World Food Championships, Thanksgiving Pie, and a Vanilla Giveaway!

A lot of exciting things have been going on for me lately.  I have been so busy developing secret recipes and doing some public speaking that I haven’t blogged for a while, and I do apologize, but I am about to share what I have been working on with you.  I was lucky enough to qualify for The World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama in the Dessert category.  The World Food Championships is the largest cooking competition around, and their mission is to bring Food Sport front and center in a multi-round, multi-category live cook off.  Each category narrows down to a top 10, then ultimately the #1 chef, and then the top competitors from each category compete to find an ultimate champion who wins $100,000.  It is intense!  Thank you so much to my sous chefs Grace and Kim, and to my sister-in-law Sherylyn for managing our time and doing Live Facebook videos for us.  You guys rocked, and I couldn’t have done it without you all.

The fabulous company, Rodelle Vanilla, was kind enough to sponsor me!  I can’t thank them enough for their support!  They sent me a bunch of amazing products, t shirts, and a beautiful display as well for the WFC.  I would love to share the wealth, so to speak, and give away some of these Rodelle products for you to try.  Please go to Rodelle Vanilla on Facebook or Rodelle Vanilla on Instagram and/or  Rodelle Vanilla on Twitter and Like or follow their pages for an entry into my drawing for free Rodelle goodies.  I will be giving away a combination of extracts, Baking Cocoa, vanilla beans, and/or vanilla bean paste to at least 3 lucky followers.  You will get 1 entry per page you “like” or follow.  Just let me know how many entries you qualified for in either the comments here, or on my Facebook page hereLauren Katz.  If you have never tried Rodelle, I urge you to order some of their products, because they really are top notch and make a big difference in your baked goods.  Best of luck to everyone!

Now, on to my desserts!  The recipe I am going to share first is near and dear to my heart.  It was my “signature” dessert in the competition, but it is a twist on something I make every Thanksgiving for my family.  Because my son is highly allergic to nuts, we needed an alternative to pecan pie.  A few of my friends had mentioned that they had recipes for a “Faux Pecan Pie” (we affectionately call it “Faux-can Pie” in my house) using pretzels instead of the pecans.  Well, the first time I made it, I was blown away.  I actually liked it more than pecan pie, which is saying a lot, because pecans are my favorite.  The recipe for that pie is at the bottom of this post, and is more beginner-friendly than my WFC tarts.  I also want to mention that I really enjoyed working with Challenge Butter for all of my WFC recipes, as they were a sponsor of the dessert category.  This is some great butter to work with, and will be my brand from now on!  It is high quality, super creamy, and free of additives.

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My turn in tray for the signature dessert round at WFC!

So for the competition, I decided to turn the Faux-can pie into individual tarts, substitute a shortbread crust, and “Southern it up” a bit with Bourbon, Chocolate, and a salted Bourbon caramel.  We added a lot of salt to balance the sweet, and a special whipped cream made with the addition of sour cream, brown sugar, Bourbon, and vanilla bean paste to give a slight sour twang to the recipe.  You definitely don’t have to make all of the components.  Just the tarts are fabulous with some vanilla ice cream.  Just the caramel sauce is fabulous as an ice cream topping as well.  The whipped cream is great on pretty much anything from pumpkin pie to apple cake.  Really this is a recipe with a lot of components, but none of the pieces are difficult to make.

So, here is the recipe for approximately 7-8 tartlets.  My sous chef, Grace, recommends making them in disposable muffin tins, so that you can pop them out afterwards easily.  We used egg custard tart tins for the competition which are less than a dollar each at Bed Bath and Beyond.  I will also include the original pie recipe below, so that you can make this for Thanksgiving with either a homemade pie crust or a store bought crust!

 

Black Bottom Bourbon Pretzel Shortbread Tarts with Salted Caramel and Sour Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream

makes 6-8 muffin sized individual tarts

These individual tarts are sweet, salty, creamy with just a hint of sour, and perfectly balanced with a rich Bourbon and brown sugar filling. A buttery shortbread crust envelops a hint of chocolate as well as a crunchy pretzel topping that adds the perfect salty note. This all sits atop a homemade Bourbon caramel sauce and is studded with a brown sugar sour cream and vanilla bean whipped cream.

Ingredients
For the shortbread crust:
1/2 cup unsalted Challenge butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Bakers joy non-stick spray

Tart Filling:
2 eggs
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar (granulated)
6 tablespoons unsalted Challenge butter, melted
1/3 cup corn syrup (light)
2 tablespoons Bourbon
1 teaspoon Rodelle vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Chocolate chips (6-8 per tart)

Tart Pretzel topping:
1 1/2 cups thin twist pretzels, crushed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar

Brown sugar sour cream vanilla bean whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 pack whipped cream stabilizer (optional, but used for potential competition heat)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Bourbon
1 teaspoon Rodelle vanilla bean paste or Rodelle vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Salted Bourbon caramel:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup heavy cream (go with 1/2 cup cream if you want this to be a liquid caramel sauce and have time for it to cool completely)
2 tablespoons Bourbon
1 teaspoon fine kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon Rodelle pure vanilla extract

Garnish:
1/2 cup dark Chocolate melts (ghirardelli)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray tart tins with Baker’s Joy non-stick spray, if desired.
For the crust: Place all ingredients in a stand mixer or a large food processor and pulse or mix until the dough comes together into a ball. Remove from processor and pat into tart tins, trying to shape a thin layer up the sides of the tin. Place tins on silicone-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, let sit for 1 minute and press with pastry tamper or back of a spoon to reform tart shells, as they will puff and settle slightly. They will only be partially baked at this point. Place 6-8 chocolate chips in the bottom of each tart. Set tart shells aside until ready to fill.

While tarts shells are baking, make filling. Combine all filling ingredients (except for chocolate chips) in large bowl, whisking until smooth. Pour into tart shells, leaving a slight bit of room at the top of each tart for pretzel topping.
In a small bowl, combine pretzel topping ingredients, tossing well to coat. Place a small amount of topping on each tart. Bake for 24-26 minutes (still at 350 degrees) or until just set in center and golden brown at edges. Let cool. Place in freezer to cool faster, if necessary.

Make the caramel sauce: Heat sugar and water in a small saucepan until sugar begins to bubble and caramelize. Do not stir caramel while it bubbles. You can swirl the pan gently, if necessary. Remove from heat just when sugar turns dark amber. Add butter immediately, whisking constantly. Add cream, whisk well. Add Bourbon, salt, and vanilla. Pour into bowl and chill. Pour into piping bag, if desired.

Make the sour cream whipped cream: In a stand mixer with the wire whip attachment, whip cream and stabilizer until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, brown sugar, Bourbon, and vanilla bean paste. Whip sour cream mixture in with whipped cream. Place mixture in a large star tipped piping bag. Chill until ready to use.

To make garnish: melt chocolate in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals. Pour melted chocolate into piping bag with writing tip. Snip tip and pipe chocolate in daisy shapes onto wax paper. Place in fridge to harden.

To plate: drizzle caramel decoratively on plate. Place 1 tart on end of drizzle, top center of tart with more caramel, 1 large dollop of cream on top, and dots of whipped cream on the drizzle as well. Garnish with the chocolate daisy and serve.

Now, if that recipe is a bit daunting, this one is so simple, anyone can’t make it:

Lauren’s Thanksgiving Faux Pecan Pie

1 prepared deep dish pie crust or homemade dough for single deep dish pie crust, unbaked

For the Filling:
4 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted Challenge Butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons Rodelle pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Bourbon
1/3 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet Chocolate chips

For the Pretzel topping:
1-1/2 cups crushed thin twist or wheel shaped pretzels (I like to still have bigger bits of pretzels in there!)
3 tablespoons unsalted Challenge Butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. I use the convection setting on my oven with great results.
Press pie crust into deep dish pie dish (I love Pyrex for the see-through and sturdy aspect of it). Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all filling ingredients except for the chocolate chips. Whisk well until smooth. Sprinkle chocolate chips onto the unbaked pie crust and evenly arrange across the bottom. Pour pie filling over top until about 1/4 inch from the top of the crust.
In a small bowl or bag, combine the Pretzel topping ingredients and toss them together well to coat. Sprinkle mixture on top of pie filling evenly. Bake for 45-55 minutes, covering with foil if top browns faster than the bottom. Pie is done when crust is golden brown and center is set but still has some give to it when pressed.
Let cool completely. Can be done up to 2 days ahead and stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

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Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out Rodelle Vanilla and “Like” or follow to enter my product giveaway!

Salted Caramel Apple Rugelach

Rosh Hashanah is coming soon, and luckily it is a bit late this year.  I always appreciate the years that I don’t have to pull my kids out of school on the 1st or 2nd day of the school year.  So, since I have a bit of free time on my hands (ha!), here is a little recipe that I created as a mash-up of my 2 favorite recipes from The Great Holiday Baking Show last year- my Rugelach and my Salted Bourbon Raisin Caramel Apple Pie.  I will be teaching a group of women this recipe in Massachussetts next week and can’t wait to share this one!

Many people are intimidated by making rugelach from scratch, and it really needn’t be daunting.  I like making this simple, quick dough in the food processor.  It really only takes a minute to throw together.  First, add your flour, powdered sugar, and salt to the processor and pulse to combine.  Then add cubed cold butter and cream cheese to the mixture.  Process and pulse until a coarse consistency dough forms, and starts to pull away from the edges of the bowl (3rd photo).  Divide dough into 2 balls.  Roll out each dough ball into a thin, 9 inch circle.  I like to do this between 2 well floured pieces of wax paper or parchment.  Stash discs in the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes, but even overnight is fine.

Now, the filling:  You can definitely make your own caramel, like I did on the show.  This Bourbon caramel was Mary Berry’s favorite thing I made (I think).  She kept coming back between shots and grabbing a spoonful of it!

So, the alternative to making caramel is buying a good quality salted caramel from a jar.  That is what I did today.  Smuckers makes a nice, affordable one.

In a small food processor, combine nuts (optional), caramel, and apple butter.  Add a tablespoon of bourbon.  Process well until smooth and spreadable.  You will see fine bits of nuts, and that is okay.  Spread 1/2 filling in a very thin layer with an offset spatula, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge.  Repeat with other dough disc and the rest of the filling.

Now, I like to divide this into 12 wedges.  You could do 16, if you would rather have smaller cookies, or 8 if you want to have large ones.  Here is how I cut my rugelach, using a pizza wheel.

Then, I roll each wedge up as if it were a crescent roll.  Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown at edges.

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Now you have some options.  You could just sprinkle these with powdered sugar and call it a day.  Or you could make a caramel drizzle.  Here’s how you do it:

Combine powdered sugar, a bit of your caramel (homemade or store bought), some salt, and thin it with milk or cream until it is a thick drizzling consistency.  If too thin, add more sugar.  If too thick, add more cream.  Easy peasy!  Now, transfer the mixture to a ziptop bag, snip the very edge of cone corner, and drizzle over the cooled rugelach.

Voila!  At this point, you could sprinkle with a little sea salt (very sparingly) or even sprinkle a bit more chopped nuts.  Really, whatever you want works.  Enjoy!

Salted Caramel Apple Rugelach

For the dough:

1 cup flour, plus additional for dusting
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cream cheese, cold
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
honey-bourbon caramel (optional, or buy salted caramel from a jar):
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons butter, sliced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons bourbon
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For filling (per 2 rounds):
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, finely ground
1/2 cup apple butter
1/4 cup of prepared caramel (from recipe above or jar)

For icing drizzle:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup caramel (from recipe above or jar)
1-2 tablespoons milk or cream to thin to desired consistency

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make the dough, combine flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a large food processor. Pulse to combine. Add cold butter and cream cheese to processor, and pulse until dough begins to form a ball and pull away from sides. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Sprinkle parchment paper and top of dough with approximately 1 tablespoon of flour each, to prevent sticking. Roll out both dough balls to 9 inch diameter circles. Leave on parchment and place in fridge until firm. Can be done ahead.

To make the caramel sauce, in a medium-sized saucepan, bring sugar, water, and honey to a simmer without stirring. Let mixture boil until it becomes caramel in color. Immediately turn off heat and whisk in butter, vigorously. Add cream, bourbon, and salt. Whisk well until smooth. Set aside in clean bowl. Can be done ahead and refrigerated. Prepared salted caramel sundae topping can also be used, if desired. Just add 1-2 tablespoons of bourbon if using jarred caramel.

To make the filling: Combine all filling ingredients, mixing in a small bowl with whisk or spoon or process in a small food processor.  Divide, using half to spread on top of each dough round.

To assemble: Spread chilled dough with a thin layer of the filling, leaving a 1/4 inch border around the edge. Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut dough in quarters. Then, cut each quarter into thirds. Starting at the outer edge, roll each triangle into the center to form the rugelach. Place on parchment lined baking sheet at least 2 inches apart.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden at edges. Let cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the icing drizzle ingredients, adding milk until desired consistency is achieved. Place in a piping bag or plastic zippered bag and snip one corner with scissors. Drizzle in back and forth motion across cooled rugelach.
Let dry for 10-15 minutes to set icing.

Mayan Spiced Chocolate Chewies (for Passover and beyond)

I have a strict rule about Passover desserts:  One should never try to make cakes or cookies with matzo meal or any of it’s derivatives.  They always taste like matzo and the bondage of my people, rather than dessert.  I am only partly kidding, people, so please don’t try to convince me that you made a delicious Passover cake with matzo cake meal.  You didn’t.  So, my approach to Passover baking is to instead choose desserts that are flourless by nature, like pavlovas, flourless chocolate torte, and macarons/macaroons.  These Mayan Spiced Chocolate Chewies are a spicy variation on the popular gluten-free favorite that can be found at Whole Foods.  The spices were inspired by another old favorite of mine the “Mayan Mystery Cookie,”  which is a well-known recipe that has been circulating for a while.  My version is a bit more interesting with warm spices and lots of ginger.  Of course, if you like the original or are serving kids, feel free to omit all the spices and the crystallized ginger.  These cookies are made in one bowl, quick, easy, gluten-free, can be dairy free, Parve, nut-free, and very low in fat.  Enjoy!

First you want to sift your powdered sugar and cocoa into the bowl of your mixer (you can definitely use an electric hand mixer).  Add your dry spices at this point, if using.  Give it a mix on low, just to combine.  Then, just add your egg whites and vanilla.  Mix on medium speed for ablout a minute.  Fold in chocolate chips and minced ginger by hand, if using.

This is the crystallized ginger that I minced.  It is optional, and only suggested if you are a ginger lover or hosting adults only.  Kids tend to think it is too spicy.  I like to cut it with kitchen shears.image

Drop by tablespoonful onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until set and shiny on top and still a bit soft in the center.

Let cool completely and peel off of parchment.  Happy baking and Happy Pesach!

Mayan Spiced Chocolate Chewies

Parve, perfect for Passover, gluten-free/dairy-free/nut-free diets, and for all year round.

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (find the Kosher for Passover variety)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Small pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup egg whites (approximately 3 large eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (parve and K for P variety)
2 tablespoons crystallized or candied ginger, finely minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine powdered sugar, cocoa, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. Mix on low to combine.
Add in egg whites and vanilla, mixing well for 1 minute on medium speed, scraping down sides of bowl. Fold in chocolate chips and minced ginger (if using). Spoon by the tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 12-14 minutes until tops are set and shiny. Let cool for 10 minutes on parchment. Peel cookies off parchment and serve or store in airtight container.

Gingersnap White Chocolate Granola with Chia and Dates (Nut-Free)

So, I am not really known for my self control around baked goods.  I can usually hold it together and only eat 1 or 2 servings of whatever I have made, occasionally sneaking a third in my closet, if it is really good.  However, I do have a weak spot for granola, and this white chocolate granola totally owned me.  Like, to the point that I had to promise myself that I would never make it again.  It was that good.

I am not going to pretend that granola is health food, like so many bloggers before me.  Yes, it has oats, dried fruit, seeds, etc…  It is very energy dense, which is great if you are a marathoner, or hiking or weightlifting a lot.  For the rest of us, let’s just say that it is delicious and leave it at that…

This actually was intended to be a teacher’s gift for Appreciation Week at our school.  Let’s just say that some of it actually made it to the teachers, and that it was difficult for me to part ways with it.  It would make a fantastic holiday teacher gift or brunch treat with some good yogurt.  You could even give it as a housewarming or hostess gift.  Pretty much anyone would be happy with it, I think.  Here’s how I threw it together with random stuff I had in my pantry:

First I mixed together the oats, sunflower seeds, chia, crushed gingersnaps, salt, spices, and chopped medjool dates (you could add the dates after the baking, if you want them to remain super moist).

white chocolate granola ingredients

Next, in a measuring cup, combine 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup maple syrup and/ or honey (I used about 1/2 and 1/2 of both), vanilla extract, and a heaping 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  I microwaved the whole shebang in a few 30 second increments, stirring in between until the sugar was dissolved.

white chocolate granola syrup

Pour the the wet mixture over the dry and mix well, until everything is coated.

white chocolate granola mixed

Pour this all out onto a parchment or non-stick foil lined baking sheet.

white chocolate granola on baking sheet

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stir, and return to oven for 10 minutes.  Stir again, and bake in 5 minute increments, repeating if necessary, until the mixture is golden brown but still a bit moist.  Be careful not to burn it, and do not wait until mixture is completely dry.  This will crisp up after cooling.

white chocolate granola after baking
After baking.

See, it will crisp and clump when it is cool, and only then…

white chocolate granola complete

When it is completely cool, add white chocolate chips, and if you chose to wait to add the dates, add those as well.  If you want, dried cherries are delicious in here, as would be toasted nuts (if you are not allergic).  I wanted to keep this free of nuts for my family, but feel free to customize it with whatever you like.  I ended up adding some minced crystallized ginger, as well.  Place in a ziplock bag or in pretty treat bags, tied with ribbons and enjoy!

white chocolate granola with toppings

P.s. I highly recommend this white chocolate granola served atop tart cherry or pumpkin Noosa yogurt or Stonyfield “Oh My Yog” in gingered pear or apple-cinnamon.

p.p.s.  Feel free to leave out the chia, the dates, or the crystallized ginger.   I would highly recommend that you leave at least some white chocolate in there, because as we discussed before, this is not a health food anyway….live a little!

p.p.p.s.  If you leave out the gingersnaps (or use gluten free ones), this would be gluten free.  This is assuming you used gluten free oats and all of your other ingredients were gluten free, of course.

Gingersnap White Chocolate Granola

  • 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (or could sub pepitas)
  • 1/4 cups chia seeds
  • 3/4 cup Gingersnap cookies, crushed (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice blend
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup medjool dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used canola, but vegetable or melted coconut oil would work)
  • 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup (or a combo of both works well)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark, your choice)
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips (give or take, depending on what you like)
  • 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I used 325 convection).  In a large bowl, mix oats, all seeds, Gingersnaps, spices, salt, and dates.

In a large measuring cup, combine oil, honey and/or maple syrup, vanilla, and brown sugar.  Whisk together.  Microwave by 30 second intervals, watching carefully.  When mixture bubbles at edges and sugar is melted, pour over dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly to coat.

On a large, parchment-lined baking sheet, spread granola out into a thin, even layer.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Stir mixture and return to oven for 10 minutes.  Stir again.  Return to oven for 5 minute intervals, stirring in between, until mixture is golden brown, but still a bit moist in the center.  Cool completely.

Break up any large clumps into a zip top bag.  Add white chocolate, minced ginger, and cherries, if desired.  Serve or store in a air-tight container or bag.  Great as a cereal, ice cream or yogurt topping, gifting, or for snacking.

*Mine only lasted 2 days, but I would imagine it would keep for a week or more.  Good luck with it not disappearing sooner, though.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Hamantaschen…and Bonus Hot Cocoa Variation

I am pretty much a purist when it comes to Hamantaschen, which are definitely near the top of my list of favorite Jewish holiday treats.  The flavor I crave is very specific- Poppyseed filling (mohn) with a buttery-lemony flavored dough that is both crisp and tender.  However, I am seeing a whole bunch of fancy, non-traditional flavors popping up all over lately.  I started dreaming up ideas, only to discover that they had been done already.  Apple pie…done.  Cheese Danish….done.  The following Chocolate-covered Cherry Hamantaschen was my brain child, and after a pretty thorough search, I don’t think they exist yet: )  Here’s to trying something new!

For those of you new to the world of Hamantaschen, they are triangular shaped cookies traditionally eaten on Purim.  Purim is a fun holiday where Jews dress up in costume and retell the story of Mordechai, Haman, Queen Esther, and King Ahashueros (Ahashveros).  There are good guys, bad guys, a bit of drinking, near death for all, and a happy ending.  It is a great time.  Please look up the holiday for better details, as I didn’t mean to get into that here…  However, the cookies are meant to represent Haman’s (the bad guy’s) hat or more literally and disturbingly…his ears.  Hmmm, yum?  But they are good, really!

First cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and baking powder together in your mixer.  A hand mixer will work fine, as well.  Add in your egg, and beat until well combined.

Hamantaschen dough

Then add your flour and cocoa powder.  Mix until a thick dough forms.  Do not over mix.

Hamantaschen dough with Cocoa

Form dough into a disk and cover in plastic.  Stash in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Hamantaschen dough in a disk

In the meantime, line your pans with parchment.  I love these new “cookie sheets” by Reynold’s.  So easy!

Raynold's cookie sheets

Get your fillings en place.  Although I am making chocolate covered cherry flavor, I can’t just leave it at one, so I have other accoutrements at the ready.

Hamantaschen filling material

I dust the counters lightly with powdered sugar when making any type of roll out sugar cookie.  I find that it makes re-rolls work out better, and doesn’t add a heavy over-floured feel.

Hamantaschen dough rolled out

Roll out dough to 1/8 inch.

Hamantaschen dough 1/8 inch thick

Cut out circles or fluted circles, approximately 2 1/2″, but can be made smaller or larger as desired.

cutting the Hamantaschen dough

Line up circles on parchment.

Hamantaschen circles on parchment

Fill each circle with 3 cherries, no more, no less.  A couple of years ago, I learned that there is an actual proper way to fold Hamantaschen, which involves folding each edge over the edge next to it, instead of pinching together.  Check it out at the bottom of Tori Avey’s genius post here.

a perfectly folded Hamantaschen

Here is a triple chocolate version I am making for my daughter who is not a fan of cherries…or cooked fruit in general.  But that is a story for another day.

triple chocolate hamantaschen

After filling and folding all the cuties, bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.  You can see how well most of my cookies stayed together, but I did have one renegade.  There is always one….

baked hamantaschen

This is what you are going for!

the finished hamantaschen

Let cool completely.  Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between.  Drizzle, dunk, or dollop cookies with chocolate.  I tried all three methods, and I settled on dollops.

chocolate sauce for the hamantaschen

Here is a finished cookie.  I feel that it would be lovely with chopped walnuts sprinkled on top, but we are nut-free, so that is a no-go.

hamantaschen with Chocolate sauce

My hot chocolate version was adorable, if I do say so, though!  They are filled with mini-mallow bits (the kind in a canister that don’t puff when heated), then topped with more chocolate and marshmallows.  You could totally fill these with anything you want- Peanut Butter, caramel, jams, white chocolate, etc….

hot chocolate hamantaschen

Have fun!

Chocolate Covered Cherry Hamantaschen

For the dough:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (or margarine, if pareve is desired)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

For filling and topping:

  • 1 can cherry pie filling (or make your own, like I did)
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and baking powder until fluffy.  Add in egg, mixing well to combine.  Mix flour and cocoa powder, and add to mixer.  Starting on lowest speed, mix just until stiff dough comes together.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 1 day.  Let dough come back to room temperature before rolling.

Sprinkle work surface with powdered sugar.  Roll out dough to 1/8 inch.  Using round cookie cutters, cut out as many rounds as possible.  Can re-roll scraps once, if necessary.  Place rounds onto parchment.

Place three cherries in the center of each round.  Fold dough into a triangle around the filling, pinching points together gently.  If dough is a tad crumbly (from being cold or too much powdered sugar), just pinch together and it will still work when baked.  Bake for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14).  Cookies will still be slightly soft when hot, but will firm up as they cool.  Cool completely.

Melt chocolate in microwave safe bowl by 30 second intervals, stirring in between.  Dollop approximately 1 teaspoon melted chocolate over top of filling triangle in center. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired.  Let chocolate set up at room temperature or in fridge, and serve.

* for hot cocoa variation, stuff each cookie circle with chocolate chips and mallow bits.  Do not use mini-marshmallows, as they will puff when baked!  Bake and top with melted chocolate and more mallow bits.  Enjoy!

Simple Valentine’s Day Treat- Dark Chocolate Brigadeiros

My oldest child, my only daughter is turning 11 in a few days.  At the cusp of her tween years, she already acts like a full-fledged tween.  We are having our first sleepover for more than just one or two kids- 6 girls…  I am bracing myself for impact already. Darby (my card carrying tween and resident chocoholic) has requested one thing in her birthday “retainer”, and that is a giant plate of Brazilian Brigadeiros.  I had made them as part of a giant dessert table at her 9th birthday, and apparently she has been dreaming about them ever since.

Darbys 9th birthday party table
Darby’s 9th birthday dessert table. Ooh-la-la!

Brigadeiros are truly the stuff of dreams.  Rich, chocolates, buttery, and chewy- They kind of remind me of a cross between a gooey caramel and a chocolate tootsie roll, only softer and coated in sprinkles.

Luckily for me (and you), Brigadeiros are super simple and inexpensive to make, and are the PERFECT Valentine’s Day treat for your sweetheart(s).  Forget the box of $50 chocolate truffles.  A homemade gift that looks impressive and tastes like you slaved over it, will be much more appreciated.  Plus, they are Brazilian, which makes you seems worldly and sophisticated.  Nuff said.

Start with 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, 4 tablespoons “good quality” dark cocoa powder (in Brazil, they use milk chocolate powder, but this is my version!), and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Ingredients for our Brigadeiros

I used Cacao Barry Extra Brute, but any dark cocoa powder will do.  This delicious and useful stuff is available on Amazon, if you are interested.

Cacao Barry Extra Brute for our Brigadeiros

Then you just whisk this mixture continuously, and I do mean don’t step away, for 12-15 minutes on Medium-low heat until mixture thickens dramatically and starts to pull away from the sides when whisked.  It will get slightly hard to wisk (great arm workout!) toward the end.  Mixture will firm up more once cooled.

Whisk the Brigadeiros

Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract off the heat, and whisk again.  Remove the mixture to separate bowl and stash in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

The finished mixture for our Brigadeiros

Next, once the mixture is cool enough to touch (might still be slightly warm), scoop tablespoon balls of the chocolatey goodness.  Roll each ball in any type of sprinkle you like…Coconut, nuts, or cocoa powder would also work (but we are nut-free around here).  I usually roll them again in my hands after the sprinkles go on, just to make them perfectly round.

The Brigadeiros should be perfectly round balls

These were the sprinkles I used.  That is it!  Easy as can be.  Serve them in little mini-cupcake liners.  Adorable.  You can store them covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

The Brigadeiros are finished

Beautiful Brazillian Brigadeiros

Latke Trials: My Search For the Ultimate Latke

I have decided to run latke experiments this Chanukah, for the betterment of mankind.  Out of the goodness of my heart, I will suffer through plate after plate of latkes this week.  I know, it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.  I will take one for the team here.

UPDATE: After just finishing this post, I really want to stress to you the importance of trying my third latke recipe at the end.  It was the best, IMHO…and my family agreed.

Latke Trial 1:

I normally make the shredded latke, so I opted to do something a tad different here.  I wanted to make the creamy centered, crisp lacey edged variety of latke that some of my friends make.  I opted to try to bind them with my usual eggs and to try rice flour in lieu of my usual all-purpose flour or matzo meal.  I really enjoyed the results, but I will add a bit of baking powder just to lighten them a bit on my next trial.

Pro: gluten free, easy to make, no annoying grating, quick clean up, crisp Lacey texture, creamy center, perfect round shape.

Cons:  my family missed their usual shreds, slightly dense center texture when not perfectly fresh out of the oil.

Latke Trials Latke 1 in the mixing bowl

Latke Trials Latke 1 in the pan

Latke Trials Latke 1 ready to serve

Lacey Latkes (Gluten Free)

  • 2 medium-large Russet potatoes
  • 1 medium onion (white or yellow, non-sweet variety)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Vegetable or canola oil for frying

Cut potatoes and onion into small pieces.  Pulse many times in a food processor until the texture of thick applesauce.  Add the eggs, rice flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Pulse to combine.

Heat a large skillet (or 2, like I do) over medium heat with about 1/4 inch of oil.  When oil is hot, add spoonfuls of the batter to the hot oil, leaving about an inch between latkes.  Wait until edges are a deep golden brown to flip.  Flip and remove to drain on paper towels when browned on both sides.  Keep warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve.  Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce.

Latke Trial 2:

Okay, night two, and all the surfaces in my kitchen have the subtle, sticky sheen of oil upon them. Oy vey! Time to recap my second experiment. I thought these were pretty delicious, but my daughter was appalled that I put a little bit of scallion in them, because G-d forbid she consume anything green. So help me.

The idea behind these latkes was to combine the first latke for the creamy center, but to add some shreds for texture. I became consumed with the idea that the shreds would not cook in the center, so I opted to make them very fine shreds. This might have been a mistake, because they were not much different than the first ones, though definitely a slight improvement.

I shredded one potato on a microplane style fine grater.

Latke Trial 2 Micro Shredded potatoes

Then I made my purée of potato, onion, egg, rice flour, baking powder and salt.  I added about 1/2 tablespoon of A-P flour, because I just can’t leave well enough alone….

Latke Trial 2 Ingredients

I dropped in some pepper and sliced scallions this time, but never again…It lead to what I now call “Scallion-gate”.  We will never speak of it hence forth.

Mixed the shreds with the puree and fried the babies up.  Eureka!

Latke Trial 2 ready to serve

I really loved these!  My son was totally into them.  My hubby is totally over the latke experiment, as it is ruining his low-carb diet.  Oops!  Finally, my daughter took one bite, saw green, and freaked the hell out.  So, mixed reviews…

Crisp and Creamy Latkes

  • 2 russet potatoes
  • 1 large cooking onion
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup rice flour or AP flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon All Purpose flour (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced (if you dare)
  • oil for frying- I used vegetable oil

Cut 1 potato and onion into smaller pieces.  Place pieces in blender (if you have a vitamix) or food processor.  Blend into puree with egg, salt, baking powder, flours.  Pour into a bowl and fold in pepper and scallions.

Grate remaining potato with a medium microplane grater.  It will take a while-sorry! Next, mix potato shreds into the puree mixture.

Heat oil over medium to medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Drop around a tablespoon into the hot oil to form latkes, being careful not to crowd the pan.  Flip when edges become a deep golden brown.  When both sides are completely brown, remove latkes to drain on paper towels.  Keep warm in a 250 degree oven, if not serving immediately.  Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce.

On deck is my classic shredded recipe, but I think I want to play with a small amount of the puree still.  I can’t give up the idea of mixing…

Latke Trial 3:

The shredded, but with a twist.  These are a tad more involved than my usual shredded potato latke.  I am trying to combine both types of latkes, plus add some bread crumbs (because I don’t happen to have matzo meal on hand). I read an article yesterday about how using flour creates a gummy texture, and how matzo meal is the way to go.  It supposedly binds without becoming mush.  I am deciding to substitute bread crumbs, because A. I am not a fan of matzo meal and B. I think it should have the same effect.

I decided to split the difference with the shreds vs. puree.  I am puree-ing 1/2 of one potato and 1/2 of the onion with the regular blade in my food processor for these.  Then, I switched the blade and shredded the rest of the potatoes (1 1/2).  I then decided to chop the remaining 1/2 onion for texture and more of an onion hit.

Latke Trial 3 shredded potaotes

Then I added 1/4 cup bread crumbs,1/2 teaspoon baking powder,  1 tablespoon potato starch, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 whole egg, plus 1 egg white.

Latke Trial 3 in the frying pan

I decided to do three things differently during frying.  1.  I used about double the oil to ensure complete 360 degree crispness.  2. I made them a bit thicker than usual.  3. I resisted the urge to press them down.

Perfection In Latke Form

Perfection In Latke Form

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-large russet potatoes, do not peel
  • 1 large cooking onion
  • 1 whole egg and 1 egg white
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs, matzo meal, or cracker meal
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • Canola or vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, puree 1/2 of 1 potato and 1/2 onion until the texture of thick apple sauce.  
  2. Switch blades to the shredder disk.  
  3. Shred remaining 1 1/2 potatoes.  
  4. Chop remaining onion.  
  5. Put everything into a large mixing bowl.  
  6. Add egg and egg white, salt, pepper, baking powder, bread crumbs, and potato starch.  
  7. Stir well.  
  8. As mixture sits, liquid will collect. Just stir liquid back into mixture before scooping for latkes.
  9. Heat 1/2 inch oil to 360-375 degrees in a large skillet.  
  10. Scoop about 3 tablespoons latke mixture into oil.  
  11. Do not press down (can gently flatten just the top a bit).  
  12. Let cook until the edges turn a deep golden brown.  
  13. Flip and cook on the other side until browned and crisp all around.  
  14. Drain on paper towels.
  15. Serve immediately with apple sauce and/or sour cream.
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*Just finished eating these, and they were literally the best latkes ever!  I am pretty sure I just revolutionized my latke technique for life.  Try them and let me know what you think.

P.S.  I know some of you like to hand grate, but I actually think that the food processor does a better job and comes out crispier with less damage to the potato shreds’ cellular integrity (that sounds so scientific- not even sure if it is a thing).  Feel free to do this recipe with a hand grater, if desired.

P.P.S.  I also realized that the latke style you grew up with will always be your favorite.  There is a certain comfort food nostalgia that latkes bring about in people.  I am pretty sure that there are as many perfect latkes as there are Jewish people in the world, and that is just the way it should be.  Happy frying!

Thanksgiving Dinner – Tips and Tricks for a Stress-Free Holiday Meal

I make a kick-ass Thanksgiving Dinner.  Not being egotistical, because it is just a fact.  Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks to make your Thanksgiving extra special….at least the food part!  You are on your own when it comes to dealing with your in-laws, but well-fed relatives are usually less confrontational, right?

Great things to make ahead of time and when to make them:

Way ahead: only things that can be frozen or canned like jams, jellies, apple butter, quick breads that freeze well, and homemade stock….I have herb scones in the freezer right now!  Some pies freeze well, too.  I am not a huge fan of freezing things, but sometimes it must be done.

2-3 days ahead:  cranberry sauce, cookies, prep work like compound butters (see my last post!), soups, and brining.

1 day ahead: mashed potatoes (see tip about reheating later!), stuffing, carrot soufflé or sweet potato souffle, pies, cakes, casseroles, dips, and you can even do your turkey ahead (but would rather you not!).  Also, set the table, but only if you don’t have kids; )

Thanksgiving day:  make the turkey (or duck, or goose, or ham, or turducken?), gravy, rolls or breads (unless frozen in advance), and vegetables (unless in a casserole), salads, cut fruit and veggies for crudités, and reheat everything.

Cooking tips

Mashed potatoes:  Use Yukon Gold potatoes (also called Butter Potatoes) for the richest, best mashed potatoes.

Start them in cold, well salted water then bring to a boil.  Do not cut them super small, as they will become water logged.  If you do not salt your water, no amount of salt added later will make the potatoes taste good.

For the love of everything holy, do NOT over whip them!  They will become gluey, and then there is not much you can do.  This happened to me last year, and I am still bitter about it.  Use a hand masher or ricer, and you should be fine.

Use plenty of butter and cream.  I like to steep herbs and garlic in the warm cream and butter mixture, which I later remove before adding to the potatoes.  This is not the time for skim milk.  Sour cream is fine, though!

If making potatoes ahead, add a little extra cream and butter on top before reheating.  This will prevent a skin from forming on top and make the potatoes perfect!

Thanksgiving Potatos in the Pot

 

Herb infused cream and butter.
Herb infused cream and butter.
Mashed Potatoes with Herb Infused Cream
Mashed potatoes ready to be stored in the fridge for tomorrow. The cream and butter on top will prevent a crust from forming.

Stuffing or Dressing:  Make your own!  It is not hard.  Just sauté veggies in butter, add herbs, stale or toasted bread cubes, stock, and voila.

Thanksgiving Dinner Stuffing ingredients being sauted

Thanksgiving dinner stuffing complete

To make ahead and reheat, just pour a small amount of stock and dot with butter on top and reheat slowly in the oven.

DO NOT stuff the bird with the stuffing.  By the time the stuffing is cooked through and safe to eat, your bird will be way over cooked.

Stuffing muffins are one of my favorite ways to serve stuffing.  Everyone gets a pre-portioned stuffing ball with some crispy top and soft center!

Thanksgiving Dinner Stuffing Muffins

Turkey

Use a meat thermometer or digital probe thermometer that alerts you when your Turkey is cooked through.  Insert thermometer into the center of the Breast meat- careful not to touch a bone!  Do not rely on pop-up thermometers that come with some birds.

ONLY stuff a turkey with aromatics such as herbs, lemon, onion, garlic, oranges, apples, etc…  Do not stuff with dressing, as I said before.  Your bird will cook faster and be moist and delicious.

DO use a high heat first method, such as Alton Brown’s Turkey Recipe.

Also, slather your bird under the skin with a compound butter (see my previous blog entry.  A little canola oil on top, salt and pepper will make a nice crispy brown skin.

Feel free to brine your bird if you have the space in the fridge and time, but if you want to save on that, buy a pre-brined or a Kosher Turkey.  Anyone who keeps kosher knows that these turkeys are already brined for you and are the tastiest birds around!

When reheating your turkey (because it is almost impossible to serve a hot turkey and hot side dishes at the same time unless you have 5 ovens), slice turkey, and lay it in a large baking pan in one layer.  Add a little stock over all the turkey, cover and heat in the oven on a fairly low temperature until warmed through.  The turkey will be very moist from the stock!

Pie crust

Feel free to make them from scratch, and more power to you if you do.  However, there is no shame in buying premade crusts, especially if you are doing the bulk of the cooking.  It saves a lot of time and effort, and let’s face it, pie is still fantastic either way.  Never seen anyone turn down a pie, because the crust was store bought.  I like the ones you unroll and place in your own pie tin.

Use pie shields instead of messing with foil to prevent your crusts from burning. Another tip is to bake pies at a slightly lower temperature for a longer amount of time.  I really like baking pies at 375 degrees, because the crusts don’t burn easily that way.

Lastly, because I have to go make some pie-

Pumpkin pies-  Every pumpkin pie has some form of milk product, but which is the best?  It is really a matter of personal preference, but I have conducted an exhaustive search to find which I like best over the past few years.  I have tried heavy cream, half and half, condensed milk, and evaporated milk.  IMHO evaporated milk is the best tasting, because the pumpkin really shines through and there is a lighter consistency to the filling.  The heavier creams (and I am usually such a fan!) muddle the flavors of the spices and pumpkin for me.  My second favorite would be the condensed milk, which leads to a richer, denser consistency that is also great!

Thanksgiving Dinner Pumpkin Pie

General tips for Thanksgiving Dinner:

1. Be careful and aware of the food allergies your guests might have.  If your recipe has nuts in it, please disclose that information!  If you sneak oysters into your stuffing, make sure nobody has a shellfish allergy and so on…

2.  Keeping a list of what needs to be done, reheated, and when you plan on doing those things is very helpful.  I generally write a menu, a to-do list, and a schedule of when I will make and heat things.  It helps tremendously.

3.  Clean as you go.  ‘Nuf said.

4.  Do some of the work ahead of time, if possible.

5.  Enlist your children or family members to do easier jobs like setting the table, peeling potatoes, cutting the ends of the green beans, etc…

Thanksgiving Dinner Children Helping

Thanksgiving Dinner Children Love to Help!

6.  Experiment with one or two recipes that might be out of the box creative, but keep most things fairly traditional.  That curried, pretzel crusted turkey from the cover of Bon Appetite might not please everyone in your family.  People want the food that brings back memories of Thanksgivings past and the comforting flavors of childhood.

7.  No need to go over the top with decorations.  The food is beautiful enough, and centerpieces usually get moved aside.

8.  Do have activities ready for the children to work on while waiting for the meal.

What tips and tricks do you know?  Please leave me a comment with helpful hints or recipes that make your Thanksgiving special!  Hope this was helpful.

Thanksgiving Quickie – Herbed Compound Butter

Since I am in the midst of my favorite time of the year, my Super Bowl of cooking as it were…I am kind of pressed for time.  I am making a million complicated, delicious things that I won’t get a chance to blog about.  However, sometimes it is the simplest thing that really makes all if those other dishes sing. For me, that simple thing is compound butter.

You can pretty much add or subtract whatever you want.  I generally make a sweet version for spreading on rolls and sweet bread (think Cranberry bread with honey-orange butter), but I want to talk about the savory one I make every year:

I rub this stuff on everything, and it makes everything delicious.  Look, I know butter isn’t a diet food, but if you can’t enjoy copious amounts of butter on Thanksgiving, then why bother?  I stuff it under the skin on my turkey, then slather it over the outside.  I will probably use it as the base of my stuffing, to sauté the vegetables before adding the bread.  You could even add it to the warm cream instead of plain butter to make a delicious herbed mashed potato. Smear it on bread, sauté your green beans in it, melt it on your Brussels sprouts or carrots…You get the idea.

First, throw a garlic clove and a shallot in the food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Then take some room temperature salted butter (if using unsalted, just add some salt!) and throw it in the food processor! too.  Add herbs of your choice- I used chopped fresh thyme, sage, rosemary, and parsley.  Then process it up!  Roll it up in a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate until you need it.  Let it come to room temp if you are smearing on Turkey or turducken.  Voila!  Thanksgiving Magic.

compound butter in the blender

compound butter on the plastic wrap

compound butter ready to be refridgerated

P.s. My secret new favorite thing is to add room temperature brie to the mix.  Delicious on roast chicken, too!  Shhh, don’t tell

Herbed Compound Butter Recipe

Herbed Compound Butter Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 shallot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
  • Large handful of herbs (any combination you like)
  • 4 ounces brie cheese (optional variation), at room temperature

Instructions

  1. Add shallot and garlic to a food processor and pulse until finely minced.
  2. Throw in the butter, herbs, and brie (if using).
  3. Process until well blended.
  4. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
  5. Let come to room temperature before using in a thousand delicious ways.
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