Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake Crust

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustWhew! That title is a monster! You might be asking, are all of those things really going to be in this recipe and will it really be good or just plain overwhelming? Fear not, dear readers! This recipe is as every bit delicious as it is a mouthful and I promise to never steer you wrong. If you’re looking for a lovely little Fall-inspired breakfast to have this weekend or later on in the season once the leaves have all wrapped themselves in ochre, this is it. All the flavors of Fall and home in one dish!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustPrior to moving to Minneapolis, I’d never seen French toast dipped in anything other than your standard egg custard. All of that changed, though, when I found my favorite local brunch spot, Sunnyside Up Cafe, where they rolled their French toast in crushed cinnamon-sugared cornflakes – what a surprising and delicious treat! Their Cowboy French Toast, as they called it, was unmatched in its crunch and caramelization – cornflakes and sugar browned up in butter? Help me, Rhonda!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustSadly, my beloved Sunnyside Up went out of business a year or so ago and ever since I’ve been thinking of trying my hand at recreating their French toast. I’ve hesitated though because, truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of sweet for breakfast. Sweet and salty, yes, please, but a whole plate of sugary, syrupy breakfast makes me feel off the whole rest of the day. Last week, though, I found a beautiful cinnamon bread at the store and while we’d had a few slices for a late-night sweet treat over several days, it was starting to get a bit dry. As I made my way back through the kitchen en route to the bedroom on Saturday night, I passed it on the counter and it clicked – we could have French toast tomorrow morning! With a plan in place, I left 8 slices out on the counter, took a package of bacon out of the freezer to defrost, and off I went to slumber.

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Conflake CrustThe next morning felt like Fall, with a cooler breeze in the air and the first turning leaves spied from the kitchen window. As I began to gather my ingredients, I came across a lone can of pumpkin puree in the back of my pantry. My initial thought was “You’d better use this remaining can up from last winter before you start stockpiling cans for this season!” and as soon as the thought was complete, my stomach & brain sung “pumpkin french toast!” in unison. The rest of this story is history!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustThe pumpkin custard here is simple, but tastes like the loveliest of pies – cinnamon, vanilla, & cardamom all join the milk and eggs to round out the flavors of Fall. Rolled in a mixture of crushed cornflakes, sugar, and some more cinnamon, the French toast takes on this hard, crisp exterior that holds up well to a pat of butter and your best maple syrup. In fact, you don’t even really need the latter as this recipe is so delicious on its own, but why stop at pumpkin french toast with cinnamon sugar cornflake crust? A drizzle of maple syrup, a slice or two of bacon, some fresh berries and this is the stuff of dreams – autumnal dreams! Serve this to your favorite wearer(s) of plaid & enjoy!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustNote: Exciting news at Femme Fraîche – I was able to upgrade my camera just last week, which means I have a bunch more megapixels to capture and play with. While these photos were taken with the new baby, it was less than 24 hours after its arrival, so they might not look so great while I get up to speed on all of the new bells & whistles. Prettier (less grainy?) photos to come!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake Crust
Yields 8 slices of French Toast

Ingredients:
8 slices of a sturdy bread, such as brioche, that has been left out on the counter overnight or is a few days old
3 eggs
1/2 cup of whole milk or half & half
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2-1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, separated
2-3 shakes of nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of cardamom
5 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar, separated
1/3 cup of canned, pureed pumpkin; not canned pumpkin pie filling
2 cups of cornflakes
Small pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons of butter, plus more for serving
Maple syrup, optional
Fresh berries, optional

Directions:
Set out 8 slices of bread overnight to dry out a bit so that they will absorb maximum pumpkin custard and flavor when you make your French toast. In a resealable gallon bag, pour 2 cups of cornflakes, 1-1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 5 Tablespoons of sugar, and a small pinch of salt. Crush together until all of the cornflakes are broken down coarsely. Pour contents onto a large platter and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine the 3 eggs and milk until well incorporated. Add the remaining cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and vanilla. Whisk together, then add the pumpkin puree and stir until combined.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat as you dip each piece of bread in the pumpkin custard. Depending on your bowl, you can submerge each piece for a minute or so, or soak each side for approximately a minute each. When your bread has absorbed a enough custard, transfer to the platter of cornflakes and coat with the mixture. Pat mixture onto both sides with a little pressure so that the cornflakes adhere well. Add to melted butter in the pan and follow suit with 3 others slices. Cook in two batches of 4 for approximately 3-4 minutes a side or until cornflakes are golden brown and smell of caramelized sugar and butter. Use remaining two tablespoons of butter to melt in the pan between batches.

When finished, allow French toast to sit for 2 minutes so that the coating hardens up. Top with a pat of butter, a drizzle of maple syrup, and fresh berries if desired.

 

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame Brittle Swirl

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleMy teaching load is pretty heavy this semester, so I’m doing much less of all of the things I love – spending time with friends, cooking, making things with my hands, blogging, and the list goes on. Still, it’s good work, a paycheck, and it makes me really present when I am able to put time into things I enjoy. Last week, in the middle of a major tech glitch in one of my online courses, a student meltdown over confronting their own homophobia, and the realization that I had scheduled papers due in all of my classes on the same day, I quit. I closed my school’s loaner laptop for the first time in four straight days, shut my desktop off for a few hours, and just thought about what I wanted to do with my sudden window of freedom…ahem, I mean self-care!

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleI’ve been knocking around the idea of making Thai iced tea ice cream since last summer when I saw someone’s photos on Pinterest of it. Big, round globes of soft orange ice cream, piled on top of a waffle cone – I already knew what it must taste like! As the thought stayed in the back of my mind, though, I’ve continually thought about what I could add to give it a different spin or add some texture. When it comes to ice cream, I’m usually a purist, but I saw so much potential here for doing a little more. I had a clear winner in mind, but when I went to my pantry in order to get some serenity last week, the cans of coconut milk I thought I’d find there were nowhere to be found. Did someone make a delicious curry while I wasn’t looking? Who’s to say? But with that idea down the drain, my eyes fell on a bag of sesame seeds I had bought a few months back wanting to make one of my favorite candies of all time – sesame brittle.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleLike magic, the two ideas melded and it was just the undertaking I was up for – multi-stepped so that I could successfully avoid work and give myself the break I needed and yet not so cumbersome that I’d be sorry I started halfway through. For someone not looking to cook the day away, you might want to split this up over two days, making the brittle and the ice cream base on the first day and churning and assembling the ice cream on the second. When I have the time, I prefer to make ice creams over two days anyhow because it allows the base to get really, really cold in the refrigerator overnight so that it churns faster and gets thicker once you introduce it to the machine.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleSince I wanted to start and finish this ice cream on the same day, I began with the base and then put it in the back, coldest corner of my fridge and let it sit there for several hours while I made the brittle, allowed it to cool, and broke it up. Breaking the brittle to the point where it is about the consistency of store-packaged toffee chips is a tough job (so is not eating all of it before you crush it), but I relied on a trusted, vintage ice crusher to do the job. You’d have just as much success putting the brittle into a bag and crushing it with a rolling pin, of course.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleThe brittle itself is nutty from the toasted sesame seeds and then sweet and caramelized from the honey. I add a little cinnamon and a little cardamom to add a some extra warmth and spice, but you can leave those out if you don’t have them on hand. The brittle is, obviously, great in ice cream, but it’s also perfect on its own. I was so bananas over it that I plan on making a bunch at Christmas and handing it out with cards. Here’s where I’d go into detail about how I accidentally semi-burnt a batch, but nibbled at it until it was suddenly gone anyway because it was sugar and butter and honey and, thus, still delicious.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleIt adds a great crunch and texture to the ice cream, which tastes, as you might imagine, just like Thai iced tea, but creamier. The flavor of the tea is really pronounced, but that’s what I love about this recipe. If it seems too strong to you the first time you make, go a bit lighter on the steeping time and that should help. Without the brittle, I’d worry about the tea flavor being a little overwhelming and the base not sweet enough, so keep that in mind if you decide to make this sans brittle; you may want to increase the sugar and/or decrease the steeping time.

Such a beautiful, delicious dessert and one that is definitely worth the time spent. When chaos, inevitably, strikes this week, at least I’ll still have some ice cream to get me through. It wound up being just the thing to take my mind off classses and allowed me to enjoy being back in the kitchen with just an idea and some time on my hands.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame Brittle
Yields about a pint & a half

For the Brittle
 (adapted slightly from here)
Ingredients:
3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of honey
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 Tbsp water
1 cup raw sesame seeds
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of butter
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda

Directions:
In a heavy-bottomed pot, add the sugar, honey, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and water and stir to combine over medium heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally, then stir in the raw sesame seeds. Cook the mixture, stirring often, until it turns an amber color. This can occur anywhere between 5-10 minutes and it is very important you not only keep watch for the color to change, but that you also use your sense of scent. When you can smell the sugar caramelizing and the sesame seeds toasting, check on the color and wait until it reaches a rich medium brown. If you have a candy thermometer, the temp should be around 300°F. Once the sesame mixture has reached the desired color and temperature, remove the pan from the heat. Immediately stir in the vanilla extract and butter. Once the latter has completely melted, stir in the baking soda. This will cause the mixture to foam up a bit, but don’t be alarmed. As you stir, and as it settles down, the foam will subside. Pour sesame mixture onto a baking sheet that has been lined with a silpat or parchment paper. For the ice cream, I like to spread it out a bit so that the brittle is about 1/8″ thick or even less. If I was serving it on its own, I’d spread it to about 1/4″ thickness. Once the brittle has completely cooled and hardened (about 25 minutes), break it into pieces and enjoy or grind it up for use in ice cream.

For the Ice Cream
Ingredients:
1/2 cup of Thai tea leaves – I used these
1-1/2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of heavy cream
1-1/2 cups of sugar
3 large eggs

Directions:
Consult your ice cream machine’s directions and plan ahead to freeze the insert if necessary. In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the milk and 1 cup of the heavy cream. As small bubbles form around the edges, pour in the tea leaves and stir gently for about three minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to sit and cool for about 20 minutes so that the tea leaves steep into the mixture. While this is cooling, measure the sugar into a medium mixing bowl and add the three egg yolks. Beat with a whisk until the mixture is a pale yellow and the texture is almost like a paste. In a separate heavy-bottom saucepan, add the remaining cup of heavy cream and allow to warm over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Bubbles around the edge will form indicating it is getting hot. When this occurs, pour in the egg and sugar mixture and mix thoroughly until combined. Turn the heat down to medium and stir the mixture gently, but consistently, for about 10 minutes. You’re creating a custard here and while this isn’t difficult, your attention is key in making sure it doesn’t cook too far, or get too hot too quickly, creating a curdled texture. As the heat rises, the mixture will thicken into a custard. As soon as you sense this happening, remove the pot from the heat and continue to stir for a bit as it begins to cool down.

After about 15 minutes, strain the custard through a wire sieve in order to remove clumps which may have formed during the custard-making face. Place in the refrigerator to cool down while you continue with the recipe. Take your pot of Thai tea and strain it. Allow this to cool as well. When both mixtures are cooled, combine thoroughly and then keep in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before churning. When the Thai iced tea base is completely cold, pour it into your ice cream machine and allow it to process according to the manufacturer’s directions. In the final five minutes of processing, shake in about a cup of the sesame brittle crumbles and allow the machine to stir them in. When the ice cream has finished churning, transfer to a freezer-proof container and store.

 

DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersWell, the semester has begun and though I wish I was creating blog content all the live long day, I’ve been back to teaching and guiding students through their first few weeks of gender & women’s studies classes. For the first time in a long time, I’m teaching some intro-level classes, which are my absolute favorite. Observing students as their minds are being blown is just the very best feeling as a teacher. These are the perks!

Before things really got underway this semester, though, I celebrated my birthday last week with a friend whose big day is just a day before mine. Surrounded by friends and loved ones, we drank champagne and ate an amazing Italian-inspired meal, al fresco, in our beautifully decorated side yard. It was quite a time! For dessert, I made us a giant cheesecake, covered in the season’s sweetest strawberries, and used these easy DIY cake toppers I had made the week before to make it extra special.

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersIf you follow my Instagram feed or checked out the highlights from Charlotte & Katie’s wedding feature, these may look familiar to you. I made Charlotte & Katie a pair for their wedding cake back in July and because they were just so easy (and almost criminally inexpensive), I followed up with a set for myself. What’s wonderful about them is that they’re reusable – the white paint that spells out your message of “Happy Birthday!”, or what have you, is written on a chalkboard paint background with a chalk marker! With a damp cloth, the slate is wiped clean and they’re ready to go for your next happy, cake-included, occasion.

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersYou’re limited here really only in terms of what shapes of wood you can find. While I’ve come across other shapes and sizes at Joann’s, these hearts are my favorite and are most applicable to a variety of holidays and events. Chalkboard paint, though, is available in so many different colors now and what you use as an accent color for the backs, edges, and skewers is entirely up to you. Now that I’m thinking of it, I wish I had tracked down a hot pink chalkboard paint because, paired with the metallic gold accent, it would have been a femme birthday dream come true!

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersThis is an easy craft that you can pull together in about an hour total, that costs only a few dollars, and will add a really personal touch to any future party. Arrange them on cakes, pies, cupcakes, and even stuck in the middle of a mound of cookies. They’re a sweet addition to any dessert and something you, or your loved one, can hang onto as a memory afterward or re-use in the future.
DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

Supplies:
Two wooden cut outs in any shape; I used hearts from Joann Fabrics, which were under $1 each!
Chalkboard paint
Acrylic paint in color of your choice for backs, edges, and skewers
2 wooden skewers
Hot glue sticks & glue gun
Foam paint brush, about 1″ wide
Small thin-tipped paint brush, s square tip works best
Chalk marker, or regular chalk

Directions:
On a flat surface lined with newspaper, paint the backs and edges of your shapes with your accent color of choice; I used the foam brush for the back and the thin-tipped brush for the edges. If you get a slight bit on the front, just wipe it off as best you can, but don’t fret – the chalkboard paint will cover all. After the accent color has mostly dried – about 10 minutes – apply a second coat to backs and edges. When the second coat dries either move on to the following step or add a third coat if needed. Using the thin-tipped brush follow your shape and paint a perimeter on the front of the piece with the chalkboard paint so that you create a margin and don’t risk painting over the edge that you just painted with your accent color. Using the wider foam brush, fill in the shape with a coat of chalkboard paint and allow to dry. Follow this step for the front of the shape for at least three coats in order to get a truly opaque surface. Allow to dry completely. If need be, touch up the edge with your accent color.

When your shapes are completely painted and dried, heat your glue gun and ready your two wooden skewers. If you choose to paint the skewers in your accent color, painting them when you paint the shapes is the best plan, as painting them once they’re glued to the shapes is a bit awkward. Flip your shapes over so that the back side is facing up. Apply a small, 1/2″ or so line of hot glue to the back of the shape and press the top, non-pointed, side of the skewer into the glue. If the glue is not enough to encase the top of the skewer, apply a bit more glue over top so that it is covered. Do the same to the other shape & skewer and allow to dry completely. Hot glue is usually clear, so depending on your preference, you can either leave as is or, if you’d like, once the glue is hardened and cooled, you can use your accent color to paint over the glue and make it blend a bit more seamlessly. This step is optional.

Once the skewers are dried, the cake toppers are ready for use. Use a chalk marker for easy, seamless writing (or regular chalk if preferred) and spell out your message of celebration. Chalk markers can be easily removed with a damp cloth (avoid paper towel, as it catches on the paint and the wood). Allow surface to dry before re-printing.

Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeI love the overabundance of fruit and veggies in the summer. Not only because it means there are more options of what to make, but also because it’s a challenge to discover new recipes and create your own in using up what you have on hand. Some of my tastiest dishes have come out of staring into the deep abyss of the refrigerator, or at a dwindling fruit bowl, and thinking, “What am I going to make with these remnants?” or, shamefully/more realistically, “What should I make with all of this before it’s past its prime?” The latter is exactly what occurred a few weeks ago when I overbought on strawberries thinking I was making shortcake for a party and then changing my mind at the last minute. It’s not like it’s hard to just eat strawberries – they’re my favorite of all the berries – but they take a turn for the worse so quickly that having them around, without a plan, makes me fret. Those red beauties aren’t cheap! Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeSeeing them looking back at me from their front-and-center spot in the fridge made me start hunting around for flavors that pair well and before I knew it, I had limes and was on my way to a baked good of some sort. Inspired by all of the gorgeous strawberry buttercream-topped desserts I keep seeing online, I knew I wanted to make a cake, but didn’t have the energy or the ingredients to go in that direction. Instead, I thought a loaf cake of sorts would be just the ticket and with the added bonus of having some yogurt on hand, things quickly took shape. The yogurt and sour cream combo in this cake keeps the crumb super moist, but also lighter than if you used only sour cream. The tang of both plays well with the sweetness of the berries and mirrors the lime, which makes everything feel so fresh and summery. Because when I think “lime,” I almost always think of “coconut,” I substituted coconut oil for the vegetable oil and put some unsweetened flakes in the batter too; the result was subtle, allowing the strawberries and lime to shine, but present enough that it gave the cake a bit of a tropical feel.

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeServed with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, ice cream, or just on its own, this cake is the perfect light, refreshing end to a summer meal. It also makes a great gift to welcome a new neighbor or to say “thank you!” to a friend because it’s a small, easy-to-transport cake with not a lot of frills to make it messy. Plus, it’s pretty as a picture. What a keeper!

Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake
Yields one loaf cake; adapted from here.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you’re skipping the fruit, you can also skip the last tablespoon of flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt (whole-milk is preferred, but non/low-fat works well too because of the sour cream addition)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted coconut oil, plus 1 teaspoon or so for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using approximately one teaspoon of melted coconut oil, grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the 1-1/2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt, and add the unsweetened coconut flakes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, one cup of sugar, eggs, lime zest, vanilla, and coconut oil. Slowly add the dry ingredients, a bit at a time, into the wet ingredients and whisk gently until all is combined. Toss the strawberries in the remaining tablespoon of flour and fold gently into the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a cake tester is inserted into the center and comes out clean. While the cake is finishing cooking, cook the 1/3 cup of lime juice and remaining one tablespoon of sugar together in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and set aside. When the cake is finished baking, allow it to cool for 10 minutes and then gently flip it out onto a cooling rack. Put the cooling rack over a sheet pan or cutting board to prepare for glazing. While the cake is still warm, poke a few holes into the top with a fork or a skewer and then pour the lime-sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to soak into the cake. If desired, sprinkle with some additional coconut flakes – I would have done this, but ran out! Allow to cool thoroughly before serving.

No-Bake Double Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustForgive my few weeks of absence, dear friends! I was off on a whirlwind of travel that brought me home to New Jersey to see family and then up to the North Shore of Minnesota for a cabin getaway. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably caught some of the photos. I’m back now and ready to take on summer with its bounty and its leisure in order to turn out some exciting content for you. Up first is this fantastic recipe from my grandmother, Hilda.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustIn the depths of summer, no one wants to turn on their oven, but almost everyone wants to still eat pie, right? The solution? No-bake fruit pies! They’re completely easy, homey, and taste just as delicious as their brethren who spend time baking in the oven. While blueberry is my personal favorite – and the one my grandmother makes for our family the most –  you could substitute peaches, strawberries, and combinations of all kinds of summer fruits in this. You may have to adapt the amount of fruit to switch it up, but play around and see; there’s no such thing as being grumpy over extra pie filling!

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustWhile traditionally, I’ve made her no-bake blueberry pie in a standard, flaky pie crust, I noticed her original recipe called for a gingerbread crust, which somehow got lost over the years. Visiting family in New Jersey a few weeks ago, I came across a box of Anna’s Swedish Ginger Thins and thought, “Hey! Gingersnaps would work and would be even better than gingerbread!” And so it was.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustFor many of us, Anna’s are synonymous with Ikea because they’re sold there in such abundance. They’re thin and sweet with just the right amount of spicy ginger flavor and, you know what? They pair *so* deliciously with blueberries; cinnamon, ginger, and berries are natural friends. Of course, if you can’t find Anna’s, any gingersnap will do, just make sure you’re getting gingersnaps and not gingerbread, as I’m predicting the latter would be too soft and moist for this application. You want your cookies to be full of crunch and snap so that your crust holds up to the lusciousness of the berries and cream.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustThe filling comes together nice and quickly in this recipe and because you only cook one half of the berries, and then add in the remaining off the stove, the pie has the fantastic combination of textures from both the disintegrated, now jam-like, berries and the bright burst of ones just warmed through. It is so juicy, sweet and delicious and makes for a gorgeous, seasonal dessert.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustWhen the pie has cooled, I like to top it with a thick layer of fresh whipped cream, but ice cream, or even vanilla yogurt, will also do just fine. This is a great way to have dessert despite a summer swelter and make something that looks, and tastes, like a true labor of love.
No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust
No-Bake Double Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Yields one 9″ pie

Ingredients
1-1/2 cups of gingersnap crumbs, about one 5.25oz box of Anna’s (you can also use 2 boxes of Anna’s and omit the graham entirely)
1/2 cup of graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
3 pints of blueberries, divided in half
1/2 cup of sugar
2 Tablespoons of cornstarch
2 Tablespoons of water
Pinch of salt

Directions
In a food processor, pulse gingersnaps until you have 1-1/2 cups of crumbs, set aside. Repeat with graham crackers until you have 1/2 cup. Melt one stick of butter in the microwave. In a bowl, combine both sets of crumbs and melted butter thoroughly. Pour mixture into a 9″ pie plate and, starting at the bottom, in the middle, begin pressing the crumbs into the pan to form the base and sides of the pie. Be sure to press crust into the bend between the base and the sides of the pan and then press the crumb up the sides. Place crust in refrigerator to firm up.

In a mixing bowl, add 1-1/2 pints of blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, water, and salt, and combine. Add fruit mixture to a 3-quart pot and heat mixture, stirring occasionally, until boiling. Once boiling, allow to do so for 2 minutes, stirring constantly now until it thickens some and many of the berries pop and split open. Remove from heat and immediately add in the remaining 1-1/2 pints of blueberries and stir together gently.

Remove pie crust from fridge and gently spoon in fruit mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until completely cold and firm. Top with fresh whipped cream if desired.

Guinness Fudgesicles

Guinness Fudgesicles[Note: I made these fudgesicles and wrote this post last week when we received another 6 or so inches of snow. I’m pleased to report that, mere days later, I’m publishing it with the promise of it reaching 70°F today! Welcome back, Spring! Please be here to stay. My sun dresses have missed you!]

I can’t believe I have to write a post about ice cream while the snow is falling outside with abandon and several inches are already under foot with more to come. Scratch that. I can believe it because I just remembered recently that on the first week of May last year, I wrote and told you all about the coconut ice cream with graham cracker swirl I was making amidst a blizzard. Oh, Minnesota, never change!

Guinness Fudgesicles are the perfect treat for those among us who love a rich, chocolatey dessert, but one that is punched up a bit by the bitter creaminess of a good stout beer. They are everything you remember about fudgesicles as a kid, but upgraded a bit because we’re all adults here and deserve a little something sophisticated with our desserts from time-to-time.

Guinness FudgesiclesIt might seem, upon first glance, that there’s not a lot to these, but in a way, that’s what makes them perfect. They’re not loaded up with a lot of superfluous ingredients, nor do they require a lot of technique. There’s just a bit of melting, some whisking, a pour or eight and they’re off to set up in the frozen recesses of your freezer. For full disclosure, if you have to go and buy a bag of chocolate chips to make these, or a bottle of Guinness, you’re going to have some leftovers.

Sorry about that not-a-problem. I have faith that you can handle it.

Guinness Fudgesicles
Yields 8 2.5oz pops

Ingredients
1 cup of milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup of sugar
1/3 cup + 1Tablespoon of Guinness, divided
1 Tablespoon of cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 cup of half and half
1/2 cup of 2% or whole milk
1 Tablespoon of butter

Directions
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot melt the chocolate chips over low heat. While waiting for them to melt, prepare the other ingredients, checking on the chocolate every minute or so to avoid burning. When the chips have melted, add the half and half, milk, salt, cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup of Guinness. Stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium and cook for 5-10 minutes or until it begins to thicken. You may want to switch out your spoon for a whisk in order to make sure your mixture is free of any lumps. When it has thickened slightly, remove from the heat and add the butter. Stir in and allow to melt fully, incorporating it completely. At this point, taste the chocolate and see if the taste of the Guinness suits you. I wanted a little extra oomph, so I added 1 Tablespoon after cooking and the Guinness flavor really blossomed.

Pour mixture into 8 popsicle molds and freeze for 30 minutes. Then, insert the popsicle sticks and allow to continue freezing until they are solid. Before serving, you may need to dip your molds in warm water to loosen them. If they seem a little too soft after this process, lay them gently on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and return to freezer for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Coconut Chocolate Dipped PeepsAt this point in my 30s, every holiday I host feels like the most special of days. I iron tablecloths, set out cloth napkins, plan a menu weeks in advance; all things my early-20s self would have scoffed at. But making home – and holidays always feeling like an important part of that process – means throwing myself into them fully, striving to make it a really special day for those who choose to share it with me.

While Easter has no religious significance to me, it’s still as good an excuse as any to gather with friends and welcome in spring over good food and drinks. What this means for Easter 2014 is a menu set, with a grocery list already growing alongside it, and place cards being prepped this very weekend. It feels extra loving to dedicate these efforts to loved ones even if it winds up being quite a bit of work.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Dipping them in chocolate is yet another step in the right direction, but coconut & chocolate? Divinity! I dipped these little jewels into white or semi-sweet chips that have been melted down with a little dot of coconut oil. The oil thins out the chocolate for easier, smoother dipping and adds the additional flavor of fresh coconut. What’s not to like? A few sprinkles or unsweetened coconut flakes (they were gone before I even got to taking pictures!) and you have a satisfying and festive treat absolutely worthy of spring and a houseful of your favorite peeps.

…See what I did there?

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps
Yields 12 Peeps

Ingredients
12 Peeps
4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces of white chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon of solid coconut oil, divided in half
Sprinkles
Unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions
Line a baking sheet or cutting board with waxed paper or a silicone baking mat. In two separate bowls add the white chips and the semi-sweet chips and half a tablespoon of coconut oil each. Put each bowl in the microwave and cook for 30 second intervals until chocolate is melted. Stir the contents of each bowl really well to thoroughly combine the oil and the chocolate. Dip each Peep halfway  in the chocolate, allow to drip off into the bowl and then place on the lined surface. For the white chocolate, you may want to do a double dip to get a more opaque finish. Immediately after dipping, shake sprinkles onto the chocolate portion of the Peeps or dust with coconut flakes. When finished decorating, pop the Peeps into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes and when time has passed, check to see if the chocolate has hardened. If not, given them another 10 minutes or so. Once the chocolate has solidified, they’re ready to eat or be stored in the refrigerator for about 7-10 days. The Peeps will be a bit firm when they come out of the refrigerator after a few hours or overnight, so you may want to give them a few minutes to soften before consuming.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeThough I’ve never marched in a parade for it, nor have I ever drank green beer, I still like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every year in some capacity. While there’s no Irish ancestry on either side of my family, my mom always made a corned beef on March 17th along with boiled potatoes and cabbage. We all looked forward to that meal each year, as if corned beef couldn’t be found and made for dinner the other 364 days!

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeWhile I’ll be making this same treat-of-a-supper for Bear and I this St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll end our meal with this totally decadent Irish-inspired fudge. Obviously, this recipe was developed after we recently had a conversation about Irish car bombs, the drinks, and how they’re a curdled nightmare if you don’t chug them quickly enough; hi, my early 20s! Because we’re socially conscious killjoys on occasion, Bear schooled me on how the name “Irish car bomb,” is actually really culturally insensitive, pointing to the violence that erupted in Northern Ireland – including the deadly use of car bombs – in the 1970s-1990s. Rather than perpetuate this kind of wackness, we made a decision right then and there that if I was going to try and make us a fudge that incorporated similar flavors, we’d leave that name in the dust.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeNow that your history lesson is out of the way, let’s talk about fudge and how there are, generally, two basic approaches to it. The one I’m most familiar with includes chocolate melted alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk , later folded together with marshmallow creme and nuts. It’s easy and often can be done in the microwave. The other contains evaporated milk in place of the sweetened condensed milk and requires some boiling, a candy thermometer, and confectioner’s sugar. It’s a bit more involved and seems to yield a softer, albeit still delicious, fudge.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeI had planned on making this via the former method, but when I started to organize my mise en place I noticed I had mistakenly picked up evaporated milk instead of sweetened condensed. Zut alors! While this version did require the stove (whoa!) and keeping a close eye on the fudge’s rising temperature, it still came together in about 10 minutes. After a good, long chill in the fridge overnight, followed by a blanket of glossy ganache, and another nap to cool down again, it formed into this smooth, creamy confection. The fudge itself actually tastes like Irish Cream, which I’m very happy about, and while it’s certainly sweet from the confectioner’s sugar the bitterness of the Guinness in the ganache creates a very sophisticated flavor pairing – one that should, like my mother’s corned beef, be enjoyed throughout the year and not just on St. Patrick’s Day.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeAs a final note about the fudge, I’m storing mine in the freezer because the booze in the fudge makes it especially soft. Coming cold out of the freezer, I can slice it easier and eat it without fear of it getting too messy. It never actually freezes and rather stays a typical fudge consistency housed in the freezer. In the fridge, it is almost the consistency of a cookie dough, so fairly soft.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache
Yields one 8×8 pan; This recipe should be made at least a day in advance of serving so that it has enough time to chill and firm up.

Ingredients:
For the fudge:
1/2 cup of evaporated milk
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1 cup of white sugar
1-1/2 sticks of butter
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/3 cup of Irish Cream liqueur
2-1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

For the ganache:
1-1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of Guinness stout
Pinch of salt

Directions:
First, line an 8″x8″ pan with foil or parchment, allowing several inches to hang over the sides, and grease the lining lightly with butter or a non-flavored cooking spray. In a pot, over medium heat, stir together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, white sugar, butter and salt. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often, and cook until your candy thermometer reads 236°F; this temperature is called the “soft ball stage.” Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the liqueur. Pour into a mixing bowl and using either a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, slowly, on low speed, add the confectioner’s sugar in 2-3 increments. When thoroughly combined, stir in pecans until incorporated, and then spoon fudge into the prepared pan evenly. Next, cover the pan with foil and place in the refrigerator until firm. If you’re not adding the ganache, allow to harden for at least 6-8 hours. If you are going ahead with the ganache, check the fudge after 3 hours. It should be firm enough by then to continue.

For the ganache, add chocolate, cream, salt, and 1/4 cup of Guinness to a pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts completely and the mixture is smooth. A whisk will help remove any residual lumps. Remove the ganache from the heat and taste it. If you’re happy with it, leave as is; if you prefer more of a Guinness flavor add 1 Tablespoon of Guinness, stir well, and check flavor again. When the ganache has reached the flavor you desire, allow the mixture to cool by either putting the pot into a bowl of ice or by filling your sink with several inches of cold water and allowing the pot to sit there for 20 minutes; stir or whisk occasionally. When the mixture is no longer hot and has cooled, remove your fudge from the refrigerator and pour the ganache over it. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the ganache over the entire top surface of the fudge. Cover the fudge with foil and allow to set up in the refrigerator or freezer for another 6-8 hours.

When the fudge and the ganache have set, remove the fudge from the pan by grasping the overhanging foil or parchment and lifting out the block. Peel off the liner and place the square of fudge onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into squares. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae Candies

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesRemember being a kid and going to the grocery store and there were those big bins of loose, wrapped candies? They were 5¢ and on the honor system, so you’d toss your nickel into the tin collection box and then mull over the ten or so different options. Strawberry hard candy wrapped in its metallic strawberry-print wrapper? Yes. Caramel logs flavored with raspberry, vanilla, and maple? My weakness. Root beer barrels? Come on! So nostalgic! Sadly, you don’t see many of these around anymore (I recognize that I totally sound 125 years old right now) and a quick Google search recently led me to a hard and true fact: some of these tiny treats are gone for good.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesSo what’s a girl to do when her boo thang waxes poetic about the sweet coconut flavors of a Brach’s Neapolitan Coconut Sundae and your jaunt down Memory Lane ends in the word “discontinued?” Well, you get resourceful and you turn to Aunt Martha, and she (though I imagine really it’s some underpaid sous chef somewhere) figures out a recipe to recreate these candies of yore. Soon, you’re on your way! Thanks, Internet.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesWhile mine aren’t quite as pretty as hers – I have a heavy hand when it comes to anything pink – I think these are just the cutest little bites and would bring cheer to anyone that met them. They have such a pleasant coconut taste that, while sweet, is not cloying thanks to their combination of unsweetened and sweetened coconut flakes and not all of the latter. They have a slight chew to them and a buttery richness from the white chocolate, which makes up the pink and white layers; milk chocolate composes the majority of the bottom layer.

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae CandiesThe hardest part of this whole recipe is splitting the candy evenly enough to spread and form three distinct layers and, really, that just requires some measuring and some patience; two things my thick, pink layer could have benefited a little more from. Seriously, though, these are a cinch of a confection and they don’t even require a candy thermometer!  Neapolitan Coconut Sundae Candies are an easy, tasty reproduction of a classic that is undoubtedly missed, but not nearly as badly now that I have the recipe for these in my back pocket. I love when things work out like that!

Neapolitan Coconut Sundae Candies
Yields approximately 160 candies; recipe here.

Ingredients:
12 ounces of white chocolate; I used chips
1 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups of shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
1-1/3 cups of shredded, sweetened coconut flakes
1 ounce of milk chocolate chips, melted
Pink or red gel-paste food coloring, as needed; start with the tiniest bit, it goes a long way!

Directions:
Line an 8-inch square cake pan with plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides. In a medium sized pot, combine the white chocolate, the sweetened condensed milk, butter, salt, and vanilla extract and melt over medium heat. Stir until completely smooth. Remove mixture from heat and incorporate both kinds of coconut. Next, divide the mixture evenly among 3 bowls. Stir milk chocolate into one of the 3 bowls until combined. Add the food coloring gel into another one of the 3 bowls, stir to combine, and set aside. Leave remaining bowl plain. Spread milk chocolate layer into the bottom of the square pan. Next, add the plain coconut layer in large dollops before spreading gently over the milk chocolate coconut layer. Be careful not to blend the middle and bottom layers. Follow this same process for the top pink layer, covering the white layer completely. When finished assembling, place in fridge for 2-4 hours or until firm. If you need to give it more time to firm up, or want to stop there overnight, be sure to cover the top gently with another piece of parchment paper, so that it doesn’t absorb refrigerator smells. When ready to slice, unmold the coconut square using the overhang and discard the plastic wrap, parchment, or foil. Trim all sides about 1/2-inch to create a clean, smooth surface. Cut slices off the block about 1/4″ thick and 1-1/2″ long. Wrap individual pieces in parchment or store in a candy jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake Bars

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake BarsWhile I love a sweet treat, these days I’m baking more in an attempt to warm up the house than I am in order to have dessert for later on. I know the polar vortex has many of us experiencing single and below-zero temperatures, but as I told my dear mother just recently, “-3°F and -37°F are two different animals, at two different zoos, on two different continents!” Just yesterday, my eyelashes froze together. Like, to the point where I actually couldn’t fully open my right eye. What life is this??

The kitchen has been getting some extra steady use lately then in an attempt to feed, warm, and occasionally defrost, us simultaneously. Most recently, I made these totally decadent peanut butter & pretzel cake bars, which were the result of a literal dream I had after perusing Pinterest too close to bedtime. In a dormant state, my brain mixed the memory of a recipe I had seen pinned from Better Homes & Garden with the recent, whimsy food trend to add pretzels to all sweet things.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake BarsA self-identified sweet-and-salty-aholic, I wholeheartedly support this move – even in my subconscious. So that’s how we got here, to Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake Bars, which doesn’t sound like a terrible place to be, does it? The layers here are what’s important and I think you’ll find them pretty agreeable too. While the BH&G recipe has the base as a chocolate cake, I went with vanilla out of personal preference and layered on top of it this peanut butter cream that is both smooth and airy, almost whipped. Above the peanut butter is a thick, glossy blanket of chocolate ganache topped with the crunch and salt of your favorite pretzels.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake BarsThey’re a perfect little treat for potlucks, lunch boxes, and birthday parties alike. And, honestly, I think you can actually make these look awfully pretty with a little skill in terms of pretzel placement and design – a dirty job that somebody has to do. I was attempting a chevron pattern here, but that went off the rails quickly and yet, I still think whatever this turned into is rather nice to look at. You know, before it got cut into squares and devoured! I can also imagine these looking awfully sweet punched out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter for Valentine’s Day, a sprinkle of crushed pretzels then dusted across the top. Or heart-shaped with white chocolate ganache and red & pink nonpareils! Adorable. Deliciously so, and sure to help snag a valentine or two.

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake Bars
Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cake
Bars

Yields 9-12 bars; Adapted from here.

Note: The original recipe calls for making this in a 15″x10″ pan. I wanted to halve the amount, but also have a thicker, denser base, so I adjusted this to accommodate an 8″x8″ square pan, but used the original amount of cake base . Do what makes sense for you and yours.

Ingredients:
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/3 cup of butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons of creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar
1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped
3 Tablespoons of whipping cream for peanut butter filling, 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream for ganache
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Pretzel sticks or about 3/4 cup of crushed pretzel pieces

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line an 8″x8″ pan with parchment paper and set aside. In a bowl, combine the cake mix and melted butter and stir until combined. Beat egg in a separate bowl, add to cake batter mixture and incorporate. Pour mixture into the cake pan and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown along edges. Allow to cool completely. In the meantime, use a hand-mixer or stand mixer to blend the peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream and then add the powdered sugar. If mixture is very thick or dry, thin out with the additional tablespoon of whipping cream or milk. Whip until thoroughly combined and a bit fluffy. Pour over cooled cake base and spread out with an angled cake spatula. Place pan in the refrigerator for at least one hour or until peanut butter layer has firmed up a bit. When it has done so, but before removing from the refrigerator, microwave the chocolate chips and 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream for 30 seconds and stir. If the chips are not yet soft enough to stir until smooth, repeat microwaving at 15 second intervals until melted. Remove pan from refrigerator and pour ganache over top, spreading to cover the surface. Be gentle here, so as not to pull the peanut butter up into the ganache. Top with pretzels in the design or scattering of your choice and return to refrigerator for at least 1 additional hour. Slice into bars when firm, but allow the chill to dissipate before eating, about 15 minutes.