Last Fridays events hit pretty hard. I couldn’t quite express in words how I felt but my heart ached for the families affected by such a horrific tragedy. Suddenly nothing else really seemed that important…my kids rooms really weren’t that messy, the stack of work at my desk seemed insignificant and I set everything aside to spend time with my children. We went out for pizza, we went shopping together, we snuggled and watched beauty and the beast and as I tucked in my 3 year old for the 9th time I thought, “I’d rather tuck him in 20 times tonight then not be able to at all.” I don’t have anything profound to say and truly I don’t know the pain that the parents in Connecticut are going through right now but my prayers are with them. If you’d like to help out in any way, here is a link to an article where you can donate to their local charities or send them a meal.
Breakfast is a big deal for our family during the holiday season. It’s about the one time during the day that we can sit in some peace and quiet and just enjoy the meal before chaos starts. I always like to add one special, more festive dish. Last year it was eggnog french toast so this year I decided to go the gingerbread route and make some pancakes They smell like Christmas and are full of that wonderful molasses-ey, ginger flavor. These can be as spicy as you want, the spices as I have them written are a nice middle ground for kids who may not like an overly spiced pancake and adults who want some kick, but feel free to add more as you like! The pancake is thicker and heartier than a plain buttermilk pancake. I served them with butter and maple syrup but for a little something extra you can dollop them with eggnog whipped cream!
One Year Ago: Old fashioned sugar cookies
makes about 10 pancakes
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups milk, at room temperature, plus 1/4 cup for thinning batter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
canola oil for greasing the griddle (slightly-we’re not deep frying the pancakes!)
1. Preheat stove top or electric griddle to medium low.
2. Whisk together in a large bowl, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, whisk the milk, sour cream, molasses, butter, eggs and vanilla. note: I set out the milk and eggs about 1-1 1/2 hours before I make the pancakes, the ingredients just come together better.
4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk them together, mixing just until combined. Batter will be thick and slightly lumpy. *If the batter is thicker than you like you can add a little more milk a few tablespoons at a time-just be careful not to overmix!
5. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, pour batter onto hot, greased griddle. Cook on first side until edges are slightly dry and un-popped bubbles appear on the surface. Flip and cook until the underside is lightly browned. Serve immediately or keep warm in a 200 degree (F) oven while you finish cooking the rest.
I love the Holidays. So much so that I tend to go a little crazy and invite say 35 family members over for Thanksgiving and put up a tent in my backyard to host them all. The truth is I love my family, every single crazy one of them, and I love nothing more than to cook for them so I spend the preceding two months planning color schemes, table decor, the menu and of course the dessert table. We have our standards like maple pumpkin pie with bourbon whipped cream, decadent pecan pie and dense, creamy cheesecake but I always like to include one new, maybe slightly over-the-top dessert.
When I first saw this tart on food and wine’s website I passed it over because it sounded too time consuming. But I couldn’t shake the image of the deep caramel dripping over the pears and after going back to it 3 or 4 times I had to include it in this year’s menu. It does take a little longer than other desserts but its not difficult to make, it just requires a little extra love and care
The time is worth it! Red wine caramel is every bit as good as it sounds and when paired with sweet pears it just becomes amazing. The original recipe calls for a puff pastry crust but I used an all butter pie crust that’s super flake-y and balances out the richness of the caramelized fruit. Not to mention it’s also beautiful! The crust drapes over the fruit before going into the oven and creates a ruffled edge when baked. This is best served warm with a little whipped cream
One Year Ago: Eggnog French Toast
Pear Tarte Tatin with Red Wine Caramel
Recipe from Food and Wine with slight modifications
Yields 6-8 servings
2 cups dry red wine, don’t skimp here, this will be a significant flavor in the dish
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
4 firm, ripe bartlett pears, peeled, cored and halved
1. Make the pie crust, I halved this recipe. Do steps 1-3 rolling out to a little over a 10 inch circle. Place the rolled out dough on a large piece of plastic wrap and using a 10 inch cast iron skillet as a template cut out a 10 inch circle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it flat in the fridge to chill completely.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the wine and cinnamon sticks to a boil over medium high heat and simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F). In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, combine the sugar and water. Cook over medium high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until a light-amber caramel forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully add the reduced red wine and butter. Return to low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon to dissolve any hardened caramel, about 1 minute. Add the pear halves to the skillet and cook over low heat, turning occasionally, until the pears are tender and the pan juices are syrupy, about 20 minutes. Arrange the pears cut side up in the skillet with the thin ends pointing toward the center and remove from heat.
4. Take the pie crust out of the fridge, unwrap and cut 4 steam vents. Lay the crust over the pears, carefully and gently tucking the edge into the skillet. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown. Let the tart cool in the skillet for 15 minutes, then very carefully invert the tart onto a large plate or cake platter lined with parchment paper. Serve warm with whipped cream.
Wow time flies! In the past month that I haven’t been around we’ve had a hurricane, a snow storm, I taught my first public baking class, celebrated a few birthdays, cooked for 300 people in need for Thanksgiving, hosted 30 family members at my home for Thanksgiving and finally celebrated my daughter’s 9th birthday! I am now ready to hibernate!
I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving! I do finally have a few posts lined up (including an amazing pear tarte tatin from our thanksgiving dessert table)! In the mean time this is a quick treat I made a few times at the beginning of the month and they have yet to last more than a few hours
One of my favorite winter drinks is a white chocolate mocha from Starbucks I turned it into cupcakes last year so this year I had to try it in brownie form. They disappeared in a few hours the first time I made them. What I love is that they are just as quick as they are good. With just a bowl and a whisk you can have these in the oven in no time and be able to enjoy their fudge-y (yes white chocolate can be fudge-y), mocha chocolate-y goodness.
One Year Ago: Zebra stripe sugar cookies
White Chocolate Mocha Swirl Brownies
Yields 9 servings
3 ounces good white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 heaping teaspoons instant espresso powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 heaping teaspoon espresso powder
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, with ends of paper extending over opposite sides of pan. Repeat with second piece of paper in opposite direction. Butter the parchment paper liberally. I also butter each step to help keep the parchment paper in place. *definitely use parchment paper instead of foil-no matter how much cooking spray or butter you use the brownies will stick to foil!!!
2. In a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the butter and white chocolate together until almost completely melted. Whisk in the espresso powder and then remove from heat and whisk until combined (this keeps the mixture from getting too hot and cooking the eggs). *This will not be a completely smooth mixture, it will smooth out as you add the sugar and eggs. Whisk in the sugar, then eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Add flour and salt together, stirring until just combined.
3. For the mocha swirl: Heat the cream either on low on the stovetop or in the microwave. Place the chocolate and 1 teaspoon espresso powder in a small (heat proof) bowl and pour the hot cream over. Let sit for 2-3 minutes and then whisk until smooth.
4. Spread the brownie batter into prepared pan, then drizzle the mocha ganache in lines horizontally over the surface of the batter. Using a thin knife or toothpick, swirl the mocha ganache vertically to create a marbled look. Bake for 30 minutes.
5. Brownies are done when they are golden brown, set in the middle and a toothpick inserted comes out with clean. Move baking pan to a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour. Remove the brownies from the pan by the parchment paper, cut into squares and enjoy!
I promised my next post would have nothing to do with pumpkin I have actually been wanting cake for weeks now, preferably in some form of chocolate and I just generally like to smother everything in salted caramel. The black velvet kinda snuck in there late Thursday night which is rather odd since it seems to have a rather halloween vibe to it and I don’t actually celebrate halloween. *Gasp* I know, how could I not celebrate a “holiday” that revolves around candy, polyester costumes and creepy “finger” foods! To answer the inevitable questions that always follow;
1-no my kids don’t feel deprived
2-my husband and I both grew up not celebrating Halloween and we never felt deprived
3-spiders scare me. that’s reason enough not to celebrate
4-I’m not exactly sure what we’re “celebrating”? I mean Thanksgiving is in remembrance of the native americans helping the pilgrims, Christmas we’re celebrating the birth of Christ…halloween? I’m pretty sure its just a marketing scheme subsidized by the national dental association.
But I digress.
I’m not sure how to properly describe these cupcakes. The cake itself is velvety and insanely moist with a delicate flavor that you can’t quite pinpoint. The ganache makes my heart flutter. It’s rich, silky smooth and perfectly blends the chocolate with that deep, caramel-y goodness I love so much. To sum it up, it’s amazing but then again who would think otherwise when combining salted caramel with dark chocolate!
One Year Ago: Mini Spice Cakes with French Icing
Black Velvet Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Ganache
Yields 12 cupcakes
Ganache from Bon Appetit Magazine October 2012
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon black gel food coloring
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon vinegar
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a cupcake pan with liners.
For the cupcakes: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter at least 3 minutes on medium speed of an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy and lightened in color. Add egg, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated. Mix in food coloring. Add flour in two parts alternating with the buttermilk, coffee and vanilla and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix the baking soda and vinegar together (it will fizz up) and mix it in to the cupcake batter.
3. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup (or cupcake scoop) fill the cupcake liners about 1/2 full. Bake in preheated oven for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. For the ganache: Place the chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. In another small microwave safe bowl, warm heavy cream in the microwave for about a minute. It should be hot to the touch. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar & a 1/4 cup of water but don’t stir. Place over medium-high heat & bring to a boil. Cook until mixture turns an amber color, but not too dark that it looks like the sugar is burning but definitely amber. This can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes just keep a close eye on it.
5. Remove from heat and add warm cream slowly. Stir gently (and carefully! it will bubble up as you’re doing this) until smooth & well combined. Stir in vanilla and then pour the hot caramel over the chocolate. Let is sit for 2-3 minutes and then stir gently until the mixture is smooth and completely combined. Let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally until the ganache is firm enough to be piped (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour). Frost the cupcakes and enjoy!
I had high hopes for a productive baking weekend with both the time and the inspiration aligned perfectly. You see, a few weeks ago I had an absolutely, melt-in-your-mouth, shut-the-front-door delicious cappuccino creme brulee at a local restaurant I don’t frequent nearly enough. It was so good we considered licking the dish and ordering a second one…but decided to keep our dignity in tact. I was so excited to finally re-create this scrumptious dessert until I realized someone had used all my espresso powder and left the empty container in the cabinet. Not cool. Buying some at that moment was not an option so I started pulling ingredients to make a pumpkin flan instead. And found I had no sweetened condensed milk…. what kind of baker am I?? But third times the charm, right?! The situation was becoming desperate. I did have sugar, cream, butter and spices so when all else fails, make caramel.
I originally intended to make this caramel to go with brownies or cake or something but it was so good it became a dessert all on its own. It only takes like 10 minutes to make, score! And is everything I love about fall baking in a bite. It’s spicy and caramel-y all at the same time, it can be drizzled in coffee to re-create a pumpkin spice latte at home, poured over cake, brownies or pumpkin ice cream, or just eaten straight from the pot. In short, I will be eating this for the next two months with pretty much everything.
One Year Ago: Individual Caramel Apple Pies
Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramel Sauce
Yields 1 1/2 cups
3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
scant less than 1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Place the heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl and whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Heat the cream in the microwave (or you can do stovetop) just until hot to the touch.
2. Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat. Whisk and allow it to melt and bubble until it turns an amber color. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in the butter and then whisk in the cream, vanilla and salt until fully incorporated. Pour the sauce into a container to cool to room temperature.
Rather than bore you with my exuberance over the fact that its (already!) Fall again, I figured I’d give you my top 10 list of why Fall is so awesome.
1. Starbucks pumpkin spice latte is back…and I consume them as often as my wallet allows
2. Apple and pumpkin picking
3. Hot apple crisp
4. Pumpkin pie
5. Hiking to see the beautiful foliage
6. Hot apple cider and cider doughnuts
7. Chunky sweaters
8. Kids are back to school
9. Stepping on crunchy leaves
10. The absolutely perfect crisp weather
11. (one more for good luck) all the holidays are right around the corner!!
Yes, I do realize most of my list revolves around food
My absolute favorite of that list though is all the pumpkin. The only way to truly describe my love of pumpkin is just to confess that I am an out and out pumpkin addict. I’m happiest while drinking a pumpkin spice latte, baking a pumpkin pie in a big cozy orange sweater with a pumpkin spice candle burning in the background. It’s kinda bad…but in a really yummy way so I’m not willing to change.
These bars were born out of me attempting to “have fun” with traditional pumpkin pie. For me, I still prefer the plain pumpkin pie with its buttery crust and mounds of whipped cream but everyone else who tried these loved them! The base is a graham cracker crust with toasted pecans, filled with spicy pumpkin and topped with mounds of toasted brown sugar meringue. The only thing I definitely would change is instead of putting a layer of toasted pecans under the pumpkin I recommend sprinkling them on top afterwards so they don’t get soggy. But other than that these are fall in a bite. Nutty, pumpkin-y and spicy and a yummy alternative to plain pie if you’re not as plain jane as me
Pumpkin Pie Bars with Brown Sugar Meringue
Yields 9 servings
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
4 large egg whites, at room temperature, divided
1/2 cup pecans
3 large whole eggs
1 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed and divided
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
15 ounces of pumpkin puree
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup half and half
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
For the crust: Line an 9 ×9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, with ends of paper extending over opposite sides of pan. Repeat with second piece of paper in opposite direction. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray liberally. I also spray each step to help keep the parchment paper in place. In a medium size mixing bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan. Bake in preheated oven for 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside to cool slightly.
2. Spread the pecans in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
3. In a large mixing bowl whisk the 3 whole eggs, 3/4 cup light brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice and salt until completely combined. Whisk in the pumpkin puree. Combine the milk and half and half and then stir into pumpkin mixture a 1/4 cup at a time.
4. Using just 1 of the egg whites, glaze the graham cracker crust with a pastry brush so its fully coated and place back in the oven for 1-3 minutes to dry and set the egg white. Once that is done, increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees (F). Let the oven fully preheat and then pour the pumpkin batter over the crust and bake for 15 minutes. Decrease the oven temperature to 375 degrees (F) and continue baking for about 35 minutes or until the filling is set. Let the bars cool completely.
5. For the brown sugar meringue: In a medium size pot pour enough water to come up about an inch. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, reduce heat to keep the water at a slow simmer. In a very clean, dry, streak free metal bowl of a standing mixer place the remaining 3 egg whites and 3/4 cup light brown sugar. Clip a candy thermometer to the side and place the bowl over the simmering water. Whisk the egg whites and sugar constantly until the temperature reaches 140 degrees (F). Remove the bowl from the heat (and turn it off all together!), remove the candy thermometer and transfer the bowl to the standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Start beating the egg whites on medium and gradually increase the speed to medium-high until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
6. Roughly chop the toasted pecans and sprinkle over the pumpkin bars. Dollop the meringue over the top and spread so that it completely covers. Toast the top with a kitchen torch if desired, cut into bars and serve!