Sweets in the snow: Cocoa brownies with sea salt

Cocoa Brownies2

We’re knee-deep in snow here in Boston today (or full-body deep as far as our chilly little poodle is concerned), and I’m happy to report that we’re finally getting a taste of the East Coast winters we’ve heard so much about since moving here last summer. Woo hoo! There are few things I love more than a seriously snowy morning. Well, that and baked goods. Today, pals, we have both. Did I already say woo hoo?

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I’ve become a big fan of brownies in recent years, largely because, though there’s plenty of debate over corners vs. middles, fudgy vs. cakey, etc., most everyone seems to appreciate a good brownie in one form or another. I definitely lean more toward the super chewy and arguably overcooked variety, and Jared leans more soft and fudgy, so we waver back and forth between which recipe is our favorite at any given time. It’s nice when we find a happy medium, though, and this brownie, with its fudgy flavor (ironically from using cocoa instead of melted baker’s chocolate) and chewy bite, is pretty fair middle ground.

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I like cutting these guys into tiny, nearly bite-sized pieces because that’s really all you need. Oh, and don’t forget to top them with the flakey sea salt! It’s so simple but so necessary. Jared and I both agree that it’s a must for any brownie-baking we do from here on out.

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Cocoa Brownies

Cocoa Brownies with Sea Salt
Adapted just slightly from Genius Recipes, Food52.com

• 10
 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 ¼ cup sugar
• ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 
cold eggs
• ½ cup all-purpose flour
• flakey sea salt (Maldon is my favorite)

Place your oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat it to 325 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang on the sides.

Place the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl or medium saucepan, and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is well combined and hot to the touch. Remove the bowl from the skillet, and set it aside until the mixture is warm, not hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon, then add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour, and stir until you can’t see it any longer. Then beat the batter vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick in the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 25 to 35 minutes. Let the brownies cool completely.

Lift up the ends of the parchment, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut them into 25 squares. (I popped my brownies into the refrigerator for a few minutes before cutting them, which helps of you’re hoping for cleaner lines.)

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Happy snow day!

XO,
Katrina

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Beany vs. the Boxed Cookie: A Quest for Homemade Fig Newtons

Fig Newtons2

Anyone who’s a parent will probably tell you that, despite all of the times and all of the ways that they feel they’re falling a bit shy of the mark, there are at least a few parenting-related things that they feel pretty good about. It’s been true for us. Yes, we cave to demands for extra bedtime snuggles, use disposable diapers and Beany watches more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than a doctor might recommend, but when it comes to her diet and nutrition, we’ve tried to stay pretty up and up with good-for-you eats and made-from-scratch desserts. Not always, but most of the time. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.

After two years of eating this way, not only does Beany seem to have pretty good taste for a toddler, but she’s also developed a rather discerning palate when it comes to baked goods. This has translated into outright refusal of nearly any prepackaged or non-homemade sweet. We’re talking birthday cake at parties, snacks at the grocery store, even Oreos. She’d happily eat ginger spice cookies, banana muffins or brownies as the day is long, but hand her something that you didn’t bake yourself, and somehow her toddler super senses kick in, and she instinctively turns up her nose. This was true for a long, long time. But then, we went to Grammy’s house.

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One day after lunch, Grammy pulled out a “special cookie” from deep inside the pantry. It was a Fig Newton. “I doubt she’ll eat it,” I told my mom when she asked if Beany could have one. “But she can try it. We’ll see what she does.”

Fig Newtons5

Beany looked at the cookie skeptically, took a teeny tiny nibble from the top and then proceeded to eat the entire thing. In three bites! Mouthful of cookie and face covered in crumbs, she smiled the smile of a kid who finally understood the joys of processed sweets. If 2-year-olds have vices, Beany had found hers, wrapped in a square of fig and pastry.

Fig Newtons6

It’s hard to deny your child something that you know brings them so much joy, and I dare say that our girl looked nearly euphoric every time she had a Fig Newton during that three-week vacation. Upon returning home, however, before I let myself succumb to the call of the prepackaged grocery store cookies, I vowed to give the homemade version a try, just to see if I could win back Beany’s sensibilities. If you have a Fig Newton-lover in your house, and you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort that the homemade route demands, this recipe is spot on. Steaming the cookies as soon as they’re done baking gives them that unmistakable Fig Newton texture, and the flavor is just like the original but amplified a bit with extra orange zest and vanilla.

Thankfully, after a sideways glance or two, Beany was willing to try them last night, and though her response wasn’t overwhelmingly this-is-so-amazing the first day, by day two she heartily approved. Of course, I haven’t offered her the packaged vs. homemade challenge, with the two options side by side. Honestly, I’m too scared of the results.

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Fig Newtons

Homemade Fig Newtons
Recipe from petitbleu, Food52.com

For the pastry:
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 
teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
• 10
 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 2/3 
cups brown sugar
• 1
 large egg
• 2
 teaspoons vanilla extract
• zest of one orange

For the filling:
• 1
 pound dried figs, cut into small pieces
• ½ cup water

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside. Then beat the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest, and beat until well combined.

Using a spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. (The dough will be super soft.) Spoon the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and refrigerate it overnight.

In the meantime, make the fig filling by combining the figs and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, put on the lid, and allow the water to boil until the figs have absorbed it. (If the figs are still not soft, add a bit more water and allow it to simmer a bit longer.)

Transfer the figs to a food processor, and pulse them until the mixture is completely smooth. Allow the filling to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place a large piece of parchment on your work surface, and flour it liberally. Divide the chilled dough into four pieces. Place one piece of dough on the parchment, and return the others to the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.

Shape the piece of dough into a rectangle by squaring it on the work surface, and then roll the dough, into a long rectangle, about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long. Make sure you keep lifting the dough and flouring the parchment. The super soft dough will stick easily if you don’t keep checking it.

Place the fig filling into a pastry bag or a large Ziploc bag with one corner cut off. Pipe the filling in a 1-inch strip down the center of the dough rectangle. (To help flatten out the filling a bit, dip your fingertips in water and gently press down on the filling.) Fold one side of the dough over the filling, then the other. Press down on the seam to close it. Then flip the cookie roll over, seam-side down. Transfer it carefully to a baking sheet, and refrigerate while you repeat this step with the other three pieces of dough. (Per Jared’s super smart suggestion, I used the metal ruler I already had out to measure my dough rectangle as a base to transfer the cookie rolls. It’s 12 inches long, so it worked like a charm.)

Once all four cookie rolls are assembled and on the parchment-lined baking sheet, bake them for 16 to 22 minutes, or until the dough is no longer tacky and begins to brown around the edges.

While the cookie rolls are still warm, cut them into 2-inch cookies. (If necessary, wipe your knife off every so often between cuts; the figgy mixture is pretty sticky.) Immediately place the cookies in a single layer inside a large Ziploc bag or airtight container with the lid on or bag sealed. It sounds weird, but steaming the cookies is what gives them that soft Fig Newton texture. Cool the cookies completely, and then eat and be merry!

Makes about 30 cookies

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Have you ever tried homemade versions of your favorite boxed treats? Cookies? Cakes? How about Pop-Tarts? I’d love to hear about it!

XO,
Katrina

Salad for lunch, cookies for dinner: Peanut butter chocolate chip biscuits

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits3

Well, we’ve made it through the season of sweets, and now my blog reader and Pinterest feed are filled with fancy salads, whole grains and about seven gazillion paleo recipes. I suppose January is the time for all of that. It’s out with the, “Eat what you want because it’s Christmastime, y’all!” and in with the “No really, honey, I think you’ll like quinoa.”

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits4

We’re doing our own version of the get-back-on-track bandwagon, but then again, I’ve always been an advocate of making healthy choices for meals if it means I can reward myself with a healthy dose of dessert. I say a salad for lunch is a pretty fair tradeoff for a stack of cookies come evening.

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So today, it’s a cookie recipe for you: peanut butter and chocolate chip biscuits. Consider it your reward for two good weeks of healthy eats. You can always have oatmeal tomorrow morning.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Biscuits
Adapted just slightly from Winter on the Farm (Matthew Evans, p. 209) 

• ¾ cup light brown sugar
• 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 300 grams creamy peanut butter
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Then add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Beat in the peanut butter, salt and baking soda until well combined.

Slowly add the flour to the mixture, and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls, and place about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press the balls down with the tines of a fork until they’re about ½ inch thick, then bake for 10-14 minutes, until the cookies are tan but not dark.

Makes about 40 cookies

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XO,
Katrina

Salty, sweet, gone: Chocolate-pistachio sables

Chocolate Pistachio Sables2

If the recipe list on my blog is any indication, I’m a pretty big fan of cookies. They’re my favorite dessert (aside from ice cream) and my go-to baked good for pretty much any occasion. Dinner with friends? Cookies. Housewarming party? Cookies. Something to take to work? Cookies. I’m staying home the entire day with absolutely nothing on the agenda? Cookies. And cookies.

Chocolate Pistachio Sables6

Chocolate Pistachio Sables

With Thanksgiving coming up, there are certain dishes that are givens (I’m talking to you, pie), but I always like to have a little something nibbly around, too, just in case the meal takes longer to cook than we expected or there are wild and crazy non-pie-eaters in our midst. Plus, Beany loves cookies, and though I wouldn’t call them bribes, we’ve been known to use them as “incentives” for good behavior. Everyone knows that in order to be a cookie eater, one must be among the nicest, most polite and patient members of society, so it’s only good parenting to let our 2-year-old know that, too, right?

Chocolate Pistachio Sables5

These chocolate-pistachio sables are our latest craze, adapted ever so slightly from the latest issue of Bon Appétit. If you’re in search of the perfect salty, sweet cookie combo, this is it. The cookies themselves have a great buttery texture like shortbread, and the chocolate-pistachio combo gives them a little holiday pizazz. Oh, and the flaky sea salt on top! Goooood stuff. The Maldon salt is a little pricey, but it’s worth it I think.

Chocolate Pistachio Sables3

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Chocolate-Pistachio Sables
Adapted just slightly from Bon Appétit (December 2013) 

• 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 ¼ cups lightly packed brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 egg white
• 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
• flaky sea salt (I used Maldon, available at Whole Foods)

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Add the egg white, and mix until combined. Then fold in the chocolate and pistachios.

Divide dough into four equal pieces, and roll each piece into a log about 8 inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter. Push the dough together firmly so it doesn’t crumble apart, and then wrap each log tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. [At this point, if you’d rather bake the cookies days or weeks later, stick the parchment-wrapped logs in airtight plastic and freeze them until ready to bake, up to 1 month. You don’t even need to defrost them before slicing and baking!]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use a serrated knife to cut logs (one at a time) into ¼-inch-thick rounds, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about ½ inch apart. Sprinkle the cookies with flaky sea salt, and bake for about 10-14 minutes (rotating the pan hallway through), until the edges are set and the center looks dry. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies

Chocolate Pistachio Sables4

Chocolate Pistachio Sables7

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There’s definitely tons of butter in this recipe, but it makes a gazillion cookies (i.e. eight dozen), so that’s really not so bad. I actually only baked one roll of them the other day and stuck the three others in my freezer for the day before Thanksgiving. So now my freezer is aptly packed with cookies, scones, pie crusts and more cookies. Can you tell the holidays are coming? Are you ready?!?

XO,
Katrina

Eat like a monkey: Ginger(monkey)bread

Monkey Gingerbread

The first time I ate monkey bread was for breakfast at a school friend’s sleepover when I was 12 years old. I remember watching, fascinated, as her mom cut Pillsbury Grands biscuits into six pieces each, rolled the dough into balls and then dunked them into a bath of butter and cinnamon sugar before layering them freely in a bundt pan. Forget the fact that it was premade dough, or that the bath of butter was actually a bath of margarine, or that I was much more of a pancakes-with-syrup-on-the-side kind of girl than a connoisseur of overly sweet morning concoctions; I convinced myself, while watching the magic unfold, that this would indeed be the greatest breakfast of my young life.

Monkey Gingerbread3

Many moons later, and I honestly can’t remember how that monkey bread tasted. What I do remember, however, is crowding around a small kitchen island, a half dozen sleepy-eyed girls in mismatched pajamas and socks, happily pulling off balls of bread, one by one, until our tummies were content and our sugar spots filled. As much as I love baking for flavor, the recipes I savor the most, especially as our Beany grows older and more interested in the happenings of the kitchen, are the ones that bring with them an experience. Monkey bread, when eaten correctly, is an experience in itself. And if it tastes great, too? Well, then you really can’t go wrong.

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Ginger(monkey)bread

Adapted slightly from arielleclementine, Food52.com

1
 packet active dry yeast
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1/3 
cup warm water (110 degrees)
• 2
 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1
 cup whole milk
• ¼ cup molasses
• 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus ¼ cup, if needed
• 2
 teaspoons kosher salt
• 2
 rounded teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 rounded tablespoon ground cinnamon
• ½ rounded
 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2
 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1
 stick salted butter, melted
• 1
 cup packed light brown sugar

Quickly stir together yeast, the teaspoon of sugar and warm water in a small bowl. Set it aside for about 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes nice and foamy. In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons butter, milk and molasses in a small saucepan, just until the butter is melted. Set it aside for a minute or two to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Attach the dough hook, and turn the mixer on low. Slowly add the molasses mixture, followed by the yeast mixture. Keep mixing until the dough comes together, about 7 minutes or until smooth. (This is pretty sticky dough compared to other breads — it will stick to the bottom of the bowl — but add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time, if it seems too wet.)

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for another minute to form a smooth ball. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot to rise until it’s doubled in size, about 1 to 1.5 hours.

Butter the bundt pan generously with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Put the melted stick of butter in one small bowl and the brown sugar in another.

When the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8-inch square. Cut the dough into 64 pieces, and roll the pieces into balls. One by one, dip the balls in butter, roll in brown sugar and place them in the bundt pan (distributing them as evenly as possible).

Cover the bundt pan with plastic wrap, place it in a warm spot and allow the dough to rise for another hour. (Although I didn’t try it, reviews of this recipe suggest that you can put the dough in the refrigerator at this point — overnight if you wish — and bake it later. Just make sure to allow an hour for the dough to come to room temperature and finish rising before you bake it.) Once the balls have risen, they should be puffy and about an inch below the top of the pan.

Bake the monkey bread for 30 to 35 minutes in a 350-degree F oven, until the top is golden brown. Cool the cake in the pan for just 5 minutes, then invert it onto a cake stand and cool for another 5 to 10 minutes. Then gather the family, and enjoy! This monkey bread really does taste best when it’s warm from the oven, so don’t wait!

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I love how this recipe turned out, and though the process can be a bit time-consuming with all of the hands-on rolling and individual dipping, the bread itself actually comes together fairly easily. It tastes wonderfully gingerbready, and the gooey, carmely outer layer really takes it over the top. And just think how great it would be to stand around the kitchen counter with your nearest and dearest while you pull the bread apart and enjoy that surge of sugary goodness! I already have plans to bring it back for Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. Get ready, little sister! You’re helping me with all the rolling and dipping!

XO,
Katrina

Delicious endings: Easy chocolate sugar cookies

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 2

I’m pretty sure that cookies are one of life’s great triumphs — at least in the world of dessert. Where else are you going to find a sweet that’s so universally loved? A treat that can be baked quickly, travel easily and please grandparents and toddlers alike? They’re like the stuff of fairy tales, really. There are humble beginnings (we’re talking dough balls, y’all), followed by courageous middles (baking is not for the lighthearted) and, finally, the beautiful, delicious endings. Yes, cookies are pure magic. No two are the same, and yet they all have tales worth telling.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 7

This cookie’s story is none too fancy, though sprinkles and nuts and chocolate chips do not a hero make. Sometimes it’s simplicity and earnestness that win out in the end.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 5

Chocolate sugar cookies are exactly as they sound. They are simple sweets that pack a lovely chocolate punch by way of Dutch-process cocoa powder, with enough butter to remind you they’re a sometimes food.

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They need very little else, besides a source for dunking. Coffee is always a good friend to chocolate, but I dare say these taste best when paired with an ice cold glass of milk.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 3

And this recipe makes a mountain, so be sure to share with friends. Or with strangers, who will quickly become your friends.

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Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart’s Cookies

• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, ½ cup at room temperature and ½ cup melted
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 1 egg
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the ½ cup room-temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the (cooled) melted butter, and mix until well blended. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until creamy. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.

Use a 1-inch cookie scoop to drop dough in rounded tablespoons on a parchment- or Silpat-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until edges are firm. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for minute, then move them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 6

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 8

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XO,
Katrina

Once-a-year twice-baked cherry pie

Cherry Pie

Second only to the just-add-water blueberry muffins that I proudly baked during my earliest days of kitchen duty, cherry pie spent a good many years atop my menu of signature dishes. Of course, this was cherry pie by way of an 8-year-old chef in the mid-’90s, which basically meant a skillful combination of two newly defrosted Pillsbury crusts and one large can of Comstock cherry pie filling. Sure, the recipe wasn’t a from-scratch original, but I learned a lot during my years as a canned pie maker: No. 1: Always have foil on hand. No. 2: Top-layer piecrust is an ideal medium in which to practice your budding art skills. And No. 3: When in doubt, always add extra cherries.

Pies-2

As it turns out, baking a cherry pie from scratch is a whole different beast, and, after witnessing the flying pits and cherry juice I’m still scrubbing from my kitchen cabinets, I can’t blame my mom for putting me to work opening a can rather than pitting cherries. Pitting cherries by hand (sans any fancy tool, mind you) has to be one of the worst kitchen jobs imaginable. Like any tech-reliant baker, I Googled how to do it and was happy to find promises of “super simple cherry-pitting techniques.” Unfortunately, this led to a rather grumbly battle between me, a hairpin and two pounds of stubborn fruit.

Cherry Pie6

In all fairness, the hairpin technique does work, but I wouldn’t call it super simple. Maybe super frustrating. Or super boring. (Or super hurry up because I want pie!!!) Jared tried to assuage my cherry-pitting boredom by propping the iPad on the counter and playing Arrested Development while he joined me in the dreaded task. It took the two of us nearly an entire episode to get the job done.

Cherry Pie4

But here’s the silver lining: Homemade cherry pie — the real deal, from-scratch kind as evidenced by the red-stained fingers of its dutiful bakers — is one of the best desserts on the planet. It really only took two bites for me to forget the woes of my cherry-pitting past. It’s tart, sweet, fresh and comforting — all the things a good cherry pie should be. And the twice-baked crust method, which I plan to use for all of my fruit-filled pies from here on out, is a great way to avoid a soggy layer underneath all of that juicy fruit.

Melissa Clark notes in this recipe that investing in a cherry pitter is totally worth it, if only for the one or two times a year when you bake cherry pie. It’s sage advice, and I’ll definitely be heeding it next time around. I’m sure my white kitchen cabinets will thank me.

Cherry Pie5

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Twice-Baked Cherry Pie
Adapted slightly from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now (p. 189)

 For the crust:
• 1 ¾ plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• 15 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
• 3 to 6 tablespoons ice water, as needed

For the filling:
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• ½ cup Turbinado or Demerara (raw) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 pounds sour cherries, rinsed and pitted
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
• 3 tablespoons heavy cream

To make the crust, pulse the flour and salt together in the food processor until just combined. Add the butter, and pulse until lima bean-sized pieces form. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the mixture just comes together.

Pat the dough into two discs, one using two-thirds of the dough (about 12 ounces) and one using one-third of the dough (about 6 ounces). Wrap the discs in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out the large disc of dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle, about 3/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate. Line the dough with foil, and fill it with pie weights. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is light golden brown.

In the meantime, combine the cornstarch, sugars and cinnamon in a small bowl. Place the cherries in a large bowl, and add the sugar mixture. Drizzle in the vanilla, and toss gently to combine.

When the piecrust is done, let it cool slightly, and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Remove the foil and pie weights, and pour the cherry filling into the crust.

Roll out the smaller disc of dough on a lightly floured surface to about 3/8 inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter (or small glass or jar) to cut out circles of dough. Arrange them on top of the cherry filling.

Brush the dough circles with heavy cream, and sprinkle the top of the pie generously with Turbinado or Demerara sugar. Bake until the crust is dark golden brown and the filling beings to bubble, 50 minutes to 1 hour (add a ring of foil around the outside of the crust if it begins to darken to quickly). Allow the pie to cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

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Cherry Pie2

XO,
Katrina

Strawberry tarts forever

Strawberry Tartlettes7

Our farmers market basket overfloweth! It’s a happy problem indeed, though it’s one that necessitates a rather concentrated effort to cook, bake and nibble our way through the abundance of produce as fast as our tummies can take us. Our kitchen always feels more creative in the warmer months because we tend to do a lot more buying by sight than buying by list, which often leaves us with a crisper drawer filled with odds and ends we’re not entirely sure what to do with. So yes, lots of fruits and vegetables, with nary a plan in sight. Clearly this calls for tarts.

Strawberry Tartlettes3

Strawberry Tartlettes4

I think of tarts like I think of quiche in that you can pretty much throw anything in them and still have fantastic results, especially if you’ve landed on a crust that you already love. Strawberries are my absolute favorite though, and berries are practically falling from the sky this time of year.

Strawberry Tartlettes2

And sometimes it’s just nice to bake something that ends up looking so pretty, don’t you think? I’ve eaten — and made! — plenty of mishmash dishes that still taste great, but I love, love, love a pretty dessert. Maybe it’s a touch of nostalgia from my tea party days.

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The strawberry and lemon combination is perfect for warm weather, but blueberry would be great to add to the mix, too. Or maybe peaches? Or cherries? Sometimes a grocery store walkabout is the perfect inspiration.

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Strawberry Tartlettes5

Strawberry Tarts with Lemon Zest
Adapted from Martha Stewart 

For the crust:
• 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
• ⅓ cup sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:
• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• zest of 1 small lemon (or ½ large lemon)
• 1 ½ to 2 pounds strawberries, hulled and cut in half
• ¼ cup apricot preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, put the flour, butter, ⅓ sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse for about a minute, until moist crumbs form. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom, or divide it evenly among four 4-inch tartlette pans.

Press the dough evenly into the pans and up the sides (you can dip your fingers in flour beforehand to keep them from sticking). Press the dough firmly into place, and freeze the crusts for about 15 minutes, until firm.

Use a fork to prick the crusts all over. Then bake them until golden, about 18 to 23 minutes for tartlettes, 25 to 30 minutes for one large tart. Check on the crusts occasionally during baking and press them down gently with a spoon if they puff up. Cool completely.

To make the filling, mix together the cream cheese and ¼ cup sugar until smooth. Add the lemon zest and vanilla, and mix to combine. Spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of the baked crusts (still in the tartette pans). Then, starting from the outside edge, arrange the strawberries, stem side down, in tight circles on top of the cream cheese.

Heat the apricot preserves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until liquid. Gently brush the strawberries with preserves, and let them set for at least 20 minutes. Chill the tartlettes in their pans for at least 1 hour. Remove them from pans just before serving.

Strawberry Tartlettes

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XO,
Katrina

Of markets and merriment: Vintage breakfast puffs

Vintage Breakfast Puffs3

On Saturday morning, we rounded up the gang and headed to the Durham Farmers Market to pick up some fresh produce and enjoy some fresh air. It really was a perfect morning weather-wise: a breezy low 60s with plenty of sunshine. Beany loves to be outside, and we were all do for dose of open air. It’s so easy to get stuck behind the computer (or puzzles or LEGOS, as far as Beany is concerned). Sometimes we have to force ourselves out the door, particularly when it’s early on a Saturday morning, but we’re always so glad we went.

Vintage Breakfast Puffs7

The farmers market here is pretty great, with lots of farmers, crafters, food trucks and music. We picked up enough fruits and vegetables to last us well into next week, and Jared grabbed a breakfast sandwich from the Pie Pushers food truck, which he’s been jonesing to visit since we moved to Durham almost two years ago. I, however, opted for a donut muffin from Scratch, a local bakery that runs a stand at the market. For those of you who know me and my aversion to donuts, no, I haven’t changed my ways. A donut muffin, or breakfast puff, is exactly what its name implies: part donut, part muffin, all the best parts of each. I’ve learned that my real dislike of donuts applies only to those that are deep fried (I know, I’m an odd duck). Donut muffins are baked, not fried. Hence, they are glorious.

Little Bean

This wasn’t our first visit to Scratch. In fact, it was about a year ago to date that Jared’s grandma sent us a $20 bill in a card that said, “I read about a bakery in Durham called Scratch in Southern Living. Have a pie on me.” Who are we to argue with that? We headed downtown for a couple slices of pie (lemon for me, chocolate for Jared) and snapped this photo of our sweet Beany. I can’t believe how little she looks! And to think, she hardly knew how wonderful pie was then. I think her sweet tooth has grown as much as she has.

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Jared and Beany didn’t get to try my donut muffin (I’m so greeeeedy!), so I thought I’d try to recreate the recipe at home. You know, for the sake of my family.

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The Kitchy Kitchen posted a recipe for vintage French breakfast puffs  a while back that sounded pretty similar to what Scratch was serving up over the weekend, so that was my jumping-off point. Although they don’t look amazing when they emerge from the oven, a quick dip of butter (salted!) and a roll in cinnamon sugar makes for a super special breakfast treat that tastes nearly as good the next day. As Beany’s cinnamon-covered smile can attest, they disappear quickly. Next time, I’ll make a double batch.

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Vintage Breakfast Puffs

Vintage Breakfast Puffs
Adapted from The Kitchy Kitchen

Makes 8 puffs

• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon cloves
• ½ teaspoon ginger
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ cup whole milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 6 tablespoons salted butter, melted
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the unsalted butter and ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. Slowly add the flour mixture and milk to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, alternating between the two. Add the vanilla, and mix to combine.

Fill greased muffin tins about 2/3 full, and bake until the puffs are barely golden, about 25 minutes. Remove the puffs from the tins right away using a butter knife to carefully loosen the edges.

Working as quickly as you can, dip the tops and sides of each puff into melted butter, and then roll them in a cinnamon sugar mix (1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon). Serve them hot, warm, cold, in a house or with a mouse. They are good anytime, anywhere.

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Vintage Breakfast Puffs6

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Have you made any trips to the farmers market lately? What’s the skinny on the bakeries near you? I’d love to hear about it!

XO,
Katrina

Birthdays and Banana Blondies

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When it comes to birthdays, I tend to follow a celebrate-for-a-week-to-really-get-your-day’s-worth motto. Although I half expected age (aka turning into an adult) to stifle my zeal for stretching out the celebration, it hasn’t at all. I start getting excited about it weeks before and still feel like a kid on the day after Christmas as soon as it’s over. Jared knows this and has taken to waking me up the day after I turn a year older by wishing me happy birthday again. He knows I’m never quite ready for the party to end, and I’m thankful he’s so happy to oblige. I hope he’s doing the same thing when we’re 80. I bet he will be.

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Banana Blondies7

Yesterday was Jared’s birthday, and though he’s definitely not as crazed about the celebrating as I am, I always try to make his big day feel just as special. Actually, we’ve had lots of celebrating already this month, with Jared graduating with his master’s from Duke a few weeks ago (woo hoo!). Between that, a visit from his parents and a much-needed trip to the coast, it’s been a lot of happy mixed with a lot of go, go, go, and I think we’re finally catching our breath. Of course, what better way to do that than with some homemade treats, right? We nosh our fair share of baked goods on the regular, but when life gives you birthdays, they’re worth an extra bit of sugar.

Banana Blondies

So these chocolate-crusted banana blondies came about as both a warm-up to birthday celebrations (the birthday boy requested molasses cupcakes for his real-deal birthday) and a wind-down from the week before. And they just so happened to be a great use for those ripe bananas I stuck in the freezer earlier in this month. I rarely venture beyond breads and muffins when it comes to banana-filled baking, so this was a fun, unexpected twist. And what says “happy day!” like a new dessert?

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Be warned: They are sweet. But that’s nothing a glass of milk or a cup of coffee can’t solve.

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Chocolate-Crusted Banana Blondies
Adapted just slightly from Melissa Clark, New York Times

• 1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
• 200 grams chocolate wafer cookies (to make about 3 cups of crumbs)
• 2 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon sea salt, plus a pinch
• 2-3 ripe bananas, mashed
• 2 eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, and grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with butter. Melt ½ cup (1 stick) of butter. Pulse the chocolate wafer cookies into fine crumbs in a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons brown sugar and the melted butter, and process until the mixture resembles damp sand. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, press it into an even layer and bake it for 7 to 10 minutes, until the surface is firm. Set aside. Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees F.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the remaining ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) of butter. Continue to let it cook for about 5 minutes, until the butter foams, the foam subsides and the butter turns a deep brown. Let it cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the bananas, eggs, 2 ½ cups brown sugar and vanilla. Add the brown butter.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Fold it into the batter (you could also add ½ cup of toasted walnuts at this point). Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared crust. Bake the blondies for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 24 bars

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Banana Blondies4

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XO,
Katrina

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