Sunday, April 13, 2014

Black Walnut Madeira Cake

As most of us know, when dealing with a strongly flavored ingredient, there has to be another ingredient which mellows that flavor.  We all have choked at one time or another, when someone prepares something in which the flavor is overpowering.  My situation involved cilantro and I had a friend that stated hers was banana.  However, when reviewing strong flavors, black walnuts fall into that category.  The perfect offset for that slightly bitter taste of black walnuts would be something sweet.  In this particular recipe, Madeira wine is included in the batter and the cake is topped with an extra sweet icing and a sprinkling of more nuts.  They both play an important part in creating a good balance of flavors.

Black Walnut Madeira Cake
adapted from My Great Recipes

Ingredients/ Loaf Cake
1/2 cup chopped black walnuts
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup Madeira wine
3 egg whites
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar 
1 1/2 cups flour

Ingredients/ Frosting
2 tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbs milk
chopped walnuts for sprinkling top

Prepare the 9X5 inch loaf pan by greasing the interior.   Also, line bottom and 2 sides (with excess overhang) with parchment paper.  Grease the surface of the parchment paper touching the sides and bottom.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fill a bowl with butter and both sugars and beat on high speed for one minute.  Set aside.  Sift together the flour, cream of tartar and baking soda.  Fold 1/3 of the sifted ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture.  Pour in the milk and stir until smooth. Stir in the next 1/3 of the sifted ingredients and then mix in the Madeira wine.  Lastly, fold in the rest of the dry ingredients and set aside.

In another bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until it reaches the stiff peak stage.  Gently fold the egg whites into the prepared batter until evenly distributed.  Then mix in the walnut pieces.   Bake cake in oven for about 45-50 minutes or until tester indicates done. Cool 10 minutes in pan then run a knife between the cake and the pan on the sides without parchment.  Lift cake out of pan with excess overhang of parchment and place on rack to completely cool.

For the frosting, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium high speed with an electric mixer.  Then add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract and milk, stirring to combine.  Once the frosting has the desired consistency, spread on the top surface of the cake.  Then sprinkle with walnut pieces, if desired.

Tips and Notes:
1.  Both the wine and the nuts are the stand out flavors in this recipe.  You can use Marsala and regular walnuts, but the flavor will not be the same.
2. Since the frosting is made with brown sugar, it does need some time to set.  As it sets, the texture will not be as gritty like the newly made frosting.  Be aware that it is very sweet, but the sprinkling of the nuts tones that down.
                                       **LAST YEAR: Chocolate Chunk Cream Cake**     



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pecan Coffeecake

The thing that most people enjoyed about this coffeecake was the flavor of the cake part, not the filling or the topping.  The two pecan elements were good, but the extra flavor of the cake was a delicious surprise. Usually most coffeecakes are plain, letting the filling and topping be the highlight of flavor.  We all have experienced that plain bite of coffeecake, you know, the one that has no filling or much topping with it.  So, since filling and topping in every bite is hard to guarantee, the next best thing is to make the cake taste delicious on its own.

This recipe uses lemon zest in the batter, which paired nicely with the pecan filling.  Yet if that was not enough, the icing has espresso in it. So, if your standard breakfast has reached that blah stage, change it up with this coffeecake. It will definitely make for a better morning.

Pecan Coffeecake
adapted from My Great Recipe Cards

Ingredients/ Cake
1 egg
1/2 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees)
1/4 cup butter (room temp)
5 tbs cold butter, cut into cubes
2 tbs shortening
2/3 cup bread flour
1 1/4 cups bread flour
1 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
grated zest from one lemon
1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients/ Filling
1/3 cup butter
3 tbs shortening
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans

Ingredients/ Topping
1 egg mixed with 1 tbs water (egg glaze)
2 tsp hot water
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
whole pecans for placing on top

For the cake, sprinkle yeast in warm milk.  Stir with a fork until yeast has dissolved.  Fold in 2/3 cups of the flour.  Cover and set aside.

Using a handheld or stand mixer, beat together butter, sugar and shortening until fluffy.  Add the egg, salt and lemon zest and beat for 30 seconds on medium speed.  Then stir in yeast/flour mixture, set aside. Fill another bowl with the remaining 1 1/4 cups of bread flour.  Using a pastry blender, cut the butter cubes into the flour until it is crumbly and the clumps are about pea sized.  Then add the yeast/flour mixture, stirring until all is blended and it forms a dough.  Cover and let dough chill for 2 hours.

While dough is chilling, the filling can be made.  Beat the butter and shortening together until light and creamy.  Using a handheld mixer on medium speed, mix in the dark brown sugar.  Then fold in the chopped pecans.  Lastly, stir in the flour until evenly distributed.  Also, prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.

Prepare a flat surface by dusting with flour.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and knead dough on surface about 18 turns.  Divide dough in half.  Roll one piece of dough into a rectangle, measuring about 10X14 inches.  Take out 1/2 of the filling and spread down the center of the length of the dough, leaving about a 2 1/2 inch border on either side. Fold borders of dough over the top of the dough that is spread with filling.  Overlap each side by 1/4 of an inch, pinching the center of the dough together to seal.  Also, to further seal the dough, take a rolling pin and lightly roll over the top in a few strokes. Flip sealed dough over and center on a prepared baking sheet.  Repeat process with the remaining dough and filling.

Make 1/2 inch slashes on each side of the length of each coffeecake.  Use a knife and prick the top of the dough.  Brush with the egg glaze and place pecans decoratively on top.  Let cakes rise on baking sheets for 30 minutes.  During the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once rise time is completed, bake cakes for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.  Remove and let cool for 15 minutes before icing.  Let cakes stay on baking sheet until completely cool.

The icing can be started by dissolving the espresso powder in the hot water.  Then stir in powdered sugar until smooth.  Drizzle over the top of each cake.

Tips and Notes:
1. This coffeecake can be made thinner by rolling out to a wider shape after the dough has been folded over the filling. This will create a thinner type of pastry that will be more crispy as compared to the one in the above picture.
2. Watch the hue of the dough while baking.  The first one I baked came out too dark.  The one in the picture was covered in foil halfway through baking so it would not get too brown. 
                                    **TWO YEARS AGO: Berry Meringue Slices**

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Biscotti Aloha

I will admit, I have not been a great fan of the biscotti-type cookies.  After baking these, I realized that there is a vast difference in the texture of homemade vs store bought. The store bought biscotti are not all that great, especially if you are not the type to dunk.  Simply put, they are too hard and dry.  These homemade biscotti have a cookie type texture, sort of the same as snickerdoodle cookies.

For traditional flavor and taste, homemade is the answer.  So if someone tells you they have tasted it from the grocers, they have yet to experience the true traditional, homemade flavor.  Some foods from the grocers come closer to hitting the mark than others, but when it comes to biscotti- the grocers version is way off.

Besides the nice texture, these biscotti bring forth the flavors of the tropics with with coconut amaretto, macadamia nuts and coconut. Also, the cookies are easy to make and easy to transport. This recipe makes about 3 1/2 to 4 dz cookies.

Biscotti Aloha
adapted from a little book called Biscotti by Lou Pappas

2/3 cup quartered or chopped macadamia nuts
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
2 eggs
2 tbs coconut amaretto or 2 tbs milk
and 1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups plus 2 tbs flour

Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.  The preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, beat butter and sugar together for about 2 minutes on medium speed.  Then beat in the eggs ( one at a time) and continue to beat while adding in the coconut amaretto or milk and almond extract. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift together the salt, flour, baking powder and nutmeg.  Fold the sifted ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture.  Once dough is formed and no dry streaks remain, stir in the nuts and coconut.

Divide the dough into two batches.  Take each batch and form into a log.  Each log should measure 14 inches long, 1/2 thick and 1 1/2 inches wide.  Place each log 2 inches apart and side by side on the baking sheet.  The longest length of each should be parallel with the longest side of your baking sheet. 

Place in oven and bake for about 25 minutes, rotating at the halfway point.  Logs should have a golden crust when done.  Remove pan and place pan on rack.  Let cool for about 5 minutes.

Take one log and put on a cutting board.  Slice the log with a serrated knife on the diagonal, cutting into half inch slices at a 45 degree angle. Do the same with the second log.  Then take each slice and place cut side down on prepared baking sheet.

Place sheet in oven and let cookies bake for 2 minutes.  Then remove and flip over with second cut side facing down and bake for another 3 minutes.  Remove pan and place on rack for cookies to completely cool.

Tips and Notes:
1. coconut amaretto was not found at the liquor store so I used a mixture of 1 tbs and 2 1/2 tsp of amaretto and 1/2 tsp coconut extract.
2. For an extra special cookie, try coating one end in melted white chocolate.
                               **LAST YEAR: Pistachio Layer Cake**

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lemon Tartlets with White Chocolate Sauce

We all have dealt with the problems with the first pie slice.  It usually falls apart and never comes out looking all that good.  Small tarts, on the other hand, do not have that issue.  Also, the people that are not into sharing that big slice of pie with anyone are always happy having their own individual dessert.

Last time I wrote on toasting meringue, I had advised that I had a welders torch.  It does the trick, but is difficult to maneuver.  So I gave in and bought a kitchen torch and am very happy I did.  I already have some people looking forward to using it for toasting marshmallows for s'mores.  A torch is nice but for this recipe, the oven can also do the toasting for you.

As you know, pie slices are much thicker than these tarts.  Based on this, I think that the tart filling is a bit stronger in citrus flavor than a regular meringue pie. Also, since the crust base is formed by hand, it will make for quicker preparation.  The flaky crust, citrusy filling and billowing meringue compliment each other in flavor as well as texture.  So good you may even forget about the white chocolate sauce!

Lemon Tartlets with White Chocolate Sauce
adapted from Ready for Dessert

Ingredients/ Filling
2 eggs (room temp)
2 egg yolks (room temp)
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tbs butter (room temp)
1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup ice water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
5 tbs butter (cut into small cubes and chilled)
1 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
10 tbs sugar

Ingredients/White Chocolate Sauce
3/4 cup heavy cream
9 oz white chocolate bar/ chopped

The lemon filling starts with combining all the listed ingredients for this components in a medium saucepan. Once blended, place saucepan over medium heat.  Let the mixture cook, while constantly stirring.  The mixture will start to thicken.  Take care not to let the mixture boil.  Once the mixture reaches the consistency of pudding, pour through a sieve placed over a heat proof bowl.  Let cool to room temperature and cover with plastic wrap.  Chill filling in refrigerator while the rest of the components are being made.

For the dough, sift together the flour and salt.  Mix in the sugar.  Toss in the butter chunks and beat on medium speed until the mixture resembles small pebbles.  Pour in the ice water and mix with a wooden spoon.  When completely mixed, the dough should hold together when compressed with your hands.  Lightly dust a flat surface and place the dough on the surface.  Form into an even log, measuring about 5 inches long. Cover in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling and baking.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the dough log from the refrigerator and slice into 6 even pieces.  Place each piece on the flour dusted surface.  Roll out each piece, one by one, into a circle about 5 inches in diameter.  Lay the pieces on the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden on the edges.  This should take about 20-25 minutes.
Remove pan and let crusts cool completely before using.

For the meringue, increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.  Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the egg whites and whip until foamy.  Sprinkle in the cream of tartar along with the salt.  Beat on high speed until the whites reach the soft peak stage.  Continue to run the mixer and slowly pour in the sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat the mixture until the meringue can form stiff peaks when the mixer blade is pulled away from the meringue.

To assemble the components, place an even amount of the filling on each crust.  It should be in the shape of a mound and leave a 1 inch crust border around the edge.  Divide the meringue into six equal measurements.  Then spoon it on top of each tartlet, making sure that the filling is completely covered.  Make decorative swirls and peaks in the meringue.  Place in oven for 3 minutes.  Then pull out and use a kitchen torch to evenly brown the meringue topping on the tarts.

Lastly, make the white chocolate sauce by heating the heavy cream over low heat.  At the point the cream comes to a boil, remove and add chopped chocolate pieces. Let sit for about 1 minute and then stir until all the chocolate is melted.

Serve tarts warm or at room temperature with sauce drizzled onto serving plate.

Tips and Notes:
1. Dough and filling can be prepared up to 4 days prior and kept in refrigerator.
2. If you do not have a kitchen torch, up the bake time from 3 minutes to 5 minutes.
3. The finished dessert should be served the same day as prepared.
                         **LAST YEAR: Pistachio Cake**

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Irish Cream Cookies

Sometimes I see recipes with liqueur as an ingredient but the quantity is very small.  As we all know, most of the liqueur will burn off while baking and, in turn, the end result is that the liqueur flavor disappears.

However, this particular recipe does not skimp on the liqueur.  The recipe makes about 3 dz cookies and requires 1/2 cup of Irish cream liqueur.  With that much liqueur, you can count on the flavor of the Irish cream still being there after baking.

Along with the Irish Cream, coconut, pecans and chocolate chips were also tossed into the dough.  Not many of us would object to these add ins.  Oh, and the liqueur...just enough to bring out the Irish in anyone this St Patricks day! 

Irish Cream Cookies
adapted from

1/2 cup chopped pecans
6 oz mini semis sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup coconut (sweetened)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur
2 1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside. Cream butter and both types of sugar together.  Then beat in egg, vanilla extract and irish cream. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the dry ingredients.  Lastly, mix in the coconut, pecans and chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1 inch apart.  Dip the tines of a fork in water and mash down each tablespoon of dough, repeating the dipping process when needed.  Bake for about 10-12 minutes.

Remove pan and let cookies cool for 1 minute on pan and then transfer to a cooling rack.
                                    **LAST YEAR: Belgian Blondies**

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mochaccino Cupcakes

I have made many a cupcake in the years past on my blog and most of them had some type of "extra" to them.  When it comes to a cupcake, sometimes it is all about the extras.  No matter if it is fruit topped, caramel filled or split cake batter flavors, cupcakes are always welcomed in a crowd of people.  More fancy than cookies and easy to serve.

These particular cupcakes are a coffee chocolate combination.  The extra in this recipe is the chunks of dark chocolate cooked inside the cupcake.  It is the high quality chocolate that really made these extra special.  After baking and cooling, the big chocolate chunks remained just as solid as they were before baking so the texture contrast is noticed first and then the flavor second.  Also the dab of buttercream on top and the rolled fudge filled wafers made for a nice presentation as well as a great way to compliment the flavor of the coffee chocolate cupcake.  Also, left plain and slightly warmed with a cup of coffee suits my taste as well.

This recipe makes about 30 cupcakes, which is plenty for a crowd.  The people that enjoyed these never missed the few I held back for myself! I found this recipe in a special interest publication on cupcakes dated 2012 from Better Homes and Gardens. 

Mochaccino Cupcakes
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

1/2 cup strong brewed coffee (cooled)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
3 eggs (room temp)
3/4 cup butter (room temp)
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2- 4 oz chocolate bars chopped ( semisweet or bittersweet)

6 tbs cooled, brewed coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup butter (room temp)
4 cups powdered sugar
30 cream filled wafers (I used fudge filled Pirouettes from Pepperidge Farms
cocoa or cinnamon (for dusting the frosting)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the top edge of 30 cavities of standard size muffin tins and line with cupcake papers.  In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cocoa.  Then, in a separate small bowl, mix together coffee and milk.  Set both bowls aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium high speed until creamy.  This should take about 3 minutes.  Then add the sugar and beat mixture on medium high for 4 minutes, taking time to scrape down the bowl occasionally.  Continue to beat and add the eggs, one at a time.  Beat for about 30 seconds after each egg is added. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Then fold in 1/3 of the sifted ingredients.  Add 1/2 of the coffee milk mixture and blend until smooth.  Fold in the 1/2 of the remaining dry mixture and stir in the rest of the wet ingredients. Blend in the remaining sifted ingredients. Once no dry streaks remain, stir in the chocolate chunks.

Using a spoon or small scoop, fill each of the 30 paper lined cavities with the batter.  Each cavity should be about 3/4 full.  Smooth the tops of the batter and place in oven for about 18 minutes to bake, rotating pans at the halfway mark.  Cupcakes are done when tester comes out clean and tops are springy. 

Remove pans and let cupcakes rest in pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to completely cool.

To make frosting, beat butter in bowl of a stand mixer for about 2 minutes on high speed.  Once nice and creamy, turn mixer down to medium and slowly pour in 1 cup of powdered sugar.  Beat for another 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl after 1 minute.  Add 3 tbs of brewed coffee and the 
vanilla extract.  Mix until all is blended well.  Then add the rest of the powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments, beating on medium high.  Scrape down sides of bowl periodically during this process.  Should the end result be too thick, add some more brewed coffee until desired consistency is met.

Pipe a swirl or star of frosting in the center of each of the cooled cupcakes, leaving about 1/4 to a 1/2 inch uncovered along the edge.  Then sprinkle the frosting with cinnamon or cocoa.  Lastly, stick a cream wafer in the cupcake at a 45 degree angle.

Tips and Notes:
1. The cream wafer will turn eventually turn soggy if left in the cupcake at room temperature. You can refrigerate to prevent that, but the cupcake itself will dry out in the refrigerator.  The best thing to do is insert the wafer just prior to serving.
2. If you are not a big fan of buttercream, simple sweetened whipped cream with stabilizer does quite nicely as well.
                             ** LAST YEAR: Rasberry Cream Cheese Braid**

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pecan Pie Cheesecake

There are lots of dessert recipes in which the item is stuffed or filled.  The recipes that are more commonly seen are cookies and cupcakes.  However, it is not all that common to have a stuffed cheesecake.

Upon first reading the title of this recipe, I thought that it would be a complicated task. Surprisingly, it was very easy.  The other thing that crossed my mind is how would an already cooked item do being cooked a second time inside a cheesecake?  The only thing I noticed different in the pie inside the cheesecake rather than outside is that it became more compact, but the same flavor remained.

After tasting one slice of this cheesecake, I wished I had been the one to think of this delectable combination!  Velvety vanilla cheesecake with a center of sweet caramel and crunchy pecans...enough said- it does need a place at the top of your "to make" dessert list.

Pecan Pie Cheesecake
adapted from 2002 Southern Living Cookoff Winning Recipes

Ingredients/Candied Pecans
3 cups pecan halves
2/3 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1/4 cup golden syrup or light corn syrup
6 tbs butter

One 8 or 9 inch pecan pie
1 cup sour cream
3- 8 oz packages of cream cheese
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbs butter (melted)
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp cornstarch

For the candied pecans, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and place pecans in a single layer on top.  Toast pecans in oven for about 5-7 minutes. Remove baking sheet and transfer pecans to a heat proof bowl and set foiled baking sheet aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Then brush the foiled baking sheet surface with some melted butter. Add 6 tbs butter, sugar and syrup to a saucepan. Place saucepan over medium low heat.  Stir the mixture until sugar dissolves.  Increase the temperature to medium and let candy simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and mix in pecans till coated.  Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet and spread evenly.  Bake for 5-7 minutes then transfer and spread out on wax paper to cool.

Start on the cheesecake by heating the oven to 350 degrees.  Fill a 9X13 inch pan with 3/4 cup of water. Also, take and chop up enough candied pecans to fill 1/2 cup and 1 tbs.  Place these items aside.

Wrap the bottom and sides of a 10 inch springform pan with foil.  For the graham crust, mix the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 1/3 cup of sugar together until blended.  Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and up 2 1/2 inches along the interior sides of pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, remaining 1 cup of sugar and vanilla extract on high speed for about 3 minutes or until completely smooth.  Add one egg and beat on low until blended.  Repeat process of beating in the rest of the eggs, one at a time.  Then blend in the sour cream and cornstarch.

Separate out 1 1/2 cups of cream cheese batter and stir in the chopped candied pecans.  Pour this batter into prepared crust.   Take the pecan pie and, if using an 8 inch pie, cut off the top border of the crust.  For a 9 inch pie trim 1/2 inch of the outer edge off.  Cut the pie into 6 pieces and invert each piece on top of the cheesecake batter, (crust side up) in the springform pan.  The pour the rest of the batter into the springform pan, covering the pie. 

Place the 9X13 pan of water on the bottom rack in the oven. Then put the cheesecake pan on the next rack up. Bake until the center of the cheesecake is set.  This should take about 70 minutes.   Once it is baked, turn off oven and leave oven door cracked open about 3-4 inches.  Let cheesecake rest in oven for an hour.

Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool.  Refrigerate overnight.  The next day, warm one cup of candied pecans in the microwave, just so the pecans are pliable and a little sticky.  Place candied pecan halves decoratively around the outer edge of the cheesecake.

Serve cheesecake slices with extra candied pecans. A scoop of whipped cream on top is also an option .

Tips and Notes:

1. To save time you can always purchase a pecan pie.  Usually the purchased ones flip out of their foil pans easily so there is no need to cut the slices to transfer, just flip into the center of the springform pan over the first layer of cream cheese batter.
2. Note that three cups of candied pecans is an abundance.  My pecans remained pliable in the candy coating at room temperature, so there was no need to microwave any to get them to stick to the top of the cheesecake.
3. The cheesecake did not crack, even though the 3/4 cup of water in the pan below evaporated at some time during the baking process.
                              **LAST YEAR: Chocolate Caramel Sandwich Cookies **