Monthly Archives: May 2016

Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cake

 Everyone has their go-to dessert–that thing they make when a friend has a baby or they’re asked to bring dessert for a dinner party. For my mom, it’s angel food cake with fresh blueberries and whipped cream. For my grandmother, Mame, it was a cherry-pineapple dump cake, which she called “Simply Delicious,” because who wants to eat something called dump cake?! 

My go-to? This Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cake. Now, the words “vanilla bean” and “ricotta” make it sound fancy, but it’s not–it’s basically pound cake. There’s no frosting or layering because this cake simply doesn’t need that kind of adornment. It’s easy to put together and bakes up super dense and moist, with tons of vanilla bean flavor.

For those of you who aren’t much for ricotta in other applications, you should know that I’m not either. Ricotta cheese doesn’t belong in my lasagna, on my toast, or anywhere else…except this cake. The milky flavor and grainy texture that turn me off in savory foods are what make this cake so insanely moist and delicious. The cheese melds so well into the simple batter, it’ll turn even the staunchest of ricotta-haters. If you really don’t want to use the stuff, you may substitute an equal volume of full-fat sour cream.
 This recipe makes a small loaf cake. It will not rise above the top of the pan. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in versatility. Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cake is buttery and moist with a distinct vanilla flavor. It’s the kind of cake that’s fantastic by itself with a cup of coffee or tea, but it is a wonderful base for pretty much any toppings you can think of! Mix up a quick vanilla glaze (like the one used here) and drizzle it over the top of the cooled cake before slicing. Top slices with fresh strawberries and whipped cream for a sort of makeshift strawberry shortcake. Use it in trifles or ice cream cakes. Seriously, this cake is good with just about anything. 

This weekend, I’m going to serve Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cake with Blueberry Compote. I just love the look of the berries on the sliced cake, and the blueberry-lemon flavor goes so well with the vanilla bean! Make it this Memorial Day Weekend and enjoy it with your family and friends. Maybe it’ll become your go-to dessert, too 😊 

 Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cake
makes one 9×5″ loaf, about 8-12 servings

For the pan:
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon neutral-flavored oil (I like canola)

Cake:
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste**
4 ounces (1/2 cup) full-fat ricotta cheese, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the pan. Mix together flour and neutral-flavored oil. Use a pastry brush to paint mixture over the entire inside of the pan. Pour out any excess. Set aside.

Make the batter. In a small-medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Beat in vanilla bean paste, followed by ricotta. Add dry ingredients in two installments, combining completely after each addition.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Tap full pan on the counter five times to release any air bubbles. Bake 35-40 minutes, tenting with foil if it starts to brown too quickly. Cake is done when it’s golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with only a few moist crumbs.

Let cake cool in the pan for ten minutes. Run a small, thin knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake. Invert it onto a cooling rack, and then revert. Let cool completely.

Cake will keep at room temperature for up to three days, and in the refrigerator for up to five.

Notes:


1. I use Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste.
2. If you don’t have or don’t want to use vanilla bean paste, you may use an equal volume of pure vanilla extract, or the scraped seeds of one vanilla bean + 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.  

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Blueberry Compote

 For all the things I love about baking, the time commitment is not one of them. It’s rare that I make anything that can be done and ready to serve in under 90 minutes. I pride myself on my patience, but sometimes the idea that a batch of cookies is going to take four hours is enough to make me insane. 

Enter this Blueberry Compote. It only has four ingredients, involves almost no actual work, and takes 20 minutes start-to-finish. And oh, is it good–burst blueberries in a not-too-sweet lemon-scented syrup. It’s just begging to be stirred into yogurt or poured over pancakes or ice cream. It’s a sauce that can be used on any breakfast or dessert item you can imagine. 

 This is my kind of mid-week recipe–the kind that goes from “just” ingredients to absolute magic in almost no time at all. Simmer a cup of water and a little sugar together until it thickens slightly and becomes a thin syrup. Fold in two pounds of fresh blueberries and simmer a few more minutes until they start to burst. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the juice and zest of a lemon. Ladle it into a jar, and you’re done. Seriously. That’s it. 

Blueberry Compote works almost anywhere you can think to use it. It would be divine with cheesecake or waffles, but it’s also healthy enough to eat with yogurt for a quick weekday breakfast. Oh, and it is absolutely amazing with angel food cake, pound cake, or the Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cake I’m posting later this week! Stay tuned… 

 Blueberry Compote
makes about one quart

1 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 lbs fresh blueberries
juice and zest of 1 lemon

In a large saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 7 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir occasionally to keep crystals from forming.

Add blueberries and let simmer 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in lemon juice and zest. Cool completely. Transfer to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

S’mores Sandwich Cookies

 It’s almost Memorial Day! And that means it’s almost time for camping and beach days and, most importantly, s’mores.

I mean, who doesn’t love s’mores? Crunchy graham crackers, melty milk chocolate, and toasted marshmallow are absolute perfection when smashed together. The only real problem with summer in New York City–besides the oppressive humidity–is that I don’t have enough excuses to eat them. I know I could toast marshmallows over a burner on my stove and make them in my kitchen, but really, s’mores are always, always best when eaten around a fire. But I don’t know if or when I’ll be around a fire pit this summer, so instead I’ll eat these cookies in my apartment while I plan my fictional camping trip. 

S’mores Sandwich Cookies have all the flavors of the real thing. The cookies themselves are made with a combination of flour and graham cracker crumbs, and speckled with bits of smooth milk chocolate. The best part? The graham cracker crumbs keep the dough from spreading too much, so this dough doesn’t need to chill! This means that if you manage your time wisely, these cookies can be made start-to-finish in less than 90 minutes. 

Enough about the cookies though–let’s get to the filling. Oh good gracious, this stuff is amazing. Mini marshmallows are toasted under the broiler, and then beaten into a creamy frosting. Then it’s spread or piped onto the cookies, and everything is squished together so that there’s graham cracker, milk chocolate, and toasted marshmallow in every single bite.

S’mores Sandwich Cookies are the stuff of summertime dreams. But you won’t smell like a fire pit when you’re done making them, and you won’t need any bug spray. No, you can enjoy these in the comfort of your very own air-conditioned home. And when it’s 100 degrees and 10,000% humidity, doesn’t that sound like bliss? 

 S’mores Sandwich Cookies
makes about six dozen sandwich cookies

Cookies:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 graham crackers)
6 ounces milk chocolate,* finely chopped

Filling:
1 10-ounce bag miniature marshmallows
2/3 cup shortening
1 1/2-2 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.

In a medium-large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat in dark brown and granulated sugars, followed by eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients in two installments, mixing completely after each addition. Beat in graham cracker crumbs, followed by chopped milk chocolate.

Scoop dough by the teaspoon, roll into balls, and place at least 1 1/2-inches apart on prepared pans. Bake 6-7 minutes, until no longer shiny. Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Make the filling. Set oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place marshmallows in an even layer over the foil. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat shortening until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, followed by salt and vanilla.

Broil marshmallows 30-45 seconds, or until golden. Remove from broiler, and immediately use a silicone spatula to scrape them into the mixing bowl. Beat until completely combined, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add more confectioner’s sugar as needed. It will be a bit sticky. If the filling is initially too warm with which to work, chill it for 15-30 minutes before proceeding. If you would like to pipe the filling, spoon it into a plastic sandwich bag, and snip off a corner.

There are two options for filling:

1. To assemble a sandwich cookie by piping, apply filling by pipe about a teaspoon of filling on the underside of one cookie, leaving about 1/4″ around the edge. Top with a second plain cookie, with the underside filling-side-in. Repeat until all cookies have been used.

2. To assemble a sandwich cookie by spreading, use an offset frosting knife to spread 1/2-1 teaspoon on the underside of one cookie. Top with a second plain cookie, with the underside filling-side-in. Repeat until all cookies have been used.

Filled cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Funfetti Cheesecake Platinum Blondies

 How have I made it this far without posting any kind of cheesecake recipe? I love cheesecake. Smooth, rich, creamy, decadent–it’s everything I love in a dessert. And it gets brownie points for being the Golden Girls’ treat of choice. If it’s good enough for Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia, it’s good enough for me.

But for all the things I love about cheesecake, it’s speed of preparation is not one of them. If you’re making a cheesecake today, you’re not going to get to enjoy it until tomorrow. Many recipes require a 24 hour chill after baking and cooling at room temperature. Who really has time for that when it’s not for a special occasion? Definitely not me. But I also refuse to live without cheesecake. My solution? Swirl it into some blondie batter, bake it up, chill, and commence eating in hours, not days. 

I also refuse to live without sprinkles, so today I’m bringing you Funfetti Cheesecake Platinum Blondies. The blondie base is similar to the one I used here, and it can take almost anything I throw at it. Most blondie recipes contain brown sugar, but I use all granulated here–the resulting lighter color is what makes these “platinum.” If you’d like to stick to traditional blondies, you may use all light brown sugar here, but I think Funfetti desserts are best with all granulated. It makes the vanilla flavor shine, and the lighter color means the rainbow sprinkles really pop!

Let’s get to the most important part: the cheesecake. It’s so good here. The creamy, tangy cheesecake is the perfect counter to the sweet, chewy, sugar cookie-like blondie base. The mixture is super simple to make, too. Beat a brick of full-fat cream cheese with an egg yolk and a teaspoon of vanilla. When it’s fluffy, add in two tablespoons of sugar. If you taste this by itself, it won’t seem sweet enough, but trust me–the tanginess will be divine when baked into the sweet blondie batter. 

 Once you’ve made the batter and the cheesecake mixture, it’s time to assemble. Set aside 2/3 cup of the blondie batter, and spread the rest into the bottom of a 9×9″ pan. Drop the cheesecake mixture and reserved batter by the spoonful over the top of the batter in the pan. Use a knife to swirl it all together. I swirled mine a lot (some might say too much). If you want more pronounced swirls, just go back and forth with the knife a few times. Tap the pan on the counter to make sure everything is evenly distributed before baking at 350F for 25-30 minutes. I tented mine with foil after ten minutes to keep everything from browning too quickly. 

 

Once the blondies just barely (and I do mean barely) jiggle in the center when the pan is jostled, they’re done. Let them cool on a rack for an hour before chilling for three hours. Yes, three hours seems like eternity, but it’s nothing compared to the 24 hours you’d wait for a traditional cheesecake! Once everything is good and cold, slice it into bars and serve. 

The Funfetti blondie base and cheesecake are a match made in dessert heaven! These bars are sweet, chewy, dense, creamy, tangy, and full of vanilla flavor. Oh, and look how colorful they are! I mean, who can resist a dessert studded with sprinkles and filled with cheesecake? Not many people I know, that’s for sure. 

Do you love sprinkles as much as I do? Check out these Funfetti Sandwich Cookies and Funfetti Cookie Dough Truffles!

Funfetti Cheesecake Platinum Blondies
makes one 9×9″ pan,* about 12-16 bars

Cheesecake:
8 ounces brick-style full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Blondies:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon imitation butter extract (optional)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles (jimmies)*

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch square pan and line with parchment, leaving overhang for bar-removal. Set aside.

Make the cheesecake. In a medium-large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add sugar, and beat to combine. Mix in egg yolk and vanilla. Set aside.

Make the blondie base. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugar. Mix in eggs, vanilla, and imitation butter extract. Whisk in flour and salt. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in jimmies. Set aside 2/3 cup batter.

Spread the remaining blondie batter in prepared pan. Drop in cheesecake mixture and leftover batter by the spoonful. Use a knife to swirl it all together. Bake 25-30 minutes, tenting with foil if anything starts browning too quickly. Blondies are done when the middle jiggles just barely when the pan is jostled. Let pan cool on a rack at room temperature for one hour. Refrigerate pan for three hours, until cold. Slice into squares and serve.

Funfetti Cheesecake Platinum Blondies will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Notes:

1. An 8×8″ square pan may be used here, but it may affect the bake time.
2. Jimmies are the cylindrical sprinkles, and they are ideal for this recipe. Do not use non-pareils (the little ball-shaped sprinkles)–they will bleed their color and give you an unappetizing purplish batter. Have more questions about sprinkles? I go into more detail here.

Easy Scratch Chocolate Croissants

 I love a good complicated cooking project. My idea of the perfect day? Making a full Thanksgiving dinner by myself.

Yeah, I’m a little crazy.

But not crazy enough to attempt croissants from scratch…yet. The dough itself isn’t complicated, but there’s a ton of folding, and then there’s a process where butter is laminated into the dough. I’m sure I’ll get around to making the real deal someday, but for now I’m taking the easy way out.

I’m certainly not going to skimp on flavor though. No way! These chocolate croissants are buttery, flaky, and bursting with chocolate! And they take just two hours start-to-finish. 

Easy Scratch Chocolate Croissants are super simple. The dough is what’s called a “rough puff“–homemade puff pastry with all the difficulty taken out. It only has four ingredients, takes just minutes to put together, and is just as good (if not better) than the all-butter puff pastry you find in the freezer aisle. Plus, there’s some serious pride in being able to say “Oh, yeah. I made the pastry.” Trust me–when you say that, people look at you like you’re Julia Child. What they don’t know is that it’s really no trouble at all.

Basically, rough puff pastry is like making pie dough or biscuits–cold butter is cut into dry ingredients before liquid is added. After everything is stirred together, a shaggy dough forms. Be careful to keep everything cold; the butter must stay solid until it reaches the oven, or the dough will be tough instead of flaky and layered.

A word on ingredients. Don’t be tempted to use regular store-brand butter here–the dough needs the extra fat content found in European or cultured butters. Plus, this recipe has so few ingredients that quality really matters. American-style butter is delicious, but if you’ve ever had European butter, you know how insanely rich and luxurious it is. When it’s used in pastry, that richness translates into some seriously amazing breakfast. So, don’t use just any butter you have in your fridge–go for the really good stuff. I like Kerrygold, Lurpak, and President. Enough about butter! Back to the rough puff. Once you have your shaggy dough, turn it out onto a very well-floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle that measures roughly 8×10″. Take one of the short sides and fold it so that the edge of the dough meets the center, like folding a piece of paper to fit in an envelope. Fold the other short side of the dough over the top–again, just like folding paper for an envelope. Turn the folded dough one quarter-turn. Roll it back into an 8×10″ rectangle, then fold and turn again. Repeat this until you have done it six times total. This will create unbelievably flaky pastry with visible layers!

Wrap your folded dough in plastic wrap, and chill it for at least an hour. This dough may be chilled up to 48 hours, or frozen! If you choose to freeze it, just thaw it in the fridge overnight before using it.

When you are ready to make croissants, unwrap your folded dough and place it on a very well-floured surface. Unfold the dough and use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out to a 12×18″ rectangle. Slice the dough into eight small triangles, each with two long sides.  
Take each triangle and place a bit of chopped dark chocolate near the short side. Use your fingertips to roll the short side over the chocolate, continuing to roll toward the point where the long sides meet. Shape the ends in any way you choose, and pinch any gaps together. If the dough gets warm or sticky at any point in this process, chill it briefly before continuing. 

  Place your croissants on a lined baking sheet, and brush each one with egg wash. Place the pan in a 425F oven and close the door. Immediately turn the oven down to 400F and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Then, prepare for buttery, flaky, chocolaty heaven. Oh my word.

I know that seems like a lot of steps, but this really is a simple recipe. There are only six ingredients, and you can have warm, homemade chocolate croissants on your table in about two hours! All that’s left to do is sit back with a cup of coffee or tea and pretend you’re in Paris 😊 

 Easy Scratch Chocolate Croissants
makes 8 small croissants

Rough Puff Pastry:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
5 ounces unsalted European-style butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup water or milk, very cold

For Croissants:
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 large egg, room temperature

Make the pastry. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut butter into dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Pour in cold water or milk and stir with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.

Flour a surface and a rolling pin. Turn dough out onto surface, and use your hands to pat it into a rough square. Roll the dough into an 8×10″ rectangle. Fold dough in thirds, and give it one quarter turn. Roll into an 8×10″ rectangle again, fold, and turn. Repeat rolling, folding, and turning until it has been done six times total. Wrap folded dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 48 hours.

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

Flour a surface and a rolling pin. Unfold dough. Roll into a 12×18″ rectangle. Use a sharp knife or pizza wheel to cut dough into quarters. Slice each quarter diagonally so that you have eight triangles with two long sides and one short side. Place roughly 1 tablespoon chopped dark chocolate near the short side of each triangle. Use your fingers to roll the short side toward the pointed end where the two long sides meet. If there are any gaps, squeeze them together with your fingers. Repeat with all triangles.*

Place croissants at least 2-inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Whisk egg with a fork. Use a pastry brush to paint each croissant with egg. Place full pan in oven. Immediately turn temperature down to 400F. Bake 12-15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Let cool five minutes before serving.

Croissants are best the day they are made, but will keep in a covered container at room temperature for up to 48 hours. 

Note:

Easy Scratch Chocolate Croissants may be frozen at this point. To do so, place croissants on a lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Once completely frozen, place croissants in a freezer bag for up to one month. When you are ready to bake, there is no need to thaw. Follow the instructions as written, adding a minute or two to the baking time.