Archive | Sweets & Treats

Recipes for baking, celebrations and sending in college care packages

Low Carb Dessert – Panna Cotta, Strawberries & Balsamic Vinegar

low carb dessert with yogurt and strawberries

Panna cotta with strawberry balsamic sauce (a low carb dessert)

I’ve been working on meal plans for Low Carb and Slow Carb diets this fall and winter, and while main dish proteins and vegetables are pretty easy to modify, low carb desserts are challenging.  Most meal plans that are developed with health and diet in mind will veer towards fruit desserts, and berries are the best of the fruits when considering low carb recipes.

While it’s true that most fruit has more nutritional value than sugary candy bars or prepared foods, for the most part fruit is very high in sugar (fructose).  And, as our sweet tooth has grown stronger over the past years, the seed companies have kept up with the demand, hybridizing fruits and vegetables to be sweeter and sweeter.

Berries (and some citrus) give the biggest bang for the buck on a low-carb diet, meaning they have the most nutritional value (high in antioxidants) and the least amount of sugar.  I’ve included a chart at the end of this post listing the popular fruits relative to the amounts of carbs in them.

But first the promised low carb dessert.

Acknowledging berries as the go-to fruit to work with in a dessert, the next challenge is to make it rich in flavor without adding much sugar.  Heavy cream and yogurt have very little lactose (milk sugar) so I was intrigued with a recipe that I found in a cookbook called “Farmers’ Market Desserts”.  The Panna Cotta was made with yogurt and heavy cream, neither of which have much lactose, and it used very little sugar.

I modified it a bit and it was perfect!  Lots of great flavor, low in carbs (for a dessert) and easy to make. It does have 1/3 cups sugar in a recipe that serves 4 so be aware if you are being really, really strict).

The only tricky thing is getting the panna cotta out of whatever you use for molds or ramekins, but the strawberry sauce can cover up any cosmetic breaks.  And who cares about cosmetics anyway when it tastes this good!!

Low Carb Dessert Recipe:

Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

Low Carb Dessert with yogurt and strawberries

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce (a low carb dessert)


  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I like the FAGE brand)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp
  • 3 cups strawberries (frozen is OK)
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a small bowl add the water and then sprinkle the gelatin over the top and let it sit undisturbed for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the cream, 1 cup yogurt, the vanilla and the salt. Let the yogurt mixture sit while you heat the remaining 3/4 cup cream and 1/3 cup sugar in a small pot over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is just starting to bubble gently (not boiling).
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and scrape in all of the gelatin mixture, stirring until completely dissolved (no granular texture, it should be smooth).  Then add this gelatin-cream mixture to the yogurt mixture and whisk together thoroughly.
  4. Ladel mixture into 6-ounce molds (anything works; small bowls or ramekins).  Refrigerate until set (4 hours or up to 3 days).  Only cover with plastic wrap after they are cold to avoid condensation.
  5. About an hour before serving, make the strawberry sauce by first slicing up 2 1/2 cup strawberries (I used frozen berries that were thawed) and placing them in a medium bowl.  In a food processor puree the remaining 1/2 cup berries with 2 Tbsp sugar and 2 tsp lemon juice.  Add the puree to the sliced berries and stir in 2-3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1/4 tsp pepper and a pinch of salt.  Let sit for 30 to 60 minutes.
  6. When ready to serve, dip ramekins or molds into hot water for a few seconds, Run a thin, sharp knife around inside of mold and then invert panna cottas onto individual dessert plates.  Shake to loosen, or tap bottoms of mold and then lift off ramekins or molds. Spoon strawberry sauce over each panna cotta. Serve immediately.

If you don’t care for the balsamic topping with the strawberries, I’ve posted another low carb dessert recipe that uses red wine with the strawberries instead and buttermilk instead of greek yogurt.  Click here to see that recipe.

Low carb dessert with yogurt and strawberries

Panna Cotta w/ Strawberry & Red Wine Sauce (a low carb dessert)

Now, I’ll end the post with a list of low, medium and high carb fruits that comes in handy when you are making decisions on a low carb diet.  If you want more hands on help I do provide online diet coaching on a platform called  Click here if you want to see more about the diet coaching.

Low Carb Fruit Quick List (for use in Low Carb Desserts)

Serving Size: 1/4 cup.

Fruits Lowest in Sugar:

  • Lemon or lime
  • Rhubarb
  • Blackberries
  • Cranberries

Fruits Low to Medium in Sugar

  • Strawberries
  • Casaba Melon
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupes
  • Honeydew melons
  • Apples
  • Guavas
  • Apricots
  • Grapefruit

Fruits Fairly High in Sugar

  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Kiwifruit
  • Pears
  • Pineapple

Fruits Very High in Sugar:

  • Tangerines
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Pomegranates
  • Mangos
  • Figs
  • Bananas
  • Dried Fruit

Pfeffernusse for College Care Packages

Pfeffernusse cookies for College Care Packages

Pfeffernusse cookies for College Care Packages

Time for the Valentines Day College Care Packages!  I’m always trying out different treats that I think will ship well because my son goes to a school on the East Coast that has a frustrating administrative problem of getting packages to the kids on time.  For some reason they won’t deliver the packages until days after they arrive.  So…I try to find treat recipes that will stay soft and pliable for long periods of time.  These Pfeffernusse were successful, staying fresh and soft in a sealed container for 2 weeks.  Plus, the flavor was awesome!

Yes, Pfeffernusse are Christmas cookies…not Valentines

Pfeffernusse are a traditional German Christmas cookie, featuring molasses and spices.  I meant to make these at Christmas, but alas, time got away from me.  My kids still wanted to taste them and sometimes the chocolate Valentines treats don’t ship that well, so I’m flying in the face of tradition here, both with Christmas cookies and Valentines chocolate.  Sometimes you just have to punt.

Pfeffernusse Cookie Recipe

  • Pfeffernusse for Care Packages

    Pfeffernusse for College Care Packages

    1/2 cup molasses

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 tsp anise extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (grind it fresh if possible)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (can use 2 tsp white pepper if desired)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar for dusting


  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine molasses,honey, and butter and cook, stirring frequently.  Cook until creamy and thoroughly mixed together.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  When mixture is cool, stir in the eggs and the anise extract.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, including the flour, sugars, and spices (but not the powdered sugar).  Add the molasses mixture and stir together thoroughly.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 325° F.  Let the dough thaw slightly so it is pliable enough to roll into balls.  Roll into small balls, about 1 1/4″ in size.  Place on baking sheet, about 1″ apart (they don’t spread much but they do get a little bigger when baked).
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, they should be slightly brown on the bottom.  Cool a minute on the sheet and then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.  Use a sifter to dust cookies with powdered sugar.

This recipe is an adaptation of many of the recipes I read on the internet, adding and subtracting based on comments from other cooks.  It turned out fantastic!



Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars

Always a decision this time of the year as to which pumpkin bars to make – silky pumpkin cheesecake bars, pumpkin bars with a crunchy oat crust, pumpkin bars with a maple sugar streusel topping, and the list goes on.  I’m starting the pumpkin bar season off with the pumpkin cream cheese bars, the ultimate in comfort foods as the weather turns cool on us.

Although we do grow a lot of different varieties of pumpkin and squash, I’ve found the canned pumpkin to be the go-to alternative for bars.  After adding the amount of sugar and spices that pumpkin bars and cakes call for, you can’t really distinguish the nuances of which variety of pumpkin you use, and the canned pumpkin is just as nutritional considering the other ingredients that go in bars.  We are, after all, making a sweet treat (for cheat day or otherwise) and sometimes it’s difficult to justify the prep work required of fresh pumpkins for something with this much sugar.

To me it is similar to my earlier years as a bartender when customers would order a really expensive bourbon and coke.  The sweetness of the coke was so overpowering I’m sure they could not tell the difference between that expensive high-end bourbon and the less expensive house bourbon.  Now if they order bourbon on the rocks or with a splash of something, that’s a different story.

So, I save the heirloom varieties of pumpkin and squash for meals where I can truly savor the differences in their nuttiness and sweetness.  A popular blog called did an interesting post on what is actually in the canned pumpkin, and it turns out that most canned pumpkin also includes some varieties of squash.  They suggest Libbys brand if you want 100% pumpkin.

See thekitchen’s full post on canned pumpkin by clicking here.  Please let me know in the comments if you have had a different experience with the type of pumpkin you use in bars.  I would love to know if you think I’m off-base here.

So, the recipe…..

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars:

(adapted from an old Star Tribune recipe for pumpkin bars)


Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Bars (top view)

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Bars (top view)

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (15-oz) can pumpkin (Libbys is 100% pumpkin)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 6 ox cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour (or spray with cooking oil spray) a 10 x 15-inch baking pan.  If you use a more common 9 x 13-inch pan, you will have to cook it longer or the middle will not get done.  Alternatively you could only pour in 3/4 of the batter into the 9 x 13 and use a muffin tin or small baking pan for the rest.
  2.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the sugar and oil and pumpkin until creamy (about 1 min). Beat in eggs until well combined – about 2 minutes.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and all of the spices. Add these dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, until evenly golden and a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached.  Let cool completely (about 1 1/2 hour) before frosting.
  5. Using a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar, a little at a time, until mixture is smooth.  Spread frosting over completely cooled bars.
  6. Chill or freeze before cutting into bars.  Makes 2-3 dozen bars (depending on how large you cut them).

German Chocolate Cake via David Lebovitz

The Ultimate German Chocolate Cake

The Ultimate German Chocolate Cake

One of our family’s traditions is surrounding birthdays is the “honoree” gets to dream up whatever their heart desires for their birthday dinner, and one of the other family members gets to make it.  The most recent birthday at our house was my son’s and he decided he wanted cioppino and a german chocolate cake.  Well, the cioppino was easy because I had a go-to recipe that was great and worked every time (see recipe here), but the cake was a little more intimidating.  I don’t bake that much and as I recalled, German Chocolate Cake was a bit on the fussy side.

But…a birthday dinner is not to be messed with, so I went to one of the tried and true masters of elegant pastries…David Lebovitz.  The recipe required some steps I was not that familiar with (like cutting two cakes in half evenly for stacking) and the recipe definitely required close attention to detail, but I was baking with love.  And I gave myself the whole day so as not to be rushed.  It was miraculous!  It was a visual delight and the taste was out of this world.

I was so relieved and proud as a peacock (yes I basked in the oohs and ahs), but I have no idea if I could duplicate it again.  The most I can say about this recipe is

  • take your time;
  • read the directions a couple of times and pay attention to detail;
  • if it doesn’t look perfect, you can be guaranteed it is going to taste great
  • if there is any left, if freezes really well (my son had to go back to college, so I froze it and I’ve been portioning out a bit at a time for my cheat days, which is a great thing to look forward to!)

Recipe for the Ultimate German Chocolate Cake

(very slightly adapted from David Lebovitz)


For the Cake:

  • 2 ounces bittersweet (or semisweet) chocolate, shredded with a cheese grater
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted (I couldn’t find unsweetened so used sweetened and it was fine)

For the Rum Syrup:

1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum (like Meyers rum)

For the Chocolate Icing:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated with cheese grater or chopped
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream


To make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
  2. Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave.  I used a microwave on 50% for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Stir until smooth, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and beat on medium speed until combined.  Then beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Over low speed, beat half of the dry ingredients (the flour mixture) into the creamed butter mixture until just combined.  Mix in the buttermilk and the vanilla extract until combined and then beat in the rest of the flour mixture.
  6. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar (slowly) and beat until they hold stiff, glossy peaks.
  7. Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.
  8. Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool cake layers completely.  While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

To make the filling:

  1. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and toasted pecan pieces in a large bowl and set aside.  Mix together the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan.
  2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)
  3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)

To make the rum syrup:

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted and dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.  Set aside.

To make the icing:

  1. Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and the 3 tablespoons of butter.
  2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Let sit until room temperature.
  3. Once the filling and icing are both cooled to room temperature, refrigerate for 1 hour.

To assemble the cake:

Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a serrated bread knife (some bakers cut cakes in half with a string pulled taut, but the knife worked well for me.  Just keep your eye on it so you are cutting it evenly).  You will now have 4 cake layers.

Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush the top of this layer well with the rum syrup. Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.

Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top layer.

Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping (I used a plastic ziplock bag with a hole cut out and just squirted dabs around the edges.  While not as professional, it worked fine for a non-baker).

(It may seem like a lot of chocolate icing, but use it all. It is very, very good).

Side view of German Chocolate Cake

Side view of German Chocolate Cake


That’s it!  Whew!  So worth it though.





Lime Marmalade Cake for the Easter College Care Package

Lime Marmalade Bread

Lime Marmalade Bread

I’m so weary of cold and snow these days and the taste and smell of warm citrus baked goods helps keep the hope alive that Spring and sunshine will indeed come to our farm.  Last week I made Lemon Bars with Limoncello Icing for the girl’s Easter care package and this week I decided to try something with one of our lime marmalades for the boy’s package.  The lime marmalade is very intense in flavor and held up well in the baking process.

Easter College Care Package for the Boy

My son is a junior in college and has recently developed a relationship with a girl that looks like it may have some staying power.  They both enjoy experimenting with food and drink and I have been using them  as “tasters” for the cocktails I’m developing which use our shrub syrups and simple syrups.  The “Mint Julep” that I made for him last summer was his favorite, and is now a standing request when he comes home at breaks.

Easter College Care Package for the Boy

Easter College Care Package for the Boy

I found these wonderful mint julep cups online, had them monogrammed with our last name initial, and sent it to him along with a recipe for the Mint Julep and two different syrups he can use in the recipe.  Now he can impress her with his “mixology” skills.  I certainly would have been impressed if my college boyfriend knew how to serve anything other than a cheap beer!

Recipe for the Lime Marmalade Cake

Lime Marmalade Cake for the Easter College Care Package


  • 12 Tbsp (1 and 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temp. (plus 1/2 Tbsp for glaze)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp grated lime zest
  • 1 tsp grated orange or lemon zest
  • 3 eggs, at room temp
  • 2/3 cups lime marmalade, divided into two 1/3 cups
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (can use orange or lime also)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 4 Tbsp powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray
  2. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter sugar, and both zests for 3-5 minutes, or until it looks light and airy.. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in 1/3 cups of the lime marmalade, along with the citrus juice until everything is incorporated.
  3. In a clean bowl whisk together the dry ingredients, to include the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the marmalade mixture until just combined (do not overmix)
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake 50 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and light golden in the center. When cake has cooled for at least 10 minutes, loosen the edges of the cake from the pan by inserting a knife between the cake and the pan and running it along the edges. Turn cake out onto a plate.
  6. For the Glaze: Heat the other 1/3 cup of lime marmalade gently until it is melted and whisk in 1/2 Tbsp of butter and the powdered sugar. Whisk until no lumps of sugar remain. Spoon the glaze over the cake. Using a microplane, zest some lime and orange peel onto the top of the glaze. Cool completely before slicing.

Happy Easter!!!



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