dessert

Salted Cocoa Caramel Cake Bites

DSC_0259

There are two things I love about this recipe:

1) It can sort of be made all in one pot so there are fewer dishes for all my fellow chocolate-craving, backache-ridden mommas-to-be.
2) If you get tired halfway through and decide to quit, you still have delicious homemade salted caramel to snack on. I won’t lie, I will probably make just the caramel part of this recipe at some point and eat all of it. It’s that good.

DSC_0225

I was originally working from a Smitten Kitchen brownie recipe, but I decided to change all of the ratios of dry-to-wet ingredients (because we all know that’s a smart thing to do when baking) and I ended up making some awesome cake bites instead. I was careful to keep track of the exact measurements, but I will be testing these again in the near future to be sure that I didn’t just get lucky with some magical baking chemistry the first time around!

DSC_0242

I will be the first to admit that there are times when you crave the fudgy, richness of a brownie. I recently posted some caramel brownies that will do just the trick, but these aren’t going to satisfy that craving. These are for the times when you want something a bit lighter. These cake bites aren’t too rich or sweet, so they are an awesome option when you’re looking for a less decadent, less heavy dessert. The only downside to this is that, if you’re anything like me, you and your household (… or mostly just you) will destroy an entire pan in a matter of days. 🙂

DSC_0246

Salted Cocoa Caramel Cake Bites
(makes one 8×8 pan– i.e. probably more than a single human should eat in two days, whoops)

Ingredients

for the caramel:
4 tablespoons salted butter [I used good, European-style butter for this to give the caramel the creamiest flavor possible]
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt [I used a local, vanilla-infused sea salt]

for the cake batter:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 stick salted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2/3 cup flour [warning: I used White Lily AP flour, which can sometimes behave differently than other AP flours]

DSC_0173

Begin by making the caramel. This process is surprisingly simple, but it can get dangerous so be careful! Caramel is notorious for giving people serious burns. As long as you are conscientious of this and stay mindful of the splattering, you will be fine.

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and sugar together over medium-high heat. The butter and sugar will likely stay somewhat separated, but you want to get them as mixed as possible while the sugar is melting. Once the sugar is largely integrated and simmering, watch for color changes. You are looking for a golden color if you prefer a mild butter flavor, and a light brown color for a richer, nuttier flavor.

DSC_0176

DSC_0177

This process may take a few minutes. Just be sure not to let the butter get too dark. I like mine a bit burnt, but you don’t want it getting too brown in color, and when you begin to smell a nuttiness, you know you need to remove it from heat because it can quickly turn too burnt and become bitter. There is a sweet spot to butter-browning, and it can take some practice to know when that point comes. You’re better off leaving it a bit underdone rather than burning it. I mean- it’s butter and sugar, it’s going to taste great either way.

DSC_0179

While you’re waiting for the sugar to melt and the butter to darken, prepare a plate for the caramel. Cover it in parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.

When the sugar is well integrated and the butter has changed colors, take the mixture off of the heat and add in the salt and milk. When you add in the milk, be careful. The mixture will sputter a bit, but quickly begin to look like a beautiful, traditional caramel! Stir everything together with a rubber spatula and return to medium heat.

DSC_0180

Let the mixture simmer for several minutes. Stir your caramel until the last bits of sugar are melted. [Note: if you are planning to eat the caramel straight and forego the cake part, I would recommend leaving some whole sugar because it will give a beautiful, crunchy texture to your finished caramel.] Pour the mixture onto the parchment paper covered plate and place it in the freezer.

DSC_0185

If your freezer is kept very cold, like mine (0°F), it will not take much time for the caramel to cool, and you can begin making the batter. If you have a warmer temp freezer, you may want to wait twenty minutes or so before starting up on the batter.

DSC_0189

To make the batter- cover an 8×8 pan in parchment paper and butter! Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Set up a double boiler. I reused the caramel pot and filled a much larger pot with boiling water. Over the double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter- yes more butter! It helps to cut the butter and chocolate up beforehand. Stir with your rubber spatula until the mixture has melted completely.

DSC_0194

DSC_0201

Take it off of the heat and add in the sugar, salt, and vanilla extract.

DSC_0206

Before you add in the eggs, you may want to crack them in a separate bowl and prepare yourself to quickly stir! The mixture won’t be boiling hot, but I’m always nervous about curdling eggs, so I try to add them in quickly. Finally, mix in the flour.

DSC_0207

DSC_0210

Pour the batter into the prepared dish.

DSC_0212

Take the salted caramel from the freezer and chop it into bits. Mine was like a soft caramel and I could NOT resist snacking on some of it, I highly recommend doing so! Again- if you get tired and don’t feel like making the cake batter, these homemade soft caramels alone are good enough to satisfy a sweet tooth!

DSC_0224

At this point you can really do whatever you want- toss the pieces on top of the batter, mix them into the batter, do a little of both! It’s completely up to you. Next time I make these cake bites, I will probably mix the caramel in to make for prettier pictures, but it will be delicious either way. The caramel will melt in the oven and sink into the cake, so do be aware of that if you decide to put them all on top.

DSC_0220

DSC_0227

Bake the cake at 350°F for 30 minutes.

DSC_0239

DSC_0248

DSC_0230

Enjoy!

DSC_0258

DSC_0257

Advertisements

Caramel Fudge Brownies

DSC_0307

The term fudge in the title here is key. These are chewy brownies, not cakey brownies.

I don’t have any problems with boxed brownie mixes, I usually enjoy them. We didn’t have any boxed brownie mix around the house, but we did have the ingredients for these! To be completely honest, it didn’t take too much longer than boxed brownies, but the texture and flavor is much better!

DSC_0311

This makes one 9×9 pan, and for us that’s about 9 brownies (of course, many people cut them smaller, but we like big serving sizes 🙂 ).

DSC_0313

Caramel Fudge Brownies

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup sugar
11 tablespoons salted butter [yes, really. this is not a typo.]
1/2 cup cake flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup caramels (we used Werther’s soft caramels)
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Parchment paper

DSC_0240

First, melt the butter in the microwave for a minute or two. You want to get it fairly hot (we usually do 1:30- 2 minutes). Combine the sugar with the melted butter and stir. The sugar won’t dissolve completely, but it also shouldn’t separate out.

DSC_0243

DSC_0246

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

DSC_0257

Add the sugar-butter mixture to the flour mixture. Combine with the eggs and vanilla to create your batter base.

DSC_0262

If you are using larger caramels (like we did) chop them up. We also used a bittersweet chocolate bar and chopped that into chunks.

DSC_0251

DSC_0265

Stir the caramel and chocolate chunks into the batter.

DSC_0268

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Cut out a small, square piece of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of the 9 x 9 pan.

Pour the batter into the pan. If necessary, you can use a rubber spatula to spread the batter out, allowing it to cook more evenly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean!

DSC_0281

If you can resist, let them cool for a good 30 minutes and then enjoy! The caramel especially needs to cool before you really want to eat it!

DSC_0276

DSC_0302

Cucidati (Sicilian Fig Cookies)

DSC_0396

During the winter, right around Christmas, it’s a tradition amongst many Sicilian families to get together and make certain types of cookies. Perhaps my favorite of the cookies are the cucidati. These tiny cookies, jammed packed with flavor, always remind me of Christmastime. However, for such a small cookie the amount of effort involved in constructing them is very high. The prep process for these little guys is not something you can do casually in an hour or so for a late-night snack. It makes for a great afternoon activity and the more people you have, the more fun it can be- it’s the one time our idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen” seems to be untrue on a very literal level!

DSC_0370

Cucidati are crescent-shaped cookies made with a light, white dough and filled with a spiced, fig-nut filling. In our family, we love to use the flavors of clove and allspice with a hint of orange extract. We also use pecans to add the nuttiness. Many families use walnuts, but I’m convinced that the south rubbed off on us and we switched to the less bitter, and less expensive pecan in many dishes! Some people also use dates in the mixture- I prefer 100% mission figs for the filling.

DSC_0371

Every family has their own recipe for cucidati. In my family there are two different methods for making these delicious cookies. I decided to blend the two and create my own recipe. This is partially due to necessity, most family recipes for cucidati make 100-200 cookies… which I do not need in my two-person household. This recipe makes about 50 cookies, with some extra dough to play around with. First-time cucidati makers will hopefully find this recipe useful because of the extra dough, it can be difficult to get the cookies looking pretty the first few times around. With this recipe though- you should be sure to be a little stingy with the filling. If you’re not prepared to be careful about doling out the filling- make double the filling recipe.

DSC_0407

We ended up making an impromptu date-almond jam and made pinwheels with our excess dough. I will post that recipe later! (It’s here, it’s here! 🙂

DSC_0380

A few additional notes: you’ll want a very large work space for these cookies, especially when constructing them. You’ll need a rolling pin as well as a sharp knife for cutting the characteristic slits in the top of the cookie. When I get together with my aunt, grandmother, great-aunt, cousins, and mother, we use a pack of razor blades. However, this most recent time making them I just used my pocket knife and it worked out fine! You will also need a food processor to make the filling.

DSC_0364

As with many Sicilian family recipes, it is assumed that you’ve had someone teach you how to make it so you know how the dish should progress in its look and feel. With the filling here, that’s a big part of it. I give a recipe for simple syrup to help break down and sweeten the figs- do not use all of the simple syrup, you will NOT need all of it. I will repeat this throughout the recipe, as a reminder.

Enjoy the cookies- and the experience of making them! 🙂

Cucidati- Sicilian Fig Cookies
makes 50-60 cookies with extra dough

for the dough
4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup crisco
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
3/4 tsp vanilla

DSC_0200

for the filling
simple syrup (made with 3/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water) You will not use all of this syrup!
6oz dried mission figs
3/4 cup pecans
3/4 tsp each cloves and allspice
3 tsp orange extract

DSC_0237

for the icing (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
~2 tablespoons milk

First, make your dough. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt).

DSC_0204

DSC_0207

Cube the crisco and mix it into the dry ingredients by hand until combined. The mixture will be crumbly.

DSC_0213

DSC_0220

Add in the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, and vanilla). Fold until it comes together in a ball. Let it rest in a cool place for half an hour.

DSC_0227

DSC_0229

During these 30 minutes, you can make the filling! First, you will want to make a simple syrup. I use a recipe for a large amount of simple syrup, just in case. Plus, it’s useful for all sorts of other things like jams and fancy cocktails! Stir the sugar with a cup of water in a pot over medium-high heat. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved (almost or just to boiling/simmering usually). Let this cool down. You can store it in the fridge in an airtight container. Remember, you will not be using all of this simple syrup for the cucidati recipe.

De-stem and quarter the dried figs.
Chop the pecans in half.

DSC_0245

DSC_0250

Combine the two in a food processor until it forms a very loose paste or crumble. You might need to stir it a bit in between pulses to jostle the figs around, they are very sticky.

DSC_0251

DSC_0262

In a bowl, combine the fig-pecan mixture with the spices and orange extract. Mix together.

DSC_0264

Next, add to your filling the simple syrup. You will probably be adding only around ¼ cup, but it takes a little bit of practice to get the consistency right. Add the simple syrup a tablespoon or two at a time until you’ve got a fairly sticky paste that keeps together and could be spread. You do not want to add too much, otherwise it will leak out of the cookies. It should be about the consistency of a cheese spread (or a little thicker).

DSC_0270

DSC_0272

Now comes the construction. First, create your workspace. Lay down a large sheet of parchment paper and set up a small bowl of water, a pizza cutter, and your pocket knife/sharpest, smallest knife. Flour the surface of the parchment paper. Roll out half of the dough and trim the edges to form a large square.

DSC_0285

DSC_0282

Cut the square into 2″ strips using the pizza cutter.

DSC_0290

Taking one strip at a time, flatten it out and shape a thin line of filling down the center.

DSC_0291

DSC_0299

Fold one side of the dough over the filling. Lightly wet it with water. Fold the other side on top and press down to create a seal.

DSC_0300

Flip the roll “seal-side down” onto your floured surface. Using your kitchen knife, cut the log into 2-3″ pieces.

DSC_0302

DSC_0305

Finally, take your sharpest, smallest knife and cut 3 small slits in the top of the dough. You want to slice through the top layer of dough only.

DSC_0315

DSC_0319

Shape the cookie into a crescent and place it on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

DSC_0326

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes on the bottom rack and 5-7 minutes on the top rack. When each batch is finished, take them out and allow them to cool completely. The filling will be very hot.

DSC_0330

If you like, you can then create a light glaze by mixing 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar with about 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush the glaze over the cooled cookies. It hardens very quickly, so that you can enjoy your fig treats soon!

DSC_0341

DSC_0336

DSC_0363

DSC_0361

 

Dark Chocolate, Espresso Cookies with Sea Salt

espresso cookie

These cookies are my new favorite. They are not very child-friendly or pregnant-person friendly, because they do in fact contain espresso powder. However, they are soft and chewy and sweet and salty and even a little bitter to the taste! They have a kick of caffeine and they stay nice and soft for at least a week or two after being made!!

espresso cookies

They are the answer to every craving (excepting, perhaps, the late-nite snack run). Truth be told, you also have the option of using decaf instant espresso for an all-day treat, accessible to anyone with a penchant for that delicious mocha flavor.

To top it all off, they are incredibly easy to make. The actual mixing time is about fifteen minutes, and baking time is ten to fifteen. Be aware, though, you must let the batter chill for an hour or two after being made, otherwise, these cookies will melt all over your oven. However, they stay so delicious and yummy even a week after being made, that you can always prep the dough ahead of time and bake ahead of time or prep the dough and let it chill for a day or two before you actually need to bake them! Either way- you’ve got plenty of options, and no excuse not to let yourself enjoy these fabulous cookies.

espresso cookies

 

Dark Chocolate, Espresso Cookies with Sea Salt

(makes about 18-20 cookies)

Ingredients

1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon finely-ground sea salt

2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure, vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons espresso powder

2 ounces chocolate chips (any cocoa percentage is fine)
coarsely-ground sea salt for dusting

espresso cookies

 

First, mix the flour, baking powder, and finely-ground sea salt in a large bowl.

espresso cookies

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, and sugar.

Over a pot of boiling water, in a medium-sized metal bowl, melt together the bittersweet chocolate, butter, and espresso powder. Stir continuously. For faster melting, chop all of the ingredients before putting them together over heat.

espresso cookies

Let the melted chocolate mixture cool for about five minutes. Combine it with the egg mixture and whisk. Add in the dry ingredients and mix. Finally, add in the chocolate chips (we used dark chocolate) to create the dough!

Chill the dough for an hour or two at least. If you are making it ahead of time, you can chill it for up to two days.

To bake- cover a pan in parchment paper and place the dough in rounded tablespoons. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 325° F. The cookies are done when the tops begin to crackle!

Take them out of the oven and let them cool for about five minutes.

 

Dust with coarse sea salt and enjoy!

 

Miniature S’mores Tarts

smores

It seems as though the United States is on a bit of a s’mores kick, and William is more than happy to jump onto that bandwagon. He is obsessed with all things s’mores: candies, frapps, chocolate, cakes, pies, etc. It is amazing what a variety of treats can be made with graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows!

For my part, I am obsessed with tiny things- not an uncommon obsession, to be sure! Recently I saw a picture of a miniature pie made out of the lid of a mason jar, and I knew that we had to do something like that. We have been doing a smoothie cleanse for the past week (more on that later) and we happen to be knee deep in mason jar lids! We decided to put them to good use and make a delicious– albeit cleanse-ruining– dessert out of them. (It was totally worth it.)

smores

 

Enjoy!

Miniature S’mores Tarts

makes 14 miniature tarts

 

Ingredients

for the crust
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/3 cup sugar

smores

for the chocolate filling
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons salted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons AP flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 whole egg
1 1/2 egg yolks*
1 tablespoon Kahlua
marshmallows and sea salt to top

smores
other materials
parchment paper
mason jar lids (If you have 14 of these- this will be easy– but if you only have four, it’s not a problem! You will just have to bake these in batches.)

*If you double this recipe, it obviously makes the ratios easier to deal with, but for 1 1/2 egg yolks, simply throw one egg yolk into your bowl, whisk another into a separate container, and measure out half. The remaining yolk and whites can be reused for a yummy breakfast!

 

First, prepare the crust in a bowl. Melt the butter and mix in it with the graham cracker crumbs and sugar.

smores

 

Next, make the filling! In a microwave safe bowl combine the whipping cream, salted butter, and chopped chocolate.

smores

 

Microwave this mixture for two minutes, and then stir it all together to create a velvety chocolate cream.

 

In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, flour, and salt.

 

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir in the egg, egg yolks, and Kahlua.

smores

 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Next, assemble the tarts.

Press about 3 teaspoons of graham cracker crust into the mason jar lids. You want to build a thin layer of crust up into the rim of the lid, but be careful when pressing it into the middle. The crust is loose and dry-feeling before it has been baked.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Bake the bare crust for ten minutes on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. After this first baking process, carefully drop 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chocolate filling into each lid. You do not need to spread it out much, it will cook out on its own. If you try to spread it out, you risk weakening the crust on the bottom as it is not yet solidified!

 

Bake the tarts for another ten minutes. After this baking, transfer the tarts to the fridge for ten minutes of cooling.

 

After the lids are cool enough to handle, you can carefully pop the tarts out of their “molds”!

 

Put the oven on broil and move a rack up to the top third. Carefully place marshmallows on top of each tart. This part is fun because any design you make will hold, so you can get creative with the marshmallows!

Put the tarts in the oven and watch them carefully. The marshmallows will toast very quickly, so you want to pay attention and take them out right when they get to your preferred level of toastedness! Personally, I’m the girl who sets her marshmallows on fire for the charred flavor, but everyone has a different preference.

 

Slice them up and enjoy!

Chocolate Mousse and Sea Salt Caramel Pie

caramel mousse pie

Post-fast, this was the perfect dish. It is the exact opposite of everything we have been eating for the past few months. This pie has a rich, chocolate mousse with the most luxurious texture. The caramel satisfies every craving with a lightly-salted sweetness. The crust is perfectly flaky and buttery. Overall, the entire dessert is the epitome of decadence, and it will delight your taste buds!

caramel mousse pie

 

But this pie– with the mousse and the caramel and the perfect crust– it will not come without effort. The effort and time that I put into the process of preparing this dessert gave me a great opportunity to reflect on the fast and what it was like.

As a spiritual exercise, I must admit that the fast did nothing to make me want to read the Bible more or pray all the time. It did teach me a great lesson in lack. I learned what it’s like to lack choices. I learned what it means to not be able eat whatever you want every night. I had to worry very much about food costs, I had to worry about food content, and I had to worry about food consumption.

caramel mousse pie

 

As for cost, I could not overspend, even though I needed more organic and natural products. There was also a cost element involved in the time it took to plan each meal, go to the store, and prepare it. This was truly a lesson in how difficult it can be for some folks to find and afford healthy food options.

I was appalled at the grocery store price pyramid. Foods with high sugar content, high fat content, and fewer natural ingredients are usually pretty expensive, but they are often on sale (so they appear cheaper). On top of this, good, fresh produce (though often inexpensive) never goes on sale, and spoils faster (often leading to increased overall food costs). If you use coupons or sales to guide your buying habits, you will be eating solely canned, packaged foods.

It was extremely disappointing, but also a great chance to see how much I had to give up in order to be able to afford to eat organic and sugar-free: the time it takes to visit the market more often and actually prepare every single meal, combined with the added cost per meal of fresh ingredients. This lack of affordable and healthy options made it difficult for us to eat as much as we felt we needed, and I can hardly imagine how impossible it would be for people with a stricter budget.

caramel mousse pie

 

Perhaps one of the most upsetting things about going on the Daniel Fast was our crash course in food content. I remember one afternoon in particular. I came home from a long day at work and an extra trip to the grocery store, hell-bent on making this delicious and hearty soup for dinner. I was careful to make sure I bought everything we needed, including vegetable broth. On a whim, I decided to read the ingredient list on the broth box. Ingredients: salt, modified palm oil, monosodium glutamate, autolyzed yeast extract, sugar….. my heart sunk. In what universe does vegetable broth require any of these ingredients?! 

I went through a range of emotions over the following week or so, but I settled on anger. I felt anger towards these companies, I felt lied to. I also felt that oh-so-familiar pang of lack. Maybe I was getting salt and oil and whatever else out of that vegetable broth, but that broth was lacking a key component: vegetables!

The major issue we ran into nine times out of ten was sugar. Companies today put sugar in everything, even when their product isn’t meant to be sweet. This was immensely frustrating for many reasons, but it also felt nutritionally lacking, and potentially harmful. Anyone with strict dietary restrictions that include something as ubiquitous as sugar has probably felt this frustration many times before, but this was my first experience truly understanding what it must be like to try and maintain a natural diet in today’s world.

caramel mousse pie

 

Because a fast (by its very definition) is a decrease in overall food intake, we also had to worry about food consumption. This was another great eye-opener for me. I am a foodie, and I am more than happy to admit that. I love eating, I could eat all day. I often eat more than I need to eat, and I don’t feel too bad about it as long as the food is tasty. Throughout the entire process of the Daniel Fast, our stomachs actually shrank.

We became accustomed to eating less food, less soda, and less calories. Post-fast, we have found that portion sizes at restaurants are way too large, and many recipes make enough food to feed a party of 12. We have had to adjust to this, and work on ordering/making less food so as to create less waste. It was a shocking realization, how little we need to thrive. While I am happy to again be eating leavened breads, cheese and eggs, I am finding it necessary to adjust my expectations. It is important to understand how little we really need, and to understand how much we typically waste in terms of food.

caramel mousse pie

 

Having said all of that, and interspersed it with pictures of a decadent dessert, I will admit that I still love good food! I love to indulge, and I love to experience my food. Sometimes I still eat too much, and I often still eat food that is not great for me.

Yet, I now understand food from a different perspective. I know what it feels like to lack food options. I know how biased our industrial food culture is, pushing people towards packaged, processed foods using coupons and cheap prices. I know how little food we really need, and how much we often over consume.

caramel mousse pie

 

This pie was made with a ton of effort, and a lot of love. It was made for a multitude of people too! It was shared and enjoyed– in moderation. It is decadent, but it is also an art.

It is art creating the perfect flaky crust out of flour and frozen butter, making sure to add in juuuuust the right amount of ice water to develop those thin layers. It is art sculpting an old-school mousse with no mixer, straining arm muscles and working as a team until the perfect peaks are visible.

Overall, I do think that the fast was an incredible and enlightening experience that allowed me to see food from a different perspective, but it also has allowed me to enjoy food in a different way, and I hope y’all enjoy this pie! It was made for sharing!

caramel mousse pie

 

Chocolate Mousse and Sea Salt Caramel Pie

serves as many as you like!

Ingredients

for the crust
2 sticks salted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6-8 tablespoons ice water
parchment paper, 9″ pie pan, pie weights (or dried beans/rice)

caramel mousse pie

for the caramel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

caramel mousse pie

for the mousse
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 tablespoons salted butter
3 eggs, separated
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon kahlua

caramel mousse pie

 

To start, the crust must be made. It is the foundation of any good pie, and a homemade crust makes a world of difference. The goal is to get the butter cold enough that it is spread into the flour in specks, and cooks into flaky layers. You need a good food processor for this.

First, chop the butter into cubes and freeze it for an hour. This may seem like a lot of down time, but it really does help create the texture you want in a good crust. I recommend making this pie on a day off or weekend, when you would otherwise be lounging around anyway!

caramel mousse piecaramel mousse pie

 

After the butter has chilled, remove it from the freezer. In a food processor, combine the flours, salt, and sugar, and mix them together. At this point you might need to work in batches, especially if you have a smaller model food processor like I do!

Add half of the butter to the flour mixture and pulse. You want to make sure that it gets pulverized and blended with the flour. I needed to wait a few minutes in between pulses in order to let the butter warm up a bit. This can be frustrating, but it will work, I promise!

caramel mousse piecaramel mousse pie

 

Add in the rest of the butter along with 1/4 cup of ice water, and continue to blend, until you have a thick, powdery substance. William calls this “butter flour” and he is exactly right! It should not be a paste really, it will be drier than you think!

caramel mousse pie

 

Once you have blended everything, add in more ice water, one tablespoon at a time. You are looking to create the perfect dough. It should appear crumbly at first (so do NOT add in too much water). If you’re really lucky, it will be speckled with golden butter flakes!! You can work with it in a small bowl at this point.

caramel mousse pie

After you have added in the correct amount of ice water, dump the crumbly “dough” onto a counter, protected by parchment paper. You want to use a frisage technique here. It’s a French method of pulling together pastry dough. This is a very delicate way of bringing the dough into a single mass, using only the heal of your hand.

caramel mousse pie

As you push down and continue to roll the dough together, it will slowly appear less crumbly.

caramel mousse pie

You will hopefully begin to see those butter flakes, and you can start to use the parchment paper to actually push the dough into a ball shape.

caramel mousse pie

I really only had to work with this pastry dough for a few minutes, and it is very important that the dough not be overworked. The less you work with it using your hands, the less likely the butter flakes are to melt off and disappear!

After the dough has been pulled together, place it back in the small bowl and refrigerate for about an hour.

Once the dough has chilled a bit, remove it from the refrigerator and place it back on the parchment paper counter. Using a floured rolling pin, gently roll the dough out into a circle. I find it most convenient to first make sure the dough is balled into a perfect sphere (this makes rolling it into a shape that vaguely resembles a circle much easier!). Place the dough over the edges of a buttered pie pan and gently fold it over. Be sure to press the dough out into the pan so that it forms to the shape of the pan itself.

caramel mousse pie

I then took scissors and trimmed the edges of the dough, to ensure that it would be somewhat presentable! This is by no means necessary and it will not hurt your pie if you leave it be!

Next, freeze the pie for 30 minutes. I know that the constant cooling is time consuming and boring, but I promise it will make for the best crust because it keeps the butter chilled!

After the pie is once again cold, cover it in parchment paper, weighed down by pie weights or dried rice.

caramel mousse pie

Bake in the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven, taking off the pie weights and parchment paper. Now, prick the bottom of the pie with a fork. This whole process seems overly-complicated, but it helps the pie keep its shape and cook all the way through. (If you don’t trust me about the necessity of following these instructions, you can view the consequences for yourself here!)

caramel mousse pie

Bake the crust in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. The rim should become a darker, golden brown and those layers should be visible. The center will look uncooked for the longest amount of time, and you want to leave the pie in as long as possible to get that cooked (without burning the edges).

caramel mousse pie

It probably will not become all the way cooked, but I did not want the edges to get too brown, so I opted to take mine out earlier rather than later. After this entire process is finished, place the crust in the fridge to cool down before starting on the caramel!

caramel mousse pie

 

The second “piece of the pie” is the caramel. This part seems really easy, but caramel is difficult to make. To be honest, I underestimated caramel and the end result here was not what I intended. I was looking for a clearer, darker caramel. Alas, I created an opaque, and saucy mess– but it is a delicious mess and it soaks into the crispy layers of the crust in the most perfect way!

This process isn’t too pretty, so I don’t have great pictures.

First, combine the sugar and water in a pot and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir until all of the sugar dissolves, and a brownish color develops. (I had issues with massive bubbling-over, so especially if you own a gas stove I would recommend taking it slow and doing this entire process over low heat.)

caramel mousse pie

After a brown color has developed, take the pot off of the heat and fully stir in the cream. Let this cook for 1-2 minutes over low heat. Add in the butter and salt, and cook over medium-high heat to form bubbles. Continue stirring, and cook the mixture for a few more minutes or until it develops a deeper, brown color. Set it aside to cool for a minute or so before pouring onto the crust.

Once the caramel has cooled down a bit, pour it over the chilled crust and place it back in the refrigerator for about five hours to solidify. I know this seems like a long wait, but you can use some of this time to make the chocolate mousse by hand!

caramel mousse pie

 

The last step is to make the mousse!

In a pan over low heat, melt the chocolate into the butter. I recommend using a rubber spatula and stirring the pot often to prevent any burning. Every recipe says you must use a double boiler for this, but I have never had a problem putting the chocolate over direct heat as long as I watch it closely.

caramel mousse pie

After the chocolate and butter have melted, take the pot off of the heat and let it cool down.

In the meantime, separate the yolks and whites of 3 eggs into two bowls. Because we do not own an electric mixer of any kind, we make all our mousses by hand. If you are in the same boat, I would highly recommend finding people to help you whisk and freezing the whisking bowls for about half an hour before you use them! A frozen whisking bowl will help develop peaks faster so you can create air bubbles with less effort!

[side note: if you are using an electric mixer please watch carefully for peaks. this process will be easy peasy for you, and you could accidentally make butter!]

caramel mousse pie

Beat the egg yolks until you notice thick ribbons forming that stay together for a second or two. This should be after about 2-4 minutes of whisking. Combine the yolks with the chocolate, stirring constantly to avoid cooking the yolks. Add in the kahlua, and mix well.

caramel mousse pie

 

In a separate, frozen bowl, beat the egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. This will take a while, but here is what they should look like when you’re done:

caramel mousse piecaramel mousse pie

 

In a third, frozen bowl, beat the cream to stiff peaks. Again, this is a process and any helpers should be welcomed into the kitchen at this point!

caramel mousse pie

Now, fold together the chocolate, egg whites, and cream to create a luscious mousse!

caramel mousse pie

 

Be sure to fold everything together carefully, not mix, so as to preserve the fluffy texture.

caramel mousse pie

 

This mousse will get lighter in color as you stir, but it will still have a rich, dark chocolate flavor that offsets the sweetness of the caramel!

caramel mousse pie

 

Now, gently spread the mousse over the caramel and pie crust using a rubber spatula.

caramel mousse pie

Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 3 hours to 3 days. By the third day this pie will be divine. If you can wait that long, the caramel flavors will soak into the crust and solidify to create the most amazing combination! Note that the caramel will be thin and drip out almost like a sauce, especially if you consume it earlier!

After the pie has chilled sufficiently, slice it and sprinkle it with sea salt!

caramel mousse pie

Enjoy with friends and family and be thankful for the many blessings (and wonderful food) we have!

caramel mousse pie

 

 

Miniature Chocolate Lava Cakes

lava cakesThis amazing recipe is adapted from the Junior League cookbook from my hometown, Birmingham, AL. It’s called Tables of Content and it is full of great local recipes. Birmingham has a foodie culture that started thriving a few years back when local chefs like Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings began gaining national recognition. Anyways, this recipe is the bomb!

A quick note on chocolate types: this recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate. After several trips to the grocery store, I confirmed that I was extremely confused when it comes to different types of chocolate and cocoa percentages. According to most of what I have read, the term “bittersweet” seems to refer to a massive range of cocoa percentages (from about 30-90%). What most of us have in our pantries is milk chocolate for snacking or unsweetened chocolate for baking.

Both of those are big no-nos for this recipe! If milk or white chocolate is used (cocoa percentages below 30) the fat and high sugar content in the chocolate will not melt properly and not only will the resulting cakes be way too sweet, but they may not even have that delicious, liquid lava center! The ubiquitous semi-sweet chips, while confusingly named, are within the range of good cocoa percentages.

To sum up: Do use chocolate labelled bittersweet, semi-sweet, or dark, and anything with a cocoa percentage above 35. Don’t use unsweetened chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate.

lava cakes

Mini Chocolate Lava Cakes
Serves about 8, in mini ramekins

Ingredients
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks salted butter
3 eggs
3 egg yolks (save the whites, they’ll make a super healthy omelette!)
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons AP flour
extra butter and cocoa powder for greasing ramekins

Ingredients

Ingredients

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. Stir it with a rubber spatula to keep the chocolate from burning.

lava cakesIt helps to let the butter melt a bit first before putting the chocolate in, that way the chocolate does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring it over low heat until all is melted and you basically have a giant amazing pot of liquid chocolate. Then, set this pot aside to cool.

lava cakesIn a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar thoroughly with a whisk or fork. This will take a while (it took me a little under 5 minutes to do it manually), but keep stirring until they get whiter in color and foamy on top. Add in the vanilla and salt and stir it up again.

lava cakesAdd in the flour and then the chocolate mixture, as long as it is cool enough not to cook the eggs. Fold it all slowly together with the rubber spatula until it gets thick and glossy.

Coat six small ramekins with butter and cocoa powder. If you don’t have ramekins, you can definitely use any other oven-proof dish. I like the small ramekins because they are perfect for individually sized servings and I use them all the time for serving fruit and for sauces (hint hint if you don’t have them you want them).

lava cakesPlace the ramekins on a baking sheet, and fill them with the batter about 3/4 of the way full.

lava cakesBake them in the oven for 10-15 minutes. You want to take them out while the centers are still jiggly but the edges are cooked and seem to have detached from the side of the ramekins. It will seem like they are not all the way cooked, but if you leave them in longer, they won’t have any ‘lava’ inside!

Garnish them with whipped cream, raspberries, or mint and enjoy!

What happens if you let it cook too much! (still delicious)

What happens if you let it cook too much! (still delicious)

P.S. I know it is super annoying to let 3 egg whites go to waste, so put them in an air-tight container and save them for a delicious egg white omelette or scramble! If you’re in the mood for a good, 1-serving scramble, try this!

 

Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes

Red wine cupcakeFor all of you who have known in your life the joy of red velvet cake, these cupcakes are like individually portioned alcoholic red velvet cakes! They are incredibly moist and delicious (even two weeks later).  Be warned though, the wine does not cook out. These cupcakes really do have the flavor of red wine, and it is wonderful!

If you enjoy wine, but can never manage to finish a bottle, this the perfect way to avoid letting the rest of it go to waste. I love using a sweet red wine (like a merlot) but I have used pinots as well and the end result is still delicious!

The wine that has resulted in my favorite cupcakes is the J. Lohr Paso Robles Merlot from 2011. It is relatively inexpensive, but if you don’t like merlots you are by no means stuck with this! Any red wine is worth a shot, and although it results in some awkward measurements, I usually cut this recipe in half and make only 5 or 6 cupcakes at a time. If you do this, just use 1 large egg, and google to calculate all of the other ridiculously tiny measurements. If you just want to make a small batch to try, or this is just for a small group, the halved recipe won’t even make a dent in your pantry stock and you get delicious desserts out of it!

Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Smitten.

Ingredients
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons salted butter, melted in a large (at least 2 cups) measuring cup
3/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

Red wine cupcakePreheat the oven to 325°F. Insert cupcake liners into a regular sized cupcake pan. This recipe will make twelve cupcakes, so you might have to bake them in two batches.

In a large bowl, mix the sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Red wine cupcakeTo the container of melted butter add the red wine and vanilla. Mix them thoroughly and make sure the mixture isn’t too warm before you add the eggs (you definitely don’t want to cook the eggs). Whisk or stir in the eggs.

Red wine cupcakeMake a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir well with a spoon or a rubber spatula.

Red wine cupcakeFill the cupcake pan with the batter (I used around 1/3 a cup of batter for each cupcake, but just make sure that the pan is 3/4 full).

Red wine cupcakeBake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. These cupcakes are shiny even when they’re ready to come out of the oven so watch it closely!!

Enjoy!

Red wine cupcake

 

The Famous ‘Break-up Cookie’

breakup cookieThis is for people who need a very specific kind of cookie. A remarkable, delectable, culinary masterpiece. This is for people who want to make buckets of cookies and not be stuck with brick-like, petrified rocks in a week or two. This cookie will stay chewy! It is salty and sweet and buttery: the triad of great, classic flavors that are being overwhelmed by all of these new-fangled fancy cookie look-alikes!

Getting (almost) back to basics, I went in search of the one cookie to rule them all!

First, a couple caveats:
Don’t be put off by the cream cheese, it’s what helps them keep their chewiness over time.
Don’t make them if you’re on a diet! 😀

The Break-up Cookie Revamped

2 1/4 cups of AP flour
1/2 tsp of baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar (I used dark brown and it also worked just fine)
1 1/2 sticks of salted butter
1/4 cup cream cheese
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

break up cookiePreheat the oven to 375°F. I lined my pan with parchment paper, but it is totally not necessary, so if you don’t have any- no worries!

You can do everything else with just two bowls for minimal cleanup. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, white sugar, and brown sugar. Melt the butter in a microwave-proof container that can hold at least 2 cups. After it is melted, let it cool a bit and add in the cream cheese, vanilla extract, and eggs. Be careful to keep stirring or whisking it to prevent the eggs from cooking!

breakup cookieAdd the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula or spoon. It takes a bit for it to all come together, so don’t worry if your dough seems very dry at first. The flour will soak up all the butter and it will look almost wet when it is ready for the chocolate chips! Mix in the chocolate chips.

breakup cookieOnce everything is all mixed up, spoon about a tbs per cookie onto a cookie sheet. This dough doesn’t spread out very much while cooking, so if you want traditional looking, flat cookies, I recommend actually forming them that way before baking them.

breakup cookiedBake them for about ten minutes, and sprinkle them with a little kosher salt right as they come out of the oven. The Breakup Cookie strives to be both salty and sweet, but if you are all about the sweetness, you can certainly forget about the extra salt!

breakup cookieThis recipe makes just under 3 dozen cookies so there will be plenty to go around!

breakup cookieEnjoy!

breakup cookie