Tag Archives: almond

Almond Joy Shortbread Bars

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsI don’t want to write about baking today—I want to write about how much I love the Olympics. I’ve watched the coverage every night and had it on in the background while I’ve baked during the day. This isn’t a recent habit—I grew up in a family that gathered to watch the games (summer or winter) every night they were on, and I even once had a wall of my teenage bedroom dedicated to the decorated short track speedskater Apolo Ohno.

Yeah…when it comes to the Olympics, I’m a real big nerd. I’m also a baseball nerd and an Oscars nerd, so…well, maybe I just watch too much TV. That’s probably it.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAnyway, this isn’t an Olympics blog. It’s a baking blog. So, let’s talk about baked goods, specifically Almond Joy Shortbread Bars.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsIf you’re going to try to improve on the practically perfect combination of chocolate, almonds, and sweet coconut filling, layering it all onto a buttery chocolate shortbread crust is a pretty good way to start.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAll the layers in these bars make them look like they take hours to prepare, but in reality, they take about 90 minutes from start to finish and are nearly no-bake. That easy chocolate shortbread crust is the only layer that has to spend time in the oven.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsIt’s topped with a thick layer of coconut filling and dotted with whole roasted almonds…Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAlmond Joy Shortbread Bars

…and a layer of milk chocolate. You can use dark chocolate if you like, but apparently Almond Joys are made with milk chocolate. I’ve been wrong for two years. Oh well.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAlmond Joy Shortbread BarsBut back to the bars. Slice ‘em up and admire your handiwork. #thoselayerstho

The flavor is everything you love about sweet, chewy, crunchy Almond Joys, but better because they’re homemade. Oh, and because they have a crispy layer of chocolate shortbread offsetting all their sweetness. After sinking your teeth into one of these, you’ll never be able to go back to the mass-produced candy bar.

Y’all, these are seriously good. I know I say that about everything on this blog, but I really mean it today. These are a gold medal recipe for sure.Almond Joy Shortbread Bars

Almond Joy Shortbread Bars
makes one 9-inch square pan, about 16 bars

Chocolate Shortbread Crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes

Coconut Filling:
1/2 cup whole raw almonds
5 fluid ounces (10 tablespoons) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Chocolate Topping:
6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil and grease well with butter. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, light brown sugar, and salt. Use your fingertips to rub butter into dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. It will be powdery, but should hold together when pinched. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom of the pan before using your hand to pack it down into an even layer. Prick several times with a fork. Bake 14-15 minutes, until no longer wet-looking. Let shortbread crust cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Make the filling. Place almonds on a dry baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, confectioners sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in coconut. Mixture will be very thick. Drop filling in spoonfuls over the cooled crust and spread across the entire surface. Arrange almonds in lines (or as desired) over the top of the coconut and press down to adhere. Freeze full pan for 15 minutes.

Make the chocolate topping. Combine chopped milk chocolate and butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 15 second increments, stirring in between, just until melted. Drop chocolate over filling one spoonful at a time. Use a small offset icing knife (or a silicone spatula) to carefully spread it over a section of the filling. Continue dropping and spreading chocolate until it’s all used and the almonds are covered. Freeze until chocolate has hardened, about 15 minutes.

Use foil overhang to remove bars to a cutting board. Carefully peel foil down the sides. Use a lightly-greased sharp chef’s knife to slice bars. Lift bars from foil with a thin spatula. Serve.

Bars may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. Layer them with wax paper if they are to be stacked.

Almond Joy Shortbread Bars

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Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls

Marzipan Cinnamon RollsThese Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls were not the plan. They weren’t even Plan B (I rarely have a Plan B–I’m not that organized).

Last week, while I was hanging out with my old friend, Erin, I definitely had sweet rolls on the brain, but they weren’t these. I had big plans for Banana Pecan Sticky Buns. The second Erin left to head back to Boston, I whipped up a batch of caramel, toasted some pecans, made a yeast dough and filled it with a cinnamon-banana filling. I let the rolls rise and baked them until golden. I inverted the pan, plated a roll for myself, and…I burnt the caramel. All that work and anticipation and I went and burnt the dang caramel. And I was fresh out of overripe bananas.

Marzipan Cinnamon RollsI did get one thing right with those failed sticky buns–I finally made a yeast dough that I love. I’ve liked my past attempts, but I am all about this new dough of mine. Whole milk and an extra egg yolk make it rich and flavorful, but soft and fluffy enough that eating one roll doesn’t make you feel like you’ve had a brick for breakfast. Knowing I had to get this new dough of mine on this blog ASAP, I rifled through my “special occasion” ingredients until I found a forgotten can of marzipan, an almond paste that is usually reserved for being shaped like fruit or for cake decorating. After a few minutes of debating if almond paste would actually “go” in a sweet roll, I came to my senses. Almonds and cinnamon are magnificent together. Paired with that new dough and an almond glaze, I knew I had a winner on my hands.

Marzipan Cinnamon RollsY’all, these rolls. They’ve got everything you love about classic cinnamon rolls, but with all the sweet almond-scented magic of marzipan. And thanks to instant yeast, they’re easy to make. 

Yes, I just said working with yeast is easy. I know many home bakers are intimidated by it, but it’s really no trouble at all once it’s been proven. The problem is that the proofing step is what scares people away. Instant yeast, however, takes away the need for proofing, making yeast-based recipes just as easy as those made with baking powder and baking soda. Just whisk a packet of instant yeast into your dry ingredients–it’s that easy.
Marzipan Cinnamon RollsMarzipan Cinnamon RollsAnother great thing about instant yeast? It eliminates the need for two long rises. Once your dough is nice and smooth, it needs just ten minutes of rest before it can be filled. Instant yeast still requires one rest, but it’s only an hour–just enough time to have that second cup of coffee, apologize to your significant other/roommate/visiting friend, make another pot, and fall into a Wikipedia hole. Before you know it, your Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls will be nice and puffy and ready to bake.

Marzipan Cinnamon RollsOnce your rolls are golden brown, drizzle a quick glaze over the top, sprinkle on some toasted almonds, and grab a plate and eleven of your closest friends. Trust me, you’ll need them. I ate two of these while they were still warm, took a gazillion photos of them, and then put an announcement on Facebook that I was giving away Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls to anyone who asked. My neighborhood friends are used to me doing stuff like that by now, so I spent Sunday evening running around delivering cinnamon rolls. The friends that tried them immediately understood why I couldn’t keep the whole batch in the house. They’re that good.Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls

Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls
makes 12 rolls

Dough:
1 3/4-2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour*
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast (I use Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast)
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, beaten, room temperature

Filling:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
8 ounces marzipan
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)

Garnish & Glaze:
1/2 cup slivered or chopped almonds
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Grease a 9×13-inch rimmed baking pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, bread flour, sugar, instant yeast, and salt. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat whole milk and butter until hot to the touch, about 115F. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in milk mixture, followed by egg and yolk. Add more all-purpose flour until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead 5-6 minutes before forming into a ball and placing in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.

Make the filling. In a small mixing bowl, use a fork to mash together butter and marzipan. Mash in sugar, cinnamon, salt, and optional almond extract. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into an 8×14-inch rectangle. Drop filling over the dough by the spoonful. Use an offset knife or spoon to spread filling mixture over the dough, using a 1/2-inch perimeter on all sides. Starting with the long edge furthest from your body, tightly roll filled dough toward you, smoothing any seams with your thumbs. Slice dough into 12 rolls. Place rolls close together in prepared pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Place covered pan in a warm, draft-free place* for 60-90 minutes, until rolls have doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375F. Uncover rolls. Bake 25-30 minutes, recovering the rolls with foil if anything begins to brown too quickly.

While rolls are baking, prepare the garnish. Place almonds in a dry skillet. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until nuts are fragrant and slightly browned, 5-8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar, salt, heavy cream, vanilla, and almond extract. Drizzle over baked rolls. Scatter toasted almonds over the top. Serve warm.

Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls are best served the day they are made, but will keep at room temperature for a day or so.

Notes:

1. If you do not have or do not wish to use bread flour, you may use an equal volume of all-purpose flour. The texture will be slightly different, but your rolls will still be delicious.


2. I preheat my oven to 200F, turn it off, and slide the covered pan inside. After 60-90 minutes, my rolls are ready to bake. Works every time.

Marzipan Cinnamon Rolls

Marzipan Bundt Cake

 I have so much baking stuff, it’s kind of insane. Sure, there are the pans and bowls and spatulas, but those are necessary in my line of work. The mix-in cabinet, however, is not. Yes, I have an entire cabinet that is just chocolate chips (nine pounds of them!), candy, nuts, and dried fruit. What can I say? I like to have options.

The problem is, I often forget about what I have. That’s how I ended up with three pounds of raisins. I really should keep an Excel spreadsheet. 

Long story short, I was looking for some granola mix-ins on Sunday night and ran across a leftover can of marzipan. I had bought it when I made Marzipan Cookies six weeks ago, and then put it in the cabinet to be forgotten about forever. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it except that it was leaning precariously on top of the package of dates that I needed. 

That got me thinking…what am I ever going to do with a can of marzipan? Make more cookies? I rarely repeat a recipe once it’s done testing. I could make little marzipan fruits? My motor skills leave something to be desired. And then, it came to me. Cake. 

After last week’s Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Oreo Buttercream, I really didn’t need anymore cake right that minute, but I grabbed my mixer anyway and got to work. I beat together butter, marzipan, and sugar. Next came some sugar a bunch of eggs, some vanilla and almond extracts, and a mixture of milk and sour cream, just to keep everything moist. I sifted in some flour, cornstarch, leaveners, and salt, beat it all together, and poured it into a bundt pan.

Forty-five minutes later, I removed the most beautiful, golden cake from the oven, and not being one to leave well enough alone, I mixed up a quick vanilla glaze and toasted some almonds. Not long after, I was eating cake in my pajamas and wondering why I don’t keep more marzipan on-hand because OMG this cake is everything.

 

 Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about this Marzipan Bundt Cake. It’s easy enough to be whipped up on the fly on a Sunday night. The batter is so gorgeous, I can’t even describe it. The word “luscious” comes to mind, but that doesn’t do it justice. Let’s just say that if I had the capability on here, there would be a looping video of it being poured into the pan. #bakingnerd 

And the flavor. Oh my word. If you are a fan of marzipan at all, make this cake. The sweet almond flavor is amazing, and the moist, dense-crumbed texture is just delightful. Oh, and the glaze. I love a good glaze, and this vanilla one perfectly offsets the intense almond flavor. The toasted slivered almonds are totally optional, of course, but their crunchiness contrasts very well with the softness of the cake.

Just…make this cake. And be sure to grab an extra can of marzipan at the store–this recipe is one you’ll want to repeat. 

 Marzipan Bundt Cake
makes one 12.5 cup capacity bundt pan*

For the Pan:
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil (I like canola)

Cake:
1/2 cup sour cream (not fat free), room temperature
1/2 cup milk (not skim or fat free), room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
8 ounces marzipan (about 3/4 cup)
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract*

Garnish and Glaze:
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare the pan. In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together flour and neutral-flavored oil. Use a pastry brush to paint the mixture onto the entire inside of a bundt pan. Make sure to cover every crevice. Pour out any excess. Set pan aside.

Make the batter. In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together sour cream and milk. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together butter and marzipan until fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, combining completely after each addition. Mix in vanilla and almond extracts, followed by sour cream/milk. Add dry ingredients in three installments, mixing on low after each addition. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to scrape down the bowl as necessary.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap full pan on the counter ten times. Bake for 40-50 minutes, covering the top with foil at the 25 minute mark. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in several places comes out clean.

Let cake cool in the pan on a rack for fifteen minutes. Run a small, thin knife around the outer edges of the pan. Place a cooling rack upside-down on top of the pan. Holding onto both the rack and the pan, carefully flip the cake onto the cooling rack. Allow cake to cool completely. 

Make the garnish. Preheat oven to 400F. Place slivered almonds on a baking sheet. Toast for five minutes, or just until fragrant. Do not let them burn. Let cool to room temperature.

Make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and salt. Add four tablespoons of heavy cream and the vanilla, and whisk until combined. Add more cream by the tablespoon until the desired consistency has been reached.

Drizzle cooled cake with glaze, and scatter with toasted slivered almonds. Glaze will begin to set within 20 minutes, and will set completely after a few hours.

Cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Note:

This recipe may also be split into two 9×5″ loaf pans, although I am unsure of the bake time.

Marzipan Bundt Cake

Black Bottom Pear & Almond Pie

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On our anniversary last year, Henry and I went to al di la, an absolute treasure of a restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn…with my parents. They were visiting and wanted to take us out to celebrate, and who were we to turn down a (very) nice free meal? At the end of a dinner that I’m still thinking about almost a year later, we decided to split a dessert. This is a big deal. You see, Henry’s not much for sweets. I make dozens of cookies every week (not to mention all the cakes and pies and cinnamon rolls), and he politely turns down almost all of them. He digs gingersnaps and chocolate cake without frosting, but that’s pretty much it. So when he wanted to split a dessert at this restaurant, I leapt at the opportunity. Seeing as he is pickier about sweets than I am (I just had a cookie and called it breakfast), I let him choose. And he went for the one thing on the menu that didn’t look wonderful to me: an almond cake with pears and bittersweet chocolate. You see, for me, fruit and chocolate don’t really go together. I mean, if you give me a piece of chocolate cake with raspberry filling, I’m not going to turn it down. (As a rule, I don’t turn cake down.) But it’s not my favorite. So when this cake showed up at the table, I expected to take two bites, say how good it was, and be finished with it. That’s where I was wrong. This cake was dense and rustic, with a good almond flavor, soft pieces of pear, and a magical layer of melted chocolate. I’m pretty sure I ate all of my half and most of Henry’s too. And here we are, two weeks away from our anniversary, and I’m still thinking about it…so I took that cake and made it pie.

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This pie, you guys. This pie. It’s got soft pears in an almond filling, all suspended over a puddle of chocolate ganache. And all of that is in a cream cheese pie crust because that’s how I roll. It’s elegant and seasonal. There’s fruit, there’s chocolate–it covers all the bases. I won’t lie to you, it takes time and there are many steps, but none of them are difficult. This pie is sooo worth the effort. Don’t let the length of the recipe scare you away. You can do this. Let’s get started.

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We start by poaching pears. If we put raw pears in the pie, the result could be…crunchy. And while crunchy pies can be amazing (pecan pie is my jam), fruit pies should have a softer filling. So, let’s poach. We need four firm pears, like Bosc, about seven ounces each. Leaving them whole, peel them and set them aside. Bring some water and sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice of an orange (about 1/4 cup) and throw in the two halves of your squeezed orange. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat and drop in the pears. Simmer for 20 minutes, then let them cool to room temperature in the poaching liquid. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead, and then put the pears and liquid in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the pie. If you want to cut the poaching step altogether, you may use canned whole pears in juice.

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Then, take one good pie crust (I like this Cream Cheese Pie Dough), roll it to a 12-inch diameter, fit it in a pie plate, and crimp the edges. Then, throw it in the fridge while you preheat the oven to 425F. This crust has to be partially blind-baked, or baked without filling, because the wet filling in this pie could give us a soggy crust otherwise. When the oven is preheated, take the pie crust out of the refrigerator and prick the bottom of the crust several times with a fork. This is called docking; it keeps the crust from puffing up by allowing trapped steam to escape. Then, line the crust with foil and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust for 17 minutes. Remove it from the oven and take out the foil and weights/beans. Bake the crust for an additional three minutes. Let the crust cool to room temperature while you prepare the ganache.

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This part is easy. Chop four ounces of bittersweet chocolate and put them in a bowl. Heat 1/4 cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat. When it just barely comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Once the chocolate looks melty, stir it all together with a fork until you have a smooth, beautiful sauce. Let that cool a little bit while you make the frangipane.

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imageimageFrangipane (almond filling) sounds difficult, but it really couldn’t be simpler. Put blanched almonds and a little flour in a food processor, and blitz until it becomes a fine meal. Then, pulse in sugar and salt, followed by six tablespoons of butter. Once that all comes together, put in one egg and 1/2 teaspoon of pure almond extract. It’s ready when it vaguely resembles hummus. Do not over-process, or you’ll have almond butter. Delicious, but not what we need here.

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imageimageNow, to assemble. Spread your ganache in the room temperature pie crust. Let it chill in the fridge for five minutes, just to set. Then, spread half your frangipane over the ganache, and then top that with half your pears. Spread the pears with the second half of your frangipane, and then decorate the top with the second half of your pears. Brush the exposed pears with heavy cream and sprinkle them with sugar. Cover the exposed crust with a pie protector or foil; I use a 9″ hoop that I made out of foil, and it works like a charm. Place the pie in a 350F oven for 45-55 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Let it cool for at least two hours before slicing and serving with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. If you want to make it ahead, the pie will keep covered at room temperature for two days or in the refrigerator for three.

imageNow, look how fancy you are with your fancy pie. You can throw the word “frangipane” around at your Thanksgiving dinner and be all sophisticated and stuff. And then you can eat two slices in a very unladylike fashion and tell everyone that there are no leftovers as you shove the last piece in the back of the fridge. You’ve earned that last piece. You are the pie queen/king. You nailed it.

Want more pie? Check out this light and fluffy Pumpkin Pie, and come back next week for one more pie recipe before Thanksgiving.

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Black Bottom Pear & Almond Pie
heavily adapted from Pear and Almond Tart by Deb Perelman
makes one 9″ pie

Pears
4 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 whole orange, washed
4 whole pears*, about 7 oz each, peeled

Crust
1/2 recipe Cream Cheese Pie Dough

Ganache
4 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate*
1/4 cup heavy cream

Frangipane (Almond Filling)
4 ounces whole blanched almonds*
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold-ish room temperature, cut into cubes
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

heavy cream, for brushing
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Start by poaching the pears. In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Slice the orange in half. Squeeze the juice into the water, then drop both halves of the orange into the pot. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat to medium high. Drop in the pears and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. They should be tender, but not falling apart. Let the pears cool to room temperature in the poaching liquid.*

On a floured surface, roll out the pie crust to a 12-inch diameter. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate*, and trim the edges to 1/2-inch of overhang. Crimp the edges. Place crust in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Blind bake the crust. Preheat the oven to 425F. Remove chilled crust from the refrigerator. Prick the bottom of the crust several times with a fork. Line the inside of the crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or 1 lb of dried beans. Bake for 17 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, and gently lift out the foil and weights/beans. Bake the crust for an additional three minutes. Let crust cool to room temperature.

Make the ganache. Chop 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and place in a small bowl. Place heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it just barely starts to boil, remove it from the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate. Once the chocolate looks soft, stir it together with a fork until you have a smooth chocolate sauce. Let cool a bit while you prepare the frangipane.

In a food processor (or very good blender), grind blanched almonds and flour until the mixture is a fine meal. Pulse in salt and granulated sugar. Pulse in butter. Pour in egg and almond extract, and process until frangipane is a homogenous paste.

Prepare the pears. Discard the poaching liquid. Slice the pears in half and core them. Then cut each half into 1/4-inch slices width-wise.

Assemble the pie. Spread an even layer of chocolate ganache onto the bottom of the pie crust. Refrigerate five minutes to set. Spread half the frangipane over the ganache. Layer half the pears on top. Then, spread the pears with the rest of the frangipane. Decorate the top of the pie with the remainder of the pears. Brush the exposed pears with heavy cream and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cover the exposed crust with foil or a pie protector. Bake the pie for 45-55 minutes, or until the pears are light golden brown. Let the pie cool for at least two hours before slicing and serving with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar and sweetened whipped cream.

This pie keeps covered at room temperature for two days, or in the refrigerator* for three days.

Notes:

  1. I use Bosc pears. Anjou and Bartlett are also good choices. Make sure your pears are firm.
  2. I use Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate.
  3. If you can’t find whole blanched almonds, an equal weight of slivered almonds (without skins) or almond flour will do.
  4. The pears may be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Just let them cool to room temperature, discard the orange halves, and then refrigerate the pears in the poaching liquid until you are ready to use them.
  5. Use a standard pie plate, not deep dish.
  6. Let refrigerated pie sit at room temperature for 60-90 minutes before slicing.

Vanilla-Almond Shortbread Cookies

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My first blog post centered around my dad’s love of chocolate, particularly brownies. While my whole family loves it when he makes brownies, I neglected to mention one thing: my mom doesn’t like chocolate all that much. She can take it or leave it. She doesn’t hate it. She just doesn’t love it. My parents have been happily married for 32 years, raised three daughters and two miniature schnauzers, and this is probably the biggest thing they disagree on.

For years, my mom never mentioned this. I remember many birthdays where my little sister and I gave her boxes of Russell Stover Chocolate Covered Cherries, having zero idea that she didn’t love chocolate. A few years ago, she revealed the truth to me over a ritual ice cream lunch date: she’s a vanilla person. That’s not to say she’s boring. No, my mom is anything but boring. The woman is fearless. She’s the kind of person who isn’t afraid to travel around the country with sixty teenagers in tow. She’s the kind of person who, upon finding out that Justin Timberlake’s mom is her friend’s neighbor and JT himself is visiting, will scream “JUUUUUSTIIIIIN!” like a banshee in an effort to get his autograph for her diehard *NSYNC fan daughters. My mom works a full-time job, takes a two mile walk with the dog, makes dinner for my dad, and still takes the time to have an hour phone conversation with you about whether it’s appropriate to wear velveteen pants to a black tie event. She’s the kind of mom that your friends absolutely love, and the kind of mom that is friends with her adult children first and foremost. Bottom line: my mom straight-up rules. And today is her birthday, so let’s make her something vanilla.

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I’ve been on a shortbread kick lately. As the weather is (sort of, not really) starting to turn cooler in New York, I have been drinking a lot of tea. Obviously that requires cookies. Really buttery, crunchy cookies. And, since we’re giving my mom a cookie shout-out, let’s make them vanilla-almond and slice-and-bake. I think she’d approve.

These vanilla-almond shortbread are a breeze to put together. We cream butter and sugar together before adding in vanilla bean paste and just a touch of almond extract. Then we mix in flour and salt, followed by sliced almonds. Next, we form the dough into two logs, wrap them in plastic wrap, and throw them in the fridge for a little bit. Then we just slice them and bake at 325F for 14-17 minutes. All that’s left to do is make a pot of tea and dunk away.

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Vanilla-Almond Shortbread Cookies keep very well at room temperature for at least a week. This makes them perfect for your cookie jar, holiday gifting, or shipping a box to your mom since you can’t be there for her birthday this year.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you more than chocolate.

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Vanilla-Almond Shortbread Cookies
makes about five dozen

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract*
1/2 cup sliced almonds, optional

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add sugar and mix until it is completely combined with the butter. Add in the vanilla bean paste and almond extract, and combine. With the mixer running on low, add in flour mixture in two installments, mixing until it is just incorporated. Fold in sliced almonds. Dough will be crumbly, but should hold together when pinched.

Divide dough in half. Take one half and lay it on a piece of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap and clean hands, form the dough into a log. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Refrigerate wrapped dough for at least 45 minutes, or up to three days.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

Unwrap one log of dough. Using a large, sharp chef’s knife, slice the dough in 1/4″ installments and lay them on the prepared pans at least one-inch apart. Bake for 14-17 minutes, until the tops no longer look doughy and the edges are starting to brown. Let cool on the pans for for 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

These keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a week.

Notes:

  1. If you do not have vanilla bean paste, or simply don’t want to use it, you may use the scraped seeds of one vanilla bean in addition to one teaspoon of vanilla extract. If you do not want to use vanilla bean at all, you may use two teaspoons of vanilla extract.
  2. If you would like a more pronounced almond flavor, you may use 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract. Be careful though–almond extract is very potent.