Sundays and sunshine: Lemon donut muffins

Lemon Donut Muffins

I always forget how much I love spring until it comes back again. The weather here has been amazing lately, and we’ve been soaking up some serious outside time (hence my frequent sneezes and ridiculously itchy eyes. Oh, allergies, you rascals!). I’m convinced that few things are better for a kid — particularly a high-energy toddler — than time spent outdoors, where they can jump, climb and run around as fast as their little legs can carry them. Beany could run laps around the apartment all day and still not end up with the same kind of happy exhaustion she gets from an hour or two outside. It must be the fresh air. Or the sunshine. Whatever it is, you can’t bottle it. But it’s there for the taking.

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Early Sunday morning, we packed up the kids and walked to one of our favorite bakeries nearby for something delicious to ring in the day. This place has the best lattes in town, which is a happy thing for the coffee drinkers in our bunch, and Beany gets a kick out of picking something yummy from behind the glass counter. I do, too. After all, what’s a latte without something sweet to go with it, right?

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So lattes and lemon donut muffins in hand, we headed back home, where we opened all the windows and let the springtime breeze roll in. I don’t know if it was the walk, the fresh air, the sunshine or the muffins, but it was a really great morning.

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If one could, in fact, bottle sunshine and fresh air and general outside loveliness, it would come in the form of a lemon donut muffin. So although the rest of the week is never as easy breezy as our weekends, I thought I’d try my hand at recreating a piece of our magical morning to last us until Saturday comes around again. Oh, happy day, it was a success! Bright, rich and the perfect blend of sweet and zing, these lemon donut muffins will erase the Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday) woes and remind you that blue skies are ahead. The calendar might say Monday, but we’re still feeling very Sunday here.

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Lemon Donut Muffins

• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• zest from 1 lemon
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ cup milk
• ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
• 6 tablespoons salted butter, melted
• ½ cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a muffin pan with butter (you’ll need 9 spots buttered and ready to go). In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the unsalted butter and ½ cup sugar until creamy. Add the egg and lemon zest, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and lemon juice, and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the milk and cream. Slowly add the flour and milk/cream mixtures to the standing mixer, alternating between the two and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined.

Fill the greased muffin tins about 2/3 full, and bake until the donut muffins are barely golden around the edges, about 20 to 22 minutes (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean). Remove the muffins from the tins right away using a butter knife to loosen the edges.

Working as quickly as you can, dip the tops and sides of each muffin into the melted salted butter, and then roll them in sugar.

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XO,
Katrina

 

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Happy Easter! Lemon Ginger Bundt Cake

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Happy Easter! This post is popping up a little later than planned, but I suppose that’s life with a newborn and a toddler in the house. And a puppy. Yep, that puppy is wild, too.

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In case any of you are still on the lookout for an Easter-ready dessert (or a feels-like-spring dessert for that matter), look no further. This lemon ginger bundt cake comes together in a snap and tastes as happy as it sounds. I love that it uses crystallized ginger instead of ground. Have you cooked or baked much with it? It’s pretty fun, delicious stuff. Zingy and bright and just what spring is supposed to taste like. I’m currently in search of new gingery recipes so I can use up the rest of it.

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In other news, Beany went to her very first Easter egg hunt yesterday and had a pretty great time. Fortunately, she didn’t realize all the sugar that came hidden inside those eggs until the very end of the hunt, so we managed to escape without her getting too incredibly sugar filled. Of course, now in her zeal for jellybeans and chocolate, she’s requesting eggs by the dozen.

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Hope your Easter is a good one, too!

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Lemon Ginger Bundt Cake
Adapted just slightly from Martha Stewart

• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
• 6 large eggs
• 1 cup sour cream
• powered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 12-cup bundt pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, lemon zest, ginger, baking soda and salt.

Beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in the lemon juice and vanilla.

With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Blend until just incorporated. Spoon batter into prepared pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Lemon Ginger Bundt Cake

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XO,
Katrina

Taste of sunshine: Lemon sandwich cookies

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When I’m in the thick of summer, smack in the middle of the steamy heat and mosquito-ridden evenings, I have a hard time appreciating the season for what it is. I love cold weather, and my grumpiness level automatically shifts up a few notches when the temperature reaches 80. I know, I would have had a hard time in the pre-air-conditioning pioneer days. But then, there’s a reason I always ignored the townsfolk and set out in the dead of winter for all of my Oregon Trail journeys. No one wants to travel with me across rugged terrain in a covered wagon in mid-July. I’d be even worse than that grump pot Sally. And she always got cholera.

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So yes, my yoke and I much prefer the chill to the heat. But this summer has been a particularly good (albeit busy) one, and as the season officially starts to wind down for us, I’m finding myself surprised by how much I’m going to miss it. We’ve had lots of time with Jared home, lots of time with family and a whole lot of those eat-lunch-at-3-then-have-popcorn-for-dinner kinds of days. That total lack of schedule just doesn’t seem to fly for us any other time to year, and for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can say we milked it for all it was worth.

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As summer starts to fizzle (not that you’d know by the temperature — 88 in Boston today! Eep!), we’re reminiscing on the good ol’ just-a-few-weeks-ago days while they’re still fresh in our memory. And we’re doing so with lemon because, well, lemon tastes like sunshine, and sunshine is good any time of year. These lemon sandwich cookies were a big hit in our house, especially with Beany. She’s never had an Oreo before, but this foray into sandwich cookies has revealed that’s she’s a twister and a licker. Every dot of frosting must be gone before she makes her move on the wafers. Then every dot of wafer is consumed with gusto.

You could certainly try these cookies with another citrus, but I do hope you’ll try the lemon version first. There’s just something so happy about a lemon cookie. And a lemon cookie with lemon frosting? Well, that’s about as much happy as a taste bud can stand.

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Lemon Sandwich Cookies
Adapted just slightly from Martha Stewart

Makes about 3 dozen sandwich cookies

For the cookies:
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
• zest from 1 large lemon
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon vanilla
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar (for sprinkling on cookies)

For the icing:

• 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
• zest from 1 large lemon
• 1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

To make the cookies, beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest and salt with an electric mixer on high speed until well combined. Add the vanilla, and blend to combine. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour until the mixture just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, form it into a disk about ½ inch thick, wrap it and chill for about an hour, until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once the dough has chilled, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out 1 ½-inch rounds from the dough, and place them 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle the tops with the granulated sugar, and bake until they’re just beginning to brown, about 13 to 17 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the cream cheese and lemon zest with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar, and mix until smooth. (The icing should be firm but spreadable; add a bit more sugar if needed.)

To make the sandwiches, place about 1 teaspoon of icing between two cookies, sugared sides out, and squeeze together gently.

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How is your summer winding down? Will you miss the carefree schedule, or are you antsy to get back into a routine? Any end-of-summer recipes you’re wild about these days? Do tell!

XO,
Katrina

Three-ingredient strawberry sorbet

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Although our oven joins us in a collective groan as the summer heat draws near, there’s one little appliance tucked in the back corner of the kitchen that lets out a happy squeal at the first sign of 90-degree days.

“Yippee da doo, eep eep eep!” Or something like that.

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Yes, after nearly nine months of hibernation, the trusty ice-cream maker is ready to run again. Oh, happy day! If anything can make me look forward to a sweltering summer, it’s the promise of ice cream, popsicles, anything frozen. And sorbet! Especially easy-to-make, tastes-like-summer-in-a-bowl sorbet.

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Isn’t it amazing how so few ingredients can make something so delicious? Strawberries, lemons and sugar. That’s it. Sweet doesn’t have to be complicated.

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Strawberry Sorbet

Strawberry Sorbet
Recipe by Genius Recipes, Food52

• 2 lemons (1 seeded and chopped, 1 juiced)
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled

Place the chopped lemon and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until combined. Transfer to another bowl.

Puree the strawberries in the food processor. Add the lemon mixture and the lemon juice, and pulse to combine.

Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker, and churn until frozen (it took about 30 minutes in my machine). Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container, and keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to serve.

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Are you looking forward to the warm weather and sunshine? What’s your favorite summer dessert?

XO,
Katrina

Strawberry tarts forever

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Our farmers market basket overfloweth! It’s a happy problem indeed, though it’s one that necessitates a rather concentrated effort to cook, bake and nibble our way through the abundance of produce as fast as our tummies can take us. Our kitchen always feels more creative in the warmer months because we tend to do a lot more buying by sight than buying by list, which often leaves us with a crisper drawer filled with odds and ends we’re not entirely sure what to do with. So yes, lots of fruits and vegetables, with nary a plan in sight. Clearly this calls for tarts.

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I think of tarts like I think of quiche in that you can pretty much throw anything in them and still have fantastic results, especially if you’ve landed on a crust that you already love. Strawberries are my absolute favorite though, and berries are practically falling from the sky this time of year.

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And sometimes it’s just nice to bake something that ends up looking so pretty, don’t you think? I’ve eaten — and made! — plenty of mishmash dishes that still taste great, but I love, love, love a pretty dessert. Maybe it’s a touch of nostalgia from my tea party days.

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The strawberry and lemon combination is perfect for warm weather, but blueberry would be great to add to the mix, too. Or maybe peaches? Or cherries? Sometimes a grocery store walkabout is the perfect inspiration.

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Strawberry Tarts with Lemon Zest
Adapted from Martha Stewart 

For the crust:
• 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
• ⅓ cup sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:
• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• zest of 1 small lemon (or ½ large lemon)
• 1 ½ to 2 pounds strawberries, hulled and cut in half
• ¼ cup apricot preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, put the flour, butter, ⅓ sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse for about a minute, until moist crumbs form. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom, or divide it evenly among four 4-inch tartlette pans.

Press the dough evenly into the pans and up the sides (you can dip your fingers in flour beforehand to keep them from sticking). Press the dough firmly into place, and freeze the crusts for about 15 minutes, until firm.

Use a fork to prick the crusts all over. Then bake them until golden, about 18 to 23 minutes for tartlettes, 25 to 30 minutes for one large tart. Check on the crusts occasionally during baking and press them down gently with a spoon if they puff up. Cool completely.

To make the filling, mix together the cream cheese and ¼ cup sugar until smooth. Add the lemon zest and vanilla, and mix to combine. Spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of the baked crusts (still in the tartette pans). Then, starting from the outside edge, arrange the strawberries, stem side down, in tight circles on top of the cream cheese.

Heat the apricot preserves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until liquid. Gently brush the strawberries with preserves, and let them set for at least 20 minutes. Chill the tartlettes in their pans for at least 1 hour. Remove them from pans just before serving.

Strawberry Tartlettes

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XO,
Katrina

Admiration and emails — and lemon cream cheese cookies

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This cookie is based on a recipe that’s been saved on my computer for more than a year. It’s from Merrill Stubbs at Food52, and I remember saving it simply because I think Merrill is the cat’s pajamas. If she says it’s a hit, I believe her. Allow me to explain.

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For the first 16 or so years of my life, I thought Katie Couric was the coolest. I wanted to be a broadcast reporter, and the years Couric spent on the Today Show mixed with her noticeable morning perkiness — which I still very much relate to and appreciate, by the way — pretty much solidified her awesomeness to me. Once I hit college, however, my ambitions to be on camera fell behind my ambitions to be a writer. That, and I learned quickly that it was totally uncool to say you wanted to be like Katie Couric at journalism school. Oh, college.

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Truth be told, my unabashed love of Katie Couric has subsided a little, but I’d still probably spout off all those embarrassing “You were my favorite growing up, you’re so awesome, please sign my trusty reporter’s notebook” lines if I saw her on the street today. But my interests have changed, and my aspirations have evolved, which gives opportunity to celebritize a whole new slew of cool cats. In the past few years, I’ve become engrossed in the food blog culture, not just because I write a food blog of my own but also because I love reading those stories, trying the recipes and being part of that community. When I came across Food52 a few years ago (concurrent with my attainment of Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook), I felt as if I’d found my ultimate Web-based happy place.

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So I started reading all the stories and dabbling with some of the recommended picks. Perhaps no surprise, my favorites were — and still are — almost always those from the site’s founders, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. I started seeking out more of their writing, other cookbooks, columns and the like. I’d click with admiration through photos of the Food52 test kitchen and imagine how great it must be to go to work there every day. And I’d say unrealistic and irresponsible things to Jared like, “Let’s move to New York! We can be waiters, and I’ll moonlight at Food52. Huzzah!”

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So there’s some backstory. Jared knows all of this. And he knew this when he emailed Merrill Stubbs (yes, emailed her!) last December to ask about a watch of hers with a turquoise strap that I had admired in a video on the Food52 site. He said he figured it was a long shot, but he was in search of the perfect Christmas present for his wife and wondered if Merrill (I’ll say Merrill here because my sweet husband was totally on a first-name basis with her via email) would be willing to share a bit about her lovely timepiece. Although he found out that the watch was no longer available (not to mention a bit out of his graduate student budget), he was happy that he asked. And when Christmas morning rolled around, though Jared did give me a new watch that I love, even better was when he showed me the secret correspondence that had transpired between him and Merrill. They had a nice little chat back and forth about the watch, their respective baby daughters and wishes for a happy holiday season. I was amazed. And it was awesome.

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So now we’ve come full circle, back to the cookies. When I saved this recipe, I mentally noted that I’d pull it out on a rainy day, when I was out of impressive berry-filled breads and mile-high cakes to share. It seemed so simple that I was in no hurry to try it, but I should have known that it was worth an immediate trip to the kitchen. After all, if you can trust a person’s taste in watches, then you can certainly trust her taste in cookies. And if ever there was a perfect cookie, this might be it. They’re crisp around the edges, impossibly chewy in the center, perfectly sweet and wonderfully simple. Try them with the lemon or without. My guess is you’ll love them either way.

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Lemon Cream Cheese Cookies
Adapted slightly from Merrill Stubbs, Food52.com

• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 3 ounces plain cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• zest from 1 lemon
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and vanilla, and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour and salt until just incorporated, then give the bowl a good scrape and the mixture a quick stir to make sure everything is mixed in.

Drop the dough into rounded tablespoons (I used a 1-inch cookie scoop) about 1 ½ inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the edges turn a nice golden brown (Be careful not to over-bake!). Cool the cookies for a minute or so on the cookie sheet, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

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So that’s the story of my shameless admiration of a news anchor and a food writer. But really, I’m happy to tell the tale. I think everyone needs a Katie Couric in his or her life. Or a Merrill Stubbs or Amanda Hesser. We all need someone we look up to and whose work we admire. And we most certainly need someone who can recommend the best cookies.

XO,
Katrina

Minding our Ps and Qs: Ricotta Lemon Bars

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Nothing makes you reevaluate your words, actions and unintentional mannerisms quite like spending your days with a 2-foot-tall mimic. Toddlers come with an innate talent for reflecting the good, not-so-good and do-I-really-do-that kinds of qualities in the people around them, and our Beany girl has taken to this age-required aptitude with zeal.

Our regular conversations are often interrupted with questions like, “Where did she learn to nod like a bobble-head while babbling on the phone?” “Who taught her to squeal like a wild woman every time ‘Jingle Bells’ starts playing?” “Where did she learn to make monster faces and sniff like a puppy dog when she thinks something’s really funny?”

Well, here’s looking at you, Katrina and Jared — the Christmas-loving, phone-babbling, monster-face-making both of you.

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Of course, it’s always a happy surprise when those cute little quirks are accompanied by something downright mannerly, and it seems that, at least for Beany, dessert can be quite the catalyst for some pint-sized Emily Post-approved moments. Although she’d never before seen these ricotta lemon bars, with their buttery crust, zingy filling and powered snow-covered tops, she knew they were something special. So with big eyes, hands moving together in her signature “more” action and lips puckered like she’d already been tasting the leftover lemons, Beany began whispering, “Ppp, ppp, ppp.” Never mind that it’s only the first syllable of “please,” really just the first letter. In a sea Christmas music, silly expressions and early attempts at the ABCs, that sweet bean is learning to mind her Ps and Qs.

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Ricotta Lemon Bars
Adapted slightly from Kukla, Food52

For the crust:
• 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
• 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
• ¼ cup cornstarch
• 1 tablespoon lemon zest
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes pieces

For the filling:
• ¾ cup fresh whole-milk ricotta, drained
• 4 eggs, beaten
• 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons lemon zest
• ½ cup fresh lemon, strained
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper, and then layer another piece crosswise over that.

To make the crust: Place the flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and salt in a food processer, and pulse to combine. Add butter, and pulse about 10-15 times, until it resembles course meal.

Pour the crust in the lined pan, and press it firmly into the bottom until it forms an even layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, and then bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is a light golden brown.

To make the filling: Whisk together the ricotta, eggs, sugar and flour until well blended. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and stir to combine.

Once the crust is done baking, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Give the filling another stir, and then pour it into the warm crust. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the filling is set and firm to a light touch.

Allow the lemon bars to cool completely on a wire rack, and then transfer them to a cutting board to cut into 18 2-inch squares (for clean lines, wipe the knife between cuts).

Dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve.

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XO,
Katrina

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