Category Archives: Fourth of July

strawberry custard cassata cake

Hello. Welcome to delicious town. Mayor: this cake.


But before I take you to delicious town, let me first tell you about my day in crazy town. Today was one of those days, where, oh, I don’t know…I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean…at all. Not when I almost got hit by the big van in the grocery store parking lot. Not when I nearly burnt the house up in flames. Not even when I woke up at 7 AM on a day where I am clearly supposed to sleep-in. I was giddy, and that was that.


We had a nice little pre-Mother’s Day dinner for my mom tonight, complete with flank steak, parsnip mashed potatoes (recipe tomorrow), grilled veggies, and grilled corn on the cob. I corrected my dad when he complimented this cake that I made. (THIS CAKE! We’ll talk about that in a second). He mentioned that it turned out really good, where (being the English major brat that I am), I said he meant really well. I was 80% joking, but my brother pointed out something along the lines of how fun English majors are to hang out with. Can’t say I blame the man. Minutes later, mom said she could eat boat-loads of the grilled corn we had made…which, of course, in response dad says: “Ship-loads, honey. It’s actually ship-load.”





THEN. Nearing the end of the evening. I was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor (normal) strumming worship songs on the guitar, when I catch a glimpse of my brother making non-denominational worship signals (they’re a thing) out of the corner of my eye. I made the mistake of trying to continue, which turned into me laughing SO hard that I slammed my guitar on the floor and got my dog (who was laying at the other end of the hall) all rialed up. My lack of gracefulness is troubling, and I won’t even mention the puddles I made while whipping cream tonight.



But this cake. WOW. It means business. The original recipe calls for about 12 hours of commitment. [Ummm…what?] But I’m me. So ‘me’ cut that down to four, which I will share with you how to do.

A cassata cake requires multiple steps…but believe me when I tell you that this is the greatest-tasting complexity that you will ever have. Just look at it. *drool*. And actually, it wasn’t even bad to make–coming from me (I have cake problems) that says a lot.


You might wonder what kind of crazy person would spend more than two hours assembling and baking a cake. But what makes this cake so madly delicious is simple: 1) It is filled with homemade custard; 2) Each spongey layer is topped with strawberry juice and macerated strawberries; 3) The batter is prepared using a hint of lemon zest and whipped egg whites (mm, hello, fluffy town!); and 4) It is frosted with a homemade whipped cream (which was almost easier to make than a slice of toast).

Everything about this cake is a party. I’m telling you. If you don’t have a reason to make it, find one. Or bring it to my house. I live in Michigan (and in crazy town, obviously).


Strawberry Custard Cassata Cake

Yields: 2 9-inch pans; Prep time: 1 hour; Total time: ~4 hours (best if prepared overnight)


2 1/4 cup cake flour

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup cold water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. lemon zest, grated

1 tsp. vanilla

5 large egg yolks, room temp

8 large egg whites, room temp

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar


6 large egg yolks (*FYI, this recipe requires a total of 11 eggs)

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups half and half

3 tbsp. cornstarch


2 pounds strawberries

2 tbsp. sugar


3 cups very chilled heavy cream

1.5 tbsp. sugar

First, make the custard (you can do this the night before, or buy from a bakery). Whisk together all of the custard ingredients in a  saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Simmer until thick, 1-2 minutes (it’s quick). Store in fridge in a lidded bowl for at least 3 hours (up to 2 days).

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line the bottom of two 9-inch pans with parchment and spray with cooking spray.

Sift twice together flour, 1 1/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together yolks, water, oil, zest, and vanilla on low speed until smooth. Stir in flour mixture.

Clean the beaters and flour bowl, and mix egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Fold this into the rest of the batter, very gently. Try your best to not deflate the egg whites. Divide the batter into prepared pans (will be quite full) and bake 35 minutes, until cakes spring back when slightly touched.

Allow cakes to cool for 45 minutes. Slide knife around edges; carefully flip onto wax paper. Remove parchment slowly. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate both cakes at least one hour (preferably 3–this will make slicing them in half easier). While cakes refrigerate, slice strawberries (about 1/4 inch thick) and sprinkle with sugar. Allow to sit for one hour or more. Strain the juice (will be using this to brush the cakes later).

After cakes have refrigerated about two hours, prepare the whipped cream by putting heavy cream and sugar into a cool bowl (I put mine in the fridge for a half hour, but that is not necessary). Whisk by hand or use a mixer on high, until stiff peaks form.

Using a long, serrated knife, carefully slice each cake in half to create 4 layers. Put the first layer on your serving plate. Brush with generous amounts of strawberry juice, spread with custard, and place a single layer of strawberries on top of the custard–I placed the thicker slices of strawberry toward the outer edge and the thinner toward the middle, to avoid the ‘humped’ cake effect. I also put the custard in a piping bag and piped thick circles around the cake for easy spreading, taking off the access with a spreading knife.

Put the next cake layer on, pressing gently, and repeat previous steps. I picked up the top halves by hand, but used the wax paper that the other cake halves were on and used that to help me flip it onto the cake. The cakes should be pretty resilient, but try to be careful as possible not to break them (believe me, it’s happened more times than I can count). When you put on the final layer, make sure the nice side is facing up and brush off any crumbs with your fingers.

Apply a generous amount of whipped cream to the top of the cake and, using a spreader, work it across the top and over the sides. The more you put on, the better. You can always scrape it off as you go, but the more you have on the less likely it will be for crumbs to show through. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (original recipe says 8), for cake to absorb the juices. Enjoy this!




Filed under Birthdays, Cakes, Christmas, Desserts, Father's Day, Fourth of July, Mother's Day, Summer Dishes

blueberry crisp

The smell of both hot dogs on a grill and smoke from disappearing fireworks are just two reasons as to why the Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. And although I could argue that these components are what make this day so memorable and comforting, the truth is that celebrating our country’s independence would not be the same without the company of our family and those dear to us. From memories shared of my mom falling fully-clothed into a lake due to a family of passing ducks, to everyone drinking just enough wine to shamelessly hum off-key melodies during a game of Dominoes, my family continues to make this summer holiday a truly blessed and quite hilarious time for me, year after year.

This year I was blessed to spend yet another Fourth of July at our family’s lake house in northern Michigan. My older brother surprised us with a flight in from Texas and our aunt and uncle drove up from Ohio for their traditional holiday visit. My Aunt Terry jokes that we made the mistake of ever inviting her and Uncle Bob, as they have continued to come back every year since. But even if that were true, I’d argue that their calm, cool, and comedic personalities put them at the top of the list for best mistakes ever made.

In addition to bringing stories to share and dominoes to play, my aunt and uncle also bring a cooler of goodies each year. Wine, (most importantly), is usually included in this carry-on, along with a large container of fresh blueberries.

Don’t get me wrong, our family loves blueberries as much as the next, but I knew that assuming we could finish off six cups of perishable berries would be a gamble, especially since most of our week’s fruit intake was expected to be in the form of fermented grapes. It only seemed fitting to incorporate these bright blue berries into a sweet, patriotic dessert.

I did some thinking (which, for a girl wrapped up in the laziness of the holiday spirit, deserves some kudos). Many dessert ideas crossed my mind: blueberry scones…blueberry buckle…blueberry parfaits, tarts, bars, ice cream … the possibilities were overwhelming for my indecisive self. But then the lightbulb appeared. I remembered that apple crisp has always been an ongoing favorite of ours, so I confidently presumed that blueberries would also hold their own when baked beneath the familiar, crisp topping.

I think I was right.

In combination with a creamy vanilla ice cream, our warm, soft, and slightly sweetened blueberries lent a sense of completeness to what was an even sweeter holiday afternoon. This is the kind of dessert that has the ability to bring everyone to the table on a cool summer evening–a place where memories are recalled, laughs are shared, and traditions are created. (If that doesn’t sell you on this recipe, I’m not sure what will!)

Who allowed this goofy group to have a picnic on the beach!?

Fireworks over Lake Michigan

My brother, John, enjoying the show. (along with a sea of other proud Americans!)

Blueberry Crisp

(Yields 10 cup-sized servings)

For the filling:

6 cups blueberries (3 pints)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. coarse salt

For the crisp:

1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes

1 cup old-fashioned oats (not the quick-cooking kind)

1 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tbs. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, prepare crisp by mixing together flour, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt, and granulated sugar. Cut butter into flour using two knives held together in one hand (to resemble a pastry blender), until mixture is the texture of coarse meal. Add oats, using hands to toss and squeeze mixture until large clumps form. Transfer to freezer to chill while preparing filling.

In a large bowl, toss blueberries with lemon juice, salt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Transfer to a 9×13 pan (no need to spray) and sprinkle with topping mixture; apply slight pressure and pack the topping, without bruising the berries.Bake until golden and bubbling, 1 hour. Let cool 30 minutes before serving. Serve with ice cream or whipped topping, if you desire!

*This can also be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. Heat oven to 250 degrees and warm for 15 minutes before serving.

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Filed under Desserts, Fourth of July, Holiday Dishes, Memorial Day, Summer Dishes

Blueberry Pie

Happy June! And happy belated Memorial Day. In Emily Land, this means that summer has officially started. HOORAY! Bring on the watermelon.

Our Memorial weekend was not just a drink beer/eat bratworst/munch-corn-on-the-cob-while-waving-a-flag, kind of a day (although it was that, too). But rather an enjoy-birthday-cake/laugh-with-the-family/watch-your-older-cousin-do-a-belly-flop-into-the-pool, kind of a day. And it was simply splendid.

The family united in memorial merriment at our cousins’ house. All 19 of us. But who’s counting. My cousins Steve and She-She always do a wonderful job hosting us. I have unofficially given them Hosts of the Year Lifetime Award. And not just because I know they are reading this.

The spread is always A+ at their house (not to pack on the pressure for next time or anything). Tons of veggies; hummus; cheeses; wine; a large salad (or 3); and above all, delicious chocolate cake with Breyers ice cream (we are big Breyers fans). Additional food from outside caterers like myself is unnecessary. Almost rare. It isn’t like those potluck situations where hostess Jane forces Betty’s family to bring deviled eggs. “Thanks Betty! I like extra paprika on mine!” No. She-She is a kitchen wizard. So when she told me that I could bring a cake alternative, I was honored. And I also had no idea what to make.

I thought about bringing a Pineapple Upside-Down cake. Which is good, but a bit risky. Especially since I live with a man (my dad) who would probably rather eat brussel sprouts bathed in ketchup than a pineapple (but that’s gross, so don’t quote me on that). He spent a summer before college peeling pineapples at a factory in Hawaii and I think the fruit has taunted him ever since. Blueberries seemed fool-proof. And because I have no knowledge of blueberry factories in our family’s history, I decided to roll with it and make a blueberry pie. I even made the crust myself this time. How berry brave of me!

The recipe I used was from a Betty Crocker cookbook, dated 1949. Okay I lied. 1986. Either way, that is still significant amounts of old. Especially considering that a recipe from a cookbook the color of ancient red is now on the blogosphere. World wide what? I find it hilarious that, in 1994, they didn’t know what the internet was. But I digress. I like this recipe, whether it be digital or vintage.  It’s simple to follow and these baked berries were just the right amount of sweet–perfect for a Memorial/birthday bash out by the pool. And totally worthy of sharing a scoop of vanilla ice-cream with a piece of chocolate cousin-cake.

Pie Crust

(Makes two 9-inch crusts)

2/3 cup + 2 tbs. shortening

2 cups all purpose flour (if using self-rising flour, omit salt. SR flour differs in taste and texture)

1 tsp. salt

4-5 tsp. COLD water (important that it’s cold)

Cut shortening into flour and salt until particles are the size of small peas. To do so you may use a pastry blender, though I use 2 knifes held closely together in one hand and cut the shortening that way. Sprinkle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until all flour is moistened and pastry almost cleans side of the bowl (1 to 2 teaspoons can be added if necessary).

Gather pastry into 2 balls; shape into flattened rounds on slight flour board. Roll pastry 2 inches larger than an inverted pie plate. This will take some time. Start from the center and work your way out, slowly. Keep pastry circular by occasionally pushing edge in gently with sides of hands. Fold pastry into fourths; unfold and ease into plate, pressing firmly against bottom and side.

Blueberry Pie

(makes 6 large servings)

Pastry for 9-inch two crust pie

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

4 cups fresh blueberries

1 tbs. lemon juice

2. tbs. margarine or butter

Heat oven to 425. Prepare pastry. Mix sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Stir in blueberries. Turn into pastry-lined plate; sprinkle with lemon juice. Dot with margarine. Cover with top crust that has slits in it (lattice is also beautiful, or, use a cookie cutter to make shapes). Seal and flute (if necessary). Cover edge with aluminum foil (this is called a collar) to prevent excessive browning and to catch drips. Remove foil during last 15 minutes of baking.

Bake until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble, 35 to 45 minutes. Mine baked about 50. Serve with vanilla ice-cream and good company!


Filed under Desserts, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Pies, Summer Dishes