I decided the other day that I was going to bake something– not an uncommon occurrence, but this time I had a specific reason: to welcome new neighbors. The problem was, it was the middle of the week, which foreclosed the possibility of shopping for specialty ingredients, and I had to be careful to keep the recipe generally inoffensive. No nuts, in case of allergies. No really unusual spices or flavors (which foreclosed my peanut butter chili crisp cookies as an option). And they had to look at least marginally appetizing, since I couldn’t rely on my reputation for tasty baked goods to encourage people to try them.
I found a jar of raspberry jam in the pantry and decided to make thumbprint cookies– chocolate ones, since raspberry and chocolate is a fantastic combination. I did some digging into various chocolate thumbprint recipes, many of which seemed rather short on chocolate flavor, and finally found one with some unusual-seeming proportions, but which looked interesting. There’s relatively little butter, but the addition of melted chocolate makes up for it while adding a nice dose of chocolate flavor. While the dough starts off soft (and therefore requires thorough chilling before use), it shapes up nicely when cold and doesn’t crack too much when gently flattened onto the cookie sheet.
The finished cookies were really delicious– the cookie base was soft and tender, the jam added the perfect bit of tanginess and interest, and the chocolate garnish was a nice finishing tough. I will definitely add these to my recipe box!
Shortbread is such a classic cookie that I can’t believe I’ve never made it before– I mean, sure, I’ve made variations like pink peppercorn shortbread, or cocoa nib shortbread, but regular, simple shortbread has never made it onto my radar. Until now, of course.
I was looking for a cookie to make on short notice (meaning, no room-temperature butter allowed), with a minimum of fuss, so a basic, no-frills cookie was definitely called for. I didn’t want to have to deal with rolling and cutting, or even portioning into balls, so with those restrictions in mind shortbread seemed perfect. Add in the fact that this recipe calls for melted butter, and it was a no-brainer!
I will note that once you make the dough (which takes no time at all), you’re supposed to let it rest in the pan at least 2 hours, or overnight– however, I didn’t have a problem with this because I just mixed it up the night before and baked it the next morning. The only slightly tricky part was cutting the par-baked dough into even fingers, but I wouldn’t skip this step– it makes the cookies so much easier to separate once baked. I’m certain that if I’d tried to cut them after baking they’d have crumbled into pieces!
The finished cookies are elegant in their simplicity, with an added crunch from the raw sugar and salt sprinkled on top. Baked in a fluted tart pan, they look almost fancy, but still homemade in the best way possible. I think I may add this to my list of recipes for cookie trays– easy to make, easy to overlook, but addictive once you have the first bite!
Okay, I’m going to admit at the outset that I did not use golden syrup for this cake. What I did use was a double batch of maple syrup that I had spent two days trying to turn into maple cream, without success, resulting in my endless frustration, a blister on my stirring hand, and my firm belief that the maple syrup had somehow managed to convert too many of its sugars into invert sugar, thus preventing the crystallization that is crucial for the formation of maple cream. In any event, as I appeared to have a good four cups of invert syrup on my hands and no hope of maple cream, I couldn’t let it go to waste, could I? Of course not. So I made cake.
Two loaves of cake, actually, using a whopping 400g of syrup (plus more for glazing), which neatly used up the excess I had on hand. The recipe couldn’t be easier– you melt your syrup with additional sugar and butter, then beat in eggs, milk, and self-raising flour (I substituted regular flour with leaveners added), and there’s your cake batter, ready to bake!
I will note that my leavening ratio may have been a bit off– my cakes both sank in the center, which is often a sign of too much leavening (rises before it has a chance to firm up, then sinks back down)– or possibly it could’ve used a slightly hotter oven. Or maybe my inverted maple syrup had a different water content than true golden syrup. But the cakes themselves were moist and plushy, with a sticky sweetness that made it easy to try just a tiny bit more every time I passed them sitting on the counter,
It feels like everyone’s using chili crisp these days– the spicy, crunchy, garlicky condiment goes well with all different kinds of cuisines, adding punch to soups, sandwiches, pastas, and basically any other savory dish. But what about sweets? That’s what I asked myself when I spied some chili crisp peanut butter cookies in a Korean bakery the other day– could it really work?
Being, well, me, I opted not to buy a cookie, but to make one. Ever-so-slightly adapting a recipe from Zoe Kanan, I ended up with these– they’re soft, with slightly crisp edges (I may have underbaked mine, but better under than over), with a complex flavor profile that combines spice, umami, and the unmistakable echo of garlic that comes from the chili crisp. It totally works, though I’m glad I followed the instructions and made the cookies on the small side. I don’t think you’d want to eat a dozen of these in a sitting, but they are definitely interesting, tasty, and will earn you some points for creativity at your next cookie swap!
Now that you’re all finished ooh-ing and aah-ing over the adorable kitten in my pie photo, I’ll admit that I made this pie solely to use up a can of pineapple pie filling that I’d purchased ages ago (for reasons now forgotten). The pie starts with a frozen pie crust (because I made two pies and wanted to give one away without having to worry about getting my pie pan back), a layer of pineapple pie filling, a layer of coconut cheesecake, and then swoops of whipped cream topped with toasted coconut. I only wish I’d had a jar of maraschino cherries to decorate the top!
The creamy coconut cheesecake goes nicely with the pineapple layer, and the whipped cream lightens the dessert up a little while still staying rich. I think coconut is the dominant flavor– the pineapple is more of an accent– so if you really like pineapple you could adjust the proportions by decreasing the cheesecake amount and increasing the pineapple accordingly. I used one can of pie filling for two pies, so it would be easy to just make one pie instead!
Since you’re not using a water bath to bake the cheesecake, you’ll need to be careful not to overbake– jiggle your pie plate to see if the custard is set. It should be gently jiggly in the center, not firm– it’ll firm up the rest of the way as it cools, and you’ll get a creamy cheesecake rather than a grainy, overbaked one.
“More carrot cake jam?”– you may ask, wondering just how many more recipes for this delectable condiment I have planned. Well, this is my last variation, and it’s just as delicious as the previous ones. It’s simple, really– standard bite-sized cheesecakes with a swirl of jam baked into them– but irresistible once you’ve tried one. I like them best frozen, and really can’t decide whether I like these or the Carrot Cake Ice Cream better. Obviously, the recipe would work equally well with a jam or preserve of your choice– I’m thinking sour cherry next time?
I will note that this recipe makes 40 bite-sized cheesecakes in a mini muffin pan. I used a silicone pan, which made it a snap to remove the chilled cheesecakes– if you’re using metal, I recommend using paper liners. If you don’t have two mini muffin pans, the unbaked crumbs and filling will keep at room temperature while you bake and freeze your first batch– just don’t let it sit overnight or anything.
So, having made (and loved) my carrot cake jam, it was time to make macarons! They turned out absolutely delicious– the macaron shell was just “cakey” enough to really evoke carrot cake, with the almonds lending a nutty background. The filling combination– carrot jam and cream cheese frosting– was perfectly sweet and tangy at the same time. I know I say this a lot, but these may be a new favorite macaron recipe!
The other day I was at the grocery store, minding my own business in the Latin-American food aisle, when I spied a can of pre-made dulce de leche! I was unreasonably excited about this, but you’ve got to understand that it was the first time I’d ever actually seen it in real life– I’d always been told it was available, but I’d never seen it for myself.
Rather, I’d been reduced to making it from sweetened condensed milk, either using the highly dangerous boiling-the-can method, or the slow oven method. In any event, I was thrilled to find it ready-made, and even more thrilled that I’d finally be able to make my very favorite dulce de leche flan, which I first made about fifteen years ago and have pined after ever since.
This flan is amazingly creamy and smooth, with a nice caramelly flavor from the dulce de leche. Don’t overcook or you’ll lose the texture– the center should be jiggly when you shake the pan in the oven, and it’ll cook the rest of the way after you take it out.
Going out for dim sum as a kid, we would always get egg tarts for dessert. They were my dad’s favorite, and since they came three to a plate I would sometimes split one just for the sake of having something sweet to finish off the meal. Back then I leaned more towards chocolate desserts, but as I’ve grown up my tastes have gotten more diverse, and I’ve learned to appreciate a flaky crust filled with smooth, silken custard– and I’m betting that if my dad ever gets to taste these, he’ll like them even better than the ones in the restaurant.
I admit that making a fully-laminated dough for the crust is a bit labor-intensive– certainly more so than simply making a flaky pie crust or a melted-butter tart crust– but the crust is one of the distinctive elements that makes these tarts a classic.
I actually made two different crust recipes, just to see which one I liked better, and while I’m only 95% sure that I noted the correct recipe to use here (oops!) they were both pretty tasty, so I’m comfortable giving you this one. It was a little tough to roll out but the flaky layers were perfectly crispy.
I used foil tart pans (these were perfectly sized), but you could probably use a regular muffin pan if you were so inclined. There’s enough butter in the dough that I wouldn’t worry too much about sticking.
For Lunar New Year this year, I decided to try my hand at making some childhood favorite recipes– in this case, almond cookies. Honestly, store-bought almond cookies were never my favorite– I remember them mostly being vaguely sandy and shortbread-y and only slightly almond flavored– but nostalgia compelled me to try making my own. And I’m so glad I did!
These almond cookies are crisp and buttery, melting away in your mouth and leaving behind a distinctive almond flavor (okay, that’s almond extract). I think I might try an egg-yolk-only wash on top next time for an extra-golden color, but aside from that they’re perfect. Also in their favor is the fact that you don’t need to soften your butter ahead of time, though chilling the dough is still necessary. And the shaping and decorating process is something the whole family can get involved in!