Our First Garden

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

This summer marked the planting of our first garden.  As a long-time city girl, I never envisioned that I’d be planting a garden, nurturing the plants, and feasting on the bounty.  However, living and eating in both country and city over the years has changed my vision of how we cook and eat.  Both my fiancé and I wanted to grow our own organic produce and eat food that we oversaw the production of.

And it was fun!  Each day, we inspected the garden, marveling at new growth and daily changes.  We grew cucumbers, green peppers, two varieties of tomatoes, basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, corn, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, watermelon, and cantaloupe.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

During our first gardening adventure, we also learned many lessons.  We called our first garden “The Experiment” and wanted this experience to be one that both yielded delicious fruits and vegetables but also lessons on what we should do differently next year.  With the heavy rains that we’ve had in our region of the country, our gardening season is quickly rolling to a close, and we’re now reflecting on what lessons and successes we had this year.  I wanted to share our gardening reflections of the year.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

Research plant yields and plant what you need.  We were incredibly enthusiastic about our garden, and we purchased and planted numerous organic plants and seeds.  The results: In some cases, we grew too much!  We had more cucumbers, for example, than we could reasonably eat and give away.  Our little family can only consume so many cucumber laden salads and sandwiches.  Next year, we’re going to just plant what we need with some extra to share.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

Berries grow together.  We learned that if you plan to plant berries, plant multiple plants together.  We grew blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.  We had one raspberry bush and two blueberry bushes, and we found the pollinating works best when multiple bushes are grouped together for cross-pollination.  In other words, berry bushes like to grow with friends.  With only two blueberry bushes and one raspberry bush, we lacked the advantage of cross-pollinating.  Next year, we plan to add some more bushes.


Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

Share the bounty.  We didn’t grow all the vegetables we love.  In our first year of gardening, for example, we decided to avoid root vegetables.  We wanted to start with produce that we could see and easily gauge the growth of.  We’re fortunate that our neighbors garden as well, and we found that sharing the bounty was a big part of having a great gardening year.  We gave neighbors cucumbers, watermelon, strawberries, and tomatoes, and in return, we receiving zucchini, squash, carrots, and other tomato varieties.  Gardening is only made better with a communal approach, and both the sharing and receiving of vegetables and fruits made this year even better.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

Plant some flowers.  Flowers are beautiful and add color to the garden.  In the case of marigolds, they have an added benefit.  The pungent scent of marigolds detract from animal presence in the garden.  In our area, there’s an abundance of deer, and deer love some good garden munchies.  We, like our neighbors, planted marigolds near and around the garden area, and we found no evidence of animal meandering in our garden.  Plus, marigold seed is incredibly inexpensive.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

Love the bees.  We learned quickly not to do anything in the pursuit of insect elimination that would detract from bees hanging out in our garden.  We learned that our garden needed to be an area frequently visited by bees.  Initially, we applied a natural Chrysanthemum solution to detract from the other insects and realized that we were chasing away the bees.  Without bees, your garden is doing to be disappointing in terms of its vegetable and fruit yield.  We quickly changed our ways.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

Plants need space.  We scoffed at the notion that we should plant various plants with certain space between them.  Space was a premium in the way we chose to organize our garden.  So, we planted as we chose, casting aside this advice.  While this served us well in some cases, it didn’t in others.  For example, our melons should have had more space, and we wonder if perhaps our melons would have grown larger if greater space had been given.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

Above all, have fun!  Our first garden was a team effort that we both enjoyed.  Sure, some of first watermelons were the size of baseballs, but we remained positive and diligent in nurturing our garden.  This was an experiment in learning, and we took any plunders in stride.  We enjoyed watching the growth and learning what to do differently next year.  It was a project that we gained perspective from, with lots of joy and frustrations along the way.  Planting and maintaining was fun for us, and we plan to do this year after year, learning lessons along the way.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

When I watched the movement to grow your own food grow, I always thought it was a nice idea.  I made conscious efforts to seek out more farmer’s markets and local sources for my produce, but I admit that I always discounted the idea of growing my own food.  Until this summer.  I found that the garden was incredibly rewarding, and there was something incredibly satisfying about putting my own homegrown basil in my pesto, my own watermelon on my tongue.  It’s been an incredible experience.

Despite the fact that we live in a more rural area, we executed our garden in a more urban farm style.  We used lots of containers and only small areas of the yard for planting.  So, whether you live in an area where cows and deer are aplenty or a concrete jungle, you, too, can grow your food and taste the bounty of your nurturing in every bite.  I recommend this for anyone, whether you’re growing in the yard or in pots on the porch.  Growing your food is a rewarding project that is fun and a better alternative to the grocery.  A garden allows you to connect your food from seed to salad, and there’s something beautiful in that process that is missed when you grab the cellophane version at the corner market.

Our Garden // Flour and Fancy

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Vanilla Macarons

Vanilla Macarons // Flour and Fancy


Macarons remain on my mind and in my oven.

After making my Chocolate Hazelnut Macarons, I went on a macaron making spree.  Macarons here.  Macarons there.  Macarons everywhere.  When I overcome a baking challenge and produce a perfect recipe, I find myself baking it over and over in sweet celebration.  And I’m continuing the celebration here with another macaron recipe: Vanilla Macarons.

Everyone needs a recipe for both chocolate and vanilla macarons in their kitchen arsenal.

Vanilla Macarons // Flour and Fancy

These vanilla macarons taste like a light, fluffy vanilla cookie.  Their texture is utter perfection.  Like a vanilla cloud in your mouth.

One other technique I’ve learned in my macaron baking journey: Refrigeration yields amazing results.  After baking a batch, placing them in the refrigerator for three or four days is the perfect time frame for a well textured macaron.  I discovered this because I made a batch but didn’t devour them for a few days afterword.  (Hard to believe, I know.)  And when I did finally get around to devouring them, I found that extended refrigeration really improved them significantly.

Vanilla Macarons // Flour and Fancy

The filling used here is a simple vanilla buttercream.  Everything about this macaron is a celebration of simplicity.  The taste notes are not highly dynamic, but their flare comes from the familiar flavors, that transportation to childhood when you were nibbling on a Vienna Finger with a glass of milk.  This is the adult version of that afternoon snack.

If you’d like to add a bolder flavor to your macarons, I recommend filling with raspberry jam or chocolate hazelnut spread instead of the vanilla buttercream I used.  Both options are delicious choices when paired with the vanilla cookie.

Vanilla Macarons // Flour and Fancy

Vanilla Macarons
Makes 12 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 drop copper gel-based food coloring
  • 1/2 vanilla bean – seeds only

Method

  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line one baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Using your food processor, combine almond meal and sugar.  Pulse several times to aerate.  Process until very fine and combined.  Once complete, pour through a flour sifter in a medium bowl.  Set aside.
  3. Using your standing mixer, place the egg whites in a bowl and begin your meringue.  Using your whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until the egg whites are foamy and fairly clear.  This should take 30 to 45 seconds.  Add vanilla bean seeds and food coloring and beat on a higher setting for one minute.  Continue to beat at the same setting while adding the granulated sugar slowly.  The whites will become shiny, and the mixture will stiffen and form soft peaks.  This should take around one minute.  Do not overheat.
  4. Fold the almond meal and sugar mixture into the meringue.  Mix until just combined.  Do not over mix.  This will cause the merge to deflate.  The mix should look like cake batter.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag.  (If you don’t have a pastry bag, no problem!  Simply pour the mixture into a gallon-size plastic storage bag and cut a small hole in one of the corners.  Now you have your own improvised pastry bag!)
  6. On your lined baking sheet, pipe out one inch rounds no less than one inch apart.  Should have about 24 rounds.  Allow the baking sheets to sit on the counter for 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature.  Tap the baking sheet on the counter three times before baking to release air bubbles.
  7. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating after seven minutes.  Then, transfer the sheet to a cooking rack and allow to cool completely, approximately 25 minutes.
  8. Once the macarons have cooked, begin pairing them together based on appearance.  Pick cookies that compliment each other in size and shape.  Use any filling that you enjoy.  Place a dime-sized portion of the filling on one cookie and press together.  (You can use a pastry bag for this or a small spoon.  I recommend a pastry bag for the best presentation.)  Be gentle.  Don’t allow the filling to ooze out of the sides.
  9. Place you completed macarons in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 to 36 hours before serving for further cooking and to allow them to “settle.”  I recommend allowing them to remain the refrigerator for three or four days before serving, but the 24 to 36 hour rule is essential.  After refrigeration, devour and savor!

Note: For the filling, I used a simple vanilla buttercream.  Other delicious options include whipped chocolate hazelnut spread or peanut butter or your favorite jam.  I found these to be delightful with a raspberry jam filling.

 

 

 

Berry Bounty Smoothies

Berry Bounty Smoothies // Flour and Fancy

We’ve been spending lots of time in our garden this summer.  If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ve been seeing lots of green and a variety of colored, lush bounty.  This is our first year as urban farmers, and we’re having so much fun!  And with all the fresh, organic produce filling our freezer and refrigerator, I’ve been making more smoothie concoctions than I ever thought possible.  (Cucumbers in a smoothie?  Yum!)

We planted and have grown a number of berries, including blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.  In the field behind our home, blackberries grow wild along the treelines on either side, and it’s been a longstanding tradition for us to gather them in mass, filling the freezer with bags of dark purple.  Last year, I was baking pies mostly with these beautiful berries, but this year, I’m focusing on making cool, refreshing drinks with them instead.

blueberries

With four different types of berries in my freezer, the decision was simple – use them all!  And the combination of these four berries with almond milk is a treat not to be missed.  This smoothie has a strong fruity flavor not overpowered by the inclusion of almond milk.  I’ve found in other smoothies I’ve sipped that the flavor of the fruit is overpowered by the creaminess of the milk included, making it more like a milkshake than a smoothie.

In this smoothie, however, it’s all about the fruit.

Berry Bounty Smoothies // Flour and Fancy

Aside from creating fun drinks from my seemingly endless stream of berries, I like making my own smoothies because I get to control the amount of sugar in them.  When you drop by your favorite cafe to get a cool smoothie, you’re likely taking in more than 30 grams of added sugar.  However, when you make your own, you get to make that decision for yourself.  Personally, I enjoy my smoothies with just a bit of honey and allowing the fruit to add the rest of the sweetness.  Fruit is naturally sweet, and I like it served that way.

Berry Bounty Smoothies // Flour and Fancy

Whether you get your fruit from the garden, the farmer’s market, or the grocery, I highly recommend organic produce.  My argument doesn’t center around pesticides or health.  I make this statement purely on the basis of taste.  Organic fruit just tastes better.  Try a conventionally grown strawberry and an organic strawberry.  That’s all the proof you need of what adds up to a better, sweeter berry.  And this smoothie is far more flavorful and sweet with organic fruit.  You’ll need far less sweetener when you opt for organic.

Enjoy my berry bounty smoothies for two – a sweet and refreshing celebration of the four best summer berries all in one glass!

Berry Bounty Smoothies // Flour and Fancy

Berry Bounty Smoothies
Makes two smoothies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup frozen blackberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds
  • 1 cup chilled almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Method

  1. Combine all the ingredients in your blender.  Pulse until fully combined and smooth.  Use a spatula to redistribute the mixture as necessary for a perfect blend.
  2. Serve in chilled glasses with a  straw and a smile.

 

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Macarons

Chocolate Hazelnut French Macaroons // Flour and Fancy

My wedding is coming up soon.  In early September, I’ll be marrying a man who, in my book, is the greatest thing since the standing mixer.  Naturally, this has conjured lots of thoughts for me – love, longevity, partnership.  And food.

In planning our small and very intimate wedding, my Mom and I teamed up for a our small “let’s celebrate with food and bubbly!” moment after the ceremony, and my mind keeps wandering back to one of my favorite dessert items: macarons.  I adore this small dessert, packing with sweet flavor in a light, fluffy cookie unlike any other.

Ultimately, we didn’t elect macarons for the big day (thanks a lot, bakery that didn’t call us back!), but the planning certainly conjured in me a longing to make them myself.  Having seen and devoured them in bakeries time and time again, I wondered why they were able to bring a price of up to $3.00 each.  Sure, they are delicious, but $1.50 per bite delicious?  Why, oh why?

Why?  Because they require skill to make.  We can all admit that whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies is not in itself a task demanding a great deal of skill.  However, macarons take practice.  They require a tolerance for failure.  A try-and-try-again attitude.  My first batch of these French delicacies was a disaster.  Sure, they tasted great, but the shapes ranged from oval to square.  See, the taste isn’t hard to master – it’s the presentation.

Chocolate Hazelnut French Macaroons // Flour and Fancy

Nonetheless, my “little engine that could” approach to these desserts paid off, and after many experiments, I finally had the perfect macaron.

There are a few rules to making macarons, some of which I learned myself and some that I discovered in my reading:

  • Don’t get frustrated.  Macarons are temperamental.  If your first batch doesn’t yield picture perfect results, eat them anyway and try again.
  • Use the convection setting on your oven to help the cookies dry out evenly and not crumble.
  • Be slow and deliberate.  I, as a baker, like to rush to the finish line, but with these, you must be slow and deliberate.  Make macarons with a glass of wine and relax.  Enjoy the process as much as the result.
  • Make macarons on a sunny, warm day.  Oddly enough, a rainy day yields ugly macarons.

I think we all love an easy to the finish line recipe to allow us to flex our baking muscles in victory, but we also need those more difficult, practice-based recipes that really test our skills and yield a dessert that we can feel truly accomplished in making.

I encourage you to make your own macarons – even if it takes a few tries – and skip the bakery.  You can do it, kitchen queen.

Chocolate Hazelnut French Macaroons // Flour and Fancy

Chocolate Hazelnut Macarons
Makes 12 cookies with chocolate hazelnut filling

Ingredients

Macarons

  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dutch processing cocoa powder
  • 2 egg whites
  • A pinch of fine sea salt
  • A pinch of cream of tartar

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line one baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Using your food processor, combine almond meal, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.  Pulse several times to mix and aerate.  Process until very fine and combined.  Once complete, pour through a flour sifter in a medium bowl.  Set aside.
  3. Using your standing mixer, place the egg whites in the bowl and begin your meringue.  Using your whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until the egg whites are foamy and fairly clear.  This should take 30 to 45 seconds.  Add cream of tartar and beat on a higher setting for one minute.  The egg whites should be white in color.  Continue to beat at the same setting while adding the granulated sugar slowly.  The whites will become shiny, and the mixture will stiffen and form soft peaks.  This should take around one minute.  Do not over beat.
  4. Fold the almond meal and sugar mixture into the meringue.  Mix until just combined.  Do not over mix.  This will cause the meringue to deflate.  The mix should look like cake batter.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag.  (If you don’t have a pastry bag, no problem!  Simply pour the mixture into a gallon-size plastic storage bag and cut a small hole in one of the corners.  Now you have your own improvised pastry bag!)
  6. On your lined baking sheet, pipe out one inch rounds no less than one inch apart.  Should have about 24 rounds.  Allow the baking sheets to sit on the counter for 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature.  Tap the baking sheet on the counter three times before baking to release air bubbles.
  7. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating after seven minutes.  Then, transfer the sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely, approximately 25 minutes.
  8. While your macarons are cooling, make the filling by combining the melted butter, heavy cream, and chocolate hazelnut spread in a medium bowl.  Mix until fully combined.  Store in the refrigerator to allow to firm.  The filling will be ready for spreading after approximately 25 minutes.
  9. Once the macarons have cooled, begin pairing them together based on appearance.  Pick cookies that compliment each other in size and shape.  Place a dime-sized portion of the filling on one cookie and press the two together.  (You can use your pastry bag for this or a small spoon.  I recommend a pastry bag for the best presentation.)  Be gentle.  Don’t allow the filling to ooze out the sides.
  10. Place your completed macarons in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 to 36 hours before serving for further cooling and to allow them to “settle.”  After this period has elapsed, devour your macarons and store any leftovers (as if!) in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Hazelnut French Macaroons // Flour and Fancy

Honeydew + Raspberry Smoothie Pops

Honeydew + Raspberry Smoothie Pops // Flour and Fancy

Summer is here, folks.

I doubt that’s any sort of news flash for you.  Your T-shirt has already begun to stick to your body; the beach is beckoning your name.  Hello, summer.  We missed you.  Kind of.

I’m always looking for new ways to cool off during the hot Virginia summer days in the 80 and 90 degree range.  One of my favorites: pops!  They are cool, refreshing, fruity, and for me, they make a great way to use sliced melon and berries.

Honeydew + Melon Smoothie Pops // Flour and Fancy

We’ve been busy, busy in the garden over the past few weeks, and one of my favorite crops from our urban farm is the raspberries.  Juicy, sweet – in a word, perfect.  I eagerly awaited the debut of the berries, and now, they’re here and ready for cool classics and new recipes.  Muffins, smoothies, pops – I use berries in all my kitchen adventures.

The recipe I’m featuring today is one of my summer favorites.  It’s essentially a smoothie on a stick.  Made up of whole milk, fresh melon and berries, and sugar, it’s delicious, refreshing, and packed with nutrients and some protein.  Sure, it has sugar, but the amount is far less than you would find in a supermarket popsicle or a smoothie from your favorite drink spot.  My fella even loves these, and he is not a raspberry fan as a general rule.  I couldn’t pry this pop from his fingers!

Honeydew + Raspberry Smoothie Pops // Flour and Fancy

The combination of honeydew and raspberries is sheer perfection.  Honeydew is sweet with a mild flavor, and the combination of raspberries brings a bold tang.  Fruity harmony.  And the beauty of an urban garden like mine is that you can combine your favorites from the garden with organic fruits at the local grocery.

These pops are incredibly easy to make.  Popsicle molds, a food processor or blender, four ingredients, and you’re ready to go.

Honeydew + Raspberry Smoothie Pops // Flour and Fancy

Honeydew + Raspberry Smoothie Pops
Makes six, 4-ounce pops

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups honeydew, sliced
  • 2 1/2 cups raspberries
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Method

  1. Place 1/2 cup of raspberries aside.  Combine all other ingredients in your blender or food processor and pulse for one minute.
  2. Using your popsicle molds, fill each mold with mixture to 1/3 full.  Then, drop two to three raspberries into the mold.  Fill another third and repeat.  Then, fill to the top with the mixture.
  3. Insert popsicle sticks and place in freezer for a minimum of four to six hours.  Once thoroughly frozen, enjoy!

Tip: Depending on the size of your mold, you may have some of the mixture left.  It makes a delicious smoothie to enjoy while you wait on your pops to freeze!  Also, another trick, to get your pops free from the mold, run the mold under warm water for approximately 20 seconds.  That should loosen your pop and make it easy to remove.

Honeydew + Raspberry Smoothie Pops // Flour and Fancy

Sweet Strawberry Ice Cream


Sweet Strawberry Ice Cream // Flour and Fancy

Ice cream is the edible staple of summer.

At my house, we’ve been toiling away at our first organic garden.  And like any adventure we embark on, we went all in.  We are growing a plethora of fruits and vegetables, tending them daily and watching the bountiful magic happen.  With the garden variety of plants we’re growing, one crop is the most plentiful: strawberries.  So many strawberry plants and so many berries!  With each pint, I grow more astounded – and more inspired.

Sweet Strawberry Ice Cream // Flour and Fancy

From the onset of our organic gardening adventure, I knew one sweet fate of the strawberries: ice cream.

I make ice cream every summer.  As I always say, anything made at home versus in commercial production is always best, and ice cream is no exception.  The combination of my homegrown, organic strawberries with local cream and milk yields a final result that is nothing short of heavenly.

Cream is foundation of any ice cream, and I always look for the best, local dairy products I can find.  In the western portion of Virginia, there’s none better than Homestead Creamery.  The milk and cream come from two local farms and is always free of antibiotics and hormones.  It’s also sold in glass bottles that keep the product fresher longer and makes me feel like I’m experiencing an age long gone when milk wasn’t packaged in plastic or cardboard.  The inclusion of this locally sourced milk and cream means that I get a fresher, more robust ice cream, and I can take pride in supporting my local economy.

Sweet Strawberry Ice Cream // Flour and Fancy

When locally sourced ingredients combine with fruit fresh from the garden, magic happens.

This ice cream is best when you hit the farmer’s market or your garden for the ingredients.  However, where you choose to grab your berries and cream is up to you.  That’s the beauty of making your own food in the kitchen – you’re in control!

Making ice cream from your kitchen is fun and rewarding.  This recipe is simple, and with a  few steps, you have ice cream that you can share – or keep all for yourself! – that truly has your stamp on it.  Strawberry ice cream is the taste that spells summer to me, far more than any other flavor.  No chocolate or tropical flavors could better usher in summer than a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.  Enjoy this cool taste of summer from my kitchen to yours.

Sweet Strawberry Ice Cream // Flour and Fancy

Sweet Strawberry Ice Cream
Makes four servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pints frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar or granulated sweetener
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste

Method

  1. First, remove any stems from your thawed strawberries.  Place them in a food processor and pulse for 30 – 45 seconds.  The mixture should be smooth and yield 1 1/2 cups.  Cover and place in the refrigerator.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine milk and vanilla paste.  Bring to a simmer.   Stir frequently for 10 minutes or until the vanilla paste is fully incorporated and remove from heat.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolks and sugar or sweetener.  Mix until thick and pale.  Slowly stir the mixture into the saucepan of warm milk.  On low heat, cook while stirring constantly.  The mixture is ready to be removed when it coats the spoon or when your cooking thermometer reads 185 degrees.
  4. Remove the sauce pot from heat.  Using a sieve, drain the liquid mixture into a separate container.  Allow the custard mixture to cool completely, stirring occasionally.  Once it reaches room temperature, cover and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of three hours and thoroughly chilled.
  5.  Once your custard is chilled, combine with heavy cream and your processed strawberries.  Mix well.
  6. Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Place in the freezer in an airtight container for a minimum of two hours additional freezing.

Additional Notes:

I often use Splenda in this recipe in place of sugar and  have found that I achieve perfect results.  Also, fresh strawberries can also be used in this recipe – simply refrigerate longer after processing.  I have found, however, that using frozen berries improves the overall texture.

Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies

Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies // Flour and Fancy

Peanut butter is a food worth celebrating.  With cookies.  After all, Thursday was National Peanut Butter Cookie Day!

I shared my recipe for Creamy Honey Peanut Butter on Tuesday.  For me, when I make a fresh batch of this nutty spread, I immediately go peanut butter crazy and want to include it in everything I’m cooking and baking.  For those of you who whipped up some, you may be feeling the same.  To soothe this inner longing, I wanted to share my recipe for Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies, a delicious, one-bowl recipe that will put your peanut butter to work!

I also wanted to share these small, succulent cookies because, with Father’s Day tomorrow, I was thinking of my Dad.

My Dad is a great guy.  With quick grin, the best advice on electronics around, and a heart of gold, he’s irreplaceable in my book.  He loves football, baseball, and there’s not a film (worth watching) out there that he hasn’t seen and doesn’t reside in his extensive DVD collection.  Dad taught me a lot of important lessons.  Sure, he didn’t teach me to cook – although he is a kitchen connoisseur in this own right – but he did teach me in swing a bat, to keep my cool in the wake of a car accident, and that macaroni and cheese is delicious with ketchup.  That’s serious stuff, folks.

When it comes to food, my Dad has two great loves: peanut butter and cookies.  And what’s not to love?  We all have those foods that just call to us, those tried and true favorites that keep us coming back for more.  For my Dad, that’s peanut butter and the occasional cookie.

And with Father’s Day approaching tomorrow, peanut butter, especially, has been on my mind.  There are certain foods that immediately conjure a memory of a loved one for us.  Cheetos make me think of my Mom and her stories of my grandfather getting them for her as a special treat on trips to the grocery.  Macaroni and cheese makes me think of my sister, Megan, and her childhood affinity for the cheesy stuff.  And Dad – peanut butter.  It’s always peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies // Flour and Fancy

I give you my Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies.  They are packed with rich peanut butter, sugar, and shortening – the building blocks of a perfect cookie.  Sadly, with my Dad living nearly 500 miles away, I won’t be baking them for him.  However, I am baking them in his honor.

These cookies are made in a single bowl, employing little more than a stirring spoon and some elbow grease.  The bake time for each batch is a short seven to nine minutes, depending on your oven.  And then you have golden cookies just over the size of a half dollar.  Petite, perfect, peanut buttery.

If you haven’t already, make up a batch of my homemade peanut butter.  The notes of honey and fresh peanut taste make them the perfect inclusion.  Having made these cookies with both homemade and store-bought varieties, I can tell you that you are missing out if you consult the store shelf for this ingredient.

I can’t think peanut butter without thinking of my Dad.  And that’s the way it should be.  This one’s for you, Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.  Love you.

Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies // Flour and Fancy

Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies
Makes 30 small cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening
  • 3/4 cup Creamy Honey Peanut Butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine shortening and peanut butter.  Beat vigorously until well combined.
  3. Add egg and vanilla paste.  Stir until combined.
  4. Add sugar, light brown sugar, baking powder, and baking soda.  Mix well.
  5. Add the flour 1/4 cup at a time, blending well after each addition.
  6. Roll small portions of the dough into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for seven to nine minutes or until cracks form in the dough and each has expanded slightly with a hint of golden brown color.
  8. After removing from the oven, allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for two to three minutes.  Then, gently remove to a cooling rack.
  9. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to three days.

Creamy Honey Peanut Butter

Creamy Honey Peanut Butter // Flour and Fancy

I’ve never visited a home that didn’t have a jar of peanut butter hidden in the cupboard.  Peanut butter is as rooted in Americana as hot dogs and hamburgers. That creamy, peanut-packed taste has long had its grips on our nation.

And my home is no exception with one significant difference – I don’t buy peanut butter.

Sure, the national brands of mass produced peanut butter make a tasty product that was the basis of many PB&J sandwiches in my childhood, but it doesn’t compare to the taste and texture of homemade peanut butter.  This nut spread when made at home has a pleasant, whipped texture and an essence of freshness all its own.  Not to mention the absence of weird additives that are difficult to pronounce and added sugar.  Diglycerides?

The best part: Making peanut butter at home is simple.  It’s almost as simple as reaching for it on the shelf at the grocery store.  It is little more than grinding the nuts in your food processor.  Making your own peanut butter puts you in command!  Not only do you get to decide if you want added sugar – it tastes great without it, if you ask me – but you also get to choose everything that goes in.

Honey adds the perfect note of delicious, natural sweetness to this spread.  The honey adds enough sweetness that I tend to skip the jellies and jams.  (Maple syrup is a great sweetener here, too!  I love using it instead of honey during the fall months.)  I use this peanut butter in my recipes, too.  Remember my Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Doughnuts?  Homemade peanut butter really gave these doughnuts a delectable flavor.

So, how do you make your own peanut butter?  Simple.  Start with your food processor and add your peanuts.  I use organic peanuts I pick up at the local specialty grocery because I find the flavor to be richer using them.  (And I still end up spending less than I would on a jar of peanut butter!)  Process the peanuts for about two to three minutes until smooth.  Peanuts are a very soft nut, making the process a quick one.  It will look like this:

Creamy Honey Peanut Butter // Flour and Fancy

I use around three cups of peanuts, which yields approximately eight ounces of peanut butter.  Once your peanuts have formed that creamy spread we all know and love, add your honey.  Two tablespoons will do the trick.  Also, add 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.

Creamy Honey Peanut Butter // Flour and Fancy

Using a spatula, incorporate the honey and sea salt thoroughly into the peanut butter.  You can also pulse for 15 seconds more to blend.

And there you have it: rich, sweet peanut butter ready for your favorite recipe, on crackers, or in a sandwich.  One of my favorite ways to enjoy it is on wheat bread with some fresh blueberries.

Creamy Honey Peanut Butter // Flour and Fancy

Creamy Honey Peanut Butter
Makes approximately eight ounces

Ingredients

  • 3 cups organic peanuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons organic honey

Method

  1. Place peanuts in your food processor.  Pulse for two to three minutes or until smooth.  Stop once during the process and stir any excess from the sides.
  2. Once smooth, add the honey.  Then, using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the honey thoroughly into the peanut butter.  If needed, pulse for an additional 15 seconds to incorporate.
  3. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container.  The peanut butter will stay fresh for an average of three months.  Remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature before spreading.

Creamy Honey Peanut Butter // Flour and Fancy

Blueberry Vanilla Bread

Blueberry Vanilla Bread // Flour and Fancy

When I think of fun, quick breads, I typically think of fall, but recently, I’ve been working on recipes for breads that have a distinctively spring and summer taste.  More and more, I have occasions to share foods with others – potlucks, birthdays, and other special events – and it’s always wonderful to have more than a pumpkin loaf or banana bread recipe on hand (although I do have and love those – here and here) for those moments when neither seems to fit.

Enter my Blueberry Vanilla Bread.  It combines that warm, full taste of a great quick bread with the sweet, fruity taste we associate with the warmer months.

I take recipe inspiration from everywhere I go.  A couple of weekends ago, my fella and I took the dogs to the lake, a last visit to a beloved spot for our older dog, Doggie, who has now passed away from cancer.  During that trip, as the dogs rested from a big day romping in the lake, we stopped by an old country store.  When I entered, my nostrils were immediately filled with the scent of baked goods fresh from the oven.  I beheld pies aplenty, fried hand pies, and breads.  I began looking around, asking the in-house baker about her bounty and admiring her breads.  Chocolate, cherry, blueberry – she had it all.  And I thought, “I want to make a berry bread!”

The idea was remained freshly in my mind for days afterword as I began testing recipe ideas.  Fortunately, quick breads are one of my favorites and something I’ve always found myself at ease with baking.  After a couple of attempts, I nailed the recipe – a bread bursting with blueberries and rich vanilla flavor.

The following weekend, we took a loaf as part of a picnic by a stream.  It was perfect – warm bread wrapped tightly in a cloth with just a hint of butter smeared over its berry bursting exterior.  Perfection.  I had to share this one with you so that you, too, could have a slab of perfection.

If blueberries aren’t your forte, I suggest using blackberries instead.  Raspberries, however, tend to get just a bit too broken down by the baking of this bread.  Also, I included one of my favorite and frequently used ingredients in this recipe: vanilla paste.  It delivers a rich vanilla flavor that far exceeds that of vanilla extract.  You can find it at your local speciality grocery (think Whole Foods or The Fresh Market) or order online.  It will really amp up the flavor of breads, cookies, and cupcakes.

Blueberry Vanilla Bread // Flour and Fancy

Blueberry Vanilla Bread
Makes one 9×5 inch loaf

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed and leveled
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon vanilla paste
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • Baking spray

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a sifter, combine and sift flour, baking powder, sea salt, and sugar.  Pour sifted dry mixture into the bowl of your standing mixer.
  3. Using your paddle attachment on a low setting, combine butter pieces into the dry mixture until well combined.  You should see small pieces of butter in the mixture.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla paste until well combined.  Add blueberries.
  5. Add the mixture to the dry ingredients on a medium setting.  Blend until just combined.
  6. Spray your 9×5 loaf pan thoroughly.  Pour the mixture into the pan, ensuring that it evenly covers the cavity.
  7. Bake for approximately 70 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted and removed clean.

Tupelo Honey Custard Tart

Tupelo Honey Custard Tart // Flour and Fancy

Spring is a time for gardening, outdoor picnics, and, of course, honey.  Lots and lots of honey.

Tupelo Honey Cafe is one of my top five favorite restaurants.  I’ve visited their cafes in Asheville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville, and each time I have a meal at one of these locations, I fall in love more and more.  During a visit to the Knoxville cafe, I picked up a bottle of their signature Tupelo honey.  Sweet, rich – it is impossible to resist.  I had one mission in mind: I want to bake something delicious using this honey.

Weeks went by, and I hadn’t quite identified what I wanted to do with this honey.  Sure, I’d slathered it over biscuits, but what would I bake with it?  And soon, I found inspiration in one of my most recently acquired cookbooks, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.

This cookbook debuted in October 2013, and I ordered a copy around the holidays.  The book, written by the baking sisters behind the much renowned Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Shop, is incredibly unique, with innovative, seasonally centered pie recipes and beautiful photography.  There is no pie book out there quite like this one in terms of beauty, originality, and adaptiveness to the at-home baker.  It is a gem.  Seeking inspiration, I consulted this book and came across the spring recipe for Lavender Honey Custard Pie.  I was immediately hooked and set in my mission – to adapt this pie recipe into two tarts using my own crust and nixing the lavender.  (We aren’t lavender folk here.)  Also, I didn’t want to use a floral honey, such as orange blossom or linden.  I wanted Tupelo honey taking center stage in my tart.

Tupelo Honey Custard Tart // Flour and Fancy

From this book, I applied the Elsen sisters’ technique for pre-baking crust for a liquid filling (so helpful!) and the custard recipe, with a few minor changes.  I did not use their crust recipe but employed my own, self-developed, tried-and-true crust.  The buttery crust I know and love.  The crust that’s following be through Blueberry-Blackberry Pie, Apple Pear Tartlets, and Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie Tarts.

And the result: a sweet celebration for your mouth!  Sweet, rich honey custard meets a buttery pie crust in perfect harmony.  This recipe makes two 5-inch tarts.  Each tart will create four small servings or a large serving for two.

This tart truly is an ode to spring.  It’s light and creamy, and when I took my first bite, I was immediately transported to my younger years of gathering honeysuckles in the backyard.  And as I always say, the best baking involves just a hint of nostalgia.  This tart delivers that – perfect to serve to family and friends or serve at a potluck or picnic.  Since these tarts are perfect for a large, indulgent dessert for two, I served one with a spring night grilled dinner outside and another on a picnic at the lake.

Tupelo Honey Custard Tart // Flour and Fancy

Tupelo Honey Custard Tart
Inspired and adapted from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, Lavender Honey Custard Pie
Makes two, 5-inch tarts; serves four to eight

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups organic flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • 1 cup unsalted butter – should be well chilled and and cut into small squares
  • Egg wash – one beaten egg white with one teaspoon water

Custard

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon white cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup Tupelo honey
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Method

  1. Combine flour, salt, and butter in your standing mixer using the paddle attachment.  Mix until well blended, approximately one minute.  Gradually add the ice water until just combined.  Be careful not to over mix.  You will see small dots of butter in the mixture.
  2. Remove dough from mixer. Blend together with your hands. Separate the dough into two balls – one for each tart.  Prepare two 4-inch tart pans by spraying inner cavity with baking spray.  Use your fingers to spread the spray around the cavity and be sure the the surface is fully covered.
  3. One at a time, roll each ball into a circular shape.  The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.  Place each area of rolled dough into the two prepared tart pans.  Press in firmly.  Remove and discard any excess dough.
  4. Place the tart pans in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
  5. Once the crusts are chilled, move to the freezer for 10 minutes.  Then, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a baking sheet in the oven through the preheating.
  6. Once the tart pans are frozen, remove from the freezer and apply a single sheet of aluminum foil over the top of each pan.  Press the foil in around all areas of the crust, ensuring that it adheres.  Be sure the edges are also covered.  Then, fill the aluminum covered crusts with pie weights, focusing on the edges of the crust.  (If you don’t have pie weights, I recommend using dry pinto beans instead.)  This weight simulates the presence of the pie filling for the pre-baking of the crust.
  7. Place the tart pans on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  The crust should be set but not browned.
  8. Remove the crust from the oven and remove the aluminum foil and pie weights or beans.  Allow the crust to cool for two minutes.  Then, return to the oven for two minutes uncovered.  After time has elapsed, remove the crust from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  9. While the crust is cooling, begin your custard.  In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, salt, and cornmeal.  Whisk the melted butter into the dry ingredients and follow with the honey.  Once these ingredients are well combined, the eggs and egg yolk should be added one at a time and whisking well with each addition.  Add heavy cream and lemon juice.  Combine well.
  10. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the mixture directly into the cooled tart crusts, filling until almost full, leaving very little room at the top.  (No need to account for expansion.)  Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 30 – 40 minutes.  The pie is finished when the edges are set and slightly puffy.  The center will not longer be liquid but will have a wobbly effect.
  11. Allow the tarts to cool for approximately one hour.  Then, gently remove from the tart pans and allow additional cooling.  This pie can be served slightly warm or cool.  I recommend fully cooled for the best taste and texture.
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