Candied Pecans

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Okay, so I admit that candied nuts are something I’ve long associated with the winter holidays– they’re so great for eating by the handful along with all of those rich, cheesy, sugary holiday foods– but there’s no reason to restrict one’s intake of these deliciously crunchy, sweet-savory snacks to the winter months! They go just as well with bright, crispy salads as they do with melty brie (mmm, brie…). Brown sugar gives them depth, while cinnamon gives them a hint of spice. I’ve been known to add 1/8 tsp. of cayenne pepper for an extra kick, but you don’t have to if you want something a bit milder.

I will note that I’ve tried different methods of getting a nice, crunchy coating on the pecans, and the egg white method is the only way to go. Works every time, and no hassle with trying to caramelize sugar!

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Black Bean Brownies

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I admit to being skeptical about “healthy” desserts using alternative ingredients– they never taste quite right, and you end up eating more of them anyway because you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the “healthy” moniker. So it took me a while before trying this brownie recipe, which uses black beans as a base and which is also gluten-free. But since I was trying to avoid flour this month (my usual diet is way too starchy) I thought this might be a tasty dessert option.

Reviews of similar recipes have been mixed– some people rave over them, others claim that the texture is off-putting and the bean flavor is too obvious. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. These brownies are nice and chocolate-y, with no hint of bean flavor, even as an aftertaste. However, the texture is definitely not that of a regular brownie– they’re not chewy at all, nor are they gooey enough to be considered fudge-y. They’re soft, but not cakey– they’re kind of like a dry soufflĂ©, in that they melt away easily in the mouth. And they’re not dense but I wouldn’t call them light either. In short, the texture is difficult to define, but not unpleasant.

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Pineapple-Coconut Muffins

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With the recent spate of wintry weather here at home, I decided to try to warm things up by invoking tropical flavors– pineapple and coconut! Since I make a batch of muffins roughly every two weeks and it was about time to make one, I started with my standard muffin recipe and loaded it up with crushed pineapple and coconut flakes, using the pineapple juice for good measure.

The finished muffins were light and tender, with nice bursts of flavor from the pineapple and a subtle coconut background. They’re not overly sweet, which I actually liked since coconut baked goods can often be too sugary. They also go well with tea, if you want to enjoy warm-weather flavors with a cold-weather beverage.

I will note that if I weren’t making these for my kid, I might have considered adding some rum to the batter, or making a rum/brown sugar glaze. Maybe you’d like to consider it if you try these yourself!

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Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding

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During a recent visit to the King Arthur Flour bakery in Vermont I purchased a loaf of challah, fully intending to pull pieces off of it for the next several hours and devour most of the loaf that way. Isn’t that the best way to eat fresh bread? Sadly, I ended up getting distracted and by the time I got back to my loaf it was partly stale and didn’t lend itself well to nibbling on.

However, stale bread is still good for plenty of things– not least of which is bread pudding. Not just any bread pudding– chocolate bread pudding. DARK chocolate bread pudding, which makes it that much more decadent. I pulled this recipe from King Arthur Flour’s own website and have been eating the results for breakfast for the past week. Superb.

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding (from King Arthur Flour)

  • 6 1/2 cups bread cubes from a 1-lb loaf of challah or brioche
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped or in chips
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 3 cups milk or half & half
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a lightly buttered 9×13″ pan, combine bread cubes with 1 cup of the chopped chocolate.

2. In a small saucepan, combine remaining chocolate with sugar, cocoa, and 1 1/2 cups of the milk or half and half. Cook over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

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3. Remove from heat and add remaining dairy. Then whisk in eggs, salt, and vanilla.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes and let it soak in for about 30 minutes.

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5. In the meantime, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

6. When the custard has soaked in, bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Honey-Cardamom Pear Tartlets

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Recently, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring to a Lunar New Year party. More specifically, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring that was not red bean cream puffs, because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making the craquelin topping and I still needed something bite-sized and tasty. I was going through my old recipes when I came across my post about honey-cornflake crunchies and it occurred to me that they might make a neat base for a different kind of dessert combining honey with some other flavor components.

I decided to flavor my filling with cardamom, since it’s often paired with honey. I’d originally planned to make a simple stabilized whipped cream filling, but concluded that it would be too light in comparison to the crunchy base and opted instead to give it a richer mouthfeel by combining two concepts– stabilized whipped cream and cooked-flour frosting. Both involve beating a thickened pudding-like mixture into the dairy– it’s just that the frosting uses butter instead of liquid cream. My experimental recipe worked beautifully, and I’ll definitely be using it in the future.

Of course, once I’d settled on cream-filled tartlets, I felt that they needed something more, for texture, and flavor. After a false start (persimmons apparently just went out of season, boo!) I settled on pears and pistachios, both classic pairings with cardamom.

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Egg Yolk Sponge Cake with Lemon Filling

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After making a double batch of white cake for my daughter’s Rainbow Galaxy birthday cake, I had eight egg yolks left over, plus a bunch of zested lemons, a block of cream cheese, and most of a can of sweetened condensed milk left from other party treats. Always loath to waste things, I decided to use the leftovers to make a dessert the following weekend. Fortuitously, the ingredients all worked out reasonably well.

The tough part was the egg yolks– ordinarily I’d consider a creme brulĂ©e, but I wanted something more portable and shareable, so I managed to find a sponge cake recipe that calls for all yolks rather than all whites. I was skeptical, but it came out okay. A little dry, I thought, though I don’t believe it was overbaked– I think a little oil or butter would’ve helped it retain more moisture. However, it had a nice flavor, a lovely golden color due to all the yolks, and it split easily after cooling to make two layers.

To use up the lemons, cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk, it was easy to find a recipe for lemon icebox pie using those ingredients. I figured that if I made the filling and let it thicken most of the way before spreading it between my cake layers, it would work out. Oddly enough, it stayed pretty loose– more like regular pudding than like a firmer pie filling– but it tasted good. Not very lemony (likely due to the lack of lemon zest) but good. More like a cheesecake with a hint of lemon.

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Marbled Cake Pops

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So after baking up the six layers of my galaxy rainbow cake (and seeing how short they were) I was unaccountably struck with the fear that there might not be enough cake for all of the guests. (Spoiler: there was tons of cake left over) I decided to make some extra treats for the party, just in case– cake pops. I hadn’t made them in a while, but a little internet research turned up some new techniques for making them look fantastic, so I thought I’d give them a shot, using an extra box of cake mix and some leftover buttercream, plus candy melts.

Step 1: making perfectly smooth, round balls for dipping.

In the past I’ve crumbled up my cake and mixed it with cream cheese or frosting by hand, just because it was easier. However, the results have been somewhat lumpy, probably because the crumbs weren’t quite fine enough and the mixing was uneven. I think I’ve been trying to avoid making the mixture too gooey from overmixing, but it really wasn’t a problem. Solution: use the stand mixer to completely mix the cake and frosting into a smooth, homogenous dough. Add frosting sparingly to avoid your mixture being too soft.

Once you’ve got the dough set, portion it into balls and hand-roll them to a generally round shape. If you want them to be even more perfectly round, you can do this:

 

(though 14 seconds is way longer than you need)

When they’re shaped, stick them in the freezer for a few minutes while you prep your candy melts.

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