Chocolate Chestnut Slices

Chocolate Chestnut Slices

Chocolate Chestnut Slices

Chocolate and chestnut, what a pair! As mentioned by Nat King Cole in The Christmas Song, Chestnuts roasting on an open fire are a holiday favorite. But over the years, chestnuts seem to have become less and less prominent. Frequently seen at most street carts around New York during the holidays, I have yet to find one this year. Maybe because most Chestnuts now come from Asia or maybe it’s just the trend life cycle. A whole article could easily be written on the history of chestnuts. I’m just here to share this delicious chocolate chestnut slices recipe.

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Soft Biscotti

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Soft Biscotti

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Soft Biscotti

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).

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Mini Chocolate Almond Meringue Tarts

Mini Chocolate Almond Meringue Tarts

Mini Chocolate Meringue TartsI 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?

Ingredients:

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
pinch cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 hard boiled egg yolks, pushed through a sieve

Chocolate Ganache
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

Meringue
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.

Mini Chocolate Ganache Meringue Tarts

 

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Stuffed Baked Apples with Homemade Caramel Sauce

Stuffed Baked Apples with Caramel Sauce

Stuffed Baked Apples with Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

This recipe might be over the top. It didn’t start out that way but before I could realize what was happening, I had created the most delicious and elaborate Stuffed Baked Apples with Homemade Caramel Sauce that I have ever had. The plan was originally a minimalist approach. My grandmother doesn’t have a baked whole apple recipe (though she has many other apple recipes) but her mentor, James Beard has a very simple one in “The James Beard Cookbook.” It offers a few options of varying spices for the cavity of the apples but doesn’t venture as far as stuffing them. It even offers a flamed version which involves pouring heated alcohol over the apple and igniting it (“bring to the table blazing”) but I thought it might be best to avoid burning down my apartment building or at least the complaints of “fire smell” from the neighbors. Perhaps I will wait for a special occasion.

I settled for a simple spiced baked apple. But I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing or that it somehow lacked the excitement I was looking for. That’s when I decided to stuff it with crisp. Apple crisp is a favorite I make at least a few times every fall. It’s hard to go wrong with oats, sugar, butter, flour, and cinnamon so why not stuff a whole apple with this lovely crumbly topping? This simple baked apple was getting more interesting.

I then thought about those lonely parts of the apple that wouldn’t be exposed to the tasty crisp. Perhaps it needed a sauce? Enter my second favorite apple accompaniment: Caramel. And not just any caramel, easy homemade caramel sauce. Drizzled over the finished juicy baked apple stuffed with the cinnamon spiced crisp, it’s a combination to die for. I was already out of control so I topped the finished warm apple with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Melting into the crevices of the crisp and dripping down the sides of the apple while mixing with the caramel sauce, excessiveness never looked or tasted so good.

Stuffed Baked Apples with Homemade Caramel Sauce

Stuffed Baked Apples with Homemade Caramel Sauce

Ingredients

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, diced
5 baking apples around the same size (I like Macoun or Honeycrisp)
1 lemon
cinnamon sugar
 
Caramel Sauce
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a shallow baking dish (large enough to hold all of the apples).

Combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and oats in a medium mixing bowl. Add diced butter and mix until well combined but still a little crumbly. Set aside.

Slice the tops off of apples. Carve out the core and some of the flesh, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Slice lemon in half and rub the cavities of the apples with lemon to stop from browning. Sprinkle the cavities with cinnamon sugar.

Scoop crisp mixture into apples until full and rounded on top. Place apples in baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until apples are soft and can be easily pierced with a fork (baking time may depend on the type of apples used).

To Make the Caramel Sauce:

Heat sugar over medium heat in a heavy saucepan until melted and amber in color. Be careful not to let burn. Add butter and whisk until combined. Whisk in cream (careful adding both cream and butter as it causes the mixture to seize and possibly splatter). Remove from heat and allow the caramel to cool slightly (it will thicken as it cools).

Drizzle caramel sauce over crisp stuffed apples and serve with vanilla ice cream (see Peach Melba recipe for a homemade version).

Baked Apples

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Palmiers

Palmiers

Palmiers by Paula Peck

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.

Ingredients:

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.

Palmiers Folding Instructions

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.

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