Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fresh Cherry and Blueberry New York Cheesecake with Dried Cherry Short Crust

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Inu sits and enjoys the sunshine on his smooshy little face.

I'm in the mood to celebrate life in all its infinite beauty and bounty.

This morning we had an appointment at the vet to say goodbye to our old boy Inu, or as we like to call him, "man face eater."  He's never cared much for menfolk.  He's been utterly blind for a year and has still shown an uncanny discernment for gender.

In an instant, last week, he fell apart.  He didn't want to move.  He turned his nose at bacon.  He refused a bite of cheesecake.  He cared not a fig for man flesh.  The vet looked at his x-rays and blood work and said, "Bummer."

So we made that horrid decision; today we'd say goodbye.

But as these things go, his meds kicked in. In the last few days he's been eating.  He's sprightly.  Given the opportunity, he'd show a burly gent a thing or two about fisticuffs (to be fair, he's really a lover.  He just has issues). We went to the vet this morning but instead of coming home without him, he's now laying at my feet, tooting up a storm.  In other words, all is normal in the Prado household.

We know his diagnosis is grim but it's a future grim, one we can monitor while keeping him happy and fed.

So today we celebrate life and love, for all creatures great and small.  We eat bacon and chase after phantom frisbees.  We live another day to eat cheesecake.

Hold your family close, those bipedal and four legged.  Tomorrow, on Independence Day, pursue some happiness with all the creatures you love.

New York Cheesecake

For the shortcrust

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1/2 a large lemon
1/2 cup dried cherries or Craisins

Shortcrust procedure

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt and zest.  Pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, whole egg and egg yolk.

Add the cherries or Craisins to the processor and pulse a few times to distribute the dried fruit.  Continue pulsing and add the sweetened condensed milk/egg mixture.  Continue pulsing until the dough just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Turn the dough over a few times to incorporate any dry patches.  Press the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350º.  Spray a 9" round or square springform with non-stick cooking spray.  Press the dough into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set aside.  Turn the oven down to 325º.

For the filling

2 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Filling procedure

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and sugar and beat on high until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the cream and mix until combined.  Add the eggs, lemon juice and zest.  Mix until smooth.  Add the flour and salt and mix until incorporated.  Transfer the filling to the prepared springform and smooth with a small offset spatula.  If you find that the mixture is at all lump, run it through a sieve before adding to the springform.  Tap the springform gently a few times on the countertop to pop any large air bubbles in the batter.

Bake the cheesecake at 325º for 20 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 275º and bake for 30-45 minutes more or until the cheesecake shimmies a bit in the middle.  Turn the oven off and open the doors.  Allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven slowly.  If you find that the sides of the cheesecake are still clinging to the sides of the pan once you turn off the oven, remove the cheesecake from the oven and using a thin paring knife, run the knife along the inside edge to release the cheesecake from the pan but don't remove it from the pan.  Return to the cooling oven until the cheesecake comes to room temperature.  Refrigerate the cheesecake until cool, 2 hours to overnight.

For the topping

2 (10 ounce) bags of frozen sweet cherries
1/2 cup fresh (frozen) cranberries
2 pints fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
pinch salt
3 tablespoons tapioca starch (can substitute with cornstarch)

Procedure for topping

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, orange juice and salt.  Stir over medium heat until the sugar melts.  Add the frozen cherries and cranberries and stir to combine.

Remove 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and transfer to a small bowl.  Add the tapioca and cornstarch and stir until smooth.  Add the mixture back to the saucepan and stir to combine.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook just until the mixture starts to thicken.  Transfer the topping to a large bowl, leaving about a 1/4 cup of the "sauce" behind in the saucepan.  Add the blueberries to the saucepan and stir gently to coat with the "sauce."  Transfer the blueberries to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate both the cherries mixture and blueberry mixture until cool, about 1 hour.

To finish

Remove the cheesecake from the springform and transfer to a serving platter.  Spread the cherry mixture over the entirety of the cheesecake and then arrange the blueberries on top, leaving an 1-2 inch gap at the edge for the cherry mixture to peak through.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for 2 days.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Better Homes and Gardens July

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Pick up July's Better Homes and Gardens for one of the zippiest 4th of July dessert features you've ever seen!  This Virginia bred girl couldn't be more proud or pleased.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Managing a Swarm!

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This Saturday, our good friends Caroline and Whit came for a visit at Freegrace.  While we were chatting outside, a swarm of bees hightailed it out of my main hive and made camp on a honeysuckle bush just a few yards from their original home.

Gesine and Caroline manage a Swarm at Freegrace from Raymond Prado on Vimeo.

Here's how we caught them and put them into a new home.  You'll notice Whit, in the red shirt, keeps a distance.  He's deathly allergic but awfully brave.  Caroline, you'll also notice, is wearing skorts and flip flops with only a veil and gloves to protect her.  I had to force the gloves on her.  Who you won't notice is Ray, my husband, who took the footage and cut it together.  He got as close to the little buzzers as anyone with no protection at all.  Not a sting among us.

I'll write a bit about swarms on Freegrace Friday, for those interested.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day, Two Ways: Fresh Spring Tart & New England Dogs

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What shall I do for our Memorial Day feast?  Fancy garden veggie tart  or hot dogs?  

Do I even have to choose?

Of course not.

My veggie plots are churning out the good stuff and some if it is so beautiful, it's a shame to bury their sculptural qualities in a salad bowl.  A delicious tart shell is far more appropriate display.

And I've got the ingredients to make homemade New England hot dog buns.  So I did both and now I don't think I can eat another bite for the rest of the weekend.

For the hot dog buns, I use King Arthur Flour's recipe HERE.  

For the tart, follow me!


For the herbed tart dough

1 cup unsalted butter, ice cold
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
Preheat oven to 350º.  

Place the flour, salt and herbs in a large bowl and stir.  Using a box grater, grate the butter on top of the flour.  Toss the butter and flour together until the butter is evenly coated in the flour.  Use the tips of your fingers to gently massage the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.  

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk.  Add to the flour mixture and using your fingertips, distribute the wet ingredients evenly among the flour mixture.  Gently knead the dough until it just comes together.  Spray an 8" - 9" square tart pan with non-stick spray and press the dough onto the bottom and sides of the pan.  Freeze for 20 minutes.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the tart dough is baked through and golden brown.  Set aside to cool completely.

For the filling

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 (4 ounce) package soft goat's cheese, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all filling ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix until smooth.  Using a small offset spatula, spread evenly onto the bottom of the prepared tart pan.

To finish

My field of arugula

(Any beautiful arrangement of fresh veggies will make for a gorgeous tart.  This is what I have coming up in my garden)

Tender baby spinach

4-5 spears asparagus, quickly blanched and immediately cooled
handful baby spinach
handful baby wild arugula
handful baby kale
4-5 small tomatoes
1 yellow pepper
fresh English peas

French breakfast radishes
Radishes are one of my all time favorite things to grow.  They grow so quickly and the flavor is bright.

Green (wet) garlic, finely chopped

Arrange decoratively over the filling.  Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a day.  For added flavor and zip, serve with reduced balsamic vinegar.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


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We're in full spring swing here at Freegrace. 

The rhubarb put to some good use:  filling my pie hole!

 The bees are buzzing.  The veggie plots are sprouting.  The hop vines are climbing.  The currants and gooseberries are getting their berries on.  The lilacs are smelling up the joint with their otherworldly perfume.
Fuzzy little pollinator doing her job.

Hop vine, shimmying her way up a hemp rope.  
Black currants transforming from tiny clustered blooms to berries.
The lilac trees cover the barn every spring with lush perfume.  No one's complaining.
And the rhubarb is READY!

Her Majesty, the rhubarb.

I'm a wee bit bored of the standard rustic rhubarb recipes; it's either the crumble pie or the lumpy crumble cake.  So this year as I was hacking away at the leggy plant, I promised my ever faithful and leafy friend that I would honor her tart goodness in a pastry more elegant than the norm.

I looked to the glorious flavor combination of Pierre Hermé's Celeste pastry, with its lip puckering combination of tart smothered in tart and barely cut with a smidge of luscious sweetness:  rhubarb, passion fruit and strawberries.  The beauty of this treat is that you can make the fillings ahead of time.  I'd even suggest you double the rhubarb/strawberry compote to slather on waffles or pancakes over the weekend.

You'll thank me later.



For the tart shell dough

6 ounces unsalted butter, frozen
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the rhubarb/strawberry compote

2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch dice
8 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and diced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
zest 1 lemon
juice 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
pinch salt

For the passionfruit custard

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup passionfruit puree (can substitute with 1/2 cup Goya passionfruit juice.  If you do this substitution, eliminate the 2 tablespoons honey)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
pinch salt
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon butter

For the meringue

3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
pinch  salt


For the tart dough

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Add the flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt to a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together.  Using a box grater, grate the butter on top of the flour mixture and toss the butter and flour together so that the butter is evenly distributed among the flour.

In a small bowl, combine the yolk and sweetened condensed milk and whisk to combine.  Add to the flour mixture and gently mix with your fingers to evenly distribute the ingredients.  Gently knead the dough until it just holds together. Press into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Spray a 12" tart pan with a removable bottom with non-stick cooking spray.

Lightly flour your work space with flour and roll out the dough into a rough 13" circle.  Transfer the dough to the tart pan and gently press into the bottom and sides of the pan and trim any excess dough.  Dock the dough (prick the bottom with a fork a few times) and freeze for 20 minutes.

Line the tart pan with parchment and fill with pie weights or dry beans.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the parchment and pie weights and continue baking until fully baked through, about 10 to 15 minutes more.  Set aside to cool completely.

For the compote

In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, zest, lemon juice, vanilla and salt.  Stir over medium heat until the sugar has melted and the mixture comes to a simmer.  Cover and allow to simmer for 5 minutes more or until the rhubarb is very soft.

Add the strawberries and stir to combine.  Cover again for 2 minutes to soften the berries and to thicken the mixture.  Transfer the compote to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until cool, about 1/2 hour.

For the passionfruit custard

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and whisk to combine.  Continue whisking over medium/low heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of ketchup.

Take from the heat and add the butter.  Whisk until the butter is completely melted and incorporated into the mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap so that it touches any exposed custard but leave on the counter as you'll be immediately assembling the tart.

To assemble

Spoon the rhubarb/strawberry compote into the prepared tart pan and spread in an even layer with a small offset spatula.  Immediately pour the warm passionfruit custard over the compote and spread evenly over the compote with a small offset spatula.  Immediately place a piece of plastic wrap over the pie, making sure the plastic wrap touches the custard directly so that it doesn't form a skin.  Refrigerate until cool and set, about 2 hours to overnight.

For the meringue

Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Place the bowl over a saucepan with simmering water.  Whisk the mixture constantly until the sugar is completely melted and the mixture is hot to the touch.  The mixture must reach160ºF to ensure that all bacteria is safely eradicated.
Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on high until the meringue reaches stiff peaks and the bowl is cool to the touch.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a decorative tip (I used a St. Honoré tip), remove the plastic wrap and pipe the meringue decoratively over the top of the pie.  Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 2 days.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Mother's Day: Maple Donuts

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Happy Mother's Day, sweet people!

You are loved, each and every one of you. 

My super special maple Mother's Day love goes out to Lisa Bonchek Adams, for whom I created these treats.  She loves maple and we all love her.


Makes a dozen donuts


For the dough

5 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur Flour)
14 g or 2 packets instant yeast (I use Red Star's Platinum Yeast)
1 1/2 cups whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup maple syrup (B grade is perfect)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (you can substitute vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup all purpose flour for kneading

4 cups canola oil for frying

For the glaze

1/2 cup maple cream


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the milk, maple syrup, egg  and vanilla bean paste.  Mix together until well combined and the eggs are completely broken apart.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, instant yeast and salt for 30 seconds.

With the mixer running on medium/low speed, add the flour mixture to the milk mixture and mix until just combined.  Add the butter, a small piece at a time, and continue mixing until all the ingredients are just incorporated.  The mixture will look chunky and awful.  That's perfectly fine.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup flour onto your work surface.  Transfer the dough to the work surface and knead the dough by hand until smooth, about 10 to 15 minutes.  The dough may feel sticky at first but as you knead, the dough will become more and more elastic and less sticky.  You can slowly incorporate the flour on your work surface until the dough still feels soft but doesn't stick.  Only incorporate enough flour to get to this state and no more.

After a few minutes of kneading, the dough will still be knobby.  Continue kneading.

Almost there.  A few minutes more.

Once the dough is smooth, spray a large bowl with non-stick spray and transfer the dough ball to the bowl.  Spray the dough ball with non-stick spray and turn it over a few times to make sure it's completely coated.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to rest at room temperature until doubled, about an hour.

Smooth and rising.

Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll the dough into a rough rectangle, a little under 1/2" thick.  Using a floured donut cutter.  Cut the dough and place each round and "hole" onto a parchment lined sheet pan, placing the donuts 1/2" apart.

Cover the donuts with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Just as the dough is reaching its full proof, pour the oil in a large pot and attach a thermometer.  Bring the oil to 350ºF.

Gently transfer the dough with a large spatula to the hot oil and fry on each side until deeply golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes on the first side and 1-2 minutes on the second side.  The donut holes will only take a few minutes.

Transfer the donuts to a parchment lined sheet pan and while still warm, drizzle 1 tablespoon of maple cream over each donut.

Friday, May 9, 2014


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I drove 2 hours from the Northeast Kingdom to our little farm in the Upper Valley with thousands of bees riding along in the bed of the truck.  I'd finished teaching a wonderful class at King Arthur Flour just before I left on my journey and as I bade my lovely students farewell, they wished me luck on my adventure.  They all looked terribly worried.

You can see the nuc box to the right.  You leave the box overnight for any stragglers who have a hard time letting go of their cardboard home.  On the hive proper, the lighter colored and squat box on top of the dark yellow "deep" is the feeder and contains simple syrup to feed the bees until there's enough nectar flowing outdoors so that they can feed themselves.  They have a lot of work to do and they go through 8 cups of simple syrup a day.  As the bees continue to fill out the frames in that large dark yellow box with larvae, honey, nectar, etc, I'll add another deep box on top so that they can expand their growing business.  Finally, I'll add smaller boxes called "honey supers" that will be guessed it...honey.

I'm bringing sexy back.
The little buzzers were sealed inside a nuc (short for nucleus) box, they couldn't get out.  The box had been their home for months, a working hive with a queen already laying the workers already working.  To look at it, it appears to be a simple lidded cardboard box with a hole on one end, until you squint and see hundreds of winged critters flying in and out of that hole.  Inside the box, 5 "frames" of drawn comb that house larva, nectar, pollen and honey are nestled one after the other. Just before the kindly gents at Northwoods Apiary put the box in my truck, they sealed the hole shut with some mesh, so the little buzzers could breath, and duct tape, because it's duct tape.  Duct tape fixes EVERYTHING, even bee holes. 

This isn't the only way to buy bees.  You can also buy bees in a "package."  3 pounds of bees are packaged into a screened box and sealed.  The queen gets her own little condo, a sealed tiny box of her own, and that's attached to the package.  The queen and the workers haven't been working together. In fact, they'll first get to know each other on the trip to their new home via USPS.  That's right, packages are sent via US mail.  Read that again.  US MAIL!   As this relationship between queen and hive is brand spanking new, when you install the bees into the hive, they have to get down to the work of accepting their new queen, drawing comb, etc.  So with a  nuc, you get a head start.

Early morning staff meeting.  Bees communicate constantly, about the direction of the best food sources, about whether to swarm (more on that another time), about EVERYTHING.  Different bees have different opinions.  One may think that a certain orchard is the place to be and another found an mint field in bloom that's totes aweseome-sauce.  The bees gather the information and vote on it.  I'm not kidding.  

Safely home, I carried the nuc to our corn crib.  My bee mentor, Jeffrey Hamelman (those bakers out there will recognize the name.  Jeffrey is the head of the King Arthur Flour bakery and one of the very few certified master bakers in the U.S.), offered to help me install my bees on Sunday morning.  In the meantime, they needed shelter so I carried the 25 pound box tight against my chest across the property, the low buzzing vibrating through my bones.  I imagined that Buddhist monks must feel a similar sensation when they throat sing, a warm soul vibration, just without the anaphylactic shock and honey.  I fell in love on that short walk.

You'll notice that the field bees coming in don't have pollen pantaloons yet, those wonderful sacks of pollen they attach to their legs.  It's too early in the season for much pollen activity (in Vermont) but I'd say we'll see some serious yellow slacks on those puppies in a few weeks.

When Jeffrey came in the morning, it took us a while to assemble everything we needed.  Smoker.  Deep body (The square box), the feeder, the simple syrup to feed, my hive tool.  And of course, the bees.  I gently pried each frame apart (they get sticky from propolis build up but nothing too alarming) and I gently lifted the frame as Jeffrey had taught me, keeping it over the body of the hive in case the queen decided to make a run for it (unlikely but you can never bee too careful).  He helped me identify capped brood, larvae, nectar, pollen, capped honey.  I saw a few drones, male bees who don't work in the hive but rather exist to fertilize a queen if they're lucky enough to find a lonely lass flying about (they don't mate with their own queen, who's also their mother, thank goodness).  I saw the queen on the 3rd frame, moving slowly and deliberately, going about laying her quota of 2000 eggs A DAY.  And then there were the thousands of worker bees, the ladies, taking care of the queen, tending to all the chores from going into the field to collect pollen and nectar to building wax for the combs (they excrete the wax through their abdomens).  Busy bee, indeed.

That's a bear fence around my hive.  Not attractive but essential.  And yes, those are pie plates smeared with peanut butter.  A bear isn't going to feel a damn thing barreling through that electrified fence, with all that fur.  So if they smell the honey and brood and amble up to your bee garden, any bear will take one look at some yummy peanut butter and say, "Don't mind if I do."  And then they get a little zap on the nose, where they'll actually feel it.  

I installed the last frame, put a feeder on top and closed up my hive.  I was brimming with the warm and fuzzies.  Or is it the warm and buzzies?

There's so much to learn and more to tell.  Like how much honey will I get from this hive? Likely none this year as they are building up their stores and will probably need it all to overwinter.  However, next year, I might get 20 pounds to 80 pounds, depending on how the nectar is flowing, etc.  Do I always wear a suit?  No.  I only wear it when I actually disturb the hive.  Do you wear that suit out in public?  HELL YES!

If you have questions that you'd like answered, join my Facebook baker's group HERE and ask away.  I'll answer them on the forum and will continue to update on the blog.  As a new beekeeper, I may not know the answer.  That's why people like Jeffrey and the insanely generous humans at Vermont Beekeepers Association are such a gift to new-bees like me.

Happy Mother's Day!

In case you were curious, here's the Berry Charlotte that I taught my class to make.

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