Sesame Ganache 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!

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Sesame Chess Pie

I’ll confess right off the bat that I’ve never tried regular chess pie before. Heck, I only heard of it recently as basically a sugar pie, like a pecan pie without the pecans, and it sounded too sweet to deal with. But when I came across a recipe for Sesame Chess Pie I was intrigued. I’ve always liked experimenting with adding savory flavors to my sweets, and tahini is like a less assertive peanut butter in that sense. I decided to give it a shot, figuring that I could use the extra egg whites to make macarons later on (more on that later).

The pie itself is a cinch to whip up– especially if you use a store-bought pie crust– and aside from the tahini calls for standard pantry ingredients (at least in my pantry). It puffed and browned beautifully in the oven before settling down during cooling, and smelled delicious.

I served mine with a scoop of no-churn orange-sesame ice cream, which was basically this recipe except I substituted sesame seeds for almonds.

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Lemon Ricotta Cookies

I had a bunch of ricotta left over from making lasagna the other day, and since I can never let things like that go to waste, I decided to try to make cookies out of it. Lemon-flavored cookies, since lemon is always the flavor of spring for me, and we’re finally starting to get some nice weather here! These cookies mainly get their lemon flavor from the glaze, as the lemon zest in the cookie itself is pretty subtle, but the ricotta makes them almost like tiny soft cakes, rather than cookies. They also freeze well (unglazed) if you find yourself with extra ricotta but no immediate need for dessert.

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Creamiest Rice Pudding

After a recent grocery trip in which I bought two gallons of milk (usually necessary), I came home to discover that I already had an almost-full gallon in the refrigerator, which meant I definitely had more than we needed for the week. What to do with the extra milk? Luckily, there are a ton of recipes that are perfect for just such a situation, and one of them is rice pudding.

Not just any rice pudding– many of them use only 3-4 cups of milk per cup of rice, which hardly seems worth it– but a rice pudding that purported to be the creamiest rice pudding out there. This recipe uses a whopping 6 cups of milk to a mere (heaping) half-cup of rice, and all it takes is time. A lot of time. But hey, it was the weekend and I’d already done my grocery shopping, so I had plenty of it, right?

I was a little leery of the milk-to-rice ratio, but as directed, I brought my milk (with sugar and salt) to a boil and stirred in my rice, then dropped it to a simmer and stirred it occasionally. I did cheat a bit– after about 30 minutes the rice was tender but the milk was still liquid rather than creamy, so I didn’t see the point in gently simmering it any longer. Instead, I cranked up the heat and let it boil for the next 15 minutes, slowly thickening into a nice, creamy mixture. Once off-heat, I stirred in my flavorings, then set it out to cool.

Since I was in a bit of a hurry I poured it onto a silicone-lined baking sheet on the counter to cool faster, then once it was merely warm I put it in the refrigerator to cool even more quickly. The finished texture was perfectly creamy– not liquid-y as I’d feared– and I added some toasted coconut and chopped pistachios on top for contrast.

I think this recipe could be the base of a bunch of different variations. Cardamom and orange zest. Cinnamon and nutmeg. Lemon zest and honey. Or with coconut milk substituted for some of the milk, and maybe some crushed pineapple– the possibilities are endless!

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Coconut Cream Pie

Coconut is one of those flavors that I didn’t come to appreciate until I was an adult– I hated macaroons as a kid, along with Almond Joy and Mounds candy bars, and so coconut cream pie never appealed to me. Now, of course, I enjoy coconut on occasion (though it’s still not in my top 5)– and who can resist a pudding pie? Not me.

I had an extra refrigerated pie crust that I needed to use up, and when I saw the can of Coco Lopez in my pantry I knew that I’d hit on an idea for dessert. That being said, for some reason I really dislike making custards that require extra egg yolks (probably because then I’d have extra whites to use up), so all of the custard-based pie recipes were out. Instead I was able to find a recipe that called for instant pudding mix that was whipped up using cream of coconut instead of milk– sounded perfect!

The original recipe had a homemade crust made with coconut and coconut-flavored rum, but since the whole point was to use up a refrigerated crust I skipped that part. I ended up adding some extra coconut extract to make up for the resulting reduction in coconut flavor, and the finished pie was creamy, fluffy, decadently rich, and of course delicious.

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Rolled Honey Florentines

Originally this post was going to be about honey macarons filled with honey buttercream, but once I made them I realized that while the buttercream was incredible, the macaron recipe needed more tweaking, so stay tuned for that later. In the meantime, I had leftover honey buttercream (so good!) and had to figure out what to do with it– I knew I wanted something else with honey, and nuts of some kind– and it had to be crispy to give some good texture contrast. Florentines seemed to fit the bill perfectly, so away I went!

Florentines are basically made of caramel with some nuts and maybe a bit of flour folded in for better texture– you cook the butter and sugar together (in this case, adding honey), add the dry ingredients, then bake teeny-tiny spoonfuls of batter until they spread, bubble, and get all nice and lacy. The finished cookies, when warm, can be molded into shapes that crisp up as they cool. I used walnuts in my cookies, but you could use almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, or even nothing at all– the lacy cookies will still be delicious.

There are only two tough parts, and both have to do with timing: first, you need to watch the cookies in the oven like a hawk, because they can go from toasty gold brown to burned in seconds. And second, if you’re shaping the cookies you need to get them off the sheet at just the right moment and mold them for just long enough that they hold their shape– I’m pretty good, but at six cookies per baking sheet, two sheets at a time it’s tough to mold them all before they start to get too stiff. I’ve found that both of these problems can be addressed by staggering the batches– total bake time is 8-10 minutes per sheet, so you put in one sheet, wait five minutes, then put in the other. While you’re cooling and molding the cookies on the first sheet, the second sheet is still baking, and ought to come out just as you finish the first set.

The crispy rolled cookies are then piped full of a creamy honey filling, which I made by taking my caramelized honey buttercream from my macaron attempt, and whipping in some heavy cream to lighten it up a bit. The contrast between the crunchy outside and light and creamy inside is heavenly, and the flavor divine.

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Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

I have a habit. A not-so-great habit, at that. A bread habit. That is, I have a tendency to buy bread and then forget about it until it’s about to go stale. Usually at that point I chuck it in the freezer and hope that I’ll find a use for it, but as we all know, the freezer is a black hole of storage that things can get lost in for months… In this case, however, it all worked out for the best, because my stash of frozen carbs was just what I needed to use up some bananas that were rapidly reaching over-ripeness on my countertop.

In other words, I made bread pudding. With bananas. And walnuts. And, just for fun, salted butterscotch sauce that I may or may not have added a shot of rum to. I highly recommend making this– it’s amazing for dessert, but may also be one of the best breakfasts for a cold winter morning that I’ve ever had.

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Blood Orange Polenta Cake

Blood oranges are in season, and I never tire of cutting into them to see that gorgeous inside. When I saw a bag on sale at Trader Joe’s I knew I wanted to bake something that showed off the beautiful color, so I cobbled together some recipe ideas from online to come up with this– a moist, dense cake that emphasizes the oranges themselves.

I’ll start off by admitting that this cake, while impressive to look at and tasty to eat, was not my favorite dessert in the world. It was pleasantly rustic and lasted forever without going stale, but it wasn’t quite sweet enough for me (I think I over-caramelized the sugar, making the caramel a touch bitter) and not as moist as I’d hoped. It did display my blood oranges nicely, though, so props for that! I think this works better as a breakfast-style cake, served with some vanilla yogurt or sweetened ricotta on the side, rather than a real dessert. That being said, it would make a fabulous addition to your brunch table, so feel free to give it a shot if you like bitter orange!

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Aardman’s Orange Jelly Cake

Lately my daughter has been watching the show Shaun the Sheep, by Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame). During an episode entitled “The Farmer’s Llamas,” her eye was immediately caught by this cake, which is featured only for a few moments:

She was so interested in it that in a fit of reckless abandon, I promised to make it for her once she’d achieved a specific level of proficiency in one of her school activities. And here we are.

One thing I noticed about the cake was that it’s really not a cake at all– it’s a molded jelly dessert. You can tell that the top tier is pure jelly, the middle one is jelly with orange slices in it, and the bottom one is molded jelly with some kind of cream mixed in to make it more opaque (it can’t be cake, it’s too smooth). However, while we enjoy gelatin desserts we like cake better in our house, so we decided to compromise.

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Apple Pie Cake

So last fall we went apple picking. And you know what happens when you pick apples– you eat a bunch the first week, then the remaining apples just languish in the bag until you can find something to do with them. And since we had a lot of apples, several of them languished for quite a while…

I finally decided that it was time to use up the last few apples, so I went in search of a suitable recipe that I hadn’t tried before– and found this one! It’s apparently a copycat of an apple pie they serve at Disneyworld, and it’s pretty tasty! You start with a pie crust, then fill it with pre-steamed apples (to avoid them getting too juicy during baking) and a thick cake batter. It turns out beautifully golden-brown on top, and the addition of a layer of powdered sugar gives it just the right amount of extra sweetness.

Personally, I cut a corner and used a refrigerated pie crust, but you can make your own if you prefer. I find that using pre-made crusts gets you a thinner layer of crust, which I like in this recipe– too thick and it might end up stodgy-seeming with the extra cake batter in there as well.

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