Chai Spiced Hot Cross Bread Pudding w/ Vanilla Sauce

CELEBRATING GOOD FRIDAY!

Bread pudding always gives me reason to remember good things. Truly a comfort food for those of us that recall it from childhood days. It’s not that the dish was invented here — that honor likely goes to clever medieval or even ancient cooks in Europe and the Middle East who had a surplus of stale bread on their hands. The perfect embodiment of the virtues of frugality and indulgence: day old bread, too precious to waste, is bathed in a mixture of milk and eggs and made into either a sweet or savory bread pudding (with a few other additions) and baked into something sublime. What makes it special is the blend of spices mixed into it and the sauce.

The chai spice baking blend, which is sometimes overlooked, adds a distinct warm flavor and depth. It can include a number of different spices. Cardamom is the most common ingredient, followed by some mixture of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves. Pepper, coriander, nutmeg and fennel are also used but they are slightly less common.

This bread pudding combines hot cross buns with spices inspired by the world’s love affair with Indian chai. The origins of hot cross buns may go back as far as the 12th century. According to the story, an Anglican monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross in honor of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and eventually became a symbol of Easter weekend.

Bread pudding, when done right, should have the perfect balance of gooey goodness and chewy texture. That’s why stale bread/buns are important. The bread needs a degree of crunch otherwise you will have ‘mush pudding’. For additional flavor, the pudding is served with a vanilla sauce. Who says bread pudding has to be boring!

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Chai Spiced Hot Cross Bread Pudding w/ Vanilla Sauce
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Bread Pudding
Vanilla Sauce
Servings
Ingredients
Bread Pudding
Vanilla Sauce
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Instructions
Bread Pudding
  1. Place cubed hot cross buns in a greased 9 x 9-inch baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the milk, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, spices & salt. Pour over buns, making sure that the bread is completely covered by the milk mixture.
  3. Cover & refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  4. Set out the chilled bread pudding while you preheat the oven to 350 F.
  5. Bake 40 - 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean. Remove from oven & serve with vanilla sauce.
Vanilla Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter & add flour. Stir until mixture has a nutty aroma.
  2. Add salt, cream & sugar; stir until mixture becomes thick. Remove from heat & stir in vanilla.
  3. Spoon over servings of warm bread pudding.
Recipe Notes
  • You will notice I have only used 2 Tbsp sugar in the vanilla sauce to offset the sweetness of the pudding.

Neapolitan Swirl Cookies

I was intrigued by the concept of these cookies; in that they replicate the flavor profile of the ‘nostalgic’ Neapolitan ice cream. The name ‘Neapolitan’ comes from Naples, Italy. Many believe the history of Neapolitan ice cream can trace its roots back to ‘spumoni’ – a traditional form of ice cream originating in southern Italy and made of multiple blocks of ice cream put together. The most popular flavors of spumoni are cherry, chocolate and pistachio. Historically the colors of the Italian flag – green (pistachio), white (vanilla), and red (cherry pink).

As legend goes, in the 19th century, immigrants to North America from southern Italy (namely Naples) brought along the recipes popular in their homeland including spumoni. The dessert likely adapted to popular local flavors at the time being, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

Over time, this flavor trio has evolved into much more, such as cookies, drinks, cheesecakes, trifle, fudge, rice krispie treats, parfaits and the list goes on.

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Neapolitan Swirl Cookies
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
COOKIES
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
COOKIES
Ingredients
Votes: 1
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Instructions
  1. Cream together butter & powdered sugar. Add egg & mix thoroughly. Sift in the flour, cornstarch & salt.
  2. Combine into a dough consistency. Divide dough into 3 equal portions.
  3. Add vanilla to the first one & combine well. To the second portion add strawberry flavor & red food gel; combine until evenly colored. To the third portion, add the melted chocolate & cocoa powder.
  4. Place each flavored ball of dough between parchment paper & roll out in a circle to an 1/8-inch thickness. On the chocolate piece place the vanilla layer & then the strawberry layer. Roll up in a 'cinnamon roll' fashion & place in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Using string, cut cookie roll in slices. This should create a nice 'feathery' look.
  7. Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes or until just lightly browned on the bottom.
Recipe Notes
  • I make use of the Lorann flavorings whenever I can. Lorann's professional strength flavorings and essential oils are 3x to 4x stronger than typical alcohol-based extracts. They smell & taste amazing!

Benedictine Liqueur Christmas Braid

Christmas bread has a lot of different interpretations. The most traditional iterations involve sugar and spice, and often—but not always—yeast, and ultimately have strong cultural associations and country ties. One thing we can all agree on is that Christmas bread is celebratory, whether or not we observe the holiday. From the unleavened matzo of Passover to the German stollen of Christmas, from the British hot cross buns baked on Good Friday to the Russian kolach baked for any special occasion, bread in its many forms brings people together, linking traditions and generations.

The scent of Christmas spices, bread baking, and fresh-cut pine define holiday memories. Generations ago, the rich dough itself – lush with butter, eggs, dried fruit, sugar – relayed a cook’s generosity, her willingness to share the most precious ingredients in her pantry. The time and effort it took to make and bake the Christmas loaves expressed the cook’s devotion and love.

Last year, I was introduced to the liqueur known as Dom Benedictine. After doing much research into this interesting liqueur, I incorporated it in some savory and sweet recipes. We really enjoyed them so this year I was interested in doing a bit of recipe development to create a Christmas bread with it.

The story of Benedictine dates back to 1510 when a Venetian monk of the Abbey of Fécamp, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, created an elixir intended to support good health. It includes a combination of 27 herbs and spices derived from plants from around the globe, including juniper, myrrh, saffron, vanilla, thyme, coriander and more. The liqueur tastes primarily of honey and baking spices, with citrus peel, herb, and stone fruit notes.

So here you have it, my newly created Christmas bread tradition. Hope you can try it and enjoy it as much as Brion & I have.

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Benedictine Liqueur Christmas Braid
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SERVINGS
Ingredients
Bread Dough
Lemon Glaze
Servings
SERVINGS
Ingredients
Bread Dough
Lemon Glaze
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Instructions
  1. Marinate raisins, candied fruit & cranberries in Benedictine liqueur overnight, Stir occasionally.
  2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water with 1 tsp sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, sift 2 cups of the flour. Stir in yeast mixture & lukewarm milk. Cover with plastic & let stand in a draft free place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down firmly & work in beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest, vanilla & pieces of softened butter.
  4. Sift remaining 3 cups of flour with salt, cinnamon & cardamom & work 2 cups in to form a soft dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead in remaining cup of flour & fruit mixture. This becomes a very soft & buttery dough but is not sticky.
  5. Invert the dough onto a lightly floured work surface & dust with flour. Cut the dough into four equal pieces & then stretch & roll each piece into a rope about 20 inches long. Lay the ropes parallel to one another (vertically). Pinch them tightly at the top, then fan them out.
  6. Begin by taking the strand farthest to the right & weave it toward the left through the other strands using this pattern: over, under, over. Take the strand furthest to the right & repeat the weaving pattern again: over, under, over. Repeat this pattern, always starting with the strand farthest to the right, until the whole loaf is braided, Tuck the ends under to give the loaf a finished look.
  7. Carefully transfer the braided loaf to a parchment-lined 13x18-inch baking sheet, brush with egg wash. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until about 1 1/2 times the size, about 1-2 hours. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 F. & set an oven rack in the middle position.
  8. Gently brush risen dough again with egg wash. Place in an air-bake pan to prevent the bottom crust from browning too much.
  9. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a nice golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Combine powdered sugar & lemon juice/zest to make glaze. When braid is completely cool, brush loaf with lemon glaze & decorate to your liking.
Recipe Notes
  • To see a more in-depth article on Dom Benedictine Liqueur, check out my blog from December 21/2022 - Benedictine Liqueur Cupcakes.

Cranberry-Raspberry Tartlets

So many of our berries can be used to make excellent dessert sauces as their naturally tart flavor pairs so well with rich sweet desserts. Cranberry-raspberry sauce is one such sauce. It is made with a combination of whole cranberry sauce and fresh or frozen raspberries, along with a bit of sugar and a little lemon or orange zest. Everything is cooked over medium low heat until the sauce thickens with the end result being a glistening red sauce with a sweet and tangy flavor that is especially nice atop these mini cheesecake tarts. It can also be used as a filling for cakes or trifles, or for a quick dessert, it can be poured over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Tarts are the epitome of elegance in the world of desserts. They showcase a perfect harmony of flavors, with their flaky or crispy crust and luscious fillings. But one key factor in achieving the ultimate tart is having a crisp, clean edge on the tart shell, which not only elevates the appearance but also enhances the texture. A well-defined edge results in a satisfying contrast between the tender, flaky layers, and the smooth filling.

Since the Christmas season is upon us, I thought of using some ‘tart rings’ to give these little tarts more of an upscale look. Using rings instead of tart pans makes for such a clean look. Being perforated allows for the ring to heat up quicker (along with it being very thin), which allows for better baking. This also allows steam to escape from the crust, which keeps your crust nice and crispy.

Baking is a passion for many because of the immersion between art and science. For me, I’m always in pursuit of another way to make an old idea new again or as they say, ‘the same only different’.

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Cranberry-Raspberry Tartlets
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Servings
TARTLETS
Ingredients
Pastry
Cheesecake Filling
Servings
TARTLETS
Ingredients
Pastry
Cheesecake Filling
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. Combine the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, salt, & vanilla in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your hands until the butter is broken down into pieces the size of peas and the ingredients are well combined. Add the egg and mix with a spatula until the dough is smooth and the egg is fully incorporated. Don’t overmix.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and gently shape it into a ball. Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap and flatten it into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight, until cold but still pliable. It should have the texture of clay.
  3. When the dough has chilled, unwrap the dough and place it on a silicone baking mat on your work surface. Roll it out into a rectangle about 1⁄8 inch thick, using a second silicone sheet on top. The silicone mat makes it easier to lift the rolled-out dough onto the sheet pan later. Make sure to work quickly so the dough doesn’t get too warm.
  4. Place the silicone mat with the dough on a baking sheet.
  5. Using the tart rings, cut out 18 circles of dough. Remove the rest of the dough from around the rings.
  6. Reroll remaining dough between 2 sheets of parchment. Using a sharp knife, slice strips about 10 inches long & 1- inch thick. These strips will make the sides of each tartlet.
  7. Working with one at a time, transfer a strip of dough to one of the tart rings and press it to the sides. Use your fingers to slightly push the bottom of the sides to the dough circle (to seal it). Repeat with the remaining strips of dough. Use a small knife to cut the edge to the rim of the rings.
  8. Transfer the baking sheet containing the tartlet shells to the freezer & freeze for at least 20 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  10. Bake tart rings for 8 minutes or until barely set (crust will complete baking with the filling in). Remove from oven.
Filling
  1. Using a mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth then add sugar & blend well. Add eggs & vanilla, beat until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture over warm crust.
  2. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is firm & BARELY browned. Set aside to cool.
Topping
  1. In a saucepan, combine whole berry sauce & 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries, orange zest & sugar.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the sauce thickens & is bubbly. Remove from heat & let cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
  3. Place a dollop of sauce over each tartlet. Decorate & serve chilled.
Recipe Notes
  • I made these tartlets in 3 sizes from 2 3/4-inch to 2-inch.
  • If you find the dough is to soft to work with just add a small amount of flour, just enough to make it easier to handle.
  • This is a real nice crispy pastry dough. When its baked it would give the impression of being real hard but instead its crisp and so nice to bite into.

Christmas Cookie Wreaths for Gifts

While certain holidays such as Christmas, lend themselves to giving food as gifts, gift-giving should be thoughtful and sincere.

We give gifts during the holiday season to express gratitude, love, or friendship to those near and dear throughout the year. But the custom of giving gifts goes all the way back to the first Christmas when the wise men brought Jesus three gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Many of the gifts we give and receive at Christmas time, especially ones related to food, have symbolic meaning and tales of folklore behind them. Others are just fun to make and share with family and friends. Sometimes those food gifts become an anticipated tradition that the gifter enjoys making and the receiver looks forward to every year.

These Christmas cookie wreaths seem like the perfect gift for our neighbors. Hope they like them because they where a lot of fun to make.

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Christmas Cookie Wreaths for Gifts
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
WREATHS
Ingredients
Spicy Wreath Base
Cranberry Lemon Pistachio Cookies
Persimmon Linzer Cookies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
WREATHS
Ingredients
Spicy Wreath Base
Cranberry Lemon Pistachio Cookies
Persimmon Linzer Cookies
Votes: 1
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Instructions
Spicy Wreath Base
  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix until dough forms. Divide dough in half for 2 separate wreaths. Roll each half into a long strip about 43-inches long. On 2 sheets of parchment paper, draw 2 round circles each about a 13-inch circumference. Place on baking sheets. Following the circle outline, place a strip of dough on each circle. Press with the back of a spoon to flatten to about a 1/2-inch thickness.
  2. Preheat oven to 310 F. Bake cookie bases for about 15 minutes. They should be baked but not overdone so that the centers are soft. Remove from oven & cool on a wire rack until ready to assemble with cookies.
Cranberry Lemon Pistachio Cookies
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder & salt. Place butter & sugar in a bowl & beat with a mixer until pale & fluffy. Mix in egg yolks, lemon zest & vanilla. Reduce speed to low & gradually mix in flour mixture. Shape into a disk; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to 1/8-inch thick. Using a 2 1/2-inch round fluted cutter, cut out wreaths. Cut out centers using a 7/8-inch round or star cutter.
  3. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. bake until just golden, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before icing.
  4. Stir together powdered sugar & lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread each cookie with icing & sprinkle with pistachios and/or pepita seeds & cranberries. Yield: 24
Anise Shortbread Stars
  1. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, powdered sugar, flour & anise powder. Blend in butter with a spoon, mixing until a soft, smooth dough forms. If the dough is too soft to handle, cover & chill about 1 hour.
  2. Between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll dough out about 1/2-inch thick. Using a star cookie cutter, cut out stars & sprinkle with coarse white sanding sugar. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets spacing 1 1/2-inches apart. Place baking sheets in refrigerator & chill 30 minutes. Halfway through, preheat oven to 300 F. Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges are just barely browned. Yield: 18
Persimmon Linzer Cookies
  1. In a bowl, sift together flour & salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar & vanilla until light & fluffy. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as possible. Mix the rest & gently knead until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap & chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare persimmon puree. In a saucepan over medium low heat, combine persimmons, sugar, cinnamon & salt. Simmer until thick, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly then transfer to a small food processor. Puree mixture until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a 2-inch fluted LINZER cookie cutter with a star attachment in the center. Place on lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes or just until edges begin to brown. Allow cookies to cool to room temperature.
  5. Spread persimmon puree on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust & decorate cookies with cut outs using powdered sugar & some more puree. Place decorated cookie tops on bottoms spread with puree, making a sandwich.
Assembly
  1. Arrange cookies on wreath base to your liking. You can either 'fasten' them with an bit of icing that will harden (see notes) or just place them on top base. That way they are easy to pick up by guests without to much trouble. The base can be cut into pieces after the top cookies are eaten for some more cookie goodness.
Recipe Notes

ICING FOR ATTACHING COOKIES TO WREATH:

  • 2 Tbsp warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Mix together the warm water, corn syrup and icing sugar for the icing. Make it on the thicker side, so add more icing sugar if needed.

Mini Persimmon Cheesecakes

Persimmon fruit is delicious in their natural state, but they also add wonderful moisture and flavor to baked goods. Fall and winter is the season for persimmons, and with persimmons you can make the most wonderful, sweet or savory things.

A good persimmon (at its peak) has a mild taste that has been described ‘honey-like’. Its texture is similar to that of an apricot and its skin is tougher than an apple.

For Fuyu persimmons, make sure they are very ripe. Peel them, chop them, and remove their seeds. Use a food processor to puree the fruit. If you have ripe persimmons but aren’t ready to make use of them yet, you can freeze the pulp for up to six months. Freeze the puree in 8-ounce containers or ice cube trays. You can add frozen persimmon pulp to smoothies right out of the freezer. If you want to bake with it, bring it to room temperature and use it when thawed.

These little minis are a wonderful mouthful of  light and creamy cheesecake made with fresh persimmon puree and warm holiday spices. Take advantage of this wonderful fruit—in season October through February.

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Mini Persimmon Cheesecakes
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Base
Cheesecake
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Base
Cheesecake
Votes: 2
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Instructions
Base
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place inserts into bottom of each of the 12 cavities of a mini cheesecake pan.
  2. In a small bowl combine gingersnap crumbs with melted butter. Divide between the 12 cavities & press down firmly with the back of a spoon.
  3. Bake on middle rack of oven for about 8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while filling is being prepared.
Cheesecake Filling
  1. Beat the cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar, persimmon puree, sour cream, egg, spices & vanilla. Beat until smooth & well combined.
  2. Divide filling between the 12 cavities in the cheesecake pan.
  3. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until set. Begin checking for doneness after 10 minutes, as oven temperatures vary considerably.
  4. Cool 20 minutes on a wire rack, then using your finger, push up through the hole in the bottom of each cheesecake & remove each one. Remove metal insert & cool completely in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.
  5. Garnish with fresh persimmon slices & a bit of whip topping or your choice.

Vertical Pumpkin Cheesecake Tarts w/ Cranberry Gelee

There’s something about the presentation of food—it always seems to taste better when it looks great. Plated desserts aren’t quite my passion, but it was still an experience worth learning.

Our eyes are the gateway to our stomachs. When a dessert looks good, it’s like a promise that it’s going to taste amazing. But it’s not just about the looks; there’s actual science behind it! Psychologists believe that visually appealing food also seems tastier. The brain, being the mischievous little thing it is, associates’ beauty with flavor.

Plated desserts are essentially desserts that have multiple textures, flavors, colors and components that are paired together and presented beautifully on a plate, almost looking like a piece of art.

Dessert plating has been around since the Renaissance. The nobility used to have their chefs present their sweets in the most elaborate ways. So basically, when you’re plating, you’re partaking in a historical tradition.

Embracing the seasonality of ingredients not only adds fresh flavors to your desserts but also creates a visual impact on your plate.

These little elegant tarts are made using rings of crisp, sweet shortcrust pastry, a light pumpkin cheesecake and a layer of fresh cranberry orange gelee. Standing upright on a bed of gingersnap crumble, they are decorated with white chocolate fall leaves and candy spheres.

A plated dessert can be simple to strikingly complex and everything in between so you are only limited by your imagination. 

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Vertical Pumpkin Cheesecake Tarts w/ Cranberry Gelee
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Ingredients
Cranberry Gelee
Pastry
Crumb Base
Servings
Ingredients
Cranberry Gelee
Pastry
Crumb Base
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Instructions
Pumpkin Cheesecake (make a day ahead)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a 9 X 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, brown sugar, ground spices, nutmeg and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until smooth. Beat in the pumpkin puree until smooth. Beat in the cream, maple syrup, vanilla and eggs at low speed until blended.
  3. Pour the batter into a prepared baking pan. Spread evenly in the pan. When baked & cooled the cheesecake should be the height of the width of your tart rings. (Mine are about ¾-inch).
  4. Bake 30 - 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cover & refrigerate covered overnight.
Gelee (make a day ahead)
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries with 1/4 cup of water and cook over moderate heat until they begin to pop, about 5 minutes. Let cool. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Strain the puree through a fine sieve. Rinse out the saucepan.
  2. Add the sugar & 2 Tbsp of water to the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring, until dissolved. Let cool. Stir in the orange juice and cranberry puree.
  3. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1 Tbsp of water and let stand until softened, 5 minutes. Microwave for 10 seconds, or until completely melted. Whisk the gelatin into the cranberry mixture. Line a 6 X 9-inch dish with plastic wrap. Pour the gelée into a prepared pan; shake it gently to even it out. Refrigerate the gelee overnight.
Pastry
  1. Combine the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, salt, & vanilla in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your hands until the butter is broken down into pieces the size of peas and the ingredients are well combined. Add the egg and mix with a fork until the dough is smooth and the egg is fully incorporated. Don’t overmix.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and gently shape it into a ball. Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap and flatten it into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight, until cold but still pliable.
  3. When the dough has chilled, unwrap the dough and place it on a silicone baking mat on your work surface. Roll it out into a rectangle about 1⁄8 inch thick, using a second silicone sheet on top.
  4. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into strips about 1- inch thick. These strips will make the tart rings. Place cut pastry in freezer until cool. This will make handling the strips much easier.
  5. When chilled, transfer each strip of dough to one of the tart rings and lightly press it to the sides. (I am using 2 sizes of tart rings – 2 ¾-inch & 2 ½-inch diameter and ¾-inch width). Use a small knife to neaten the top edge of the rim on the rings.
  6. Transfer the baking sheet containing the tart rings to the freezer & freeze for at least 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  8. Bake tart rings for 15-20 minutes or until light golden in color. Cool on wire racks.
Crumb Base
  1. Place gingersnap cookies in a sealed plastic bag. Using a rolling pin, crush to coarse crumbs. Set aside.
Assembly/Decoration
  1. CHEESECAKE: Using a ring cookie cutter the diameter of the inside of the BAKED pastry rings. Cut out circles. Cut each cheesecake circle in half, so that you have semicircles. Place one semicircle inside each pastry ring so that the curved edge sits flush inside the pastry ring.
  2. GELEE: Cut strips of gelee & place one along each cut side of the cheesecake, so that when you stand the rings of pastry up, it is sitting on top of the cheesecake.
  3. CRUMB BASE: Arrange small piles of gingersnap crumbs on a serving plate & place each tart on top of the crumbs, so they are standing vertically.
  4. DECORATION: Decorate your vertical tarts with whatever you wish. My choice was some tiny white chocolate fall leaves in keeping with an autumn dessert.
Recipe Notes
  • Traditionally the pastry for the rings is made containing almond meal. Since I have a nut allergy, mine is made without but still has a nice crispy texture. 
  • Very often this kind of dessert is made with a chocolate filling but I wanted to do something in the way of a fall dessert. 
  • Using a pumpkin cheesecake filling has two benefits. It definitely says fall & is easy to make it conform to the circular shape.
  • These plated desserts add such an elegant finishing touch to a holiday meal.

Spice Balls w/ Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Frosting

The weather is cooling, and fall baking fills the air with the warm aromas of cinnamon and pumpkin spice. Spice cake recipes from turn-of-the-century cookbooks call for early forms of baking soda, which require an acid and the presence of heat to create a reaction that generates carbon dioxide bubbles. Tomato soup being acidic, provides the acid to make that reaction occur, the same way applesauce does. These spice cake balls are using both applesauce and tomato soup, making them super moist and full of flavor.

Who knew that a can of tomato soup could be turned into a cake? Condensed tomato soup appeared in stores in the late 1890s, and recipes for tomato soup cake began appearing in cookbooks in the late 1920s, early 1930s. This cake gained popularity likely in response to the depression, since the original recipe didn’t contain eggs or milk, which were in short supply during that time. Canned goods were an important staple during the depression, and like mayonnaise, the soup serves to bring moisture and bind the cake together. While it does not leave a tomato flavor in the cake, it does give the cake a lovely reddish color.

The Campbell Soup Company didn’t actually produce a recipe until 1940 and by 1960 it was featured on a Campbell’s soup label, making it the first recipe ever to appear on a soup can.

Tomato soup cake has moved beyond its humble origins. It is truly a recipe for all ages and for all seasons, a recipe that has been revised and modified to suit changing needs and tastes, a recipe that has stood and triumphed over the test of time. Around 1966, a cream cheese–frosted version surfaced, which remains the most popular version to this day.

The pumpkin spice cream cheese frosting is truly the ‘icing on the cake‘.

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Spice Cupcakes w/ Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting
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Servings
OR 12 CUPCAKES
Ingredients
Spice Cake
Cream Cheese Frosting, Divided
Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Frosting
Servings
OR 12 CUPCAKES
Ingredients
Spice Cake
Cream Cheese Frosting, Divided
Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Frosting
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Spice Cake Balls
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. If you are using cake pop pans it is not necessary to grease them. If you are using muffin cups, line with paper cups.
  2. In a large bowl, cream sugar & butter. Mix in applesauce & tomato soup.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking powder & baking soda.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients along with walnuts or pepitas. Fold together, mixing lightly. Do not overmix batter.
  5. Bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. Place cream cheese in a bowl & beat with mixer until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar, vanilla & salt. Combine well.
  2. For Pumpkin Spice Frosting: Divide cream cheese mixture (from recipe above) in half. To one half of the mixture add the pumpkin pie spice.
  3. In a piping bag, fitted with a star piping tip, place the white cream cheese frosting on one side & the pumpkin spice frosting on the other side of the bag, Pipe a swirl over each 'spice cake pop'. Decorate with some whole pepitas if desired.

Fall Cookie Leaves

After Christmas, Halloween is one of the most commercial holidays in Canada. Canadians love going over the top for Halloween. Not only with creative costumes but with the exterior and interior decorations of their homes which are often decorated with fall elements like dried leaves and pumpkin-themed decor.

Halloween in Canada is celebrated on October 31 each year. Even though the festival is celebrated with a lot of pizazz and character, Halloween is not a public holiday in any part of the world.

You would be surprised to know that against popular belief of Halloween having a serious North American following, it is a very British-Irish origin story. The Celts believed that on the night of October 31st, the ghosts of the dead would come back to earth and cause havoc. To ward off evil spirits, people would dress up in costumes, carve jack-o-lanterns, and have bonfires.

Halloween is a great way to celebrate the fabulous fall season in Canada with its spooky decorations, costumes, and treats and to remember the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. 

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Fall Cookie Leaves
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Servings
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Servings
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Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
  1. Whisk together flour & salt in a small bowl.
  2. Beat together butter & sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer or 6 minutes with a hand mixer. Beat in egg & vanilla. Reduce speed to low & add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  3. Divide dough into 4 different bowls. Add a couple of drops of color to each portion of dough. Form into disks. Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. On a floured work surface, place dollops of colored cookie dough next to each other. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out to a thickness of 1/4-inch. Don't OVER ROLL cookie dough.
  6. Using different leaf cookie cutters, cut out various leaf shapes. Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with cutters and transfer to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging cookies about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if you wish.
  7. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes, do not overbake. Transfer to racks to cool completely.
Recipe Notes
  • You can just sprinkle with coarse sugar or if you prefer, glaze them as I did.
  • Because it just happens to be Halloween, I added a few 'cinnamon sugar tortilla bats' to my tray just for fun.

Apricot Couscous Cupcakes

Want an unusual dessert? Try swapping out some of the flour for couscous in a cupcake batter. You’ll be amazed at the result.

A major complaint about couscous sometimes is the lack of flavor but this is where having it as dessert comes in handy. Incorporating apricot puree and spices into the couscous batter gives the cupcakes an amazing flavor and texture.

Couscous, the justly celebrated masterpiece of Moroccan cooking, is actually a pasta, though it`s often mistaken for a grain.

Couscous (pronounced ‘koos-koos‘) is now widely available in packaged form in most supermarkets. Couscous are the yellow granules of semolina made from durum wheat. Durum is the hardest variety of the six classes of wheat and has the highest protein content of all wheat. Because of this, it’s ideal for making high quality pasta and is used by both American and Italian manufacturers. It’s also used to make couscous in America and Latin America. If these pastas were made of the softer white wheat flour that egg noodles use, they would lose their shape.

There are three types of couscous:

  • Moroccan couscous -Fine, used for savory as well as dessert couscous.
  • Israeli couscous – Medium, used for savory dishes also called pearl couscous.
  • Lebanese couscous – Coarse, more difficult to work with, used for savory dishes.

Adding some cream cheese frosting topped with apricot puree and sprinkled with couscous rolled in cinnamon takes this dessert to the next level!

Print Recipe
Apricot Couscous Cupcakes
Instructions
Couscous
  1. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup water & 1/2 tsp salt to boiling. Add couscous, cover & remove from heat. Allow to sit 5 minutes then fluff with a fork & set aside to cool.
Apricot Puree
  1. Place water, sugar & apricots in a saucepan. Bring to a boil & simmer until soft. Place in a food processor & pulse to make a puree.
Cupcakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a small bowl, combine 2 cups cooled couscous (reserve a small amount for topping), flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices & salt; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter & sugar. Add 1 cup apricot puree & whip until light & fluffy. Add vanilla & egg yolks; whip well.
  4. Gradually add couscous mixture then buttermilk & combine only until blended. Whip egg whites until frothy, adding a pinch of salt. Using a spatula, blend egg whites into the batter.
  5. Bake 12-15 minutes or until testing with a toothpick & it comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese & butter until completely smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down sides to ensure that the mixture is mixed evenly.
  2. On low speed, slowly add in powdered sugar. Once combined, scrape down sides of bowl & increase the speed to medium, beating just until well combined & creamy.
Decorating
  1. Place cream cheese topping in a piping bag with a star tip. Pipe a swirl of frosting on top of each cupcake. With another smaller piping bag, using a round tip, drizzle apricot puree then sprinkle with cinnamon coated (cooked) couscous.