Periodically, she gets a lot of good food ideas

I subscribe to way too many foodie-odicals than is reasonable for a two-person household: Saveur, Fine Cooking, Food Arts, Sunset and more specialty food magazines, including catalogs. I don't read every word, as much as troll through the pages looking for fresh thoughts, simpified techniques and good recipes. August has been a very good month.

• Chocolate Crackle Ice Cream Topping: Is there anything better than a dish of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce that instantly hardens into a crackly shell? Cook's Illustrated discovered that the magic comes from coconut oil. Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat, which makes it solid at room temperature and brittle when cold. Melted coconut oil in a 2:3 ration with melted chocolate yields a smooth sauce that solidifies into a perfect, thin, easy-to-shatter shell over ice cream.

Coconut oil is having a comeback. Refined, it has virtually no taste or aroma. It used to be avoided because it is a solid at room temperature. That can turn people off, but as long as coconut oil isn't hydrogenated, it's fine to eat and may even have health benefits such as boosting metabolism and strengthening the immune system.

To make Chocolate Crackle Shell topping: Combine 4 tablespoons of refined coconut oil, 3 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate and a pinch of salt in a glass bowl. Microwave at 50 percent power until smooth (two to four minutes), stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature and transfer the mixture to a jar. To serve, spoon a tablespoon or two of sauce over ice cream, wait a half minute, and your shell will be brittle. Store at room temperature. A little goes a long way.

• Vanilla Top Hat Cupcakes with Pineapple Cream: When I was little, Mum would stop at Dudt's bakery in Mt. Lebanon to pick up a half-dozen Top Hat Pineapple Cupcakes as a special treat. The core of the velvety cakelettes was removed and filled with a fluffy pineapple buttercream that spread over the top. The bite-size "cake plug" was plopped onto the icing and finished with a shower of confectioners' sugar. For years, I've tried to duplicate them. Either the cake was not tender enough, the plug was misshaped and shaggy-looking or the buttercream either too thin or too heavy.

Enter the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalog. It carries everything a baker can wish for (and "I wish" on a regular basis). Last order, I bought a box of cake enhancer, a 1-ounce bottle of pineapple flavoring and a cupcake corer.

Cake enhancer ensures your homemade cakes, breads and muffins stay soft, moist and fresh. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons (about 1 tablespoon per cup of flour) to cake batter or yeast bread dough. I add it to my basic yellow cake batter. Every baker ought to give it a try. 10-ounce box, $7.95.

Pineapple flavoring, like vanilla and almond flavorings, adds just the right amount of assertive flavor. I add it to whipped vanilla buttercream along with a few tablespoons of well-drained and blotted crushed pineapple. 1-ounce bottle, $7.95.

The cupcake corer is fun to use. Poke it into the top of the cupcake, give a twist, and push a central plunger. Bingo, out plops the cake core. After frosting the cupcakes, perch the plug back on top and finish with confectioners' sugar. Corer, $4.95.

• Sugar-Roasted Peaches: Eating fresh peaches never gets old. But sprinkling their cut sides with a bit of sugar, searing them in a hot skillet and roasting them until tender, concentrates their flavor and expands the many ways to love this seasonal beauty. Chef Bill Taibe, writing in Fine Cooking, serves the peaches with pork chops, on a cheese plate, and as a topping for an ice cream sundae or dish of yogurt. The recipe calls for bacon, which adds a salty punch to the sweet-tart peaches, and herb sprigs, both of which add great flavor.

Sugar-Roasted Peaches

PG tested

  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 4 ripe, but semi-firm medium peaches (about 8-ounces each, halved and pitted)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large sprigs fresh summer or winter savory, thyme or rosemary

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cook bacon over medium heat in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, flipping occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Pour the bacon fat from the skillet into a small heatproof bowl, leaving just a slick of fat in the skillet; you'll need 4 teaspoons of the reserved fat. Raise heat under the skillet to medium high.

Sprinkle the cut sides of the peaches evenly with sugar and a tiny pinch each of salt and pepper. Arrange the peaches in the skillet cut side down and tuck the herbs around them.

Tear the bacon slices in quarters and tuck the pieces around the peaches. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the reserved bacon fat evenly over the peaches and let them cook undisturbed until the cut sides begin to brown, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the uncut (rounded) sides of the peaches with a pinch of salt, then transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until the peaches are just tender, about 10 minutes.

Flip the peaches, drizzle with 2 teaspoon more of the reserved bacon fat and continue to roast until they are tender but not falling apart. Enjoy the bacon as a cook's treat or save it for another use; discard the herbs. Let the peaches cool slightly before serving. You can make the peaches ahead, but they will be at peak flavor if you make and serve within an hour or so. Makes 8 peach halves.

-- Bill Taibe, Fine Cooking magazine

Marlene Parrish may be reached at or 412-481-1620.


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