When I tasted each of the recipes below for the first time, I said, "wow". For each and every one. Literally, I said, "wow". Out loud. I love when you bite into something and you're not sure what to expect or think you know exactly what to expect, and you are pleasantly surprised and all you can say is "wow!"
To wrap a year and a half of baking I wanted to put together a list of my favorites. They are listed in order the group made them. So without further adieu...
This chocolate cake is the base for several recipes in the Sweet Melissa book. It's incredibly moist and deep dark chocolaty. I have an affinity for cakes made with sour cream and this one really knocks it out of the park if you are a chocolate lover. I have made it several times and will continue to go to this as one of my top chocolate cake recipes.
When I got my first turn to host a recipe for the group I had to go with Gingersnaps. It only seemed right! I was surprised at how much I liked these cookies, since I already have my own go to ginger snap recipe. Melissa Murphy's version contains typical spices you might expect, like cinnamon, ginger and allspice, but what was really unique was the inclusion of white pepper. Everything in my gut was telling me to omit the pepper, but I felt like I really had to do the recipe proper justice and follow it word for word. And you know what? The white pepper works! It blends with other spices to make a perfectly sweet and mildly spicy cookie. And it pairs beautifully with a lemon cream filling.
Blueberry and Almond Biscotti
What is a biscotti anyway? It's essentially a twice baked cookie. Round 1 is baked in a loaf form and then the loaf is sliced into the biscotti spears you are probably familiar with and those are baked again to get a nice crunchy texture. I have never been a biscotti person. Probably because I'm not a coffee drinker or a fan of crunchy cookies in general. I had never made biscotti before and I really didn't expect to like this. I hate being wrong. But love it all at the same time because these biscotti are delicious and you don't need a hot beverage to enjoy them. They also make great gifts since they keep well for several days.
Melissa's recipe called for dried sour cherries, but I switched it up with dried blueberries instead. What made this recipe for me was the lemon zest. The lemon flavor is incredibly bright in this crunchy cookie, but not overly lemony. This recipe opened my eyes to the possibility of making various flavors of biscotti (which I have on my to do list).
Sweet Almond Cake with Lemon Curd
Before joining SMS, I will be honest, most cakes I made were out of a box. With the exception of carrot cake. My family has a great carrot cake recipe that doesn't involve a box. One day I'll get around to posting it on the blog. What I didn't know was the various techniques used in making cakes from scratch. This one calls for ground almonds and whipped egg whites in the batter. You whip up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks (similar to making a meringue) and then gently fold the airy mixture into your cake. I really don't know much about the science of baking, but I do know this cake is delicious with a lightly sweet almond flavor. It has a lovely toothsome crumb from the ground almonds and a light moistness. This cake would be a wonderful base for many fillings and frostings. Speaking of fillings and frostings, the lemon curd and lemon mascarpone frosting that accompany this cake were not the stars for me. I had to switch to lemon cream cheese frosting because I had trouble with the mascarpone. This cake recipe, however, is on my list of keepers!
Mom's French Pancakes (aka Crepes)
Can you say yummy? Can you say easy to make? Can you say "Oooh la la"! This recipe was another surprise winner! I mean I knew I already loved crepes, I just doubted my ability to make these thin delicate little pancakes. The ingredients are simple and the batter can (and is recommended) to be made the night before you make these little jewels. I used a large non stick skillet and after making one or two crepes, really got the hang of it. If you have not made crepes before, you must try them! The options for filling them are endless....but my favorite combination is seen above. Nutella and sliced bananas. Simple. Delicious!
Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie
Though I am posting these in the order I made them and not in any preferential taste order, I will say this is a fantastic recipe and is among my top 3 favorites from the book (along with the chocolate cake and honey cream caramels). I was completely blown away by the perfect marriage of lemon and blueberries amidst a creamy custardy filling. And this pie is one of the easiest in the book to make. Especially if you use a pre-made graham cracker crust from the grocery store (a slight diversion from the original recipe). Melissa's recipe calls for traditional pie dough, but as I was making this pie for the second time for Mother's Day earlier this year, I had a crust mishap. I used Melissa's all butter pie crust recipe and had major shrinkage occur. Irreparable shrinkage. At 11 pm on the eve of Mother's Day I went to the grocery store to buy a roll of Pillsbury pie dough, but at the last minute decided to go with a graham cracker crust. You know the kind that you find in the baking aisle and comes in a foil pie tin with that cool plastic covering that doubles as a lid when you flip it over? I have to say, I loved it! I think this pie is even better than fantastic when made with a graham cracker crust. Definitely a winner!
I almost didn't make this recipe. Melissa's original recipe is called Coconut Pecan Frosting, otherwise known as German chocolate cake frosting. I really don't care for the texture of coconut and I'm generally not a fan of nuts in my dessert. But the point of this group is going outside your comfort zone. So I failed in that I didn't go completely outside my comfort zone. I just took a small step. I decided to simply omit the coconut from the recipe since that was the greater of two evils. Imagine my surprise when I tasted the final product and loved it! It really is less like a frosting and more like a candy topping. My family loved it spread on graham crackers best. But it would also make a delicious ice cream topping and it's not too bad with pumpkin cake either!
Honey Cream Caramels
This was yet another goodie I had never made before. I don't have anything against caramel candies. I like them just fine, but there are a lot of other treats I would reach for first. Luckily I didn't write this recipe off! These caramels are soft and sweet and delicious. I really didn't think I would like these as much as I did. I kept going back to the kitchen and sneaking one more (I'm not sure who I was sneaking them from, but I felt a little guilty eating so many of these honey infused treasures). This recipe is easy to make and caramels are another great giveaway treat because they store for up to two weeks in an airtight container. They would also be delicious with a little sprinkling of sea salt before they completely set. Honey Cream Caramels will be making it into my holiday baking rotation this Christmas!
Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves
Melissa shares a master preserves recipe that shares general ratios of fruit to sugar, acid, etc. and then has recipes for 5 different flavor variations. This is one of those recipes that was widely praised by many members of the group. I was able to make three variations, plum preserves, white nectarine cinnamon preserves and of course strawberry rhubarb.
I feel like a broken record here, but preserves or jam was something I had not made before joining this group. And I was surprised at how easy they are to make and delicious. There's something special and very satisfying about making toast in the morning and slathering it with your own fresh made preserves. I also took the leap into the canning world with these preserves. Yet another great goodie to give away as a gift. Of three preserve variations I made, the strawberry rhubarb was my hands down favorite! The tartness from the rhubarb is a perfect match to the sweet strawberry. And it makes a great filling for a crumble bar!
Brown Sugar Vanilla Ice Cream
I didn't actually make this recipe along with the group. They made it long before I even knew Sweet Melissa Sundays existed. And to be honest, vanilla ice cream is not something that really excites me. There are so many delectable ice cream flavors in the world to choose from. But I found I was in need of an ice cream to pair with this Plum and Raspberry Pie with a Sweet Almond Lattice. This pie was incredibly tart and needed a nice sweet ice cream to balance it out. I decided to give Melissa's recipe for Brown Sugar Vanilla Ice Cream a shot since I would be serving to others who don't share my lack of excitement over vanilla. Also, I had recalled reading in various posts from my fellow SMS bloggers, how delicious this ice cream was. And they were right! It's got a depth of caramel like flavor from the brown sugar and is the perfect accompaniment to a fruit pie or tart. Yet another pleasant surprise!
I made 40 recipes with the group and a few more on my own outside the group. There are many more the group made before I joined that I would still like to try...like Butter Toffee Crunch, Lemon Icebox Cake with Strawberry Sauce, Sweet Almond Bread Pudding with Raspberry Sauce, Caramel Apple Turnovers with Sweet Ricotta Filling, and Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake to name a few.
It's been a great ride and I've learned a very important lesson...don't judge a dessert by it's ingredient list! Even if you are unsure if it would be your thing or if you think it sounds too hard or complicated, give it a go. You might just be surprised yourself!
I want to extend my thanks to all the fabulous SMS bakers. You girls rock, sharing great ideas, encouragement and support! I loved checking out everyone's creations on Sunday mornings. Special thanks to Karen of Karen's Cookies Cakes & More for maintaining the site and keeping everyone on schedule. She has spearheaded a new baking group called Club: Baked to keep us busy and learning new things. This group started on July 1, 2011 and we are baking our way through Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This group bakes twice a month and so far there have been some pretty stinkin delicious recipes. We really just got started so please feel free to join our baking adventure!