Apple Spice Mini Cakes with Fresh Blueberry Cream

Red apple spice cake + fluffy whipped cream + fresh blueberries = my salute to the red, white and blue.
apple spice cake with fresh blueberry cream |
apple spice cake with fresh blueberry cream |
apple spice cake with fresh blueberry cream |

What could be more American than apple pie. How about taking all the warm baking spices and juicy apples from a pie,  lightening them up into a mini cake, then sandwiching it with fresh blueberry cream? Now that’s a dessert that spells Americana and can be the star of your table this Fourth Of July holiday. Did you know that blueberries are thought to have been around for over 13,000 years and are indigenous to North America? Native Americans called them “star berries” because the blossom end of each berry forms a perfect 5-pointed star. So what better way to honor our country and its homegrown fruits than with Apple Spice Mini Cakes with Fresh Blueberry Cream.

I wanted to create a dessert featuring the ingredients we typically associate with Fourth of July—but, with a twist. Everyone tends to make an apple pie for the Fourth right? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good apple pie. But when I saw these cute little gingham baking cups at the store…and then some delicious looking blueberries…well, the idea hit me to borrow all the traditional holiday flavors, but use them in a slightly different way.
apples and blueberries |
apples and blueberries |
blueberries |
apple spice cake ingredients |

spices for apple spice cake |

spices (clockwise): ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground allspice (center): fine sea salt

You can make the cake (and whip the cream) the night before the big cookout, then easily add in the fresh blueberries to the cream and fill the mini cakes the morning of. Just before serving, top with a small dollop of cream and garnish with a couple of blueberries. Oh, and some patriotic sprinkles for good measure.  Sprinkles are always welcome on desserts….at least I think so! Also, this is not fancy dessert and is meant to be rustic— so the cutting of the cake and piping of the cream doesn’t have to be perfect. These should be low-fuss and something your family and friends will enjoy tucking into at a barbeque or summer picnic. There you have it.  A light, summery, sweet bite that pays tribute to this great nation on its special day. Happy Fourth of July everyone!
apple spice cake with fresh blueberry cream |

Apple Spice Mini Cakes with Fresh Blueberry Cream
yields 18 mini cakes | Apple Spice Mini Cakes with Fresh Blueberry Cream PDF

Apple Spice Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water
3 apples, cored and finely chopped ( I used two Honey Crisp and one Granny Smith)

Fresh Blueberry Cream
1 cup heavy whipped cream, chilled
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 cup fresh blueberries, chilled + extra for garnish
patriotic sprinkles (optional, but c’mon, why wouldn’t you?)

For Apple Spice Cake:
Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch high pan. In a medium size bowl, whisk together flour, spices, and salt and set aside. In the bowl of stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until creamy. Add in eggs and vanilla bean paste, continue mixing until well-incorporated. In a separate small pinch bowl, mix baking soda and warm water until smooth and no lumps. Add to butter/sugar mixture and continue to mix on low speed. Blend in flour mixture just until all the flour has been incorporated. Remove bowl from machine and by hand with a spoon or spatula, add in the apples until well blended. Batter should be thick but still have air in it. Pour batter into prepared pan. You may have extra batter (like I did) so spoon it into a 6 slot muffin tin–snack on those later! Bake at 375F for 30-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes then remove cake from pan. Set aside.

For Fresh Blueberry Cream:
Place fresh berries in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes. You want them to firm up, not become frozen. In a medium size chilled bowl, whip heavy cream until soft peaks. Add in confectioner’s sugar and continue whipping until cream is firm. Using a sharp knife, chop chilled blueberries into halves or quarters. It’s super important to start with ice cold berries, otherwise you’ll have a juicy mess*See note below on fresh versus frozen berries. Gently fold chopped berries into cream just until you see the cream begin to streak the blueberries. You’re going for a swirled look here.

Move cake to wooden board. With a biscuit or cookie cutter cut out desired shape. I used a 2-inch round cutter which was slightly smaller than my presentation cup. But you could totally skip the baking cups and use a star cutter or any other shape.  Get creative!  With a serrated knife, cut cake in half horizontally so that you have a top and a bottom. Put bottom piece into presentation cup and pipe or spoon blueberry cream onto bottom layer, then pop top layer back on. Use a smaller star tip or spoon to decorate top with more blueberry cream. Add a garnish of blueberries and sprinkles. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Notes: Although you’re going to chill the berries in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes before chopping them, it’s not recommended to use frozen (packaged) berries. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but you need fresh berries for this recipe. Frozen ones contain too much water and will ooze  juice into the cream. The fresh berries, once firm, will hold their shape (and liquid) just enough to swirl the cream. Plus there’s nothing like the taste of fresh blueberries!

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Margarita Shrimp Tacos

I’m in a deconstructive mood again this week.
Margarita Shrimp Tacos
Not as in tearing apart a closet of clothes or knocking over someone’s Jenga set or something (well, that would be just plain rude wouldn’t it?). No, I’m talking about borrowing specific ingredients from one classic recipe to create a whole new kind of lip-smacking goodness. Hey, I’m all about doing good for us. Like I did last week when I deconstructed a Kentucky Derby favorite with my Mint Julelp Panna Cotta & Bourbon Sugar Cookies. I’m still nibbling on those cookies btw-yum! So how does taking the flavors of one super potent Cadillac Margarita and infusing them into a zesty shrimp taco sound? Yeah, I thought you’d like the sound of that. And just in the nick of time for a Cinco de Mayo fiesta grande too! Never fear, these Margarita Shrimp Tacos can be whipped up in no time from ingredients you probably have in your fridge & pantry already. Make these tacos today, or the next day or the day after that. Heck, any “cinco” of a month for that matter. Who’s to say you can’t celebrate in south-of-the-border style all year round.
Margarita Shrimp Tacos
A Cadillac Margarita consists of freshly squeezed lime juice. Check. Top-quality tequila (I used a Reposado– Tequila Avión is my favorite). Check. And a splash of orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Check. Oh, and Kosher salt for the glass rim. Check again. All of the cocktail’s essential ingredients are mixed together, along with freshly chopped cilantro, garlic and spring onion to make the marinade for the shrimp. Simply combine everything in a bowl (or resealable plastic bag) and allow to infuse for 20-30 minutes. The acidity of the lime juice will give the shrimp a nice tang and help kick-start the cooking process. Careful not to over-marinate though, otherwise you’ll wind up with a shrimp ceviche gone wrong.

Margarita Shrimp
Margarita Shimp Tacos

Margarita Shrimp Tacos

Margarita Shrimp Tacos
serves 4 people (2 if they’re really hungry!)  | printable version

1 pound fresh or frozen & thawed white gulf shrimp
3 limes juiced, approx. 1/4 cup juice
1 serrano chili, seeded and chopped
1 spring onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 ounces good Tequila (I like a Reposado)
1/2 ounce orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Suggested garnish & condiments
corn tortillas (white or yellow)
rice & beans
fresh avocado
finely diced tomato
finely chopped white cabbage
fresh cilantro
mango salsa
queso fresco
lime wedges

Combine shrimp (shell on), lime juice, chili, onions, garlic, tequila, orange liqueur, and salt in a bowl or large resealable bag. Allow to marinate for 20-30 minutes maximum. Remove shrimp from marinade and sear at high heat on a grill pan (preferred) just until shrimp begin to curl, turn light pink and are cooked through. Remove from pan and allow to cool slightly. Discard shells and serve shrimp with variety of condiments.

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Mango & Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

DSC_0070 - CopyIf you haven’t seen this video by Katie Quinn (qkatie) on how to peel a mango in 3 seconds, then stop what you’re doing this instant and go watch it. Seriously, this is so clever, you’ve just got to see this right now (well, maybe after you’ve finished reading this post and decided to make this delicious creamy & fruity dessert!). How did I not know this trick? I’m telling you, it will make prepping mangoes a cinch. Especially if you love mangoes like I do, but hate all the mess & fuss in peeling them. Curious?
You couldn’t wait to watch it- am I right? Ok, so now that you’ve seen the mango-magic video, what shall we do with two perfectly round cheeks and spears of juicy sweetness? I say we make an easy & tasty Mango and Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta. It’s another simple, make-ahead dessert that would be ideal for Easter brunch….or for any fancy dinner party really. The ingredients list isn’t too long,  and the presentation is sure to impress.

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A traditional Panna Cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) is a specialty thought to have originated in the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. It’s traditionally made by blending thick cream, egg white and honey. The blend is then baked in a water bath in a low oven. However—-we’re going to make an ultra-simple, no-bake version that’s much faster and easier. It’s just as creamy as the original, and the tang from the Greek yogurt nicely off-sets the sweetness from the honey. Find yourself some pretty little dessert cups, glasses, small bowls…whatever you have that you can layer the ingredients into. These are rich, so you won’t need a huge vessel.

Mango and Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta
yields 4 – 4ounce portions |  printable version

For Panna Cotta:
2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey (use the good stuff)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (my favorite is FAGE 0% Fat)

Put the gelatin and water in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Set aside. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat warm the cream, sugar, and honey. Do not boil, just warm until sugar and honey have dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in moistened gelatin until completely absorbed. Allow to cool slightly. Whisk in yogurt gently. At first the mixture may appear to be separating, but no worries, it’s not. Just keep whisking gently until you get a smooth custard-like texture. Pour into serving vessels, filling about 1/2 to 3/4  up the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set.

For Mango Gelée:
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons water
1 cup mango puree (1-2 mangoes, depending on size)
1-2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)

Put the gelatin and water in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Set aside. Peel mango (using the cool qkatie method) and put into small bowl of food processor. You want the equivalent of one cup of pulp. Process to a fine-course texture. Careful not to over-process and create a juice. Put processed pulp and sugar into a small saucepan and warm through. Taste the mangoes to determine how much sugar you’ll need. Keep in mind the panna cotta is  sweet, so you’ll want this gelée to be slightly tart to balance the flavors. Add in dissolved gelatin and stir to incorporate. Allow mango gelée to cool slightly and spoon over top of panna cotta. Place back in refrigerator, covered, for 1-2 hours to allow both to fully set. Serve with Meyer Lemon Biscotti or any other cookie of your choice!

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Note: if you want to substitute the mango, you could use papaya, passion fruit (omg, yum!), golden kiwi fruit (done it; tastes amazing), or summer berries (go for it). If using berries, just be sure to strain the pulp to remove all seeds.

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