Summer Fruit Pavlova

Summer Fruit Pavlova

I have to say successfully making this Pavlova was one of my finest moments in the kitchen. I remember thinking Pavlova was the fanciest dessert ever when I was growing up. But for as long as I can remember, the thought of making meringue has scared me. There are too many variables in meringue making and the fact that something can go wrong at any point in the process just stresses me out. I spent quite a bit of time reading old cookbooks and consulting the websites of chefs I trust for learning something new. The end result was a smashing success. I was so proud!

Summer Fruit Pavlova

I made this a bit earlier in the summer for my wonderful mother’s birthday, so depending on where you are peaches and cherries might not be at the peak. As far as  fruit selection goes, you can’t really go wrong. Personally, I would stick to berries and stone fruits, but there are endless combinations that would be delicious.

Summer Fruit Pavlova

 

Summer Fruit Pavlova

Ingredients

For the Pavlova
  • 4 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon white wine or distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Whipped Cream
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Fruit Topping
  • 2-3 cups of mixed berries or fruits of choice.

Instructions

For the Pavlova
  1. Preheat oven to 250°F (130°C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7 inch (18 cm) circle on the paper.
  2. Pour the vanilla and vinegar into a small cup. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl.
  3. In a large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft peaks/trails start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar (if you didn’t use cream of tartar.) Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)
  6. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Check on meringues at least once during the baking time. If they appear to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and turn pan around. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)
For the Whipped Cream
  1. Whip the cream in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar gradually and then the vanilla, beating the cream until firm. Be careful not to over-do it, or might end up with a bowl of sweet homemade butter.
Assembling
  1. Invert the meringue disk onto a plate and spread the top completely with sweetened whipped cream. Spoon the fruit carefully into the middle of the Pavlova, leaving a border of cream and meringue.

No-Bake Peanut Butter, Chocolate, Oatmeal Cookies!

No-Bake Peanut Butter, Chocolate, Oatmeal Cookies!

Does anybody remember the great peanut butter price rising scare of 2011? Well, when I heard about the cataclysmic events that were going to be caused by peanut butter prices skyrocketing, I did what any sane person would do; Ran to Costco and bought the biggest jar of peanut butter I could find and since this is Costco, it obviously came in a 2-pack. Fast forward to this week and as I was looking for a large can of tomatoes in the bottom of my kitchen pantry, I stumbled upon, not one, but two unopened Costco-sized jars of peanut butter. Fortunately, processed peanut butter could survive the apocalypse, so it was still good. It was upon seeing these two jars that I realized that my visions of becoming rich via the illicit peanut butter black market I had hoped would emerge as a result of worldwide peanut butter prices rising, that I should probably set about actually using some of the peanut butter I have been hoarding.

Enter these cookies! These are the easiest cookies in the world to make! There’s no baking, there’s peanut butter, there’s chocolate, there’s oatmeal, what’s not to love?

I cut the original recipes suggested sugar in half and they were still plenty sweet. I think 2 cups would be way too much. My only word of advice is to use the fridge or freezer to help them set. Maybe it was because it was unseasonably hot the day I made these (around 80F/26C, in February… Gross.), but they would not harden. I stuck the cookie sheet in the fridge for about 30 minutes and they were perfect.

No-Bake Peanut Butter, Chocolate, Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups oatmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats)
  • Waxed or parchament paper

In a heavy saucepan bring to a boil, the sugar, cocoa, butter and milk. Let boil for 1 minute then add peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal. On a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet, drop mixture by the teaspoonfuls, until cooled and hardened. Throw the cookie sheet in the fridge to help speed up the process.

 

 

Transylvanian Truffles

I’m not quite sure what these have to do with Transylvania, but we’ll just go with it. Transylvania is actually quite awesome. I lived there for a week once. It’s a long story, but just trust me when I say it was great and there are not vampires lurking around every corner.

If you are having an adult halloween party, I would recommend slipping some hazelnut liqueur, like Frangelico, into the mix.

Transylvanian Truffles (from myrecipes.com)

  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, for coating truffles, optional
  • 3 dozen miniature Halloween sugar decorations or toasted hazelnuts, optional
  1. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. In a small, heavy saucepan, bring cream to a boil and pour over chocolate, whisking until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Whisk in chocolate-hazelnut spread until combined. Let cool completely, then refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight
  2. Using a teaspoon, scoop out a 1- to 1 1/2 -inch nugget. Use your hands to quickly roll it into a ball; transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Continue with remaining mixture. (If balls become too soft, refrigerate for a few minutes.) If using, roll truffles in cocoa to coat. Gently press a sugar decoration or toasted hazelnut into top of each truffle, if desired. Cover and refrigerate until firm. (Refrigerate unadorned truffles in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before decorating with candy or nuts. Refrigerate truffles again before serving.)

Pumpkin Pie Bars

We had 3 days of sub-70 degree temperatures here in Southern California, which means it’s kinda, sorta officially autumn.  Time to bust out the scarves, jackets and boots and other autumnal things that are still completely inappropriate in this climate. I decided to go all out and just dive into the deep end of fall. I feel like the deep end of fall is most accurately embodied by pumpkin in it’s various forms. I dabbled around in the shallow end of pumpkin, with some gnocchi and lattes, a couple weeks ago, but brace yourself.

If you like pumpkin pie or even vaguely think that pumpkin scented candles are sort nice, you definitely need to go ahead and make this. The bourbon and chocolate chips are totally optional, but I think they are totally necessary. Just do it. This is a perfect dessert for any halloween or fall cocktail parties you have coming up. It would also be great for a casual Thanksgiving get together. So just go ahead and make it now. Everyone will love you.

Pumpkin Pie Bars (from Joy the Baker)

  • 1-1/3 cups flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill GF All-purpose mix)
  • 3/4 cup  granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup  (1-1/2 sticks) cold butter
  • 1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats, uncooked (used Bob’s Red Mill GF Oats)
  • 1/2 cup  chopped walnuts
  • 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 3   eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)
  • a handful of butterscotch or chocolate chips for sprinkling on top (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line 13×9-inch pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides; grease foil.
  2. Mix flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar in medium bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in oats and nuts.
  3. Reserve 1 cup oat mixture; press remaining onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes. Beat cream cheese, remaining sugar, eggs, vanilla, bourbon, pumpkin and spice with mixer until well blended. Pour over crust; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture and a handful of butterscotch or chocolate chips (if desired).
  4. Bake 25 min.; cool 10 min. Use foil to transfer dessert from pan to wire rack; cool completely.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

When I was living overseas, there was no such thing as pumpkin pie spice. Pumpkin just isn’t put in pie form in other parts of the world. But I was quite happy to learn that it was super easy to make your own pumpkin pie spice. I’ve never used the ready mixed version, I’ve always made my own and word on the street is that it’s pretty good.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
Combine all the spices in a small container with a lid. Shake together to combine. Shake it some more. Store in small jar or spice container.

Gluten-Free 7 Layer Bars!

There is just something about a seven layer bar, even if you don’t particularly care for all the ingredients (I’m looking at you coconut and chocolate…), but when you put them together, it’s just magical. I think the most important selling point of the seven layer bar is the graham cracker crust. I am not a fan of desserts normally, but when I think of desserts that I do like, they all have one thing in common, graham cracker crusts.

I will admit that when I was making these gluten free, I was a bit worried about the crust. Most of my gluten-free adaptation failures have come in the baked goods category. Getting the right balance is much trickier when it comes to sweet dishes. For the sake of time and ease we ended up using Kinnikinnick Graham Style Crumbs and you couldn’t even tell the difference! After looking at the box and seeing the that first ingredient was pea starch or flour, I thought that the crust would end up having some weird bean-y texture or taste kinda of off with the rest of the 7 layer ingredients. The bars turned out perfectly!

Gluten-Free Seven Layer Bar (adapted from this recipe)

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chunks
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/3 cups shredded coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  2. Place butter in 13 x 9 inch pan and melt in oven. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with butter.
  3. Spread crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts over crumbs. Pour condensed milk over nuts. Sprinkle coconut over condensed milk.
  4. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool.
  5. Slice into squares, serve and enjoy!

Sunday Summary! May 29, 2011

It’s the weekend (a long one at that). It’s unofficially, officially summer. And that means I have a valid excuse to (over) indulge in several of my favorite things for the next 4 months. Barbecue. Berries. Baking. Booze. Which are all things I wholeheartedly indulge in on a regular basis, but now I can do so without people judging as much. It’s slightly comforting.

My main goal or the summer will probably be attempting to combine my four favorite things in as many different combinations possible, as frequently as possible. What can I say, I’m a simple girl. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. As you can see from the recipes I’m planning on making this weekend, I would say that this summer is already off to a great start! 🙂

Things I Made This Week:

Things I Want to Make Next Week: 

Um. Yeah. All of these will be consumed by Monday and I’m pretty excited about it.
I hope everyone has a long, relaxing weekend and be sure to take a second to remember the real reason and sacrifice behind this three day weekend.

Blackbird Bakery Gluten Free Maraschino-Marzipan Kisses!

And we’re back! There have been a few speed bumps and lost of busy days in the real world, so this little blog has been very neglected. Now that trips are done, puppies are better, food allergies are diagnosed and things are getting back to normal, it’s time to get back to business!

Let’s talk about baking, because who doesn’t like baking? Nobody, that’s who!

Gluten-free baking can be super daunting to the uninitiated. Having to combine multiple kinds of expensive, flours with strange names (sorghum, millet, guar gum, xanthan gum, say what?) seems like way too much effort most of the time when you are just trying to whip up some treats in a hurry. While I absolutely love to bake, I’ve been very hesitant about getting involved in gluten-free baking. Nearly every store-bought gluten-free dessert or sweet I had tried has been absolutely horrible, unless oddly sweeten cardboard is your thing…

Enter Blackbird Bakery’s book! This is the first gluten free baking book I’ve bought and I really like it. As obsessed as I am with my Kindle, I still love the feel of a good book. Blackbird Bakery Gluten Free is a very high quality cookbook with great pictures and very interesting recipes. I like the fact that the author/baker Karen Morgan lays out the recipes in clear terms and makes it all seem very approachable. The beginning of the book contains a nice little glossary that explains all sorts of things about different type of gluten free flours and ingredients and how they might be used. It was such a useful thing to read and made me feel like I could understand and tackle any baking endeavor.

The first cookies I made were super simple and fast and very tasty.

Maraschino-Marzipan Kisses

From Blackbird Bakery Gluten Free

  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 3/8 tsp. pure almond extract
  • 2 cups sliced almonds, coarsely crushed
  • 1 lb. jar maraschino cherries, drained (I used the jarred cherries from Trader Joe’s, they aren’t maraschino)
1. Pre-heat oven to 375F and line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats.
2. In a food processor combine the almond flour and sugar and mix for a few seconds.
3. Add the egg whites and almond extract and mix on high until the dough pulls together into a sticky mass and forms a ball.
4. Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop out dough and transfer it to a flat surface (the cookbook says you should have about 18 balls of dough, I had a lot more).
5. Take 2 shallow bowls or pie dishes, place the almonds in one and water in another. Dip the palm of one hand in the water and wet the other palm.
6. Take one of the dough balls and place it in the palm of your non-dominant hand. Gently press the ball into a disk. Place a single cherry in the middle of the dish and then carefully lift the edges of the disk up and around the cherry. Roll the cookie between your hands to form a ball. (Make sure to keep your hands moist with the water so the dough doesn’t stick!)
7. Roll the finished ball in the crushed almonds and try to coat evenly. Place the dough ball on one of the prepared pans. Repeat until all the cookies have been made.
8. Bake 1 pan at a time for 10 minutes, rotating halfway through.
9. Remove from the oven and let cool on pan for 5 minutes then transfer until wire rack to cool.
10. Serve and enjoy!
The cookies turned out to be rather delicious. The dough smelled slightly like marzipan, but tasted much better. The combination of cherry and almond was quite enjoyable. Despite looking kind of fancy, these cookies were easy to make.

Izzy wanted some too!

Macarons: The Test Run

When I was back visiting Budapest a couple of weeks ago, my friend Amy set about making macarons for the first time. I was fascinated. I’d never had a macaron before, so I had no idea what was entailed.  Since we are having a St. Patrick’s Day party next weekend (there will be more recipes on the way for that!), I decided it might be fun to attempt to make macarons myself, but after seeing a great baker like Amy having a battle with the recipe, I knew a test run was very necessary.

Originally, I thought ‘they only have four ingredients, they can’t be that complicated, right?’. Riiiiight. HA.

I used Tartelette’sDemystifying Macarons‘ that Amy had shown me for guidance. When I first saw it I laughed and thought ‘there is no way someone can write that much about a cookie…’, now I wish there was more!

I used Tartelette’s Basic French Meringue Macaron Recipe. And the results were rather interesting.

Basic French Meringue Macaron

  • 100 grams egg whites (preferably aged overnight in the fridge or on your countertop if the kitchen is relatively cool)
  • 25 grams granulated sugar
  • 200 grams powdered sugar
  • 110 grams almonds

I meant to add green food coloring to making them more appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day, but completely forgot until I was already piping them. A couple did get some sprinkles thrown on in a feeble attempt to make up for the distinct lack of green.

 

When I took them out of the oven, they looked vaguely macaron-ish. I was fairly impressed for my first attempt. They had the elusive ‘feet’, even if they were more side feet than standing feet, but they didn’t look as bad as I expected them to.

 

I let them cool and as I popped on off the baking sheet only half the cookie came up… They were under baked! I’m thinking that I might have piped mine bigger than the suggested size and they could have used a few more minutes in the oven. Such a disappointment.

I have turned my initial macaron defeat, into a macaron challenge! I’m going to give them one more shot before the party on Saturday and here’s hoping they turn out.
Any macaron experts out there have some words of wisdom to share?