Ode to Autumn

I used to be the girl who poured Aunt Jemima’s butter-lite pancake syrup all over flapjacks constructed from a couple cups of Bisquick, eggs, and milk. Sure, I was tempted by the ‘just add water!’ advertisements on competitor boxes (or jugs?), but the idea of adding water to flour and having great-tasting pancakes was just a little too farfetched for me. Call me crazy, but the ‘just add water’ brands and Bisquick were as different, in my mind, as apples and oranges.

Eventually, I started making pancakes from scratch. I realized the only difference between pre-packaged mixes and from-scratch ‘cakes was that Bisquick already added the salt, sweetener, and leavening (along with some other crap – partially hydrogenated soybean oil, anyone?). Those are all ingredients that are ever-present in my house, so making my own pancakes was an easy transition. Easy, and so much tastier.

The fact of the matter is that Aunt Jemima remained a regular guest in my kitchen for much longer than the box o’ mix, and much longer than I should probably admit to you. I’d gotten rid of all sorts of artificially flavored foods – the coffee creamers, the teriyaki sauces, even the pre-shredded cheeses – and until less than a couple of years ago, I insisted on having Aunt Jemima sit at my breakfast table. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming to be a “I only eat natural, non-processed foods” person – you’ll still find your fair share of processed foods in my kitchen, just a lot less than in the past. But one day, I fell in love with Aunt Jemima’s healthier, less superficial, distant cousin – I fell in love with maple syrup.

I can’t remember how, or when it happened. I’d guess we had pancakes one morning and when I reached into the pantry to get the AJ syrup (butter-lite!), it was gone. But however it happened, I converted, and maple syrup became a new favorite.

To me, maple syrup is the epitome of fall, next to pumpkin and perhaps cranberries. And while it may not seem very fall-like for many of you (hello, east coast; hello, midwest), it’s technically not winter quite yet.

Sure, maple syrup on pancakes is an all-season affair, but maple syrup elsewhere probably isn’t. Maple syrup with cranberries? Maple syrup in cheesecake? Maple syrup cheesecake with maple-cranberry compote? A maple syrup bath with maple syrup shampoo and maple syrup body lotion? Okay, maybe not, but you get the point here.

This is a dessert that’s sure to make you think it’s still fall on the inside, even though it’s definitely much chillier than I have ever remembered mid-December to be on the outside. Consider it one final ode to Autumn – beautiful for sure, but way too short in our neck of the woods. If the toe-numbing weather isn’t enough to keep you indoors, perhaps this will do the trick. Of course, if you’re an awesome supervisor and you made this cheesecake for a rotating student, that’s an exception…

Maple Cheesecake w/ Maple-Cranberry Compote
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2009 (yes, I saved this for a year!), serves 10-12

time commitment: 2.5 hours (1 hour active) + overnight chilling

the original recipe called for reduced maple syrup, but i think it’s plenty maple-y without reducing it. also, i had some leftover homemade cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving, so I pureed that with water and spread about 1/2 c of that over half of the cheesecake filling, then filled the remainder over it for a ‘cranberry sauce layer’. if you don’t have it, it’s not important enough in the outcome to make it, but if you do, go for it!

printable version

ingredients
crust
2 c ground graham crackers
3 T sugar
1/2 t ground cinnamon
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

filling
1 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 8-ounce packages neufchatel cheese (or 1/3 less fat cream cheese), room temperature
1/2 c maple sugar
3 T all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
1/2 c maple syrup
2/3 c sour cream
2 t vanilla extract
4 large eggs

compote
2 c fresh or frozen cranberries (about 8 ounces)
1 c maple syrup
2/3 c sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 c maple sugar

special supplies: 9-inch springform pan

instructions
crust
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 F. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and 2 inches up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Bake crust until set and top edge of crust darkens slightly, about 10 minutes. Cool crust completely on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 300 F.

filling
Beat cream cheese & neufchatel cheese in large bowl (using hand mixer or Kitchen-Aid) until very smooth. Add maple sugar, flour, and salt; beat until well blended and smooth. Add maple syrup, sour cream, and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add eggs, 2 at a time, and beat just until blended after each addition. Tap bowl several times on counter to release any air bubbles. Pour filling into cooled crust. Using tip of small knife, pop any air bubbles on surface.

Bake cake until slightly puffed around edges (center will still look moist and will jiggle a little when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer cake to rack and cool completely. Cover and chill overnight.

compote
Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until berries pop, about 4 minutes. Cover and chill. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.

Cut cheesecake into wedges. Divide among plates. Serve with warm compote.

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I Heard You Wanted S’more Marshmallows?

I will not apologize for what you see here, nor the recipe that follows. In fact, my post from Friday foreshadowed an occurence such as this (speaking of Friday, don’t forget to vote for this Friday’s post over to your right) and therefore, if you did your reading, you should not be too terribly surprised.

What I will say, instead, is that, if you ever have the desire to splurge, or perhaps to impress a large group of hungry chocoholics, this is the post for you. For today, don’t worry yourself with sugar content, calories, or fear of  trying a daunting recipe and failing miserably. Take a deep breath, and make the jump.

Because I promise you, I promise you, it’s well worth it. Just ask any of the 7 of us who downed two batches of these babies this past weekend. In a matter of minutes, in between Rock Band sets, many delicious s’mores were consumed – without guilt, instead with unadulterated happiness.

For starters, have you made the marshmallows yet? Or did you take a look at them, perhaps print the recipe(s), and still just haven’t found the time to pull that stand mixer out? Well, life is all about second chances. I’m giving you one now.

And while you’re making the marshmallows, you can also throw together a batch of graham crackers (we even have a gluten-free version here, so that’s not an excuse either!). I’m serious. The ingredients come together without a hitch in your food processor, and the taste isn’t even comparable to the over-processed Nabisco product. The best part about them? The fact that you made them, and you know exactly what you put into them.

Now, take those tasty marshmallows, if you can muster up the strength to not eat them right out of the pan, and sandwich them between your beautiful homemade graham crackers. Slide a chunk of chocolate in there and let your oven melt the chocolate and the marshmallow into a gooey, stringy, warm heavenly mess that, within an instant of eating said mess, will remind you of all things good in the world.

Like all those times when your gramma put s’mores into the toaster oven for you while you were stuck at her house all summer long watching The Price is Right, and even though she had a pool, you couldn’t go swimming in it unless your mom was there. But having s’mores was what made that ok, because you could stand on that little stool in the green-tiled kitchen and watch those quiet metal rods in the toaster turn into orange fire, orange fire that magically made the marshmallow and chocolate (or even peanut butter) pieces turn into hot liquid before your very eyes. Eating those, even though she never seemed to make quite enough, was enough to make gramma’s house fun. How I wish I could go there today – with or without the s’mores – but instead I treasure that memory, which is more than enough to make me smile.

Maybe your gramma didn’t make s’mores for you? Evenso, I’d be willing to bet that the sheer thought of s’mores takes you to a better place. A place where life is easier, a place where happiness is abounding, or a place where your biggest care in the world was deciding who would get the last one.

Tell me, where is that place for you?

Homemade Mint S’mores
makes ~1 dozen ooey, gooey, samiches

printable version, with gluten-free graham crackers
printable version, with regular graham crackers

ingredients
1 batch of homemade graham crackers (recipes below)
1 batch of homemade mint marshmallows (recipe below)
2 or 3 Hershey’s milk chocolate candy bars

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. line a baking sheet with tin foil or parchment paper. place half of graham crackers on sheet. put a marshmallow on each cracker. put chocolate piece (you choose the size) on top of marshmallow. place remaining graham crackers atop.

bake in oven for ~10 minutes, or until chocolate melts and marshmallow begins oozing all over the place. remove and let cool for a couple of minutes and pretty them up before serving (will have fallen over in oven, so you will have to put them back together somewhat).

eat 1. eat another. keep eating until they are all gone.

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers
adapted from Shauna, makes 1-2 dozen crackers

if you have questions about storing these, I’d suggest you go to the source and click on Shauna’s link above. and although I think this recipe turned out just fine, if you have the ingredients listed on her site, I’d recommend following hers to the letter – she’s the expert!

printable version (crackers only)

ingredients
2.5 oz sorghum flour
2.5 oz brown rice flour
2.5 oz tapioca flour
2.5 oz all purpose gluten-free flour (or sweet rice, as Shauna uses, if you have it)
1 t cinnamon
1 t baking powder
3/4 t xanthan gum
1/2 t salt
7 T unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 c honey
3 to 6 T cold water
cinnamon sugar, optional

special equipment: a food processor, a rolling pin and if you want jagged edges, a fluted pastry cutter

instructions
Measure out the sorghum, brown rice, tapioca, and all purpose flours and put into food processor. Mix together. Add the cinnamon, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt. Mix until everything is well combined.

Cut the butter into small pieces. Add to the flours in the food processor. Pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flours. The mixture should have a coarse texture.

Stir together the honey and 3 T of the water. With the food processor running, pour in the honeyed water. Let the food processor run for a few minutes, allowing the dough to form a ball. If it still has not come together entirely after a few minutes of processing, add the remaining cold water, a tablespoon at a time. (I ended up using 5 T)

Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Have another piece of parchment paper ready for rolling.

Cut the ball of dough in half. Return the other half to the refrigerator. Put the ball of dough onto the parchment-lined sheet tray. Cover it with the other piece of parchment paper. Carefully, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 1/2 the length of the sheet tray, or until the dough is about 1/4-inch thick (there will be extra ragged edges). Cut the dough into desired shape and number of pieces. Dust with cinnamon sugar if desired and roll over to make it stick. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes. Repeat with other half of dough ball.

After 15 minutes, using the tines of a fork, prick holes into the crackers in whatever pattern you want. Bake the graham cracker dough until golden brown and starting to be hard, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the tray halfway through to even baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet tray until they are cool; they will harden as they cool.

 

Graham Crackers
adapted from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It; makes ~2-3 dozen

in the event that you aren’t going to demolish these right away, two at a time with chocolate and marshmallow in the center, these babies will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container. they could also be frozen for 2 months – just unthaw for a couple of hours before eating.

printable version (crackers only)

ingredients
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1 t kosher salt
2 t baking powder
1/3 c unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 c honey
1/4 c blackstrap molasses
1/3 c + 4 T sugar
1/4 c 2% milk
1/2 t vanilla extract
cinnamon sugar, optional

special equipment: a food processor, a rolling pin and if you want jagged edges, a fluted pastry cutter

instructions
Measure out flours and put into food processor. Mix together with salt and baking powder. Mix until everything is well combined.

Cut the butter into small pieces. Add to the food processor. Pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flours. The mixture should have a coarse texture. Add the honey, molasses, and the 1/3 c sugar, blend. Add milk and vanilla and mix until a stiff soft dough forms.

Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Have another piece of parchment paper ready for rolling.

Cut the ball of dough in half. Return the other half to the refrigerator. Put the ball of dough onto the parchment-lined sheet tray. Cover it with the other piece of parchment paper. Carefully, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 1/2 the length of the sheet tray, or until the dough is about 1/4-inch thick (there will be extra ragged edges; should be ~12×15 inches). Cut the dough into desired shape and number of pieces. Dust with cinnamon sugar if desired and roll over to make it stick. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes. Repeat with other half of dough ball.

After 15 minutes, using the tines of a fork, prick holes into the crackers in whatever pattern you want. Bake the graham cracker dough until dark brown and starting to be hard, about 18-22 minutes. Turn the tray halfway through to even baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet tray until they are cool; they will harden as they cool.

Homemade Mint Marshmallows
makes ~2 dozen large marshmallows

another variation on a favorite new treat of mine!

printable version (marshmallow only)

ingredients
3 .25 oz envelopes of unflavored gelatin
2 c sugar
3/4 c corn syrup
1/4 t salt
1 t mint extract
1/2 c of powdered sugar
Water

must-haves
candy thermometer
stand mixer

instructions
Line your square baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray (foil is optional if you use enough spray).

In the bottom of your mixer, mix the gelatin with a 1/2 cup of water. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

In a large pot, mix together the sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup of water. Insert the candy thermometer and turn the heat onto medium low. Without stirring, let the syrup cook until it reaches 248 degrees.

Remove from heat and slowly add sugar syrup to the gelatin mixture. Add the salt and mix at high speed for 10 minutes or until it’s fluffy and tripled in size (may take less time, so check). Add the mint extract and pour marshmallow fluff into prepared pan.

Let it set for at least four hours. Remove marshmallow slab from the pan. Cover both sides of slab with powdered sugar. With a sharp knife, cut marshmallow into squares using scissors or a sharp knife coated in cooking spray or powdered sugar.

One Pie is Never Enough

lemon tart

I’m not sure what led me to make a tart for Battle Strawberry. It was clearly poor planning on my part. Although I should insert here, that I used to be a really good, I mean really really good, planner. I just plan a lot less now than I used to. Ask Chris, and he might tell you that it’s utterly frustrating. But that’s because he pretends to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants-kinda-guy and in the past has gotten away with that by hiding behind my organization. Well now, now he whines because we don’t plan, or at least we don’t plan as good as “we” used to.

Don’t let that confuse you – I will glady admit that one of my best traits is (well, are) multi-tasking, organizing, and planning. That may be one of the many reasons why I love cooking so darn much – if you make anything crazier than pasta you have to think a little about what you’re doing. And menu planning? Good times. Nothing’s more exciting than a trip to the g-store (which by the way I am just dying to hit up the new Whole Foods). Is that lame? Well, whatever. I’ve been lame before, but only a couple of times.


But when I was deciding what to make for the Iron Chef party, I forgot that this week in school was “tart & pie week”. I also forgot that I’d be eating a (frozen) goat cheese & asparagus quiche I made a couple weeks ago for lunch all week. You may be wondering what the real problem is here. tsk tsk. There isn’t one, really. It’s just that almost every meal this week (and snack) is in “pie-form”. I suppose it’s just plain weird is what it is. And it’s a lot of butter… especially before a beach weekend. Yikes!

asparagus quiche


It all started with the strawberry tart on Saturday. [Did I mention this was a second place winner next to the first place pizza I made?!] And Monday, that was really the beginning of the end. We made little key lime mini-pies, and we made our dough for the cherry pie and lemon meringue tarts that we finished on Tuesday. I’ve had the quiche for lunch for the last 4 days, and snacked on the tart for lunch one day (okay, you got me – two days). Fortunately, Chris’ coworkers love my baking class, and they gladly ate the pie and mini-pies.


mini key lime pies


If that wasn’t enough, I made another pie last night. But not to worry – I wasn’t craving pie or anything. My coworker’s boyfriend was in surgery earlier this week, and I got word that key lime pie is his favorite. Well, I’d already sent the minis from class with Chris. I had no choice but to whip one up at home. No choice at all.


Luckily, I do love pie. And they really are easy to throw together. If you’re scurred, you can buy the pre-made shells, but they aren’t gonna be as flaky or as tasty as what you can make at home. You could always go for a graham cracker shell (or any other cookie crumb), which is just the crumb, a little sugar, and melted butter. Easy peezy. But seriously, if you’re making a regular pie crust, just make sure you don’t overmix, hence melt, the fat (butter or shortening) and when you roll out, make sure your rolling pin and surface are well-floured. Other than those minor challenges, you are practically dumping fruit into a pan and baking. The end result: a delightfully flaky, buttery crust underneath a myriad of possibilities – sweet or savory – warm or cold – streusel topping, naked, or pie shell.


Really – what is better than pie?


Strawberry Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze

serves 6-8

printable recipe

ingredients
Pâte Brisée shell
1 1/4 cups AP flour (+ flour for rolling)
8 T butter, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t sugar
2-4 t ice water, very cold


filling & glaze
2 lbs strawberries, stemmed and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T orange zest, divided
8 oz mascarpone cheese
4 oz ricotta cheese (or 12 oz mascarpone & no ricotta)
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 T balsamic vinegar


instructions
1. cut butter into cubes and put in freezer until ready to use

2. In food processor (or by hand), mix flour, salt, sugar together. Cut in butter until pea-sized – pulsing. Add in water, by pulsing, until mixture starts to clump together.

3. Remove dough from processor and place on clean surface. Roll into mound and place in fridge covered with plastic wrap for ~30 minutes. You should still see specks of butter in the dough.

4. Combine strawberries, 1/2 of orange zest, sugar. Macerate in fridge for ~30 minutes.

5. Mix cheese, confectioners sugar, other 1/2 of zest, lemon juice, vanilla. Refrigerate until needed.

6. Preheat oven to 375. Take dough out of fridge and let sit ~5 minutes. Flour surface and roll dough into 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Gently fold in half and onto the roller. Place atop pie plate/tin and unfold onto other half.

7. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork multiple times. Cover with parchment paper or tin foil and place pie weights, dry beans, (or spare change, which is what I use) atop and bake about 15 minutes. Remove weights and paper. Bake bare for another ~20.

8. Drain macerated strawberries, and put juice in small saucepan. Add balsamic vinegar and thyme and bring to boil over med-hi, reduce to syrupy consistency and let cool.

9. Once tart is cooled, spread mascarpone mixture over bottom. Top with strawberries. With brush, spread balsamic glaze atop strawberries.


Classic Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition; serves 6-8



ingredients
shell
4 oz graham cracker crumbs
2 oz sugar
2 oz melted butter


filling
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
5 oz key lime juice or lime juice (freshly squeezed, but bottled works too)
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
whipped cream, optional


instructions


Preheat to 350. Mix sugar and crumbs in bowl. Add butter and mix with hands until all is wet. Press into sprayed pie plate/tin, and press up the sides. Use another shell to place on top to even out the mixture. Bake alone for 4 minutes.


Mix milk with lightly beaten eggs. Add in juice. If you want color, add food color too. Pour into baked shell and bake for 20-25 minutes, until “jiggly but firm”. Let cool. Add whipped cream, if using.