Week 5 Technical: Mini-Pear Pies

Paul Hollywood’s pear pies posed a tough challenge for the bakers. The pears are poached then wrapped in strips of pastry. If the pastry is too thick or thin, it won’t bake all the way through. If wrapped when the pears are too hot, the pastry can slip down.

Mini Pear Pies Recipe | Pear Recipes | PBS Food

The Bake

I’m going to be a bit nit-picky. I dislike cooking with lard and shortening. Rough puff can be made with purely butter so I’ll be using Erin McDowell’s recipe instead of Paul Hollywood’s. The rest of the recipe will be his.

  1. Rough Puff

I have to admit I was pleased when I first saw some lamination before the folds. I went through four folds (like Paul Hollywood’s recipe). The lamination wasn’t as obvious after multiple folds.

2. The Pears

For the sake of social distancing I ordered my groceries online. One pear wouldn’t sit up straight, one was a little mushy on top, and one barely had a stem. I poached the pears in the syrup, turning them every so often to evenly soak. I had difficulty maintaining a good boil if I turned down the heat at all. They were still a bit firm, which I assumed was probably good since they are still going to be baked. Unfortunately this made the removal of the core a bit tricky.

3. The Syrup

After removing the pears, I kept boiling the syrup to thicken it. I realized it wasn’t really clear when to remove the cinnamon sticks, so I left them in.

4. The Wrap

Okay I will admit that I did not measure the puff pastry like the instructions said. I tried but it was just irritating. I managed roughly even strips and they wrapped nicely.

5. The Bake

The pears baked nicely. More importantly, the pastry didn’t slide down during the bake!!I was worried the puff pastry was underdone because the color was fairly light. I should have been less haphazard with my egg wash.

The Final Result

I MADE PUFF PASTRY (and it didn’t suck)!!!!!!! The pears were cooked nicely and the pastry was cooked all the way through. I was only disappointed that I could only really taste the syrup at the top of the pear (until I poured the syrup over the top of a pear- yum).

I have to say that I have a better appreciation for the challenge. It took me several hours just to make the rough puff. The bakers only had two hours! Plus, they were cooking outside. How do you keep butter cold in an outside tent?!

Week 1 Showstopper: Lemon Drizzle Mini-Cakes

The showstopper challenge for cake week was to make 36 miniature classic British cakes. The bakers chose Victorian sponge, Jaffa cakes, lemon drizzle cakes, and more. The cakes needed to be aesthetically pleasing and as consistently identical as possible. Since supplies are short right now, I cut back to 24 mini-cakes. As an American, I’m decidedly unfamiliar with “classic” British cakes other than the obvious Victoria sponge. However, both Jaffa cakes and Victorian sponge cakes end up being challenges later on in the show, so I decided to go with the lemon drizzle.

The Planning

NY times Cooking actually wrote about the Great British Baking Show, and included some recipes including a “classic” lemon drizzle cake. However, a plain lemon drizzle is not exactly “showstopping.” I rewatched the episode for inspiration.

Luis added elderberry syrup, which got me thinking about using fruit. Since I used strawberry for the signature bake, I figured this time I would use raspberries. Martha and Iain both used marscapone in a cream, which I figured would balance some of the tart fruit flavors.

The cakes will be evenly shaped, two-layer cakes. The middle will be filled with a marscapone whipped cream/cream cheese frosting and raspberry compote, then topped with piped cream and fresh raspberries.

The Bake

Step 1: Batter

I read later on that there is so much baking powder (which makes cakes rise) because the original recipe uses self-rising flour. Is that the go-to flour in Britain? Either way the batter tasted nice. I think this is one of the first cakes I haven’t used vanilla as an ingredient.

I was just watching Spring Baking Championship. Several bakers mentioned using herbs and other aromatics in the flour for more flavor! I’m excited I got to try it out.

Step 2: Bake & Glaze

Of course with all that baking powder it certainly puffed up! I thought I might have overbaked it but it was perfectly springy to the touch. I’m starting to like darker colors on my bake.

I think my glaze was a little too thick. I also expected it to be more like a simple syrup. I spread it across the cake prior to trimming. I’m not sure if the cake was warm enough but I did manage to spread it fairly evenly.

Step 3: Whipped Cream & the Couli

I was a little disappointed in my choice of whipped cream. Perhaps I’m used to sweeter desserts as an American. Fortunately, in combination with the cake it added a nice mild creaminess.

I absolutely did not buy enough raspberries. I wanted to put a raspberry on top but I used them all in the couli. Can’t stop a challenge to grocery shop!

Step 4: Cool and Cut

I tried to make these as even as possible, but because I didn’t use a perfectly square pan I had to trim, then it ended up being 11.5 inches long. Kind of annoying for trying to make even squares. I did have 24 but one fell apart when I cut it!

Step 5: Assemble

I thought about stacking the cakes on top of each other but then they would have been huge! I remembered the judges making a comment about that to Ian. I cut the cake slices in half instead. Boy do I wish I had the guillotine that Nancy’s husband made her.

Next was the cream and filling between the layers. Piping all of the little whipped cream stars was exhausting! I’m mostly disappointed it didn’t look as nice as I thought it would…

The Judging

Well I only made 23 out of 24 cakes, but at least they were baked! Appearance-wise I really wish I had fresh raspberries to brighten it up. The bake is consistent, as is color, but size is a little off. Some were much larger than others. Most of my coworkers commented that they were “cute.”

As for taste, I’m immensely pleased. The cake itself was not too sweet. You get the tang of the lemon from the drizzle and some extra tart from the raspberry. The crumb of the cake was nice. Even if it was a bit dry, the balance from the whipped cream and raspberry filling made a nice moist bite. They may not be the prettiest but they sure tasted divine!

What do you guys think? Would I make it to week 2?

Week 1 Technical: Cherry Cake

Technical challenges, obviously, are designed to challenge the bakers’ knowledge of baking. For Mary Berry’s cherry cake, the challenge was focused on how to suspend the cherries evenly throughout the cake, as well as how long to bake the cake.

For me, the challenge will be using ingredients I’ve never used (glacé cherries and self-rising flour), as well as toasting almonds for the first time. Even in the episode, Kate burnt her almonds.

Predictions

As this is essentially a fancy bundt cake, I’m not predicting too much difficulty in making this cherry cake. However, I do hope I can get the cherries to suspend evenly. Mary Berry’s recipe can be found here.

The Bake

Step 1: Prep

I ground my own almonds. Cutting the cherries took me so long I’m still kind of stunned. Also my fingers will probably be red for about a week.

Step 2: Batter

I’ve never used ground almond in a cake mix before. I mixed cakes like I’m used to (cream butter and sugar, then wet, then dry). I already knew about the trick with the cherries, both from watching the episode and from making Irish soda bread (the raisins have to be rinsed, dried, and coated in flour). I’m not a fan of the taste with the almond. Perhaps I haven’t ground them fine enough. I also have very little experience with self-rising flour.

Step 3: Bake

The instructions say to bake at 180 Celcius, which is about 350 F. My oven requires turning halfway through a bake, otherwise it will overbake one side. I baked for 20 minutes then rotated. I checked about 10 minutes before I hit 40 minutes (recommended bake time 35-40 minutes). The cake was dark brown on the bottom and came out clean when poked with a skewer. When I turned it over, it was a little delicate but looked baked consistently and all the way through. I probably should have baked in the center rack because the edges are more brown.

Step 4: Decorate

I ran out of icing sugar for the icing! I also bought slivered almonds instead of shaved, but that probably kept me from burning them. I have never toasted nuts. I thought about using the oven, but I remember the bakers using the stovetop. So I assumed its butter and almonds? Remember no research! They turned out a nice golden brown, which I’m hoping doesn’t mean they are burnt.

The Judging

I love how this turned out! I’m super proud of myself. As for the cake, Mary Berry would probably say it’s slightly overbaked, which made it a bit dry. My icing was also “higgledy piggledy” and I also iced a little too soon (before the cake was completely cooled). The flavor tastes lovely. The cherries add some moisture and the lemon keeps the cake from being overwhelmingly sweet.

The key to this challenge was the distribution of the cherries. Since the cake was fairly small, it seemed the cherries were spread throughout the levels of the batter. I’d say I’m still in the running this week, wouldn’t you?


Week 1 Signature Challenge: Strawberry Champagne Swiss Roll

For their first bake, the contestants were required to make a Swiss Roll. As usual the signature bake should taste and look pretty. The Swiss roll is actually an Austrian sponge cake which has been filled with whipped cream, jam, or icing. The tricky part of this challenge is the roll. If not rolled correctly the cake will crack. Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were particularly focused on the presentation of the spiral of filling and cake.

The Planning

I found some recipes for a Swiss roll on Pinterest. I have made a Swiss roll as a Yule Log before, so this won’t be entirely new to me. I found this recipe for a champagne cake roll. Now of course, I didn’t want to be too simple. A plan champagne cake with powdered sugar is not Baking Show worthy. I started brainstorming appearance ideas. That brought about the idea of pairing with champagne: chocolate and strawberries. I love the idea of a light cake with a sort of decadence in the flavor profile.

I’ve never tried strawberry roses. Do the roses need leaves? There was the idea of sugared, candied, or soaked strawberries as well. I decided to leave them as is, to prevent an overpowering sweetness.

Then I came up with the idea of filling the roll with strawberries as well. I decided not to soak the strawberries in champagne. Though champagne is subtle in many baked goods, I want to avoid a one-note flavor to the cake.

The final draft is a champagne rolled cake soaked in reduced champagne, sprinkled with cocoa powder on the inside, and filled with champagne whipped cream and strawberries. The outside will be lightly dusted with powdered sugar and decorated with strawberry roses [and chocolate?]

The Bake

Step 1: Reduce the champagne

Reductions have always been a weak spot for me. If they’re supposed to be sticky, then this did not reach that consistency. It was on the stove for 30 minutes! I tasted toward the end and the champagne seemed a bit bitter so I didn’t want that flavor to get stronger.

Step 2: Make the Cake

This a cake without a fat. The air needs to stay in the batter. I actually folded most of my ingredients with a spatula, except for the meringue.

Step 3: Bake

I actually started with the timer at 10 minutes, even though the instructions said 15. It still needed some time but I watched like a hawk. But 14 minutes it sprang back.

Step 4: Invert and Roll

I’m not going to lie. I cheated a bit on this one. I had Bae help me invert since I’m scared of burning myself. I did, however, roll immediately as instructed.

Step 5: Fillings

Strawberries were hulled and chopped into manageable pieces, since apparently the grocery store only had gigantic strawberries available. The whipped cream is fairly easy but I definitely should have tasted before spreading it on the cake.

Step 6: Fill and Roll

I brushed the cake with champagne reduction, careful not to make the cake soggy. After a mishap with the cocoa powder, I lightly sifted some on the cake. I then spread the cream with a spatula and sprinkled sliced strawberries throughout.

Step 7: Decorate

Strawberry roses are hard! The first few attempts did not quite work out, but that’s why I bought extra strawberries. I finally managed to make two decent ones, but I think this will take some more practice.

First Try
Tada!

The Judging

I’m my own worst critic. The cake was light. No crack in the cake! Unfortunately, I couldn’t really taste the champagne. The strawberry was the right choice to keep the cake from being too sweet, however it was slightly underfilled. In places there were gaps due to lack of whipped cream, but you could still make out the swirl!

Although in my head the appearance was supposed to be classy, it ended up being kind of simple. Perhaps I should have cut more roses or added some chocolate shapes.

Bae played “Paul Hollywood.” He enjoyed the cake, but he couldn’t taste champagne either. He was glad the cake wasn’t tongue-numbingly sweet.

Overall I don’t think I’d be sent home quite yet. Let’s see how the other two challenges go! Next is the technical: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake.

What to Bake For Your Valentine (Even if You Can’t Bake)

One of the most memorable things I ever made for Valentine’s Day was in high school – before I learned to bake. I was dating a boy at the time and I wanted to bake a treat for him like the other girls did for their boyfriends. I baked a boxed chocolate cake in a bundt pan, but it was still hot when I tried to “frost it.” I think I poured chocolate syrup (like you make chocolate milk with) on top because it was just getting soaked into the hot cake. I still have the picture of him holding it on Valentine’s. He and his friends ate the entire thing at lunch.

They say cooking and baking are the ways to truly show your love for someone. Most people have a happy memory associated with food made by a loved one. It’s only natural that you’d want to make something for your valentine. Unfortunately, not everyone’s level matches their ambition. Here are some suggestions for do-able Valentine’s Days treats for school, work, or that special someone.

Level 1: Chocolate Covered Fruit

I’m not going to pretend that this is magically easy for everyone. Stick with easy to cut fruits that pair well with chocolate like strawberries and bananas. If you don’t like fruit or have allergies, then pretzel sticks are a good choice too!

  1. Line a plate or baking dish with wax, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. This should be able to fit in your freezer.
  2. Prep your fruit first before you step near the microwave. Peel and cut bananas (slices or in larger chunks). Wash and dry strawberries.
  3. Microwave store-bought chocolate chips in a glass bowl for 30 seconds. Stir then microwave again if the chocolate isn’t completely melted. Continue until the chocolate is melted.
  4. Dip the fruit in the melted chocolate. You can use a fork, toothpick, or skewer so you don’t burn your fingers. Let the excess drip off. Place the dipped item on the baking sheet.
  5. Step up the decor! While the chocolate cools, sprinkle jimmies/sprinkles over top!

Brownie Points: Buy pink or red chocolate discs from Michael’s or other craft stores. I use Wilton brand. You can get cute holiday sprinkles too!

Level Two: Bake from a Box

There are a few options here. For the easiest options, I would go for boxed cupcake mix or boxed brownie mix. Don’t try and “hack” the recipe if you don’t usually have luck with these. Follow the recipes and it should be tasty. No one needs to know it’s a boxed product if you don’t tell them. To make these more festive, you can use pink store-bought frosting and sprinkles. Make sure to look at the flavor of the pink frosting to make sure it matches your flavors.

Brownie Points: Valentine’s Day themed cupcake liners or cut the brownies (once cool) into hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Level Three: Bake from Scratch

I will share some tried and true recipes that I love dearly for chocolate chips cookies (the secret ingredient is pudding mix!) and chocolate red-wine cupcakes. For something no-bake and unique, try Brazilian brigadeiros.

Brownie Points: Dip the chocolate chip cookies in pink chocolate and use sprinkles.

For those of you looking for a challenge: Nutella Stuffed Cookies

If none of these sound appealing, food is not the only way to show your love. If you want to make something and it falls apart, buy some flowers and chocolate. You can never go wrong with chocolate. It’s the thought that counts!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Triple Chocolate Cake Donuts

Doughnuts are one of my favorite treats. I have tried doughnuts from all over the Valley and chosen a favorite based on textures, flavors, and creativity. I asked for doughnut pans last Christmas so I could try my hand at baking some. I’m still not over my fear of frying so for now baked cake doughnuts will have to do.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp espresso powder, optional
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp vinegar, white or cider
  • 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) melted butter or 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Optional Chocolate Icing: 1 cup chocolate chips and 4 Tbsp milk or half & half.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two doughnut pans.

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, espresso powder, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Set aside.

3) In a large measuring cup or medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and vinegar.

4) Add the wet ingredients with the melted butter (or vegetable oil) to the dry ingredients, stirring to blend.

5) Spoon the batter into the greased pans, filling them between 3/4 and full.

6) Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 15 minutes.

7) Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and after 30 seconds or so, loosen their edges and turn the pan upside down over a rack. Gently let the doughnuts fall onto a cooling rack.

8) For sugar-coated doughnuts, immediately shake the doughnuts in 1 tablespoon granulated sugar; add 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder to the sugar.

OR

For iced doughnuts let the doughnuts cool completely. To make the icing, combine the chocolate chips and milk (or half & half) in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup. Remove from the microwave, and stir until the chips have melted and the icing is smooth. Dip the top of each doughnut in the icing; or spread icing on the doughnuts.

Final Thoughts: These are chocolately, chocolately, chocolately! I highly recommend eating them with a glass of milk because they are rich. I still find I don’t particularly care for cake doughnuts over fried, yeasted doughnuts. I think I’d rather just have cake.

Try it yourself and let me know what you think!

Easy Sopapilla Cheesecake

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Living in Arizona, the holiday is celebrated by our resident Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. I’ve never been one to take part of “Cinco de Drinko,” as that’s not why the holiday is celebrated. The holiday marks the anniversary of the Mexican Army’s victory against the French in 1862. It is not Mexican Independence Day.

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Mexico has a rich, diverse food culture outside of the “Tex-Mex” often mistaken for true Mexican food. Though tacos, burritos and the like have Mexican counterparts, I wanted to make food that incorporated traditional Mexican foods.

Sopapillas are a popular dessert in northern Mexico and Latin America, the result of Spanish influence. Sweet dough is fried into a pillowy pastry that is then covered in cinnamon and sugar. I’m still not quite comfortable with frying, so I found this recipe for a faux-sopapilla cheesecake.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Notes about Ingredients: Frozen puff pastry takes about 30-45 minutes to defrost. For the best results in your baking, your ingredients (egg, cream cheese, sour cream, and butter) should be at room temperature.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 in. baking dish. Lay the first sheet of puff pastry flat in the bottom of the dish. Do not trim any extra dough. Gently press the pastry to the sides of the dish.

2) Poke holes in the puff pastry with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes.

3) Beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of the sugar. Add the egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Be careful not to overmix.

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4) Remove the crust from the oven. Let it sit for 5 minutes, especially to deflate. Pour the cheesecake mix over the crust.

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5) Top the cream cheese mixture with the other sheet of puff pastry. Gently tuck or press the sides of both sheets together. Brush this pastry with the melted butter.

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6) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the melted butter on the pastry sheet.

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7) Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes at room temperature. Place the cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

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Final Thoughts: I’m not 100% sure this counts as sopapilla cheesecake, but it was tasty. It was less appealing once it had cooled, but it was sweet and tasty. Once I took the first piece, people were more willing to try (because it “looked weird”). By the end of our potluck, the entire cheesecake was gone.

 

Pecan Pie

Each Thanksgiving I try to take charge of something new or something more complicated. So far I’ve made side dishes (med), cornbread stuffing (yummy), cranberry sauce (disastrous), and several pies. She and I have our own fair share of failures. Last year her pecan pie was over-baked. My apple pie was under-baked.

Pecan pie is a staple for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. My mother is the only person who eats pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Usually she bakes a whole pie for herself to enjoy for the entire week. While many recipes include alcohol, I went for an old-fashioned recipe.


Ingredients: 

  • Pie crust dough (store-bought or homemade)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups pecan-halves (You can find these in the baking aisle. You don’t have to split them.)

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.

2) Roll out the pie dough onto a lightly floured surface. Trim and crimp crust as desired. Lightly prick the bottom of the crush with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

3) For the pie filling: melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt.

4. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk into the corn syrup mixture.

Be really careful! If you mixture is too hot, your eggs will scramble! Mine was just a little too hot so there were some heated egg whites. I strained these out with a sieve and it was fine.

5) Put pecans in the pie shell and pour the corn syrup mixture over evenly.

6) Bake until the filling is set (50-60 min.) Cool completely.

Final Thoughts: I’ve never been a big fan of pecan pie, but I stole a bite and loved it! It was fairly easy to make, despite needing a tiny bit more effort than a pumpkin pie. Now that I’ve checked off apple, banana cream, pumpkin, and pecan, which pie should I try next?

Sweet & Tangy Lemon Bars

I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a homemade lemon bar before, but lemon (well, citrus) is one of my favorite flavors. When this recipe popped up on my Pinterest, I knew I wanted to try it. Some of you may have seen my Instagram post where I posted the failed version of this recipe. Hint: It’s not a lemon bar without lemon juice.  This is a fairly simple and classic recipe with a tangy lemon flavor and rich shortbread crust.

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

  • 1 3/4 cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (230 g) unsalted butter, softened

For the Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups (220 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Optional: powdered sugar

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9 x 13 in. baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt for the crust together. Cut the butter into cubes. Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dough with a pastry cutter or with your hands. Mix until it’s crumbly and starts to come together. Scoop the mixture into the pre-prepared pan and press into an even layer.

Cubed means just what it says. Cut your butter into cubes! If your butter is at the right temperature, you should be able to cut through it with a butter knife.

 

See the big chunk of butter? I probably could have better incorporated the butter into the dough. I really need to invest in a pastry cutter.

3. Bake the crust for 20-25 min. until the edges are golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven.

4. While the crust is baking, start on the filling. Whisk the sugar and flour together in a bowl. Add in the eggs and lemon juice and mix until well combined. Pour the filling over the crust.

The lemon mixture should be bright yellow (as pictured above). When I tried this recipe and forgot the lemon juice, the mixture was pale.

5. Bake for 18-20 min. until the filling it set. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for an hour. Cover tightly with saran wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

 

6. Remove from the fridge. With a sifter, sift powdered sugar over the top.

I sifted the sugar while the bars were still in the pan to avoid making a big mess.

7. Cut and serve!

Final Thoughts: These were the perfect balance of sweet and tangy! My coworkers gobbled them up. Aesthetically, I wish there were no bubbles on top. I’m curious if I should hit the pan against the counter to remove the extra air. Or does this just happen with the acidity?

Now that summer is here, it may be time to bring back this citrus-y treat.