It’s the season for celebrations …
–by Jennifer Ruple
PUBLICATION DATE: 05.16.17
… graduation parties, bridal showers, and baby showers are just a few opportunities to gather with family and friends and mingle over some sweet spring desserts.
Jennifer Valo, owner of The Next Sweet Thing, a bakery in Mayberry Square, is an expert in all things sweet. Her shop specializes in custom cakes, decorated sugar cookies, and a vast assortment of donuts including her signature cookies and cream flavor. “We actually put Oreos in the batter,” explained Valo. “Our donuts are the number one things that bring people through the door.”
Valo’s enthusiasm for Oreos doesn’t stop there. Prior to opening the bakery in 2014, she began making chocolate covered Oreos out of her home. “I started decorating them with a whole cast of Christmas characters, and their popularity spread from there.” She now uses other flavored sandwich cookies such as lemon, peanut butter, key lime and chocolate mint in her line of decorated, chocolate enrobed treats. “My goal is to expand our sandwich cookie business so we can sell them online and in boutiques and shops,” said Valo.
Before Valo began creating irresistible confections, she worked as a chef for seven years. Her culinary degree, which she earned at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Mich., gave her the opportunity to participate in some unique cooking experiences. “For four months, I worked for the master chef on a ranch in Montana where I cooked for the family who owned the ranch as well as their staff and ranch hands,” she reminisced.
Although she enjoys cooking, Valo’s passion is baking. “You put a lot of love into it,” she said. “I want to help make memories for people by bringing them beautiful and delicious cakes and cookies for their special events. The number one comment I can receive is that my food tastes as good as it looks.”
To help make your upcoming events more memorable, Valo offered recipes for three of her favorite springtime desserts.
Simple Key Lime Pie
“This creamy pie has a nice tart flavor, and it’s not too sweet. It’s got great balance,” said Valo.
9-inch prepared graham cracker crust
3 cups sweetened condensed milk
½ cup sour cream
¾ cup key lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
Heat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, sour cream, lime juice and zest. Mix well and pour into graham cracker crust.
Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. Do not brown. Chill pie thoroughly before serving. Garnish with lime slices and whipped cream if desired.
Easy Lemon Bars
“The addition of a fresh mint garnish gives this dessert a very festive and springy look. Feel free to make it a day or two ahead of time,” suggested Valo.
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 lemons, juiced
Fresh mint for garnish
Heat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, blend together butter, 2 cups flour and ½ cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until firm and golden. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 ½ cups sugar and ¼ cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
Bake for an additional 20 minutes. The bars will firm up as they cool.
For a festive tray, make another pan using limes instead of lemons and add a drop of green food coloring to give them a very pale green color. Cut into 2-inch squares after
Coconut Cream Cake
“Soaked with coconut cream, this cake is decadent and rich. Flaked coconut adds just a little texture,” offered Valo.
1 package white cake mix
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
½ teaspoon coconut extract
14 ounce can sweetened cream of coconut
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup flaked coconut
Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan.
In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, eggs, oil, water and coconut flavoring. Beat for 2 minutes and pour into pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
In a medium bowl, combine coconut cream with sweetened condensed milk and stir until smooth. When cake comes out of the oven, poke holes into it in even rows using a large fork. Pour milk mixture over, allowing it to soak into the cake. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
In a large bowl, whisk cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and continue whipping until stiff. Spread over cooled cake and sprinkle with coconut.