Sunday, December 23, 2018

Peanut Butter Cut Out Cookies

Cut out cookies show up for special occasions because they can be decorated to fit the theme. Gingerbread and sugar cookies are tasty and are a good canvas for decorating. They are classics, but in the cut out category there is an array of flavors that are overlooked.

This particular recipe is for a peanut butter cut out cookies. They make for a good stand alone for dunking in milk. Also, they are versatile enough to be "spruced up" for the holidays by sandwiching  together or decorated on top. These cookies are deceiving because they appear to be just a sugar cookie. It is quite a delicious surprise when you bite into them. The tasty flavor of peanut butter in an unusual format of a cut out cookie. This recipe makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

Peanut Butter Cut Outs
adapted from ACH Food Companies

2/3 cup of light corn syrup
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
4 cups of flour (divided use)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Fill a stand mixer bowl with the butter and peanut butter. Beat mixture until blended and smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then cream the brown sugar into the mix. Add the eggs and the corn syrup and blend together until mixture is smooth. Set aside.

Place a sieve over a medium size bowl and sift together only 2 cups of flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Fold dry mixture into peanut butter/sugar blend. Once fully combined (with no dry streaks) add the remaining 2 cups of flour and mix until a cohesive dough is formed.

Separate dough into 2 equal mounds. Place each on a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Cover completely with wrap and refrigerate both disks of dough for a minimum of 4 hours and a  maximum of overnight.

Once the cookies are ready to be formed, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a flat surface by placing a piece of parchment down (the size of your baking sheet) and dusting with flour.

Take out one of the dough disks and place on floured surface. Roll the disk out into a 1/8 inch thickness into a rectangle that will fit on the baking sheet. Once rolled out, place the parchment with the dough on the baking sheet. Cut dough into desired shapes and remove the dough from around the cut outs.

I use this method on some cut out cookies because it eliminates the risk damaging them if you cut out on a flat surface and transfer to a baking sheet. Also, you can quickly chill the dough in the fridge on the baking sheet if it gets too warm when you are forming the cookies.

Place cookies in oven and bake until light brown, this should take about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a baking rack to cool completely. Repeat forming the cookies (taking time to re-chill the dough when needed) and baking as stated.

Once cool you can decorate as desired. I piped melted chocolate over the top. Other suggestions are to ice with chocolate and sprinkle with peanuts or sandwich together with chocolate buttercream. 
                                   **TWO YEARS AGO: Chocolate Custard Tart**           

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Pistachio Snowballs

The theme this month is cookies. However, I ran across this wonderful holiday recipe for candy that I could not wait to share. If you are one that has to "stash" away cookies or candies so the kids do not devour them all, you will be glad to know that these are for adults only.

The add ins of these snowy gems are pistachios and white chocolate. I have never experienced these two flavors together except in ice cream. While the combination may be obscure, the taste will have you wondering why. The tie together element is the white chocolate liqueur. I consider that ingredient as a way of gilding the lily, but I would not recommend making these candies without it.

In addition, this recipe is quick and easy, leaving you with more time to prepare for the holidays. It makes about 4 dozen.

Pistachio Snowballs
adapted from Sophisticated Cookies

1 1/2 cups unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup white chocolate liqueur
2 cups vanilla wafer cookies
1 cup white chocolate chips

Pour the white chocolate chips and the vanilla wafer cookies into a food processor. Process the mixture until it becomes crumbs. Add the liquids (liqueur and corn syrup) and pulse. Once all the ingredients are blended into a dough, measure out one cup of the powdered sugar. Pour into the dough and run the food processor until the powder is absorbed into the dough.

Add all the pistachios and use the food processor to grind the nuts into smaller bits and blend them into the dough. Using a medium size bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar with the granulated sugar.

Form the dough into 1 inch balls. Then roll in the sugar blend. Store for a few days so the flavor can meld.

Tips and Notes:
1. The recipe states you can sub the pistachios with unsalted skinned almonds and 2 tbs grated orange zest for a flavor alteration.

2. If you are unable to find unsalted pistachios, just boil the salted ones for about 10 minutes and then rinse. You can dry the nuts out in the oven-just as you would toast nuts.

3. While these may look like cookies, they have a very sweet candy consistency.

4. These are also great for gift giving in the mail because they hold their shape.
                               **LAST YEAR:Savory Kalacs**

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Chocolate Chip Almond Cookies

While vanilla extract is a primary flavoring, I feel that almond is a very close second. As I review recipes, almond keeps coming up in baked goods. Not just the nut or the flavoring, but almond liqueur is prominent as well. Almond based items are hard to avoid at the grocers-nuts, flavoring,oil, almond liqueur, milk and flour. Time to stock up on this staple ingredient.

These almond cookies are actually a copy cat recipe of Mother's brand cookies and are really easy to make. The brand is still around but this flavor of cookie has been discontinued. Almond shortbread studded with mini chocolate chips- the flavor combination is one of my favorites. Easy and perfect for the cookie jar or holiday table, this cookie recipe is a keeper.

Chocolate Chip Almond Cookies
adapted from Recipelink Website 

1 egg
2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cup flour
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper.

Fill a stand mixer with the shortening and sugar. Beat for 3 minutes on medium speed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Using a small bowl, whisk the egg, vanilla and almond extracts together. Stir both mixtures together to blend. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt together into a large bowl. Then fold the sifted ingredients into the sugar/egg blend until no dry streaks remain. Lastly, fold in the mini chocolate chips until even dispersed throughout the batter.

Measure batter out in heaping teaspoons and drop onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake until golden on the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for about 2 minutes. Then transfer to rack to completely cool.
                                      ***LAST YEAR:Chestnut Pie***

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Pecan Praline Cookies

December is the month of cookie swaps and holiday cookie contests, so my holiday cookie posts this month will fall into place. We all have our favorites, but this month I will steer away from the traditional cookies. I hope the recipes will inspire you to start a new tradition by adding one or more types of these special cookies to the holiday dessert table.

The first are a creation with a favorite candy from the French Quarter in New Orleans-pecan pralines. The praline mixture is created first and then added to the dough just prior to baking. However, unlike regular pralines, there is very little sugar base. There is only enough sugar to hold the pecan pieces together. The end result is an extra nutty cookie, which is a plus. This recipe makes about thirty 2 3/4 inch cookies.

Pecan Praline Cookies
adapted from International Cookie Cookbook

1 cup pecans (chopped)
1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter (room temp)
1 egg
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
2 tbs granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour

The praline is the first step to these cookies. Start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees and greasing a heatproof platter (I used a pizza pan). Place the chopped pecans in a pan, spreading evenly. Toast in oven for about 8 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes. Remove pan and set aside.

Fill a saucepan with 2 tbs of water and the sugar. Stir and set over medium high heat. Let come to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Place a cover over the saucepan and let it continue to boil for another few minutes. Uncover and continue to cook for 2 more minutes. The mixture will start to develop a golden color. Watch closely for the ideal amber color (you do not want burnt sugar) and remember that it still continues to cook a little even after removed from the stove. Once syrup is ready, pour in pecans and quickly toss to coat. Transfer to buttered pan and flatten with a heavy saucepan.

After 10 minutes, praline should be cooled. Crack praline and place in a plastic bag. Using a mallet or heavy saucepan, break up the mixture into tiny pieces. Separate out 1/3 of a cup. Set both aside.

Change the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Prepare 2 sheet pans by lining with parchment paper. Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the butter. Beat until silky, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then add both sugars and blend until a fluffy texture is reached. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and beat in egg and vanilla extract.

Then place a sieve over a large bowl. Fill with flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Sift through the sieve.

Add half of the sifted ingredients to the sugar/butter blend. Fold the ingredients together until no dry streaks remain. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix together until completely blended. Pour the larger portion of the pecan praline into the batter. Stir until all praline is evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Form cookies by rolling dough pieces into a 1 inch ball. Take each ball and dip the top into the remaining 1/3 cup of pecan praline. Place each ball about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 5 minutes. Rotate pans and bake for another 5-6 minutes or until barely golden on the edges. Be careful not to over bake. Over baking will change the texture from slightly chewy to hard and crunchy. Once the cookies are done, place pan on cooling rack. Let cookies cool on pan for about 2 minutes and then transfer to rack to finish cooling.
                                        **LAST YEAR:Samoa Bundt Cake**

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Maple Date Loaf

This is the last post of the holiday quick the first of a new baking theme will go out for the month of December. This post I feel is sort of vintage. The reason for that is because this recipe has dates in it. For some reason dates, figs and prunes make me think of something a grandmother would eat.

Vintage as it may be, after tasting this I would say grandmother was on to something when it came to using dates in baking. Just the smell of this sweet loaf wafting from the kitchen had me waiting to taste a slice. Maple syrup and dates make for a perfect pair in this loaf cake. In addition, the crunchy oat streusel on top adds just enough sweetness. One slice is right at home alongside a cup of hot tea or coffee. The recipe is for one  9 x 2 3/4" loaf pan or mini foil pans (5 3/4 X 3 1/4).

Maple Date Loaf
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Ingredients/Oatmeal Streusel
2 tbs flour
2 tbs butter
2 tbs light brown sugar
2 tbs maple syrup
1/4 cup regular oats

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1 tbs butter
1 cup chopped/pitted/dried dates
1/2 to 1 tsp orange zest
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

For the streusel, start by whisking the oats, brown sugar and flour together.  Add butter and use a pastry cutter to blend. Lastly, stir in the maple syrup. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the interior of the pan(s).

Fill a medium size bowl with the orange juice, zest and water. Place over medium high heat. Let cook until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add butter and dates. Stir until butter is melted and set aside for 5 minutes to plump the dried dates.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg with the maple syrup. Blend mixture into the orange/date liquid.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center.  Pour the date blend into the well. Fold dry mixture into the water blend. Once no dry streaks remain, add batter to pans (dividing evenly if using multiple pans).

Sprinkle the top of the loaf with the streusel. Place in oven and bake until teamster comes out clean. Bake time should be about 25 to 30 minutes. Leave in pan(s) for gifting or invert twice after cooling for 20 minutes.
                         **2 YEARS AGO: White Russian Krispy Bars

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Nutmeg Cake

We all have our favorite spices that are used often in baking, however, there are some that rarely come to mind. One of these is nutmeg. While nutmeg is used in holiday baked goods, it usually is only one element of a combination of spices called for in a recipe. This particular recipe focuses on nutmeg being the primary flavor.

Do not let the plain appearance fool you. Moist, light and packed with the special taste of nutmeg, one slice will make you a true fan. A delicious choice if you have not yet experienced nutmeg as singular spice. Also, if you make this, do not omit the rum syrup - it is an important flavor component to the cake.

Nutmeg Cake
Adapted from Warm Bread and Honey Cake

Ingredients/Syrup Topping
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs water
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbs rum

1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
9 tbs butter
1/2 c plus 1 tbs light brown sugar/packed
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cup flour

Start by making the sugar syrup. Place sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan. Whisk together then heat at medium temperature on stove. As it cooks, let it come to a boil then reduce heat. The sugar will dissolve and the the mixture will come to a simmer. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until it reaches room temperature.

As the syrup is cooling, prepare a standard size loaf pan by buttering the interior. Then line the bottom and two sides with parchment and butter the surface. Dust the inside with flour and tap out excess. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, sift together baking powder, salt, flour and nutmeg. Set aside. Fill a bowl of a stand mixer with butter and beat at medium speed until smooth and silky. Then add sugar and cream ingredients together, beating at medium speed. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl at intervals during the process.

Using a small bowl and a whisk, blend the eggs with the vanilla extract. Add half of this mixture to the sugar/butter blend. Beat at 30 seconds and then add the remainder. Blend together, beating another 30 seconds.

Fold 1/3 of the sifted ingredients into the batter. Then mix in 2 tbs of the milk. Blend in half of the remaining flour mixture. Add the last of the milk, mix and then the remaining flour blend. Once all is thoroughly mixed and batter is smooth, fill the prepared pan.

Bake until tester comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Place pan on cooling rack.

The sugar syrup should now be at room temperature. Add the rum and stir until completely distributed in the syrup. Take a skewer and poke holes in the top of the cake, all the way to the bottom of the pan. Then pour the rum syrup over the top. Let the syrup soak in and the cake cool for about 5 minutes in the pan and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

For the best flavor-wait 24 hours before serving.

                              **LAST YEAR: Favorite Cookie Round Up**

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Cranberry Pound Cake

With the season, a lot of bloggers are doing themes for the last few months of the year. For the rest of November, I have decided to focus on holiday quick breads such as muffins, scones and sweet loaf breads. The recipes are fairly easy and great for gifting this season.

As a first one, I decided on this cranberry orange pound cake. It is bursting with cranberries and has the tender crumb of a pound cake. My favorite thing is the pop of tartness that comes with the cranberries combined with the sweetness of the icing. This loaf cake is one of the traditional cranberry items that always seems to show up around the holidays, but entirely too good to be reserved for just that occasion.

Cranberry Pound Cake
adapted from Chef in Training

3 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs orange zest
2 1/2 cup whole cranberries

1 tbs milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tbs orange juice
1 tbs orange zest
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the interior of 2 standard size loaf pans. Dust interior of pans with flour and tap out excess.

Using a large bowl and a sieve, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Then fill a bowl of a standard mixer with orange zest, sugar and butter. Beat on medium speed with mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Place one egg and vanilla extract in a small bowl and whisk until blended. Pour into butter/sugar blend and beat until distributed into batter. Add each additional egg, one by one- mixing into batter after each one. Set aside.

Add 1/3 of sifted ingredients to batter and fold until just blended. Add 1/2 the buttermilk measurement and mix until combined. Repeat the process, ending with the last addition of the sifted ingredients. Fold in the cranberries.

Divide the batter in half and add each half to one one of the prepared pans. Smooth the surface of the batter and bake until tester comes out clean. This should be about 55-60 minutes. Place pans on rack and cool about 20 minutes then invert twice onto rack so loaf is facing up.

As the cake cools, prepare the glaze. Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Using another small bowl, whisk together orange juice, milk, vanilla and orange zest. Add orange blend to powdered sugar and whisk together. Pour over cooled cake.

Tips and Notes:
1. I used paper loaf pans so the icing was thick on top. Original recipe refers to it being a glaze.

2. Using whole cranberries were not a problem.

                                   **LAST YEAR: Eggnog spice cookies**

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Apple Spice Ice Cream

The hardest thing about being a blogger is trying to keep those kitchen gadgets to a minimum. These gadgets sometimes are not required in order to make certain things. They are convenient and seem to work better than the way things were done in the past. However, if you have the time and do not want to have all the gadgets, sometimes the old way of doing things can have the same delicious results.

This brings me to this post for "no churn" ice cream. It just has to be mixed and sit in the freezer for 6-8 hours. The only effort is getting the apples ready, since they have to be peeled, cored and sliced.In the end you will have an exceptional treat in an ice cold format. Never had apple ice cream? This is a great way to celebrate the winter holiday season. Take advantage of the variety of apples that the grocers has to offer and do not forget about the wonderful seasonal spices (ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, anise and clove).

I have yet to find any other ice cream that equates to the winter holidays as much as this flavorful concoction. This recipe makes 1 quart of ice cream

Apple Spice Ice Cream
adapted from No Churn Ice Cream

1 crushed cinnamon stick
1-2 crushed Cardamon pods
1 whole clove
1 piece star anise
1 tsp grated/peeled fresh ginger
4 cups peeled/cored sliced apples
1 inch wide slice of lemon rind
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups heavy cream
1-13 to 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup milk
Pinch of salt

Start by preparing the crushed, peeled, cored and grated items in separate bowls. The thinner the apple slices, the better. They will cook faster. Measure out the rest of the items in other bowls. Now that everything is in place, put the lemon rind, vinegar, spices (including pinch of salt) and apple slices in large saucepan and toss together. Then place over high heat. Stir the mixture as it cooks. After 5 minutes, taste test an apple slice for tenderness. If still raw, repeat process until apples are cooked through.

Place mixture in a blender or food processor and purée. Then push through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Let cool for 15 minutes and stir in both types of milk and salt. Set aside.

Using another bowl, fill with heavy cream. Beat with a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Once the soft peak stage has been reached, fold into to the apple mixture. Once evenly distributed, pour batter into a shallow container (one that has a snap on lid is best).

Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the surface of the ice cream. Freeze for 6-8 hours prior to serving.

Tips and notes:

1. In order to swirl caramel, freeze a one inch layer of ice cream then pour caramel over. Repeat the layers. Caramel will mix into ice cream if not frozen.

2. If keeping for weeks, add inverted prior to adding the heavy cream. This will decrease the chance of ice from forming and keep the consistency smooth.

3. This recipe included a suggestion for caramel apple ice cream. In this recipe the spices and lemon rind are omitted. The apples are to be cooked over high heat with 2 tbs of butter with 1/4 cup brown sugar. Reduce the heat and add cider vinegar with 1/4 cup water. Once apples are soft and the liquid has evaporated, follow the recipe as stated from the second paragraph forward. Just reduce the milk to 1/4 and add 1/4 sour cream.
                                      **LAST YEAR: Baklava Cake**

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Macadamia Cherry Cookies

As a blogger, sometimes we come across recipes that do not turn out as expected. However, the disappointment is an excellent motivator to create something better. The recipe here reflects just that type of inspiration.

The original cookies that had my own tweaks of flavor. Despite the changes in flavor, it did not help on the texture of the cookie. The first bake resulted in very greasy and flat cookies. To remedy this problem, I added more flour and chilled the dough. These alterations changed the cookie into something more appealing in flavor and visual enticement.

They are a spin off of the standard macadamia white chocolate cookies. The dough was enhanced by extra flavor layers of chopped dried cherries and butternut extract. These differences made the cookies a little bit more tempting than the usual macadamia cookies. In addition, the red and white combination of ingredients makes them a perfect addition to the Christmas cookie list. This recipe makes 4-5 dozen, depending on the scoop size.

Macadamia Cherry Cookies
by flourtrader 

3 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar 
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter (room temp)
3 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp butternut extract
3/4 cup chopped salted macadamia nuts
1 1/4 cup chopped sweetened dried cherries
12 oz chopped white chocolate bar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the interior of 2 cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the butter. Beat at medium speed until smooth and silky, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then add both types of sugars and beat again until mixture is light and fluffy. Add one egg and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl. Repeat those 2 steps with each egg until incorporated. Pour in the extract and beat again until evenly distributed.

Take out a large bowl and cover with a sieve and sift the flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl. Remove the bowl of batter from the stand mixer and fold in the sifted ingredients, using a spatula or wooden spoon. Continue to fold until no more dry streaks remain in the dough.

Add the chopped cherries, white chocolate chunks and chopped macadamias to the mixture. Blend all the ingredients together, distributing the add-ins evenly. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 40 minutes.

After chilling, use a scoop or a generous tablespoon to transfer mounds of dough to the prepared cookie sheet. Space the mounds about 1 inch apart. Bake in the oven until the cookies are a pale matte color with a golden edge, about 10-12 minutes. Let cookies rest on pan a few minutes then transfer to a rack to completely cool.

Tips and Notes:
1. I always use parchment paper to keep my pans in good condition. The parchment had a tendency to slide around when I was trying to get the cookies off, so a greased pan is easier to manage when it comes to removing the cookies. The cookies are a little soft on top when removed from the baking pans, so be careful with that step.
                                    **LAST YEAR: Oatmeal Pumpkin Cookies** 


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Autumn Butternut Brioche Rolls

I cannot stress enough the importance of equipment when creating in the kitchen. We all are aware of the numerous conversion charts on the internet. However, I caution use of these because they are not all identical. Part of this is due to the variables associated with what you are measuring. For instance, if you are converting egg yolks from grams to units, there is a problem because eggs come in different sizes (medium, large, XL and jumbo). All in all, a digital conversion scale is worth investing in and they are not that expensive. With that said, this particular recipe is in grams.

If you are like me, brioche rolls (fluffy, buttery and sweet) are hard to resist. Now- pair those qualities with the extra flavor ingredients of butternut squash, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. The end result is nothing short of delicious. The idea of flavored brioche is simply genius and the possibilities are endless.

Before you stroll into the kitchen to make these, be aware that the dough rises overnight in the refrigerator. Most of the time devoted to making this recipe takes place the day prior to baking. The day of bake just requires some time to form the rolls and about 1 hr and 45 min rise time. This recipe makes 2 loaves of rolls using a 9 inch cake pan, creating approximately 17-18 rolls per pan.

Autumn Butternut Brioche Rolls
adapted from Wild Yeast Blog 

Ingredients/Bread dough
226 g butter (softened and cubed)
water (if needed)
100 g whole eggs
60 g egg yolks
480 g butternut squash pulp (cooked, mashed and cooled)
34 g milk
126 g brown sugar
840 g flour
10 g yeast (rapid rise)
10-14 g salt (preference amount)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger

1 cup chopped roasted pecans (optional)
1 egg

The day prior to baking, fill the bowl of a stand mixer the eggs and egg yolks. Beat on medium speed with a beater blade until blended. Change out the blade for a dough hook and add flour, squash puree, spices, milk, yeast and salt. Set the mixer on low and run for 5 minutes, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The ingredients will come together, forming a very heavy dough. If it is still too dry after mixing for 4 minutes, add 1 tsp of water and blend until no more dry streaks remain.

Next, change the mixer speed to medium and add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Beat for a few minutes and then repeat until all of the brown sugar has been incorporated into the dough. Run the mixer another 4 minutes and then pull out a tablespoon of dough. Stretch it to see if it forms a thin translucent "windowpane". If not, try beating another few minutes and test again. The "windowpane" is an indicator that the gluten in your dough has fully developed.

Once it reaches the correct consistency, add the butter cubes to the dough, running the mixer at low speed. Continue to beat until all the butter has been blended into the dough, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl interior. The dough should be smooth and elastic at this point.

Form the dough into a large ball. Butter the interior of a bowl that is 1 1/2 times larger than the dough mass. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place (approx 76 degrees) for one hour. Then place bowl (still covered) in the refrigerator for an overnight rise (8-12 hours).

The next day, prepare two-9 inch round cake pans by greasing the interior and lining the bottom with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and punch down. Then, using floured hands, separate dough into 36 equal pieces. Take each piece and roll tightly into a circle. Place about 18 dough balls in each prepared pan, making sure they are placed evenly, touching each other but not losing their circular shape. If you cannot fit them all into the pans, place the extras on a baking sheet. The ones on the baking sheet can be spaced however you desire (round circle, spaced apart, one line, etc).

After placing in/on baking pans, whisk the egg in a small bowl, combining the yolk and white. Brush the surface of the rolls with the whisked egg. Cover each set of rolls lightly with a cloth or paper towel and let rise for one hour and 45 minutes. Also, cover the bowl of egg wash and place in refrigerator for later use.

During the last 15 minutes of rise time, preheat the oven to 380 degrees. Remove the egg wash so it comes to room temperature again.

One the rise time is completed, the surface of the rolls are to get another coating of the egg wash. After that, if you prefer, you can sprinkle the pecans evenly on top of the dough rolls.. Place filled pans in the preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes. At the 25 minute mark, check the rolls for surface color. If the color of the rolls have darkened enough, cover them lightly with foil and place back in oven. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until light and fluffy. If you have some rolls spaced out on baking sheet or put in individual brioche pans, cut the baking time in half.

Remove pans from the oven and place on rack for 5 minutes and then invert rolls out of pan onto rack and invert again. Let cool completely if storing for later. If serving immediately, let rolls cool until slightly warm to the touch.
                                           **LAST YEAR: Maple Pumpkin Cheesecake**

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Carrot Cupcakes

After creating these cupcakes, I realized the importance of finishing touches on a baked good. These special touches can be just to enhance appearance of items, like using sprinkles. However, in addition to the visual enhancement, a finishing touch should also add more flavor to the dessert.

These cupcakes have walnuts on top of the icing. You may think it is no big deal, but let me clue you in further. The walnuts are chopped and roasted in the oven. Then, while still warm, they are coated in melted butter with a light sprinkling of salt. This creates a wonderful contrast to the fluffy, sweet cream cheese icing. I would not even think of omitting the nuts on top.

Now that I have your taste buds awake concerning the icing and nut topping, let's get into the cake component. The cake contains oil instead of butter, which guarantees they will be moist in texture. Also, the myriad of spices in the batter with the grated carrots equates to the delicious standard that we all crave when it comes to carrot cake. This recipe makes about 2 dozen cupcakes and about 4 cups or more of icing (feel free to cut back on this).

Carrot Cupcakes
adapted from Robicelli's

1 1/4 cups canola or grapeseed oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups packed shredded/grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped, roasted walnuts
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Ingredients/Cream Cheese Buttercream
1 batch French buttercream (recipe below) or 1 batch American buttercream but without marscapone cheese ingredient (see this link)
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz package cream cheese (cut into cubes)
1/4 tsp guar gum (optional)

Ingredients/French Buttercream
5 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 lb to 1 1/2 lbs of butter
1 cup water
2 tbs corn syrup
1/8 tsp xanthan gum

Ingredients/Roasted Walnuts
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tbs butter

Start by setting up a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Grease the top edge of each cavity of a cupcake pan. There should be 2 pans prepared with 12 cavities each. Line the cavities with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place a sieve over a large bowl. Fill with flour, nutmeg, salt, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and baking powder. Sift the ingredients together and set aside.

Fill the bowl of the stand mixer with both sugars and the grated/shredded carrots. Mix on medium low for about 30 seconds and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then mix for an additional 30 seconds. Continue to run the mixer on the same speed and pour in the vanilla extract and oil. Once combined, remove the bowl from the stand and use a spatula and scrape down the sides and mix, making sure all is blended.

Add the sifted ingredients to the sugar/carrot batter and mix, using a wooden spoon until everything is fully incorporated. Add the eggs and mix again until blended. Lastly, fold in the walnuts and raisins (if using).

Using a scoop, fill each of the paper lined cavities with the batter. They should only be 3/4 of the way full. Place each pan in the oven (on the same or different racks-making sure they are spaced so each pan is to the left or right so they get enough heat). Bake for 10 minutes and then rotate the pans from front to back and left to right. Let bake an additional 10 minutes and check with a tester. When done, the tester will be clean and cupcakes should spring back when lightly touched.

Remove from oven and let rest in pans about 2-3 minutes. Keep the oven on. Then transfer to a rack to completely cool.

To roast the walnuts, line a pan with foil and add the 1 cup of chopped nuts. Spread out evenly onto the pan and place in oven. Roast for about 7-10 minutes. Walnuts will release an aroma once done. Once roasted, make a foil pouch with the foil that you lined the pan with, enclosing all of the nuts. Open up a small hole on top and add the salt. Close up and shake. Open the top again and pour in the melted butter. Close and shake again then set aside.

If you are making the French buttercream, place a saucepan on the stove. Fill with the water, corn syrup, sugar and cream of tartar- you do not need to mix together. Turn the heat up to high and let cook. Once it becomes a liquid, place a candy thermometer in the pan. The mixture will cook up to a boil, but do not stir. It will be ready to use once it reaches a temperature of 235 degrees.

As the liquid cooks, fill the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with a whisk attachment) with the egg and egg yolks. Turn the mixer to high. This process will change the eggs to a light yellow batter that falls of the whisk in silky ribbons.

While the sugar is cooking and the eggs are being beaten, slice the butter into thin slivers. Take a few moments to still monitor the sugar mixture for correct temperature. Once the sugar reaches the desired temperature, remove the saucepan from the stove. Turn the mixer to medium speed and sprinkle the xanthan gum into the silky egg mixture. Continue to run the mixer and lift the hot saucepan and place the lip or top edge against the edge of the bowl of the stand mixer. Slowly stream in the hot sugar mixture. Keep a steady stream going until the saucepan is completely empty.

Switch the speed of the mixer to high and beat until the outside of mixing bowl is cool to the touch. Once correct temperature is achieved, turn the mixer off and take off whisk and fit with beater blade. Switch on the mixer again and set at high speed. Steadily add butter slices to the batter as the mixer is running. After all the butter is blended, reduce speed to medium high and beat for an additional 20 seconds.

Now you will use this batch (or the American Buttercream) to create the cream cheese frosting. Add the vanilla extract and the cubes of cream cheese to the buttercream. Beat until cream cheese is fully incorporated into batter. Pipe frosting onto batter and sprinkle with walnut pieces.

Tips and notes:
1. Buttercream requires refrigeration and cupcakes are best not refrigerated, so I frosted the cupcakes right before serving.

2. If you have chosen the French buttercream, be aware that it is the most unstable of the 2 types of frosting. This is why the recipe contains stabilizers such as guar gum and xanthan gum.

3. The amount of butter in the French buttercream frosting is a personal preference. I only used 1 lb and it still came out delicious with the correct consistency.

4. When making the French buttercream, there is a risk of the buttercream breaking when mixing with the cream cheese. In order to prevent this, make sure your cream cheese is ice cold and solid-not liquidy. Guar gum is the remedy if it breaks, but it is used in such a small quantity, some of us do not keep it on hand.

5. The xanthan gum is also a binding agent, it is more important than the guar gum. It helps bind eggs with water- which is essential to a good buttercream.

6. If the butter is all sliced before the egg mixture has cooled, refrigerate until ready to use.

7. If you want to buy shredded carrots instead of doing the shredding, be aware that the shredded carrots at the grocer have lost a lot of moisture. You can remedy this by soaking them overnight in a bowl of water. Drain before using.
                                   **LAST YEAR:Almond Frangipane Cookies** 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cocoa Snails

The best independent coffeehouses can be found in Europe. Some of the more elite date back to the 1800's and the atmosphere is nothing short of amazing. Going out for a simple cup of coffee turns into an experience that reflects history and elegance. As you walk inside, you will behold red velvet, gold leaf and milk white marble. You can stay on that floor or go one floor up.

Your stay will not just include coffee. To heighten the whole experience, there are delicious pastries that reflect the unique skills of the famous pastry chefs of Paris or Hungary.

I have yet to get to Europe, but visiting some of these coffeehouses are on my bucket list. As you can tell, I have read up on the subject. With that in mind, I bring you this recipe that is a recognized favorite in Budapest, kakaos csiga (cocoa snails).

Do not let the picture fool you, these are nothing like cinnamon rolls. The pastries are a cross between yeast dough and puff pastry. The rolls have a crisp outer edge and a soft interior, unlike yeast rolls. These snails have a deep chocolate flavor and do not contain a lot of sugar-typical of most European recipes. Each round is small, ranging from 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, making them look more like a cookie than a pastry. The dough is formed by using the laminated dough process of folding and rolling to create layers, making approximately 2 1/2 dozen snails.

Cocoa Snails
adapted from

2 tbs sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup or 2 sticks butter (or more depending on roll out)
4 cups plus 2 tbs flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast

4 heaping tbs dutch processed cocoa
7 heaping tbs of sugar
1/4 cup butter

To make the dough, you should start with the butter. The butter, if in the form of sticks, should be sliced vertically and placed in a bowl. Add the 2 tbs of flour and use a pastry cutter to blend the butter with the flour until no more dry streaks remain. Place the lump of butter in between 2 pieces of parchment paper and roll out to a rectangle, approximately 16 x 10 inches. This rectangle is to cover 2/3 of the rolled dough surface. While you prepare the dough, place the butter pad in the refrigerator.

While the butter is chilling, prepare the dough. Heat the milk in the microwave on 15 second intervals, mixing and checking the temperature after each session. Once it registers between 105 to 115 degrees, sprinkle in a pinch of sugar and the yeast. Stir to blend and then set aside for the yeast to react. Once the surface of the mixture becomes foamy, it is ready to incorporate into the flour.

Fill a large bowl with the 4 cups of flour, egg, 2 tbs of sugar, salt and activated yeast. Combine by using a wooden spoon. Once a mass has formed, place on a flat surface dusted with flour. Knead until smooth and elastic. If the dough seems too dry, knead in more milk (one teaspoon at a time) until the proper dough consistency is achieved.

Form the dough into a rectangle, rolling out to approximately 21-24 inches in length by 16-18 inches in width. The longest part of the dough should face towards you, parallel with the length of the counter top. Remove the butter pad from the refrigerator and peel off one layer of the parchment paper. This butter pad is to cover 2/3 of the surface of the dough. Flip the butter rectangle on top of the right side of the dough, with the remaining parchment paper facing up and butter down. Slowly peel the parchment paper off of the butter pad. This should result in 1/3 of the left side of the dough without a buttery surface and the remaining should be covered in butter.

If you have thin places and some does not peel off, take another stick of butter and cut thin vertical slices. Use these slices to spread on dough so the 2/3 section on the right is completely covered. Then fold the left section of dough (the section with no butter) towards the center, covering 1/3 of the buttered section. Then fold the last 1/3 of the buttered section (on the right) over the top of the other, forming a 3 layer stack of dough. It should measure 7-8 inches wide (this side parallel with the counter top) and 16-18 inches in height.

Turn the dough mass 90 degrees. Roll out again to the original size (21-24 by 16-18 inches), placing it lengthwise, parallel with the counter top. Now each side is to be folded in to meet each other. This is called the book method. Then the dough is folded over again at the seam where the two sides meet. Cover in plastic wrap and place on baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

After the 30 minutes of chill time, follow the instructions on the rolling and folding for the 1/3 sections and then refrigerate again for 30 minutes. Then take out and roll and fold, using the second, or book, method. Wrap and chill again. Repeat this rolling and folding process a second time for each method. Once the last fold is made, do not refrigerate. Instead let the dough rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

During the rest period, preheat the oven to 390 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

For the filling, melt the butter in the microwave and take out a pastry brush. Fill a small bowl with the cocoa and sugar and whisk together. Set aside.

After the dough has rested, roll out to a rectangle (same size as originally stated). Dough should be about 1/4 of an inch thick and the length should be parallel to the counter edge. Brush the surface with the melted butter and then evenly sprinkle the cocoa/sugar blend on top. Roll up the dough tightly, forming a round log with swirls of filling, starting with the longest length. Slice the log into 1/2 inch rounds.

Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, about an inch apart. Bake in the oven until slightly golden, about 13-15 minutes. Remove and let rest on baking sheet for 3 minutes then transfer to rack to completely cool.

Tips and Notes:
1. Whenever you are making laminated dough, the temperature is crucial. The dough and the butter should have the same pliability. Too much heat in the kitchen will cause the butter to start to melt and if too cold, the butter will crack. During the process you may need to refrigerate or leave at room temperature if you experience any of these issues.

2. If you have butter seeping out through the dough when rolled, use a little flour to patch the area.

3. After the last fold of the dough, dust off the excess flour before rolling into a log.

4. Should you want an even fold of dough, cut the edges to form a straight, sharp edge.

5. Insuring that the butter pad is an even rectangle is the most difficult part. If it is not, some of your rolls will be drier than others and not puff as much. They will still taste good, but will not be a perfect example.
                                  **LAST YEAR:Apricot Sweet Rolls** 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

To start the fall season, I have kicked it off with these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. My first dilemma was that I knew the use of pumpkin would produce a cake-like cookie and that was not exactly the texture I was looking for. The cookies needed to have a little bit more substance than that.

This particular recipe amps up the structure of the cookies by using oats and chocolate chips. Even though the main texture is cake like, the oats support a little bit of chewiness. Also, since the chocolate chips remained unchanged in structure, they support a slight crunch.

Regarding the flavor, it reflects the typical essence of pumpkin and pumpkin spice with a touch of chocolate. These gems are a delicious reminder of all the wonderful flavors that fall represents. I am looking forward to this season.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from 

2 eggs (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz honey whiskey
15 oz pumpkin puree
1 cup butter (room temp)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour
2 cups oats
1 tsp salt (optional)
2 cups milk chocolate chips

Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining the interior with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place flour, pie spice, baking soda and salt (if using) in a sieve placed over a large bowl. Sift the dry ingredients together into the bowl. Then add the oats and stir until evenly distributed. Set aside.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the butter. Beat on medium high speed, stopping at intervals until butter becomes slick like frosting. Then switch the speed to medium and add the brown sugar. Beat until fully blended into the butter. Add the regular sugar and beat again, the end result will be a light fluffy mixture.

Incorporate each egg, one at a time, into the batter by mixing on medium speed. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla extract, honey whiskey and pumpkin puree. Once fully mixed, fold in 1/3 of the dry oat/flour blend. Then add half of the remaining blend, mix again and add the last of it, mixing until no dry streaks remain. Fold in the chocolate chips, making sure they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Using a small scoop or tablespoon, drop mounds of cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden brown on edges. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
Cookies should rest on baking sheet for 2 minutes and then transferred to a cooling rack.

Tips and Notes:
1. Feel free to experiment with the 2 oz liquour addition. Liquour that has fall flavors such as cinnamon, gingerbread and nutmeg would be good paired with the pumpkin.

2. The cookies do not spread much on the pan, so you can bake a lot on each pan.

3. This recipe makes about 8 dozen small cookies, so divide the ingredient quantities if you want to make less.

4. Consider adding 1 cup of chopped toasted pecans and reduce the milk chocolate chips to 1 cup.
                                  **LAST YEAR:Hibiscus Butter Cake** 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Limoncello Bundt Cake

There are many cake recipes out there, but there is one type of cake that stands in a class all of its own - the bundt cake. These type of cakes are more dense and much more flavorful than any layer or sheet cake. Based on that, the bundt cake is prepared and served (quite often) without any icing or glaze.

Recently, our house was gifted with a bottle of a special lemon liqueur that hailed from Italy, Limoncello cream. As we know, all things lemon basically equate to summertime. Since the temperature is starting to wane down, I decided that this Limoncello bundt cake would be the perfect way to say goodbye to the season of long hot days. Summer was fun, but now it is time to bid it farewell until after another spring season.

This bundt cake has 1/4 cup of lemon zest, which gives it a nice clean taste. Also, the flavor of the Limoncello exists as a subtle undertone in every bite. The structure and texture reflects that of the classic standard-moist and with a tight, tender crumb. Now on to the will need a 10 cup capacity bundt pan in order to make this cake.

Limoncello Bundt Cake
adapted from Nordicware 

1/4 cup limoncello
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup of buttermilk
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
4 oz melted white chocolate
1/4 cup lemon zest
1 cup butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups flour
1/4 cup bread crumbs (or more for dusting pan)
2 tbs vegetable shortening

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs Limoncello

Start by preparing the bundt pan for baking. Melt the 2 tablespoons of shortening in the microwave. Then, using a silicon brush, brush the interior of the pan. Make sure all the surfaces are well coated. Empty the bread crumbs into the pan and rotate to coat the interior with the crumbs. Once fully coated, set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Also, prepare a cooling rack by placing over a parchment lined baking sheet.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the 2 1/4 cups of sugar and the butter. Cream together on medium speed, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat the mixture until the consistency reaches a fluffy stage-which should take about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and combine. After that, each egg and egg yolk is to be blended into the mixture, one at a time. Once all the eggs are incorporated, blend in the lemon zest and white chocolate. Set aside.

Using a small bowl, whisk together the Limoncello and the buttermilk. Take out another bowl (medium size) and place a sieve over the top. Fill the sieve with the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift the ingredients together, filling the medium size bowl.

Fold 1/3 of the sifted ingredients into the butter/sugar batter. Then, mix in 1/2 of the buttermilk/Limoncello blend. Repeat the process-beginning and ending with the sifted ingredients. Empty the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Place filled pan in the oven and bake until tester comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on the prepared cooling rack. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. Then invert the cake pan onto the rack, releasing the cake. The cake should cool for about 15 minutes before drizzling the glaze on top.

For the icing glaze, fill a saucepan with the water and sugar. Place over medium high heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved into the water. Remove from heat and whisk in the Limoncello. Drizzle the syrup over the warm cake.

Tips and notes:
1. Make sure your refrigerated ingredients have warmed up to room temperature (yes, this does include the buttermilk)

2. The bread crumb coating creates a nice toasty surface to the cake and insures that it falls out of the pan with no sticking issues. Also, if you are making any type of bundt cake with chocolate, dusting with cocoa is another option. Should you not want a toasty surface for the cake, generously spray the pan with a non stick spray that includes flour.

3. This cake is good sliced and served with cream and fresh fruit.

4. I used a white chocolate bar for the chocolate, but you are welcome to use chips. If using the chips, the melted chocolate can cool some prior to adding to the batter. The bar chocolate, due to its tendency to seize up quickly, should be mixed into the batter as soon as it is melted. 
                                          **2 YEARS AGO: Bali Hai Pie** 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Cherry Almond Eclairs

If you have ever experimented with choux pastry, you will find that it is very forgiving and is very European. If your piping (or forming) of these pastry shells is not so pretty, you can scrape the dough off the parchment and put it back in the piping bag to try again. As far as being European, the shell itself is not very sweet, unlike most American desserts. Most of the sweet flavor stems from the whipped cream filling and icing drizzle on top.

These eclairs bake up nice an airy. They are like houses waiting to be furnished, but a lot cheaper and tastier! You can customize them with your favorite flavored filling and icing. Another plus is that they are fairly easy to make.

The filling in these eclairs have the classic flavor pairing of almond liqueur and cherries, swirled together with two types of cream. Eclairs are not too common in the US, however, they should be on your bucket list as a must try if you have not already experienced this special pastries. This recipe makes about 8-12 eclairs, depending on the width when they are piped/formed.

Cherry Almond Eclairs
adapted from 

Ingredients/choux pastry
3 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt

2 tbs of powdered sugar
1/2 cup softened marscapone cheese
1/2 cup almond liqueur
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dried cherries
pinch of salt

2-3 tbs milk or water
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup powdered sugar (sifted)

Start with preparing the guideline sheet for piping the choux dough. Gather together a sheet of parchment paper (big enough to line the bottom interior of a baking sheet), a ruler and a pencil. Using the ruler, draw a straight line parallel and one inch below the long edge of the parchment paper. Drop the ruler down 3 inches from that line and draw another parallel line. Repeat the process below that line, but only drop down 1/2 an inch for one line and then the 3 inches for the next. Then draw again with the same instructions. You should have 3 sections 3 inches wide with a 1/2 inch strip between them. Place this sheet (penciled side down) on the bottom interior of the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Fill a saucepan with the butter, salt and water. Place over medium high heat and let come to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon as the butter melts. At that time, reduce the heat to medium. Empty a cup of flour into the liquid, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend. As you blend the ingredients, the flour will cook. Be sure to mix vigorously so all the lumps disappear, this should take about 2 minutes. The mixture should clump together and leave a very thin sheet of dough sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and fit the mixer with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to low which will knead the dough. As the mixer is running, the dough will be cooling off. After about 3-4 minutes, it should reach the desired temperature-being just warm to the touch.

Maintain the same speed and add one egg. The mixing will cause the dough to separate at first, but after a few minutes the mixture will form into a dough again. At that time, switch the mixer speed to medium low and blend the dough for another 20 seconds. Reduce the speed back to low and repeat the same process with the additional eggs, blending one at a time.

Prepare a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch star tip. Empty the dough into the bag and push it down, reducing the air in the bag. Twist the excess part of the bag, so that the dough is compacted towards the star tip. Pipe tight zig zags in the 3 inch sections marked off on the parchment, starting at the top line and spacing about 1/2 an inch apart. You should be able to fit 3-4 pipings of the zig zagged choux dough in each 3 inch section.

Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Eclairs are done when they are featherweight and golden brown. Remove pan from oven and transfer the choux shells to a cooling rack.

For the filling, start by adding the almond liqueur and dried cherries to a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and let the mixture heat up. The liquid should get hot to the touch and removed prior to simmering or boiling. Once removed from the heat, let the mixture rest in the saucepan for about an hour or until cool. After this time, place a bowl underneath a sieve and pour the cherry/almond mixture into the seive and strain out all of the liquid. Reserve the almond liquid in a small bowl. Finely chop the cherries, bearing in mind that the pieces have to flow though a 1/2 inch plain piping tip.

Place the bowl of a stand mixer and wire whisk attachment in the refrigerator to chill. Then mix the chopped cherries and the marscapone cheese together in a small bowl until the cherries are evenly distributed. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the reserved almond liquid, blending well. Set aside.

Take the chilled bowl and whisk out of the refrigerator. Attach to the stand mixer and fill with the heavy cream. Run the mixer on medium high speed for 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract, powdered sugar and salt. Beat on medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Separate out 1/2 cup of the cream and blend it into the marscapone/cherry mixture. Add that mixture back into the large bowl of whipped cream and beat again on low speed about 10 seconds. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

As the filling is keeping cold, make the icing. Combine the powdered sugar and water or milk to form a smooth glaze. Set aside.

To assemble the eclairs, fill a pastry bag (fitted with a 1/2 inch round pastry tip) with the chilled cream filling. Twist the end of the bag to get all of the air out. Poke a hole in one end of an eclair shell and squeeze the filling into the hole until cream comes out of the hole (indicating that the shell is filled). Continue this process until all shells are filled. Place the shell back on the parchment paper. Brush the surface of each eclair with the glaze until all crevasses and top surface is covered. Sprinkle each with slivered almonds.

Let set for 1 hour prior to serving, so glaze can harden.

Tips and Notes:

1. I tried to use a large Bismark type of pastry tip to fill the shells and it got clogged. A regular (1/2 round) tip is the best to use.

2. There will be extra pastry filling, so you may want cut the amount of each ingredient in half to start or find a use for the extra.

3. Some of the shells baked up with holes in the side, but it did not cause a major issue. If you do not have the pastry tips, you can slice and sandwich the top and bottom together with the filling. Then you do not have to worry about the holes forming when baked.
                                         **LAST YEAR: Sawmill Toffee**

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Grand Hotel Pecan Balls

The weather here in Texas is now pretty scorching. This heat is not only in Texas, I recently got a comment indicating that it was too hot to turn the oven on and that it was time for ice cream. In response, I cranked up the ice cream maker instead of the oven for this post.

If you are looking for something chilly and sweet, you have come to the right place. These baseball-sized scoops of homemade maple ice cream coated with crunchy roasted pecans are a super summer treat. While they are tasty on their own,the rich chocolate sauce is the crowning touch.

Most of the time spent on this recipe is waiting for the ice cream to firm up in the freezer. The end result, however, is worth the wait time. So pull out that ice cream maker-you will be glad you did! This recipe makes about 6 servings. Be sure to plan for the long amount of chilling time for the ice cream.

Grand Hotel Pecan Balls
adapted from recipelink and serious eats websites

Ingredients/Maple Ice Cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 tbs invert sugar (recipe found here)
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup maple syrup
6 egg yolks

Ingredients/covering and sauce
2 cups roasted pecans/ chopped
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 lb chocolate chips
2 cups light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs cream de cacao

For the ice cream, start by blending the yolks together in a saucepan. Then mix in the maple syrup, heavy cream and half and half. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly as mixture cooks. Liquid batter will thicken up, forming a custard. This process should take about 10-15 minutes. To test for correct consistency, use the back of a spoon. Mixture should coat the spoon and leave a clean line when swiped with your finger.

 Remove from heat and mix in invert sugar. Let cool for 20 minutes, then transfer to heat proof bowl. Cover with air tight lid and place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight. After the chilling step, transfer custard to an ice cream maker. Follow manufacturers' instructions for making ice cream. Once completed, transfer back to airtight container and let chill again, in the freezer, for 3 hours. Then scoop into 6 - 8 balls and roll in chopped pecans. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and freeze until ready to serve.

About 1 hour prior to serving, prepare the sauce. Fill a saucepan with the heavy cream, corn syrup and sugar. Whisk together and place over medium high heat. Once mixture starts to boil, remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips, vanilla extract and cream de cacao. Once chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, let cool. Then plate each ice cream ball with 1/4 cup of chocolate sauce underneath.

Tips and notes:
1. Do not skip the roasting of the pecans, this insures that they stay crunchy even though they are covering ice cream.

2. This recipe makes a lot of chocolate sauce. If you just want a drizzle for serving instead of the 1/4 cup, cut the recipe in half or fourths to reduce the amount left over,

3. The ice cream turned out silky and hard, so consistency was not an issue when forming the rounds. If you prefer something softer for serving, try plating with warm chocolate sauce or taking the ice cream rounds out of the freezer for awhile.
                                     **LAST YEAR: Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies**

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cinnamon Popovers

I have always wanted to taste popovers, but this is one item that is rare to find. Actually, I have never even seen any on a menu or in a bakery. Finally, I gave in and decided to give up the search and make a few myself and I was happy with the results. These are on the sweet side with cinnamon, but I am interested in making some savory ones also. Toasty on the outside with a hollow custard textured inside, these popovers make breakfast special and delicious.

These were made with chunks of apples. However, I was not happy with how they reacted when baked. They actually just rose to the surface and got too brown, so the apples are excluded from the ingredients. Other than the apples, this recipe worked out well. The popovers did rise as expected and the recipe did not take a lot of time. This recipe makes 6 large popovers, each well took 1/2 cup of batter.

Cinnamon Popovers
adapted from

1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups milk
2 cups flour
6 eggs

Ingredients/Butter spread
1/4 tsp gnd nutmeg
1/2 tsp gnd cinnamon
2-3 tbs packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup softened butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease the interior of 12 popover cups with butter. Place popover pan in preheated oven for 2-3 minutes and remove.

Whisk together all of the batter ingredients in a large bowl. While the popover pan is still hot, fill each cup (almost to the top) with the batter. Place pan in oven and let bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Popovers are done when golden, airy and puffed- 4-5 inches over cavity rim. Remove pan and let cool slightly in pan.

As it cools, mix together ingredients for butter spread. Serve spread with popovers.

Tips and notes:
1.  Make sure you oven rack has plenty of room for the popovers to rise. They should not be too close to another rack or the top broiler.

2. Feel free to change up the flavor with other spices. However, if you decide to add in pieces of anything to the batter, they will float to the surface and be part of the outer cust.
                       **LAST YEAR: Choco Berry Ice cream Pie**

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cashew Butter Blondies

With school right around the corner, I could not help but to notice the amount of spreads and butters on the grocers shelves these days. Today you will find chocolatey hazelnut spread, almond butter, sunflower butter....and the list goes on. Children's sack lunches are no longer filled with the same old peanut butter sandwiches.

With such a variety, the spreads are fun to experiment with by using them as a baking ingredient. Today, I bring you a recipe for blondie bars. Not just any blondies, but ones made with 2 components of cashews, along with some semi-sweet chocolate chips. Teaming these ingredients together resulted in a moist, chewy bar with a little crunch. One square of these bars will take care of your sweet tooth. Also, the cashew, chocolate and brown sugar flavor combination will satisfy your tastebuds as well.

The recipe makes enough dough to fill a half sheet baking pan, so there will be plenty of bars for those sack lunches.

Cashew Butter Blondies
adapted from 

Ingredients/Cashew Brittle
1 2/3 cup cashews
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 stick unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar

Ingredients/Blondie batter
1 1/2 sticks or 6 oz unsalted butter (room temp)
1/3 cup cashew butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbs plus 1 tsp baking powder
3 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups sugar
3 cups cashew brittle (recipe included)
1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Start by making the cashew brittle.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat. Also, grease the interior of another baking sheet and line with parchment paper. Grease surface of parchment paper. Butter a silicone spatula.

Place the cashews in a shallow pan, spreading out evenly. Toast in the oven for about 7 minutes. Set aside. Fill a saucepan with the water, sugar, salt, light corn syrup and butter. Place over medium high heat and stir only until butter is melted and mixture is blended. Let cook in saucepan and place a candy thermometer in the liquid. The liquid will start to boil and thicken. Watch the thermometer temperature, once it reaches 300 degrees- remove from heat. Add the vanilla extract and cashews. Stir with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed and then let rest for 30 seconds. Lastly, mix in the baking soda.

Transfer the candy mixture to silicone lined pan and flatten/spread with the prepared spatula. Let cool completely. Crack into pieces and place pieces in a sealable plastic bag. Crush the brittle into smaller, pebble-sized pieces with a rolling pin.

Fill a bowl with the cashew brittle and chocolate chips. Whisk together so ingredients are evenly distributed.

Using a sieve place over a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the blend and add to the bowl of brittle and chocolate chips. Toss all together so pieces are evenly coated. Set aside.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with both types of butter and both types of sugar. Combine the ingredients by using a paddle attachment with the mixer set on medium speed. Continue to beat together, stopping at intervals to scrape down sides of bowl, until batter is fluffy. Switch the speed down to low and add one egg and vanilla extract. Beat for 30 seconds or until blended. Repeat the process, one egg at a time until all have been mixed into batter.

Remove bowl from stand mixer and fold in the sifted ingredients with a wooden spoon. Then fold in the blend of chocolate chips and brittle until no dry streaks or loose pieces remain. Empty batter into prepared baking sheet and smooth evenly.  Bake until tester comes out clean, approximately 25-30 minutes. Surface should be golden brown when done.

Cool completely prior to cutting into 1 1/2 inch squares.

Tips and Notes:
1. if I was to make this recipe again, I would reduce the amount of sugar, starting the reduction at 1/3 of a cup for the brown and regular sugar. Recipe is very sweet.

2. My cashew butter was natural (no salt or sugar)and the cashews did not have any salt. Using salted cashews may tone down the sweetness of the recipe.

3. When baking, a little of the batter dripped onto the floor of the oven, so place a larger pan on the next rack underneath the bars to catch the drips.

4. Coarsley chopping the nuts prior to adding to the brittle mixture will help disperse them more in the candy.
                                **LAST YEAR: Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake** 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Coconut Cream Hand Pies

Whenever there is a gathering of people and food is included, there are always the two extremes. There is the one person that has several helpings and one person that seems to leave 1/4 of a piece of something on the serving plate. The first person I do not have an issue with, it is the one that eats like a bird, cutting one serving into tiny bits. Apparently I am not the only one, because at the sight of the tiny remain, someone always says "why didn't they just take the whole thing and eat what they want?"

So in response to that situation, I have made mini, bite-sized pies. These pies are created from a 3 inch round of dough that is folded. Perfect for those that want to sample, but not really eat a lot. In addition, the big eaters can grab an handful. Now everyone is happy. A hand-held in a pie is also a trouble free (no cutting, no scooping out of pan...) way to serve as well as eat.

While the traditional thought on hand pies is that they are made of fruit, this recipe indicates that cream pies can be converted to this form. The crispy, flaky dough is drizzled with chocolate and surrounds a sweet coconut filling. Deliciously tropical and snack size, these pies are great item to bring out to the crowd this summer. Be sure to consider the chill time for the dough and filling when planning to create these. The recipe makes about 2 dozen mini pies.

Coconut Hand Pies
adapted from Taste of the South

1 cup cubed unsalted butter (ice cold)
4-8 tbs ice water
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour

2 egg yolks (room temp)
1 large egg (room temp)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup or 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup sweetened coconut ( more for toasting and garnishing if desired)

Create the dough by first whisking together the dry ingredients (salt, flour, sugar). Add a few butter cubes at a time and blend into clumps using a pastry cutter. Continue with the process until all the butter is incorporated into the dry blend. Using clean hands, form the mixture into a dough by adding and blending ice water (1 tablespoon at a time) until desired consistency is met. Dust a flat surface with flour and top with the ball of dough. Divide into 2 equal parts and flatten each into 5-6 inch disks. Cover each in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 2 hours.

As the dough is chilling, make the filling. Whisk together milk, coconut extract and vanilla extract in a small saucepan and place over medium high heat. Continue to stir and the liquid heats up. At the boiling point, remove from heat and set aside.

Using a heat proof bowl, combine yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt until evenly blended together. Slowly stream in 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture, while constantly whisking the liquid. Empty the mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk blend. Place over medium high heat again, whisking as it cooks. Mixture will thicken and leave a line in the bottom of the saucepan when scraped with a wooden spoon. This should take between 5-7 minutes cook time.

Remove saucepan from heat and mix in the coconut and the butter. Stir the mixture until the butter melts and the coconut is evenly distributed. Transfer filling to a heat proof bowl and cover the surface of the filling with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 1 hour.

Once all the components are completely chilled, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Also, blend together the whole egg in a small bowl using a fork.

Dust a flat surface with flour and take out one disk of dough. Roll the mass out until it is 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut out rounds with a three inch cutter and place each on the prepared baking sheets. Using your fingertips, rub a 1/4 inch border of the blended egg around the surface edges of the circle. Place one tablespoon of filling on the upper half of the circle. Fold dough in half and pinch edges together with your fingers and then seal with tines of fork. Dip top of pie into bowl of egg and let excess drip off. Place pie back on baking sheet, egg side up. Cut tiny vents on the top.

Place in oven and let bake for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for an additional 12-15 minutes. Pies are done when golden brown on top edges. Remove and let pies completely cool on pans.

Repeat the process by re-rolling scraps and then cutting out more circles, filling and sealing. Then bake as instructed. Do the same for the additional dough disk in the refrigerator.

Once all the pies have been baked and cooled, melt the chocolate by using a double boiler or microwave. If using the microwave, heat for 30 seconds and then stir. Repeat in 30 second intervals until all is melted. Drizzle chocolate over tops of pies. If desired, toast some coconut in the oven and sprinkle over top. Let set before serving.

Tips and Notes:
1. Since coconut cream pies are an icebox pie, I store these in the refrigerator and serve cold.

2. Pies do not expand very much when baking, so they can be placed very close together on the baking sheet.

3. If I was to make them again, I would make them an inch larger. This would require adjustments to make more filling and more dough.

4. Feel free to experiment with other cream pies.
                            **LAST YEAR: Chocolate Banana Loaf Cake**

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sable Cookies

French desserts are something I really enjoy. There is a certain special quality that comes from that country, which is why I feel that is truly the homeland of desserts.

These cookie recipes, while simple to make, result in something tasty and memorable. Pierre Herme does have a lot of talent when it comes to any dessert, especially cookies.

The first cookie recipe below is one that uses rose extract and dried raspberries. I was unable to find raspberries, so I used strawberries. One serving of these cookies will prove to you that smell does support flavor. Just a bite will bring you straight back to all the times that you sniffed at a fragrant rose. The taste of floral is prominent and the strawberry is subtle. Special and unique, these are perfect for weddings, baby showers and other occasions.

The other cookie recipe is an adaptation of a snicker doodle in the form of a sable. With cinnamon on the outside and inside, this buttery cookie is for those that enjoy shortbread. If you are looking for a light flavored cookie instead of a  super chocolate chunk cookie-this is a great choice.

The first recipe makes about 1 1/2 dz. The cinnamon recipe states 2 dz, but I came up with  over 3 dz. The height or slice suggestion is 3/8 to 1/2 inch.

Pierre Herme Ispahan Sables
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

1/4 tsp rose extract (I used Star Kay White Brand)
1/4 cup sanding sugar
pink/red food coloring

11 tbs butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup freeze dried raspberries
1/2 tsp rose extract
1/2 tsp flake salt
1 1/2 cups flour

Start by creating the topping. Fill a small bowl with rose extract and sanding sugar and whisk together. Add a drop of coloring and whisk until all sugar crystals are pink. Add more coloring if necessary. Set aside.

For the cookies, place the raspberries in a zip lock bag and crush until it becomes a powder. It may not all be a powder, but as long and the pieces are very fine. Fill a bowl with the flour and mix in the salt and the powder until evenly distributed. Set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until glossy and smooth. This should take about 3 minutes, depending on how soft your butter is. Stop at intervals and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the rose extract and beat for another 2 minutes. Then incorporate the sugar and salt into the mixture, blending until fluffy. Remove bowl from stand mixer. Using a wooden spoon, mix the flour into the batter, forming a dough. The dough should be soft and be able to be clumped together.

Divide the dough into 4 equal amounts. Roll each in a 6-8 inch log. Once the logs are formed, pour the topping into a flat pan and roll each log in the sugar mixture. Wrap each log with plastic wrap and place side by side on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour and up to 3 days.

To bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper. Pull out one log, uncover and place on cutting board. Cut into 3/8-1/2 inch wide slices. Place each slice on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart. Then bake for 9 minutes and rotate. Bake for an additional 9-11 minutes or until firm and golden on bottom. Remove and place pan over rack. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to finish cooling. Repeat the process with the remaining logs.

Snickerdoodle Sables
adapted from Bake From Scratch

1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup or 2 sticks butter
2 large egg yolks (divided)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cups flour

Using a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.

Next, fill a bowl of a stand mixer with the butter. Beat until smooth and glossy, stopping on occasion to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This should take about 3 minutes to acheive the correct consistency. Add powdered sugar, salt and only 1/3 a cup of the cinnamon mixture to the butter. Mix together on medium speed until thoroughly blended. Then add 1 egg yolk and the vanilla. Beat again until all is incorporated into the batter.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the flour, using a wooden spoon. Once mixed, it will be crumbly. Knead the dough until it clumps together and no dry streaks remain. Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a log, measuring about 7 inches long. Cover in plastic wrap and chill each log for a minimum of 4 hours or up to 2 days.

Once chilling time is complete, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper. Also, whisk the remaining egg yolk in a small bowl.

Remove one log and uncover. Place log on cutting board and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Brush each slice with egg yolk and dip in the remaining cinnamon sugar. Place each round on baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake in oven about 9 minutes, then rotate. Bake for an additional 9-11 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and let cookies cool in pan on rack 5 minutes. Then transfer to cooling rack to completely cool.

Tips and Notes:
1. I rolled out the cookie dough between wax paper and cut with 2" inch cutter. The dough was chilled after rolling out. For the rose cookies it was an hour. For the cinnamon cookies, it was 1 1/2 hours. As you cut and bake, do not let the dough sit out while the cookies are baking. Re-form the dough into a rolled out disk and refrigerate between batches.

2. Since the rose cookies were formed as cut outs instead of a log, I sprinkled the sugar blend on top before baking.
                            **2 YEARS AGO: Bourbon Cherry Bars**