Fresh Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Sundae Topping

While we’re still trying to fight off winter, spring has already sprung in some of our sunshine states like Florida and California. When I you start to see fragrant strawberries from these states popping up in your stores, you know that warmer days are right around the corner. At least, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself…

There are few things better in life than a perfectly red, ripe strawberry. When I buy them, I can always be counted upon to eat at least half of the clamshell package on the way home. So I’ve learned my lesson and usually buy two, just to be on the safe side. As much as I love to eat them “as-is”, it’s so much fun to cook and bake with them in the kitchen!

Cake. Cupcakes. Ice Cream. Vodka. Margaritas. Salad. Salsa. Syrup. You name it – I’ve made it! But one thing that was conspicuously missing was a good homemade strawberry sauce. Which, oddly is probably the easiest of all of those things to make. Fresh strawberries cooked down with a bit of sugar and a vanilla bean. Heaven over a bowl of yogurt and granola in the morning, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the evening…

Look for berries that are a deep red in color, but most importantly – smell them! Good strawberries are extremely fragrant. That’s usually my rule of thumb for most fruits, actually – the better it smells the better it’ll taste. So, keep your sniffer in mind the next time you’re in the produce aisle!

Homemade Marshmallows

I know, I know – I’ve been another couple of months MIA. I feel like it’s been one sickness after another around here since the New Year, and I’ve just been in kind of a funk as far as cooking in the kitchen is concerned. Sticking to my old stand-by’s…and not trying anything new or out of my comfort zone. I’m doing my best to “shake it off” though, and crossing out something on your “want to make from scratch” bucket-list is always a great place to start!

Marshmallows were at the top of that list for me. With as often as we make s’mores around here, a big fluffy homemade marshmallow would be just the ticket to elevate them to the next level. You can control the thickness and shape, and you know precisely what is going into them…something that’s not so easily accomplished with the store bought variety. Not to mention the fun you could have experimenting with flavors and colors!

A stand mixer is pretty much required, as it requires quite a bit of time whisking the mixture to the perfect cloud-like consistency. It’s minimal hands on work – heating up the sugar syrup and blooming the gelatin. Then it gets a spin in the mixer, and a good amount of cooling time before cutting and enjoying. Which, is of course always the hardest part.

They turn out perfect every time, and are a delightful little gift packaged up in a pretty cellophane bag. They also hold up really well to a good roasting, they’re more substantial then your average marshmallow – which tend to just want to slough off the stick. And, they keep for three weeks! Not like they ever last that long around here.

Source: adapted from King Arthur Flour and Alton Brown

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