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Keeping it light with springtime desserts

CookingEasterJust Born, Inc.

After you've finished the Peeps and jelly beans and chocolate eggs the Bunny left, what are you going to do for sweets? You don't want to hark back to chocolate fudge cakes and bread puddings. Too heavy for the days ahead.

Our exercise du jour, then, is to consider fixing some lighter treats. And considering the spate of warm weather we've had, it's not a moment too soon. We present a small collection of easy-fixing post prandial dishes that will take you through spring and into the summer.

If you're a hold-out for only local fruits and berries, you'll have to wait a bit. But even the "imported" fruits at the market are looking awfully good this time of year.

We begin…

Blueberry shortcakes

This is, arguably, the toughest of our challenges du jour. But making a one-piece shortcake biscuit that you cut into wedges later isn't all that difficult, and it's nice to have it in our repertoire to use with other fruit mélanges: strawberries, raspberries, etc.

P.S. We use a bit of cake flour along with all-purpose flour. The former is somewhat lighter and finer than the latter, adding a more pleasing texture. We use both vegetable shortening and butter for basically the same reason, and for a smoother flavor.

We serve this dessert warm, topped with chilled homemade whipped cream and/or ice cream. The contrast of warm and cold is yummy.

Shortcake:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder (make sure it's fresh)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon each, ground cinnamon and nutmeg

5 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening (e.g., Crisco), in chunks

3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 1/2 tablespoons superfine sugar

1 cup whole or 2 percent milk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Blueberries

3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

2 1/2 cups blueberries, picked over, divided

Fresh mint sprigs, garnish

Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream, for serving

For the shortcake, spray-coat (or lightly butter and flour) the inside of a non-stick, 8-inch round cake pan.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add shortening and butter chunks and use a pastry blender or two dull table knives to cut the fats into flour mixture until they resemble small peas. With your hands, dip into mixture and crumble "peas" into smaller pieces. Stir in superfine sugar. Add milk/vanilla mixture and stir quickly, just long enough to dissolve sugar. Turn dough out into prepared pan and smooth it out into a single, even layer.

Bake in lower third of the oven for about 15 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch and edges have pulled slightly away from the sides of the pan. Remove to a cooling rack and cool 2 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges and invert pan over another cooling rack. Then invert again, so shortcake is right side up (and out of the pan).

For the blueberries, in a medium saucepan, over low heat, combine 1 1/4 cups of the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and peel. Cover and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes. Stir in remaining blueberries.

To serve, use a serrated knife to cut shortcake into 6 wedges. For each serving, cut each wedge in half diagonally. Transfer a piece of shortcake to a dessert plate. Spoon on some blueberries. Top with a second piece of shortcake. Add whipped cream and/or ice cream. And a mint sprig if you like. Repeat five more times. Makes 6 servings.

Nutty pineapple crisp

Fresh pineapple chunks are so easy to come by these days, it's a shame not to use them as often as possible. This dessert is tropical in feel, making it great for barbecue season, particularly if you have an island theme. Or, instead of serving pineapple with the Easter ham, save it for dessert.

Pineapples

4 cups cubed (not chunks) fresh, ripe pineapple

1/4 cup apricot nectar

2 tablespoons dark rum (aka Planter's Punch)

3 tablespoons superfine sugar

Crisp

1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup crushed, dry macaroons (e.g., Amaretti)

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, in chunks

2/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts, preferably unsalted

Sweetened whipped cream (flavor with a bit of rum extract or vanilla), for serving

Lightly butter a 2 quart (8 cup) baking dish that's at least 2 inches deep. Set aside. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

For pineapple mixture, toss pineapple cubes with apricot nectar, rum and superfine sugar. Let stand 5 minutes, then spoon into prepared baking dish, along with any juice that has accumulated.

For crisp, in a medium bowl, combine flour, Amaretti crumbs, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add butter chunks and use two dull knives to cut fat into flour mixture, until pieces the size of small peas form. Stir in macadamia nuts. Spoon topping evenly over pineapple.

Bake in lower third of oven for about 40 minutes, until topping is golden and set. Remove to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

Diva peaches

Actually, this is a version of peach Melba, named for the famed opera star. It's a bit more sophisticated than the preceding goodies, but still quite easy to fix.

If you've never peeled a peach before, here's your chance.

6 firm, ripe peaches (white or freestone)

2 3/4 cups water

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 strips lemon peel

Sauce and for serving

2 cups ripe, red raspberries

1/4 cup red (or black) currant jelly

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Chablis

Best quality vanilla ice cream, for serving

Pirouette cookies, for serving (or use crisp sugar cookies or coconut cookies)

For peaches, have a bowl of ice water handy. In a large pot of boiling water, gently place two or three peaches. After 15 seconds, use a slotted spoon to remove peaches from boiling water to the ice water, Repeat with remaining peaches. Use a sharp knife to peel the peaches. Pat dry.

In a large, non-stick skillet, over low heat, place water, sugar and lemon peel. Cover and cook until all sugar has dissolved. Uncover, raise heat to high, bring to a boil and boil 3 minutes. Gently add peeled peaches, reduce heat to a bare simmer and poach until peaches are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove peaches with slotted spoon. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate (for up to 3 days).

For sauce, in a medium pan, over medium heat, combine raspberries, jelly, lemon juice and Chablis. Cook, stirring occasionally, until raspberries are completely softened and slightly thickened. Remove from heat, cool slightly, then puree lightly. Cool, then refrigerate sauce.

To serve, halve each peach and remove pits. Place 2 peach halves in a dessert bowl (or plate). Place a small scoop of ice cream in the center of each peach half. Drizzle each serving with raspberry sauce. Serve with suggested cookies, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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