July 30, 2008

Bowl of Cherries

Unless you’ve never visited here before, you should know that I love cherries. If you’ve ever posted a cherry recipe on your blog, chances are I’ve left a comment somewhere along the lines of “That looks awesome, I love anything with cherries in it!” I practically have cherry juice in my blood. I think I was weaned off breast milk and onto cherry juice. It’s just always been a part of me. That’s because my grandparents have a cherry orchard and every summer, (except this past one, tear) I’ve worked in the orchard, picking, sorting and selling cherries. This year the season wasn’t very long and I was busy with school and work and sadly didn’t make it to Niagara. I was lucky though that my aunt and uncle delivered a basket of cherries to me after they made the trip so I at least got a taste of my favourite fruit. I savoured every one of those cherries and ate them all myself without sharing. But it wasn’t enough! I’ve been going through cherry withdrawal lately and it’s not pretty. I’ve been getting the shakes and everything.

Most years I gorge myself on cherries when the season comes, plucking them straight from the tree and always making sure to tuck a few baskets worth into the freezer to enjoy later on. I didn’t get that opportunity this year and for the first time in my life I had to buy cherries. A little piece of my soul died as I handed over the money to buy cherries that had spent time on a truck and hadn’t been hand picked with love and care by myself or a family member. My soul died, but my taste buds rejoiced as soon as I washed the cherries and began popping them in my mouth. Béa of La Tartine Gourmande remarked on a recent post of hers that she’s been walking around with noyaux, (pits) in her mouth all day lately and that’s exactly the way things should be during cherry season. And that’s the way things are when I’m in the orchard, a mouth full of pits, cheerily spitting them out wherever I please. It’s much harder to spit pits out, willy nilly, when you live in an apartment, I had to at least make an effort to aim for a bowl or garbage pail. I even tried to freeze some of the cherries that I bought but when I ran out of fresh ones I raided the freezer before they even had time to get cold. Sigh, no cherries during the winter for me.

But wait! That’s not exactly true. This year was a particularly wet cherry season which meant there were a lot of splits in the cherries. Split cherries are still perfectly edible, but many people throw them out because they think they’re bad. Splits are just cherries that absorbed too much water, too quickly and consequently didn’t have enough time to grow to accommodate it all. Split cherries are sweet and juicy but not the prettiest ones in the basket. When you work in an orchard though there comes a point when, as much as you want to, you can’t shove anymore splits in your mouth. When that happened this year, my family started drying the cherries. What a wonderful idea! As soon as I heard this I began planning all sorts of cookies and bars and ice creams that involved dried cherries. I’m being rationed with the dried cherries though. Mom gave me one bag and kept the rest to dole out later because she knows I’ll plow through them in no time if they’re within my grasp. As a thank you, I made some of David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Ice Cream and enhanced it with Kirsch Flamed Cherries. Mom’s favourite cake is black forest, so this was a perfect flavour combination for her, (which I actually served on her birthday alongside a black forest cake). I am also indebted to my aunts who halved and pitted cherries to put in the dehydrator and will be making chocolate cherry cookies or bars for them as a thank you. All in good time.

Kirsch Flamed Cherries

½ cup dried cherries

¼ cup Kirsch

¼ cup water

Put the dried cherries and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the cherries have soaked up most of the water. Remove the pan from heat, add the kirsch and light it on fire! When the flames die out, pour the cherries and any leftover liquid into a bowl in the fridge to cool completely. Add it to your chocolate ice cream during the last couple minutes of churning so that it’s fully incorporated.

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July 20, 2008

Cigarettes Russes, Memories and Amano Chocolate

Although I posted a photo of these Cigarettes Russes in my last post, I didn’t get to talk about them so I’m doing that now. When I saw the photo in Martha’s Cookie book of Cigarettes Russes I knew immediately that I wanted to make them because they brought back wonderful memories. When I was in high school I went on a three month exchange of sorts to France. I lived in a small town about an hour outside of Lyon and it was there that I experienced all sorts of new tastes. One that stands out in my mind would arrive on a weekly basis in a white box tied with a ribbon, courtesy of Mamie, (French for grandmother). Inside that box was a selection of goodies from the bakery that Mamie would stop at before coming out to visit. There were always meringues, cigarettes russes and tuilles. To my recollection I had never had any of these things before but I loved them all, especially the cigarettes russes that were chocolate filled, those were the best! We would eat these goodies after lunch or with tea and I remember sneaking back into the kitchen later on in the afternoon or evening, hoping that there would be some left for me to swipe from the box.

I had never tried making cigarettes russes before and quite frankly I was a little bit nervous to do so because as much as I wanted them to taste like my memory said they should, I knew it was highly unlikely that they would turn out that way. As luck would have it, Martha’s version was a pretty good substitute although I think I would have had to tuck them into a white bakery box and tie it with a ribbon to make them feel really authentic. I will warn you though, cigarettes russes are not the easiest cookie to make, they require a lot more attention that a drop cookie and I ruined quite a few of them before I got used to the process. That process included burning my fingers repeatedly on the hot cookies as I tried to roll them into cylinders before they hardened and it was too late. There were a lot of cookies that made it as far as half cylinders before I pushed them too hard and they broke and had to be eaten immediately by me, (but everyone knows that when you eat broken cookie pieces those calories don’t count). There were also a lot of burnt cookies and misshapen cookies and batter blunders but by the end of the batch I was finally getting into a groove and turning out a respectable cigarettes russe, (truthfully though I think I only got about half a dozen really good ones).

And although I didn’t make any chocolate filled cigarettes russes, I did dip some of them in some very nice chocolate, Amano chocolate to be precise. Amano chocolate is hand made in small batches in order to create exceptional flavour and texture and I was fortunate enough to receive three Amano chocolate bars via BlakeMakes to sample. Who doesn’t love free chocolate? I originally intended to make some big chocolate dessert with my bars, but first I had to test each one out to see what they tasted like. I opened up the first box and was delighted to find that each Amano bar is wrapped in gold foil which kind of made me feel like Charlie of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he found the golden ticket. “Testing”, quickly turned into me eating almost all of the chocolate out of hand, leaving little to bake with, but dipping the cigarettes russes in the Amano chocolate was definitely a good use for it. The fact that I gobbled it up so quickly would be an indication of how tasty it was. It you’d like to learn more about Amano, go pay them a visit, and if you’re curious about the name, as I was, here’s what it means, (swiped lovingly from their site):

“Amano has three different meanings. In Italian, it means "by hand," which represents our dedication to creating the finest chocolate available, taking the necessary time with each batch to ensure that it is just right. Amano also means "they love" in Italian and touches on how we feel at Amano about fine chocolate and why we feel it is important to create it "by hand." In Japanese, Amano means "heavenly field." Since chocolate and cacao are known as the "food of the Gods," it is truly a bountiful field that must be treated with reverence and respect.”

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July 17, 2008

I Like Cookies

It has taken me far longer to write this post than I originally thought it would because every time I think I’m finally going to do it, I realize I’ve made another cookie and have to download the pics from my camera before I can complete the post.

Well it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter that there are Peanut Butter Brownie pictures still on my camera, they will just have to wait until another day, this post must be written, the people must know more about this book! Actually, it shouldn’t be new to you anymore, I mentioned it here and wrote a review for in on Paper Palate, the book is Martha Stewart’s Cookies and it’s fantastic!

Since getting this book I’ve become seriously addicted to cookie making. It’s just so instantly gratifying. I can't stop at one cookie when there are 175 different recipes in this book, just waiting to be sampled.

What could be easier? I throw some ingredients in a bowl, mix it up, scoop it onto a tray, pop it in the oven and in no time at all I have a wonderful scent wafting through my little apartment and gifts for the people at work, (or my stomach or people on the street or anyone who will let me force cookies upon them at large).

Do you doubt me? Shame on you, I’m the same person who has 60 blog posts devoted to Dorie Greenspan. When I find something I like, I really like it. My motto is Go Big or Go Home for crying out loud! I’m currently hooked on cookies and I need to keep making more to survive. So what have I made so far?

Iced Oatmeal Applesauce Cookies, Lemon-Poppy Seed Crisps, Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Turtle Brownies, Cigarettes Russes, Dark Chocolate Cookies with Sour Cherries, White Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Butterscotch Cashew Blondies, Milk Chocolate Cookies, Double Chocolate Brownies and Ne Plus Ultra Cookies.

Did I really make all those? Yes I did. And I’ve also made the Peanut Butter Brownies and am about to make the Earl Grey Cookies. No wonder I’m broke. Good grief! Is there a support line for this sort of thing? 1-800-PUT-THE-BUTTER-DOWN perhaps? With my luck it’s probably a 900 number and would cost me something absurd like $9.99/minute and I’d become addicted to that too. Ugh.

Martha’s not worried about my addictions though, she feeds into them by doing things like dividing her cookie book into categories such as Light and Delicate, Soft and Chewy, Crumbly and Sandy, Chunky and Nutty, Cakey and Tender, Crisp and Crunchy and Rich and Dense and then providing pictures for each cookie on top of that!

She’s got every angle covered, a cookie for every craving! But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t play favourites. I’m trying to be fair and make cookies from every section, but I have a particular affinity for some categories more than others. Now if only I could combine Soft, Chewy, Chunky, Nutty, Rich and Dense I’d have the ultimate cookie… That’s a challenge for you Martha.

The challenge for me will be not to use up the world’s supply of butter while I bake my way through the rest of this book. I think it’s time I bought a cow so I can make my own. I’m sure my neighbours won’t mind the occasional moo…

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July 15, 2008

Baking Class

A little cooking school update for you… My baking class is now over but I thought I’d show you some of the things we made like tempered chocolate, piped shortbread, chocolate mousse cake, strawberry shortcake, knotted buns, cream puffs and biscotti. Of course I have a habit of forgetting things like my camera, (and my whisk… it’s just too big and bulky so fit properly in my knife roll) so these are only some of the things we made.

Baking class was one of my favourites, (the Chef I had was great and she sort of reminded me of Dorie) but there are definitely other students who didn’t feel the same way about it. Some people say you’re either a chef or a baker but not both. Although I don’t completely agree with that, I can see where this train of thought comes from. Cooking allows for a lot more freedom with ingredients and quantities. It’s also easier to fix mistakes in cooking. If you taste your sauce just before serving and it’s not quite right you can always add salt or spices or another ingredient until it tastes the way you want it to.

Baking requires much more precision and exact weights and measurements. With baking, if you cut into a piece of cake just before serving it and the flavour is off you can’t unbake it and adjust the ratio of ingredients, you’re stuck with a bad cake and no dessert. I happen to enjoy both cooking and baking but I ended up in the Chef Training program instead of the Baking program mainly because of timing. Due to my inability to make decisions there was only room in the Chef Training program and not in the Baking program when I finally decided I wanted to go back to school. I would have had to wait two more semesters before I could get into the Baking program and I didn’t want to do that so Chef Training it was.

It’s clear however that some of my peers are in the Chef Training program because they only want to cook. Baking is frustrating for them and they often made mistakes because they were impatient and didn’t measure ingredients properly... or at all. The importance of order of ingredients in baking was also something that was overlooked. Some people believed that if they just dumped everything in the mixing bowl and gave it a whirl, everything would turn out. Not so. The upside to this was that the whole class got to see what not to do and how the outcome was affected by abusing or neglecting the recipe. When we made chocolate cakes, Chef took one of the cakes she made and put it beside one of the disaster cakes. The ingredients were the same but the final product was drastically different. Chef’s cake was moist and chocolately and perfectly risen with an even crumb. The disaster cake was sunken in the middle, dense, terribly dark and had a bitter flavour. Unfortunately, I doubt the owner of the second cake learned anything from this little lesson. He happily ate his cake, oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t good. I question some people’s tastebuds.

Decorating skills were also tested in baking class. I’m not even sure how some people came up with the monstrosities they made. It’s as though they wore rose coloured glasses that made everything they did look good, at least to them. I’m not saying my goodies were perfect, but I definitely knew when they were lacking, (you will not see a photo of my braided loaf, it was hideous, apparently I thought I could braid bread like I braid hair, I was wrong). The decorating skill that seemd to be the biggest stumbling block for a lot of people was piping and although it certainly is not my forte, I feel confident saying I was not the worst of the bunch. Far from it. I think some people gave up on piping after the first class when that’s all we did. Little did they know, piping would return again and again and it was better to practice a little more in the beginning then to end up trying to scrape rosettes off a finished cake later on.

So there you have it, a little overview of my baking class. It made me consider returning to school to do the pastry program but I don’t think that will happen just yet. I still have to finish Chef Training and acquire some money before doing that, (and for the record, I’m still looking for a life sponsor to help with that whole money thing, so if you want to be that person, let me know!).

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July 11, 2008

Durian: Try It You'll... Um... Just Try It...

Yesterday I told you that you should try a custard apple because it’s wonderful and you’d be a fool not to love it. I also advocated the trying of any food that’s new to you. That includes foods that may have somewhat of a reputation, like durian. I first learned about durian a few years ago and it seemed that nothing I heard about it was positive. I recall reading a description of the smell by Anthony Bourdain where he said "Try leaving cheese and a dead body out in the sun and you're in the same neighborhood as the smell of durian." Now if that doesn’t have you running out to try this fruit, I don’t know what will. It actually really did pique my curiosity. If this thing was so foul, why do people eat it? And what’s more, why do they love it? Bourdain actually went on to praise the fruit, despite it’s repulsive scent. I had to find out for myself, but I was afraid. I’d heard stories of countries banning durian on public transportation because the smell was so awful. I’d read that if you opened a durian in your kitchen you’d be smelling it for days on end and that the smell would drive you to want to sell your house and move across the country. Did I really want to willingly bring a durian into my house? It took me quite a while to work up the courage to do so. I frequently passed by the durians in Chinatown and would stare at them with a furrowed brow, wondering how that spiky fruit could be the centre of such controversy. It didn’t look so bad just sitting there, a little awkward perhaps and a bit like a porcupine. But everyday I would ultimately pass by the durians, deciding it would be best for another time.

Eventually an opportunity presented itself to me that I couldn’t refuse. I had a project to do for school that involved visiting some sort of food institution and reporting back to the class on my findings. I chose the rather broad topic of Chinatown and showcased a variety of interesting and unusual items that can be found there. It was finally time to try durian. I bought one, had it wrapped in newspaper so that I could carry it home without t puncturing my skin with its spikes and I was on my way. The journey from Chinatown to my kitchen went smoothly enough and I couldn’t detect any horribly offensive odour emanating from my grocery bag. And I even survived cutting it open and taking my first bite. Following that I was more confused than anything. Durian is certainly unlike any fruit I have ever tasted before, (I felt like I was somehow eating a cooked food, the texture was bizarre) but I’m not sure what all the hype is about. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. I’ve heard a few different hypotheses on why this was so. One person told me that the evil smell of durian is only unleashed in the cooking process so by eating it raw I was avoiding the worst of it. But that wouldn’t justify entire countries banning durian on public transportation. Another person suggested that maybe durian was like cilantro in that some people had serious aversions to the smell of it while other people are not bothered by it in the least. Whatever the reason may be, my experience with durian was not as climactic as I was led to believe it would be. Nevertheless, at least I tried something new and can cross durian off my list of foods I have yet to try.

Has anyone out there had a really horrible or really terrific experience with durian? I want to know!

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July 09, 2008

Custard Apple: Try It, You'll Like It

I have a hard time understanding why people won’t try new things. I understand if you’re allergic to something but that’s the only legitimate excuse. What completely baffles me are people who simply refuse to try a new food for no apparent reason other than that they assume they won’t like it. But how do you know??? And even if you don’t like it, will one bite kill you? At least if you try a bite you can justifiably say that you don’t care for it, (or perhaps find out that you really enjoy it). You can then cross that food off the list of ‘foods left to try’. I find this kind of stubborn behaviour especially surprising from my peers in the Chef Training program. Some of them refuse to eat the foods we’re making. How are you going to know how a dish is supposed to taste and how to season it properly if you’ve never even eaten it? There were quite a few wannabe chefs who refused to even touch the ox tongue let alone sample it when we prepared it last semester. I wanted to slap them in the face with the giant thing. It would have been the tongue lashing of their lives…

One of the best things I’ve discovered while trying new things is the custard apple, (it goes by a few other names too, from the fruit family annona). I had my first taste of custard apple at the New Farm farmer’s market in Brisbane, Australia. I was wandering around, sampling everything I could get my hands on when I came across a vendor who was selling, (among other things) an ugly, bumpy green fruit. I inquired as to what it was and he happily cut me off a piece so that I could try it. The soft, sweet flesh was delicious and I immediately bought one. The custard apple then went from being a fruit I had never even heard of before trying it that day, to one of my absolute favourites. Custard apples are a little harder to find here, but like most things, if you search for it you’ll find what you’re looking for. I found my custard apple in Chinatown here in Toronto and although expensive, it’s a treat that’s well worth it.

Now I want to know what your best food find has been. What food did you try for the first time, love and now can’t believe you ever lived without? If you write a convincing argument I’ll go out of my way to find it and eat it too!

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July 06, 2008

Drowning In Ice Cream

Is it possible to die of an acute ice cream overdose? If so, I may soon find out, but at least it’s a sweet way to go. As some of you may remember, I recently bought a new ice cream maker and after using it to crank out a plethora of flavours I decided that as good as it was, it just wasn’t enough. For my ice cream needs I required two additional things: an industrial ice cream machine just like the one David Lebovitz has, and his book to go with it! I saw a deal on an ice cream machine that was too good to pass up and I’ve been pining away for The Perfect Scoop since before it came out so it only seemed right that I get both of them.

Since then I’ve made Fresh Fig ice cream, (which, despite the sludge-like colour, is actually very smooth and figgy) Blueberry Frozen Yogurt (bursting with blueberry) Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream, (with caramelized oat clusters and whiskey soaked raisins) and my favourite, Rum Raisin ice cream, (which I added too much booze to so it never hardened completely but I quite liked it that way).

So now maybe you’ll understand that when I asked if it was possible to die of ice cream exposure, I wasn’t joking, I’m basically living off the stuff lately. I’m going to have to start making savoury ice creams just so that I get a more balanced diet. I’ll have to make steak and potatoes ice cream or lasagna ice cream or maybe bbq chicken ice cream, perhaps served with a side of grilled asparagus sorbet or roasted red pepper gelato. You never know what I’ll come up with next... Neither do I really… But seriously, bacon ice cream is still on my ‘must make’ list.

Rum Raisin Ice Cream (from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop)

2/3 cup mixed dark and light raisins

1/2 cup dark rum

1 inch strip of orange or lemon zest

3/4 cup whole milk

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

Pinch of Salt

4 large egg yolks

Heat the raisins, rum, and orange zest in a small saucepan. Let simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for a few hours. (The raisins can be macerated 1 day in advance.)

Warm the milk, sugar, 1/2 cup of the heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warmed milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as your stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and into the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath, then chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.

When ready to freeze the ice cream, drain the raisins over a bowl and reserve the rum. Discard the orange zest. Measure the drained rum and add more, if necessary, so that you have a total of 3 tablespoons. Stir the rum into the custard.

Freeze the mixture in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the rum-soaked raisins.

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July 04, 2008

Words Left Unsaid

When I sit at my computer and my fingers wont type no matter how long I stare at the screen, this is the result. Words left unsaid and posts hidden away in the depths of an overcrowded hard drive. Is it just my blog or a metaphor for life in general? I tend to leave a lot unsaid. Not because I’m not thinking about it though, I’m a daydreamer. Perhaps daydreamer isn’t the right word as I feel like it has optimistic undertones and optimistic is not a word used to describe me. (If at this point you would like to tell me, as many others have, that a sunny outlook improves everything, I urge you not to waste your time as I’m more leopard than chameleon and these spots aren’t changing).

Maybe instead of a daydreamer I’m a thinker, an analyzer, an over-analyzer. I’m constantly rethinking past situations and envisioning future situations. Some are real and some fictional, some potential and others completely improbable. I’m convinced that if you listened carefully, in the quiet of nighttime, you could hear the whirring of my brain like a hamster wheel that’s constantly spinning. And the effort to keep that wheel going is tiring, even if like the wheel, I’m simply turning in circles and not going anywhere. That’s the frustrating part, lack of accomplishment or resolution. Thoughts left unspoken. And sometimes I need to write just to free up some space in my cluttered mind. Most often that kind of writing never makes it anywhere near a “post” or “send” button. Then there are days like today where I’ve decided that I’m not going to bed until I get something posted and this is the result. Despite my ramblings, this is still a food blog and I’ll at least deliver on that aspect even if I took a rather roundabout way of getting to the food.

If you think I’ve whipped up all these goodies recently, you would be mistaken… The butterfly sugar cookies were made way back in March. In fact, I even commented on a post of Ivonne’s when she made butterfly cookies, telling her I had made similar cookies a month earlier and still had yet to post about them. It’s months later and still no cookies, how did that happen? I would have forgotten all about them, (not because they’re forgettable but because I’m forgetful) but in my need to declutter I sometimes make lists and one of these lists is called “Stuff Left to Post”. I found the butterfly sugar cookies, (which are actually called Grandma’s All Occasion Sugar Cookies) on that list along with seven other Dorie Greenspan recipes that were completed sometime in the past six months.

It was at that point that I realized it’s been way too long since my last Dorie post. Hopefully though, with the creation of Tuesdays with Dorie, you’ve been seeing her wonderful recipes all over the blogosphere. I would love to join this group of intrepid bakers but I know I can’t actually commit to making a particular recipe in time to post along with the group every Tuesday, (but I do enjoy reading their posts). That being said, I haven’t stopped baking from Baking From My Home to Yours, (aka the baking bible) I just haven’t been quick to post my progress.

A few notes on the recipes…

Cornmeal and Fruit Loaf: It was moist and soft and best cut into thick slices, (as Dorie suggests doing) and was another opportunity for me to use cornmeal in my baking which I had never done before Dorie suggested it, (but which I quite enjoy).

Real Butterscotch Pudding: I never grew up on boxed pudding so I don’t pine for it the way some people do. That being said, maybe this makes me more appreciative of a pudding done right and made from scratch. And as I’m never one to shy away from alcohol in desserts, this Real Butterscotch Pudding was right up my alley. I also opted to top the pudding with cacao nibs.

Grandma’s All Occasion Sugar Cookies: As you can see, they roll out easily to whatever shape you decide to make them. My only complaint about them was my decision to ice them. I don’t have the patience for icing little cookies, especially not two dozen of them. Ugh.

Snickery Squares: These were a big hit and really, how could they not be? They’ve got the chocolate, caramel and peanuts of a Snickers bar but are on a shortbread base and made with a love like no Snickers bar has ever received.

Drunken Fruit Rice Pudding: This is one of the Playing Around options for the Arborio Rice Pudding and like I mentioned above, I like desserts with alcohol, but especially ones where the alcohol is combined with fruit.

Toasted Almond Scones: I once believed I wasn’t a fan of scones, but after making Dorie’s Apple Cheddar Scones I realized that it wasn’t all scones that I didn’t like, but just poorly made ones. The Apple Cheddar Scones were delicious and set me on a scone making rampage that included these Toasted Almond Scones as well as some Dried Strawberry and Lime Scones, (that I have yet to post about and may never get around to).

Orange Cup Custard: This is another Playing Around option, this time for the Lemon Cup Custards. I used to think I didn’t really like custard either, but I think it’s just the name I don’t like, kind of like curd. Perhaps these should be renamed Delicious Cups and then everyone would want to make them.

Chocolate Pots De Crème: Do I really need to add any notes to this? It’s chocolate in a cup and that’s got to be good, especially if topped with whipped cream and additional chocolate shavings.

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