Double Plum Torte: Fresh, Dried, Delicious

Double Plum Torte (24)I grew up spending lots of time with my grandma, who not only stocked prunes like a quintessential senior, but also brought home buttery prune-filled danishes whenever she visited San Francisco (along with fragrant loaves of fresh sourdough bread). As a kid, the pastries were a rare and dazzling treat: flaky, soft dough surrounding a gooey-sweet puree of rich fruit. Remembering them as an adult, I’ve long hoped to create my own prune dessert — and when I started seeing their fresh predecessors at the market this season, I decided it was time. Fresh and dried plums were destined to become a delicious duo.

Double Plum Torte (5)

But I vowed to proceed with caution: I know prunes aren’t for everyone, and their reputation (ahem) tends to induce a giggle, despite their lesser-known popularity as a delicacy. So I’d be sure to showcase the fresh plums on the outside of my dessert and hide the dried ones in the batter. By steeping the prunes in vanilla then blending them with luscious maple syrup, I managed to create a flavorful, ultra-moist torte that’s free of refined sugar and makes as lovely a dessert as it does a breakfast or afternoon snack. What’s more: it’s been officially declared delicious by all sorts of tasters.

Double Plum Torte (makes an 8″ torte; serves 10)

  • 10 ounces pitted prunes (about 1.5 cup packed)Double Plum Torte (10)
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 10-12 ounces fresh plums, ripe but firm (about 3-6 plums depending on size)  I used Santa Rosa plums but any variety should be fine
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup almond meal (skin-on; not blanched)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Place prunes in a small saucepan and cover with vanilla and water. Simmer covered for 5-7 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove lid and turn off heat. Leave uncovered to cool down a bit. Meanwhile, grease an 8″ cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment (alternately, simply grease and flour an 8″ springform pan if you have one). Rinse and dry the fresh plums, slice each one into about 10-12 segments, and discard the pits. Set slices aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Double Plum Torte (13)Transfer the steeped prunes and any remaining liquid (there should be a small amount) into the bowl of a food processor; top with the maple syrup. Blend for about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl, until a consistent paste has formed with speckles of prune no larger than raisins. Measure out 1.5 cups of the mixture; transfer to a large bowl (use any leftover as you wish). Add the soft butter and beat until evenly dispersed. Making sure the mixture is not too warm, add the egg and mix until incorporated.

Double Plum Torte (15.5)Into a separate small bowl, sift the flour, salt, and baking powder. Whisk in the almond meal, stirring well, until even with no lumps. Add flour mixture to prune mixture, stirring until a thick batter is formed. Spread batter evenly into prepared cake pan. Arrange the plum slices around the edge of the torte with a few in the center. Cover with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes, stopping to remove foil and rotate torte. Continue baking for another 25-30 minutes (a total of 45-50 minutes), checking with a toothpick toward the end; the center should not be too wet, though a few very moist crumbs will be inevitable.

Double Plum Torte (4)Remove from oven and let cool completely in pan. If using a springform pan, remove sides to serve. Otherwise, loosen sides with a butter knife, then carefully flip the cooled torte onto a plate; remove parchment, and carefully flip again onto your serving plate. Slice and enjoy.  This torte tastes best the day it’s baked, but can be covered and refrigerated for up to two days. Before eating, bring it back to room temperature or warm it slightly.

Double Plum Torte (2)With its fragrant maple-vanilla batter, this torte celebrates both dried and fresh plums in a single, succulent form. The tangy plum slices offer a burst of juicy flavor and vibrant color, while the dense, prune-rich cake is incredibly moist and naturally sweet. Having shared its slices with many tasters, I’m happy to say that it was enjoyed by all, from prune lovers to prune pessimists. I like to savor mine with a hot cup of coffee and a nod to my grandma, whose generosity with those delectable danishes is but one of the many ways she made my life sweet.

Double Plum Torte (7)Maybe next time… As mentioned above, this torte is very moist and the areas directly under the fruit have the texture akin to a nice steamed pudding. I found this delightful as did many of my tasters, but if you prefer a less moist cake, skip the plum slices placed in the center.  Fresh plum, vanilla, and maple make this a flavorful treat, but a bit of finely zested orange peel could be lovely in a batter, or perhaps a pinch of minced herbs like rosemary or thyme. This torte is already free of refined sugar; to make it dairy free, replace the butter with Earth Balance or the like. To make a gluten free version, simply replace the all purpose flour with a multi-grain gluten free flour blend, such as Bob’s Red Mill.

Double Plum Torte (16)Double Plum Torte (8)

Posted in Pies, Tarts, Tortes & Cheesecakes, Sweets, Traditional with a Twist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Honey Dijon Caramels: A Savory-Sweet Symmetry

Honey Dijon Caramels (13)In the world of savories and snacks, I’ve always been a big fan of mustard. I’m known to accumulate several jars at a time for the sheer pleasure of trying new varieties. Seeded or spicy, beery or herbal — I love dipping pretzels, bread, and even carrot sticks into my favorite salty condiment. To tell you the truth, I never really thought of mustard as a candidate for a dessert ingredient. But recently, while in the throes of a lengthy caramel-making kick, my new jar of Dijon started calling to me. Could this velvety, scrumptious mustard match well with brown sugar, honey and cream?

Honey Dijon Caramels (16)I find most Dijon to be silky smooth and naturally creamy, pleasantly tangy but absent of sharpness. And it tends to have a short ingredient list: salt, vinegar, and perhaps a bit of wine alongside the requisite mustard seeds. Since three of these four items are often used in sweets, I went ahead and added a scoop of Dijon to my next batch of caramels — and I’m absolutely glad that I did. The result was a delicious and tender treat with an unexpected savory whisper. Not too mustardy, not too distinct: just a pleasant complexity that left many taste-testers curious and addicted. (Besides, if we enjoy sweets with soy sauce, mayonnaise, and even bacon, why not give Dijon a chance ?)

Honey Dijon Caramels (makes about 40 caramels)

  • 2 tablespoons high quality Honey Dijon Caramels (3)Dijon mustard (smooth, without whole mustard seeds; with few ingredients and NO garlic or onion)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold (not softened)
  •  1 to 1.5 teaspoons sea salt flakes, for sprinkling
  • candy thermometer

Lightly grease the inside (bottom and sides) of an 8-9″ heatproof square pan, then place a single strip of parchment across the bottom and up two of the sides. Lightly grease the parchment. Set pan aside. Cut butter into 6-8 pieces; set nearby.  In a small saucepan, whisk together the mustard, cream, vanilla and table salt. Slowly stir over medium heat with a heatproof whisk, just until the mixture comes to a steady simmer, then turn off heat and place lid on pan; leave covered nearby.

Honey Dijon CaramelsFit a medium saucepan with your candy thermometer, and place brown sugar and honey in the pan. Place over medium heat. While mixture heats, stir occasionally and very gently with a heatproof utensil such as a wooden spoon (avoid splashing the mixture on walls of pan). Watch thermometer closely, turning off heat just when it reaches 245 F. Quickly stir in the chopped butter, mixing until butter is completely incorporated and melted.

Remove lid from the cream mixture and give it a good stir, then slowly pour it all into the warm honey mixture. Return saucepan to medium heat, candy thermometer intact. Stirring regularly, bring temperature back to 245 F. This can take upwards of 10 minutes. You may increase the heat slightly, to medium-high, if it seems to be taking too long.

Honey Dijon Caramels (4)

As soon as the mixture hits 245 F (no higher!), quickly remove pan from heat and pour mixture into parchment lined pan. Let cool to room temperature on countertop, sprinkling with the sea salt flakes after 30 minutes or so (too soon and the salt will sink into the hot caramel; too late and the salt will resist sticking to the surface). Once at room temperature, cover and refrigerate caramel for 2 hours or so. The pan should be cold through and through before cutting. While caramels cool, cut sheets of wax paper or parchment into about 40 pieces, approximately 3 by 5 inches a piece. Set aside for wrapping.

Honey Dijon Caramels (2)

If needed, run a knife along the edge of the chilled caramels to loosen sides from pan. Use parchment to lift slab of caramel from pan, then carefully peel off the parchment, and transfer caramel to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the caramels. (I like to slice my square into four equal quadrants, cut each quadrant into two rectangular halves, then cut each half into 5 long pieces.) Wrap cut caramels in wax or parchment paper, twisting at ends. For the smoothest texture, serve at room temperature. Chilled caramels are just as delicious but considerably more chewy.

Honey Dijon Caramels (10)Gooey, sweet and salty as caramels should be, the addition of Dijon gives these candies a whisper of added savory goodness. While the honey, brown sugar and vanilla offer a familiar harmony, the bit of mustard comes through with a pleasing, almost smoky hint of seasoning. While I wouldn’t recommend using a mustard other than a nice Dijon, I’m thrilled to welcome my favorite tasty condiment into the world of sweets. Its essence offers intricacy, unexpectedness, and thorough delight.

Honey Dijon Caramels (17)

Maybe next time…  While I love the way the molassesy brown sugar pairs with the mustard here, it’s more traditional to use white sugar for your caramels, or a combination of white and brown. You might also substitute a bit of smoked salt on top to complement the savory-ness, but use caution: the smoky flavor can be quite strong. I don’t recommend getting too creative with the Dijon itself (I reiterate: please avoid those that contain garlic, onion, whole mustard seeds, artificial colors, or otherwise long lists of ingredients), I do imagine that certain herbs could work nicely sprinkled sparsely on these caramels: a pinch of rosemary comes to mind first, followed (respectively) by a smidgen of lavender.

Honey Dijon Caramels (8) Honey Dijon Caramels (15)Honey Dijon Caramels (14)

Posted in Sweets, Traditional with a Twist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (Vegan)

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (12)Over the past several weeks, it seemed some culinary stars were aligning in my life (or at least that’s how I interpreted a few food coincidences). First, vibrant stalks of rhubarb started to appear at the market: an elusive and exciting annual moment. Second, a single banana sat ripening in my fruit bowl, and I began to daydream of new ways to use it. Third, I’d just tested numerous versions of my new bread pudding recipe, which ultimately left me quite satisfied—but also craving something far less laden with cream and eggs.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (22)Eager to embrace rhubarb season, I came home with several batches. While cooking (and liberally sampling) my first bundle for a favorite party dessert, it dawned on me that rhubarb might pair nicely with ginger: refreshing brightness alongside fragrant warmth. I also pictured different sweet fruits that could match nicely with the rhubarb, and wondered if the blackening banana on my counter could fit the bill. Then I remembered how mashed banana can replace eggs in baking, holding together the batter while diffusing its tropical taste — and this recollection heightened my hunger for a light, new dessert.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (19)As I experimented with rhubarb, banana and ginger, I found myself reaching for another favorite ingredient: fresh orange — as its citrusy tang could echo and balance the tartness of the rhubarb. The result was not only a flavorful, ultra-moist, vegan dessert; it also turned out to be stunning, with a blanket of brilliant pink rhubarb draped over its top (and decadent caramely edges, too!).

Vegan Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (serves 8-10)

  • 1 pound fresh rhubarb [preferably the deepest pink in color you can find, both inside and out of the stalks (this is purely aesthetic; pinker rhubarb yields a prettier cake)]
  • 2/3 cup + 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium/large extremely ripe banana (1/3 – 1/2 cup mashed)
  • 1 medium orange
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger root**
  • 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
  • 1.25 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 10″ ovenproof skillet, such as cast iron

Rinse rhubarb; trim and discard rough ends. Slice stalks in half crosswise and then lengthwise. Coat the interior (both bottom and sides) of skillet with 1 tablespoon oil. Place rhubarb in skillet in a single parallel pile, then top with 1/4 cup brown sugar, spreading sugar to even it out a bit. Place pan over medium-low heat and cover with lid. Cook 5 minutes, remove lid, and use heatproof tongs to rotate top and bottom layers of rhubarb. (Pull the soft rhubarb up to the top and move the still-firm layer to bottom.) Cover with lid and cook another 5 minutes. Rhubarb should be very soft and juicy. Remove lid, remove pan from heat, and set aside.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake

Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel the banana and mash it well with a fork until no longer lumpy, then measure it: you need between a heaping 1/3 cup and a scant 1/2 cup mashed banana (if yours yields much more than this, be sure to use no more than a scant 1/2 cup). Rinse and finely zest the orange; set zest aside. Juice the orange and measure out 1/4 cup juice, with any seeds discarded. Set aside. Peel and grate a piece of fresh ginger root (see note below), measuring out 2 teaspoons grated ginger; set aside.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (1)

In a large bowl, beat 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Add the vanilla, the mashed banana, and the grated ginger. Mix well. Sift over the mixture: powdered ginger, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Begin to mix (batter will be thick), gradually adding the 1/4 orange juice and the boiling water. Beat well, scraping sides and bottom of bowl with spatula. Finally, fold in the orange zest until evenly distributed. Just before pouring batter into the skillet, gently rearrange rhubarb, pulling it to edges of the pan to ensure the bottom of the cake is completely covered in a single layer of rhubarb with no blank spaces. Slowly pour batter over rhubarb and place skillet in oven.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (2)Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out batter-free (a few moist crumbs are OK). Remove from oven, being careful not to touch hot skillet handle unprotected. Let sit at least 30-45 minutes or until pan is cool enough to grasp. Just when ready to serve, loosen edges of cake with a knife, and invert onto a plate. If cake has completely cooled or is the least bit stubborn about coming out of pan, place over medium heat on stovetop for 60 seconds before flipping. The cake is best served right away, but feel free to store it covered and refrigerated, eating within 24 hours.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (3)Bright-tasting and beautiful, this is a truly uplifting spring dessert. The creamy-sweet banana tames the tartness of the rhubarb, while the double dose of ginger offers a welcome warmth to the otherwise cool notes. With its luxuriously moist crumb, this citrus-speckled cake delivers a complex harmony of texture and flavor. All in all, it not only leaves you feeling satisfied and light, but also celebrates springtime in every bite.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (8)

Maybe next time… This tasty vegan banana cake batter would work well in many other formats, whether trading the rhubarb for a different fruit or berry, and/or trying a more traditional (non-skillet) version — even in cupcake form (just be sure to adjust the baking time accordingly). The orange can be traded for lemon or lime, just as the ginger can be swapped for powdered cinnamon or cardamom. A handful of chocolate chips might be really nice in this cake; be sure to choose dairy-free chocolate to keep the cake vegan.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (5)

**Grating fresh ginger root can be tricky, and if you feel like it’s too much trouble, feel free to skip it all together, adding a bit more powdered ginger if you want all the flavor without the fuss. For easy grating, it can help to freeze your ginger root so that it’s extra firm. I like to use a sharp, fine micoplane grater, and I begin by cutting my ginger into a rectangular box shape (this eliminates having to peel it, too). Holding one end of the ginger rectangle, firmly push the other end — going against the fibrous grains of ginger — into the grater and drag it along quickly. Once grated, the ginger may be a bit liquidy, which works fine.

Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (20)Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (7)Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (14)Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (11)

 

Posted in Baking with Veggies, Sweets, Traditional with a Twist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Layered Naan Bread Pudding with Cardamom Caramel Sauce

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (5)I can gleefully spend all day baking, but I’m an incredibly lazy cook. In my kitchen, savories don’t get much more fancy than fried rice, huevos rancheros, or spaghetti and salad. It doesn’t help that there’s an array of fantastic and inexpensive take-out food available just footsteps from here. One of my favorites is a little Indian cafe where the curries are succulent, the buttery rice is speckled with saffron, and the tandoor-blistered naan bread is pillowy, warm, and as big as a record album.

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (14)

It’s a rare occasion, but every once in awhile, there’s leftover naan in my house. It didn’t take me long to turn it into a rich, dense sweet treat — one that I like to serve for brunch on the weekend or dessert after a light meal (or even instead of meal!). Like many bread pudding recipes, it requires 8 hours of soaking, plus 1.5 to 2 hours in the oven, so be sure to make time for that, whether overnight or for a day. The recipe looks long, but it’s really quite easy — and its decadent, flavorful ingredients make it worth every step.

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (makes an 8.5” square pan, 9-12 slices)

For the bread pudding:Layered Naan Bread Pudding (17)

• 4 teaspoons ground cardamom
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ½ cup brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 cups heavy whipping cream (plus more for caramel sauce; see below)
• 2 cups milk
• 2 tablespoons softened butter
• 14 ounces naan bread (fresh or day old), from 2-4 naan, depending on size
• 4.5 ounces (about 2 cups) unsweetened dried apple rings (soft; not apple chips)
• ½ cup raisins
• 2 eggs
• 4 egg yolks
• finely grated zest of one orange
• scant ¼ cup turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Place cardamom and cinnamon in a small to medium saucepan over low heat. Toast spices in pan, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, whisk in the brown sugar, salt, cream, and milk. Return to medium heat, whisking regularly and watching closely for about 3-5 minutes, until mixture begins to boil and suddenly bubbles up the sides of the pan. At this moment, remove from heat and cover. Stir occasionally during its steeping time (while assembling the layers; see below).

Generously butter a deep 8 to 9” inch pan. (Mine is 8.5” square and glass. Not to worry if yours is slightly different; bread pudding is pretty forgiving, and the baking time can easily be adjusted.) Set pan aside. Over a cutting board, liberally stab each naan with a paring knife (don’t miss the outer edges), on both sides, to create extra holes. Then cut each naan into 10-12 triangles like a pizza (I find kitchen shears easiest); set aside. Separate any stuck-together apple rings, and discard any hard pieces such as stems or cores. Cut any large rings into halves or thirds for bite-sized ease; set aside.

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (19)

Place a layer of naan triangles in the bottom of the buttered pan, fitting them together to make a single level of bread. (Tip: If your naan has a darker, more toasted side, it’s best to place this side UP for the bottom layer only, so that the toasted side does not get even more toasted by facing down against the bottom of the pan.) Top with an even layer of apple rings, then sprinkle with half the raisins. Repeat with another layer of naan, apples and raisins, and then a final layer of naan. Set aside.

In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks until even. Gradually pour 1 cup of the warm milk mixture into the eggs, and immediately whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the rest of the milk mixture and mix well. Add the orange zest and stir until evenly dispersed. Slowly pour all of the custard over the layered naan, pressing top down gently to ensure it gets soaked. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if using. Cover with foil and place in fridge for 8 to 10 hours. (You may opt to make the caramel sauce now – it lasts well — or while the pudding bakes. Recipe follows.)

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (3)When ready to bake, keep pudding covered with foil, and preheat the oven to 350 F. For a softer, more custardy bread pudding that takes a bit longer to bake, use a water bath: place the pan of bread pudding inside a larger pan, and the fill larger pan with warm to hot water until it reaches halfway up the pan, then bake. For a somewhat firmer texture with more solid edges and a slightly shorter baking time, skip the water bath. (Tip: If not using a water bath, make sure your oven rack is not too low, so that the bottom of the bread pudding stays soft. The lower the rack, the firmer the bottom.)

More details: With the water bath, the result is creamy edges and a treat soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, whereas no water bath will yield soft but firm slices that can even be picked up and bitten with no utensils (fork optional!). Both versions have their merits, but I admit I prefer the water bath since I don’t mind the extra fuss and am a custard junkie.

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (13)In my pans, the pudding ultimately takes an hour and 25 minutes to bake without the water bath, or an hour and 50 minutes with it. No matter your pans, it’s best to bake it for an hour, then rotate it 180 degrees and carefully peel back foil to check how well the custard has set. Push top layer down gently with a heatproof spoon or spatula if more soaking seems needed. Re-cover and continue baking in 10-15 minute increments. When you can tell it’s almost ready, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking.

Pudding is done when the custard in the center is no longer liquidy; I recommend checking the center with a paring knife and prying it gently to look at the inner consistency. Remove from oven. Just when cool enough to handle, slice into 9-12 squares and serve warm, drizzled with caramel sauce. If not eating it all right away, store covered at room temperature for up to 24 hours, or covered in the fridge for up to 48 hours, being sure to reheat before serving.

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (9)For the cardamom caramel sauce:

• 1 cup granulated sugar
• ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons water
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream

In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cardamom and salt. Add the water and stir gently to combine. Place over medium heat and cook without stirring (you may gently swirl the pan once or twice, being careful not let mixture splash up the sides of the pan). Cook until the liquid is clear, bubbling vigorously, and not at all grainy. Increase heat and boil for 3-5 minutes, staying nearby, and remove from heat just when liquid becomes a dark amber color. (Watch closely; it can burn quickly.) With pan away from heat, slowly pour in the cream. It will bubble and sputter when added, and may initially form a solid caramel ball – but not to worry: this will cook away. Return to low-medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for about 3-5 minutes, until caramel has become frothy and thick (Tip: check its thickness it by dripping a dot on a cool plate).

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (6)

With its rich layers of creamy, spiced deliciousness, naan bread pudding is a hearty treat that will fill you with scrumptious satisfaction. The cardamom throughout is a nod to the Indian cuisine behind it, as the blankets of custard-soaked fruit and naan are a decadent offering to all who devour it. Whether served as a late breakfast, a robust dessert, or an unorthodox meal, this treat bursts with luscious pleasure in every oozing bite.

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (12)

Maybe next time… Not a raisin fan? Sub in dark chocolate chips, sultanas, tart dried cranberries, or even cacao nibs if you’d like a crunchy texture. Likewise, dried pears or peaches would work nicely in place of the apples. Fresh fruit is also an option: try fresh blueberries, raspberries, or banana slices for a winning flavor combo. A sprinkle of your favorite chopped nuts might also be nice on top. I like mine with a steaming cup of coffee or, better yet, spiced chai. A melty scoop of ice cream close by is not a bad idea, either.

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (15)

Layered Naan Bread Pudding (8)

Posted in Sweets, Traditional with a Twist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Rosemary Almond Hamantaschen… filled with ice cream!

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (6)When I started daydreaming about creative twists for traditional hamantaschen, playing with the dough came first. Raspberry jam filling had always been my favorite (albeit not quite conventional), and I couldn’t really imagine anything better. So I created a dough to complement the tart berry filling: nutty almond meal alongside the flour, molasses-rich brown sugar in place of white, and speckles of fresh rosemary for a nice herbal whisper. A splash of almond extract proved to further brighten my new dough’s complex flavors.

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (5)

But then I began to consider new fillings. I experimented with fresh raspberries in place of jam, oozing marzipan for an amaretto-y kick, and even cheesecake-like mixtures. Still not sold, I became skeptical that there was something superior to a bursting fruit center. But it turns out there is a more decadent and delicious filling (and it happens to be my favorite all-time dessert–or food, for that matter): beloved ice cream!

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (8)I knew it would have to be berry ice cream, and strawberry proved as wondrous as raspberry in the nutty herbal shell. It was now just a matter of how to blind-bake them. After trials with pie weights, dried beans, parchment pouches and more, I found that floured whole almonds worked best (and can be re-used to make almond meal for more hamantaschen: a delicious cycle of baking and savoring!). Like an ice cream sandwich’s festive little cousin, this ice cream filled cookie has only one downfall: it can’t be eaten warm from the oven. But I really don’t think you’ll mind once you taste one…

Rosemary Almond Hamantaschen filled with Berry Ice Cream (makes about two dozen; please see all three sections below for full ingredient list)

TO PREP THE ALMONDS FOR BLIND BAKING:

  • about 5 ounces/1 cup whole shelled unsalted almonds (5 per cookie; about 130 nuts)
  • 1 teaspoon melted butter — no more
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour

Place almonds in a bowl and add melted butter, mixing all nuts are coated. Add flour and stir vigorously until all nuts are dusted with flour. Set aside.

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (14)

FOR THE COOKIE DOUGH:

  • 1/2 cup almond meal (milled with skin-on; not blanched)
  • 1.75 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1.25 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter at soft room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract

Line two medium/large cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Place almond meal in a medium bowl, then sift the flour, salt and baking powder over it. Whisk together until well-blended and any lumps of almond meal are broken up. Whisk in the rosemary until evenly dispersed. Set aside.

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (12)

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter until even in consistency. Add egg and mix until incorporated. Repeat with almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and mix until all ingredients are blended; dough will resemble moist crumbs. Knead with hands to form a ball. Split dough into two; cover one of the balls with plastic wrap and set it aside.

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (9)Transfer unwrapped dough to an even, floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a slab with a thickness of no more than 1/8 to 1/6 inch. Re-flour rolling pin, surface, and all tools often. Using a floured 3″ round cookie cutter, cut out circles from dough. With a floured flat spatula, transfer each dough circle to the parchment lined baking sheets. (Beware: Work quickly, as letting the rolled dough sit out for too long will cause it to dry and will make it crack when trying to fold it.)

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (15)Immediately place 5 floured almonds in the center of each cookie, then fold up 3 edges to form a triangle. Pinch corners of the opening tightly to prevent cookies from flopping open while baking. Place in freezer for at least 30 minutes; this will help ensure that they hold their shape. While cookies freeze, preheat the oven to 375 F, and unwrap the remaining dough, repeating the rolling, cutting, filling, folding and freezing process.

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (13)Bake frozen cookies one sheet at a time for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges and bottoms are toasty brown. Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Use a toothpick to loosen and remove whole almonds from each cookie’s center, bracing cookie with one hand while holding toothpick with the other. (I admit this sounds tedious, but the almonds shouldn’t be very stuck, and it goes fast. If any nuts refuse to budge, try stabbing the almond with the toothpick and prying it out, or just leave it – a toasted almond in a cookie isn’t such a bad surprise!)

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (1)

Set aside the floured almonds to re-use as you wish. You may opt to pulse them in a food processor to make your own almond meal, perhaps for another batch of these cookies. If you use them for another purpose, just remember they’re neither gluten nor dairy free.

FOR FILLING THE COOKIE SHELLS:

  • 2 – 2.5 cups strawberry or raspberry ice cream

Let the emptied cookies chill completely, at least to room temperature, before filling. Set your ice cream on the countertop for a few minutes to let it soften. Transfer the ice cream to a pastry bag or plastic bag with a small corner cut off; place open tip inside a cookie. Squeeze until corners are filled and ice cream domes out the top. (Alternately, you can use a small spoon or mini spatula to fill them, but I find the piping method easier.)

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (2)

Repeat with all cookies, serving or placing in freezer immediately as you go. Naturally, these are best eaten just after being baked, cooled and filled. They are also wonderful treated like ice cream sandwiches — stored in a tightly covered container in the freezer (if stacking cookies, place parchment or waxed paper in between layers) — and eaten within a week. When serving from the freezer, let sit out for a few minutes before digging in.

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (7)

With their familiar buttery flavor and classic triangular shape, these ice cream filled beauties offer a cool and creamy element that takes hamantaschen to a whole new level of scrumptiousness. The toasty brown sugar shell is bright and earthy with its speckles of rosemary and almond, just as the velvety berry filling offers a lusciousness that literally melts in your mouth. Here’s to a delicious and happy Purim!

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (4)

Maybe next time… While I fought my temptation to make my own ice cream for these cookies, homemade ice cream would of course amp up the distinctiveness here, and there are a lot of great recipes available. I’m partial to berry ice cream and its lovely balance with the rosemary, but many flavors would be divine, from apricot to peach to vanilla to caramel. This dough also works nicely with the more traditional poppyseed or fruit-filled hamantaschen; simply add a heaping teaspoon of your favorite thick jam or other filling in place of the whole almonds, freeze, and bake.

Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (16)Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (3)Ice Cream Hamantaschen with Rosemary Almond dough (18)

Posted in Baking with Herbs, Cookies & Bars, Sweets, Traditional with a Twist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Aperol Spritz Cupcakes: Sweet, Sour, Scrumptious

Aperol cupcakes (11) Last summer I had the privilege of making cupcakes for the wedding of a wonderful couple. The whole process was a joy for me, from the moment the bride asked me in her lovely demeanor, to my merry hours of creating and decorating each little dessert. My delight arose from fondness of both baking and the bride, but also from knowing that the couple and I had the same simple dessert priorities: delicious and made with love.

Aperol cupcakes (5)

Their wedding, too, was teeming with love and sweetness: an evening so moving and heartwarming, I felt aglow for days. Alongside other fun features (from performances to postcards), the couple’s favorite cocktails were highlighted at the bar; his: a whiskey sour, hers: an Aperol spritz. The latter left me dreaming of a new dessert creation — an edible rendition of the drink’s most distinctive ingredients.  Bubbly-sweet prosecco and tangy Aperol were soon to find their home in a toothsome new treat.

Aperol cupcakes (7)I experimented futilely with layer cakes, then cookies — and finally, perhaps naturally, my path led back to cupcakes… with marvelous results. Their reminiscent form was simply meant to be, and I added a bit of grapefruit for a complementary twist. The outcome was a delicious, vibrant, cocktail-inspired creation: lusciously delicate and bittersweet at once.

Aperol Spritz Cupcakes (makes about 14 standard sized cupcakes*)

For the cake batter:Aperol cupcakes

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, plus more for icing
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Finely grated zest of one pink grapefruit
  • 1/2 cup fresh, bubbly prosecco

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line muffin tins with about 14 paper cupcake liners; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at time, mixing until incorporated. Stir in the vanilla. Over the bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; mix until smooth and even. Stir in the grapefruit zest until evenly dispersed. Gently fold in the prosecco until just incorporated and batter is even.

Aperol cupcakes (2)Promptly scoop the batter into lined cupcake pan, being careful to fill cups only halfway; this will allow some room for the glaze. You should have about 14 cupcakes (if you end up with several fewer cupcakes than this, your cups might be filled too high with batter). Bake for 10-14 minutes, or just until centers test clean with a toothpick. Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack, platter, or towel-lined countertop nearby.  Let cool completely before icing.

For the icing**:Aperol cupcakes (10)

  • 2/3 cup Aperol
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • sprinkles or sugar decorations (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the Aperol and salt to a steady simmer, stirring occasionally. Let simmer for about 5-7 minutes, until reduced by half. (When it looks almost halved, carefully transfer hot Aperol to a heatproof measuring cup; return to heat and re-measure as needed, stopping when you have 1/3 cup.) Remove from heat and quickly stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla while Aperol is still hot, whisking vigorously until smooth.

Aperol cupcakes (4)Without delay, spoon the icing onto the cupcakes, letting it reach the edges but without overflowing. (You may want to swirl it to the edges with your finger or a spoon, especially as it thickens).  Icing will form a shell quickly; re-whisk as needed, and if you want to top your cupcakes with sprinkles, do so one cupcake at a time, immediately after icing each one so that the decoration will stick. Let icing harden in the open air for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Store covered at room temperature for up to 24 hours, or covered in the fridge for up to 48 hours (bring back to room temperature before serving).

Aperol cupcakes (12)With their tender, airy, citrus-speckled crumb, these cupcakes offer a lovely texture and flavor in each bite.  Delightfully well-balanced, the whisper of mild, warming prosecco hits its stride beneath the lively layer of tart Aperol glaze.  Sweet, sour, and scrumptious, Aperol spritz cupcakes are a nod to the cocktail they celebrate — and to the sweet nuptials that sparked their inception.  Enjoy them with a hot cup of coffee or afternoon tea — or better yet, a fizzy glass of prosecco. Cheers!

Aperol cupcakes (13)Maybe next time… If you don’t have prosecco around, feel free to use sparkling wine or champagne in its place.  While I found the grapefruit to be a perfect pairing, orange zest would work nicely in its place, as could lemon. If you have mini muffin pans, bite-sized Aperol cupcakes would be delicious and dainty: just remember to fill the cups only halfway with batter, and to reduce your baking time significantly, testing for done-ness after just 5 minutes.  Instead of sugar flowers or sprinkles, try dressing up the newly iced cakes with fresh raspberries or edible flowers; they’d be a lovely match.

Aperol cupcakes (3)*I’ve made these cupcakes several times, using the same recipe, and they’ve yielded from 12 to 16 cupcakes, mostly depending on the brand of prosecco I used.

**A note to tempted spoon-lickers like me: On its own, the icing has quite a powerful punch. It mellows as it cools and dries, and it’s at its best in proper proportion to the prosecco-grapefruit cake that it’s designed to be eaten on.

Posted in Baking with Booze, Cakes & Cupcakes, Sweets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Salted Spritz Cookies: Bite-Size and Butterylicious

Salted spritz cookies (9)

Whether decorating a momentous cake or piping out colorful meringues, I’ve been known to giggle with excitement and even get teary-eyed when using my pastry bag. It is far from being a kitchen necessity, but it creates such beauty and brings such joy, from edible roses to personalized birthdays.  Frankly, I’m surprised it took me this long to think of filling my pastry bag with cookie dough, but it was bound to happen eventually.

Salted spritz cookies (1)

I remembered those old fashioned spritz cookies, which — from what  I’ve seen — tend to be made in a cookie press at about the size of an Oreo. It wasn’t long before I started experimenting and created a new spritz dough, utilizing the classic elements (sugar, flour, butter, egg) but in my own ratios, using a trusty pastry bag rather than a press.

Salted spritz cookies (8)

I decided on a miniature format — bite-sized tiny stars — and added a bit of vanilla bean and plenty of extra salt. After trying some unusual additions and icings, I opted to let the simple scrumptiousness of these cookies shine on its own. The result was a crispy, buttery, utterly addictive treat, all with the perfect balance of salty and sweet.  A true crowd-pleaser, these little goodies are dangerously delicious!

Salted spritz cookies (3)

Mini Salted Spritz Cookies (makes 55-60 little 1-1.25″ cookies)

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, warmed until very soft (but not melted)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons table salt, divided
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla bean powder or paste, or 1/4 teaspoon seeds scraped from a vanilla bean pod
  • **Medium to large pastry bag, fitted with a jumbo star tip, such as Ateco #846

Salted spritz cookies (7)Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, cream the butter and 1/3 cup of the sugar until smooth.  Mix in the yolk until completely incorporated. Add vanilla bean; stir until evenly dispersed. Sift the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt over the bowl. Mix until dough holds together in a large ball (it will seem dry at first; using warm hands can be easiest). Transfer dough to pastry bag. Pipe stars onto the lined baking sheets, keeping them about 1 – 1.25″ in diameter, leaving 3/4″ between each one. If your dough is too stiff to pipe (this can happen if dough is cool), set the filled pastry bag in a warm place, perhaps near the hot oven, for a few minutes.

Once cookies are piped, thoroughly whisk the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and teaspoon of salt together in a small bowl. Sprinkle it over the cookies, using up to 1/4 teaspoon per cookie, or a little less depending on your taste.  Bake for 8-9 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  Let cool for 5 – 10 minutes on cookie sheets before devouring.

Salted spritz cookies (15)

Despite the simplicity of the their ingredients, these little spritz cookies overflow with rich, buttery tones in an irresistibly crisp, pop-in-your-mouth form. Speckled with fragrant vanilla bean, the harmony of salt and sugar is hard to step away from, much like attempting to eat a single potato chip or piece of popcorn. This is not likely a problem, since you probably have most of their ingredients on hand and can bake up another batch in no time. I have a feeling you’ll want to.

Salted spritz cookies (13)

**Maybe next time… If you don’t have a pastry bag or don’t want to deal with one, simply shape dough by hand into marble sized balls weighing about 5 grams a piece.  Press down their centers gently, to slightly flatten the cookies, before baking. (By doing so, you can add the finely grated zest of a lemon or orange to the dough if you’d like, since it can’t get stuck in a piping tip.) I found this cookie dough very satisfying as-is, and felt that it was quick to become overpowered when I played with creative additions. Having said this, the sky’s the limit with spices (cinnamon, cardamom, and/or nutmeg come to mind) as well as glazes. For the latter, very gradually add rum, bourbon, or lemon juice to a cup of powdered sugar (add the liquid by the teaspoon, whisking after each addition, until pasty and just pourable, but still rather thick). Drizzle over cooled cookies by the spoonful, and let dry into a crisp shell. Melted chocolate would also be delicious.

Salted spritz cookies (6)

Posted in Cookies & Bars, Sweets, Traditional with a Twist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments