Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

Remember way back when in September when I flew to Oklahoma to visit my sister and meet my very first nephew?  Well that was awhile ago and so were these pots de creme.  The trip included more than a mess of babies, diapers, crying and naps.  We also managed to get a few new recipes in.  And even though September in Oklahoma is still 99 degrees, Fall bug had hit me and the thought of the return of maple to my palate was positively enticing.


And so instead of filling my sister’s freezer full of practical, nutritious meals I chose to whip up these sweet little custards.  Somewhere in between a creme brulee and a flan lay these little beauties with their sparkle shards of crunchy, burnt sugar.  The custard and the shards together, a great pairing.  But I’d be perfectly content to let the maple creaminess slide around on my tongue all on its own.


*Just a note that these are a gluten-free option.  I always try to pick recipes that are naturally gluten-free when needed since I have no expertise in the area.  I try to choose desserts that work for the dietary restrictions but don’t leave the rest of us wondering where the crust went to.  These fit that bill for me.

Maple Pots de Creme with Almond Praline
Taken from Bon Appetit, October 2010
Serves 4

6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup maple sugar
2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon imitation maple extract
Pinch of coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons sliced almonds
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
Pinch of coarse kosher salt

Special equipment: 4 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups

For praline:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Scatter almonds on small rimmed baking sheet. Bake almonds until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from oven. Push almonds together in 4-inch square on sheet and cool.

Stir sugar, 1 tablespoon water, corn syrup, and coarse salt in small heavy saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until syrup is dark amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour caramel evenly over almonds, coating completely. Let stand until cold and hard, about 30 minutes. Break praline into pieces or process to coarse crumbs. DO AHEAD:Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For custard:
Preheat oven to 325°F.

Arrange four 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups in 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan. Whisk yolks, both sugars, extract, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in cream. Divide custard among ramekins. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake custards until center is just set, about 35 minutes. Transfer to work surface; let stand 15 minutes. Chill uncovered until cold, at least 2 hours. Cover; chill overnight.

Sprinkle praline over custards.


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Lemon-Vodka Cream Pops

Popsicles in November.  I know.  What’s wrong with me?  I’m always waxing poetic about in summer fruits, pumpkin and cinnamon flavors in the fall and other seasonal favorites.  And here I introduce you to popsicles.  In November.

But it’s 74 degrees in our new place.  Every day.  All day.  I don’t automatically search for my slippers when I get out of my morning covers.  My babe can rub his knees raw attempting to crawl on the floor in nuthin’ but a onesie.  And we can have popsicles for dessert.  Yessirree.  Popsicles in November.


These were made ‘specially for my husband who would forego a slice of flourless chocolate cake for a lemon italian ice, who would choose orange sherbet a salted caramel and bittersweet chocolate tart.  (Hate him for it, I know!).  They are deliciously, pucker-up tangy, surprisingly creamy for a popsicle, with a hint of bitter due to the steep lemon rind and only enhanced by that shot of vodka.

Oh and they are also much prettier, more buttery yellow in real life.  Blame it on the amateur photographer trying to figure out new lighting and staging in a new home before total popsicle melting happens.  (Although that would have been quite pretty I’m sure.)  And whoever tried to photograph lemon yellow anyway?  That color’s tuff.

Lemon-Vodka Cream Pops
Taken from Fine Cooking 100, pg. 53
Serves 8

3 or 4 medium lemons
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. table salt
2 Tbs. citron vodka

Using a vegetable peeler, remove all of the zest from 3 of the lemons in 3- to 4-inch-long strips. Set the lemons aside.

Combine the lemon zest, cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Let steep at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Squeeze 2/3 cup juice from the reserved lemons (juice the fourth lemon, if necessary). Stirring constantly, pour the lemon juice into the cream mixture in a slow stream. Stir in the vodka.

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a 4-cup glass measure (or any container with a spout for easy pouring), pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Divide the mixture among eight 3-oz. pop molds or wax-lined paper cups. Freeze until just barely set, 5 to 6 hours. Insert craft sticks and freeze until completely set, about 2 hours more. When ready to serve, unmold or peel off the paper cups.

Pops can be frozen for up to three days.


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Classic Croissants

Fine Cooking is a helpful fantastic magazine for technique education.  They don’t just spotlight a recipe for a perfect pie crust.  They include step by step photos and instructions and explain why the methods and ingredients were chosen.  I’ve made croissants once before (and ate them all up rather quickly), but when I saw Fine Cooking had featured them in an instructional piece I knew it was time to try again.  Oh and my baby was finally sleep trained so yes, it was time to try again.


Fantastico were the results!  Perfectly crunch outside, perfectly flaky inside.  Gobs and gobs of buttery goodness.  They gave measurements and guide to make 15 large croissants and this was the only part I ignored because I wanted croissants of all varieties.


Classic croissants


Vanilla sugar croissant clusters


And never to be left out, pain au chocolat

Instead of including the recipe, I’m sending you straight to Fine Cooking where you, too, can benefit from the purty pictures and long, long, long instructions:  Classic Croissants at Fine Cooking

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Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes were my third and final cupcake bake-a-thon of September.  The very first time I saw pumpkin in my local grocery store I swiped some cream cheese and cupcake liners determined to make these beauties at last.  At long, long last.


Spicy and moist pumpkin cake.  A hint of barely cooked vanilla cheesecake laced through.  And mounded ridiculously high on top is some serious brown sugar and buttercream frosting.  Oh my.

My only complaint might be that this is almost too much of a good thing with so many decadent flavors demanding my attention.  Almost too much.


See those moist crumbs clinging to the wrapping?  Notice the specks of spices like nutmeg and clove?  That cheesecake swirl I promised you.  And that frosting is so deliciously shiny it looks like it’s been hairsprayed or shellacked.

Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes
From Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, November 2009
Servings: 15

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large eggs, plus 5 large egg whites
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup light brown sugar
Simmering water
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces and chilled

  1. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with baking liners. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar for 3 minutes. Beat in 1 egg white and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, 2 eggs, granulated sugar, oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture.
  3. Layer each muffin cup with some of the pumpkin batter, then the cream cheese mixture, then more of the batter. Bake until springy to the touch, 25 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Using the electric mixer, beat the brown sugar, remaining 4 egg whites and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Fill a medium saucepan with enough simmering water to reach a depth of 1 inch; place the mixing bowl on top. Whisk the mixture until it registers 160° on an instant-read thermometer.
  5. Transfer the bowl back to the mixer and beat at high speed until fluffy; lower the speed and beat to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, then beat at high speed for 5 minutes. Beat in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. 6. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag; pipe large rosettes on top of the cupcakes.

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Snickers Cupcakes

I really went on quite the cupcake kick in September. Cinnamon Cupcakes, now Snickers Cupcakes, and a Fall-flavored cupcake I have yet to tell you about. I had planned to take the cupcake spread along with me when I visited my sister, FP and Baby Jordan in Oklahoma but practicality took over when I thought about what it would be like to haul a stroller, carseat, carryon, diaper bag, and Canaan thru the airport. Adding a tupperware of cupcakes that must be kept upright to the spectacle that was me holding my baby, trying to take off my shoes, find my bag of liquids, and load my luggage on the conveyor belt would have sent me over the edge.


So the dilemma became a freezer full of cupcakes … and us moving out of our apartment on September 25th. What to do, what to do … Fortunately our friends who were hosting us for the time were happy to accept the leftovers with open arms! The benefit of this was more opinions about the quality of the cupcakes. If I had posted this prior to the extra tastings, I would have called these cupcakes mediocre at best and somewhat disappointing.

I’ve seen many a recipe for a Snickers cupcake. What it usually consists of is a plain vanilla cupcake with buttercream and a few Snickers shoved on top. That didn’t strike me as particularly profound so this recipe impressed me by using a chocolate base (more true to Snickers) with a caramel and Snickers infused filling, along with a caramel buttercream. It was sounding a lot more like a bonafide Snickers cupcake. The results proved lackluster to me though. The chocolate base was fine and thankfully not dry. But it wasn’t very chocolatey either. And the buttercream was just plain disappointing to me. Overly thick and sugar-laden with the caramel taking a definitely back seat in flavor.


But my friend Em ate one and said, “What are you talking about? These things are really good.” She didn’t notice the lack of chocolate in the cake at all and found the frosting to be a perfect consistency for her. She loved the filling. And if there is anyone who has tried as many cupcakes as I have (see Cupcake Wars), it’s her. So there you go. Do with it what you will. Regardless they are cute and somehow despite my commentary I’ve managed to eat 4 or so of them since making them …

So the dilemma became a freezer full of cupcakes … and us moving out of our apartment on September 25th. What to do, what to do … Fortunately our friends who were hosting us for the time were happy to accept the leftovers with open arms!

Snickers Cupcakes
Taken from Annie’s Eats
Yield: 20 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. coarse salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
For the caramel sauce:
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
24 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped
For the frosting:
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup caramel sauce
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp. heavy cream
For garnish:
8 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line standard cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and the sugar over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally to combine, until the butter is melted. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed, 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled. Mix in the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating just until combined.
Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the caramel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar begins to foam a bit. It will look and smell like it’s on the verge of burning. Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream. Stir until the sauce is smooth (you may need to return it to the heat to smooth it out), then mix in the vanilla and salt. Let cool. (This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)
To fill the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake with a paring knife.

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With the chill in the air and a sweater on today, doesn’t it just seem like the perfect day for comfort food? And what better way to end the meal than to tuck into a bowl of warm bread pudding.


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I’ve long been a cupcake fanatic.  I know it’s uber-trendy, but I just don’t care.  I’ve loved vanilla on vanilla since I was a little girl.  Something that comes in that flavor combination and is perfectly portioned and decadently decorated was made for me.  While nothing will ever beat a vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream, I’m game to try almost any combination (after all, you can always eat two, right?).  My friend Em shares my love of cupcakes (she goes for chocolate) but we have long debated the best cupcake in the city.  Turns out she was having this same never-ending conversation with a few other friends as well and thus an idea was born.


(Sweet Mandy B’s cupcakes)

The mission? To decide once and for all where the best cupcake in this city can be found when the craving hits. The idea was to spend a night trolling the town for cupcakes. But let’s get real. We each have kiddos at home, finding a date that worked for everyone was hard enough, and finding parking all over the city seemed anti-climatic. So this crawl turned into a cupcake war where each lady was assigned a cupcake shop and asked to pick-out some basics and some specialty cupcakes.


(MORE cupcakes)

6 Ladies. 6 cupcake lovers.  5 cupcake shops.  4 bottles of wine.  32 cupcakes.

Let me say it again: 6 ladies, 32 cupcakes. The final conclusion? We fought a war on the cupcakes but the cupcakes won.

What were we thinking?? We were thinking we were a lot more pro at heavy-sugar-ingestion than we were.


(Swirlz Cupcakes)

Despite stomach aches for several and the fact that 12 cupcakes went home without even being tasted I’d say any night is a success where that many cupcakes are consumed.

So here were the final conclusions:
the Salted Caramel Cupcake from Southport Grocery and Cafe (not even a cupcake specialty shop) took top honors. Many also felt it had the best vanilla on chocolate and vanilla on vanilla, though the appearance was slightly underwhelming in comparison.
the lemon cupcake with lemon cream cheese frosting from Sweet Mandy B’s was the surprise of the night, convincing several who would never have picked a citrus cupcake.
Sweet Mandy B’s will always be my top-rated shop for their buttercream frosting, but Molly’s Cupcakes chocolate cake blew Sweet Mandy B’s chalky comparison out of the water.
Swirlz is better known than most, but is definitely outrated and outranked in flavor by many others.
More, a downtown hotspot that demonstrated far more friendliness than anticipated, pulls out some astonishingly artistic cakes.  Unfortunately the beauty of the cupcakes far outreach the flavor.

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