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.

 

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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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Lemon Semifreddo

 

Lemon Semifreddo

We had another wonderful “international night” with our next door neighbors this time celebrating the Campania region of Italy.  This region is well known for its abundance of lemons which play an important role in most of their cuisine.  With summer in full swing, a frozen lemony treat sounded so refreshing, cool and delicious…a perfect choice for a warm summer evening.

Lemon Semifreddo, or “half-frozen” is a very popular dessert in Italy and is basically frozen custard; sweet tangy lemon curd combined with freshly whipped cream frozen to create a wonderfully creamy delicious treat.  You can make Semifreddo in just about any flavor and I have to say, there isn’t a Semi-freddo that I’ve met yet that I haven’t enjoyed.

Traditionally Semifreddo is frozen in a ramekin or mold.  I chose to freeze it in dessert glasses so that I could serve it “parfait-style”.  I topped the frozen dessert with fresh whipped cream, candied lemon zest and crushed gingersnap cookies.  I just love the combined flavors of lemon and ginger.

The evening was a culinary success as we sipped Italian wine, ate Pizza Marguerite and finished the meal with a refreshing dessert.  The company and conversation were pretty wonderful too. 🙂

 

Lemon Semifreddo          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 8 servings

For the candied lemon zest:

4 lemons, scrubbed

2 cups sugar

1 cup cold water

For the lemon curd:

1 cup fresh lemon juice

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

8 large egg yolks

½ lb unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 ½ cups chilled heavy whipping cream

Making the candied zest:

Remove the zest from the lemons with a zester, making sure not to remove any of the bitter white pith.  Place the zest in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain.

Bring the sugar and cold water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the drained zest, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes.  Transfer the zest and syrup to a bowl, cover and let stand overnight.  The next day, transfer the zest and syrup to an airtight container. (The zest can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)

Making the lemon curd:

Prepare an ice bath and set aside.

Whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and butter in a large heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it begins to boil and becomes thick and pudding-like, 10-15 minutes.

Strain the curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl (this process will remove any egg whites that might have cooked), and set the bowl in the ice bath.  Stir the curd periodically until it is cool, then remove the bowl from the ice bath and place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon curd.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The curd can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Whip 1 ½ cups of the chilled heavy cream in a large mixing bowl with a wire whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Remove the chilled lemon curd from the refrigerator.  Gently fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream until well combined.  (It can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 1 week.)

Assemble the semifreddo:

Arrange eight dessert glasses or 6-oz ramekins on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spoon the lemon mousse into the molds, filling each with about ¾ cup.  Cover and transfer to the freezer to firm up for at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.

Drain the candied lemon zest and set aside on a plate or sheet of parchment.

To serve, remove the molds from the freezer and let them warm up for about 15-30 minutes.  (If using ramekins, you can dip each one briefly in hot water to release the semifreddo.)

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1 cup chilled cream in a medium bowl until soft peaks from.  Top the semifreddo with the whipped cream and finish with a garnish of candied lemon zest and crushed gingersnaps.

Recipe adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt