Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dulce de Leche......and the Sweetness of Life!!!!!

Today was a great day! Ever had a day where you realize at the end of's what life is all about!?? That was what today was for me. Catching up with friends over brunch and spending the afternoon creating new ideas in the kitchen. 

Do you ever have weeks where you can barely remember what needs to be done or what you did yesterday? 40 hour work weeks are completed on Wed. - Thurs......and there is still more to do. That is what my 2012 has consisted of so far! 

If you agree, lets hope life slows down soon.....but until then I guess I'll just stick to baking for stress relief or at the very least a distraction. (Passing on the calories to co-workers...isn't a bad outcome either...just don't tell them I said that! LOL) 

Every time I bake, I attempt to create new ideas. The problem with that is if one ventures out to the internet dozens of similar recipes can be found on one idea thus making it not so exciting. For me, this week was different and I am excited to say my newest idea couldn't be found!!!! (and I thought everything is on the 

I haven't decided yet if this is a good or a bad outcome. Either the idea isn't that great or the "cupcake phenomena" is still all the rage so I am safe to say mini tarts haven't quite made the mainstream yet....ha ha!! I am just going to stick with the latter. So I hope you enjoy this newest venture!

To celebrate the "sweetness of life", I offer you Dulce de Leche Chocolate Mini Tarts.....just a "little" gift from me to you today!

Dulce de Leche Chocolate Mini Tarts

Mini Tart Shells:
7 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/3 C sugar
1/2 Tsp Vanilla 
1 C Unbleached Flour
Pinch of Salt

Dulce de Leche:
I Can Condensed Milk (unopened)

1⁄2 C Heavy Cream
4 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate, finely chopped
Grey Sea Salt for garnish

To make Dulce de Leche (Note: I usually make this the night before to let it cool):
Place can of milk (unopened) with label removed in a 1 or 2-Qt. Saucepan filled 3/4 with cold water. Place on stove over medium heat. On a low boil, cook for 2 - 2 1/2 hrs checking water level while cooking.  (Adding water as needed).  Remove pan from heat and let can cool. Do not open can until completely cool!!!! 

(There are many other ways to make this - microwave, oven, etc….you may want to find which way you prefer. This is my favorite!!)

To make mini tart shells:
Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, and vanilla. Mix in flour and salt until combined. Using a small scoop, drop into an ungreased mini muffin tin. Using a mini tart shaper, form dough into a tart shape. (A tool worth owning, I love the one from Pampered Chef ) Prick bottom of each tart crust with a fork. Place in fridge for 20 min. to chill. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes (crust will puff slightly while baking). Transfer tarts to rack and cool. 

Once the shells are cool, fill 3/4 with Dulce de Leche and place in fridge for 1-2 hrs to chill. (Any extra sauce can be used for ice cream, muffins, french toast, etc...enjoy!)

To make ganache: 
Bring cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Place chocolate into a medium bowl and pour in hot cream and let sit for 1 minute.  Stir slowly with whisk until smooth. Spoon ganache evenly into chilled shells filled with dulce de leche, sprinkle with sea salt and refrigerate until set.  Serve chilled. 

I'll share with you a little secret: each item in this post (Mini Shells, Dulce de Leche and Ganache) are great individual recipes to keep around. You can use the shells with other fillings and use the Dulce de Leche or Ganache as toppings/ingredients with other desserts..the sky is the limit!!! (Bread Pudding, Fondue, Ice Cream, etc). Hope you can use these recipes in the future as much as I do. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is It Warm Where You Are????

Winter finally hit those of us in the Midwest in the last few weeks. We have had a mild winter so allowed for some fun times!!! But those times have come to an end in a big way. The temperature has dropped and the snow has welcome Winter of 2012 to the Midwest!!!!

Have you ever looked through your freezer and found items you forgot about? I have always been one to throw things in the freezer to deal with later but....of course....later sometimes never happens. Then I find things months later when it is too late. Ever since this blog started, my freezer contents have grown with more and more baking ideas taking over my freezer. Is it a bad sign when the contents ratio has flipped from main dinner ingredients to baking supplies???!!! I hope not...

So this weekend,  I decided to venture to the back of the freezer (Don't you wonder what is back there???) and what did I find? Ripe Bananas I threw in to make banana bread one of these days. That day is finally here but with a I offer Banana Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bites....

Banana Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bites
1 1/2 C Unbleached Flour
1 C Sugar
3/4 Tsp Cinnamon
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
3/4 C Unsalted Butter, softened
1 1/2 C Oatmeal
1 C. ripe Banana, Mashed
1 Egg, beaten
1/2 C mini Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add oatmeal, bananas, and egg until well combined.  Mix in chocolate chips. Drop by small dough scoop onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 11 minutes until golden.

So tell me what is in your freezer???

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Brooklyn ......Oh Brooklyn!!!

This last holiday I was able to get back to the East Coast to spend time with family.  I can say I love the getting back there. The history of each small town right around the corner. How close everything's just a great time!!!! (Plus....hanging with family is always a plus and a lot of fun.) 

This year, there was a house full of great people, amazing food, and a lot of fun times with my 2 yr old nephew. I now have been educated on Thomas and all his "friends". I think there are times I still hear that song playing over and over in my head....ha ha!!! Too much fun.....

Well, to get to the good stuff. Today I wanted to share with you Chocolate Blackout Cake. This cake originated in Brooklyn years ago and is an amazing rich dessert. I took it to a neighborhood party for New Years and it was a hit!!!! I was lucky to get one small piece to bring home. (Usually a good sign...I say). The fun part of this cake is no frosting is used. Instead the entire cake is covered with homemade pudding and sealed by cake crumbs. 

Let me just say....the cake portion of this dessert is the easy part. If you have never made homemade pudding before....I can attest...patience is the most important part in making it. I had to learn the hard way and make it twice. But in the end, it was sooo worth it!!! 

So I wish you a wonderful 2012......a little patience and an amazing result!!!! Enjoy!!!

Chocolate Blackout Cake
adapted from Cook's Country

1 1/4 C Sugar
1/4 C Cornstarch
1/2 Tsp Salt
2 C Half-and-Half
1 C Milk
6 oz Bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tsp Vanilla

8 Tbsp Unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pans
1 1/2 C Unbleached Flour
2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
3/4 C Dutch-processed Cocoa 
3/4 C Espresso Coffee, cooled
1 C Buttermilk
1 C Brown Sugar
1 C Sugar
2 Eggs
2 Tsp Vanilla

To make pudding:
Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, half-and-half, and milk in large pan. Set pan over medium heat. Add chocolate and whisk constantly until chocolate melts and mixture begins to bubble (Be patient with this step - keep cooking until chocolate is smooth and thick). Stir in vanilla and transfer pudding to large glass bowl. Put plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.

To make cakes: 
Turn oven on to 325 degrees. Butter and sugar two 8-inch cake pans. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl. In a separate pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in cocoa and cook about 1 minute. Remover from heat, whisk in coffee, buttermilk, and sugars until dissolved. Add in eggs and vanilla, then put in flour mixture.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool layers in pans and then invert onto wire rack and cool to room temperature. (Note: Be sure cake and pudding are completely cool or you will have a mess on your hands).

To assemble the cake: 
Divide each cake in half. In a separate bowl, crumble one cake layer and set aside. Place one cake layer on cake stand and pread 1 cup pudding over cake layer and top with another layer. Repeat with 1 cup pudding and last cake layer. (Hint: if you want to keep your stand clean, place three pieces of wax paper on a plate like a triangle to cover edges of plate then place first cake layer down). Spread remaining pudding evenly over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle cake crumbs evenly over top and sides of cake, pressing lightly to secure crumbs. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to let the cake set.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year's 2012!!!!!

Did you accomplish what you wanted this year? Anything you wish you would have checked off or are you excited about what you were able to accomplish. 

Where did the time go? I can't believe we are already to 2012. This weekend is always one of my favorites for the year and I am very sad to see it end. However, I had amazing times with friends and family that I cherish already and wouldn't trade for anything. 

For me, this is a time of reflection of what is possible in the future and memories of the wonderful moments from this last year. This refection has reminded me how much I love baking. The concepts, the work and finally the completed product. 

It is a great feeling to find something created that is enjoyed by those who are important around you. So I offer you a twist on a classic - Spiced Apple Cake with Pecans and Currants. I dont use currants much in my baking so I had to hunt for them in my local area. This is a moment when I wish for Whole Foods...but this is Eastern Iowa and we have yet to have on I hunt! 

I took this cake to one of my New Year's Day parties and one person was quoted as stating "it is like fruitcake but sooo much better!!!". I will take that.....but I don't think it tastes much like fruitcake (which i guess is the point) but maybe it is what we all wish it really tasted like the one time we all tried it in our life....I hope you enjoy and Happy 2012!!!!

Spiced Apple Cake with Pecans and Currants
Adapted from

Cinnamon-Sugar Pecans
1 Egg White
1 C Pecan pieces
2 Tbsp Sugar
1/2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

Apple Cake
1 Tbsp plus 3/4 C Unsalted Butter, room temperature
2 medium Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium Honeycrisp Apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 3/4 C Unbleached Flour
1 Tsp Cinnamon, ground
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Allspice, ground
1/2 Tsp Cloves, ground
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 1/4 C Sugar
1 Egg
1 Tbsp Dark Run
1 C Pecans, toasted & chopped
1 C Currants, dried

1 - 8 oz pkg Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 C  Unsalted Butter, room temperature
1 C Powdered Sugar
2 Tsp Vanilla 
1 Tsp Currants, dried

For sugared pecans:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line large baking sheet with foil. Beat egg white in medium bowl until foamy. Mix in remaining ingredients. Spread pecans in single layer on prepared sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet. 

For cake:
In a separate bowl, combine egg and rum until well combined. Add currants, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, at least. (Hint: this adds moisture back to currants so it doesn't get removed from the cake while baking. Can use this trick for anything with dried fruit. ex: Raisins, currants, etc.)

Melt 1 Tbsp butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add all apples; cover and simmer until apples are juicy and almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes. Uncover and simmer until almost all juices evaporate, about 6 minutes. Using potato masher, mash apples in pan. Cool.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and sugar two 8-inch round cake pans (Can butter and flour…but I prefer this method). Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat remaining 3/4 C butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Beat in half of flour mixture on low speed, then all of applesauce, then remaining flour mixture. Mix in currant mixture and 1 cup toasted Pecans (not Sugared Pecans).

Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 - 45 minutes. Cool cakes in pans. Once cool, turn cakes out onto racks.

For icing:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat to blend.

Place 1 cake layer on plate; spread 1/2 cup icing over top. (Hint: if you want to keep your plate clean place three pieces of wax paper on plate like a triangle to cover edges of plate then put first layer down)
Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. Arrange sugared pecans in ring 1/2 inch in from edge of cake. Sprinkle sugared pecans with currants. Chill cake until icing sets, about 30 minutes. 

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and keep chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.)