My baking buddy and I started working our way through her stash of Honeycrisp apples by making a Rustic Apple-Cinnamon Tart, but we quickly realized that we would need to make two apple desserts to fully use up all the apples. So, this Apple Crisp turned out to be the the surprise of the afternoon. A couple of things stand out to elevate this from your usual apple crisp recipe including: 1) the addition of nutmeg in the topping (which gives it a “je ne sais quois” quality of deliciousness), 2) adding the topping in two stages of baking (which keeps the topping from sinking into the crisp too much and keeps things crunchy), and 3) the use of almond extract instead of the usual vanilla extract (which gives it an extra unique apple pie flavor).
From overhead the apple crisp doesn’t look too impressive.
The side view looks a bit more intriguing as you get a glimpse of the apple.
Scoop into it and the mystery starts to unfold.
And here’s the perfect bite for you (with vanilla ice cream).
(from Fine Cooking Create Your Own Fruit Crisp –http://www.finecooking.com/articles/cyor/fruit-crisp.aspx. My comments are in italics between [ ]. )
Makes 8 servings
For the Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. nutmeg [the nutmeg add a unique and unexpected twist to the usual apple pie flavors]
8 Tbs. slightly softened unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup chopped pecans
For the Fruit Filling
6 cups peeled, sliced apples (1/2-inch slices)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Make the Topping
- Combine the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
- Rub in the butter with your fingertips until it’s well blended and the mixture crumbles coarsely; it should hold together when you pinch it.
- Mix in the pecans with your hands until it’s well-distributed. Refrigerate the topping until needed.
Make the Crisp
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Put the apples in a large bowl. Sprinkle up to 1/3 cup sugar over the apples (for sweet, ripe fruit, use less; for tart fruit, use more).
- In a small dish, dissolve the cornstarch in the lemon juice. Pour over the apple and sugar mixture.
- Add the almond extract and cinnamon and toss gently.
- Pour the apple mixture into a 9-inch square (or similar-capacity) glass or ceramic baking dish. Set the pan on a baking sheet to catch overflowing juices.
- Top the apple mixture with half of the topping (keep the other half refrigerated) and bake for 20 minutes. [Don’t be tempted to dump all the topping on at this step. Adding the topping in two steps keeps it from sinking too much into the apple mixture and helps keeps things crispy.]
- Sprinkle the remaining topping over the crisp, and continue baking until the fruit is tender when pierced with a knife, the topping is crisp, and the juices are bubbling, about another 15 minutes.
- Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm. [This is especially delicious when served with ice cream.]
Today was a “bake with a buddy” day, and my buddy brought over a big stash of Honeycrisp apples. The first thought was to make an apple pie, but I tend to be intimidated by making homemade pie crust. So, this Rustic Apple-Cinnamon Tart seemed more manageable because even though it involves making a pie crust from scratch, there’s lots of room for error due to it’s “rustic” nature. And boy, did it look rustic as we put it in the oven to bake. Prior to baking, the apple pile in the center of the tart looked messy, and the crust looked clumsily formed. But somehow when it came out of the oven, the tart transformed into a fabulously delicious dessert. The crust is light, flaky, and crunchy (due to the sprinkling of the turbinado sugar prior to baking), and the tender apples really shine through with their flavor. This tart is especially perfect for those who want a lighter (and less goopy) version of apple pie.
Rustic Apple-Cinnamon Tart
(from Fine Cooking – http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/rustic-apple-cinnamon-tart.aspx; My notes are in italics between [ ].)
Makes 8 servings
For the Dough
6-3/4 oz. (1-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt
5-1/2 oz. (11 Tbs.) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
3 Tbs. whole milk [I didn’t have any milk so I used heavy cream.]
For the Filling
4 cups peeled, thinly sliced apples [thinly sliced apples will bake better]
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
Big pinch table salt
1 large egg, beaten well
2 Tbs. turbinado sugar
Make and Roll the Dough
- Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or if mixing by hand, in a medium bowl).
- Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and add them to the flour.
- On low speed, mix the butter and flour until the flour is no longer white and holds together when you clump it with your fingers, 1 to 2 minutes. If there are still lumps of butter larger than the size of peas, break them up with your fingers. Run a spatula along the bottom of the bowl to loosen anything stuck to the bowl. (If mixing by hand, mix with a pastry cutter or two forks until the butter is mixed into the flour as above).
- In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk and milk and add them to the flour mixture. On low speed, mix until the dough just comes together, about 15 seconds; the dough will be somewhat soft. (If mixing by hand, add the yolk mixture to the flour and mix gently with a fork until the liquid is well distributed.) The dough will still look crumbly and dry.
- Dump the dough onto a clean counter [Make sure to flour your counter so the dough doesn’t stick], and work it with the heel of your hand, pushing and smearing it away from you and gathering it up with a bench scraper and repeating until the dough comes together and is pliable).
- Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, press it into a flat disk, wrap it in the plastic, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes (or up to four days) before rolling it out.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator; if the dough is very firm, let it sit at room temperature until it’s pliable enough to roll, 10 to 15 minutes.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough into a round that’s about 13 to 14 inches in diameter [Make sure you don’t roll it dough out too thin, or else it will be difficult to transfer to the parchment lined baking sheet]. It’s all right if the edges are a little ragged. If you can’t get a roughly round shape, trim the dough so that it’s a rough circle and roll the trimmed scraps back into the dough.
- Transfer the dough round to the baking sheet, and put it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling. [I had a bit of difficulty transferring the rolled out dough to the baking sheet because the dough was thin and pretty soft. Luckily I had rolled out my dough on a Silpat mat, so I inverted the Silpat onto the parchment lined baking sheet and then peeled the Silpat from the top of the dough. In the future, I’ll make sure the dough is not too soft/warm before I start rolling it out.]
Assemble and Bake the Tart
- Put the apples in a large bowl. Toss the fruit with the 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Taste the fruit; if it’s more tart than you like, add up to 2 Tbs. more sugar.
- Add the flour, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt and toss until everything is evenly mixed.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to keep it from cracking when you assemble the tart.
- Pile the apple mixture in the center of the dough round [It will look a bit like a small apple mountain, but don’t worry because it will deflate a little during baking].
- Using your fingertips, fold the edges of the dough over some of the apples to create a rim about 2 inches wide [Be careful that the apples don’t poke through the dough. Otherwise your tart may leak too much]. Work your way all around, pleating the dough as you go [Don’t worry too much about making it look too pretty. It may look a bit dumpy (“rustic”) before baking, but once baked, it gets better looking].
- Using a pastry brush, brush the pleated dough evenly with the beaten egg.
- Sprinkle the turbinado sugar directly on the dough and fruit.
- Bake the tart until the pleats of dough are completely golden brown without a trace of pale, unbaked dough, about 55 minutes. (It’s all right if some of the juices escape from the tart and seep onto the pan.) [Quite a bit of my juices escaped onto the parchment, but it transformed into a very thin layer of caramel hard candy that I later scraped off the parchment, slightly crumbled, and sprinkled over the top of the tart.]
- Transfer to a rack and let cool. The tart may be baked up to six hours ahead of serving.
- When cool enough to handle, use a spatula to transfer the tart to a serving plate or cutting board. Slice it, and serve it warm or at room temperature. [This tart doesn’t slice very neatly because the crust is somewhat delicate. But the fantastic flavors make up for any cosmetic shortfalls it has.]
If only I could approach some of my other resolutions with as much fervor as I have been doing to whittle down my Nutella overstock. Next up in Nutella-themed baked goods is this Nutella Swirl Vanilla Cake. Because the vanilla cake is based on a pound cake recipe, it’s a little denser and richer than your usual crumbly vanilla cake which means that it solidly supports the thick ribbon of Nutella running through the center. No frosting needed for this cake as the Nutella provides just the right amount of sweetness.
From the outside, this Nutella Swirled Vanilla Cake doesn’t look very impressive.
But hidden inside is a thick swirl of Nutella weaving it’s way through the cake.
And here’s the perfect bite for you.
Nutella Swirled Vanilla Cake
(Adapted from Food & Wine – http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/nutella-swirl-pound-cake)
Makes one 9×2 inch cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup Nutella
- Preheat the oven to 325°. Line the bottom of a 9×2 inch round cake pan with parchment paper, and lightly spray the sides of the pan with baking spray.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
- In separate small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer), beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy and light. With the mixer at medium-low speed, gradually beat in the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
- Spread half of the cake batter in the prepared pan. Then spread the Nutella on top, leaving a 1/4 inch border of cake showing. Spread the other half of the cake batter on top of the Nutella. Lightly swirl the Nutella into the batter with a butter knife (Do not overmix.). Tap the pan on the counter to settle any air bubbles.
- Bake the cake for about 32-37 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up, and let it cool completely.
In an attempt to whip up a batch of cookies in about an hour, I turned to this recipe for Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies. Not only were these these cookies really quick and easy to make, but they’re amazingly delicious. They’re crispy on the edges, chewy in the middle, and butterscotchy all over.
Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies
(from Nestle – https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/18478/oatmeal-scotchies/. My notes are in italics between [ ]).
Makes 48 cookies
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar [I used light brown sugar]
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or grated peel of 1 orange [I used vanilla extract; the orange zest doesn’t sound appealing to me]
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats [I used old-fashioned oats]
1 2/3 cups (11-oz. pkg.) Butterscotch Flavored Morsels
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in small bowl.
- Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl [I added and mixed each ingredient individually to ensure everything was mixed well].
- Gradually beat in flour mixture.
- Stir in oats and butterscotch morsels.
- Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
- Bake for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies or 9 to 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Recently I went to Costco and stocked up on Nutella… forgetting that the last time I went to Costco, I also stocked up on Nutella. So, my current Nutella overstock situation calls for a strong effort to make all things Nutella, starting with these Black-Bottomed Nutella Swirl Mini Cheesecakes (which in a nutshell is cheesecake in cupcake form). Starting from bottom to top, this tasty little treat consists of a firm chocolate wafer crust (that holds up really well and doesn’t crumble like other crusts), a layer of rich Nutella cheesecake, and a layer of smooth, creamy vanilla cheesecake, all topped with a dark chocolate wafer cookie perched on top of a dollop of Nutella. After one taste of this, I immediately thought that I may never have to go to the Cheesecake Factory again.
Black-Bottomed Nutella Swirl Mini Cheesecakes
(from Abigail Johnson Dodge from Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets – http://www.abbydodge.com/books/mini-treats-hand-held-sweets/; My notes are in italics between [ ]. )
Makes 12 cupcakes
For the black bottom
3/4 cup (3-3/4 oz.) finely ground chocolate cookies [The original recipe recommends using Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers. I can never find those at my grocery store so I used Quadratini Dark Chocolate Bite Size Wafer Cookies]
2 Tbs. (1 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake
2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup (4-5/8 oz.) granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of table salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (10 oz.) Nutella
Make the black bottom
- Line 12 regular-sized (2-3/4-inch diameter) muffin cups with foil liners (paper ones won’t work here) and lightly grease the bottom and sides [I didn’t grease the foil liners because it seemed like a messy process, and my cheesecake released from the foil after baking OK].
- Put the cookie crumbs [I used a food processor to pulse the cookies to a medium to fine crumb] and butter in a small bowl and mix with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened.
- Portion the crumbs evenly among the foil liners (1 firmly packed tablespoon in each). If you have a tart tamper, this is a great time to use it. If not, tear off a piece of plastic wrap [Parchment paper worked well too], place it over the crumbs, and use your fingers to press firmly to make a compact layer. Slide the tin into the refrigerator while you make the filling. (This helps keep the crumbs on the bottom when you are swirling the batters together.)
Make the cheesecake
- Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F.
- Put the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium high until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Continue beating until well blended and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently; there should be no lumps.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed until just blended. Once the eggs have been added to the batter, it’s important to mix thoroughly without overbeating or the cheesecake will puff and crack during baking.
- Scoop out 1 cup of the vanilla batter and set aside.
- Add the Nutella to the remaining batter and stir until well blended.
- Portion the Nutella batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups (about 4 Tbs. per cup).
- Next, portion the vanilla batter evenly among the cups (about 1 Tbs. in each). The cups should be completely filled.
- Drag and fold the tip of a wooden skewer, toothpick, or paring knife through the two batters in a swirled pattern. There should still be solid streaks of each batter visible, and the cups should be filled to the brim. Tap the muffin tin on the counter to settle the batters.
- Bake until the centers barely jiggle when the pan is nudged, 20 to 22 minutes [Mine took a little longer to bake; around 25 minutes]. Set the muffin tin on a rack and let cool completely.
- Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 6 hours.
I love that these can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to a month.
If you’re ever driving the Los Angeles – Las Vegas route and see Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers (http://www.freddysusa.com/) along the freeway, you should pull over for the frozen custard. It’s smooth and creamy, with a vanilla-y flavor that is never subject to flavor fatigue (i.e., the first and last lick are equally as delicious and vanilla-y on your palate).
© 2015 eatsweetsandbemerry.com
Rick Moonen’s restaurant, Rx Boiler Room (rxboilerroom.com/), in Las Vegas, NV is rich in steampunk ambiance and “a moment of silence because it’s so delicious” food. Being the dessert fiend that I am, I was especially pleased with their Smores Brûlée dessert. The dish is composed of homemade thin shortbread graham crackers and a silky smooth, rich, chocolate ganache topped with marshmallow fluff. My favorite way to eat the dessert was to pile the graham crackers high with chocolate mousse and marshmallow and indulge.
A close up of the chocolate mousse.
© 2015 eatsweetsandbemerry.com
It doesn’t take a lot of inspire me to bake. I had two ingredients that I typically don’t have on hand, orange zest and extra large eggs, so Ina Garten’s Perfect Pound Cake was next up on my must-bake list. The recipe caught my eye because it involves things that I don’t typically do when I bake, like sifting the flour THREE times (I only sifted twice because I was using a sieve, and it was just too time consuming and messy), coating the inside of the tube pan with sugar, mixing the wet ingredients for 5 minutes, adding the dry and wet ingredients in multiple batches, and not pre-heating the oven. It turns out that sifting the flour produced a dense but tender crumb which was beautifully flecked with vanilla bean seeds and orange zest. In addition to visual interest, the orange zest also provides a light floral note to the cake. My favorite component of this cake is the the sweet, crunchy, sugary top crust that formed and adds a nice textural contrast to the rest of the cake. Because this cake seems a bit sweeter than the usual pound cakes I make, it would be an especially perfect complement to coffee or tea. My final verdict is that while I’m pleased with how the cake turned out, and it does set itself apart from your usual pound cake, the extra steps of sifting the flour are a bit too high maintenance for me to put this into my bake-often repertoire.
Perfect Pound Cake
Makes 1 12-cup tube pan cake; 12 servings
(from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten – http://www.barefootcontessa.com/cookbooks_details.aspx?CookbookID=33; My notes are in italics between [ ]. )
Baking spray with flour, such as Baker’s Joy
1/4 cup demerara or turbinado sugar [I used turbinado sugar]
3 cups sifted cake flour (measure sifted flour by spooning it lightly into the measuring cup.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean [I used 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste instead]
2 tsp. grated orange zest (2 oranges)
1 cup heavy cream
- Do not preheat the oven. Place a rack in the oven so the cake will sit in the center. Generously spray a 12-cup tube pan (not one with a removable bottom!) or 2 loaf pans (each 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches) with the baking spray to coat evenly. Sprinkle with the demerara sugar, tilting the pan or pans to make an even coating of the sugar over the bottom and sides. Set aside.
- Combine the sifted cake flour and salt and pass the mixture through a sieve or a sifter from one bowl into another 3 times [I only did this 2 times because it took up way too much time]. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until the mixture is light yellow and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Beat in the vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, and orange zest.
- Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the cream and beginning and ending with flour, and scraping down the sides of the bowl to combine. (Don’t worry if it looks a little curdled.) Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes. The batter should be very light and fluffy.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top, and place in the cold oven.
- Turn the oven to 350°F, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the cake, rounded side up, to a wire rack and let cool completely.
© 2015 eatsweetsandbemerry.com
Sometimes what I bake is determined by what needs to be used up in my fridge. I had some ricotta leftover from making lasagna and raspberries in the freezer, so this recipe for Raspberry-Ricotta Cake moved up in my list of must-bakes. The vanilla cake is very tender and not too sweet, and the tart raspberries remind me of summer.
(from Bon Appetit, March 2015 – http://www.bonappetit.com/; My notes are in italics between [ ].)
Makes 1 9-inch cake
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1½ cups ricotta [I used whole milk rocotta]
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup frozen raspberries or blackberries, divided [I used frozen raspberries from Trader Joe’s]
- Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9”-diameter cake pan with parchment paper, and lightly coat with nonstick spray.
- Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
- Whisk eggs, ricotta, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth; fold into dry ingredients just until blended. Then fold in butter, followed by ¾ cup raspberries, taking care not to crush berries.
- Scrape batter into prepared pan and scatter remaining ¼ cup raspberries over top.
- Bake cake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50–60 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes before unmolding.
Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature.
Preparation: Active – 15 mins; Total – 1 hr. 35 mins
© 2015 eatsweetsandbemerry.com
I’m not big on going to bars, but I do find it hard to resist eating a bar. These Dark Chocolate Crumb Bars are easy to make and deliciously rich and chocolatey. The thin shortbread crust is blanketed with with a pseudo-chocolate ganache with chocolate chips, shortbread crumbs, and chopped almonds sprinkled heavily on top. I wanted to have a solid but not overpowering contrast to the sweet chocolate, so I substituted Trader Joe’s mesquite smoked seasoned almonds for the walnuts.
Dark Chocolate Crumb Bars
Makes 30 bars
(From Nestle Holiday recipes (https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/144808/dark-chocolate-crumb-bars/); My notes are in italics between [ ] ).
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups (10-oz. pkg.) chocolate chips, divided
1 can (14 oz.) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional); [I used chopped mesquite smoked seasoned almonds from Trader Joe’s.]
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with baking spray. [I used a metal pan because I wanted to ensure the crust would turn golden.]
2. Beat butter in a large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in the flour, sugar, and salt until crumbly.
3. With floured fingers, press approximately 2 cups [I used a bit more than that to fully cover my pan. Make sure there aren’t any spots that are too thin, or else the chocolate mixture may seep through the crust] of crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared baking pan; reserve the remaining mixture.
4. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
5. Combine sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup of chocolate chips in a small, heavy-duty saucepan. Warm over low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Spread over hot crust.
6. Stir nuts and remaining 2/3 cup morsels into the reserved crumb mixture; sprinkle over chocolate filling. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the center is set [e.g., a toothpick inserted into the center comes out smoothly and cleanly]. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.
© 2015 eatsweetsandbemerry.com