Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cherry Almond Cobblestone Muffins

This recipe is actually a spin off of the original Monkey Bread recipes that showed up in women's magazines in the 1950's. While it is popular in the US still, it never seemed to take off globally.  If you are not familiar with this delicious treat, it is basically bread made up of round dough pieces that are dipped in butter and rolled in sugar. If you are not into sweets, you can easily change it to savory by using garlic butter and cheese.

The idea of converting a large Monkey bread coffeecake into individual servings using a jumbo muffin pan is a very smart and tasty way to go when you have a large gathering. The other thing that I liked about this recipe was that it rounded out things by adding fruit.

I tweaked the recipe a little by developing my own flavor combination. Originally, the fruit was to be a mix of apples and raisins. Instead of that, I used cherries soaked in amaretto and added some almond with extract, paste and flour.

My taste testers were very pleased with the results. These jumbo muffins have the trademark of Monkey Bread with their caramel chewy coating of the brown sugar/butter mixture. In addition, you have the a subtle hit of almond in the dough. The almond does become more prominent when you taste the filling of almond paste which mingles deliciously with the amaretto spiked dried cherries.

The recipe below is not the original, but my version. It makes about 2 dozen jumbo muffins, depending on the size of the pieces of dough.

Cherry Almond Cobblestone Muffins
adapted from Panera Bread at Home

8 cups of flour
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of almond extract
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter, melted
2 cups lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons of yeast

2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup almond flour or ground almonds
1/2 cup butter, melted

Ingredients/Filling and Topping
1 cup of sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract
milk (enough for desired consistency of icing)
2- 7oz packages of dried cherries
1-7 oz package of almond paste
1/4 cup amaretto
water (enough to cover dried cherries)

4 hours prior to starting on these muffins, empty the dried cherries into a bowl with a wide bottom, like a pasta bowl. Add cherries and amaretto. Mix in enough water so the cherries are covered. Set aside.

After the 4 hours has expired, fill the bowl of a stand mixer with eggs, sugar and salt. Beat until thoroughly combined. Pull out a small bowl and combine the almond extract, butter and milk. Pour the almond/butter mixture into the egg/sugar batter and mix together.

Running the mixer at low speed, slowly add one cup of flour. Once blended, add an additional cup and continue with the process, one cup at a time until 4 cups of flour is mixed into the dough. Sprinkle the yeast on top and mix on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the additional cups of flour, using the same method as the first 4 cups. Form dough into a ball.

Oil the interior of a large bowl and empty dough into bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the top edge of the muffin cavities and line with jumbo muffin papers.

While the dough is rising, drain the liquid from the cherries. Then, take the almond paste and form into several little pebbles and place in a bowl. There should be about 10-12 pebbles per muffin. Set both aside.

At this time, you can make the coating by mixing the brown sugar and almond flour together.

Once the dough has doubled, punch down and form into balls. As you form them, consider that it will take 8 balls to make one muffin. After all the dough balls are made, dip each into melted butter and roll in brown sugar/almond flour. Work quickly, you do not want the surface of the dough to dry out.

To assemble the muffins, start by making the bottom layer. Place 4 dough balls into the bottom of the muffin cavity, all the sides should be touching, none should be stacking. Then, take about 8-10 dried cherries and press lightly into the top of the dough. Repeat this process with about 5 or six pebbles of almond paste. After this, do another layer on top with dough, paste and cherries. For the top layer, it is best that the cherries and almond pebbles are more towards the center of the dough. The muffins will rise and you want the cherries on the muffin not on the pan or bottom of oven.

After all cavities are filled, bake muffins for about 25-30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in pan and transfer to cooling rack. Mix up the topping by combining extract, sifted powdered sugar and milk. Add enough milk to desired consistency and drizzle on to cooled muffins.

Tips and Notes:
1. If you only have 1-12 cavity or 1-6 cavity muffin pan, make only half a batch since this is a yeast bread. You do not want it sitting a long time between baking batches.

2. Due to the way in which these muffins are formed, they are made to eat by plucking off each ball and popping it into your mouth, not by cutting with a fork or taking a bite out of the muffin like you normally would. The dough balls adhere lightly to each other due to the butter/brown sugar mix.

3. If I did this again, I would try to put the dried cherries and almond pebbles into the ball of dough. This way the filling is inside. The adhesion of the filling with the dough balls were not as much as I wanted in the above recipe.

4. You made need to make more coating, depending on how much you want on each dough ball. Not difficult to mix up and better to be in a situation making more than having way to much.

5. You will find that the dough is sticky when forming the dough balls. That is to be expected.

6. The muffin papers do not adhere to the muffins, so they are served without papers. The use of them was only to make clean up easier and keep the brown sugar mixture from getting too hard on the outside.
                           **LAST YEAR: Butternut Maple Blondies**

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme Pie

Sometimes people wonder how I choose what particular items to post.  There are days when I am searching for something in particular and other days of "you will know it when you see it".  This one definitely falls into the second category.

When I saw this deliciously stacked pie, I was hard to pass up. There are not may pies out there that can deliver the number of textures and flavor that this pie offers. It may require a big bite in order to get every layer into your mouth, but I assure you- it is the best way to enjoy a bite of this pie.

Flaky crust is topped with chewy caramel and pecans. Then it is layered with a fluffy cream cheese mixture. The layers continue with chocolate cream and then airy, vanilla whipped cream. I usually prefer a fruit pie over any other type of pie. After trying a slice of this dessert, the taste really gave me an attitude adjustment, so now I have a more open mind when it comes to pies.

The recipe below is not an exact original. The reasoning being is that I do not like the idea of using cool whip-which was an ingredient listed for the second layer of this pie. I think it was the commercial in which they ask "oil or cream?" that started my ban of cool whip. I made a whipped cream/cheesecake blend for the second layer that worked out quite well.

If I had to make the pie again, I would have to tweak the caramel layer more to make it a little more creamier. It was a little too thick, but it did not deter from the taste.

Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme Pie
adapted from Bakers Square Copycat Recipes

Ingredients/First layer
1 blind baked deep dish pie shell
4 tbs butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup pecans (chopped and toasted)
7oz unwrapped caramels

Ingredients/Second layer
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients/3rd layer
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter
1 cup sifted confectioners sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups whipping cream
2 tbs confectioners sugar
mini chocolate chips (optional)
to drizzle: melted chocolate and caramel sauce (optional)

For the first layer, place butter and cream in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until all the butter is melted into the cream. Add the caramels and whisk until those have melted and mixture is smooth. Mix in the pecans and pour into the blind baked pie shell. Place in the refrigerator until the layer firms up. This may take a few hours. In order to speed up the process, you may place in freezer.

Once this layer is firm, start on the second layer. Fill one bowl with the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat until soft and fluffy. Set aside. Using another bowl and clean beaters, beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream. Smooth evenly,over top of the caramel layer and place pie in refrigerator.

Start the third layer by melting chocolate in a double boiler. Once melted, remove from heat and set aside. Let cool for 30 minutes.

Fill a large bowl with the butter and sugar and cream together until light and fluffy. Add one egg and beat for 30 seconds. Repeat the process with the other egg. Continue to beat and slowly stream in the cooled melted chocolate and add the vanilla extract.  Remove the pie from the refrigerator and smooth the chocolate mixture evenly over the cream cheese. Place pie back in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl beat the whipping cream on medium speed until foamy. Continue to beat and add the confectioners sugar. Turn the speed up to medium high and beat cream until stiff peaks form. Pipe whipped cream on top of chocolate layer and decorate the top as desired.

Chill pie until ready to slice and serve.
                                     **LAST YEAR: Taffy Treats***

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Raspberry White Chocolate Cookies

As a kid, we all loved monster cookies with lots of flavor. This particular cookie is swirled with raspberry preserves and chock full of decadent raspberry dark chocolate chunks and white chocolate chunks. Rich, flavorful and satisfying- all that we want in a cookie and then some.

These monster treats are sure to bring back memories. Kids at school were always curious and sometimes jealous of another's lunchbox treats. Some treats fell victim to the barter system and some were never traded. In addition, there was always one particular house that all the kids would
flock to after school due to the wonderful homemade treats and snacks  Be assured that these saucer cookies will not be traded. Also, presenting these are a sure fire way to meet all the friends of your son or daughter- even the ones you would rather not...

They have have a tri-texture from edge to center: crispy, cakey and chewy. One bite reveals raspberry and sweet chocolate. These are sinfully rich, perfect for your Valentine or just for yourself (I will not tell anyone). The recipe makes 12-14 very large cookies.

There are many adaptations of this cookie on the net, but the most helpful by far was Disney Chef. These require a little extra work in order to be successful, so be prepared to spend some time.

Raspberry White Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Disney Chef, Baker Lady, Rumblytumbly..etc

10 oz seedless raspberry preserves
1 cup raspberry chocolate chips or chopped bar
1 cup white chocolate chunks
1 tbs water
1 egg
1 tsp raspberry extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 3/4 - 3 cups flour

Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.

Sift together baking powder, 2 3/4 cup flour and salt into medium sized bowl. Take out a small bowl and fill with egg, water and extracts, whisk all together. Set both bowls aside.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with butter, confectioners sugar and brown sugar. Run the mixer on medium high speed and beat until mixture becomes fluffy. Continue to beat and pour in whisked mixture, running mixer until thoroughly blended.

Remove bowl from stand mixer and fold 1/2 cup of sifted ingredients into batter. Continue with this process until all is folded together. Then, evaluate the dough. The dough should be thick and heavy.  If you find it too dry, add some water or too wet, add additional flour (up to 1/4 cup). Fold in both types of chocolate chunks, making sure chunks are blended evenly throughout the dough.

Separate out 1/4 of the batter and place the rest in the refrigerator. Prepare a piping bag by fitting with a large tip. Fill the bag with 2 oz of preserves. Drizzle some of the preserves into the batter and use a pastry cutter to fold and cut the dough. Repeat the process until all the preserves have been incorporated into the dough. You want swirls or spots of raspberry, so you are not to mix it so much that it changes the color of the dough.

Form the dough into 4 equal balls and place on a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 15-25 minutes. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Also, prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.

Once oven is preheated and dough is properly chilled, place 4 dough balls on baking sheet. Space evenly on sheet. Let cookies bake at 400 degrees for 2 minutes. Lower the oven to 350 degrees and let them continue to bake for another 14 to 17 minutes or until done. Remove from oven and let
cookies rest on pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to remain for another 30 minutes to completely cool.

Repeat the same process with the rest of the dough, which will be 3 more batches.

Tips and Notes:

1. These cookies are better the next day due to the texture.
2. Do not use raspberry jam, it will make your batter too watery and cookies brown too much
3. Doneness of cookie is a little difficult since cookies retain a shiny, sticky appearance, so monitor closely. A golden hue on the bottom as well as edges is a good sign.
4. If you are using a stronger flavoring for the raspberry (Lorann brand) than the vanilla, make sure you adjust the amount so the flavor is balanced between the two.
5. Because the success of this recipe depends very much on consistency of the batter, it took me more than 1 batch of four to have these come out correctly (not so much taste wise, but appearance wise)
6. Raspberry chocolate chips are not easy to find, yet if you go to a place that has specialty food items (I went to World Market) you can find dark chocolate with raspberry bits. Make sure you buy bars with the bits, not the ones with a raspberry liquid center.
                                  **LAST YEAR: Lemon Pull Apart Coffee cake**

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Blackberry Hazelnut Torte

I do envy those that have wild blackberries growing in their yard. Not just blackberries, but any type of fruit. Just the idea of going outside and getting something that fresh to bake with is a wonderful thought. Unfortunately, the convenience of the grocers has stomped out any idea of me creating a garden. My busy lifestyle is no help either.

However, when it comes to baking, I more motivated to set aside a lot of time. It was not only the flavors in this recipe that inspired me, but also the presentation. I call them the "wow" factors. Let me explain here...

Imagine a 4 layer, spongy cake made with ground hazelnuts soaked with hazelnut liqueur. Then add the building block filling: the first being the blackberry coulis, the second-white chocolate  buttercream and the last is a combo of the two; blackberry mousse. If that does not excite your taste buds, then they are officially dead.

I knew at the start that this cake was going to be a major project, not only requiring a lot of time, but numerous eggs. This still did not deter me, I was dead set on making it. When I was done and tasted the cake, I had no regrets. Also, my taste testers gobbled up slice after slice, so I knew it was a success.

The only issue with the original recipe was that the white chocolate icing had too many ingredients and came out very liquid-so I knew it was missing something. I added powdered sugar to achieve the correct consistency. Due to this problem, I have supplied a link in the ingredients list to a Wilton recipe for white chocolate buttercream.  It is less labor intensive and requires less ingredients, which makes for a happier baker.

There are also some other tips and notes at the end to help you succeed in making this cake.

Blackberry Hazelnut Torte
adapted from Razzledazzle Recipes

Ingredients/Cake Layers
2 tbs hazelnut liqueur and extra for soaking
12 eggs, separated and 3 additional egg whites
1/2 cup butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
12 oz toasted and peeled hazelnuts
2/3 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients/Filling & Frosting
1 1/4 lb or 20 oz frozen blackberries
2 tbs corn syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1 recipe white chocolate buttercream
chopped, toasted hazelnuts (as much as desired for topping and or sides of cake after frosted)

Prepare four 9 inch cake pans by buttering the interior. Then line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the face up side. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the frozen blackberries in a saucepan to thaw.

Pour hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until chopped. You want them chopped, but not so much that they start to form a paste. Add the flour to the hazelnuts and mix until evenly distributed.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Once the consistency is fluffy, add one egg yolk and beat until combined. Continue adding each egg yolk, beating after each addition, until all egg yolks are blended into the butter mixture. Pour in the hazelnut liqueur and beat for 20 seconds on medium. Then fold in the hazelnut/flour blend. Empty batter into another bowl and set aside.

Clean and dry the bowl of the stand mixer and fit the mixer with the whipping attachment. Fill the bowl with all the egg whites and add salt. Beat until it reaches a stiff peak consistency. Continue to run the mixer and slowly pour in remaining sugar (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon). Combine until sugar is evenly distributed. The mixture should still retain the stiff peak consistency when done.

Take 1/4 of the egg white blend and fold into the hazelnut batter. Then fold the rest of the egg white mixture into the batter in increments, taking care to retain the fluffy consistency. After all is blended, fill each of the prepared pans evenly with the batter and smooth the top. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until tester comes out clean. The top should have a golden hue when done. Place cake pans on rack to cool completely. Cake must be completely cool in order to remove from pans.

While the cakes are cooling, start making the blackberry coulis. Take the saucepan with the blackberries and place over medium heat. Add the sugar and corn syrup. Stir until sugar is dampened by the blackberries. Let the mixture cook and continue to stir. As it cooks, the liquid will reduce down. Let it cook down until it is about 1/3 less than the original amount. Remove from heat and pour mixture into a sieve placed over a heatproof bowl. Rub the inside with the back of the spoon, pushing all the blackberry through the sieve, letting the seeds remain inside the sieve. Set the blackberry coulis aside to cool to room temperature and discard the seeds.

Now, move on to the white chocolate buttercream recipe and create the frosting. Once this is made, take out 2 cups of the buttercream and empty into a smaller bowl. Then mix 1/2 cup of the blackberry coulis into the 2 cups of buttercream.

The end result is 3 separate bowls for the filling and frosting of the cake: blackberry coulis, white chocolate buttercream and blackberry mousse. 

After the cakes have completely cooled, you can start on the assembly process. Invert the cakes onto a flat surface and remove the parchment paper. Evaluate the shape and thickness of each cake and decide in which order to stack.

Start with the cake chosen for the bottom layer and place on a cake board or serving plate. Pour some of the hazelnut liqueur into a small bowl and dip a pastry brush into the liqueur. Brush on the surface of the cake. Let sit for a few minutes to soak in. Then spread the blackberry coulis over the top of the layer, taking care to leave a small border on the edge. Top with the next layer of cake and brush with hazelnut liqueur, giving a few minutes to soak in. Spread some of the white buttercream evenly on top and again leaving a small border edge. Place the next layer over this and do the same process with the hazelnut liqueur. Then evenly cover the top with the blackberry mousse, leaving a border. Then add the last cake layer and frost with the white buttercream.

Once the cake is frosted, you can mask the sides with chopped hazelnuts or sprinkle on top.

Tips and Notes:
1. Skinning hazelnuts is a tedious process. You are welcome to substitute with hazelnut flour, however, the cake will have dark specks in it. I have yet to find solid white hazelnut flour, it usually includes the dark skin of the nut.

2. I used fresh blackberries for the coulis, but that did require a lot more work. I am sure the recommended frozen fruit dissolves into the sugar much easier than whole berries.

3. For the best buttercream frosting, be sure to use clear vanilla extract (if you want it very white) and white bar chocolate-not white chocolate chips.

4. When reviewing the frosting recipe, remember that this is a four layer cake and make any adjustments as needed to be sure there is enough to cover the cake with the thickness you desire.
                                    **LAST YEAR: Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes**