Polish Mazurka (cookie bars)-Pumpkin Spice Caramel Optional!

Mazurka with Pumpkin Spice Caramel

Plain MazurkaPolish Mazurka – Plain. With Pumpkin Spice Caramel below.

Mazurka with Pumpkin Spice CaramelThis little known buttery shortbread –like cookie often doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Simple but rich with a nutty crunch, Mazurka is as fun to eat as it is to say. There are many different versions of Mazurka – some with fruit fillings, chocolate, and even meringue. These along with this preface my grandmother wrote for this recipe in “The Art of Fine Baking” inspired to me to make a version of my own:

“Mazurka is a Polish cookie bar. There are many ways to make it. It is sometimes filled. Here is one simple and delicious version.”

Caramel and pumpkin seemed fitting this time of year and are also two of my favorites. The deep full flavor of homemade caramel and the zip of fall spices compliment this flakey rich cookie. Though it can be tricky, I insist on making caramel from scratch without corn syrup. I try to avoid corn syrup and use it only when necessary (like in marshmallows for example). Other than a small difference in texture and a more fool proof process, corn syrup really doesn’t provide any benefit to caramel and I think it tastes better omitted.

So why make two versions? One with pumpkin spice caramel and one without? For one thing, eating each one is a completely different experience. But mainly, the original recipe is so easy and delicious; I just couldn’t leave it out.


¾ cup plus two tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
4 hard cooked egg yolks, mashed
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water
1 cup sliced almonds

Pumpkin Spice Caramel (optional)
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
¼ cup pumpkin puree
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
a pinch each ground ginger, nutmeg, and ground cloves

Lightly grease an 8×8 inch baking pan.

Cream butter with sugar. Add mashed hard-cooked egg yolks and vanilla. Gently stir in flour mixed with salt. Press dough into prepared pan. Chill until dough is firm.

For simple/original version:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix egg white with water and brush over the top of dough. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake 45 minutes until firm and lightly browned on the edges. Cool and slice into bars.

For pumpkin spice caramel:

Bake chilled dough for about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile heat sugar over medium heat in a heavy bottomed wide pan. When sugar begins to melt, whisk or stir until all of the sugar is melted (it will clump at first but eventually melt). Stop stirring when the sugar has melted. Right before the sugar comes to a boil (or about 350 degrees), stir in butter and cream. Whisk in pumpkin puree, salt, and spices. Remove from heat.

Pour an even layer of caramel, about 1/8 of an inch deep, over pre-baked dough. Sprinkle with almonds and return to oven for about 10-15 minutes or just until almonds begin to brown.



Paula Peck's Brownies

If there’s one recipe that my grandmother is most well known for, it’s brownies. Search for Paula Peck recipes on the internet and this brownie recipe is one of the first to pop up. Many of you may have seen Mark Bittman’s recent article, “Fear of Frying”, in The New York Times Magazine that acknowledges my grandmother‘s cooking (and this blog!). But it was one of his much earlier articles where I found her amazing brownie recipe mentioned (“Truth in Fudginess“). I have to admit that my views differ somewhat from his. With an extra large sweet tooth, I don’t discriminate against those brownies with all the bells and whistles (as long as they’re not dry and crumbly of course). However, the beauty of my grandmother’s recipe is its old-fashioned simplicity. I’ve experimented using semi-sweet chocolate instead of unsweetened, and the cakey brownie that emerged was just not the same. This is a classic, no-fuss recipe with minimal ingredients that creates the perfect, fudgy, sweet, chocolaty brownie that makes you want to devour every last crumb.



3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnut pieces (optional)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and lightly flour an 11 x 13 baking dish or pan.

Melt chocolate and butter together over low heat and set aside to cool slightly. Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Stir in chocolate mixture, then flour, salt, and nuts. Mix only until combined.

Pour into prepared dish/pan. Bake about 25 minutes until top looks dry. Cool before cutting into squares or bars.

Yield approximately 25.

Adapted from "The Art of Fine Baking," by Paula Peck.



Apple Cheese Cake Puff

Individual Apple Cheese Cake Puff

Apple Cheese Cake PuffThis recipe immediately caught my eye. Apples, pate a choux, and cheese cake filling meet in one inspiring cake puff. I’ve never seen a recipe quite like it. Apple season is in full swing and I find cheese cake hard to resist so it seemed this recipe from “The Art of Fine Baking” was calling out to me. The result is impressive but must be devoured quickly due to the short life of the puff portion of the cake.

I made two sizes of this cake puff. The larger version follows the original recipe instructions and I improvised to make the smaller one using leftovers. I can’t help but feel like the puffed border of the large one could be over-the-top delicious if filled with sweetened whipped cream- like a cream puff apple cheese cake puff…whoa. But as is, the lemon zest in the cheese cake filling brings out the fresh tartness of the apple and provides a delicate contrast to its puffed shell. Another Paula Peck show stopper.


Cheese Filling
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon cognac
1 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon melted butter
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 recipe pate a choux
1 tart apple (such as granny smith), peeled, cored, and sliced thin
2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar (see note)
1 egg yolk mixed with
1 teaspoon cream
1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Make cheese cake filling:
Mix raisins with cognac. Cream together cheese, sugar, and flour. Stir in egg yolk, then melted butter, sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Mix in raisins.
For a large puff:
Trace a 8-inch circle in flour on a parchment lined baking sheet, using a plate or pan as a pattern. Turn parchment paper over. Spread a thin layer of pate a choux about 1/4 inch thick within the circle. Place remaining pate a choux in a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tube. Squeeze out small mounds of paste, one right next to the other, to make a low border around the layer.

Pour cheese filling into center of shell. Spread evenly. Arrange sliced apples on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Brush border with egg yolk mixture. Sprinkle with almonds (if using).

Bake in preheated oven 50-60 minutes or until entire pastry is golden brown.

For small puffs:
Use pastry tip to pipe a spiral, starting in the center, about four inches wide. This creates the bottom layer so make sure there are no holes in the pate a choux. Pipe a second layer just around the rim of the spiral, creating a border. Spread cheese filling in center as instructed above. Bake about 30 minutes.

Note: Cinnamon Sugar can be made by simply combining 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon cinnamon.

Adapted from “The Art of Fine Baking,” by Paula Peck.





What’s a Schnecken? Some kind of gadget souvenir? This was the thought that crossed my mind when I found this recipe in “The Art of Fine Baking.” After reading through it and then of course baking some, I came to the conclusion that these are basically small, almost bite sized, cinnamon/caramel rolls. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Schnecken, as I was, it’s a German pastry and the name Schnecken means snails – referring to the shape of these delicious breakfast treats. Apparently, Schnecken are often confused with rugelach (also German) but I don’t see much of a similarity other than that they are both rolled pastries creating a spiral of the filling.

I happen to have a weakness for caramel and cinnamon rolls and though these photos may lack the bells and whistles of a carefully styled shoot, you can see that this recipe definitely delivers on all the important aspects: ooey gooey caramel, crunchy nuts, cinnamon, and raisins. One tip: just make sure to use enough of the butter sugar mixture –  the softer and stickier, the better.


1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups well-packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon white corn syrup
1 1/2 cups coarsely broken or whole pecans
1 recipes Rich Sour Cream Dough
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup raisins
1 cup finely crushed pecans

Cream butter with 1/2 cup light-brown sugar. Beat in corn syrup. Grease regular size or mini muffin tins with this mixture, using it generously. Place 2 or 3 pecan pieces into each muffin cup.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough into a long rectangle 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with remaining sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and crushed pecans. Roll dough tightly, jelly-roll style, sealing the seam. If roll becomes much thicker than the size of muffin tins, stretch it out. If it is too thin, gently compress it.

Slice roll into pieces which will fill muffin cups halfway. Press into cups firmly. Let rise only until dough looks puffy.

Bake in preheated oven about 20 minutes, or until tops of shnecken are golden brown.

Turn muffin pans upside down immediately, to remove schnecken and to permit glaze to run over sides.

Yield: approximately 7 dozen small shnecken or 5 dozen larger ones. Recipe can be easily halved.

Adapted from “The Art of Fine Baking,” by Paula Peck.


Frozen Raspberry Mousse

Frozen Raspberry Mousse

Don’t let the photo deceive you. This is not ice cream despite what you maybe thinking. At least not conventional ice cream (it is afterall, a form of iced cream, literally). No ice cream maker needed for this bright mousse made with fresh or frozen (more affordable) raspberries. Easily summed up with 5 ingredients and though the final texture is more icy and less creamy than I would normally want in a mousse, I keep going back for more. The tang of the raspberries is balanced by the richness in the cream and the kirsch or framboise ensures the mousse doesn’t harden too much in the freezer. As summer comes to a close, this quick mousse is a reminder of light refreshing desserts as the heavier fall pies and cobblers begin to takeover.

1 cup raspberry puree (1-2 packages frozen raspberries or 2-3/6 oz packages fresh raspberries, pureed and sweetened to taste with 1-2 tablespoons confectioners sugar; seeds discarded)
2 tablespoons framboise or kirsch
2 egg whites
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream, whipped

Combine raspberry puree with framboise or kirsch. Beat egg whites with salt till they are stiff. Beat in sugar, a little at a time, and continue beating till whites are very firm. Fold whipped cream and stiffly beaten egg whites together. Fold in raspberry puree. Pour into a bowl which can be placed in the freezer. Cover and freeze in freezer until mixture is firm.

Serves 6.


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