I’ve always been a huge fan of Chinese 5-spice. The aroma and flavor are just pure magic. This peppery-sweet mixture provides endless options for its use.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this spice blend is how well it compliments both sweet and savory dishes.
In this recipe, the apricots offer a subtle sweetness to these cookies, while the Chinese 5- spice adds a spicy perspective and chopped pepitas add a nutty crunch. Blend that all together with oatmeal & raisins and you get a nice range of flavors.
Apricot Raisin Five-Spice Oatmeal Cookies
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Cream butter & sugars together well. Add egg & vanilla; beat until light & fluffy.
Sift together flour, five-spice powder, nutmeg, salt & baking soda.
Fold the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture. When the dry ingredients are almost incorporated, add the oatmeal, raisins, apricots & seeds.
Chill the dough for about an hour before baking for best results.
Scoop onto parchment lined cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake for about 10 minutes. Do not over bake or the cookies will lose their chewy texture.
Millet is not just a key ingredient in bird seed and animal feed. While it is used for these purposes, millet has been an important food source for a large part of the world’s human population dating back to prehistoric times!
It’s a primary ingredient in flatbreads, beer and other fermented beverages, and porridges. Though technically a seed, millet functions like a whole grain, and you can cook with it like you would other whole grains such as rice or quinoa.
The name ‘millet’ refers to several different varieties of a cereal grass, the most common in North America being the proso variety, while ‘pearl millet’ is the most common variety cultivated worldwide. India and parts of Africa are where millet is thought to have evolved.
Millet falls on the sweeter end of the whole grain scale; some people liken the flavor to corn. It also readily takes on the flavor characteristics of the ingredients in a sauce or a dressing. The small, butter-yellow grains cook up light and fluffy, similar to couscous. When ground to a flour, millet’s soft, starchy consistency makes it ideal for gluten-free baking. On its own, millet can taste somewhat bitter, which is why it’s best blended with other mild flours; doing so allows millet’s other flavor notes (buttery, nutty, grassy) to shine.
Millet is available pearled or hulled: opt for hulled, which is the true whole-grain variety (hulled still retains plentiful fiber, as only the outermost layer is removed). Out of the hull, millet seeds look like tiny yellow beads with dark dots on the side where the plant’s stem was attached.
Millet is one of the ways in which you can add the perfect gentle crunch to baked goods such as this millet tea cake.
Millet Tea Cake
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Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a 9 x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper making sure to have overlap on the sides for easy removal from the pan.
Whisk oats, flour, sugars, baking soda & salt together. Add buttermilk, oil, egg, vanilla, millet & dates. Whisk to blend. Stir in 1/3 cup boiling water & let stand for 5 minutes. Scrape into baking pan & level out with a fork.
Bake cake 25-30 minutes or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. During the cooling stage drizzle cake with lemon curd if you wish. Slice & serve warm or at room temperature.
The name ‘pound cake‘ comes from the fact that the original pound cake contained one pound each butter, sugar, eggs and flour. Originally, no leaveners were used in the cake except for the air whipped into the batter. It was only in the 1900’s that artificial leaveners like baking soda and baking powder were added to reduce the density of the cake. Other variations include the addition of flavoring extracts like vanilla and almond or dried fruits such as cranberries or currants. At times, some or all of the butter was substituted by a cooking or vegetable oil to obtain a moist cake.
One of the most popular variations is the sour cream pound cake. The butter is substituted by sour cream to moisten the cake and also get a tinge of a tangy flavor. Despite all these variations which alter the characteristics and the flavor of the cake drastically, the name pound cake is still used today.
Raspberry Swirl Pound Cake
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Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter or line pan of choice with parchment paper. (loaf pan or a Bundt pan)).
In a bowl, cream butter & sugar with an electric mixer until pale & fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add salt, vanilla & sour cream.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour & baking powder. Combine wet & dry ingredients, then beat on low for about a minute.
Transfer about 1/3 of batter to another bowl. Add raspberry preserves & beat until combined. Add 2-3 drops red gel food color if desired. To remaining batter, add lemon juice & beat until combined.
To preferred baking pan, add a layer of white batter then alternate between pink & white batter. Use a knife to swirl the batters together but don't overdo it or you will end up without a marble effect.
Bake for 60-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean. If top browns too quickly, lightly cover with a piece of foil paper.
Allow cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove pan & finishing cooling on a wire rack.
In a small bowl, beat cream cheese for about 20 seconds on medium speed. Add powdered sugar & mix to combine well. Drizzle frosting over cooled cake, slice & serve.
- My choice of baking pans were some mini Bundt pans. I thought they made a nice individual presentation.
It’s summer and there’s nothing better than the simple sweetness of fresh fruit. Barbecues are the highlight of the season and no doubt you will be making numerous ‘cool’ desserts.
I realize fruit marinated in alcohol is not for just any barbecue, but if it fits the occasion, it adds a nice finishing touch. Marinating fruit in alcohol is nothing new. Many cuisines have special recipes that include dried fruits such as raisins, currants and prunes. You can create endless combinations using fresh fruit with wine, spirits or liqueurs. Of course, the added bonus is this dessert does not require you to turn on your oven.
Limoncello is a traditional digestif of southern Italy, where the lemon trees give an abundance of bright, yellow fruit. The drink concentrates the flavor of those fresh golden fruits, making it the perfect palate cleanser after a rich meal. If you wish, store it in the freezer and serve it over ice.
Fruit is thirsty stuff and will soak up basically any kind of wine or liqueur you chose to pour over it. Put together your own personal ‘magical’ concoction and enjoy!
Fruit Salad w/ Limoncello
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In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, lemon curd, honey & vanilla; set aside at room temperature.
Prepare & carefully toss fruit together with sugar & limoncello. Allow them to stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes to let fruit macerate with sugar & liqueur.
Serve in dessert dishes with a dollop of lemon yogurt on top. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
- If limoncello isn't what you enjoy, other suggestions would be cognac, grand marnier, marsala or Kahlua.
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!
Chocolate & strawberries not only add a touch of decadence but are the quintessential Valentine treat. These little chocolate lava cakes not only look and taste great, but they’re pretty quick and easy to make. You don’t need any special equipment, just a couple of bowls and a whisk and the recipe only makes two.
As always, I wondered about where the idea had originated. It seems the first known cake with a deliberately runny center is the ‘Tunnel of Fudge Cake’… the second place winner of a Pillsbury bake-off contest in 1966. Invented by Texan homemaker, Ella Helfrich, the cake is a walnut-flecked Bundt cake with a wet fudge center, which Ella achieved by the pretty ingenious inclusion of powdered frosting. The original recipe called for Pillsbury’s Double Dutch Dry Frosting Mix, which would, in the oven, cook into a runny, pudding like tunnel. The cake recipe became a cultural icon and put Bundt pans, (which had been created in the ’50s but were never particularly popular) in mass demand.
In 1987, a chef in New York city, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, was credited with ‘inventing’ the lava cake but this has been disputed as Jacques Torres, a French chef & chocolatier, says that the lava cake already existed in France before that time. As time has passed there have been many versions adapted to the original idea which mostly include the variations on the fillings. Instead of the chocolate fillings, other flavors like lemon, caramel, strawberry and orange can be found.
I think these White Chocolate Strawberry Lava Cakes will make the perfect ending for our Valentines supper.
White Chocolate Strawberry Lava Cakes
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In a blender, process strawberries then press mixture through a fine mesh sieve over a bowl; discard seeds. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Pour in strained strawberry puree. Allow mixture to come to a boil & bubble until slightly thickened, about 6 minutes.
Melt white chocolate with butter. You can do it in the microwave with 30 second breaks or over a double boiler. Blend well.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter & flour 2 - 6 oz ramekins; set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, egg white, sugar, salt, vanilla, lemon juice & zest.
Add chocolate/butter mixture then flour; combine. Add strawberry puree & coloring (if using); blend.
Divide batter between the 2 ramekins & bake for about 15-20 minutes. Make sure not to OVERBAKE or you won't have the lava effect.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar & serve with any extra puree if you wish. For an extra treat, top with some dipped strawberries.
Recently we purchased a bag of apples that turned out to be a bit too mealy to eat fresh. Making them into applesauce seemed like the best solution to the problem. One thing for sure, there’s no shortage of ways to make use it it, from an oatmeal stir-in to a pork meat accompaniment.
Baking with applesauce to replace some or all of the fat adds fiber and reduces calories in cakes, muffins and breads. Because of its water content, it will also help keep baked goods moist and fresh longer. Applesauce acts like the fat because it keeps the flour protein from mixing completely with the wet ingredients and forming a rubbery texture. I’ve noticed that sometimes you need to lengthen your baking time a bit when using applesauce.
Over the years there have been countless recipes for various pudding cakes. While baking, the cake portion rises to the top and a creamy pudding-like sauce forms on the bottom. This fall version does not disappoint.
Carrot Pudding Cake
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Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with baking spray.
Using a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar & spices.
In a medium bowl, whisk together applesauce, milk, melted butter, vanilla & grated carrots. Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into dry ingredients; scrape batter into baking dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together white & brown sugar & either chopped walnuts or whole pepita seeds. Sprinkle over batter. Carefully pour the hot water over the top.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until middle is set. After removing from oven, allow to cool for 10 before serving with ice cream or whipped cream.
If you can’t have a tropical vacation at this time, why not enjoy some of the tropics in the form of dessert!
You may never have thought fruits were destined for you’re roasting pan. Although it does demand a bit of time and work, the return is worth it. Try it once and you will do it over and over again.
Fruit is a highly versatile item and its uses go far beyond a mere snack. During the summer months, grilled fruit is often a tasty end to a barbeque. Grilling caramelizes the fruits natural sugars and brings out the sweetness. During winter or colder months, continue the same process indoors by roasting and broiling fruit in the oven.
For the tarts on this blog, I roasted the fruit in the oven with a bit of extra butter and brown sugar as well as some spices to enhance the flavor. Another idea would be to arrange fruit slices on the filled tarts and sprinkle them with a bit of sugar. Then place tarts under the broiler until sugar bubbles and browns …. your choice!
Roasted Tropical Fruit Tarts
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In a bowl combine butter & sugar, beat until light & fluffy. In another bowl whisk together flour & baking powder & add to butter/sugar mixture. Blend together.
Divide pastry between 6 individual tart pans. Using your fingertips, evenly press the dough into pans. Place on a baking sheet & blind bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven & prepare custard & fruit.
Vanilla Cream Custard
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch & salt. Add egg; whisk until blended.
Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into egg mixture. Return to same saucepan; whisk over medium heat until sauce thickens & boils, about 5 minutes. Whisk in vanilla & remove from heat to cool.
Roasted Tropical Fruit
Preheat oven to 450 F. Peel & thinly slice fruit.
In a small saucepan, melt butter & add brown sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom & vanilla; mix well.
Line a baking sheet with foil paper. Place sliced fruit on it & pour butter/sugar mixture over it. Gently turn fruit over to make sure all is evenly coated.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes, flipping over about half way through. The fruit is done when it turns a rich golden & begins to brown BEFORE it starts to blacken.
Place pastry shells on a serving platter. Divide vanilla custard between tart shells. Top with roasted tropical fruit & serve. Any extra fruit can be enjoyed just as a dish of fruit or with yogurt.
‘Speculaas‘ is actually not just a flavor that’s known in the Netherlands. In Germany & Austria its called ‘spekulatius’ and in Belgium & France it s called ‘speculoos’.
I love spices and everything about them …. their history, their applications and how they can add such a depth of flavor to cooking and baking. I first became aware of this Dutch spice mix (speculaaskruiden) some years ago. It isn’t the same as British Mixed Spice or American Pumpkin Pie Spice but they are similar as they share many of the same ingredients. The smell of speculaaskruiden is amazing …. a deliciously warm and woody aroma. Making your own is not difficult but it does require about nine different spices.
In the mid 18th century, the recipe for ‘spekulatius’ made its way to Germany from Holland. The origin of the cookies name may have derived from the Latin word ‘spekulum’, signifying ‘mirror image’, which alludes to the wooden mold whose mirror image appears on the cookie.
In the course of time, many recipes using speculaas spices have been created. For many German folk, spekulatius are as much a part of Christmas as are Christmas trees. Sometimes bakers make dough three months in advance so the flavor will permeate the dough thoroughly.
As the holiday season approaches, I thought it would be nice to try incorporating the speculaas spice into some breakfast scones. I didn’t have any wooden molds so I baked them in those little sandbakkel tins I had spoke of in a blog at the end of November (Fig, Pear & Gorgonzola Tartlets). The flavor and tenderness of the scones is just amazing.
German Spekulatius Scones
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Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine orange zest, sugar & spice mix. Set aside 1 Tbsp. of sugar mixture reserving it for the tops.
To the remaining orange/sugar, add flour, oat flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt; mix well. Add butter, cutting in until mixture forms fine crumbs.
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, eggs & vanilla, blending well. Add to flour mixture; stir ONLY until soft dough forms.
Drop by heaping 1/4 cupful's, 2-inches apart on to baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved sugar mixture & sprinkle with almonds. Alternately you can use some baking tins as I did in which case only use a couple of Tbsp per scone.
Bake 15-20 minutes (for the larger size) or until scones are golden on top. Remove to wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
HOMEMADE SPECULAAS SPICE MIX: (yield: 6 Tbsp)
- 5 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp EACH nutmeg & cloves
- 1/2 tsp EACH ground aniseed, white pepper, ground coriander, ginger, cardamom & mace
- Mix spices together & either use right away or store in an airtight jar.
- This recipe can easily be incorporated into many recipes or just make the amount you need.
Baking Christmas cookies is a customary activity of the season around the world. The tradition itself, can be sourced all the way back to the monasteries of the Middle Ages, when monks baked different sweets and breads in observance of this anticipated religious season.
Germany being a religious country, often the baking begins at the start of Advent (November 29th/20), or around the time of St. Nickolas Day and continues in preparation for Christmas. Many families still observe recipe traditions that go back several generations.
Germany’s ‘Weihnachtsplatzchen‘ is actually an umbrella term referring to authentic German Christmas biscuits more broadly and it encapsulates a number of festive treats. An all time favorite, the ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ cookie being one of them.
Twelve years ago (2008), Oreo cookies were all but unknown to Germany. The beloved black (or deep brown) and white, twistable sandwich cookies have been a staple in North American pantries for a century, but now have made inroads in Europe.
These German Oreo (melt-in-your-mouth) Shortbread cookies are a unique spin on the classic version.
German Oreo Shortbread Cookies
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In a bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, Oreo crumbs (or cookies) & cardamom. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter with powdered sugar; add vanilla & mix well. Add Oreo/flour mixture; mix only enough to blend. DO NOT overmix.
Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Crimp edges by pressing edge of pastry with finger & then pinching together.
Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut a circle in the center of dough. Cut round into 12-14 wedges, from circle to outer edges. Prick shortbread in a pattern with a fork. Slide a cookie sheet under the parchment that the cookie round is on & refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator & decorate if you wish. Bake for about 18-22 minutes. When baked, recut wedges if necessary & cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.