Let’s Just Start All Over Again…Or Pretend It Never Happened

I’m with a majority of my friends…hell, with the general populous…in feeling that 2016 (for the most part) sucked gigantic donkey balls.  The Presidential Election became and continues to be the longest running SNL sketch in American history…though we’re only laughing through our tears.  Don’t even get me started on all the amazingly talented, seminal figures we lost, from David Bowie to Prince–Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in the same week??  Oh come on!!  No wonder somebody started a Go Fund Me page to protect Betty White from 2016.  Laura probably would’ve done one for Bill Murray or Billy Idol.

For me personally, it was an often bumpy road to 2017, full of unexpected twists and turns–leaving a job that no longer gave me joy, in search of other unexplored opportunities with no safety net, then suddenly handed an offer I ultimately couldn’t refuse.  A roller coaster ride? You betcha!  But I guess you can say I’m a little bit of a thrill seeker, even if the ride sometimes makes me a little nauseous…it’s better than being bored or uninspired.  That is not to say there aren’t parts of 2016 I would like to forget (like all the hateful political rhetoric and the outcome of the Presidential Election).  Unfortunately, neither I nor others in possession of a reasonably sane intellect can pretend that egomaniacal half-wit who looks like a human Cheeto with a bad combover is even remotely capable of running the country.

So the best thing we can do is start over–take what we’ve got and try to turn it into something new, something positive.  It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but imagining a better one.  Or, how do we take something that is tired or broken and give it new purpose?  While society is always looking for the shiny and new, eager to throw away anything that has lost its luster, there is something to be said about creative repurposing.  That certainly the case for me when it comes to cooking and baking, whether at home or at work.

I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m necessarily frugal, but I do hate wasting product, especially when I can be creative and come up with ways to use surplus ingredients.  Case in point, I generated copious amounts of egg whites making gallons of chocolate mousse in December.  Freezer space was limited so I couldn’t freeze all of the whites to save them for later use.  Instead of tossing out the surplus, I decided to make meringue roulades for the New Year’s Eve dessert.  Filled with sumptuous cheesecake mousse, brandied cherries and bittersweet chocolate curls they were a delectably sweet elegant way to ring in the New Year.

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Brandied Cherry Cheesecake Meringue Roulade, garnished with crushed crispy meringue and served with chocolate and brandied cherry sauces

For Christmas, I opted to make two flavors of meringue roulade instead of my traditional Buche de Noel, making use of ingredients I had available in the refrigerator and pantry–a vanilla meringue roulade with white chocolate mousse and (frozen) raspberries and a coffee meringue roulade (flavored with espresso powder) with whiskey-spiked coffee creme, dusted with cocoa.  Both were extremely easy to make and well-received.

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Unlike crispy meringue, which requires low and slow baking and can take twice long as to make, the softer meringue roulade sheets take just about 25 mins. to bake.  Once filled the roulades can be frozen until ready to be thawed and served, making it a versatile make ahead dessert.   Next time you find yourself with too many egg whites, just roll with it and bake a meringue sheet.

Meringue Sheet for Roulade

Yield:  1 half sheet

  • 5 large egg whites (5 oz.), room temp.
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • optional, 1 tsp. espresso powder or instant coffee, or 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder, or zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Whip the egg whites and salt to soft peaks on high speed, then reduce to medium speed and gradually beat in the sugar a little at a time.  Once all the sugar is incorporated, increase to high speed again and whip the whites until stiff and glossy.  Beat in the vanilla.  *Fold in any additional flavorings.  Spread the meringue out evenly onto a lightly greased and parchment-lined half sheet pan.


img_0015Bake the meringue for about 12 mins. or until lightly golden, then reduce the heat to 325°F and continue baking for another 12-15 mins. or until the surface of the meringue feels firm to the touch but the inside is still pliable.

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Loosen the edges with the tip of a paring knife, then invert the meringue sheet onto a sheet of parchment paper dusted with powdered sugar and peel off the underlining parchment from the meringue.  Drape a clean dishtowel over the meringue and allow it to cool for 10-15  mins.

For a simple filling, whip 1 cup heavy cream with 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract for medium stiff peaks.  Spread a layer of the whipped cream onto the meringue, leaving a 1 inch border all around.  Top with fresh or frozen berries and a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds.  Starting with the edge closes to you, gently fold the border over the filling and carefully roll the meringue, lifting the parchment as you roll to help guide the roulade along.  Tuck the parchment over and under the roulade and twist the ends to securely seal in the roulade.  If you are planning to freeze the roulade, wrap it in an extra layer of foil.  Freeze or chill the roulade (seam side down) in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to firm up.  Dust the roulade with more powdered sugar (or cocoa) before serving.

 

 

 

 

Lost Weekend…Or How I Got Trapped in Stars Hollow

*Warning, if you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls-A Year in the Life, this post contains spoilers!

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No really…that is how I lost most of last weekend…binge-watching the entire four 90-minute episodes of the new Netflix reboot of Gilmore Girls. My fellow “Movie Chicks” (aka Rina and Laura) and I were, like all Gilmore Girl fans, giddy with anticipation for the premiere of A Year in the Life, gobbling up every morsel of information on social media about possible new storylines, sharing trailers on Facebook, taking Gilmore Girl quizzes.  We were primed for the epic reunion/love fest with our favorite characters.

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Did the Netflix revival live up to our expectations?  Meh…not so much. While I am nowhere near as incensed as Rina over some of Rory’s incomprehensibly idiotic life choices…such as her affair with Logan…I am disappointed that my favorite character, Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) made only a brief (though memorable) appearance.  I was beyond thrilled when I heard Melissa McCarthy was indeed reprising her role in the eleventh hour.  Although I have to admit, if I wasn’t a diehard Sookie fan I would’ve balked at her over-the-top multi wedding cake extravaganza because, let’s face it, I of all people know it’s pure fantasy. No one, not even the amazingly talented uber chef Sookie, could’ve pulled off that many elaborate creations in such a short of time by herself!  Do people know how long it takes to wrap a cake in fondant, let alone sculpt one?!

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We are equally dumfounded and dismayed that Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) didn’t figure more prominently in the storyline, whereas Logan had way too much screen time, when Jess was clearly the more compelling love interest.

And we can all agree that Paris (Liza Weil) needs her own spin-off…

…and “Stars Hollow, The Musical” should be an actual musical.

I don’t think any of us necessarily thought revisiting Stars Hollow would tie up all the loose ends left dangling (like an annoying participle) when the series ended back in 2007. But come on, those “last four words” made me (and probably everyone else watching) scream “Whaaaaat?!?!” (followed by a few choice expletives) at the television screen.  Six hours of viewing and that was it??  Just enduring Rory and Logan’s ridiculous “steampunk” adventure alone was enough to send me reaching for a strong cocktail.  I was so confounded by the ending I decided to binge-watch another series on Netflix just to take my mind off of it…which led to my “lost weekend.”

I did, however, manage to make it to the Sunday Farmer’s Market, where I found some lovely tangerines…which I subsequently turned into a fragrant homemade Mandarincello Liqueur.  Now had I been sipping this deliciously potent nectar while viewing Gilmore Girls, maybe I would have been less critical of its shortcomings…but then again, I could’ve just woken up with the hangover.

The old school way of making citrus liqueur is to take the peel from the clean, washed fruit (minus the bitter pith), put it in a tight-sealing glass jar, cover the peel in a clear neutral alcohol like vodka (or Everclear), and let the mixture sit undisturbed for about 6 weeks to draw out all the flavor and essential oils from the skin of the fruit.  The deeply scented liquor (strained of the peel) is then combined with an equal amount of syrup made from a 50/50 blend of sugar and juice of the fruit that has been brought to a boil.

Since I am in possession of a stainless steel whipped cream dispenser (courtesy of Whip It!) I opted for the modern method of rapid infusion through the use of nitrous oxide.

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To draw out more of the flavor and essential oils from the tangerines I used a microplaner to finely zest the peel…

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which I then placed inside the stainless steel canister along with 2 cups of vodka.  I injected two N2O cartridges into the sealed canister and gave it several good shakes.

While the N20 worked its magic on the tangerine zest and vodka, I juiced enough tangerines for 1-1/2 cups of juice, which I then combined with an equal amount of sugar and brought to a boil.

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To make the liqueur, I simply strained the syrup into a large glass pitcher (or measuring cup), then whisked in the strained infused alcohol.  *For instructions on how to make rapid infused alcohol please refer to my previous post “Better Cocktails Through Science.”

Mandarincello with Sparkllng Water
Mandarincello with Sparkllng Water

Mandarincello Liqueur

Yields:  approximately 1 quart

  • 1/4 cup fresh tangerine zest
  • 2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed tangerine juice
  • stainless steel whipped cream dispenser
  • 2 N2O cartridges

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrap Session…or How To Stuff A Chinese Crepe

My friend Karen heard about this pop up restaurant in the Inner Sunset generating buzz about town for their “authentic” savory stuffed Chinese crepes.  Hungry for a new foodie adventure, we decided to give it a try one morning.  Temporarily housed inside a Japanese noodle place, the vendors had set up a large crepe iron out by the front window, surrounded by containers of fresh fixings and squeeze bottles of sauce.  It all looked promising.  Their offerings were limited to three types of crepe –one of which, the pork (obvious favorite), was already sold out–and a few beverages.   A little disappointed, we settled on one of each of the remaining crepes, the “classic” (meatless) variety and the dubious sounding “frankfurter” stuffed crepe, along with a hot sweet soy milk.

You know that saying “good things come to those who wait?”  This wasn’t one of those times.  Our stuffed crepes weren’t necessarily bad, but I can’t say they were worth the almost half hour wait–not when the sum didn’t quite equal the parts.  We both liked how they managed to envelop the tender crepe with a thin layer of omelet and how the stack of crushed fried wonton skins gave the stuffed crepes a nice crunch, even if our taste buds were less than impressed by the lackluster vegetables (mainly bean sprouts) and diced hot dogs.  As we picked apart the components we couldn’t help but think of other filling combinations that would make a better, more satisfying stuffed crepe.  Other than roast pork, our hands down favorite was roast duck.

Now to test out our idea, I could’ve just gone to the neighborhood Chinese deli and bought half a roast duck…but I didn’t.  No, I decided to roast my own duck…legs that is.  I’d butchered a whole duck a while back and only used the duck breasts for my Valentine’s Day An Affair to Remember post.  The rest of bird parts were neatly tucked away in ziploc bags in the freezer, which, much to my delight, were still in perfectly good condition.  So I took the thawed duck legs and soaked them overnight in a rich marinade of dark and light soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, five-spice, dried orange peel, garlic and ginger.  The drained marinated duck legs were then roasted at 425°F for about 25 mins, then at 350°F for another 15-18 mins. until done.

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Once the duck legs cooled, I shredded up the meat and chopped up the skin.

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And then I set about creating the ultimate stuffed Chinese crepe…

To start off, you need the crepe.  I found a recipe in one of my favorite dim sum cookbooks (Dim Sum by Ellen Leong Blonder) for Chinese pancakes.  After my first tester crepe, I thinned out the batter slightly to get a more even, tender crepe.

Chinese Pancakes (Crepes)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. water
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp. oil

Whisk together the eggs and water, then whisk in the flour, salt, and oil until smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap and rest batter for about 20 mins.  To make the crepes, heat a 10″ non-stick skillet and swirl in 1/2 tsp. oil.  Lift the hot skillet off the heat and pour in about 1/2 cup batter, then tilt and swirl the pan until the batter evenly coats the bottom.  Cook the crepe on medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the edges begin to color slightly, then loosen the edges with a spatula and carefully flip the crepe over.  Cook the other side for another 20-30 secs.  Stack the finished crepes in between sheets of wax paper or parchment until ready to use.

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For the rest of the fixings, I stir-fried some bean sprouts, fresh shiitake mushrooms, and shredded cabbage with a little garlic, salt and pepper, rice wine and drizzle of sesame oil…

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and deep-fried strips of wonton skin for the all important crunch.

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To assemble the savory duck crepe, I whisked two eggs with about 2 Tbsp. water then swirled and coated the bottom of the heated oiled skillet with a thin, even layer of beaten egg and sprinkled on a light coating of toasted sesame seeds.  Before the egg set completely, I quickly topped it with a crepe.  Instead of leaving the egg layer on the outside, I decided to flip the crepe so that I could brown the crepe a little.  I drizzled hoisin sauce on the egg and layered on the duck, vegetables, fried wonton strips, and julienned scallion…

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…then folded the crepe over the everything.

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To finish off the crepe, I topped it with a little more shredded duck, vegetables, drizzle of hoisin, fried wonton strips and scallion.

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My homemade version of Savory Chinese Duck Stuffed Crepe didn’t exactly look like the savory crepes at the pop up restaurant…but it was definitely worth the effort…and wait.

 

Rolling in the Dough

So last month I found myself tackling croissant dough in an attempt to recreate the Cruffin.  While I can appreciate the finesse and skill it takes to make a respectable croissant dough–I mean who doesn’t like those buttery flaky layers–I’m more a brioche kind of gal.  Brioche is richer and more tender, chock full of luscious eggs and butter.  It’s the type of enriched dough I love to use for everything from sticky buns to donuts. Like pizza dough, brioche is a good staple to have in the freezer–goodness knows I have quite a few staples in there already–though I must admit I very rarely just bake a simple loaf of brioche.  I use brioche like a blank canvas, manipulating it into different forms, layering it with different ingredients, like dried fruit and citrus for my Easter loaf.

My last batch of brioche dough produced two rather different, though equally delicious breakfast pastries (oh who am I kidding, I’d be eating them any time of the day or night).  The first was inspired by a photo of an apple creme bun in one of the Flour cookbooks.   I had the makings for all the components.  There were a few farmer’s market pink lady apples sitting around, just waiting to be sautéed in brown butter and sugar.  I needed egg whites for another baking project, which conveniently meant there would be egg yolks for vanilla pastry cream.  All I needed to do was make the brioche dough, which I then halved (stashing one half in the freezer for later use). Instead of forming a bunch of individual buns–I was too impatient to eat it–I made one large apple “galette” or as my friend Toni called it an “apple pizza.”

Brioche Dough 

  • 2 1/4 cup bread flour
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 packages rapid rise yeast (instant yeast)
  • 6 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 11 oz. butter (2 1/4 sticks), cut into small pieces, room temperature

In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the dry ingredients on low speed.  Whisk together the eggs, water, and milk, then add them to the dry mix.  Mix everything on low for about 4-5 mins. until the dough comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl about halfway through.  Increased the speed to medium low and begin adding the butter a little at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough.  Kick up the speed to medium and continue mixing for another 12-15 mins.  The dough should be somewhat sticky and shiny.  Transfer the dough into a greased bowl large enough for double its size, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm space.  Punch down the dough and divide in half.

Brioche Project #2 was a slightly more decadent affair.  I decided to make sticky buns…but not just any old sticky bun.  No, these buns were going to be drenched in homemade brown butter salted caramel sauce…and filled with vanilla pastry cream.  If that wasn’t enough, I went the extra mile and laminated the second half of my brioche dough with BUTTER! Yeah, you heard me…I added more layers of butter into an enriched dough.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  I got the idea years ago from Nancy Silverton, who is a genius.  The process for laminating the brioche is similar to that for croissant dough.  I used about 4 oz. room temperature butter for a half batch of brioche dough.  Once the laminated dough was thoroughly chilled and rested, I rolled it out into a 1/3″ thick rectangle, slathered on some brown butter (which I had leftover from a previous recipe), sprinkled on a thick layer of cinnamon and sugar (heavy on the cinnamon) and rolled it into a log.  At this point you can wrap the log tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight if you are planning on finishing them up in the morning, which is what I opted to do since I wanted to make a big batch of Brown Butter Salted Caramel Paste first.

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Brown Butter Salted Caramel Paste

Yield:  3 pints

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 oz. butter, cooked to dark golden brown, cooled to room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Place the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a large heavy bottom sauce pan, then stir to completely moisten the sugar.  Cook the mixture on medium heat until it becomes a medium dark amber color.  Turn off the heat and carefully whisk in the cream, then the brown butter, salt and vanilla.  Turn the heat back on and let the caramel come back to a boil.. Whisk and boil for about 1 min.  Remove from the heat and transfer into heat proof containers (e.g.  mason jars).

To finish the sticky buns, grease a 9″x 9″ pan (I used a glass pyrex baking dish) with non-stick spray and pour in about 1/3″ layer of the salted caramel to fully cover the bottom of the pan.  Divide the roll into 9 thick slices (I goofed and accidentally cut 8) and arrange them in the pan 3 x 3.  Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls proof in a warm space until double in size.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Fill a piping bag with vanilla pastry cream (there should be plenty left from the previous recipe), insert the tip into the center of each roll and pipe in a generous amount of pastry cream.  Set the pan onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.  Bake the rolls for about 30-35 mins. until they evenly golden brown.  Let the rolls rest in the pan for about 3-4 mins. then carefully invert the pan onto the parchment.

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Halloween…Or Confessions of a Scaredy Cat

I’m an unmitigated scaredy cat when it comes to horror movies and not ashamed to admit it–blame it on a neurotic, overly dramatic, “waiting for the apocalypse” mother and my own active imagination.  No doubt many of my friends have hunkered down in front of their television sets with pizzas and big bowls of popcorn for a Halloween fright fest, binge watching horror flick after horror flick this weekend–savoring every blood curdling scream, dismembered body part, and demonic possession.  I, on the other hand, am crafting cocktails, baking bundt cakes and assembling Halloween treats (see recipes below) while watching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)–low on the horror, high on kitsch.  Okay, true Austenites might be truly horrified by the mash-up but I find it oddly entertaining… given my love of Austen’s novel, quirky zombie films, and Doctor Who (11th Doctor Matt Smith plays everyone’s favorite buffoon Mr. Collins).

The image of butt-kicking zombie assassin Bennet sisters had me from the get-go.

Suffice it to say I don’t do the standard scary horror movie, like Saw (2004) or The Exorcist (1973), not so much because I’m squeamish about blood and gore or extreme violence (which I’m not given the number of Quentin Tarantino films I’ve seen), but because they dredge up my own fears about the pitch black ugly side of the human psyche.  All you have to do is watch the news and you’re reminded there really are seriously deranged individuals out there committing unspeakable acts against humanity.

While we’re on the subject of scary movie themes, paranormal ghost stories are also not high on my watch list either…because, yes, I do believe in ghosts.  I made the mistake of watching The Others (2001) on a cold dark night by myself (hey I got sucked into the story before I realized it was a “horror flick”) and nearly jumped out of my skin when my roommate came into the apartment.  I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen the film, but it scared the crap out of me.  I think I made myself watch some stupid sitcoms for an hour and eat dessert afterwards just to settle my nerves!

They say screaming is cathartic, but I prefer to laugh…much less stressful.  For those of you like me, who like their gore peppered (intentional or not) with humor, here are a few movies to check out this Halloween night:

The Lost Boys (1987) – I have fond memories of this 80’s teenage comedy horror flick starring the ubiquitous two Corey’s (Feldman and Haim), set in my college town of Santa Cruz.  Before he became known as uber operative Jack Bauer in 24, Kiefer Sutherland play one menacing vampire gang leader.

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An American Werewolf in London (1981) – The original is still the best.  I watched this with friends when I was at university in England.  Having traverse all through London on the tube, we laughed and screamed with horror at the werewolf mauling scene inside the Green Park tube station.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) –  George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play fugitive bank robbers turned would-be vampire killers.  It’s a delirious, campy adrenaline rush.  Clooney is a eye-candy dish full of sexy snarkiness.

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Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Leave to Brits Simon Peg and Nick Frost to make a fun zombie movie.  Dawn of the Dead this ain’t!

Less I forget, here are the recipes I’ve been working on while watching my non-scary Halloween movie.

Cocktail:  

I know I could’ve given it a more Halloween-y name but Fall Breeze is a more apt description of this effervescent drink.  It’s got all the flavors of fall with a spicy kick that perks you up like a crisp breeze.

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  • 2 oz. Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz. Apple Cider
  • .75 oz. Fresh Ginger Syrup*
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 5 dashes Persimmon Bitters
  • Chilled Seltzer Water
  • Fresh Sage and Sliced Fuyu Persimmon for Garnish

Combine the bourbon whiskey, cider, ginger syrup, lemon juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker.  Add 4-5 ice cubes and shake vigorously to blend.  Strain the liquor into a chilled martini glass and top with seltzer.  Garnish drink with a slice of persimmon and a small sprig of fresh sage.

Fresh Ginger Syrup:

Place 1 1/2 cups peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger root and the zest of a lime and a lemon into a medium saucepan and cover with 3 cups cold water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 mins.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for about an hour.   Strain out the ginger and pour the strained liquid back into a saucepan.  Whisk in 3 cups sugar and the juice of the lime and lemon.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then pour it through a fine mesh strainer.  Cool to room temperature, transfer into mason jars or glass bottles and refrigerate.  This recipe makes enough syrup for many drinks!

Dessert:

Pumpkin bundt cake is a homey staple on Halloween, especially when it’s decorated to look like an actual pumpkin.  Alas, I went a different route with mine…mainly because it was a belated birthday cake for my favorite aunt and she’s not crazy about big frosting laden cakes.  Her cake was not overly sweet or heavily spiced–simply moist and flavorful, with a dulce de leche cream cheese filing and bittersweet chocolate ganache glaze, tastefully decorated with tiny strips of dried mandarin orange.

Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Bundt with Dulce de Leche Filling

Batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups Golden Brown Sugar
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Oil (Canola, Sunflower, etc.)
  • 4 oz. Butter (1 stick), cooked to a nutty brown and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 cups Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 Tbsp. Bourbon
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp. Maple Extract
  • 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. Cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg

Whisk together the sugar and all the wet ingredients.  Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and center a well in the center. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and whisk everything together until well incorporated.

Filling: 

  • 6 oz. Cream Cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Dulce de Leche
  • 1 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 18 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate (60-70%), finely chopped
  • 2 cups. Heavy Cream
  • 3 Tbsp. Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Espresso Powder (or Instant Coffee)
  • 1/4 cup Sour Cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Rum, Whiskey or Brandy (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl.  Combine the cream and corn syrup in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt and espresso powder.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, wait about 2 mins., then gently whisk the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate has completely melted.  Whisk in the sour cream and liquor.

To glaze the bundt, set the wire rack with the cooled bundt over a sheet of parchment and ladle the warm glaze over the top.

There was, of course, still plenty of ganache leftover from glazing the bundt…so I decided to use it for my next Halloween treat–Chocolate Peanut Butter Pumpkins.  I’ve wanted to make something with this pumpkin-shaped silicon candy mold I bought on sale last year and these were the perfect treats to make.  There’s no baking involved!  I simply filled the molds with a white chocolate peanut butter truffle, topped them with a thin layer of ganache and sprinkled on some crushed salted pretzels and leftover peanut butter toffee I’d whipped up for a batch of cookie dough I’d made earlier in the week.  You can substitute any kind of crushed toffee-like candy (e.g Butterfinger, Heath, etc.).   I placed the mold into the freezer to set up, then popped the little pumpkins out.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle

  • 1 cup Chunky Peanut Butter
  • 10 oz. White Chocolate Chips (I like Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Place everything in a heatproof bowl (starting with the peanut butter).  Set the bowl over a pot of simmer water and stirring occasionally until the white chocolate is completely melted and fully incorporated into the peanut butter.

Keep these treats refrigerated until ready to serve.

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Happy Halloween!

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Sunday Bake–Savory Pop Tarts

Ever since I abruptly decided to jump off the crazy train that was my day job (or more like leaping off a runaway train a few stops before it plowed spectacularly through the main station), I’ve spent my time working on consulting projects (aka playing with food).  Consequently, I find myself with a whole lot of odds and ends in my refrigerator–leftover ingredients from various recipe experiments, like thick béchamel sauce, caramelized onions, and black forest ham.  I’d already managed to use some of it on a pizza, mixing together the béchamel and caramelized onion and using the savory concoction as the base for my pizza bianco. But what to do with the rest?  There was only a scant cup left over, not really enough for a pot pie and I was pretty much done making croque monsieurs (one of my experiments).  As I was standing near the empanadas food truck waiting for my friend at the Farmer’s Market this morning the idea hit me.  Why not make Savory Pop Tarts!  I could bulk up the leftover caramelized onion béchamel with sautéed mushrooms and cheese to make enough filling for at least ten pop tarts.  Layer in some chopped black forest ham and we’ve got a winner.

Now you can make pop tarts with any variety of doughs, from puff pastry to pie.  My pastry of choice is a buttery, flaky pate brisee.  It’s richer than pie dough, more tender than puff pastry, and provides just the right structure for pop tarts.  A word about Pop Tarts (the boxed kind)–I’m not a fan.  I tried to like them as kid, but simply couldn’t get past the dry texture and teeth achingly sweet frosting and filling.  I think my mom bought me a box once, which I refused to finish…much like that box of Lucky Charms…and that was the end of that.  During my sophomore year in college, my roommate used to get care packages laden with boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Rice-a-Roni, and Pop Tarts.  I gave Pop Tarts another go…no dice.  It really wasn’t until I began re-making pop tarts with handmade pastry dough and filling them with really tasty stuff–homemade preserves, Nutella, caramelized fruit, peanut butter, etc.–then I became a convert.  Like Lorelei Gilmore, I had a pop tart epiphany (only not about the crappy artificial kind).

The tricky thing about pop tarts is getting the consistency of the filling, whether it’s sweet or savory, just right.  If it’s too wet or loose the filling will leak and explode out the sides, leaving you with a sad deflated pop tart.  A rich thick béchamel sauce, for example, is an excellent binder for all kinds of savory fillings.  Also, it’s important to brush the edges of only one side of pastry with egg wash or cream so the seams will stick together securely.  Brushing both the top and bottom halves will merely cause the pastry to slip and slide.

For my savory pop tart filling, I sautéed about 1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms with a little olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, hard apple cider, and chicken stock, then added 1/4 cup frozen organic corn, and a tablespoon each chopped fresh parsley and chives.  I combined this mixture with the leftover caramelized onion béchamel and 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese.  I placed a heaping tablespoon of the filling at the center of 10 pate brisee squares (cut approximately 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″),

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layered on a little julienned black forest ham, brush the edges with heavy cream, then topped each one with another pastry square, sealed the edges and crimped them with a fork.

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Each pop tart was brushed with more cream, pierced with a fork to allow steam to vent, and sprinkled with grated parmesan and black pepper.

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I baked the pop tarts at 400°F for about 25 mins., until they were golden brown.

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Savory Pop Tarts are the kind of “out of the box” pastry worth making!

Bechamel Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Whole Milk, slightly warmed
  • ½ tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • ⅛ tsp. Ground Black Pepper
  • Pinch of Ground Nutmeg

On medium low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour to form a paste.  Stirring constantly, cook the mixture for about two mins., then gradually whisk in the warm milk a little at a time to avoid lumps.  Turn the heat back up to medium and continue whisking until the mixture begins to boil.  Lower the heat and cook for another three minutes, seasoning with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Transfer the thickened sauce into a bowl and press a film of plastic onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming as the sauce cools.  Chill the sauce until set to use for filling.