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Asparagus & Caramelized Ramp Hand Pies

So as some of you may know, I have but one sworn food enemy. That sweaty-tasting, eye-stinging, vile orb of slimy-yet-crunchy layers: The Onion.

My dislike of onions has existed for as long as I can remember. My mother swears I used to eat them when I was very young, but I have no recollection of this. On occasion, she would accidentally add a bunch of onions to something before separating out an untainted portion for me, then try to pass it off as onion-free in the hopes that I wouldn’t notice. That never worked. I could spot them in food from 10 feet away. I could smell them from even farther. I’d smush my dinner all around the plate, pick out every onion I could find, then still refuse to eat it, igniting a dinner table standoff: Carey: Hater of Onions vs. Parents: Lords of After-Dinner TV Privileges. Even today, finding them in my food ignites a childish, fussy frustration within me. If I order a dish sans onions at a restaurant and the waiter asks if I have an allergy, my go-to response is, “I’m mentally allergic to them.” This is usually met with a somewhat bemused look, but it keeps them out of my food.

 

Then a year or so ago, J and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, and I ordered an entrée that came with these strange little soft-as-butter bulbs around the edge of the dish. I ate one and promptly declared it one of the most delicious things I’d ever tasted. J tried one, gave me a somewhat baffled look, then said, “Carey, that tastes just like an onion.” I paused, contemplating my next move. I decided that screaming “LIAR!” and demanding he retract his statement while I threatened him with a butter knife was not the best course of action in the middle of a crowded restaurant (though that was my first instinct). So instead, I took another bite. And wouldn’t you know it, they were still delicious. And in that moment, I found a glimmer of hope. Hope that I might actually be able to overcome my longest-standing, most-neurotic food phobia. In a world where people seem to love to define themselves by what they don’t eat, I take a somewhat-fierce pride in being an ex-vegetarian that no longer imposes labels or restrictions on herself. Instead of constantly passing up things or fearing that I’ll have a meal ruined by some sort of hidden meat product simply because I don’t eat that, I’ve learned to understand the benefits and drawbacks of the various things I eat. I’ve paid attention to the effects that different foods have on my body, and I eat what makes me feel good. And on the whole, that’s still what would qualify as a mostly-vegetarian diet. But sometimes it’s a bloody steak. Or an ungodly amount of chocolate. Point is, if I can overcome all of that, I should be able to get past this darn onion phobia too! If I could make that happen, it would kind of be like reaching Food Nirvana.

Sadly, I haven’t made too much progress on the onion front. One occasion of note, however, occurred at my favorite restaurant in town, when I asked if the risotto dish had onions in it. One of the chefs was nearby, and I (being somewhat sneaky) assumed that he’d say yes but offer to leave them out. Instead, he looked me square in the eye and said, “yes, but I’ll make them so small you won’t even notice them.” I, momentarily taken aback, had a brief staring contest with him (that was probably entirely in my head), then responded, “OK, yeah, do it.” And it was delicious. I could see the tiny little bits of onions, and I didn’t even care. So I guess that is progress. And clearly, I still love those weird little onion-like ramps. I don’t understand why they’re so amazing, but they are.

 

Asparagus & Caramelized Ramp Hand Pies

yield: approximately 18 pies

Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 14 tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 oz. parmesan (around 3/4 of a cup), grated
  • ½ cup of ice water

Filling

  • 1 small bunch of asparagus
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 small bunch of ramps
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups of ricotta (I can’t quite remember how much I used, so start with 1 cup and adjust as needed)
  • 3/4 cup of parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp of water (for the wash)

To make the dough:

Combine flour and salt in a food processor and pulse once or twice. Add butter and pulse until crumbly, then pulse in cheese. Add the ice water a little bit at a time, pulsing in between, until dough comes together. Turn out dough and gather it together, then divide into two pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

To roast the asparagus:

Preheat oven to 450°. Snap off unripe ends of asparagus, then chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss in a pan with olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes, or until asparagus has some slight browning.

To caramelize the ramps:

Wash and trim off roots. Cut off bulbs, then roughly chop greens and set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add ramp bulbs, then stir to coat and cook over medium heat for around 1 minute. Reduce heat to low, then continue to cook bulbs, stirring occasionally, until they’ve softened a begun to brown — around 8 minutes. Add sugar and stir until everything begins to caramelize — around 2 minutes. Add in greens and stir for approximately 1 minute. Cover pan and turn off heat. Let sit for about 5 minutes, or until greens have wilted.

To make the pies:

Preheat the oven to 375° and remove dough from the fridge.

Combine the asparagus, ramps, and all of the remaining filling ingredients (except for the egg wash) together in a bowl.

Roll out both dough rounds into a large rectangles, approximately 11 x 14 inches each and 1/8″ thick. Place heaping tablespoons of filling across one rectangle, top with the other, then cut into 3 x 3 squares. Press edges of pies together with a fork to seal, trim off any excess on the ends, then combine with the rest of the dough trimmings and re-roll out into a 1/8″-thick rectangle. (Refrigerate before re-rolling if dough feels too soft.) Spoon out the remaining filling across half of the dough, cut other half and place on top, and repeat the sealing/trimming process.

Place pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Brush egg wash on each pie, then score with a sharp knife. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the edges of the pies begin to brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool.

 

Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Basil Ice Cream

Few things make me happier than the arrival of rhubarb season. Once I see it making an appearance at farmers’ markets and on store shelves, I know that winter really, truly is over. But even more exciting than the symbolic significance those strange red stalks hold is their amazing flavor — a unique tartness that plays well with others, like strawberries, citrus, and ginger. It’s darn tasty, and so versatile. It’s the pumpkin of the spring! And while the pumpkin supply is practically endless during fall in the northeast, rhubarb season seems to vanish all too quickly. And that is why I’ve developed a method for making sure I get my fill of rhubarb each year: If I see it, I buy it. And I buy most of it. The first day it showed up at the store, I’d stuffed about half of the pile in a bag when I realized people were waiting for me to quit being such a hog and get out of the way. The next week, no one was around, so I took all but three puny stalks. Yeah, I’m that jerk.

Looking through my archives, you wouldn’t really pick up on my rhubarb obsession. That, I’m sorry to say, is due to the fact that everything gets eaten before I have a chance to photograph it. Pies, sodas, fruit leather — it’s all gone. We ate it all. But I saved you some ice cream! Wasn’t that nice of me?

As soon as I tasted this stuff, I knew I couldn’t let it vanish without being documented. I usually try to avoid the combination of strawberries and rhubarb because J is mildly allergic to the former, but it seemed essential for this ice cream (especially because I wanted to bring basil into the mix). If you’re skeptical about the use of basil in a sweet dish, I urge you to suspend your disbelief and give it a try. It adds a subtle, almost anise-like flavor, which compliments the sweet/tartness of the strawberries and rhubarb perfectly. The end result was divine. I know an ice cream is good when I want to melt it down and drink it so I can consume it more quickly, and this is one of those ice creams. Even J ate it, under my watchful and somewhat concerned gaze, promising me that it was fine because he’d taken allergy meds earlier that day. My only teeny tiny complaint was that, once frozen, it got a bit icy. Some brief reading online seems to indicate that the way to remedy this is by adding more sugar (but if anyone has any other insights, please share). I’ve made no adjustments to the recipe below, so if you’d like to try adding more sugar to avoid iciness, an additional 1/8 – 1/4 of a cup might help. (Also, the original recipe called for brown sugar, which I was out of. This may have a different effect on the final consistency, and also add a nice depth of flavor if you’d like to give it a try in place of white sugar.)

Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Basil Ice Cream
(adapted from Not Without Salt)

yield: approximately 1 quart

  • 2 cups of rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups of strawberries, stems removed and halved
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large basil leaves, minced
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 of cup milk

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon juice and zest in a pan. Roast for around 15–20 minutes, or until everything is nice and soft. Remove and let cool for 10–15 minutes.

Add rhubarb/strawberry/lemon mixture to your food processor. (If you aren’t neurotic about non-chunky ice cream, you can add the basil now as well and skip the straining part.) Process for several minutes, or until the mixture seems very smooth. Run mixture through a sieve, stirring until you’ve gotten everything through and separated out any remaining chunky bits. Return the mixture to the food processor, add in your basil, and process for another minute.

Transfer mixture to saucepan. Heat on medium and add the vanilla extract and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat and let cool.

Once your mixture has cooled down a bit, add in the heavy cream and milk. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least an hour, or, ideally, overnight. (I also read that an overnight chilling can make a big difference in the final texture, so I will be doing that from now on.)

Process chilled mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

German Flag Layer Cake

I spent two weeks in Germany just over a decade ago. (Let’s pause for a moment so I can get over how old that sentence made me feel.) I had been to Europe the year before with a group from my high school, which was kind of a blur—an awesome, fun-filled blur—due to the amount of standard sight-seeing we had to cram in after some travel delays (which involved a night spent in Newark airport, a missed connection in London, and a severely jet-lagged me browsing through duty free shops like a zombie). To this day, the best $2 I have ever spent was on a shower in the London-Heathrow airport. But traveling to Germany on my own to visit friends who lived there was a completely different, uninsulated experience that allowed me to take in much more of what was going on around me. Why is all of this water fizzy? What is this delicious chocolate spread you eat for breakfast? How can something called “grey bread” be so good? Why does this beer go down like water? To this day, it baffles me when someone gives a hefeweizen the “yick” face and says it tastes like bananas. Whatever, man, more banana beer for me.

Earlier this year, one of my friends from Germany came over for a visit. To celebrate, my friend Adam threw a party, and I made soft pretzels and this cake. I really want to be able to say that I came up with the idea for this cake on my own, but it was actually my boyfriend. As soon as he said, “how about a cake that looks like the German flag?” I thought, “oh my god, yellow, red velvet, and chocolate cake—how did I not think of that?!” Throughout the party, whenever people complimented me on the cake, I begrudgingly gave credit where credit was due. When I made it this time, I even managed to completely forget that it wasn’t my idea, until my boyfriend smugly sweetly asked if I would be giving him credit for it. Gah!

So here it is again, just in time for the end of Oktoberfest! I really wanted to get beer in the cake itself, but then I ended up making the whole process way too complex and just had to go back to basics. So this is just your standard yellow cake, red velvet cake, and chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting. I would instead suggest drinking beer while you make and eat the cake. It’s better that way anyhow. 🙂

German Flag Layer Cake

Note: Since dividing cake recipes into thirds is way too complicated and imprecise, I just cut the recipes for standard size cakes in half. You can either cut the layers down as you see fit, or just make a very big cake.

All three layers of this cake bake at 350°. Grease three 8-inch round baking pans and set aside. Instructions for each layer of cake are as follows.

Yellow Cake
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • ½ cup of butter (1 stick), softened
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ⅓ cup of milk
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • yellow food coloring

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla. Alternate between adding the milk and the flour mixture until just combined.

Pour batter into your pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Red Velvet Cake
(adapted from Bakerella)

  • 1 ¼ cups of flour
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup of oil
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 1 ½ tsp vinegar
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • red food coloring

Lightly stir the egg, then whisk in the rest of the liquid ingredients (oil, milk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring).

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and mix until well-combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Cake
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • ½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ⅓ cups of flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup of butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1 ⅛ cups of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract

Pour boiling water over cocoa powder and set aside to cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl, then mix in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Alternately add the cocoa and the flour mixtures until just combined.

Pour batter into pan and bake for around 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Frosting
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 6 cups of confectionery sugar
  • 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) of butter, softened
  • 10 tbsp evaporated milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together sugar and cocoa powder and set aside.

Cream butter in a large bowl, the alternately mix in the evaporated milk and the cocoa mixture, then add in vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy.

Assembly

After all of your layers have cooled, begin assembling your cake. Keep in mind that the bottom and middle layer will compress slightly from the weight of everything on top of them, so you might want to cut the chocolate layer down to be a little smaller. (For an in-depth demonstration on how to build a layer cake, see Whisk Kid’s posts on assembly and frosting. Or check out the Good Eats episode The Icing Man Commeth.)

Once you’ve got your cake all together, cut yourself a slice and pour yourself a big ol’ beer. Prost!

PUMPKIN OATMEAL CHOCOLATE-CHIP COOKIES

I spent the past week house sitting for my parents in rural, upstate New York. Which means I went through several bottles of wine, struggled to keep my sanity while waiting for pages to load on a dial-up internet connection, and spent my evenings watching crime-drama television. My days, however, were filled with baking and photography. My parents have a great kitchen. There’s plenty of counter space, tons of baking supplies, and all of the kitchen gadgets I could ever need. And then for photography, there’s the sun room . . .

Oh what a great room. And the cookies turned out super yummy. In my opinion, they’re a totally viable breakfast treat (oats!). The only disappointing thing about all of this was that I accidentally left all of these cookies (along with all of the pumpkin molasses cookies I also made) in a bag in the kitchen. Luckily, I have a mother who understands the importance of cookies, and she sent the off in the mail the next day.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies
(adapted from Pumpkin: A Superfood for All 12 Months of the Year)

yield: approximately 5 dozen

  • 3 cups of oats
  • 1 ½ cups of flour
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • ¾ cup of granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup of pumpkin
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 ½ cups of chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350°. Combine butter and sugar until beat until fluffy. Add pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add all remaining ingredients except for the oats and chocolate chips and mix on low until a well-blended batter forms. Stir in oats and chips.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (it actually helps to use two, so you can prep one while the other is in the oven). Drop tablespoon-sized rounds of batter onto the sheet. These cookies don’t spread too much, so you can put them relatively close together. Bake 12-15 minutes, until you can see some light browning on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

PUMPKIN MOLASSES COOKIES

I am really trying to cram in all of the pumpkin recipes I possibly can! I’ve seen it used in entrees like pasta or pizza, but I just can’t seem to get past the baked goods. There’s still time though. We’ll see.

I was planning on making pumpkin whoopie pies last week, but then I found this recipe. I’m a total sucker for molasses cookies and their chewy, spicy yumminess. And adding pumpkin to them? Even better. But what sealed the deal for me was the mention of bacon grease being substituted for butter. What? Bacon grease in baked goods? Why didn’t I think of that before?

 

I only had a couple tablespoons of bacon grease to use in this recipe. I am curious what it would be like to use a 50/50 combo of grease and butter (or 100% grease!). I am listing the amount of butter you would need if it was the only fat you were using in the recipe, but you can substitute bacon grease in equal amounts if you wish. Because I used a rather small amount, I’m not sure if it made any difference in taste. But the cookies were definitely yummy. And it’s bacon grease, can it really make something taste bad? No. Nuh uh.

Pumpkin Molasses Cookies
(adapted from Pumpkin: A Superfood for All 12 Months of the Year)

yield: approximately 2 ½ dozen

  • ½ cup of butter
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling (if you have it, I recommend turbinado sugar for rolling)
  • ½ cup of pumpkin
  • ¼ cup of molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ⅓ cups of flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Beat butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar, pumpkin, molasses, and egg and mix until well combined. Add remaining ingredients and beat until a well-blended batter forms. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or two, if you’d like to prep a second sheet while the first one bakes). Fill a bowl with your rolling sugar. Roll tablespoon-sized balls of batter in sugar until well coated and place on sheet. The cookies will spread, so give them a couple inches of room. Bake 10–12 minutes, or until cookies look cracked. Let them sit on the sheet for a few minutes after removing them from the oven, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Chai-iced Pumpkin Cookies

I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about a serious addiction I had many, many years ago. Absurd amounts of money went towards supporting my habit. I would indulge at least once—and sometimes twice—a day. I’d sneak away during lunch breaks to get a fix. I even tried to drag my friends and co-workers into my world of obsession.

My addiction: Starbucks Pumpkin Chai Lattes. I know everyone is all about the pumpkin espresso lattes as soon as fall hits, but I’m telling you, pumpkin chai lattes are where it’s at. Imagine drinking a warm cup of extra-spicy pumpkin panna cotta—it’s that good. I’m going to stop myself right here before I go full throttle on the latte love, because this post is about cookies, not lattes!

Point is, I’ve become quite the coffee and tea snob since I moved to Vermont a few years ago. I turn my nose up at coffee that isn’t roasted locally. I want nothing to do with chai that comes from a box. I know, I know—groan if you must, but it’s an unavoidable side effect of having a barista brother who also roasts coffee at a local shop, and a boyfriend who manages the café at another. (I even feel the need to put the acute accent on the “e” in “café”—it’s that bad.) If it’s any consolation, I still load my coffee up with cream and sugar, so there’s hope that I may not become completely insufferable!

Wait, am I still not talking about cookies? The real point is, I still crave that delicious pumpkin and chai combination. And if it works in drinks, it must work in baked goods as well, no? Yes. The answer is definitely “yes!”

I chose a more cake-like cookie for this recipe because it reminded me of the iced apple cookies my mother makes. And they are indeed very, very similar—in both texture and deliciousness. Just a warning: the icing can be a bit intense when it covers the entire top of the cookies. So if you like something that’s slightly less sweet, I’d suggest drizzling the icing over top, rather than dipping the cookie directly into it.

Chai-Iced Pumpkin Cookies
(adapted from Allrecipes)

yield: around 3 dozen

Cookies

  • 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup of butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1 ½ cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of pumpkin purée
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Icing

  • 2 cups of confectionery sugar
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 chai tea bag

Preheat your oven to 350°. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in pumpkin, egg, and vanilla until creamy, then mix in dry ingredients until well-combined.

If you batter seems a bit soft, stick it in the fridge for about half an hour (I had to do this). When ready, drop tablespoons of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake cookies for 15–20 minutes, or until they begin to have just a hint of golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and cool complete before frosting.

For the icing: Melt butter in a saucepan and add milk. Steep chai tea bag in the liquid for 5 minutes, then discard. Combine together with sugar, vanilla, and milk, and mix until a smooth icing forms.

Dip the cookies if you have a real sweet tooth, or drizzle the icing over top with a fork if you’d like to dial it back a little. Try to avoid immediately packing a ton of them into a bag in order to deliver them to a friend, like I did. (Big tasty mess!)