Sunday, March 14, 2010

Celebrate Spring!

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Sunshine, flowers, longer days—can you tell we're overjoyed that spring is here? Another cause for delight: the season's many reasons for baking. From Easter (just around the corner!) through graduations and showers, we're looking forward to playing in the kitchen and sharing with friends and families. By the way, if there's a wedding on your calendar, we have an extra-special treat for you in this newsletter.

Easter Sweets

Easter Bunny Cake

Easter falls on April 4 this year, which means you have just enough time to create some family-pleasing treats. Quickest, easiest, and cutest? These Easter Surprise Cupcakes. Shhh: Don't tell the kids there's a small chocolate egg hidden inside each one!

Impress the in-laws with this easier-than-it-looks Easter Basket Cake, a classic yellow layer cake frosted with delicious buttercream and basket-striped with strawberry glaze. In the center of the "basket": a mound of fresh strawberries from your local farmer's market or even your garden!

Little kids will love helping to decorate our Easter Bunny Cake with candies, poster board ears, and wooden skewers (for the whiskers, of course!). And older kids can practice their frosting skills. The only special equipment you'll need is an ovenproof bowl and a pastry bag with a star tip.

Thanks, Mom!

Spring Flower Cupcakes

As we know, every day is Mother's Day. But Mom's own day—May 9 this year—is the perfect occasion to show your love for her and your love of baking. Why not celebrate the day with a garden-themed lunch—outdoors, if the weather cooperates? Set casual bouquets around the table in low vases (the better to see and chat with guests), and serve charmingly decorated Flower Cupcakes and a Mother's Day Cookie Bouquet on a doily-lined tray. For a glorious finale, pick up some pastel-colored ice-cream cones and "plant" these whimsical Flower Pot Cupcakes. Use a muffin tin to hold them upright, and decorate with crushed-chocolate-wafer "soil" and a single flower in each baked cupcake.

And if you're the mom being fêted, slip a hint to your kids that you'd enjoy our Can't Get Enough Chocolate-Almond Bars. A winning entry in the Idaho State Fair, this delicious treat has special Mother's Day significance: the recipe was created by a mother-and-son team!

Dads and Grads

Mini Cherry Pies

What do Father's Day and graduations have in common? Parties, families, and big appetites! Keep the baking easy and traditional, and look for recipes that multiply well. Our Choco-Nut Sheet Cake serves 24, looks beautiful, and can be carried to a party in its pan. For a smaller gathering of chocolate lovers, whip up a batch of Never-Fail Fudge: no cooking required, so it's a great choice for a warm late-spring day.

Chocolate isn't the only flavor that says "party time." Now that berries and cherries are coming into their peak, showcase them in Blueberry Almond Squares, a delicious bar-cookie variation, or Peach-Blueberry Crumble, yummy served warm with vanilla ice cream. Or enjoy the looks of delight when you serve each guest his or her own Mini Cherry Pie. Our recipe makes six to eight small pies; substitute frozen cherries if fresh cherries aren't yet in the markets.

Shower Power

Ricotta Fruit Tartlets

Hosting a wedding or baby shower is a beautiful act of generosity and love. The focus should, of course, be on the bride- or mother-to-be, but the dessert table plays an important supporting role. Whether you're doing it all yourself or organizing a potluck, keep the choices light and fresh, with an emphasis on seasonal fruits.

Fresh Fruit Tartlets, for example, look elegant thanks to their shiny glaze—but you can keep prep time to a minimum by using store-bought tartlet crusts. If you have more time on your hands, or are a more experienced baker who prefers to make everything from scratch, try our Ricotta Fruit Tartlets, made with cream-cheese pastry, a lightly sweetened ricotta-cheese filling, and fresh seasonal fruit topped with apricot glaze.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Strawberry and rhubarb are a classic pairing in baked desserts; their mingled flavors and textures evoke the joys of spring. This Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler, developed for us by San Francisco pastry chef Emily Luchetti, is the perfect showcase for these delicious fruits; it's best served warm with a dollop of crème fraiche or softly whipped cream. Strawberries are also the focus of another of Emily's specialties, Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberries. Panna cotta—literally "cooked cream"—is a classic Italian dessert made with cream, milk, and gelatin; this version starts with a whole vanilla bean and is served in individual ramekins or custard cups.

If you've hosted a successful wedding shower, perhaps you're tempted to try the main event: baking a wedding cake. Yes, amateurs can and do bake wedding cakes! Just read the profile of Ann Scranton to learn how one talented home baker got started.

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