Key Lime Cupcakes with Toasted Meringue

Key Lime Cupcakes

Key Lime Cupcakes

There’s something about key lime that conjures up the delightful warmth of basking in the Florida sunshine. The flavor is so bright and tart that eating key lime pie or any other key lime treat magically transports me away from the cold, wind and snow, to sunny south Florida.

It’s for this reason key lime pie is one of favorite desserts and is really the only non-chocolate sweet I willingly order in restaurants, aside from the occasional fruit crisp. Never lemon meringue; it has to be key lime, the tartiest of the tart.

As I’ve slowly become more and more excited about my upcoming Florida getaway, I started thinking about this classic dessert and decided to create my own treat using key lime juice.

I admit it, I used bottled key lime juice. Please don’t judge me – you just try finding fresh key limes in Chicago!

As for my creation, it was delicious miniature key lime cupcakes speckled with lime zest and topped with a toasted meringue that just mellowed the cake’s tartiness, making for an incredible bite.

These sweet and tart morsels of Florida sunshine are the perfect prescription brighten up a drab day.

Key Lime Cupcakes

Key Lime Cupcakes

Here’s the recipe:

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Marshmallow Treats

Marshmallow Treats

Marshmallow Treats

For years I’ve thought about buying a candy thermometer but never quite got around to it. Sort of like joining a gym… a good idea in theory that just never seemed convenient. And now, somehow, I’m talking about gyms and candy at the same time, which probably is an analysis best left for another time.

Regardless, a few weeks ago I finally bought a candy thermometer so I could make English toffee and ever since it’s like a new world has opened up to me. I generally don’t like to make pastries because they’re too fussy, but candy is a different story.

The most difficult part is patience because the goal (usually) is to slowly heat the sugar mixture to a specific temperature. And the second hardest part is remembering not to touch it! It’s so tempting, but I always think back to my baking and pastry class where another student burnt her fingers really badly by touching hot sugar. {shiver}

Now that you’ve been adequately warned, it’s time to make these incredibly delectable, light and fluffy, ooey and gooey marshmallow treats.

I made the marshmallow treats for a New Years Eve party and had so much fun experimenting that I wound up with two different toppings: semisweet chocolate with crushed candy canes and peanut butter milk chocolate! The candy cane topping was the easiest because it only required one round of dipping, whereas the peanut butter milk chocolate was more time-consuming by first dipping the marshmallows in melted peanut butter, freezing, then dipping in melted milk chocolate.

Either way, both types of marshmallow treats were a huge hit, although I slightly favored the peanut butter version because it reminded me of a gooey Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But you don’t have to dip them at all. These marshmallows would be fantastic toasted on their own or as s’mores, or even with hot chocolate.

Please make these, I beg you. It’s for your own good! You’ll be loved and worshipped by everyone who tastes them. And let me know how you top your marshmallow treats!

Here’s the recipe:

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Happy Halloween! Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars for a Grown-Up Treat

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Some kids, like my sister, never get into the spirit of Halloween. I, on the other hand embraced it. Well, at least part of it. I wasn’t into the scary, creepy aspects of Halloween, but always loved the fun childlike excitement of costumes, carving pumpkins and decorating the house. But I think mostly I embraced it for the candy.

Oh, how I loved all those fun-sized candy bars. There was even a house in the neighborhood that once gave away full-size candy bars and I made sure to visit that house well into high school, just in case they did it again. As for that house that gave out pennies? Let’s just say I wouldn’t have gone there if it wasn’t my friend’s house. There’s always one that just doesn’t get it.

Choc PB Bars: Mix shortbread cookie ingredients Choc PB Bars: Peanut butter filling Choc PB Bars: add sugar to peanut butter mixture

My favorite candies were Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (NOT the pieces), M&Ms, Nestle Crunch, Starbursts and Skittles. Now I find most of these way too cloying in that fakely sweet way, so I decided to make my own adult version of my ultimate favorite: the peanut butter cup, but in a bar form.

This recipe for chocolate peanut butter bars starts with chocolate shortbread that is topped with peanut butter frosting and covered in melted semi-sweet chocolate. The crumbly cookie bottom, creamy and slightly salty peanut butter layer, and rich chocolate coating makes for a delicious treat.

Choc PB Bars: chocolate shortbread Choc PB Bars: spread peanut butter mixture over shortbread Choc PB Bars: pour melted chocolate over bars

Here’s the recipe:

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Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

I’m not a baker. At all. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it from time to time if it’s for fun. This is probably because as a kid baking was the only thing I could help with in the kitchen. I remember helping my mom make cookies when I was young and baking brownies and cupcakes with friends in junior high. It was enjoyable then, easy.

But as I began cooking professionally I realized just how scientific and precise baking can be. While precision isn’t a problem, the scientific part can be challenging for me and my slight ADD tendencies. But I do still like to bake for fun and for my family who will eat anything sweet. It’s just sometimes I lack the patience to bake the same thing again and again, tweaking a little each time until I get it just right. But there are a few exceptions when the results are really, really worth the effort, like with this carrot cake.

Carrot Cake

As long as I’m confessing, I should add that until recently I had very little experience with carrot cake. In fact, the only carrot cake I’d ever eaten was when I was working the pantry/dessert station at a restaurant and one of the menu items was deep fried carrot cake. The cake itself was made off-site and while tasty, it was also very dry. My job was to make a beer batter to coat the cake squares, deep fry them and inject the centers with a thin cream cheese filling. I’d then arrange three deep fried carrot cake squares on a plate, dust with powdered sugar and send it to a table with a side of thick cream cheese dipping sauce. It was tasty although a bit strange.

Carrot Cake10 Carrot Cake15 Carrot Cake11

Carrot Cake12 Carrot Cake13 Carrot Cake14

So you can see how I was at a bit of a loss when I had a sudden craving for carrot cake about two months ago. In fact, I’d actually dreamed about it (and subsequently tweeted that dream), so I was really excited when I had the opportunity to make a carrot cake for Rosh Hashana dinner at my sister’s house.

To toot my own horn a bit, the cake was fantastic! It was flavorful but not overwhelming and had a scrumptious moist crumb that made each and every bite heavenly. The frosting, well, that was another story.

Make a parchment circle 1 Make a parchment circle 2 Make a parchment circle 3

Make a parchment circle 4 Make a parchment circle 5 Make a parchment circle 6

Something went horribly wrong when I made the cream cheese frosting (I suspect it was because I used low-fat cheese the first time) and it became very thin and watery. Although the frosting tasted great with the cake, the presentation was off, so much so that the layers kept sliding apart because the frosting couldn’t hold them.

Happily for my family, I had to make the carrot cake again so I could perfect the frosting. The second time was the charm. The cream cheese frosting was thick yet spreadable and both a little sweet and tangy, and absolutely perfect for the carrot cake.

Carrot Cake

Here’s the recipe:

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Pumpkin Surprise Cookies

Pumpkin Surprise Cookies

Pumpkin Surprise Cookies

Autumn is in full swing here in the Midwest, which for me means transitioning to heartier foods along with close-toed shoes and long sleeves. While I’ve been cooking with heartier ingredients I haven’t gotten around to doing much baking and recently found myself craving something pumpkin. What, I didn’t know. I just knew I had to use pumpkin.

So I went to the grocery store to buy a can of pureed pumpkin (plain, not pumpkin pie filling). I didn’t get anything to use with it because I had no clue what I wanted to make.

Pumpkin Cookies01 Pumpkin Cookies02 Pumpkin Cookies06

A few hours later I came across someone on Twitter (and I’m sorry, I have no idea who it was) who tweeted about pumpkin oatmeal. Hmmm… That sounds interesting, I thought. But I wanted to make dessert, not breakfast, which quickly lead to the idea of pumpkin-oatmeal cookies.

On the heels of the sad announcement that Gourmet was shutting down, I turned to the magazine’s website in a moment of nostalgia and searched for a recipe for pumpkin oatmeal cookies. Not surprisingly, nothing turned up, so I searched again, this time for a regular oatmeal cookie recipe that I could modify and found this one for oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I chose it mainly because I was intrigued by the instruction to grind a portion of the oatmeal into a powder, although I later adapted it to grind all the oats. The result is great: a slightly crisp cookie with a bit of chewy oatmeal texture.

Pumpkin Cookies03 Pumpkin Cookies04 Pumpkin Cookies05

In the end I subbed the pumpkin puree for the peanut butter, and changed the seasonings and add-ins to the fall flavors I was craving. There’s still a hint of dark chocolate in the recipeĀ  because I like the flavor contrast with the earthy pumpkin and tangy dried cranberries, but in no way is the chocolate the dominant ingredient. I recommend using shaved chocolate from a bar rather than chocolate chips because they’ll incorporate into the batter better.*

Pumpkin Cookies07

I’m calling these pumpkin surprise cookies because there are a lot of surprising flavors in every small cookie and including each in the title would be overwhelming: pumpkin-chocolate-oatmeal-cranberry-spiced cookies is a bit of a mouthful.

Pumpkin Cookies08

Here’s the recipe:

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