Chocolate Non-Dairy Gelato

Gelato

This is for all my non-dairy eating, vegan, ice cream addict friends. Thanks to this easy recipe, you can all enjoy the same creamy deliciousness you crave. You’re welcome.

Ingredients
2 Cups almond milk
2 Cups French vanilla creamer
1/2 Cup sweetener (honey, sugar)
1 Vanilla Bean (or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract)
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2-3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 Ounces dark chocolate bar, (such as Ghirardelli 86% cacao) chopped

Directions
1. Put almond milk and French vanilla creamer into a medium-size saucepan and whisk in the sweetener.
2. Slice the vanilla bean in half to extract the seeds from inside. Place the seeds and the pod into the saucepan.
3. Place the mixture on a medium heat and allow it to simmer for five minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat, and extract around 1/4 cup from the pan. Mix this with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Then mix that back into the pan, and whisk it to infuse. Cover, and allow the mixture to sit for twenty minutes.
5. Cool the mixture until cold. Remove vanilla bean.
6. Churn mixture in an ice cream maker for 20 minutes.
7. Add 3-4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa and dark chocolate, chopped. Churn for an additional 5 minutes.
8. Freeze for several hours before serving.

You can delete the chocolate additions and add anything your heart desires. Fresh berries would be good! Enjoy!

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Lemon Curd

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The holidays are over. Heavy sigh. I feel a bit cheated due to the fact that our real break (after Christmas) was only just beginning when nasty viruses hit. My Mother, who lives nearby, came down with what seemed like the flu. A week later, she showed little improvement, so I took her into urgent care on New Year’s Day. Diagnosis: bronchitis. Prescription: antibiotics. Simultaneously, at our house, my husband and daughter were fighting off similar bugs. Somehow through nursing these three back to health, delivering Pedialyte, cough meds, homemade chicken soups, and components of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and tea) to all, I managed to stay well! I can’t even believe I dared to type that!

In years past, my Mother and I have closed ourselves up in her kitchen for an entire day, baking and decorating a variety of holiday cookies. Since ‘simplicity’ was tagged as my word for December 2014, and I would be baking on my own this year, two or three kinds of cookies seemed more manageable. Three days, 250+ cookies, and many rounds of clean up later, I emerged, tired and grumpy. Next year… seriously!

By some gravitational pull… ahem, butter… this year’s cookie theme was shortbread. You know what goes really great with shortbread? Lemon curd. Now as a rule, I’m not a huge fan of lemon desserts, but this lemon curd, made with Meyer lemons, is nothing short of phenomenal! Meyer lemons tend to be sweeter than regular lemons, and lack the eye-tingling punch of acid of regular lemons, so they bring a refreshing flavor to this curd. Meyers come into season during mid-winter, so grab them up while you can. If you’re a big lemon fan, by all means use regular lemons instead. Or mix it up and use a few of each. Either way, this is one badass lemon curd!

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Add the buttery flavor and sandy texture of shortbread, with the creamy tartness of lemon curd, and you have a combination that will have you sneaking out to the kitchen after guests have gone to savor every last drop.

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I actually made four kinds of shortbread… chocolate, peanut butter, almond and vanilla.

You may be under the impression that lemon curd is difficult to make, but trust me, this is easy. And that step of straining it through cheesecloth you may have heard about? non-existent!

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I found these perfect boxes at The Container Store early in the season.
Note to self: pick up plenty of boxes early, even if you think you won’t need them (you will).They won’t be there when you return to buy more.

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The challenge was finding small jars for the lemon curd that would fit nicely into those perfect boxes. Thankfully, the wonderful people at Weck had me covered. Their 2.7 oz jar was a Cinderella fit. Be careful, Weck jars are addicting!

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Lemon Curd
Makes about 2 cups
This recipe easily doubles. I made 4 cups to fill 12 jars, and still had some left over.

Ingredients
3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons) I used Meyer lemons (see notes on that above)
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (optional)

Directions
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.) Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170°F on a thermometer. Don’t let the mixture boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

Holiday Cookies. A few of my favorites.

While scanning through the many holiday cookie recipes on Pinterest, I was pondering what makes a cookie worthy of gifting. What do I want to nosh on? My criteria is relatively simple. As with any dessert, texture is extremely important. Soft, cakey, textured cookies are good. Slightly crisp and sandy is awesome too. Brightly colored dough is not appealing, although a few colored sanding sugars are nice. The taste should not be overly sweet. Buttery is good. Chocolate is crucial. Size is important. Smaller is better, a few bites is best. As with any baked goods, the best ingredients are of utmost importance… pure butter, good chocolate, real vanilla, fresh eggs, etc. Starting with only the finest, purest ingredients is key to producing delicious cookies every time.

Here is the list of cookies I have rotated in the last few years. In an effort to simplify and reduce holiday stress, I’m choosing two or three varieties this year. And due to their complexity, some of these will automatically disqualify.

Recipes are below the descriptions.

Butter Cookies. Buttery goodness. One recipe, two different cookies.
Christmas Cookies

Cut-outs. This recipe is a two for one. One batch of butter cookie dough makes both spritz and cut-outs.
Decorated Holiday Cookies

Double Chocolate Snowflakes. Soft, chocolately cookies with a cake-like interior.
Holiday Cookies

Pecan Tassies. Miniature pecan pies. A bit of work, but worth the extra effort.
Pecan Tassies

Gingersnaps. Spicy, sweet, soft. Yum.91911-153

World Peace Cookies. The name says it all. If we could all eat these every day, there would be peace in the world. If you love dark chocolate, this slightly crisp, sandy textured cookie will float your boat.
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Chocolate Chip Cookies. Made with cake flour and chunks of dark chocolate, these are small, dense, and extra special.
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THE RECIPES
Notes:
• Butter = unsalted butter, unless otherwise noted
• I like to splurge on good chocolate. Guittard, Ghirardelli, Scharffen Berger are good.
• All cookies listed are baked in a 350 degree F oven.
• It is better to underbake than overbake cookies. Take them out of the oven while they’re still a bit soft, and butter and sugar cookies should still be very light.

Christmas Cookies
Butter Cookies
2 Cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs, vanilla, and salt; mix on medium speed until combined.
With mixer on low speed, add flour in 2 batches, mixing just until it’s incorporated.

Divide dough into two equal portions. Place each on a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, or at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.

Take out one disk and let it get to room temperature before putting it through a spritz cookie press. Use same baking instructions as above for cut-outs.

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Cut-outs
When you’re ready to bake, roll out the other disk to about 1/4 inch thick and cut out desired shapes. Place onto a cookie sheet, sprinkle with sanding sugars. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until they’re slightly golden just around the edges.

Cool cookies overnight before frosting.

Icing
For spreading:
Makes about a cup, enough to coat 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, still until smooth: 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup water
To tint, stir in food coloring, a few drops at a time.
Icing should spread evenly, and after a second, settle to make a smooth surface. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Spread icing onto cool cookies with a metal spatula. Let stand until icing is firm, about 1 1/2 hours.

For piping:
Makes about 3/4 cup, enough to decorate 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, stir until smooth: 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/2 Tablespoons water
To tint, stir in food coloring a few drops at a time. Icing needs to be still enough to hold a line when piped through a pastry bag fitted with an 1/8-inch tip. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Let stand until icing is firm, about 5 minutes.

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Holiday Cookies
Double Chocolate Snowflakes
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt
Cream butter, add sugars
Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
Add flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms.
Add chocolate chips and mix well.
Cover dough and chill for at least an hour.
Shape dough into balls and roll in powdered sugar.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until cookies have puffed and cracked. About 8-10 minutes.

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Gingersnaps
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger

Cream butter and sugar together, beat in eggs.
Stir in molasses.
Sift in all dry ingredients. Mix into dough.
Roll dough into 1″ balls. Roll in sugar (cinnamon optional).
Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

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World Peace Cookies (Chocolate Chunk Butter Cookies with Sea Salt)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup mini-chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.
Pour in the dry ingredients (drape a towel over the mixer to protect yourself from flying flour) and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times for a second or two each time. Take a peek; pulse a few more times if there’s a lot of flour still on the surface of the dough. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds more until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible for the best texture. Don’t be too concerned if it looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix to incorporate.
Turn the dough onto a work surface. Gather it together and divide in half. Shape each half into a log that is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 325F degree
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake one sheet at a time for about 12 minutes. The cookies won’t look done or be firm, but they’ll firm up and become more sandy-crumbly as they cool.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs

Sift together baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Soften butter. Add sugars and mix until smooth and fluffy.
Add vanilla and eggs. Mix well. Add flour mixture and blend.
Add chocolate chips. Mix.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

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Happiest of holidays to you all!

Thankful for Pie

With great honor, I am the elected family pie baker. And with Thanksgiving just days away, I’m on the hunt for my 2014 creations. Pumpkin is off the list this year, due to the simple fact that the ‘pumpkin spice everything’ craze has left me cold and nauseous.

Following are a few favorites being considered to grace the Thanksgiving table this year (I need to choose two):

French Apple Tart…

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Chocolate Pecan…

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Mississippi Mud…

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Lemon…

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Chocolate Cream…

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What’s your favorite pie?

Sweet Hood Strawberries

Hood Strawberries

We have the best strawberries here in Oregon! Pretty sure we can attribute this to the climate… lots of rain, cool nights and warm sunny days. These are perfect conditions for growing the sweetest strawberries (the weeds in my yard seem to thrive in them as well). The berries stay on the vine and ripen slowly, allowing the sugars to surge before harvest. But these lovelies don’t last long after they’re harvested, which means you won’t see them in stores across the country. They’re very difficult to ship. I guess you’ll just have to visit Oregon to try them!

The window for Oregon strawberries (especially my favorite variety… Hoods), is so short. Sometimes I blink, and miss their quick visit. On a sunny afternoon last week, I coerced my teen into taking a drive out to a local farm with me. She had just finished high school exams for the year. I thought it might be a good way to bring her stress down a notch. An hour in the sun, talking and laughing, and before we knew it, our thoughts were lighter, and our buckets were full of these sweet red gems.

Then there was this pie…

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This recipe is scribbled in a very overcrowded notebook with my other 15K or so favorites. It feels right to finally archive it here.

Strawberry Pie (recipe from my pie-baking Mother)

1 9-inch pre-baked pie crust (see detailed instructions below)
4 cups of fresh, sweet strawberries, hulled and washed immediately before use

Add about 3 cups of whole strawberries, (or however many will fit) in one layer on the bottom of the pre-baked pie crust.

In a small saucepan, bring to boil:
1 cup of crushed strawberries
3/4-1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

1. Boil the above ingredients for 2 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. Add 1 Tablespoon butter. Mix and let cool.

2. Pour the glaze over the whole berries in the pie crust. Refrigerate for about 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Pie Crust (makes 1 9-inch crust)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8-1/4 cup ice cold water

1. Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and blend for a few seconds. Add unsalted butter pieces and pulse 4 times. Add shortening and pulse 4 more times. The mixture will look like coarse cornmeal and the butter and shortening bits no larger than peas. Add cold water and blend just until dough begins to stick together. Do not over blend.

2. Remove the dough and place it in a mound on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten into a 4-inch disk, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling out.

3. Sprinkle a little flour on a flat, clean work surface and on top of the disk of dough you intend to roll out. (My favorite rolling surface is a pastry cloth, but I also have a Silpat that works pretty well too). Using a rolling pin, apply light pressure while rolling outwards from the center of the dough. You have a big enough piece of dough when you place the pie dish over the dough and the dough extends by at least 2 inches all the way around.

4. When the dough has reached the right size, gently roll it onto the rolling pin. Place it into a pie plate, and simply unroll. Do not stretch the dough. Finish the edges by pressing against the edges with your finger tips or a fork.

To pre-bake the dough:

Once your crust is in the pie dish, freeze it for at least a half hour, until well chilled. This is an important step in pre-baking. Otherwise the crust will slip down the sides.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. line the chilled pie crust with parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. Fill at least two-thirds full with pie weights – dry beans, rice, or stainless-steel pie weights. Bake with weights for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and carefully remove pie weights. Poke small holes in the bottom of the pie crust with a fork and return to oven (without the weights) and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool completely before filling.

Kitchen chaos and a yummy treat

Our kitchen remodel is underway. There’s no turning back now. To catch you up: old cabinets have been demoed, the ceiling repaired and resurfaced, woodwork paint burned off…

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Fresh new paint has been applied to all woodwork, the ceiling, and walls.

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I look forward to sitting in this little nook with coffee and a hot scone.

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Behind the scenes, in a shop across town, cabinets are being made, and scheduled to arrive here, ready to install, beginning Monday morning.

We’ve set up camp in the dining room, and although it’s not really that fun washing the dishes in the bathtub, eating at home is not as challenging as you might think. The slow cooker, rice cooker and microwave have served well. But the $30 electric skillet I picked up at Target has been a godsend! Last night I made spaghetti and meat sauce, in that handy appliance. If you’ve never made pasta in a skillet, I can assure you, it’s very efficient. The water boiled quickly, and having the noodles laying flat made for quick, even cooking.

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Beyond the obvious inconveniences and disruption to our everyday lives, the most challenging part of this project, is the number of details…

Paint: what colors? what sheens? I’ve learned more about sheens in the past few weeks than I ever thought possible.

Cabinet hardware: what style? what finish? Who knew the finishes on oil-bronzed hardware could be so different?

Granite: which slab? where should it be placed? should it have a 4″ backsplash? should it go behind the stove? around the sides of the stove? what should the edges look like?

In my opinion, it’s these small details that are most important in the final focus and look of the room. As much as I love poking around stores like Rejuvenation, my over-stimulation issues surface, and make seemingly easy decisions painful for everyone around me. Yesterday, after we spent five hours shopping for cabinet hardware, my often not-so-patient husband told me he actually admires my detail neurosis! Yay! After nearly 19 years of marriage, he gets me!

Unfortunately, this remodel has kept me from baking… that is until I discovered individual chocolate chips cookies microwaved in a jar!

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Moist, gooey, delicious!

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With or without ice cream…

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Microwave Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Jar
Serves 1

Ingredients
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
3 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips

Directions
In a microwave safe jar, mug or ramekin place 1 Tablespoon of butter. Melt it in the microwave for 15 seconds at 70% power. Add sugars, vanilla and salt. Stir well. Add the egg yolk and stir well. Add the flour and mix well. It will be the consistency of cookie dough. Add the chocolate chips and stir just to distribute. Microwave for 30-40 at 70% power. Continue to microwave 10 seconds at a time at 70% power until the dough begins to puff up a bit. It will look like it’s not done, but it will be cakey in the center. The cook time depends on your microwave. Do not overcook, check at 50 seconds. It may not need any more than that.

Oh my, sweet potato pie!

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Raise your hand if you’ve never had sweet potato pie. Much like pumpkin in its consistency, sweet potato pie is custard-like and creamy, but the spices in this recipe create a dessert that is nothing short of heavenly. Trust me on the coriander… I hesitated on that one too.

In my family, no one likes to break tradition (except yours truly), and this pie seemed to set off some alarms. Or maybe it was the color, or the thought of a soggy crust (which this does NOT have)… either way, I got to take most of it home from our family Christmas gathering. Yeah! More for us!

Sweet Potato Pie
(thank you to Joy the Baker (and her Dad) for sharing the filling recipe)

1- 9″ pie crust (chilled)

2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2- 5oz cans evaporated milk (1 1/4 cups evaporated milk)
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Boil three sweet potatoes, with their peeling on, in a covered pot over medium heat, until the sweet potatoes are very soft and tender. Test with a sharp knife. If there is any resistance, boil until a knife penetrates the potatoes smoothly. Remove potatoes from the water and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large bowl or food processor. Mash potatoes thoroughly until completely smooth.

Measure two cups of the sweet potato mash and place it into a medium sized pan with the packed brown sugar, all of the spices, salt, the 1/2 stick butter, and one 5 oz can of evaporated milk. Cook on low for about 5 minutes, whipping with a wire whisk until butter and brown sugar are completely melted, and the mixture is blended, smooth and just beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool in the pan.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the three eggs with a fork. Add the second 5oz can of evaporated milk, granulated sugar and vanilla to the eggs, and continue beating until creamy. Pour the cooled sweet potato mixture into the egg mixture. Blend thoroughly with a whisk and refrigerate mixture overnight or use immediately.

Pour into a 9-inch prepared crust.

Place a cookie sheet into the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place pie directly onto preheated cookie sheet, and bake for 10 minutes to set the crust, and to keep it from getting soggy.  Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. and bake for another hour. The crust should be brown and the sweet potato mixture will be puffed up, but still slightly wiggly in the center. After 1 hour, remove pie and place onto a wire rack to cool. The pie will firm up more as it cools.

Serve room temperature with whipped cream.

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Where have you been all my life?

Homemade pies

I’m pretty sure this is the best dessert I’ve ever made! I’m really excited to share it with you! I actually made two new-to-me desserts over Thanksgiving. The second one was a sweet potato pie. Both pies were good, but this Pear-Almond Tart turned out especially fabulous!

French Pear and Almond Tart

It’s a bit time consuming to make, but once you’ve tickled your taste buds with its deliciousness, you’ll agree it’s worth the effort.

Slice of pie

Start with a base pastry that is sturdy enough to cradle the almond filling and poached pears, yet light and flaky so it melts in your mouth. The recipe I used is from Martha Stewart, but there are steps you’ll need to take to make sure the baked crust is perfect, so read through all the recipes that follow carefully.

Start with the freshest, best ingredients. A food processor comes in very handy for the crust, but it can be done by hand too if you’re feeling energetic, or you don’t own one.

Basic Pie Crust (You will be pre-baking this – don’t worry I’ll tell you exactly how to do this)
(this makes a base for one 9 inch tart)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1/4-1/3 cup ice water

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Blend for just a few seconds. Add the butter and process for about 10 seconds, or until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Add ice water a little bit at a time, and run the processor until the dough holds together, but not for more than 30 seconds. If the dough is still crumbly, add a little more water.

Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press the dough into a flat circle. Wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Remove the chilled dough and let it rest for a few minutes. Roll it out so that it’s large enough, with a few inches of overhang, to fit a 9″ tart pan (that’s the one with straight fluted sides). Cut off extra dough so that it is just to the top edge. Freeze the crust for at least a half hour, until chilled. This is an important step in pre-baking. Otherwise the crust will slip down the sides.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. When the pie crust is sufficiently chilled, line the pie crust with parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. Fill at least two-thirds full with pie weights – dry beans, rice, or stainless-steel pie weights. Bake with weights for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and carefully remove pie weights. Poke small holes in the bottom of the pie crust with a fork and return to oven (without the weights) and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cool completely before filling. You may need to tent the edges of the pie with aluminum foil when you bake your pie, to keep the edges from getting too dried out and burnt.

Now that you have a perfectly baked tart shell, you can proceed to the filling part.

Step 1 of the filling:

Poached Pears

1 quart water
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 Bosc pears; peeled, cored, and quartered
Additions: One cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons whole cloves, black peppercorns or allspice berries, one lemon half, one split vanilla bean, 2-3 star anise, 6-8 fresh ginger slices
1. In a large saucepan, heat the water and sugar until warm and the sugar is dissolved. Add any of the additions that you wish.
2. Slide in the pears and cover with a round of parchment paper, with a small hole cut in the center.
3. Keep the liquid at a very low boil and simmer the pears until cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the pears.
4. Remove from heat and let the pears cool in their liquid.
Optional: After poaching the pears, while the liquid is still warm, add approximately 1/4 cup dried sour cherries, cranberries, raisins, or dried currants and let them plump.
Store the pears in their liquid in the refrigerator, in a covered container, until ready to use. Remove the pears from the refrigerator a few hours prior to serving, and re-warm them gently in the liquid, if you wish. The pears will keep for up to 5 days.

Now, lets put it all together…

Pear-Almond Tart
Recipe from David Lebovitz
8 servings

NOTE: If your almond paste isn’t very fragrant with the smell of almonds, add a drop or two of pure almond extract to the filling. You don’t want to dump a spoonful in, which would overwhelm the pears, but a tiny bit highlights the almond flavors. You can use canned pear halves packed in light syrup, and drain them well, in place of the poached pears, if you wish.

6 ounces almond paste (this is sold in most grocery stores, just make sure you pick up the one without sugar added)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons flour
3 ounces butter, salted or unsalted, cubed, at room temperature
1 large egg, plus one egg white, at room temperature
a few drops almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons rum, Calvados, or kirsch

3 poached pears, cored, drained and blotted dry, then cut into 1/2-inch slices
One pre-baked 9-inch tart shell, at room temperature (see above)

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Set the pre-baked tart shell on a baking sheet.
2. In a stand mixer, or by hand, beat the almond paste with the sugar and flour, until smooth. Some almond pastes may be drier than others. If yours is dry, just mix until the almond paste is finely-broken up.
3. Gradually beat in the butter, until smooth, then beat in the egg and the egg white, the almond extract, and the liquor.
4. Spread the almond filling evenly over the tart shell
5. Fan the pears out evenly over the almond filling, then press them in slightly.
6. Bake the tart for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the almond filling between the pears has browned.
7. Cool slightly before serving, or serve at room temperature.

Oh yeah, the little pitcher nearby in my image is a bit of the sauce from poaching the pears. Just before serving the tart, reduce the juices by boiling for a few minutes in a pan and serve alongside. Pour a little, or a lot of it onto the tart… ooh and ahh over your masterpiece! Celebrate the happiness of your tastebuds!

World Peace Chocolate Cookies

In honor of National Chocolate Day, I’m posting a recipe that is so fabulous it started a worldwide giveaway on my previous blog.

Dark bittersweet chocolate, sea salt, what’s not to love?

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The intense flavors of dark chocolate and fleur de sel come together for a party in your mouth. If you have not yet tried this combo, don’t walk, run to the store and pick up the ingredients to make these now. I’m pretty sure that if every human being could eat just one of these every day, there would indeed be peace in the world!

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The key to the wonderful flavors in these cookies, and any good pastry, is this: use only the best ingredients. I used Guittard chocolate, with 72 percent cacao, which is one of my favorites. I used my mini-chopper to break it into small pieces. A good fleur de sel is also an important ingredient, I’m using sel de Guérande from France, which you can order through Amazon, but many grocery stores are now carrying good sea salts. Guittard chocolate chips are available in many grocery stores. There’s an extensive list on the Guittard site.

chocolate and sea salt

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Chocolat Paix Mondiale et Cookies au sel de mer
World Peace Chocolate and Sea Salt Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen 

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips

Directions

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and pale yellow. Add the sugars, salt and vanilla and mix another 2 minutes.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the sifted dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer to protect anything around it from flying flour. Mix at low speed about 5 times for a second or two each time. Then mix about 30 seconds more. Mix just until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible. It may look a little crumbly… no worries. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix just until incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it together and divide it in half. Shape into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into rounds that are about 1/2 inch thick. (They may crack a bit as you’re cutting them. No worries. Just squeeze the chocolatey bits back onto the cookie). Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake each batch, one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes. They won’t look done, they won’t be firm at this point. They’ll firm up and become sandy/crumbly as they cool. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack.

Gather ye apples

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Two weeks ago torrential rains drowned what remained of our veggie garden, and our lone apple tumbled from the tree before ripening. Yay for local farms! A short drive out of the city and we are surrounded by an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies. And look! A large box of Golden Delicious apples from my sister-in-law.

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We’ve been busy with home improvements and fall cleaning projects …  painting, grout cleaning, gutter and roof cleaning and repairs, tree trimming. The next big project begins later this week when we demolish our kitchen for a few upgrades, new countertops, faucet, and replacement of a crumbling cast iron sink. After we recover from that, a mudroom redo will begin. I’ll definitely miss my kitchen during the next few weeks, but I’m so looking forward to giving it a fabulous housewarming, with homemade fall and winter foods, when it’s done.

In the meantime, I need to do something with all these apples.

Visions of apple tarts were dancing in my head. I began searching through my recipes, but only came up with one even though there’s photographic evidence of others. Two criteria were in order: easy and tasty. Google found a recipe at Smitten Kitchen that sounded like a winner.

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The dough: I used my go-to tart dough recipe from Ina Garten, and the combination freeform/tart pan technique from Chez Panisse’s Executive Chef and owner, Alice Waters (through Smitten Kitchen). I like the way the sides are fluted, but the top of the dough wraps the apple wedges protectively into its folds.

Gather up 6-8 apples. I used Golden Delicious for this because that’s what I currently have the most of, but Gravenstein or Granny Smith’s would also be great choices. Slice the apples in half and remove the core and peeling.

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Place the halves face down and slice into strips. Hold the sliced halves together and place them into the pastry. Save the cores and peeling you’ve removed for a glaze to be applied after baking.

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Fold up the edges of the dough and brush the entire top surface with 2 Tablespoons of melted butter. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of the sugar on the dough and the other 3 Tablespoons on the apples. Toss a teaspoon of cinnamon onto the apples as well. Because there’s nothing better than the smell of apples and cinnamon baking together. And finally, dot another Tablespoon of butter on top.

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Bake in a preheated 400°F. oven (on a pizza stone if you have it) for 45 minutes. Turn the tart every 15 minutes so it browns evenly.

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I love the way this crust turned out! Freeform, but structured enough to hold up in a hot oven.

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Serve with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.

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French Apple Tart

Pastry (Ina Garten’s recipe)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds. Add the butter and pulse 10-12 times, until the butter is in small pits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water into the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to hold together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. At this point you can either: grab a sheet pan and line it with parchment paper or a Silpat mat; or a round 11″ tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll the dough out to 15 inches. If you’re using a sheet pan, you’ll want to use a ruler and knife and trim the edges. Place the dough on/in the pan of your choice and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Apple filling (a slightly modified version of Alice Water’s recipe through Smitten Kitchen)
6-8 apples (you can use Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gravenstein, or any other semi-tart apples)
5 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter (2 Tablespoons melted, 1 Tablespoon cold)

Peel the apples the cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baller. (Save the cores and peelings for the glaze). Slice by placing the halves cut side down. Place the entire sliced halves on the dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Keeping the halves together helps when you lay them out. Then you can just lightly tilt them and they’ll fan out. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals. Brush melted butter over apples and onto the edge of the dough. Sprinkle the apples with 3 Tablespoons of sugar, sprinkle the dough edges with 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon cinnamon onto the apple filling and dot with 1 Tablespoon of butter.

Bake in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.

Make the glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with 1/2 cup of sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth.

Remove tart from oven, and place onto a cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.

Brush glaze over tart, slice, and serve.