Category Archives: Desserts

Easy Dessert: Oreo icebox cake

Oreo icebox cake. Ready to eat.

I had no idea about the wonderful world of icebox cakes. As in, wonderful chilled cakes that require zero baking. Cakes that just involve assembly. That require no cooking. Cakes a five year old could make. Cakes so easy they have me writing incomplete sentences. Fragments. Cookies. Cream. Chill. Done.

So I thought I’d share an icebox cake recipe as part of my series of “quick and easy” meals for new moms or people-who-just-don’t-have-time. I used Cool Whip, because duh, it’s easy. But you can totally throw some whipping cream and sugar together and whip it up if Cool Whip is not your thing and/or if you’ve got a few more minutes and the werewithal to wash a few more dishes.

I’m not even going to put an official recipe here–because it’s really assembly.

Get your Cool Whip (or whipping cream) out. Pour out about 1/4 – 1/2 glass of milk (a big glug or two) into a shallow small bowl. Get yourself a big package of Oreos. (the package you see here made a very small cake about 6 inches in diameter (3 oreo cookies wide). You’ll want more Cool Whip and more Oreos if you want a bigger cake.
Icebox cake

See the baby rice cereal? I’m keeping it real in the above picture…(Also, I changed my mind on the Oreo icebox cake container, and switched to a clear glass pyrex dish).

Then start assembly. Dunk an Oreo and set it down into the cake container (I used a glass pyrex dish). Do this until you’ve got the first layer down.

Then dollop some Cool Whip until you’ve got a generous layer covering the Oreos.

Then dunk more Oreos in milk and set down your next layer.

Etcetera, etcetera. I recommend getting yourself at least 3 layers of Oreos down, before you top the whole sucker up with Cool Whip.


Cover the Oreos and Cool Whip with aluminum foil and then CHILL in the fridge. And yes, you yourself will have to CHILL, too–while you wait for the flavors in the cake to meld, and for the cookies to get mushy like, well, cake.

I like to cover it 8 hours or overnight, at the very minimum. If you’re using double-stuffed Oreos, you will probably want it to chill for closer to 24 hours, because the cream center is the last to break down.

It is decadent. Simple. Fun.

Try it with other cookies–like graham crackers or lemon cremes!

Oreo cool whip icebox cake ready to refrigerate for 6+ hours!

West coast apple cider donuts/doughnuts

a pile of homemade glazed apple cider donuts

It’s Spring (ah-choo!), a time of year garnished with blossoms (pollen–ah-choo!) and greening trees that I wish I could watch entirely from inside a hermetically sealed room that no pollen can permeate. I miss Winter and Autumn. While everyone dances to mentions of rhubarb and salivates in anticipation of stone fruit, I wax nostalgic about Autumn. Yes, I’m contrary like that.

Oh, Autumn, ye of sweaters and crisp-non-allergenic-air, and persimmons and…apples…and apple cider donuts. Over the past couple of months, I’ve heard my East Coast friends rave about apple cider donuts (or doughnuts, however you want to spell it). They have been eating the apple cider donuts from NYC’s Greenmarket, and they have been raving about the donuts at Atkins Farms.

I have never had an apple cider donut, yet found myself craving one as if it were my #1 childhood comfort food. Finally, Alexander Chee slyly slipped me the Washington Post’s apple cider donut recipe and put an end to my whining yearning. Time to fulfill a wish.

While I normally adapt recipes, I followed this one exactly, even draining the donuts on “several layers of paper towels” instead of a wire rack.

It is not a recipe to be made on a busy weekday morning, but rather on a pleasant and lackadaisical weekend morning. The dough is easy enough to form; while you boil/reduce the apple cider down, you cream the sugar and butter, and combine with wet ingredients, before adding the dry ingredients. There are two time consuming steps that involve putting the dough in the freezer to firm up, before cutting into donut shapes.

homemade apple cider donuts in process

Don’t walk too far away, because you don’t want the dough to freeze entirely. This is a concoction that cannot be fully ignored until it’s finished…and then well, when it’s finished, you’ll find it impossible to ignore.

After cutting into donut shapes (I used a 3″ biscuit cutter, and an upside down bottle of Boylan’s cherry coke to cut the holes–this made it so I had zero donut holes because I couldn’t.get.the.donut.holes.out.of.the.bottle, but oh well), you put the donut shaped dough into the freezer to firm up (but not freeze!), before frying, and watching the dough “poof” up.

homemade apple cider donuts in process

Make sure you work fast–the donuts only need 60 seconds on each side in the hot oil, so you want your area prepped–a paper-towel-laden plate on which to drain the donuts. And another plate on which to set the cooled donuts.

While the donuts were frying on their first side, I moved the draining donuts onto a non-paper towel plate…and when the donuts were frying on their “second” side, I would move chilled donut dough out of the fridge.  Be organized or they will burn.

The cider glaze is a must, and something you prep while the donuts are in the final freezer step.  I didn’t have powdered sugar on me, so I zapped granulated sugar in the food processor for a couple minutes. Worked just fine (I guess I did adapt the recipe). 😛

They came out perfect. Oh so perfect.

Hints of apple with each bite accompanied bursts of flavor explosions in my head as I bit into the first fresh, warm donut. They didn’t cease on the subsequent bites, either.


Recipe after the jump…

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Jacques Pepin’s Caramelized Apple Granola Timbale

caramelized apple granola timbale

I love Jacques Pepin. LOVE HIM. Loved him with his daughter Claudine (“Claudine, you are–you are chopping eet wrong…why are you chopping eet so slowww…Bon Appetit!”)…loved him with Julia (their rapport was amazing and made me feel like a totally delighted and privileged eavesdropper)…and love him on “Fast Food My Way.” (quick cooking! but oh so delicious!).  I love him for how he shares his knowledge on technique with his viewers (he doesn’t just take apart a kitchen, he guides us through the steps–and he always shares a tip or two on each of his shows).  I love his accent and his charm!

So anyway–he’s on my TiVO and I watch him when I’m feeling like a bit of comfort.

A few months ago, I saw him make caramelized apple granola timbales on television. Which was really caramelized apples on little toast circles!  And I HAD to make them.

At the time I didn’t realize he had a cookbook out, cataloguing all the recipes on the “Fast Food My Way” show–and so I made the timbales by piecing together the steps shown on the show. They look complicated, but they are easy to make, and so delicious.  I could imagine having these for breakfast.  And impressing a house guest or two in the future.

Because I was making these on spur of the moment, I didn’t have granola on hand.  I used cereal and nuts and currants instead.  Decent substitute (even though the cereal texture wasn’t perfect), but I’m going to make it with granola, go forward.

After making these timbales, I went out and bought the cookbook.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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fresh baked banana bread!  still warm.

Our household, for the last week, has been full of sick people. Feverish, shivering, aching, nauseous sick people on the B.R.A.T.S. diet (bananas-rice-apples-toast-soup). Sick people who could not stomach a food show or read food blogs. Sick people whose dog had sympathetic stomach flu and started barfing alongside them. Sick people who lived almost solely on bananas.


Oh. Sorry. Not a great start for a post on a food blog.

But this is all to say that we have a lot of bananas around here. And they’re turning brown, on the road to black. The kitchen is full of their tropical fragrance as they languish and call to us. Eat me! Eat me! Sorry bananas, we’ve had our fill of you.

So what to do with all the bananas? Banana bread, of course. I’ve been collecting banana bread recipes for some time–with a particular eye towards the recipe from Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland. (If you have not been to Bakesale Betty’s and you live in/near Oakland, you are MISSING OUT)! Everything at Bakesale Betty’s is yummy and scrumptuous in a down to earth way.

So I mashed them up and there we went…

fresh baked banana bread!

The recipe is straightforward–combine all the dry ingredients together…mash and mix all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and combine. Pour into a loaf pan…sprinkle with a sugar topping and BAKE.

Ideas on future variation: I’m tempted to make a few changes next time around–add a big handful of nuts (pecans or walnuts) and maybe even decrease the sugar and/or honey (the banana loaf, while delicious is a bit on the sweet side with both honey and sugar in the recipe). I’m also wondering if I could make muffins out of this.

Update: YES! I decreased the sugar by a third, kept amount of honey the same, added half a banana…and added nuts! Of course I did not tinker with that perfect sugar topping. You WANT tons of sugar for the topping, trust me. OMG delish. I’ve noted the changes in the recipe below.

I hope you enjoy–we’re chowing down on warm banana bread right now. My husband says it’s the best banana bread he’s ever had in his entire life.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream.

It’s been hot for the past week and a half or so in the Bay Area.  Really hot.  I’ve hit the pool every day, and   I’ve avoided using the stove, eating salads, bread, cheese and charcuterie for dinner instead.  Last weekend, I was going to make a watermelon, feta and mint salad to bring to a BBQ, but the mint at all the farmers’ markets looked pretty pathetic (I guess the heat got to the mint as well) so I had to ditch that plan.  I decided going to grill some peaches and make a raspberry sauce… hmmm, what else would go with that ? Ice cream!  I hadn’t made a batch of ice cream nearly all summer.  Shameful, right?  Then I remembered my mental bookmark of David Lebovitz’s salted butter caramel ice cream.  I was unsure of making an ice cream involving molten sugar, but since he declared that it was better than Berthillon’s (the best ice cream I have ever had; Birite in San Francisco makes a reasonable facsimile) and it would be some time before I returned to Paris, I decided what the hell.  Besides, the idea of finding parking and enduring the line at Birite (18th and Guerrero!) was more than a little daunting.  

Like all great recipes, this one kept its ingredients simple – just cream, milk, eggs, sugar, salted butter, salt (preferably fleur de sel) and vanilla.  I had all the ingredients on hand, except the butter (I only keep unsalted in the house).   I wanted to try Vermont Butter and Cheese Co.’s but the Kerrygold at Trader Joe’s was the most convenient option.   I also used Strauss milk and cream (I don’t like their butter, though.  Tastes like movie popcorn butter to me), and Marin Sun Farms eggs.  Have you tried Marin Sun Farms eggs?  I will drive out to the SF Ferry Building and brave all the tourists on Saturdays just to buy their eggs.  They’re that good.  The only other eggs that I have had that were better were from a really eccentric and flaky vendor at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market called B&B, but I haven’t seen them there in quite some time.

The recipe comes in two parts.  The first is a basic praline (to stir into the churned ice cream), and the second is the ice cream custard. Since you have to let the custard chill overnight, you don’t have to make the praline until later.  A molten sugar incident that left me with bandages all over my face for the summer and drove me to seek the advice of a plastic surgeon has heightened my sunscreen obsession exponentially and made me hypervigilant about dealing with molten sugar now.  I studied all of the comments and links left on David’s recipe entry including his tips about making caramel, and followed every instruction to a t.  I premeasured out all the ingredients and neatly set up the mise.  I even made an ice bath, a step I had ignored in the past when melting sugar.  

As I began to make the praline, I remembered… I had actually done this many, many times before, when I went through an obsession with preparing tarte tatin.  A few years ago, I made 1-2 tarte tatins a week from the end of summer to the beginning of spring.  After the molten sugar incident, I guess I had blocked it out!  Anyways, caramelizing sugar for a praline is a lot easier (and safer!) than melting sugar to a soft ball stage for italian buttercream. Basically, you heat the sugar in an even layer over moderate heat in a large, heavy duty saucepan.  As the edges begin to melt, you stir the outside melted sugar towards the inside.  As soon as it all dissolves and turns golden, you IMMEDIATELY, without even blinking, sprinkle in some salt and pour it into a silpat lined cookie sheet.  Don’t wait around once it dissolves and turns brown; the sugar contines to cook, caramelize and burn after you turn off the heat and even on the cookie sheet.  Don’t stick your fingers in the sugar until you are certain that it’s cooled, and don’t touch the underside of the cookie sheet.  Once it is cool, break off a little of the praline and taste it to make sure it isn’t burnt.  I had to try three times before I got it right.  Luckily, this is a pretty quick and easy process, and only involves half a cup of sugar.  

Making the custard also involves caramelizing some sugar, but instead of pouring it out, you add the butter and salt to the pot.  This is actually a little easier than making the praline – there’s more of a margin of error since the addition of the butter slows down the cooking process and prevents the sugar from burning.  Once the butter is melted, you add the cream, then half of the milk.  It will definitely seize up.  So much so that the first time, I freaked out a little – “Omigod!  I ruined the recipe!  Aaah!” – and wound up sloshing the cream all over my kitchen.  So, carefully whisk in the cream, and just continue stirring it over the stove.  Make sure you scrape the bottom of the pot.  The newly formed lumps (or gigantic hunk) of caramelized sugar will eventually dissolve.  Then you temper the egg yolks, and pour the custard through a strainer into a bowl containing the rest of the milk set over an ice bath.  The strainer doesn’t just strain out the curdled eggs – remember those seized lumps of sugar?  That’s the point at which you realize, “oh, David is so smart!”.  Cool the custard in the refrigerator overnight before churning.  My pastry chef friend says that this allows the flavors to mingle, deepen and ripen.  

While the ice cream churns, crush the praline into confetti sized pieces.  David says he uses a mortar and pestle, but he suggests using a rolling pin.  I didn’t feel like dirtying any more dishes, so I crushed it with my hands by rolling it up in the silpat and cracking it as small pieces as I could.  Then, I used the butt of an empty wine bottle to bash it up some more.  Add it to the ice cream in the last five minutes of churning.  Because of the salt, this ice cream is pretty loose, so freeze it for a few more hours once it’s done churning.  You might want to crank up the freezer to help it harden.  

The verdict?  Unanimous approval, even from Zack, who doesn’t even like Birite’s salted caramel ice cream.  

“Why are you looking at me like that?” he asks as he POLISHES OF THE CONTAINER.

“Like what?”

“Like I’m doing something really awful, and you’re going to kill me!”

Um, sweetie, you are, and I am!

new york times chocolate chip cookie recipe >> all others

new york times chocolate chip cookies

OMG. The New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe makes the best.chocolate.chip.cookies.ever. (Though I still have a soft spot for Philippe Patiserrie’s chocolate chip cookies).

The recipe’s been taking the blogosphere by storm, and of course I had to try it out. Oh boy. Yumyum.

I followed the recipe exactly (used the cake flour and the bread flour combo), and used up the appropriate amount of Valrhona dark chocolate. I had a fun time hacking the big chunk of chocolate into little chunks.

Update: in subsequent batches, I’ve just gone with all purpose flour instead of the cake flour + bread flour combo, with no bad effects. I think the most crucial elements are: the chilling overnight (36 hours is better than 24 hours and so and so forth), the fleur de sel sprinkling, and making the cookie larger rather than smaller.

I refrigerated the dough for 36 hours (an exercise in self control), and made a combination of smaller and larger cookies. Alas, the bigger cookies were “tastier.” Farewell to portion control!

Try it. It’s my new go-to recipe. It sure beats the pants off my previous favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. (Though I do wonder if I just chilled my previous favorite recipe overnight before baking what the results might be…)

recipe follows after the jump…

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Until I read Shuna’s ode to mandarinquats, I had never heard of the fruit before. Maybe they had been there all along but I’d ignored them in the piles of citrus fruit every winter.

But this year? I noticed them–and piqued by curiosity and encouraged by Shuna’s enthusiasm for the citrus fruit, I bought a bagful.

I bit into one, sending a jet of juice into my hair.

They’re not quite as easy to eat as kumquats. Kumquats are thumb-sized, small enough to pop into your mouth whole, thus containing the juice spray and filling your mouth with an intense orange-y flavor, peel and all. Not so with the mandarinquat–juice everywhere!  They’re the size of a small child’s fist, somewhere between a kumquat and a lemon.  And they’re a bit tangier than kumquats.  A bit tart for eating out of hand, at least in my opinion.

So I candied them, buoyed by Shuna’s suggestion to candy them, pith and all, in their wagon-wheel shape.

First I sliced them thinly.

candied mandarinquats in progress

I can’t tell you how much this sight cheered me with the brilliant color! And the smell? If I could smell this every morning, every day would be a good day.

Then I prepared a simple sugar syrup (boil about 1 cup of sugar to 1.5 cups of water and whisk until the sugar dissolves). Into which I put the slices and boiled for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the slices became translucent.

I drained and dried them. It takes a bit of patience–the pieces take awhile to dry. Resist the urge to eat them!

candied mandarinquat

Until I coated them with more sugar and stored them in an airtight container. Voila…candied mandarinquats. They should keep, in that airtight container, for a few weeks. But mine are gone already.

Candied mandarinquats

It’s citrus season–there are more than just mandarinquats out there. There are key limes and meyer lemons, too! I think I’ll be candying more citrus fruit.

Persian Nougat at last!

Persian nougat, done

Ah–victory at last! After miserable failed attempts, I made a successful batch of Persian (or Middle Eastern) nougat, thanks to the help of a friend with experience in candy making.

Persian nougat is a candy that I have longed to make for years. Similar to Italian torrone, yet substantially different in texture and flavor to merit distinction, it is a candy that is not sold in many places, nor is it a candy that is popular in recipe books. I know. I searched far and wide. And failed to find how to make it. But a reader here pointed me to a basic recipe for the nougat, and I quickly saved it to make with my friend R, who I knew would not lead me astray in candy making. I was sick of making mistakes. This time, with the actual recipe in hand, I had to have a perfect result!

I could TASTE the nougat in my mouth as I read the recipe. Oooooh.

I didn’t grow up with this candy but many members of my extended family did and this is a favorite snack in the household. I know why, because I have fallen in love with it–the nougat has brought joy and delight and consolation in many circumstances. It is just the best.

The initial recipe left out some crucial spices and ingredients (ooooh, it bugs me when cooks post recipes but leave out “secret ingredients,” secret ingredients that in this case are critical path), but the most crucial bit was documented: the main nougat part with the egg whites and sugar syrup. And you too, can fine tune the spices to your own tasting. I like to add a good amount of cardamom as well as rose water (generous amounts of cardamom and rose water), you might want to add different things such as orange blossom water instead.

I’ve posted the recipe below, with my own adjustments. I hesitated to post this, because this recipe is so precious and a part of me feels incredibly selfish, wants to keep it for herself! But no. This isn’t a family recipe, it was handed to me by a reader, and I pass it back to you, with good amendments.

The process is fairly straightforward–but like with all candymaking, precision is of the utmost importance. Take the sugar syrup to the precise temperature (next time, we’re going to take it a bit higher than we did this time, for a firmer nougat). Make sure the egg whites are stiff.

Boiling sugar syrup

And in stages, you’ll add the syrup to the egg whites. BE VERY CAREFUL. The sugar syrup will be beyond boiling temp, and you are pouring it into egg whites AS THEY ARE BEING WHISKED, so pour slowly, pour at a distance, pour out of the whisk’s way…or else you run the risk of it spattering.

Persian nougat in progress

Add your spices and rose water…then put into a shallow dish and let cool.

This nougat wasn’t as fluffy as the nougat from the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, and in fact I was initially disappointed in the dense texture of this nougat. However, according to a good source, this resembles the nougat out of Baghdad. A true compliment, as my source grew up in Baghdad and he said this candy reminded him of his childhood.  This is real “baba kadrasi!” he cried out with a smile.  He was the reason I sought out this recipe, really–and I was glad to make him happy.

Persian nougat!

I hope you enjoy the recipe and if you make some, enjoy the nougat, too. My next ambition is to make some Korean candy…and also to figure out how to make this nougat without using corn syrup (yes, it’s a listed ingredient).

Basic recipe follows after the jump…

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Adapting Libby’s Pumpkin Pie

BEST pumpkin pie!

Every year, during pumpkin season, I make a pumpkin pie using the recipe on the back of a Libby’s can, using fresh pumpkin puree. I’m a believer in basic, fresh ingredients.

And yet, this year, after making my pumpkin puree, not from a sugar pie pumpkin but a pumpkin gift from Novella’s urban farm, I took a closer look at Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe, which uses ingredients that can be cooked up in any kitchen….except for the can of evaporated milk.

roasted pumpkin, about to be pureed

Given that I had such a fresh and wonderful bounty in my pumpkin puree, I wondered if there was anything I could do to eliminate the can of evaporated milk from the ingredient list. Hrm. I wondered if I could adapt the recipe, using fresh ingredients.

And so I did an experiment, and wondered how to substitute the evaporated milk (which, when I looked up its function, is supposed to add creamy texture and richness to foods). What I did was replace it with a cup of cream, and about a 1/2 cup of whole milk. I also, out of utter anxiety, added an egg to the recipe as well, because the pumpkin puree was more watery than other pumpkin purees I’ve made in the past…and thought the egg might do well to bind the mixture/custard later. (something to keep in mind if you find your pumpkin puree is “watery”).

BEST pumpkin pie

The result was incredible. My husband, a big fan of pumpkin pie, said it was the best pumpkin pie he’s ever had. Whether this is because of the pumpkin puree this year, or because of the fresh cream and milk, I’m not sure. I don’t run a fulltime test kitchen, though I’m curious myself.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Plums and figs oh my!

kadota figs and prune plums

While Susan is bravely (and successfully) navigating the landscape of the South Beach Diet (which I presume is filled with the image of bikinis and warm beaches ala South Beach Miami)…I present to you my fascination with plums and figs in recent days. Ah yes–for every disciplined person, there is another who eats carbs and sweets with abandon. And that person, my dear readers, is ME. I gladly take that role!

Even though I’m totally allergic to stone fruit, the memory of a sweet plum haunts me at all times during plum season. I loooove plums. Not so much peaches or apricots, but I dearly miss plums (and cherries). And so occasionally, I will still sneak a bite of the heart shaped purple fruit, letting the juice of it fill my mouth, even if it means an itchy swollen throat afterwards. I am not advocating this behavior (if you are allergic to a food, you should avoid it), but I am telling you that this is how much I love plums.

But the days of eating an entire basket of ripe royal purple plums are gone. To eat that quantity, I must cook the stone fruit and its poison away. This usually means a crisp or crumble or pie or galette or buckle. Sometimes, however, a girl just doesn’t want all that pastry and flour and butter.

Why can’t the fruit stand alone? Sometimes, all I want is a plum, in its simplest form possible.

kadota figs and prune plums

Just look at that image–the deep purple prune plums coupled with the light green and amber kadota figs are a color palette to behold. (Thank you Eric, for giving the shout out for prune plums–for when I spotted them at the store this week, I grabbed them–ohhhh they are sooo gooood). Not just to behold, but to remember forever. How fresh how beautiful! I always believe the best color palettes are found in nature, not in a sample card of Ralph Lauren or Sherwin Williams paints.

This is the season for prune plums and figs. September. A sweet harvest to kick off Rosh Hashanah (when sweet fruits are so fitting in ushering a sweet new year) and welcome Autumn with its bounty.

And how can one consume them?

If you’re like me and are looking for non-crust/pastry recipes, you can poach them–in red wine and sugar and balsamic vinegar. And serve them with a dollop of mascarpone cheese. Mrmmm. This makes for a tart and sweet mouthful.

poached kadota figs and prune plums with mascarpone

The plums took on a new kind of character when poached, transforming from a cool, sweet bite to something juicy and warm, just like the transition from Summer to Fall. Of course, if you know me, you’ll know that I prefer a fresh and simple plum. We always want what we can’t have.

Or you can broil and caramelize some figs and eat them with honey and mascarpone. I grew up with a fig tree, laden heavy with figs in September, whose fruit would drop on the ground, much to the delight of my parents’ desert tortoise who ravished them. We ate the fruit straight off the tree, and so perfect were they that I never thought of cooking them.

When I told Connie that I have never eaten a cooked fig, her eyes opened wide in surprise and out of her mouth, immediately, popped a description of a fig perfectly caramelized and served with creamy rich white mascarpone that made me feel like I was missing something in my life.

caramelized kadota figs with honey and mascarpone

“Just cut a fig into fourths, but not all the way so that it looks like a flower, sprinkle with sugar, put under the broiler, and then serve with honey and mascarpone!” she wrote in an email to me, when I asked her exactly how to make them.

Oh yes, I was missing out. Let’s take another, closer look at the figs. Aren’t they beautiful?

caramelized kadota figs with honey and mascarpone

A new year for some of you, and a new season for all of us, looms ahead. And I’m happy to say that I’m putting my hands on as many sweet things as possible, starting with plums and figs.