Sunday, October 25, 2015

Buttermilk Fig Cake

Figs are in season at the end of the summer. Since they do so well teamed with spices, I really think of them as a winter item. We all know that figs have good nutritional value. I am not sure why there are not more desserts made with them. The only thing that most of us can recall with this item as an ingredient is fig newtons.

After trying this recipe, I consider this cake as a wonderful alternative to the fig cookies. Rich, moist and spicy, it easily finds a place beside a cup of tea. The other good point about this cake is that it is a converted recipe that is low in fat, having only 3 grams per slice. The recipe comes from a spa and resort in Austin. We all know that even the idea of something fatty and sugary at a spa resort is not welcome.

It is a light dessert but really delivers on flavor and the texture. One bite reveals a myriad of rich spices with chewy figs and the crunch of nuts.The glaze is soaked up by the cake top and edges which give it a nice burst of sweetness.

Now for those that are unfamiliar with figs, they do have seeds. So every once in a while you will come across a fig seed in this cake.  If you do not mind the seeds of strawberries or blackberries, then you will be fine.  However, since there are some that abstain from the small seeded fruits-I have to give fair warning.

Buttermilk Fig Cake
adapted from Lake Austin Spa Resort

2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 tbs canola oil
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
7.5 oz baby food prunes (about 3 jars)
1 1/2 cups chopped preserved figs
1/3 cup chopped pecans


1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tbs light butter
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Prepare a springform pan by greasing the interior. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the first 7 ingredients and set aside. Fill another bowl with the eggs and egg whites.Whisk until blended and a little foamy on top. Then mix the oil, sugar, prunes and vanilla into the eggs.

Take 1/3 of the sifted ingredients and fold into the wet batter. Stir in 1/3 cup of the buttermilk. Repeat the process, ending by blending the last addition of the flour. Lastly, fold in the nuts and chopped figs.

Empty the batter into the prepared pan and bake until tester comes out clean.  Bake time is approximately 55 minutes. After baking, place on rack to cool for 15 minutes, then unmold ring.  Glaze cake when completely cool.

The glaze can be made while the cake is cooling. Place a small saucepan over medium heat. Add buttermilk and sugar. Stir and let cook until sugar is dissolved. Sift in the cornstarch and baking soda, stirring quickly so no lumps form. Add the butter and mix until butter is completely melted and blended. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract.  Let cool completely.

Once each component (cake and glaze) is at room temperature, give the glaze a stir and then drizzle over cake. Let sit until glaze is slightly soaked into cake, then slice and serve.

Tips and Notes:
1. If you cannot find preserved figs, then used dried figs. Let them simmer in a mix of water and pure maple syrup for about 45 minutes, then remove from heat and cover. Let sit for about 2 hours and then drain and dice.
2. Glaze is supposed to be really thin and sticky, not like the standard sweet glaze that dries hard.
                                            **LAST YEAR:Banana Nutella Bars**

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Maple Pecan Pinwheel Cookies

I have a hard time trying to remember when someone actually said that a cookie tasted awful. Most cookies have a flavor appreciation, so the next factor when evaluating them is the texture. Hard cookies for dunking in milk, soft cookies for those that like a cookie on the light side and chewy for those people leaning towards the more candy-like cookies. The candy-like cookies are the typical slice and bake dough found at the grocers for you to bake or already baked up in the small display bins in fast food restaurant chains.

This particular cookie has some chewiness that comes from the filling.  However, the rest of the cookie mimics the buttery flakiness that you will find in pastries. If I had to name these, I would call them mini tart swirl pastries - not cookies.

That covers the texture evaluation. The flavor of the filling reminds me of those cinnamon praline pecans that are an addiction of mine. Also,the filing and the glaze have maple syrup as an ingredient. Sadly, maple syrup could be used in a number of ways yet most people never reach for it unless waffles or pancakes are around. Overall, the taste and texture of these gems does make them pretty amazing.

The preparation of the cookies incorporates the slice and bake method, which makes it easy to prepare in advance and bake some up on short notice. That is always a plus in my book! The recipe makes about 7 dozen cookies.

Maple Pecan Pinwheel Cookies
adapted from the Journal Sentinel

4 cups flour
6 tbs sugar
2 cups or 4 sticks of butter (room temp)
2-8oz packages of cream cheese (room temp)

1 1/2 cups or 3 sticks of cold butter (cubed)
3 tbs maple syrup
3/4 tsp maple flavoring
2 1/4 cups flour
2 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbs cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
12 oz or 3 cups chopped pecans

pinch of ground cinnamon
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup maple syrup

For the dough, fill a large bowl of a stand mixer with the butter and cream cheese. Beat for about 3 minutes on medium speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Sprinkle in sugar and beat for another minute.  Remove bowl from stand mixer and fold flour into batter in 1/2 cup increments. Form dough into a rectangle and cover with plastic wrap. Chill dough for 2 hours.

Start on the filling by beating together the butter cubes and brown sugar. Stir in the maple extract and maple syrup. Using another bowl, sift flour, salt and cinnamon together. Add the sifted ingredients to the sugar batter and mix until there are no more dry streaks. Lastly, stir in the pecan pieces until evenly distributed.

Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into 3 equal but smaller rectangles. Let all rectangles sit for 20 minutes. Dust a flat surface lightly with flour and do the same with a rolling pin. Take 1 rectangle and roll out, forming a rectangle measuring 12x18.

Take 1/3 of the filling mixture and scoop out spoonfuls and drop onto dough. Fill a small bowl with hot water. Take a knife, dip in the hot water and use to smooth the filling evenly over the dough. Filling will be thick, but be gentle as the dough is very thin.

After the filling is smoothed over the dough, start rolling dough up from one of the longest edges. This is much like a jelly roll, only smaller. After the last part is rolled up, pinch end and press down to seal bottom seam also cut of any ends that are uneven.

Take the roll and cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Repeat the same process on the other two pieces of dough, dividing filling in half. The cut ends can be used to patch or to seal hole in the dough. Do not cut the ends of the last roll, just push in to flatten, so the edges are not jagged.

After all rolls have been in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Also line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove 1 roll and cut into about 28 slices. Lay each slice onto prepared baking sheets, filling each sheet with about 1 dz cookies. Cover the 2 slices and place in refrigerator. Put cookies on baking sheets in oven and bake until golden on edges. Cookies will take about 22 minutes to bake and pans will need to be rotated at the halfway point.

Place a sheet of wax paper under cooling rack. Remove cookies and let set for 2 minutes then transfer to cooling rack. Glaze cookies once completely cool.

For glaze, sift powdered sugar into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cookies.  Let glaze set before storing or serving.

Tips and Notes:
1. Be gentle with the dough but make sure it is tightly rolled and seam sealed. Filling expands as it cooks.
2. As an option, you can sprinkle more pecan pieces on top.
3. The smaller the pecans are in the filling, the easier it will be to smooth out over the dough.
4. Dough is not real sticky, so it does not need much dusting of flour.
5.There were places in my roll that were thin and some nuts were poking through but it did not cause a problem. 
                                    **LAST YEAR: Pineapple Cottage Cheese Pufflets**

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Caramel Apple Nut Pie

The standard thought when it comes to apple pie is apples baked in a crust with cinnamon thrown in.  If you are really craving the pure taste of apples in a pie, then the traditional apple pie is the one for you. For those looking for a additional layers of flavor in their pie, read on.

With Halloween coming up and the state fair, the caramel apple will be popping up in places. The thought of tasting a tart, green apple and smooth caramel can easily turn into a craving. Hold off on reaching for one..or you will miss out on satisfying your craving on a much more a tastier level. Let's take all that delicious flavor and texture from a caramel apple and enclose it into a flaky crust.  Caramel Apple Nut pie...need I say more?? Lets head into the kitchen!

Caramel Apple Nut Pie
adapted from Mrs Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies

Ingredients/Vinegar Pie Crust
1 egg
1 cup plus 1 tbs vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tsp white distilled vinegar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
4-6 tbs ice water

6 cups peeled and sliced apples (4-5 McIntosh or Granny Smith)
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tbs cold unsalted butter cut into bits
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
pinch of salt
3 tbs flour
1 tbs milk or cream
Sugar for sprinkling (brown, raw or granulated)

For the crust, start by blending the salt with the flour. Then add the shortening in chunks and use a pastry blender to cut the shortening into the dry mixture. Continue to use the pastry blender until all the powdery flour is slightly clumping with the shortening. There should not be any clumps bigger than peas. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, vinegar and 1 tbs of the water. Pour the blend into the shortening/flour mixture. Using a spatula, mix all together. If the texture is too dry for dough, continue to add in the ice water and mix until the right consistency is met.

Divide the dough into two pieces. Flatten each piece to form a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 30 minutes up to a maximum of 2 weeks.

Once you are ready to make the pie, dust a flat surface lightly with flour and do the same with a the rolling pin.Take out one disk of dough and roll in the floured surface, forming a circle 1/8 of an inch thick. Gently roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin. Hold the rolling pin 2 inches above the edge of the pie pan and slowly unroll the dough into the pan. Center the dough and then lightly press into the pan. Gather the dough edges into a border on the top edge of the pie pan and just fold the overhang of the dough over the top edge of the pie. Flatten slightly and make sure it is distributed evenly around the circumference of the pie pan. Place the dough lined pie pan in the refrigerator while you make the filling. At this time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Fill a large bowl with the apple slices. Then fill a second, smaller, bowl with the brown sugar, salt, flour and cream. Blend the ingredients in the smaller bowl with a wooden spoon. Toss in the nuts and fold until all is evenly distributed. Empty the blend from the smaller bowl into the apples. Mix until all the apples have some coating and the big clumps of the sugar/nut mixture are minimized.

Remove the lined pie pan from the refrigerator. Empty the filling into the pie pan and smooth the top, so all is even. Drop the butter bits over the top, making sure there is an even distribution. Take a pastry brush and dip in water. Brush the top edge of the dough with the water and set filled pie aside.

Take out the other dough disc from the refrigerator. Roll this piece out, in the same manner as the first. Also, use the same method of rolling the dough around the rolling pin. This time you will unroll it over the filled pie. Cut off any overhang of dough. Seal and shape the pie dough edges or use the tines of a fork. Cut a few steam vents in the center top of the pie with a sharp knife. Dip a pastry brush in the milk and gently brush over the top. Lastly, sprinkle a bit of sugar over the surface of the pie.

Place pie on a baking sheet then put in preheated oven. Pie is done when apples are tender and crust is golden. Bake time is about 40-45 minutes. Remove and place on a cooling rack to stand at least 2 hours prior to slicing and serving.

Tips and Notes:
1. It is important that apples are sliced thin, diced or chunks of apples will require longer baking time in order to get tender.
2. A vinegar pie crust is patchable and easier to work with but you can use whatever pie dough recipe you want.
3. The amount of water for your dough will vary, depending on the weather. Humidity or a dry day will make the difference.
4. If you choose to refrigerate the pie for enjoying at another time, let sit out 1 hour before serving.
5. Check the pie at the halfway point in baking, you may need a pie shield to insure that the crust edges do not get too brown.
6. You can use the dough scraps cut from the top dough layer.  Cut into leaves or desired shapes and place on the pie top after cutting vents and prior to brushing milk over the top.
7. The filling will be very thick, so when blending with the apples you may want to use clean hands.  
8. There is no need to shape edges of the bottom dough, the shaping is done with both the top and bottom dough is sealed together.
                              **LAST YEAR:After Eight Cupcakes**

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Gingerbread Latte Fudge

Fudge in all its glory, can be very fickle when attempting to make it at home.  Some recipes can be easy successes resulting in a luscious thick creamy concoction. Others can have a pitfall. The pitfall being that the timing was off.  Beat the mixture too long and it will be grainy and not cooking it to the right temperature and it will not set up.

This recipe yields a very smooth and creamy texture on the palate. However, the taste of the coffee was very dominant and the ginger did not come through in the fudge flavor. The addition of the toasted ginger cake did not do much. Even though the cake was toasted and chopped, it disappeared in the warmth of the fudge when stirred in. Other than that, I found it to be very sweet. In researching other fudge recipes, the sugar content is a little high for the amount of fudge that the recipe makes.

If you make candy on a regular basis, then this particular recipe should not be a problem. The special flavor combination is quite unique for fudge. More tweaks will need to be made in order to create a balance between the coffee and ginger.

Since this recipe is from the UK, it was given in oz or milliliters and grams. The oz and gram conversion to cups results in fractions, so I am submitting it with the original measurements. You can either weigh the ingredients or use a conversion chart to cups and round up or down.

Gingerbread Latte Fudge
adapted from BBC Food

500 grams or 1 lb 2oz sugar
75 grams or 2 and 1/2 oz sliced ginger cake
150 ml or 5 oz heavy cream
50 grams or 1 3/4 oz butter
135 ml or 4 1/2 fluid oz whole milk
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground espresso coffee
50 ml or 2 oz water

Set your oven to broil. Then prepare a 7 inch square cake pan by greasing the interior and lining with parchment paper.

Place the cake slices on a baking sheet and place under the broil to toast. Keep a close eye, so they do not get too brown. Then turn slices over and toast the other side. Remove pan and let the cake cool. Chop into small pieces. Your pieces do not have to be exactly the same size, but remember that each piece of fudge is only 1x1 inches.

Pour water into a large, deep saucepan and place over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, remove from heat. Turn heat down to low and wait about 10 minutes. Fill the saucepan with the cream, milk, butter and sugar. Put saucepan back over heat and stir. It will take about 15 minutes for the butter to melt and the sugar to dissolve. Take out a small heat proof bowl.

Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. Turn the temperature up to medium high. When the mixture reaches a simmering point, it should be bubbling. Hold at this point by making adjustments to the heat. The mixture will need to reach a perfect temperature of 241 degrees Fahrenheit or 116 centigrade. Once idea temperature is achieved, remove from heat and pour 1/4 of the mixture into the heat proof bowl. Set the heat proof bowl aside.

The mixture in your saucepan is the main fudge and the bowl will be the "latte" topping. Add the ginger spice and coffee into the main fudge batch and beat for 1 minute. Once blended, mix in the ginger cake pieces. Beat again for a few minutes. It will thicken and pull away from the sides of the pan-it has reached the correct consistency. Pour into prepared tin.

Take the heat proof bowl of candy and beat a few times. Drop spoonfuls over top of main fudge and marble with a skewer or toothpick. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or cool at room temperature for a few hours prior to cutting and serving.

Tips and Notes:

1. Chopped gingersnap cookies may do better in this recipe than cake.
2. My topping was not like a foamy latte, so it may require more cooking time than suggested.
3. Beat time after you add the ginger cake pieces may vary, mine took longer than 2 minutes to thicken.
4. The chunks of cake/cookie in a cut piece of fudge were not visible and did not change the texture. For something more visible and crunchy-increase the measurement.
5. To insure success, you will need a candy thermometer.
                            **LAST YEAR: Pistachio Schoolboy Cookies**