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.
Peanut brittle is one of those old-fashioned candies that no one really thinks about these days– but it’s actually very tasty, and easy to make. It sticks to your molars like crazy and probably causes cavities if you’re not careful, but it’s still good!
My daughter asked me what it was the other day, and rather than just tell her I decided to make some! The basic recipe is the same everywhere– sugar, corn syrup, and peanuts, then add baking soda and butter at the end. It’s a good idea to have your mise en place all set up, since you don’t want your sugar to burn while you’re measuring everything out. The finished candy is crunchy, sticky, and nicely salted, and the batch is just big enough to share without feeling like you’re missing out.
I think boxes of peanut brittle might make nice holiday hostess gifts– or maybe I’ll try it with almonds and a drizzle of dark chocolate, or macadamia nuts, or pecans… so many options!
This cake wasn’t so much a project as a thrown-together amalgamation of the leftovers from my sesame/tahini experiments over the past week. I had a bunch of sesame-caramel ganache from my sesame macarons, plus extra sesame seed brittle from the ice cream I made to go with my sesame chess pie, plus extra egg yolks from that same pie, plus a few extra macarons that I hadn’t gotten around to eating yet… what else could I do but make a cake? (I do have a history of doing this, you know)
I looked hard to find a yellow cake recipe that would use my three extra yolks and no more, and I did find one, but honestly I didn’t care for it– it was an oil-based cake rather than a butter-based cake, and while the oil made for a very moist crumb I just think that the recipe called for too much oil. The batter didn’t fully emulsify and I got small tunnels in the finished crumb, plus the cake was so rich that it seemed heavy. I won’t post the cake recipe here– I need to find a better one for when I have extra yolks– but I will post the fabulous tahini buttercream that I made to go with it, which turned out great. The tahini added a wonderful savoriness to the frosting that worked well with the salted caramel ganache and the sugary macarons.
These macarons were the result of my seeing that recipe for sesame chess pie and noting that 1) it would require me to buy sesame seeds and tahini, and 2) it would result in extra egg whites. I figured that I could take advantage of both these facts and make sesame-flavored macarons, which turned out pretty well! I used my standard macaron recipe and technique, sprinkling sesame seeds on top of the batter before baking, but the filling was where the sesame really came out.
The filling is more complicated than a plain ganache– it’s actually a caramel sauce blended with melted chocolate, and then emulsified with butter for a smooth, creamy texture. I got the recipe from Cloudy Kitchen and split it in two so I could try a white chocolate variation on the milk chocolate original, and both turned out quite well (even if it did make a ton of filling– I’ll have to find something else to do with all of the extra!). I would recommend these if you want something a little different and don’t mind multi-step processes!
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)!
For Thanksgiving this year I originally intended to make a marbled pumpkin cheesecake, but my seven-year-old responded with a firm “no,” insisting on cake. Since she’s been getting into baking lately, I figured I’d enlist her help to make this one, which has a lot of components (you saw a few of them already) but ends up looking and tasting really impressive. The pumpkin cake is lovely and moist, and the candied nuts add a wonderful textural contrast. The decorative garnishes were just icing on the cake!
That being said, I really like using brown butter in recipes, but I have to admit that while the batter smelled amazing I couldn’t really taste the flavor in the cake itself. The frosting had more brown butter flavor, but again it wasn’t prevalent enough to really make it worthwhile, particularly when the cream cheese kind of took over. In the future I’d probably use regular butter in the cake, at least.
It takes a little time, since you have to let it cool down naturally to avoid graininess (or so I’ve been told, I’ve never tested a faster chilling method), and it does require an immersion blender to get that nice, silky texture, but it’s worth it.
I’ve always wanted to try making “The Amazing Chocoflan” that I keep seeing online, but the time never seemed right. Recently, however, I was invited to a last-minute potluck and it seemed like as good an occasion as any to give it a try!
That being said, I was kind of in a hurry and was actually (gasp!) short on flour, of all things, so I pulled out a chocolate cake mix to use as the base and never looked back. Besides, I figured that using an oil-based cake recipe was better for a cake that would be chilled before serving, since butter-based cakes tend to go a little stiff in the refrigerator.
Anyway, I doctored up the cake mix with a little sour cream for richness and some coffee for flavor, and in the end it turned out pretty well. The flan itself was absolutely amazing– the insulation from the water bath and the cake batter made it incredibly creamy, and it was perfectly sweet without being too sugary. It was definitely my favorite part of the dessert, and if I didn’t think that the cake batter played a major role in preventing curdling I’d try making it on its own… maybe I’ll try anyway, it was that good.
Taking a break from sewing for the moment (wow, I’ve been doing a LOT of that)…
My family recently hosted our annual ice cream social, which of course meant that I had to come up with some original flavors of homemade ice cream to serve! You’d think that it would get harder and harder every year to find something interesting and new to make, but there are just so many flavor combinations that I’ve never lacked for inspiration.
I really wanted to use chocolate-covered cornflakes as a mix-in this year, and was trying to decide on an ice cream base when I spied a jar of tahini in the fridge. Just like that, a new flavor was born!
This tahini ice cream is faintly reminiscent of peanut butter but with an added savory element, set off nicely by the dark chocolate-covered cornflakes and a swirl of caramel sauce. It churns up relatively quickly, perhaps aided by the added fat content of the tahini– like many homemade ice creams it freezes up pretty hard, but once it softens enough to scoop it doesn’t collapse into a melty puddle, so it has that going for it. As an added bonus, it pairs wonderfully with dark beer.
*By the way, did you notice my awesome skull-shaped spoons?
I admit to loving the idea of portable desserts in mason jars– it’s hopelessly hipster-ish, but they’re just so darned cute! Even better if they have distinct layers so they have extra flair from the outside. So when Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted a new “extra-luxe” recipe for butterscotch pudding the same week I had plans to bring dessert over to a friend’s house, it was as if the fates had spoken and decreed that I must make this pudding.
I assembled my mason jars and got to work– I ended up doubling the pudding recipe, which supposedly made six “petite” servings, and ended up with eight more generous servings, though the caramel sauce that accompanied it was enough for all eight without being doubled. The finished puddings were quite tasty– the sweet-saltiness of the caramel was a nice accent to the relatively mild butterscotch pudding (I used the recommended smaller amount of sugar you’ll see in Deb’s notes), and the texture was perfect.