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Summer Sweets: Fresh Cherry Marshmallows

19 Aug

Have I mentioned lately how much I love summer? Okay sure, the other seasons have their benefits. The warm spices of autumn, the hearty meals of winter, and the sweetness of early spring vegetables are awesome. But summer has all sorts of fruit and vegetable gifts for me to play with in the kitchen. And their seasons are fleeting, so it’s important to make the most of them while they’re around. That’s why this is the first of TWO recipes utilizing one of my favorite quick-to-disappear delights: Fresh sweet cherries.

Now sour cherries are delightful too, but you only usually see those here in June. Deep, dark red sweet cherries carry on a little longer through the summer. And while my first choice is always to eat them fresh, I do love using them for jams, sauces, and baked goods as well.

Using them for candy-making, on the other hand is a bit more of a challenge. Fruit has a lot of water and some fruits have a great deal of their own pectin. Those factors (and others, like acidity) can really throw off a candy recipe. So I did two things. First, I decided to update my marshmallow recipe. As they do, my methods and techniques have evolved since I first posted it several years ago. Second, I did some research to find out how, where, and when adding some fruit puree to the recipe made the most sense. And very soon, I had a batch of fluffy, fragrant marshmallows with a gentle cherry flavor.

Let’s whip’em up!

Fresh Sweet Cherry Marshmallows

  • 1 1/4 cups water, divided
  • 1/2 cup cherry puree (from 1 heaping cup fresh cherries)
  • 4  ¼ oz. envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin (about 3 tbsp. + 1 tsp.)
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch

Sift the powdered sugar and cornstarch together in a bowl and set aside. You will need this mixture a few times throughout the process, so have it standing nearby.

Grease a 9×13 in. pan and give yourself some extra insurance by lining the bottom with parchment paper. Then grease the parchment and dust the whole pan with the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture. Make sure it’s totally coated.

Grease a spatula or a large offset palette knife and set it aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the cherry puree with ½ cup of the water. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin on top and briefly stir to combine. Let it sit for at least five minutes.

Prepare the syrup by combining the remaining water, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, and then attach a candy thermometer and cook without stirring until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F.

While the syrup is cooking, give the fruit puree/gelatin mixture a stir to make sure the gelatin is well-distributed.

Once the syrup reaches 240 degrees F, turn the stand mixer on low speed and slowly stream in the sugar syrup. Once you’ve poured it all in, slowly increase the speed to its highest setting and whip for 11 minutes.

The mixture will cool down, greatly increase in volume, and slowly turn from syrup into fluffy marshmallow.

After the mixture is whipped, use your oiled spatula/palette knife to spread it into the prepared 9×13 in. pan and smooth the top. Dust the top with more of the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture and let the marshmallows set for 8 hours.

Turn the slab of marshmallow out onto a cutting board and peel back the parchment paper.

Cut into squares of any size using a pizza wheel or an oiled bench scraper. I find that it helps to dip the pizza wheel into the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture after cutting each row. Your cuts will be much neater.

As you cut, toss the squares in the cornstarch/powdered sugar so that all sides are coated. This keeps the marshmallows from sticking together.

Store in a sealed container away from heat and humidity, and start thinking about all of the great cherry s’mores you are going to make.

The fragrance of these is just incredible, not to mention the soft, creamy texture when you bite into one.

Not a cherry lover? That’s alright! Strawberry and blueberry purees also make great marshmallows. And if you’re looking for something more traditional, simply omit the fruit puree, use 3 envelopes of gelatin instead of 4, and add a tsp. of vanilla extract when there is about 1 minute of whipping time left. That will get you the classic, bright white vanilla marshmallow that’s ready for a skewer and a bonfire.

I hope you find some of your own sweet tastes of the season to whip into this tasty confection. Keep your eyes peeled for another cherry delight here soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

 

State Specialties: Smith Island Cake

11 Aug

Chincoteague Island holds some of my favorite foods. The fried chicken and barbecue from Woody’s, scallops from Gary Howard, and crabs and hushpuppies from the aptly named Crab Shack. Not to mention the multiple farmer’s markets, a donut truck, and various small bakeries and ice cream shops.

It’s also the first place I discovered one of the tastiest regional specialties I have yet to try: Smith Island Cake. While they come in many flavors, the common theme among them is the towering number of individually baked (not split) layers, 8-14 of them as far as I’ve seen. The cake is officially designated as the state dessert of Maryland and the most popular variety features a cooked chocolate fudge frosting (though my mother-in-law would have made a strong argument for the coconut variety that she LOVED).

I shared a slice of one of these with my family on one perfect island day and it was a heavenly treat for sure. I’ve wanted to make one ever since, but kept putting it off because I just didn’t have the time. Then Joe went to Las Vegas for a weekend with his friends and I got bored, so things happened.

I’ve done my best to streamline the baking method. The batter and frosting are both pretty simple, you won’t even need a mixer for anything, just two big bowls and a saucepan. No splitting of layers, hooray! And you can take your time with this. The cake batter and frosting are both resilient, so don’t stress.

Smith Island Cake

Butter Cake

  • 24 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
  • 1½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

  • 6 oz. dark/bittersweet chocolate (I used 56%), chopped
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk (one 12 oz. can)
  • 9 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

Cut 8 circles of parchment paper to fit the bottom of 9 in. round cake pans. Grease, line with parchment, and flour as many 9 in. round cake pans as you have. Test to see how many pans will fit on the middle rack of your oven. Doing this in advance will let you know how many batches you’ll be making for 8 layers of cake. I have 5 pans, so I baked in 3 batches.

If you want to simplify dividing your batter among batches, weigh the bowl your final batter will be in.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and eggs until well combined.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk just until it comes together. It will look lumpy, like pancake batter. Let this rest for 15 minutes and then whisk until smooth.

If you are going by weight, weigh your batter, subtract the weight of the bowl, and then divide by 8 to get the amount of batter you’ll use per pan. Alternatively, put a clean bowl on the scale, use the tare function, and pour the batter into the clean bowl. Then divide that number by 8. For my batter, this worked out to just under 9 oz. per pan. I would say it was a heavy ¾ cup per pan.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and then tilt the pans to spread the batter evenly across the bottoms.

Bake the layers for 15 minutes or until just golden at the edges and pulling away from the pan.

Allow the layers to cool in pans for 5 minutes, and then invert onto wire racks to cool completely. I don’t have enough cooling racks for 8 cakes, but these cool fast and you can move the cooled layers onto parchment to give yourself more real estate when the next batch is coming out.

Re-grease and flour pans as needed, divide batter, and bake until you have made eight layers.

To make the fudge frosting, combine the butter, evaporated milk, chocolate, and sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat, stirring often. Boil the mixture, stirring, until thick and shiny (about 8 minutes). It should coat the back of a spoon well. Set aside to cool for about one hour, or until warm, but spreadable.

To assemble the cake, spread a thin layer of frosting over each layer. As you stack, the frosting will start to set up and keep things pretty stable.


Once you have stacked all 8 layers, spread the remaining frosting along the sides and top of the cake. If it starts to get too stiff, just re-warm it a little and it will become spreadable again. Like I said before, super resilient stuff to work with.

And…

I added a little spun sugar for a decorative top, but really this cake is about the insides. Let the frosting set up for at least an hour before cutting. Trust me, it’s worth it, because if you’re patient…


Yes, perfect, clean layers! So satisfying.

So what’s the cake like? It has a buttery soft texture and a warm vanilla flavor. The fudge frosting is something special. I love how it sets up and makes this cake so easy to slice. The flavor is a decadent, rich chocolate that’s, well, wonderfully fudgy!

I know the baking in batches is a bit time consuming, but this cake is so easy to put together once that’s done. And so very worthy of state dessert status!

Don’t be afraid to be creative. You can certainly make some vanilla fudge frosting or a double recipe of maple buttercream, peanut butter filling, or caramel sauce to sandwich between the layers. Jam or curd might be a bit slippery unless you let the layers sit in the fridge between stacking/filling, but the cherry filling from the Ribbon Cake is definitely thick enough to hold up here. You could really make some fantastic stripes, in fact I’m already dreaming about my next birthday cake.

Next time I’m in Chincoteague, I’ll have to do some extremely important and detailed research. 😉

Ciao for now,

Neen

One Night in NOLA: Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

10 Aug

I don’t eat ice cream very often. I’ve made vanilla and cookies and cream versions for Joe, but usually I have a spoonful and leave it at that. I’m more of a pie and pastry person when it comes to sweets. When I think back to many birthday parties over the years, I’ve never wanted a scoop of ice cream with my cake.

But I have my moments. The craving hits every once in a while and always for the same flavor: butter pecan. And the way I see it, if you are going to treat yourself to ice cream, you should go all the way and make it everything you want. As many of my recipes are, this one is born from a memory.

Seven Junes ago, Joe proposed to me a few days before a trip to New Orleans with my family. When we arrived in NOLA, we surprised everyone with the news, and what was already set to be a fun vacation became even more celebratory and special.

The first night there was, as expected, hot and muggy. We made our way through the French Quarter to a tiny restaurant called Green Goddess. We had an excellent meal, but for one time in my whole life, it was an ice cream dessert I ordered there that embedded itself in my brain. It was a sundae consisting of butter pecan ice cream, a caramel sauce, candied bacon, and whipped cream. And it was unreal. The ice cream was perfectly creamy and packed with buttery toasted pecans, the caramel sauce was dark and rich, and the candied bacon was smoky, salty, crunchy, and sweet. The cloud of homemade, not-too-sweet whipped cream on top was the perfect finish.

So when I got my annual(?) ice cream craving, I thought about just making butter pecan, but then I thought back to that sundae and decided it needed a caramel swirl right through the ice cream along with some crispy, salty pecans. Go all the way, right?

The best part about this ice cream is that it’s really not fussy (no egg tempering!), and all of the components can be made in advance. For me, that’s really excellent. My energy level since being diagnosed with RA has been erratic at best, so recipes that allow me to do things at my own pace are especially valuable to me.

Obviously, you will need an ice cream maker of some kind to make this recipe. Whether you roll a ball or use a electric countertop model, you’ll turn out some great ice cream. Let’s get churning!

Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

Ice Cream Base

  • 1 cup cold whole milk
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or 1/3 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Salted Buttered Pecans

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • ¾ tsp. salt

Caramel Swirl

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 7 tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

Method

To make the ice cream base, whisk together milk and brown sugar until brown sugar is dissolved.

Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract or vanilla bean pulp. I also throw the empty vanilla pod in.

Pour into a lidded container (or cover the bowl) and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, though I usually let it go overnight.

To make the buttered pecans, melt the butter in a skillet. Add pecans and salt to the pan, and cook over medium low heat until pecans are browned and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove from heat, strain off the excess butter (and save that pecan butter! It’s so good on pancakes), and spread the pecans on a foil lined baking sheet to cool.

Cool completely before use.

To make the caramel, using a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium heat, stirring just until sugar is dissolved.

Then boil mixture, without stirring, but gently swirling pan, until the syrup turns a deep amber color. Be careful, it goes from golden to burnt quickly. I like to swirl on and off the heat to keep the syrup nice and even in color.

Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in the cream and vanilla extract. The mixture will bubble up and harden a bit. Return it to the heat and simmer mixture, stirring, until caramel is smooth.

Remove pan from heat, stir in the salt and cool caramel to room temperature.

If you make this on the same day you are making your ice cream, leave it at room temperature. If you make it in advance, store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Warm to room temperature before use. You may need to heat it slightly to loosen it up.

Now let’s put it all together. Have ready the container you want to use, a large spoon for the ice cream, a spoon for the caramel, and a butter knife. Have your buttered pecans and caramel ready to go.

If you used one, remove the vanilla bean pod from the ice cream base.

Pour the chilled ice cream base into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. In my ice cream maker, this takes about 24 minutes.

Pour in the pecans during the last 3 minutes of churning.

Take 1/3 of the ice cream and spread it in the container. Quickly drizzle a layer of caramel on top.

Repeat this 2 more times, and then use the butter knife to swirl the caramel through the ice cream. I ended up using about 2/3 of the caramel I made, but it did not go to waste!

Cover the ice cream and quickly move to the freezer to harden. In my freezer, it took about four hours to reach a nice hard scoop consistency. Serve as-is, or if you’re feeling special, drizzle on some extra caramel sauce, sprinkle a few chopped salted toasted pecans, and top with some maple sweetened softly whipped cream.

While no pigs were harmed in the making of this sundae, the savory, crunchy toasted pecans and deep, rich caramel swirl running through the fluffy, soft ice cream with that little pillow of whipped cream on top instantly took me back to that wonderful summer night. Music spilling into the restaurant from the streets, my new fiancé by my side, and my family surrounding me. My heart was full. What a profound testament to the power of foods as vessels for memory.

With Joe at Green Goddess

Recipes are little time capsules we can open at any moment, and I know this is one I will surely return to on many occasions.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Happy Accidents: Peculiar Pralines

13 Jul

It started with my birthday cake. I made this kind of over-the-top layer cake that was two layers of yellow butter cake, a salted caramel-pecan filling, chocolate buttercream frosting, and vanilla meringues and shortbread cookies as decorations. It was one of my finer moments, to be sure.

I was enjoying it with my family when my dad turned to me and said of the filling, “There’s a praline in there somewhere.”

Now, I love pralines, so this comment embedded itself in my brain. I have on more than two occasions had pralines shipped to me from New Orleans. I’ve learned how to make them the proper way, using a method similar to making fudge. It requires a lot of precision with a candy thermometer and a pretty good knack for timing.

But my dad was right. The salted caramel buttercream I’d made was strikingly similar in texture and flavor to praline candy, only it stayed soft sandwiched between the cake layers. I wondered what would happen if I played around with the method a little bit and then gave the final product a chance to air-dry and set. If it worked, it would mean that we could ALL have pralines without consulting a candy thermometer or complicated process. And if not, I’d have a bowl full of pecans in caramel, so I’d still be pretty happy.

And oh, did it work. Light color and questionable method aside, I have the candy I dream about. Now you can too.

Peculiar Pralines

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick or 4 oz.)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark is fine)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add the brown sugar and stir constantly. Once the mixture comes to a boil, continue stirring and boil for 2 minutes.

Add the milk and bring the mixture back to a boil (this will happen quite quickly).

Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Allow the mixture to cool for 5-7 minutes.

Pour the warm caramel into the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer) and beat on medium speed while slowly adding the powdered sugar a little bit at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions. The mixture will lighten in color and thicken slightly.

Fold in the pecans.

Use a cookie scoop or large spoon, drop dollops of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. They will spread just slightly. Using a well-rounded 2 tsp. cookie scoop, I made 16 pralines. But you can make them smaller or larger as you wish.

Allow the pralines to sit at room temperature for several hours or until firm. This took almost 5 hours in my dining room, BUT I made these on an extremely humid summer day. So it may take less time if you are in a cooler, drier climate. Store in an airtight container, if you can possibly leave them alone long enough to save any.

So while they’re not traditional in any sense, they’re definitely creamy, fudgey, sweet, and full of toasted pecans. What’s not to like? Thanks, dad!

Ciao for now,

Neen

 

Sweet Simplicity: Chocolate Chip Scones

15 Sep

There are some dishes I make so frequently that I never bother to photograph them. That got me thinking the other day about lost recipes. The sort of everyday things that become second nature, that we think unworthy of photographing or calling attention to. But if we don’t teach or tell others how to do these things, they’re completely lost to time. Imagine that; a dish that might never live again until some unwitting cook elsewhere dreams it up again.

So this is one of the recipes that I make probably every other week or so, and one you can make and customize with whatever you have in the house.

Chocolate-Chip Scones

Yield: 8 scones

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder (aluminum –free is best)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 oz. butter, chilled and cubed
  • ½ cup of cold buttermilk (or make your own by squeezing half a lemon into ½ cup 2% milk)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (or berries, dried fruits, nuts…etc.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and kosher salt in a large bowl or food processor.

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Add the chilled butter, and process or cut the butter in to the dry ingredients until the mixture has a pebbly, sandy texture.

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Add the buttermilk and mix just until the dough forms large clumps.

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Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mix in the chocolate chips (or addition of your choice) by hand. Then pat the dough into a circle about ¾ in. thick.

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Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the circle into 8 triangles and then arrange them on a baking sheet with a couple of inches in between each.

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Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown and the tops are just lightly golden.

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Scones, like most quick breads, are best consumed the day they are made. That said, I’ve revived these in the toaster for many breakfasts, so they’re definitely still tasty a day later. My favorite additions aside from chocolate chips are blueberries and of course the classic dried currants. Don’t want to add anything? Then don’t! They’re great plain with a pat of butter, too.

So that’s it really. Go forth and make delicious scones!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Lessons in Problem Solving: Chocolate-Caramel Tart revisited

20 Sep

I recently went gluten-free. Yes, I’ll still be baking with wheat to share recipes with you on the blog, but for my own purposes, eliminating gluten from my diet has done a world of good. The benefits have been pretty staggering, and I’ve finally stopped feeling like “I’m just doing this because it’s the trendy thing.” Even under the advice of a doctor, I thought, “This is stupid.” I don’t have a wheat allergy, I don’t have celiac, how could a mild intolerance be an actual problem?  My brother was once given a pair of shoes for an opera performance and they were far too small. The costumer’s response? “Suffer for art!!” And cooking is my art, after all.

But the hemo-doc thinks it could have an effect on my iron levels, so I decided to be a compliant patient.

I was initially annoyed, and then decided to see the situation as an opportunity. I would try new foods, post new recipes, and just…play in the kitchen. My only rule was to avoid the gluten-free baking mixes or specialty pre-packaged cookies. The last thing I wanted was to incorporate a lot of potato and cornstarch into my diet instead of using more whole grains in general. After a few days of perusing and one or two brief experiments…something magical happened.

What would you think if I told you that I could make the best candy bar in the world without a drop of flour, butter, or refined sweetener? Perhaps you might run screaming in the other direction, but then you wouldn’t get any and that would be very, very sad. Because it is literally one of the best tarts I have ever made. It may even trump the Nutella tart. This is basically my favorite candy bar turned into a pastry that will truly knock your socks off. Caramel, chocolate, and nuts…what’s not to like? I must be on to something, because it disappeared before my eyes when shared with friends.

Date-Almond Butter Caramel and Chocolate Tart

For the crust:

  • 1 ½ cups finely ground almonds
  • ½ cup toasted, shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp. grade b maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
  • Pinch of salt

For the caramel filling:

  • 10 medjool dates, pitted and soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
  • 6 tbsp. almond butter
  • 6 tbsp. grade b maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

For the chocolate ganache

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/3 cup light or regular coconut milk
  • Grade b maple syrup to taste (I used a 4-5 tablespoons)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients for the crust in a food processor and blend well.

20130919_171346[1]Mix together the coconut oil and maple syrup and then drizzle into the dry ingredients. Pulse this mixture until it begins to clump.

20130919_171358[1]20130919_171448[1]Press the crust into the bottom of a greased 9 or 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant.

20130919_171729[1]20130919_173215[1]Cool the crust completely on a wire rack. I usually just refrigerate it for 20 minutes or so.

Prepare the caramel by combining the almond butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla and salt in a food processor and blend well.

20130919_172624[1]Add the drained, soaked dates and process until smooth. It may take a  few minutes.

20130919_174943[1]For the ganache, chop the chocolate and place it in a small bowl.

20130919_174301[1]Heat the coconut milk until it simmers, and then pour it over the chocolate. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes and then whisk until smooth.

20130919_175652[1]20130919_180016[1]Assemble the tart by spreading the caramel into the crust in an even layer.

20130919_174927[1]Refrigerate for a half hour or until the caramel begins to firm up. It will still be sticky, but it should be cool. Drizzle the chocolate ganache on top and voila! Scrumptious, candy-like tart.

20130920_052754[1]And there you have it, a delicious surprise that you can share with all of your gluten-free, vegan, or paleo friends. Nothing fake, no special ingredients, just good stuff that happens to be pretty good for you. Sort of. 😉

This whole experience has reminded me of the importance of creativity and ingenuity. I was so thankful once I began looking at the situation it through a different lens, and even though I know there’s nothing that will stop me from baking bread or craving pizza every so often, I can accept that by remembering that I can always cook, have a taste, and share with others. What an energizing lesson!

Ciao for now,

Neen