Pecan Pie

Each Thanksgiving I try to take charge of something new or something more complicated. So far I’ve made side dishes (med), cornbread stuffing (yummy), cranberry sauce (disastrous), and several pies. She and I have our own fair share of failures. Last year her pecan pie was over-baked. My apple pie was under-baked.

Pecan pie is a staple for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. My mother is the only person who eats pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Usually she bakes a whole pie for herself to enjoy for the entire week. While many recipes include alcohol, I went for an old-fashioned recipe.


Ingredients: 

  • Pie crust dough (store-bought or homemade)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups pecan-halves (You can find these in the baking aisle. You don’t have to split them.)

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.

2) Roll out the pie dough onto a lightly floured surface. Trim and crimp crust as desired. Lightly prick the bottom of the crush with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

3) For the pie filling: melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt.

4. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk into the corn syrup mixture.

Be really careful! If you mixture is too hot, your eggs will scramble! Mine was just a little too hot so there were some heated egg whites. I strained these out with a sieve and it was fine.

5) Put pecans in the pie shell and pour the corn syrup mixture over evenly.

6) Bake until the filling is set (50-60 min.) Cool completely.

Final Thoughts: I’ve never been a big fan of pecan pie, but I stole a bite and loved it! It was fairly easy to make, despite needing a tiny bit more effort than a pumpkin pie. Now that I’ve checked off apple, banana cream, pumpkin, and pecan, which pie should I try next?

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

The pumpkin craze continues! I saw this design in a magazine and thought to myself, “I could make that!” A pumpkin chocolate chip cake seemed perfect for a pumpkin-shaped cake. This monster cake is a perfect centerpiece for a big Halloween party. Since it’s technically two cakes, make sure there are enough people to eat it!

Ingredients:

CAKE

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used Ghiradellhi’s bittersweet)

FROSTING

  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups maple extract
  • 1 tsp maple extract
  • 1-2 Tbsp water or milk (I used milk)

Instructions:

I made 2 of these bundt cakes, prepared and baked separately. The instructions below are only for one cake.

1) Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10 in. bundt pan.

2) Combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a bowl. Whisk until combined.

3) Combine oil and sugar in another bowl and mix well.

4) Add the eggs, one at a time, into the sugar-oil mix.

5) Add the dry ingredients alternatively with the pumpkin, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

6) Fold in the chocolate chips.

7) Bake 60-65 min. or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs.

I use a lighter colored pan, so 55 minutes did the trick.

8) Remove from the oven. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely,

9) Make the icing. Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.

10) Add the powdered sugar and maple extract. Mix.

11) Add 1-2 Tbsp of water or milk.

This is to get the right consistency. I felt I had the right consistency without any additional liquid, but the milk really helped cut down on the sweetness of the maple frosting.

12) Decorate once the cake is completely cool.

This keeps the frosting from melting off of the cake.

Now to make your pumpkin masterpiece! I froze the two cake that I made, because who has the time to bake 2 cakes, level and carve them, make and dye frosting, then decorate a cake all in one day?

1) Level the bottoms of both cakes.

My cake was still moist even after freezing, so take it slow so you don’t take chunks out of your cake by accident. PS this is a great step for tasting.

2) Place one bundt cake upside down. Place the other on top of the first bundt cake. Use a knife to carve into a smooth shape.

3. Dye your frosting orange (or use pre-made orange frosting). Frost between the two cakes, then cover the rest of the cake.

I really wish that I had made more frosting, or done a light crumb cake layer. There were some patches later on where you could see the dark cake below the icing.

4. Take an ice cream cone and place it in the center hole. Frost this with green icing. Pipe green frosting vines and leaves. Enjoy!!

Final Thoughts: Usually I don’t like to bake cakes that use oil as their source of moisture, but it worked out because of how often I was freezing the cakes while decorating. I didn’t think I would like the maple flavor paired with pumpkin, but it was a nice subtle addition to the flavors. Next time I might cut down on the sugar as it was quite sweet in comparison. I’ve heard milk powder can help thicken frosting without adding sugar.

Pieced Together Lemon Cake

Though this recipe is for a simply delicious lemon cake, I felt it was important to bring it from my old blog. Mistakes happen. I have shared my “foodie fails” on my blog in the past. I can be a perfectionist, who gets frustrated about the slightest problems.

Learning to cook and bake means that I have to embrace the mistakes. The great part about food is that it can often be forgiving. No one cares if your cake is a little messy as long as it tastes good. If it doesn’t taste very good or it’s rendered inedible, you’ll know for the next time you try. The important part is that you don’t give up!

 

 

Would you have guessed that one of the layers of this cake fell apart? This isn’t an episode of Chopped. While you may disappointed, no one is going to kick you out of the kitchen. My coworkers enjoyed the tasty cake even with its flaws.

Ingredients:

THE CAKE

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

 

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease 2 9-inch baking pans.

To “grease” pans you can use sprays like Pam. I prefer to use butter, then lightly coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. Beat together the butter and 2 cups of the sugar. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Add the lemon zest.

 

3. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

 

4. Add the dry ingredients, 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla to the mixer. Mix well.

5. Divide the batter between the pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

 

6. While the cake is baking, make the simple syrup. Over medium-high heat, mix 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup sugar until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Syrups and reductions seem to be one of my weak points. They never seem to get quite thick enough. Fortunately, this will brushed onto the cake so it doesn’t need to be thick like maple syrup.

7. Make the frosting. Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Mix in vanilla and 1 Tbsp lemon juice.

 

8. When the cake has finished baking, poke holes in the top. Divide the simple syrup between the two layers and pour over the top.

 

I kept the cakes in the pans to avoid making a mess. I also brushed the syrup over top to avoid saturating one part of the cake more than another.

9. Once the cakes have cooled COMPLETELY, assemble the cake and frost. Keep refrigerated 1 hour prior to serving.

Okay here’s where the fail happened. Do not rush the cooling process. The simple syrup makes the cake much softer. If it doesn’t cool, well then you end up with this…

 

With a little magic…

 

Final Thoughts: See what I was talking about? The first layer came out fine, but the simple syrup moistened the cake and my second layer fell apart. I placed the broken layer on the bottom, piecing it as flat as I could (aided by a layer of frosting to pull everything together). The whole layer went on top. By the time I finished, you couldn’t tell it had broken unless you cut inside! Even better, the cake was delicious. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors. This cake had sweet lemon-y goodness in every bite.

Black Bean Brownies (GF)

A lot of people try gluten-free or vegan treats as a healthier alternative to desserts and sweet treats. I don’t know if it makes them healthier, but it’s good practice for friends and family with food allergies or dietary restrictions. I made brownies for a coworker, so another coworker requested an additional pan of black bean brownies. The idea is that the beans make the ingredients “stick” instead of flour. It’s a gluten-free option that keeps the brownies moist.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×8 baking dish.

2. Place all ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor (or blender) and process until smooth. Scrape the batter into the baking dish and level the top.

 

 

Honestly there’s nothing easier than shoving everything into a food processor. If you’d like, taste it and see if it needs a bit more cocoa.

3. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top of the batter. Bake for 25-27 min.

4. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

If you don’t let them sit, they’ll be too soft to cut and just fall apart.

Final Thoughts: This was a 50-50 dessert. It’s easier to make than regular brownies, plus it’s gluten-free with extra protein! While I enjoyed the dense texture, it’s obvious it’s made with beans. About half of the people who tried mine really disliked them. The other half went crazy for them! To each their own, I guess. Which one do you guys like better – regular or black bean brownies?

5 Ingredient Strawberry Breakfast Pastries

When I first started cooking I began listening to the advice of the pro chefs. There’s a general disdain for products like pie crusts or processed cheese. I made my own pastry crusts, my own chicken broth, and tried to make everything from scratch. Naturally this led to several #foodiefails .

One day while watching Jacques Pepin’s cooking show on TV, I saw that he was using Sara Lee pound cake from the freezer section. He was cooking with his granddaughter. They made a lovely fruit compote from scratch to go with it. Since then I’ve questioned my prejudice toward more convenient options, especially when you’re just getting started in your cooking journey.

I will never shut up about how amazing recipes with less than 10 ingredients are for beginners. There’s less prep, fewer preps, and lower cost. Everything about these recipes is easier, and often you don’t sacrifice flavor. Puff pastry is available in the frozen food aisle. It is incredibly difficult and time consuming to make from scratch.  On a particularly productive Sunday morning, I bought some pre-prepared puff pastry for these strawberry breakfast pastries. It’s almost like making homemade toaster strudels.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 large egg
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silipat (re-usable silicon baking covers for pans).

2. Cut the puff pastry into 6 rectangles by following the folds in the dough. First, cut the sheet into 3 long rectangles, then cut each rectangle in half.

3. Transfer the pastries to the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

4. Lightly score a 1/2 inch border around the edge of the dough. Prick the center of the pastry with a fork.

Scoring means lightly marking the dough with a knife.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese and strawberry jam. Place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the centers of the pastry and spread it. Top with slices of strawberry.

 

Make sure your cream cheese is close to room temperature or else the cream cheese and jam will not mix easily and consistently.

6. Whisk together the egg with 1 Tbsp of water. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden and puffed.

 

I think it might be easier to put on the egg wash before the cream cheese. Also, I didn’t use all of the egg wash.

7. Remove the pastries from the oven. Dust with powdered sugar over the pastries if desired.

 

The best way to deal with powdered sugar is to use a sieve. Pour it in, then lightly tap the sieve over the pastry. It spreads a light layer with less mess.

 

Final Thoughts: These were a lovely sweet treat that I would consider serving for brunch or breakfast with friends or family. The best part is they look so fancy! They may not taste like the most incredible pastry in the world, but I was still impressed with the results. I would recommend these be eaten within a few hours of being baked.

Sweet & Tangy Lemon Bars

I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a homemade lemon bar before, but lemon (well, citrus) is one of my favorite flavors. When this recipe popped up on my Pinterest, I knew I wanted to try it. Some of you may have seen my Instagram post where I posted the failed version of this recipe. Hint: It’s not a lemon bar without lemon juice.  This is a fairly simple and classic recipe with a tangy lemon flavor and rich shortbread crust.

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

  • 1 3/4 cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (230 g) unsalted butter, softened

For the Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups (220 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Optional: powdered sugar

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9 x 13 in. baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt for the crust together. Cut the butter into cubes. Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dough with a pastry cutter or with your hands. Mix until it’s crumbly and starts to come together. Scoop the mixture into the pre-prepared pan and press into an even layer.

Cubed means just what it says. Cut your butter into cubes! If your butter is at the right temperature, you should be able to cut through it with a butter knife.

 

See the big chunk of butter? I probably could have better incorporated the butter into the dough. I really need to invest in a pastry cutter.

3. Bake the crust for 20-25 min. until the edges are golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven.

4. While the crust is baking, start on the filling. Whisk the sugar and flour together in a bowl. Add in the eggs and lemon juice and mix until well combined. Pour the filling over the crust.

The lemon mixture should be bright yellow (as pictured above). When I tried this recipe and forgot the lemon juice, the mixture was pale.

5. Bake for 18-20 min. until the filling it set. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for an hour. Cover tightly with saran wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

 

6. Remove from the fridge. With a sifter, sift powdered sugar over the top.

I sifted the sugar while the bars were still in the pan to avoid making a big mess.

7. Cut and serve!

Final Thoughts: These were the perfect balance of sweet and tangy! My coworkers gobbled them up. Aesthetically, I wish there were no bubbles on top. I’m curious if I should hit the pan against the counter to remove the extra air. Or does this just happen with the acidity?

Now that summer is here, it may be time to bring back this citrus-y treat.

Almost Allergen-Free Carrot Cake

I have a very close friend who, due to health issues, must stick to very strict diet restrictions. Naturally, this means that he doesn’t get to eat some of his favorite foods anymore, things like pizza and matzo ball soup, unless it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, and lacks certain other foods like onions and garlic.

Carrot cake is a favorite treat of his. We were both unsure about the recipe the first time I made this, but once we tried it we were both pleasantly surprised by the flavor and texture (a common complaint with gluten-free cakes). Now whenever he comes back to Arizona, he requests the same cake (which he freezes and eats piece-by-piece by himself). Please note that this is NOT egg-free. The original recipe uses flax eggs to make it vegan, but I used real chicken eggs.

After some searching and negotiating ingredients, I decided to alter this recipe for gluten-free, vegan carrot cake from renowned food blogger Gimme Some Oven.

INGREDIENTS:

VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE CARROT CAKE INGREDIENTS:

  • 2.5 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend, plus extra for dusting the pans
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled
  • Stevia equivalent to 1 cup of granulate sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE “CREAM CHEESE” FROSTING INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 cups gluten-free powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) vegan butter or margarine
  • 3 Tablespoons non-dairy milk
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Note on the Ingredients: I use Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour rather than adding the flours together myself. For the vegan butter, I use soy-free Earth Balance brand vegan margarine. I chose coconut milk for the frosting for the sweeter taste.

While mixing ingredients, the batter smells like the inside of a rotted jack o’lantern. Adjust the spices to taste (I know the batter doesn’t taste very good). Usually I can adjust the spices in the ratio indicated in the recipe until the smell improves.

DIRECTIONS:

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use vegan margarine to thoroughly grease the inside of 2 9-in pans. Dust the inside of each pan with gluten-free flour.

 

 

A common method is to coat the pan by turning it like a steering wheel over the sink.

2) In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, cloves and ginger) until combined.

3) Using a blender or food processor, shred or blend the carrots.

 

I prefer my carrots well-blended to avoid a chunky texture.

4) Transfer the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Wipe out the blender or food processor. Add the Stevia, brown sugar, and eggs and blend until frothy.

 

5) While the blender or food processor is running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Blend the egg mixture until well mixed.
6) Add the carrots and dry ingredients to the blender or food processor. Blend all of the ingredients together into a smooth batter.
This is the point where you should taste the batter! If it smells bad, add more cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
7) Pour batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. While the cake bakes, mix the frosting ingredients together.
8) Let cake cool completely in the pans on a wire rack for about 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Remove cake, if transferring to a different serving platter, and frost as desired.

 

Once I removed the cakes from the pan, I had to scrape some leftover flour off of the bottoms.

Final Thoughts: This is a tried and true recipe, though I understand that adding spices “to taste” can be a frustrating instruction. Vegan baking and using substitutions can be difficult. Each time I bake this I’m still never 100% sure that it turned out properly. I’ve played with the frosting in an attempt to reduce the processed sugar, but I can’t use milk powder to thicken. This recipe tastes the best so far. Does anyone have any suggestions?