Sunday, April 30, 2017

Brazilian Ombre Cake

With the Cinco De Mayo celebration right around the corner, things are gearing up here in Texas. Restaurants are starting to advertise specials and the party gear is prominent. While some celebrate in the standard tradition, some have tweaked some changes to make their own traditions.

Twisting tradition can catch on like wildfire. One of the most unusual twists I have seen is the change in the pinata. Through the years, pinatas have been something for the kids, filled with candy for them to enjoy once it is broken open. However, if there are no kids in the picture-you can always switch to the adult version. To host a party with the adult version all you need to do is fill your pinata with the small plastic airline bottles of some type of spirit, such as tequila. Also, have a gallon drink dispenser ready, filled with ice cold margarita mix. Once that pinata is broken open, it is time for happy hour!

The break from tradition falls right in line with this recipe. As a blogger, I am always looking for something new and different when it comes to baked goods and this cake recipe is exactly that. So sorry hard core traditionalists- there is no flan, churros or tres leche cake recipe here. Instead we have a a moist cake with brown to ivory layers filled with dulce de leche and frosted with whipped cream.

Due to the texture and sweetness of the filling-each layer of cake is does not have the standard thick filling that is in most cakes. The whipped cream topping balances out the sweetness. Each cake layer has its own unique flavor (going from bottom to top):
brazil nut

This cake is fairly easy to make, but a kitchen scale is essential. The recipe comes from the UK and was modified from a 7 inch cake recipe into one for a 9 inch cake. Like most people here in the US- a 7 inch cake pan is not all that common and having 4 of them is even more uncommon.  So let's get baking!

Brazilian Ombre Cake
adapted from Dr Oetker recipes

10.6 oz flour
2 2/3 tsp baking soda
7 oz dark brown sugar
2 oz ground almonds
4 oz sugar
2 oz coconut (unsweetened or desiccated)
4 oz light brown sugar
2 oz ground brazilian nuts
3 oz dark chocolate (chopped or chips)
1 1/4 plus 1/3 cup buttermilk (room temp)
1/2 cup and 2 tsp butter
4 eggs (room temp)
1 tbs caramel extract

Ingredients/filling and topping
1 1/2- 2 cans dulce de leche or caramel (about 20 oz total)
20 oz heavy cream
2 oz of sliced or ground brazil nuts

Prepare four 9 inch cake pans by greasing the interior and lining the bottom with parchment paper.

The cake batter is formed like an assembly line, so take out about 5 medium size bowls. Fill each bowl as follows:

1. Flour and baking soda, sifted together
2. Dark brown sugar (free of lumps)
3. Ground almonds
4. White sugar and coconut, whisked together
5. Light brown sugar and ground brazil nuts, whisked together

Using a kitchen scale and a zip lock bag, empty the sifted ingredients in the bag and weigh. Measure out half of the mixture and add to bowl of dark brown sugar. Whisk together. Place the other half of the sifted ingredients back into the original bowl.

Then measure out half of the dark brown sugar mixture and pour into the bowl of ground almonds. Go back to the bowl with the remaining flour/baking soda and measure out half. Whisk into the white sugar and coconut mixture and take the other half and whisk into the light brown sugar and brazil nut mixture.

The end result should be a 4 bowls: flour/dark brown sugar mixture, flour/dark brown sugar/ground almonds, flour/coconut/white sugar and the final bowl with flour/light brown sugar/brazil nut mixture. At this time, preheat the oven to 355 degrees. Set up a double boiler and fill the top bowl with the chocolate. Also, fill a saucepan with the butter. As both of these are in the melting process, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs in a medium size bowl.  Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients in each of the four bowls.

Remove the saucepan of melted butter from the heat. Let cool 20 minutes. Then whisk into the egg/buttermilk mixture. Divide this batter evenly into 4 small bowls. Fill the well formed in each of the bowls of the dry ingredients with 1 measured out small bowl of batter. Stir together until just blended. Whisk the caramel extract into the bowl with the ground almond ingredients. Also, whisk the melted chocolate into the bowl of the brown sugar/flour mixture.

Each batter mixture makes up one layer. Pour each into one prepared cake pan and smooth the top. Place in oven and let bake for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for an additional 10. Cakes are done when tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then invert to a rack. Carefully remove parchment paper and let each layer cool completely.

Once the cakes are completely cool, prepare a cake board by placing a sheet of wax paper with the center cut out over the edge of the cake board. Then fill a small prep bowl with hot water.

Place the chocolate cake layer on the center of the board. Scoop out 1/3 of the dulce de leche/caramel from the full can and place on top of the center of the cake layer. Take a small offset spatula and dip in the hot water and carefully smooth it over the surface of the cake layer. Repeat this process of smoothing on the caramel with each layer, placing the caramel flavored cake layer next, then the brazilian nut. Since the coconut is the top layer, it will not have any caramel spread over the surface.

Whip the cream until thick and fluffy. Spread on the sides and top of cake. Pull out the wax paper from between the cake and the cake board. Then sprinkle the top with the ground or slivered nuts. Use the remaining 1/2 or whole can of caramel/dulce de leche to serve on the side with each slice of cake. The other alternative (prior to topping with nuts) is to thin out the caramel/dulce de leche with some cream and drizzle over top of the cake.

Tips and Notes:
1. Should you only have 2 cake pans, only add the liquid ingredients to two of the bowls of dry. Bake those layers. Once inverted, clean the pans and prepare again by greasing and lining with parchment. Blend up the other two bowls of dry ingredients as directed and fill pans and bake the same way.

2. Room temperature is important for the buttermilk and eggs. If cold, the melted butter will turn into cold chunks in the batter.

3. I noticed the second layer was the same color as the third. This might be remedied with a 1/2 white sugar and 1/2 light brown sugar blend when making the brazilian nut layer. Also use skinless brazilian nuts.

4. If you do not plan to serve right after making, keep the caramel to serve on the side instead of topping the cake and use whipped cream stabilizer in the topping.

5. Some of the dry ingredient blends look identical, so labeling the bowls will guarantee that there is no mix up.

6. I used the same zip lock bag to measure and split out the dry ingredients when using the scale.
                              **LAST YEAR: Southern Cotillion Peach Cake**

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Key Lime Cupcakes

This weekend was a key lime fest, mainly due to the upcoming expiry date on the bottle of key lime I had purchased. Which brings me to an issue concerning expiry dates.

The way I read expiry dates is based on unopened. If the package has not been opened, it will stay good up until that day. This is directly in conflict with another opinion. The other opinion is that it is good until that day, opened or not. Of course, this thought stems from someone that favors a lot of dairy type of sauces, but ironically, has to have their meat cooked very well done.

In comparison, we both could eat the same thing and I would be the only one getting sick. I have zero tolerance for warm mayonnaise and I will not eat a leftover sandwich from the day prior that has been prepared with mayo and vegetables. 

However, since this recipe was made with a bottle of key lime juice that was just opened-there is no issue with expiry dates. The issue is that I would rather have this than warm potato salad!

The cupcake has a dense but moist texture. The key lime zest and juice is very well balanced in the frosting as well as cake. As you devour one of these wonderful cakes, you will notice that the flavor ingredients provide an occasional pop of tangy lime. This recipe makes about 1 dozen cupcakes.

Key Lime Cupcakes
adapted from Sprinkles Cupcakes

2 egg whites
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs key lime zest
2 tbs of key lime juice
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
1/2 cup or 1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups flour (sifted)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar

2 sticks or 1 cup of butter
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbs key lime juice
1 tbs key lime zest
3 1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp of milk (if above mixture is too thick)
Key lime wedges (optional for topping)

Prepare a 12 cavity muffin tin by greasing the top edge and lining with cupcake papers. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the butter and beat until creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat and add 1/2 cup of sugar. Once blended, beat in the additional sugar. Set aside.

Take out a small bowl and whisk together only 1 tbs lime juice, milk, vanilla extract and key lime zest. Using a larger bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Set both mixtures aside.

Return back to the butter/sugar mixture and beat in one egg on medium speed. Then add both egg whites and blend into the batter. Continue to beat, but use the low speed. Add 1/2 of the sifted ingredients and let the mixer run until blended into the butter batter. Then add the milk mixture and run the mixer until blended. Remove bowl from mixer stand and fold the remaining dry ingredients into the batter by using a wooden spoon.

Fill the 12 lined muffin cavities evenly with the batter. Put in oven and bake for 10 minutes and then rotate pan and bake an additional 12 minutes. Use a tester for doneness, surface of cupcakes will be dry to the touch. Remove from oven and let cupcakes cool for 15 minutes and then transfer to rack to cool completely.

Once completely cooled, use a toothpick or skewer to poke holes in the top of the cupcakes. Then brush the surfaces of the cupcakes with the remaining 1 tbs of lime juice. Let the tops dry prior to frosting cupcakes.

 For the frosting, beat the salt into the butter until smooth and creamy. With the mixer set on low speed add 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar and beat until all sugar is blended into the butter. Repeat this process with an additional 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar. Add the key lime juice, zest and vanilla extract. Beat together until evenly distributed into the batter. Then mix in the remaining confectioners' sugar in increments until no dry sugar remains. Should it seem too thick, beat in 1/2 tsp milk. Be careful not to over blend, you do not want a whipped frosting but one that is very thick.

Frost cupcakes as desired and top with key lime wedge. Enjoy!

Tips and Notes:
1. The mixture of milk and lime juice will curdle, but the recipe states the mixture has to set after blended before adding it to the cupcake batter.

2. How much juice you want to brush on top is a matter of personal preference, but be sure to wait until completely dry before icing.

3. The batter, once blended rises quickly-so be prepared to fill the cavities immediately.

4. The cupcakes did not have a tower of icing on them, if you prefer a thicker topping increase the frosting recipe.  

                                       **LAST YEAR: Hawaiian Breakfast Rolls**

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Blackberry Ginger Kouign Amann

Easter Sunday is celebrated in many different ways across the world. However, here in the US, it is eggs and more eggs; egg hunts, deviled eggs, bunny eggs and the list goes on. The last Easter egg hunt I remember was very "old school"- it was with real dyed boiled eggs. The memory that is etched in my mind is finding an egg that was covered with ants because it had a broken shell. Needless to say, since then I am not really into egg hunts these days. Even though the tradition has changed to using plastic eggs filled with candy, it has not lured me back into egg hunting.

So, today I present a recipe that is completely void of any egg, the Kouign Amann pastry-otherwise known as Breton cakes. Processing the dough is much like the croissant, a butter sheet is placed on top of the dough and the dough folded on top. Then there are several steps of rolling and folding.

While all these types of cakes are crunchy and buttery on the outside, this particular recipe has a few flavor twists that result in an addictive pairing. On the outside and folded into the dough layers is homemade ginger sugar. Then a blackberry sugar mixture is pursed inside the dough and baked. The end result is a crunchy ginger cake that compliments the blackberry filling in the center. This recipe makes 1 dozen pastries.

Blackberry Ginger Kouign Amann
adapted from Baked From Scratch

Ingredients/Ginger Sugar
2 tbs grated fresh ginger
2 cups granulated sugar

1 3/4 cup salted butter (softened)
2 tsp salt
4 cups flour
2 1/2 tbs yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-105 degrees)

1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs and 1 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbs and 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs and 1 1/2 tsp honey
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups blackberries (cut in half)

The first step is to make the ginger sugar. Fill a food processor bowl with grated ginger and sugar.
Pulse the mixture together until ginger is distributed throughout the sugar. Prepare a pan by lining with parchment and preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Pour the sugar mixture into the pan and spread out evenly. Bake for seven minutes and then stir. Place back in oven and let bake for an additional seven minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cooled fill a grinder with some of the mixture and grind for about 2 minutes. Continue with this process until all the sugar lumps are ground up. Pour into shallow bowl and set aside.

For the dough, start by whisking together the yeast and the warm water. Then add the salt. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook and add 1/2 cup of flour and beat at low speed until blended. Repeat the process until all the flour has been blended to form a dough. Form the dough into a ball and enclose in plastic wrap. Leave on counter and let sit to rise for about 20 minutes.

While the dough is rising, the butter block can be formed. Place butter between sheets of waxed paper and roll it out to form a 10x8 inch rectangle. Place in fridge for about 5 minutes.

After the dough has risen, prepare a flat surface by dusting with flour. Place dough on prepared area and roll out to form a 16x10 inch rectangle. Take butter block from the fridge and peel off one sheet of wax paper. Place butter square on top and in the center of the dough rectangle. Enclose the butter block by folding the dough over the top and pinching together any exposed edges. Roll the dough again, this time forming a 18x8 inch rectangle. Then fold dough into 3rds (much like a letter), which makes a 8x6 inch rectangle. Repeat the same rolling process again, starting with forming a 16x10 inch rectangle and ending with one 8x6 size. Wrap dough and place in refrigerator for 1 hour.

After the dough has chilled for at least 30 minutes, prepare a 12 cavity muffin pan by liberally greasing with butter, covering the interior and upper edge of the cavities. Then cover a flat work surface with the ginger sugar. When the dough has completed the chilling time, remove from refrigerator and let set uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a sprinkling of ginger sugar and roll out, forming an 8x18 inch rectangle. Fold up the length of the dough into 3rds forming a letter size rectangle. Sprinkle on more sugar and roll out again, this time forming a 17x13 inch rectangle. Cut off about 1/2 inch from all 4 sides, making a straight edge.

Once this is complete, take out a medium size bowl and mix all the filling ingredients together. Then go back to the dough and cut out 12 squares, each 4x4 inches. Place the squares in the prepared muffin cavities and fill with 1 tablespoon of filling. Take each corner of the dough and fold and pinch together in the center. Cover lightly with a cloth and let rise for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Once dough has risen, place muffin pan on baking sheet and put in oven. Let pastries bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in pan on rack. Then transfer to serving platter.

Tips and Notes:
1. The rising time and the temperature of the water are crucial. My pastries were more cake like than flaky due to the variation from these 2 factors.

2. There is a lot of butter and quite a bit drips out, so the baking sheet is necessary to catch those drips.

3. I had a lot of sugar, so after cutting the squares, I placed each dough squared on top of the sugar in the shallow bowl and pressed lightly. I did the same for the other side, prior to placing it in the muffin cavity.

4. If the pastries stick after cooling, place pan in the warm oven a few minutes to melt the sugar edges and try to remove pastry again.

5. Filling is to be used immediately, so it cannot be prepared hours in advance of baking.
                                 **LAST YEAR: Banana French Toast Muffins**       

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Walnut Mini Loaves

Today I have decided that I need to tackle one of my fears. Even though it is not a huge fear, I need to get past it. It is the fear of running out of an ingredient in the middle of creating something in the kitchen. The fear was built on having that irritation and inconvenience happen 3 times, back to back.

I am not alone, for there may be several bloggers out there that have this affliction. It is silly, I know. It is simply a matter of being organized. Instead of minimizing it to being organized, it would appear that I have over compensated by hoarding certain things. One of them that came to light recently is the amount of packaged nuts I have in my freezer.

Now it is time that I relieve some of the inventory, by baking up some nut bread. This particular recipe uses walnuts and whiskey. It yields 6 mini loaves that are really moist due to the texture from the oil in the ground nuts. Also, these little nutty loaves are even further enhanced by a sweet whiskey syrup ladled on top.

This does make a good base recipe that you can experiment with. Chocolate ganache can be drizzled on top after the syrup sets. Using hazelnut and a nut liqueur is another flavor choice.

Walnut Mini Loaves
adapted from Dr Oetker Recipes

1 cup ground walnuts
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs melted butter
1 cup whiskey
3 tbs milk

remaining 3 tbs whisky reduction from above
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbs water

Start by making the whiskey reduction. Pour whisky in a saucepan and place over medium high heat and let cook down until only a little over 1/3 of a cup, or 6 tablespoons remains. Set aside to cool.

Grease the interior of 6 mini loaf pans, making sure all corners and sides are well covered. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the baking powder and flour. Whisk in the sugar and then the walnuts. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, milk and 3 tbs of the whiskey reduction. Fold the liquid into the dry mix until all is blended. The batter should be quite thick.

Spoon the batter evenly into each of the pans, evening out the surface by using a spatula. Place in oven and let bake until tester comes out clean and edges are golden, about 15-20 minutes.

As it bakes, prepare the whiskey syrup. Fill a saucepan with the 3 tbs of water and 1/3 cup of sugar. Stir and let cook until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining whiskey reduction.

Once the loaves are baked, remove from oven. Set pan(s) on cooling rack and poke holes in top of each, using a wooden skewer. Then drizzle a tablespoon of the syrup on top and continue to drizzle by tablespoon until all the syrup is gone. Let loaves cool completely in pan, then turn out onto rack.

Prior to serving, you can add an additional topping of whipped cream, chocolate or caramel.
                                   **LAST YEAR:Citrus Ginger Cookies** 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spicy Date Filled Cookies

Sometimes baking in the kitchen can be like resolving a mystery. You see something that you have never made nor have you ever tasted. Then you review the recipe, noting that it has some challenges that take time. Like most bloggers, we step up to the plate, eager to create and push our skills further.

This particular recipe originates from the Middle East, so there are special ingredients as well as a special tool needed to create this traditional cookie called Ma'amoul. However, you can scale it back in a few ways. The mold is only for appearance, so the cookies can be formed by hand. Also, clarified butter can be made from real butter, if you have the time. The specialty spices can be found on line or at an Indian or Middle Eastern grocers. Also, the mold can be ordered on line.

These may be called cookies, but they are definitely more of a pastry type of item. The outer part contains yeast and the dough is used in a manner much like a crust rather than a cookie. The crust houses a blend of sweet dates, spices and walnuts. All in all, this recipe mystery unraveled into round pastries housing exotic flavor that were both pleasing in appearance and taste. The recipe is definitely a keeper, especially when you want to impress for special occasions. 

Now, without further delay, below is the recipe, which makes about 2 dozen cookies. Note that the spice mix yields more than required in this recipe, but the mix can be stored for later use.

Spicy Date Filled Cookies
adapted from an Edible Mosaic

Ingredients/Spice Blend
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground anise
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground mahlab (ground cherry pits)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tbs canola oil
3/4 lb of date paste
1 1/2 tsp of spice blend (above)

1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup clarified butter (ghee)
4 cups flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar (for dusting on top/optional)

Start by whisking all the spice ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

To create the filling, a food processor or stand mixer will need to be used. Prepare the blade and the interior of the bowl by coating with oil. Place the date paste in the bowl and then pour in the oil. Pulse the food processor or beat on medium speed with mixer until the oil is blended with the date paste. During this process you may need to stop occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Oil the surface of a cutting board and empty the date mixture onto the board. Separate out 1 1/2 tsp of the spice blend and store the remaining in a small jar or time for later use. Oil your hands and sprinkle some of the spice mix on the date mixture. Knead the spice into the date filling and then add some more spice and knead again. Repeat the process until all the spice is blended into the filling. Then do the same with the chopped walnuts. Set the bowl aside.

For the dough, get out two saucepans. Fill one with sugar and water. Fill the other with the butter and oil. Place the saucepan with the sugar/water over medium high heat. Let the mixture heat up to boiling and swirl a few times to get the sugar swirled into the water. It should boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat and set aside. Put the saucepan filled with the butter and oil over the medium high heat and let cook until the butter is completely melted. This saucepan is also to be removed from heat and set aside.

Sift together the flour and yeast in a large bowl. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter/oil mixture. Using a wooden spoon, fold the liquid into the flour mixture. Once this comes together, blend in the sugar syrup in three increments until a dough is formed (it will be oily). Dust a flat surface with flour and knead the dough on the surface for 2 minutes. Form into a flat disc and cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for about 7 minutes. Remove and knead again for 2 minutes.

Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.

To form the cookies by using the mold: Take one tablespoon of dough and fill the mold and shape it much the same way as you do a tart pan, flattening and bringing up the sides. Once this is formed, take a knife to remove the excess dough, running the knife from the center top edge outward to the left then the right. Separate out a teaspoon of filling and flatten it into the center of the dough in the mold, being careful that it does not touch the sides. Then separate out a teaspoon of dough and flatten it into a disc, big enough to cover the filling. Place it on top of the filling and press down, so the edge is compressed with the edge of the first layer of dough. Make sure there are no cracks and the filling is completely covered. Lastly, tap the side rim of the mold on a flat surface and the cookie will fall out.

To form the cookies by hand: use the same measurements above, but use your palm as a mold and create the same coverage of the filling and make a slightly flattened circle. Use the tines of a fork to make a cross hatch on top.

After making 6 cookies and placing them on a cookie sheet one inch apart, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Make 6 more, spacing the same on the cookie sheet. Place pan in oven and let cookies bake for about 10-12 minutes, then rotate and bake for another 10-12 minutes. Cookies are done when the bottom is toasty and golden.  Remove and transfer to rack to completely cool.

Once cooled and prior to serving, you can dust with powdered sugar.

Tips and Notes:
1. Do not worry about the filling bubbling up and bursting the cookie, it does not hold that much liquid, so fill these cookies with as much as they can hold. In the beginning, I was too sparing on the filling resulting in more cookie than filling. The cookie is only to be a crust.

2. The dough is oily, so if you find it becoming too slick while forming the cookies, put it the fridge for 3-5 minutes to firm up. I did spend a lot of time forming these, so I needed the re-chill in the process.

3. If you find the cookie release from the mold requires too much effort, use a light dusting of flour in the mold before forming another cookie.

4. As stated before, specialty items can be ordered on line or can be found at a Middle Eastern or Indian grocery store. Also, you can always grind whole spices (Anise, Fennel) if the "ground" version is not available.
                               **LAST YEAR: Sawdust Pie** 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Frozen Maraschino Cream

Spring has finally arrived. This means longer days and more time enjoying the outdoors. The flip side to this is making sure outside is a nice and comfortable place to be. Time to clean the back patio and get the leaves off the lawn chairs. Also, mowing that back yard. Well, with all of that said, I decided to make some very "adult" ice cream as a motivator.

After all, that bright big bottle of pink Creme de Noyaux was not going to go away by itself. There never has been a time when the cabinet was opened without that item being noticed. However when it comes to creating desserts, that vibrant color is an asset to have. Another almond liqueur, Amaretto, has the same flavor but will always guarantee a golden ivory hue to any dessert.

Now that I decided on Creme de Noyaux as the primary flavor element to the ice cream, there needed to be some add-ins. Since I had some chores to do, this ice cream needed to be more than just typical to get me motivated. Then the light bulb went off...maraschino cherries (I chose Luxardo brand) and chunks of dark chocolate!

There I had it. The perfect I could clean off the patio. After the freezing of the ice cream and the chores, it was time to indulge. I sat down on the lawn chair and ate a scoop of ice cream. As I gazed across the yard with the warm sun on my face, I thought to myself that simple things are sometimes the perfect elements for generating the best moments.

Frozen Maraschino Cream
by flourtrader

1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean
1 cup and 1 tbs heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup almond liqueur
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup maraschino cherries (rinsed and drained)

Fill a saucepan with 1/4 cup of sugar, milk and vanilla bean paste or bean. If using a vanilla bean, split and scrape the interior and place scrapings and whole bean in saucepan. Place over medium high heat and let come to a simmer. Right before the boiling point, remove from heat and set aside.

Next, place a whisk attachment on a stand mixer and fill the bowl with the remaining sugar and egg yolks. Beat the mixture on high for about 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The mixture has reached the right consistency when it is a pale yellow color.

Go back to the saucepan and heat the milk mixture up again until simmering. Remove vanilla bean, if used. Turn mixer on medium low and stream in the hot milk into the egg mixture while continuing to whisk. Be careful that you do not create a lot of bubbles in the mixture by beating on too high of a speed. Once all the milk has been incorporated into the mixture, set up a double boiler and let water come to a simmer. Strain milk/egg blend into top pot of double boiler.

Let mixture cook while stirring constantly. As it cooks, it will thicken into a pudding or custard consistency. A few ways to test this is by temperature (it must reach 85 degrees) and it must coat the back of a spoon and hold its shape if you run your finger through it. Once it reaches the correct consistency, transfer to heat proof bowl. Cover and place in freezer for about 15 minutes. Then remove and stir. Test the temperature, room temperature or slightly cooler is acceptable.

Whisk the liqueur and milk together in a large bowl. Then add the cooled custard and blend together. Pour in ice cream maker and follow the instructions. Add the cherries and chocolate chunks when the ice cream has thickened. Once the churn process is complete per the instructions, transfer ice cream to a bowl and cover with a tight lid and place in freezer. How long it has to freeze before serving is your preference, either soft serve type or hard frozen type.

Tips and Notes:
1. Remember that the liqueur is not cooked down at all, so the taste is prominent.
2. This makes about 3-4 servings of ice cream
3. This recipe is a good base for any ice cream using alcohol, so feel free to experiment.
                                    **LAST YEAR: Meyer Lemonade Cake**

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Amaretto Latte Bars

One of the pitfalls of baking at home is that those family members that do not bake turn you into their baking volunteer.  If you like to bake that really isn't a big deal, however, the non-baker has no concept of recipe time requirements. This equates to 6 dozen cookies needed for Tonya's party which starts in only a few hours.

So sometime in history a person was facing this particular problem and came up with the bar cookie. They are the perfect solution to providing all the great taste of a cookie without all the time devotion.

This recipe is a spin off of sugar cookies with an adult twist of almond liqueur. There are two cookie layers with an espresso filling. The cookie part has a chewy texture with the crunch of almonds. The filling, when baked evolves into a coffee dulce de leche. Lastly, the crowning touch of sweetened whipped cream ties everything together in one tasty bite.

Amaretto Latte Bars
by flourtrader

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 plus 1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 plus 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup or 1 1/2 sticks of butter
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup chopped or slivered almonds
1/4 cup almond liqueur
2 tbs espresso powder
1 cup whipping cream
3 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8 inch square cake pan by greasing the interior, either with oil or shortening.

In a medium size bowl, sift together the cream of tartar, salt, baking soda and flour. Set aside. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar by beating on medium speed for about 2 or 3 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the egg and the almond extract together. Add this mixture to the butter/sugar blend and beat until blended. Fold in the sifted ingredients and then mix in the almonds.

Divide dough in half. Then prepare a flat surface by dusting with flour. Take each half of the dough and roll out into a 8 inch square. Cover 1 square of dough with plastic wrap and set aside.

Using a spatula, transfer one dough square to the prepared pan. Press the dough lightly so it is even and covers all the bottom surface and meets the edges and corners of the pan. Place pan in oven and let bake until edges turn a golden hue. This should take about 15-18 minutes.

While the dough is baking, prepare the filling. Place 2 tbs of almond liqueur in a small bowl and add the espresso powder. Place in microwave and heat for 15 seconds. Remove bowl and stir. Pour espresso mixture into a larger bowl and add the sweetened condensed milk.

Once the first layer is baked, remove from oven and place pan on rack. Pour the espresso/condensed milk mixture over the baked cookie layer. Then remove the plastic from the second square of dough and cut into 4 smaller squares. Place each square over the espresso filling, covering most of the filling. Do not worry about gaps, the layer will expand while baking.

Place pan in oven and let bake for 25-30 minutes. It will be toasty on the edges. Rest pan on rack and after 5 minutes, brush the remaining 2 tbs of almond liqueur over the surface.

Once the dessert has cooled for a total of 30 minutes, place in oven for 1 hour to cool completely.

When you are ready to serve, remove the bars from the fridge and let set for 10 minutes. Then prepare the whipped cream topping by placing the whipping cream and sugar in a small bowl. Then add both extracts and beat until it reaches the thickness you need in order to decoratively pipe on top.
Feel free to sprinkle ground almonds or place a chocolate covered coffee bean on top of the whipped cream.
                                 **LAST YEAR: Chocoberry Cupcakes**

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Palm Harvest Cake

The inspiration for this recipe came about when listening to Cake by the Ocean by DNCE. My take on this song is that we should not take things too seriously. Also, being spontaneous and unpredictable may turn out to be the best time ever.

Now, if I was to choose a cake to eat while watching the ocean waves rolling in from the sand, it would have to be something with tropical flavors. My pick for this cake was coconut, banana and pineapple. The recipe does make use of a few forms of coconut  (cream and oil). Also, the sweet coconut layers are slathered with fruity as well as creamy fillings. The banana pastry cream and pineapple filling have different textures but create a nice balance. I topped it with the standard cream cheese frosting, which is a basic recipe you can find on the net.

However, please note that this cake does take some time and the layers are baked in 10 inch springform pans. If you do not have 3 pans, plan on dividing the recipe for each. The springform pans were chosen due to the nature of the batter and the need for toasty edges. Since cake pans were not used, so I am unable to advise if they yield the same results.

So if you find yourself by the ocean, be sure to have fun and be spontaneous, but don't forget the cake!

Palm Harvest Cake
by flourtrader

3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbs whole milk yogurt
1 1/2 cups of cream of coconut
3/4 cup or 1 1/2 sticks of butter
3/4 cup of coconut oil
3 egg yolks
5 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups sugar
1 tsp salt

Ingredients/Banana Filling
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tbs butter
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar

1 banana
2 tbs brown sugar
1/4 cup whipped cream

Ingredients/Pineapple Filling
10 oz crushed pineapple
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbs cornstarch

For the cake, start by greasing the interior of 3 springform pans generously with coconut oil. Use 2 tablespoons for each pan. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the sugar, remaining coconut oil and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Stop occasionally to scrape down the side of the bowl. Then add each egg and each yolk, one at a time and beat for 30 seconds to blend. Once all is blended, beat at medium speed for another 3 minutes. Pour in the yogurt, cream of coconut and vanilla. Beat again for about 2 minutes. Set aside.

Take out a small bowl and sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold 1/3 of the sifted ingredients into the egg batter. Then fold in half of the remaining dry ingredients and fold in the last of it.

Measure the batter and divide it evenly into 3 batches. Pour each batch into a springform pan and smooth out evenly. Place in oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Once baked, remove and let set in pan for about 10 minutes. Run a knife around the interior edge and remove springform ring. Let sit another 20 minutes and use a thin knife or spatula to unstick from springform bottom plate and transfer to rack to finish cooling.

The next step is to make the banana pastry cream. Start by cutting up the banana. Then place the pieces in a small pan and add the brown sugar. Stir together and let set for about 10 minutes. The sugar on the banana slices will dissolve and turn glossy. Then place the pan over medium heat and let the bananas cook while stirring constantly. The cook time should take about 15 minutes. As it cooks, the gloss will disappear and the mixture will start to lump together and become pasty. Once it reaches that point, remove pan from heat and transfer filling to a small, heatproof bowl. Cover and place in refrigerator.

For the cream, fill a saucepan with milk and the scrapings from 1/2 of the vanilla bean and the outside half of the split bean. Take out another bowl and whisk together the egg and yolk with the cornstarch and sugar, set aside.

Place the filled saucepan over medium heat and let the milk heat up until you see small bubbles form on the edge of the surface. This is the point right before boil. Remove pan from heat and then stream in a little of the hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk together. Do this in small increments until a total of 2 tablespoons have been incorporated into the eggs.

Pour the egg mixture into the milk and whisk together. Place the pan over the heat again, this time on medium high heat, and stir constantly using a heat proof spatula. Once the mixture starts to boil, it is time to remove from the heat. Filling should be the consistency of pudding at this point. Cut the tablespoon of butter into 4 pieces and mix into filling. Take a sieve and place it over a bowl and pour the mixture into the sieve. Stir with a spoon, pressing the sides to make the mixture go through. Once the mixture has been pressed through, scrape off the bottom of the sieve into the bowl. Discard the vanilla bean.

Take the banana mixture out of the fridge and put in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth. Then beat in the pastry cream. Empty contents onto a plate and smooth out. Place plastic wrap over the cream and put in refrigerator to cool.

For the pineapple filling, place all ingredients in a saucepan and let cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Let cook until it becomes the consistency of applesauce. Transfer to a heat proof bowl and place in fridge to cool.

Once both fillings have cooled, place one layer of the cake on a round cake board. Mix 1 tbs of cream of coconut with 1/4 cup of water and brush over top of layer. Let sit for 5 minutes. As this sits, you will finish the banana cream filling. Beat the whipped cream until soft peaks form. Then take out the cooled banana mixture and fold it into the whipped cream. Smooth this on top of the layer on the cake board. Place another layer of cake on top and brush on the cream of coconut/water mixture. Smooth the chilled pineapple filling over the layer. Then top with the third cake layer and frost as desired with cream cheese frosting.

Tips and Notes:
1. Feel free to add some lime zest or rum to the frosting.
2. The cake is more dense than most.
3. I found that Coco Lopez brand cream of coconut is the best to use, it is easier to blend than others and less watery.
4. Be careful not to overcook the cake, because it will lose moisture.
5. The best part of this cake was the banana pastry cream, I will use this component again.
6. Do not use pineapple in heavy syrup for the filling.
                                    **LAST YEAR:Bajan Sweet Bread**

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Cake of Leaves

It is natural of us to try to minimize things down to a "yes"  or a "no" because we want things to be simple. Remember the notes generated in elementary that were passed around? One of the typical ones was the "do you like me?" and it had two boxes to choose from. At that time, we could check yes or no, but now as we are older we would probably check one and list reasons or contingencies for the one we check, such as yes, only if you quit smoking or no because you still live with mom..

This dessert is much the same way. Is it a cake? Yes, only if you consider that it has filled layers like a cake or no because the layers are made up of a dough not batter.

This recipe originates from Chile and in their language is called "Torta de Hojas", which translates to the title of this post. When looking at the picture above, most get the impression that it is basically stacked cookie layers with caramel and walnuts. That would be only partly correct. The layers are made up of a buttery dough with no sugar. The no sugar idea is right on point. Slathered with Dulce de Leche and toasted walnuts, each layer gets transformed. One bite of this tower of deliciousness gives your palate a sensation of flaky, crunchy and slightly sticky textures with a trifecta of satisfying flavors.

This is a 9 layer dessert and the layers are the most time consuming. Here in Texas, Dulce de Leche is easily found at the grocers, so I did not opt for using cooked sweetened condensed milk. There are various methods for cooking the milk to make the caramelized filling and this process available on the internet. Use two 14 ounce cans of the milk for this recipe and let cool 10-15 minutes after cooking before coating the dough layers.

Cake of Leaves
adapted from All Recipes

Ingredients/Pastry Layers
3 egg yolks
1 cup milk
7/8 cup of butter or 1 3/4 stick of butter
4 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder

2-14 oz cans cooked sweetened condensed milk or
   2-13 oz cans Dulce De Leche
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup water

For baking, the oven temperature should be preheated to 350 degrees and you will be using plain cookie sheets, not parchment lined and not greased/floured. The cooked layers will slide off the pan easily when baked.

Cut the butter into cubes and place in bowl of stand mixer. Beat until smooth and silky, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add one egg yolk and beat into butter, running mixer on medium for about 30 seconds. Continue with this method for each egg yolk.

Using another bowl, sift together the flour and the baking powder. Fold 1/3 of the mixture into the butter using a wooden spoon. Then blend in 1/2 cup of milk, then half of the sifted ingredients and repeat, ending with the last amount of dry ingredients. Once a dough is formed, separate into 9 equal balls of dough. Roll out one ball into a flat mass a little over 9 inches. Using a 9 inch plate as a guide, trim the edges to a smooth circle. Transfer disc to a cookie sheet and prick the surface in several places with the tines of a fork.

Place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edge is slightly golden. Let rest on sheet for 3 minutes then carefully transfer to rack to completely cool. Repeat the forming and baking process for the rest of the dough balls.

Once all the dough is baked and cooled, place the first pasty layer on a cake board. In a small bowl, mix together the water and brandy. Brush this mixture on top of the pastry layer. Then measure out about 1/4 cup of dulce de leche and place in a microwave bowl. Heat in microwave until pourable, about 20 seconds. Mix and then pour on top of the first layer, smooth out evenly and leave a 1/4 inch border. Repeat the same process, stacking each layer and filling.

Let the finished cake rest for 8 hours or overnight. The rest time helps the layers from shattering once the dessert is cut, the pastry becomes more pliable.

Tips and Notes:
1. I had to use more chopped nuts than stated.
2. You can cover the sides with the filling and nuts, just make sure to get extra ingredients for this.
3. The brandy does not add flavor due to the strong flavor of the filling, so it is more of a factor to help the texture rather than flavor.
                                     **LAST YEAR:Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies**  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Snickerdoodle Pie

There are certain food smells that make us instantly hungry. With me, there is not a lot of foods that fall into this category, but this one definitely qualifies. As this baked, the smell of buttery brown sugar and cinnamon wafted through the house. It was hard to wait until the pie cooled before trying a slice. Since I do not work in the food industry, I have enjoyed the luxury of experiencing a variety of different scents of food while it is baking-unlike the person that fries chicken all day. Rather than smelling of grease and chicken, I much prefer to smell like cookies, much like John Travolta in the movie Micheal.

As you can see, pie is not really the end result of the recipe. Instead, the result is a big fluffy Snickerdoodle cake sitting in a flaky crust. The crust at the bottom is coated in butter and cinnamon sugar and it has a brown sugar syrup poured on top of filling prior to baking.

The moist cake teams up with a flaky crust to create a nice contrast in texture. Also, no one can deny the delicious classic flavors of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. This cake is light enough to have for tea or an after dinner dessert. Another nice point is that it is appropriate for any season.

Snickerdoodle Pie
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

1 recipe for single crust pie
1 tablespoon raw or coarse sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp butter, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3 tbs water
2 tbs light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Start by taking the dough for the crust and lining a 9 inch pie plate. Form the decorative top edge according to your preference. Whisk the cinnamon and sugar together a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, butter the surface of the formed pie dough with the melted butter. Then sprinkle the surface of the dough with one teaspoon of the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Set aside.

The next component is the syrup. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining syrup ingredients and whisk together. Continue to whisk until sugar is dissolved. Let mixture come to a boil and let cook, boiling for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Then start making the filling. Sift together salt, cream of tartar, flour and baking powder in a medium size bowl. In another bowl, cream together butter and both types of sugar. Beat in the egg and the vanilla. Once blended, mix in the milk until the mixture turns into a batter. Lastly, use a wooden spoon and fold in the sifted ingredients.

Spoon the batter into the prepared crust and smooth out evenly. Then pour the syrup in a thin stream over the surface of the batter. Sprinkle the last of the cinnamon/sugar mixture over the surface of the

Cover the crust edges of the pie with foil. Place pie in oven and let bake for 25 minutes. After this baking session is complete, remove the foil from the pie edges and place pie back in oven. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Put pie plate on rack to cool. After 30 minutes cooling time, slice and serve. This pie should be served warm.
                                          **LAST YEAR:Caramel Pecan Silk Pie**

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mulled Wine Jammers

Due to social media, there is a lot of focus on image. I am sure that if you are on the social sites a lot, you will find the projected image of that perfect life for a lot of people. It may be instagram pictures that show someone's exotic travels in which they are always rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Also, it maybe on Google reiterating the phrase "oh it's such a wonderful life."

We all know that these pictures and/or comments just barely skim the surface of people's real life.  It is just projecting the best part of it. The person that travels may hate it and the person with a so called wonderful life may truly be miserable. However, no one wants to project a bad/sad image, so we are not informed of the other side.

I have more interest in people that project reality-someone that is middle ground and down to earth. I consider the source of this recipe to be just that type of person, Dorie Greenspan. I have read quite a bit about her and how her career has developed. It is nice to bake something once in a while that was created by someone that you like and can relate to. Which brings me to this wonderful recipe.

This cookie is made up of 3 components, which makes it unusual as well as delicious. The base is a butter or sable cookie. On top of the base sits a sweet, yet spicy, mix of wine, fruit and jam. Lastly, the top of the stack is scattered with streusel. The textures and flavors make it a perfect accompaniment to hot tea or coffee.

These cookies can be baked in a muffin tin, but if you are all into appearance (which I am), try the 2 inch pastry rings. While they are not cheap, I loved the look of these and will probably use the rings again and again for other types of things. This recipe makes 2 dz cookies. if you plan on making these, consider the hours of chilling time required for each component.

Mulled Wine Jammers
adapted from Dorie Greenspan 

1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbs cold butter (cubed)
1/3 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbs light brown sugar
3 tbs granulated sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
3 tbs dried raisins
1/3 cup cherry jam
1 1/4 cups fruity red wine
2 strips of orange or tangerine peel (3-4 inches long 1/2 inch wide)
1 tbs honey
2-3 inch stick of cinnamon
2 points from star anise
2 whole cloves

Ingredients/Cookie Base
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 egg yolks (room temp)
2 sticks (1 cup) butter (cubed/room temp)
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp vanilla extract

The first step is to make the filling. The spices need to be enclosed so they can soak in the wine. You can use a small tea strainer or or a sachet made with cheesecloth. Fill the container with the spices (cinnamon stick, anise and cloves) and close. Place the filled container in a small saucepan and add wine, honey and fruit peel. Cook the ingredients over medium heat until boiling. Once it boils, turn the heat down so the mixture is only simmering. Let cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Add all the dried fruit and stir as it continues to cook. As it cooks, the liquid will evaporate. Evaporation should take about 8 minutes. Then remove saucepan from heat. Take the sachet of spices and citrus peel out of the mixture and discard. Lastly, stir in the cherry jam. Empty into a heat proof bowl, cover and place in fridge to cool.

As the filling is cooling off in the fridge, the streusel can be made. Place the flour, cornmeal, both sugars, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and pulse until all is blended. Then drop in the cubes of butter and pulse mixture until it becomes like wet sand and clumps together. Add the vanilla extract and pulse again. Empty mixture into a bowl, cover and place in fridge to chill for at least 1 hour. For better results, 3 hours is recommended.

The last component is the cookie dough. Start by whisking together both sugars and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Then use the beater blade attachment and turn the mixer on medium speed. As it mixes, drop in cubes of butter in 3 separate intervals, each interval beating for about 1 minute. After every interval stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer down to low and add 1 egg yolk and beat until yolk is completely mixed in. Repeat with the 2nd egg yolk and then mix in the vanilla extract.

Remove bowl from stand mixer. Add flour to batter and stir it into the dough using a wooden spoon. Once the flour is completely mixed in, cut 4 sheets of parchment paper about 10 inches wide. Place 2 sheets side by side on a flat surface. Divide divide dough in half and placing each half on one sheet of parchment paper. Cover top of each dough mound with the other parchment sheets. Flatten with your hands and then take a rolling pin and roll out each piece to a 1/4 inch thickness. Place on baking sheet, stacking if needed. Then put in refrigerator and let dough chill for 2 hours.

For the baking step, butter the interior of muffin tins or pastry rings. If using pastry rounds, line 1 baking sheet with parchment paper and butter the interior of each ring. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Take out one slab of dough from refrigerator and peel off top sheet of parchment and then peel dough off of bottom sheet and lay back on bottom sheet. Use a 2 inch cookie cutter and cut dough into circles. Place dough in each cavity of the muffin tin. If using pastry rings, cut out dough with ring and place dough filled ring with dough down on baking sheet. Continue until muffin tin is full or all 12 pastry rings have a dough layer in the bottom. In the process you may have to re-roll the scraps and cut out dough circles.

The next layer is the filling. Place one teaspoon of the filling in the center of each circle, leaving an edge border of dough. After filling, use the back of a spoon to slightly flatten any tall mounds on the dough circles. Take the streusel out of the refrigerator and crumble up any big chunks that may have formed. Sprinkle streusel over the top of the filling, making sure the dough circle and the filling are completely coated. After coating all the dough circles, place pan in oven and bake for about 10-12 minutes and rotate pan. Bake for an additional 10-12 minutes. If making with pastry rings, the baking time may need to be increased a few minutes.

Cookies are completely done when the streusel is golden. The cookies in the muffin tins require a cooling time of 15 minutes before transferring to a rack to completely cool. The ones baked in pastry rings require 20 minutes.

Let baking equipment completely cool, then wash and dry for the next batch. The 2nd disc of dough is cut, layered and baked in the same manner.

Tips and Notes:
1. Since jam fillings have a tendency to dry and get gummy when exposed, be careful not to go the the dough edge when placing the filling on the dough circle.

2. Evenly rolled dough is the key to getting the exact amount of cookies noted. I ended up with more cookies. The end result was I had to make more streusel and used all the filling. The recipe stated there would be some extra filling.

3. The streusel, when I made it was not dry and crumbly at that stage. The chill time does dry it out a bit.

4. While the dried fruit is not to be pulverized, keep in mind the size of these cookies when you are chopping the cherries and cranberries.

5. To truly experience the best texture and flavor of these cookies, warm them slightly in the microwave prior to eating or eat after they bake once removed from the tin or pastry rings.

6. If you want to make quick work of these, prepare streusel and filling components in advance and refrigerate. Making the dough, assembling and baking the next day will reduce prep time. The filling, if kept covered in the fridge, lasts for 2 weeks. The streusel has the same refrigeration time, but you can also freeze for up to 2 months. In addition, cookies can be completely assembled and frozen in the raw state. Just make sure they are wrapped tightly. The maximum freeze time would be 2 months. To bake, take cookies right from the freezer and bake as directed, adding a few minutes to cover for the frozen factor.  
                                **LAST YEAR: Raspberry White Chocolate Cookies**

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Cappuccino Cheesecake

This particular dessert had me thinking of a special Viennese coffee house that I had read about that spans back to the 1800's called Cafe Central. The interior architecture is made up of archways and columns, which makes for a wonderful atmosphere. Also, on certain days a piano player is there to insure that you can enjoy your coffee, pastry or dessert while you mellow out with the music. Now that I have transported you there, do not forget to find the exact spot where Sigmund Freud actually sat and drank his coffee back in the day...

The reason for these thoughts is because this cheesecake is not your average. The three flavor combo is well balanced and it has that wonderful creamy texture that we all look for in a slice of cheesecake. The almond crust adds just the right amount of nutty, crunchiness to each slice.

I am sure you are wondering what the three flavors make up the cheesecake filling. The filling has espresso powder-which I know you expected. The other flavor additions are what makes this cheesecake exceptional- the hazelnut liqueur and Irish Cream liqueur. With the amount used in this recipe, there is no fear of the flavor baking out of this dessert. The recipe makes one 9x13 inch cheesecake.

Now let's get into the kitchen....

Cappuccino Cheesecake
adapted from Edible Communities

3 tbs melted butter
2 tbs granulated sugar
2 cups ground nuts (almonds, pecans or walnuts)

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbs instant espresso powder
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup Irish Cream liqueur ( I used Bailey's brand)
1/3 cup hazelnut liqueur ( I used Frangelico brand)
2 tbs hot water

2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Start on the crust by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the ground nuts and the sugar. Then stir in the melted butter, making sure that all the dry ingredients are dampened with the melted butter.

Empty the mixture into a 9x13 inch pan. Press evenly into the bottom of the pan. The crust mixture should be compact. You can use your palms, a smaller pan that fits inside the pan, a pizza dough roller or other utensils in order to make it compact.

Place pan in oven and bake until golden brown. This should take about 10-12 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let cool.

Turn the oven down to 325 degrees. Stir together the espresso powder and hot water in a small bowl and set aside.

Empty the mascarpone cheese into the bowl of a stand mixer. Then open one package or separate out 8 oz of cream cheese and cut into 1/2 inch cubes or divide into 1/2 inch lumps. Turn on the mixer and add cubes and mix on low speed for 3 minutes, stopping occassionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then cube the rest of the cream cheese and continue to drop pieces into the mixture while mixer is still running on low speed. After incorporating all the cream cheese, add both types of the sugar and let mixer run, again stopping to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Once smooth and blended, add one egg and mix for about 10 seconds. Continue with this process for each of the remaining eggs, one at a time. After mixing all the eggs in, blend in the 2 yolks.

Lastly, stir in the espresso mixture, Irish cream and hazelnut liqueur. Pour batter into pan over the almond crust and smooth the top. Place pan inside another pan, such as a roasting pan or any pan that is lower or the same height as the pan with the cheesecake. Boil some water and pour it into the roasting pan and place in oven and let bake 50 minutes.

As it bakes, mix together granulated sugar and sour cream. Once the 50 minute bake time is completed, remove pan from oven and smooth sour cream mixture evenly over the top. Place back in oven and let bake until the majority of the cheesecake is firm with only about a quarter size center that still jiggles when moved, about 10 more minutes.

Take out of oven and remove cheesecake from the roasting pan. Run a knife around the interior side edges between the cheesecake and the pan. Let cool to room temperature and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours before serving.

Tips and Notes:
1. Since I used a pastry frame to bake this in there were issues. The water bath pan was higher than the frame, so there was a certain steamy factor on the surface of the cheesecake. The pastry frame was not a good idea.

2. The cheesecake took double the amount of time to bake and got too toasty on the edges. I attribute this to the pastry frame and over mixing the filling. Overmixing must have whipped too much air into the batter or made it too runny. In spite of the edges and the extended bake time, the cheesecake was still delicious.

3. In order to make sure the surface does not brown too much before the cheesecake is thoroughly baked, I recommend to bake it until a 3 inch circle in the center remains jiggly. Then put the sour cream topping on and bake the the extra 10 minutes.

4. The recipe states that the crust can be run up the sides of the pan as well as in the bottom. The bottom only crust may take some bake time adjusting to get crispy and golden.
                                   **LAST YEAR:Blackberry Hazelnut Torte** 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Upside-down Banana Coffee Cake

I have to admit it, my brain is hard wired. By hard wired, I mean that it is constantly running with heavily detailed thoughts of this and that. I have yet to master the ability to think of nothing or empty my head. Remember the Harry Potter scene where Albus Dumbledore takes his wand and pulls out thoughts from his head and puts them in a magic bowl for future reference? Wish I had a magic bowl these days.

So here I am today, with my brain running in high speed, trying to focus on baking. I had many different ideas come to mind when I stumbled upon this recipe. However, there were some factors that eliminated a lot of the flavor combinations I came up with. One of them was that every fruit is not suitable for the upside-down thing. The other factor is that lately I have been disappointed with the produce department at the grocers. I do need an answer to the billion dollar question-is there really a big demand for rock hard fruit or fruit that will be rotten in the next hour?

Anyhow, the end result was that I still stuck with banana, the chosen fruit that was in the recipe. I bought some of the little or mini bananas for this recipe. I find them to be sweeter than the standard. The conversion was 6 of the little bananas to the 2 medium bananas.

After completion, I decided that the banana was a good choice. Slightly warmed, the pecan topping paired with the bananas over the moist, fluffy layer of cake is a pretty tasty way to start the day. I  think my brain slowed down just a bit when I had my piece, actually allowing me to focus on just how delicious a good slice of coffee cake can be.

Upside Down Banana Coffee Cake
adapted from Southern Living/Sept 2006

2 eggs, separated
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs rum
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter( divided into 1/4 cups or half sticks)
3/4 cup white granulated sugar (divided into 1/4 and 1/2 cups)
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups baking mix (I used Bisquick brand)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 medium ripe bananas 
Pull out a 10 inch cast iron skillet and add 1/4 cup of butter. Once melted, use a pastry brush to brush up the side interior of the skillet. Add the rum and swirl the skillet around to make sure the interior bottom is covered evenly with the butter and the rum is mixed in and remove from heat. Top evenly a layer of brown sugar and then an even layer of toasted pecans. Set aside.

Fill a medium size bowl with the remaining butter (1/4 cup) and 1/2 cup of the white sugar. Cream together until light and fluffy. Add one egg yolk and beat for 30 seconds and repeat with the second egg yolk. Using a small bowl, whisk together the milk and the vanilla extract. Then pour it into the butter sugar mixture. Add the sour cream and beat until all is evenly blended. Set aside. Then preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk the cinnamon and baking mix together in another bowl. Then fold this dry mix into the wet egg/milk/sugar batter. Using another bowl, fill with the egg whites. Beat egg whites until they are at the soft peak stage. Continue to beat and as you pour in steady stream of the remaining sugar (1/4 cup). Beat time is complete one the whites are at the stiff peak stage. Fold the beaten egg white/sugar blend into the batter.

Peel the bananas and cut the width in half, forming 2 equal pieces. Take each half and slice lengthwise into three pieces. The end result should be 12 pieces, about 2 1/2- 3 1/2 inches in length. Arrange the pieces on top of the pecans in a spoke pattern. If using mini bananas, just slice each lengthwise into 2 pieces.

Spoon the batter over the bananas and use a spatula to smooth out evenly. Place filled skillet in oven and bake until golden on top and tester comes out clean. This should take about 45-50 minutes.

Once baking is complete, let skillet cool on rack for 10-12 minutes. Then invert onto serving platter or cake board. Serve warm.
Tips and Notes:
1. To make sure the cake to comes out easily, the edge must be loose from the side of the skillet prior to inverting. If after the 10 minute cooling it still seems stuck, run a knife around the edge before inverting.

2. The topping is very sticky, so once inverted do not remove the skillet until after 5 minutes, to make sure gravity works.

3. If your skillet retains a lot of the sticky pecan mixture after cake removal, scrape out and add it to the top of the cooling cake.

5. Do not try to create in another type of pan, the skillet insures a better result when inverting the cake.

6. If you want to decline on purchasing the baking mix, you can use one of the various recipes from the net to create the baking mix blend.

                               **LAST YEAR:Caribbean Bars**

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Inside Out German Chocolate Cake

I guess today I am doing a little reflecting on life. When I was a kid, life was just a playground. When I was a teen life became dramatic because problems felt like the end of the world. Now at this point in life I realize that it is the struggles in life that has shaped us into who we are today.

Knowing that there are more problems to come-some will be worse and some not, helps to change your perspective about the problem. It allows you face the problem head on with some dignity.

Then the day after you have dealt with the problem (which is my favorite part), is the rebirth. The beginning of a new day. Which means its time for some birthday cake! This sweet German Chocolate cake recipe is a keeper and a wonderful choice on such a day. The traditional icing as a filling and the chocolate glaze ladled over the top amps up the standard in quite a delicious way.

So enjoy a slice of this special cake and focus on the many things that a new day can bring. After all, you just successfully drove over a bump in life's journey. Enjoy!

Inside Out German Chocolate Cake
adapted from Epicurious

6 tbs melted butter
1/8 tsp almond extract
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup and 1 tbs dutch cocoa

1 tbs vanilla extract
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
7 oz sweetened flaked coconut
4 oz chopped pecans/volume is 1 cup

1 1/4 or 2 1/2 sticks of cups of butter
10 oz semi-sweet chocolate (chopped bar or chips)
3 tbs light corn syrup

Prepare 3 round 9 inch cake pans by oiling the interior and lining the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fill a large bowl with the melted butter, egg, egg yolk, milk, vanilla and almond extract. Beat on low speed until blended. Set aside.

In another bowl, sift together the salt, baking powder, baking soda, flour and cocoa powder. Whisk in the sugar. Empty the sifted ingredients into the wet mixture and stir together until it becomes like a thick frosting. Pour in the boiling water and stir again until thoroughly mixed in.

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the batter and fill one cake pan. Repeat this process for the other 2 cake pans. Should you have any batter left after the measurements, divide evenly into the 3 pans.

Place the cake pans in the oven, starting with 2 on the upper third and one on the bottom third of the oven racks. Bake for about 10 minutes, then rotate pans 180 degrees and switch racks. Let bake for another 10-15 minutes. Cakes are done when tester comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and place on cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the outside edge of the cake and inside edge of pan, then invert onto racks. Peel off the parchment carefully and re-set the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Once the cakes are done, then it is time to make the filling. Take out 2 baking sheets. Fill one with the chopped pecans and one with the sweetened coconut. Spread the contents of each pan out evenly. Put the coconut pan on the lower third rack and the pecan pan on the upper third rack. The total baking time for both will be about 12-18 minutes, however, the contents of the pans will have to be stirred every 4-6 minutes. Once toasting time is complete, remove pans and set aside. Then re-set the oven temperature again, this time for 425 degrees.

Take a baking pan and place a pie pan in the center. Fill the baking pan full of water until it comes up to the halfway mark on the pie pan. Fill the pie pan with the sweetened condensed milk and mix in the vanilla extract. Seal the top of the pie pan with foil. Place baking pan water bath with pie pan in the center into the oven. Set the timer for 45 minutes. After this interval, remove the pan and add more water in order for the level to get back to the original depth. Place in oven and bake again until milk is thick and brown. This should take about 30-45 minutes. Once done, empty contents into a heat proof bowl and stir in coconut and pecans. Cover and set aside.

For the glaze, melt the butter in a saucepan and remove from heat. Stir in the corn syrup and the chocolate. Continue to stir until all is melted and reserve out about 1 cup. Chill the cup in the refrigerator for about an hour or place in freezer and check periodically until it reaches a spreadable frosting consistency.

For assembly, place pieces of parchment on top of a round cake board, covering the circumference and about 1 inch in width. Place one cake layer in the center of the round. Measure out half of the filling and place it on the cake. Use a spatula dipped in water, smooth out the filling evenly and leave about 1/4 inch border of cake on the edge. Repeat with the second layer. Then place the third layer on top.

Take out the spreadable frosting and frost sides and top of cake. Should you not have enough for a thin coat, chill some more from the saucepan to finish. Lastly, pour the glaze from the saucepan over the cake, so it drips down the sides. Should some of the sides not be covered, use a spoon and scoop up the excess glaze that has dripped to the bottom. Spoon over the sides not covered.

Place cake in fridge to set for about 1 hour. Before serving, carefully remove pieces of parchment paper around the base of the cake. Then bring cake to room temperature and slice.

Tips and Notes:
1. The butter/chocolate glaze may not be your preference, but bear in mind the filling is designed to be the stronger of the two. A sugary glaze or sweet ganache may be too much in combination with the filling.

2. The layers of this cake are not thick. Should you desire more thickness, increase the ingredients and bake time of the cake batter.

3. There are many ways to cook the condensed milk, but this method is a little safer than boiling the can. Also, the hue and thickness of the cooked milk is a personal preference for the filling.

                                  **LAST YEAR: Apple Dulce De Leche Empanadas*

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Italian Christmas Pastry

Let's face it, pastry is perfect if you are looking to get away with thick bread type of breakfast rolls and scones. It is always the pastry filling that takes center stage in flavor rather than the shell that houses it. This is true for eclairs, cream puffs and other types of pastry.

With so many cream filled pastries out there on the market, the fruit and nut type of fillings have become forgotten. This italian type of recipe moves the pastry spotlight from cream to fruit/nut fillings.

In review of recipes across the net, there was not any particular one that had the flavor combination that I favored. After some thought and experimentation, I came up with dough that has a touch of citrus flavor and a filling combination of orange, cranberry, cinnamon and walnuts.

The things I liked about this recipe was that the dough did not have any rising time, so it came together quickly. The filling was fairly easy as well, with the simple task of mixing together and leaving sit overnight. It was the assembly where the test of skills came in, but I was in the mood for this type of project. Also, I feel the reward in the effort was the stunning appearance as well as the taste of these delicious coils.

Italian Christmas Pastries
by flourtrader

1/2 cup orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 lb chopped walnuts
1 lb dried cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cinnamon

3 eggs
zest from 2 lemons
3/4 cup Limoncello liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
4-6 cups flour
toothpicks (to hold coils together)
1 cup of honey (topping)

Start by making the filling. Mix the orange juice and orange liqueur together in a medium size bowl. In another, smaller bowl, stir the cinnamon and sugar together until thoroughly blended. Mix the dry with the liquid mixture. Add the chopped walnuts and cranberries, stirring until everything is coated with the wet batter. Cover and let sit overnight on the counter.

The next day, you will complete the process with making the dough, forming the pastries and baking. To make the dough, sift together 4 cups of flour with the baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside. Using another bowl, whisk together the eggs, zest, extract, vegetable oil, liqueur and sugar. Measure out 1/4 cup and reserve, setting aside for later.

Clear off a flat surface for the dough. Pour sifted ingredients onto the surface and form a well in the center. Pour some of the wet blend into the center and mix with a fork or clean hands. Pour more of the wet batter out and mix with the flour and repeat the process (not using the reserve) until a smooth dough is formed. You may need to add more flour in the process. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and dust a baking sheet with flour.

Separate the dough into 8 equal balls. Place 7 on a cookie sheet and cover. Prepare another flat surface by dusting with flour. Take the 8th dough ball and roll out into a long rectangular strip, about  1/4 inch thick and 5-6 inches wide. Using a knife or a fluted pastry wheel, cut off all edges to make even and cut lengthwise into 2 strips. Use the excess to patch and repair holes, dampening with reserved wet mixture. 

Using the filling blend, make a line of filling down the center of one of the strips. Now comes the tricky part... Fold the side edges of the dough upwards and start coiling into a circle. The dough edges must remain upright so the filling does not spill all over the pan when baking. Once the circle is formed, use toothpicks to hold together and transfer to the prepared baking sheet(s). Keep in mind that the pastry does not expand very much when baking.

Continue to form the pastries until all the dough and filling is used up. Should the balls of dough dry out during this process, use the reserved wet mixture to dampen the outside and knead into dough ball before rolling out.

Bake pastries until lightly browned.This should take about 25-35 minutes. Remove and place baking sheet on cooling rack. Warm up the honey in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds. Then brush the warm pastries with the honey and let cool completely.

Tips and Notes:

1. Make sure that your coils are not overfilled, the filling should be 1/2-3/4 inch wide when placed onto the dough strip.

2. When preparing the filling, consider how chunky you want it. Make the walnut pieces as small as you want and cut up the dried cranberries if you prefer. The smaller the chunks, the easier to work with.

3. Remove the toothpicks after 15 minutes cooling time. The longer you wait increases the chance of the pastry crumbling.

4. I tried several methods when forming the coils. Folding over and then placing upright to coil is more difficult.

5. Coil the dough around easily, do not make real tight; the toothpicks will help them hold together.

6. After you coil two strips, stir the filling ingredients so the liquids do not settle to the bottom in the time it takes you to assemble all the coils. A watery filling will spill out of the pastries and burn onto the pan when baking.

                                   **LAST YEAR: Pistachio Financiers**

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Almond Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Today's post is a milestone for my blog, it is the 500th post. Yes, it is actually hard to believe I have made and posted that many items. There are lots of blogs that die off after the first two years, but I am happy to say after all these posts, my passion still remains. There are so many projects and things I have yet to try and master, it is hard to even imagine stopping. Now on to this recipe...

When someone mentions shortbread cookies, visions of English teatime comes to mind. However, these type of cookies have such a wonderful flavor, it is impossible to limit them to eating only at teatime.

The traditional shortbread cookie is a 1-2-3 part blend. One part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour. This particular recipe is not exact to those specifications in regards to the flour content, but it does not detract from the taste.

Shortbread can have many variations. For today's post, I decided to create a teatime cookie with a touch of chocolate. Also, even though it is a butter cookie, the additional flavor of almond was added. The almond flavor is derived from the almond flour and almond extract. This recipe makes 2- 2 1/2 dz cookies.

Almond Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
by flourtrader

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup almond flour or meal
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1-2 tbs almond extract
3/4 cup mini choc chips
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter (room temp)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the two types of flour in a medium size bowl and set aside.

Then fill another bowl with the softened butter and almond extract. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Sift the powdered sugar into this mixture. Beat again until the sugar is distributed into the butter.

Take out a wooden spoon and mix the flour blend into the butter batter until a dough is formed. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Shape the dough into balls and place 2 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Then flatten into circles about 2-3 inches in diameter. Place in oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Let cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to rack to completely cool.

Tips and Notes:

1. The amount of extract you use is according to how strong you want the almond flavor in the cookie.

2. Almond meal or almond flour can be used, depending on your preference. Almond meal is not as finely ground as flour. I used almond meal and, as you can see by the picture, there are flecks of almond showing in the cookies.

                                 **LAST YEAR: Orange Liqueur Bundt Cake**