Archive for the 'Dessert' Category



Vanilla Caramels

Here’s another edible holiday gift!

I love Bequet’s Celtic sea salt caramels, and I went through a phase back in March when I made several different recipes in an attempt to duplicate their amazing flavor and texture.  One recipe was a total failure, and one had pretty amazing textural results but tasted really strongly of brown sugar (good, but not what I was going for). I dropped my pursuit of perfect caramels until I came across Grace Parisi’s recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels last week; I’ve had so much luck with Food and Wine recipes that I figured I might as well give them a try.  These have the more delicate, sophisticated flavor I was looking for, and the texture is just fantastic. They’re not quite Bequets, but they’re close enough!

I skipped the chocolate part of Ms. Parisi’s recipe, so click the link to the original recipe at the bottom of the post if you want the whole thing.

Vanilla Caramels
Adapted from FoodandWine.com

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup (I ran out of light, so I used 3/4 cup light and 1/4 cup dark)
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, crumbled

Method:
Line a 9-x-13-inch pan with foil; spray it with vegetable oil.  In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the sugar, corn syrup and cream and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Add the vanilla seeds.  Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until a golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 245°F on a candy thermometer, 1 hour.  Stir in the sea salt and scrape the caramel into the prepared pan.  Let cool and set completely overnight.

Invert the caramel onto a cutting board and peel off the foil.  Using a sharp, lightly oiled knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch wide strips and then into 1-inch squares. Wrap the individual caramel squares in wax paper.

My modifications:

  • I lined my 9-x-13-inch pan with parchment paper, not foil, since that’s what I used when I made all those caramels back in March.
  • I periodically washed down the sides of my pan with a silicone brush and water to make sure there weren’t any undissolved sugar grains.  A single unincorporated sugar crystal can crystallize the candy mixture and ruin your whole batch.  The corn syrup in the recipe helps prevent crystallization, but I figured it was better to be overly cautious.
  • The recipe is kind of ambiguous about how much stirring you should do.  I just stirred mine periodically and very carefully.  (Sloshing the mixture around, especially early in the recipe, can lead to crystallization.)
  • Since high altitude affects candy making temperatures, I cooked my mixture to 235°F instead of 245°F.  (At my house, water boils at 202°F instead of 212°F, which is why I subtracted 10 degrees.  If you don’t live at sea level, you can do the test yourself by sticking a candy thermometer in a pot of water and bringing it to a boil.)
  • Once the mixture hit 235°F, I removed it from the heat and waited 1 minute before stirring in the sea salt.  I think waiting a beat helps the salt maintain its crunch in the finished caramels.

Vanilla Caramels

Aren’t these absolutely adorable?  I cut my caramels much smaller and did the more traditional wax-paper-with-twisted-ends packaging in the spring, but bigger cuts with bows are so much better for gifting.

I’m so pleased with the results of this recipe!  The flavor is wonderful, and the sea salt maintained its crunch in the finished product (one of my favorite elements of the Bequet caramels).  Cooked to 235°F, the caramels are firm enough to hold their shape but definitely soft and chewy.  The Bequet caramels are softer (they might start to puddle ever so slightly if you unwrapped one and let it sit for a few minutes), so I might try taking these off the heat at 230°F next time to see if I can get even closer to a Bequet-like result.  This is definitely my new go-to caramel recipe.

Update 1/19/13: I made these for Christmas last month and lined my pan with non-stick foil without any vegetable oil or spray. The foil worked perfectly! I’m going to use this method from here on out to prevent the vegetable oil problems a few of you have mentioned.

Recipe link: Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels

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Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels

I made candied orange peel for the first time last year and loved it.  This year, I decided to make a double batch and use it for Christmas stollen, today’s recipe (Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels), and general nibbling.

Today’s recipe has its own instructions for making candied orange peel, but I just went with the tried-and-true process from last year.  If you already have candied orange peel (homemade or store-bought, really), this recipe is a fast way to turn out a really elegant, edible holiday gift.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels
Adapted from FoodandWine.com

Ingredients:
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao bars)
3/4 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup shelled, salted pistachios

Method:
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In a double boiler set over a pot of simmering water, heat the bittersweet chocolate until two-thirds melted.  Remove from the heat.  Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it is completely melted and registers about 90°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Spread the warm chocolate on the parchment paper to a rough 9-x-13-inch rectangle.  Working quickly, so the chocolate doesn’t set, scatter the orange peels and pistachios evenly over the melted chocolate.  Gently tap the cookie sheet on the work surface to flatten the chocolate and allow the toppings to sink in slightly. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes, just until firm.  Cut or break the bark into 2-inch pieces and serve.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels

Heavenly!  This bark is a chocolate-y, salty, and sweet treat.  The original recipe calls for unsalted pistachios, but the salt adds so much to the flavor profile.  Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Plus, the bark is just gorgeous for gift giving.  I didn’t think it would break very evenly since the orange peel is chewy, so I cut mine with a santoku knife.  I really like the look of the hard edges.  I’m making this one again!

TIPS:  I was worried that my chocolate wouldn’t melt completely (we’ve all been there, right?), so I think I let it melt a bit too long in the double boiler.  This didn’t hurt the chocolate, but it did get pretty warm (about 120°F) and took some time to come down in temperature.  After extended stirring and letting it fall in ribbons to cool it down, my patience ended when the chocolate hit 97°F.  I was afraid that it might be a bit too loose and spread too far, but everything turned out just fine.

Also, if you don’t know what a double boiler is or want to rig up your own at home, check out this post.

Recipe links: Candied Orange Peel and Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peel (the original)

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings

Let the holiday baking begin!  I certainly started mine off on the wrong foot yesterday evening when I got (really!) distracted and left the flour, baking powder, and salt out of today’s recipe…  As you can imagine, my cookies melted into a puddle in the oven.  I’m always one to try, try again, though, so I gave the recipe another shot this morning.  Success!

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings (originally Cream Cheese-Lemon Bows)
Makes about 6 dozen 2-inch rings

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (light – not nonfat – is fine if that’s what you have)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely chopped (mine was grated with a microplane grater)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder (I used a scant teaspoon as a high-altitude adjustment)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

Method:
Put butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until creamy.  Mix in granulated sugar.  Add egg, lemon zest, and lemon juice; mix well.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; mix into butter mixture on low speed.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place a small amount of the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.  Holding tip very close to the surface, pipe 2-inch rings onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper; space 1 inch apart.  Gently push down any peaks in the piped dough.  Refill pastry bag as needed with remaining dough.  Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom, about 10 minutes.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Source: Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies 2005 (My version is slightly modified for technique and baking time.)

Cream Cheese-Lemon Rings

What a great cookie!  I’m especially excited that the recipe worked at high altitude with only one minor modification (the scant teaspoon of baking powder instead of a whole, and I’m not sure the change was even necessary).  The dough really doesn’t expand much.  The flavor of the cookie is wonderful; it isn’t too sweet, even with the confectioners’ sugar sprinkling, and you definitely get the citrus from the lemon (though it isn’t overpowering).  The texture is somewhere between a sugar cookie and shortbread – crisp, but not dry – and I think these cookies would stand up well when transported (perfect for a cookie exchange).

The only downside to the recipe is that it does take some time and effort to pipe the cookies; the dough is pretty firm, so it’s a bit of a workout.  I tried putting the dough in a cookie press after reading a comment on the original recipe, but that was a grand failure.  The upside to piping is you can do pretty much whatever shape you want.  I tried bows (per the original recipe), rings, squiggles, hearts, and spirals, but liked the rings the best.  If you try a different shape or size, just be sure to watch them in the oven.  I burnt the heck out of my first batch because I left my 2-inch cookies in for the 12 minutes recommended in the original recipe; that baking time was intended for 3 1/2-inch cookies.

Recipe link: Cream Cheese-Lemon Bows

Profiteroles

It’s my 400th post!  Woohoo!  How appropriate, then, to write about a dessert worthy of a celebration: Profiteroles.

This is a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for years, and I mean it.  When I was in college at the University of Denver (which is getting to be a scary long time ago!), there was a restaurant on 22nd and Arapahoe called Tiramisu.  It was my absolute favorite place to go for dinner, and we always finished the meal with their amazing profiteroles.  The combination of a light pastry shell, fabulous ice cream, and rich chocolate sauce was something I just couldn’t resist.

I thought about making profiteroles again and again but didn’t actually get on the horse until I had to come up with a “Thanksgiving with a twist” dessert for this month’s gourmet club meeting.  Profiteroles with pumpkin ice cream and caramel sauce?  Yes, please.

Let’s start with the profiterole recipe.  This is modified to include just the profiteroles; the original recipe has a chocolate sauce as well.

Profiteroles
Makes about 18 puffs (6 servings)

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 extra-large eggs

Method:
Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Heat the milk, butter, and salt over medium heat until scalded.  When the butter is melted, add the flour all at once and beat it with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and forms a dough.  Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes.  The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan.  Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Add the eggs and pulse until the eggs are incorporated into the dough and the mixture is thick.

Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip.  Pipe in mounds 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch high onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  You should have about 18 puffs.  With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff.  (You can also use 2 spoons to scoop out the mixture and shape the puffs with damp fingers.)  Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned, then turn off the oven and allow them to sit for another 10 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Make a small slit in the side of each puff to allow the steam to escape.  Set aside to cool.

Source: Ina Garten/FoodNetwork.com

Profiteroles

Aren’t these gorgeous puffs?  What’s ironic is that my first batch was perfect, while I struggled with subsequent batches.  Here are my perfect profiterole tips:

  • Use the large (16″) pastry bags when piping your dough.  All of the dough won’t fit into the smaller bags.
  • Make sure your dough mounds are more like rounded domes than tall hives.  I was overzealous with my piping on my second batch and ended up with high, beautiful (at the time), hive-shaped mounds.  What happened?  They browned too quickly because of their height and they morphed into some pretty crazy shapes.  (See the photo below.  They look like baby chicks, right?  I’d be a genius if I could deliberately replicate this shape…)
  • Keep an eye on your profiteroles during the last five minutes of baking.  I had to turn the oven off at the 18-minute mark for my perfect batch, not the 20-minute mark.
  • Profiteroles can be made up to a day ahead and re-crisped immediately before serving.  Heat oven to 375°F, place profiteroles on a parchment-lined baking sheet, bake for 5 minutes (or until crisp), and cool on a wire rack before serving.
Baby Chick Profiteroles
Now that you have profiteroles, it’s time to fill them.  The profiterole below has store-bought pumpkin ice cream and homemade caramel sauce (part of this post), though I eventually ended up making two different ice creams – Williams-Sonoma’s Pumpkin Ice Cream and Cinnamon Ice Cream from Allrecipes – to bring to gourmet club.  The pumpkin ice cream had a thick custard base and was very much like eating frozen pumpkin pie filling (delicious!).  It was very firm, though, and needed 10 to 15 minutes on the counter to soften before serving.  The cinnamon ice cream was everyone’s favorite; it was sweeter and softer.  I made another batch to serve with pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and it was a hit!

Profiterole with Pumpkin Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce

My first batches of profiteroles most certainly won’t be my last.  Besides being delicious, I love that they can be made ahead for entertaining and that the fillings and toppings are infinitely adaptable.  Chocolate profiteroles with peppermint ice cream would be amazing for Christmas!

Recipe links: Profiteroles, Caramel Sauce (part of Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce), Cinnamon Ice Cream, Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Living in a house in the ‘burbs has its pros and cons, but a weeknight Halloween is definitely one of the pros.  After years in apartments with nary a trick-or-treater, I have to admit that I just love seeing all the kids’ costumes when Dr. O and I hand out candy.  And since it’s a Monday (and we enjoyed an adult party on Saturday night), it’s a perfect night to kick back with a nice meal and a bottle of wine, popping up whenever the doorbell rings.

I wanted to make a special dessert for tonight that fit with the holiday, but I was short on time and didn’t feel like running to the store.  Thankfully, I had all the ingredients on hand to make something wonderful: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce.  As I’ve mentioned before, bread pudding is one of my very favorite desserts when it’s done right; this one, while different from most others I’ve made or tasted, certainly is.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
Officially makes 6 servings, but I’d say it’s more like 8 or 10

Bread pudding ingredients:
2 cups half-and-half
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 cups 1 1/2-inch cubes egg bread (I used leftover kaiser rolls)
1/2 cup golden raisins (I used dried cranberries since that’s what I had in the pantry)

Caramel sauce ingredients:
1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (I cut it into small pieces for easier melting)
1/2 cup whipping cream

Powdered sugar

For bread pudding:
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Whisk half-and-half, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend.  Fold in bread cubes.  Stir in golden raisins.  Transfer mixture to 11-x-7 glass baking dish. (I used a 1.5-quart oval dish, and I buttered it.)  Let stand 15 minutes.  Bake pumpkin bread pudding until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  (I needed 50 minutes, but that might have something to do with high altitude.)

Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce:
Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts.  Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar over bread pudding.  Serve warm with caramel sauce.

Source: Bon Appetit, November 2000

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Oh, deliciousness!  The bread pudding itself came out very moist – almost creamy – with mild flavors of pumpkin and spice.  The cranberries added the occasional sweet-tart bite, which I really enjoyed.  With over a cup of brown sugar, you’d expect the bread pudding to be sweet, but it really isn’t.  This is a good thing, because the caramel sauce is.  When the sauce and the bread pudding are separate, each is good; together, though, they’re pretty fantastic.

I appreciate that this was incredibly easy to throw together and the caramel sauce seems practically impossible to screw up.  (It might become my new go-to easy dessert sauce, actually; the consistency is really silky and it has a perfect viscosity once it’s cooled for 20 minutes or so.)  This one isn’t amazing enough to knock my very favorite bread pudding recipe off the top spot, but it will be a wonderful seasonal dessert for tonight.

Recipe link: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Caramel Corn

And I’m back!  Sorry for the extended absence.  Between helping to plan a major fundraiser for the organization for which I volunteer (Resource Area for Teaching Colorado – check it out!) and preparing for our trip to Tokyo for Dr. O’s brother’s wedding (food post coming soon!), September was almost more than I could handle. We had some amazing experiences, but it’s good to be settling back into our usual routine.

I originally made today’s recipe – Caramel Corn – for a baseball-themed gourmet club meeting this summer, but with Halloween fast approaching, this treat would be so cute in clear bags with ribbons.  What you don’t want to do (unless you’re really hungry or have an amazing metabolism) is make this all by yourself with no plans to share.  It’s so ridiculously good that you will eat the whole batch.

Cracker Jack Caramel Corn Recipe

Ingredients:
2 bags natural microwave popcorn (to yield 16 cups of popcorn)
12 ounces Spanish peanuts
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Method:
Preheat oven to 300°F.  Meanwhile, pop popcorn in microwave according to package directions and grease two large rimmed baking sheets.

Dump the popcorn and Spanish peanuts in a clean tall paper grocery bag.  In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt over medium heat and allow to gently boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla.  Carefully and immediately pour caramel sauce into the paper grocery bag and stir the sauce, popcorn, and nuts with a wooden spoon until the sauce is evenly distributed.

Divide the popcorn mixture evenly between the two greased baking sheets.  Bake for 45 minutes, stirring the popcorn every 15 minutes.  Cool completely and break up the pieces (if desired).  Popcorn can be stored for at least a week (if it lasts that long!) in zip-top bags or airtight containers.

Note: The original recipe calls for air-popped popcorn and 1 tsp. salt.  Using microwave popcorn was just easier for me.

Caramel Corn

Holy cow, was this ever fantastic.  I think it borders on kettle corn, but any sweet-and-salty snack lovers will go crazy for it.  With this sauce-to-popcorn ratio, the popcorn was lightly coated and stayed crisp.  (I’ve had gooey, chewy caramel corn before and I like this much better.)  It’s a perfect make-ahead snack or dessert as well; it tasted just as good on day five as it did on day one.

TIPS: I made a batch of this caramel corn for my parents, but I used cashews instead of peanuts.  The result?  Things worked much better with the peanuts.  Maybe whole cashews would be okay, but cashew pieces almost burned.

Recipe link: Caramel Corn

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Candylicious!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

__________________________________________

This challenge was pretty wide open in terms of what kind of candy we had to make to satisfy our requirements.  We had to make one chocolate candy (an incredibly broad category itself), and one other candy that could be whatever we like (chocolate or non-chocolate).  For my chocolate candy, I was partially inspired by the S’mores Squares I made earlier this month.  The marshmallow component is so good!  So, I decided to make some marshmallow, cut it into little square slabs, and sandwich peanut butter between two halves.  (Pardon the blurry photo.)

Marshmallow Sandwich

Tempering chocolate was an optional part of the challenge this month, and I just didn’t have time to deal with it.  (I’m posting late as it is! 🙂 )  I ended up melting some Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate (I think it balanced the sweetness of the marshmallow and the peanut butter nicely) in a double boiler, dipping the sandwiched marshmallows in that, and then adding a chopped peanut garnish.  The candies turned out amazing!  My husband loves them so much that I’ll have to start making them regularly.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Marshmallow Candies

For my other candy, I made lollipops.  I’ve had a molar lollipop mold (totally ironic, right?) sitting in my pantry, waiting for its moment to shine.  I used the DIY Lollies recipe from Oprah.com with all corn syrup and orange extract.  (I didn’t have any flavored oil and preferred to use what I had in the pantry, so I was able to determine that one part flavored oil is equal to four parts flavored extract.)

My first try was a flop for two reasons: I only made a half recipe (there just wasn’t enough candy to go around!), and I followed the part of the recipe that told me to transfer the hot candy to a measuring cup (glass, of course) before pouring it into the molds.  So much heat was lost in the transfer that my candy started to set in the glass measuring cup before I had managed to fill my lollipop molds.  The second time, I made a full recipe and poured the hot candy straight from the pan. Things worked out much better, though I still had some difficulty getting my lollies out of the molds (hence the broken root tip on the molar).  Broken or not, they were really tasty.

Tooth Lollipop

So I’ll definitely make the chocolate candies again, and I may try lollipops again if I’m feeling brave.  Thanks for a great challenge, Lisa and Mandy!

Recipe links: S’mores Squares (for marshmallow only) and DIY Lollies




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