Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieTo take one look at this blog, you’d think it was focused solely on desserts these days. Recent posts have included, cider donut shortcakes, cookie butter buckeyes, chocolate cake with burnt oranges – Mom, I promise we’re eating real food, too! Just last week we had escarole and white bean soup one night and Bear made chicken, sweet potato, and kale enchiladas the next. It’s fall, though, and with it comes the push for food that comforts and that wows a holiday crowd. Which is what we have here – a real showstopper of a dessert for either Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving if that’s more your speed, as it is mine) or the winter holidays: Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie!

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieWhaaaaaat? You didn’t know Trader Joe’s has updated its year-round classic cookie spread and infused it with the official flavor of Fall, pumpkin spice? Let me save you any question that this might not be the most perfect marriage – it is on par with love of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. If you’ve never had cookie butter – or speculoos spread, as it’s called in most of the world outside of the U.S. – it’s ground, spiced graham cookies that are crushed and blended to form a thick peanut-butter-like paste. My personal favorite part of speculoos spread, or cookie butter, are the little tiny crystals of undissolved cookie throughout – it takes any apple slice, waffle, or PB&J to another level.

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieWhen I saw this Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago, I figured we’d just eat it as is, spread on whatever vehicle selected to get it into our mouths fast enough. “Maybe,” I said to a skeptical-of-all-things-trendy Bear, “we can blend it into a smoothie with bananas!” But once home, I found myself thinking of something seasonal to do with it. It is pumpkin spice, after all, and we’re coming up on holidays where you might need to bring a dessert to a party. Sure, you could bring a traditional pumpkin pie – they’re delicious – but you could also bring a Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie that tastes like the old standard and gingerbread cheesecake had a baby. I vote for the latter!

While this certainly isn’t my prettiest pie crust (don’t be like me and forget to chill your pie dough before you bake it), it hardly even matters when you have a filling this good. Cream cheese adds a velvety-ness to the mix and a slight tang, while freshly blended and barely sweetened whipped cream lightens things up to a beautiful not-quite-airy, but mousse-like texture. If you’re looking for a little something different in a Fall dessert, try this pie – it’s creamy and dense, easy to make-ahead (pop it in the fridge or freezer), and a delectable new version of a Fall classic.

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie
Yields one 9-inch pie

Ingredients
1 fully-baked pie crust, cooled completely
8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1-1/3 cup of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter
1 cup of confectioner’s sugar
1-1/2 cups of heavy cream
1/4 cup of granulated sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream and the granulated sugar and whip until peaks form; the peaks should stand on their own when the beaters are removed. Refrigerate the whipped cream while you prepare the next step. In a larger bowl, use a hand-mixer to combine the cream cheese and the pumpkin spice cookie butter. Once combined, slowly add in the cup of confectioner’s sugar and blend completely.

Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator and fold two-thirds of it into the cookie butter mixture. Be gentle so that some of the air of the whipped cream is left behind and aerates the pie filling. Once combined, pour the mixture into the pie crust and allow to set for at least 2 hours before serving. You can use the remaining whipped cream to top the pie or serve on the side. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.

This pie can be made up to two days in advance if kept in the refrigerator and can also be frozen two weeks prior to when you might need it. To make 2 days ahead, fill the pie crust, but do not add the whipped cream. Wrap tightly with foil and keep cold in the back of your refrigerator. Prior to serving, make fresh whipped cream for top. If freezing, fill the pie crust and skip the whipped cream on top. Wrap the pie tightly in plastic wrap and then again in heavy-duty aluminum foil to keep out frost – the double layer of protection is a must. Defrost on the counter for an hour before serving and make fresh whipped cream to top.

Cider Donut Shortcakes

Cider Donut ShortcakesBear is many things, but a baker is not one of them. Not because he can’t manage a hand-blender or feels it might threaten his masculinity (gasp!), but because it requires patience to measure, to sift, to leaven. I stray from baking for long periods of time myself because of this need to be so precise with it. Ultimately, though, I find my way back, take a few deep breaths, run off my Italian impulsivity, and get back to leveling, weighing, and timing rises and bakes down to the minute.
Cider Donut ShortcakesThree years ago, Bear was trying to come up with a birthday cake idea for me, but was overtaken with nerves that his lack of patience would win out and he’d wind up with a failed dessert. I was serious when I said he could just buy a box of donuts, but he was suspicious of being let off the hook that easily. Creativity was quick to strike, though, and on my 32nd birthday, the strawberry donut shortcake was born – a fluffy, glazed donut split in half and filled with wine-macerated berries and homemade whipped cream. Is that Bear a catch, or what? It’s such a special, over-the-top treat, that I’ve requested it for birthdays 33 and 34, as well.
Cider Donut ShortcakesBut once a year seems so long to wait for a donut-turned-layered-cake dessert, doesn’t it? Who wants to wait for a whole rotation around the sun to gently saw through a pillowy donut and stuff it with cream and fruit? What of the many seasonal varieties of treats that could be made in such a similar fashion?

Cider Donut ShortcakesThat’s how we got here, folks, to Cider Donut Shortcakes – your newest, easiest Fall dessert to have on hand for any day of the week from September through November. Do you know how people squee for these? The excitement of the donut itself – cakey in texture, but crisp with its cinnamon and sugar sprinkle – surrounding a giant ball of vanilla ice cream that’s slowly melting beneath a syrup of sauteed apples with cinnamon and cardamom? Your loved ones will lose their minds – and you won’t have to measure anything more than a little sugar and a little spice to pull your apples together! Try these soon before cider donut season wraps up and let me know what other varieties these shortcakes might inspire in you – I’m all ears!

Cider Donut Shortcakes
Yields two apple cider donut shortcakes

Ingredients
2 cider donuts
1 pint of vanilla ice cream
2 granny smith apples, skinned & cored, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of apple cider (apple juice or water would work fine too)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of cardamom
Pinch of salt

Directions
Slice the donuts in half from side-to-side and set aside. In a sauce pan, melt butter on medium-low while slicing apples. Allow to brown gently and when bubbles cover the surface of the butter, add in the brown sugar, apples, salt, and spices. Raise the heat to medium and sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add in the apple cider and stir to combine, then allow to cook for an additional 5-7 minutes, stirring only occasionally. The apples should become fairly soft, but not mushy, and the liquid should thicken into a syrupy consistency. It will become more dense as it cools. Remove from heat as you scoop two, rounded mounds of ice cream and place on the bottom half of the donut. Flatten the top just enough for it to hold some apples as you spoon them onto the top of each ice cream ball. Be liberal with both the apples and the syrup. Place the other donut half on top and serve immediately.

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupOne of my favorite activities is lying in bed at night and dreaming up new recipes with Bear. Usually, one of us will be looking at Pinterest or working on devouring a new novel when the other will exclaim out of nowhere, “You know what would be great to make for the blog?” What follows usually varies in both its appeal and possibility. Some ideas dissipate as quickly as they formed, while others make it onto a running list in my phone only to stay there for months without barely a second thought. Better suggestions make it to the trial stage, but fail miserably and on really good days, I’m able to take an idea and turn it into something absolutely delicious that we wind up having twice in one week because it’s that darn good. Such is the case here with this Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup!

The truth is, this recipe started off as an idea to make a “loaded” cauliflower soup like one would if making a rift on a loaded baked potato. I still think this is a tasty idea (thanks, boo!) and, truly, who doesn’t want to top a thick cauliflower soup with bacon, scallions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and other favorite toppings? I’ll come back to this idea, I know it, but before I could get there a few weeks ago, I spied a round of Boursin shallot & chive herbed cheese in the back of my dairy drawer and instantly knew this would be a pairing for the ages. A quick search will tell you that there’s no shortage of cauliflower and cheese soup recipes out there, but from what I found, no one had thought to pair this creamy, savory cheese with cauliflower just yet – at least as far as Google is concerned. It was all the motivation I needed to put this new plan into action – roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup was born!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupIn this recipe, I start by roasting the cauliflower with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic until it is medium brown and nutty so that the flavor of our shining star is concentrated and ever-present through each spoonful. I know when the cauliflower is done both by the buttery, toasted aroma it gives off and when the edges of smaller pieces start to become crisp. Seriously, I could stop right here and eat the entire tray as is, but then a) there’d be no soup and b) I’d be in terrible gastrointestinal distress for the following 6-8 hours.

Paired with some golden, sautéed onions, fresh thyme, and chicken or vegetable broth, the soup is bulked up by the addition of two medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes that add to its silkiness once pureed and makes the soup hearty and warming – or, exactly what we all need to get through the remains of winter. With the herbed cheese melted in at the final moment, the soup becomes creamy with both the flavor and mouth-feel (don’t hate me for using that word) of fresh cream and the added deliciousness of shallot and chives. Top your bowls with homemade croutons, a sprinkle of fresh parsley, some crispy bacon, or all of the above for a soup that will quickly become your new favorite. Roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup: make it tonight!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup
Yields 4 servings

Ingredients
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
Salt & pepper
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & chopped
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup of milk or cream
3 ounces of herbed cheese, such as Boursin, Alouette, or Rondelé, crumbled
Croutons, crispy bacon pieces, or chopped fresh herbs for garnish (optional)

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Roast until medium brown, about 20-30 minutes. While the cauliflower is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onion and potatoes and sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until fragrant, about a minute or two. Deglaze the pot with the broth and add the roasted cauliflower. Bring soup to a boil, cover with a lid, and reduce to simmer, allowing the soup to cook for about 20 minutes. Potatoes should be tender before removing pot from heat.

Once the soup has finished cooking and you have turned off the flame, use an immersion blender and puree the soup until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add milk or cream and the crumbled cheese, stirring to incorporate. Cover pot and allow cheese to melt and integrate into the soup. Stir well and check the soup for salt & pepper; season if necessary. Add homemade croutons, crisp bacon, or a chiffonade of fresh herbs to the top of each bowl for garnish.

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.

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla SoupLately, I’ve been making these super organized, really thought out grocery lists to try and maximize our meals. For me, this means two main things: 1) Focusing on fresh ingredients that really get me excited about cooking and 2) Making sure I develop meals around our schedules so that it’s not as appealing to just order take-out several nights a week. As a result, I’ve been gathering easy ingredients to always have on-hand for quick, satisfying meals – hey there, easy breakfast-for-dinner nights! – and making sure I have a veggie & noodle salad of some kind, or an easy soup, in the fridge and ready to go when hunger pangs come calling.

This chicken tortilla soup is one of my absolute favorite soups, first and foremost, because it is just so tasty. Every time I make it, I exclaim that we should eat it once a week and that is so not an exaggeration – it’s really that good. Plus, it fits my new maximization mantra of having fresh ingredients and flavors, while being a fairly adaptable meal for different schedules and levels of attention. While the recipe first came into my life as an option for the slow cooker, I found myself this week with all the makings, but without having had the forethought to put it together in the morning. Fail face.

Chicken Tortilla SoupSure, I could have waited for the next day, but this soup is so good that it possesses my brain every time I get ready to make it so that there’s this constant thought loop of “Is it chicken tortilla soup time yet?” After a bit of adaptation and messing about, it was chicken tortilla soup time and only within about 75 minutes for prep & cooking combined! Which means that this delicious, satisfying, feel-so-good soup is now even easier and faster to get from fridge, to pot, to bowl, to face. And that’s something I fully support.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Yields 4-6 servings; adapted from here.

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil
3-4 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts
Salt & pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 15oz can of petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 10oz can enchilada sauce
1 4oz can chopped green chile peppers
1 14.5oz of chicken stock
2 cups of corn (fresh, frozen, or canned will do)
1/2 cup of red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
3 large flour tortillas cut into 1/4-inch strips (crushed tortilla chips are also acceptable)
1 lime cut into wedges

Directions:
In a heavy-bottom pot, drizzle in enough vegetable oil to cover the surface and apply medium-high heat. Generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. When the oil begins to ripple, add the chicken breasts to the pot skin-side down. Allow to cook for 5 minutes or until they have developed a brown crust. Flip chicken breasts and cook on other side for another 5 minutes. Remove chicken breasts from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic, sauteeing for 4-5 minutes until the onions begin to turn translucent. Season with salt and pepper and add bay leaf, cumin, and chili powder. Stir to combine and allow spices to toast for 3 minutes with the onions and garlic. Turn heat back up to medium high and slowly stir in the chicken stock, releasing any brown bits from the bottom of the pot with your spoon as you pour. Add the tomatoes, green chile peppers, and enchilada sauce and stir together. Add chicken breasts to pot and any juices that have collected while it was resting. Cover pot allowing only a tiny vent for steam and bring to a low boil. Adjust temperature accordingly and allow to simmer like this for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, approximately 15 minutes more. Remove soup lid and add corn. When chicken is done, remove from pot and rest until it is cool enough to handle. Allow the soup to continue cooking, uncovered, on medium heat so that it reduces some.

In the meantime, you can prep the red onion, cilantro, limes, and tortilla strips for the garnish. In a small-to-medium deep pot, pour in about 1-inch of vegetable oil and apply medium-high heat. In the meantime, slice your flour tortillas in half and then slice them across into a series of 1/4-inch, thin strips. Test the oil by putting the end of one of the tortillas into the oil and see if it sizzles. If so, drop one in and test it. You want it to achieve golden brownness in about 15 seconds. If it doesn’t get there, discard strip and let oil heat up a bit more. If it gets dark much faster, lower the temperature of the oil accordingly. When ready, add a small handful of the strips at a time and, watching them carefully, gently move them around the hot oil with tongs as they turn golden and crisp up. As you remove the strips from the oil, drain them on paper towels and salt them lightly while they’re still hot and fresh. Finish the remaining strips and set aside.

Pull the chicken off the bones and discard them along with the skin. Shred the chicken meat and add back to soup. Allow to warm and re-incorporate for about 5-7 minutes. Turn soup off and cover until ready to serve. When ready to eat, ladle soup into bowls and top with diced red onion, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and fresh tortilla strips.