Pistachio Pound Cake

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This recipe was in the April 2012 issue of Bon Appétit, in their RSVP section (where readers write in to request their favorite restaurant recipes).  The reader who wrote in said, “The sublime pistachio pound cake at the Tasting Room in Houston is my dream dessert.”  And as soon as I read through the recipe, I couldn’t wait to make it.  And I did.  And it was so good that I was just looking for excuses to make it again.  For a couple of months, any time we either entertained here or we’d go to someone’s house for dinner, I’d volunteer  to bring a dessert and I’d make another Pistachio Pound Cake.  It’s buttery and light and citrusy and full of pistachios (don’t you just love pistachios?)  And it’s absolutely  gorgeous when you slice into it.  Yes, even sublime.

It’s delicious “dressed up” for dessert with some fresh whipped cream on the side (and maybe even a sprinkling of sugared pistachios…I did that once) and perfect for breakfast with coffee.

Anybody have a good excuse for me to make another one?

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Pistachio Pound Cake

INGREDIENTS

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups all-purpose flour plus more
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped, divided

DIRECTIONS

Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 325°F. Coat a 9x5x3″ loaf pan with nonstick spray. Dust pan with flour; tap out excess.

Whisk 2 cups flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add sugar; beat until well incorporated, 1-2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Add juices and zests; beat until well combined (mixture will look curdled), 2-3 minutes. Add dry ingredients; reduce speed to low and beat just until blended. Fold in 3/4 cup pistachios. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup pistachios over.

Bake cake, rotating halfway through, until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely in pan. Run a sharp knife around sides to loosen; unmold cake. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

 Serve accompanied with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and sprinkled with a few sugared pistachios (optional).

Sugared Pistachios

Heat oven to 350°.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.  Slightly whisk an egg white in a small cup.  Transfer 1 tablespoon egg white to a medium bowl; whisk until frothy (discard remaining egg white).  Add 1 cup coarsely chopped pistachios and 3 tablespoons sugar; toss to combine.  Spread on lined baking sheet.  Bake for about 8 minutes or until dry and toasted.  Cool; break apart.

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Lemon Bars

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Lemon tree, oh so pretty

And the lemon flower is sweet.

But the fruit of the poor lemon

Is impossible to eat.

Anybody remember that song?  I do.  And it’s one of those songs that once you’ve got it in your head, it’s stuck there for a long time.  It apparently has been recorded by artists from Peter, Paul and Mary to Bob Marley and the Wailers (and in the 70’s was used in a commercial for Lemon Pledge).  In 1965, Trini Lopez recorded the most successful version of the song.  Okay, so I’m dating myself, but I must be remembering the Trini Lopez version and I was about seven years old.

Anywaaaaay…I am about to prove those lyrics wrong with this recipe for Whole Lemon Bars from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. Because, indeed, the fruit of the poor lemon is very possible (and even delicious) to eat!

Arnie's Meyers

Arnie’s Meyers

I love lemon bars.  Whenever I’m at some function where there are lots of cookies and brownies and such to choose from, I always pick lemon bars.  But, I’m ashamed to admit, I had never made them.  Until now.  I’ve mentioned our neighbor Arnie (of Arnie’s Avocado Cilantro Hummus fame) and his Meyer lemons.  Well, I had an abundance of them so I decided to look for a lemon bar recipe and turned to the wonderful Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  (Have you bought it yet?  You really should.  Not only are the recipes wonderful, but the photography is gorgeous.  Food porn gorgeous.)

Whole Lemon Bars.  Deb Perelman says the recipe is based on her mom’s recipe that won first prize in a regional cooking contest.  You slice the lemons, take out the seeds, then add the slices (peel and all) to sugar in a food processor.  AND the entire recipe can be made in just that one bowl of the food processor!

Note:  if you are using a Meyer lemon, decrease the amount of sugar.  They are much sweeter than regular lemons.  Deb says she prefers them with regular lemons because she likes the tartness.  Next batch I’ll try regular lemons. 

Whole Lemon Bars

(adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen)

INGREDIENTS

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in to chunks, plus extra for greasing pan

1 small to medium sized lemon (I used one of Arnie’s Meyers)

1 1/3 cups sugar (I decreased to 1 cup)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper, and trim each to fit the bottom of an 8 inch square baking pan. Press the first sheet in to the bottom of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, running it perpendicular to the first sheet. Lightly butter the exposed parts of parchment.

Blend the flour, sugar, and salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is powdery, but if firmly pinched, will hold the pinched shape. Turn the dough crumbs into the prepared baking pan and press the dough evenly across the bottom and about 1/2 inch up the sides. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Should any parts bubble up, gently prick them again with a fork. Leave the oven on.

Cut the lemon in half. If the white pith is more than a 1/4 of an inch thick, you’ll need to remove it and the skin from one half of the lemon so that the bars aren’t too tart. (If you’re using a Meyer lemon, the skin is thinner and you should be able to skip this step!)  To remove the skin, place half of the lemon cut side down on the cutting board and remove the skin and pith in downward slices, working your way around the lemon.

Cut your lemon halves in to thick rings and discard the seeds. Toss the lemon rounds–whole–into the food processor. Add the sugar, then run the machine until the lemon is thoroughly pureed, about 2 minutes.

Add the butter and again run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt and pulse the machine in short bursts until the mixture is evenly combined.

Pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set. You can test this by bumping the pan a little; it should only jiggle slightly. The bars should also start to get slightly brown on top.

Let the pan cool completely. Gently cut around the outside of the outside of the parchment paper to make sure no sides have stuck, then gently use the parchment “sling” to transfer the bars from pan to cutting board. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Cut into 16 squares.  Devour.  And then sing the Lemon Tree song.

Matzo Crack (aka Chocolate Caramel Matzo Toffee/Brittle/Crunch

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Caramel Matzoh Crunch. Caramel Chocolate Matzo. Chocolate Matzo Bark. Chocolate Matzo Brittle. Chocolate Matzo Crunch. David Lebovitz calls it Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzah Crunch. Martha calls it Toffee Chocolate Matzah (yes, even Martha has her own variation!) Smitten Kitchen calls it Chocolate Caramel Matzo Crack(ers). My friend Dale makes a real jacked up version, which she calls Matzo Roca and swears that the recipe is the same as Almond Roca. (And, yes, there are almost as many variations in the way to spell matzo as there are recipes!)

Whatever you call this Passover confection, most of the recipes involve the same basic ingredients – matzo, brown sugar, butter and chocolate. I use Smitten Kitchen’s recipe (which she says she adapted from “David Lebovitz who adapted it from Marcy Goldman who is the genius who first applied this to matzo”) and we just call it Matzo Crack because, well, uh it’s pretty addicting.

I made a couple of batches for Passover and the leftovers were in a huge Ziploc bag in the fridge and every single time I opened the fridge I’d take a piece (or two). It was becoming a problem. Thank goodness for the monthly work potluck! Needless to say, now all my coworkers are addicted. Everyone loved it. Many didn’t even realize there was matzo involved. And they begged me to put it on the blog. So here it is. It’s unbelievably easy. I’m tellin’ you, it’s so good, it doesn’t have to be just for Passover. In fact, SK says try it with saltine crackers. Oh boy. I’m in trouble.

Matzo Crack

INGREDIENTS

4 to 6 sheets matzo

1 cup (2 sticks, or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into a few large pieces

1 cup packed light brown sugar

a big pinch sea salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup toasted chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts or nut of your choice (optional)

Extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet completely with foil, and then line the base of the foil with parchment paper, cut to fit.

Line the bottom of the baking sheet with matzo. You’ll need to break pieces to fit in extra spaces.

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour it over the matzo or crackers. You’ll want to spread it quickly, as it will begin to set as soon as it is poured.

Bake the caramel-covered crackers for approximately 15 minutes, watching carefully as it will bubble and the corners might darken too quickly and/or burn. You can reduce the heat if you see this happening.

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand five minutes, and then spread them evenly across the caramel. An offset spatula works great here. If you’re using them, sprinkle the chocolate with toasted chopped nuts and/or sea salt.

Once completely cool — I sometimes speed this process up in the fridge, impatient as should be expected in the face of caramel crack(ers) — break it into pieces and store it in a container or Ziploc in the fridge. It’ll keep for as long as you can avoid eating it all.

Tally Me Banana Bread

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The other day, at the end of the work day,  I was sitting in my cubicle and heard people laughing and talking about banana bread.  So of course, I assumed there was some banana bread to be had and made a B-line for the office where the laughing and talking was coming from.  I was a little disappointed to see only a big box of past-their-prime bananas that were definitely ready to be made into banana bread.  I actually had been thinking about Smitten Kitchen’s “jacked up banana bread” and the following day we were having one of our monthly potlucks, so I grabbed a couple of bunches.   I didn’t catch the story of why or where the bananas came from, but when someone else asked the banana bearing coworker why she had so many bananas, naturally, I broke into my best Harry Belafonte “come Mr. Tally Man…tally me banana!”  Lol.  Hey.  It was the end of the day.

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So I get home with all of these bananas and Tony asks what I’m planning on doing with them.  I told him I’m going to make banana bread for the potluck.  He says, “you know how much I love banana bread, why don’t you ever make it for me?  You always bake the good stuff for work.”  (Right.  Same man who rolls his eyes and says things like, “what are we supposed to do with so many cookies/brownies/a whole cake?”)  Well…lucky for Tony I just happened to have a package of little aluminum foil mini-loaf pans.  I made three mini loaves, took two to work and left one just for him.  He was a happy camper.  (And, I still have a bunch of bananas in the freezer…Acai bowl????)

SK’s recipe is just about the best banana bread I’ve ever had.  And its really easy.  One bowl and a wooden spoon.  The only thing I change is that I add walnuts.  And name given this recipe by Deb of SK is “Elise’s Friend Heidi’s Friend Mrs. Hockmeyer’s Banana Bread, As Jacked Up by Deb (adapted from Simply Recipes)”.  That’s a little long.  Let’s just call it Tally Me Banana Bread.

Tally Me Banana Bread

INGREDIENTS

3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed

1/3 cup salted butter, melted

3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar (depending on the level of sweetness you prefer)

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)

1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

pinch of ground cloves

1-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (divided use)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. If using walnuts, stir in 1/2 cup now.  Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup walnuts on top. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

The Best Freakin’ Carrot Cake

the best freakin carrot cake ever

I cut this recipe out of some magazine many, many years ago.  I cannot, for the life of me, remember what magazine it was, but I think it was Bette Midler’s carrot cake recipe.  I have no evidence whatsoever to substantiate that, just my bad memory.  I’ve Googled “Bette Midler’s Carrot Cake” and found nothing.  There was recipe for Katie Couric’s Lemon Loves (lemon bars) in the same magazine.  And there were cute cartoon illustrations of both Katie and Bette.

carrot cake recipe

At any rate, this is an amazing carrot cake.  So amazing, in fact, I’ve even renamed it “The Best Freakin’ Carrot Cake”.

My sister-in-law Kelly requests it for her birthday. (Oh, and btw, this would be Kelly the self-proclaimed non dessert lover, as in “I prefer fruit over dessert”…who, I am proud to say that I am slowly but surely reforming.  In addition to said carrot cake, she’s now a fan of my Double Chocolate Brownies and Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats!)  Okay, so one year, a girlfriend of one of my nephews joined us at for Kel’s birthday celebration.  She was in the process of starting her own food blog (CookingCuisine101).  We talked a lot about food and cooking and blogging and she encouraged me to start my own.  (I did.  Thanks Breeana!)  She’s a doll and she liked the carrot cake so much, she used the recipe as one of her very first posts.

I’ve actually adapted it a bit over the years (sorry, Bette) by reducing the amount of vegetable oil and increasing the amount frosting.  If you’re really trying to impress someone, decorate it with Candied Carrot Shreds.

And if you have any idea what magazine that was, please let me know.

The Best Freakin’ Carrot Cake

INGREDIENTS

Cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup vegetable oil

3 cup grated peeled carrots (appx 5-6)

1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)

Frosting:

3/4 c. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp

12 oz. cream cheese, at room temp

1 Tbsp. vanilla

6 cups powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS

To make the cake:  Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease and flour three 8-in. round cake pans.  Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and oil, and stir until well blended.  Fold in the carrots, pineapple and pecans, stirring until thoroughly blended.  Pour one-third of the batter into each pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool completely on wire racks.

To make the frosting:  Place butter and cream cheese in a large bowl.  Using an electric mixer set at medium speed, cream the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla.  Reduce the speed to low and then gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the mixture is smooth.  Frost the cake.

Decorate with chopped nuts and/or Candied Carrot Shreds

Candied Carrot Shreds:

1/2 c. shredded carrot

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. water

1 T. Sugar in the Raw

Cover baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir water and sugar together until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil.  Add carrot shreds.  Simmer for appx 15 minutes.  Strain.  Spread carrot shreds onto baking sheet.   Sprinkle with Sugar in the Raw.

Air dry for appx two hours OR place in very low temp oven (heat to 200°, then reduce to “warm”) for 30-45 minutes.

Croissant Bread Pudding with Mexican Chocolate and Almonds

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I met local chef/restaurateur Isabel Cruz a few years ago at a Chef Showdown fundraiser benefiting the Center for Community Solutions.  She was selling and signing copies of her newly released cookbook Isabel’s Cantina (from her restaurant of the same name).  Even though at the time I hadn’t been to one of her restaurants, she was offering some pretty yummy dishes for sampling, the book was pretty and she seemed nice, so I bought a copy. Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for cookbooks and, in particular, chef-signed cookbooks.

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The food photos in the book are gorgeous.  I love her twist on Latin and Asian cuisine.  And most of the recipes appear really simple.  I say “appear” because I’ve only actually made two of the recipes from the book.  One is a salad…Heirloom Tomato and Red Onion with Cilantro Sauce.  The other is this dessert.  Croissant Bread Pudding with Mexican Chocolate and Almonds.  I mean, come on!  As Isabel herself says about this recipe, “warm and delicious, bread pudding is always a treat, even more so when it’s made with flaky croissants and cinnamony Mexican chocolate.”

This recipe is really delicious and really impressive.  It looks and tastes a lot more difficult than it is.  Really.  And every time I make it, people freak out about how good it is, often saying, “this is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted”.  And somebody always asks for the recipe.  Now you don’t even have to ask!!!

I serve it with a little dollop of whipped cream flavored with a little Kahlua.  And I promise, it will be one of the best things you’ve ever tasted.

Croissant Bread Pudding with Mexican Chocolate and Almonds

INGREDIENTS

Croissant Pudding

Butter, for the pan

3 large eggs

1-1/2 cups half and half

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

4-6 croissants, enough to fill a 9″ pie plate, split in half as for a sandwich

1 cup sliced almonds

Mexican chocolate (recipe follows)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter a 9″ pie plate and set aside.

Combine the eggs, half and half and brown sugar in a large bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Press the sliced croissants into the egg mixture and soak for about 3 minutes, turning once or twice.  They should absorb the egg mixture but not to the point of falling apart.  Fit the bottom half of each croissant into the buttered pie plate, sliced side down.

Sprinkle 1 cup of the Mexican chocolate over the croissants and then 1/2 cup of the almonds.  Layer the remaining halves of the croissants, sliced side down again, on top.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate and the remaining almonds over the top.

Bake until puffy and dry on top but still moist inside, about 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before cutting and serving.  Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.  Serve with Kahlua whipped cream.

The bread pudding can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 4 days.

 Mexican Chocolate (makes 1-1/2 cups)

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Combine the chocolate chips, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.  Store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.

Cashew Butter Balls

pecan butter balls

I’m not sure when I became such a cookie fan.  I think probably it had something to do with Smitten Kitchen’s Margarita Cookies.  Or maybe my friend Dale, the Cookie Queen.  She and her husband Chip (yes, Chip and Dale) are rugelach masters.  And Dale usually has an assortment of cookies in her freezer when you go to their house.

Just a sampling of Dale's cookies on one visit!

Just a sampling of Dale’s cookies on one visit!

Dale bought me Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: from My Home to Yours, which includes favorites like World Peace cookies, Chockablock cookies and Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chipsters.  Apparently SK’s Deb Perelman adapted her Margarita Cookies from Dorie’s recipe (but you knew that, didn’t you, because you read all about the cookies on this blog).

I am having a really difficult time trying to decide on my current favorite.  Every time I make a new recipe I’m convinced that one is my new favorite (i.e., Potato Chip Cookies, Oatmeal Pomegranate Chocolate Chip Cookies) and now Cashew Butter Balls from SK.  A little like Mexican Wedding Cookies. (Which, btw, are called polvorones in Mexico.  There’s a cooking show I catch occasionally called Pati’s Mexican Kitchen.  Pati was born and raised in Mexico City.  She posted a recipe for the cookies, but said she had never heard them called Mexican Wedding Cookies until she moved to the US.  She says she didn’t have them at her wedding or at any other Mexican wedding she’s ever attended!  Lol.)

Okay.  I digress.  Again.  So when I brought the Cashew Butter Balls to work to share, one person called them “Russian Tea Cakes”.  Another “Powdered Nut Balls”.  All are basically the same recipe, only this one is made (obviously) with cashews and I love cashews.  Could be my new favorite.  Lol.

Cashew Butter Balls

Makes about 40 cookies

INGREDIENTS

1 cup raw cashews
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt, or a heaped 1/4 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly, cut into chunks
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 350°F and toast cashews in a single layer until a shade darker, about 10 to 12 minutes. About halfway through the toasting time, toss the nuts around to redistribute them for even coloring. Let cool completely.

Place cooled cashews, flour and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and grind the mixture to a fine powder. Pour mixture into a bowl and set aside briefly.

Add butter and only 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar to the empty food processor and run the machine until the mixture is creamy and combined. Add the vanilla and mix. Add the nut-flour mixture and pulse the machine until it is just combined. Scrape the soft cookie dough back into the bowl that held the nut-flour mixture, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until firm, about an hour.

[Do ahead: You can chill it in the fridge for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for longer.]

Heat your oven back to 300°F. Place remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar in a wide bowl. Using your hands, scoop tablespoon-sized (about 1-inch round) balls of the chilled cookie dough into your palms and quickly roll them into little balls. Place them evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet an inch apart. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until they feel dry on the outside, but still quite soft. (Don’t fret!)

Let cool on sheets for a few minutes, then gently roll the hot cookies in the powdered sugar before transferring them to racks to cool completely.

Cookies keep in an airtight container for at least a week, probably two, though never at my place. They can be frozen for as long as you trust your freezer. They occasionally benefit from a fresh coating of powdered sugar before serving.

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

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I know…I know…if it’s not broke don’t fix it.  Rice Krispie Treats definitely don’t need fixing, but when I saw this recipe in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I just had to try them.  I love salty-sweet things (see Potato Chip Cookies and Margarita Cookies) and lately, I’ve loved anything with browned butter.  I made the most awesome Brown Butter Apple Tart not too long ago and last summer a Brown Butter and Raspberry Tart.

In the SK cookbook, we get a cute little history of Rice Krispie Treats… they were invented in 1928 by Mildred Day of the home economics department at the Kellogg Company.  What a genius Mildred was!  And such an easy little treat to make.  I think they may have been one of the very first things I learned to cook when I was maybe 12.  Do you remember that commercial where the mom is in the kitchen reading some steamy novel and there’s a plate of Rice Krispie Treats in front of her…her family is calling her from the other room and she’s like, “I’ll be right there.”  Then she finishes the book, splashes some flour on her face to make it look like she’s been slaving over these treats and then brings them into her family and they are all appreciative and think she’s just the best mom ever.  I loved that.

Okay, so back to these little gems.  Like I said, Mildred’s original recipe definitely doesn’t need fixing, but the addition of the nutty browned butter and just a smidgen of sea salt just elevates these to such a higher level.  I made them for a potluck at work a couple weeks ago and my coworkers are still talking about them.  (One even offered to pay me to make some for him!)  You’ll be thanking me (uh, Smitten Kitchen) for “fixing” these!!  I think even Mildred would be happy.

 Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

INGREDIENTS

4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)

DIRECTIONS

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into prepared pan. You can use a piece of waxed or parchment paper sprayed with oil or spread with butter (even better, save the wrapper from the butter and use that!) to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners, though a silicon spatula works almost as well.

Let cool completely and then cut into squares.  Devour.

Pumpkin Roll

Chocolate and Mixed Nut Tart in a Cookie Crust, Cranberry-Pecan Bread Pudding w/Bourbon-Caramel Sauce and Pumpkin Roll

Okay, I’ve told you before that I love pumpkin desserts (see Pumpkin Snickerdoodles), but what I REALLY love are pumpkin desserts when a little sweetened cream cheese frosting (or filling) is involved.  I recently made Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting from Smitten Kitchen for a cake decorating contest at work.  Okay, so I didn’t win the decorating contest (there were some very cleverly decorated cakes and cupcakes, much better than mine), but they weren’t judged on taste, so whatever.  They were really delicious.

I’ve been making a Pumpkin Roll for Thanksgiving for a few years now.  There was a woman, when my kids were in elementary school, who would make pumpkin rolls for the Halloween Carnival bake sale and everyone would flip out.  She then started taking orders,  making a bunch, freezing them and selling them to those who pre-ordered.  I think I may have even bought one from her once.

I remember thinking they’d be great for Thanksgiving, so I decided I’d have to try making one myself.  It actually sounds a lot more intimidating than it is.  And, you can make it a few days ahead OR even freeze them for a couple weeks before.

It’s really delicious and so impressive when you cut into it and serve a beautiful little slice swirled with cream cheese inside.  This recipe is from Libby’s (the canned pumpkin people) website.  They suggest adding walnuts as an option.  I like to use Heath Bits (little crushed up bits of Heath bar toffee…in the chocolate chip section of the supermarket).

Pumpkin Roll

INGREDIENTS

Cake

1/4 cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup LIBBY’S® 100% Pure Pumpkin

Filling

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup cup walnuts, chopped OR Heath Bits (optional)

Garnish

Powdered sugar (optional for decoration)

Chopped walnuts or Heath Bits (optional for decoration)

DIRECTIONS

For Cake:
Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with wax paper (or parchment paper). Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (If using a dark-colored pan, begin checking for doneness at 11 minutes.) Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. Cool on wire rack.

For Filling:
Beat cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth. Stir in nuts or Heath Bits.  Carefully unroll cake. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Reroll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and additional chopped walnuts or Heath Bits before serving, if desired.

Cooking tip:
Be sure to put enough powdered sugar on the towel when rolling up the cake so it will not stick.

Cranberry-Pecan Bread Pudding w/Bourbon-Caramel Sauce

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This recipe was in the January 1994 issue of Bon Appétit.  And they had me at Cranberry-Pecan Bread Pudding w/Bourbon-Caramel Sauce. I remember making it for the first time for a holiday dinner at my mother-in-law’s in Vancouver.  (Oh wait…isn’t there some cooking “law” about not trying a new recipe for an important occasion like that?)   Well, it was a hit then and it has become a favorite in our house and I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve made it since.

It’s our friend Tom’s favorite dessert and I make it every year for his birthday (even though his birthday is at the end of July!  Not exactly a typical summery dessert.  In fact, for his last birthday, we had a little dinner party at our house and it was one of hottest days of the year!  Oh well.  That’s was A/C is for, right?  And Tom is so appreciative and his reaction when he takes that first bite is so worth it!)

I’ve since learned that bread pudding is also our son Kyle’s fiancée Calla’s favorite dessert (Oh…wait!  Kyle’s  fiancée??  Did I neglect to tell you all that Kyle and Calla are getting MARRIED?!?!?  They met in college…have been together six years.  We just adore her and are over-the-moon happy!) and I’ve made it for her a few times as well.  She absolutely loves it.  We will be spending Thanksgiving withher family (we adore them too!) in Sonoma (for the fourth year) and I’ll be making it ahead of time and taking it on the road with us (again).  It’s a hit with her family too and now has become a regular in the Thanksgiving dessert line-up.

Now we just need to figure out how to serve it at the wedding!

(The original recipe was made in individual ramekins and I’ve done that once, but its a lot easier to bake it in a pretty baking dish). 

 Cranberry-Pecan Bread Pudding w/Bourbon-Caramel Sauce

INGREDIENTS

Sauce

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup golden brown sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons bourbon

Pudding

1/2 pound challah (egg bread), cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup half and half

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

4 ounces imported white chocolate, broken into 1/2-inch pieces, or white chocolate chips

Vanilla ice cream

DIRECTIONS

For sauce:

Bring whipping cream and sugar to boil in heavy medium saucepan, whisking constantly. Boil until mixture bubbles and thickens, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add butter and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Whisk in bourbon. Cool to lukewarm. (You will adding 1/2 cup of the sauce to the bread pudding! Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat before using.)

For pudding:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a baking dish (approximately 9×13″).

Place bread cubes on heavy large baking sheet. Pour melted butter over; toss bread to coat. Bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Cool bread. Maintain oven temperature.

Whisk cream, half and half, whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, 1/2 cup caramel sauce, sugar and cinnamon in large bowl to blend. Mix in cranberries and pecans. Add bread; toss to coat. Let stand until bread has partially soaked up custard but is not mushy, pressing down gently on bread, about 3 minutes. Stir in white chocolate pieces or chips. Pour any remaining custard over pudding. Bake until brown on top and just set, about 40 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Top each serving of pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and spoon warm sauce over.