Sam’s Cake Pavlova, So Long Beacon Hill

Friday will be the last night I sleep in my studio—my home for the last four years.  I’ll soon be shipping off to Boston’s North End.  But as I type this, I’m currently in Beacon Hill penned in by boxes; stacks of old Gourmet magazines; and a dubious gang of bottles, each with about a thumb’s worth of liquor. 

There is leftover Hiram Walker creme de cacao from a chocolate martini phase,  when I had my first job as a café manager and took to drinking sweet drinks served in martini glasses. Perhaps a way to usher me into adulthood, gently.

And rosso vermouth from a make-your-own-Manhattan-at-home stage.  An attempt to survive a post-apocalyptic breakup.

Some Speyburn single malt from the time in my life when I tried to like scotch.

Dark rum courtesy of the summer I spent teaching myself to use a charcoal grill.  Fueled by enough Dark and Stormy cocktails to quell the fear that I’d set my city patio on fire and singlehandedly burn down Beacon Hill. 

Plus a long, thin-necked Galliano bottle that I took after raiding my grandmother’s cellar.  I quickly learned that I am, perhaps, the only person still alive who likes the canary yellow digestif.

The stories these bottles could tell.

But this is not space for that.  At least not today.  Today, today (!) I am going to tell you about the last—and epic—party that was held on my eighteen by six feet garden terrace, an outdoor space that I will miss very much.

A dear friend—someone who knew me well before the swift entrance into adulthood, neurotic grilling, and scotch—recently became affianced to lad who tolerates me calling him JamBug.  (Hi Theresa!  Hi JamBug!)  It was quickly decided we needed to party the shit out of my patio, one last time.

So we did.  On a Sunday night in early August.  We set the patio aglow with small glass votives; hung tea light-filled Ball jars from tree branches; and strung big bulbed lights all over the place.  The space flickered like it was filled with fireflies.

And then eighteen people were overserved.  And fed. With stuffed mushrooms, pickled shishito peppers, and Pimm’s No.1 cup cocktail cubes.  Sumac deviled eggs; pimento and cucumber tea sandwiches (crusts intact); and tomato, peach, burrata, basil salad. 

Fed a beautiful polenta artichoke tart, courtesy of a Maria Speck recipe.  Fed two porchetta plus herbed potatoes courtesy of Dave Schneller.  Essentially we stuffed ourselves.  With pig-stuffed pig, mushroom-stuffed mushrooms, egg-stuffed eggs … you get the idea.  Plus we had molasses and plum ice cream sandwiches.  And Sam’s Cake pavlova.

Allow me to explain Sam’s cake.  Theresa’s family has a restaurant.  This restaurant has a cake.  A cake named after her father, who used to make the dessert.  Famously made the dessert.  He passed away when Theresa and I were in high school.  So we honored him and his yellow-caked legacy, which also included a vanilla pudding-like component and berries.

To lighten it a smidgen I substituted pavlova.  Given all the eating we were to do.  A meringue with unsweetened whipped cream, plus pastry cream, and peaches, and berries followed.

Simple.  But a stunner.  Light as a feather.  Touched by Sam and graced by a ballet dancer, as the pavlova story goes.

A hell of a way to start a marriage. A hell of a way to end a party.

Sam’s Cake Pavlova


for the pavlova
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 cups superfine (castor) sugar (see notes section)
8 egg whites (reserve 4 yolks for the pastry cream)
pinch of salt

for the pastry cream
Adapted from Tartine

2 cups whole milk
½ vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped and pod reserved
¼ tsp salt
3 to 4 tbsp cornstarch
½ cup + 1 tbsp sugar
4 egg yolks
4 tbsp unsalted butter

for the topping

1 pint heavy cream
1 tsp orange blossom water
2 small peaches
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries


Start this at least a day before you plan to serve it to make assembly much easier. 

To make the pavlova:

Set the oven at 250 degrees and place a rack in the center.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and draw a 7-inch diameter circle on each one.

In a small bowl, mix the vinegar and vanilla extract.  In another small bowl, mix the cornstarch into the sugar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the whites and salt on low, increasing the speed to medium, until soft peaks form, and a trail from the whites becomes visible, and very tiny bubbles form that are uniform in size (about 2 to 4 minutes).

Increase the speed to medium high and slowly sprinkle in the sugar mixture.  After about a minute, add in the vinegar mixture.  Increase the speed and whip until glossy, stiff peaks form (about 5 minutes).

Spread half the meringue to fit inside one of your circles on one of the prepared baking sheets, smoothing it out and making sure the edges are higher than the middle.  (You’ll need a well an inch or two deep in the center to create a space for the pastry cream and fruit to go.)  Repeat with the remaining meringue on the other sheet.

Bake both meringues for 1 hour plus 15 to 30 minutes, or until the shells are dry and cream-colored.  (Look at the shells around 60 to 70 minutes; you don’t want them to take on too much color, if they are rotate the pans and drop the oven temperature about 25 degrees.)

When the outside meringues are as described above and feel firm to the touch, turn the oven off and leave the door ajar, leaving the meringues inside.  (I used a fork to keep the oven propped open.)  Let the meringues cool completely in the oven.

Peel the cooled meringues off the parchment paper and store in an airtight container, or wrap tightly with plastic wrap, until ready to use.

To make the pastry cream:

Place a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl.

In a medium saucepan, place the milk, scraped vanilla bean seeds and pod, and salt, and place over medium-high heat; stir occasionally, to prevent scorching, and bring to just under a boil.  Remove the pod.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. (3 tbsp will yield a slightly runnier cream, while 4 tbsp will yield a firmer cream; I used 3 tbsp and thought it was a perfect counterpoint for the meringue.)  Whisk in the yolks.

When the milk is ready, slowly pour about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Pour a little more of the hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk again.  Repeat once or twice more, and then pour the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk mixture and cook over medium heat, constantly whisking, until the custard becomes as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes (you’ll want to see a few slow bubbles to ensure the cornstarch cooks, but do not allow the cream to fully boil or it may curdle.)

Remove the cream from the heat and quickly pour it through your sieve into the bowl.  Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.  When the cream is about 140 degrees, whisk in the butter in 1 tbsp pieces.  (Whisk until the cream is smooth before adding the next piece.)

Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream (to prevent a skin forming).  Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the whipped cream:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it becomes stiff and cloud-like; whip in the orange blossom water for another few seconds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve:

Slice the peaches.  Place each meringue onto a serving dish. 

Spoon pastry cream into the center of each meringue until you deem fit (I spooned until it started to gently run down the sides of the meringue).  Scatter the peach slices and blueberries equally between the two meringues.  Divide the whipped cream evenly between the two and then toss the raspberries on top.  Serve immediately.

(Alternatively—if you are feeling brave—you could try stacking the two meringues, alternating the pastry cream, fruit, and whipped cream.)

Serves 12 to 16 people

 -The pastry cream can be made up to 5 days ahead of time.  The meringue and the whipped cream can be made 1 day ahead of time.

-You could probably cut the pastry cream in half; you’ll have a little extra if you don’t, but I’ve never heard anyone complaining about leftover pastry cream.  You can use it as a simple sauce with fresh fruit, or to add to cakes and trifles.

-If you can’t find superfine sugar, whirl granulated sugar in a food processor until it becomes finely textured.

-You probably won’t be able to serve 16 people if you stack the pavlova.  Each pavlova on its own will conservatively yield 6 generous portions and 8 smaller ones.


Save the Cake: Rose Angel Food with Orange Blossom Cream and Berries

It seems logical that a cake requiring twelve eggs—and only the puny fat-free parts—would become defunct almost immediately. Lest you think angel food cake has gone the way of the Dodo, please reconsider. 

It is true the last person I remember to bake the dessert was my grandmother.  She used to alternate between angel food cake and something called Love in Bloom, which dictated cream cheese be mixed with heavy cream and spread over a premade graham cracker crust, then topped with cherry pie filling.  It is also true she recently turned ninety.  And it's highly unlikely she makes either of these options on a regular basis now. 

[Don’t be misled.  She is a spry woman who lives alone and still flips her mattress regularly.  Though I think when you enter your tenth decade, you probably yearn less and less for foods with cherubic undercurrents.]

Perhaps there are people still Love in Bloom-ing on a regular basis, but the recent trend has been to gather around lusty, big bosomed desserts that take kindly to things like bacon, sea salt, and good old fashioned lard.  No matter.  Anything that encourages an empty wine bottle peaks my interest, immediately.  (In this case, a bygone rosé.)  Add in an innate companionship for summer berries and you have my undivided attention.

It had been too long since my last encounter, so I had to go hunting for a recipe.  I found support where I often do: with Mrs. Garten and Mr. Lebovitz (plus my mother).  And then I had to do something I hate doing.  Obtain very specific cake parts. 

Like caster sugar, cake flour, a plan for a dozen egg yolks, and other persnickety things, id est a specific two-piece tube pan.  Luckily, the latter was a gift recently scored at a garage sale. (Which may implicate the dessert’s passing proclivities even further). 

Don’t be deterred.  She’s fussy, but worth it.

What resulted was one of the lightest, softest cakes I’ve eaten in decades.  Quite good on its own, capable of being sliced and palmed on a moment’s notice.  Ethereal paired with unsweetened whipped cream and the ripest berries you can find. 

I added rose water to the batter and orange blossom into the cream, because they are heady and romantic and perfect for a cloud-like—and arguably antiquated—cake.  Some souls find these flavors to be too grandmotherly, so simply leave them out if you are in this camp.  (I am not.)  Either way, the cake should be rebranded as vintage, and swiped off the endangered list.

Or perhaps I am mistaken.  Perhaps it never really left us.  Old often becomes anew.  Here, rosé begets rose.  And cake becomes better cake.

Rose Angel Food Cake with Orange Blossom Cream and Berries
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten


for the cake

1½ cups egg whites (10-12 eggs), at room temperature
2 cups sifted superfine (caster) sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups cake flour
¾ tsp kosher salt
1½ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 large lemon
1 tsp rose water

for the whipped topping

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp orange blossom water

for the berries

2 cups berries (blackberries, blueberries, etc.), divided
a few drops of fresh lemon or lime juice
1 to 2 tbsp sugar
splash of Grand Marnier


Note: you should start about an hour or two in advance by separating your eggs; save the egg yolks for another use and let the whites come to room temperature.

When you are ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a fine sieve over a medium bowl and sift ½ cup of the sugar and all the cake flour together into the bowl.  Sift this mixture 3 more times (you may wish to get another bowl so you can easily move it back and forth).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar.  Whip on high speed with the whisk attachment until medium firm peaks form (about a minute). (At first, my cream of tartar clumped a bit so I whipped the whites by hand until everything became incorporated and then resumed the mixer.)

With the mixer on medium speed, slowly sprinkle in the remaining sugar and whisk until thick and shiny (1 to 2 minutes more).  Add in the vanilla, lemon zest, and rose water and whisk until very thick (about another minute). 

Remove the bowl from the stand and sift one forth of the flour mixture into the egg whites; gently fold in the flour using a rubber spatula and then repeat 3 more times (adding a forth of flour each time), until everything is incorporated.

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.  Smooth the top and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden and springs back when touched.  Immediately invert the pan over a bottle (a wine bottle works well for this).  Let completely cool.  Loosen the cake by running your knife along the two inner rims, then remove the cake by gently tipping the pan sideways; run your knife along the bottom of the pan to fully extricate the cake.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap until ready to serve.

To serve: in a medium saucepan, add 1 cup of the berries, citrus juice, sugar (to taste), and Grand Marnier and heat on medium until the berries start to give off liquid, but haven’t yet become mush (about 3 to 5 minutes).  Toss in remaining fresh berries and stir to combine.

Whip the cream until it becomes the consistency you prefer (I like mine on the thicker, denser side), drizzle in the orange blossom water; refrigerate until ready to serve.  Top each slice of cake with a dollop of whipped cream and spoon berries on top.

Makes 8 servings

-The whipped cream and berry sauce can be prepared a day in advance, but omit the last cup of berries.  Gently rewarm the sauce and add in the fresh berries right before serving.

-The cake can be made 2 days ahead of time.  Keep in airtight container or wrap well with plastic wrap; store at room temperature.

-Don't have caster sugar?  Whirl granulated in a food processor.


Zucchini Appetizers, A Most Unusual Snack

I’ll bet you once had a childhood.  And during that time you probably did some snacking.  And I’d wager you likely have a few foods that you haven’t eaten in a good fifteen or twenty years, but if you saw them today, for a moment, you might forget all the nasty bits of growing up.

Maybe it’s those twin popsicles—the kind with the double sticks that came in a big translucent bag clearly boasting the flavors it held.  

Or maybe your pick is a bit more unusual, like boxed pistachio pudding, in which case, you were probably a strange little child, and we would likely get along very nicely. 

My sister was a pigs-in-a-blanket fiend.  In her presence, party trays would leave the kitchen half demolished. While I, on the other hand, stalked the chips and dip bowl. 

I would settle on a nearby couch and not leave until the French onion dip was taken down.  Unless a little something my mother called “zucchini appetizers” was prepared. 

These were admittedly an odd snack caught somewhere between a crustless quiche and a bouncy bread pudding, of a savory sort.  I loved to eat them cold and to this day, they still taste a little like summer.  If summer could be mixed with Bisquick®, and cubed.

You can probably see where this is going. 

I was thumbing through my mother’s recipe book awhile back and came across these square zucchini snacks of hers.  Though ten-year-old Emily was thrilled, the Bisquick presented a challenge.  These days I’m a little morally squeamish towards premade pancake mix, so I had to indulge my very adult snobbery and find a proper substitute. 

Luckily, the Internet is brimming with do-it-yourself Bisquick people.  And after a few trials, I had pretty much replicated the appetizers.  More or less.  I decreased the garlic, because it gives thirty-year-old Emily dyspepsia.  And added basil because I believe basil can be added to pretty much anything.  And just did what I was told on the instructions:

Mix all ingredients.  Spread in a greased casserole. Bake until slightly golden on top.  Cut into bite-sized squares.  Serve hot or cold.

I only ever remember ever eating them cold.  And bite-sized by the handful.

Mom's Zucchini Appetizers


1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
½ cup olive oil
1 whole scallion, minced
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
½ cup grated pecorino cheese
3½ cups grated zucchini (about 3 small zucchini)
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
pinch of red pepper flakes
a few turns of fresh black pepper


Set the oven at 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then add in the remaining ingredients and stir to combine; mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.

Butter a casserole dish (I used a 10 x 7).  Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and bake until the eggs have fully set and the top is golden brown, about 30-40 minutes (my oven takes a little longer, so I’d start checking around the 30 minute mark).

Makes about 12 bite-sized squares, or 6 as part of a meal

-The 1 cup of Bisquick® originally called for in this recipe roughly translates to 1 cup of flour plus 1½ tsp of baking powder, ¼ cup of oil, and ½ tsp salt.

-I used small zucchini the length of a pencil.  It is said they have more flavor than the big guys.

-This also makes a very wonderful savory breakfast (particularly if you were a slightly odd child).

-Aside: I happened to look at the ingredients in the French onion dip: there’s MSG in there.  Things make even more sense now.