Mexican Sweet Buns or ‘Conchas’

The quintessential Mexican ‘Conchas’ are a type of sweet roll topped with a cookie crust, shaped for it’s namesake, a seashell. Though its precise origin is not known, all conchas are made from an enriched, yeasted dough similar to brioche or challah. What isn’t really clear, is the point at which a baker decided to cover a small round of sweet dough with a thin layer of cookie dough and then bake it.

Traditionally, the bread roll itself is not flavored, but the cookie dough topping has either a vanilla or chocolate flavor. This topping is an essential element on the sweet roll but the color or the way it is scored or decorated can be done in many different ways. Sometimes, brown or white sugar or even colorful sprinkles are dusted over the topping.

Conchas are sometimes split in half horizontally and filled with anything from whipped cream, custard or even refried beans. Some bakeries have been experimenting with new concha flavors. Cinnamon, walnut, agave nectar with golden raisins and pecan flavor are some that have been introduced.

It seems that conchas are at their best when eaten fresh which makes good sense being made from a yeast dough. It’s going to be interesting to see if I can create some of these little conchas with such a mysterious past.

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Mexican Sweet Buns or 'Conchas'
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Sweet Buns
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Sweet Buns
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Instructions
Sweet Dough
  1. In a dish, add yeast to lukewarm WATER & allow to sit for 5 minutes so yeast can activate. In a large bowl, whisk together lukewarm MILK, sugar, butter, salt & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine. Add flour, about a 1/3 at a time, combining after each addition. Once all the flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes. The dough should be elastic & slightly sticky but easy to handle.
  2. Place dough in a large greased bowl & turn the dough over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Topping
  1. In a bowl, beat the sugar, margarine & vanilla together until light & fluffy. Stir in flour & mix until a thick dough forms. Add additional flour if needed. Divide dough into 3 or 4 even pieces & tint each with food color. If the dough becomes sticky from the food color, add more flour. Cover pieces with plastic wrap until ready to use.
Assembly
  1. When dough is ready, turn out on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces ( press dough into a 14 x 14-inch rectangle; with a sharp knife cut into 4 strips in each direction). Shape each dough piece into a ball by tucking the corners under ( don't roll between your palms, this will just deflate the dough & make it tough). Place dough buns on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.
  2. Roll out the topping pieces on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter or pastry ring. Use the pastry ring to score lines into the dough to resemble the ridges on a seashell (concha). Transfer the scored topping dough rounds to the buns using an offset spatula. If the topping doesn't adhere naturally, use a pastry brush to apply a few dots of water on the underside before applying to the buns.
  3. Allow the buns to rise for about 40 minutes. Before its time to bake, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake buns for 18-20 minutes or until they are just lightly browned on the bottom.
Recipe Notes
  • The topping is made with margarine as it will yield a crunchy & flaky texture.

Moroccan Spiced Fruit Bread

Today, March 28th is the birth date of my mother. Her imprint on my life was huge and I will forever miss her. I read an article recently which I would like to share with you today. It read:

‘I’ve met two kinds of strong women. The first kind is snippy, closed off and only too happy to point out when something isn’t up to their standards. The second kind is like a majestic tree with roots firmly planted and arms open wide. They plant and nurture the seeds of the future and parts of them are passed on through the generations’. My mother was definitely the second type of woman.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to post today, my mind drifted to the recipe archive that lives in my head, eventually making its way to the yeast breads. This is an area my mother had mastered down to a science.

Bread is such a staple food in the diet of most populations and will have featured heavily in most people’s childhoods. This explains why it is one of those smells that evokes such strong memories, particularly of family, childhood and comfort.

I love yeast breads that have spices and dried fruits in them. I recall a combination I had used in another way sometime back so I decided to see if I could make it work in my bread today.

WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF OUR BEAUTIFUL MOTHER!

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Moroccan Spiced Fruit Bread
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Fruit
Sweet Dough
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Fruit
Sweet Dough
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Instructions
Fruit
  1. In a small bowl, combine fruit, juice & spices. Set aside to marinate.
Sweet Dough
  1. In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, combining after each addition. Once all flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Allow to rest for at least one hour, in a draft-free place until doubled in volume.
  4. Punch dough down & place on a lightly floured surface. With your hand, pat & shape the dough into a rectangle 14 X 12-inches in size & about 1/2-inch thick. Using a ruler & a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 5 strips. Cut each strip into diamonds about 2-inches long. With a pastry brush, lightly butter tops of 'diamonds' as well as the bottom & sides of a bundt pan with the melted butter.
Assembly
  1. Arrange a layer of diamonds side by side in a ring on the bottom of the bundt pan. Divide fruit mixture in half & sprinkle half over diamonds in pan. Repeat with another layer of buttered diamonds & sprinkle with remaining fruit. Top with last buttered diamonds, arranging each successive layer so that it fits over the spaces left in the previous ring.
  2. Don't concern that the diamonds do not fill all the available space; as they rise & bake they will expand. Cover bundt pan with plastic wrap & a tea towel & allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in volume.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake bread for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. To test for doneness, turn bread out & rap the bottom sharply with your knuckles. The bread should sound hollow; if it doesn't, return it to the pan & bake for 5-10 minutes longer. When baked, turn out on a wire rack to cool slightly.
Drizzle
  1. In a small bowl, beat together drizzle ingredients until smooth, adding only enough milk to make preferred drizzle consistency. Spread or drizzle over warm fruit bread & sprinkle with reserved orange zest.

Wiener Schnitzel

Today, March 21st, our family honors the memory of my father on his birth date. Being of German decent, my dad always enjoyed having meals he recalled from his childhood. My mother excelled at cooking, so I can only imagine that she got the ‘taste of his memory’ perfect. A meal that dad enjoyed but was not one that came up very often at our house, was ‘wiener schnitzel’.

‘Wiener schnitzel’ is actually a geographically protected term in Germany and Austria and can only be made with veal. In researching this subject, I came across at least eleven more versions of schnitzel which still followed the preparation techniques of the original wiener schnitzel. In addition to different types of meat used, a schnitzel can be served with a topping or a filling.

As usual, I’m doing an oven-fried version instead of pan frying in oil or butter. It would be so nice if Brion and I could be sharing this meal with my Mom & Dad today.

Time slips by and life goes on,

But from our hearts your never gone,

We think about you always, we talk about you too,

WE HAVE SO MANY MEMORIES BUT WE WISH WE STILL HAD YOU.

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Wiener Schnitzel
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Course Main Dish
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly oil a wire rack & place over a baking sheet.
  2. Place each cutlet between two pieces of plastic wrap & pound with a meat mallet until about 1/4-inch thick.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together Parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, garlic powder, salt, pepper & milk. Place the flour in a plastic bag & buttered bread crumbs on a plate.
  4. Place one cutlet at a time in the bag with flour; shake to coat. Then dip in egg mixture; covering each. Finally, dip in buttered bread crumbs, coating each side well. Place breaded cutlets onto the prepared rack.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes; flip & bake for another 5 minutes. Check to be sure they are cooked. Serve with lemon slices & your choice of veggies.
Recipe Notes
  • Boneless pork chops can be substituted for veal & taste excellent.

Irish Cream Cheesecake in Chocolate Cups

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

Although St. Patrick’s Day started out as a religious feast holiday, celebrating the life of St Patrick, it has become kind of a mixture of non-religious celebrations steeped in Irish culture, folklore and superstition.

Each year on March 17th, we break out every piece of green clothing and jewelry, dye food green etc. … not quite the way it was celebrated in the 7th century. Green wasn’t even part of the equation. The original color associated with St. Patrick’s day was actually blue. One of the reason’s green replaced blue was because of Ireland’s nickname, The Emerald Isle.

For my food tribute to acknowledge St. Patrick’s day, I’m making some Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecakes. This iconic liqueur came about when R & A Bailey found a way of bringing together the two great Irish traditions of distilling and dairy farming. Launched in 1975, Bailey’s Irish Cream can best be described as moderately sweet with roasted nut, maple sugar, spice and fig aromas. The liqueur is not only enjoyed on the rocks, in coffee or in cocktails but as a topping or baking ingredient.

These fuss-free chocolate cups work well with the unbaked Irish Cream cheesecake filling.

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Irish Cream Cheesecake in Chocolate Cups
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Chocolate Cups
Irish Cream Cheesecake Filling
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Chocolate Cups
Irish Cream Cheesecake Filling
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Instructions
Chocolate Cups
  1. Paper-line 8 muffin cups. In a microwave-safe bowl, place chocolate wafers. Microwave chocolate in short increments of time until chocolate is almost melted. Then stir until the chocolate is smooth.
  2. With a pastry brush, thickly & evenly coat inside pleated surface & bottom of each paper cup with melted chocolate. Refrigerate coated cups for 10 minutes or until firm. Remove from refrigerator, carefully peel paper from each cup. (Will keep for a good length of time in an airtight container in refrigerator.)
Irish Cream Cheesecake Filling
  1. In a small, microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the gelatin & 1/4 cup heavy cream. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  2. With a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar & salt until creamy & smooth. Slowly pour in the Irish cream & remaining heavy cream. Increase the speed to medium & beat until smooth & creamy, 1-2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  3. After the gelatin has absorbed a good bit of the cream, microwave the gelatin mixture for 25 seconds to melt it. With the mixer on medium-low, slowly pour the melted gelatin mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Increase speed to medium-high & beat till fluffy & voluminous, about 2 minutes.
  4. Pour mixture into chocolate cups & refrigerate for at least one hour. These cheesecakes are fine unadorned but nothing says you can't top them with a dollop of whipped cream & a few blueberries.

Vegetable-Bacon Squares w/ Baked Bagels

I guess if I were trying to classify this meal, I would put it somewhere between a crustless quiche and a frittata. Sometimes you just put together ingredients you like and it tastes amazing. There’s no incredible back story or cooking revelation, its just turns out to be a great meal.

Quiche and frittata are both egg dishes but they’re not just for breakfast anymore. The difference is the quiche, crustless or not, is made by adding ingredients to a custard base of eggs and heavy cream, milk or half & half that is poured into a baking dish and baked. With frittatas, eggs dominate and little or no cream or milk is used.

Usually they are first cooked in a pan on the top of the stove and then finished in the oven. These vegetable-bacon squares need only to be baked in the oven. For a nice compliment to this meal, I made some quick 5-ingredient bagels … no yeast or boiling required.

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Vegetable-Bacon Squares w/ Baked Bagels
Instructions
Veg-Bacon Squares
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter a 9 X 9-inch baking dish; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until a little bit frothy. Sift in the flour & beat until well combined then whisk in oil. Add zucchini, carrot, onion, bacon & cheese; gently mix to combine.
  3. Pour into prepared baking dish, smooth the top & bake for about 30-35 minutes or until 'set'. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into serving pieces.
Baked Bagels
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place parchment over a wire rack on a baking sheet.
  2. In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder & salt. Add yogurt & mix with a fork until combined. It should resemble small crumbles. Lightly flour work surface & knead dough a few times until tacky but not sticky. Dough should not stick to your hands at this point.
  3. Divide into 4 equal balls. Roll each ball into 3/4-inch thick ropes & join the ends to form bagels. Top with egg wash & sprinkle with a topping of your choice or just leave plain. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 25 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Baked Shells w/ Pesto, Cheese & Meat Sauce

Pasta is without a doubt, one of the most versatile ingredients to cook with. It can be prepared in so many unique ways with different sauces. Pesto sauce is one of those … a simple sauce with simple ingredients that packs a huge flavor.

Pesto sauce originated in Genoa, which is located in the northern region of Italy. The Italian word for pesto: pestare, means to pound or to crush. It was originally prepared with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. However, the translation may be a bit misleading because preparation does not consist of pounding, rather it is of grounding.

Traditionally, pesto is made of crushed garlic, fresh basil and pine nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. There are many variations of pesto and while the most popular is a pasta sauce, it can be used for a spread or dip, salad dressing or as an accompaniment to steak, poultry or fish. Red pesto is either made from sundried tomatoes or red bell peppers.

This pasta meal comes together easily in a short space of time. Sometimes its the simplest dishes that are truly the best!

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Baked Shells w/ Pesto, Mozzarella & Meat Sauce
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, saute onion in olive oil for 5-7 minutes. Add ground pork, 2 Tbsp water, pepper, sage, red pepper flakes & ginger. Cook, stirring until no longer pink.
  3. Add salt, dried basil & diced tomatoes; bring to a boil then lower heat & simmer for 20 minutes. Stir periodically. At the end of cooking time, stir in pesto & remove from heat.
  4. While sauce is simmering, cook pasta shells al dente. It is important not to overcook shells as they will be further cooked in the oven. Drain pasta, add cooked sauce & gently toss.
  5. Place half of the pasta in a baking dish & sprinkle with half of mozzarella & Parmesan. Top it up with remaining pasta & sprinkle with other half of the cheeses.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is golden & pasta is hot & bubbly.
Recipe Notes
  • Don't hesitate to bake your pasta in individual servings.

Banana Ice Cream Sandwich Cake

Homemade ice cream …the ultimate old fashioned treat has a very worldly history that stretches around the globe.

When I was growing up on the farm, we had one of those ice cream makers with a hand crank that featured an inner canister and churn. The canister and churn held the ice cream custard, which was placed in a bucket that salt and ice or snow could be added to. My siblings and I would take turns churning until the custard magically transformed into the heavenly frozen dessert.

Ice cream is the perfect treat for any season. In the summer you can cool off by enjoying a scoop of ice cream and in the winter you can pair it with a warm dessert. Let’s face it, if you are an ice cream lover, the possibilities are endless.

The first ice cream sandwich was basic: cold, creamy with a little crunch on either side. The purpose was to make the ice cream better than if it stood alone. My original idea for today’s blog dessert was to replicate the flavors of the classic ‘Bananas Foster’ dessert of the 50’s. The ingredients in it were very simple, such as butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla & rum. The end result today became a combo of caramelized bananas & banana cake turned ice cream sandwich!

My inherited love for ice cream has never left me to this day and I might add, Brion has the same ‘affliction’ (which doesn’t help).

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Banana Ice Cream Sandwich Cake
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Cuisine American, Ecuador
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Caramelized Bananas
Banana Cake
Course dessert
Cuisine American, Ecuador
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Ingredients
Caramelized Bananas
Banana Cake
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Instructions
Caramelized Bananas
  1. In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter then stir in brown sugar. Divide evenly between 6 custard cups; slice the 3 ripe bananas & place over sugar/butter mixture. Set on a baking sheet.
Banana Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon & salt. In a separate large bowl, cream together butter & sugar; add eggs, Greek yogurt, mashed bananas & extracts & combine. Slowly add dry ingredient mixture to wet batter & mix only until combined.
  2. Pour the batter over the caramelized bananas in the custard cups. Bake for 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  3. Let cakelets cool in custard cups slightly, then invert on a plate. You may have to gently coax the caramelized bananas to loosen with a spatula. Slice each cake half so you can add a layer of vanilla ice cream to the bottom halves. Top each with the other half of the banana cake.

Savory Layered Puff Pie

That expression, ‘what’s old is new again’, definitely can be applied to so many things in today’s world. Very often, when you think you have come up with a new idea its really just a modernized version of an old one.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, Brion & I really enjoy casseroles. I happened to recall a casserole that was published in Good Housekeeping in 1958. My mother made a version of it at that time. Being mostly vegetables, it had such a nice flavor. It was called Seven Layer Casserole consisting of vegetables, rice, tomato soup and sausage or ground meat.

With that ‘taste of a memory’ in mind, my recipe development turned into a savory layered casserole. I used vegetables, rice, cheese and ground pork with a layer of puff pastry. When you prepare it, the sheet of puff pastry is on top so it gets crispy, but when it is baked, you flip it over and it becomes a bottom crust.

Of course, we are talking about frozen puff pastry here. It seems it has become a supermarket staple, delivering all the glories of puff pastry without all the hard hours of work. This is a convenience food that’s perfectly useful for cooks of all skill and commitment levels.

All this talk of frozen puff pastry probably seems odd coming from someone who has made a living in the food industry. But lets face, to make it from scratch is either a labor of love or a sign of madness depending on who you are. So here’s my remake of that vintage 7-layer casserole.

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Savory Layered Puff Pie
Instructions
  1. Cook rice. In a skillet, saute onion in 1 Tbsp butter for a few minutes. Add ground pork, water & seasonings; scramble-fry until cooked. Drain well & remove from skillet. Add another Tbsp of butter to skillet & saute drained mushrooms then blot on paper towel.
  2. Grate cheese combo of choice. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line casserole baking dish with foil & butter.
  3. Start layering with mushrooms, cheeses, rice, meat/onion combo & frozen green beans. Top with puff pastry. Cut a few slits in the pastry for vents. Brush with egg wash.
  4. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until pastry is golden. Remove from oven & allow to stand for about 15-20 minutes then invert on a serving plate. Remove foil paper & cut into serving pieces. If you wish, serve the casserole with a brown gravy.

Cauliflower, Bratwurst & Potato Casserole

Cauliflower used to be a boring vegetable. That reputation couldn’t be more different today. The cauliflower craze has managed to last longer then anyone would have expected. It seems to have checked all the boxes … healthy, versatile and ‘tasteless’. Not only can you turn it into rice, steak, pizza crust, gnocchi etc., but you can use any sauce, seasoning and/or flavoring on it as well. It’s entirely a blank canvas for all your cooking needs.

This casserole pairs cauliflower with some tasty bratwurst. The spices used to flavor traditional German bratwurst typically include salt, pepper, nutmeg and marjoram. Other seasonings like coriander, cardamom, ginger, caraway and garlic are sometimes used depending on the region and personal preference. The name is derived from old high German.Brat‘ which means finely ground meat and ‘wurst’ which means sausage. The fine grind of the meat gives the sausage a lighter texture.

There are many ways to make bratwurst so don’t hesitate to put your on personal touch on it. This combination of the cauliflower, bratwurst and potatoes in a cheese sauce is so good. If you would prefer, don’t hesitate to just pick up a package of ‘brats’ at the store and make it even quicker to prepare.

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Cauliflower, Bratwurst & Potato Casserole
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Course Main Dish
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Instructions
Bratwurst
  1. In a bowl, combine all ingredients & mix well. Form into small meatballs. In a saucepan, fry meatballs until just cooked & drain on paper towel. Spread out on bottom of a 9 X 9-inch casserole dish.
Casserole
  1. Peel potatoes & cut into small cubes. Cook in salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove & distribute potato cubes evenly with bratwurst in casserole dish.
  2. Break cauliflower into florets; add to potato water & boil for 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove & add to other casserole dish ingredients.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a saucepan, heat butter & stir in flour. Cook until slightly browning then whisk in milk & 1/2 cup reserved potato/cauliflower water. Bring to a boil, while continuing to whisk add salt & pepper to taste. Cook for a few minutes more.
  4. Pour sauce over other casserole ingredients, sprinkle with the cheese & bake for about 20 minutes.

Bailey’s Strawberries & Cream Fudge Pudding Parfaits

HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!

One thing for sure, Valentine desserts most often center around chocolate and strawberries. To celebrate the occasion, Brion came home with a bottle of Bailey’s Strawberries & Cream liqueur. This is the companies second seasonal flavor following their Pumpkin Spice liqueur. To put it in their words, ‘ the drink combines Bailey’s Original Irish Cream with delightful ripe strawberry flavor and delicious vanilla’.

After we had enjoyed it as a drink it got me thinking about how I could incorporate it into a ‘special’ dessert as well. Do you recall those classic Hot Fudge Pudding Cakes from the 60’s? They were the ultimate comfort food, fancy enough for a parfait and homey enough to be a spur of the moment indulgence. I could see nothing wrong in swapping out the milk in the original recipe for some strawberries & cream liqueur!

Speaking of pudding cake, its really kind of a culinary miracle, how pouring hot water over a thick batter can create this warm, fudgy concoction that lies precisely at the intersection of cake and pudding.

OK, on with my dessert … I had some strawberries in the freezer so they became a nice strawberry sauce to compliment the liqueur in the pudding. Serving this dessert parfait style with some ice cream or whipped topping adds a bit of elegance and I’m sure you will love the taste.

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Bailey's Strawberries & Cream Fudge Pudding Parfaits
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In an 8 X 8-inch baking dish, combine first 5 ingredients. Add liqueur, margarine & walnuts, combine well. Batter will be very stiff (if you find it easier to mix the cake in a small bowl instead, do so). Spread batter evenly in the baking dish.
  2. In a small dish, combine brown sugar & 1/4 cup cocoa powder & sprinkle over batter. Pour boiling water over all & bake for about 40 minutes or until batter rises to the top & is baked through.
Strawberry Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar & salt. Mix well. Add water & sliced strawberries. Cook until sauce is clear & bubbly. Remove from heat & cool.
Assembly
  1. Place some strawberry sauce in the bottom of each parfait glass. Spoon fudge pudding over sauce & top with ice cream or whipped topping. Serve with a glass of liqueur!