Category Archives: dessert

Apple Crisp Salted Caramel Bars

apple crisp salted caramel bar on table
apple crisp salted caramel bar

Phew. Encapsulating the past year in a blog post requires a level of dedication that someone who just made a four-layer dessert does not possess.

Now that I’m settled in yet another (new) city, I feel ready to declare myself “baaaaaack.” I have my own kitchen with every gadget I could possibly need. (All that’s left is another oven.) I am entering fall, also known as prime baking season. And, most importantly, I am healed, both mentally and physically, from the challenging experiences of the past few years.

Now I just need some more friends to share these bars with…

About those bars: imagine if an apple crisp mixed with salted caramel sauce and then melted into a shortbread cookie base.

I know this recipe looks intense, but it actually comes together pretty quickly. Then again, I have a dishwasher again. I CAN DO ANYTHING.

Shortbread base:
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.
2) Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor, process the flour, sugar and salt briefly, then add the butter and process until the mixture begins to form small lumps.
3) Sprinkle mixture onto the baking pan and press the mixture evenly onto the bottom.
4) Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely while preparing other ingredients. Keep the oven at 350 degrees.

Salted caramel sauce:
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut up into 6 pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt

1) Follow these directions from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
2) Once the caramel has cooled and thickened, pour it over the cooled shortbread base and spread evenly.

Apple filling: 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 cup cornstarch

1) Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt, then stir in the apples. Cook for about five minutes to let apples release their liquid.
2) Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Let cook for another five minutes.
3) Stir in the cornstarch and cook for another minute, until liquid has thickened. Set apples aside to cool, then spread them over the salted caramel shortbread base.

Crisp topping:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter, cut into pieces

1) Mix brown sugar, oats, flour and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Use a pastry cutter or paddle attachment on a stand mixer to combine cold butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
2) Sprinkle crisp crumbs over the apples in the baking dish and press crumbs gently into the pan.
3) Place the baking pan on a center rack in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until apples are bubbling and crisp looks, well, crisp.
4) Let the bars cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing. You might even want to refrigerate them for an hour to make sure that they don’t crumble.

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Rustic Peach Tart

rustic peach tart

There’s a crisp edge to the breeze today, but we still had a few leftover peaches that were just begging to be baked. This dessert felt like a swan song to summer, and I can’t say I’ll be too sad to see it go.

Despite the fact that I’d gladly never hear the word “pumpkin spice” again, autumn remains my favorite season. This year, with the re-introduction of a work routine, there’s a pleasant cadence to my days.

Not to mention the re-introduction of chunky sweaters, leather boots, and flannel sheets. And a resurgence of a certain man’s beard and his plaid shirts. Nothing says fall like a good beard, amirite?

(Seriously though, please stop talking about pumpkin spice. Chai is a better spice blend, anyway. Plus, it does not purport to contain an ingredient that cannot actually be found in its ingredient list. There is no pumpkin in pumpkin spice, it’s just the mixture used to flavor overrated pumpkin foods like pumpkin pie. The concept of “pumpkin spice lattes” is akin to me serving a “s’mores milkshake” that contains no graham cracker or marshmallows, but hey, at least it has the chocolate part down! STOP THE MADNESS.)

But where were we? Peaches. Right. Peaches. Their season is far too short and they’re one of the foods that starts with “p” that I support.

Tart Dough:
Makes 2 12-inch tarts
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup ice-cold water

1) Cut the butter into the flour with your fingers or with a stand mixer. Pour in the water slowly, until the dough begins to clump. (Mix for 30 seconds or less if using a mixer.)
2) Divide the dough in two and create two balls of dough. Wrap with plastic and compress into disks. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Peach Filling:
Note: This recipe makes enough to fill one tart. Double the recipe if you want two!
4 peaches, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons of sugar, divided
1 egg
1 teaspoon of water

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove one of the tart dough sections from the fridge and roll into a circle with a rolling pin until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
2) Combine the peaches, vanilla extract, cornstarch, cinnamon, and one tablespoon of sugar in a bowl.
3) Remove the dough from the fridge and arrange the peaches artfully upon it, leaving a border of 1 and 1/2 inches. Fold the border over the peaches to make a crust.
4) Mix the egg and water together and brush gently over the crust. Sprinkle the whole tart with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar. Place the tart on the lower rack in the oven and cook for 45 to 55 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Peach & Blueberry Bruschetta with Ricotta

fruit bruschetta

The moment I discovered this recipe, I knew it was going to change my potluck game forever.

bruschetta close-up

Oh, and also breakfast. Leftovers make the perfect breakfast.

Change out the fruit for whatever you prefer, but I like peaches and blueberries for this time of year.

My recipe is adapted from this one from Bon Appetit.

Peach & Blueberry Bruschetta with Ricotta:
Makes about 24 pieces

3 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced
1 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
Sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
1 baguette, sliced 1/2-inch thick, toasted
Olive oil for drizzling
Basil, optional

1) Combine peaches, blueberries, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Let the fruit mixture sit for at least 15 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, whisk ricotta and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another medium bowl until smooth.
3) Spread toasted baguette slices with ricotta mixture, then top with fruit. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and top with basil, if desired.

Strawberry Chiffon Pie with Pretzel Crust

full pie

Strawberry season is quite an event in our household, and has been for as long as I can remember. Every year we comb our local pick-your-own-strawberries farm website for the date that promises pounds of our favorite sweet treat.

And I do mean pounds. As we’ve grown older, we are less distracted by the immediate temptation of a plump, ripe strawberry and are more focused on the promise of strawberry meals to come. We each choose a row with careful consideration and compete to see who can come away with the most full bucket. One of our best combined hauls came in at around 15 pounds.

Not one went to waste. They’re mashed for strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam, strawberry crumble and, one of my personal favorites, strawberry chiffon pie.

full pie to the side

Strawberry Chiffon Pie is one of those rare holdovers from what I call the “gelatin period of history” that actually tastes delicious and comes in a naturally occurring shape. This particular recipe is from my mom’s 1965 printing of The Settlement Cook Book.

As you might be aware, the 50s and 60s were rife with both social change and gelatinous foods. From random produce floating in towering Jell-O molds to savory aspics made from stock, there was nothing that people wouldn’t throw gelatin into. (If you’ve seen Julie & Julia, you know what I mean.)

I also like to imagine that the Space Race inspired everyday people to try their own science experiments, and making foods congeal seemed like the most accessible option.

This pie, however, is one science experiment I can get behind. It’s basically a strawberry-flavored whipped cream filling that is fluffy and creamy and requires minimal oven time. (Or none at all if you choose not to make your own crust.)

Speaking of crust — I decided to get a little wild with mine. Normally our family makes this pie with a graham cracker crust, but I love the salty/sweet combination that occurs when sweet strawberry cream meets salty pretzels. In fact, I’m going through a little “snack foods as pie crusts” period myself, so stay tuned for more innovation!

Strawberry Chiffon Filling
Makes enough to fill 1 9-inch pie crust, plus some extra for taste-testing

1 envelope (or 1 tablespoon) of unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup strawberries, mashed (with juices), plus more for decorating
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 cup of heavy creamy, whipped, plus more for decorating
1 prepared pie shell, like the pretzel crust below

1) Soak gelatin with cold water in a large bowl for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine the boiling water, 3/4 cup of sugar, mashed strawberries and salt, then pour the mixture into the softened gelatin until the gelatin dissolves. Let cool.
2) In a stand mixer with the beater attachment or with a whisk, beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue beating the egg whites until they’re stiff and glossy. Set aside.
3) When the strawberry and gelatin mixture begins to thicken as it’s cooling, fold in the whipped cream and then the beaten egg whites.
4) Pour the chiffon filling into the prepared crust, then cover and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or until the filling has set. Decorate with strawberries and whipped cream.

Pretzel Pie Crust
Makes 1 9-inch pie crust

3/4 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 cups crushed pretzels
(Tip: To crush the pretzels, place them in a freezer bag, remove all the air, then roll a rolling pin over the pretzels until they’re crushed. You might need to repeat this step several times.)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix together butter, sugar and pretzels until well-combined. Press the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake in oven for 10 minutes, let cool, then fill with strawberry chiffon pie filling.

Tar Heel Pie

Tar Heel pie

It feels appropriate to revive the blog with a recipe called “Tar Heel Pie.” I imagine the name has something to do with its North Carolinian origins, if not its fudgey consistency that could be considered tar-like if you were into making such unappetizing comparisons. Basically, imagine a flaky pie crust. Now imagine that pie crust filled with a pecan-laden brownie. That’s Tar Heel pie. (And you thought that particular food fantasy would never be realized. Silly you!)

I know I tend to get hyperbolic with some regularity, but this pie, after only one baking attempt and three tastings, is officially in my top 5 favorite desserts of all time. If you are planning on inviting me to any kind of event in the next few months, I will likely bring this pie. If you are not planning on inviting me to your event, more for me.

My recipe came from my dear friend Nancie McDermott, who has written an entire book about Southern pies. Check out the recipe here — I followed the recipe exactly, so no reason to paste it here!

Rather than using a store-bought crust, which I couldn’t find in a form that involved real butter, I made my own. It’s totally unnecessary, but I had a rainy day to kill. What better way to spend it than whipping up some pastry dough?

Single Pie Crust
Makes one 9-inch pie crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced
1/4 cup ice water

1) In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. You can then either cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, or grate in the butter using a cheese grater and mix into the flour and salt. (I typically freeze the butter first, then grate it, then freeze it again for a few minutes so that it stays really cold.)
3) Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
4) Roll dough out to fit a 9 inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Finish with a crimped or scalloped edge.

Sweet Broiled Oranges

sweet broiled oranges

For those of you who had the distinct pleasure of knowing me in high school, you might remember when I was weirdly concerned about getting scurvy. (A concern that preceded my early college obsession with combating adult-onset rickets, and also that time I gave myself swine flu purely because of the strength of my conviction that I was going to get it.)

While I never spent extended periods of time on boats lacking fruit/veg refrigeration technology, nor islands with no access to vitamin C-laden produce, I still insisted on chugging orange juice, especially through the winter months, just in case. Winter already has me coping with seasonal effective disorder (SAD) and I quite simply couldn’t deal with splotchiness and bleeding gums on top of that.

While I have moved on from fixating on so-last-century diseases and even the more trendy recent ones (kind of, mostly), there’s still a part of me that just knows when I am suffering from some nutrient deficiency or another.

Fortunately, as an adult, I can more maturely address these issues with a spoonful of sugar, like I did with these scurvy-fighting oranges. They’re a really quick dessert that are satisfying after a big meal. We ate ours after big bowls of beef stew.

Anyone else here have unwarranted health worries they want to share? I can’t be the only one, right?!

Sweet Broiled Oranges:
Serves 1
One orange
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1) Slice orange in half, remove seeds, and cut between the orange and the peel and along the orange sections to make smaller pieces.
2) Place orange slices on a cookie sheet. Turn the broiler on high.
3) Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the orange halves, then place into the oven.
4) Broil for 5 – 7 minutes.

I found the recipe on Pinterest and adapted it slightly. Original recipe here.

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting & Candied Pecans

sweet potato cupcakes

Hey friends.

I know it’s been awhile.

Hopefully some sweet potato cupcakes will appease you. (For now.)

plain cupcakes

They are quite delightful, these moist little muffins topped with creamy frosting and crunchy pecans.

single cupcake

I’m currently testing recipes for a friend’s wedding. This friend, to be exact. These passed the test. Remember last time I made cupcakes for a wedding? I vowed only to do one wedding every two years.

I’m a woman of my word, it turns out. Except when that word involves promising to write more. That kind of thing is best left to chance.

Anyway, I know I should be posting recipes that help people keep their New Year’s resolutions, not actively attempt to break them. Alas, one of those recipes is best left to another day.

The original recipe for these cupcakes comes from some sort of Food Network cupcake challenge, but I’ve modified it to suit my tastes. (And the happy couple, of course.)

If you make them yourself, let me know how they turn out!

Sweet Potato Cupcakes:
Makes 18 – 24 cupcakes
2 cups mashed and cooled sweet potatoes, or one 16-ounce can
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cinnamon sugar, if desired

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a few cupcake tins with paper liners.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and eggs. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients and then the sweet potato puree.
3) Fill cupcake tin cup three-quarters full of batter. Bake until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean — 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.
4) Once cooled, frost the cupcakes with the frosting, top with candied pecans, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Brown Sugar Frosting:
Frosts 18 – 24 cupcakes
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1) Beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add the butter and beat until well incorporated.
2) Add the light brown sugar and beat until fluffy, then stir in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until combined. Add the vanilla extract until fully incorporated.

Candied Pecans:
Makes four cups
Canola/vegetable oil, for greasing
1 egg white
4 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound chopped pecans

1) Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with oil.
2) Beat the egg white in a bowl until frothy, then whisk water and the vanilla extract into the egg.
3) Stir the sugar, cinnamon and salt into the egg mixture, then stir in the chopped pecans until they’re fully coated.
4) Spread the pecans onto the baking sheet and bake in 20 minute intervals, stirring the pecans before placing them back in the oven. Continue baking for about an hour.
5) Allow the pecans to cool on the baking sheet.