Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cherry Macadamia Crumble Bars

I know. I'm officially a blogging slacker. If it wasn't for Tuesdays with Dorie and leftover Christmas recipes, it'd be even worse, I am sorry to say. But, I still have a couple of things I've made in the past month or so that I still need to blog. So, at least I've got some reserves...

The thing is... I'm trying to eat healthy. I'm running my 5th marathon in April and I'm determined to kick this marathon's ass... which means... less of the ole... get home from a stressful day at work and bake a batch of cookies to devour and more... get home from a stressful day at work and eat two bowls of honey nut cheerios or a bag of 100 calorie popcorn or a handful of hershey kisses (or all three simultaneously). It doesn't mean I'm cutting out sugar or fat... it just means I'm only baking when I can share things with other people so that I don't get stuck with eating it all. And to semi-satisfy my sweet tooth I eat handfuls of m&ms or hershey kisses.

Anyway... enough about me and more about cherries and macadamia nuts and butter. Is that a trio or what?

I've sung Jennifer at Bake or Break's praises many times, but she continually makes and blogs the desserts that appeal to me the most. And the pictures... well... if her pictures don't make you lick your computer screen then you need to get your eyes checked. They are amazing. I have oh about 15 zillion of her recipes bookmarked to make and this is a recipe I've had printed out forever.

When she made them they were Raspberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars. I had cherry preserves and macadamia nuts on hand, so I changed that out in the recipe. I made these for the "healthy" dessert at my family's Christmas Dinner. And yes... by "healthy" I mean... these have some sort of sugared fruit product in them, therefore they are healthy. These bars a loaded with butter... so, be sure to make these when you can share them.

I think using cherry preserves was a mistake. Cherry preserves are less substantial than other jams and jellies and therefore I should have used like 4 jars of the stuff to make a good layer of cherry. I definitely wanted more cherry flavor and by the time these finished baking, the cherry flavor was definitely very minimal.

They are delicious bars though and I think with strawberry jam or raspberry they would be amazing! Or maybe a boatload more cherry preserves and some dried cherries thrown in, too... that might work. I think I'll have to try them again... in the name of experimentation of course. :)

Here's the recipe directly from Jennifer's site... Raspberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TWD: Berry Surprise Cake

I really enjoy spending time in the kitchen... measuring, stirring, sifting, etc... It's one of the reasons why I like to bake so much (the other reason is because of my rampant sweet tooth, of course). There is something mind-numbingly soothing about the preciseness of baking.

So, I have no problems with recipes that take a little more time and effort. Recipes that dirty up a shit ton of bowls and spoons and scrapers. Especially... when it's for a special occasion and I get to share the end result with friends or family.

That brings me to my biggest issue with this recipe. Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen chose this Berry Surprise for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. In theory, this recipe is awesome... a white cake (a genoise, in fact) with whipped cream, cream cheese and berries (strawberries, in my case) tucked inside. Iced with whipped cream.

Sounds delicious, right?? Well, it's good. Yes. Is it good enough to spend this much time and effort in making again? Definitely not.

I mean, granted, I'm not the biggest fan of whipped cream. I mean, sure I like a little as a garnish sometimes, but it's not something that I spoon graciously all over my desserts (like paula deen does... I swear, it's like she covers her stuff in whipped cream). Anyway... digressing...

So, you make this genoise cake, right? And it's kind of a pain in the ass, cause there's lots of folding involved... and then of course, I overfolded mine and ended up with a sunken middle. Then after you bake the cake, then you gotta whip up the surprise center which is composed of cream cheese, cream, and some sugar (not enough sugar, in my opinion). Then you gotta fill the cake with that mixture, and frost the cake with some whipped cream that you have to make from scratch.

All this and you wind up with a glorified strawberrry shortcake with cool whip. I mean, seriously.... that's what my cake tasted like. Like I had bought those little shortcake/sponge cake thingys in the grocery store... cut up some strawberries and topped it all with insane amounts of cool whip. You know how much easier that would have been? Ummm... yeah. Not going there.

Taste good? Yup... how could it not? Taste good enough for all that effort and messy bowls? Ehhh. Not for me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TWD: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

Being born and raised in Nashville I get the best of all worlds... It makes me a southern girl... but I also feel like I can shun the stigma some people place on the South because...
1. TN was the last state to secede from the Union in the Civil War
2. My ancestors are all from East TN, and during the civil war they were like... "what??? you say there's some sort of war going on??? hmph. we don't know nothing about no war."
3. (My most favorite!) Nashville was dubbed the "Athens of the South" forever ago, because we have so many higher institutions of education (and we were the first Southern City to institute public schools) as well as having lots of arts and culture.

Boo-ya! Look at us Nashvillians, all refined and stuff.

Anyway... being a southern girl means I was raised knowing 3 things:
1. Dinner is the mid-day meal and supper is the evening meal.
2. Everything's better with a little pork fat thrown in.
3. Cornbread is always, always, always devoid of sugar. ALWAYS. You hear me, Dorie... ALWAYS.

I've talked on this blog before about how my mom makes the best cornbread. Bar none, hands down the BEST cornbread. Like biscuits, there are a million different ways to make cornbread and while my mom's recipe might not be your favorite... there is room in the culinary spectrum for all different types. Yes, including what my family calls "yankee cornbread..." aka... cornbread with sugar in it. Instead of raging against the sugar in cornbread, I've decided to be okay with it and just never let sugar touch any cornbread of mine. This, is what I call personal progress, folks.

My mom's cornbread recipe is made with white cornmeal and has nothing fancy in it. No corn, peppers, chili powder... nothing like that. So, when Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake (check out her blog, it's excellent) chose Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins for this weeks Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. I was excited to step outside the "comfort box" for cornbread and whip these up.

I invited my family over for dinner this weekend to celebrate my parents 41st wedding anniversary and made these. I'm sad to say... that these were not the hit of the dinner. In fact, I didn't really like them at all. I omitted the sugar and the corn kernels from the recipe, but aside from that... made as instructed. Mine came out dry and pretty flavorless... even with the jalapenos and chili powder. Go figure.

Better luck next time... different strokes for different folks, as they say.

If you like fancy cornbread with bits in it and sugar, check out Rebecca's blog for the recipe.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Crunchy Milk Chocolate- Peanut Butter Layer Cake

You know what really irks me? When a recipe is poorly written.

Sure, I sit down with a recipe and read through it at least once (sometimes multiple times) before I actually end up making it, but you trust that a recipe is going to be written in the most practical and helpful manner possible.

Maybe Dorie Greenspan has spoiled me (her recipes are almost always clearly explained and written in the most logical and efficient order), but I find myself in the middle of a recipe saying to myself... ugh! Why didn't you tell me to do that earlier???

This was one of those recipes. As far as the final product goes? Milk Chocolate? Peanut Butter? Rice Krispies? What's not to love? This cake is delicious and if made in an efficient way, wouldn't take you TOO long.

I have had this recipe printed out from Food & Wine for a long time now, but there were so many parts involved... I just kept putting it aside for a "special occasion." Finally, I decided that my family's Christmas Dinner was special enough and finally tackled this cake.

It's a chocolate cake with a layer in the center made of peanut butter, egg whites and rice krispies that give the cake an interesting chewy crunch. If you're looking for something yummy, unprententious, and different... this is the cake for you.

If you want to follow the recipe as I did, check it out: Nancy Olson's Crunchy Milk Chocolate- Peanut Butter Layer Cake, but for my own sanity, I've written it the way I'll prepare it in the future.
Crunchy Milk Chocolate- Peanut Butter Layer Cake
adapted from Nancy Olson and Food & Wine
Serves 16

I halved the recipe (as I only needed it to feed 6 people) and made the cake in a 9 inch round cake pan. I then split that layer in half to make a round layer cake. But, I've written the full recipe below.

I also subbed pecans for almonds and omitted the peanuts in the filling (just because of what I had on hand). I'm also including the ingredients and directions for the guinness syrup that I soaked the layers in before assembling to make sure the cake was super moist.

I'm sure that if you're a dark chocolate lover, that this cake would be just as delicious with dark chocolate instead of milk. Incidently, I did use dark cocoa for the cake.

2 cups plus 2 tbsps sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1 1/2 tsps baking soda
1 1/2 tsps salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp boiling water

1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup confectioners's sugar
2 large egg whites
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 oz milk chocolate, chopped
1 cup rice krispies

1/2 cup Guinness (or you can use coffee or even water)
1/2 cup Sugar

1 1/4 pounds milk chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsps heavy cream, warmed


1. Make the Filling: Preheat the oven to 325.Trace a 9x13 inch rectangle onto a sheet of parchment paper and lay it on a large baking sheet. In a food processor, pulse the almonds with the confectioners' sugar until they're finely ground (or beat the hell out of them with a rolling pin in a ziploc bag if you dont have a food processor). In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the almond mixture. Spread the meringue on the parchment to fill the rectangle. (see pic at end of post for what mine looked like at this stage). Sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top. Bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned, let cool. (Once out of oven, preheat oven to 350 for cake layer).

2. Make the Cake: Put the water on to boil. Butter and flour a 9x13 inch cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Whisk in boiling water. Pour the batter (it will be thin) into the prepared pan (hopefully your meringue layer is done now...)Crank up the oven temperature to 350 and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool.

3. Continue with the Filling: In a medium bowl set in a saucepan of simmering water, heat the peanut butter with the butter and milk chocolate, stirring constantly, until smooth and melted. Remove from the heat and fold in the rice krispies. Spread the mixture all over the cooled meringue rectangle and put into the freezer to let cool completely.

4. Start the Guinness Syrup: On the stove add the guinness and the sugar and bring to a simmer till it thickens to a syrup consistency.

5. Make the Ganache: In a medium bowl set in a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate. Whisk in the warmed cream until smooth. Remove from heat and refrigerate for 1 hour, whisking occasionally until thick enough to spread.

6. Once Cake is cooled: Invert the cake onto a work surface and working carefully, slice the cake horizontally.

7. Assemble the cake: Place the bottom cake layer cut side up on a large board. Brush that layer with half of the Guinness Syrup. Then spread one-third of the ganache over the cake. Invert the filling onto the cake and peel off the parchment paper. Spread one half of the remaining ganache over the filling. Next brush the other cut side of the cake with the rest of the guinness syrup (you might not use all of it, just make sure the cake is moistened). Top the filling with the remaining cake, cut side down. Refrigerate till firm, at least one hour. Using a serrated knife, trim the edges. Spread the remaining ganache over the the top and sides of the cake and refrigerate to set. Cut and Serve.

MAKE AHEAD: This cake can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Meringue filling before being baked.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TWD: French Pear Tart

French Vanilla, French Fries, French Kiss. The French have to be the world's best marketers. All the good things in life?? Ehhh... let's put the word French in front of it and call it ours. Brilliant.

I've yet to go to France, but it is near the top of my list... Despite it's reputation for being snobby or snooty, I've always had a fascination with it. I mean... the food, the wine, the countryside... it just all seems so simple and delicious.

I'm thrilled to say that this weeks Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by the author herself, Dorie Greenspan. She chose the French Pear Tart. Had I ever had a French Pear Tart before? No, of course not. But pears and almond cream sounded awesome to me and I was excited to whip this up.

In the interest of my waistline, I opted to halve this recipe and used the adorable little creme brulee ramekins that came as apart of an awesome creme brulee set that my brother got me for christmas! I got 3 cute little tarts out of half of the recipe.

The recipe came together easily, even without a food processor. The almond cream puffed up around the pears to where you could barely even see the pears. The aroma was amazing and the outcome was delicious, too. Although, I strayed from Dorie's recipe and added almond extract instead of vanilla and I think that was a mistake. The filling was actually a little sweet for my taste (which is saying a lot, because I love all things super sweet) and I think the almond extract boosted that. The thing I loved most about this pear tart was the texture. It's slightly crispy (in a dainty way) and it's got a slight chew to it that you don't normally get in fruit tarts and I really enjoyed that. I'd like to try this recipe with a tart-er fruit or possibly with less sugar and vanilla instead of almond extract.

Overall, another awesome recipe from Dorie and the French. Thanks for choosing this recipe, Dorie and thanks for writing such a kick ass cookbook!