Mini Pavlova

I first heard of the pavlova dessert when it was featured on the Great American Baking Show in a showstopper challenge. I thought they were so beautiful and looked incredibly yummy and of course, I wanted to try to make them. I settled on trying a “classic” pavlova (meringue, whipped cream and fresh fruit) to try and get the hang of it first. It’s actually a rather easy-to-follow recipe…it just requires patience and attention to the little details.

MINI PAVLOVA

Ingredients:

6 eggs whites, ROOM TEMPERATURE
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons corn starch
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

For Frosting:

1 1/2 cups COLD heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons white sugar

For topping:

Fresh fruit like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.

Directions:

PREHEAT oven to 225° F with the rack in the center of the oven.

LINE a large baking sheet with parchment paper (you may need two sheets). HINT: if you use two sheets, make sure you avoid the top rack and bake the pavlovas in the bottom 1/3 of the oven.

BEAT 6 room temperate egg whites on high speed for 1 minute until soft peaks form. With mixer on low, gradually add 1 1/2 cups of white sugar and beat for 10 minutes on high speed, or until stiff peaks form. The mix will be smooth and glossy.

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FOLD in (using over/under motion) 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract, then add 2 tablespoons of corn starch and hand mix until well blended. HINT: pre-measure these three ingredients while the mix is beating for 10 minutes as you want to quickly make these additions without letting the mix sit for too long.

PIPE meringue onto parchment paper (I used aWilton 1M open star tip). Using a spoon, indent the center to allow room for the cream.

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BAKE at 225° F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then, turn off the oven and DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. Leave the meringue in the hot oven for another 30 minutes.  The outside will be dry, crisp and very pale while the inside is like a marshmallow.

TRANSFER the pavlova (leaving it on the parchment paper is best) to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile…

BEAT cold heavy whipping cream in a stand mixer with 2 tablespoons of sugar for about 2 1/2 minutes.

PIPE the frosting onto the pavlovas and top with fresh fruit.

I found that it’s best to leave them in the fridge as if left out at room temp, the whipped cream will start to fall through the meringue. It’s still delicious, but not quite as pretty to look at.

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These babies are sugar bombs. The whipped cream is necessary to curb some of the sweetness of the pavlova. But they are a unique texture that is sure to win some fans at your next gathering!

Irish Cream Cupcakes

I love a festive cupcake – heck, I love cupcakes for all occasions. So, even though I’m not an Irish lass, I celebrated with some green and a nip of Bailey’s to mark St. Patrick’s Day!

This super moist cupcake packs a little surprise with the addition of just a few mini chocolate chips and frosting can easily be adult-only or kid friendly to your liking.

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Let’s get started, shall we? Recipe adapted from http://www.food.com

Cake Ingredients

3/4 cup unsweetened Ghirardelli cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot water
6 tablespoons butter
1 2/3 cup cake flour (you can sub all-purpose if you want)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Frosting Ingredients

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 (1 lb) package confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream (sub heavy cream for kid friendly cupcakes)
1/8 teaspoon gel/paste food coloring

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tin with liners (I made about 24 cupcakes with this batter).

MIX cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl until dissolved; set aside.

MELT the 6 tablespoons of butter in a microwave proof bowl or cup; set aside

STIR flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.

ADD buttermilk, eggs, melted butter and cocoa mixture to flour/sugar mix and beat until fully incorporated.

STIR in mini chocolate chips.

DIVIDE batter among liners. HINT: for perfectly even cupcakes, use a disher (aka, a mechanical cookie scoop) to divide the batter among the liners. If you use the Oxo brand, I use two medium scoops per liner.

BAKE 18 – 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

TRANSFER cupcakes to wire racks to cool.

Meanwhile…

BEAT 1 cup room temperature butter until fluffy.

STIR in confectioners’ sugar until blended.

ADD Bailey’s (or heavy cream) and beat until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes).

STIR in food coloring until blended.

PIPE or spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.

ENJOY!

Nestle®Buncha Crunch Oatmeal Cookies

My local grocer was having a sale on all the specialty baking products they bring in for the holidays. I got my hands on a bag of the Nestle Buncha Crunch Baking Bits.

Buncha Crunch

Couldn’t pass up this gem! On the back of the bag was a recipe for oatmeal cookies and I knew I just had to try them. First of all, I love a good, chewy oatmeal cookie and second, who doesn’t enjoy chocolate covered rice crispy treats!? The combo sounded like a winner and so I set to making the cookies.

The recipe is very easy and if you can’t find any Buncha Crunch Baking Bits…just chop up some Nestle Crunch Bars for the same affect.

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) of butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
4 cups quick or old-fashioned oats (recipe calls for 4 1/2 cups, but I found that 4 is more than enough)
1 package (13 oz) Nestle Buncha Crunch candy
Directions
PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl with a whisk. Set aside.

BEAT butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture.

STIR in oats and Bunch Crunch.

DROP by rounded tablespoon onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

BAKE for 8-10 minutes or until very lightly browned. Cool on baking sheet for two minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I found that, in my oven, it took 11 1/2 minutes to get a golden color as I definitely went bigger than 1 tbsp per cookie, but ovens vary, so definitely start with 8 minutes and check on the cookies. If you like them slightly under-baked, pull them just as the edges start to brown.

I brought these to my office to celebrate a colleagues birthday and they were definitely a hit! Highly recommend if you are a fan of oatmeal…and feel free to adapt this recipe with other treats like chopped up peanut butter cups, chocolate chips or butterscotch depending on your mood. This is a great oatmeal base that doesn’t include spices like cinnamon (that you often find in oatmeal raisin recipes) and I find it pairs much better with sweet chocolate treats.

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Lemon Blueberry Hamantaschen

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To celebrate Purim, I always make hamantaschen…one of my favorite cookies! Much like a thumbprint cookie, these jam filled treats are a delectable dessert any day of the week or at your Purim feast.

What is Purim, you ask? There was this bad dude named Haman during the ancient Persian Empire. Haman was the royal vizier to King Ahasuerus. So… Ahasuerus gets loaded at a party and after making ridiculous demands of his wife, Vashti…who refuses and then he’s like, GIRL BYE…he then has all the fair ladies of land paraded before him so he can choose his new bride. One of these women is Esther, who lives with her first cousin Mordecai. The King makes her his new bride and Esther, wisely, decides not to reveal the fact that she is Jewish to him. Fast forward to Haman’s appointment to viceroy…the title totally goes to his head and he’s prancing around demanding everyone bow down to him and whatnot. Mordecai refuses and Haman gets his panties in a twist. Haman finds out Mordecai is Jewish and is like, “I’m going to kill him. And not only am I going to kill him, but I’m going to kill all the Jews in the empire.” Haman has issues. Haman convinces the King to back him and to decide when he’s going to put his evil plan into action, he casts lots (“purim”) to choose the date. Esther finds out what’s going on…but she’s afraid to approach the King. Her cousin Mordecai is the voice of reason and suggests that she was elevated to her position as Queen for the very purpose of saving the Jews. She has a change of heart after fasting and praying for three days and she invites the King and Haman to attend a feast. At the feast, they are having a great time so Esther says…”let’s do this again tomorrow!” Meanwhile, Haman is building gallows to hang Mordecai the next day…the King can’t sleep and is like, “let me go over the books”…and he realizes he never did anything special for Mordecai back when he discovered a plot to assassinate the King. So…the King goes to his viceroy and says, “Dude. What should I do to honor a man who has performed great service to his King?” And Haman, with his huge ego, assumes that the King is talking about him (natch). So he’s like, “put him in royal robes, parade him around like he’s super important on a horse, and make the people cheer for him.” Imagine how pissed Haman is when he realizes that the honor is then bestowed upon the guy with enough balls to stand up to him and refuse to bow! Finally, Haman and the King go to the final night of the feast with Esther and she’s like, “B-T-dubs, guys – I’m Jewish. Oh, and honey, Haman is trying to murder me and all my peeps.” The King is like, “Haman…you’re a dick. As punishment, you will be hanged on the very gallows that you erected for Mordecai.” That was kind of a long story, but juicy, no? Esther saves the day, Mordecai becomes the King’s second in command and we all get to eat HAMANTASCHEN!

I always thought that the triangle shape was because Haman wore a three pointed hat. That’s what I remember from the folklore of my youth, anyway. Wikipedia has other theories if you are interested, but let’s get on to the good stuff!

I recommend making the filling first (it takes a bit of time to set up – a few hours at least) and then move onto the dough!

Lemon Hamantaschen Dough 
(I just adapted a standard recipe to include lemon)

1 cup of salted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between additions. Add the lemon juice and zest. Stir in the flour, mixing just until combined. Chill the dough until firm (wrapping in cellophane or parchment paper).

Roll out dough to 1/8″ thickness and cut out 2″ circles. Use a spatula to transfer the circles to a parchment lined sheet pan. Spoon a 1/2 tbsp. of filling (we’ll get to that in a minute) into each circle and pinch together the sides to make a triangle shape.

Here is a little step-by-step picture tutorial of shaping the hamantaschen (HINT: you don’t want to simply pinch the ends together – you’ll get a leaky cookie – you want to fold the flaps over each other):

Place the hamantaschen on the parchment lined baking sheet so that each is about an inch apart from the others (I put mine closer together, but they don’t spread much) Let’s say an inch as better safe than sorry. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden on the edges and darker golden on bottom.

Lemon Blueberry Jam
(Courtesy of Taste of Home)

4 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups sugar
1 package (3 oz) lemon gelatin

In a large saucepan, slightly crush 2 cups of blueberries. Add remaining berries and sugar, mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; stir in gelatin until dissolved. Pour hot jam into jars or containers. Cover and cool. Refrigerate.

I had some little jam containers that I had washed and saved, so I just poured the jam right into those to cool in the fridge.

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You can use whatever filling you want…lemon curd, apricot jam, strawberry jam, or even orange marmalade. Get creative and enjoy!

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Peanut Butter Cookie Bars

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I had a great, good ol’ fashion sleepover with a girlfriend last weekend and she told me that the only thing I needed to bring (aside from my PJs, of course) was dessert. I wanted something quick, easy and that I could make with the ingredients in my pantry and I immediately thought of peanut butter brownies. I found a recipe online that I tweaked a little bit (more peanut butter and less baking powder to keep the rise down; this results in a chewier and less dense bar) and found that, even with the tweaking, they still couldn’t be called “brownies” – not in my mind anyway – because these bad boys are dense, chewy and definitely more like a peanut butter cookie. Totally delicious and indulgent. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cookie Bars

Ingredients
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
chocolate chips or crumbled butterfingers candy for top (optional)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 8×8 inch baking pan.

2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl with a whisk. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, cream together peanut butter and butter. Gradually blend in brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla; mix until JUST incorporated. HINT: If you over-blend these ingredients, the cookie bar will become more dense and ‘cake-like’ rather than chewy like brownies. 

4. Stir dry ingredients mix into your wet ingredients until fully incorporated.

5. Sprinkle top with chocolate chips (or peanut butter chips…or both!) or crumbled Butterfinger candy for a little crunch.

6. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated oven. Cool, cut into squares. HINT: if you don’t want crispy edges, you can top with tin foil just around the edges of the pan to curb browning.

If you are up for it, this would pair very well with a decadent chocolate ganache or chocolate frosting.

 

Tie Dye Cake with Mirror Glaze

Part of why I blog and share my bakes with people is because I want to share the good with the bad. So many blogs make all these different baking fads look SO easy, when in reality, they aren’t that cut and dry.

I love how this cake LOOKS, but hindsight being 20/20, I would have used a different cake recipe to get the tie dye effect, I would have chosen to go with a different type of cake for the mirror glaze effect and I would have just frosted my bad-ass white cake and mowed down. Ok…let me break it down for ya.

Tie Dye Cake

This is actually not tough. You could, in the spirit of efficiency, simply take a store bought white cake mix and dye it a bunch of colors and just scoop the different batters into a pan. I, of course, wanted to make everything from scratch, so I opted for a white cake recipe that I’ve used in the past. I didn’t stop to think about the fact that the cake gets its super moist consistency by folding in egg whites. When you separate the batter and you add dye…you have to mix the batter EVEN MORE…thus resulting in a denser cake because you have effectively removed all the lovely air you incorporated into the batter by folding in the egg whites. WHOOPS. My mistake.

If you love a great basic white cake, then here is the recipe I usually follow. A couple notes on the recipe. One, it’s not a snow white cake (for that, you have to sub out the butter for shortening). You can make it lighter in color by whipping the butter and sugar a tad longer. Also, be sure you are using clear vanilla extract…otherwise, you are adding additional color to the batter that will make it more ivory in color. Because I was adding dye to the batter anyway…it hardly mattered the color. I just wanted a light batter that would take the dye easily.

After I folded in the egg whites (I only partially folded them in, realizing at this point, I had chosen the WRONG batter for a tie dye cake), I split the batter into four parts. I dyed each one with a different color (hot pink, blue, orange and purple). It’s always best to use gel dyes as they won’t add any additional liquid to your batter, but if you use a liquid dye, just use it sparingly.

After I gave my bundt pan a generous rub down with Crisco, I layered in the different color batters. I didn’t do it neatly as that’s part of the appeal of a tie dye cake. I started with hot pink, then orange, then blue, then purple. After I was done, I took a cake spatula and very gently ran it through the batter a few times to swirl things up. I didn’t want to do it too much and then have a gray batter (a very unappetizing color!).

I baked the bundt cake for about 30 minutes (just until a pick came out clean) and let it cool for about 10 minutes. I turned it over, wrapped it in parchment and saran wrap and popped it into the freezer to cool down (why? because a frozen cake helps the gelatin in the mirror glaze set immediately).

Mirror Glaze

As I mentioned earlier, I would have glazed a different kind of cake. But, for my first time making a glaze, I think the cake came out beautiful. A bundt cake is hard to get the coverage from the glaze (and as I didn’t have a frosting base for it to adhere to, it was more transparent that it might have otherwise been). That being said, I think the cake was quite pretty.

I follow this recipe for the mirror glaze. It was easy to make, but let me tell you…this was one of the messiest projects I have ever undertaken. It requires quite a few dishes…and quite a bit of effort, but the end result is pretty WOW.

I actually strained my glaze twice to make sure it was perfectly smooth. I strained the first time just before it was going into the bowl of white chocolate chips. After the chips were melted and stirred in, I strained a second time to get the waxy bits that didn’t fully incorporate out of the mixture.

I set aside 1 cup of the mixture and I dyed it black (using gel dye – definitely recommend GEL for this recipe). The bulk of the mixture I died hot pink (again, using gel dye. I use all the Wilton paste dyes – you can get them at any local craft store like Michael’s or AC Moore).

I had to get creative with my bundt cake as you need to raise the cake so that the glaze drips off its sides. So I grabbed a glass tumbler from the cupboard and set it in the middle of a sheet pan. I then took my bundt cake and lowered it over the glass tumbler (as it was frozen, it didn’t break the cake) until it was snug, but not tight.

I poured the glaze over the top of the cake slowly. I quickly realized I would need to glaze it twice, so rather than make another mix, I simply moved the cake to a clean sheet, and upended the sheet pan and poured the glaze that had pooled in it back into the bowl. Then I started the process again with a second glaze. After that, I took my black glaze and using a small spoon, I streaked the black glaze across the top of the hot pink. The end result looks pretty awesome, if I do say so myself!

 

Butterscotch Budino

I confess…I had never heard of budino until I went to Italy this past October. That’s 35 years of missing out on probably what is the most incredible dessert ever. It’s very similar to English pudding; budino is the Italian word for pudding so…you get where I’m going here. The consistency is like creme brulee custard, though slightly firmer…but of course, we aren’t baking this and there is no brulee. And who doesn’t like butterscotch pudding?! Don’t answer that. I don’t want a reason not to like you.

Butterscotch Budino
Yield: 8 (6-ounce) custards

  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup, plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (sub extract if you want)
  • 3 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
  • Flake sea salt, for garnish

Combine cream and milk in a bowl and set aside. Whisk egg, egg yolks and cornstarch in a medium bowl and set aside. HINT: don’t under-whisk.You don’t want any bitter pockets of cornstarch sneaking up on you. Make sure it’s fully incorporated.

Combine brown sugar, salt and water in a medium saucepan. .Place over medium-high heat and cook until a thick, dark brown caramel develops, 8-10 minutes. HINT: this is a little tough as, if you have made homemade caramel before, you know that it usually starts with white sugar and you rely heavily on the color of the sugar to know when to pull it from the heat. Because we are using dark brown sugar for this recipe, the color doesn’t help, so just watch the boil carefully and use your nose to judge where the caramel is at. Burnt sugar is easy to detect, so keep sniffing and pull from the heat if you smell anything suspicious. HINT 2: stirring the sugar helps it crystallize and we are trying to avoid that – if you want to make sure that everything is incorporated – swirl the saucepan instead. Turn off the heat and whisk the cream mixture into the caramel. Be careful as the mixture will bubble vigorously – don’t let that catch you off guard.

Turn the heat back on to medium and simmer until the caramel melts into the cream completely and the mixture is smooth.

Next, temper the eggs by slowly whisky about a half cup of the hot caramel cream into the bowl with the egg mixture. HINT: don’t skip this step. It’s very important as you don’t want to scramble your eggs by adding them directly into the hot pot of caramel. Now, whisk the tempered egg mixture back into the pot containing the remaining caramel cream and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly until the custard is very thick, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, bourbon and vanilla. Divide custard among 8, 6-ounce ramekins. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve (about 2 hours).

When you are ready to serve, drizzle a small amount of olive oil over each custard and dust with coarse sea salt. Delizioso!

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