LEMON + PISTACHIO ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

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By the time you’ll be reading this, I’ll most likely be sitting by the pool, sweating in 105°F weather, sipping on a frozen strawberry margarita. Alex and I are celebrating the 4th of July in Scottsdale, Arizona this year (this will be our third time for the holiday) and it’s something that we LOVE doing. The house that we stay at is perfect for relaxing and having fun in the pool, and the neighborhood we stay in (Paradise Valley) is pretty dead since most of the residents leave Arizona for the summer once the temperature begins to rise. We jump in the pool all day and night, BBQ, blast bad music, and occasionally leave the house to get a couple of meals from our favorite spots (Pizzeria Bianco for the best pizza west of the Mississippi and Tee Pee for giant margaritas and amazing tamales). The 4th of July had never been my favorite holiday until we started celebrating it in Scottsdale.

In the past few weeks, I’d been having some trouble in the kitchen with creating a successful recipe for the blog. It all started with wanting to post a recipe for my favorite gelato flavor, hazelnut, and even though the finished product came out okay, I wasn’t completely sold on it. I was attempting to recreate the exact feeling when I had my first bite of hazelnut gelato in Rome years ago and unfortunately my recipe just wasn’t it. From there, I worked on a baked peach doughnut with a crumb topping and that was an utter disaster, followed by a summer berry olive oil cake which I was not a fan of. So, with all of these unsuccessful kitchen moments, I returned to my two favorite sweets to make in the kitchen and combined them together to give you my first ice cream sandwich recipe. I’m happy to report that it is anything but unsuccessful.

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I love ice cream sandwiches because of the endless amount of combinations that you can create. You can essentially bake any type of cookie flavor that you love (plain old chocolate chip, brownie, snickerdoodle, white chocolate macadamia nut, etc.) and sandwich it between any ice cream flavor you can get your hands on (rocky road, cookie dough, mint chip, etc.). Today, I turned to a classic flavor combination that I turn to time and time again (Exhibit A and Exhibit B): citrus and pistachios. In today’s case, we’ll be working with soft and chewy lemon cookies and creamy pistachio ice cream. It’s perfect.

The lemon cookies get their flavor from three additions to the dough: lemon juice, lemon zest and lemon extract. We really want the lemon flavor to stand up against the rich, custard-y ice cream, so these three components are vital to achieving that bright citrus taste. I chose a cookie that was a bit softer and chewier, a texture that after being placed in the freezer (this is of course how you will need to store ice cream sandwiches) will not yield a hard and crunchy cookie when biting into it. Much like my funfetti cookies, this dough has cornstarch added to it to achieve that softer and chewier texture, and it’s also important to not over bake the cookies! The moment you see that the edges are set, quickly take them out of the oven (this should be right before the 10-minute mark).

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As for the ice cream, it will require you to use quite a bit of pistachios (1 1/2 cups plus more if you roll the ice cream sandwiches through chopped pistachios after they’re assembled). I suggest using raw, unsalted shelled pistachios, which you can find at a Trader Joe’s for a good price.. I personally prefer roasting the nuts myself before adding them to the food processor to finely chop them, but if you can’t find them raw at your grocery store, buying them unsalted and roasted would be the next best thing. The only problem with this option is that they are usually still in the shell aka you’ll be cracking a bunch of nuts open which can take a while.

But here’s the thing: if you want to only make the lemon cookies and go out and buy your favorite store bought pistachio ice cream or gelato, that’s totally fine! Or if you just want to make the pistachio ice cream to enjoy on a warm summer night, that’s okay too! Making both components of this recipe is time consuming so I understand if you’d rather just do half of the recipe. But, I will say it’s a very rewarding feeling when you bite into your first ice cream sandwich knowing that you made every component of it from start to finish. And if you do plan on making both the cookies and ice cream, I suggest making the ice cream first since it’s a longer process but can also stay in the freezer for days.

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The cookie recipe yields 10-12 large cookies and the ice cream yields about 1 quart, which will give you 5 or 6 very large ice cream sandwiches. And if you plan on serving this to more than 6 people, you can easily make the cookies smaller or cut the ice cream sandwiches in half (just wait until they are completely frozen). I store my ice cream sandwiches in the freezer by putting them in tupperware, but you can also wrap them in plastic wrap individually.

Happy Fourth of July!

Pistachio Ice Cream

Yields about 1 quart

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted shelled pistachios

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided

  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

  • 5 large egg yolks

  • 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toast the pistachios for about 6-8 minutes, keeping a careful eye on them. Transfer the pistachios to the food processor fitted with the S-blade and finely chop them.

  2. In a small saucepan, warm up the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, granulated sugar and salt over medium heat. Do not let it come to a simmer. Turn off the stove, remove the pan from the heat, and add the chopped pistachios. Stir until they are all fully submerged, cover the pan with a lid, and allow the mixture to steep for one hour at room temperature.

  3. After an hour, pour the pistachio-infused mixture through a strainer over a medium saucepan. Press down on the nuts in order to extract as much flavor from them as you can. Discard the pistachios and begin to rewarm the pistachio-mixture over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, pour the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream into a large bowl and set a strainer over the top (use a bowl that will be able to fit over an ice bath for later).

  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Just as the pistachio mixture is beginning to simmer, gradually add some of it to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly as to not scramble the eggs. Once the egg yolk mixture temperature has raised, pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spatula or spoon.

  5. Pour the mixture over the strainer and into the bowl with the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let the ice cream base sit over an ice bath for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

  6. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions and allow it to harden in the freezer for about 2 hours before enjoying.

Soft and Chewy Lemon Cookies

Yields 10-12 large cookies

Recipe adapted from Averie Cooks

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar, light or dark works

  • 1 large egg, room temperature

  • 1 tbsp. honey

  • 1 tbsp. lemon extract

  • 2 tbsp. lemon zest

  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 2 tsp. cornstarch

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) cream the butter and sugars together until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, honey, lemon extract, zest and juice and mix again for a couple more minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  2. Add all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cornstarch and salt) to the bowl and mix until just combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (Tip: you can scoop out the dough before or after chilling).

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a large cookie or ice cream, scoop out the dough and place them on the sheet. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, each cookie will be about 1/4 cup of dough. Do to the size of the cookie, do not bake more than 6 on a given tray.

  4. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. The cookies will be a light golden brown on the edges and just set when they are ready - they may look underbaked, but they won’t be since these are a softer texture of cookie. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

To assemble the cookies;

  1. Make sure the cookies are completely cooled and the ice cream is frozen solid before assembling the sandwiches.

  2. Try to find two cookies that match exactly in shape and size. Using a ice cream scoop, scoop out about a 1/4 cup of ice cream onto one of the cookies, add the other on top, and gently press down until the ice cream spreads to the width of the cookie.

  3. Roll the ice cream sandwiches through chopped pistachios (optional).

  4. Place the ice cream sandwiches onto a large plate and put it in the freezer for about an hour. Then, either store them in Tupperware or wrap each one individually in plastic wrap.

VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE

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Another trip to Portland, Maine has come and gone, and once again I’m counting down the days until Alex and I can return. This being our third time visiting Portland, we went with the plan of hitting up our favorite spots that we miss while back at home (Bonobo for our favorite pizza, Belleville for the best croissants I’ve ever had, Ruski’s for drinks, etc.), but made it a point to try things that we never had time to try on prior trips. And thanks to finally having a rental car, we were able to leave the peninsula and see places that I always had wished to.

Among these must-see places were: Palace Diner in Biddeford for a perfect breakfast set in a 15-seat dining car; driving up to Yarmouth to check out More and Co. - a shop that sells amazing ceramics and glassware.; and hiking around Mackworth Island, where fairies apparently live (don’t ask). But most importantly, with a car, we were able to make the trek up north to see Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park. Since we only spent one night in MDI, I don’t have that many tips** on what to do or see (besides the basic tourist-y locations in the park), and therefore, I won’t be giving a guide for MDI. BUT, I did update my Portland City Guide post and added some new spots that I deemed worthy of checking out, with a few of them being a short car ride away from the peninsula.

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And now, it’s time for baking again. Leading up to our trip to Maine and the week after we came home, I tried my best to eat as “cleanly” as possible. This pretty much meant no sweets, dairy, or alcohol, which was a lot easier than I thought it would be especially since Alex joined me in on this “detox”. But it also meant taking a mini break away from the blog because what fun is it to post something for you guys when I can’t eat it? No fun at all.

Today’s recipe is for a cake that I didn’t even know existed until watching an episode of the Great British Bake Off - the only baking competition show that I enjoy and cherish. I won’t go into detail about the show because I’m sure most of you have at least heard about it, but if you haven’t given the show a watch yet, I strongly recommend you do so (all the episodes are available on Netflix). In one of the season finales, the remaining three contestants had to make a quintessential British cake called a Victoria Sandwich, also known as a Victoria sponge cake. This very traditional layer cake has been around since the Victorian era and is essentially two sponge cakes with raspberry jam and/or a whipped cream OR buttercream frosting sandwiched between, with a generous dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top.

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There is much debate on what is most traditional - having a whipped cream or buttercream frosting filling - and after some research, it honestly seems like it’s split down the middle. On the GBBO, the contestants were asked to make one of the judge’s, Mary Berry, version of the simple cake, with raspberry jam and a buttercream frosting. But today, I am giving you a recipe with a whipped cream filling and instead of raspberry, a strawberry jam. I felt like adding a buttercream frosting would make the cake too decadent and I wanted my cake to be more reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake, which is light and fresh. As for using strawberry jam instead of raspberry, that’s due to my preference over the two as well as how amazing the strawberries have been recently at my local farmers market. Therefore, I also added fresh strawberries to the filling, which definitely isn’t the standard, but I think a welcomed addition.

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This recipe is kind of perfect to me due to the fact that it is equal parts easy to bake, beautiful to look at, and insanely delicious. Those three vital components are what I look for in recipes and its those dishes that I continue to bake time and time again. The cake layers come together rather quickly (only bake in the oven for less than 30 minutes) and nothing is easier than making fresh whipped cream and cutting up strawberries. If you want to make your own jam, by all means go ahead, but if we really want to call this a simple and quick recipe, store bought will definitely come in handy.

The two layers of sponge cake should be as identical as possible due to the fact that there’s no hiding any flaws that would normally be covered up with frosting. Much like my carrot cake, a Victoria sponge cake is “naked” and therefore you want to make sure the layers are even so the cake looks uniform. But as for the filling, I like having it more rustic-looking with the whipped cream and jam spilling out, especially when you slice into the cake. In my opinion, I think it makes the cake look more appetizing since the ingredients are more on display. The contrast of the perfect cake layers with a “messy” filling makes it that much more beautiful.

If you’d like to go more traditional, then definitely stick with the raspberry jam, or you can fill it with any other jam/fruit that your heart desires. I plan on making a couple Victoria sponge cakes for my sister’s baby shower in July (yes, I’m going to be an aunt!) with one being filled with an assortment of berries and another filled with an in-season stone fruit like apricots or peaches.

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(*My only tip is to go to Momo’s Cheesecakes in Ellsworth, Maine. It’s a shop located in a garage that is open 24/7 with an assortment of cheesecake slices to choose from. Alex and I got a slice of blueberry cheesecake (which we immediately ate outside the garage at 10 am) and were genuinely disappointed in ourselves for not having more cash on us… it’s cash only and an honor system, meaning you drop the cash in a little box since no one is working the shop at all hours of the day. 10/10 recommend and now I kind of want to open up my own 24/7 cheesecake shop).

Victoria Sponge Cake

Yields (1) 8-inch layer cake

Recipe adapted from the New York Times

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3 1/4 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 12 tbsp. (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

  • 2 tbsp. milk, whole or 2% preferably

  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup strawberry jam, homemade or store bought (no judgement!)

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar

  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 8 oz. fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in half or quarter, depending on size (save some for garnish)

  • Confectioners’ sugar, for topping

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and kosher salt.

  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix fully until adding each one. Pour in the milk and mix again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. With the mixer off, pour in the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Evenly distribute the batter between the two cake pans (a scale would be useful here) and smooth the tops using a spatula.

  5. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Let the cakes cool completely before adding the filling.

  6. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the heavy cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract until stiff peaks are formed.

  7. Take one of the cake layers (preferably the least attractive of the two) and place it on your desired cake stand or plate. Spread an even layer of the jam over the cake using an offset spatula or butterknife. Next, add about 3/4 of the whipped cream and spread evenly over the jam - leftover whipped cream can be used for serving. Over the whipped cream, arrange a layer of the fresh strawberries as evenly as possible. Place the second sponge cake on top and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Enjoy!

MY FAVORITE BANANA BREAD

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April has been a pretty exciting and busy month so far, but the best has yet to come. This Friday, even though I’ve lived in southern California all my life (minus college time), I am finally visiting Joshua Tree for the first time ever! How I made it almost 30 years without venturing to one of the most popular and beautiful deserts in the state (and country!) is beyond me, but I tend to make up for all that lost time by exploring and hiking around as much as humanly possible. And then… Alex and I will be landing in Portland, Maine on the last day of this month, so I’m pretty much counting down every day with too much excitement.

Today I’m sharing another one of my favorite standby recipes which I’m surprised took me so long to post: banana bread. I have a funny (re: picky) relationship with bananas: I absolutely do not like to eat them by itself mostly due to its texture, but I add them to my daily smoothies and I could live off of banana bread if I had the choice. It’s strange, I know, but I think that my dislike of bananas should be a testament to how good my banana bread is! If I could hate plain bananas, but love banana bread… I must be doing something right with this recipe.

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I don’t think there’s anything better than the smell of banana bread baking in the oven. I know a lot of people talk up the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies, but I gotta say that the scent of fresh banana bread is up there as one of my most cherished scent “memories”. Even though the scent makes you want to eat the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven, I strongly advise against this! I come from the mindset that banana bread is 100 times better the next day and the next day after that. The longer the bread sits, the banana flavor intensifies. And speaking of bananas, I want you to wait to use your bananas until they look like fruit flies are going to eat them. Sorry for the gross visual, but the riper the bananas are, the more flavor and sweetness we’ll get from the fruit. I feel like this wait period is what sets a good banana bread from an exceptional one.

It took me a while to find my favorite version of banana bread, but the one I’m giving today is by far the best one I’ve ever come across. We all have our personal preferences when it comes to the popular loaf cake: some believe that adding chocolate chips is a must; some believe that adding yogurt or sour cream will give it the best moist texture; and some think nuts aren’t necessary. I believe that the best banana bread doesn’t have chocolate (I feel like it overpowers the banana flavor too much), needs sour cream for flavor and texture, and pecans must be added for a much needed crunch in each bite. Besides that, I don’t have any other notes or suggestions for this recipe! It’s pretty straight-forward, but trust me, it’ll quickly become a staple in your household after inhaling an entire slice.

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My Personal Favorite Banana Bread

Yields (1) 9x5” Loaf Cake

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

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  • 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (ground will work as well)

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

  • 4 large ripe bananas (about 2 cups), peeled and mashed with a fork

  • 1/4 cup sour cream

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9x5” loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray (alternatively, you can butter and flour the pan). Set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine it.

  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, a couple minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each one is fully incorporated until adding the next. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Mix on medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the stand mixer bowl while on low speed. Mix until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Using a spatula, fold in the chopped pecans.

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top using a spatula. Bake in the oven for 60-65 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. When ready, the bread will be a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Allow the bread to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the perimeter of the bread and carefully turn it out onto a plate or platter.