Vanilla Poached Pears

This is an elegant and light dessert for a special occasion. Years ago, we were served this dish at a neighbor’s dinner party and my husband and I made it quite often for a few years. We loved it. I made this updated version to serve my family on Thanksgiving Eve this year. I thought that it was a perfect dessert for the evening before a day of indulgence. An added bonus was that the pears could be poached ahead of time and stored in the poaching liquid.

This recipe was adapted from Alton Brown via Food Network.com. I poached the pears cut in half rather than whole, and, as my neighbors did when they served this dish, added freshly whipped cream and crushed amaretti cookies as toppings. Lovely.

Yield: 8 servings
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle white wine, Riesling or Viognier (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 ounces vanilla sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
  • 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 4 firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored (preferably using a melon baller)
  • freshly whipped heavy cream, for serving
  • crushed amaretti cookies, for serving
  1. Place the white wine, water, sugar and vanilla bean and pulp into a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
  2. Peel, halve, and core the pears.
  3. Decrease the heat to medium low and place the pears into the liquid, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the pears are tender but not falling apart. Maintain a gentle simmer. Remove the pears to a serving dish and place in the refrigerator.
  4. Remove the vanilla bean from the saucepan, increase the heat to high and reduce the syrup to approximately 1 cup of liquid, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Do not allow the syrup to turn brown.
  5. Place the syrup in a heatproof container and place in the refrigerator until cool, approximately 1 hour.
  6. Remove the pears from the refrigerator, spoon the sauce over the pears. At this point, the pears can be stored overnight.
  7. Place a pear half in a bowl and drizzle with sauce, top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, and sprinkle with crushed amaretti cookies. Serve.
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Zebra-Striped Shortbread Cookies

I made these “Art Deco” vanilla & chocolate shortbread cookies as part of my Christmas cookie assortment, but the colorful sanding sugar edge could easily be modified to suit any occasion. Pink and red would be amazing for Valentine’s Day! 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Chris Morocco. I doubled the recipe, in two separate batches, making the process even easier because I kept one batch to use for the vanilla stripes and the second batch for the chocolate stripes. I also used egg yolks to coat the cookies instead of a whole egg. Wonderful.

Yield: Makes 40-48 cookies

  • 2⅓ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1½ tsp Kosher salt, divided
  • ⅓ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
  • 1 egg yolk or 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • ¼ cup sanding sugar (any color)
  1. Whisk 1⅓ cups flour and ¾ tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Whisk cocoa powder, remaining 1 cup flour, and remaining ¾ tsp. salt in another medium bowl. These are the bases for your chocolate and vanilla doughs.
  2. Beat butter, granulated sugar, and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (Do in 2 separate batches if doubling the recipe, making the vanilla dough first.)
  3. Add egg yolk and vanilla to the butter and sugar mixture and beat until smooth.
  4. Divide (for 1 batch) mixture between the 2 bowls of dry ingredients (about 1 cup in each). Scrape vanilla mixture back into stand mixer bowl (save the mixing bowl) and beat on low-speed just until combined. Return to reserved bowl.
  5. Repeat process with chocolate mixture.
  6. Arrange 2 large sheets (per batch) of plastic wrap or parchment paper on a work surface. Dollop one-quarter of chocolate dough in the center of each sheet and pat into rough 6×2″ rectangles. Dollop one-quarter of vanilla dough on top of each chocolate slab and pat into rectangles the same size and shape so that you have 2 layers each. Repeat entire process so you have 4 alternating layers.
  7. Tightly press stacked dough into cylinders about 1½” wide and 8″ long, using the plastic wrap or parchment to help you.
  8. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and chill until very firm, at least 2 hours. I chilled my dough overnight.
  9. Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°, preferably on convection.
  10. Working one at a time, unwrap dough and brush with egg. Carefully sprinkle surface with sanding sugar and roll logs in sugar to coat well (really press dough into sugar so it sticks).
  11. Slice into rounds a generous ¼” thick, rotating after every few cuts to keep slices round.
  12. Arrange cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.
  13. Bake, rotating baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until edges are just set, 12–14 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets.

Note: Dough can be made 3 days ahead; keep chilled. Cookies can be baked 5 days ahead; store airtight at room temperature.

“Line Friends” Red Velvet Birthday Cake

My daughter absolutely loves the “Line Friends” store in Times Square. The store features adorable plush versions of the characters from a Japanese and Korean messaging app called Line. Most center around a bear named “Brown.” As a pig enthusiast, my daughter owns two “Piggy Brown” plush in her personal collection. She requested a red velvet version of “Piggy Brown” to celebrate her 12th birthday! She also requested an Oreo-cream cheese frosting filling. The results were super cute and delicious.

Both of my kids have winter birthdays. Because my son decided to celebrate his with a gold standard household favorite, a Rainbow Sprinkle Cake, I am combining their “birthday posts” by sharing their number cookie photos at the same time. For those of you who don’t know, my kids always have birthday sugar cookies to celebrate their age. 🙂 This year, my son celebrated his 14th birthday and my daughter celebrated her 12th. ❤

I thought that it was the perfect time to share this cake because a red velvet layer cake would also be a fabulous Valentine’s Day dessert. ❤ The cake recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living, the cream cheese frosting adapted from various sources. I used a single vanilla cupcake for the pig snout and bear nose, recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. The pig ears were made with reserved number cookie dough.

To Make the Red Velvet Layers:

  • unsalted butter, for cake pans
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour, not self-rising
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 tsp red gel food coloring plus 3 1/2 T water OR 1/4 cup red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Generously butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper; butter the paper. Sprinkle with flour, and tap out the excess; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk cake flour, salt, and sifted cocoa; set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and oil, and beat on medium speed until well combined.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Add food coloring and vanilla, and beat until well combined.
  7. Add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  8. In a small bowl, mix baking soda and vinegar until combined. Add to batter, and beat for 10 seconds.
  9. Evenly divide batter between the prepared pans. (I use a kitchen scale to make sure that the batter is evenly distributed.)
  10. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
  11. Transfer to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Remove from the pans, and return to the rack to cool completely before frosting/decorating.

For the Vanilla Cupcake Pig Snout & Bear Nose:

  • 1 egg white
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 2 T unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 T milk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Coat 2 wells of a muffin pan with cooking spray or line with 2 liners.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
  4. Stir in the vanilla, melted butter, and milk.
  5. Add flour and baking powder and mix everything together well.
  6. Divide the batter between two muffin pan wells and bake for 10-14 minutes.
  7. Let cool completely before frosting/decorating as desired.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting and to Decorate the Cake:

Yield: enough to generously frost one 9-inch layer cake (plus 1 cupcake)

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 6 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 Oreos, crushed in a food processor
  • pink gel food coloring
  • cocoa
  • brown m&m’s and pink tic tac’s for eyes and noses
  • 1-2 T semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
  1. Place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low-speed to combine.
  4. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.
  5. Remove and place in separate bowls: 3/4 to 1 cup of icing for the bear face, 2-3 T icing for the top of the pig snout, 2-3 T icing for the bear nose, and 1 1/4 cup of icing for the Oreo filling.
  6. Tint the remaining icing light pink with food coloring, mixing well.
  7. Incorporate the crushed Oreos in the reserved 1 1/4 cups of filling icing. Spread on one of the layers.
  8. Place the second layer on top.
  9. Insert the cookie pig ears in between the cake layers until securely in place.
  10. Tint the 3/4 to 1 cup of reserved bear face icing with 1 T sifted cocoa, or until desired color is achieved.
  11. Tint the reserved 2-3 T of bear nose icing with pinches of sifted cocoa until desired color is achieved.
  12. Tint the reserved 2-3 T of pig snout icing with pink food coloring until desired color is achieved.
  13. Make a paper or parchment template to outline the edge of the bear face on top of the cake. Place on top of the second cake layer.
  14. Spread and swirl the light pink frosting around the sides and top of the cake, outside of the bear face template.
  15. Spread and swirl the reserved chocolate-brown frosting circle to form the bear face.
  16. Remove the domed top of the vanilla cupcake and trim to form the bear nose. Coat with reserved light brown icing and place on the bear face.
  17. Invert the cupcake bottom and coat the sides with light pink icing. Spread dark pink icing over the top. Place the snout in place on top of the cake.
  18. Use the m&m’s and tic tacs to form the noses and eyes.
  19. Place melted chocolate chips in a small ziplock bag. (I melted the chocolate in the microwave.) Cut the corner of the bag and pipe the bear’s mouth onto the cake.
  20. The cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours. (I stored it overnight.) Bring to room temperature before serving.

I’m bringing my red velvet Piggy Brown to share at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #262, co-hosted by Angie and Jhuls @The Not so Creative Cook. Enjoy! 🙂

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Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies

The New York Times was stalking me with this recipe. I had already cut the recipe out of their Food section and bookmarked it on my computer- on separate occasions. But I also received multiple emails from The NYTimes and Bon Appétit recommending this “wildly popular” recipe. I finally made them for our Super Bowl Sunday dessert. Delicious!

This recipe was adapted from Alison Roman’s cookbook, Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes, via The New York Times. I used Trader Joe’s Cultured Salted Butter from Brittany, France as well as Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chunks. I sprinkled the top of the cookies with Fleur de Sel prior to baking. They were big cookies- quite indulgent and chocolatey.

Yield: 20 to 24 cookies

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/255 grams total (2¼ sticks) salted butter, cold (room temperature if you’re using a handheld mixer), cut into ½-inch pieces (I used 250 grams of room temperature Trader Joe’s Cultured Salted butter from Brittany, France)
  • ½ cup/101 grams granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup/55 grams light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups/326 grams all-purpose flour
  • 6 ounces/170 grams semi-sweet or bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped (not too fine; you want chunks, not little shards)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Demerara or Turbinado sugar, for rolling
  • flaky sea salt, such as Fleur de Sel, for sprinkling
  1. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer, beat the butter, both sugars and vanilla on medium-high till it’s super light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes for a stand mixer; 6 to 8 for a hand mixer).
  3. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and, with the mixer on low, slowly add the flour, followed by the chocolate chunks, and mix just to blend. If necessary, knead the dough with your hands to make sure the flour is totally incorporated. At this point, the dough should be smooth and feel like Play-Doh with no pockets of flour.
  4. Divide the dough in half, placing each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic over so that it covers the dough to protect your hands from getting all sticky. Using your hands, form the dough into a log shape; rolling it on the counter will help you smooth it out, but don’t worry about getting it perfect. (Don’t be afraid to make them compact. Shortbread is supposed to be dense. That’s part of why it’s so good.) You can also do this using parchment paper, if you prefer, but plastic wrap is easier when it comes to shaping the log. Each half should form a 6-inch log, 2 to 2¼ inches in diameter.
  5. Chill until totally firm, about 2 hours. I positioned the dough logs upright in the refrigerator and chilled them overnight.
  6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  7. Brush the outside of the logs with the beaten egg and roll them in the Demerara or turbinado sugar (this is for those really delicious, crisp edges).
  8. Using a serrated knife, carefully slice each log into ½-inch-thick rounds (if you hit a chocolate chunk, slowly saw back and forth through the chocolate). If the cookies break or fall apart, just press them back together — the dough is very forgiving.
  9. Place them on the prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart (they won’t spread much). Sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake until the edges are just beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

Note: The cookie dough can be made ahead and stored, tightly wrapped in plastic, up to 1 week in the refrigerator, or 1 month in the freezer. Cookies can be baked and stored in plastic wrap or an airtight container for 5 days.

Baked Cinnamon Sugar Donuts

My daughter is obsessed with donuts- specifically donuts with pink icing and sprinkles. Her new bicycle bell is a life-size pink frosted donut with sprinkles! 🙂

I must say that she was quite pleased with this cinnamon sugar variation. When we debated over whether or not they were too heavily coated with cinnamon sugar, both of my kids informed me that such a problem was not even possible. 😉

This recipe is from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Using my mini donut pans, this recipe made 12 donuts. I substituted 1/2 cup of buttermilk instead of a combination of yogurt and milk and I reduced the amount of butter in the topping. They made a very special breakfast.

Yield: 8 standard size donuts or 12 mini donuts

For the Donuts:

  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (65g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) buttermilk (or skim, 1%, 2%, or whole milk, almond milk, soy milk, or coconut milk), at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (60g) yogurt or sour cream (nonfat, low-fat, vanilla, plain, Greek or regular yogurt), at room temperature (I used another 1/4 cup of buttermilk)
  • 2 T (30g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Coating:

  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4-5 T unsalted butter, melted

To Make the Donuts:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C), preferably on convection. Spray a donut pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the egg, brown sugar, milk, and yogurt together until smooth. Add the melted butter and vanilla, whisking until fully combined.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be very thick.
  5. Spoon the batter into the donut cavities—I highly recommend using a large zipped-top bag for ease. Cut a corner off the bottom of the bag and pipe the batter into each donut cup, filling 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full.
  6. Bake for 9–10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Allow to cool for about two minutes and transfer to a wire rack set on a large piece of parchment paper or on a large baking sheet.
  7. Bake the remaining donut batter and transfer to the wire rack. Allow donuts to cool down until you can handle them.

To Coat with Cinnamon Sugar:

  1. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
  2. Brush the melted butter, on the top or on the top and bottom, as desired; dunk into the cinnamon sugar mixture coating all sides.
  3. Donuts are best served immediately.

Notes:

  • Leftovers keep well covered tightly at room temperature for up to 2 days.
  • You can freeze the donuts for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm up to your liking in the microwave, usually a few seconds.

Festive Sugar Cookie Bars

I hope everyone had a lovely Fourth of July celebration. 🙂

We had a very low-key day followed by a delicious meal prepared on the grill, in Fourth of July fashion. This fun dessert was a festive way to end the day! The meringue icing was incredibly thick and fluffy; the pattern could be easily modified to decorate for any occasion.

This recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens. The cookies kept well for several days in the refrigerator.

Yield: 24 bars

For the Sugar Cookie Bars:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • Meringue Icing (recipe follows)
  • red and blue paste food colorings

For the Meringue Icing:

  • 3 cups Confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 T meringue powder
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Coat a half sheet pan (15×10-inch baking pan) with nonstick cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and coat the parchment with cooking spray.
  3. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl beat butter with mixer on medium speed 30 seconds. Add sugars; beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Beat in egg and vanilla bean paste.
  6. Beat in flour mixture. (Dough will be crumbly.)
  7. Pat dough firmly and evenly into prepared pan. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are light brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack.
  8. Meanwhile prepare Meringue Icing. In a large bowl beat Confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup water, the meringue powder, and cream of tartar with mixer on high 3 to 5 minutes or until thick and fluffy.
  9. Divide three 1/4-cup portions into small bowls. Cover remaining Meringue Icing to prevent drying out.
  10. Tint 1/4-cup portions with paste food coloring to make red, light blue, and dark blue. Transfer each to a small resealable (sandwich) plastic bag.
  11. Evenly spread remaining Meringue Icing onto cooled cookie.
  12. For firework “burst” design, snip a small corner from each pastry bag. Pipe concentric circles in different sizes with tinted colors. Pull a toothpick from center to outer edge to create the firework pattern; wipe or replace the toothpick between each pull. Repeat as desired.
  13. Chill, uncovered, 2 hours or until icing sets. To store, cover loosely with foil and chill up to 3 days.

 

Strawberry Pie Bars

I had my eye on this recipe way before I even went strawberry picking…and these pie bars met every expectation. 🙂 This recipe is from Joy the Baker. Wonderful!

For the Crust:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the Strawberry Filling:

  • 2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced into bite-size chunks (about 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons minute tapioca
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for topping
  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Line an 8×8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over two edges of the pan about two inches. This will make the pie bars easier to remove after it’s baked. Lightly spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  3. For the crust, place the butter, sugars, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  4. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour, salt, and cinnamon and mix on low-speed until just combined.
  5. Scatter two-thirds of the dough into clumps in the prepared pan, flour your fingers and press the dough across the bottom of the pan and up the sides of the pan about 1/2-inch. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  6. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and set aside to cool while you prepare the topping and filling.
  7. In a small bowl combine the remaining crust and pecans. Stir until combined and set aside.
  8. In a medium bowl toss together the sliced strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, and spices. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes until some juices develop in the bottom of the bowl.
  9. After the juices have developed, add the melted butter and the instant tapioca. Stir to combine. The tapioca will look coarse within the mixture but it will dissolve in the oven.
  10. Spread the strawberries evenly over the crust.
  11. Pinch medium pieces of remaining dough with your fingers and drop them evenly over the top of the strawberry mixture (they won’t cover the top completely but do your best to cover).
  12. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the topping is brown and the strawberry mixture is bubbling. (If there are still tapioca bits, take the pan out of the oven and gently stir those berries in so the tapioca gets moistened.)
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  14. Chill in the refrigerator to easily remove the bars from the pan. Once cooled, remove from the pan and dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Note: The bars can be stored, wrapped individually or covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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