Sugared Lilacs and Lilac Syrup

lilacs

It’s spring, and that means lilacs are in bloom! We’re lucky enough to have a bush in our backyard, and when the sweet scent started wafting through the air I knew I had to make something to take advantage of it!

It started so innocently– I had a branch of lilac blossoms and thought it would be nice to sugar them. It took a while to individually pluck and dip them in syrup, then in sugar, but they looked so pretty and tasted lovely!

Then I thought that it might be nice to use the leftover sugar syrup for something, but I thought of it too late– which made me think of lilac-flavored syrup, so I made a batch of that as well.

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Swirled Marshmallows

marshmallows

The other day I was talking with my daughter about s’mores (she’d wanted to make them out of marshmallow peeps), when I mentioned that we could make our own marshmallows at home. She was immediately interested– it had never occurred to her that they could be made at home! Accordingly, the day before Easter we got out the gelatin and sugar and set to work.

The process was unsurprisingly sticky, made slightly more complicated by the fact that we made two different colors and tried (tried!) to swirl them together, but they turned out well– sweet, fluffy, and perfectly delicious when floated in a cup of hot chocolate. In my opinion, homemade marshmallows far surpass storebought– they’re fluffier and less dry/sticky in the mouth, and taste “fresher” than marshmallows that have been sitting in a bag for weeks.

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Raspberry Aquafaba Meringues

 

aquafaba-meringuesSince we’ve been grocery shopping less often and trying to use pantry staples for meals lately, I’ve been eating more chickpeas. And what’s left when you use canned chickpeas in recipes? Chickpea brine– or, to use another term, aquafaba.

I’ve used aquafaba before to make macarons and they turned out well, so I thought I’d give it another try and make some meringues. However, since my chickpeas weren’t low-sodium (as is usually recommended for aquafaba recipes), I was wary of making a plain vanilla meringue recipe– I worried that the salt might come through too strongly. So instead I decided to add a few spoonfuls of raspberry Jell-o powder for flavor and color, figuring that the raspberry flavor would disguise any lingering salt.

The finished meringues were light and airy and delicious– they’re actually even more melt-in-your-mouth than meringues made with egg whites! Seriously, egg-white meringues still retain a slightly chewy quality at the very end as you crunch into them, but these literally just melt away on your tongue and disappear. The raspberry Jell-o came through nicely, and I can definitely see using other flavors in the future for a pastel rainbow of meringues. All in all, I like them!

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Salted Butter Caramel

Interestingly, one of my most popular posts is the one where I experimented with boiling down and adding salt to storebought caramel syrup, in an effort to make a decent salted caramel sauce. I promised then that I would eventually post my recipe for a truly decadent salted butter caramel sauce, so here it is!

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.

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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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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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Candied Citrus Peel

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After making the panna cotta tart with all those different kinds of citrus, I had a bunch of peel left over, so of course I had to do something with it! And since I love candied peel, this seemed like a great opportunity. I had grapefruit, Cara Cara orange, and blood orange peel to work with (the clementine peel was too thin and the kumquats required a different technique).

While I’d made candied lemon peel before it hadn’t firmed up as well as I’d expected, instead staying kind of soft and soggy– fine for use in ice cream or baking, but not so great for snacking. I decided this time to try a different recipe from David Lebovitz, who has some great recipes both on his website and in his books. It was basically the same as the other recipe, calling for blanching the peels (three times this time since grapefruit can be bitter) and then boiling in sugar syrup.

Oddly, my grapefruit peels refused to turn translucent, staying stubbornly white while the other peels turned just fine. After boiling and boiling well past the estimated time in the recipe, I finally decided to just let it go and set everything out to dry together overnight. They turned out better than I’d anticipated– still soft, but not squishy or soggy.

Since I like my peel chewy rather than soft, I let these dry on the baking pan, coated in sugar, for a good 24 hours after the initial overnight drying period. They were much better after the lengthy drying time, and I couldn’t stop snacking on them!

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Lemon Rosemary Palmiers

lemon-palmiers

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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Creamy Chocolate Frosting

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This frosting really is fantastic– it’s light and creamy, silky and smooth, and it has a nicely chocolate-y flavor without being cloying.

Unlike my favorite Vanilla Frosting, which has a thickened flour/cornstarch base sweetened with granulated sugar, this frosting uses powdered sugar for sweetness; however, it avoids the underlying grittiness of powdered sugar frostings by dissolving the powdered sugar in a cocoa slurry made with boiling water. The result is a perfectly smooth frosting without a trace of grit– plus, the water itself cuts the butteriness of the frosting and allows it to whip up into a light and fluffy mass that’s perfect for spreading over a cake. I really just can’t say enough wonderful things about this frosting, so go ahead and make it for your next cake– I promise you won’t be sorry.

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Black Pepper Butter Cookies

pepper-cookies

I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting holiday baking recipes– my favorites are desserts that are rich, gooey, highly decorated, or a combination of all three. However, sometimes you just want a break from the elaborate stuff and just need something deliciously simple… something you can idly nibble on between multiple courses of festive holiday food without overdoing things.

Enter the butter cookie. Basic butter cookies are amazingly versatile, and can be flavored with all sorts of things without losing their elegant simplicity. In this case I decided to go with a kick of black pepper to set them apart from the crowd. I know that black pepper isn’t exactly an original idea for holiday cookies– Swedish pepperakor are well-known– but most recipes combine pepper with other warm spices and flavors, like cinnamon and molasses. Here, the butter and vanilla background really lets the floral notes of the black pepper come through– it’s not immediately apparent, but after a moment the flavor fills your mouth and it’s nicely aromatic. The pepper flavor becomes a touch stronger as you store the cookies, so keep that in mind– I thought these were even better on the third day than when freshly baked!

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