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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Cookies/Cake/Pastry

ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Green Velvet Cupcakes

Easy-Green-Velvet-Cupcakes-mccormick-ps-230

St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes. Photo courtesy
McCormick.

 

The popularity of red velvet cake has opened the doors for other brightly-colored cakes. Duncan Hines even has a seasonal line of “Velvet” mixes: Spring Velvets (pink and yellow layers), Summer Velvets (blue and red layers with white frosting for July 4th), Autumn Velvets (orange and brown layers) and Holiday Velvets (red and green layers).

But in this easy recipe for Green Velvet Cupcakes, German chocolate cake mix is used, along with an entire bottle of green food color. You can leave the frosting vanilla-flavored or add mint extract. You can leave the frosting white or tint it green.

Prep time is 20 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes. Don’t forget that you’ll need two 12-well muffin tins and paper liners! These shamrock cupcake liners have free standard shipping.

RECIPE: GREEN VELVET CUPCAKES

A green twist on classic red velvet, these cupcakes are perfect for St. Patrick’s Day, with a delicious cream cheese frosting.

 
Ingredients For 24 Servings

  • 1 package (2-layer size) German chocolate cake mix with pudding (e.g. Betty Crocker’s)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 bottle green food color
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  •  

    For The Frosting

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 box (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon green food color
  • Decorations: green sprinkles, sanding sugar or confetti shamrocks
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Beat the cake mix, sour cream, water, cocoa powder, oil, food color, eggs and vanilla in large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, just until moistened, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.

    2. POUR the batter into 24 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

     

    green-food-color_mccormick-230

    You’ll need one bottle for the cupcakes, plus more if you want to tint the frosting green. Photo courtesy McCormick.

     
    3. COOL in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans; cool completely on wire rack.

    4. MAKE the cream cheese frosting. Beat the cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add optional mint extract and green food color. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Makes 2-1/2 cups.

    5. FROST the cooled cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles.

      

    Comments

    ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Irish Cream Swirl Brownies

    Irish-Cream-Swirl-Brownies-mccormick-230

    Irish Cream Swirl Brownies. Photo courtesy McCormick.

     

    The zebra brownie takes on a seasonal twist with a splash of Irish cream liqueur and green food coloring. Prep time is 20 minutes, cook time is 35 minutes.

    RECIPE: IRISH CREAM SWIRL BROWNIES

    Ingredients For 16 Servings

  • 1 package fudge brownie mix (or adapt your own from-scratch recipe)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup Irish cream liqueur
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon green food color
  • Optional: vanilla ice cream
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the brownie mix as directed on the package, adding the vanilla.

    2. RESERVE 1 cup of batter. Spread the remaining batter in greased 9-inch square baking pan. (Tip: For easy clean-up, line the pan with foil, with the ends of the foil extending over sides of pan. Use foil handles to remove brownie from pan.)

    3. BEAT the cream cheese, flour and sugar in medium bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the Irish cream liqueur, egg and food color; beat until well blended. Pour over the brownie layer in pan. Drop the reserved 1 cup of batter by spoonfuls over the cream cheese layer. Cut through batter with knife several times for the marble effect.

    4. BAKE as directed on package for 9-inch square baking pan. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares. Serve with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Green Macarons

    Paris may not be as festive as Dublin or New York when it comes to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day; but rest assured, there are celebrations! Both expats and locals head to the city’s numerous Irish pubs and yes, there is green beer. (Who knew that Paris had “numerous Irish pubs?” Source)

    We, however, would head to Ladurée or Pierre Hermé for pistachio macarons, a classic flavor where the meringue is colored green.

    You don’t have to head to Paris. If there are no macarons in your neck of the woods, you can order them from Dana’s Bakery, Macaron Café or Mad Mac. There are also Ladurée outposts in New York City and Miami, but we couldn’t find online ordering options for either.

    Dana’s Bakery, which doesn’t make classic flavors*, has two green options right now: Key Lime Pie and Thin Mint. So if pistachio nuts are not your thing, she’s your gal.

    While a classic pistachio macaron is filled with pistachio or vanilla ganache, or possibly chocolate ganache, we’ve found varieties from creative macaron artists that feature matcha ganache, peanut butter ganache, red bean jam and other fillings (like Dana’s chocolate mint and Key lime). Whatever your preference, include a bit of France in your St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

       

    pistachio-pierre_herme-230

    Plan in advance: green macarons (pistachio)
    for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo courtesy Pierre
    Hermé.

     

    *The current flavors at Dana’s Bakery include Birthday Cake, Cookie Dough, Cotton Candy, Fruity Cereal, Jelly Doughnut, Orange Creamsicle, Peanut Butter & Jelly, S’mores and Strawberry Shortcake, among others.

     

    AmarettiCookies-recchiuti-230

    Ameretti, the “original” macaroons. Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy Michael Recchiuti.

     

    WHO INVENTED MACARONS?

    The ganache-filled meringue cookie sandwiches shown above are called Parisian macarons. The first macaroons, from Italy, were quite different: almond meringue cookies similar to today’s amaretti, with a crisp crust and a soft interior (see the photo at left).

    The name derived from the Italian maccarone or maccherone, itself derived from ammaccare, meaning to crush or to beat. (The reference is to the crushed almonds or almond paste, which is the principal ingredient.)

    These original macaroons arrived in France in 1533 with the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, who married France’s King Henri II. More than two centuries later, two Benedictine nuns, seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution (1789-1799), paid for their housing by baking and selling the cookies.

     
    According to Wikipedia, “[Pâtisserie] Ladurée’s rise to fame came in 1930 when his grandson, Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée, had the original idea of the double-decker, sticking two macaron shells together with a creamy ganache as filling.

    The first versions combined two plain almond meringues with a filling of chocolate ganache; but today, various varieties of ganache, buttercream or jam are sandwiched between meringues of seemingly limitless colors and flavors.

    Other stories variously give the invention date as “the beginning of the 20th century” and 1952. The latter date has credence if you believe the blog ParisPatisseries.com, that in 2012, Laduree hosted a 60th anniversary party for the macaron.

    Here’s the history of macarons.
     
    MACARONS VS. MACAROONS

    Italian Jews adopted the cookie because it has no flour or leavening, and thus can be enjoyed during the eight-day observation of Passover. It was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet. Over time, coconut was added to the ground almonds and, in certain recipes, replaced them.

    When the coconut cookies arrived in England and the U.S., macaron became macaroon. Until the Parisian macaron craze began within the last ten years, coconut macaroons were far more prevalent in the U.S. and the U.K. They’re a lot easier to make and transport than the fragile Parisian variety.

    A tasting plate of amaretti, coconut macaroons and Parisian macarons would be an excellent “educational dessert.”

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Poppyseed Pockets

    Last night at sunset, the Jewish holiday of Purim began. As recounted in the Old Testament’s Book Of Esther, it commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in 5th century B.C.E. Persia from a plot by Hamen, advisor to the king, to annihilate them in a single day. (Here’s the whole story.)

    Traditional foods are part of the celebration, the most famous of which is hamentaschen.

    The name means “Hamen’s pockets” (the singular is hamentasch).

    A three-cornered filled cookie, named after the tricorner hat worn by Haman. It is created by folding in the sides of a circular piece of dough, with filling placed in the center. Traditional fillings are poppy seed, prune, date, apricot, and fruit preserves. Of course, modern bakers have increased the appeal by using chocolate, dulce de leche and sweetened cheese.

    You don’t have to celebrate Purim to bake a batch. You can make a traditional hamentashen recipe, or try the modern version below. The cookies are round instead of triangular, and cream cheese is added to the traditional poppyseed filling.

       

    poppyseed-pockets-goboldwithbutter-230

    Poppy pockets are a spin on traditional hamentaschen. Photo and recipe courtesy GoBoldWithButter.

     
    RECIPE: POPPYSEED POCKETS

    Ingredients For 3 Dozen Cookies

  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2-3/4 cups flour
  • 1 12.5-ounce can poppy seed filling*
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  •  
    *You can find it online if your local supermarket doesn’t have it.

     

    poppyseed-filling-solo-230

    Buy poppyseed filling in the can. You can find
    it in supermarkets or online. Photo courtesy Solo.

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer; mix until well combined. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and vanilla; mix to combine.

    2. SLOWLY ADD the flour and mix just until thoroughly incorporated. Remove the dough and divide it into four equal parts. Flatten each into a round disc and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour.

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. On a well-floured surface, roll out one packet of dough at a time, to about 1/8-inch thick. Using a 2-inch, round cookie cutter, cut circles from the dough and transfer half of the circles to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Reserve the remaining circles to use as tops for each cookie. Re-roll and cut any remaining dough scraps.

    4. PLACE 1 teaspoon of poppy seed filling in the center of each dough circle. Dip the tip of your finger or a small pastry brush in water and lightly brush water around the edge of each filled circle. Quickly cover each with a reserved dough circle top and use the tines of a fork to gently crimp the edges of the two circles together. Cut an “X” into the top of each cookie with tip of a sharp knife.

     
    5. BAKE 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies just start to turn golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and dust generously with confectioners’ sugar. Let the cookies cool on baking sheets for 3 to 4 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
     
    WHAT ELSE TO DO WITH POPPYSEED FILLING

    Solo Foods, producers of the most prominent brand in the U.S., has recipes for:

  • Bread: muffins, quick breads, yeast breads
  • Candy: fudge, truffles
  • Desserts: custards, mousse, puddings, trifles
  • Savory: barbecue sauce, chicken Kiev, chicken wings, kebab sauce
  • Sweet baked goods: bundts, brownies and bars, cake and cheesecake, cookies, cupcakes,
    frostings/icings, pie/pastry, tarts
  •  
    Check them out at SoloFoods.com. Our personal favorite: poppyseed yeast cake (coffee cake).

    UPDATE:

    Reader Cheryl Olenczak writes that it’s easy to make homemade poppyseed filling and avoid the additives in commercial brands. She uses a recipe submitted by Hepzibah to AllRecipes.com, substituting butter for the margarine.

    Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes Ready In: 1 Hour

    RECIPE: HUNGARIAN POPPY SEED FILLING

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound poppy seeds
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  •  
    Preparation

    1. GRIND the poppy seeds in a mill or coffee grinder.

    2. COMBINE the milk, butter/margarine and sugar in a saucepan. Cook on low heat, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Gradually pour about half of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly.

    3. RETURN the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. (Run your finger down the coated spoon: it should draw a clear line.) Add the poppy seeds and stir well to blend.

    4. REMOVE from the heat; cool before using. Store unused filling in the refrigerator for up to five days.
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Banana Bread

    banana-bread-chips-nuts-LuluDurand-230

    Banana bread with chocolate chips and nuts.
    We highly recommend the optional chocolate
    glaze in the recipe (not shown). Photo
    by Lulu Durand | IST.

     

    You’d think we could get a decent piece of banana bread in this town, but it’s surprisingly tough. Most of what we purchase at specialty food stores has only a nodding acquaintance with bananas. With no banana punch but a high level of spices, it could be zucchini bread.

    One does do better at bakeries; but alas, bakeries are fast becoming extinct here due to low margins and astounding rents. So since today is National Banana Bread Day, grab the bananas and a loaf pan and start baking.

    One reason that some recipes fall short on banana flavor is that the recipe requires overripe bananas. When they’re brown and splotchy and unappealing, that’s when you want to bake. The more brown/overripe, the sweeter the banana flavor.

    A trick for always having the perfect ripeness on hand: Buy the bananas before you need them. (If you’re lucky, you’ll find overripe ones that have been marked down.) Once they become overripe, peel them, wrap them tightly and freeze them. They thaw quickly at room temperature when you’re ready to bake.

    We always bake a double batch and put the second one in the freezer; although work colleagues, hairdressers, friends and neighbors would be grateful for a slice.

    This recipe was adapted from one by Charles Masters for the Food Network.

     
    Ingredients For the Bread

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup mashed banana (2-3 very ripe bananas)
  •  
    For The Glaze

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

    2. COMBINE the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the chocolate chips.

    3. WHISK the eggs, melted butter, sour cream, vanilla and orange zest in a medium bowl. Stir in the mashed banana, then fold the mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.

    4. ADD the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan on a rack, then turn the bread out onto the rack to cool completely.

    5. MAKE the glaze: Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, milk, vanilla and salt in a bowl. Pour over the cooled banana bread and let set, 15 to 20 minutes.

     

    overripe-bananas-bakinglibrary.blogspot-230

    Make banana bread with overripe bananas. These are just beginning to get ripe enough. The splotchier, the better. Photo courtesy Baking Library | Blogspot.

     

    DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “BREAD” & CAKE

    There is a transition between sweet breads and lower-sugar cakes that are baked in loaf pans, such as carrot bread and banana bread.

    What’s the difference between a banana bread and a banana cake? The obvious difference is that the bread is baked in a loaf pan while the cake is baked in a round, square or rectangular cake pan.

    A less obvious distinction is that the bread style of cake, as a quickbread*, is leavened with baking soda instead of yeast, which makes them quicker to rise.

    In general, loaf cakes or “breads” also have a denser crumb, a rougher texture and often less sugar than their cake counterparts.

    While the origin of the “bread” style of cake is unknown, food historians believe that it was originated in the 18th century with housewives experimenting with pearl ash. Banana bread became common in American cookbooks in the 1930s, with the popularization of baking soda and baking powder, and very popular in the 1960s, when variations with simple inclusions (nuts, chocolate morsels) created simple but delicious snack cakes.

     
    *Other quickbread examples include biscuits, cornbread, muffins, scones and soda bread.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Cherry Cheesecake With Chocolate Glaze

    chocolate-cherry-cheesecake-bettycrocker-230

    Cherry cheesecake with chocolate accents.
    Photo and recipe courtesy Betty Crocker.

     

    Next in our choice of cherry recipes for Washington’s Birthday (February 22nd) is a cherry cheesecake with a twist: a chocolate crust and chocolate glaze.

    Prep time for this Betty Crocker recipe is just 35 minutes, plus another 5 hours and 50 minutes for baking and chilling.

    You can make this recipe ahead of time and freeze it. To do so, first bake the cheesecake; cool and glaze. Freeze it until the glaze is set. Then wrap it tightly and freeze it for up to 1 month. Before serving, unwrap and thaw the cheesecake in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours.

    Make it again on April 23rd, National Cherry Cheesecake Day.

    RECIPE: CHERRY CHEESECAKE WITH CHOCOLATE

    Ingredients For 16 Servings

    Ingredients For The Crust

  • 2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  •  
    For The Filling

  • 4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 can or jar (21 ounces) cherry pie filling—or make your own with the recipe below
  •  
    For The Glaze

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. In medium bowl, combine the crust ingredients; mix well. Press into the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of an ungreased 10-inch springform pan.

    2. BEAT the cream cheese in large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sugar and almond extract until smooth. Add 1/2 cup whipping cream; blend well.

    3. SPOON 3-1/2 cups of the cream cheese mixture into crust-lined pan, spreading evenly. Carefully spoon 1 cup of the pie filling evenly overthe cream cheese layer (reserve remaining pie filling for the topping). Spoon the remaining cream cheese mixture evenly over the pie filling.

    4. BAKE for 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes or until the center is set. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 1 hour.

    5. MAKE the glaze: In 1-quart saucepan, heat 1/2 cup whipping cream to boiling over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Stir in the chocolate chips until melted.

    6. LINE a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Remove the side of the springform pan. Place the cheesecake on the paper-lined cookie sheet. Spread the glaze over the cooled cheesecake, allowing some to flow down the side.

    7. REFRIGERATE at least 3 hours or overnight. Serve topped with the remaining pie filling.

     

    MAKE YOUR OWN CHERRY PIE FILLING

    Some brands of pie filling are distinctly better than others. A safe bet is to pick up an organic brand. The extra cost is worth it.

    For a luxury experience, we use a jar of sour cherry pie filling from Chukar Cherries (it’s $14.95).

    But if your discriminating palate doesn’t like any canned cherry filling, it’s easy to make your own with just 20 minutes of prep time, and 1 hour 10 minutes of cook time.

    RECIPE: CHERRY PIE FILLING

    Ingredients For An 8-Inch Pie

  • 4 cups fresh or frozen tart (Montmorency) cherries; or canned cherries in water (see photo at right)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 tablespoon almond extract (optional)
  •  

    oregon-specialty-fruit-red-tart-cherries-230

    Make your own cherry filling with fresh or frozen cherries, or canned cherries in water. Photo courtesy Oregon Specialty Fruit.

     
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the cherries in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cover and simmer. After the cherries lose considerable juice (several minutes—stir occasionally), remove from the heat.

    2. COMBINE in a small bowl the sugar and cornstarch. Pour into the hot cherries and combine thoroughly. Add the almond extract and stir. Return the mixture to the stove and cook over low heat until thickened, stirring frequently.

    3. REMOVE from the heat and let cool. If the filling is too thick, add a little water. It it’s too thin, add a bit more cornstarch.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Best Cherry Pie

    cherry-pie-lattice-cherrymktginst-230

    This cherry pie gets a fancy lattice top. Photo courtesy Cherry Marketing Institute.

     

    It’s National Cherry Pie Day, and we’re honoring both the holiday and Jean Van’t Hul by publishing her recipe for “the best cherry pie ever.”

    Like all good cooks, Jean has worked on this recipe for years, adapting recipes from prominent sources like Rose Levy Beranbaum and Cook’s Illustrated.

    Jean notes that her recipe uses cherries canned in water. “not that dreadful canned cherry pie filling.”

    RECIPE: THE BEST CHERRY PIE

    Ingredients

    For The Pie Crust

  • 2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
  • 8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 8 tablespoons ice water
  • For The Filling

  • 3 cans tart cherries in water (Jean likes Oregon Fruit Products Red Tart Cherries, which she often finds with the canned fruit instead of in the baking aisle)
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  •  
    Plus

  • Optional garnish: crème fraîche, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
  •  

    Preparation

    1. MAKE the pie crust. Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor (or use a pastry blender). Cut the butter into smaller pieces and add to food processor. Pulse a few times. Cut the shortening into smaller pieces and add to food processor. Pulse a few more times, until butter and shortening are the size of peas or smaller. Transfer to a large bowl.

    2. SPRINKLE 3-4 tablespoons of ice water over the dough mixture at a time, mixing and pressing with a sturdy rubber spatula until the dough comes together. Divide into two and wrap each half in plastic wrap. (Tip: Dump the semi-formed dough onto plastic, wrap it up, knead it bit until it forms a ball, then flatten it into a disk.) Refrigerate until ready to use.

    3. MIX the 3 cans of cherries plus the juice from 1-1/2 cans with sugar, cornstarch, salt and almond extract in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, or until the liquid is thick and bubbly (partially jelled). Set aside to cool.

     

    oregon-specialty-fruit-red-tart-cherries-230

    Look for pitted cherries in water, not “glop.” Photo courtesy Oregon Specialty Fruit.

     

    4. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and place on a lower rack, to catch any drips.

    5. SPRINKLE the counter with flour and roll out the bottom pie crust. Arrange in a pie pan. Pour the cooled pie filling into the crust.

    6. ROLL out the top crust. Use a sharp knife to cut the top crust into strips for a lattice crust or use a cookie cutter to make other designs. Either drape your top crust over the pie, if you used a cookie cutter design, or weave your traditional lattice crust (here’s a YouTube video).

    7. TRIM Tthe edges of the top and bottom crust to 1/2-1 inch beyond the pie pan and then fold them under. Either press around the perimeter with the tines of a fork or crimp it with your fingers.

    8. BRUSH the crust with a beaten egg white (or cream) and sprinkle sugar on top.

    9. BAKE for 20 minutes at 425°F, then lower the oven temperature to 375°F and add a pie crust shield (or a foil tent with the center cut out) to protect the outer edges of the crust from burning. Bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the crust looks nicely browned and the juices bubble up thickly.

    10. REMOVE the pie from the oven and let cool for 3 hours or so before eating, so the filling will gel properly. Garnish as desired and serve.

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Green Tea Fortune Cookie Cake

    At last: an idea to repurpose the fortune cookies that so many of us acquire from Chinese food take-out.
    This Green Tea layer cake is made by Baked NYC, one of the most popular bakeries in New York City. The cake has three almond white cake layers, frosted and filled with green tea buttercream.

    You can call it a Green Tea Cake, Fortune Cookie Cake, or Chinese New Year Cake. It’s easy to whip up with a box of white cake mix and some dark or white chocolate, into which you dip the fortune cookies. Here’s how:

    RECIPE: GREEN TEA FORTUNE COOKIE CAKE

  • Add 1 teaspoon of almond extract to a white cake batter (use a boxed mix).
  • If you want an actual green tea cake, add 4 teaspoons of matcha (powdered green tea) to the cake batter/mix and omit the almond extract.
  • Make the green tea buttercream (recipe below).
  • Dip the fortune cookies into melted dark or white chocolate.
  • If you like crunch, crush extra fortune cookies with a rolling pin and add the pieces to the filling over the bottom layer.
  •    

    green-tea_layer-cake-230

    Green tea frosting on a layer cake. The fortune cookies were dipped in white chocolate. Photo courtesy BakedNYC.com.

     
    If you want to make your own fortune cookies from scratch, here’s the recipe.
     

    RECIPE: GREEN TEA BUTTERCREAM

    Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 sticks butter softened
  • 3 tablespoons matcha green tea powder
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the water and tea powder to make a paste.

    2. CREAM the butter and tea until completely combined. Gradually add powdered sugar until you reach the consistency you like for frosting.

     

    Matcha

    Matcha, powdered green tea, is whisked with
    water into a foamy beverage. Photo by Kelly
    Cline | IST.

     

    WHAT IS MATCHA?

    Matcha is powdered green tea the consistency of talc, that is used in the Japanese tea ceremony (cha no yu). Matcha has a wonderful aroma, a creamy, silky froth and a rich, mellow taste.

    Matcha is made from ten-cha leaves, which are gyokuro leaves that have been not been rolled into needles but are instead steamed and dried. They are top-grade Japanese green tea, produced by a special process in the Uji district, a region known for producing some of the finest green teas in Japan.

    The tea bushes are shaded from sunlight for three weeks before harvesting, producing amino acids that sweeten the taste. Unlike whole leaf tea, which is steeped, the leaves are then ground like flour, slowly and finely in a stone mill. The powder is whisked into water, creating a foamy drink. It is the only powdered tea.

    Powdered tea is the original way in which tea was prepared. Steeping dried leaves in boiling water didn’t arrive until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

    Matcha contains a higher amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, L-theanine amino acids, polyphenols, chlorophyll and fiber) than other teas.

     
    In recent years, matcha has become a popular cooking and baking ingredient, and now comes in different grades for different uses. Pastry chefs have incorporated it into everything from cakes and custards to ice cream.
     
    WHAT IS THE CHINESE NEW YEAR?

    The Chinese calendar consists of both Gregorian and lunar-solar calendar systems. Because the track of the new moon changes from year to year, Chinese New Year can begin anytime between late January and mid-February.

    This year, it begins today, and it’s the Year Of The Goat, one of the 12 zodiac animals. The Chinese zodiac is based on a twelve-year cycle. Each year in the cycle has an animal sign: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat/ram/sheep, monkey, rooster, dog or pig.

    But what’s with the goat/sheep/ram? Which one is it?

    It’s what you want it to be. In Mandarin, the character “yang” refers to a horned animal, and covers all three of the contenders. But if you go for sheep, know that is one of the least desirable animals on the zodiac. A sheep is seen as a docile, weak follower, rather than a leader.

    So go for the goat: a feisty, independent-minded ruminant whose milk makes our favorite cheese!

    If This Is Your Lunar Year…

    In addition to those born this year, those under the goat/ram/sheep sign were born in 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991 and 2003. For them, 2015 is an auspicious year.

    People born in the Year Of The Goat are said to like to be in groups. They are honest, intimate, and can be easily moved by the misfortune of others.

    Every sign confers lucky numbers, lucky colors, lucky flowers, etc. So whether you’re a goat or one of the other zodiac animals, head on over to ChinaHighlights.com to find yours.

    CHINESE NEW YEAR TRIVIA: The tradition of spending the Lunar New Year holiday with family means that hundreds of millions of Chinese people are traveling home. It’s the world’s biggest annual migration.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Maple Syrup Blondies

    We received a gift of maple syrup, and were checking out our list of ways to use maple syrup. We settled on this recipe we’ve been wanting to try, for Maple Syrup Blondies from Lauryn Cohen of BellaBaker.com.

    We actually prefer blondies with chocolate chunks to brownies. Lauryn prefers toffee bits in her blondies.

    In this recipe, she substituted maple syrup for the toffee. As she explains, it gives the same sweet, caramelized flavor throughout the whole base of the blondie, rather than just in little toffee pockets. She also added in some cinnamon, chocolate chips and coconut.

    The result, she says, “a golden, sweet, amazingly fantastic blondie.”

    RECIPE: MAPLE SYRUP BLONDIES

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped semi sweet chocolate, or chocolate chips/chunks
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  •  

    Maple syrup blondies with lots of chocolate chips. Photo courtesy Bella Baker.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch Pyrex baking pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

    2. WHISK together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

    3. CREAM the butter and both sugars together in a large bowl, using electric beaters on medium high speed, until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the maple syrup and vanilla; then reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add in the dry ingredients.

    4. SWITCH to a rubber spatula and add the chocolate, coconut and walnuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and slightly separated from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.

    5. WAIT until the blondies are completely cool before cutting into squares.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Easy Valentine Cake

    If time has gotten away from you and you haven’t picked up a special treat for the family, here’s a trick from one of our favorite New York bakeries, BakedNYC.

    Buy a plain, iced store-bought cake and add your own decorating touch. It combines store-bought with “homemade.”

    While you can buy a Valentine cake at any supermarket, most have tacky plastic decorations. You can do a much nicer job by adding your own delicious decorations to a plain frosted cake.

  • Sprinkles. Your supermarket may have Valentine sprinkles (a mix of red, pink and white) or heart-shaped sprinkle decorations. If not, get bottles of plain red and white sprinkles.
  • Candies. Or, head to the candy section for chocolate foil hearts, Conversation Hearts, pink and red jelly beans, Hershey’s kisses, red hots or anything else that fits in with the theme.
  • Fresh fruit. How about chocolate-dipped strawberries or raspberries? Here’s how to dip your own. Otherwise, add them plain. If you have enough, dot them around the rim. Otherwise, you can place them in the center.
  •  

    white-layer-valentine-cake-bakenyc-230

    Add your own decorating touch to a plain iced cake. Photo courtesy BakedNYC.

  • Rim garnish. At a minimum, add a rim of garnish to the top of the cake. Sprinkles or Red Hots work well.
  • Base garnish. To go all-out, place Hershey’s Kisses (you can leave the festive foil on), conversation hearts or chocolate foil hearts around the base, instead of the piped frosting shown in the photo.
  •  

    BAKING YOUR OWN CAKE

    If you want to bake, you don’t need to make layers. Buy a box of cake mix (chocolate, red velvet, white or yellow) and toss a bundt cake, loaf cake or single-layer mini sheet cake into the oven.

    About the icing:

    The bakery section of your supermarket may sell tubs of buttercream (CK Products makes it). It’s not as good as homemade, but it’s far better than canned frosting.

    Or, take 10 minutes to make real buttercream. All you need is a stick of butter, a cup of confectioners’ sugar, 1/4 cup whole milk and the flavoring of your choice: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 4 ounces chocolate or 1 teaspoon instant coffee. Just blend them together and ice away!

    Here’s the recipe.

      

    Comments

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