Lemon Tart

Next to chocolate, lemons are my favorite dessert category. A very close second. I love their refreshing, tangy, citrusy, acidic flavor that completely transforms any dish that they are added to. So when I was going to bake something for a friend’s baby shower on a beautiful spring day, a lemon dessert seemed like a no-brainer.  This tart has a buttery, sweet, flaky crust – one of the best I’ve actually had – and it is definitely making its way into my go-to crust recipes. It also comes together really quickly in the food processor, making clean up real easy.

I used normal eureka lemons in this tart, but feel free to use Meyer lemons in case you prefer their sweeter taste, over the taste of the slightly bitter and acidic Eureka lemons. I also found that this tart tasted much better on the second day after being refrigerated. So this is a great dessert to make in advance because it just gets better after cooling.

Lemon Tart

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Tart

Filling

  • 1 large lemon (about 4 1/2 ounces; 130 grams), rinsed and dried
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

Directions

Tart

I followed Smitten Kitchen’s great unshrinkable tart shell directions to a tee and it turned out perfect! Some minor differences:

  1.  I used pie weights so didn’t need to pierce the shell with a fork
  2. The tops and sides of the pie crust start getting brown significantly sooner, so I use this pie crust shield

Filling

  1. First, zest the entire lemon. Then slice the lemon, remove any seeds, and toss all the insides of the lemon flesh and juice along with the lemon zest, sugar, and chunks of butter into the container of a food processor.
  2. Process, scraping down the sides of the container as needed, until the lemon is thoroughly pureed. Add the eggs, cornstarch and salt and pulse until the batter is smooth. My filling was initially mealy and I had to process the entire mixture for at least a good two minutes before it came out as having a smooth consistency. If your feeling is still looking mealy, I would suggested processing it for a little bit longer.

Assembling the tart

  1. Pour the lemon filling into prepared tart shell. If you have too much, do not pour it past the top of of your crust or it will become difficult to unmold later (if the filling does not bubble over while baking!)
  2. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the filling is set. You can test this by bumping the pan a little; it should only jiggle slightly. The point at which the filling is set is also when it starts to get very light brown on top.
  3. Let cool on rack, unmold tart pan and serve. I actually prefer this tart completely chilled. Dust with some confectioner’s sugar before serving!

Lemon Tart

Apple Brandy Bread Pudding

One of my favorite desserts to make over the holidays is bread pudding. It is a great way to use up old bread because the drier that a bread is, the more it will soak up the custard. You also do not have to be extremely precise unlike other desserts – you can easily use more or less bread or custard depending on your preferences. You can also pretty much go any route with it – sweet or savory. And if it’s the holidays, I think having a brandy/whiskey/rum/bourbon sauce to go along with it is essential!

I have made a bananas foster bread pudding with a vanilla rum sauce in the past, so I decided to go with a different one this time. While looking for recipes over the holidays, I fell in love with Food and Wine’s Yearly Compilations that have the recipes from every month together in one place. Though I subscribe to Bon Appetit, I have to confess that the amount of advertising in that magazine really detracts from the recipes, and having a yearly compilation means that I get a giant cooking magazine, with just recipes and no ads. I finally ended up settling on this apple bread pudding from  Food & Wine’s website. You can alter the level of sweetness in this recipe depending on your taste – I personally like a little less sugar, letting the sweetness of the apples and raisins complement the warming flavors of cinnamon and brandy. My two main tips  for bread puddings are – 1) you should cut the crust off the bread, and then cut the bread into cubes and leave it out to dry overnight. Then it’ll be sure to absorb more of the custard, 2) if you are using raisins or fruit, you can infuse them with the brandy (or whatever else the recipe calls for), to ensure that the raisins soften a little bit, get more plump, and get more flavor.

Apple Brandy Bread Pudding

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 pound brioche, cut into 1-inch pieces without the crust
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup Calvados or other brandy (I used Calvados)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in brandy
  • Whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. If you did not leave the bread to dry out overnight, spread the brioche on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until lightly golden and dry. If you did, you can skip this step.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter; reserve 2 tablespoons of the melted butter in a small bowl. Add the apples and 1/4 cup of the sugar to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are golden and softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon. Remove from the heat and add the Calvados. Return the skillet to the heat and cook until the sauce is syrupy, about 1 minute. Apple Brandy Bread Pudding
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the custard (save the vanilla bean for another use). Add the brioche, raisins, and apples and toss until evenly coated. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the brioche to absorb the custard.
  5. Brush an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the reserved melted butter. Add the bread pudding and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of melted butter on top. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden. Let the bread pudding cool slightly, then serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche

 

Mexican Wedding Cookies

This year’s December issue of Bon Appetit got me really excited – while I am more a of pie or tart person, their ideas for 25 days of Christmas, each with a different cookie got me really excited about baking cookies. And even though I did not end up using any of their 2015 recipes (instead using one in their 2003 edition), I ended up settling on Mexican wedding cookies – butter-rich confections, that are often confused with Russian tea cakes. Unlike Russian tea cakes, which are made with walnuts or hazelnuts, Mexican wedding cookies use pecans. They are tender, buttery, crumbly, full of coarsely ground pecans, that are finally dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Too late to try them for you Christmas cookie exchange? Bake them anyway for the holidays – these are not sweet, which means that it’s easy to wipe them out post-dinner!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

The main thing to watch out for in this recipe is the temperature of the butter. When beating the butter at the beginning, make sure it is at room temperature, otherwise it will not mix properly. On the other hand, if the butter is too warm, it may start separating and may not become fluffy. For mixing and creaming, butter should be about 65 degrees F. The best way to get frozen or refrigerated butter ready for creaming is to cut it into chunks. Avoid using the microwave. When the butter is still cold, but takes the imprint of a finger when gently pressed, it is ready to be creamed.

Further, once the dough is prepared, make sure to chill the dough. This will ensure that the cookie does not start separating and/or spreading once in the oven. If the butter is cold, the cookies will hold their fairly circular texture.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit (May 2003 issue)

Makes around 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Using a mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.
  2. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans.
  3. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Working with half of the chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls (I used a melon baller). Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart.
  6. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 14 minutes.
  7. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let them cool 15-20 minutes. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough.
  8. Once cooled, gently toss  cookies in remaining powdered sugar to coat completely. You may need to dip the cookies in the powdered sugar again before serving!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

What are your favorite cookies to bake for Christmas cookie exchanges?

Pies! And Recreating S’mores as a Pie

Given that I never ate a pie growing up, I have no idea where my obsession with pies comes from. Ever since I’ve moved to the U.S, I’ve made pies both during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’ve already decided which delicious pies will become a part of my family recipes that I pass down. My favorite is this pumpkin and maple-glazed sweet potato pie with a graham cracker crust.  There are three reasons in particular why I have found this pie irreplaceable: 1) unlike most pumpkin pie recipes, I have found that cooking the pumpkin puree with autumnal spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, actually makes a huge difference to the depth of flavor compared to just mixing these spices into the batter 2) Pumpkin puree might be delicious, but most people might get sick of the canned pumpkin flavor throughout the pie. The addition of roasted sweet potatoes adds new flavor and a certain amount of freshness that compliments the pumpkin 3) Roasting the sweet potatoes in maple syrup actually gives the kind of sweet taste that is desirable, instead of the sickly sweet corn syrup taste that is present in most pies.

IMG_20151129_214905

 

The second is a bourbon spiced pecan pie. I do not care much for pecans, but my partner a) loves pecans, and b) is obsessed with Alton Brown. And I have to admit, his recipe for bourbon spiced pecan pie will win over many people who have the same feelings about pecans as me. Now this recipe takes way longer than than a usual pecan pie recipe, but is absolutely worth it. It involves toasting with pecans with a bunch of spices such as cumin, cayenne pepper, dried orange peel, and cinnamon. This goes a long way in adding depth of flavor to what can be an otherwise very sweet recipe. Second, this recipe has introduced me to the wonder of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. There is nothing that I hate more in the American baking pantry more than corn syrup. Thousands of studies have shown it’s not great for you, and if we have to eat something that’s not great for us, it should at least taste great, right? Except that corn syrup just has a one-dimensional cloying sweetness, and golden syrup is a wonderful substitute to overcome this problem. Thirdly, the crust has bourbon in it – which you can very much taste when you take a full bite of the pie even with the filling. So this recipe is also a keeper.

This year I have been inspired by a pie party that my friends and I had a few weeks ago. One of my friends made a lemon meringue pie, and I am excited about incorporating a lighter pie, something that adds acidity and freshness, to the Christmas dessert course this year. And finally, if you clicked on this post hoping to find a recipe for a pie, here’s one for a s’more pie that I took to the above mentioned pie party. It’s fast to assemble, and fun to serve (think a brulee torch and people excited by fire). The only downside is that this pie is incredibly rich, so you will probably not realize how stuffed you are until it is too late!

S'more Pie

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Ingredients

For the crust:

How to make a graham cracker crust

Filling and topping:

  • 7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not more than 70% cacao; not unsweetened), finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 2 cups mini-marshmallows (highly recommend the Whole Foods ones!)

Directions

  1. Prepare the graham cracker crust in 9-inch pie plate and heat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Bake the graham cracker crust until crisp, 12 to 15 minutes, then cool on a rack to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. While the crust is cooling, prepare your filling. Put chocolate in a large bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, then pour hot cream over chocolate.
  4. Let stand 1 minute, then gently whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
  5. Gently whisk in egg and a pinch of salt until combined and pour into graham cracker crumb crust (crust will be about half full).
  6. Cover edge of pie with a pie shield or foil, and bake until filling is softly set and trembles slightly in center when gently shaken, about 25 minutes.
  7. When the pie is out of the oven, add marshmallows on top of the chocolate while it is still warm so that they stick to the chocolate.
  8. Let cool for 15-20 minutes and then using a brulee torch, toast the tops of the marshmallows, and serve while it’s still warm.

Smore2_opt

Peach and Lemon Ice-Cream

I seem to have jinxed this extended summer weather by getting excited about the lack of cooler temperatures in my previous post. And even though the air is much cooler now, there are still a ton of peaches from apple picking at Lyman Orchards last weekend that I have to eat or bake. This peach and lemon ice-cream is great for wrapping up the summer. It’s quick, does not require a custard as a base, and hardly requires any active prep time.

And, of course, since I’m still in denial about the onset of pumpkin spice season, my next post will focus on making a quick peach and strawberry tart.

Peach & Lemon Ice Cream

Recipe adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book

Ingredients

  • 2 cups freshly peeled ripe peaches, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • Equipment: Ice-cream maker

Ingredients

  1. Combine the peaches, 1/2 cup sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, stirring the mixture every 30 minutes or so. This step is very essential, so do not shorten the time – the peach juice is more likely to mix with the lemon juice the longer they stay in this mixture.
  2. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, around 2 minutes. Whisk in the remaining sugar, a little at a time. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Finally, pour in the peach juice and blend.

    Whisking the peach juice into the cream mixture

    Whisking the peach juice into the cream mixture

  3. Transfer the mixture to an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Once the ice cream starts stiffening (around 5 minutes before it is complete), add the peaches, then continue freezing until the ice-cream is ready. The ice-cream may additionally need to be stored in the freezer in a container for about 30 minutes before it completely firms up.

The Manhattan Cupcake

Rich chocolate cupcakes with a hint of orange bitters, topped with a smooth, velvety, bourbon-infused buttercream frosting and a maraschino cherry – these cupcakes are a take on the classic Manhattan cocktail and are perfect for a celebration. My partner’s favorite drink is the Manhattan, so I made these cupcakes for his birthday last month, but these are also really great for a rich post-dinner dessert, the holidays, or any kind of celebration. You can add a few more dashes of bitters to the batter if you want something to cut the richness of the cake and the frosting, but the frosting has a strong and distinct bourbon flavor already, which will be very hard to miss. I’d also suggest whipping up a Manhattan for yourself as you are baking this, so you know what sort of flavor profile to aim for.

These are best eaten the day of so that the cake does not dry out. But if you want to serve them later, I would recommend making the frosting later so that it still has the right consistency when you serve it. Or you could do what I did, which is whip an entire batch, and then use the leftovers for some much-needed energy boost, which was pretty useful as we packed furniture as part of our move from Charlottesville to New Haven (more soon on some of the lovely places that I will miss eating at in Charlottesville). For now, here’s the recipe to convert a classic cocktail into a beloved dessert.

The Manhattan Cupcake | Who Needs a Diet

Ingredients (makes 10-11 cupcakes)

Chocolate cupcake:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup cold brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 tsp bitters (optional)

Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioner sugar
  • 2 tbsp good Bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Maraschino cherries

Directions

For the cupcake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a muffin pan or put cupcake liners into the pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the eggs, coffee, buttermilk and oil. Mix until smooth; the batter will be thin. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

For the topping:

  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and the confectioner sugar together until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the bourbon and vanilla and beat until icing is thick and smooth.
  3. If the icing seems too thick, add in more bourbon, a tablespoon at a time until it is the right consistency.
  4. If it is too thin, add in more confectioner sugar, 1/4 cup at a time until it is the right consistency.
  5. Transfer the icing to a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Once the cupcakes are out of the oven and have cooled, ice the cupcakes (the icing will start melting if you try to top hot cupcakes). Top each cupcake with a maraschino cherry.

Pumpkin & Maple-Glazed Sweet Potato Pie

As someone who gets annoyed with food trends really fast, I’m surprised at how much my obsession with pumpkins has continued for the third consecutive fall now. Of course, I’m not dropping to the level of adopting this Pumpkin Spice Diet, but I do look forward to the smell of pumpkin wafting through my food and drink – with some of my favorites being pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer and this pumpkin pie (sadly though, pumpkin pies were found to account for only 3% of all orders out of all dishes featuring pumpkin). This is also the third Thanksgiving in a row that I’ve made this pie – the first year I made it with pumpkin and candied yams, the second time around with pumpkin and regular canned yams, and this year, finally, my favorite combination, pumpkin and maple-glazed sweet potatoes.

I got the idea of using maple-glazed sweet potatoes when I was walking through Whole Foods. I normally dislike the sickly sweet taste of corn syrup (which is present in candied yams), so the idea of using maple-glazed products appealed to me, especially given that this recipe already uses some maple syrup. So I decided to substitute yams with these maple-glazed sweet potatoes this time around. Before I had even put this pie in the oven, the scent of the pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup and sweet potatoes was floating through my kitchen, cut through with the sharp taste of ginger. I baked it on a graham cracker crust, and let it set overnight in the refrigerator and we were good to go for Thanksgiving next day!

Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients

Graham Cracker Crust

Filling – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen – Makes enough filling for two 9-inch pies

  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 and 1/2 cup maple-glazed mashed sweet potatoes*
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Directions

Click here for directions for Graham Cracker Crust

  1. This recipe needs a 10 inch pie plate. Pre-bake the graham cracker crust for 5-7 minutes at 350 F. Once done, let it cool at room temperature.
  2. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F.
  3. Whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl.
  4. Combine pumpkin puree, mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, another 5 to 7 minutes.
  6. Remove pan from heat. Whisk in cream mixture slowly, until fully incorporated. (Make sure that the filling is not too hot, otherwise your eggs may get scrambled as you are whisking in the cream mixture)
  7. Run mixture through a blender if it does not have a smooth consistency and then transfer to warm pre-baked pie shell.
  8. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes.
  9. Reduce heat to 300 degrees. Continue baking until edges are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer.
  10. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. (The pie finishes cooking with resident heat; to ensure the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.)

* – Bought from Whole Foods

Besides this pie, it was also my second year of making this spiced pecan pie! What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving desserts?

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