Rosemary Thumbprints with Clementine Curd and The Day I Went to Ina Garten’s Cookie Swap (What?!)

Um. I may or may not have gone to a Cookie Swap at Ina Garten’s House.

And photos and recipes from this cookie swap may or may not have just been published in Ladies’ Home Journal.

This totally happened.

It may or may not have been one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me (it was.)

Enough fangirling, though. I know what you really want to know — the nitty gritty details! For the gorgeous photos and recipes, you need the magazine itself (look for Ina on the cover — it’s on newstands now), but I’ll be your go-to source for those gossipy behind-the-scenes details. Such as:

1. No really, Ina Garten is one of the sweetest, most hospitable people on the planet. She wasn’t a diva in any sense; rather, she made us all feel very welcome and appreciated. When she took a bite of my cookie, I admitted that I was totally starstruck, saying, “This is a life moment.” She laughed and told me about one of her life moments: when Meryl Streep tasted one of her dishes. She’s so down-to-earth, y’all.

2. No, we didn’t see Jeffrey — I so wanted him to come in and give Ina a big smooch like he does on Barefoot Contessa.

3. Ina’s breakfast indulgence? Oatmeal. Seriously! She says people are always disappointed to learn that that’s her biggest vice.

4. I found this out while eating breakfast with her before the cookie swap at her favorite restaurant, The 1770 House, which kind of blows my mind. Is this my life? Did that actually happen?!

5. Her yard is just as beautiful as it is on the show — and her garden is a sight to behold! As we were walking through it, the photographer pinched off a plump strawberry and ate it.

6. Speaking of our fancy schmancy photog, Quentin Bacon, we had a great conversation about celebrity chefs and pavlova (he’s an Aussie) on the bus to the Hamptons. He got a text message from Curtis Stone en route inviting him to a party. No biggie. I offered to attend in his stead, which for some reason was only met with laughter.

7. His last name’s BACON. Of course he gets invited to celebrity parties.

8. Joy the Baker and I caught a pedicab in NYC to a restaurant and couldn’t decide if we were having a load of fun or about to die. It was like a roller coaster that twisted in and out of oncoming traffic. Then we were way overcharged. Call it a bonding experience.

9. I took random photos of people kissing in Central Park. I hope they didn’t notice.

10. Ina Garten’s hair stylist has been doing her hair since before she was the Barefoot Contessa. I asked her if she ever felt starstruck and she shrugged and said, “She’s always been Ina to me.” How must that feel?!

11. The folks of Ladies’ Home Journal are a seriously fun bunch to be around. Our conversations ranged from food blogs to sex to religion and everywhere in between on our ride to the Hamptons.

12. The bus driver became my good buddy and NYC tour guide when I got carsick and moved to sit up front with him. Shout out to Alex!

13. Ina is even more beautiful in person — those freckles! She’s also petite — we took off our shoes for pictures with her.

14. Yes, of course I peeked in her pantry. It’s just what you’d expect: nice local products, a few items from her own product line, and tons of gorgeous dishes, all neatly arranged. We may or may not have also peeked in the freezer. Yes, she really does keep chicken stock in there! We lusted a bit after her beautiful kitchen.

As an aside, perhaps I don’t get invited to more celebrity parties because I peek in people’s pantries. Just a thought.

15. Cookie swaps that include Chandon Rosé and festive boxes spread across a gorgeous table dressed for winter are the best sort of cookie swaps.

16. You should buy Ina’s latest cookbook, Foolproof, which I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of. While it’s full of new recipes (including a mustard flank steak I already promised to make for Mike), it’s typical Barefoot Contessa: classic, elegant, and simple. You’ll love it. I read it like a novel before bed!

17. While I’m spendin’ your money, please pick up a copy of Ladies’ Home Journal — I really want them to feel how much we love reading about blogs and bloggers, and companies feel the love through sales! I’ve already bought several copies myself. LHJ is one of the few magazines really embracing food blogs and pioneering how they can work together with print media. Love that!

18. Want to see more of the article now? Here is the interview with Ina and here are all the fantastic cookie recipes! My cookies are Rosemary Thumbprints with Clementine Curd, and they’re seriously delicious.

19. I had the privilege of attending the cookie swap with some other lovely bloggers including Deb from Smitten Kitchen, Lisa from Homesick Texan, Clara from Channeling Contessa, Joy from Joy the Baker, and Zoë from Zoë Bakes. These ladies are amazing and so much fun.

20. Finally, I want you to get a chance to have the same wonderful experience with Ina that I had. LHJ is currently holding a contest called the World’s Biggest Cookie Swap. You can get details to enter and hopefully win a chance to have lunch with Ina here.

Thank you to Ina for your hospitality, and to Ladies’ Home Journal for the experience!

(Photos by Quentin Bacon. Used with permission.)

Clementine Mousse Cheesecake

When I was still in high school, Mike moved into an apartment with one of his friends. Until then, we hadn’t had a place to hang out together alone (there was no metro in Charlotte, alas).

We had loafed about at our parents’ houses, sat in my driveway, and driven a billion miles all around Charlotte, but this was different. This was a living room, a television, a kitchen — an entire domestic space that could be (okay, with the exception of that roommate thing) ours.

High school was a hard time for me. I was both a feisty perfectionist and a social oddball. I didn’t fit in to anyone’s circle (now I realize this might’ve had more to do with my own choices than with anyone actually excluding me). I wrote poetry in my notebook, read novels no one else cared about, and walked the halls alone or with one close friend at lunch. I wore pajamas to school because I couldn’t be bothered getting dressed for that mess. I rebelled in tiny ways — writing the school board indignant letters, painting red x’s on my nails, scrawling lots of angsty notes — because in all of the ways that mattered, I had to be picture perfect.

Every day I’d walk around for 7 hours, surrounded by people but completely alone. I didn’t play an instrument so I didn’t hang out with the marching band. I was in a couple of plays but didn’t totally mesh with the drama crowd. I went to a couple of debate tournaments but never really made a connection. I excelled in everything I tried, but formed real relationships with no one. This is heavy stuff, I guess, but the reason I mention it is just to say that Mike’s apartment became a refuge.

(And also, as a side note, now would be a good time to ask why in the world I’m involved in planning my upcoming 10-year high school reunion.)

I’d spend all day long pushing myself, participating in class and working with classmates. Then the last bell would ring and I’d finally lug my 50 gajillion pound bookbag out to my blue Pontiac Sunbird. I’d drive way too fast (the speeding ticket I got the other day suggests that my driving habits haven’t changed) to Mike’s apartment. I’d knock on his window and a few seconds later, the door would open and I would fall into a hug, finally “home.”

And we did play house. I helped him with laundry. I went grocery shopping with him. I carefully prepared boxes of Hamburger Helper and proudly presented him with heaping plates of it. We’d snuggle on the couch and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When I had to climb back into my car each evening (my limited provisional license imposed a curfew of 9 p.m.), I felt like I was leaving home instead of driving towards it.

Ah. Well. Time alone together isn’t a novel thing anymore. Mike and I often hang out at my apartment or at his place in Raleigh. We also still watch Star Trek, but we’ve moved on to Deep Space Nine. And I still cook him meals, though they usually don’t begin with a box.

Some things have changed; some things have stayed the same. But we talk about those Star-Trek-and-Hamburger-Helper days like my parents talk about their Sliding-Down-the-Hall-in-Socks days. They’re part of our mythology now, something we’ll give our children someday, a story they might not understand until they make a home in someone else. Maybe someday they’ll find themselves preparing a box meal in a sweet little kitchen, or sliding down the hallway in the middle of the night. Or maybe their story will be a different one altogether.

. . .

This cheesecake is certainly not a box meal, but it is something special I made for Mike recently. He loves clementines (or ‘tines, as we call them), and I was going to take him a bushel last time I went to Raleigh, but I opted to make a big cheesecake with them instead. The top layer is a sweet clementine mousse made with clementine curd, and the bottom layer is a traditional creamy cheesecake. I candied some clementine slices to decorate the top and served each piece of cake with a heap of freshly whipped cream. I can’t be sure, but I don’t think Mike missed the Hamburger Helper.

Tell me a story from your love mythology. What memories do you have from early on in your relationship (or from relationships past)?

Clementine Mousse Cheesecake

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 10 pieces

Clementine Mousse Cheesecake is a creamsicle lover’s dream. Bright, airy clementine mousse sits atop a smooth, creamy traditional cheesecake in a cookie crust. I decorated mine with pretty candied clementines and served it with freshly whipped cream. In addition to being delicious, this recipe is also easy to break down over multiple days so there’s never too much to do at once.

Cheesecake Ingredients:
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
34 Golden Oreos, processed to fine crumbs*
6 tablespoons butter
*Golden Oreos give off some grease while cooking, so you may want to place a baking sheet under your springform to catch this — you can also substitute graham cracker crumbs if you’d rather, but the oreos are delicious!

Clementine Mousse Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups clementine curd
2 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Candied Clementine Ingredients:
3 clementines with firm (not loose) skin, well washed and dried
4 cups water
2 cup sugar

Notes: Cheesecakes are simple and super customizable. New to cheesecake making? Watch my 6 minute Cheesecake Video Tutorial for visual assistance! This recipe can be divided up over several days — you can make the clementine curd and candied clementines in advance. Make the cheesecake the day before you want to assemble the dessert. Then make the mousse and assemble the cake with enough time to chill before serving.

Make candied clementine slices: (If you make these in advance, keep them in their syrup and store in the fridge. When ready, gently heat them again, remove the slices, and proceed with the drying procedure.) Cut each clementine into 6 horizontal slices. Remove any seeds carefully. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place a cooling rack over a baking sheet on the center rack. Prepare a plate of sugar and set it aside.

Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan (wide enough for the slices to sit in a single layer) over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Place the slices in in a single layer and gently simmer them for 40-50 minutes, turning them once. The white bits should begin to get transparent. Pull them out of the syrup with tongs and place them on the cooling rack to dry for around 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until they’re no longer sticky to the touch. Gently dredge them through the plate of sugar, shaking off excess, to coat any sticky portions. Cool completely.

Make the cheesecake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a springform cheesecake pan. Combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Using a flat-sided glass, press into an even layer covering the bottom and sides of your cheesecake pan (you want it to be tall — try to get to about 2.5-3 inches high — and a little thicker than for your usual cheesecake; maybe 1/4 inch thick so it won’t crumble). Bake the crust for about 6 minutes and let it cool as you make your cheesecake filling.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour. Add in the vanilla and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Pour the filling into your crust.

Bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, and the center moves only very slightly when the pan is lightly shaken (about 40 minutes). Check while baking periodically and put a pie shield (or strips of foil) around the top of your pan to protect the crust edges if they’re getting too dark. Just don’t let the shield/foil touch the crust — it’s delicate and might crumble. When you pull the cheesecake out, you can use a sharp knife to score a circle around the top of the cheesecake about an inch inside the crust so that as it cools and chills/sinks, it won’t pull the crust in too much. Don’t worry if it’s pretty, because you won’t be able to see it in the finished product! Let cheesecake cool completely on a wire rack before chilling it in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

To make the mousse: Pour 2 1/2 tablespoons water into small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water and let it stand to soften for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place 7/8 cups of the clementine curd in large bowl. Stir the remaining 3/8 cup curd in another small saucepan over medium-low heat until very warm.

Stir the gelatin mixture over medium-low heat until the gelatin is dissolved and the liquid is clear (do not boil, or the gelatin may not set up your mousse anymore). Whisk the warm gelatin mixture into the 3/8 cup of warm curd. Then gradually whisk this gelatin-curd mixture into the curd in the large bowl. Let this cool slightly while you make your whipped cream.

Using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream to stiff peaks (it helps to use a chilled bowl and whisk). Fold around 1/3 of this cream into the curd to lighten it, and then fold the rest in gently. Pour the mousse over the cheesecake and chill it to set. Top the cake with candied clementines and serve with fresh whipped cream (I whip up about a cup of cream with about 2-3 tablespoons of powdered sugar to make mine — it’s a good use for leftover cake and is lovely with the cheesecake!)

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Clementine Curd

I noticed early on in my teaching career that 6th graders do this thing. A discussion with them about a novel might go something like this:

Me: “What was the main character’s opinion on the government?”
Student: (unsure of the answer) “Hm. Uh.” (stares off into space for a few moments) “Ummm.” (gives up) “Well, I don’t know.”

All the while, the novel itself sits like an ironic little nugget in front of them, untouched. I look at it pointedly. The student looks at me blankly.

At this point, I usually get a little heavy-handed. I give my head an exaggerated scratch and give a shrug of cartoon proportions. “Is there any way we could possibly find out? Is there anywhere in the universe we might be able to get a hint about the answer?” Typically after this bit of melodrama on my part, the students catch my drift, grin, and grab their books.

It’s not a personal failing that they don’t immediately use available resources to form their ideas. Instead, it’s part of natural child development — every 6th grader who enters my class needs to build this skill. I’m here to construct a staircase toward resourcefulness and independence.

In keeping with that, I tell my 6th graders all year long that we’re going to work on finding evidence.

We hunted through the novel Crispin to find for evidence to support our opinions about feudalism. We hunted through a biography about St. Giles to find evidence for why the author included him in the story. We read Greek myths to find evidence to build a definition of what a hero quest is. We found evidence in The Giver that Lois Lowry’s “utopia” wasn’t really all that perfect.

Evidence isn’t just for language arts, either. In the after school Cookie Camp I’m leading right now, the following exchange is a common one:

Me: “What’s the next thing we have to do?”
Camper 1: “Maybe add the egg?”
Camper 2: “Oh, or maybe add the flour!”
Camper 3: “Do we have to add the vanilla next?”
Me: (requisite melodrama) “How in the world are we going to decide?! We don’t want to mess up our cookies, but how do we know what to do?!”
Campers: “Oh, the recipe!”

Oh. The recipe, y’all.

Maybe as you accumulate practice and skill, you can begin to deviate from the recipe, combine recipes, or even create recipes. But in those beginning stages when you’re just learning to bake (or form opinions, or understand new subject matter), you have to learn to go back to the source.

6th grade was a long time ago for me, but I still need this reminder sometimes. I’ll find myself fretting about a decision or wondering why events are unfolding like they are. My cloud of anxiety can narrow my perspective. I need to return to the source during those times. I need to increase my time reading the Bible, return to the basics, and remind myself through the words inspired by God Himself who He is and what He’s done. I need to let go of the other ways I try to find my answers — worrying, busying myself with my to-do list, trying on different reactions to the situations I encounter.

That being said, this post isn’t so much a polished prescription (“just go back to the source, duh — problem solved!”) as it is a revelation of where I am in my thought process right now. I’m reading through Job, the most difficult book of scripture for me (and I don’t mean in terms of comprehension), for the second time in a year. I’m finding some answers, but also more questions. And always, always, I’m asking God to take me back to the recipe, to give me evidence — building blocks of information about what I can do (or what I can release) to glorify Him.

There’s a song I love that says, “[A Father’s] whisper’s like a bridge; it’s a river spanned.” It’s true — every whisper of truth He gives me spans a river of need. So I’ll keep collecting His whispers and weaving them into a path, an answer that won’t be complete in this lifetime.

. . .

In the meantime, in the spirit of going back to the basics, here’s a simple, foundational recipe. A lovely fruit curd can play so many versatile roles in the kitchen: a spread for buttered toast, a dip for shortbread cookies, a base for mousse, a filling for cakes and cupcakes, a quick snack on a spoon. I’ve been in love with Fine Cooking’s foolproof lemon curd recipe since I first found it, and I use it as a base for all other curds I create, such as this clementine curd.

While it takes quite a bit of stirring and only lasts a week in the fridge, curd can be frozen for up to about two months. It’s worth the investment of time and your arm muscles.

How do you go “back to basics” in your life?

Clementine Curd

Recipe by: Adapted from Fine Cooking’s foolproof lemon curd recipe
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups of curd

Bright, sweet, tangy clementine curd is lovely spread on toast, stuffed into cupcakes or cakes, or used as a base for mousse. I make a big batch and freeze it, using it in many different recipes over the course of a few weeks. This curd recipe is adapted from one dubbed “foolproof” by Fine Cooking, and it’s perfect for those who have never made curd before and worry about accidentally cooking their eggs or curdling their mixture.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh clementine juice
1 teaspoon grated clementine zest

Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl for about 2 minutes or until light, pale, and fluffy. While mixing, slowly add eggs and yolks. Beat the mixture for 1 minute before mixing in the clementine juice. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled, because it’ll get smooth as it cooks and the butter melts.

Cook the mixture in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 20-25 minutes (lemon curd only takes 15, but I’ve found the clementine curd takes me longer), or until it’s thickening and it registers at least 170 degrees on a candy thermometer (I usually end up around 175 before I get it to the thickness I want). Just don’t let the mixture boil. Also, remember it’ll continue thickening as it cools and then chills, so don’t feel like you have to get it to its final thickness on the stove. When it’s done, it should leave a clean path on the back of a wooden spoon when you run your finger down it.

Remove the clementine curd from the heat and stir in the clementine zest. Transfer the mixture to a wide bowl and place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent a film from developing. Place the curd in the refrigerate to chill it. Cover it tightly and keep if you about a week in the fridge or for about 2 months in the freezer.

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Clementine Cake

I’m getting really good at u-turns. You can’t make a left turn out of my apartment complex, so a few times a week I’ll find myself sitting at a traffic light, tapping my steering wheel in a bored rhythm, waiting to make my u-turn. If the turn lane light turns red just as I get there, I’m crafty enough to stay in the straight lane for a bit and make a u-turn just up the street. If I time it right, it’s a tad bit faster than waiting for another green arrow. Because that 30 seconds really matters, y’all.

I’m also apparently the queen of the culinary u-turns lately. You remember last week’s shenanigans, right? I wasn’t overwhelmed enough with my two-day Valentine’s dessert recipe, and needed to add, oh, handmade pasta to the mix. Ridiculous.

This week there was another switch, although thankfully not as intense: I was shuffling along, planning to make some personal ice cream cakes when a post showed up in my Google Reader that I could not ignore. Whaaat — a gorgeous citrus cake appears JUST when I’m about to toss out my leftover clementines, which are getting a little squishy? Just like that, my weekend plans slammed on their brakes, put on their turn signal (because unlike the drivers around here, my plans always use their turn signal), and changed direction entirely! Clementine Cake was born!

Mike liked this sweet dessert — but I loved it. It was a beautifully simple, dense, bright citrus cake with that lovely crackling glaze to break your fork into. No fussy frosting, so I found myself cutting slabs of it here and there to eat with my fingers!

I will say the cake itself was a bit dry (I overbaked, which could be the issue), but I had a few tricks up my sleeve to fix that. I poked holes in the cake as it cooled so the glaze would seep into the it when poured. We also served hunks of the cake with a smear of gorgeous clementine curd and a pluff of barely sweetened fresh whipped cream. I can’t recommend this serving suggestion enough — in fact, I’m going to make it a serving command (can I do that?), because the cake and fixins tasted just like a homey creamsicle!

My poor dad has been on a diet for weeks now and this is his “break” weekend. He’s not technically supposed to have cake, but I fixed him up a small slice (I promise I’m not a diet saboteur). He and my little brother both enjoyed it, so I left them a hunk for later. I may also have hidden away a bit in my own fridge! Something about refrigerating fruity baked goods always enhances the flavor, and this cake was no exception.

Clementine Cake

Recipe by: Adapted by Willow Bird Baking, Lick the Bowl Good, and Technicolor Kitchen from Jill Dupleix
Yields: one 9-inch cake

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon grated clementine zest
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons fresh squeezed clementine juice (I needed about 7 clementines total to make the cake and glaze)

Glaze Ingredients:
1 1/2 – 2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
grated clementine zest

Fresh Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and set aside (I use Wilton’s Cake Release).

Cream the butter and sugar well for several minutes, until it is very pale and thick.

Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition, then add the zest. Add the flour, baking powder and salt all at once, and beat well, then slowly add the clementine juice until it is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, and bake for 35-40 minutes – or until an inserted skewer comes out clean (If it starts to brown too much on the top, cover loosely with a sheet of foil.) I baked mine for 40 or 45 minutes, which proved to be too long.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 15-20 minutes on a wire rack. Then invert onto a plate, remove the parchment paper and allow to cool completely before glazing.

To make the icing, stir the clementine juice into the icing sugar until you have the right spreading consistency. Using a skewer, dowel, or toothpick, poke holes through entire cake to allow glaze to seep down into it. Pour the icing onto the cake and spread with a spatula or butter knife, allowing the icing to drip down the sides of the cake.

To make fresh whipped cream, whip cream and icing sugar together until the mixture forms soft peaks. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Leave the icing to set before cutting the cake into wedges or storing in an airtight container. Serve with a smear of clementine curd, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream (and optional candied clementine peel).

Enjoy your citrus squeezin’!

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Clementine Burst Cupcakes

A few weeks ago, clementines flooded the grocery stores here, much to Mike’s delight. I’m surprised he isn’t sporting an orange tint after eating pounds of the little cuties. While it’s quite common to hear me raving about food, when I noticed him gushing about his clementines on an almost daily basis, I knew he had developed a thing.

I regularly develop a thing. For months I’ll have a thing for sweet potatoes, or a thing for cream cheese. Currently, I have a thing for olives. Mike is typically immune to these cravings, so I assumed they were just a girl thing . . . but he definitely has a thing for clementines. His favorite part is what I affectionately call the splush: when all the fresh, cold juice bursts into your mouth from each little segment.

When pondering his Valentine’s feast, I knew I had to incorporate some clementine. I recently stumbled on a fantastic recipe for clementine curd (I know! swoon!) and what better use is there for a great curd than cupcake stuffin’? Thus the Clementine Burst Cupcakes were born: fluffy, moist, citrus-scented white cake stuffed to the brim with clementine curd, topped with smooth cream cheese frosting, and adorned with a shimmering slice of candied clementine peel.

I’ll introduce you to each component of these fancy pants cupcakes individually. First up is the star of the show, the clementine curd. Curds are one of my favorite things. Perfect for slathering on toast or even eating with a spoon straight from the freezer (not that I would know). They combine the bright flavor of citrus with a buttery, smooth texture. This curd took longer to make than lemon curd (I was stirring for a good 30 minutes), but was definitely worth the wait.

Clementine Curd

Recipe by: Jaime Oliver via Butterflyfood, adapted to use Fine Cooking’s method
Yields: about 850 grams of curd

6 clementines, juiced
2 lemons, juiced (or about 4 tablespoons lemon juice)
350 g caster sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 eggs, beaten
2 egg yolks, beaten
100 g unsalted butter (about 7 tablespoons)

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 minute. Mix in the clementine juice and lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

Place over medium heat. Cook, constantly stirring, until the curd is thick and coats the back of the spoon (this took a long time for me — about 20-30 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in zest of fruits. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

The candied clementine peel was gorgeous: jeweled bright orange wedges standing in contrast to the creamy white frosting. They were also fun; they reminded me of the hurt-cheeked grinning of childhood, when mouthfuls of candy were preferable to any fancy dessert. Now we can have our candy and eat our cake too! While the candied peels take awhile to make, they’re content to simmer by themselves on the stove while you work on other food prep.

Candied Clementine Peel

Recipe by: Gourmet
Yields: More candied clementine peel than you can actually eat!

1 pound clementines (4 to 7)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups regular granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
Vegetable oil for greasing rack
1 cup superfine granulated sugar

Halve clementines crosswise and juice them with a citrus juicer, reserving juice for clementine curd or other use. Discard any membranes still attached to peel, then cut each half into eighths.

Bring peel to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan three-fourths full of cold water with 1/2 teaspoon salt and boil, uncovered, 10 minutes, then drain and rinse peel. Repeat procedure with more water and salt, draining and rinsing peel again.

Bring regular sugar and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add peel and gently simmer, uncovered, until tender and translucent and syrup is thickened, about 1 hour (this took 45 minutes for me). Transfer candied peel with a slotted spoon to a lightly oiled rack set in a shallow baking pan, spreading it out so pieces don’t touch, and let drain 30 minutes.

Put superfine sugar in a small bowl and toss peel, a few pieces at a time, in sugar to coat, then transfer with a dry slotted spoon to a sheet of wax paper to dry slightly, about 1 hour.

Candied peel can be left in syrup and cooled, then chilled, covered, 2 weeks. Candied peel tossed with sugar keeps, uncovered, at room temperature 1 day or, chilled between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container, 1 month (you may need to recoat with sugar).

Overall, the components of these cupcakes work together beautifully. The cold curd center of the soft, citrusy cake mimics the splush of a real clementine, and the cream cheese frosting cuts some of the sweetness. I will change the cake I use next time around: I used the Ugly as Sin Coconut Cake and, despite being delicious in cake form, and it simply didn’t translate well to cupcakes. I’ve altered the recipe below to use the perfect, amazing white cake recipe that worked so beautifully with my Mango Raspberry Rosecakes. With this slight change, voila — Mike’s favorite fruit, now available in cupcake form! It’s a little splash of summer on this colllld Valentine’s Day.

Clementine Burst Cupcakes

Recipe by: The Way the Cookie Crumbles (white cake, adapted to cupcakes), Paula Deen (frosting)
Yields: about 19 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 ounces)
1 cup + 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature (can replace some of this with coconut milk for a nice flavor)
6 large egg whites (3/4 cup), at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 inch vanilla bean seeds)
1½ cups + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (11.35 ounces)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened but still cool
zest of one clementine
Clementine curd (see recipe above)
Candied clementine peel (see recipe above)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Set oven rack in middle position. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cupcake pans with nonstick cooking spray or line with cupcake papers.

Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended.

Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed. Add butter; continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.

Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium (or high) speed and beat 20 seconds longer.

Divide batter evenly in cupcake pans and smooth tops of cupcakes. Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If oven is small, place pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.) Bake until thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-16 minutes.

Let cakes rest in pans for 3 minutes. Transfer to wire rack for cooling completely, about 1 1/2 hours.

When cool, fill with clementine curd. Core the middle of the cupcake using something like the cone method (not easy with such a moist cake, but no worries — your frosting will cover any mess you make). Pipe or spoon in as much mango curd as you can fit. Replace your cupcake “cone” and frost.

To make frosting: In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy. Pipe on with a large star tip, and garnish with candied clementine peel.

Making the candied clementine peel.

Making the candied clementine peel.

Baking and assembling cupcakes.

Baking and assembling cupcakes.

Want to see what I made for Mike’s Valentine’s dinner to go along with his Clementine Burst Cupcakes? Click here for some sweetheart ravioli!

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