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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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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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.


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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Hazelnut Coffee Bean Pot De Crème


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I’m not a big fan of all desserts, but I have always loved the richness and pudding like consistency of pot de crème. I recently made a batch of this decadent treat and decided to add both hazelnuts and ground coffee to give it an even richer flavor. Suffice to say that we each had more than one serving even after a full dinner.

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Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, 6 egg yolks, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 6 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon ground coffee, 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate, 1/4 cup whole hazelnuts, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Instructions: add milk, 1 cup heavy cream, egg yolks, vanilla extract, sugar, and ground coffee to a saucepan. Beat with a whisk and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, continuing to whisk every couple of minutes, until mixture begins to thicken and sticks to whisk. Add the chocolate, hazelnuts, and hot milk mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into individual ramekins and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until mixture is set.  To make whipped cream add the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream and powdered sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 6-8 minutes.

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Top the pot de crème with a dollop of whipped cream and chocolate and hazelnut shavings.


Our Honeymoon: Cuisine

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Naturally, one of the many highlights of our honeymoon was enjoying the French cuisine. We had a great variety of classic dishes, as well as some new ones we had never heard of. Here is a sampling of some of our favorites, at least some that we managed to take a picture of before gobbling it all up.

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All of our breakfasts were fantastic. Our meal at the famous bakery Ladurée in Paris was perfectly suited to meet our expectations of this gorgeous dining room. Every element from the perfectly cooked poached eggs to the elegant tea cups made the experience even more enjoyable.

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As much as we loved the delicate poached eggs from Ladurée, I found that oftentimes the simpler foods were just as delicious. This warm egg and toast breakfast at Café Charlot was one of my favorites from our whole trip, and one that I know we’ll re-create at home many times.

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On a colleagues recommendation we tried out Breizh Café, which turned out to be just a short walk from our hotel in Paris, to try out their famous buckwheat crepes.

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Neither one of us had ever tried foie gras (it’s actually illegal in California), so we decided to take the opportunity while in Giverny. The soft pâté was rich in an unexpected but pleasing way.

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At Bistrot Paul Bert, we tried a few classic dishes that were perfectly executed.

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By far our favorite meal of the trip was at Le Mouton Blanc, the hotel we stayed at in Le Mont Saint-Michel. The charming atmosphere, great service, and fantastic food and wine made the evening romantic and memorable.

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Throughout our trip we tried just about every classic French dessert, and they never disappointed. Each restaurant we went to had impeccable presentation and offered a welcome variety.

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Of course we couldn’t return home without bringing a treat back with us. We wish we could bring back more of the amazing cuisine from our trip (particularly the bread which was consistently amazing), but delicious French macarons would have to do the trick.

 


Lady Finger Cake

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My best friend’s mother makes some wonderful desserts, and this cake was an instant winner in my books. I decided to take a shot at making it myself, and altered some of the ingredients while I was at it to make them a tad healthier. The original cake had strawberries on the top layer but I used pineapple and blueberries. I personally am not the biggest fan of sweets, particularly cake, but this is not too too sweet, light in texture, and feels like an ideal summer dessert.

INGREDIENTS (for one 9 inch round dish):

2 packets of soft lady fingers (about 24 fingers/packet)

1 package of light cream cheese

1 pint heavy whipping cream

3/4 cup raw sugar

1 1/2 cups blueberries

2 cups diced fresh pineapple

INSTRUCTIONS:

Beat the heavy cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form (this part was a lot of fun).

Cover and refrigerate.

In a separate bowl beat the cream cheese until soft. Add the sugar and beat until fully mixed.

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Add the cream cheese mixture to the whipped cream and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Line the dish with lady fingers all around the edge and add lady fingers to bottom of dish for bottom layer. Add a couple scoops of cream mixture, as much fruit/layer as desired, and then another layer of lady fingers. Repeat layering until you reach the top of the cake. For the last layer spread the cream mixture and decorate with fruit pieces as desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Québec

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We spent last weekend in Ville de Québec, Canada. We first thought of this trip a little over a year ago so that James could shoot some footage for a project that he is working on, but we decided to do it in mid September as a birthday/anniversary/engagement trip. We were able to practice a little bit of our French (which I’m committed to working on this year before the honeymoon), and even though we only had a couple of days, we were able to fully explore Vieux-Québec. It was a perfect romantic weekend getaway.

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Here James is very excited to be walking along Terrasse Dufferin outside Le Château Frontenac. This grand hotel is the most prominent feature on Cap Diamant, and we spent a lot of time admiring it during the day and night, exterior and interior.

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We stayed very close-by at Hôtel Cap Diamant. It was a small bed and breakfast tucked away on a quiet, charming little street.

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There are a number of wonderful edifices built by both the French and English throughout the city. This building is where the Ministry of Finance is located.

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Within the walls, everything feels so European. It’s crazy to think that this is just a short hop away from the northeastern United States.

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The weather was a bit chilly with scattered showers. I was all too excited to wear colder weather clothing, as I don’t get the chance very often.

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Sometimes it looked like we had the whole city to ourselves. Perhaps the rain kept people away.

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We walked along the ramparts and saw all of the surviving city gates. This one is Porte Saint-Louis.

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This châteauesque structure is Gare du Palais, which has now become James’ favorite train station that he has ever visited.

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We loved how much Canada uses coins. Here is a loonie (one dollar coin) commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens.

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To get from Haute-Ville to Basse-Ville, we mostly walked, but we also took a ride in the funicular. The varied terrain of Vieux-Québec creates spectacular views looking both down at the rooftops, and up at the promontory.

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I like to find souvenirs that aren’t typically marketed toward tourists. We found a book shop on the outskirts of the city where I found a children’s book with classic Québécois stories (all in Québécois French of course).

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I loved that every place had café au lait, which I needed a couple of times to keep me awake and going through the day.

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Apparently this is a classic French Canadian dish – poutine. It’s something that I’ve eaten before without realizing it had an official name. It’s simply french fries, gravy, and cheese.

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The city looked just as beautiful at night as it did by day.

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The ship from the city’s coat of arms was on some of the windows of Le Château Frontenac.

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We decided to have drinks and dessert at the bar at Frontenac on the night of my birthday to celebrate. We ordered the crème brûlée, and we got three different flavors. I can’t tell you which one was the best because they were all amazing.

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It was even more fun than I could have imagined. We had a wonderful anniversary trip and it was a great way to start my 26th year of life.