Raspberry Shortbread Bars

These bars. These bars! Now, I know that I say that every recipe that I share is wonderful…which, they are. I don’t share anything that we didn’t like with you guys. That being said, these bars are seriously one of the best things I’ve baked in my kitchen. Don’t wait to make them!

A thick, soft bed of shortbread topped with raspberry jam and a crumble topping made with of a bit of reserved shortbread, granola, and a generous dose of nuts. Takes all of 10 minutes to put together, how easy is that? Like you can expect anything less from Queen Ina.

There’s a backstory to these bars, though. Sea Star Cafe, my favorite local spot for lunch or a quick bite here on Chincoteague recently closed for the season. They make a bar that is very similar to this, in both a raspberry and apricot variety. And they’re addictingly delicious! I became a regular visitor…like, verging on the edge of daily, just to get these bars when they had them available.  Since they close for a few months in the off-season, I had to find another source…

I’m an accomplished baker, I should be able to make a decent crumble bar, right? I’d tried a couple in the past, but they were lackluster attempts. This one is it!

I know I’ll be baking these once a week for a while, just to try different varieties of jam. They slice beautifully and keep for a few days too, making them great candidates for cookie trays or gifting!

Source: adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten, inspired by Sea Star Cafe.

Smith Island Cake

If there is one item that’s long been on my baking “bucket list”, it would be the Smith Island Cake. Baked by the wives and mothers of waterman on Smith Island to send off with their husbands and sons, who headed out to dredge oysters for days at a time in the fall and winter on the cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s legendary here on the Eastern Shore, and was named the official cake of the State of Maryland back in 2008.

It’s traditionally 10-layers, individually baked, and then layered and covered with a rich, fudge-like frosting. It’s spreadable when it’s warm, but then solidifies helping to hold the layers together as well as to seal in the moisture. Keeping the cake fresh and moist for the hard-working boys on the water who were out there digging up oysters for people’s Thanksgiving tables.

I finally tackled it for our 10 year anniversary a couple weeks ago, and I’ve gotta say – I don’t know why I was so scared. I used Francis Kitching’s recipe, the legendary hostess and cook of Smith Island. I only ended up with 9-layers, I should have used a little less than 2/3 cup, but I was still so impressed with myself I could barely contain my excitement. The cake baked up nicely, and the fudge frosting was easy to work with. So happy I gave this one a whirl and can finally say I have it under my belt. I look forward to experimenting with new flavor combinations in the future!

Add it to your bucket list , but do yourself a favor and don’t wait as long as I did to make it. It’s so impressive, a perfect cake to make for the holiday season!

Source: Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook

Salted Caramel Cupcakes

Salted caramel just may be my favorite thing in the world. Whether it’s in the form of caramel sauce, chewy caramels, or the sweet and salty crunch of caramel corn…I love it all! When trying to decide what to make for our PTA’s Pumpkin Tour a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I didn’t have any cupcakes devoted to that sweet & salty combination that I love so dearly. That was a situation that needed to be remedied immediately!

So, I did what I always do with experimental cupcakery – used my favorite vanilla cake recipe, and then proceeded to add a bunch of homemade salted caramel sauce to it. Same deal with the buttercream frosting. An additional drizzling of sauce and a sprinkle of top-notch sea salt…and you have yourself a damn fine cupcake!

While I love fleur-de-sel, I used Maldon sea salt here, which is actually a British hand-harvested sea salt. The crystals are giant square shaped flaky pyramids, but still as light as a feather. They really show themselves off nicely, and don’t just melt into the frosting as some finer salts would.

I ordered mine online a year or so ago, but I’m pleased to report that my local gourmet food shop now carries it for a really reasonable price – so if you’re local, Poseidon’s Pantry here on Chincoteague has you covered.

What you end up with is a deliciously tender and moist cake bursting with the roasty sweet notes of caramel. And the pinch of sea salt on top just adds the perfect salty bite and slight crunch. They went in a flash at the bake sale, and I know it’s definitely one I’ll be making again and again. It’s also great in cake form as well! I hope you get a chance to make and enjoy it soon. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Pumpkin Crumb Coffee Cake

You guys. This cake. It has everything you could possibly want in a fall dessert, and then some. This past Saturday night was our PTA’s Pumpkin Tour here on Chincoteague. It’s always a great time that the whole community looks forward to. I’d volunteered to bake a few sweets to bring to the bake sale table. And, this was one of the goodies that I came up with.

The Banana Crumb Coffee Cake that I posted last year has always been one of my favorites, and popular with everyone else too. I figured a pumpkin twist on this favorite would be a hit, so I went with it. I substituted a can of pumpkin puree in place of the mashed banana, and amped up the spice profile a little bit by adding some cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove to the cake batter. It turned out even better than the banana version, which really says something…

It went quickly at the Pumpkin Tour, and the few bites I saved here at the house disappeared that night as well. Planning to make another one this week! It was that good, y’all. Absolutely perfect with a cup of coffee and some company on a chilly autumn evening.