Flourless Pecan Cake

Pecans are definitely my favorite nuts– they have this wonderfully caramel-y flavor that adds richness to any recipe they’re a part of. Almonds are more versatile, and walnuts are cheaper, but it’s always pecans for me. Which is why, when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a cake featuring a full pound of toasted pecans, I had to try it.

The recipe uses finely ground pecans instead of flour, with browned butter to amp up the caramel notes, and boy, is it delicious! It’s soft and moist, and intensely flavorful; the pecans add a somewhat rustic texture, but the complex flavor makes it sophisticated. I served mine with whipped cream and berries, but it would be amazing all by itself– I’ll eat mine with a nice cup of tea, but it would go equally well with a glass of dark beer, I think.

If you want to make this yourself, the two steps to watch out for are the browning of the butter– you need to be careful not to let it burn– and the whipping/folding of the egg whites to avoid deflation. The result is totally worth it.

Thanks again, Deb, for an amazing recipe!

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Banana Strudel

The other day I was offered some homemade caramel sauce by a friend. Not being an idiot, I of course took her up on her offer, but that left me with the dilemma of what to eat it with! While I was tempted to just get a spoon and dive in, I decided to kill two (three?) birds with one stone and try out a recipe for banana strudel, which would also utilize the rapidly browning bananas on my counter and the half-package of phyllo in my freezer. (I would also have been able to use up the heels of a loaf of sandwich bread, but when I got them out they had already started to get spots of mold, so I threw those out and had to use fresh sandwich bread instead.)

This strudel couldn’t be easier to make– you just toast up some fresh breadcrumbs, add cinnamon and chopped nuts (I used walnuts but pecans or hazelnuts would also be nice), and roll it all up in some phyllo dough. For the record, a package of Pepperidge Farm brand phyllo has two sealed rolls of 20 small sheets each, so I made four strudels with my half-package, which was perfect. (also, if you work quickly you don’t have to bother covering the phyllo with a damp towel in between rolls)

I was originally wary about the lack of sugar in the filling, but the bananas turned out plenty sweet enough on their own– plus the caramel sauce took them over the top, so I had no cause to complain. The sauce really was necessary to add some moisture to the phyllo, which was extremely crispy and therefore just a touch dry– I think in apple strudel the juice from the apples softens the phyllo, which was not the case with my bananas. If I were to do this again I’d consider making a honey syrup to pour over the strudels while hot, like baklava– but then I wouldn’t be able to eat it for breakfast like I did the next morning (at least not without guilt)!

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Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

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Ever since I first made this sauce I’ve been a huge, HUGE fan. The recipe is seemingly everywhere and it’s so simple, so perfect, so delicious you just want to eat more and more of it… it’s Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce With Butter and Onion. Three ingredients (not including salt, but that hardly counts), but they come together in a way that defies explanation. The butter adds so much richness to the tomatoes, and the onion in the background just adds to the overall roundness and balance of the sauce. It’s my very favorite tomato sauce, and it comes together with pantry ingredients in under an hour.

Seriously, I beg you to try it the next time you want a weeknight treat. How to make it?

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Canelés de Bordeaux

So, in my pastry adventures I’d often heard of canelés de Bourdeaux, little French pastries that are custardy on the inside, deeply caramelized on the outside, and which (sadly) require a lot of time and some specialty equipment to make. Given the apparent complexity of the process I’d decided against trying to make them myself, until I actually tried one and got hooked.

These things are really delicious– the outside has a nice, toasty flavor from the caramelization and a crisp-chewy texture, presumably from the beeswax/butter coating, while the inside is soft and squidgy, with a nice hit of rum at the end. They’re kind of like creme brulee in pastry form– I had to try making my own.

The problem, of course, is that traditional canelés are made with individual copper molds that run for $15-40 *each* online, and obviously you’d need a set of at least 8 to make the recipe worth baking. There had to be another way. Some internet research indicated that most of the silicone options weren’t sufficiently conductive to get real caramelization on the outside, so I went for a heavy-duty metal pan— nonstick, but that was only a side benefit since I would definitely be using the wax/butter coating for a more authentic result.

I found a very helpful post by Taste of Artisan, giving not only the recipe but very clear instructions on the baking process. I highly recommend that you check it out, though I had to adapt things a bit to account for my use of non-traditional molds.

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Rough Puff Pastry

Okay, I’ve been really costume-obsessed lately (that’s what happens when Costume College is looming!) but it’s time to get back to baking, my other love!

I enjoy all kinds of baking, but I do not have the best track record when it comes to homemade puff pastry. Far too often, it seems, I do something wrong and instead of puffing up my pastry with steam, the butter all runs out during baking and fries the bottom of the pastry, leaving me with a flat, oily cracker. So annoying! Is it any wonder that I usually turn to storebought puff pastry?

Still, it’s time that I conquer this– but I’ll do it in baby steps. Instead of doing traditional puff pastry, where you make a butter block and enfold it in dough before several rounds of turning, folding, and rolling, I’m going to try “rough puff.” There’s no butter block– instead, the butter is grated, making it easier to enfold in dough and roll out flat without worrying as much about the butter being pliable.

This recipe, unlike many others, doesn’t call for any resting time between turns. It’s very convenient to get it all done in one go, but I think a little resting would’ve made my dough easier to roll out for the last turn or so– it was a bit tough near the end, and I had to really put my weight into the rolling pin. But after the finished dough had time to rest, it rolled out beautifully, and the layers were fantastic!

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Maple Cake With Maple Rum Glaze

After a recent trip to Montreal I wanted to bake something as a thank-you for our catsitter– after spending time surrounded by images of maple leaves, a maple cake seemed like the perfect gift!

I wanted to be mindful of potential nut allergies, so I looked for a recipe without pecans or walnuts, both of which were very common pairings with maple syrup. I ended up with a recipe from King Arthur Flour that was billed as a pound cake, but which was ultimately too light and delicate to really count as a pound cake in my opinion. That being said, the texture of the cake was perfect for a layer cake, and I will absolutely be trying to figure out how to replicate it (without the use of maple syrup) for future adventures! Can I just note that the batter smelled amazing while baking? I’d be tempted to make this just to make my house smell good… and the finished cake was buttery and maple-y, very reminiscent of pancakes with syrup (in a good way). I sprinkled a touch of kosher salt on top, just to emphasize the sweet-salty combination.

I wanted to make a pretty bundt cake, but also wanted to make another cake to eat at home since I can never give something away without taste-testing first! I doubled the recipe to make an 8-cup bundt as well as a loaf cake. (quantities below are for a single recipe) Sadly, the bundt cake refused to release cleanly from the pan and it literally fell apart on me, so it was in no condition for gifting– we’ve been eating it out of the pan with a spoon, and it’s delicious that way too! Luckily I’d lined my loaf pan with a parchment sling, so the loaf was much easier to lift out in one piece!

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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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Raspberry-Rose Linzer Cookies

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The other day I was at Roche Brothers in the cheese section, when I spied a jar of jam.

I was immediately intrigued, as my love of the raspberry-rose (and often lychee) combination is well-known. I experienced momentary confusion as to whether it was quince and apple jam (due to the brand name) or raspberry-rose jam, but determined that it was the latter and decided to try it.

It’s really excellent– the raspberry is nice and bright, and the rose comes through just enough to avoid being overly floral. But what to do with it? It seemed a waste to spread it on toast, and I worried that the delicate flavor would be lost if I used it in a layer cake. But then I saw these lovely linzer cookies from Brina’s Bites and knew exactly what to do with it.

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Miso Macadamia Blondies

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I decided the other night to make a quick batch of treats to share with some coworkers– the only criteria were that they had to be relatively fast to make (no chilling of dough or softening of butter) couldn’t require any ingredients I didn’t already have on hand, and had to be transportable (nothing too crumbly or decorated). I did a quick review of my pantry and fridge, and saw that I had a bunch of leftover shiro miso and a small can of macadamia nuts that my parents had brought me from a Hawaiian trip. Those sounded like they’d go well together, right? I figured a bar cookie or brownie would satisfy the “transportable” requirement, so I started with that.

A few Google searches later and I’d found a recipe for miso blondies from FixFeastFlair, which just so happened to call for macadamia nuts for crunch. It also called for butterscotch chips, but I figured that the white chocolate in my pantry would substitute nicely. I know that I’ve made miso blondies before, but those were deliberately cakier and less sweet so they’d go well with my dessert poutine. These were different.

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Lemon Rosemary Palmiers

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I love storebought puff pastry. It’s so easy to use, makes everything look impressive, and best of all I don’t have to deal with endless hours of rolling, chilling, and stressing over whether the butter is going to leak out in a mass exodus, leaving behind bone-dry pastry and the smell of burning fat in my oven. (which is what’s happened the last few times I tried to make it from scratch)

Anyway, it’s obviously a great thing to have in one’s freezer for occasions where a quick and fancy dessert is required, but it works just as well for less elaborate applications when all one wants is something to nibble on with tea. This is one of those times. I had an extra lemon in my fridge (leftover from my latest batch of lemon curd) and some fresh rosemary that was starting to wilt, and while looking for recipe ideas I saw one for lemon-rosemary palmiers. Well, those sounded great, as well as being incredibly easy (ingredients: puff pastry, lemon, rosemary, sugar), so I got started!

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