Feels like summer: Strawberry Rhubarb Mini Pies

Nothing says “Summer’s Here” like some pie.  Even better when it’s ala mode.  And even more betterer when you get your own individual mini pie all to yourself.  Slices are for those who share. We pie fanatics prefer our own mini pie.  No sharing required.

A couple of weeks ago I received rhubarb in my Farm Fresh box.  And strawberries to boot.  To top it off I had a pie crust just itching to go in my freezer thanks to sage advice I received from my pastry chef at LCB. She always said that if you’re making pie crust you might as well make another and freeze it.  With all these facts working in my favor, how could I not make strawberry rhubarb pie?

If you didn’t have my pastry chef instructor feel free to use store bought pie crust if you wish.  I noticed Trader Joe’s started carrying it in their freezer section.  I won’t tell.  Pie is always welcome even if you didn’t make the crust yourself.  Grab yourself some rhubarb while it’s still in stores and have yourself some pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Mini Pies

Serves 4
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 35 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 5 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1 pie crust (see my recipes page for crust recipe)

Filling

  • 2 stalks rhubarb (enough to make 1 1/2 cups of a medium dice)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups strawberries (diced medium (1/4)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon water

Topping

  • Sugar

Directions

1.
Add rhubarb, sugar, water, and vanilla to pot and simmer on low for 10 minutes until rhubarb starts to soften. Let cool slightly.
Rhubarb-Pie-2-of-9
2.
Add rhubarb mixture to strawberries, brown sugar, salt, corn starch, and cinnamon and mix well until combined.
Rhubarb-Pie-4-of-9
3.
Roll out pie crust until it's 1/8 inch thick and big enough to divide into four roundish pieces that are about 6-7 inches in diameter (if you're using 4 inch mini pie tins like I did. You want about a 1 inch overhang.
Rhubarb-Pie-3-of-9
4.
Re roll any remaining pie crust scraps until 1/8 inch thick and use a rolling pastry cutter or sharp knife to make 16 (or 24 depending on how much crust you have left) 5 inch long and 1/2 inch wide lattice pieces.
Rhubarb-Pie-7-of-9
5.
Add strawberry rhubarb mixture evenly to four prepared pie tins. I like to add more sliced strawberries on top of the mixture to give it extra strawberry punch.
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6. Cut overhanging pie crust so it's about 1 inch evenly around the tin. Carefully place 2 lattice pieces horizontally, and 2 lattice pieces vertically, and interlace them (or you can do 3 x 3 if you have enough crust left). Press lattice pieces into edge of pie crust and carefully tuck the edge underneath itself. You can use the back of a fork to create a nice pattern along the edge or use your thumb to crimp the edge, or just leave it be as I did, it's rustic, right?
7.
Whisk egg yolk and water with fork in a bowl. Brush glaze generously over lattice and edge of pie crust. Sprinkle generous amount of sugar over tops of pie to give it that nice crunchy crust.
Rhubarb-Pie-8-of-9
8.
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 25-35 minutes, until sauce is thick and bubbling and starting to ooze over and crust has browned slightly. You'll know it when you see it.
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Summer BBQ: Blueberry Peach Cobbler

We finally recovered from our move and are now settled into our new home.  No longer do we reside in our Pasadena home on top of the hill, a home I’ll miss very much, especially our spectacular Rose Bowl and Downtown views.  We traded in our swanky contemporary home for a historic English revival in a neighboring suburb on a tree lined street.  We have a big backyard for Griffin and Kidney Bean to play in and a welcoming courtyard where we can entertain family and friends al fresco.

To culminate our new home, we invited a few friends over to celebrate our move and welcome the summer.  Since a barbecue was in order, I kept the menu pretty simple and made sure to include a few vegetarian options for our non-meat eating family members: St. Louis style spare ribs with homemade whiskey barbecue sauce, (recipe inspiration here, I have no idea who Scott Hibbs is); buttermilk marinated grilled chicken; good ole fashioned cole slaw; vegetarian baked beans, stuffed pasilla peppers (recipe inspiration here), and for dessert: homemade blueberry peach cobbler, ala mode, but of course (recipe below).

The weather was gorgeous, our courtyard was magical, and my food was a hit, natch.  But the winner of the night was the cobbler.  Oh-my-stars was it delicious.

The blueberries and peaches melted together to create a match-made-in-heaven juicy syrup set off by the tangy sweet candied ginger I threw in with the fruit on a whim, and the cobbler topping was perfectly browned and succulent yet crumbly with a creamy vanilla flavoring thanks to the whole vanilla bean I added to the dough.  The vanilla bean ice cream (the only thing I didn’t make myself) just sealed the deal.  An outdoor BBQ dessert that left me dreaming about the last helping that went uneaten and reserved in the back of my refrigerator just for me.

Blueberry Peach Cobbler

It was the first time I cooked in my new home’s kitchen (which will be getting a face lift soon enough), and our first time entertaining in our new house.  I think it’s going to be a very very good summer.

Blueberry Peach Cobbler

Ingredients

Filling

  • 3 lb yellow peaches
  • 1 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 2/3 cups evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 pinch salt

Filling (Optional)

  • 1 tablespoon candied ginger (or 1 tsp fresh grated ginger)

Cobbler

  • 2 cups flour (all purpose)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 1/8 cup heavy Cream (plus more for brushing)

Note

Adapted from Martha Stewart.

Directions

1. First peel your peaches by bringing a large pot of water to just boiling. Prepare an ice water bath. Add peaches to boiling water for 45 seconds, then remove quickly and place in ice water bath to stop the cooking process. You should be able to peel off the skin easily.
2. Slice peaches in wedges about 3/4" thick.
3. Preheat oven to 375.
4. Stir together peaches, blueberries, 1/3 of a cup of sugar, cornstarch, brown sugar, lemon juice, ginger, and a pinch of salt until well mixed. Then transfer mixture to the bottom of your baking dish (I used a 2 quart baking dish).
5. In a clean bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, and remaining 1/3 cup sugar.
6. Cut very cold butter into 1/2" chunks. Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your hands, cut butter into flour mixture until you have clumps no bigger than peas. Do not overwork.
7. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise and using the back of a knife, scrape seeds into the cream. Pour cream mixture into flour mixture and stir until a sticky dough forms. Do not overwork.
8. Divide dough into 12 balls roughly the size of golf balls and arrange over the peach/blueberry filling, leaving a little space between each ball for expansion.
9. Brush tops and sides of dough with heavy cream, and sprinkle a generous amount of sugar on top of dough balls.
10.
Bake cobbler for 55-70 minutes until cobbler is golden brown and juices are bubbling. You might want to place some aluminum foil under cobbler pan on the bottom rack to catch any drippings. If cobbler is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil during the cooking. Let cool 1 hour before serving.

Passover (and Gluten Free) birthday cake: Flourless Chocolate Torte

Just because your birthday falls during Passover shouldn’t mean you’re deprived of a celebratory cake.

I make a birthday cake for my father every year but this year his birthday landed in the middle of Passover.  That means flour is out, and gone with flour are delicious options like carrot and red velvet, my past go-to cakes.

Now there are plenty of delicious Passover friendly desserts.  I typically make the traditional sponge cake, or coconut macaroons, or on occasion, French style macarons, all of which are made sans flour (and gluten).  Even cheesecake works if you adjust the crust recipe.  But I’ve never attempted a Passover friendly birthday cake until now.

I settled on a multi-layer flourless chocolate torte.  Between each layer I spread luscious chocolate ganache and a seedless raspberry jam for added kick, then garnished with blackberries to add a touch of Spring.  I’m not much of a cake decorator (I lack the patience for precision work), but hopefully Dad will be pleased when he sees his cake.

This one took a few hours, and working with chocolate is always messy business.  Be warned.

Flourless Chocolate Torte (Passover Friendly and Gluten Free)

Serves 6
Prep time 3 hours
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 3 hours, 20 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Dessert
Occasion Birthday Party

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 1/4 cup Butter (Unsalted, softened to room temperature)
  • 1 1/4 cup Sugar or Evaporated Cane Juice
  • 9 Eggs (separate whites and yolks, room temperature)
  • 10 oz Semi-sweet chocolate (Grated in food processor)
  • 2 3/4 cups Almond meal (aka blanched almond flour)

Cake (Optional)

  • 1 jar Raspberry fruit spread (Spreadable, no seeds if possible)

Ganache

  • 16 oz Semi-sweet chocolate (Use good quality bulk chocolate like Vahlrona)
  • 1 1/2 cup Heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Butter

Simple syrup

  • 1/2 cup Sugar or Evaporated Cane Juice
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Note

For my cake, I doubled the recipe and made two sheet trays of cake.  I cut each in half and ended up with four layers.  For the recipe below, you'll end up with 6 smaller layers (about 6"x6" each).

Note, you may have extra ganache. Save it for dipping strawberries!

Recipe inspired by Cooking Channel.

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13"x18" cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with non-stick spray. Line with parchment paper.
2. Shave the chocolate using the grater attachment in your food processor. You can also use a box grater (slower), but you want the chocolate in nice thin flakes so it absorbs easily into the dough.
3.
In a bowl, cream the butter, sugar and egg yolks together using your mixer's paddle attachment, on medium speed until light lemon yellow and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
4.
Add the shaved chocolate and almond meal and mix on low until evenly distributed, then on medium until well incorporated, another minute. Set dough aside in another large bowl and clean the bowl of your stand mixer.
5.
In the clean bowl, whip the egg whites using the whisk attachment until soft peaks form (see picture: turn your whisk around, the crest of the wave should fall over but should not be too runny for "soft peak" stage, do not overmix).
6.
Using a spatula, add 1/3 of egg whites to chocolate batter and fold in gently. This first third will loosen up the tough batter so don't worry too much about losing all the air from your egg whites. Add another 1/3 of egg whites and fold in, then do the same with the last 1/3 of egg whites.
7.
Pour the batter into the parchment lined sheet and spread with spatula so it is very evenly distributed.
8. Bake for about 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Remove and let cool completely.
9. While cake is baking, make the simple syrup. Bring sugar and water to simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer 3-5 minutes. Add vanilla and let cool.
10.
Once cool, the cake should pull away from the pan edges, if not, run a knife around it. Place another sheet tray inside your cake tray and invert, so the cake flips over onto the clean sheet tray. Slowly peel off the parchment paper.
11.
Make the ganache. Place cream in pot and bring to gentle simmer. Turn off heat and add grated chocolate and butter. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir very gently until smooth (you don't want to get air bubbles in your ganache). Let cool for 15-20 minutes so it can thicken.
12.
When cake is cooled, gently brush on simple syrup with pastry brush all over top and sides of cake. This makes the cake moist.
13.
When ganache has cooled and thickened slightly, pour enough ganache over your cake to cover with a nice even layer, spreading with an offset spatula. Place cake in refridgerator for 20 minutes to cool and thicken ganache.
14.
Remove cake from refrigerator. If you made just one batch, cut the cake into thirds along the width (if you used a 13"x18" pan, each third will be about 6"x13"). Using a small offset spatula, spread raspberry jam (if using) evenly over 2 of the pieces. Then spread the raspberry jam over just 1/2 of the third piece (because you don't want jam over the top layer). NOTE: I doubled the recipe (and made 2 sheet trays of cake). For my cake here, I cut each tray in half and ended up with just 4 layers. I spread jam over 3 of the 4 layers).
15.
Carefully lift each piece and stack them on top of each other, putting the piece spread with jam on only half of it on the top. You now have three layers. Carefully cut through all three layers to make six. Stack them together (making sure the top layer does not have jam).
16.
If you have mixmatched sides, cut them carefully so you have nice sharp edges around the four corners.
17. Take a clean sheet try and line it with plastic wrap. Then place a metal cooling rack (if you have one) inside the sheet tray. Carefully place the torte on top of the cooling rack. Pour the ganache carefully over top of the tort, trying to make sure it drips evenly down to coat all of the sides. Your cake will come out cleaner and prettier if you don't have to use a spatula to spread the ganache, but let it pour over the sides on its own. You can pick up the left over ganache that drips on the plastic wrap and repour if you need.
18.
Let cool in refrigerator until ganache sets. Then decorate. Garnish with fresh berries if desired.

Strawberries in season: Greek yogurt and vanilla bean panna cotta with strawberry mousse

It’s strawberry season in California! Oh boy.

I recently subscribed to an organic produce delivery service, Farm Fresh to You.  Every other week I receive a box of organic fruits and vegetables from local farms and in my first box I received gorgeous organic strawberries, the first of the season.  (I also received kale, collard greens, red leaf lettuce, 2 fennel bulbs, baby carrots, orange cauliflower, oranges, apples, and lemons. It was a little overkill so I switched to a smaller delivery plan, but the fruits and vegetables were delicious and I used up nearly all of them, thanks to the help of these produce preservers).

Panna cotta strawberry mousse What to do with all those delicious strawberries?
Since Fin’s grampaw was coming into town to see his grandson, and since I have it on good authority that one of his favorite breakfast foods is a yogurt parfait, I decided to do a take on the yogurt parfait for a light after-dinner dessert: greek yogurt and vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh strawberry mousse.

The panna cotta is about as simple as it gets (if you can make Jell-O, you’re golden): gelatin, cream, vanilla bean, greek yogurt, sugar.  Simmer the cream, gelatin, vanilla, and sugar, stir in the greek yogurt, then pour into ramekins or small glasses, and let set in the fridge.  The mousse, not much more difficult: gelatin and crushed strawberries, stirred into fresh whipped cream and powdered sugar, set in the fridge.  Put the two together and you have tangy and creamy panna cotta with light as clouds strawberry mousse.  The tanginess from the Greek yogurt complements the sweet but slightly tart strawberries.  Easy peasy.

But don’t stop there.  I learned from my restaurant days that every creamy dessert needs a little crunch to balance out the textures in your mouth, so I topped my panna cotta mousse “parfaits” with crunchy crushed lady finger cookies and some chopped pistachios (for color and flavor contrast as well), and finally some diced strawberries.  Beautiful, yet simple.  A winning combination.

Panna cotta strawberry mousse

A light late-Spring dessert that’s sure to please any parfait lover, and a great way to showcase the gorgeous strawberries we’ve been enjoying here in California.  Enjoy!

Yogurt & Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry Mousse

Serves 6
Prep time 2 hours, 30 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 2 hours, 45 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Panna cotta

  • 1 cup Heavy cream
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Unflavored Gelatin (1 envelope)
  • 3 tablespoons Cold water
  • 1/3 cup Sugar or evaporated cane juice
  • 1 Vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 16 oz Greek yogurt (Plain, unflavored)

Mousse

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Unflavored Gelatin (1 envelope)
  • 2 cups Stawberries (Cleaned and hulled)
  • 1 1/2 cup Heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Cold water

Garnish

  • 2-3 Lady fingers (or use graham cracker or cookie of your choice)
  • 1-2 Diced strawberries
  • 1/8 cup Pistachios (chopped)

Note

Adapted from Joy of Desserts and Eggs on Sunday

Directions

1.
First make panna cotta. Place cold water in small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over top, let soften for 3 minutes.
2. In pot, bring cream and sugar over low-medium heat. Slice open vanilla bean and scrape seeds in cream mixture, then add scraped bean (you'll strain it out later). Bring to simmer, about 10 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid scalding.
3. Turn off heat and add gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is fully dissolved, about 3 minutes.
4.
In a larger bowl add yogurt and stir until creamy. Place mesh strainer over the yogurt bowl and pour cream and vanilla through strainer into yogurt bowl to catch the spent vanilla bean. Stir carefully with whisk until cream and vanilla is fully combined with yogurt.
5. Pour panna cotta into 6 ramekins or glasses, refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.
6. Next make the mousse. Place cold water in small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over top, let sit for 3 minutes. Then heat in microwave or in small pot, stirring often, until gelatin is fully dissolved.
7. Place strawberries in blender and pulse until well crushed. Add dissolved gelatin mixture and pulse again. Let cool in refrigerator.
8. In larger bowl, whip cream with electric mixer with whisk attachment until small peaks form. Add powdered sugar and continue to whisk until you reach stiff peaks (take whisk out with dollop of whipped cream and invert upside down. If the cone shape stands up, you're done, if it folds over, whip a little more. Don't overwhip or you'll get butter.
9. Carefully fold strawberry/gelatin mixture into whipped cream mixture and mix gently. Refrigerate for 2 hours until set.
10.
To serve, spoon a dollop of mousse on top of set panna cotta. Sprinkle diced strawberries, crushed lady fingers (or cookie or your choice), and finely chopped pistachios (option) over top for garnish. Serve cold.

Deli Favorite: Black and White Cookies

This Jew loves dining at a great deli.  My absolute favorite is Brent’s in my hometown of the San Fernando Valley (you caught me, I’m a Valley Girl) but also high on my list are Langer’s, which hands down serves the best pastrami I’ve ever had, Canter’s, because who doesn’t love matzoh ball soup at 3 a.m., and another Valley classic, Art’s.  After my go-to meal of lox, smoked white fish and whipped cream cheese on a bagel, accompanied by a bowl of matzoh ball soup or a knish or some kugel, I always always always run by the deli counter on my way out and buy a Black and White Cookie for the road.

Aah the Black and White Cookie, the racially harmonious yin and yang of a cookie that’s not really a cookie at all but more of a “drop cake.”   A large round lemony cake with crispy sides topped with chocolate and vanilla fondant.  Likely originated in New York, nobody sums up the beauty of the black and white better than Jerry Seinfeld, of course.

Though always a favorite, I’ve never tackled them myself, until recently when I was asked to provide a dessert for H+M’s barbeque.   Not having that much in my house, I looked for a recipe that didn’t require a trip to the store and wouldn’t you know it, the black and white cookie came through.  The New York version can’t really be called a black and white unless it’s about 5″ in diameter, but I didn’t think the guests would want to dine on a cookie bigger than their hand after filling themselves with carne and pollo asada tacos, so I parted with tradition and made mine about half that size.

They’re quite easy to make, see recipe below, but frosting them takes a little time and patience.  If you crave this deli favorite like I do, or even better, if you’ve never had the pleasure, give these babies a try.  Maybe peace and harmony will follow if we heed Jerry’s advice and all “look to the cookie.”  At least it will in your kitchen.

Black and white cookie

Mini Black and White Cookies

Serves 18
Prep time 25 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cup Flour (All-purpose)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Lemon Flavoring (Lemon flavoring has oil in it and works better than lemon extract)
  • 1/3 cup Buttermilk (If you don't have it, use 1/3 cup whole milk plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice, stir and let curdle for 10 minutes before using)
  • 1/3 cup Unsalted Butter (softened to room temperature)

Icing

  • 2 cups Powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz Bittersweet or unsweetended chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons Corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup Boiling water

Note

Black and white cookies are a New York deli tradition.  In the delis you'll find gigantic 5" versions.  My versions here are about half that size.

Adapted from various recipes, including Smitten Kitchen and Epicurious.

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
2. In a cup, stir together buttermilk, lemon flavor, and vanilla.
3. In a larger bowl, beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add egg, beating until combined well.
4. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches at low speed (scraping down side of bowl occasionally), beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until smooth but do now overmix.
5.
Using a #40 cookie scoop (1 1/2 tablespoon capacity) scoop batter about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheet lined with silpat, parchment paper, or sprayed with non-stick spray.
6. Bake in middle of oven until tops are puffed and pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, about 12 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack and let sit or chill (to cool quickly), about 5 minutes.
7.
First make white icing. Put powdered sugar in heatproof (glass) bowl. Add boiling water about 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring well in between. You shouldn't need to use more than 1/3 cup of boiling water. You want the icing to be nice and thick but spreadable, if it's too thin it won't adhere to the cookie in a thick layer. [Optional: I like to add a teaspoon of lemon flavor to give the icing extra kick.] Once the cookies are completely cooled, and working quickly, ice 1/2 of the cookies using an offset spatula. Support bottom of cookie carefully so it doesn't break in your hand. Stir icing if it thickens up on you. You should use up about half of your icing. The other half will be used for the chocolate icing.
8.
Next make the chocolate icing. Place remainder of icing over a pot of simmering water to create a double boiler. Add chopped up chocolate and corn syrup. Stir well until chocolate is fully melted, then add cocoa powder (the cocoa powder will make the chocolate icing darker). If the icing is too thick and clumpy, add a little boiling water (1 teaspoon at a time) and stir well until it's glossy but still thick. Work quickly and spread chocolate icing over the other half of the cookies. You can add boiling water to your icing (1 teaspoon at a time) if it thickens up on you to return it to the glossy consistency.
9.
Cookies are best eaten the day they are made. Or place in airtight container and eat within 1-2 days.

Holiday Baking: Treat Boxes, recipe for Pistachio Macarons with Quince Buttercream

[Welcome to the new DomesticEsq.  Do you like my upgrades?  I worked with the talented folks over at Lucky Girl Design Studio to revamp my humble little blog.  I hope you’ll find this new site to be more user friendly.  Feel free to sign up for my feed or to find me on Twitter and Facebook (see those handy dandy links to the right).  Over the next few weeks I’ll be migrating my recipes over to make them easier to access.  It’s progressive.]

Last year I started a new tradition- treat boxes for the holidays.  This is the time of year when people say “to hell with my diet” and dive hog wild into the sweets.  I love baking sweets, but only when they’re appreciated.  Nothing kills my joy more than when I offer somebody a carefully crafted homemade treat and they snatch their hand away with an “I can’t eat that, sorry.”  But not this time of year.  Being in the “giving spirit” also means being in the “receiving spirit.”  I take advantage.

This year’s treat boxes were stuffed with an eclectic mix of goodies.  I started off with Hazelnut Linzer cookies with raspberry and apricot jam (recipe inspired from here).  Linzer cookies are a traditional take on the famed Austrian dessert, the Linzer torte.  The cookies look like stained glass windows and are crunchy and slightly dry.  The perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of herbal tea.  I added crushed hazelnuts to my dough to give them a nuttier punch.

Next up were the chocolate and vanilla flavored marshmallows.  Last year I made peppermint marshmallows, which were very well received.  Homemade marshmallows taste so much better than store bought.  They’re creamier, lighter, fluffier yet denser (an oxymoron?) than their StayPuft cousins.  Every time I make them I can’t help but think of Ghostbusters and pretend that my marshmallows will expand and come to life in the form of a cute but angry monster.  (Vanilla marshmallow recipe here, to make chocolate I added chocolate flavored extract instead of vanilla and coated them in a 50/50 mix of powdered sugar and powdered dark chocolate).

Holiday treat boxes The most time consuming undertaking were the macarons.  I still have a love/hate relationship with macarons because they’re gorgeous, and delicious, and you can come up with endless combinations, but they take patience, persistence, and the knowledge that chances are you’ll screw up a batch or two and you’ll have to make another.  I took a risk this year and tried pistachio macarons (made from ground pistachios in place of some of the ground almonds) with quince buttercream and jam and a hint of cardamom.  The flavor combination was all my idea and I think it worked out.  I only messed up one batch this time, but I did break a few precious cookies while trying to fill them.  They were beautiful though.  Recipe follows below.

For the chocolate fix (every good treat box needs something chocolate), I made dark chocolate truffles with a Chambord/raspberry filling.  These came out lovely.  I bought some new molds just for the occasion.  After freezing the Chambord centers I hand-dipped each pyramid shaped truffle in tempered Valhrona dark chocolate.  Then I brushed on gold luster dust for the extra wow factor.  My chocolates were divine.  (Dark chocolate truffle recipe here)

Finally, white chocolate chip macademia nut cookies rounded out my box of goodies.  Soft, moist, slightly under-baked gooiness.

And there you have it.  2 days of baking, 96 marshmallows, 48 Linzer cookies, 48 macarons, 48 white chocolate macadamias, and 72 hand-dipped chocolates later, I had my 24 treat boxes, complete with Sweet Peas by Tamara enclosure card.  Ready to gift.  ‘Tis definitely the season to indulge.

Pistachio Macarons with Quince Buttercream

Serves 15
Prep time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes
Total time 2 hours, 10 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

Macaron

  • 90 g egg whites (preferably room temperature)
  • 30g granulated sugar
  • 200g powdered sugar
  • 55g almonds (blanched, no skins)
  • 55g raw pistachios (not salted or roasted)
  • 2-3 drops Food coloring

Jam Buttercream

  • 2 Egg whites
  • 100g Granulated sugar
  • 175g Unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Quince Jam

Note

Adapted from Tartelette's recipe.
If you've never made French macarons before, there is a lot of information out there as to why they're so delicious yet often so frustrasting to make.  Before you get started, I highly recommend reading these tutorials:

Macaron 10 commandments
Macaron Myths

Demystifying Macarons

You may mess up the first time, you may get it perfect the first time and then fail the next.  Try try again.  They're worth all the effort.

Also, macarons are best on the second day. They need to soften for a day to get the right texture. I usually bake them a day ahead and then fill them the next day.

Directions

1. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the sugar until you get glossy meringue. (If you remove the whisk attachment and invert it, the egg whites should make a nice cone on top of your whisk, if they fall over they're not stiff enough. If they start to break apart on you you've gone too far and they'll be too dry). Make sure you scrape down any sugar that accumulates on the side of the bowl. You can add a few drops of food coloring (green) at this stage if you want your macarons to have a more "pistachio" look.
2. In a food processor, add the almonds, pistachios, and powdered sugar and pulse. Grind the heck out of them until they're finely ground. You might want to pass through a fine mesh sieve a few times to get rid of any remaining large pieces.
3. Add the ground nuts to the egg whites. Give a few quick strokes to incorporate all the nuts. You want to break down some of that air. Once all the nuts are incorporated, take your flat silicone or rubber spatula and firmly press the batter against the side of the bowl, then fold the batter by scraping it up in your spatula and incorporate it back into your bowl (this is called macaronage, and is very important). Do this about 15-20 times until your batter starts to flow like lava. You don't want it too stiff or too runny.
4. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #806, 807 or 809 work) and pipe the batter onto a cookie sheet topped with parchment paper (silicone mat works well too but I prefer parchment) into small rounds about 1 inch in diameter (they will spread to about 2 inches so leave room). Once they're all piped, take the cookie sheet, lift it in both hands, and firmly bang it on the counter twice. This releases the air bubbles and prevents your macarons from cracking during the cooking process. Then let them sit out for about 15 minutes to dry them out a bit.
5. Bake in a preheated over at 280 degrees for 15-20 minutes. They're done when they lift easily from the parchment. Macarons are best on the second day. So I usually store them for a day before filling them.
6. Add filling of your choice to one macaron and sandwhich with another.
7. For the quince butter cream: Combine the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler over simmering water. Whisk until the egg whites resemble runny marshmallow fluff and the sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes.
8. Pour the mixture into your stand mixer with whisk attachment and beat until you have a glossy meringue.
9. Beat in softened butter, one tablespoon at a time making sure it's completely incorporated before adding more. At some point your buttercream might look curdled, don't worry and keep going, it will come back together.
10. Beat in the vanilla and jam. Refridgerate for a few minutes before spreading on your macarons.

 

Halloween treats: Llama Llama Griffin and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I may have mentioned that my son is coo-coo over Llama Llama Red Pajama.  What choice did I have but to make him a Llama Llama costume for his very first Halloween (he was 2 weeks old last year and too much of a blob for costumes)?

Llama Llama props

To recreate Llama Llama, I sized down the pants and button down shirt from larger patterns I had in my project books for his red flannel pajamas.  I added a flannel stuffed tail to the back (no comments on the brown wad coming from his behind, it was part of the costume!).  The PJs ended up being a bit roomy on him but not big enough for him to trip.

The booties and hat I bought on Etsy and glued on some black and white felt to create the eyes.  When we added his Llama Llama doll, the transformation was complete.  The toughest part about this costume was getting Griffin to actually wear the hat, which he tore off his head as soon as he realized it was there.  The more distractions, the longer the hat stayed in place.

There he goes!  Catch that Llama!

Llama Llama Griffin

There goes the Llama
To show off celebrate, Griffin was invited to a pre-Halloween birthday party potluck for his playmate.

My contribution to the potluck were these darling pumpkin spice whoopie pies with maple cream cheese filling.  The whoopies were moist and soft, with just enough spice and not too much pumpkin to make them overbearing, and the filling was de-lish (as anything with cream cheese is).  Plus, bonus, they’re pretty easy to make, unlike finicky macarons.  The whoopies were a party favorite, not a crumb left on the plate.  Pumpkin Spice Whoopies

[Note: I also made chocolate whoopies with marshmallow cream, but they were too scary to eat.  Well, actually, they were too dry and crumbly, a recipe disaster that still happens occasionally.  Snapped a photo anyway.  Hee.] Scary spider

Loved the accolades received from my whoopies, but Griffin’s costume made an even bigger impression, as he walked around in his hat (for the 20 minutes it stayed on his head) looking up at each guest and holding out his prized Llama Llama doll to anybody that would catch his infectious smile.  Cuteness in spades.

I always used to dread Halloween.  I was never one to try to recreate a hokey costume into something slutty for the one day out of the year where it’s required to put it on display.  But now that kids are involved, I can get into the holiday spirit the way it was when I was a kid: a cute mom-made costume, candy and treats galore, trick or treating around the neighborhood, and celebrating the arrival of Fall.  Tonight- on with the tricking and the treating!  Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies

Serves 20
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Whoopies

  • 1 1/2 cup Flour (All Purpose)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg (Fresh grated is best)
  • 1 cup Brown sugar (Firmly packed, dark or light is ok)
  • 1/2 cup Canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cup Pumpkin puree (Canned, but fresh is best if you have time. (Roast halved pumpkin with a little butter until soft, scrape, puree in blender))
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons Unsalted butter (Room temperature)

Whoopies (Optional)

  • 1/2 teaspoon Allspice

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 4oz Cream cheese (Philadelphia, the brick kind)
  • 1 tablespoon Maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract ((or 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped))

Note

Adapted from Browned Eyed Baker

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use parchment or silpat lined baking pans or use a whoopie pie pan sprayed with cooking spray (Crate & Barrel has a good one, while you’re there, pick up a 1 tbs sized ice cream scoop)
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and soda, and spices.
3. In your mixer, mix on low the brown sugar and oil, then add the puree, then the egg and vanilla until incorporated.
4. Add 1/2 of your flour mixture to the bowl and mix on low until just combined, then repeat with the second half. Don’t over mix.
5. Use a small 1 Tbs ice cream scoop and drop them onto your baking sheet or in your pan. Leave 1 ” in between for spread.
6. Bake 10-12 minutes until cookies just start to spring back when touched. This will give you a nice moist whoopie. Let cool in pan for 3 minutes, then remove and let cool on wire racks until room temp.
7. For the filling, cream the butter and the cream cheese together until there are no lumps. Add the powdered sugar, syrup, and vanilla and beat until smoothe, but do not overbeat.
8. Assemble cookies by piping or spooning a dollup of cream cheese filling inbetween two cookies.
9. Keep chilled until ready to use, then remove and let come to room temp for a few minutes before serving. They will keep in the fridge under plastic wrap for a few days.

 

 

 

The Mighty Quince: Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Poached Quince

In early Fall I say tearful goodbyes to summer stone fruit and fresh berries.  The only thing that will improve my somber mood in the produce section is the appearance of a fall favorite- the gorgeous, fragrant, beautiful quince.  (And literally every time I see one I think of the “Jeopardy” scene from White Man Can’t Jump- it’s a food that begins with the letter “Q.”).  The quince is related to the apple and pear, though you can’t eat it raw because it’s too fibrous and will give your mouth that terrible puckery feeling.  That means you have to cook it, and the longer you cook it the better, because the flesh turns from whitish yellow to beautiful deep claret red.

We invited friends over for a small dinner party on Sunday and you know how I like to roll for a dinner party.  On the menu, fresh Greek salad with a brick of French feta piled on top, Wagyu ribeyes with white asparagus and balsamic glazed pearl red onions, and of course, dessert featuring the gorgeous quince I picked up.

For dessert I was inspired by an old cookbook a friend gave to me:  The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, which had a recipe for buttermilk panna cotta.  I thought it would be perfect with quince.

I brought 4 elements together for this beautiful plated dessert (see links to all of these recipes above): the buttermilk panna cotta, poached spice quince, almond tuile cookies, and candied hazelnuts.

A good plated dessert should be sweet but not too sweet, with something a little savory to balance the sweetness, and something crunchy to balance the soft textures.  This dessert nailed it.

The spiced quince melted in your mouth and really stood out against the mellower creamy smoothe panna cotta, and the hazelnuts added the savory crunch.  I knew it was a hit because all of my guests cleaned their plates.  The panna cotta was rich but not so rich that you could only eat a couple of bites.  I have to say I was proud of this one and may even mention the idea to my restaurant’s pastry chef.  It was the perfect finish to a meal with great friends.

Recipes for panna cotta, spiced poached quince, and candied nuts follow.  For almond tuile cookie, recipe here.

Buttermilk panna cotta poached spiced quince

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Serves 6
Prep time 3 hours
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Unflavored Gelatin
  • 1 cup Heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Granulated sugar (or Evaporated Cane Juice)
  • 1 cup Buttermilk

Optional

  • 1/2 Vanilla bean (seeds scraped)

Note

Adapted from The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook

Directions

1. Prepare a muffin pan (I prefer the silicone type) or 6 small ramekins by putting vegetable oil on a paper towel and rubbing the muffin tin or ramekins with the oil.
2. Pour 1/4 cup cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over water and let soften for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, gently heat cream and sugar in a saucepan until it’s just warm, not hot or steaming. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod into cream and add the pod as well. Stir well to dissolve sugar.
4. Remove cream/sugar from heat once it’s just warm and stir in softened gelatin until it’s fully dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in buttermilk.
5. Remove vanilla bean pod before pouring. Pour panna cotta mixture into muffin pan or ramekins. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, then put into the refridgerator to set, about 3 hours (can be made up to 4 days in advance, just store in the muffin pan in your fridge).
6. Run knife around muffin pan or ramekin and invert carefully on plate.

Poached Spiced Quince

Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 3 hours
Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 Quince
  • 1 1/2 cup Granulated sugar
  • 3 cups Water
  • 3-4 Star anise
  • 15 Black peppercorns
  • 2-3 Cinnamon sticks

Directions

1. Add sugar and water to heavy pot and bring to slow boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
2. Peel quince, then cut 4 sides, cutting around the core like an apple (make sure you don’t get the hard fibrous core in your slices). Slice each of the 4 sides in 1/2" slices. Work quickly to avoid the quince turning brown.
3. Add quince slices to pot, then put spices in cheesecloth sachet, tied with twine, and add to pot. Simmer on very low heat, covered, for about 3 hours until quince turn deep amber red.
4. Remove quince from syrup and set aside for use in dessert. Strain spices and return red syrup to the pot. Create thicker syrup by reducing at a simmer, uncovered, until syrup thickens to desired consistency. Put in squeezy tube to use cooled syrup artfully on plate.

Candied Nuts

Prep time 20 minutes
Meal type Snack

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Nuts (Your choice: hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts all work)
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Water
  • Oil (Peanut, canola, or vegetable, enough to make 4" deep in pot)

Directions

1. In small sauce pan, bring nuts, sugar, and water just to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer for about 15 minutes until sugar water thickens to a syrup consistency.
2. In a separate pan, heat enough oil to submerge nuts. Heat oil until thermometer reaches 325 degrees (if you don’t have a thermometer, add 1 nut to test temperature, if it makes bubbles when you add it to the oil, you’re good, if the oil is smoking, it’s too hot). Deep fry nuts until they turn a nice dark brown.
3. Strain nuts from oil and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or silpat, keeping nuts separate so they don’t stick together as they cool. If you want them sweeter or saltier, toss with sugar or salt as desired. When they dry they’ll be nice and crunchy.

 

Japanese Candy Club: First shipment

So I’ve explained my addiction to receiving things in the mail.  My latest obsession is monthly clubs.  Yes, I’m a Jewelmint member (though I’m thinking of quitting because I’m not digging the quality of late), and I’m a Birchbox member (who doesn’t love beauty samples I ask you!?).  For a totally worth it monthly fee I get one lovely package in the mail, per club.  Sometimes I know what’s coming and sometimes I don’t.  Even better.

My latest and greatest club find is a little kooky.  I’ll explain.  So this guy from Finland moved to Japan and realized pretty quickly that you can buy all sorts of funny stuff there, including interesting candy.  My St. Louis buddies recently experienced zany Japanese candy first hand when they received, direct from Japan, Kit Kats in all sorts of crazy flavors that we are not privy to here in the States (you must read Lickity List’s Japanese Kit Kat posts, in 3 acts, here and here and here.  Ramune or Soy Sauce flavored Kit Kat, anyone?)  I’ve never been to Japan, but I noticed a similar phenomenon when I lived in China and wish I had his brilliant idea.  So, the guy from Finland started a club.  And for a monthly fee you get a package delivered to your door, twice per month, that includes fun candy from Japan not seen outside of Japan.

Join I did!  You can too at http://www.candyjapan.com/

Or I can just tell you what I received and you can live vicariously through me.  That’s what a blog is for, right?

So, my first package arrived yesterday.  In it were two boxes.  The first was a lemon flavored chew wrapped in edible rice paper.  It tasted like a cross between salt caramel and a lemon drop.  Interesting.  And the rice paper was a nice touch.

Japanese Candy

The second was something called Meiji Chelsea Butterscotch, which tasted exactly like a crunchy Werther’s butterscotch.  The wrapping and marketing is what gets me.  Each butterscotch is wrapped in floral foil, and stuck in a sliding black box.  When you remove the candies the bottom of the box says “wishing you happiness with Chelsea.”  These candies are made in Japan and have always been made in Japan, but are pretending to be something British.  According to this blogger, who can apparently read the Meiji website in Japanese, the candy introduced the Japanese to butterscotch for the first time in the early 70’s, and wanted the packaging to resemble something British and expensive, hence the retro floral vibe.  They even brought in British looking actors, complete with peasant caps, for the commercial.

The first package in my Candy Japan club did not disappoint.  Stay tuned for the next.

A Little Chocolate Now and Then Doesn’t Hurt: Chocolate Truffles

Peanuts sage Charles Schulz once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”  I quite agree.  I’ve never been a chocoholic, and when I was younger I was allergic to chocolate.  But even I must admit I get a hankering for dark, rich, velvety chocolate every so often, and when it strikes nothing else will satisfy.

This week we tackled chocolate truffles, and were privileged to learn from the best, chocolatier Susie Norris, author of Chocolate Bliss.  My vocabulary is now filled with terms such as “fat bloom,” “seizing,” “sugar bloom,” and “tempered.”

Chocolate?

Making chocolate is a messy business.  When we finished my chef’s coat was covered in unsightly and very embarrassing brown smears.  Chef Norris didn’t have a smudge on her.  She’s a true professional.

We made two types of chocolate truffles: milk chocolate with a hazelnut cream center, and dark chocolate with a flavored center of our choice; I chose Grand Marnier, Rum, and orange zest.  First we made then refrigerated the centers.  Then we carefully and precisely tempered our chocolate and dipped the centers in.  We placed the dipped truffles on parchment lined sheets, and you have to move them around to avoid a pool of chocolate from collecting on the bottom.  (That’s called a “foot,” and it’s supposedly bad).  After decorating, we were done.  Dark chocolate truffle recipe follows.

Dark and Milk Chocolate Truffles

Hand dipped, artisan chocolates from new chocolatier: me!  And, because I love hearing how people love my cooking, the reviews are in:

“…they are SO DELICIOUS !! They taste like some of the chocolates that I eat when I am in Paris!”  And:

“Well, you can’t go wrong with liqueur in chocolates (I assume that was Grand Marnier in the Dark Chocolate Truffle)—this one was my favorite.  However, I liked the creaminess of the Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle; it hit a home run for me because it wasn’t too sweet and the hazelnut and milk chocolate married well together.  A nice glass of red wine would pair nicely with both.”

Dark and Milk Chocolate Truffles

Home run! Yay!

I’m very sad to say that baking class is now over. Tear!  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and even discovered that there may be a pastry chef in me yet, some day.  Next up: my last culinary class, Cuisine Across Cultures.  More adventures yet to come.

Dark Chocolate Truffles

Serves 30
Prep time 1 hour
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Filling

  • 8oz Dark chocolate (Use good quality, high cocoa content, I like Valrhona)
  • 4oz Heavy cream
  • 1oz Butter, unsalted
  • Flavoring (For Grand Marnier truffles, use 1/2 oz Grand Marnier, plus 1/2 oz Dark Rum, plus 1 tablespoon orange zest; for Chambord truffles, use 1/2 oz Chambord and a few drops of raspberry flavored extract)

Shell/Coating

  • 8oz Dark chocolate (Tempered, instructions below)

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe.

Note- do not drip any water into your chocolate or it will "seize" on you and won't be usable.  Be sure to keep all of your utensils, molds, etc. bone dry so no moisture contaminates your chocolate.

Directions

1.
Make the filling: chop chocolate and place in medium bowl. Scald cream in sauce pan. Pour hot cream over chocolate, add butter and whisk until melted. Add flavoring and stir until combined. Pour into an 8 oz container or into chocolate molds and chill overnight in fridge or for 30 minutes in freezer to set the filling.
2.
If you didn't use molds, scoop out bite size amounts of the filling and roll in your hands to make rounded centers. Or use a small chocolate cutter or cookie cutter to make shapes. Chill centers again.
3.
Temper chocolate for shell: Heat sauce pan of water until boiling, then turn off flame. Place 8 oz. of dark chocolate in a bowl that sits over the hot water (double boiler). Stir until chocolate melts. Using a candy thermometer, make sure the chocolate reaches exactly 115 degrees then remove from the double boiler. Place bowl over ice bath, stirring constantly until temperature drops to 82 degrees, exactly. Once the temperature drops the chocolate will be thicker. To make it easier to work with you can put it back over the hot water to raise the temperature again to no more than 90 degrees. You now have tempered chocolate. (This helps give it a nice shine and makes sure it will harden). Make sure you use the tempered chocolate immediately and constantly test the temperature to ensure it stays between 85-90 degrees. If you mess up any of these temperatures, don’t throw out the chocolate, just start over by heating it to exactly 115 degrees, then cool to 82 degrees, then back up to 85-90 degrees.
4. Dip your chilled centers into the tempered chocolate, making sure they're coated evenly. (They have chocolate dipper pokers especially for this, or a fondu poker works, or you can use your hands but it gets messy). Place them on a sheet lined with parchment paper and move them around so a pool of chocolate does not form at the base. Chill.
5.
Decorate by adding more melted tempered chocolate to a small ziploc and cut a very tiny hole to drizzle chocolate over your truffles. Or brush on gold or colored "luster dust" (available at professional baking supply shops).