Feb 27, 2012

Guittard Smooth & Melty Blondie with White Chocolate Ganache

Last week I attended the Gulf Food expo here in Dubai.  If you're not familiar with Gulf Food, how can I describe it…hmm try to imagine every single last food supplier on earth (and not to mention suppliers of industrial kitchens, serving-ware, kitchen tools...I could just keep going on and on) all crammed into the massive yet bursting at the seams convention center.

I steered myself toward the international section hoping to find some new products from the US and surprisingly I ran into the lovely people from Guittard Chocolate Company.  Guittard's baking products (hello cappuccino baking chips I love you) are one of the many things I always stash in my suitcase after a trip back home.

I was so stoked to find out that soon enough they will be selling some their products here in Dubai (gourmet grocery shop in jbr!). They were also kind enough to give me a bag of Smooth and Melty Mints (and the #1 best seller on amazon):

All I wanted to do was say 'thank you sooooo much' and walk away so I could eat the bag but then I remembered the kind gentlemen that I spoke with said I should blog about the mints.  And I'm sure you'd much rather see them in a recipe than have me talk about how I ate the whole bag before I got to the parking lot.  

So I thought to myself, what shall I do with these little minty pastel beauties?  The obvious thing to do would be to throw them in a batch of cookies and call it a day but I was feeling a bit more inspired.  Maybe it had to do with seeing all those giant stainless steel mixers at the expo that could easily sleep 4 people comfortably. 

I decided on using a blondie recipe for the bars, then topping them off with a white chocolate ganache.  I have never been a huge fan of the blondie.  I mean, why not just make a brownie?  Why have vanilla when you can have chocolate?  I don't trust those 'I prefer vanilla ice cream' people. 

But these Smooth & Melty Mints are intense.  They don't need a chocolate base.  They just need a subtle background so you can enjoy their strong, creamy flavor.  I decided on the white chocolate ganache because, well…it's like spending hours on your makeup and not putting on any lipstick.  They needed a bit of glitz and glamour.

Another favorite of mine from the show was seeing my loving, generous friends at President (who gave me enough samples to last at least until winter).  You may have noticed I ALWAYS use President butter in my recipes.  That's because I know their brand stands for quality.  When you've got over 75 years of experience in the dairy biz you must be doing something right. 

Guittard Smooth & Melty Blondie with White Chocolate Ganache
*for a printable version click here

2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 lb. light brown sugar (16 oz)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

(1) 1 pound bag Guittard's Smooth & Melty Mints (if you can't find these in your area you can easily substitute for chocolate chips)


8 ounces (227 grams) white chocolate, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter


*the original recipe calls to mix by hand, however if you prefer to use a mixer that's fine.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9x13 pan (I only had a 9x9 and it worked fine).

 Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Set aside.

Stir brown sugar into softened (not melted) butter until well incorporated.  Using the back of a rubber spatula really helps.

Add eggs one at a time to the butter mixture.  Mix well after each addition. 

Add vanilla and mix well.

Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in three additions.  Never dump ALL your dry ingredients into a wet mixture.  Two reasons.  One, you will just make a mess and then curse because you'll have flour everywhere (especially if you have your mixer on turbo speed).  Two, and more importantly by adding the dry ingredients slowly you are guaranteeing a thoroughly combined mix.

Take HALF of the dough and place into the greased pan.  Sprinkle mints on top of dough and make sure they are distributed evenly.

Spread remaining half of dough on top of mints.

Bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Cool completely on wire rack.

 For the ganache, place chopped white chocolate in large glass (or heat safe) bowl.

Heat heavy cream and butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to almost a boil and remove from heat.  Pour cream and butter mix over chopped chocolate and let sit (don't touch or stir!) for one minute.

Gently stir until all the chocolate has melted and you're left with a bowl of liquid satin.  Pour over cooled blondies and let sit in the fridge to firm up, at least 2 hours.

Cut into squares and enjoy!

Blondie recipe adapted from Bakerella
Ganache adapted from Joy of Baking

Feb 22, 2012

Creamy Lime Ricotta Tart with a Gingersnap Crust & Limoncello & Brown Sugar Whipped Cream

If you've never had a cheesecake made with ricotta you've been missing out.  This recipe calls for both ricotta and cream cheese, but the amount of cream cheese is much less than a typical cheesecake.  But don't worry, you won't miss it.

The ricotta provides an amazing lightness to the cake, yet it's still creamy from the addition of the cream cheese.  It's a marriage made in dairy heaven.

And the crust!  Oh man it's good.  The recipe calls for gingersnaps which is a nice compliment to the lime juice and zest.  If you were in a pinch and couldn't find them I believe you could also use Nilla wafers or something equivalent, but truthfully stick to the gingersnaps.  The sharp, tangy ginger really sets this crust apart.

And then there is the whipped cream.  Last but definitely not least.  Ok, yes I am American and thoroughly enjoy Cool-Whip, especially right out of the tub with a spoon.  BUT nothing compares to homemade whipped cream.  And I swear it's so easy.  You don't do anything but watch your mixer whip it up into this dreamy pillow of yum.

The original recipe I intended to make called for rum instead of Limoncello, but oops someone drank it all.  I can't imagine who… (burp).  Some dear friends of ours recently returned from Italy and brought us some lovely Limoncello which I thought would hold up well against the lime and ginger.  
Just be careful not to pour too heavy when adding any booze to your whipped cream otherwise it can separate…then you'll have to drink it with a straw, which may not be a bad thing.  But that is another recipe.

Creamy Lime Ricotta Tart with a Gingersnap Crust & Limoncello & Brown Sugar Whipped Cream
*for a printable version click here
1 cup finely ground gingersnap cookies (ground in a food processor)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 oz. melted butter (3 tablespoons)
3 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
15 oz. (1 1/2 cups) ricotta, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Strips of lime zest for garnish
Whipped Cream:
*Note: this can easily be doubled as it didn't make a huge quantity
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum or Limoncello, your preference
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease tart pan with butter. 
To help make this step easy and less messy, use a sandwich baggie as a glove to grease the pan.  This allows you to get into all the corners with ease and less fuss. 

In a medium bowl, mix the cookie crumbs and sugar with a fork until well blended.  Drizzle melted butter over the crumbs and mix with a fork or your fingers until the crumbs are evenly moistened. 

Place the crumbs in the tart pan and use your hands to spread the crumbs so that they coat the bottom of the pan and start to climb the sides.  Use your fingers to pinch and press some of the crumbs around the inside edge of the pan to cover the sides and evenly create a scant 1/4 inch thick wall.

Redistribute the remaining crumbs evenly over the bottom of the pan, and press firmly to make a compact layer.  Using a metal measuring cup, gently push the crumbs down and use the side of the cup against the sides of the pan to make sure they are even.

Bake the crust until is gives off a fragrant, nutty aroma, about 10 minutes.  Crusts made with lighter colored cookies with brown slightly.  Set the baked crust on a rack and let cool.

In a bowl of a stand up mixer combine the ricotta and cream cheese.  Beat well until no lumps remain, about 3 minutes.

Add the sugar, flour, and salt and continue beating until well blended, about 1 minute.  Add the egg yolks, lime zest, and lime juice.  Beat until just incorporated.

The batter will be a beautiful pale yellow with the bright lime zest popping through.

Using a rubber spatula, scrap the batter into the baked tart crust and spread evenly.

Bake the tart until the filling just barely jiggles when the pan is nudged, about 30-35 minutes.  Let cool completely on wire rack.  Refrigerate the tart in the pan until chilled and firm, 2 to 3 hours.

To prepare the whipped cream, beat the heavy cream with a handheld or stand-up mixer on medium speed until thickened enough to hold very soft peaks.  Add brown sugar, Limoncello (or rum), and vanilla.  Contine to mix until soft peaks form.

Give yourself a dollop and Enjoy!

 Recipe adapted from fine cooking

Feb 15, 2012

Black & White Cookies

The Black & White cookie.  A classic deli favorite for many New Yorkers.  And according to Seinfeld, 'a metaphor for racial harmony, we should LOOK to the cookie Elaine!'

 This recipe actually caught my eye when I was going through my new cookbook, 'Baking with The Cake Boss' by Buddy Valastro (thanks Mom).

If you don't know Buddy yew betta ax somebaaady (that's in a thick Jur-zee accent of course).  Buddy, owner of Carlo's Bakey in Hoboken New Jersey is your typical American-Italian guido, and simply adorable.  He's got gold chains, slicked-back thick black hair, a gang of kids, a wife with poufy hair…I know he sounds Lebanese, right?  Yes, the two breeds are very similar.   

Carlo's bakery became all the rage for their elaborate cakes and typical American-Italian style confectionery menu.  But their reality show 'Cake Boss' is what made them famous.  Broadcast on TLC, Cake Boss explores what it takes on a day-to-day basis to run the bakery  (which by the way has a line out the door and down the street on a daily basis, that’s a lot of friggin cookies).

So back to the Black & White.  This cookie is pretty straight forward.  But don't let the simplicity fool you.  It's elegant, timeless, and can make anyone happy.  The texture of the cookie is what surprised me the most.  It's not cake and it's not cookie…it's a spongy-somewhere-in-the-middle little treat.  The frosting on top gives just enough sweetness without over-powering the bite. 

I wasn't happy with the frosting recipe from Buddy.  You need to cook it over a double broiler and once taken off the heat it cools off in no-time which means you need to move your ass fast.  This is not easy when you've got 12 cookies to ice and you've got to make sure you get that line down the middle perfectly straight.  I had to re-heat it twice in the microwave which ultimately sent the chocolate frosting directly into the trash.  I guess you could say it got...well, I burned it. 

SO, I found a friendlier, more forgiving recipe from Epicurious…sorry Buddy.  For sure you can bust these cookies out in no time with frosting pretty as a picture, but me - not so much.  The recipe I found calls for corn syrup (and no heat required!) which gives this amazing elasticity to the frosting making your life so much easier.

Black & White Cookie
Makes 12 cookies

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 extra large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups all purpose-flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 340 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cream together butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, starting on low and gradually increasing to medium.  You can use a hand mixer if you let the butter soften at room temperature before you begin.  Add eggs, one at a time, paddling for about 1 minute after each addition, then stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl.  Add the milk, vanilla, and lemon juice.  Paddle just until they are absorbed into the mixture.

Sift the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt together in a separate bowl.  Whisk to combine. 

Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture.  Paddle on low speed just until they have been absorbed by the mixture and it is smooth and consistent.  This step doesn't take long at all, so be sure to watch it as you don't want to over mix.  The batter is very thick, but also a bit sticky. 

Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper.    Using non-stick spray or a dab of butter, lightly spray the corners to glue the paper into place. 

Use a 2-ounce ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measure scoop to scoop the batter onto the parchment paper, leaving 2 inches in between the cookies.

Bake until the cookies are lightly golden brown, about 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and as soon as the cookies can be moved, use a spatula to transfer them to a rack and let cool.

Transfer the cookies to plates (or place in a zip-lock freezer bag) and freeze for about 10 minutes to firm up.  This helps while icing since the cookies are delicate and could tear from the spatula. Freezing help firm up the cookie.  Brr.

While the cookies are in the freezer, get started preparing the frosting.  Sift confectioners sugar into a medium bowl then add corn syrup, lemon juice, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon water. 

Stir till smooth. 

Transfer half of icing to another bowl and sift in cocoa.  This will guarantee your frosting to be smooth and free of cocoa lumps.

Add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to thin to same consistency as the white icing.

Turn cookies flat sides up, then spread white icing over half of each and chocolate over other half.  I created a line first so I had somewhat of a guide to help make sure the icing was even.

Using your spatula, gently cover 1/2 the cookie with the white, then repeat on the other side with the chocolate.

  Bite and enjoy.


Feb 8, 2012

Dark Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Frosting & Salted Caramel Sauce

Go ahead and wipe the drool, it's okay I won't tell anyone.  Yes, I was pretty proud of myself.  This one's dandy.
I wanted to test two things here making these pies: one, that I could attempt making caramel from scratch.  And two, that I could make cream cheese frosting that didn't separate.  After a bit of trial and error (and cursing) I figured out the tricks. 
First, for the caramel you MUST, I repeat MUST not be interrupted during the sacred caramel process.  No phone calls, no potty breaks, no 'mommy I'm hungry.'  Yep you must devote 15 short minutes to watching that pan boil.  If you turn your back for one quick second it will scorch before you have the chance to say 'oh *uck!'  It's OK, it happened to me, not gonna lie.  But the second time around it was perfect.  Oh, and the use of a candy thermometer works immensely.   
For the cream cheese frosting, I finally figured out the secret.  Every time I try to prepare this 'delicious-sin-in-a-bowl', it separates.  And becomes gritty.  And is ugly and drippy.  Forget about piping, the consistency is non-existent.  But here is the trick.  Leave your cream cheese out overnight to guarantee it is room temperature.  Take the butter out of the fridge 3 hours before you're going to start preparing the frosting.  It shouldn't be cool, but it should still hold the shape of a cut cube.  Also, and this is equally as important…do not over beat.  The more you beat cream cheese the more it will start to separate.   Beat in the powdered sugar until it disappears, and then stop.   Sounds simple enough but these two tricks made all the difference in the world.  This was the first time I have EVER piped cream cheese frosting.  Whoopie.   
Whoopie Pies.
If you're not familiar, whoopie pies are pretty much the same thing as a cupcake, just layered differently.  A whoopie pie is composed of a cake top and bottom, with frosting in the middle.  Easy to eat and easy to store.

The origin of the name is hilarious, oh you're going to love this.  Whoopie pies are originally an Amish treat (I was surprised by this, isn't sugar a sin?).  The wives would put the pies in their husband's lunch pail and when they'd open it at lunch time they'd see the sin cake, ahem, whoopie pie and yell 'WHOOPIE!'  I guess sugar can do that to you when you don't have electricity.

No disrespect to the Amish, just having some fun.  My family is originally from Pennsylvania so the Amish are A-OK with me.    

I may have mentioned this before but I am somewhat of a sucker when it comes to kitchen gadgets.  I think it's because I really love to cook and if there is a tool out there that will help make my life easier, I'm all for it.

I don't know if the Williams-Sonoma Whoopie Pie Pan would make my life any easier, but I fell for it anyway.  SUCKA…I know.
BUT I did have a very good reason to buy this pan…I had recently made whoopie pies a few months back but they turned out more like whoopie chushions.  They were HUGE.  Like the diameter of pancakes.  Yes, yes delicious I know, but dainty – not even close.  The recipe didn't specify how much batter to place on the pan, so I eyeballed an amount.  Which must have been somewhere around 1/3 of a cup.  Too much.  WAY too much.
If you do decide to purchase the pan, here is a tip: To remove, gently turn the cake while still inside the pan and it will slide right out.  I only realized this on the last batch so lucky you!   
A note on salted caramel.

The salted caramel craze hit a few years back, but due to the overwhelming popularity it's become more of a staple with confectionary chefs.  Even Starbucks got in on the bandwagon and developed a salted caramel hot chocolate, yum.  Wal-Mart, yep Wal-Mart has introduced a salted caramel to their store brand selection of truffles.  Yowza.  I figured now that salted caramel has hit main-stream America, I better hurry up and learn how to make it before something new comes rolling into town.

So just how to describe salted caramel if you haven't encountered it yet?  Well, don't let the salt fool you.  It's not like potato chip salty.  It's more like a touch of salt on your tongue.  Just enough for you to notice, but not over-power.  The salt merely enhances the sweetness.

The ingredients are incredibly simple: water, sugar, heavy cream, butter, and fleur de sel.  But the technique, not so much.  As I mentioned earlier I burned the first batch.  It came together so fast I wasn't sure how long I should continue keeping it on the heat.  Something strange I noticed was that it burned in one spot in the pan.  This told me something fishy was going on.  See I was using kind of a cheap-o pan.  It's thin with no Teflon, maybe from Ikea.  It wasn't distributing the heat thoroughly and I think that is why I got the hot spot.  So for the second batch I used my special T-fal pan that I love as much as my Kitchen Aid mixer.  It  has a little red heat symbol on the bottom of the pan that disappears once its pre-heated, cool I know.  With the second batch (using this pan) it was like I was testing a different recipe.  It came together beautifully and took it's time.  Once it turned amber in color (which is when you should remove from the heat) it didn't burn up or turn black, it just slowly became deeper in color, which is what you want to achieve.

Whoopie Pies (cake only)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder OR Hershey's Dark Chocolate Cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg


If you're here in Dubai you'll know that it is impossible to find buttermilk and you'll have to make your own.  It's simple, don't worry you don't need a churn.  Just some vinegar or lemon juice.  Take one tablespoon of either (taste will not be affected, both work the same) and pour into a measuring cup.  Fill with milk until you've got 1 cup.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  Give it a stir and poof you've got buttermilk (or something close enough).

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Once it's sifted, use a whisk to incorporate.  This ensures it's thoroughly combined with no salt/baking soda pockets.

Add vanilla to the buttermilk and stir to combine.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld, then add egg, beating until combined well.

Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Grease either the whoopie pie pan or a baking sheet with Crisco, butter or baking spray.  If you use crisco or butter here is a tip to help grease the pans with little fuss.

Using a sandwich baggie like a glove dig out about 2 tablespoons of crisco and wipe down the pan.  No fuss no muss.

Using a cookie scoop fill whoopie pie pan holes with batter.  Fill entire hole and level with the back of a spoon.  If using a baking sheet, measure out 1/4 cup mounds of batter and place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet.


Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and let sit on a wire rack to cool.

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel

Add water to a 2-qt saucepan. Gently add the sugar to the center of the pot, give it a swirl to level it out.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Bubbles should like this:

Once boiling, uncover the pot and insert a candy thermometer. Continue cooking until the mixture registers 300 F and is just starting to develop some color, about 15 minutes.

Reduce heat under the pot to medium and cook until the syrup is amber and registers 350 F on the thermometer, about another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the cream into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. If it simmers before the syrup is ready, just take it off the heat and set aside.
Remove the caramel from the heat and add about 1/4 of the warm cream to the pot. It will bubble furiously so be careful. Once the bubbling subsides, add the remaining cream.  When it stops bubbling, whisk gently to incorporate fully.


Add the butter and the salt and whisk to combine.


Refrigerate up to 1 month.

Salted Caramel Frosting


1 cup butter, out of the fridge for 3 hours
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup salted caramel
3-4 cups powdered sugar (sifted)


Cream together butter and sugar till whipped and fluffy.

Add salted caramel.  Beat until combined, but do not over-mix.

Add sifted powdered sugar and mix until just combined, no more.

Now we've got all the components ready let's put these babies together.  So easy the kids could do this part. 

As you'll see I've used a pasty bag and a piping tip to pipe the icing and sauce.  This is by no means necessary.  I just wanted it to look pretty for the pictures.  You can simply spoon the frosting onto the cake and drizzle the sauce on with a fork if you wish.

For piping the frosting, I used a 2D tip.  It makes pretty little ribbons.  To make things easier on yourself, use this tip I learned in a cake decorating class.  Get yourself a large cup.  Have your pastry bag with the tip already in place near by.


Place the bag inside the cup and fold the edge over the side of the cup.  This makes it ridiculously easy to fill.

Using a spatula, fill the pastry bag about half way.  You don't want to over-fill otherwise the frosting can seep out the back and cause a mess.  Also having a bag that isn't filled too high is easier for your hand to grip.

For the caramel I used a much smaller tip, a #3.  Also, if you're not a fan of pastry bags, simply fill a zip-lock back with caramel and snip off the corner (just a small snip otherwise it will ooze out).  Make sure you seal the bag before hand! 

Lay out half of your whoopie pies and pipe (or spoon) the frosting onto the flat side.


Then pipe (or drizzle) the caramel.

Place another cake on top.  Job complete.

That was a long one but well worth the effort.



Whoopie Pie cake recipe and Salted Caramel Sauce adapted from Erin's Food Files.

Salted Caramel Frosting courtesy of Baked Bree.