and egg whites. They’re super cute and super sweet, and they’re really supposed to be mini little things. You know, for that, “it’s tea time but this conversation is getting tres boring and i need a jolt of a sugar rush before I just fall asleep at the table” feeling. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s why the English invented these things. Also probably because the “whipped cream” they put in the middle of everything (like their donuts) is very bland. And by bland I mean not at all sweet, which if you ask me is very deceiving. Anyway, the whipped cream filling probably does a lot to offset the extreme sweetness of meringues.
Buuuut since this is America, and I was in the “everything’s bigger and better here” mindframe, I made large meringues. As in, more than just one or two bites of sugary goodness, and certainly far too large to sandwich 2 together. I don’t know if I mentioned that these are sweet, so let me just reiterate: SO SUGARY. And delicious. Anyway, I definitely suggest making little bite-size meringues and sandwiching them together with some whipped cream. But just know that the larger meringues are just so pretty on a plate that you might want to go ahead and make them large and let everyone suffer from a little (big) sugar rush.
I obviously went for pink here, but you can mix in any gel food coloring you want for these. Or, for an added fun factor, leave them plain white and then mix some food coloring into the whipped cream instead. That would be a fun, unexpected pop of color! Regardless, these do look really pretty as part of a dessert table. And with a kitchen aid, they really don’t take too much time to make, because most of the time you spend making them, they are really just slowly baking in the oven! They also keep really well, so you can make them a day or two ahead of time if needed.
8 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
2.5 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla (I used a clear extract to preserve the whiteness of the meringue)
Preheat the oven to 225F. Prepare cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper.
In a medium metal bowl, beat the egg whites and salt together on low speed. When the mixture starts to form soft peaks, add half of the sugar and continue beating until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
Using a large metal spoon, fold in the remaining sugar and the extract into the mixture.
If you want to color, also fold in gel food coloring at this step, and mix gently until color is evenly distributed.
Pipe the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheets like you are frosting the top of cupcakes. Once all the mixture has been piped, place in the oven and bake for approximately 2 hours. Once they are finished baking, they will be glossy and smooth. Unstick from the cookie sheets (but leave them on there), then turn off the oven and place the meringues back in the oven to cool.
If sandwiching, pipe whipped cream onto the bottom of one meringue and then gently press onto another meringue. Serve and enjoy!
And of course, when you make a recipe with this many egg whites, what do you end up with a lot of? Egg yolks! So stand by for a quick and tasty recipe you can make to use up all the egg yolks you’ll have left over!
In a sugar rush,
Countdown’s on! Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. I think that if I had to pick just one holiday theme to work with for the entire year, it would be Valentine’s Day. I mean…pink. Candy. Cuteness. I am so sold. I could absolutely live off of pink-colored treats for an entire year! I’m not sure anyone else would be as enthusiastic about that, but…
Anyway, Valentine’s Day is fun and pretty and that’s my bottom line. It’s also the perfect day for indulgent treats, and what fits that bill better than red velvet cake? It’s so delicious, and even with no decoration, falls right into the Valentine’s Day theme with a rich red color cake and super white frosting. No brainer. And obviously, no one knows red velvet cake better than the South, so the December 2012 issue of Southern Living’s recipe for red velvet cake with a twist seemed like a perfect treat for Valentine’s Day. (Ok, ok…also great for Christmas. But we’re past that…I wasn’t going to save this winner of a recipe for an entire year!)
This particular red velvet cake is a different one than I usually make because it doesn’t have a fizzing agent…like white vinegar…in the ingredient list. And instead of your standard cream cheese frosting (FYI, I think people who pair red velvet cake with something other than cream cheese frosting are just plain doing it wrong!) – this cake features a coconut cream cheese frosting!! Unexpected but delicious. I also think this cake works well with this particular frosting because it is slightly more dense than your average red velvet cake, which plays perfectly with the frosting texture. That was a really fancy way of saying just make this cake like Southern Living and I did, and life will be good!
After I made this cake, someone who tried it actually just said to me, “Damn girl. That cake. Damn.” And then just walked away. Sooooooo…success. Sometimes full sentences can’t do a cake justice!
Red Velvet Coconut Cream Cake
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon red gel food coloring (I use Americolor super red)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
.5 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
.75 teaspoon baking soda
.25 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups buttermilk
16 oz. cream cheese
1 cup unsalted butter
.5 teaspoon coconut extract
8 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 cups shredded sweetened coconut
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour 3 8-inch round cake pans and set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Gradually add in the 3 eggs, beating until well-blended after each egg. Add in the food coloring and vanilla and continue beating until mixture is smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture, continuing to beat, alternating each flour addition with an addition of buttermilk. Once blended, pour into the prepared baking pans.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes, rotating pans about halfway through. Once a cake tester comes out clean, remove pans from the oven and let them cool for about 10-15 minutes. Once cool, remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack until ready to frost.
In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until very smooth. Add in the confectioner’s sugar, a cup at a time, beating slowly. Once all the sugar is added, beat on a slightly higher speed until thick and fluffy.
Stir in the shredded coconut.
Place about 1-1.5 cups of frosting between each cake layer. Once the cake layers have been formed, spread a thin layer of frosting around all sides of the cake as your crumb layer. Then thickly frost the sides and top of the cake!
To decorate, I lightly dusted the top of the cake with cocoa powder, and then placed white royal icing hearts that I had made previously on top of the cake. Simple but sweet!
And, of course…I needed to make some cupcakes to go with the cake. So I did the same red velvet cake and frosting – but left out the shredded coconut in the frosting. The frosting still had a nice subtle hint of coconut from the extract, but I was obsessed with the way the frosting finished…so smooth! Little red royal icing hearts were all these cupcakes needed to make them the perfect Valentine’s Day treat!!
Red velvet cake just might be the answer to everything,