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Strawberry Cupcakes

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David actually chose this dessert.  He saw me browsing through ideas when I was trying to decide what to make and these cupcakes caught his attention.  He is a big fan of fruit desserts, and really loves strawberries, so he was excited for me to make them.  After this long, cold winter we’ve been having, I thought it would be good to make something like this to remind us of summer and warmer months.  I made a strawberry cake a few years ago and really enjoyed it, but haven’t make anything like it since, and I thought it was time to try it again.  One major aspect of this particular recipe is that is contains strawberry frosting, rather than a vanilla frosting or cream cheese frosting.  It also contains lemon zest, which turned out to be a great addition to the strawberry flavor.

These were really great cupcakes.  They were nice and moist and had a great strawberry flavor, although I would add more strawberry puree next time to make it even more strawberry-like.  I really can’t say enough about the frosting.  It was more of a strawberry buttercream, since the primary ingredients were butter and powdered sugar.  You beat the butter cold, and I thought there was no way it would ever get to the right consistency.  I kept beating it and scraping down the bowl, and it was slowly getting there.  Once I added the strawberry puree, it came together like I thought it would.  It was perfectly sweet and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.  I had a little bit left over, so I was able to enjoy the rest straight out of the bowl!

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Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes

cupcakes
2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt (i used kosher salt)
1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon grated
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.

Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, lemon zest and strawberry puree; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

sprinkles’ strawberry frosting

1/2 cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
Pinch of coarse salt
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners’ sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.

Source: Picky Cook, originally from Candace Nelson’s recipe on marthastewart.com

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope that whatever you are doing, you are spending it with someone special, whether it’s your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or a group of your best friends.  David and I have never been ones to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way.  We usually get each other candy (he gets cinnamon heart candy and I get M&Ms) and a card (the card has to be funny and/or naughty :)) and we cook dinner together at home.  When it came to deciding what dessert to make for our church group this week, I knew I wanted to make something Valentines-themed.  My first thought was cupcakes with pink and red frosting, but I just made cupcakes and I wanted something a little bit different.  I then thought of these Red Velvet Whoopie Pies that I saw on Bridget’s blog around Christmas.  This was exactly what I wanted to make- it’s red, has cream cheese frosting, and is different from the usual Valentine’s Day treat.  And what a great twist on Red Velvet Cake!

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Before I started making these, I expected the batter to be thin for some reason.  Luckily, it wasn’t, and was fairly easy to scoop.  I really wished I had a cookie scoop when I was making these so I could have gotten them all the same size.  They baked up quite nicely in 9 minutes and were still soft, but firm enough to hold up as sandwiches.  These cookies stayed true to their inspiration and were more cake-like.  They were nice and moist, and made even better by the cream cheese frosting.  The cream cheese frosting was the exact same recipe as the one my mom and I usually use for cakes, so I knew it would be good.  Red Velvet cookies and cream cheese frosting- how can you go wrong?

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Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Makes 30 sandwiches

Cake:
2 cups (9.5-10 ounces) unbleached flour*
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 egg, preferably room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk, preferably room temperature
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) red food coloring

Filling:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened
2 cups (8 ounces) powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; preheat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

2. In large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed for 30 seconds, until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With mixer at medium speed, add egg and beat until thoroughly combined, then beat in vanilla. Add about one-third of flour mixture followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture. Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.

3. Spoon (or pipe) batter in 1-inch diameter rounds about ½-inch high on prepared baking sheets, allowing 1 inch between each round.

4. Bake 7 to 9 minutes, or until tops are set. Cool cookies on cookie sheets.

5. To make filling: Add cream cheese and butter to mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, alternating with vanilla. Beat until smooth.

6. To fill, dollop (or pipe) cream cheese filling on flat sides of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, flat sides down.

To store: Refrigerate in airtight container up to 4 days. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Source: The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who saw it in the December 2008 issue of Better Homes & Gardens

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

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I got The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather for my birthday and I was so excited because it had been on my wish list for a long time.  Every so often I get a cookbook that gives me the urge to bake almost everything from it.  Obviously one of those was Baking: From My Home to Yours, and another was the Sweet Melissa Baking BookThe Pastry Queen is another that really draws me in.  I have gone through this book countless times in the short time I’ve had it, and I can’t wait to bake even more wonderful things from it.

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As you have figured out by now, I bake a lot for our Wednesday night young adults group at my church.  I was thinking about what to make, and I eventually decided on this carrot cake, especially after remembering the way Jaime sang its praises almost a year ago.  I am a chocolate dessert lover, but if I love carrot cake just as much.  There’s just something about the moist, lucious taste and the delicious spices, and when you add cream cheese frosting, you can’t ask for any more.

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This cake was different from the traditional cake.  I think of it as kind of a cross between a Hummingbird Cake and traditional Carrot Cake.  Hummingbird Cake has pineapple and bananas, but Rebecca Rather’s cake includes the carrots (obviously) and pineapple.  Both cakes include vegetable oil, which I think produces the most desireable texture in a cake, as opposed to butter.  This version of carrot cake was amazing.  I loved the addition of macadamia nuts and coconut, especially when coconut was added to the frosting.  It was the perfect extra to make a spectacular cake.  I took this cake to church, but I also took some other desserts, so there was some left.  I decided to take the rest to school and leave it in the teacher’s lounge.  By lunch, I had a few e-mails saying this was the BEST carrot cake ever and a request for the recipe 🙂   I took Jaime’s advice about there not being enough cream cheese frosting, so I increased the recipe like she recommended, and I had the perfect amount.  I also copied her idea of adding toasted coconut on the top, although I added it to the entire top of the cake.  I also chopped the macadamia nuts since they were too big to add in as they were.  I’m so glad I made this cake and I can’t wait to bake even more from this great cookbook!

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Tropical Coconut Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather

1 cup macadamia nuts (I recommend chopping these up or crushing them)
3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1-1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
4 large eggs
2 tbsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower
1-1/2 cups shredded peeled carrots
1-1/2 cups diced fresh pineapple or drained crush canned pineapple (this is one 20 oz. can)
1/2 cup sweetened cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez

Coconut-Cream Cheese Frosting
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperate (I used 4 packages)
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar (I used 2 cups)
1/4 cup heaving whipping cream (I used 1/4 cup + 4 tsp)
1/4 cup sweetened cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez (I used 1/4 cup + 4 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt (I used 1/2 tsp + 1/8 tsp)

To Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden and aromatic. Set aside to cool.

Place one oven rack one-third from the bottom of the oven and the second two-thirds from the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line three 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper rounds, grease with butter, and dust with flour (or spray with Baker’s Joy).

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut, and nuts in a large bowl. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, oil, carrots, pineapple, and cream of coconut. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Stagger the cake layers on the oven racks so that no layer is directly over another. Set 2 layers on one rack and the third on the other. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cakes are done when they are golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans on racks for 5 minutes, then invert them onto the racks and cool completely, about 15 to 20 minutes.

To Make the Frosting:
Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a large bowl on medium-high speed about 1 minute. Add the whipping cream, cream of coconut, and salt; beat until combined.

Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate and spread a thick blanket of frosting on top. Add the second layer, spread thickly with frosting, and top with the third layer. Cover the top and sides of the cake with an even layer of frosting. If you’re feeling energetic and there is frosting left over, use a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip to pipe a decoration around the top rim of the cake.

The cake can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 4 days. Let it cool in the refrigerator about 1 hour before covering, to ensure the frosting has hardened and will not stick to the plastic wrap.

Yield: 12-14 Servings.

Pear Spice Cake with Walnut Praline Topping

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I think pears are very underrated.  They are so very much overshadowed by apples when it comes to desserts.  There are so many apple cakes out there, and you have apple pie, apple crisp, but just not a lot of pear recipes.  So when I saw this pear cake back in December, I knew I had to make it.  And the walnut praline topping just sealed the deal.

This cake is a lot like a carrot cake.  It’s a traditional spice cake with the usual cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.  The best part about it is the balance of flavors.  The spices are not too overwhelming; neither are the pears.  They strike a perfect balance to create this incredibly moist cake.  The praline topping was nothing short of amazing.  It added the perfect amount of sweetness to the cake, since the cake is not overly sweet.  I loved the texture the walnuts added.  This is a great cake to make for guests and it’s a great dessert for winter.  I used a tube pan since, oddly enough, I do not have a bundt pan, although I’m hoping to buy one soon.

I am also submitting this to the Tasty Tools event for January over at Joelen’s Culinary Adventures.  It is especially appropriate for this recipe because I used both liquid and dry measuring tools.  I never thought it made much of a difference, but I read an article from Cook’s Illustrated where they tested the accuracy and they determined that it’s very important to use the correct measuring tools for the most accurate results!

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Pear Spice Cake with Walnut Praline Topping

Source: Joy the Baker, who adapted it from Gourmet, December 1992

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1  cups buttermilk
  • 3 pears, peeled, cored and diced into roughly 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 to 1 1/4 cups of fruit)
  • 1 cup walnuts (3 ounces), toasted , cooled, and finely chopped

Make cake:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour bundt pan.

Sift together flour,  baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Beat together butter, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 4 with a handheld. Add yolks 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches, mixing well after each addition.  Fold in pear pieces and chopped walnuts.

Beat egg whites in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold stiff peaks, then fold whites into batter gently but thoroughly.

Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top, and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then invert onto rack and cool completely.

Walnut Praline Topping

  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cups walnuts, roughly chopped, toasted

Stir golden brown sugar, whipping cream and  1/2 cup butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat until smooth. Boil 3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in walnut pieces. Spoon warm topping over warm cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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November Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting (and bonus Caramels)

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We’re bringing on the sugar for this month’s Daring Bakers challenge!  Our wonderful hosts for this month were Delores of Chronicles of Culinary Curiousity, Alex of A Blondie and a Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go (who was in charge of the alternative bakers) and they chose this lovely cake from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater.  This is her signature dessert, and I was so excited to have the chance to make it. We also had the option of making a bonus recipe of making caramels.

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I have often professed my love of all things chocolate on this blog, but caramel comes pretty close in my love of sweets.  The caramel syrup was a key component to this recipe and it added a lot of flavor to it.  Lydon wasn’t kidding when she said to wear long sleeves and be prepared to back away when making it, because when I added the water to stop the caramelization process, it splattered and make a mess with the hot liquid.  After making the caramel syrup, the rest of the process was a piece of cake (haha :))  I made the cake in one night and the frosting the next, right before I served it.  The frosting was fabulous.  It was so nice and full of caramel flavor and went so nicely with the cake.  I am a total frosting girl, and I thought there was a perfect amount of frosting for the cake.  It would even be nice to double the frosting and split the cake into two layers for a layered cake and even more frosting to enjoy 🙂  I want to find more uses for this frosting and syrup for future baking because I was so happy with how it came out.

We also had the option of making caramels, which I had always wanted to make.  This was my first attempt, and I couldn’t be happier with how they came out.  My husband David was very much enamored with these and ate a ton of them!  I was excited to find something that he loved so much.  Mine were somewhere between soft and chewy and firm and chewy, which was perfect for me.  This will be my go-to recipe for caramels in the future and I want to work on trying more variations.  I also want to see how this does as a caramel sauce, so I will use this recipe next time I make caramel sauce.

Thanks to all the hosts for a great November challenge!  I really enjoyed this recipe.  I can’t wait to find out what December will bring!

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CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING
from Shuna Fish Lydon
Caramels from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Notes from Natalie for those of you baking gluten-free:

So the GF changes to the cake would be:

2 cups of gluten free flour blend (w/xanthan gum) or 2 cups of gf flour blend + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1/2 – 1 tsp baking powder (this would be the recipe amount to the amount it might need to be raised to & I’m going to check)

I’ll let you when I get the cake finished, how it turns out and if the baking powder amount needs to be raised.

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

CARAMEL SYRUP

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

(Optional) GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS
– makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels –

Ingredients
1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Equipment
A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer

Procedure

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife.  Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

Variations

Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
(recipe from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert)

Tuesdays with Dorie: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

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Happy Thanksgiving!  I know it’s a couple days early, but Tuesdays with Dorie is already celebrating with the Thanksgiving Twofer Pie, chosen by Vibi of La casserole carree.  I was instantly intrigued by this dessert because of the unusual combination.  I’m not crazy about traditional pumpkin pie on its own, but I love pecan pie, so I was excited to see how this would turn out.  I brought this to our dinner group for the dessert, and I felt like I was taking a bit of a risk in serving it.  I was afraid that the combination would be to strange for their tastes and that no one would like it.  I was pleased to discover that I got the opposite reaction of what I was expecting!

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Everyone really loved this dessert.  There was only one piece left- one that they saved for me since I was the one who baked it 🙂  The pumpkin and pecan flavors were nicely balanced.  I didn’t think that either was too overpowering.  People had just the reaction Dorie intended.  There is often both pumpkin and pecan pie for dessert at Thanksgiving and it’s hard to choose, but now you don’t have to!  You get the best of both worlds with this twist on two classic desserts.

The recipe also came together easily.  I didn’t have any trouble preparing it or baking it.  It baked up nicely in the time Dorie suggested.  Thanks Vibi for choosing this.  I’m so glad I got to try it.  You can visit her blog for the recipe.  Be sure to also visit the Tuesdays with Dorie blog to see all the wonderful Twofers out there!  Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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Pumpkin Pie Fudge

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I’ve been on a pumpkin kick lately.  I guess I want to make as many pumpkin treats as I can before people decide that it’s not “pumpkin season” anymore.  This pumpkin pie fudge has been on my list of things to make for a while now.  I saw it on Confections of a Foodie Bride last fall and recently, when I was looking through some old recipes I’d written down a couple years ago, I saw that I’d copied this same recipe from my mom’s issue of Southern Living. So basically, I just HAD to make it this year!

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I don’t know why I waited so long.  Fudge is my favorite candy, but I haven’t had much that isn’t chocolate.  This fudge was different from your typical fudge, but it was so good.  It was perfectly sweet and had just the right amount of pumpkin flavor.  The white chocolate also added a nice touch of flavor.  It wasn’t difficult to make, especially with a candy thermometer.  You’ll do some pretty tough stirring, but it’s worth the effort.  I will definitely be making this a regular treat during the fall from now on!

Pumpkin Pie Fudge, adapted from Southern Living
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 Tbsp corn syrup
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
9 oz white chocolate, chopped
7 oz jar marshmallow crème
1 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir together first 6 ingredients in a 3 1/2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until a candy thermometer registers 234° (soft-ball stage).

Remove pan from heat; stir in remaining ingredients until well blended (stirring this is a work-out!). Pour into a greased aluminum foil-lined 8-inch square pan. Let stand 2 hours or until completely cool; cut fudge into squares.

Source: Southern Living magazine, also seen on Confections of a Foodie Bride

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Triple Silken Pumpkin Pie

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I’ve been wanting to make this pie ever since I got the amazing baking book Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard.  It just looks so incredible and impressive, and I knew I just had to try it, and I love Sherry Yard’s recipes.  I decided to make it for our last dinner group meeting before Thanksgiving as a way to commemorate the holiday coming up next week.  It’s a lot of work, but definitely worth it.  It went over very well with everyone and was a big hit!

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The recipe looks a bit daunting, but if you break it up into smaller parts, it’s not that bad.  It does require some prior thinking, and you can even make some of the components ahead of time.  The only hitch in making this was when I was making the pumpkin-caramel layer and the gelatin hardened up when I added it.  I just put it back on the heat, used a small whisk to break it up, and everything was back on track.  The only thing I was not crazy about was the pie dough.  It wasn’t as flaky as I hoped for.  I’m still searching for the perfect pie dough recipe, and next I’m going to try the Cook’s Illustrated version to see how it fares.   So if you’re making this, feel free to use your favorite recipe for pie dough, because it would work just fine.

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The three layers of this pie go very well together.  The pumpkin-caramel gives it a nice base and the whipped cream and mousse layers give it such a light, airy texture.  I didn’t have brandy so I used rum in the mousse, which I think was a good substitution.  I’ve found after making the Twofer Pie for TWD (to be posted next week) that rum and pumpkin go really well together.  I added a bit more rum for a slightly more pronounces flavor.  I think my favorite part of the recipe was the mousse layer because of the flavor.  It would be great as a topping for other pumpkin desserts as well.  If you are in need of Thanksgiving dessert ideas, and are up for the task, you should definitely consider making this pie.  It was well worth the effort!

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Triple Silken Pumpkin Pie (from Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard)

For the Pumpkin Custard layer:

Dough for a single crust pie (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 large egg

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons plain canned pumpkin (not pie filling)

¼ cup sour cream

6 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon brandy (I used rum)

For the Whipped Cream layer:

¾ cup heavy cream

½ cup crème fraiche

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons maple sugar

For the Caramel-Pumpkin Mousse Layer

½ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons water

2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) powdered gelatin

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

¾ cup plain canned pumpkin (not pie filling)

3 large egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Whipped cream for garnish (optional)

1.       Roll the dough out to a 16-inch circle, ¼ inch thick; you will need only about two thirds of the pastry.  Freeze the rest for later use.  Press the pastry into the bottom and up the sides of a 9×2 ½-inch springform pan.  The extra dough on the sides will compensate for shrinkage.  Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Remove from the freezer and trim away the excess dough from the rim of the pan.  Prebake, following the instructions, until golden brown.  Allow to cool completely on a rack.

2.       Make the pumpkin custard layer: Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

3.       In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, ginger, and cinnamon.  Add the egg and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the brown sugar, pumpkin,  sour cream, heavy cream, and brandy.  Pour the mixture into the springform pan.  Cover the pan with a sheet of buttered aluminum foil (buttered side down) and bake until the custard is just set, about 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  (The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated).

4.       Make the whipped cream layer: Combine the cream and crème fraiche in a large bowl, and using a hand mixer, beat until it starts to thicken.  Add the sugar and maple sugar and continue beating until stiff.  Spread in an even layer on top of the cooled or chilled pumpkin custard layer and refrigerate.

5.       Make the caramel-pumpkin mousse layer: Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.  Chill in the refrigeratoruntil ready to use.  Place 2 tablespoons of the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top.  Stir, then let it bloom (soften) while you prepare the caramel.

6.       Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and ginger in a bowl and set aside.  In a heavy saucepan, combine the ¾ cup sugar, the remaining 1 tablespoon water, and the lemon juice and cook over high heat until the mixture turns a deep amber color, at about 335 degrees on a candy thermometer.  This will take 4 to5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

7.       Remove the caramel from the stove and wait until the bubbles subside.  Stir in the brown sugar mixture.  Add the softened gelatin and stir to dissolve.  Whisk in the canned pumpkin and set aside.

8.       Using the hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they foam.  Add the cream of tartar and 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar and beat.  Continue to beat, adding the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a slow, steady stream.  Beat until the egg whites are stiff and shiny, about 2 minutes.

9.       Lightly warm the caramel-pumpkin mixture by folding in one third of the beaten egg whites, using a whisk, preferably a balloon whisk.  Pour the remaining egg whites over the top and carefully fold them into the pumpkin mixture using a rubber spatula.  Fold in the chilled whipped cream.

10.   Carefully pour the caramel-pumpkin mousse mixture over the whipped cream layer and smooth the top.  Refrigerate for 2 hours, or until set.  (The pie can be made up to a day in advance.).

11.   To serve, gently remove the springform ring from the plate and set the pie on a plate.  Garnish with additional whipped cream if desired.

Pie Crust:

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

About ½ cup ice water

½ teaspoon champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

1.       Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and place it in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes.

2.       To mix with a stand mixer: Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the partially frozen butter.  Turn the machine on low and beat for 2 minutes, or until the butter is broken down to the size of walnuts.  Stop the machine, and by hand, pinch flat any large pieces of butter that remain.  In a small bowl, combine the ice water and vinegar.  Turn the mixer on low speed and add the liquid all at once.  Beat just until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds.   The dough should be tacky but not sticky.

3.       Remove the dough from the bowl, divide into 2 equal pieces, and warp each piece in plastic wrap.  Do not squeeze the dough together or overwork.  Chill the dough in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before rolling it out.  (The well-wrapped dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks.  If you are going to freeze the dough, however, it is best to roll out the 2 pieces of dough out into circles, place them between pieces of parchment paper, wrap them airtight in plastic, and freeze.  You can also line the lightly sprayed pie or tart pans with the pie dough, wrap airtight, and freeze).

4.       Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and line two lightly sprayed 9- or 10-inch pie or tart pans or a 9-inch springform pan.

5.       To blind-bake (prebake) a pie shell: Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

6.       Prick the bottom of the pastry a few times with a fork.  Line the pastry with parchment paper or large coffee filters.  Fill the lined shell to the rim with the dried beans, uncooked rice, or pie weights and gently press the “faux filling” into the corners.  Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and bake for another 7 minutes.  (If you are prebaking the dough in a springform pan, increase the amount of weights so that they reach the top of the rim).

7.       Remove from the oven and remove the weights and the liner.  Return to the oven for 10 minutes, until the center turns golden and looks dry.  There should be no sign of moisture.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

Operation Baking GALS Round 4

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I heard about Operation Baking GALS right when it started because its founder, Susan of She’s Becoming DoughMessTic is also a member of Tuesdays with Dorie, but I didn’t get around to joining until now.  I’m so glad I did!  This is a great way to honor our soliders and let them know that they are appreciated.  I hope that Susan’s idea has made many of our troops happy.  I just think of the times when I’ve been away from home and how much I longed for something to remind me of what I’m missing, and I know that the feeling is even more intense for the troops who are thousands of miles away.  I hope that all of these baked goods give them a taste of home and lift their spirits!

I thought for a while about what to make.  I tried to think of things that would hold up well during shipping.  I decided to make peanut butter cookies and blondies.  Most men I know are crazy about peanut butter cookies, so I figured these would be well recieved, and I just love this blondie recipe and I know that it will hold up and that they will like them.

I joined Bridget’s team for this round and we baked for a soldier named Joshua, who is stationed in Iraq.  I hope that our team’s baked goods brought a smile to his face and that the troops in his group get a taste of home.  When I was at the post office, I was so happy that I was able to do this and even the man who helped me box them up got excited!  I will definitely be around for round five!

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Blondies (Source: Baking Illustrated)

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons ( 1 1/2 sticks), unsalted butter melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used a mix of white chocolate and toffee bits)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarse (I omitted this)

Directions
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9 inch pan baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fold two 16 inch pieces of foil or parchment paper lengthwise so that one measures 13 inches wide, and the other measures 9 inches wide. Fit one sheet in the bottom of the greased pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides (overhang with help with removal of baked bars). Fit the second sheet in the pan in the same manner, perpendcular to the first sheet. Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.
3. Whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in medium bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in semisweet and white chocolate chips and nuts and turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula.
4. Bake until top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack to room temperature. Remove bars from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2 by 2-inch bars and serve.

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Peanut Butter Crisscrosses (Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter – crunch or smooth (not natural)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups chopped salted peanuts
1/2 cup sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment or cooking spray. Whisk the dry ingredients together. Using a handmixer, beat the butter on medium speed in a mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. Add the peanut butter and beat for another minute. Add the sugars and beat for 3 minutes more. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to fully incorporate the sugar and eggs.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they just disappears.

Mix in chopped peanuts if you are using them.

Pour the 1/2 cup of rolling sugar into a small bowl. Working with a level tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll the dough between your palms into balls and drop the balls, a couple at a time, into the sugar. (My hands are rather warm, so the dough got really sticky when I was making cookie dough balls so cooling my dough in the fridge for a little bit helped to make the dough easier to work with. ) Roll the balls around in the sugar to coat them, then place on the baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between them.

To make the crisscrosses, use a fork and press down on top of the sugar crusted cookies.
Bake for about 12 minutes. When done, the cookies will be lightly colored and somewhat soft. Let the cookies sit on a wire rack to cool down.

Lemon Squares Revisited

This was another dessert that I made for the dinner at my church- another winner from Martha Stewart!  Apparently there are a lot of lemon lovers there because these were gone very fast.  I got more comments about these than any other dessert I made.  Next time I’ll be sure to make a double batch!  I made these at David’s suggestion, because he loves lemon desserts and says that I don’t make them enough.  I made lemon squares before, using a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.  It’s been so long since I made them that I honestly don’t know how they compare, although it seems like these set up better.  These had a great lemon flavor and a nice firm crust that held together well.  I thought the lemon flavor was right on- not too lemony, and just the right amount of sugar to balance it out.  If you like lemon squares, you should definitely try this recipe!

Lemon Squares

For the crust:

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, frozen, plus more for dish

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

¾ teaspoon coarse salt

For the filling:

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

¾ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup whole milk

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish, and line with parchment.

2.    Make crust: Grate butter on a cheese grater with large holes; set aside.  Whisk together flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Add butter; stir with a wooden spoon until combined and mixture looks crumbly.

3.    Transfer mixture to prepared dish; press evenly onto bottom with your hands.  Freeze crust 15 minutes.  Bake until slightly golden, 16 to 18 minutes.  Leave oven on.

4.    Meanwhile, make filling: Whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl until smooth.  Stir in lemon juice and milk.  Pour over hot crust.

5.    Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, and bake until filling is set and edges are slightly golden brown, about 18 minutes.  Let cool slightly on a wire rack.  Lift out; let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into 2-inch squares.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar.  Lemon squares can be refrigerated in airtight containers up to 2 days.

YIELD: about 2 dozen

SOURCE: Martha Stewart’s Cookies