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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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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Spiced Pear-Oat Bars

pear-oat-bars

So it’s definitely fall, and to me that means desserts full of spices, oatmeal, and fruit. These bars have all of those things– the finely-diced pears form little pockets of sweetness, the walnuts give some crunch, and the oats and cinnamon provide a nice, warm background for everything. They’re more breakfast-y than dessert-y, in my opinion, mostly due to the oatmeal, but that doesn’t make them bad. I’d classify them as a good fall snack, though they fall apart a little too easily for just carrying around and munching. They’d be fabulous with a nice cup of hot apple cider… I may try that myself tonight!

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Mexican Wedding “Hosts”

sprinkles-hosts

If you’re confused by the title (and are not averse to a little blasphemy), I encourage you to go read this and then come back. I came across it a few weeks ago and laughed until I cried. And then I promptly decided that I needed to make some of my own in time for Easter.

Not a full bread sculpture (though I’m not ruling that out for some time in the future), but Mexican wedding cookies, complete with rainbow sprinkles. They sounded pretty good, actually.

I’ve made Mexican wedding cookies before– with sprinkles, even– when I made those adorable Hedgehog Cookies. They were tender and delicious, and I knew they’d make the perfect base for these. Really, I didn’t do much to alter the recipe, except add rainbow sprinkles both inside and out. I did leave a few of the cookies plain on the outside so I could roll them in powdered sugar, per tradition. I think I liked those best of all, and they’re not quite as garish as the sprinkle-bedecked cookies so beloved by my kindergartener.

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Cranberry-Orange Walnut Muffins

cran-orange-muffins-done

You always know that Thanksgiving is officially coming up when grocery stores really start pushing the fresh cranberries. While I personally prefer canned whole-berry cranberry sauce to homemade (I know, blasphemy! Revoke my foodie credentials!), I do love to bake with fresh cranberries, so I picked up a bag when I was last at the store. I also got an orange and a bag of walnuts, knowing that I would end up making these muffins.

When I was a kid my parents never made muffins from scratch– instead we would get a box of muffin mix from the grocery store. If we were lucky it would be the kind of mix that came with a little round tin of blueberries or cranberries to stir in, rather than just having dried berry-like bits in the bag of mix. (I can still remember the purple muffins that resulted the one time I forgot to drain the blueberries before stirring up my batter) And I specifically remember some delicious cranberry-orange muffins we made once, that were the perfect blend of tart and sweet with a delicious crunch of granulated sugar on top (one way we used to dress up muffins)– so I thought I’d take a shot at making my own from scratch!

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Easiest Chocolate Fudge

frosting-fudge-pin

I know that many of the recipes I post on here are complicated and involve tons of fancy ingredients. Those are fun and delicious recipes. But as you can also see, some of the recipes I post involve boxed cake mixes, canned doughs, and other quick-and-easy processed ingredients. Sometimes I use them because it’s easier, and sometimes I use them because they just taste better. Really.

This is one of the latter recipes.

I’m all for traditional fudge, made by bringng a mixture of sugar, cocoa, butter, and water to just the right temperature, then stirring just enough to make tiny sugar crystals and chilling at just the right time to keep it smooth and creamy. I’m all for eating it, that is. My attempts at making it have fallen flat, and the other recipes I’ve seen or tried, using melted marshmallows, evaporated or sweetened condensed milk, or other non-traditional ingredients, aren’t really all that great. But then I tried using canned frosting.

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Pink Molded Salad for Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

cabbage-molded-salad

When I was a little girl I greatly enjoyed reading the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, which featured chapter after chapter of misbehaving children and their hapless mothers who turned to good old Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for help. The cures ranged from “let the kids stay up late as long as they want until they’re too tired to do anything fun, so they’ll stop complaining about bedtime,” to “I’ll let you borrow my pig with lovely table manners to act as a model/shame your child into eating politely,” to “here are some magic pills that will turn your child invisible whenever he’s showing off.” The books were hopelessly dated even back when I read them– they all involved happy housewives and mostly absent husbands, and everyone wore gloves and attended luncheons and ate ridiculous 1950’s food. Which is what brings me to this, um… masterpiece.

Because really, the 1950’s produced some seriously awful stuff, and while I think that the foods mentioned in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books were deliberately exaggerated (prune, noodle, and sardine surprise, anyone?), this one was just too bizarre-yet-plausible to pass up.

The table was decorated with pink tulips, a pink tablecloth, pink candles, pink napkins, and pink nut dishes. The main course was a maraschino cherry, walnut, marshmallow, pineapple, strawberry, cream cheese and cabbage molded salad, accompanied by pink biscuits. There were also pink mints and pink gumdrops. And luckiest of all, Mrs. Harroway just happened to be dressed entirely in pink with even pink gloves and pink roses on her hat. All through lunch she was so happy and gay everybody said, “You look adorable, Helen dear, I wish I’d worn pink.”

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Pineapple-Nut Tea Bread

pineapple-bread-slice
I usually try to avoid making “intermediate” desserts like loaf cakes, because they’re not sweet or gooey enough to count as a dessert or invoke my “don’t eat too much sugar!” defense mechanism– instead they sit on the counter and gradually get eroded by tiny slices every time I walk by, and before I know it I’ve eaten half a loaf without even noticing. This is not a good thing.
But in going through my pantry I discovered a mostly-full container of candied pineapple bits that I had no future plans for, and after thinking about possible uses I kept coming back to the idea of a dense, not-too-sweet loaf cake, studded with pineapple and nuts, that could be served with tea or possibly toasted. So I compared a few recipes for “tea bread” online and came up with this amalgamation, which I freely adapted to include all of the components I wanted.

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Baklava

baklava

After using two cups of walnuts in my hedgehog cookies, I still had a lot left. I could’ve made more cookies, I suppose, but I was out of chocolate sprinkles and plain cookies didn’t seem nearly as interesting. I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my walnuts when I saw the half-package of phyllo in my freezer (left over from a strudel adventure) and knew immediately that I had to make baklava.

Baklava is apparently a dessert that you either love (because of the delicious honey-soaked crispy layers and toothsome nuts and general awesomeness) or hate (because you’re a heathen). Can you tell which side I’m on?

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Hedgehog Cookies

hedgehogs basket

So remember that office ice cream party I mentioned, where I took home a ton of rainbow sprinkles? Well, there were also chocolate sprinkles. And chopped walnuts. And rather than let perfectly good toppings go to waste, I decided to make something else out of them. I was trying to figure out what I could possibly do with brown, only vaguely chocolate-tasting sprinkles, when it struck me that brown sprinkles looked kind of like hedgehog fur. And an idea was born… Continue reading