Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies

almond choc chip tastefood

I apologize if this messes with any diet resolutions, but here’s to a little balance and wishing you all a delicious new year with a bundle of sweetness, a dose of nuttiness, and pinch of salt.

Almond butter does wondrous things to this chocolate chunk cookie. It’s not as pronounced in flavor as peanut butter which, in my opinion, can overwhelm a cookie. Almond butter is mellower, adding a rich, golden background to the dough with a hint of roasted nuts. A dusting of sea salt is an extra touch – optional but highly recommended. A little salt makes everything taste better – even sweets – especially when chocolate is involved.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted creamy almond butter (not raw)
7 ounces chopped dark chocolate
Sea salt flakes for garnish, optional

1. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well. Add the almond butter and mix until smooth.
3. Dump the flour  into the mixing bowl and mix until all of the ingredients are incorporated without over-mixing. Stir in the chocolate, including all of the little pieces and dusty bits (they will melt into the batter). Refrigerate the batter for at least one hour or up to 24 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Drop rounded tablespoons of the dough on baking sheets lined with parchment. Add a tiny pinch of sea salt flakes to each cookie, if desired. Bake until light golden, 12 to 14 minutes.
5. Slide the parchment and cookies on a rack to cool. The cookies will continue to firm up while cooling.

Cranberry Pear Galette


cranberry galette tastefood

I am not a patient baker. My desserts tend to be “rustic” which, in my case, is a polite way of saying messy and imprecise. Fortunately for me there is a place in the dessert world for my rustic desserts. I call it my sweet spot (pun intended) which includes crisps, crumbles, cobblers, galettes, and crostatas. These desserts show off the season’s best fruit, in the company of some sort of pastry dough or streusel and are assembled in a delightfully unfussy way. This Cranberry Pear Galette is a perfect example – it’s a free-form tart, which is also known as a crostata. Unlike a traditional tart or pie, a baking dish is not required. The spiced fruit filling is simply mounded into the center of the pastry dough, then the pastry edges are gathered and folded around the filling leaving the top exposed. The result is a golden free-form crust cocooning a bubbling center of oozing fresh fruit. Now, that’s my kind of dessert. Try this one on for your Thanksgiving holiday.

Cranberry Pear Galette

Serves 6

Pastry dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, but into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup ice water

Filling:
4 ripe but not too soft pears (bosc or anjou), peeled and cored, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons almond meal, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg, lightly whisked

1. Make the pastry dough: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse once or twice to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal and the butter is pea-sized. Add the water and pulse until the dough just comes together. Transfer the dough to a work surface and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling out.
2. Roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper into a circle approximately 12-inches in diameter. (It does not have to be perfect!) Slide the dough onto a baking sheet and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine the pears, cranberries, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons almond meal, the lemon juice, orange zest, cardamom, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir to combine.
4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon almond flour over dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Mound the fruit over the almond flour. Fold the borders up and around the fruit. Lightly brush the dough with the egg and sprinkle the galette with the 1 tablespoon sugar.
5. Transfer the galette to the oven and bake until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender and bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla a ice cream.

Strawberry Cake

strawberry cake  tastefoodReprinted from the TasteFood archives, because it’s the end of the school year, and  we all deserve cake.

More strawberries, you say? You bet. I am greedy at this time of year when spring produce is cluttering up the market shelves. A rotation of asparagus, peas, and strawberries passes through our kitchen to the table on a daily basis. You would think we would tire of all of this goodness, but it never seems to be the case. It also helps to have a variety of recipes to choose from to change things up a bit. While nothing beats fresh strawberries with a little cream, put a few aside to make this simple cake. It’s light, gently sweetened, and generously studded with more strawberries than you know what to do with. Actually, I don’t mean that – we all know what to do with strawberries. Just be sure to save some to make this cake.

Strawberry Cake

I halved my jumbo sized strawberries in the pictured cake, but recommend quartering them if very large, so they will begin to break down while baking, making a luscious juicy mess.  Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, divided
1 pound strawberries, halved – or quartered if very large

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 10-inch (25 cm) pie or tart pan (I used a 9-inch extra-deep pie pan).

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the butter and 3/4 cup sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest on medium speed. Add the flour and mix to combine without over-mixing. Spread the batter in the prepared dish. Arrange the strawberries, cut-side down, on top of the batter, gently pressing to partially submerge. Squeeze in as many strawberries as possible – it’s ok to be greedy. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake in the oven until the top of the cake is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon lemon zest over the cake. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

Rhubarb Boysenberry Crisp – Gluten Free

berry crisp

It was one-stop shopping at the farmer’s market this weekend. A little rickety table in the far corner of the maze of our Sunday market was lined with pint-sized cartons seeping with blue-violet blotches. They brimmed with wild raspberries, blueberries, and – best of all – boysenberries, a tart flamboyant cone-shaped berry resembling a floppy blackberry. Next to the berries was a wide wicker basket filled with dainty upright rhubarb stalks awash in green and fuschia. The message was clear: Come and get it. And so I did.

Rhubarb Boysenberry Crisp (Gluten-Free)

I made this dessert for our dinner guests that night, one of whom is gluten-free. The topping was crisp, nutty and sweet, faintly spiced with cinnamon – delicious for gluten-free and gluten-lovers alike. Serves 6.

Topping:
3/4 cup almond meal
3/4 cup oats (gluten-free or regular)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled

Filling:
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 cups boysenberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine all of the topping ingredients, except the butter, in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to coarsely chop the walnuts. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Place the rhubarb and half of the boysenberries in an 8 x 8-inch (or similar size) baking dish. Sprinkle the sugar over and gently mix to combine. Whisk the orange juice and cornstarch in a small bowl. Pour over the fruit and gently stir to coat. Arrange the remaining boysenberries over the top of the fruit, then evenly spread the topping over the fruit.

Bake in the oven until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 45 minutes. If the topping browns before the filling is fully cooked, then loosely cover with foil to prevent burning. Remove and cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Coconut Chocolate Macaroons

coconut macaron tastefood

Happy Passover: Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the promising chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a chewy, shredded, nutty interior, that, in my opinion, had no rightful place in a chocolate bar. It was clearly the texture that I did not like. I was mystified by my friends who bought super-sized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we were at the movies. Every halloween when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating and eyeing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to offer up with no regrets. Sadly, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

As a parent, it baffled me that my children loved coconut. But as chief cookie baker, I stepped up to the plate and used coconut more and more freely in bars, cakes, and cookies. And, you know what? I, too, developed a fondness for this tropical “nut”, appreciating its flaky fresh and nutty interruption in a sea of sugar. I guess you could say I grew up.

I eat coconut now – unforced – and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best juicy-soft interior, which is what prevents dryness and distinguishes a great macaroon. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened, which I find reduces excessive cloyness. Oh, and I always dunk them in dark chocolate, of course – which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 24

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, melted

Heat the oven to 350°F (180° C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the milk, coconut, and vanilla in a large bowl and stir to blend.
Beat the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form and then fold into the coconut.

Drop heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack. Dip one half of each macaroon in the melted chocolate and transfer to a board or platter lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set.

Strawberry Phyllo Stacks

Strawberry Napoleon  stack

I’ve been on a strawberry bender. They are impossible to ignore. Strawberries are in season now in California, and it’s too easy to simply gobble up a pint or two (or four) from the farmers market with each visit. Like all fruit and vegetables that reign supreme during their seasonal heyday, strawberries are the life of the party while they last. But even a good thing can become redundant, and that’s when our duty as a cook takes over. It is up to us, like gracious hosts, to showcase our seasonal gifts in fresh and flattering ways, so that we never (God forbid) grow tired of them.

This recipe brings a little phyllo dough to the mix, literally elevating the strawberry in a dramatically stacked presentation between layers of sugary phyllo and mascarpone cream. While they take some prep time, the phyllo sheets can be made in advance. The outcome is a light and luscious dessert, elegant yet simple, showcasing the lovely and ever-appealing strawberry.

Strawberry Phyllo Stacks (Napoleons)
Makes about 12

Phyllo:
1 package frozen phyllo sheets, defrosted overnight in refrigerator
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Cream filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound strawberries, hulled, sliced 1/4-inch thick, plus 6 large strawberries, stems intact, halved lengthwise.
Sifted confectioners sugar for dusting

Prepare the phyllo squares:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Unroll the phyllo dough and place one sheet on a work surface. Cover the remaining dough with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying.
3. Lightly brush the phyllo sheet with the melted butter. Sprinkle a light layer of sugar over the butter. Place a second phyllo sheet over the dough. Brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with 2 more sheets.
4. With a sharp chef’s knife cut the stacked phyllo sheets into 12 squares (4 across the sheets’ long side x 3 across the short side). With a spatula, transfer the squares to the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the oven until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on racks.
5. Repeat this process until you have used all of the phyllo dough – you will have about 36 squares. (The phyllo squares may be prepared up to one day in advance. Place in an airtight container and separate each layer with parchment paper. Store at room temperature.)

Prepare the napoleons:
1. Beat the filling ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire attachment until stiff peaks form.
2. Arrange one phyllo square on a work surface. Spread one tablespoon of the filling over the square. Arrange 2 to 3 strawberry slices on the cream. Smear a little cream over the strawberries, then place another phyllo square on top and gently press to adhere Repeat the layering process one more time and finish with a phyllo square. Place a small dollop of cream in the center of the phyllo and top with a strawberry half, cut-side down. Transfer to a plate.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
3. Dust with the napoleons with confectioners sugar and serve immediately.

Chocolate Stout Pound Cake 2.0

chocolate stout cake tastefood

I’ve had a recipe for Chocolate Stout Pound Cake on this blog for a few years, and this weekend, with St. Patrick’s Day looming, I decided to make it. As I read through the recipe, I found myself itching to make a few changes to the measurements and method. It’s not unusual for me to tweak a recipe – in fact I rarely follow one to a T.  It’s also interesting to see how recipes evolve with time. I find myself making small tweaks to older recipes when I haven’t made them in a while. So, I hereby present you with this newly minted and perfected 2015 version of Chocolate Stout Pound Cake. The recipe yields one hefty pound cake. While its size is generous, the crusty exterior yields to a moist, tender, and fine crumbed cake, subtly laced with stout. Goodness knows why it took me so long to remake it. For an extra indulgence, serve it with the whiskey cream. The recipe for the cream is below, and I haven’t changed it one bit. (Some recipes should never be changed.)

Chocolate Stout Pound Cake
Makes 1 large pound cake or bundt cake  (or 12 mini-bundt cakes)

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup stout beer
12 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and line a large loaf pan with parchment. Butter the parchment paper. If using a bundt pan or mini-bundt pans, butter the pans..
2. Heat the butter and stout in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the dark chocolate and stir until smooth.
3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
4. Whisk the eggs and sugar until light. Whisk in the sour cream and add to the chocolate. Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine without over-mixing.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan or mini bundt pans. Place on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake until the cake is set and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes clean, 55 to 65 minutes for a large cake or 25 minutes for mini-cakes.
6. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Turn the cake out onto the rack and cool completely. Cut into 1/2 inch slices. Serve with Irish Whiskey Whipped Cream.

Irish Whiskey Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Irish Whiskey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are visible. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to whip until soft peaks form.