apple pie cream cheese tarts

For far longer than is acceptable, I had been neglecting a package of puff pastry, a bowl of sweet, red apples, and a precious jar of matcha powder.  My birthday was also approaching, and someone was gonna have to make a cake.  That someone, is yours truly.  So many projects, and only one of me.  Oh, the travesty.  I took inventory, picked up the missing ingredients at the market, and happily resigned my day to the kitchen.  Aside from the obvious perks a baking storm leaves behind, I had yet something else to look forward to.  And that’s cleaning the aftermath of the dance between flour, countless measuring spoons and spilled batter.  In the end, I had a face full of dessert, a kitchen towel in one hand, and a bottle of homemade cleaner in the other.  Pure joy.

Apple pie tarts were first on the agenda, and agreeably, the first to enter my belly.  Green tea ice cream and a fluffy, two-tiered vanilla birthday cake were also made that day, but I’ll get to them later.  Right now, let’s just agree that one of these flaky, buttery, reminiscent-of-apple-pie tarts covers your daily fruit intake recommendation.

 

Materials (makes 4 tarts)
1 package commercial puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
2 large sweet, red apples, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3-4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4 Tbsp. cream cheese, optional
1 egg, beaten

 

Protocol
1. Pre heat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Melt butter in a medium skillet, add apples, sugar and spices, and stir well.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until apples have softened.

3. In the meantime, prepare your dough.  On a lightly floured surface, lay a sheet of dough, and cut it into four pieces.

4. Poke two of the squares with a fork (these will be the bottoms), and cut 3-5 slits in the other two (these will be the tops).

5. Repeat with the other sheet.

6. When the apples are ready, begin assembly.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat (or parchment paper), and place two bottom pieces on the mat.

7. Gently spread a tablespoon of cream cheese over each; then spoon a quarter of the cooked apples over the cream cheese.

8. Cover with a top piece of dough, press edges down with a fork, and brush liberally with egg wash to seal.

9. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

10. Garnish with powdered sugar, and devour shortly thereafter.

The tarts are amazing alone, but, just like their pie counterpart, pair well with vanilla ice cream.  Hold.  Me.  Back!  And to think this all started with an apple, which, itself, could be dessert.  It very well could, but not today, my friends.  Not today.

vanilla bean bourbon caramel sauce

Though I usually don’t adulterate ice cream, I somehow convinced myself that I need this caramel sauce.  The intimidation must’ve come from the few tablespoons of bourbon a recent day of Hot Toddy healing left behind.  Save it, it was a small bottle.  And by the way, in case of illness, an army of Hot Toddies is your ally.  It lets you sweat out the sick, take seven naps in two hours and forget that you can’t hear anything other than the aggressive whistle of the tea kettle.

Caramel sauce isn’t just for ice cream topping.  It’s for filling cupcakes, spiking frosting, swirling ice cream ribbons, and, if you’re watching your calories, dipping apples.  This jar o’ meltedsugarbutterohyeah reminds me of why I take power walks.

Water meets sugar.  Syrup meets cream.  Vanilla and bourbon crash the party.  Not much to it, but do practice patience, and forget that a watched pot never boils.  If you don’t watch, this pot not only boils, but it’ll make you regret the last 17 minutes of your life.  Watch it.  Then get on with the indulging.  It’s sweater season.

 

Materials (makes about a cup)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pats, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split, cut and scraped
1 tablespoon bourbon

 

Protocol
1. Heat water and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and allow to simmer on medium-low heat for about 18-21 minutes.  Don’t stir or whisk, but if you must, you can gently swirl.

2. After 15-20 minutes, the sugar will morph into a hardened, crystallized mass, but don’t worry.  Within a minute or so, it will melt back into a golden syrup that will shortly turn amber.

3. Lower the heat, and slowly and carefully pour in the cream (be careful: mixture will bubble and create a scalding steam).  Whisk until smooth.

4. Remove saucepan from heat, add butter, vanilla bean seeds and bourbon, and whisk to combine.

A few notes:

  1. Make sure you have a dedicated 25 minutes to this process.  It’s not all active time, but the sauce goes from ideal color and temperature to burnt in seconds.
  2. Have the cream measured out and ready to pour.  At this step, there’s no time to waste looking for anything.
  3. Because of the cream, this caramel sauce can’t be canned.  However, it does keep well in the fridge for about a week.
  4. Sugar will slightly crystallize at refrigeration, so just warm the sauce before use and it will return to its original smooth texture.

vanilla bean custard ice cream

Yes, I’m aware that Summer is over, but since moving to Portland, I’ve learned not to wait for the sun’s permission to do anything, especially eat ice cream.  When a craving strikes, I go into black-bear-approaching-hibernation mode.  Though my stores are plentiful, I reason the gluttony by reminding myself (and those who try to judge) that a bowl of ice cream is really just a glass of milk.  And it is almost Winter…

This ice cream begins with best custard I’ve ever had.  Ever.  Not just because it’s my mom’s unscripted, going-off-memory, over-the-phone recipe, but because it’s rich, creamy and dispels the myth that vanilla is “plain.”  Only five ingredients, a little swirling of the whisk and patience will take you far.  No restaurant or dessert shop I’ve visited makes it better.  Sorry, fancy school-trained pastry chefs, my mom– despite her antipathy of my dark hair and wardrobe– is, indeed, better than you.

DSC_0230

 

Materials  (makes about a quart and a half)
1 cup half & half
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup flour (omit in ice cream)
3/4 – 1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract or paste (or all of it!)
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp coarse salt

 

Protocol

1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat yolks until light and fluffy, and set aside.

2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat half & half, cream, sugar, salt, flour (if making custard), vanilla bean and scraped “caviar” on medium heat.  Stir until sugar has dissolved and mixture is hot, but not boiling (about 5 minutes).  If making custard, the mixture will get thick because of the flour.

3. Remove from heat, and temper the yolks by slowly adding about a 1/2 cup of the cream mixture to the beaten yolks and whisking to combine.  Do this twice, and then pour the tempered eggs into the remainder of the cream mixture.

4. Return the saucepan to medium heat, and cook for another 7-10 minutes or until custard coats the back of a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stirring often to prevent custard sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.  Again, do not let boil.

If you have a thermometer, make sure the temperature of the custard reaches and remains between 175 and 180 degrees F.  Custard is fully cooked at about 176 degrees, and too much extra heat will curdle and cause separation of components.  A few seconds won’t hurt, but a minute will.  If you don’t have a thermometer, remove custard from heat as soon as it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (this is the 7-10 minutes, but it may be only 5).

5. When done cooking, dip the pot into a bowl of ice water to quickly stop cooking; then transfer to a bowl.  Remove vanilla bean, and allow custard to cool at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator.  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap (to prevent a “skin” from forming).

6. To make it into ice cream, simply pour chilled custard into a pre-frozen ice cream maker bowl, and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.

The toughest part of this process is not eating the whole tub on your own.  My best advice: tell someone you’re making it, so that you’re forced to share.  Or not.  Your secret’s safe with me.

white chocolate chip, pistachio & sea salt cookies

Dinner’s been made and eaten, and the kitchen cleaned sterilized.  It’s time for dessert, but there’s nothing sweet in the house.  No, an apple isn’t the kind of sweet I want right now.  Unless it’s warm, sprinkled with cinnamon, flanked by a buttery crust and bathing in vanilla ice cream, an apple is just an apple.  I want a real dessert.  And now that I’ve mentioned it, my main taste tester does, too.  The problem is, I’ve already taken my face off, and have slipped into my velour jumpsuit (aka “comphies”), so going out for dessert is not an potion.  There may not be anything sweet in the house, but I do have white chocolate chips, a bag of shelled pistachios (a bad idea unless you practice restraint) and all the basic baking ingredients.

It’s settled– we’re having cookies!

 

 

What I love most about these cookies is that the sweet, salty, chewy and crunchy all happen at the same time.  The pistachios can be chopped with a knife, but using a food processor creates coarsely chopped pieces, plus a bit of pistachio butter, which enhances the flavor.

  

 

Materials (for 25-30 cookies, depending on your scoop, and whether you eat raw batter like I do; adapted from Joy the Baker)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup shelled pistachios, chopped in the food processor
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

 

 Protocol

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper, and set aside.

Before I continue, I have to tell you that I love love love my silicone mat.  But, to see what difference it would make, I baked a batch of these cookies on parchment paper, and these cookies took 5 minutes longer to bake, looked different and had a slightly harder texture.  The silicone mat cookies baked faster and had a better consistency.  Both materials work.  It’s just a matter of what you have available.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, and beat to combine. Add vanilla and beat until completely mixed in.

4. Pour in the dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated, but don’t over beat.

5. Using a spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and pistachios.

6. Scoop out about 2 Tbsp and form into a ball.  Place on prepared cookie sheet about 2 inches apart, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown.

7. Allow to cool at room temperature for a few minutes; then transfer to a cooling rack.  Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

I reheated day old cookies in a toaster oven for about a minute at 200 degrees, and they were as perfect as their freshly-baked cousins.

 

chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

“Yuck, coconut.  I hate coconut!”

“Give it here, Percy.  I don’t mind coconut.”

“You don’t mind nothin’, girl!”

If you’ve seen Corrina, Corrina, you may recognize those quotes from the scene in which the kids are sitting around eating chocolates.  Percy bites into two bon bons and proclaims his hate for cream and coconut, while his chubby cousin quickly accepts the task of getting rid of them for him.  Too cute!  This was the inspiration behind chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons.  That, and my dad’s birthday is coming up and he, unlike Percy, loooves coconut, and chocolate!

These macaroons are super easy to make.  Only six ingredients, two bowls and a little heat.  The result is a chewy center and a crunchier outside that just begs to be bitten.

 

Materials (for approximately 13 macaroons; recipe adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)

7 ounces shredded sweetened coconut (1/2 standard package)
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk (1/2 can)
2 Tbsp vanilla (1 Tbsp is OK, but the extra vanilla gives a more intense aroma)
1 egg white
pinch of Kosher salt
8-10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips

 

Protocol

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together coconut, condensed milk and vanilla.

3. In another bowl, beat egg white and salt using an electric mixer until stiff peaks appear.

4. Gently fold the whipped egg white into the coconut mixture, and stir well to combine.

5. Use a small ice cream scoop, funnel or tablespoon and portion out about 2-3 Tbsp worth of final coconut mixture.  You can also use a piping bag with a large tip (or a plastic bag with a corner cut off), and pipe directly onto the parchment paper.

6. Bake for 20 minutes or until the macaroons are golden brown.

7. Remove from oven and rest on a cooling rack (a refrigerator works well for faster cooling).

8. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt chocolate on very low heat until creamy.  Use a whisk to stir.

9. Remove from heat, and dip one side or bottoms of cooled macaroons into the chocolate, or drizzle some on top.

The method doesn’t matter, as long as you are generous.  Place finished macaroons on a plate lined with wax paper (helps with removal) and allow to set for at least 30 minutes.  These sweet babies keep well in the fridge, but prefer to be stored in your belly.

 

a change of heart & lemon olive oil cake

Last week, while walking to New Seasons with my other half, I announced my plan to make an olive oil cake.  “Why?” he protested.  For fun, because a lemon winked at me earlier, and why not?  It’s cake, and cake consumption doesn’t always need to be justified.  He wasn’t convinced, but wasn’t going to stand in my way.  By now, he knows better.

Fast forward two minutes.  New Seasons is having a tasting, and on the menu– almond olive oil cake.  As though I planned it.

A bite in, and I hear a hearty “yuuum.”  Can you tell where this is going?

Another two minutes and three samples later, my olive oil cake idea is brought up.  But this time, it’s heavily supported and encouraged.  Though it was tasty, the almond cake had anise in it, which I try to avoid as much as possible.  It reminds me of O-chem lab and the day I spent too much time in front of a distillation column making my own anise extract.  I’ve since repressed the memory of the licorice-like stench and the grade that came with it.

Lemon it was.

Moist, dense and fluffy inside; crunchy and imperfect on the outside.  Delightful alone; magical alongside a Moscato.  Like my 4.0 GPA, this cake didn’t last long.

 

Materials (adapted from Gourmet)

1 cup cake flour (or this, in case of emergency)
1 large lemon (zest and juice)
5 egg yolks
4 egg whites
3/4 cups granulated sugar, plus 2 Tbsp for sprinkling
3/4 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 tsp Kosher salt

 

Protocol

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees  F.

2. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter, place a 9-inch round piece of parchment paper on the bottom and grease the top of the paper.  Set aside.

3. Grate an entire lemon, add the zest to the flour and squeeze the juice.  Save for a few steps ahead.

4. In a medium bowl, beat yolks and 1/2 cup sugar on high for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and turns pale yellow.

5. Reduce speed, add olive oil and lemon juice and beat only to combine.

6. Gently fold in the flour mixture, and set bowl aside.

7. In another bowl, beat egg whites and salt until foamy (about 30 seconds).

8. Add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, and continue beating until soft peaks form.

9. Gently fold in half of the whites into the yolk mixture until the color lightens, then add the remaining whites and continue to fold in until no streaks remain.

10. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and drop the pan onto a cutting board three times to remove any trapped air bubbles.

11. Sprinkle the remaining 2 Tbsp of sugar over the top, and place into oven.

12. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and dry.

13. Cool the cake on a rack for 15 minutes, or until you can safely remove the wall of the pan.

14. Allow the cake to further cool at room temperature for about an hour, and then remove the parchment paper from the bottom.  Set onto a serving plate, grab a fork and enjoy the Summer party about to hit your taste buds.

peanut butter cup martini

While giving the treadmill some ferocious attention, I watched a Food Network special on Hershey’s Chocolate World.  The host of the show took a tour of the chocolate factory, then stopped off at a bar to have a chocolate peanut butter martini, and finished his day at the Spa at Hotel Hershey, where he took a bath in frothy chocolate milk!  While pondering a career change, I promised my taste buds a treat and took note of the martini recipe.  As the euphoria of my run dissipated, so did my memory, taking the crucial recipe with it.  I attempted to recall, but was forced to improvise, and did quite well.

 

Materials

2 oz. Castrie’s peanut rum creme (Frangelico hazelnut liquor works well, too)
1 oz. Godiva chocolate vodka
1 oz. Godiva chocolate liquor
chocolate syrup
peanut butter cup for garnish

 

Protocol

1. Shake the rum creme, vodka and liquor in a shaker with ice and pour into a glass drizzled with chocolate syrup.

2. Garnish with a peanut butter cup, and indulge!