Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pumpkin Mousse Cheesecake

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite parts of the holiday season are the warmly spiced pies. As a kid, I didn't used to like apple pie, but I've always been a fan of pumpkin or sweet potato pie. I would make it all year round if my family would help me eat it. So, pumpkin or sweet potato pie in some variation or another is a must on my Thanksgiving table. This year, I made this pumpkin mousse cheesecake that is basically a pumpkin pie and cheesecake all in one, but is not a pumpkin cheesecake. I like the fact that the two desserts are layered rather than completely combined so you can taste each component, but it still works beautifully together.

I was more than pleased with this recipe from Brad Farmerie. Not only is it delicious, it's also super simple to put together, much simpler and quicker than an actual pie or cheesecake. It's also very impressive looking and can be done ahead of time. Instead of graham cracker crumbs, I used speculoos cookie crumbs and really loved the spice that it added. You can really use any crisp cookies you like.

I also modified the pumpkin mousse part, using whipped cream instead of whipped egg whites since I didn't really want raw eggs in it, but do what you like. I've made Ina Garten's pumpkin mousse in the past with great success, so I based this pumpkin mousse off of that one. I'll have to add that recipe here when I get a chance. Anyway, I really recommend giving these bars a try if you'd like a pumpkin dessert but not necessarily a pumpkin pie, you'll be glad you did.

Pumpkin Mousse Cheesecake
Recipe adapted from Brad Farmerie
Makes one 9 x 13 inch pan

2 cups cookie crumbs (graham crackers, speculoos, gingersnaps, etc.)
1 stick (1/2 cup) melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Butter a 9x 13 inch baking dish. Combine the cookie crumbs and the melted butter. Press into the prepared baking dish and set aside while you prepare the cheesecake layer.

1 8 oz package of cream cheese, room temp
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a handheld mixer and a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese, salt, and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing until well incorporated. Spread the cheesecake mixture over the crust and bake for 20 min. Let cool completely.

Pumpkin Mousse
1 1/4 oz envelope of powdered gelatin
1/4 cup water
1 15 oz can pure pumpkin puree
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup heavy cream

Fill a small bowl with the water and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes to soften.

In a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, mix the pumpkin puree, milk, sugar, egg yolks, salt, and cinnamon together for 10-12 min until it thickens and reaches about 158 deg F. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin and mix until combined. Let the mixture cool to room temp.

Once the pumpkin mixture is cool, whisk the heavy cream in a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or by hand until it reaches soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture. Spread the pumpkin mousse over the cooled cheesecake and refrigerate at least 8 hrs, preferably overnight.

Serve from the fridge with additional lightly sweetened whipped cream if desired. Cheesecake will last wrapped in the fridge up to a few days.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I've seen many versions of whoopie pies over the years and intended to make some eventually, but never really had enough motivation to do so until I saw these ones from Matt Lewis of Baked recently. It sounded like the perfect thing for Thanksgiving this year since it's basically like a pumpkin roulade with cream cheese frosting in a different format and you may know that pumpkin roulade is one of my go-to desserts for Thanksgiving.

Whoopie pies are essentially mini cake sandwiches. I found the cake/cookie part tasted best when it was fresh, so I would recommend making them the day you plan to serve them if possible. You can make the filling a day ahead though. I didn't have any problems with this recipe though I did scale back the cloves. I also reduced the amount of frosting since I prefer a smaller amount, but if you like a generous amount of frosting in your whoopie pies, feel free to make the full amount.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Recipe adapted from Matt Lewis of Baked
Makes about 2 dozen whoopie pies

Whoopie cookies
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp coarse salt, half the amount of fine salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1/3 tbsp. ground cloves
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Prepare about 3 baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and the spices together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and oil until well combined. Mix in the pumpkin puree, then the eggs and vanilla, whisking until well combined.

Gradually, fold in the flour mixture until incorporated. With a small tbsp. sized ice cream scoop, scoop mounds of dough onto your prepared baking sheets, spacing them about an inch apart, and place them in the oven. Bake for 15-18 min, depending on the size of your cookies until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Rotate them halfway through for even baking. Bake the cookies in batches if necessary.

Let the cookies cool completely on the pan before filling.

Cream cheese filling
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
5 oz cream cheese, room temp
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp
pinch of salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Sift the powdered sugar and set aside. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, with a hand mixer, or wooden spoon, beat the butter for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Then add the cream cheese and beat for another 1-2 min until well incorporated. Add the sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt and mix until combined. Filling may be made a day ahead.

To fill the whoopie cookies, use an ice cream scoop, spoon, or a piping bag to frost the bottom of one whoopie cookie. Then top with another and press together gently. Store in the fridge, covered, for at least 30 min before serving. Whoopie pies will last in the fridge for up to several days or in the freezer for longer.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Simply Mindblowing Coconut Maple Granola

Can I just say that this granola is insane? Insane as in amazingly good, beyond words, but I'm going to try to describe it for you anyway. It's bursting with coconut goodness, it's a bit sweet yet salty, the granola is fluffy but crisp, and it's probably the best granola I've ever had, definitely the best one I've ever made. The components are all super simple and it doesn't sound all that special, but there's just something about coconut oil that brings this granola over the top. Do yourself a favor and make this granola.
The recipe is slightly adapted from Tracy of Shutterbean, so you know it's going to be good with all her granola making experience. This is a loose unclustered granola that really would be perfect in anything. Granola is just so easy to make and so much better when you can make it that there's just no reason to buy it. I've become just a bit obsessed with homemade granola these days and I'll continue to try other ones, but I'm sure that I will be dreaming of this one and coming back to it time and time again.

Coconut Maple Granola
Adapted from Shutterbean
Makes about 6 cups

3 cups rolled oats, not quick-cooking
3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup raw almonds, or mix in roasted almonds at the end
4 tbsp flaxseed meal
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 tsp fine salt

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. In a large bowl, combine the oats, coconut, almonds, flaxseed meal, brown sugar, and salt.

Add in the melted coconut oil and maple syrup and stir well to combine. When everything has been mixed thoroughly, pour the mixture onto a lined baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 min, stirring every 10-15 min until the granola is lightly golden brown.

Let the granola cool completely before storing in an airtight container. It will last for up to several weeks at room temp.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Carrot Banana Bread

It seems that I either have no bananas or when I do have bananas, I have a whole bunch of them that all ripen at the same time. Recently, I found myself with many many overripe bananas, so it was the perfect time to try some more banana recipes. I think it's blatantly obvious by now, but banana bread is one of my favorite desserts and I never get tired of trying new ones. Some are good, some not so much, but even the not so good ones aren't much of a disappointment.
A variation of banana bread I've been meaning to try since seeing it on some blogs is carrot banana bread, a hybrid of carrot cake and banana bread. I'm a fan of both, so of course it was a no-brainer. It's not much of a stretch to combine the two since the warm spices of carrot cake work perfectly in banana bread. I decided to try a healthified version of carrot banana bread from a fellow Mel of Mel's Kitchen Cafe. The banana bread came out great, but I decided to make just a few slight changes because it was not quite as light as I would've liked, so I dehealthified just a bit.

Carrot Banana Bread
Recipe adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
Makes One 9x5 inch loaf

2 cups all purpose flour (8.5 ounces)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup mashed bananas, 3 very ripe medium bananas or 2 large
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup finely grated carrots

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Line a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with parchment or lightly grease.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, brown sugar, coconut oil, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract until well combined. Add in the grated carrots. Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Banana bread will last, well wrapped, at room temp for several days or for several weeks in the freezer.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mrs. Sigg's Snickerdoodles

This is another one requested by my youngest sister, so don't expect any healthy substitutions for this one. For a while, she's been wanting me to make some snickerdoodles. So, as I usually do, I decided to try a different recipe. I already have a snickerdoodle recipe from Joanne Chang posted on this blog that is very good, but it is a rather crisp snickerdoodle. For a bit more chewiness, I decided to go with a popular recipe on Allrecipes that included some vegetable shortening. Based on the popular snickerdoodle recipes I've seen across the web, they're all pretty much the same recipe with just slightly different proportions.

The texture of this one was spot on, but using some shortening instead of butter does result in a less flavorful cookie, so it's up to you which one you pick. I made little mini snickerdoodles since that's what my sister requested and while that's good for portion control, it can also be dangerous since they're so easy to eat in one bite that you might start to lose count once you taste one. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Mrs. Sigg's Snickerdoodles
Recipe from Young Idealistic Baker who adapted from Allrecipes
Makes about 3-4 dozen mini cookies

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temp
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 deg F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Combine the 2 tbsp of sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, with a handheld mixer, or with a wooden spoon, cream the butter, shortening, and 3/4 cup sugar together for 3-5 min until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla and mix until well incorporated.

Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. With a small ice cream scoop about the size of a tsp or with your hands, form small balls of dough. Roll the balls of dough in the cinnamon sugar and place on the baking sheet leaving about 2 inches between them. Bake for 7-8 minutes, preferably on the middle rack.

Let the cookies cool for about a minute on the baking sheet so they can set up a bit. Then, remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to several days at room temp.
Obligatory stacked cookie shots, also just cause I love them.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Glutinous Pumpkin Pancake - Nan Gua Bing (南瓜饼)

I've been meaning to try my hand at Nan Gua Bing(glutinous pumpkin pancakes) for some time now since I was pretty sure they would be super easy to make and I knew they would taste a lot fresher than store bought. I love pretty much pumpkin anything and when mixed with a chewy mochi texture, it's a sure winner. Recently, I had steamed some kabocha squash to make Hobakjuk, a korean pumpkin porridge, so I decided to make some Nan Gua Bing while I was at it.

The recipe has very few ingredients and is basically just like making dumplings with the addition of kabocha squash puree. Instead of kabocha squash puree, butternut squash, sweet potato, and pumpkin would also work. You may need to adjust the amount of rice flour you use depending on the puree you use. Steaming is a pretty quick way to cook your squash, but baking or boiling, then draining would also work.

The recipe comes from Christine's Recipes and really could not get any easier. You can use all glutinous rice flour which is what the original recipe calls for or you can mix in some rice flour for a sturdier pancake. It still ends up with a nice chewy texture, but it holds together a little bit better. Try it and see what you prefer. To cook these pancakes, you can pan fry or steam them, either way works. They are definitely best eaten fresh though, so make the dough ahead of time and then when you're ready to serve, shape them into patties and cook them up.

Glutinous Pumpkin Pancakes - Nan Gua Bing (南瓜饼)
Adapted from Christine's Recipes
Makes About 12 3-inch pancakes

320 g kabocha squash puree
120 g sugar, granulated sugar or brown sugar
100 g glutinous rice flour
60 g rice flour
large pinch of salt

While your puree is warm if possible, mix in the sugar and salt thoroughly with your hands or a wooden spoon. Add the rice flour and mix. Then add the glutinous rice flour gradually until you have a smooth dough that is not too sticky.

Wrap with plastic wrap and let sit at room temp until you are ready to cook them. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, roll into a ball and flatten to your desired thickness, around 1/2 inch. In a preheated skillet over medium low, add a bit of vegetable oil, and fry the pancakes for about 3 min on each side until the dough is no longer raw. You may also steam them for 8-10 min on medium high heat. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chewy Brownies

A while ago, I had made applesauce brownies and I thought they were fantastic not to mention practically good for you. However, my younger sister didn't think they were as fantastic as I did. When we went to the grocery store the other day, she began eyeing up a brownie. I knew that I could make a fresh batch at home in under an hour, so I convinced her to let me make her some instead. I did have to guarantee that it would be a more typical brownie made without whole wheat flour and honey though.

As I said in my applesauce brownies post, while I've made brownies in the past, none of them ever seemed quite blogworthy. It could also be that my baking skills weren't quite as good initially so they never turned out quite right. Anyway, for this attempt, I thought I would try Laura Vitale's Chewy Brownies because frankly, they just looked really good and she seems to know a thing or two about brownies. My sisters and I are fans of chewy brownies, although Laura also has recipes for Fudgy and Cakey Brownies.

These brownies came out amazing and as you can see are definitely blogworthy. As with most of Laura's recipes, this one is really simple and seems practically foolproof. In no time, I had a batch of brownies in the oven. The brownies themselves are perfectly chewy with some fudginess, not overly sweet or greasy, and the edges that touch the pan crisp up beautifully. I'm happy to have found a brownie recipe that I feel like I can rely on and that I think will please pretty much any brownie craving in no time.

Chewy Brownies
Recipe slightly adapted from Laura in the Kitchen
Makes 16 Brownies

1 stick(1/2 cup) of unsalted butter
10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chunks or chips or chopped
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 tbsp natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Line an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the bittersweet chocolate and whisk occasionally until melted.

While the chocolate is melting, sift your flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Once the chocolate has melted, whisk in the granulated sugar for about a minute until well incorporated. Then mix in the eggs, whisking for another 1-2 minutes until everything is well mixed. Add in the flour mixture and stir to combine. Switch to a spatula or a wooden spoon if necessary. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

For an 8 inch square pan, bake for 40 min on the center rack. For a 9 inch square pan, brownies will take about 35 min in the oven. Let cool completely before cutting. Brownies will last for several days covered at room temp or for several weeks well wrapped in the freezer.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Granola

Fall is one of my favorite times of year because it's when I tend to make more spiced and pumpkin filled desserts. I love the fruit in the spring and summer, but some of my favorite desserts are traditional fall treats like pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, apple pie, can you tell I'm a pie lover? I guess I could make these things year round, but I usually only make them to bring to a family gathering or when I have someone to share them with. I'm still on the hunt for a smaller pie plate, a 7 inch one would be perfect.
Anyway, to bring some of that fall flavor to my morning breakfast, I decided to make some pumpkin spice granola. I really can't believe that I was ever afraid of making granola after that one time that it didn't work out. Whenever recipes flop now, I just move on to another one or rethink it if it seems salvageable. Back to the topic at hand, granola is super easy to make, endlessly customizable, and it's great as a breakfast cereal, over yogurt, or for a snack. This one from Sally's Baking Addiction is very lightly sweetened, so much so that I've added just a touch more sugar in the recipe and because I love spice, I've also bumped that up just a bit. The sweetness could also depend on your maple syrup, though, so adjust as needed. Pumpkin is not a super strong flavor and there isn't a lot of it here, so mostly what you get is the pumpkin pie spice. I love the way this granola forms large clusters due to the egg whites, but you could certainly leave it out.

Pumpkin Spice Granola
Recipe slightly adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
Makes about 6 cups

3 3/4 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
2/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 large pinches of salt
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 tbsp brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup of dried cranberries, cherries, currants, etc.

Preheat oven to 325 deg F. In a large bowl, mix the rolled oats, coconut, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, salt, and spices together.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites for a minute or two to break them up. Mix in the coconut oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and the pumpkin puree. Add the wet mixture to the dry and thoroughly coat the oat mixture with the wet ingredients.

Divide the granola between two lined baking sheets and bake for 40 min until the granola is golden brown, stirring the granola every 10-15 min and rotating the baking sheets halfway.  Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheets. Mix in the dried fruit. Store in an airtight container for up to a few weeks.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sweet Tofu Pudding (Doufu Hua) 豆腐花

Doufu Hua or Sweet Tofu Pudding is something that I had relatively often as a kid. At pretty much every large family gathering, my grandma would make it as would my dad when he was craving some. For quite a while, my dad was less inclined to make it since the quality of the soybeans available weren't great thereby affecting the quality of the final product. The past few years though, we've come across some organic soybeans which have better flavor. The quality doesn't match that of my childhood, but it's the best we've found thus far. So, long story short, fresh soymilk and tofu pudding have been showing up a lot more often.
As I get older, I've really gained an appreciation for making more traditional Chinese dishes and desserts and tofu pudding is definitely one of those things that I've been wanting to learn. Tofu Pudding is something that seems very difficult to make and while it can be, the process is actually relatively simple, especially if you have the right equipment. Basically, we're making a very silky fresh tofu by adding a coagulant, gypsum powder, to homemade soymilk. The soymilk must be fresh, if not homemade because the recipe will not work with thin store bought soymilk. The resulting tofu pudding is served with sugar syrup, traditionally ginger sugar syrup, but even honey or maple syrup would work. It's definitely best served fresh, but it's also super refreshing from the fridge. I also recently tried a Filipino dessert that is basically the same thing but with tapioca called Taho and that was also super delicious.

My dad never used to measure anything when he made tofu pudding, so it was never quite the same each time, but the idea is to try to make it as flavorful but silky as possible. The thicker your homemade soymilk, the more flavorful it will be, but also the firmer your resulting pudding will be. For drinking straight, thicker soymilk has better flavor, but for tofu pudding, you need soymilk that is a little lighter. My dad and I have made it a few times with the proportions below and it's produced quite a silky, yet flavorful pudding. The quality of your soybeans does matter though, so I would use the best that you can find. We may still play around with the proportions to see if we can push it to that edge where the tofu pudding is just set, but for now, this is pretty close to perfect.

Sweet Tofu Pudding (Doufu Hua) 豆腐花
Makes About 6 Liters

1 lb of soybeans, soaked overnight in plenty of water with as many skins removed as possible
5 1/2 L of water
4 tsp gypsum powder
4 tsp potato starch

Drain the soaked soybeans. In a blender, blend the soybeans in about 4 batches or so with some of the water. Pour all the blended soybeans into a cheesecloth bag placed over a pot and squeeze out as much soymilk as possible. Pour some of the remaining water over the pulp in the cheesecloth bag and mix to rinse as much residual soymilk from the pulp as possible. Squeeze the soymilk from the pulp.

Repeat until you have used all the water. The soymilk will gradually get thinner as you continue to add water to the pulp. You may throw away the pulp or use it to make something else if you would like. Strain the soymilk one more time through the cheesecloth if you'd like to get it super smooth.

Set aside about 2 cups of the soymilk. Then bring the rest of the soymilk to a boil over medium heat. Just before it boils, whisk the gypsum powder and potato starch with the soymilk that you set aside. Pour this mixture into a pot large enough to hold all the soymilk. Once the soymilk comes to a boil, take it off the heat and pour in a continuous stream about 1 ft over the pot into the gypsum powder mixture. Quickly skim off the foam if you'd like or just do so after it has set. Do not mix.

Cover with a kitchen towel and lid and let sit undisturbed for at least an hour. Meanwhile, make the sugar syrup if using, or serve with honey, maple syrup, etc.

1 cup sugar, the type of sugar is up to you
1 cup water
A couple slices of fresh ginger(optional)

To make the sugar syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water, ginger if using, and heat over medium until the sugar is melted.

To serve, use a thin wide flat spoon to scoop the tofu pudding in a skimming motion making horizontal layers. Once you have scooped your desired amount, add some sugar syrup over the top and enjoy. Tofu pudding is best enjoyed the day it's made, but it can be refrigerated up to several days. Reheat in the microwave if desired.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Linzer Cookies

I won't even bother to tell you when I made these because it was more than a while ago, in fact more than several whiles ago. The motivation to attempt making these cookies stemmed from trying to recreate some delicious cookies from a local bakery that my sister's friend had gifted to us. They turned out to be sable cookies with nuts rather than Linzer cookies, but despite the error, I ended up with some delicious cookies. I decided to sandwich some of these with chocolate ganache rather than the more traditional jam and they made absolutely delicious nutty chocolaty sandwich cookies.

The recipe comes from Sarabeth's Bakery and they're just fantastic. Nutty, crumbly, buttery all in one. The recipe is a bit more involved than other cookies since you need to roll out the dough and cut the cookies out, but not much more. If you didn't want to cut them out with cookie cutters, you could also just cut the dough into squares or rectangles with a knife. I made tiny little sandwich cookies, so it took longer to cut them out, but you can make them however you like. The original recipe calls for hazelnuts, but I've also made them with pecans and they're delicious as well. The cookies stay crisp about a day or two after they've been filled, but will continue to soften as they sit, so don't wait too long to finish them.

Linzer Cookies
Adapted from Sarabeth's Bakery

3/4 cup(3 oz) hazelnuts
2 1/2 cups pastry flour or cake flour, sifted
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
Raspberry preserves or ganache, for filling

In a preheated 350 deg F oven, toast the hazelnuts for 10 min and remove the skins by rubbing them together in a kitchen towel. Cool completely, then place the nuts, and 1/2 cup of the flour in a food processor. Process until finely ground.

Mix the nut-flour mixture with the remaining flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the butter and sugar in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or with a handheld mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 min. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the egg.

On low speed, add in the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, flatten into a rectangle about an inch thick, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hrs.

When ready to make the cookies, working with half the dough at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut cookies out with cookie cutters of your choice. Transfer cookies to a parchment lined baking sheet with an offset spatula.

Roll out and cut out cookies from the remaining dough. Gather up the dough scraps and repeat rolling and cutting out cookies. Refrigerate the dough before continuing to roll it out if it becomes difficult to work with. Refrigerate the cookies for at least 30 min to let them firm up.

Preheat your oven to 350 deg F. Bake two pans of cookies at a time, one on the top rack and one on the bottom rack, until they are lightly browned on the edges. This will take 15-17 min for larger cookies, 8-10 min for small cookies. Rotate the pans halfway through and switch from top to bottom. Let the cookies cool completely on the pan.

Sandwich the cookies with raspberry preserves or ganache. Let them sit for 8 hrs or overnight to settle and soften slightly. Store cookies in a covered container at room temp. for up to 5 days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Healthy Brownies? Must make!


I've been wanting to make brownies for a while. I have to admit that while I like brownies, my favorite chocolate dessert is actually a simple slice of chocolate cake, any kind, I don't discriminate. However, I figured that it just wasn't right for this blog not to have a brownie recipe. I've tried brownie recipes now and again, but for some reason never got around to posting them, probably because they just weren't perfect yet. Recently, I came across a recipe for Fudgy Brownies using applesauce courtesy of @amandalolita on TwoGrand. You don't really taste the applesauce, it just lends some moisture to the recipe. A healthier but delicious brownie? I just had to give it a try. So, I got to work making some applesauce from the many apples I had.

These brownies come together super quickly and would certainly please any fudgy brownie lover. I've been loving using honey in my recipes lately, but if you don't really want to detect the taste of honey here, you could substitute with maple syrup instead. Whole wheat pastry flour instead of white whole wheat would also work or just go with all-purpose flour, you're not using a lot here anyway.

Applesauce Brownies
Recipe adapted from Jillian Michaels
Makes 16 Brownies

1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt, half the amt of fine salt
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup mild honey or maple syrup, warmed until runny
1 large egg
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg well for about a minute, then mix in the applesauce and the instant coffee. Add in the honey, oil, and the vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients mixing until well combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 min just until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean with a few crumbs. Let cool completely before cutting. Store the brownies, covered, for several days at room temp. Freeze for longer storage.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Healthier Applesauce Cinnamon Bread


Recently, there's been an influx of fruit in my household whether it be from friends, family, purchases of our own accord, etc. Anyway, the point is that I had an abundance of apples, so I thought I could try out some new apple recipes. I'm always on the hunt for new recipes and lately I've been getting some great recipe recommendations from TwoGrand if you read my last few posts. I made some applesauce for an applesauce brownie recipe that will be up next week, but I thought I would try an applesauce bread with the remaining applesauce.

I've been loving quick breads and simple everyday cakes lately because they're just so quick and easy to make. They also make for a fantastic snack or breakfast. You could bake any of the quick bread recipes I've posted in muffin tins as well, but I like the crust to cakey interior ratio of a hearty slice. I wanted to go with a healthier applesauce bread, so I adapted this one from Taste of Home.  I reduced the nutmeg because I find it can be a bit too strong and I used three whole eggs because I hate having to use up leftover egg yolks or egg whites. I skipped the topping just because I don't think it's necessary and I used 1 tsp of cinnamon in the bread as in the original recipe, but since I skipped the topping, I would use the full amount of cinnamon next time.

I only had a heaping cup of applesauce left, so that's what I used, but the original amount of applesauce will make this bread even more moist. For the flours, you could certainly use all all-purpose flour or all whole wheat pastry flour. All whole wheat flour would probably make this a bit dense, but feel free to give it a try. For add ins, nuts would be great as would some grated or diced apple.

Healthier Applesauce Cinnamon Bread
Adapted from Taste of Home
Makes one 9x5 inch loaf

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt, half the amt of fine table salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup honey, warmed over the stove or in the microwave until runny
3 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp. milk

Preheat your oven to 350 deg F. Line a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with parchment or spray with a light coating of oil if it is nonstick.

Sift the flours, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs well for 1-2 minutes. Then, whisk in the oil, milk, applesauce, and honey, mixing well. Add in the dry ingredients, incorporating about a third at a time and mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter into your prepared loaf pan with a spatula and bake for 50-60 min until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes before removing to cool completely. Bread will last for several days wrapped at room temp. Refrigerate or freeze in individual slices for longer storage.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Simple Paneer Tikka Masala

One day quite a few weeks ago, I decided to do something with the paneer I bought a few weeks before that at the Indian market. I'm a fan of tikka masalas, so I thought I would try my hand at Paneer Tikka Masala. I decided to go with this one from Swasthi's Recipes that she adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor and I was super impressed with the results, if I do say so myself. Apart from ordering Indian takeout, this is sure to satisfy any Indian food fix. I know the pics look messy and not terribly appetizing, but just trust me when I say you have to give this a try.

I've toned down the spice level quite a bit for my taste, but you can of course season it to your taste. The recipe is a bit more involved, but less so than traditional tikka masalas. Although this recipe is for paneer, I could easily see it being used for chicken, beef, and other hearty vegetables. As with most curries and stews, I found it to taste best the day and days after it was made. Serve it with rice, naan or chapati, some veggies and you've got one fantastic meal.

Simple Paneer Tikka Masala
Adapted from Swasthi's Recipes

Paneer and Veggies
15 oz paneer, cubed
1 cup thick yogurt, greek or plain yogurt that's been strained
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp. ginger garlic paste
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 cups cubed bell pepper/onion

Mix all the ingredients above except for the bell pepper/onion and marinate in the fridge overnight or longer.

When ready to prepare the tikka masala, preheat your oven to 400 deg F or heat a frying pan over medium heat with some oil. If cooking in the oven, place the paneer cubes on a lined baking sheet, spray with some oil, and bake for about 20 min, turning halfway. If cooking over the stove, pan fry the paneer for a few minutes on each side. While the paneer is cooking, add the bell pepper/onion to the leftover marinade. When the paneer is done, set aside and either bake the veggies for about 5-10 min or pan fry for a few minutes. Next, make the sauce/gravy.

1 cup chopped tomatoes
about 25 roasted cashews
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
6 green cardamon
a few peppercorns
1 small cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
10 cloves
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ginger garlic paste
1 tsp chili powder
1 cup water
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves(kasuri methi)
1/3 cup milk, cream, or a large dollop of yogurt
oil or butter
salt, to taste

Blend the tomatoes and cashews in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add a few tbsp. of oil and add the spices(cumin seeds, cardamon, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, cloves). Toast the spices for a few minutes until they become fragrant. Add in the chopped onion and sauté until it begins to turn golden brown.

Add the ginger garlic paste, sauté for another minute. Then add the tomato puree and chili powder, cooking for another 5 minutes until you see the oil begin to separate from the mixture. Add the water, garam masala, and fenugreek leaves. Bring the sauce to a boil and let it cook for another 5 minutes or so until it has thickened to your liking. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

Add the cooked paneer cubes to the sauce, simmering for a few minutes before adding the veggies. Simmer for another minute, then add your choice of milk, cream, or yogurt. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot with rice, naan, or chapati.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Coconut Flour Banana Bread

In case you haven't noticed, I've been very interested in trying out grain-free recipes lately. I would also like to give some gluten free recipes a try, but haven't gotten around to that yet. So far, they've all been pretty fantastic and it's great to be able to enjoy a baked good more often that I also feel good about. I still think there's room for a baked good made with butter and sugar now and again as an indulgence and you'll definitely continue to see them here, but on the whole, I do think it's important to treat these things as treats.

The most recent grain-free recipe I tried was this Coconut Flour Banana Bread from SparkRecipes. I don't think you can really ever have enough good banana bread recipes, as evidenced here on this blog as well. This recipe is another one that was recommended to me by Amanda, aka amandalolita, on TwoGrand and it's another winner. I have quite a few more recipes saved on TwoGrand that I've been meaning to try, so you'll probably see those soon. The coconut flour and coconut oil I subbed in this definitely make this a super coconutty banana bread. If you wanted to bump up the coconut flavor even more, you could also add some shredded coconut to it. When I made this, I left out the cinnamon in the recipe because I wanted a more typical banana bread, but I would keep it in next time because cinnamon would go really nicely with the nuttiness that coconut flour brings. I've dialed back the cinnamon in the recipe below, but feel free to go with the original amount for a super cinnamony banana bread. That's not a bad thing.

I found that I didn't like this banana bread so much warm from the oven and I really thought it was much better when fully cooled because the texture becomes more cake-like when cooled. The flavors also seem to meld a bit better when it's cooled. This banana bread freezes well, so it's great to make ahead and store for those busy days when you want a treat, but don't have time to turn on the oven.

Coconut Flour Banana Bread
Recipe adapted from SparkRecipes
Makes One 9 x 5 inch loaf

3 medium bananas, super ripe but not black, mashed
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
2 tbsp. honey
6 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped nuts(walnuts, pecans, etc.), optional

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Prepare a 9x 5 inch loaf pan, line with parchment if necessary. In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the bananas and coconut oil together. Add in the honey and vanilla, whisking well. Then add in the eggs, whisking thoroughly once again. Add in the dry ingredients and stir together with a spatula or a wooden spoon. Fold in the chopped nuts, if using.

Transfer the batter to a loaf pan and bake for 45-50 min until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before removing from the loaf pan to cool completely. Banana bread will last for a few days at room temp or for several weeks in the freezer. Freeze in wrapped individual slices for ease.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Healthy Chocolate Cake

Yes, it's true. You can have cake and enjoy it without feeling an ounce of guilt. That's because this cake is made mainly of black beans, eggs, cocoa powder, and sweetened with honey. I've been immensely enjoying a slice of this cake for breakfast along with a dollop of plain yogurt and some fruit. Who would've thought that you could have cake for breakfast? Well, actually I guess you can whenever you want, but this is one cake you won't feel bad about enjoying.

I first saw this cake on The Real Girl's Kitchen and it looked and supposedly tasted just like a regular chocolate cake, so it got me thinking. Then after some web searching, I found the same basic recipe on Healthy Indulgences, which was also praised highly by the author, so I decided to give it a go. I was very pleased with the results and while the texture is not exactly the same as a traditional chocolate cake, the flavor still satisfies those of us who are chocoholics. I used my own cooked black beans in this cake and found the resulting cake to be a bit dry and not quite smooth enough, even when the beans were thoroughly blended. So, the next time I make this cake, I would probably try it with canned beans to see how the cake turns out. I also found that 15 oz of cooked beans was a bit too much since I think a 15 oz can only contains about 12 oz of beans, so I've adjusted the recipe to use a bit less.

To make this a little bit less healthy, you could certainly make a frosting to top it with, but I decided to keep it simple.

Black Bean Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Real Girl's Kitchen and Healthy Indulgences
Makes one 9 inch cake

1 15 oz can of unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained (or 12 oz of cooked black beans)
5 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1/2 tsp kosher salt (half the amount of fine salt)
6 tbsp. unsalted butter or 5 1/2 tbsp. coconut oil, softened
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. honey
6 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or dutch-processed
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 325 deg F. Line a 9 inch cake pan with a parchment round. Then butter and dust with cocoa powder. You can skip the buttering and dusting if you have a nonstick pan.

In a blender, combine the beans, vanilla extract, salt, instant coffee, and 3 of the eggs. Blend on high until everything is smooth. In a medium bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda.

In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat the butter or coconut oil with the honey for 3-5 minutes on medium high until light and fluffy. Beat in the remaining two eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each.

Add in the bean mixture and mix until well incorporated. Then add in the cocoa powder mixture and mix until well blended, about 1 minute. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.

Bake for 40-45 min until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 min before removing from the pan to cool completely. Cake will last wrapped in foil at room temp. for a few days. Freeze in individual slices, well wrapped, for longer storage.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Hard to Believe It's Grain Free Carrot Cake

I'm all about making healthier choices, but I believe in treating yourself occasionally as well. So when I come across a recipe that meets both requirements, that's the best news of all. I first saw this carrot cake in a TwoGrand post by Amanda, aka amandalolita, and it looked deeelicious. I know several carrot cake enthusiasts so I thought I'd give it a try.

This carrot cake turned out to be a real winner, gluten free or not. You'll be able to taste a slight difference in texture if you're looking for it, but otherwise, it tastes just like a regular carrot cake, maybe even better. The almond flour and coconut flour add a wonderful nutty and coconutty note to the cake. I added some cinnamon since I like my carrot cakes to be well spiced and went with a basic honey sweetened cream cheese frosting. Nuts, coconut, and raisins are typical carrot cake add-ins that would work well here, but the options are only limited by your imagination.

The original recipe is for cupcakes, but would make a 2 layer 8-inch cake. I decided to use half the recipe to make a 2 layer 6-inch cake.  I did not frost the sides of the cake, but if you wanted to do that, just double the recipe for the cream cheese frosting.

Grain-free Carrot Cake
Adapted from nourished kitchen
Makes One 2-layer 6-inch cake

Carrot Cake
8 oz. carrots, peeled and grated finely
1 cup blanched almond flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
3/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
large pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt, Greek style or otherwise

Preheat the oven to 375 deg F. Line two 6-inch cake pans with parchment rounds and a strip of parchment for the sides. In a medium bowl, combine the grated carrots, almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Warm the honey in a small pot over the stove until it is easily pourable. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly for a minute. Add the honey and mix well. Then add the melted coconut oil and yogurt whisking thoroughly to combine. Add the carrot mixture to the egg mixture and mix thoroughly for 2-3 min with a spatula or wooden spoon breaking up any clumps of almond flour.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 30-35 min until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely before removing them from the pans.

Honey Cream Cheese Frosting
6 oz. cream cheese, room temp.
2 tbsp. honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt

To make the frosting, in a small bowl with a wooden spoon or with a mixer, give the cream cheese a good mix to smooth out any lumps. Then mix in the honey, vanilla extract, and salt.

To assemble the cake, remove the cake layers from the pans and remove the parchment. Slice off the tops if necessary to even out the cake layers. Place one layer right side up on a serving plate, spread half of the frosting over the top with a small offset spatula. Place the other cake layer upside down over the frosting and press gently. Spread the remaining frosting on the top of the cake.

Refrigerate the cake for about half an hour before serving. Cake will keep, wrapped, in the refrigerator for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Honey Nut Gran-ola

The other day, my sister said that she wanted some gran-ola, specifically some honey nut gran-ola. She loves confusing people by coming up with her own pronunciations of words. Anyway, I've been thinking of making granola recently anyway since it's so simple, quick, and it's the perfect accompaniment to my morning yogurt. It's also great on its own with milk as a breakfast cereal.

For this recipe, I kept it super simple with just almonds, oats, honey, olive oil, and some flaxseed meal. The honey flavor really comes through, which I like, but you could also substitute the honey for your sweetener of choice and use less of it if it's too sweet for your liking. The mix of things in this granola is also up to you though I do recommend adding any dried fruit at the end so it doesn't burn. Chia seeds, other nuts, spices, etc. would be great in this.

Honey Nut Granola
Makes about 5 cups of granola

3 cups rolled oats
2 cups almonds, whole, chopped, or sliced
4 tbsp. flaxseed meal
Large pinch of salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 340 deg F. Mix the oats, almonds, flaxseed meal, and salt together in a large bowl.

In a small pot over medium low heat, heat up the honey and olive oil just until the mixture is well combined and easily pourable. Pour the honey mixture into the oat mixture and stir well to coat everything evenly. Spread the mixture over a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, giving the granola a stir halfway through.

Once the granola is golden, take it out and let cool completely before storing in an airtight container. It will harden and crisp up as it cools. Granola will last at room temp for a few weeks.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Blueberry Banana Bread

Do you see the face!? Totally surprised myself.
Here's the other banana bread I made from my neighbor's overripe bananas. The recipe is a slightly spiced basic banana bread with blueberries added to it. The recipe comes from one of my favorites, Giada de Laurentiis. If you didn't have blueberries or wanted to add other berries or fruit, the recipe would still work. It's a great basic recipe that would be good with or without the spices depending on your mood.

The texture of this banana bread was perfect for me. I tend to prefer the texture of quick breads made with oil rather than butter. It also wasn't too sweet and bakes up really nicely, perfect for gifting to friends and family. The banana flavor isn't super strong since there's only two bananas in it, but if you need a banana bread recipe that uses two bananas, this is a great choice. This is definitely another one to add to any banana bread collection.

Blueberry Banana Bread
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
Makes One 9x5 inch loaf

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 3/4 cup mashed)
1 cup (4 oz) fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Butter and flour or line a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, oil, and eggs for 2-3 minutes until really well blended. With a spatula, stir in the bananas and blueberries.

Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about 1 hr until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the banana bread cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pan and letting it cool completely on a wire rack.

Banana bread will keep for several days at room temp wrapped in foil or frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in a Ziploc bag, for longer.