Raspberry-Almond Mooncakes

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As you may have noticed, I make mooncakes every year– just not in the usual flavors. While I really do like my chocolate-cherry mooncakes and my gingerbread mooncakes, I thought I’d try a new recipe this year and go with something almond-flavored.

For the centers I baked up an extremely moist almond cake. I actually tried two different recipes to see which one I liked better– the first is from Chez Panisse and is mixed in the food processor, and the second is from Amanda Hesser has a bit more flour in it and is made in the mixer. The first one turned out more cake-like, probably due to the fact that it incorporated whole eggs rather than just yolks, but the second turned out moister and squidgier, despite the fact that it had twice as much flour in it. I ended up using equal amounts of each cake, crumbled up together, to make my filling– it was the perfect mix!

I cut the sweetness of the almond cake with a tart raspberry jam center– Smuckers is my favorite raspberry jam, but not the seedless kind!– which I piped into the filling balls before molding the mooncakes.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

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Our freezer always contains a stash of homemade muffins– it’s just the way things are. The vast majority are used for my daughter’s daily school snacks, but I admit to sneaking a few to nibble on now and then. I most often go with pumpkin or banana muffins, but this time my daughter asked for oatmeal muffins with cinnamon and chocolate. It sounded like a tasty combination to me, so off I went to the internet in search of a recipe.

I ended up modifying this recipe, adding cinnamon and omitting the pecans. Also halving the baking powder, per the recommendations of many reviewers. The finished muffins turned out quite well, extremely moist and almost reminiscent of a chocolate chip cookie in flavor.

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Peanut Butter Blondies

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Yup, it’s another peanut butter-chocolate recipe. And another Smitten Kitchen recipe, to boot. But these peanut butter blondies are easy to make, extremely tasty, and just as good frozen as they are fresh, so I’m not going to worry too much about repetitiveness or derivativeness (is that even a word?).

This recipe makes a full 9×13″ pan of ganache-topped peanut butter blondies, studded with chocolate chips and with just enough peanut butter flavor to hit your tastebuds without being overwhelming. They’re rich but addictive.

The texture is great, too, though I will note that many of the reviewers of the original recipe found the baking time to be too long, resulting in dry blondies. I baked mine just until a toothpick emerged with tons of moist crumbs, and also found the edges too dry for my taste– this may have been due to the fact that I used a glass pan, which retains heat better than metal pans and which will basically keep the cooking process going even after the pan is removed from the oven. If you’re using a glass pan, I would recommend taking the blondies out of the oven after 30-35 minutes. If you’re using a metal pan, 35-40 should be fine.

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Potato-Bacon Vareniki

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With cooler weather finally approaching, I thought I’d post about one of my favorite stick-to-your-ribs fall dishes: vareniki.

What are vareniki, you ask? They’re Russian potato dumplings, kind of like pierogi, and in this context they’re adorable!

I was introduced to the world of tiny Russian dumplings when I was throwing a Russian-themed 35th birthday party for a friend, and was immediately hooked. I’m all for carbohydrate-laden goodies, so potato dumplings served with butter and sour cream sounded amazing. Add in a neat gadget for making dozens of itty-bitty dumplings at once, and it was a given that I’d be making them ASAP!

To be fair, the plastic dumpling thingie is actually used to make pelmeni, meat-filled Russian dumplings that I don’t like as much because they’re not different enough from the meat-filled Chinese dumplings I get all the time, but the tool is still a ton of fun to use here!

I found a dough recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen (a very useful blog for anyone trying to get into Russian cooking), and basically threw together a filling based on my own personal tastes. Potatoes, of course, with cheese (whatever I had in the fridge) and browned onions because they’re more flavorful than raw onions. Plus bacon, because potatoes and onions just cry out for bacon, am I right? The finished dumplings are tender and delicious whether boiled or pan-fried, and when served with a little sour cream and dill they’re fantastic comfort food.

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Mocha Chocoflan (With Cake Mix)

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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.

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Easy Peach Tart

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It’s peach season, and as much as I enjoy eating them straight out of hand, I do on occasion like to use them in desserts. Tarts are a particularly good way to show off gorgeous produce, so it only makes sense that I would end up making a peach tart someday.

I was initially inspired by this recipe from Food52, which was intriguing in that the crust used oil (vegetable and olive oil) rather than butter, and that the fruit itself was topped with a sugar/flour mixture rather than being mixed in with it before baking. The finished tart wasn’t bad, but the crust had a sandy, crumbly texture that didn’t hold together all that well. I thought I could do better.

I made it again, substituting in a crust that uses melted butter but keeping the remaining parts of the recipe, which were pretty darned good. The crust recipe is similar to one I’ve used before, but it includes extra water and oil along with the butter, which seems to work pretty well! Best of all, I made it in one bowl and pressed it directly into the tart pan– no rolling or chilling!

The finished tart is beautiful (but rustic– this is not a pristinely perfect French-style tart), with the crumbly topping melting into a gorgeous bubbly glaze. I like it best served warm with vanilla ice cream, but I’ve been known to eat it with vanilla yogurt so I can call it breakfast.

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Mini Pork Pies with Quail Eggs

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I’m a huge fan of the Great British Baking Show. I admit it. It’s just so much fun to watch, and there’s no backstabbing or drama– just baking. There’s not even a huge prize at the end, so it’s clear people are just in it because they love to bake. And aside from the wholesome enjoyment of watching something like that, I have fun seeing the quintessentially British recipes that come up every week. Like pork pies. Cute little mini pork pies with adorable tiny quail eggs in them. (Here’s the episode: it’s around minute 20 of the show.) I just fell in love with those, and when I decided to have a historical-themed picnic I knew that they’d be perfect.

I’d never made a meat-based pie before, and I’d definitely never made hot water crust pastry before, but I was willing to give it a shot! I found Paul Hollywood’s recipe* and got to work! Continue reading