Category: dessert (page 1 of 5)

Browned Butter, Speculaas, Sea Salt, Nutella & Chocolate Crispy Treats

Yup, I did it.

I put all of my favorite things into a batch of crispy rice bars.

Homemade rice cripsy treats are special no matter your age. When I grew up, my folks only bought the packaged ones in the blue wrappers. I always found them to taste dense and bland. At some point I tasted homemade rice crispy treats and they blew my mind with their buttery, marshmallow goeyness.

As if homemade rice crispy treats can’t get better, Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats can: The browned butter adds a toasty, creme brulee flavor and the sea salt balances the sweet. Plus, Pearlman’s recipe calls for a whole stick of butter in contrast to the traditional Rice Crispy recipe which lists two-three tablespoons.

And then, the owner at a local bakery I work at added Speculaas to sea salt, butterscotch, and brown butter rice crispy treats. Cookie butter! This got my mind churning and I decided to try making them at home. I also added a chocolate-Nutella topping similar to what you’d find on a Scotcharoo and finished the bars with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

If you’ve never tried cookie butter, it reminds me of a peanut butter made from crushed up Biscoff cookies; those buttery, gingery cookies that Delta passes out on flights. It goes by the names cookie butter, Biscoff spread and Speculaas. I found knock-off versions of both cookie butter and Nutella at ALDI and Trader Joe’s.

“Theoretically, this has to work,” I told Jake before we taste tested the batch.

It did.

crispy treats II

In addition to the toasty browned butter flavor and hint of salt, you’ll also taste the Biscoff cookies. The chocolate topping firms up when it’s cool similar to that on a Scotcharoo bar. My measurements for cookie butter and Nutella are terribly inexact. I simply tossed in a couple big scoops of each. Feel free to use more for a stronger flavor. Hazelnut spread is fairly soft, though. If you add a higher ratio of spread to chocolate chips, the topping might firm up less.

Find less expensive versions of Nutella & Biscoff spread at ALDI and Trader Joe’s.

Ingredients:
6 cups of puffed rice cereal (not quite a full box).
10 oz. of marshmallows (most bags seem to be 10 oz).
1 stick of butter (I use salted)
1/4-1/3 teaspoon of flaky sea salt
Speculaas / Cookie Butter, a couple good spoonfulls (I used about 1/2 cup).
Bittersweet chocolate chips, about 3/4 bag
Nutella / chocolate-hazelnut spread
Flaky sea salt to sprinkle on top. Regular table salt will taste too harsh

Instructions:

  1. Melt one stick of butter in big pot. Cook gently until the butter turns golden brown and smells toasty. Watch carefully so that the butter doesn’t burn. If you use a smaller pan to melt the butter, you will have to transfer the marshmallow-butter mixture to a bigger bowl to mix. 
  2. Add the marshmallows and stir until they melt into the butter. The mixture will be sticky. Stir in about two serving spoon-sized scoops of cookie spread and add the salt.
  3. Turn off heat. Pour in six cups of puffed rice cereal. Stir quickly to combine while the butter-marshmallow mixture is still warm.
  4. Pour into a lightly greased pan (I used a 9X9). With lightly buttered fingers, press the treats gently into an even layer. Buttering your fingers prevents the mixture from sticking to your hands. Don’t press the mixture too hard, otherwise it will become dense.
  5. Melt about 3/4 of bittersweet chocolate chips with a couple of big spoonfuls of Nutella (about three oz). I just used the microwave.
  6. Spread evenly over the puffed rice treats. As long as the chocolate isn’t very warm, sprinkle flaky sea salt on top.
  7. Cut and serve when cool. If you can’t wait until they topping firms up, that’s OK too!

Recipe: Cara Cara Orange Pudding Cake

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I’ve always loved experimenting with new recipes. Growing up, I had many successes and fails. Until my brother and I got older, my parents were cautious eaters and liked to stick to their favorite meals and recipes. I always threw in an extra pinch of something when they turned their backs.

Early cooking fails included “Everything in the Spice Cupboard Mini Pancakes” and a leaning chocolate cake covered in weepy frosting that glimmered with blue sprinkles. I considered it an early success when I convinced my folks to let me prepare scratch-made pancakes. They ended up liking them so much they abandoned their Bisquick. Another early success included my first lemon pudding cake. It was unlike anything I’d ever encountered and the first taste was magical.

There are a million recipes for lemon pudding cake. It’s not a fashionable recipe, but it really should be. The ingredient list is concise and the dessert is easy to prepare. Because it contains only 1/4 cup of flour, a thin layer of cake forms on top of the tangy pudding. Jake and I don’t often go for sticky sweet desserts or chocolate, but we do love tart fruit desserts like this.

I found a recipe for South African orange pudding cake and made adaptations by using Cara Cara oranges and adding more lemon juice for a tarter pudding.

Cara Cara Orange

Cara Cara oranges are a type of navel orange commonly found in grocery stores during this time of year. They have a pinker hue and sweet flavor. A college housemate first introduced me to Cara Cara oranges. She was so excited to find them in our small town Iowa grocery store. Her Cara Cara enthusiasm was contagious and has never worn thin.

Cara Cara Orange Mostly Pudding Cake
Adapted from a recipe for Baked Orange Pudding  Francois Jordan posted on forkd. He writes that he found it in a South African cookbook Kook en Geniet. If you don’t have Cara Cara oranges, substitute naval or blood orange juice and zest. I baked my pudding cake in a large nine inch pie dish. The dessert was thin but tasty. I’d recommend using a smaller pan or dish. Thin or thick, it will taste good!

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Ingredients:
2 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup Cara Cara orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
Zest 1 lemon
Zest 1 orange
2 tablespoons melted butter,

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 350℉.

2. Separate two eggs. Be careful not to get any yolk or eggshell in the egg whites. Shell and yolk will prevent the egg whites from becoming fluffy.

3. Grease a pan with butter.

4. In a large bowl, cream together the egg yolks and sugar.

5. Whisk in the milk, flour, orange and lemon juices and zest.

6. Whisk in the melted butter. Make sure the butter is not too hot so it doesn’t scramble the eggs.

7. Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

8. Gently fold the egg whites into the citrus-egg yolk batter.

Cara Cara Cake Egg Whites
9. Pour into a small cake pan. Most recipes instruct the cook to bake in a water bath by place the pan in a larger pan filled with some water. I didn’t have a big enough pan, so I baked mine next to a small pan filled with water that created steam.

10. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Don’t be alarmed that the inside of the cake is liquid. A thin layer of cake will form at the top.

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake

This is the ninth installment in my series in which I cook all eleven recipes I found my grandmothers had submitted to their old church cookbooks. Previous recipes include Crabby SnacksRice Pilaf, Frozen Fruit AppetizerSalad with Cashew NutsHam & Sour Cream CasseroleOld Fashioned Cauliflower SlawApricot Jello Salad, and Ship Wreck casserole (the one my mom hated). 

Remember these?

Crabby Snack label

Hello crabby snacks. This is the Velveeta-canned crab concoction that derailed my quest to prepare all eleven of my grandmothers’ recipes I found in old church cookbooks. After mysterious casseroles and ice cream jello, Jake begged for mercy. We took an eight-month break from my grandmothers’ retro recipes and found her “Old Southern Fruit Cake” didn’t sound so bad.

I can singlehandedly dispute the rumor that there is actually only one fruit cake in the whole world that people keep re-gifting. Growing-up, my parents received a fruit cake every holiday season and I was the only person in my family who ate them. I don’t know where the cakes came from or if they were homemade, but I ate them all one slice at a time. Of course they were speckled with those fluorescent green and red candied cherries.

I examined my grandmother’s recipe and couldn’t do the candied cherry thing. Yup. I’d sooner dig into a bag of Lay’s Cappuccino chips or hack into a durian than purchase a bucket of green cherries for the sole reason that they just really freak me out. I followed the sound advice of a friend and substituted dried cherries instead. They lent a pleasing tart note and so I recommend you do the same.

Fruit Cake recipe watermarked

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake is totally not gross. I made half of a batch and live to tell the story. Like most fruit cakes, Jane’s is dense and thick with fruits and nuts, but it’s far from the store-bought bricks. We enjoyed slices fresh from the oven and relished the dried fruit which had become plump and gooey. I chose to add brandy to the batter and, after the cake baked for two hours, we were left with only a hint.

Fruit cake slice watermarked

If I had any qualms about this cake, it’s that I wished for more salt. Fortunately, this is a simple fix. Try adding a teaspoon of salt to the batter or swipe some butter on each slice and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

This fruit cake is more like an energy cake with all of its dried fruits and nuts. Who needs chalky energy bars when there are glorious cakes o’ fruit? Thank you for this gem, Grandmother Jane.

My Take On Grandmother Jane’s Fruit Cake
This recipe halves the original and produces two loaves of fruit cake. I substituted dried cherries for candied cherries. 

Fruit Cake Cover Photo

Ingredients:
1/2 cup mashed banana
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup + splash of brandy or grape juice
1 1/2 tablespoon buttermilk (can substitute whole milk with a splash of lemon juice)
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 scant teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 lb dried cherries
(optional) 2 slices dried or candied pineapple, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. dates cut into large pieces

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 250℉.
  2. Grease pans and dust with flour so the cakes don’t stick.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the banana with the sugar until it forms a paste. Stir in the brandy, buttermilk and flour.
  4. Mix in the eggs until smooth.
  5. Add the vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Stir in the fruits and nuts until combined.
  7. Pour batter into two loaf pans. Tap and shimmy the pans so that the batter is evenly distributed.
  8. Bake for one hour uncovered.
  9. Bake covered for another hour. Cool.

Only two grandmother recipes remain: Grandmother Jane’s braised Chicken Marengo and Crabmeat Casserole. I will not be preparing an entire Crabmeat Casserole which is a baked dish that contains crab, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and cream. Fresh crab is not available here and frozen crab is expensive. Based upon the Crabby Snacks experiment, I’m afraid this dish would be a waste of resources if we prepared it with canned crab. Maybe I’ll try preparing a small ramekin of crabmeat casserole. 

A Tale Of Two Cookie Doughs: One Made From Beans & One Made From Butter

Within the past week, I made cookie dough made with beans and cookie dough made with butter.

Beans
This story began in Chicago while we were staying with my cousin and his family. Sara mentioned that she makes a “healthy cookie dough” made from beans that her kids just love. Jake was especially intrigued and, when we returned home to Iowa, asked many times if I could make it. I usually prefer savory over sweet and avoid recipes with healthy substitutions (like swapping applesauce or pumpkin for butter) so I was very wary of making this.

Sara prepares Healthy Cookie Dough Dip from the blog Chocolate Covered Katie and recommends using half the amount of sugar.

My healthy cookie dough smelled slightly beany but did actually taste like a peanut buttery cookie dough. I can see how this could make a nice snack or dessert for kids, especially when using less sugar. I probably wouldn’t make this again just for the two of us, but would if we have a kids someday. Cookie dough is not a treat that I enjoy eating more than a bite of and it makes too much for Jake. 

The original recipe recommends using a food processor. We don’t have one so here’s my take using a blender. I added salt and sugar to taste, with just enough milk to facilitate blending. 

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Ingredients
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans
Salt, a couple pinches or to taste
Baking soda, a pinch (not sure what this does)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup nut butter (we used natural, sugar-free peanut butter)
3 teaspoons oats
Brown sugar or honey to taste
Milk, enough to allow the mixture to blend (we used almond milk)
Chocolate chips

Instructions
Add the beans, salt, baking soda, vanilla, peanut butter and oats to a blender. Add about a 1/4 cup of sugar and a couple splashes of milk. The mixture will be thick and difficult to blend. Alternate between pulsing and adding splashes of milk. Stop the blender often and scrape the mixture around with a spoon. The dough won’t be as smooth as if you had made it in a food processor, but it will be good enough as long as you don’t add too much milk.

Taste it and decide if you want to add more sugar and salt. Stir in chocolate chips.

Butter
When I worked at Josie’s Coffee Corner Cafe, before moving to Iowa, I especially liked their Chocolate Chipper cookies. They differed from ordinary chocolate chip cookie because they contained puffed rice cereal and coconut and had a shortbread texture. I can’t just pop over to Fargo any more, so I tried this recipe for Oh My D-Lux Chocolate Chip Cookies on Food.com hoping they’d turn out similarly.

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I followed this recipe as written, except I added a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Even though I used salted butter, they were a little bland. If you choose to make them, I’d recommend adding a whole teaspoon of salt. Also, once you drop the dough onto the cookie sheets, smash it down. The cookies don’t spread much during baking and flattening the dough balls ensures the bottom doesn’t burn before the top gets cooked through and golden brown.

Don’t get me wrong, we are enjoying these cookies and I love the crunch from the cereal, coconut, and pecans. However, they did not taste like those Chocolate Chippers I remember.

Oh well, I’ll just have to bake another batch of cookies, later. In the name of research, of course.

Lois’ Cream Puff Sticks

Oh, college.

I was a nerd. Let me count the ways:

Freshman year, I signed up for the quiet, substance-free dorm. Actually, my parents hijacked the process and requested the Centennial dorm for me. Fortunately, my first roommate ended up becoming one of my best friends all four years. She’s still one of the funniest people I know.

I didn’t have a drink until I officially turned 21 and stayed up past 1am. . . once. I only dated a few people and one of them cheated on me Mean Girls-style (seriously, it was just like out of the movie) at a Halloween party. She was dressed up like a Playboy bunny and I was probably sitting at home in my pajamas reading a book. I was like Taylor Swift. Not the award show, glamorous Taylor but the one she sang about wearing sneakers and sitting on the bleachers.

I may have been a nerd, but I was a happy nerd with the really fantastic friends.

For three years, I worked at the school as a Writing/Reading/Speaking Consultant. The woman who hired me was a saint for putting up with college Jeni (as was anyone else who hired me during or soon after college). Each year, she invited the staff over to her home for magnificent, home-cooked meals around Christmas and the end of the school year.

I especially remember a treat she made called cream puff sticks. I had never tasted anything like them and haven’t since. They are so delicate and airy that you’ll want to eat a whole cream puff plank. The dough also doesn’t contain sugar, making this treat ideal for those of us who don’t like sickly, sweet desserts. Lois was gracious enough to let me to share her recipe here, adding that when her grandchildren visit, they often request these cream puff strips for breakfast. This makes me so happy.

It’s the easiest, most elegant dessert you can prepare. Cream puff dough entails making pate a choux. Unlike cookie or cake dough, you cook it on the stove top and slowly add eggs. Don’t be intimidated by this dough because it’s actually simple to make.

Cream Puff Strips.jpg

Adapted from Lois Trachte’s recipe

Ingredients:
1 cup of water
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Glaze:
Powdered Sugar
Milk or cream (I used almond milk)
Butter, a little dab
Vanilla extract
Salt, a pinch

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450℉.
  2. Grease a large baking sheet, or line one with parchment paper.
  3. In a large saucepan, boil the water. Melt the stick of butter in the boiling water and turn off the heat.
  4. Stir in flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt until the mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes. 
  5. Crack all four eggs in a bowl.
  6. After mixture has cooled slightly, add vanilla extract. Vigorously stir in one egg into the dough at a time. Each time you add an egg, the dough will look strange and separate into pieces. Just keep stirring and it will reincorporate.
  7. Spread the dough into two strips on the baking sheet. The dough is sticky, so use the back of a spoon or offset spatula and do your best.
  8. Bake at 450℉ for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 400℉ and bake for another 25 minutes. If the bottoms seem to be browning too quickly, reduce heat to 375℉ or remove from oven a little early. Cool completely before glazing.
  9. To make the glaze, mix about a cup of powdered sugar with a little milk. Keep adding milk until you like its texture. Add a splash of vanilla extract and a little pinch of salt to balance out the sweetness.
  10. Glaze the cream puff planks and cut into strips with a pizza cutter.
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