summer

s’mores layer cake

You guys. I did it again.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I baked my own birthday cake.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I know that some people gasp in horror or baulk at the very idea of such a thing. On one’s birthday, one is supposed to just sit back and enjoy the day without having to lift a finger.
But, you know what, one thing that I enjoy even more than eating cakes, is baking cakes! Especially if doing so means that I get to share them with people I love.
And guess what else. I could never find a cake in a bakery that would be as good as a cake that I could bake myself, and even if I found one, I couldn’t afford it!
So, tradition be damned, I bake my own birthday cakes.
And I like it!

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

As my birthday was approaching, the weather finally started to warm up here in New York after what felt like an endless grey & chilly spring. To celebrate both the arrival of warm weather and my advanced age, we decided to invite a bunch of friends and have a big festive bbq in our suddenly green backyard.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I plotted and planned out my menu, scouring the internet for recipes for sides, salads, mains, and options for vegetarians. Russell even asked his family from San Diego to ship us a box of avocados from their own avocado tree, so that we could offer our guests a big ol’ bowl of the freshest guacamole in Brooklyn.
Of course, I knew that I wanted my birthday cake to be the pièce de résistance. It’s been so long since I’ve done a big festive layer cake that I also wanted to come up with something that I hadn’t really ever done before.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Nothing says Summer quite like s’mores.
Amirite?

Especially for a bbq or a backyard party, there’s clearly nothing better to round out an evening. I still love them to this day (duh), but it’s almost impossible not to think of childhood when eating them. Even though these days I’m usually making them over the leftover embers from my charcoal grill, they instantly transport me to campfires in the woods of upstate New York, with multiple marshmallows skewered on gnarled sticks found on the ground or ripped from a low-hanging branch.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Of course, like any good fat kid, when I was young I was super impatient to heat up those marshmallows as quickly as possible so I could get those s’mores into my face on the double. I learned pretty early on though, that the chalky texture and acrid flavor of that burnt sugar shell isn’t actually all that pleasant, even when sandwiched between melty chocolate and crisp graham crackers.

So, at a younger age than most kids (or adults for that matter), I figured out that slow and steady wins the race when it comes to building s’mores. A slow roast, with a steady rotation far from the flames, produces a vastly superior marshmallow with a soft, gooey center and a delicate toasty caramelized crust. The last time I went camping with my sister and her kids, my nephews actually poked fun at me for how long I take to toast my marshmallows. What can I say, I’m a perfectionist. Or neurotic. Potato, Potahto.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I suppose that slow and steady toasting is sort of a metaphor for building this cake. I’m not going to sugar coat things (lol) and tell you that this is an “easy” or “quick” recipe for novice bakers. It takes time and effort and has multiple steps and components. It’s basically four recipes in one, with 3 layers of cake, a flavored icing, a multi-step filling, a ganache drizzle, decorations on top, and long set of assembly instructions.

If you’re patient and determined though, and have a fair understanding of layer cake construction, all the effort definitely pays off in the end. I promise you that this cake is seriously incredible.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Unfortunately my birthday bbq never actually happened. Just as my excitement about the party was reaching it’s peak, the weather forecast started showing rain in the future. I tried not to panic and just kept telling myself that the weather changes so quickly in New York that by the weekend the forecast could be completely different.

I went ahead with planning and recipe testing my cake, but once I was sure that the recipe was solid and all the elements really worked together, I was also sure that it was time to start cancelling on our guests. A few nights before the big day I was home alone and actually started to pout and feel sorry for myself. I’d put all this work in for nothing and I had no clue what I’d end up doing on my birthday. After a few minutes though, I snapped out of it and decided that bbq or no bbq, I was going to have a good time.

I already had an amazing cake recipe, and after all that work to perfect it, I needed to show it off. I invited a small group of close friends to brunch not far from our place, and told everyone that afterward we’d be heading back to our apartment for cake and Cards Against Humanity. And guacamole!

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Multiple people took one bite and their faces lit up and told me that it actually tasted like real s’mores, almost as if they weren’t expecting something that looks so pretty to also actually taste great too. They clearly underestimated me!
Russell even told me, repeatedly, that it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever made, and kept going back into the bowl to steal stray spoonfuls of the marshmallow filling while I was stacking the layers. Actually my mom did the same exact thing when I was trying out the filling recipe for the first time!

The layers of cake are moist, tender, and richly chocolatey thanks to double dutch cocoa, strong coffee, and real butter. The toasted marshmallow filling is made from actual marshmallows rather than marshmallow spread, so it genuinely has the rich flavor and gooey texture of a warm marshmallow right off the stick. Once the layers are stacked, everything gets enrobed in a velvety swiss meringue buttercream loaded with graham cracker crumbs and just a hint of cinnamon. As if all that weren’t enough, rich dark chocolate ganache is the… umm… icing on the cake. In addition to the cocoa flavor from the devil’s food layers, the ganache adds that melty chocolate flavor you know and expect from s’mores. The only thing missing here is the camp fire and the sticks!

I promise you that this show-stopping cake really does taste as good as it looks. Better even!
If you’re up for the challenge, it’s definitely worth the effort.

s'mores layer cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

S'mores Layer Cake

  • Servings: 16 to 24-ish
  • Print
Devil’s Food Cake
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour (or baking spray) for pans
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder (I used Double Dutch Process)
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee (or hot water if preferred)
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour.
Whisk together cocoa powder and coffee (or hot water) until smooth and set aside.
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
Beat melted butter, oil, and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low.
Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter evenly between the three pans, and bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.
To achieve a perfectly flat, professional looking cake, you’ll want to slice the very tops of the cakes off to make each layer completely flat and level. You can do this using a very sharp bread knife, or a cake leveler.

If you’re not assembling cakes right away, individually wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying. Layers can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two, or frozen (wrapped in plastic wrap first, then aluminum foil) for up to two weeks.

Graham Cracker Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing:
Adapted from “Layered” by Tessa Huff
3/4 cup egg whites (I used pasteurized egg whites from a carton)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (cut into 1 tablespoon slices)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place the egg whites and sugar in a very clean bowl of a stand mixer and whisk them together by hand to combine. Fill a medium saucepan with an inch or two of water and bring to a simmer over medium to medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl over the saucepan to create a double boiler. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t directly touch the water, and that the water doesn’t reach a full boil.
Heat the egg whites until they register 160F on a candy thermometer, whisking regularly to avoid cooking the whites. As soon as they’re at the correct temperature, carefully attach the mixer bowl to the stand mixer and add the whisk attachment.
Beat the egg whites on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes until they hold stiff peaks and the outside of the bowl is cooled to room temperature. Stop the mixer and swap the whisk attachment for the paddle.
On low speed, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, waiting for it to incorporate before adding more. Once all the butter is mixed in, add the vanilla extract and mix in to incorporate. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is smooth and silky, about 3 to 5 minutes.
If the mixture starts to look curdled, just keep beating. It’ll come together.
If the whites were still too warm when the butter was added and the buttercream is too thin and soupy, refrigerate the bowl in 10 minute bursts until it’s cool (but not cold) and beat again until smooth.
Once smooth, add the graham cracker crumbs and cinnamon and beat in to incorporate.

Toasted Marshmallow Filling:
10 oz mini marshmallows
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup powdered sugar

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spray the paper with cooking spray or rub with butter. Reserve 1/2 cup of mini marshmallows, and spread the rest on the tray in a single layer.
Toast the marshmallows under the broiler in your oven, rotating the pan if necessary to promote even browning. Keep a close eye on the pan, as this should only take a few minutes but the exact time will depend on the strength of your broiler and how close the pan is to it. The marshmallows should mostly be a dark toasty brown, but not burned. Watch them like a hawk through the oven door.
Let the marshmallows cool to room temperature before proceeding, and they should peel off the greased parchment in one single sticky layer.

Place the toasted marshmallows in a medium saucepan along with the unsalted butter. Heat over medium to medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the marshmallows are all melted and completely combined with the butter.

Transfer the marshmallow mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat in heavy cream and powdered sugar. Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and let cool completely, then beat again to loosen the mixture up a little. The mixture will be a bit stiff and sticky, but should be soft enough to spread.

Glossy Ganache Drizzle:
4 oz good quality dark chocolate (60% works well)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
pinch salt

Chop chocolate into small, easily melted pieces and place in a heat proof bowl.
Heat heavy cream, honey, & salt in a small saucepan (or microwave save bowl) just until it comes to a light boil, and immediately pour directly over chocolate. Wait 2 to 3 minutes before stirring until completely smooth and melted and free of lumps. If the mixture seems very hot still it may melt the icing as you pour it so wait a few minutes for it to cool slightly. Do not let it get too cool or it will not drizzle nicely and may look messy.

*Do not make the ganache until the cake is completely iced and ready to decorate.

Decorations: (optional)
Remaining 1/2 cup mini marshmallows
Broken pieces of graham crackers

Toast the remaining mini marshmallow on a sprayed or buttered parchment lined baking sheet in the same way they were toasted for the marshmallow filling. Try to space them out on the pan so they don’t all touch, and toast them to a lighter brown than you did for the filling. It’ll be easier to decorate with individual marshmallows, and they’ll melt less if they’re only lightly toasted.
You probably won’t use the whole 1/2 cup, but it’s nice to have more than you’ll need so you can choose the nicest looking ones.

Assemble cake: 
Place the first cake layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round, serving plate, or cake stand. Using a cake round will make it easier to ice and decorate, especially if you have a revolving turntable for decorating (I use a lazy suzan, but you can also just spin your plate or cake stand while you work).

Fit a piping bag with a large round or star tip and fill with a cup or two of the graham cracker buttercream. Pipe a thick dam of icing around the outside of the cake to contain the marshmallow filling. This will ensure that the filling stays in place and doesn’t squish out when the layers are stacked.

Place half of the toasted marshmallow filling in the center of the cake and spread it smooth and even using an icing spatula. Add the next layer of cake, looking from directly over the top and from eye level at the cake to make sure each layer is directly one above the other, rotating the cake to be certain. Repeat the same procedure with the buttercream dam and the other half of the marshmallow filling, then add the third and final layer of cake and check for straightness again. Using about half of the remaining icing, crumb coat your cake (If you have any icing left in the piping bag, empty it out and use that too). Starting with the top of the cake, spread the icing thin and work some of it down the sides of the cake to completely cover the whole thing in a thin, smooth, even coat of icing. This first layer of icing seals the cake and keeps crumbs from being visible in the outer layer of icing. It may seem like unnecessary trouble, but it really is worth it to get a smooth professional finish on the icing.

Place the cake in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour to help set the icing and firm up the cake.
Spread the remaining buttercream over the whole cake the same way you did the crumb coat. Start by smoothing the top and slowly working the icing down the sides to cover the cake completely. Try to get the icing as completely smooth as possible with straight sides and a flat, level top. I use a long offset icing spatula. Refrigerate the cake again for at least another 30 minutes (or up to a day).

Make your ganache just before you’re ready to remove the cake from the fridge.

It’s not necessary, but I find it easier to get an even, professional looking drizzle with a squeeze bottle. Slowly add the ganache just around the outer edge of the top of the cake so that it drips in some places. Slowly rotate the cake to do the entire outside edge. Once you’re happy with the amount of drizzle coming down the sides, fill in the center of the top of the cake with ganache, smoothing it flat with a clean icing spatula before the ganache sets.

If you’d like to add decorations to the top of the cake, be sure to add them before the ganache sets.

This cake will keep well in a cake saver at room temperature for a day or two if the weather is not too hot or humid. Otherwise, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If refrigerating, bring cake to room temperature at least two hours before serving.

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Cash me outside

If you follow me on instagram, you probably noticed I was spending A LOT of time out in our backyard this spring.

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As soon as the weather turned warm and things started turning green, I was out there every night. You may have even been sick of all the pictures and videos of our yard, usually with smoke pouring out of my charcoal grill and string lights hanging overhead. Sorry not sorry.

I grew up in cow and corn country in Upstate New York, so I was always outdoors in nice weather, and even though I live in Brooklyn now my love for the outdoors is just as strong. We were lucky enough to find an apartment with outdoor space years ago, but if you’ve been reading for a long while now, you’ll remember that the space out back was a little, well, rough around the edges when we first moved in.
A few years back I posted about the progress we’d made so far, which felt monumental at the time, but looking back at pictures seems pretty meager compared to how things look now. Up until that point we’d spent every Summer clearing out debris and weeds and sick unhealthy plants. It took a long time to get everything clean and tidy before we could even begin planting anything new or making the space livable and attractive.

That post was basically the beginning of when we were able to finally start planting, and since then things have changed quite a bit so I thought you might enjoy a little update.  I’ve planted plenty in the past few years, figured out what plants do well and which ones don’t, and added some fancy-pants new outdoor furniture to boot.

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I know I also mentioned this in my last gardening post too, but just to refresh your memory, we have a big evil mulberry tree out there that makes the yard a disgusting unusable mess for anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks out of every summer. The tree is too tall and the berries fall too far to make collecting them possible, so instead they just splatter into a juicy mulberry paste that attracts flies and ants and birds (and bird poo) and eventually turns moldy and stinky and awful. And guess what. We’re in the midst of berry season proper right now, so I haven’t been back there for a good three weeks. The photos in this post were taken a few weeks ago, just before it started.
Even when the tree isn’t dropping the got-damned berries, instead it’s shading most of the yard and sucking up all the moisture in the soil. As if the berries weren’t enough to deal with, that tree is the source of two little words that have made my life very difficult over the past few years.
Dry.
Shade.

It’s incredibly difficult to find plants that thrive in dry shade. Most shade plants are moisture lovers, and most drought-tolerant plants love lots of sunshine. So, after years of experimenting, I’ve basically learned that Hostas are my best friend if I want the yard to look green and lush. I know they’re kind of boring, but there are so many different colors and shapes and sizes available these days that even a yard filled with Hostas can look interesting and modern. I’d actually already figured this out before my last yard post, but at that point I’d only gotten around to planting few of them. These days they’re all over the place.

Bleeding Hearts and Coral Bells seem to do well back there too, so I’ve started mixing them in between the Hostas. There’s one little corner of the yard that gets a few hours of decent light, so I have some orange day lilies planted there, but they haven’t flowered yet and so far they just look like overgrown grass. Because I like to live dangerously, this spring I also decided to test the limits of the sunshine back there, and planted a sun-loving Forsythia against the fence. Fingers crossed!

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To mix in some color and texture, I like to fill pots with hardy annuals like wax begonias and I always do a few herbs in one of the big galvanized buckets we added a few years ago too. Sometimes they don’t get enough sun and don’t last the whole summer, but they’re nice while they last and so far they seem to be doing well this year.
Early in the spring I usually try some pansies too for some color and life while the hostas are just barely poking out of the ground, but they don’t really last once the weather turns hot and I’ll need to replace them with something else mid-summer. They looked great in the photo below, but they’re already starting to look pretty scraggly.

For the first time ever this year, I mulched a good portion of the beds to try to keep them moist and healthy during the hot dry spells we always seem to get in Brooklyn summers. Not only do I hope it’ll keep the plants happier, it also went a long way in making the yard feel so much more “finished” and attractive. We went with brown mulch so it doesn’t really “read” in photos all that well, but I promise it looks great in person, especially compared to bare dirt. Getting the heavy, wet, stinky bags of mulch out there meant carrying them all by hand through our apartment and out our bedroom window, and we needed about 30 bags for the area we mulched, but it was well worth the effort in the end and I really wish we’d done it sooner!

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When we first moved in there was an old swing in the yard, and a rotting old wooden table left by one of the previous tenants. We moved the swing into the back of the yard this spring, and the table has since fallen apart. I re-used the legs to build the red coffee table you’ll notice in some of these photos, but I don’t know how much longer that old wood will hold out. The paint is peeling pretty badly so I’m hoping new paint will protect it and help it last a few more years.
I just need to decide on a color…
Any suggestions?

Almost half of the yard space is covered in concrete and works as a patio area for us. When we first moved in I was disappointed that there wasn’t more space for planting, but now that I know how challenging it is to get plants to thrive in our dry shade conditions, I’m actually relieved that we have more space for entertaining and lounging.
That’s why we decided to make a pretty serious investment in outdoor furniture this year. Russell got me an outdoor sectional for my birthday, and it all kind of snowballed from there. Upgrading from the old two-seater swing made me suddenly realize how much more comfortable our outdoor space could be if we were willing to put the time and money into it, so I kind of went a little overboard with the online shopping. We’d gotten the dining table a few years ago but never really got around to finding chairs to go with it, so that was my next mission. Then came the throw pillows, and a deck box to store all the cushions and pillows in. Then we just stumbled on those black and grey club chairs one day and we had to have them! Luckily everything was (relatively) reasonably priced.
In case you’re interested, the sectional, dining chairs, and deck box are from Wayfair. Unfortunately the sectional and chairs don’t seem to be available right now. The outdoor throw pillows and big grey club chairs are from Target, and the dining table and lanterns are from Ikea.

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Things are looking a little more full and lush since I’ve taken these photos because we’ve had a lot of rain lately, so once the berries stop dropping I’ll get out there to clean up the mess and start barbecuing again! You’re more than welcome to live vicariously through my instagram stories, but my life really isn’t all that exciting so I’d suggest trying to find someone a little more interesting to follow!

Who knows, if things look different enough maybe I’ll give you another glimpse into our yard in another couple years.

nectarines and cream icebox cake

Why hello there friends! Remember me???

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Yes it’s me! Tux!

I’m back! (well, sort of.)

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell and I are still plugging away at the project I mentioned in my last post, and while we’re (hopefully) nearing the finish line, we’ve still got plenty of work to do so I’m not exactly back for good. I just happened to get a little down time recently and I couldn’t bare to stay away from you for one more second!

I’ve missed you guys SO MUCH that I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the kitchen when I finally had a moment to myself. We’ve been so completely consumed with our project in the past few months that my poor kitchen has felt almost as neglected as all of you probably have.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

As it turns out though, my little bit of down time just happened to fall smack dab in the middle of our SECOND heat wave in the past couple months. For almost two weeks the daily weather forecast included “Excessive Heat Warnings”, and the city even set up “cooling stations” for the sick and elderly without air conditioning to be able to escape (and survive) the oppressive daytime temperatures.

To make matters even worse, unlike my brown-lawned family upstate, we’ve also had plenty of rain (and thunder and lightning) here in Brooklyn so along with the heat we’ve also had plenty of soupy, steamy, thick, and swampy humidity. In other words, we’ve just been sweating our butts off here in Brooklyn!

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

As you can imagine, that meant that turning the oven on to bake a cake has been sort of out of the question.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

With actual baking off the table, my first thought was to make some kind of ice cream or frozen something-or-other to help cool us off and keep me as far as possible from the oven. It didn’t take me long to realize though, that I hadn’t thought far enough ahead and my ice cream maker bowl requires overnight freezing before I could even get started.
I briefly considered popsicles but I couldn’t seem to get inspired. What I really wanted to do was bakeor at least make something that felt as homey and satisfying as something fresh from the oven. I’d been out of the kitchen and away from my oven for so long that my head kept going back to the idea of a fruity crisp or crumble or skillet cake.

Then it suddenly hit me!

Icebox cake!

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re not familiar with an icebox cake, the concept is fairly simple. You layer thin crisp cookies with whipped cream and let the whole thing set up in the refrigerator (or icebox as it were). While the cake sets up, moisture is pulled from the whipped cream, softening the cookies and firming the cream until the whole thing is transformed into a dreamy, wonderful, lick-the-plate-clean dessert with a perfectly cake-like sliceable texture.

The original recipe has been around since the first world war and was most likely inspired by similar desserts like the Charlotte or the Trifle. The first icebox cakes were made with thin chocolate wafer cookies that are increasingly difficult to find (Smitten Kitchen has a recipe if you want to make your own), but these days you can basically make them with any thin, crisp cookies you like.
The filling options these days are just as limitless as the cookies, so I knew I’d find a way to make something bright and summery and satisfying.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wish I had some sepia-colored story about the nostalgic icebox cakes my grandmother used to make me as a boy growing up in the countryside in 1764, but the truth is that I’d never even tasted icebox cake until I made one with gingersnaps and maple cream this past December.

Even though I didn’t grow up with them, they feel every bit as homey and comforting as the bundt cakes that I actually did grow up eating in grandma’s kitchen in the country. While they’re relatively new to me, I would bet that a few more icebox cakes will turn up on the pages of Brooklyn Homemaker in the years to come. They just have that folksy days-of-yore feeling that lets me wistfully imagine joyful, touching family moments that never actually happened.

Not to mention they’re also freakin’ delicious, and crazy simple to put together.
If you can whip cream and open a box of cookies, you can make an icebox cake. They’re actually much simpler than I myself would normally go for, and the last time I made one I went the extra mile and made my own gingersnaps as the base of the cake. (You know I’m a glutton for punishment.)

This time around though, I wanted to take it easy, keep it simple, and highlight the other ingredients I wanted to feature in this simple summery creation.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell and I signed up for a CSA from Local Roots earlier this summer, but of course that was before we knew how busy we were about to get. We’ve been loving every ounce of fresh, local, seasonal produce, but it can sometimes be a challenge to find uses for everything without letting anything go to waste.

We’ve been getting pounds and pounds of white nectarines in the past few weeks, so I really wanted to do something special with them. What could be better than giving them the peaches and cream treatment with vanilla wafer cookies and mascarpone thickened whipped cream?

Nectarines and peaches are so similar in flavor and texture that you could substitute peaches without affecting the flavor of the recipe much at all. The white nectarines we had from our CSA though had a crisper, slightly more acidic zing to them than a standard peach, which I thought was a nice compliment to the richness of the cream. Honestly though, you could swap them out for strawberries or cherries and this cake would still be a little summery slice of heaven.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Nectarines and Cream Icebox Cake

2 lbs nectarines (or peaches), peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau (optional) *see note
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
8 oz mascarpone at room temperature
Two 11 oz packages of vanilla wafer cookies, such as Nilla Wafers

Combine roughly chopped nectarines with sugar, salt, and orange liqueur in a medium bowl. Stir to combine and macerate for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream on high just until it begins to thicken and form soft peaks. Add the mascarpone and beat on low speed until almost smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and fold to incorporate. Add the macerated chopped nectarines and beat on low for 30 to 60 seconds and scrape down the sides and fold again. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is thick and holds firm peaks, another 30 to 60 seconds. Do NOT over-beat or the cream can become waxy and the mascarpone can become grainy.

On an 8″ cake board, or a cake stand or serving plate, arrange a layer of vanilla wafer cookies into three tight circles. I used 19 cookies per layer, with 1 cookie in the center, then one circle of 6 cookies and another circle of 12, but that’ll depend on the size of the cookie you use. Once you’ve arranged your first layer of cookies, place about a cup of cream over them and smooth it out with an offset icing spatula. Spread the cream almost to the outer edge, leaving just a small edge of cookies showing. Arrange another layer of cookies, trying to alternate the layers so they appear staggered above one another. Repeat another layer of cream and then another layer of cookies, again and again until you have as many layers as you desire or until you run out of cookies or cream. Finish the top of the cake with a final layer of cream. My cake was 8 layers tall, but again, this may depend on the size of the cookies you use.

If you have a cookie or two left over, garnish the cake by crumbling them in the center of the top if desired.

Try to delicately tent the cake with plastic wrap or cover with a large inverted bowl or cake dome before transferring to the refrigerator to set up.
Place cake to refrigerator for an absolute minimum of 6 hours (but ideally 12 to 24 hours) before serving. This cake will continue to improve the longer you can wait. As it sets, the cream will get firmer as the cookies get softer, and the flavors will distribute more evenly. Patience is a virtue!

Once set, the cake can be sliced and served much like a regular cake. If possible, it’s best to use a sharp serrated knife with a gentle sawing motion to avoid smooshing the cake and to get the best looking slices possible. Really though, you could dish it into bowls with a spoon if you wanted, and everyone would love it just as much.
Cake can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days.

*Note:
Peach schnapps would be great too if you have it, or you could also substitute rum or bourbon for a bit of extra warmth.
If you’d prefer to keep it completely non-alcoholic, a teaspoon or two of orange blossom water or rose water would be a lovely substitution. That stuff is potent though so start with just a little and taste to see if you’d like to add more.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish

Okay friends. I’m officially, like, the worst blogger in the entire world.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

I literally was just saying how sorry I was about waiting so long between posts, and how much I’ve missed you and was so ready to get back into the swing of things and get back to posting regularly and often.

Then I disappear for another month.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

Here it is, the beginning of summer. The beginning of fresh fruit, bright greens, a beautiful bounty I’ve been dreaming about for months. Asparagus season. Strawberry season. Rhubarb. Ramps. Snap peas. Scapes. Swiss chard. Fava beans. Fennel. Fiddlehead ferns. Vidalia onions. The first summer peaches.

This is the beginning of the best possible time for a food blogger, and suddenly I fall off the face of the internet.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, here I am again to apologize to you. My readers. My friends.

This has been a crazy summer so far, and it’s only just begun.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

See, Russell and I just started working on a really special project together. It’s in the very early stages still so I don’t really want to get into the details just yet.

Sorry to be so mysterious and leaving you hanging. We just want to get a little further along before we really share the whole thing. Don’t you worry none, I promise that I’ll spill all the beans as soon as we’re ready.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

For now though, this special project is requiring almost all of my attention when I’m not at work, so as much as it pains me, that means we’re going to be missing each other for most of this summer.  I hope to be able to get at least a few fresh summer fruit pies or big fancy salads in before it’s too late, but I’m going to be posting a lot less frequently than I’d like to.
It’ll all be worth it in the end though. I promise!

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

All this craziness doesn’t mean that I’ve missed out completely on the bounty of the season. I’ve done my best to take advantage of the early summer. Whenever I’ve had a minute to myself I’ve tried to play with strawberries and asparagus and everything I can get my hands on.

I even got my hands on some real Vidalia onions, in season, fresh from Georgia. I haven’t had much experience with sweet onions before, and I have to tell you these puppies are unbelievable. I knew they’d be sweeter than a regular yellow onion, but I didn’t expect them to be so mild. I’ve been using them for everything I can think of, including an amazing German cucumber salad, and of course, the amazing recipe I’m sharing today.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

You want to get the thickest prettiest pork chops you can get your hands on, and cook them over real hardwood charcoal until they’re seared and smoky on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. It’s super easy to overcook pork, so I recommend using a meat thermometer.

Back in the days of yore people were really afraid of pink pork because they’d been told it’d make them sick. I won’t get into all the weird and nerdy details, but let me just say that perceived threat isn’t really a threat any longer and the USDA has recently reduced their recommended cooking temperature for pork from 160F to 145F. If you bring your pork up to 135 and remove and tent with foil for a 10 minute rest, your pork will just hit 145 to 150 and perfect. It may have a tiny touch of pink in the center but it’ll be so moist and juicy you won’t believe it. Don’t be scared. You have nothing to be scared of. I promise. So does the USDA.

I didn’t brine my chops, but I did follow this recipe from Serious Eats.

To compliment this smoky tender heavenly pork, you can’t go wrong with a sweet and creamy relish of caramelized Vidalia onions with peaches and a touch of bourbon and ginger.
This shit is thebomb.com

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

Grilled Pork Chops with Vidalia Onion and Peach Relish

2 tablespoons butter
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced thin into half circles
3 ripe peaches, peeled pitted and diced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon or American whiskey
1 tablespoon sugar (optional, depending on sweetness of peaches)
2 to 4 pork chops, thick cut (1 to 1.5 inches thick), about 3/4 to 1 pound each

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once butter is bubbling add onions and about 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir occasionally, watching carefully that the onions don’t brown too quickly, for about 20 to 30 minutes. Caramelizing onions is all about going slow and low, be patient and turn down the heat a bit if the onions are browning unevenly or too quickly.

Once the onions are softened and take on a creamy quality, add peaches, vinegar, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 5 minutes, add bourbon, and cook 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. If your peaches weren’t very sweet, or if you’d like the relish sweeter, stir in sugar and cook a few minutes more.
This relish can be made days in advance if you’d like, but should be served warm over the pork. This recipe makes enough relish for at least 4 pork chops.

Generously season your pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper.
Prepare your grill. If using a charcoal grill (recommended) try to organize the coals on one side so you have a hot side and a cooler side.

Sear your chops over the hot side of the grill, for about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Once both sides are seared transfer the chops to the cooler side of the grill with the bones facing the hotter side. Cover about 10 minutes and start checking with a meat thermometer. Once the chops reach 135 to 140, transfer to a plate and tent with foil to rest for about 10 minutes.

Serve with a generous dollop of warm onion relish, and with grilled asparagus if desired.