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Bless Your Spoon: Master a few of the Southern classic desserts

By Stephanie Williams Dean

While it’s good to be a jack-of-many-trades in the kitchen, it’s better to be a master of some. When it comes to baking — no one wants to be a master of none.

Often, I hear people say they don’t bake because they’re no good at it or don’t know how. But you don’t need to be a pastry chef to be a good baker — trust me on this one. You just need one or two delicious, made-from-scratch, recipes in your dessert repertoire — preferably ones that can be served plain or gussied up — think fancy, layered trifles.

I suggest you begin by choosing two heritage dessert recipes passed down from your family if you have any — because, well — it’s just cool to serve a scratch cake your granny made back in the day. What’s in it for you? Warm, sweet memories.

If you don’t have any family recipes, I’d start with two of the most popular Southern classics — and master those. A classic, all-butter pound cake would be at the top of my list. Second, would be a good shortcake recipe — cake squares filled with fresh fruits of summer. I’m partial to these two because they’re the most versatile.

Whether in between or on top of cake, you can add plain or sweetened berries covered in homemade custard — and the way we do it down south — topped with gracious dollops of flavored whipped cream.

Or choose any variety of ice cream drizzled with seasonal fruit that’s been simmered and cooled. Try layering slices of pound cake, fresh fruit, scratch custard, and whipped cream in a glass compote to create a sensational trifle for guests.

Folks, you have options. You might enjoy pound cake — plain, sliced and toasted.

And, quite frankly, there’s no shame in that.

Because the most delicious part is — you baked it yourself.

All-Butter Pound Cake

• 4 beaten, large eggs
• 3 cups sugar
• 2 sticks softened, salted butter
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp. baking soda
• ½ tsp. salt
• 1 cup buttermilk
• Confectioners’ sugar

In a mixer, beat eggs. Add sugar and mix well. Add softened butter and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour, baking soda, and salt in three additions while alternating with buttermilk. Mix well. Pour into a well-greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for one hour and 20 minutes or until tests clean. Cool. Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake, and turn out on a rack to cool completely. Dust confectioners’ sugar on top and slice. Toast slices if preferred. Top cake with desired topping and flavored whipped cream.

Shortcake Squares for Fruit

• 1½ sticks cold butter, cut into ½ inches
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 tsp grated lemon peel
• 2½ cups all-purpose flour
• 2½ tsp. baking powder
• ¾ tsp. salt
• 1 cup buttermilk
• Coarse sugar
• 8 cups sliced strawberries
• ¼ cup sugar

In a mixer, add butter pieces, sugar, and lemon peel. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Rub all together until mixture a coarse meal forms. Add buttermilk a little at a time to evenly moisten butter meal. Gather meal together and make a ball. On a lightly floured surface, gently knead a few times. Press down in a well-greased and floured 9×9 square cake pan. Sprinkle top with coarse sugar. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes or until tested clean and top is golden. Cool and cut into squares. Fill two squares with sweetened fruit of choice. Top cake with desired topping and flavored, whipped cream.

Cream Custard

• 1 cup sugar
• 2 Tbsp. flour
• 1¾ cup milk
• 6 egg yolks

In a saucepan, combine sugar, flour, and milk. Heat on medium until thickened. In a mixer bowl, beat egg yolks. Add a little bit of the hot milk mixture to the eggs to warm and prevent from curdling. Add all the egg mixture to the milk mixture. Cook over medium heat while continuously stirring until a thickened custard consistency. Remove from heat and cool. The custard will thicken more while cooling. Use as a topping on cake with fresh fruit.

Minted Strawberries

• 2 cups sliced strawberries
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 1 tsp. chopped fresh mint

In a bowl, combine strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Let sit one hour to create juices. Just before serving, stir in mint.

Medley of Fresh Berries

• 2 cups sliced strawberries
• 1 cup raspberries
• 1 cup blueberries
• 1 cup blackberries
• ¼ cup sugar

Toss all fruits with sugar. Let stand 30 minutes.

Sweet Peaches

• 2 lbs. peeled, pitted, sliced peaches
• 1/3 cup sugar
• ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Toss peaches, sugar, and vanilla. Let stand 30 minutes.

Raspberry Sauce

• 2 cups fresh raspberries
• 1/3 cup sugar
• ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 Tbsp. cornstarch

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Cool.

Blueberry Sauce

• 1 pint fresh blueberries
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 Tbsp. brandy
• 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

In a blender, combine all ingredients. Blend until smooth. Serve over ice cream.

Brandied Strawberry Sauce

• 1 quart fresh whole strawberries
• 2 Tbsp. sugar
• 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
• ½ cup water
• ¾ cup orange marmalade
• 2 Tbsp. apricot brandy

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except liquor. Bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat and simmer for three minutes. When cool, fold in liquor. Serve over ice cream.

Sweetened Whipped Cream

• 1 cup chilled whipping cream
• 3 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

In a mixer bowl, combine all ingredients. Beat to soft peaks. Chill

Bourbon Whipped Cream

• 2 cups chilled whipping cream
• 6 Tbsp. golden brown sugar
• 3 Tbsp. bourbon

In a mixer bowl, combine cream and sugar. Beat to soft peaks. Fold in bourbon, and beat again. Chill

Brandied Whipped Cream

• 1½ cups chilled whipping cream
• 1½ tbsp. sugar
• 2 Tbsp. brandy

In a mixer bowl, combine cream and sugar. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold in brandy, and beat again. Chill.

Mint Whipped Cream

• 3½ cups chilled whipping cream
• 6 Tbsp. sugar
• 1 tsp. peppermint extract

In a mixer bowl, combine all ingredients. Beat to stiff peaks. Chill.

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