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**

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pink Champagne Cake

We are all aware of the guest etiquette when it comes to servings of food. No one wants to be the one that takes the last few servings. I guess it stems from trying to avoid the feedback that occurs when the serving plate is empty. The comments range from, "I wanted some of that last piece" or "I did not have a chance to try it before it was gone."

This is not only when it comes to food, but drink as well. I have a cabinet full of liqueur and wine, but there is more bottles than actual liquids. The bottles get to a point where they only have a few ounces in them and consumption stops. Too bad that they cannot be consolidated.

There is a solution to the problem- it is incorporating those last few ounces of liqueur or wine into a recipe. This is a sure fire way to use up the liqueur in the bottom of the bottle while ending up with a tasty dessert.

After toasts are made and the celebration is over, grab some of that remaining champagne and create this amazing cake.  Or better yet, set some aside so you can serve this cake at the celebration. The champagne flavored layers make a great canvas for the cherry coconut filling. The white coating, or icing, is a classic buttercream that also includes of champagne. A sprinkling of crushed chocolate coated cherries ( I used Dove brand) on top sets if off, giving each slice a subtle hint of chocolate.

This cake is at home on the table during any celebration. However, even if you just want something special on an ordinary day, this is the recipe to try.

Pink Champagne Cake
adapted from Food52

2 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg whites
1 cup pink champagne
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
pink food coloring (optional)

Ingredients/Filling (doubled recipe from here)
2 cups chopped glace cherries
4 tsp cherry brandy
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter

1 1/4 cup butter
6 cups powdered sugar
3 tbs pink champagne
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
pink food coloring (optional)
10 finely chopped chocolate coated cherries (optional/I used Dove brand)

Prepare three 8 inch layer pans by greasing the interior and lining the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the face up side of the parchment once placed in the pan. Dust the inside of all three pans with flour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth. Scrape down sides occassionally at intervals. The correct consistency should be achieved after 4 minutes of beating. Then the wet and dry mixtures are to be created.

In one bowl, whisk the eggs, champagne, vanilla extract and oil together. The second bowl is to be filled with a sifted blend of flour, salt and baking powder.  Each mixture is to be added to the butter/sugar batter, the sifted in 1/3 increments with 1/2 increments of the champagne blend in between. The order should be 1/3 dry, 1/2 wet, 1/2 remaining dry, remaining wet and last of dry. Use a wooden spoon to blend after each addition. If using, blend the coloring in the batter at the end.

Divide cake batter into thirds, adding each measurement of batter to a pan. Smooth the surface of the pan. Place pans in the oven and bake for 12 minutes. Then rotate pans and bake until tester comes out clean, about 12 more minutes.

Remove pans and place on cooling rack. After cooling the cakes for 10 minutes, run a knife around the interior edge between the pan and the cake. Invert onto cooling rack. Remove parchment paper and let sit another 10 minutes then invert the cakes again. Let cool completely before assembly.

As the cakes cool, prepare the filling component. Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until glossy and smooth. Sift the powdered sugar into the butter and mix with a spoon until the sugar is more cohesive with the butter. Then beat until it has a fluffy light consistency. Add the cherry brandy and the optional food coloring and blend. Then, using a wooden spoon, fold in the cherries and the coconut.

Choose a cake layer for the bottom and place on a round cake board. Spoon 1/2 of the filling on top of the layer. Using a spatula, smooth out the filling to cover the layer, leaving a 1/4 inch border along the edges. Top with the second layer and repeat with the filling. Lastly stack the third layer on top. Set aside while the frosting is made.

For the frosting, beat the butter in a stand mixer until creamy and smooth. Sift in 4 cups of powdered sugar, champagne and vanilla. Beat on low and then gradually increase speed as mixture becomes more cohesive. Once all is blended, beat in additional powdered sugar to acheive your preferred consistency. If using coloring, add it and beat until evenly distributed into the batter with no remaining color streaks.

Prepare a piping bag with a round tip that has a 1/2 inch opening. Add the frosting and pipe in between the layers, filling the 1/4 inch cake border left on the inside edges of the layers. Then frost and decorate entire cake as desired. If using, sprinkle the chopped chocolate-cherry candy pieces on top of the cake.

Tips and Notes:
1. The cake is very fragile, so be careful when inverting.

2. You can skip the fancy filling and use just the buttercream by increasing the frosting recipe. You can also brush the layers with cherry brandy before frosting.

3. If you go to far on the thickness of the filling, just mix in water to dilute.

                             **LAST YEAR: Orange Meltaways**