Coconut Tequila Caramels

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As Mother Nature wistfully thrusts us into my absolute favorite season of the year, Fall, I find that I can’t ignore my yearning for the smells and flavors that this glorious season evokes.  I love the overcast, cool and rainy days, the delicate rustling of the leaves as they transform into picturesque colors and begin to break loose from their branches, and most treasured, the smells of wonder baking in the oven.  While this recipe for Coconut Tequila Caramels doesn’t involve the oven, you won’t believe the breathtaking aroma that permeates the house upon creation.

Let me see if I can pique your interest here; chewy, buttery, toasty, sweet, salty, nutty, intoxicating harmony…captured your attention yet?  While these decadent candies render me speechless (and not just because my mouth is full of them), I nevertheless manage to muster up enough utterance to define the happiness that they create.  These caramels have euphoria about them that all desserts strive to possess.  They are perfect displayed on a holiday dessert buffet or individually wrapped as a treasured gift for someone special.  You might find however, that you don’t want to share them at all.

Don’t let the whiskey in this recipe deter you from making this amazing confection.  The liquor evaporates when cooked with the caramel leaving you with a profoundly flavorful candy.  I think that you’ll find that if you do decide to share these little bites of heaven, they will be warmly received time and time again!

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Coconut Tequila Caramels          { Print Recipe }

Yield: 48 caramels

1-2 Tbsp  coconut oil, plus more for cutting caramels

1-16 oz can  coconut milk

¾ cup  light corn syrup

1 tsp  coarse sea salt

1 ¾ cup  granulated sugar

¾ cup  water

¼ cup  Tequila Blanco

½ cup   sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

½ cup  whole almonds, toasted and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8”x8” baking pan with parchment paper and lightly brush with coconut oil.

Place the whole almonds on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 8-10 minutes.  Check them after 5 minutes and give them a shake in the pan to ensure even toasting.  Chop the toasted nuts as finely as possible and set aside.  Using the same pan, toast the coconut for about 6-8 minutes stirring frequently as it can burn quickly.  Set the coconut aside and chop finely.

Combine the coconut milk, corn syrup, tequila and sea salt in a medium saucepan (4-6 quart).  Heat over medium low, stirring constantly for about 2-3 minutes until the milk is just warm and any coconut milk clumps are dissolved.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

In an 8-quart saucepan, combine the sugar and water and stir until sugar is completely wet.  Place over medium high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar turns a light amber color and a candy thermometer reads 310 degrees F, about 10-15 minutes.  Immediately remove the mixture from the heat and pour into the milk mixture.  Be careful as the mixture will bubble rapidly.  Return this saucepan to medium low heat and stir continuously until the caramel is completely dissolved (The caramel will solidify once added to the milk mixture, but will eventually soften and dissolve into the coconut milk).  Increase the heat to medium high, stirring constantly, and cook until the caramel becomes thick and a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees F, about 20-30 minutes.  Quickly stir in the almonds and coconut, immediately remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pan.  Let the caramel cool completely, about 2 hours, at room temperature.  Remove from the pan by lifting the parchment paper and cut into 1” squares.  Brush your knife with coconut oil as necessary between cutting to avoid sticking.  Wrap individually in parchment paper squares or store in an airtight container between sheets of parchment.  The caramels will last up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

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Salty Peanut Ice Cream

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I don’t recall exactly when my love for sweets began.  I do know however that I come from a long line of “sweet-crazed beings” and often try to place blame on genetics for my uncontrollable need for sweets.  I have many wonderful memories of growing up in a very small town in the South, however, I remember one of the most anticipated family events was our once a week trip to the local Dairy Queen or “DQ”.  It was a tiny ice cream shop then with a walk-up service counter.  My Mom loved to take us there because it made us kids so happy, but the truth is…it made her happy.  She’d splurge on frozen treats by the dozen to stash in our freezer for later consumption.  A great convenience since the DQ was an entire mile away…maybe.  I remember fondly and still today, my Mom’s favorite was the peanut buster parfait.  Soft serve vanilla ice cream blanketed with warm fudge sauce and topped with crunchy salted peanuts.  The combination of sweet and salty made it an irresistible treat.

I recently ordered dessert at a restaurant that included peanut ice cream as it was the waiter’s favored choice.  I ordered it without much thought, not really expecting anything too memorable.  To my surprise, upon first bite, I was instantly transported back to my childhood.  It was absolutely divine and incredibly nostalgic.  Slightly sweet yet salty, deliciously creamy yet crunchy and entirely mine.  I haven’t been able to stop obsessing about it since.  I’ve spent much time these past few weeks searching persistently for the perfect recipe for peanut ice cream but have mostly only uncovered peanut butter ice cream recipes, which seemed too sweet for my now unnaturally obsessive vision.  After much research, I decided to alter a peanut butter ice cream recipe to create a more salty peanut treat.  Wow.  What I created was unbelievable!

The ice cream is custard based which means that the milk is heated and then tempered into the egg and sugar mixture, similar to a pudding or custard.  In my opinion, this method is far superior resulting in an incredibly creamy and rich ice cream.  This process takes more time but is fully worth the effort.  The base of the ice cream is so creamy exuding subtle hints of peanut butter while the peanuts balance the sweet with an incredible saltiness and crunch.

Go ahead Mom and drizzle it with warm fudge sauce if you must, but this ice cream creates memories standing simply on its own.

This one is for you Mom…I love you and your sweet tooth!

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Salty Peanut Ice Cream          {Print Recipe}

Makes about 1 quart

1 cup whole milk

¾ cup sugar

3 eggs

½ cup crunchy peanut butter (preferably the low-sugar variety).  You can also use smooth peanut butter.

1 ½ cups heavy whipped cream

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup lightly salted, roasted shelled peanuts, chopped

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until just hot (not boiling).  In a separate medium bowl, beat the sugar and eggs with a mixer until thick and pale yellow.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture in bowl (whisking constantly so you don’t scramble the eggs).  Once incorporated, pour the milk-egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Return the saucepan to medium-low heat and cook custard, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter.  If using smooth peanut butter, strain the custard into a large bowl.  Let the mixture cool slightly, stirring often, then stir in the cream and vanilla.  Cover and refrigerate until cold, 6-8 hours or overnight.

Process the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions (for about 20 minutes), adding the cup of peanuts about 5 minutes before it has finished churning.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and freeze until hard.  Break out the spoon and dig in!

Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine

Amaretto Cheesecake Parfaits

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There are many splendid things about summer; letting the warm sun soak through your skin, beloved outdoor barbeques with friends, endless hours spent relaxing by the pool with an icy cocktail and refreshing summertime desserts to replenish your fortitude.  As the temperature of summer escalates, the oven quickly becomes an intolerable presence no matter the sweet succulence that it can yield.  Cool desserts make their long awaited arrival to accompany light summer meals.  Berries and fruit are at their peak of sweetness and are a simple yet delicious indulgence.  Parfaits offer an amazing balance of cool, sweet, creamy and crunchy and are the perfect remedy for even the hottest of days.

These parfaits are about the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  I simply can’t get enough of them!  The individual layers can be prepared ahead of time and assembled just before serving.  I strongly encourage you to give these a try and please invite me over when you do.

Amaretto Cheesecake Parfaits          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 8 servings

Cheesecake custard:

1 cup whole milk

5 Tbsp granulated sugar

4 large egg yolks

2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch

6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

3 Tbsp amaretto liqueur

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Macerated strawberries:

1 lb fresh strawberries, sliced

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

4 Tbsp amaretto liqueur

Gingersnap cookies (I like Jules Destrooper brand, found at most grocery stores), crushed

Making the custard:

In a medium saucepan, whisk together 3/4 cup whole milk with 3 Tbsp sugar.  Bring to a gentle boil and remove from heat when it just comes to a boil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the cornstarch and the remaining sugar.  Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture whisking constantly.  Pour the combined mixture back into the medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Lower the heat and add the cream cheese, amaretto and vanilla, whisking until smooth, about 1 minute.  Scrape the custard into a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard.  Refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours or overnight.

Using an electric mixer, beat the heavy whipping cream until medium peaks form.  Gently fold the whipped cream mixture into the chilled custard until well incorporated and there are no visible streaks.

Making the macerated strawberries:

Combine the sliced strawberries, sugar and amaretto in a bowl and refrigerate for about 2 hours.  Try not to eat all of them before assembling the parfaits.

Assembling the parfaits:

Spoon a portion of the custard into individual parfait glasses, followed by a scoop of the macerated strawberries and then the crushed gingersnap cookies.  Continue layering until the parfait glasses are filled.  Serve immediately.

 

Ravishing Ruffles

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The phone rang and a pleasantly familiar voice marked its place on my phone.  On the other end was the sweet innocent voice of my dear god daughter…recipient of beloved birthday cakes year after year from her biggest fan…me!  The call comes the same time each year with the request for a specific theme for her dream cake.  Birthdays of the past have celebrated such themes as fairy gardens, American Girl, Pirates…the list goes on.  I have been fortunate enough to be a part of almost every birthday that she has celebrated and I cherish her call every year anxiously awaiting my next cake challenge.

This year was extra special, as she was turning 11, marking the beginning of some very important and influential teenage years.  The cake I would make for her celebration could be no ordinary creation.  As I scanned my mental library for creative ideas and memorable flavors, I began to reminiscence about the many cakes that have marked her celebrations of the past, from a little girl to a now blossomed young adult.  I wanted to create a beautiful and sophisticated cake to signify the important years that she has surpassed, yet exhibit delicacy and innocence to show her sweet and forever little girl side.  The flavor of the cake needed to exude sophistication as well.  After much thought, I decided on a Triple Lemon Cake which is one of her (and my) favorites.

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I’m now forced to face the reality that she is growing up and isn’t the little girl that she used to be.  The days of themed birthday parties and cakes are inevitably behind us and her taste for just about everything has changed and matured.  With this said, I think that we all embrace a little piece of our childhood (whether realizing it or not) in an effort to stay young at heart.  She’ll always be a dear little girl in my mind and can always count on me to be waiting at the other end of the line each year to fulfill her special birthday cake wishes.

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Happy Birthday Audrey!

Homemade Graham Crackers

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First of all, it feels fantastic to be back to baking!  Now that we are a family of four, I find that there just isn’t enough time in the day, particularly uninterrupted time in the kitchen.  Sometimes however, a sweet tooth can drive your focus and become quite a powerful force to deal with.  These constant impulses and sweet cravings have once again captured my senses and brought me back into the kitchen emphatically.  With this said, my focus and attention are still guided by my little ones.  Therefore, I feel that I owe it to them to highlight a kid-friendly dessert for this post.

With the craziness of daily life, I feel that I’ve recently fallen victim to the vast array of convenience foods that I’ve relentlessly made such an effort to avoid in the past.  It’s so easy to grab a few prepared snacks for the kids; crackers, cookies, snack bars, etc.  In an effort to put myself at ease about this latest crutch of mine, why not at least attempt to make some of these oh-so-desired snacks from scratch??

These crackers are really more like a cookie and they are so simple yet incredibly versatile.  The ingredients come together quickly and the texture and taste are far superior to those of the store-bought variety.  They are perfectly satisfying on their own, particularly to the kids, but I find that awarding them a dip into warm homemade chocolate sauce and a good slathering of toasted marshmallow elevates them to new heights and captures the attention of the grown-ups as well.

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Graham Crackers          {Print Recipe}

Yields: 40 1 ½” x 3” graham crackers

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup + 2 Tbsp. whole wheat flour

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt

7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen

1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover

6 Tbsp. whole milk

2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Topping

1 ½ Tbsp. granulated sugar

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

To make the dough:

Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Pulse or mix on low to incorporate.  Add the butter and pulse on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla extract until well incorporated.  Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together.  The dough will be very soft and sticky.  Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour.  Turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick.  Wrap it well, and then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

Roll out the crackers:

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator.  Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface (you can be generous here as the dough is very sticky) and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8” thick.  Cut the edges of the dough to make a straight edged rectangle.  Working with a pastry cutter and straight edge, cut a strip down the long side of the rectangle 1 ½” – 2” wide and repeat all the way down.  Cut the strips along the short side of the rectangle 3”-4” wide and repeat all the way across.  You can cut the dough into squares or rectangles, or even use a cookie cutter if you prefer.  I cut my into 1 ½” x 3” rectangles and it was a perfect size. Traditional graham crackers are about 2” x 4”.

Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar topping.  Chill the dough until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer.  Repeat with the second batch of dough.  Gather any remaining scraps together into a ball, chill until firm and re-roll.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Decorating the crackers:

Cut a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut all the way through the dough.  Using the blunt end of a wooden skewer, prick the dough to form two dots (or however many you want), each side of the dividing line.  You can be as creative as you want here.  It all depends on what size and shape you make your crackers.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.  Be careful as they go from browned to quite toasted in a matter of minutes (I learned this sad fate the hard way.  Fortunately the slightly over-browned cookies made an excellent crushed topping over amazing hot fudge sundaes!)

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Chocolate Fudge Sauce          {Print Recipe}

Yields: 1 cup

3.5 oz. dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or higher), finely chopped

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or dutch-processed)

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup powdered sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch fine grain sea salt

Place the chopped dark chocolate and cocoa powder in a heatproof bowl or double boiler over simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) and heat until the chocolate has melted.

Once the chocolate has melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the light corn syrup, followed by the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt.

Transfer to a glass jar or heatproof container with a lid and serve immediately or cool to room temperature.  The syrup can be refrigerated for several days.  Simply reheat the jar for about 20 seconds in the microwave before serving.  You can reheat the chocolate sauce many times and the consistency will be perfect every time.

Recipe from The Sophisticated Gourmet

Toasted Marshmallow Dip          {PrintRecipe}

Yields: 1 cup

5 oz. (1/2 pkg.) large marshmallows

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the marshmallows in a single layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until nice and toasty brown.  Make sure to keep a close eye on them though as the tops can burn quickly.  With a spatula, scoop the toasted marshmallows into a blender (they will be extremely sticky) and add the heavy whipping cream.  Blend until well incorporated.  Transfer marshmallow mixture into a glass jar or sealable container and refrigerate until the mixture becomes more of a marshmallow consistency.

Recipe from Baked Bree

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