Grinding pepper over our savory meals is very much the ‘norm’, but when you add it to sweet desserts it preforms a strange chemistry, especially against a mellow backdrop of vanilla.
Adding flavor to cuisines of all nations, black pepper is the most widely produced and popular spice in the world. Pound for pound, it is also the least expensive spice.
Contrary to popular belief, pepper is not intended to be used like salt. Although, it holds a special spot right beside the salt on our dinner tables, it is not a flavor enhancer but rather a spice.
There is a distinct and undeniable earthiness to the flavor of black pepper, one that is biting, hot, piney, pungent, woody and sharp all at the same time.
Using pepper in baked goods or sprinkling it on fresh fruit is not exactly a new idea. Gingerbread and pfeffernuse have long been spiced with pepper. No matter how you use black pepper, its a spice of grand proportions.
These ‘pepper’ cookies are real handy since you can freeze them and ‘slice & bake’ when needed. The flavor combo is exceptional.
Lemon Pepper Shortbread Cookies
In a bowl, cream butter, sugar & vanilla until light & creamy.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, lemon zest & spices.
Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Combine only until incorporated. Turn dough out onto a work surface & divide in half. Roll each portion into a log about 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap & refrigerate until firm ... at least 2 hours or freeze until needed.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the plastic wrap & slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place on baking sheet & bake for 6 minutes, rotate pan & continue baking for an additional 6 minutes. The edges of the cookies will be firm, but the tops will be soft. Cool on a wire rack.
With Easter coming up real soon, why not bake something different this year or should I say, different for me. Swiss Rice Tart has a custard type filling made with rice, eggs, milk, citrusy lemon zest, ground almonds all baked in a sweet, crunchy pastry. Traditionally only served during Easter time in Switzerland, it is a wonderful non-fussy and unusual brunch dish/dessert item.
It took a bit of time to try and learn some history of this Easter specialty. It seems that the first available recipes for a similar tart are from the end of the 16th century. In a cookbook by Anna Wecker, (the first German cookbook to be published by a woman) there was mention of a similar tart. In some of the early recipes, Parmesan cheese was included in the dough but this was abandoned for a sweeter crust. Another version used bread as a starchy filling instead of rice or semolina and the flavoring was rosewater and wine. By the 19th century, the tart, as it is known today, made its way into the rotation of most Swiss bakeries.
The key to getting the right consistency for the filling is to slightly overcook the rice from the beginning as it needs to to become smooth and creamy. The ground almonds, amaretto liqueur and raisins all add richness to the flavor of this ‘rice pudding baked in a crust’.
Swiss Easter Rice Tart
In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, salt & baking powder to blend. Add butter & pulse about 3-4 times, until butter is in pea- size pieces. Sprinkle in the ice water; pulse another 4 times. Turn dough out on a lightly floured work surface & knead gently a few times to form a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate at least an hour.
In a small bowl, combine amaretto liqueur & raisins & allow to marinate until ready to add to filling.
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Stir in rice, lower heat to medium & cook until rice is soft & water is absorbed. Add evaporated milk, skim milk, butter, sugar & salt. Bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to low & add amaretto liqueur ONLY, setting raisins aside.
Simmer until mixture has thickened almost to a 'risotto' consistency, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat & place the saucepan in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes to cool mixture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. & place oven rack in the lowest position. When cooled, pour rice mixture into a bowl; add lemon zest & raisins. Mix ground almonds with the 1 Tbsp flour & fold into mixture along with eggs.
Press chilled pastry evenly into tart pan. Trim edges flush with pan. Pour filling into pastry dough & bake about 35 minutes, until filling is set & golden. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar & almond slices (create a design if you wish) before serving.
- This recipe was adapted from a site called cuisine Switzerland.
- I had used a 10-inch tart pan for mine but there was a small amount of filling left over which had to be baked in a casserole dish.
- I would suggest using a 10-inch spring form pan instead so the pastry sides could be higher to accommodate the extra filling.
There’s no question, fresh blueberries are a pleasure to bake with. But, along with being quite expensive, their season is short. As a result, frozen ones become the backbone of winter blueberry desserts. Using them in a pie presents no problem. When it comes to putting them into a batter, frozen berries bleeding juice, turn that golden hue into a shade of purple green when baked. Not good! I’ve found a simple solution is to rinse the berries in cold water, then gently dry them between layers of paper towel. You will probably lose a bit of the berries nutrition, but for most part, the juice and vitamins will remain inside.
Pairing zucchini with fruit in baked goods might seem a little odd but no different than using carrots in cake. Zucchini has grown in popularity over the years due to its amazing growth rate in the garden and its versatility. It can be sauteed, baked, poached, stuffed, eaten raw and of course baked into breads, cakes, scones etc., etc.
These little blueberry/zucchini bars are extremely moist and tender. The lemon in the batter and the glaze takes them to the level of amazing in my opinion. We just loved them.
Blueberry Zucchini Bars with Lemon Glaze
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 X 13-inch ( or 15 X 10 X 1) baking pan.
In a small bowl, combine zucchini, buttermilk, lemon zest & lemon juice; toss to combine. In a large bowl, cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. In a third bowl, whisk 3 1/4 cups flour, baking soda & salt; gradually add to creamed mixture alternately with zucchini mixture, mixing well after each addition. Toss blueberries in remaining flour; fold into batter.
Transfer batter to prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake 50 minutes for 9 X 13-inch size or until light golden & a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven to a wire rack.
In a small bowl, mix glaze ingredients until smooth; spread over top while bars are still warm.
- This recipe easily divides in half for a smaller amount using an 8 X 8-inch baking pan.
A wide variety of fruit has be used to make pie, from crisp apples to juicy berries or tender stone fruit. Tropical fruit, not as commonly used, can make amazing additions to pie filling creations. One such combo is papaya and mango.
Once considered exotic, papaya can now be purchased pretty much throughout the year. A very versatile fruit which contains enzymes that help in tenderizing meat as well as using it in salads, puddings, yogurt, chutney etc. For the sweetest flavor, select a papaya with a yellowish-orange skin that yields to the touch. Green papaya can be peeled like a carrot. It is similar to winter squash and can be baked or barbecued in the same fashion.
Mangoes have a rich sweetness with an aromatic floral note that isn’t present in many other fruits. As well as holding their shape during baking, mangoes become extremely tender, which makes them an excellent choice for pie filling.
Regardless of what type of pie your eating, the general consensus is that it should have a base made of some kind of pastry. When people first began cooking food in ovens there was little to protect the filling from searing heat. As a result, juices would fizzle out and everything would burn rather quickly. As a solution, dough was used to protect the filling. The dough or pastry absorbed the juices, making the entire case and filling a dish in itself. Since then, many complex forms and fillings have evolved in the world of pie making.
My objective today, was to create a ‘tropical’ pie. I had picked up a papaya as well as a couple of pears on my last shopping trip. I already had some mango chunks in the freezer. I thought pears would compliment the papaya and mango well. Between the fruit and spice combos, the flavor was just incredible. I think I ‘nailed it’!
Papaya, Mango & Pear Pie
Prepare pastry if making from 'scratch'. Line a 8-9-inch pie pan.
Peel & core papaya, mango & pear. Cut & dice into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large bowl, combine fruit with lemon zest & juice. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch, sugar, spices & salt. Carefully mix 3/4 of dry mixture with fruit reserving remainder for later.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Pour filling into pastry lined pie dish. Sprinkle with the rest of dry mixture & dot with butter. Roll out pastry for top crust. Make into design of choice or just place over pie; pinch top & bottom together to form a seal & cut 'vents'. Brush with egg wash & sprinkle with sugar.
Place in oven & bake for about 10-15 minutes to bake bottom crust somewhat then reduce heat to 375 F. & bake another 30 minutes or until golden brown & filling is bubbling.
As usual, I can’t get enough of using rhubarb throughout its growing season. This year we started three new plants as our older ones are producing less and less. I think they are probably just becoming to shaded so we put the new ones in a great little spot on the south side of the garage.
Rhubarb’s awkward positioning between fruit and vegetable, sweet and tart, is a topic that’s constantly debated. It resembles sticks of celery dressed in their best pink Sunday attire, blushing from the first few washes of early sun peaking through its dense foliage after winter hibernation underground.
Pie remains the most common use for rhubarb, so much that older cookbooks called it the ‘pie plant’. While it generally is treated as a fruit, it has also been used as a savory ingredient, frequently paired with meats, cheese, stuffings, sauces and much more.
This is one of my favorite ‘sweet’ recipes from quite a few years ago. It has it all — rhubarb, cream cheese & streusal!
Rhubarb Cheesecake Muffins
In a small saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar & lemon slice. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar melts. Reduce heat & simmer about 10-12 minutes or until thickened & reduced to about 1/2 cup. Allow to cool.
In a large bowl, combine flour & sugar. with a pastry blender, cut in butter to resemble coarse crumbs. In a small dish, measure 1 cup of the flour mixture & add walnuts & cinnamon. Set aside. To remaining flour mixture add baking powder, baking soda & salt. Set aside. In a third bowl, combine sour cream, vanilla & beaten egg.
Cream Cheese Filling
In a small bowl, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 sugar, egg & lemon zest. Fold in stewed rhubarb.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper cups. Stir SOUR CREAM mixture into FLOUR/BAKING POWDER mixture until just blended. Do not over mix! Spread this batter evenly over bottom & up the sides of each paper cup. Place a spoonful of FILLING MIXTURE in center of each, then top with WALNUT MIXTURE & bake 12-15 minutes or until muffins test done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Not a pie at all, traditional whoopie pies are two thin chocolate cakes sandwiched around a white frosting. The origin of the whoopie pie is somewhat controversial. Some people say they were invented in Medieval Germany and brought to the USA by immigrants. Women would bake cakes and use leftover batter and icing to make these special treats. The little cake sandwiches were placed in children’s lunch boxes, where upon discovering them, cries of ‘whoopie’ were shouted. From the basic chocolate and vanilla formula of the past, a whole host of varieties have since taken the stage.
I love the pastel shades of Spring and try to incorporate them into anything I can. When I was shopping the other day, I happened to see some little colorful French Macaron cookies in a bakery window. As great as they look, I personally have never cared for the ‘meringue’ type cookie. Nevertheless, it gave me some inspiration for some ‘spring’ whoopie pies. Adding a few new flavors to the chocolate and vanilla batters along with some flavored Mascarpone fillings takes whoopie pies (cookies) to a whole new level.
'Spring" Whoopie Pies with Mascarpone Filling
MASCARPONE FILLINGS - Raspberry, Blueberry, Apricot & Strawberry Preserve
Preheat oven 350 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar & vanilla until light & fluffy. Beat in egg. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda & salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk.
In separate small bowls, divide vanilla batter into 4 equal portions. Leave one plain, to the second dish add pistachio nuts & a tiny bit of green food color gel. To the third dish add 2-3 Tbsp Chambord liqueur & red food coloring. To the fourth add lemon zest & yellow food color.
FOR CHOCOLATE BATTER: Follow directions in the first paragraph, adding cocoa along with flour mixture. Using a small scoop or heaped tablespoon, spoon mixtures onto baking sheet. Allow room for spreading. Bake for 10-12 minutes. DO NOT OVER BAKE. Remove from oven & transfer to wire rack.
While whoopies are baking prepare Mascarpone fillings. For every 60 grams of Mascarpone use 2-3 Tbsp of one of the preserve flavors.
When the whoopies are cold, match each with whoopie half with its closest partner size. Spread with a knife or use a piping bag to cover the flat side of one whoopie half of each pair generously with filling. Top each with its matching half, flat side down & gently press together.
- Another flavor you might enjoy is lemon curd which can be purchased in the preserve section of the grocery store.
- For chocolate filling, add a little cocoa powder & powdered sugar to some Mascarpone.
- For some of the vanilla whoopies, I made a Rosewater flavored filling with 1 tsp margarine, 60 gm Mascarpone, 3 Tbsp powdered sugar & 3/4 tsp rosewater.