The onset of Spring usually means time to make carrot cake. Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to make my favorite traditional carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (hoping to get the recipe up here soon). So in a pinch, I made these quick carrot cake cookie bites. They aren’t exactly the same as the cake but still have the familiar carrot and cinnamon flavors and an icing drizzle adds a similar cream cheese frosting sweetness.
It’s safe to say that pumpkin is officially out of control. You know a flavor profile has reached new highs when Oreo comes out with a seasonal version. There are worse flavors we could obsess over. Candy corn, for example, seems to be a budding trend that I just don’t quite understand. Candy corn has very little flavor. It’s just sugar and corn syrup – does this mean America’s next fall obsession might be straight sugar? Pumpkin is at least versatile and technically a vegetable (requiring very little processing even in its puréed form).
I know this may seem like an odd selection for a recipe post just a few days before Christmas. It’s not holiday specific and it doesn’t contain peppermint, molasses or ginger, or any other Christmasy baking ingredient that is usually expected this time of year. What you have here is a tasty little party dessert that covers all your festive baking bases. Almond paste is the dominant flavor in the crust, which then accents the rich chocolate ganache filling. But lets not forget the meringue. These lovely white peaks are the finishing touch that brings all of the components together into one delicious mini dessert.
I developed this recipe solely based on inspiration. It is not a Paula Peck recipe nor one from her colleagues. I happen to try a version of these little delights at an Italian Bakery in New Jersey that I often frequent. A chocolate tart with an almond flavored crust seemed brilliant to me and I’m always a sucker for meringue. I had seen the recipe for Almond Short Pastry in my grandmother’s book , “The Art of Fine Baking,” and the use of both ground almonds and almond paste convinced me it would make the perfect tart dough. The richness of the hard cooked egg yolks (one of her best tart-making techniques) combined with the nutty almond pairs beautifully with the chocolate filling. The meringue may be over kill but it definitely gives these tartlets the snowy-peak feel appropriate for holiday entertaining. Besides, who can resist the pillowy white marshmallow texture on top of almond chocolaty morsels of magic?
Almond Short Pastry
1/2 cup almond paste
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup unbalanced almonds
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 hard boiled egg yolks, pushed through a sieve
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1-12 ounce bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lightly grease a muffin pan.
Cream almond paste with raw egg yolks until soft. Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.
Mix flour and ground almonds together and place in a bowl, making a well in the center. In the well, place sugar, salt, lemon zest, softened butter, spices, hard boiled egg yolk, and almond-paste mixture.
With finger tips, combine the center ingredients, gradually incorporating flour and nuts to make a smooth, firm ball of dough. Chill until firm enough to roll between sheets of wax paper (about 1 hour).
Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick. Using a 3 inch round cookie cutter or top of a glass, cut out rounds of dough and gently place them in muffin tin, lightly pressing down to line each cup. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until just barely beginning to lightly brown. Half way through baking, prick centers of cups so they do not continue to puff up. Allow to fully cool.
While tarts cool, make the ganache filling:
Heat the heavy cream and milk in a pot over medium-low until it simmering slightly. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until well incorporated. Beat the eggs and add them to the chocolate mixture, stir until completely combined. Pour the filling into the cooled tartlets and bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes until the filling is set and the surface is glossy. Cool completely.
While tartlets cool, make the meringue topping:
Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch.
Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined.
Pipe mixture onto tartlets. Raise oven heat to 350 and place tartlets in oven, until meringue is golden (about 5-10 minutes). Cool.
Yield about 12 mini tarts.
Crème brulee is one of those semi-fancy French-American desserts that often seems too pretentious to make at home. This rich custard, also known as burnt cream – a reference to its hard caramelized top layer, is not as fussy to make as it looks. Those familiar with crème brulee may think you need those cute little kitchen blow torches to make it properly. A blow torch is definitely more fun but not necessary. This dessert was around long before anyone determined a blow torch was the best way to caramelize the sugar on top of the cream. I can’t imagine my grandmother using a blow torch in the 1960’s, when she did the majority of her cooking and baking. Although this is not her recipe, it was published around the same time period in 1961 in “The New York Times Cookbook,” by friend and colleague, Craig Claiborne.
So what can you use instead of a blow torch? The broiler, of course. The texture may not be as perfect but a similar sugary glass-like shell can be achieved. Shallow ramekins (unlike the ones shown here) will also help the cooking process. They simply allow the crème to bake faster and provide more surface area for caramelization. Blow torch or not, that first spoonful of the crispy burnt caramel with rich vanilla crème will make the few extra steps to make this impressive dessert, well worth it.
3 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons sugar
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Heat cream over boiling water (in a double boiler) and stir in sugar. Beat the egg yolks until light and pour the hot cream over them gradually, stirring vigorously. Stir in the vanilla and strain the mixture into ramekins.
Place the dishes in a pan containing one inch of hot water and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, or 35 minutes. Do not over-bake. The custard will continue to cook from retained heat when it is removed from the oven. Chill thoroughly.
Before serving, cover surface with brown sugar. Set the dishes in a pan with cracked ice and put under the broiler until sugar is brown and melted. Serve immediately.
Sometimes I think my grandmother should have written a book called “101 things to do with puff pastry.” There are at least 20 recipes in “The Art of Find Baking” alone that use this buttery flaky dough. Also known as the elephant ear or palm tree, the classic French Palmier is more versatile than you may think. Instead of rolling the dough in just plain sugar, cinnamon sugar can be used for extra spice. By folding the dough into the more traditional palmier shape (versus the four-finger), these pastries look similar to a heart and are the perfect accompaniment for that morning cup of coffee on Valentines day. It may be a bit of a stretch but if Parmesan cheese is used instead of sugar (a far less traditional ingredient), these turn into a delicious game day appetizer for the super bowl. Who knew these simple pastries had so many uses?
The key to a delicious palmier is to make them yourself and eat them fresh. Those sad boxed palmiers you see at the grocery store do not do them justice. Most of us don’t have time for the lengthy process of making puff pastry so store bought puff pastry may be used. As long as you bake them yourself, these snack-worthy pastries will be much better than the often stale, pre-made ones. Since rolling and folding the dough into the palmiers shape may seem daunting or even confusing, I have included the below illustration from “The Art of Fine Baking.” For those of you who are not familiar with this baking book, it’s full of these charming old fashioned illustrations and this one in particular is actually quite helpful. So the next time you have extra puff pastry or are looking for a fun, easy snack – give palmiers a chance. You may be surprised how much you like them.
1 Puff Pastry recipe
granulated sugar, cinnamon sugar, or grated Parmesan cheese
Roll out puff pastry in sugar to make a long strip ten inches wide and 1/8 inch thick (if using cheese instead of sugar, roll out pastry in flour). Sprinkle with sugar (or cheese). Determine the center of the strip. Fold each long side inward into thirds, so that two folded halves meet exactly in the center. Then fold halves together to make a compact 6-layer roll. Coat with additional sugar or cheese. Wrap in wax paper and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut roll into 1/4 inch slices. Place well apart on ungreased baking sheet. Spread the two halves of each slice slightly so they can expand while baking. Bake about 30 minutes, turning slices over once with a spatula after 25 minutes. Bake until golden brown.