Happy Holidays!

How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was good… Surrounded by loved ones, delicious food and sweet-tooth satisfying desserts. Of course, I did my fair share of baking… Key Lime Pie, Pumpkin-Brownie Swirl Pie, Pumpkin Pie, a Pumpkin Tiramisu Cake and the below Pear Cranberry Pie, just to name a few things.

 

I’ll admit that I took some major shortcuts when it came to making the crust for this pie. First off, I used a frozen deep dish pie crust as the base and for the lattice pattern I used refrigerated pie crust that I cut into strips to weave and braid and then added a decorative border with leaf cut-outs. I decided to brush the pie with milk prior to baking – I usually use an egg, but, after all of the baking I did I was feeling lazy and didn’t feel like cracking and whisking an egg – so I made sure to dab a little milk under the leaf border so to that the leaves and the lattice and braided strips would adhere to the crust. One other thing to note, I let the frozen crust sit out at room temperature for a few minutes after filling it so that it would be easier for my top crust stick to it. As for the filling, if you’ve never had pear pie you should definitely try one. For me, pear pie isn’t as sweet as apple pie and while I do bake a lot I actually don’t like things that are overly sweet. If you want the best of both worlds, try this Brown Butter & Vanilla Pear Pie I made last year for Thanksgiving. While the filling consists mainly of pears, there is 1 apple in the mix. As for the recipe for this or, I got it from the premiere issues of Magnolia Journal last year. You can find the recipe here.

Now that Thanksgiving is over I am looking forward to Christmas and New Year’s. I can’t believe how quickly the year has flown by. Fourth of July honestly feels like it was just a few short weeks ago, but, it was more like 5 long months ago. Today marks my three-month anniversary at my new job, oh yeah, I never mentioned that, I got a new job. I was working part-time before but I am now working full-time, which has given me some challenges when it comes to writing blog posts and sometimes baking, but, not really. I can always squeeze in some time for baking.

Next week I will be bringing you my 3rd annual Cookie Palooza… Hopefully you’ll try at least one of the recipes and just maybe it will become one of your staples. One of the cookies is actually one I am planning on making and gifting later this month, oops, later next month – we are still in November. I kind of like that Thanksgiving was early this year. I feel like it cuts down on the panic of realizing that the next set of holidays are just around the corner. Although, I was at Walmart a few weeks ago and seeing people shopping for what seemed like Christmas gifts already had me panicking a bit. Like I was short on time to get things done. Yikes! I have to-do lists everywhere I look.

The second week in December I am bringing you something new… A Holiday Cake Week. The idea came about last year when I never seemed to get the time to post about a Yule Log Cake I made and then some Snickerdoodle Cupcakes I made. So, I figured I would save the write-up for both and create a special week for them this year. Rounding out the five is a Pull-Apart Cupcake Christmas Wreath, a Rum Cake and a Rainbow Cookie Cake. Yum!

So, sit back, enjoy this last month of the year and don’t forget to indulge in some delicious treats. ‘Tis the season!

Slow Cooker Sunday: Maple Cinnamon Pear-Applesauce

I have an abundance of apples from my recent apple picking outing and while I have been enjoying eating them, I decided to use some of them to make a homemade pear-applesauce. Making homemade applesauce is quicker and easier than you may think. And healthier since you can control the level of sweetness. You could also customize the flavors by adding in different fruits (i.e. peaches, mangoes, cranberries) or different spices.

I began by peeling, coring and chopping 2 lbs. each apples (I used red delicious and granny smith) and pears (I used Bartlett). I added the apples along with pure maple syrup, vanilla extract, a cinnamon stick, lemon juice and water to the inset of a slow cooker.

I set it took on low for 4 hours and was left with apples and pears that were perfectly tender for the next step.

I removed the cinnamon stick and using a slotted spoon transferred the apples and pears to the bowl of a food processor. To prevent the sauce from becoming too watery I didn’t add too much of the juices. I then pulsed the mixture to my desired consistency, making sure no large apple or pear chunks remained.

I transferred the pear-applesauce to a container to let it cool and then covered and refrigerated it.

 

Slow Cooker Maple Cinnamon Pear-Applesauce

Ingredients:

2 pounds apples, peeled, cored and chopped

2 pounds pears, peeled, cored and chopped

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

3/4 cup water

Juice from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Combine all of the ingredients in a slow cooker (at least 6 quarts) and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low until the apples and pears are tender, about 4 hours.

Remove the cinnamon stick and transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and pulse until desired consistency. You could also transfer to a large bowl and mash with a potato masher for a chunkier sauce.

Let cool and then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Recipe from Real Simple

If you would prefer to make this on the stove, increase the water amount to a cup and combine all of the ingredients in large pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, about 25 minutes.

For both versions (slow cooker or stove top) you could substitute apple juice for the water.

 

 

 

 

Lemon Mascarpone Crepe Cake

I’ve been wanting to make this Lemon Mascarpone Crepe Cake for over a year now. Somehow it just got away from me last summer and it almost did the same this summer. I truly feel the flavors of this cake are ideal for the summer months. This isn’t my first crepe cake though, last fall I made a Chocolate-Pumpkin Crepe Cake which was quite delish.

Unfortunately this crepe cake wasn’t a hit amongst my friends who tried it. Not because of the taste but because they weren’t keen on the crepes. They agreed that the lemon curd cream filling between the crepes was good but the crepes themselves not so great. Not so much the flavor, but, the texture. Which I can completely understand. Eating a cake of crepes is nothing like eating a fluffy moist cake. I myself enjoyed it, but, I’m a texture person. In other words, I like sprinkles on my ice cream, nuts in brownies and cookies and so forth. Oh well… You can’t always bake something that everyone will rave about.

One thing I have to point out… This very apropos cake stand I used for this cake. It has a glass lemon as the stem between the base and the plate. I got it from a dear friend’s mom a few days before I made this cake and it made making this cake a little more fun!

 

Lemon Mascarpone Crepe Cake

Ingredients:

Lemon Curd*:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cups sugar

1 large egg

3 large egg yolks

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 5 to 6 lemons

 

Crepes:

1 3/4 cup whole milk

4 large eggs

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup flour

6 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

An additional 3 tablespoons of butter to cook the Crepes

 

Assembly:

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

5 ounces mascarpone cheese

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Crushed amaretti cookies, for garnish (optional)**

 

*If you opt to use store bought lemon curd, you will need 1 cup.

**I used Stella D’oro Breakfast Treats

 

Directions:

Lemon Curd: Beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and add the whole egg. Once well combined, gradually add in the egg yolks, then the lemon juice. The mixture may appear curdles. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until cool. You can keep the lemon curd in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

Crepes: Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Once the batter is cold, stir it the batter until smooth again. Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Pour about 1 ounce of batter on the skillet and tilt it to even distribute the batter. Cook until the edges on the crepe turn golden and then carefully flip and cook until just set. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Melt another 1/2 teaspoon of butter and continue cooking the crepes in the same manner. Mix the batter between each crepe. Stack the crepes on top of one another and let cool for 30 minutes. You will have between 16-20 crepes.

Assembly: Beat 1 1/4 cups heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar until soft peaks form. Fold a third of the whipped cream into the lemon curd with a rubber spatula until combined. Then fold the cream-curd mixture into the remaining whipped cream until completely combined.

Place 1 crepe on the center of a cake stand and spread 3 tablespoons of the curd mixture evenly over the crepe. Repeat layering with remaining crepes and curd mixture, ending with a crepe.

Whisk together the remaining cream and confectioners’ sugar with the mascarpone and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Spread the mascarpone cream on the top and the sides of the cake. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes and garnish with crushed cookies before serving.

Recipe from Martha Stewart

Homemade No Churn Coffee-Caramel Ice Cream

It’s the first day of summer and while the day started off rainy the sun has finally made an appearance. Are you ready and excited for the summer? I’ve been doing a good amount of yard work to get my yard ready. It seems like wherever I look there is a weed to pull or a tree/bush to trim back, it just never ends. Summer is synonymous with one of my favorite treats… Ice Cream. Granted, I can eat ice cream in the winter, but, the warmer days are definitely prime time for an ice cream treat. I was racking my brain to think of an ice cream flavor to make but I was coming up empty. I think I have too many things running around in my mind and a slew of mental to-do lists to focus on one thing. And then, just in time, the current issue of Food Network magazine showed up in my mailbox and wouldn’t ya’ know they had 3 recipes for no-churn ice cream. Granted, I do have an ice cream maker, but, the simpler the better sometimes (usually all the time to be honest.) I settled on trying the No Churn Coffee-Caramel Ice Cream. A little disclaimer, the original recipe included toffee chips with I decided to omit.

The prep time for making this ice cream took me less than 10 minutes. In a large bowl I whisked together condensed milk, espresso powder (I used Café Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee), heavy cream and salt until it was smooth. You will have speckles from the espresso powder, don’t worry, once you incorporate the whipped heavy cream the speckles will go away. Speaking of the whipped heavy cream, in another large bowl beat heavy cream on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold half of the whipped cream into the condensed milk mixture until fully combined and then fold in the remaining whipped cream until completely incorporated. I tasted the mixture at this point and it tasted like my favorite coffee flavored ice cream…. YUM! I would have been happy to just put this in the freezer, but, I decided to follow the recipe and added in dulce de leche (a milk-based caramel) and then swirled it in the mixture. I transferred the mixture to a 9×5 metal loaf and dotted the top of the mixture with more dulce de leche. I covered the pan with plastic wrap and then placed it in the freezer.

The next day I enjoyed a scoop or two and it was delish! The coffee and dulce de leche flavor go together so well. I’ll definitely be making this again a few more times during the summer (and winter.)

Looking for more ice cream flavors to try… Check out some of my previous ice cream posts:

Malted S’mores Ice Cream

Blueberry Vanilla Ice Cream

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream

 

No Churn Coffee-Caramel Ice Cream

Ingredients:

3 / 4 cup sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

1 1 / 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Pinch of salt

1 / 3 cup dulce de leche

 

Directions:

In a large bowl whisk together the condensed milk, espresso powder, 1 tablespoon heavy cream and salt.

In a separate large bowl beat the remaining heavy cream with a mixer on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula fold half of the mixture into the condensed milk mixture until combined and then fold in the remaining heavy cream until completely incorporated and no white streaks remain. The color will look like coffee with milk added in.

Dot the mixture with the dulce de leche and using the rubber spatula swirl the dulce de leche into the mixture. Transfer to a 9×5 metal loaf pan and then top with more dulce de leche. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Recipe from Food Network

Lemon Ricotta Bars

So, even after I made the Ricotta Orange Pound Cake I posted about last week, I still had ricotta cheese left-over and I didn’t want to toss it. So, I decided to make Lemon Ricotta Bars. Lemon & ricotta go together so well… If you don’t believe me try making these bars, these pancakes I posted about a few years ago or these cookies I posted right before the holidays last year. All were delish!

Lemon Ricotta Bars

Ingredients:

For the crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (15 crackers)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

1 cup whole-milk ricotta

4 large eggs, beaten

1 1/3 cups sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons lemon zest

2/3 cup lemon juice, from 3 to 4 large lemons

1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9x13x2 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

For the crust: Combine the ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl and mix until moistened. Press the mixture evenly in the prepared pan and about 1/4 inch up the sides of the dish. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until set, and then set aside to cool.

Reduce the oven to 325F.

For the filling: Whisk the ricotta, eggs, sugar and flour in a bowl until well combined. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and salt and blend well. Pour the filling into the crust and bake until filling is firm, about 30 minutes.

Let the pan cool on a wire rack, at least 2 hours. Cut into desired sized bars with a knife, wiping the knife between cuts.

Recipe adapted from Food Network and Food52

Ricotta Orange Pound Cake

I always have a container of ricotta cheese in my fridge just in case I want to make a baked ziti, a cheesecake or something or other. Unfortunately what ends up happening is, it sits in my fridge, I know it’s there, but I don’t get around to using it until it’s about to expire and then I’m scrambling to make something because I don’t want to throw it out. When this recently happened I decided to make something I made a few years ago, but didn’t come out quite right the first time… a Ricotta Orange Pound Cake. This cake has a nice orange taste and is quite moist thanks to the ricotta cheese.

Ricotta Orange Pound Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups cake flour*

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 orange, zested

2 tablespoons amaretto

*If you don’t have cake flour, use this method to substitute with all-purpose flour and cornstarch.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan with butter, or spray with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to blend.

With a mixer, cream together the ricotta cheese, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one. Add the vanilla, zest and amaretto and beat until well combined. Add the dry ingredients, a little at a time, and mix until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 45 to 50 minutes. If you find you need to bake it a little longer, you may want to lower the temperature of the oven to ensure that you don’t burn the cake. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe from Food Network

Homemade Gnocchi In A Mushroom Sauce

I’ve been wanting to make Gnocchi for quite some time. Not really sure why though because I’ve only had it once or twice. I think it’s the challenge of it all… Can I really make it? One thing that was holding me back is that most recipes call for a potato ricer. Something I don’t own and was reluctant to purchase. I went to a couple of stores and couldn’t find one and truthfully didn’t want order one online. I did find a few recipes that said you could mash the potatoes but then I found some recipe reviews that said mashing the potatoes wouldn’t turn out good gnocchi. And then, I found a recipe that used a large hole grater and I was ready to go.

To make the dough I baked 3 medium Russet potatoes at 400 F for about 45 minutes. I let them cool for a few minutes, then peeled them and grated them using the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. I added in a lightly beaten egg and salt and then added in flour, a little at a time, until the dough wasn’t sticky. I then dumped it out on a lightly floured surface and kneaded it.

Next, I divided the dough into 6 smaller balls and rolled out each ball into a rope about 3/4-inch thick.

I then cut the dough into 1-inch pieces.

Once I had rolled out all of the dough and cut it. I boiled them in a pot of well-salted water. I knew the gnocchi was ready once it floated to the surface of the water.

Next, I finished off the gnocchi in a mushroom sauce. And here’s the funny thing about this… the first day it tasted good, the 2nd day it was delicious, but, on the 3rd day not so much. I think by then the gnocchi had absorbed a lot of the sauce and it just turned an odd color and the flavor was off. So, apparently homemade gnocchi is good for 2 days and that’s it.

 

Homemade Gnocchi In A Mushroom Sauce

Ingredients:

Gnocchi:

3 medium Russet potatoes (about 2 lbs.)

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Mushroom Sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup shallots

1 14.5 ounce can low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

5 ounces baby spinach

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

For the Gnocchi:

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork and place on a baking sheet and bake for 45 – 60 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Flip the potatoes halfway through the baking time. Let the potatoes cool slightly.

Peel the potatoes and then grate them over the large holes of a box grated over a large bowl. Add the egg and the salt and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Add the flour to the potatoes, a little at a time, using only as much as you need so the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. When the flour has been incorporated dump it and any remaining floury bits onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough. Press down and away with the heel of your hands, fold the dough over, make a quarter turn and repeat. Knead for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and then divide into 6 smaller balls. Using your fingertips roll each ball into a rope about 3/4-inch thick and cut into 1-inch pieces.

To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the gnocchi in batches. Once it rises to the surface remove from the water and set aside on a baking sheet.

For the Mushroom Sauce:

Cook the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter begins to brown. Add the mushrooms and shallots and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth and parsley; simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the gnocchi and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and stir until wilted.

Divide among bowls and drizzle with parmesan cheese.

Gnocchi Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Mushroom Sauce adapted from Epicurious