Maple Crème with Almond Crackle

Yield: 4 to 6 individual crème brûlées
Recipe: 87/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 192

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      Having plenty of cream in my fridge meant that I was going to make a custardy-type dessert, such as this maple crème topped with an almond crackle. It is not a crème brûlée per se because the top has not been coated with sugar that was burnt and caramelized to create the typical hard crust. In its place, a nut crackle is used to create the crunchy feeling usually obtained by the caramelization of the sugar. This is rather a lighter version of the classic dessert as it uses less whipping cream and half-and-half to complement it. I think that I accidentally slightly undercooked this dessert as the consistence of the inside was a bit less firm than I expected. I am still getting used to finding the right “jiggle” for custards and crème brûlées! Nonetheless, the dessert taste great and the addition of maple syrup made it decadent and flavorful.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cups half-and-half cream
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ⅔ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 recipe Nut Crackle (almond)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange four 6-ounce (180 mL) ramekins or other baking dishes in a much larger baking dish that has sides that are at least the height of the ramekins.
  2. Whisk together all the ingredients (except the crackle). Pour them into the prepared ramekins.
  3. Pour boiling water around the ramekins so that the water comes up to about two-thirds of the height of the ramekins.
  4. Bake the crèmes between 35-45 minutes, until they are set around the outside but still jiggle a bit at the centre. Allow the custards to cool in the water-filled pan for 10 minutes, then carefully remove them from the water to cool to room temperature before chilling for at least 4 hours.
  5. The crackle can be prepared while the crèmes are in the oven. To serve, break the crackle into pieces and place the, on top of the crèmes immediately before serving.

Notes from Anna:

  • This is a lighter version of the original crème brûlée since the recipe calls for half-and-half cream as opposed to heavy (whipping) cream.
  • The brûlées can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

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Valerie

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Nut Crackle

Yield: about ½ cup (enough to garnish 1 cake or tart, or 6 individual desserts)
Recipe: 86/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 321

Needing a garnish for a dessert that I wanted to make, I made this simple yet elegant nut crackle garnish. For my particular dessert I doubled the recipe, and for some reason the “crackle” never really solidified completely, making it difficult to break into pieces. Perhaps I should have kept in a bit longer in the oven to cook the syrup more, but I am not sure if that was the problem. I will keep you posted!

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup sliced or chopped nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans)
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) pure maple syrup

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminium foil and grease well with butter.
  2. Sprinkle the foil with the nuts, then pour the maple syrup overtop, stirring just slightly.
  3. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the syrup is bubbling vigorously. Let the crackle cool completely and store at room temperature until ready to serve.
  4. To serve, peel the foil away from the crackle and break it into pieces to use. The crackle will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Valerie

Cinnamon-Apple Almond Streusel Squares

Yield: one 8-inch square pan, about 20 squares
Recipe: 85/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 72

Cinnamon Apple Streusel Bars

     Surplus of both apples and free time has led me to make these cinnamon-apple almond streusel squares. As Anna writes in her cookbook, this dessert does indeed smell like apple pie in the making, but it takes considerable less effort to make! The taste is as expected: the deliciousness of apples merged with cinnamon and butter. The format of these squares makes them easy to eat and to share!

Ingredients for base:

  • ¾ cup ground almonds
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup icing sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Ingredients for streusel:

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons (90 mL) cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
  • 1 ½ cups peeled ad coarsely grated tart apple such as Granny Smith
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper comes up the sides.
  2. For the base, mix together in a food processor the ground almonds, flour and icing sugar. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture is a rough and crumbly texture. Alternatively, you can mix all the ingredients but the butter in a bowl, then cut in the butter using your hands or a fork. Press this mixture into the prepared pan and chill it while preparing the streusel.
  3. For the streusel, stir together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking powder. Cut in the butter by hand until a rough and crumbly mixture is obtained.
  4. Stir in the grated apple until it is coated with the flour and sugar mixture. Gently press this onto the chilled base.
  5. Bake for about 35 minutes, until it just begins to turn golden. Cool completely before slicing, and dust with icing sugar to garnish.

Valerie

Tangy Lemon Walnut Squares

Yield: one 8-inch square pan, about 20 squares
Recipe: 84/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 58

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      Lemon desserts are not my favorite thing on the planet, but when one cannot eat chocolate one has to adapt. I made these bars mostly because walnuts are involved and they are easy to share, which is a bonus and makes it easy to bring to work! Perhaps I was a bit biased to start with, but I was not a big fan of this recipe. I found that the base was much to thick compared to the lemon layer, which made for a more dense and nutty bar. If I must redo this recipe I would halve the walnut base and double the lemon layer, which in my opinion is meant to be the star ingredient in this recipe. However, since my colleagues seem to like these lemon walnut bars, perhaps it is just a personal preference. Let me know if you try them!

Ingredients for base:

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces
  • ⅓ cup icing sugar
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Ingredients for lemon layer:

  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup white corn syrup
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper comes up the sides.
  2. For the base, combine the flour and walnut pieces in a food processor. Pulse until the walnut pieces are finely ground.
  3. Add the icing sugar, lemon zest and salt and pulse.
  4. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture is a rough, crumbly texture. Pour the crumb mixture into the prepared pan and press down, pushing the crumbs slightly up the edges of the pan (about ¼ inch). Bake for 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool before filling.
  5. For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs and corn syrup until smooth.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice and cornstarch together. Stir in the zest and baking powder, and quickly whisk this into the egg mixture. Pour the filling over the cooled crust.
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes, until set with just a little jiggle in the centre. Cool to room temperature before removing from the pan, then slice and dust with icing sugar

Valerie

Caramel Walnut Shortbread Squares

Yield: one 8-inch square pan, about 25 squares
Recipe: 83/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 62

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     These past two weeks have been very tough for me. My friends and I made a (very stupid, in retrospect) bet about who could go on the longest without their favorite food. Mine, of course, was chocolate. Why did I agree to this ridiculous bet? I still wonder… daily. In any case, I have had no form of chocolate in over two weeks! That includes hot chocolate, chocolate milk, chocolate bars, chocolate desserts and even cocoa powder. It hurts. All that to say that last night I desperately needed to bake something that did not contain chocolate and could satisfy my sweet tooth.

      I thus present to you – caramel walnut shortbread squares. These little bars of heavenly gooeyness were an instant hit at work. They received an “honorable mention” from a few colleagues and definitely goes on my list of top desserts I have made from this cookbook (or ever, for that matter). The bite of the shortbread base actually makes the whole bar perfect. It supports the scrumptious gooey caramel and walnut topping. At first I thought that the walnut to surface area ratio was going to be too high. It is, I mean, there are a lot of walnuts on these bars, but they are best that way. If you want a sweet, gooey and satisfying dessert, definitely try these bars.

Ingredients for base:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cool unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Ingredients for filling:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups walnut halves**

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper comes up the sides.
  2. Stir the flour, sugar and salt together.
  3. Cut in the butter until the mixture is a rough, crumbly texture. It should not come together as a dough. Press this mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 15 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown. Cool while preparing the filling.
  4. Place the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepot and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered and without stirring, occasionally brushing the sides of the pot with water until the sugar caramelizes to a rich amber color, about 4 minutes.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cream and butter until it is blended and looks like caramel. Watch out for the steam! Note: if the sugar sticks to the whisk or pot, return the pot to low heat and stir evenly until evenly melted. Allow the caramel to cool for 10 minutes.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, then whisk in the brown sugar and vanilla extract.
  7. Gently whisk in the caramel, then stir in the walnut pieces. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan over the base and spread the walnut pieces evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, until the edges are bubbling. Cool the squares to room temperature before slicing.

Notes from Valerie:

  • *  I had no more light brown sugar, so used dark brown sugar instead. Tasted great!
  • ** I used walnut pieces instead of walnut halves, since I had those on hand and evidently the taste        would not be altered.

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Valerie

Bountiful Coconut Almond Bars

Yield: one 8-inch square pan, about 25 squares
Recipe: 82/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 70

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     After having been crazy-busy with my PhD for the last 3 months, I have finally found some calm again, enough for me to get back into baking at least. I made these coconut-almond-chocolate bars for a colleague’s birthday today. I wanted a recipe that didn’t look too complicated to ease back into it gently and I was not disappointed. These bars are simple to make yet taste delicious. Very sweet, but delicious. The unanimous feeling amongst friends was that they are indeed succulent yet quite sweet, and that perhaps a smaller portion would have been appreciated. Noted.

     I would personally recommend doubling the recipe for the topping. What you see in the photograph is the doubled amount of topping, which I found balanced well with the thick layer of coconut and almond filling. When I first made the topping, I did not double it and did not even have enough to cover the whole pan, so the layer was very thin. Do yourself a favor and buy a bit more chocolate for this part, it will be worth it!

Ingredients for base:

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 oz (30 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour

Ingredients for filling:

  • 1⅓ cups sweetened, flaked coconut
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tin (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Ingredients for topping:

  • 5 oz (150 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper comes up the sides.
  2. In a small saucepot over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.
  3. Stir in the sugar, then add the egg and vanilla extract, stirring until blended.
  4. Add the flour and stir until the mixture is homogenous. Spread this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until it loses its shine. Cool while preparing the filling. Note: this will be a thin layer.
  5. For the filling, stir the coconut, almonds, condensed milk, vanilla extract and salt to combine. Spread this over the cooled base and bake for about 25 minutes, until a light golden brown color is obtained. Cool to room temperature before adding the topping.
  6. For the topping, melt the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl placed over a saucepot of barely simmering water, stirring until melted (alternatively, you can melt it in the microwave at 30-second intervals until fully melted). Pour this mixture over the cooled coconut filling and spread evenly.
  7. Chill the pan for at least 2 hours to set the chocolate. Cut the squares while chilled. The squares are better enjoyed at room temperature.

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Valerie

Baileys Chocolate Soufflés

Yield: 6 individual soufflés
Recipe: 81/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 198

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    What is one to do with a large amount of egg whites leftover from making crème brûlées? Make soufflés, of course! Now I had never made a soufflé as I, like the majority of people I think, have always been intimidated by soufflés. Nonetheless, I decided that I would give it a shot by making this Baileys chocolate soufflé. It was not too complicated to make, but I was still nervous about messing it up. The first moment that gave me doubt was when the “thick paste” that I was supposed to obtain from combining the melted chocolate and the milk mixture was not so thick. Actually, is was more liquid that paste-like. I also struggled quite a bit with improvising soufflé dishes by putting a collar of parchment paper on my small ramekins. Those things would not stay put! Lastly, when the soufflés were finally in the oven, I kind of forgot that I was making soufflés. I closed the oven door quite harshly, I was moving around fast and washing the dishes with a lot of energy. All these things, combined with the fact that I perhaps did not fill my ramekins and mugs enough with the mixture, resulted in soufflés that did not rise a lot. Granted, they were at least 2 centimeters taller when they were straight out of the oven, but by the time I took the picture they had deflated dramatically. I was a bit disappointed since they no longer looked like the beautiful soufflés that we all strive for, but I tasted it nonetheless.

     Albeit its shrunken appearance, these little soufflés, served with Bailey’s creamy caramel sauce, were so scrumptious that I could hardly believe it. How appearances can be misleading sometimes! I may or may not have eaten two of these little guys (I did). The addition of the creamy caramel sauce flavored with Baileys in the centre of the soufflé was truly a gift from the baking gods. I recommend this recipe to all that love chocolate and heavenly light desserts.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup + 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 oz (150 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup Baileys Irish Cream liqueur
  • 10 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 recipe Creamy Caramel Sauce (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease six 1-cup soufflé dishes or other 1-cup baking dishes. Sprinkle the inside of the cups with sugar and tap out any excess. Place the dishes onto a baking tray.
  2. Whisk the milk, ¼ cup of the sugar, cornstarch and vanilla extract in a small dish. Set aside.
  3. Melt the chocolate and butter in a small saucepot over low heat. Alternatively, you can melt it in the microwave in a large bowl.
  4. Stir the milk mixture in the melted chocolate in two additions, whisking until evenly blended. The mixture will be a thick paste and may look a little grainy – this is normal.
  5. Stir in the Baileys. Keep the chocolate paste warm over low heat, stirring occasionally.
  6. Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until they are foamy, then slowly pour in the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar. Continue to whip until the whites hold a medium peak when the beaters are lifted.
  7. Quickly but gently fold a third of the whites into the warm chocolate paste. They will deflate quite a bit, but this is to be expected. Fold in the remaining two-thirds of the batter until incorporated, then pour this into the prepared soufflé dishes.
  8. Bake the soufflés for 10-13 minutes, until the tops take on a dull look, but the inside still looks shiny and soft where a crack may have formed. Serve immediately!
  9. The soufflés are tastiest served with caramel Baileys sauce poured into the centre. Simply stir 3 tablespoons of Baileys into the creamy caramel sauce. The caramel sauce should be served at room temperature.

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Notes from Anna:

  • If you do not have 1-cup soufflé dishes but you have 6-ounce ramekins, tie a collar of parchment paper around each ramekin with strings so that the parchment rises 2 inches above the top of the ramekin. Once the soufflés come out of the oven, you simply have to untie the strings and carefully peel away the parchment.
  • An accurate oven temperature is critical for a successful soufflé. The only way to accurately know the real temperature is to use a thermometer inside your oven.
  • When baking a soufflé, be certain not to slam the oven door. For an evenly risen soufflé, make sure that the convection fan is off when baking.
  • If you need to make this dessert in advance, you can fully prepare steps 2-4 and chill the chocolate base until ready to bake. When ready to assemble, simply warm the chocolate base over low heat, ensure that your egg whites are at room temperature before whipping and then continue the recipe from there.
  • Omit the Baileys for a gluten-free version of this dessert!

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Valerie