Zinnia-inspired Dessert Table

By Libbie Summers
Assisted by David Dempsey

At the end of Summer, long after all the fancy flowers fade away, the zinnia holds court. She wears a ruffled collar of rich hues and a crown jewel of  yellow that makes her sassy and playful. What she lacks in fragrance…she makes up in fabulousness. This easy entertaining dessert course of zinnia decorated sugar cookies and fun linen napkins is a tribute to her. 
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What I used:
Zinnias: The model (Aeriel) is wearing the Tiered A-line Midi Skirt from my line and carrying an enamel pail of just-picked zinnias liberated from my friend Pamela’s yard (2 hours before she woke to see they were missing).
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Napkins: French Picnic Linen Napkin Set Trimmed in Orange Gingham

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Food: Zinnia Decorated Sugar Cookies!
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Zinnia Sugar Cookies
makes 3 dozen (depending on cookie cutter size)

What you need: 

3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for bench flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (can sub vanilla extract)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (can sub and extract you would like)
Crusting Buttercream Frosting (recipe to follow)

What to do: 
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Mix Dry Ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. Mix Wet Ingredients: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in egg, paste and extract.
4. Finish Mixing the Cookies: Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. The dough should be stiff.
5. Cut and Bake: Do not chill the dough…just get right into it!! Lightly flour a work surface and cut off enough dough to be workable. Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness and use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut out cookies. Place on the prepared baking trays and bake for 6-8 minutes.
6. Decorate: Allow cookies to cool completely. Decorate the cookies using  Crusting Buttercream Frosting. Using a #103 or #104 tip and brightly colored (orange or pink) frosting, hold your pastry bag with the largest part of the tip opening at the outer edge of the cookie and work around the cookie in a ruffle type pattern. Do a second layer to fill in the middle. Switching to a pastry bag filled with yellow frosting and fitted with a #2 tip, fill the center of the flower with a round of yellow and then make small dots over the top of the round and dotted just around it. Allow to dry.

Crusting Buttercream Frosting
(But why a crusting buttercream frosting? Crusting buttercream is a frosting that lightly sets and is perfect if you need your frosting to keep its shape. It works great on cookies where you don’t want to use a Royal Icing to decorate.)

What you need: 
1 1/4 cups butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
1 (2 pound) bag of confectioners sugar, sifted
4-5 tablespoons of whole milk
Food coloring (i prefer a gel coloring)

What to do: 
1. Cream Butter and Shortening: In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter and shortening and mix until well incorporated. Mix in vanilla.

2. Finish Frosting: Slowly add the powdered sugar to the creamed mixture. Once fully incorporated (it will be slightly thick) add your milk (a tablespoon at a time).

3. Color Frosting: Now’s the fun part. Color frosting for your application with food coloring (I prefer gel). (For the zinnia cookies, I needed three colors, so I divide the frosting among 3 bowls and colored one pink, another orange and the final yellow.)

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Here’s a BONUS easy entertaining idea using the same napkins!
An orange-inspired table setting.
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Best Ever Family Reunion Chocolate Sheet Cake

By Libbie Summers from her book, The Whole Hog Cookbook (Rizzoli)
Photography by Chia Chong

This is a Missouri, hog farming family recipe. Not a Texas recipe…better…much better. 

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Best Ever Family Reunion Chocolate Sheet Cake
Serves 20

What you need:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup leaf lard or vegetable shortening
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bacon Pecan Icing (recipe follows)

What to do:
1. Mix Dry Ingredients: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 2-inch baking pan and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

2. Mix Cocoa, Fats and Boiling Water: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and lard. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a separate small pan.  Whisk the cocoa powder and boiling water into the butter mixture over the dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined.

3. Finish Mixing Cake and Bake: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add to the cocoa mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.  Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until set.

4. Frost Cake: Frost the cake while it’s still warm.  Let the frosting set up for 10 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bacon Pecan Icing
yields 3 1/4 cups

What you need:
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp, finely diced

What to do:
Put the butter, cocoa powder, buttermilk, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.  Add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the pecans and bacon.

Brown Sugar-Scorched Lemonade

By Libbie Summers from her book, Brown Sugar (shortstack editions)

There are few things better than sitting on a screened-in porch in the summer while sipping a glass of this lemonade. I think of it as a privilege for those of us lucky enough to live in the South, a reward for surviving the annual sand gnat season. The thing is, our lemons aren’t very juicy during the summer months. My solution: “scorching” the lemons in a hot pan before squeezing them, which yields 40% more juice and adds a subtle caramelized flavor. 

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Brown Sugar-Scorched Lemonade
makes 2 quarts

What you need: 
3/4 cup light brown sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean, split
4 lemons, halved

What to do: 
1. Make Vanilla Brown Sugar Syrup: In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Cook, stirring, until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add vanilla bean. Let vanilla bean steep in the water until cooled. Remove vanilla bean and save for another use (make vanilla sugar -your baking will never be the same old). Note: A faint vanilla flavor is what you are trying to achieve in this sugar syrup.

2. Scorch Lemons: Heat a griddle or medium skillet over high heat. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup sugar onto a small plate. Dip all the cut sides of the lemons into the sugar to coat the surfaces. Place the sugar-coated lemon halves (sugar side down) on the hot griddle and cook until the sugar starts to turn brown and bubble around the lemons (about 30-45 seconds). Remove the griddle from the heat and allow to cool until the lemons are cool enough to handle.

3. Make Lemonade: Fill a pitcher or large jar with 2 quarts of water. Squeeze the lemons over the water, then drop the squeezed lemons into the water. Stir in the vanilla sugar syrup.

To Serve: Fill glasses with ice and pour the Scorched Lemonade over.

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Thirsty for more? Try these other Refreshing Drink Recipes! 
Havana Mojito
Cherry Coke Float
Lunar Landing Cocktail
Watermelon Basil Beach Blaster
Chinese Junk


Georgia Peach Upside-down Skillet Corn Cake

By Libbie Summers
Floral Apron Shown with Cake:Hostess Apron in Floral Linen available at Libbie Summers label

Yet another variation on a recipe from my cookbook, Sweet and Vicious: Baking With Attitude. A never fail cake recipe that will work with any fruit…like any fruit! Change up the spices to make it your own. In this recipe, I swapped out the cinnamon for ground cardamom and a heavy pinch of black pepper. Serving with vanilla ice cream is not optional.
Peach Upside-Down Skillet Corn Cake by Libbie Summers

Georgia Peach Upside-Down Skillet Corn Cake
serves 8-10

What you need:
For the fruit layer:
4 tablespoons butter
3⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons Gosling’s Black Seal Rum (optional)
4-5 ripe Georgia peaches, pitted and sliced into 1/4” slices

For the cake batter:
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon (swap out for ground cardamom and a heavy pinch of black pepper if you like)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
3⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla paste or really good vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup milk, at room temperature
Vanilla ice cream, for serving (not optional)

What to do:
1. Make the fruit layer:
In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until just bubbling.  Add the brown sugar and rum. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely melted and the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.  Arrange two layers of the sliced peaches in a decorative pattern to cover the brown sugar mixture in the bottom of the skillet. Set aside while you make the cake batter.

2. Make the cake batter: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and spice(s). Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla paste and beat to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the flour mixture, then add the milk and mix to combine, then add the last of the flour mixture. Mix only until the flour mixture is just incorporated (the batter will be thick). Spread the batter over the fruit, being careful not to move the fruit around too much.  You may smooth the top, but don’t worry too much because everything will settle as it bakes.

3. Finish the Cake: Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the skillet or an instant read thermometer registers 190-195ºF. The center should feel set to the touch. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the skillet, then very carefully place a plate (larger than the diameter of the skillet) over the top of the skillet and flip the skillet over to turn the cake out onto the plate.

To Serve: Serve the cake warm or room temperature sat in the middle of your dinner table with a bowl of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Georgia Peach Upside Down Skillet Corn Cake from Libbie Summers

Bacon Wrapped and Stuffed Vidalia Onions

By Libbie Summers
Photography by Chia Chong
Wine Pairing by Grapefriend

Eggs and bacon like Dad never had them…with or without a glass of wine. 

Bacon Wrapped Vidalia Onions by Libbie Summers (photography by Chia Chong)

Bacon Wrapped and Stuffed Vidalia Onions
serves 6

What you need:
3 large Vidalia Onions, outer dry skins removed
6 strips bacon
6 (4-inch) fresh rosemary sprigs (the woody ends)
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely diced rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup milk
6 eggs

What to do:
1. Boil Onions: Place onions in a large saucepan and cover with water. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Place saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain water and allow onion to cool.

2. Prep Onions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Working with one onion at a time, cut the onion in half width-wise. Remove center of each half leaving a shell 1/4 to 1/2″ thick. Finely chop the onion pieces that have been removed and place in a medium mixing bowl. Wrap the outside of each onion half with a piece of bacon and secure with the rosemary sprig or a bamboo skewer. Place in an ovenproof baking dish and continue the process with the remaining onions.

3. Make Topping: To the mixing bowl of finely chopped onion pieces, add the bread crumbs, butter, garlic, rosemary, thyme, parmesan cheese, remaining salt, pepper and milk. Stir together. Stuff mixture into the center of each bacon wrapped onion half (mixture will be piling over the top).

4. Finish Onions: Pour 1/2 cup hot water into the bottom of the baking dish around the onions and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and pat the top of each onion flat with the back of a spoon. Break one egg over each onion and place back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until the eggs are cooked. Serve immediately.
Bacon Wrapped Vidalia Onions by Libbie Summers (photography by Chia Chong)

Wine Pairing by Grapefriend:
One of the only times I’ll have eggs after breakfast is sitting at the bar at my favorite neighborhood bistro where they make a killer omelet, and it pairs perfectly with a glass of Sancerre. This dish is much heartier and more savory than a plain omelet though, so I’d go for something with a little more body. If we still want to go French, white Burgundy is all Chardonnay grapes, but like the best Chardonnay you’ve ever had in your life and not one of those overly oaky ones from California. If you want even more oomph, a lush peachy Pinot Gris from Oregon would be a great balance for the salty bacon and parmesan.


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