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whoa… I’m really cutting it close this year. Finally I have a thanksgiving recipe for you. I hope you aren’t finished cooking yet because I do believe this tart is worth making some space in the oven for.

It’s tradition with a kick.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Tart with a brown butter crust is just what your holiday table needs.

I’ve never been a big fan of pecan pie. I find the sugary custard overly sweet. It’s the kind of too-sweet that gets me in the back of my throat causing me to make a wretching face that other diners find quite unattractive. So when I was asked to bring a pecan pie to the holiday festivites I was less than enthused. Following my tendency to not follow recipes I began to experiment on how I could make this popular classic one that I would enjoy as well.

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The answer was obvious and one that I usually use to solve many problems I encounter…. add chocolate! Dark chocolate to be exact. So rich and intense that when introduced to the sugar-laden pie filling a harmonious marriage is created. Suddenly the pie is not only palatelabe but beautifully balanced.

Then add to that a nutty brown butter crust and the refreshing zing of zest and you have yourself a pecan pie-ish type dessert that rises above tradition and scoffs at it’s predesessors. Well, maybe not scoffs. I think this dessert is too sweet to be that mean, but not too sweet to induce the gag reflex.

Enjoy!

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Tart Dough
¼ cup sugar
½ cup butter (browned)
pinch salt
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup flour

Combine sugar, butter, salt, vanilla. Then add in flour.

Pecan Filling

2 cups pecan halves (7 ounces), toasted and cooled

3 large eggs

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon orange zest

3/4 cup dark corn syrup

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona, 70%)

Par-bake the tart shell. 375 degrees 10-15 minutes until color is just starting to appear. While it is still warm add the chocolate to the shell. The residual heat will melt the chocolate. Add the pecans.

Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl, then whisk in corn syrup and pour over pecans.

Carefully pour the filling into the shell.

Bake pie until filling is puffed and crust is golden, 25 to 35 minutes.  Cool pie on a rack to warm or room temperature. Serve with maple whipped cream (1 cup cream, 3 Tbl. maple syrup) and pomegranate seeds.

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Puff pastry can be intimidating but the hardest part really is waiting. When making the classic version there is a lot of time that the pastry needs to relax. So if you are itching for a buttery, flaky piece of heaven go with the quick puff. Your craving can be satisfied in just a couple of hours.

So please… you are no longer allowed to be afraid of this beautiful pastry. Make up a batch or two throw it in your freezer. At that point the options are ENDLESS. I have listed some recipes below that are just a small sample of the multitude of variations. Sweet, savory. Appetizer, main, dessert. It is so incredibly versatile.

PUFF PASTRY

class notes…
Puff pastry is made up of four basic ingredients; flour, butter, water and salt. The magic happens during the process of combining these ingredients and then when it is baked. The dough (detrempe) is folded around the butter is such a way that it creates thousands of alternating layers of butter and dough. When the puff is put into a very hot oven the butter heats up and boils causing steam which pushes the flour layers up creating the flaky layers.

Quick puff pastry is a great alternative that, as the name suggests, is a process that is a lot faster than the classic version of puff. The layers are not as uniform and it may not rise as much as the classic but the result is still an incredibly flaky, buttery and delicious pastry. It is also a bit more tender than the classic version because the butter is worked into the flour more directly.

Classic Puff Pastry
Source: On Cooking : Techniques from Expert Chefs by Sarah R. Labensky and Alan M. Hause (Prentice Hall)

Ingredients:

  • 13 ounces (390 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp (7 ml) salt
  • 3 ounces (90 g) unsalted butter, cold
  • 7 fluid ounces (210 ml) water, cold
  • 10 ounces (300 g) unsalted butter, softened

Preparation:

To form the detrempe, (dough) sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the cold butter (3 ounces) into small pieces and then cut the pieces into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add all the water at once. Using a rubber spatula or your fingers, gradually draw the flour into the water. Mix until all the flour is incorporated. Do not knead. The detrempe should be sticky and shaggy-looking.

Note: The detrempe can be made in a food processor. To do so, combine the flour, salt and pieces of cold butter in a food processor bowl fitted with the metal blade. Process until a coarse meal is formed. With the processor running, slowly add the water. Turn the machine off as soon as the dough comes together to form a ball. Process with the remainder of the recipe.

Turn the detrempe out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough a few times by hand, rounding it into a ball. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and chill overnight.

To roll in the butter, first prepare the softened butter by placing it between two sheets of plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll the softened butter into a rectangle, approximately 5 inches by 8 inches (12.5 centimeters by 20 centimeters). It is important that the detrempe and butter be of almost equal consistency. If necessary, allow the detrempe to sit at room temperature to soften or chill the butter briefly to harden.

On a lightly floured board, roll the detrempe into a rectangle approximately 12 inches by 15 inches (30 centimeters by 37.5 centimeters). Lift and rotate the dough as necessary to prevent sticking.

Use a dry pastry brush to brush away any flour from the dough’s surface. Loose flour can cause gray streaks and can prevent the puff pastry from rising properly when baked.

Peel one piece of plastic wrap from the butter. Position the butter in the center of the rectangle and remove the remaining plastic. Fold the four edges of the detrempe over the butter enclosing it completely. Stretch the dough if necessary; it is important that none of the butter be exposed.

With the folded side facing up, press the dough several times with a rolling pin. Use a rocking motion to create ridges in the dough. Place the rolling pin in each ridge and slowly roll back and forth to widen the ridge. Repeat until all the ridges are doubled in size. Using the ridges as a starting point, roll the dough out into a smooth, even rectangle approximately 8 inches by 24 inches (20 centimeters by 50 centimeters). Be careful to keep the corners of the dough as right angles.

Use a dry pastry brush to remove any loose flour from the dough’s surface. Fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. If one end is damaged or in worse condition, fold it in first; otherwise, start at the bottom. This completes the first turn.

Rotate the block of dough 90 degrees so that the folded edge is on your left and the dough faces you like a book. Roll out the dough again, repeating the ridging technique. Once again, the dough should be in a smooth, even rectangle of approximately 8 inches by 24 inches (20 centimeters by 60 centimeters).

Fold the dough in thirds again, completing the second turn. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling and folding technique until the dough has had a total of five turns. Do not perform more than two turns without a resting and chilling period. Cover the dough completely and chill overnight before shaping and baking.


Quick Puff

adapted from epicurious.com
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 1/2 sticks (3 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled
1 cup cold water

1. Sift together the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.

2. Add chilled, diced butter and pulse three to five times, until the butter pieces are about the size of lima beans. Add water to the mixture and pulse again about three times. Invert the crumbly mass onto a lightly floured work surface.

3. Using a rolling pin and bench scraper, shape the mass into a long rectangle. Use the bench scraper and carefully flip one third of the rectangle toward the center. Then, flip the other end to the center, like folding a business letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees.

4. Reshape and roll the dough into a rectangle. Repeat the folding and rotating process three more times for a total of four turns. If the dough becomes soft or sticky during this process, immediately refrigerate until firm.

5. After four turns, wrap the dough in plastic wrap. With your finger, make four indentations in the dough — one for each time the dough has been turned. This is a reference point for how many times the dough has been turned. Refrigerate the dough at least 45 minutes or until firm.

6. After the dough has been refrigerated for 45 minutes, unwrap it and discard the plastic. Keep your work surface and rolling pin well floured. Press down on each of the four sides of dough to seal its shape.

7. Start with the rolling pin at the center. Roll away from you. Return to the center and roll toward you. Repeat the folding and rotating process of the dough two more times for a total a total of six times.

8. After the sixth turn, wrap the finished dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate to make sure it is well-chilled before baking. Quick Puff Pastry keeps refrigerated up to three days or frozen for several months.

Tomato Tart

adapted from yumsugar.com

– 1 12 inch square puff pastry
– 3 heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
– 4 tbsp olive oil
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– Fleur de sel and black pepper to taste
– 1 tsp dried or fresh herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, parsley,…)
– 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
– fresh mozzarella, 1/2 cup roughly, sliced
– a handful of toasted pine nuts
– a few olives to decorates

Directions

* Pre-heat oven to 425*
* Place the sliced tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Let marinate for about 30 minutes to an hour.
* Preheat your oven to 425 F (220 C).
* Place the puff pastry sheet on a baking sheet. With a fork, poke some small hole in the puff pastry. Cover with the Dijon mustard.

* Remove tomatoes from the marinade. Leave as little oil as you can. Arrange them on the puff pastry, leaving at least a 1cm edge (1/2 inch). Don’t overload the pie with tomatoes (leave some space), otherwise your pie will be all soggy.
* Add the mozzarella chunks on top and sprinkle some pine nuts all over. Add a few olives on top.

* Place in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden.
Chicken Pot Pie

adapted from epicurious.com

1 sheet puff pastry. Cut puff pastry about 2 inches larger than your baking dish.

fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf, basil, etc.)

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup diced celery

1 carrot

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots

1 clove garlic, finely minced

3 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves

1 cup whipping cream

1 10-ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup frozen peas

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 11×7-inch glass baking dish. Roll out pastry on lightly floured surface to 13×9-inch rectangle. Transfer to baking sheet and chill.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add diced celery, carrots, garlic and shallots; sauté 5 minutes. Add broth and fresh herbs; bring to boil. Add chicken. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Remove chicken. Increase heat to medium; boil mixture until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Add cream and return to boil. Add potato cubes; cover and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Remove bay leaves. Cut chicken into bite-size chunks and add to pan. Mix in peas. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour mixture into baking dish. Top with pastry; press overhang to sides of dish. Brush top of pastry with one tablespoon heavy cream. Bake until golden, about 35 minutes.

Palmiers

2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 sheets puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Combine the sugar, cinnamon and kosher salt. Pour 1 cup of the sugar, cinnamon and salt mixture on a flat surface such as wooden board or marble. Unfold each sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar and pour 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly on the puff pastry. This is not about sprinkling, it’s about an even covering of sugar. With a rolling pin, roll the dough until it’s 13 by 13-inches square and the sugar is pressed into the puff pastry on top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold 1 half over the other half as though closing a book. You will have 6 layers. Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place the second sheet of pastry on the sugared board, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar mixture, and continue as above. (There will be quite a bit of sugar left over on the board.) Slice and arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment.

Bake the cookies for 6 minutes until caramelized and brown on the bottom, then turn with a spatula and bake another 3 to 5 minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

* The possibilities with palmiers are infinite. You can add citrus zests, vanilla, lavender, chocolate, candied citrus pieces, nuts, cocoa nibs etc. Or think of all the savory possibilities…. cheddar, parmesean, garlic, herbs…. so many delicious possibilities.

Tips for Super Success

  • Keep everything cold. Keeping the dough chilled as you work is important to the success of any puff pastry — otherwise, the butter melts and will no longer form distinct layers. Freeze both the flour and the butter before beginning. Also, keep your warm hands off the dough as much as possible. If the dough gets warm, chill it for at least 15 minutes before continuing.
  • Keep the dough neat for a uniform puff. Use a large rolling pin and roll evenly from open end to open end. Square off the sides with a rolling pin or pastry scraper as you work.
  • Bake the dough on a slightly dampened baking sheet. This holds down the underside of the dough as the rest puffs up. Bake in a very hot oven (about 450°F) for the initial puff and turn the heat down to finish.
  • Use a very sharp hot knife or pastry/pizza wheel to cut puff pastry, and be sure to cut straight down and not at an angle. Using a dull implement will fuse the layers together and thwart rising.
  • After you cut puff pastry, the side that was up when you cut should be down on the baking pan.
  • Save any scraps for other uses such as cookies, appetizer crisps, or decorations, but do not re-roll them together. Any re-rolled dough will not rise properly.
  • Never use a folded edge of puff pastry. All edges should be cut or it will not rise.
  • Brush off any bench flour with a soft, dry pastry brush before filling or cutting.
  • If you want to reduce the rise of puff pastry, prick it all over with a fork to allow steam to escape.
  • Puff pastry may be baked first and then filled or filled and then baked.
  • All fillings should be at room temperature to avoid premature melting of the puff pastry buttery layers.

The other day I wanted something sweet. But this wasn’t my usual daily sweet craving….typically I long for treats that just hint at being sweet, where the complexity of taste is covered with layers of flavors… tart, slightly salty, and gentle whisper of sugary sweetness. But this day I wanted something super sweet… I mean milk chocolate, brown sugar, hurt your teeth sweet. That wasn’t my only criteria for my craving. I also wanted it to be something reminiscent of a cookie, chewy and classic. So as I entered these criteria through the dessert database in my head the search brought up blondies. 

A blondie is simply a variation of a brownie but contains no chocolate…. so it really is something quite different than a brownie. The similarity comes through in the method and also all the ingredients, excluding chocolate of course, are similar but the blondies primary flavor comes from brown sugar. As with brownies a multitude of mix-ins can be added and slight variations to the ratio of ingredients can be manipulated to alter the end product. You can cajole your blondies to be more cakey, chewy, crispy… or whatever you desire.

Usually I am a purist when it comes to blondies and brownies. Added ingredients are merely a distraction from the pure flavor and texture that I crave… but again this particular craving urged me to include milk chocolate chips. If you know me at all you know that milk chocolate is not typically in my vocabulary. Most often chocolate isn’t chocolate unless it’s bittersweet. I don’t know what came over me that day but it was super sweet blondies laden with milk chocolate chips that I desired and who am I to say no to my cravings?

One other note…. I made these two days in a row (don’t worry – I shared them with a multitude of people) The second time I made them I was short an egg…. since I am using my own chicken eggs they are quite a bit smaller than conventional eggs (they are also a beautiful blue/green color – I really must show you soon). So the first batch I used four of my eggs and the second time I only used three but I also increased the amount of butter. The second batch was my favorite. They were super chewy!

So if super sweet is what you crave… please try these.

Another add-in suggestion, which is what we would do at Spago. Once blondies are baked and cooled poke multiple holes in bars then fill the holes with caramel sauce. Warning – this version is ridiculously sweet!!! but so delicious.

Blondies with Milk Chocolate Chips

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter 

1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

2 large eggs (or four eggs from a bantam chicken)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk chocolate

For chewier version decrease eggs – I used three small instead of four so I don’t know exactly how much the recipe would change if you eliminated an entire egg… if you try this please let me know how it goes. I also increased the butter by two tablespoons bringing the total up to 12 tbl.

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 12-inch square baking pan. Mix flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in medium bowl. Melt butter in large saucepan over low heat. Remove saucepan from heat. Add sugar and whisk to blend. Whisk in eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually stir in flour mixture (batter will be thick). Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips  Bake blondies until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Cool blondies in pan on rack. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.) Cut into squares and serve.

Here are the notes from my class as promised. I will post the recipes soon but first you must understand the science behind the process.

With a basic understanding of the ingredients involed in pie and tart making then you can better access the problem if something does happen to go wrong and you can also work to develop your favorite dough by tweaking a few minor things.

I hope you enjoy these notes and learn something new!
PIE DOUGH
3         :       2        :       1
SOLID    SOLID    LIQUID
Flour     Butter    Water
Butter is tricked into thinking it is a solid – this ensures a flaky crust.

TART DOUGH
Liquid is replaced with sugar/eggs. Fat is incorporated (creamed) rather than being left in large solid pieces. This creates a crispy more cookie-like texture.

Creating the PERFECT PIE CRUST: tender, flaky and beautifully brown

FLAKINESS: fat remains solid, flat, large and cold
TENDERNESS: use low protein flour (or add a small percentage of cornstarch to     all-purpose flour, fat keeps flour proteins separate
BROWNING: high protein content and sugar with low acidity browns faster

To achieve the PERFECT CRUST you must KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS!
FLOUR: affects gluten formation, moisture absorption, and tenderness. Higher protein flour creates gluten more readily – dough becomes tough and chewy. If protein content is too low the crust will be too tender and impossible to roll out.
FAT: 1 1/3 cup flour to ½ cup (8 tbl.) butter Fat creates flaky layers, it also creates tenderness as it blocks moisture from being absorbed by the flour. A high fat crust is less likely to become soggy.
LIQUID: Connects the proteins in flour to create necessary gluten formation that holds the dough together. Liquids can also be a source of fat (cream) or acid (buttermilk). Vinegar is often added because of its ability to weaken gluten formation just enough so that the dough becomes much easier to roll out. It also adds and interesting depth of flavor.
SALT: Without salt your crust will taste flat.
BAKING POWDER: 1/8 tsp per cup of flour. Helps to counteract dough’s tendency to shrink. It also lifts, aerates and tenderizes. Adds a mellow flavor if you use a non-SAS powder such as Rumford. Tenderizing happens while baking so there is no fear of increasing the fragility when rolling and working with the dough.

MIXING: Practice Makes PERFECT!
•    Keep ingredients cold
•    Work quickly
•    Keep fat solid and in large flat chunks
•    Cut your butter into equal 1 inch pieces then freeze for 15-30 minutes
•    Sift dry ingredients (can be done with a whisk) produces and more tender and lighter final crust.
•    If using a food processor or stand mixer dough must still be finished by hand to that you can see and feel how the finished product will be.
•    Bring the finished dough together into 1 or 2 (depending on type of pie) 5-6 inch discs. This makes rolling out a lot easier.

RESTING
: Letting the dough chill out.
The finished dough needs some time in the fridge to chill. This allows the gluten   to relax, the flour absorbs all the moisture and the butter gets nice and cold – ensuring a flaky crust. Dough that rests overnight shrinks less and holds a better shape while baking. At the minimum the dough should rest for 1 hour.

ROLLING:
Remove dough from fridge and allow to sit 10-15 minutes or until malleable.
Pound the dough with the rolling pin to flatten it out a bit. Work quickly and with a steady pressure. Lightly flour your work surface. You may apply a light flour coat to the actual dough and to the rolling pin as well. Roll from the center out until the entire thickness is about 1/8 inch. Occasionally you want to lift the dough to ensure that it is not sticking to the rolling surface. If the dough becomes to soft while working it pop it back into the fridge or freezer until firm.

BAKING:
Preventing Soggy Bottoms
Single-layer Crust
•    Pre-bake then brush on a layer of egg whites, preserves or clarified butter
Double-layer Crust
•    Bake on oven floor or pizza stone for 1 hour at 375* or 30 minutes at 425*
•    Pre-heat oven for at least 20 minutes
•    Use a dark, glass or ceramic pie pan
•    Make sure to cut slits in the top crust so the soggy inducing steam has a place to escape
•    Bake in a pre-heated hot oven at first to aid with creating a flaky crust
•    Place a foil or parchment lined pan under the pie pan to catch inevitable drips
•    Cover top crust or border with foil if it is browning too fast
•    Always apply a wash to the top crust before baking. This creates a beautiful golden color and also and nice crisp top. (I use an egg wash that is 1 egg/ 1 yolk then sprinkle the entire top with granulated sugar.
•    For fruit pies, let pie rest on a wire rack until just warm. This way the starch has had a chance to completely gel.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS: Things to remember when creating prize-winning pies
•    Use good quality ingredients, especially high quality butter, as there is a hefty amount in these recipes.
•    Keep your ingredients cold
•    Remember color=flavor
•    Brush off excess flour after rolling as it could have a bitter taste when baked
•    For fruit pies the juices should be bubbling thickly to ensure that the final product will be adequately set
•    If you spray your baking dish lightly with pan spray you should be able to un-mold the entire pie after it has completely cooled

I am!! I am counting the days.
Pregnancy is truly an amazing experience. The body knows exactly what to do and how to care for the precious baby inside a woman’s belly. The process is so perfectly designed that near the end a pregnant woman is so sick of being pregnant that they actually look forward to labor, which in and of itself is not the most pleasant experience, to say the least. I am at the end.


I think the best way to describe exactly what it is that I am feeling is by imagining a roller coaster. My hormones are taking me for a wild ride that is causing such inflections in emotions that my husband finds himself continually confused as to what it is that I am actually feeling or wanting.
One minute I am complaining about all my aches, pains and about that fact that I feel like a cow and how quickly people are to point out that I am truly quite large. (Yes I can still fit in a car and yes I am sure there is only one baby and no I can’t and have not tried stacking items on my belly).


I come home crying from the doctor’s office because there isn’t as much progress as I was hoping and yet when I really stop and think about the fact that in three (plus or minus) weeks there will be a newborn living in our home I panic. I have had over 9 months, 37 weeks or 260 days to have this fact feel like a reality and the faster it approaches the more nervous and frightened I get.
One moment I would give anything to have this baby outside of me and the very next I am so completely freaked out about having two children that I just hope that baby number two decides to stay in his dark, warm and cozy womb for a couple more months until I figure out logistically how to raise two children.


When both children are screaming who do I deal with first? While nursing baby number 2 (a.k.a. Roman) and number 1 (a.k.a. Baron) is being disobedient how do I discipline while continuing to feed Roman so he won’t start panicking? How do I get both children out of the car gracefully and while avoiding having Baron run into the street? Do two kids fit in one grocery cart or will I be the crazy lady trying to push two carts through the store?
That is the roller coaster of my emotions. I hope you enjoyed the ride.


While one is dealing with such emotional chaos I have found that Chocolate Cream Pie really helps ease the mind. Flaky and buttery pie crust + dark and intense chocolate pudding + unsweetened whipped cream piled high = a heavenly combination that enables the mind to become settled while the taste buds are entertained and awakened.
Now normally I do not recommend the habit of emotional eating but in such extreme circumstances such as the end of pregnancy all rules are thrown out the window and the pregnant woman is allowed whatever her heart (belly) desires.

Recipe for my favorite flaky and tender pie crust

Bake shell completely and with pie weights (if available). 350* about 20-25 minutes

Chocolate Pudding Filling

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large egg yolks

3 cups whole milk

5 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened) chopped fine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon excellent quality coffee beans

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, cocoa powder and yolks in a 3-quart heavy saucepan until combined well, then add milk in a stream, whisking. Add coffee beans to liquid to steep. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 1 minute (filling will be thick).

Whisk in chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Force filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover surface of filling plastic wrap and cool completely, about 2 hours.

When both pudding and pie crust are completely cool fill pie shell with pudding. Cover pudding with a generous layer of unsweetened whipped cream. Top pie with dark chocolate shavings, mini marshmallows, chocolate cookie crumbs, m&m’s, fresh berries or anything else you desire.

Note: I really am open and looking for suggestions as to how to live out daily life while having two children. If anyone has some brilliant tips and hints please share. I would be so grateful!

While on vacation I was tagged for a Meme by the very lovely Aran from Cannelle et Vanille. Now that I am back getting settled into my non-vacation life I thought it was time for me to sit down and figure out what exactly is a Meme.
This particular meme asks me to divulge 5 facts about me. So let me think… five facts interesting or not beyond the fact that I like food and generally lean towards the sweeter side – because let’s face it, you don’t have to be a regular reader to realize that. But what don’t you know?

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The best part of me

1. I have been the entertainment at many family functions performing my stupid human trick, which involves me sticking my entire fist into my mouth. Don’t ask me why this is so entertaining but for some reason my cousin cannot get enough of it. Last time I attempted this spectacle my jaw locked for a moment. I have since stopped my performance.

2. Now this one is really hard for me to admit but I feel as my loyal audience you deserve a right to know. Please do not think any less of me. I have a love affair with Peanut Buster Parfaits from Dairy Queen. I can not get enough of the delicious interplay between the salty crunch of the Spanish peanuts, the cold, silky-sweet “ice milk” and the layers of dark, warm fudge all devoured with that elongated petit red spoon. This intense love of PBPs comes most strongly during pregnancy.

3. My original career path was to be a high school art teacher. I have an art degree in studio arts and have only my student teaching to complete before I receive my certification. I spent a good chunk of my studies in Italy – which is where I believe I truly fell in love with food (and also where I got engaged).

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4. I secretly have a desire to be a farmer. Well, I think more accurately is that I like the idea of being self-sufficient and completely sustainable. So what am I doing to accomplish this secret desire? Good question. First of all I am about to be the proud owner of three Bantam chickens. (More on this soon – I am getting the chickens tomorrow and my sweet brother and sister-in-law are building me a coop for my birthday) Come on, what is better than fresh eggs with yolks the color of Navel oranges? Secondly I am working on plans for my vegetable garden to be planted this spring. I will be starting out small as baby number two is coming in May. Finally, I have been successfully keeping a coffee plant alive for two months (and counting). Now would be a good time to start calling me Farmer Ashley.

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5. In high school I was voted most likely to win a Grammy. I’m sorry to disappoint my alma mater but I don’t think that’s going to happen. ☺

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Thanks to Aran for thinking of me.

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I recently participated in an event entitled Grape & Gourmet. Local restaurants and food vendors provided 1 – 2 oz. portions of their food to over 600 attendees with all the proceeds going to a local Rotary which helps many local charities.
I served a Hazelnut shortbread cookie dipped in chocolate along with a very intense dark drinking chocolate, consisting of dark chocolate, whole milk, cream and unsweetened cocoa powder. Rich, creamy and very intense. To some I called it Hot Chocolate but it was in no way the typical American Hot Chocolate. Most tasters were pleasantly surprised by the intense not-so-sweet taste and it was a true joy to watch the smiles appear on the faces of those who merely tasted a sip of this intense beverage.

I get so much pleasure seeing others enjoy food so intensely. I want others to taste and feel what I do when I bite into (or sip) something so absolutely divine. I love creating the food and watching simple ingredients turn into something truly remarkable but it is really the most satisfying to watch others receive such enjoyment.

So to my friends, family and customers….. please know that it is my joy to serve you. I create my sweets with great passion and love for what I do (along with the best ingredients 🙂 ) And to the rest of you…. please enjoy this site and savor the photos!

Thanks again to all who take the time to check out this blog. I really appreciate the support and encouragement that my husband and I have received from many of you!

It’s a very sweet life we live.

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A chocolate shell holds a spiced chocolate ganache. Poached Seckel pears, Hardy kiwis, persimmon, pomegranate, plum, figs, and asian pears adorn this seasonal beauty. This tart was served with a honey and spice Mascarpone cream. A perfect dessert to showcase the season’s finest offerings.

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A couple weeks ago Gabe, Baron and I, along with many other family members, spent a Saturday afternoon touring a few of our local farms. It was absolutely heavenly. I don’t think I could describe a more perfect day than this was. Crisp fall air warmed by the smell of hot apple cider and the heat of the torch coming from a young blacksmith giving demonstrations, rows and rows of plentiful apple trees of many varieties, piles of assorted pumpkins and squash, a not-so-complicated but still fun corn maze, homemade pumpkin ice cream, talking roosters, handmade artisan cheeses, and so much more.

We walked away with two apples, a wedge of garlic and onion cheddar, a small carton of milk, two tiny squash and an assortment of pumpkins in varying varieties.

Overwhelmed with the varieties of pumpkins I sought some advice and was told that Sugar Pie pumpkins are among the best for baking due to their high sugar content and smooth, even textured flesh.

I roasted two small(ish) sugar pie pumpkins which yielded approximately four cups of puree and then I immediately set out to make this seasons first pumpkin pie.

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Crust

2 cups Flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup whole milk

Combine ingredients. Dough will be wet. Press into pie pan and pre-bake for 10-15 minutes. Pour in pumpkin pie filling (below) then continue baking until custard is slightly loose in the center. 350* approx. 40-45 minutes.

Pumpkin Custard

2 cups pumpkin puree

3 eggs

1/2 cup cream

1/2 brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (according to your preference.)

Serve with lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream.

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Looks like an ordinary orange… (except for the slice in the middle)249031034_bf5651091a_m.jpg

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Surprise!! There’s a Orange Cranberry Muffin baked inside!

A muffin baked in an orange. An unusual presentation of a wonderfully orange flavored muffin studded with tart dried cranberries.

My Sugar High Friday #23 submission! 

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Orange Cranberry Muffin

1 tsp. orange zest

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

2/3 cup oil

1 3/4 cup flour

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 1/8 tsp Baking Powder

3/4 tsp Salt

Sift dry ingredients in one bowl. Combine wet ingredients in another. Mix the zest and cranberries together and add to dry ingredients. Mix wet into dry – until just combined. Batter is very wet. Put batter in hollowed out orange filling it 3/4 full. I placed my orange halves in a muffin tin to keep them upright.

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Bake 350* for 20-25 minutes.

Baking in the orange gives the muffin an incredible orange flavor. When I hollowed out the orange I left some fruit in tack to add moisture, flavor and to protect the bitter pith from flavoring the muffin.

Use this trick as an alternative to muffin liners or this would also work if you are camping and don’t want to bring extra pans. Wrap orange in foil and through in fire. Apparently the boy scouts have done this.

Also, for those of you who have been following my previous posts you would be proud to know that I followed the recipe exactly. Then I tried brown sugar instead of white (as you see written above). I also adjusted the orange flavor as baking in the orange itself provides plenty of orange scent so I decreased the zest. Next I want to try the recipe again using sour cream or buttermilk for added moistness and flavor.

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And of course who could forget Bouchee. Without her our kitchen floors would not be so shiny.

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artisansweets [at] gmail [dot] com

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