PUFF PASTRY … MY ‘GO TO’

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but puff pastry is my absolute ‘go to’ when I want to make an impressive-looking dessert.  Take a peek in my freezer and you’ll always find a couple of packages.  All you need to do is take out a sheet or two, let it thaw in the refrigerator, and you’re only limited by your imagination.  Regardless of what I’m making, the results always look as if I’ve spent far more time (and money) than I actually have.

For this recipe, I wanted an elegant-looking tart … flaky, buttery puff pastry, filled with vanilla creme (referred to as creme patissière on the Great British Baking show), and topped with fresh strawberries.  I cut the pastry sheet into fancy envelope shapes for these.  Perhaps a little more time consuming, but I think the results were well worth it.  Let me know what you think.

(If you want to use packaged pudding mix for the pastry cream, go right ahead.  I’ll never tell.)

VANILLA CREAM TARTS WITH STRAWBERRY
Preheat oven at 425° for 20 minutes prior to baking.  Bake 18-20 minutes.  How many you get will depend upon the size you make.  Generally 12 from one sheet of pastry.
(This pastry cream recipe will make three cups and will keep up to three days.  Enjoy it in this recipe, other recipes, or alone with a dollop of whipped cream.)

1 package frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed in refrigerator)
1 pint strawberries, washed, dried and hulled (or any other berry)

3 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter, softened

Make the pastry cream first to allow it to set in the refrigerator while you make the tart shells.

PASTRY CREAM
Sift together the flour and cornstarch and set aside.  In a good-sized bowl, beat the eggs.  Add the flour/cornstarch and continue to beat until a pale yellow color and thickened.  Set it aside.  Now its time to heat the milk and sugar.  In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the milk and sugar to a simmer (bubbles around the edge of the pan).  Stir constantly to prevent scorching the milk.

When bubbles begin to form, take the milk off the heat and slowly pour about 1/4 of the heated milk into the beaten eggs.  Continue to whisk.  Do not add all the hot milk at once or the mixture will curdle and the eggs will cook.  Once fully incorporated, pour the egg mixture back into the hot milk pan, and place it back on the heat, stirring constantly.  It may sound difficult, but it really is not.

Lower the heat and continue to cook the custard until thick and lemony-colored.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the pan continuously.  After it has thickened, continue to cook for another minute.  There’s nothing worse than that “flour” taste.  Yuck!

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and butter.  Stir til smooth.

Place a strainer on top of a clean bowl and strain the custard, pushing down to remove any lumps which may have formed.  Then place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream.  Place the cream in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.  You can make this up to three days ahead.

TART SHELLS
Now its time for the tart shells.  This shape is called an envelope and I’m sure there’s an easier way to get the fold, but this is the way I did it.

Take the thawed sheet of puff pastry dough from the frig and place it on a lightly floured board.  With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out just a bit to even it out, and square it off.
Measure and cut 3″ squares from the sheet.

Now it’s time to cut inside each individual square.  Cut a 1/4″ border around each square except for two corners.  Leave two corners intact.  Take one cut corner and bring it over to the inside of the other side.  Now do the same with the opposite corner.  You should have a diamond pattern (or envelope).  Press down slightly around the edges.

Place the shaped puff pastry on parchment-lined baking sheets and place the baking sheets.  Square them off a bit and place the baking sheets into the refrigerator.  Puff pastry puffs up much better when its very cold.  This is when I preheat the oven.

Bake the pastry til golden brown, about 20 mins.  Remove from oven.  Now take a sharp knife and remove the center portion of each pastry, creating a pocket, or cavity for the pastry cream.  Place each pastry on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Now its time to assemble.  What could be easier … spoon (or pipe) a dollop of pastry cream into the center of each individual pastry.  Place a sliced strawberry on top and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Arrange your pastries on a serving tray until ready to serve.  Then show them off to all your guests and wait for the oohs and ahhs.  You deserve it!


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(MOCK) APPLE STRUDEL

I am continuing in what appears to be my “mock apple” series of desserts.  Yes, this uses zucchini and, yes, no one will ever know.  From all appearances this is a classic strudel, rich, fruity and delicious.  It just doesn’t have apples in it … which actually makes it more fool proof.  One of the problems I have with making apple desserts, such as strudels or turnovers, is that the apples can sometimes cook down too quickly and become mushy, making for ‘soggy bottoms’.  Zucchini stays firm for that right amount of crunch.

If you are still picking zucchini from your garden at the end of September, as I am, please give this recipe a try.  I know its a bit time consuming, but well worth it!   So, gather all your ingredients and prepare to make something your friends and family will be wow’d by!!

MOCK APPLE STRUDEL
6 cups zucchini – peeled and diced
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups fresh bread crumbs (not packaged seasoned)
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg, separated (white only)
1 package frozen puff pastry dough, thawed

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 400°.  The strudel bakes for 30 minutes or til golden brown and cooked through.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the peeled, chopped zucchini.  Add the lemon juice, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Cook til softened – about 15 minutes.  It will bubble up and appear very syrupy, add the cornstarch and continue cooking until very thick – about 5 more minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the raisins.  Set aside while you toast the bread crumbs.

Using old stale bread, toss it into your food processor or blender and shred it up.  You’ll need about 2 cups of bread crumbs.  In a saute pan, melt a half stick of butter (1/2 cup) and then add the bread crumbs.  Toast lightly til brown but not burnt.  Then set those aside.


From the frig, get a package of thawed puff pastry dough.  On a floured board, roll out one sheet of puff pastry until its  v-e-r-y  thin.  Yes, thinner than you think it can handle.  It won’t break apart.  Keep flouring and moving the pastry sheet around so that you can work with it.  I was able to get it 25″ long.  How about you?

Now working from about 3″ in from the long edge, spread the cooled, toasted bread crumbs, about 4″ or 5″ wide.   On top of the bread crumbs, sprinkle the chopped walnuts.  On top of the bread crumb/walnut mixture, drop spoonfuls of the thickened zucchini/raisin mixture.  Spread it out as smoothly and evenly as possible.

Now comes the fun part.  Pull the 3″ swath of pastry that you left without filling, up over the filling.  Press down.  Don’t be afraid.  It will work.  Fold each side in and over the filling – about 1″ or less.  Now put your hands under the filling (which has been rolled once) and roll that over onto the pastry.  Press down.  Now do it again.  You should be able to roll the pastry at least three times, resulting in a long, cylinder of filled pastry.

Lightly beat the egg white and brush it onto the open edge to seal everything.  Press it into the pastry roll tightly.  You don’t want anything leaking out.

Carefully pick up the strudel and lay it onto the parchment paper.  Don’t be alarmed if your strudel doesn’t fit onto your pan.  Forming a horseshoe shape is traditional.  Brush the top with the remaining egg white.  Put the strudel into the refrigerator to cool while you preheat the oven to 400°.

When the oven is ready, put the strudel into the center of the oven to bake – approximately 30 minutes.  Check it quickly at 20 minutes to make sure its baking evenly.  Turning the pan may be necessary for even baking.

When baked, cool the strudel on a baking rack.  It may be necessary to use two spatulas to lift it.  I know you’ll want to dive right in, but let it cool a bit.  Trim off the end pieces and then serve it up … warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!   Rich, fruity, flaky … this is delicious!!!

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Palmiers

If you know me, you know that I adore elephants.  Elephants are my most favorite animal (which we can discuss another time), and for some reason my “cannot resist dessert” is Elephant Ears. Is there a connection?  I don’t know.  Elephant Ears, or Pig’s Ears, or Palm Leaves are names for what the French call “Palmiers“.  Palmiers are an elegant confection or cookie made using Puff Pastry.  Puff pastry (flour, butter and water) is known and used by many cultures from Europe to South America to the Middle East for everything from sweet to savory.

French painter Claude Gelee, circa 1630. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Because I couldn’t authenticate the origin, “legend” suggests that Puff Pastry was invented in France in 1645 by an apprentice pastry cook, Claudius Gelée. As the story goes, Mr. Gelée wanted to bake a butter cake for his father, who was on a special diet. With a recipe of just flour, water and butter, Claudius mixed the flour and water together, but realized he completely forgot to incorporate the butter into the flour.  Thinking quickly he ‘lay some Butter in litle Pecies’ onto the already rolled dough.  He then folded the dough over and rolled it out … and then he did it again and again and again. After folding and rolling the dough several times, he formed it and baked it.  When Claudius removed the cake from the oven, surprisingly, not only had it risen significantly, it was light and “puffy”.  The story continues with Mr. Gelée being hired by the famous Rosabau Patisserie in Paris, where he perfected his  ‘puff paist’, became quite successful, moved on to Florence only to have his secret recipe stolen from him by the Brothers Mosca Pastry Shop.  Fact or fiction?  Who really knows.

What we do know is that Puff Pastry is a near relative to Phyllo (Filo) Dough.  Phyllo Dough is used throughout the Middle East much like European Puff Pastry and seems to have existed long before Puff Pastry was invented.  Although the two can be used interchangeably, there are differences.  Puff Pastry has layers of butter incorporated within the pastry, which when baked, causes pockets of steam to form in the dough.  The dough then separates into flaky layers.  Phyllo needs oil or melted butter brushed onto each pastry layer before baking, usually requiring three or more layers, it then becomes tender and flaky.

Making Puff Pastry from scratch is doable, but it is so labor intensive.  If you’ve ever watched the Great British Bakeoff, you’ve seen the Puff Pastry challenge where the contestants are asked to make Puff Pastry from scratch in order to create their specialty desserts.  No thank you!  For me, it’s to the frozen food aisle in the grocery store.  Good quality puff pastry, using butter and not shortening, is available and it’s not overly expensive.  Because it’s handy for so many dishes from meat pies to desserts, I always keep a couple of boxes in my freezer.

This recipe is an easy, sure-to-impress cookie … perfect for tea time.  You can get as creative as you’d like by varying the fillings … a mixture of brown sugar and pecans, or a cinnamon sugar blend, or how about bananas and peanut butter.  Get creative and have fun!

CHOCOLATE WALNUT PALMIERS
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate spread (Hershey’s, Nutella, Biscoff)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, or any chopped nuts

Preheated oven at 400° (but only after the pastry is rolled and in the refrigerator).  Makes about 2 dozen.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the pastry board and then unfold the thawed puff pastry dough on top.  With a rolling pin, gently roll the dough out just to smooth it and incorporate the sugar onto the underside.  Turn the pastry sheet over and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on the board and roll it again.

Spread the chocolate (or Nutella or even peanut butter, if you’d like) over the entire sheet of pastry.  Sprinkle evenly with chopped nuts.

Starting from one long end, begin to tightly roll the pastry into the center.  Stop halfway. Then from the other long end, tightly roll that side in to the center.  You should have an equal number of rolls on either side, meeting in the middle.  Squeeze the middle together, then turn the rolled pastry over and place it seam side down onto a parchment lined baking tray.  Place the tray into the refrigerator for at least half an hour (or 15 minutes in the freezer) to chill thoroughly.

Now its time to preheat the oven to 400°.   Take the rolled pastry out of the refrigerator and place it onto a cutting board. Cut into slices about 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.  It’s entirely up to you.  The thicker the slices, the longer they will take to bake.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until they are golden and cooked through.  Cool on a wire rack.

You can make a quick glaze using confectioners sugar and milk to drizzle over the top (or not).

With a steaming cuppa tea, a fruity glass of wine, or an icy cold glass of milk, these crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside, sweet pastries are just delicious!  Enjoy.

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References:  The Foodie’s Companion, Fusion Chef, Great British Chefs

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Chocolate Brownie Layer Cake

Why do I call this a “chocolate brownie” layer cake, because it is dense, dark and delicious … like a chocolaty brownie, but still has the lightness of a cake.  And it fits all needs …. cupcakes?  no problem.  sheet cake?  perfect.  two layers or three layers?  it’s up to you.  If you are a frequent baker, I’m sure you have all the ingredients.  Nothing special is required.   This is a great middle-of-the-week family dessert.  So, don’t wait for a special occasion, start preheating the oven now!

I filled my cake with a Nutella Buttercream, but, of course, you could fill your cake with any filling/frosting combination you’d like.  Or just sweetened whipped cream and berries.  How can you go wrong?

CHOCOLATE BROWNIE LAYER CAKE
Bake at 350°  –  Makes one four-layer cake, or one three layer-cake and 9 cupcakes, or one two-layer cake and 15 cupcakes, or lots and lots of cupcakes!

4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3-1/2 cups sugar
3 sticks butter
3/4 cups extra-dark cocoa
1 cup hot water
1 cup prepared hot coffee
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, beaten (at room temperature)

The only way to know if you have everything is to line up all your ingredients.

In a mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients:  flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. Mix well.

 In a large saucepan, melt three sticks of butter.  Add the cocoa and stir.

Then add the hot water and hot coffee.  Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let cool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the mixture has cooled, pour it into the flour and mix well.

In another bowl, combine the beaten eggs, vanilla and buttermilk.

Mix this well and then add it to the batter until combined well, but don’t overbeat.

 Pour the batter into greased and floured tins.

This batter will make four layers, but you can decide what you are making.

I always measure to make sure my layers will be even.

Bake at 350 for about 20 to 22 minutes.  Layers should be glossy, pulled back just a bit from the sides of the pan and a cake tester should come out clean.

 

 

 

 

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NUTELLA BUTTERCREAM
Enough to fill a three-layer cake, or lots of cupcakes.

2 sticks softened butter
2-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (or more) light cream
1 13 oz. jar Nutella Hazelnut Spread

In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter and confectioner’s sugar together.

Add the vanilla and enough cream to soften.

Beat in the jar of Nutella – two to three minutes.  Adjust the thickness by adding more cream, if necessary.

It should be smooth, creamy and easy to work with.  Sample when necessary.


I was making a casual dessert for dinner.  You can get as fancy as you’d like.  Hope you like it!

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Treacle Pudding

Hubby wanted “treacle pudding”.  I know it’s available in some international markets sold under the U.K. brand of Heinz in tin cans, but I don’t want to open a can.  I want to make Treacle Pudding.  What I was not sure about was what exactly is “treacle”?  I looked in the grocery stores and couldn’t find it.  I asked family and friends.  They’ve never heard of it.  I checked all my cookbooks and there was no recipe either using it, or for it.  Even hubby wasn’t sure what it was or where you bought it. How am I going to make this classic English dessert if I don’t have any treacle?  Time to go online and do a little research.  Here’s what I learned . . .

When sugar cane is harvested, it is crushed to squeeze out the juice. That juice is then boiled down (very similar to making maple syrup).  Depending upon how many times, and for how long the juice is boiled, will produce the depth of color and flavor of the syrup. The syrup can range from a light golden color and flavor, to a medium amber color with deeper flavor to a very dark, thick syrup with almost sweet bitter flavor.  The first boiling produces golden syrup or light treacle, similar to honey in color.  The second boiling produces treacle, which we call molasses. The third boiling produces ‘dark treacle’ which we call blackstrap molasses.

Lyle's Golden Syrup

Lyle’s Golden Syrup

“Golden Syrup” is produced by the Abram Lyle & Sons company and sold everywhere in the U.K.  In the U.S., however, it did take a bit of hunting, but I found it.  I also found out it is available through Amazon, but, honestly, who wants to wait for a UPS delivery before making dessert.

Now to find a ‘good’ recipe for Treacle Pudding.  After looking through all my English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh cookbooks, I found ONE recipe.  Thank you Paul Hollywood!  But why, if this dessert is so popular can’t I find more than one recipe?  It seems this dessert isn’t as popular as hubby had thought. More research has shown that it’s a regional favorite, only popular in northern England and Scotland.  Okay, back to the “world wide web”.

Recipes appear to be either the very same, copied from website to website, or completely hard-to-understand.  What exactly is a 900ml pudding basin?  And do I really want to use suet?  Or a splash of brandy?  No, I don’t think so.  This is suppose to be a nostalgic, humble steamed pudding made from flour, eggs, butter and this sweetener they call “treacle”.

My first attempt was a simple recipe from the BBC FOOD website, very similar to Paul Hollywood‘s.  Quite basic.  Nothing I couldn’t handle.  Throw everything in a bowl, mix and steam for 1-1/2 hours.  But when I unmolded it, the whole pudding fell into a big, soggy heap. Undercooked and cloyingly sweet.  Back to the “world wide web”.

My second attempt was just a little more complicated, beat the butter and sugar til fluffy and add eggs one at a time.  The ingredients were just about the same.  Steamed for 1-1/2 hours, and when I unmolded it, it looked fabulous.  But, it was very dry and not very sweet at all.  Okay, let’s try once more.

Here’s the one we liked . . .

TREACLE PUDDING
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons golden syrup (light treacle)
1 stick butter, softened (plus more for greasing)
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses (treacle)
3 large eggs, room temperature
grated lemon peel

 First get a very large pot with tightly fitting cover.  Put a saucer, ramekin or something in the bottom of the pot so that the bowl you are going to steam your pudding in doesn’t sit directly on the bottom of the pot.  Fill the pot halfway with water and bring to a boil.

While the water comes to temperature generously grease a large bowl, 4 cups or more, in which your pudding will cook.

 Pour the Golden Syrup into the bottom of the bowl.  Mix together the dry ingredients.  In a mixing bowl beat the softened butter with the sugars and molasses (treacle) til light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well.  Add the dry ingredients and grated lemon peel and blend til well combined.


The batter should be like thick pancake batter.  If it’s too thick, add a bit of milk to loosen.  Pour the batter into the bowl. Take a piece of aluminum foil and wrap it tightly around the bowl.  This needs to be sealed tight so that the moisture doesn’t get in when boiling.

 Place the bowl into the pot, setting on top of the saucer or ramekin.  I used a steamer basket, which worked beautifully.  Make sure the water comes up to the middle of your pudding bowl. Cover the pot and steam for about 1-1/2 hours.  The water should be a soft boil.  If the water isn’t hot enough, the pudding won’t cook.  Check the water level every now and then.  You don’t want the water to boil away.

After 1-1/2 hours your pudding should be done.  Carefully remove the bowl and lift the foil.  With a cake tester, puncture the the pudding to see if it is ready.  If the tester comes out clean and dry, the pudding is ready.

Carefully run the tip of a knife around the top of the pudding, then place a plate on top of the bowl and invert. Pour a bit more Golden Syrup around the top of the pudding and serve warm. Traditionally this dessert is served with custard, but we like vanilla ice cream with ours.

 Sticky, sweet and gooey, everyone will love this humble, old fashioned dessert.

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References:  Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Wikipedia, BBC Food

Eton Mess??

The oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world has just ended and Serena Williams from the U.S. and Novak Djokovic from Serbia are the official champions in the men’s and women’s singles. All of Great Britain, as well as quite a few other countries, are celebrating! And where there is celebrating, there is food!  The classics will all be served ….. from cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches, to chicken and leek pies, bacon with brie quiches and, of course, Eton Mess ….. all washed down with a refreshing Pimm’s.  Strawberries and cream are so classically English, Eton Mess is the perfect summer dessert for any Wimbledon celebration.

This pudding of crushed light-as-air meringue cookies mixed with luscious, seasonal strawberries and rich, sweetened cream is thought to have originated from the famous school of the same name, Eton College.  It seems this recipe was not, as legend says, the ‘accidental mess’ created by a dog said to have sat on a picnic basket containing the pavlova which was to be served after the cricket match.  The dessert was actually created by the chef at the elite school in the 1930s to be this ‘messy’ sort of pudding.  Bananas were the original fruit, but it is traditionally made with strawberries now (although any fruit would work beautifully).

This time of year, it’s all about the strawberries, so, let’s give it a go!

Eton Mess
Preparation for meringue cookies:
3 extra large eggs (whites only)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

You can buy meringue cookies at the supermarket which takes a lot of the work out of this recipe (but I just had to make them).  

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Preheat the oven to 250° and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer, in a super clean bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and salt. Continue beating and then add the sugar one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated.  Don’t rush this – it should take about ten minutes.  Add the vanilla.  The egg whites should now be very stiff and glossy.

 These meringue cookies are going to be broken up into pieces so there’s no need to be careful about spooning them onto the baking sheets.  If you want to use a pastry bag and pipe them, feel free.  Otherwise, using two spoons drop mounds onto the parchment paper.  They won’t spread out, so you can fit quite a few onto one sheet. Makes approximately 18 cookies. Bake for 1-1/2 hours at 250°.  Then turn OFF the oven and leave the meringues inside the oven to dry out – two hours or more.

For the pudding
2 lbs. washed, hulled strawberries
lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 pint heavy cream
4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

To prepare in advance, whip the cream and keep refrigerated.  About an hour before serving, slice the strawberries and sprinkle with the sugar (more or less to taste) and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Let this mascerate while you whip the cream, if you haven’t already done so.  Add the sugar and vanilla to the cream and whip until it mounds (but before it becomes butter).

To assemble
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATake half the strawberries and mash up with a fork or potato masher and set aside.  Squeeze in a little lemon juice.  Break up the meringue cookies and add them to a large bowl.   Add the whipped cream and the other half of strawberries .  Fold it all together.  You can serve this in one large serving bowl, individual bowls or fancy glasses. Spoon the mixture into the serving dishes and top with the mashed strawberries.  Garnish and serve!

This recipe will easily make 8 to 12 servings, depending upon the size of each serving.  The recipe can be cut in half.  Experiment with different fruits if the strawberries are past season.  Next time I’m going to try blueberries with white chocolate shavings and toasted almonds!  Have fun with it!!

(Tip:  don’t make meringue when the air is very humid.  They’ll never dry out.  I learned the hard way.)
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Resources:  Epicurious, Just Like Mother Used to Make by Tom Norrington-Davies, The Kitchn