Sunday, January 29, 2012

Caramel Shortbread

Over the holidays, we made a delicious recipe for caramels that did not use any corn syrup. While those caramels approached perfection in my mind, Sarah had been longing to go that extra mile and make some caramel shortbread. Yep, tender shortbread topped with sweet and buttery caramel. Well, how could I argue with that?
We gilded the lily by sprinkling lavender blossoms on about 3/4 of our batch. For the last quarter we went a little nuts, trying both pink vanilla salt on some and smoked salt on the rest. This resulted in three totally different flavors, with the vanilla salt being the most conservative. The lavender was delicious, although definitely perfumey. The smoked salt smoldered.
While it takes a few steps (making both the caramel and the shortbread), it all comes together rather easily. The shortbread is especially simple -- mixed, pressed, and then baked. Once you heat the caramel, it just pours right onto the pre-baked shortbread. Then comes the tough part -- waiting for everything to firm up so that you can enjoy that first delicious bite.
We found our inspiration recipe over at Doughmesstic, but we subbed in our own caramel recipe because it doesn't use any corn syrup (and it is just really, really tasty.)

Shortbread Caramels


shortbread layer

  • 10 tbs salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg yolk, whisked
  • 1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
Prepare an 8×8 inch pan with parchment paper with the edges of the parchment hanging over two of  the sides. This allows you to remove the bars easily once cooled. Combine the melted butter, sugar, and salt with a fork in a large bowl. Add the yolk and again combine with the fork. Add the flour and stir with a heavy spoon or your hands and combine the dough until it is well combined. Place the dough in the prepared pan and press down evenly with your hands until the pan is covered. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour. Remove and bake at 350 for 25-28 minutes, until very lightly browned. Allow to cool while you are preparing the caramel.

caramel layer

  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tb vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 4oz salted butter, room temperature
  • lavender or sea salt for sprinkling
  • special equipment: candy thermometer
Combine sugar, honey, and vanilla extract in a large non-reactive pot. Turn on the heat and let the sugar and honey melt and cook until caramelized (it will slowly become a deep, dark brown color.) While the sugar is cooking, bring the cream to a simmer.When the sugar reaches the color you like, whisk in the butter in small knobs, until well mixed, then add the warmed cream, whisk until smooth. Let the mixture cook until the temperature reaches 240F (for high altitude - we are at 5,000 ft) or 260F for lower altitudes. Pour the caramel over the pre-baked shortbread. Sprinkle with lavender or sea salt, and refrigerate until cool. Cut into small squares and enjoy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winter Sun Cocktail

Here's a little cocktail confection to brighten even the most dreary winter day. Clementine juice and a touch of lemon combine with vodka for a bright and happy drink. A sprig of rosemary adds a whiff of wintry evergreen.

We added some lemon zest to a few tablespoons of sugar to create a citrusy sugared rim. The rosemary is almost entirely for the benefit of your nose (and eyes). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed its herbal, piney scent!
This is one of our favorite cocktail creations. Sweet, tart, a little herbal. It goes down really easy (too easy?) Hmmm... I might need to head to the store for another crate of clementines.
Winter Sun Cocktail
  • juice of 2 clementines (about 1/4 cup)
  • juice of 1/2 small lemon (1/2 oz)
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • sprig of rosemary
  • lemon zest
  • sugar
1. Moisten the rim of your glass with some fruit juice. (The juice helps the sugar to adhere better than water does.) Combine zest and sugar in a shallow bowl or plate. Turn the glass over onto plate and coat with sugar. 2. Fill your glass with ice, and then add juices, triple sec, and vodka. Stir. Garnish with rosemary sprig. (Makes 1.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grapefruit Curd

The lemon curd we made a few months ago was such a hit that I’ve been thinking for awhile about trying it again with a different type of citrus. Pink grapefruit is perfectly complex & delicious in a curd.  Especially when served in little glasses, topped with crème anglaise.
grapefruit curd 4
The final product is a little sweet, a little sour, and a little bitter.  We added the grapefruit zest, which played up the bitter note.  When the tiny cups were topped with dollops of rich, vanilla crème the dessert was complete.
grapefruit curd 5
The effort required here is really quite minimal. Especially when I figured out that you could get the 1/2 cup of fresh juice you need without a juicer – only brute strength and (optionally) popping tendons. Don’t mind those, please.
grapfruit curd 2
Slow, low heat and constant stirring are the main things to keep in mind.
grapfruit curd 1
I love the simplicity of this one. No crusts to fuss with or icing to pipe – just pretty colors layered in cute glasses and served simply.
grapefruit curd 6
I love the specks of vanilla bean in the top crème layer.  The pink of the fresh grapefruit juice is counteracted somewhat by the bright yellow of fresh egg yolks to make a pale coral color.
grapefruit curd 7

Grapefruit Curd

  • 1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice (little less than one grapefruit)
  • about 1 Tbsp grapefruit zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 6 Tbsp butter, cut into small cubes
Combine the eggs, milk, and sugar and stir until just mixed.  Pour in the juice and zest, then plop in the small pieces of cubed butter.  Heat everything over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.  Do not boil or the eggs will curdle – so just keep the heat low, be patient, and stir a lot.  I’d say it took me about 15 minutes of low heat and stirring to reach a thick spoon coating consistency.
When thick, pour through a strainer to catch any errant egg curdles (I had a few, no big deal), cover, and refrigerate.  I poured mine directly into a large liquid measuring cup, then portioned it into six individual dessert glasses right away.  I refrigerated the glasses for an hour or so to let them firm up before topping them with a layer of crème anglaise.  Recipe for that is here!
 grapefruit curd 3

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Heart-Shaped Jam Cookies

I don't know about you, but Valentine's Day has never been a favorite of mine. Whether I was in a relationship or not, or even now that I'm married to the funniest and smartest dude I know, V-day kind of seems like a drag. The only reason I acknowledge it at all is because it is a great excuse to make sweet things. And oh, how I love sweets.
Here's a fun recipe for a tasty shortbread cookie that is oh-so-perfect for Valentine's Day. But of course, you could do it in any shape at any time of year. They are a close kin to the raspberry jam thumbprints we made around the holidays. But this time we used strawberry jam (my new fave), and you should take it upon yourself to use whatever jam you are currently loving.
Our two-year-olds were entranced by these cookies. From the moment they realized we were making cookies filled with -- toddler-favorite -- jam, until the moment we passed each of them a cookie, they were in a spell of anticipation. Fortunately, this recipe (found at Bread & Honey many moons ago) is quite easy to make, even with grabby toddler hands about.
Heart-Shaped Jam Cookies
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Strawberry jam
1. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add sugars, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt: add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed after each addition until blended. Stir in vanilla extract. Divide dough into 2 equal portions; wrap each portion in plastic wrap to prevent drying out. Chill for 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove from fridge and let soften for a bit then roll cookie dough to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. (You may need to add a little more milk if it seems dry.) Cut with a heart-shaped cutter, and place on greased baking sheets. Cut center from half of cookies with a 1-inch round cutter or smaller heart-shaped cutter or any small cutter of your choice.

4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Spread 1/2 teaspoon jam on solid cookies; top with cutout cookies.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Crème Anglaise

Crème Anglaise is much more simple than it sounds – it’s a vanilla pouring custard.  That means it’s like a vanilla custard or rich pudding or the creamy layer under the crackly burnt sugar of a crème brûlée – but more pourable in consistency.  You know, so you can pour it over stuff.  Like so:
creme anglaise on strawberries
creme anglaise in jar
It’s made with egg yolks, cream, a little sugar, and vanilla bean.  Very simple, and very delicious.  Traditionally it’s actually made with milk, but we decided to go for something decadent and so used heavy cream.  Sue me!
creme anglaise action
creme anglaise on spoon
The recipes for this one often sound intimidating – there are lots of warnings not to heat too fast lest you curdle the eggs and wreck the whole thing.  But don’t worry, it’s really a very simple recipe.  The key is to go slow, don’t rush.  Just put your burner on low, stir a lot, and don’t walk away from the pan.  It’s only 15 minutes…but you’ve got to try to make sure the toddlers don’t burn down the house or similar during those 15 minutes.  I recommend either straightjackets or giving them a lick of the crème so that they become addicted and are unable to leave your sight.
See how well it works?
cooking creme anglaise
We’ve got a pretty pink recipe coming up later this week that features our crème anglaise, but we can also vouch for it being delicious with fresh strawberries.  Or lemon thin cookies.  I’m sure there are many other applications, it’s just that I ran out of crème anglaise.

Crème Anglaise

  • 2 egg yolks, in heat safe bowl
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • vanilla bean seeds from about 2” fresh bean.  Or about 1 tsp vanilla extract
Crack the egg yolks in a heat safe bowl.  Set aside at the ready.
Combine cream, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds stovetop.  Heat until steaming but not quite boiling.  Now, whisk in hand, drizzle the hot milk mixture over the cool egg yolks little by little while whisking or stirring well.  Your goal is to slowly incorporate and heat the egg yolks without cooking them.  All you have to do is make sure you drizzle in the hot milk a little at a time (especially in the beginning).
Then, take the fully combined mixture and dump it back in the pan.  Put it over the heat, on low, and stir slowly but surely, as the mixture gently cooks.  It will get thicker and thicker.  When it coats the back of a spoon thickly, or when as you stir you feel a good drag and leave a dry path in your wake, you know it’s ready.  (picture of the “spoon drag” is shown above, in the action montage)
Take it off the heat and continue stirring for a minute or so to help it cool down aand stop cooking.  Pour through a strainer to capture any stray egg curds that may have formed (it happens) into a cool glass jar.  Store in the fridge (where it will become firmer as it cools).  Drizzle over berries, citrus curds (!!), lemon thin cookies, and much more.

creme anglaise dipped strawberry

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

These delicious biscotti are one of my favorite ways to start the day. They are only slightly chocolatey with the flavor of hazelnut taking center stage. Pair these with a strong cup off coffee and you are good to go. If you can bear to part with them, they are a great option for packaging up in pretty tins to give away as gifts.
This is not a difficult recipe, but it does take some time. It is only hands on here and there, but there's a lot of time spent waiting, so make these on a morning when you will be around the house for a little while. This is another recipe from my favorite out-of-print (but still available at Amazon) cookbook The Hay Day Country Cookbook.
Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti
  • 1 1/3 cups whole hazelnuts (skins on or blanched)
  • 8 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
1. If you have skin-on hazelnuts, toast them in a 375 F oven for about 8 minutes. (Skip to step 2 if you have blanched hazelnuts). Immediately remove them to a clean kitchen towel and rub furiously to remove as much of the skins as possible. Don't fret if they don't all come off. They never do. Put oven at 325 F. Skip to step 3.
2. If you have blanched hazelnuts, toast them at 325 F until lightly browned and fragrant, about 8 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, i a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and mix until smooth.
4. In another mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the creamed mixture, and blend on low speed just until a stiff dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
5. Coarsely chop half of the toasted nuts, and stir both the chopped and the whole nuts into the dough. Divide the dough in half and using lightly floured hands, form each half into a 12 x 3-inch flattened log. Place the logs, spaced at least 2 inches apart, on a large ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 325 F until firm, lightly browned and cracked on top, 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 300 F. Allow the logs to cool on the sheet for 10 minutes. Then loosen them with a large flat spatula and transfer them to a cutting board. Using a thin sharp knife, cut them into 1/2-inch thick slices. Return the slices to the baking sheet, cut sides up, and return the baking sheet to the oven. Bake, rotating the pan once, until the biscotti are firm and dry throughout, 20-35 minutes. (They will crisp up as they cool.)
7. Allow biscotti to cool completely on the baking sheet for at least 30 minutes. Then transfer them to jar or tin for storage. Makes about 48 biscotti.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Top 10 Winter Brunch Ideas

Ah, the doldrums of winter. What better way to warm the cockles of your heart than a wintery brunch celebration with friends?  We’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite winter brunch ideas to get you going.  We’ve got the sweet and the savory covered; and don’t forget a special brunch-y cocktail or the perfect cup of coffee.

brunch_millet muffin 

Sweet Brunch

  • Cinnamon Pull-apart Loaf
  • Cranberry & Almond Upside Down Cakes
  • Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake
  • Baked Oatmeal with Blackberries & Ginger

Savory Brunch

  • Baked Eggs with Prosciutto & Gruyere
  • Roasted Potato Wedges
  • Strata with Mushrooms, sweet potato, & bacon
  • Ham & Egg Tarts

Drinks for a Brunch

  • Blood Orange French 75
  • Best Coffee Ever


Cinnamon Roll Pull Apart Loaf

A decadent classic of soft yeasty dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

cinnamon roll pull apart bread

by The Knead 4 Speed


Baked Eggs with Prosciutto & Gruyere

These are not only shockingly delicious and simple to make, it’s as easy to make one as it is to make 10.  Which means it’s the perfect dish for entertaining.

baked eggs

by Two Tarts


Blood Orange French 75

Blood orange, a little lemon, a little gin, and fizzy champagne makes for a nice wintery spin on the brunch classic – the mimosa.

blood orange french 75

by Cookie & Kate


Cranberry & Almond Upside Down Cakes

Gorgeous individual cakes flavored with tart cranberries and sweet almonds. 

cranberry upside down cakes

by Roost


Roasted Potato Wedges

Look how beautiful these simple roasted potato wedges can be, served with eggs for a lovely simple brunch.

roasted potato wedges

by Shop Cook Make


Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake

Crunchy earthy cocoa nibs make this coffee cake special, and they help make it a delicious pairing with a steaming cup of coffee, too.

cocoa nib coffee cake

By Not Without Salt


Baked Oatmeal with Blackberries & Ginger

A great simple, almost rustic, brunch treat that easily serves a crowd without much prep.  Frozen berries are always a great wintertime treat, and they’d work wonderfully here.

baked oatmeal with blackberries

by Family Kitchen


Strata with mushrooms, sweet potato, and bacon

Eggy custardy goodness combined with bacon, sweet potato, and mushrooms.  Talk about the best of winter flavors!


by 5 and spice


Ham & Egg Tarts

Pretty and simple little tarts made with ham and egg, then topped with a fresh herb garnish.

ham & egg tarts

by Daisy’s world


The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Tips & tricks to brewing the brunch essential – a delicious cup of coffee.


by Today’s Nest


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Minty Dog Cocktail

I've said before that I'm a huge fan of greyhounds, both the kind with four paws and the kind with gin. A while ago we got excited about using vanilla salt on the classic salty dog. Here's a new spin on things for lovers of mint: the Minty Dog!
Last week we whipped up some tasty mint sugar which we sprinkled over our colorful winter citrus salad. If you are wondering what else you can use that mint sugar for, just head over to your liquor cabinet.

Minty Dog

  • 1.5 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1.5 oz gin (you can use vodka instead, I won't judge)
  • mint sugar (recipe here)
1. Moisten the rim of your glass with some grapefruit juice. (The juice helps the sugar to adhere better than water does.)
2. Put mint sugar in a shallow dish and turn the glass over into the dish to coat the rim with sugar.
3. Pour grapefruit juice and gin over ice. (If you prefer it chilled and not over ice, you can shake juice and gin in a shaker and then strain into glass instead.)
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