Sunday, December 15, 2013

Memories….Old and New

Snow on the ground, pine in the air and Christmas lights everywhere!!! How can this not be one of the best times of the year. So many parties, friends and time with family. Holiday Seasons always make me reflect on days of the past. Great memories with my grandmothers in the kitchen to game nights and dinners with family. 

While memories of the past make me thankful, I also enjoy being able to experience all of the new memories currently being made. Dinners with new friends, trips to tree farms, holiday symphonies, passing on game nights to children…the list goes on and on and I hope for the rest of December new memories continue. Life has changed a lot this year and I am thankful for every moment. I am excited to slow down and take in as much of it as possible.

What are some of your favorite Holiday Memories?? 

Every holiday season I get so lost in recipes of things to bake. Will it be cakes, tarts, pies? There are so many options. Chocolate, pecans, apple, vanilla….what to try?! I needed to come up with a cookie recipe for a party but didn't want the standard options. I wanted something traditional but with a twist.  So I offer you Caramel Pretzel Shortbread Bars. This is a great twist from caramel and peanuts. 

I wish you the best for the Holiday Season!!

Caramel Pretzel Shortbread Bars
Adapted from Saveur

1¼ C Unbleached Flour
¼ Tsp. Salt
½ C Unsalted Butter, softened
⅓ C Brown Sugar
2 Tsp Vanilla

¾ C Unsalted Butter
1¼ C Light Brown Sugar
¼ C Honey
¼ C Maple Syrup
¼ Tsp Salt
1 C Heavy Cream

6 C (about 9 oz.) Small Pretzel Twists, lightly broken up


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°.

Line a 9" x 13" baking pan with parchment paper, folding paper up and over the sides of the pan. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and salt, and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar at medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla, change speed to low, and add the flour-salt mixture. Mix until crumbly, 10-15 seconds. Pat the dough evenly into the bottom of the parchment-lined pan, and prick dough all over with a fork. Bake 15-18 minutes, until just golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Make the caramel: In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and salt. Stir regularly until mixture is foamy and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add cream and cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer inserted into the caramel registers 240°F (soft ball stage), about 11 minutes. Add the crushed pretzels and quickly incorporate into the caramel.

Pour the pretzel-caramel mixture over the baked shortbread, spreading the mixture evenly. Return to the oven until the topping is bubbling, 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Remove from the baking pan by lifting the edges of the parchment paper; unfold the paper and slice into bars.

Serve immediately, or bars will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Time to Cherish…..

Oh Fall where did you go? I woke up today and you were gone.

It seems like we were just enjoying Fall and now Winter has arrived. The hiking, falling leaves, and bonfires will have to wait for next year.

There is no way to deny Old Man Winter has arrived.(The frozen car doors may have been a sign!) While I am sad Fall has passed...I do enjoy all of the excitement soon to come with Winter. Holiday time with family, parties with friends and other special moments. This season always reminds me to slow down, enjoy those conversations, laugh about the little things and just be in the moment.

For most of us next week starts the Holiday Season! So before that begins, let's hold onto a little glimpse of Fall one more time with Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.  These are the perfect mix of Fall and Winter combined.

Let's all take a moment and be Gracious for what we have been given, Cherish those we hold close and Hopeful for what positive impact we can create tomorrow.

I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

For the Whoopie Pies:
2 1/2 C Unbleached Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 Tsp Ground Clove
1 C Sugar
1/2 C Dark Brown Sugar, packed
1 C  Pumpkin Puree
1 Egg
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

For the Cream Cheese Filling:
3 C Powdered Sugar
4 oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/4 C Unsalted Butter, room temperature
2 Tsp Heavy Cream
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream together the granulated sugar, dark brown sugar, and butter. Add the pumpkin puree and combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix until completely combined.

Drop by  rounded tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack.

To make the filling, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Then add the milk and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Add powdered sugar a little at a time until well combined.  

To assemble the whoopie pies: Turn one cooled cookie upside down. Spoon the filling (about a tablespoon) onto that half. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so the filling spread to the edges of the cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Store the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm before serving.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Is This REALLY That Bad???!!

Hello World!!!

Once again, I spent two days in the kitchen blending several recipes and ideas into this amazing dessert. When I was finished I honestly just wanted to stare at it. Very rarely do desserts even surprise me but when I finished I just sat there thinking this one is WAY over the top! (and let's see what the neighbors think)

So I don't know about you but I am a big believer of eating healthy. Don't get me wrong. I think there is logic to eating "good" 80 percent of the time and enjoying life with the other 20. There has to be a line of what is healthy and good for you but come on you know we all just want that amazing dessert some days! (or is that just me??) 

With the number of eggs, sticks of butter, and loads of chocolate, this cake may be beyond what should be acceptable as to what one should eat. But doesn't everyone want to try it?! I wasn't sure if so much chocolate, bourbon and dulce de leche together would actually work. But watching the entire dessert disappear in minutes gave me my answer.

I however do have to admit I didn't even get the chance to try the Truly Sinful Mocha Cake. I instead created it for a party of an amazing neighbor and it disappeared within minutes. I also have to confess…when this occurs it is probably one of my favorite things in the world. After working on a dessert for hours or days, having friends enjoy each creation means the world to me. So in the end I am not sure if it is really truly sinful..or is it??

Do you have anything you enjoy eating that you feel shouldn't be made????

Truly Sinful Mocha Cake

Adapted from SprinkleBakes (Seven Sins Chocolate Cake)

1 oz. fine quality Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped evenly & melted
¾ C plus 1 1/2 tbsp. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 C Espresso, cooled
2 Eggs
2 Egg yolks
¼ C Sour Cream
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
2 ¼ C Unbleached Flour
1 ½ C Light Brown Sugar, packed
1 Tsp Baking Soda
½ Tsp Salt
16 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9-inch cake pans with shortening and line with parchment paper. Grease paper and flour; tap out excess and set pan aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the melted chocolate, cocoa and espresso until smooth. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, sour cream, half the chocolate mixture and vanilla until just combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt on low for 30 seconds. Add the softened butter and the remaining chocolate mixture.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the egg mixture in two parts, starting on medium-low speed and gradually increasing to medium. Beat for 45 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients. The batter will be fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Using a spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface evenly.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (check at 25). Cake is does when tester comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed in the middle.  Let cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack. Cool completely.

Pastry Creams:
2.5 oz. Dark Chocolate
5 oz. White Chocolate
¼ C Cornstarch
2 C Evaporated Milk
2 Eggs
4 Egg yolks
¾ C Sugar
3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
2 Tbsp Bourbon
6 Tbsp Dulce de Leche (I make from scratch but can purchase)

Set aside two (dry) bowls.  Chop chocolate evenly and place each type in a separate bowl and set aside.
In another bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk. Beat in the whole eggs and yolks, one at a time, into the cornstarch mixture.

In a saucepan, combine the remaining milk and the sugar bringing to a boil, whisking constantly.

Next, while whisking the egg mixture, slowly pour 1/3 of the boiling milk into it, to temper the eggs.
Return the remaining milk in the saucepan to medium-low heat.

Pour the hot egg mixture into the saucepan in a thin stream (extremely slow), whisking, so as to not scramble the eggs.

Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to boil.  Remove from the heat and pour 1/3 of the hot pastry cream into the dark chocolate and 2/3 into the white chocolate. Stir each bowl until mixture is well incorporated and chocolate is melted.  Mix 1 tbsp. butter into dark chocolate and 2 tbsp into white chocolate until well combined.

Once butter has melted and is thoroughly combined, fold in:
2 Tbsp Bourbon into the dark chocolate pastry cream
6 Tbsp Dulce de Leche into the white chocolate pastry cream

*Optional – put pastry cream through a sieve to make sure there are no large pieces of chocolate or butter remaining.

Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surfaces of each type of pastry cream so they do not form a skin. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to use

Coffee & Mocha Buttercreams
Adapted from Epicurious

2 C Sugar, divided
3/4 C water
6 Egg Whites, at room temperature 30 minutes
2 Tbsp plus 1 Tsp Espresso Powder
1 Tbsp Vanilla
1/2 Tsp Cream of Tartar
1/4 Tsp Salt
6 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
8 ounces fine-quality 60%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Equipment: a candy thermometer; a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment


Bring 1 3/4 cups sugar and water to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, until it registers 220 to 225°F, 15 to 20 minutes.

At this point, while continuing to boil syrup, beat whites with espresso powder, vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt in mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating, and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

When syrup reaches soft-ball stage (238 to 242°F), immediately pour syrup in a slow stream down side of bowl into whites (avoid beaters) while beating at high speed. Beat until completely cool, 25 to 30 minutes.

With mixer at medium speed, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition (see cooks’ note, below) and until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all butter is added but will come together at end.)

Transfer 2 cups buttercream to a small bowl for coffee buttercream. With remaining buttercream, stir in melted chocolate for mocha buttercream. If buttercreams are too soft to spread, chill, stirring occasionally.

Notes: •If buttercream looks soupy after some butter is added, meringue is too warm: Chill bottom of bowl in an ice bath for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.

Fill and frost the cakes:
Cut each cake in half horizontally. Pipe a line of  coffee buttercream around the edge of the first cake piece. This makes a reservoir in which to hold the pastry cream. Spread the white chocolate dulce de leche cream inside the icing and top with another cake piece.  Pipe another coffee buttercream as before and fill dark chocolate cream; repeat with the next cake piece and white chocolate dulce de leche cream.  Top with the final cake layer and crumb coat the cake with the mocha buttercream and refrigerate. Then do a final smooth coat of mocha buttercream. Let chill before adding drizzle.

Dark chocolate drizzle:
Note: This portion should not be made ahead. The chocolate thickens quickly and needs to be applied to the cake 10-15 minutes after making it.

4 oz. dark chocolate chopped evenly
1/2 C Whipping Cream
1/4 C light corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. In a 4-cup measure, heat cream until very hot but not boiling in a saucepan over medium heat. 

Pour hot cream over chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes.  Whisk until all chocolate is completely melted and mixture is consistent.  Whisk in corn syrup and vanilla.  Let mixture stand until slightly thickened - about 15-20 minutes.  Pour over cake; allow the mixture to run down the sides of the cake in fingers. 

Final flourishes:
Chocolate shavings & other chocolate pieces
Remaining 1 cup frosting in piping bag/zip-top bag

Pipe frosting in mounds around the outer edge on top of the cake.  Sprinkle-on chocolate shavings & chocolate pieces. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Well Hello Universe!!!!

Have you ever had one of those days where the Universe smacks you in the face???

Welcome to my day!!! When I stop and listen I realize I learn a lot about life. Lessons I need to learn to see what is positive in life and what I need to experience as ending.

As I discussed months ago, I learned there are times in life when you just need to release your thoughts and experiences to the Universe. Trust your instincts which will guide you. There are times I let me head get in the way of what I know is right. I hope things and people in my life have changed or become who I hoped they would be (which is idiotic). However, I realize this is my own undertaking and then I remember why things are the way they are.

However, while learning (or relearning) this lesson I am grateful today also reminded me of why I love my life.

A close friend called me up and asked to go for a run we call "the Bridges". It is a circle run over the Mississippi River with two bridges…such a great run but even better with a great friend! We talked about our past, current and future hopes. In the 6+ years I have known her things are always changing…we have both lived amazing lives. And every time we get together it is so much fun to see what has happened and where we are going in life.

So to celebrate positive experiences in life i am offering you an old school basic, Classic Coffee Cake. This recipe was given to me when I was in 8th Grade class. (Yes…8th grade) I told you I have cabinets of recipes and I do still use a few from Jr. High…. So I hope you enjoy…as I have over the last (let's not count) years.

As I say, stop, breathe and listen to the Universe around you. Sometimes the simple things need to be enjoyed instead of wasting useless energy on the impossible or unknown.
Classic Coffee Cake
1 1/2 C Unbleached Flour
3/4 C Sugar
2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Egg, beaten
1/4 C Oil
1/2 C Milk

1/2 C Brown Sugar, packed
2 Tbsp Flour
2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, softened
2 Tsp Cinnamon
1/2 C Pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 8x8 pan.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine egg, oil and milk. Add to flour mixture and combine well. Pour into prepared pan.

Mix topping ingredients in another bowl with fork until well combined. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake for 25 minutes or until done with a cake tester.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What Goes Hand-In-Hand????

Today was a great day! Ran along the Mississippi River on this sunny August morning. Living in the Midwest there are some great things I have come to love and this is one of them.

Along this same path is our Saturday Farmer's Market full of amazing produce locally grown. Sometimes I need to be reminded what is accessible within these wonderful states in the middle of the country. Every Saturday it feels like Christmas morning. I love being able to see what is available and the possibilities start running through my mind.

Today I went for a classic Blueberry Lemon Cream Tart. What is better than Blueberries with Lemon?! I had some friends try this and they immediately said.."I never would have thought to put lemon with blueberries". For me they go hand-in-hand…What do you think? I hope you enjoy and let me know what you think.

What do you think goes hand-in-hand??

Blueberry Lemon Cream Tart
(Adapted from Real Simple)

Flour for the work surface
1  8-ounce Puff Pastry sheet, thawed
1 Egg, beaten
1 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 C Heavy Cream
1/2 Tsp Lemon Zest, grated
Juice of 2 Lemons
5 Tbsp Powdered Sugar
2 C Blueberries

Heat oven to 375° F. On a lightly floured surface, unfold the sheet of pastry and roll it into a 10-by-12-inch rectangle.

Using the tip of a knife, score a 1-inch border around the pastry without cutting all the way through. Brush the border with the egg and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Bake until golden and puffed about 15 minutes.

Using the tip of a knife, rescore the border of the cooked pastry without cutting all the way through. Gently press down on the center of the pastry sheet to flatten it. Let cool to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the cream, lemon zest, lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly within the borders of the pastry.

Arrange the blueberries in a single layer over the filling and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of powdered sugar.