Holiday Spiced Babka

I’ve been making this holiday spiced chocolate babka for the past few years around the holiday season. It is a great treat to make during chilly weather when you have a whole day at home to spare. I love adding cinnamon and nutmeg to compliment the dark chocolate, creating an indulgent melt in your mouth flavor that’s excellent for this time of year.

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Ingredients: 3/4 cup milk, 3 tsp active dry yeast, 3/4 cup and 2 tsp sugar, 3 1/4 cups flour, 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 tsp salt, 15 Tbsp softened butter, 1 Tbsp heavy cream, 8 oz finely chopped dark chocolate (72% cacao), 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg.

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Instructions: warm up the milk in a saucepan until it’s warm but not boiling. Add milk and 2 tsp of sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir gently, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until it’s foamy. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and beat with a paddle attachment until combined. Add 2 whole eggs, 1 of the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and 1/2 cup more of sugar while beating constantly. Continue beating and add remaining flour in small increments. Gradually add 10 Tbsp butter until everything is completely incorporated. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in turned off oven for 2 hours.

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Once dough has risen for 2 hours, remove from bowl and cut in half. Sprinkle countertop with flour, and roll out the dough with a pin until you have a large rectangle. Beat the remaining egg yolk in a small dish with the heavy cream, and brush along the sides of the dough. Spread 2 1/2 Tbsp butter on the dough, then sprinkle 4 oz of chocolate, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp nutmeg over butter.

Roll the dough towards you, and seal along the edge. Then make a circle out of the log, sealing on the ends. Quickly twist the circle twice, and place the dough in a bread pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Cover dough with a new sheet of plastic that has been lightly buttered and place back in the turned off oven. Repeat with the other half of the dough and leftover ingredients. Let loaves rise for another 2 hours.

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Remove loaves from oven and pre-heat to 350F. Remove plastic and brush tops with remaining egg wash, then lightly sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.

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The babka will keep for a couple of days to be enjoyed in the morning with hot coffee, or as a dessert in the evenings.

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Autumn Biscotti

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October is nearing its end and we are embracing autumn and all of the treats that go with it. To welcome the new season I made these autumn spiced biscotti with an apple cider glaze that felt just right. They’re not too heavy, but still have a warm and comforting spiced flavor. An Italian biscotti recipe from James’ grandmother’s collection served as my starting point, and I then added some classic autumn spices and mixed nuts to make it my own. The apple cider glaze is the perfect touch to complete the flavor profile, and enjoy with warm apple cider.

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Ingredients:

For the biscotti: 3/12 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 3 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 6 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 3/4 cup chopped mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans)

For the apple cider glaze: 1 cup spiced apple cider, 2 Tbsp butter, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, pinch of cinnamon

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Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 400F. Mix all of the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the eggs and oil in a separate bowl. Whisk the eggs and oil to break up the egg yolks, then add to the bowl with dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add nuts to mixture and stir to combine.

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Scoop out the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to form two loaves, then bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Slice thin slices from each loaf and lay each piece flat on the baking sheet. Return to oven to toast for another 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

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Add apple cider to a small saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes, until it has reduced by half. Add remaining ingredients, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes until glaze has thickened to a syrup like consistency.

Once the cookies have cooled, lightly drizzle each with the apple cider glaze. Serve with apple cider for a perfect autumnal treat.

 

 


Baby Shower Cookies

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A few weekends ago, I helped host a friend’s baby shower, and took on the task of making favors. When thinking about favor ideas, I decided on going with something edible. I had never seriously decorated cookies with icing before, so i decided to take a crack at it, using a design for a very dapper little boy.

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The first step was simply making sugar cookies. I used a very basic sugar cookie recipe, and cut out over 50 cookies from three batches of cookie dough. This was a large shower, so I made sure there would be more than enough for guests to take home. The onesie cookie cutter was easy to find online, and I have also seen it at local craft stores.

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For the colors, I took inspiration from the party invitations, and stuck with a classy black and white outfit with a pop of light blue. The piping was certainly more difficult than James and I anticipated; one tricky issue was figuring out the consistency of the icing. We needed some thick icing for outlining, as well as some that was thinner and looser that would pool to fill in shapes.

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After a while, we got the hang of it, and set all cookies out to decorate in an assembly line fashion. James was in charge of doing a lot of the more precise lines, and determined that he couldn’t get the buttons to be neat enough with icing, so we decided instead to use some candy pearls for those.

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The baby blue bow ties added the final touch to these treats, tying the little outfit together. Being a first time effort, they certainly were not perfect, but I was pleased with them overall. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to try out cookie decorating, and most importantly to put a smile on the expectant mother’s face.


Gingerbread Mini Bundt Cakes

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The holiday season is in full swing, so I have been baking to my heart’s content. Gingerbread is a classic holiday baked treat, and this recipe is for the true gingerbread lover. The flavor is ultra rich with a perfect amount of holiday spice, which pairs wonderfully with unsweetened coffee and tea. Making the gingerbread as individual sized mini bundt cakes not only makes hosting easier, it also helps for saving them for later – and these mini bundt gingerbread cakes get even better a few days after making.

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Ingredients: 1 cup oatmeal stout, 1 cup molasses, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 Tbsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground gloves, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour bundt cake pan, shaking out excess flour. Place in the refrigerator. Add oatmeal stout and molasses to a saucepan and bring to a boil, then add baking soda. Let stout/molasses mixture sit and cool.

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Beat together eggs, sugars, and oil, then add molasses and stout mixture. Add flour, baking powder, and spices and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Pour batter into bundt cake pan, filling to nearly the top.

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Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cakes). Remove from pan by flipping it upside down onto a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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Spanish Flan

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Flan might be the dessert I had the most when growing up. My mother makes it in many flavors such as coconut, orange, and raspberry, but my favorite may be this simple flan with a hint of lemon. The amber colors remind me autumn, and adding a caramel candy garnish gives this humble dessert a touch of elegance and fun.

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This recipe isn’t too eggy, and I used a shallow pie dish, resulting in a thin flan that is rich, creamy, and has a perfect balance of flavors. I recently served this at a small dinner party, and even a friend who doesn’t like sweets went for seconds.

Ingredients: 1 14oz can condensed milk, 1 12oz can evaporated milk, 5 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 cup sugar

Instructions: Place a large baking dish with a 1″ lip in oven, and pre-heat oven to 350F. The dish should be large enough to fit a second round 9″ baking dish inside.

Place sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and let it melt, stirring occasionally, until it has completely melted and become an amber colored sauce.

While the sugar is melting, add the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest to a large bowl. Whisk until all ingredients are completely incorporated.

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Optional: Once the sugar is ready, make a candy garnish for the flan by drizzling some of the caramel sauce over a metal ladle. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then gently remove pieces from ladle.

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Pour caramel into a round 9″ baking dish, and swivel around to completely coat the bottom.

Pour batter over caramel sauce, and place this smaller dish in the center of the baking dish in the oven. Add water to the large baking dish, until it comes about half-way up the sides of the flan dish. This water bath will help the flan cook evenly. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes.

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Remove flan from oven, and let cool completely. Once cool, loosen the edges of the flan with a butter knife, then place serving platter over the flan dish and quickly flip over. The flan should come out cleanly, with caramel oozing from the top.

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Garnish with caramel candy, then let chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.


Blackberry Tartlets

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I love mini desserts – not only are they cute, but you also don’t have to worry about cutting up pieces to serve like you would with an entire cake. For a recent gathering with friends, I volunteered to bring the dessert, and made these little blackberry tartlets. The filling was decadent and creamy, with the hint of acidity from orange zest and a splash of liqueur. The crust was buttery and sweet, and the fresh fruit and bright colors were perfect for springtime.

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Ingredients: 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature, 1 cup sugar, 2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries (plus more for decorating), zest of 1 orange, 2 tsp Cointreau, 1 tsp cornstarch, 2 tsp brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 1 stick melted butter

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Instructions: Combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl, and gently mix with a fork. Make sure that all crumbs have incorporated the butter, and that the mixture isn’t too dry. If you see dry crumbs, add more butter as needed. This should make eight 3 inch tartlets.

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Scoop the graham cracker mixture into tartlet pans, and push down on bottom and sides, packing in the graham crackers tightly. It helps to use a tart tamper to really press down and even out the mixture. Once all of the tartlet pans are filled, place them on a baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours, or refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

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In a small sauce pan add the 2 1/2 cups of blackberries, 3/4 cup of sugar, orange zest, orange liqueur, cornstarch, and brown sugar. Heat over stovetop on medium-low, and let simmer until most of the blackberries have broken down and you have an almost syrup like consistency. Set aside to cool.

Add heavy cream to a mixing bowl, and beat on high for about 5 minutes, until peaks form in the cream. Set aside. Add cream cheese, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, and vanilla extract to a mixing bowl, and beat for a couple of minutes until ingredients are incorporated and cream cheese is fluffy. Add cream cheese mixture, and cooled blackberry syrup to the bowl of whipped cream, and gently fold in to mix all ingredients together.

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Remove tartlet pans from refrigerator, and remove crusts by gently tapping bottoms while holding upside down. Fill each tartlet with blackberry cream, and top with fresh blackberries. Place tartlets back in refrigerator, and chill for at least 30 minutes. When ready to serve dust with powdered sugar, and garnish with small mint leaves.

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Chocolate Lava Cake

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I’m not a big fan of cake, which puts me in the minority. Lava cake, however, is a thing of its own, and a treat I can have on any given day. I recently made little chocolate lava cakes for a few girlfriends, and it was the perfect ending to a relaxing evening. Each bite, with it’s oozing warm chocolate center was incredibly rich, and each cake disappeared within just a few minutes.

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What’s great about this dessert isn’t just that it’s rich and indulgent, it’s also very easy to put together and most people likely already have all of the ingredients for it in their homes. You can also prepare ahead of time, and bake just before serving for a freshly baked warm treat for guests.

Ingredients (serves 4): 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 4 oz bitter-sweet chocolate, 2 tsp flour, 2 tbsp cocoa powder

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Instructions: Combine eggs, yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat at medium speed. Meanwhile, heat the chocolate and butter on a stovetop over low heat, just until it’s oozy but not completely melted, whisk together to combine. Once the egg mixture has thickened (about 4 minutes),  add the warm chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs, as well as the flour, and beat for a few more seconds to combine.

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Butter four ramekins, and lightly dust with cocoa powder, shaking out any excess. Pour in the batter, dividing equally among each dish. At this point you can either bake immediately, or refrigerate until a few minutes before serving. When ready to bake bring batter back to room temperature, and bake in 450F oven for 7 minutes on a baking tray. You will see that the sides are set, but the middle will still be soft. Invert each cake onto a small plate, and let sit for a few seconds before lifting ramekin. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh berries.

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I plan to make this treat again for Valentine’s Day, and I know I will be making it many times in the future. It is a decadent dessert to enjoy during these winter months, with good friends, or to finish a dinner for two.


Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Now that the weather is chilly, I’m finally using our oven again, and have been whipping up a variety of decadent treats. A recent favorite is this multilayered cheesecake, whose incredibly rich flavor makes it one to save for special occasions.

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Chocolate Crust

Ingredients: 8 oz dark chocolate cookies, 1 stick butter. 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Instructions: Add the cookies, brown sugar, and chocolate chips to a food processor. Process until all ingredients are fully combined, and you have a finely ground mix. Add dry ingredients to a bowl, and slowly add hot melted butter, mixing as you go. Using a rubber spatula, add the crust mixture to a 9″ springform pan, pressing along the bottom and sides until you have a 1″ crust around the edge. Place pan in the refrigerator to set the crust (15 minutes).

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Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Layer

Ingredients: 2 cups dark chocolate chips, 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 1/2 tablespoons Nutella, 2 cups chopped hazelnuts

Instructions: Add heavy cream to a saucepan and heat on stovetop until cream begins to simmer. Add chocolate chips, peanut butter, and Nutella, whisking as you add each ingredient until chips are melted and fudge is smooth. Pour about half of the fudge into the cooled pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle 1 cup of the hazelnuts over fudge and freeze for about 30 minutes, until fudge sets. Save the rest for the top layer.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Layer

Ingredients: 16 oz cream cheese, 1 cup smooth peanut butter, 2 tablespoons Nutella, 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup sour cream, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 325F. Allow cream cheese to soften to room temperature before you begin. Add cream cheese, peanut butter, Nutella, and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on medium speed until all ingredients are blended. Add sour cream, eggs, and vanilla extract while mixer continues to beat ingredients. Pour cheesecake batter into the springform pan, using a spatula to even out the top. Place the springform pan in a oven safe dish at least 2″ deep. Pour water into baking dish until water is about 1″ up sides of pan. (Note: it helps to wrap the bottom of the pan with foil to prevent water from getting into cake). Bake for about 90 minutes, until cheesecake is mostly firm, and middle section is just a little wiggly. Let cool for about 20 minutes, then place in refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

Top Fudge Layer: Once cheesecake has set in the refrigerator, re-heat the remaining fudge until smooth again. Let cool until it is no longer hot, but still fluid for spreading. Spread the fudge over the top of the cheesecake and sprinkle with 1 cup chopped hazelnuts. Place back in the refrigerator to set the top layer, about 30 minutes.

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Honeyed Peaches and Cherries

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Growing up we had three peach trees in our back yard, and my mom would make this recipe every single summer. We’ve used it on just about every sweet treat you can think of – as a topping, in a pie, with oatmeal, on toast, with ice cream – the possibilities are endless. I have made honeyed peaches and cherries in the past using a simpler recipe, but typically prefer this elevated version that includes red wine and more spices, giving it much more complex flavors.

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7 large ripe peaches (peeled and diced), 2 1/2 cups cherries (pitted), 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup red wine, 1/2 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 clove, 2 all spice. Add all of the ingredients to a large pot and mix well. Heat over medium high heat and bring to a simmer for about 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone and the syrup sticks to the back of a spoon.

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