Baking For Others

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Clafoutis

Posted by on Monday Nov 18th, 2013

A sizeable portion of my love for Thanksgiving attaches to the advance planning sessions, the same way that I bask in a vacation more when I’ve spent weeks before studying the beach spots, the good restaurants, and what to wear.

In our imagined version of the holiday, we have unlimited dessert stomachs. Our minds consider a 2 1/2-to-1 proportion of eater to dessert completely normal. In reality, we end up with a lot of sweet leftovers. But we can’t give up our classics, chocolate marquise with mocha cream and apple pie, nor can we reduce the number of favorites that swing through the rotation, pecan pie and pound cake and pumpkin bread pudding.

I’m going to have a hard time keeping this new clafoutis off the buffet table this year. First off, it does the mighty job of bringing chocolate to the Thanksgiving spread. Chocolate is too often missing. Second, it’s really easy. Third, it’s dairy-free, so if anyone has trouble with all the milk, cream, and butter in the feast, this belongs in your dessert course.

I got the idea to use coconut milk in clafoutis when I saw a post on Autumn Makes and Does that mentioned my chocolate chip clafoutis as an inspiration. She said she actually preferred coconut milk to cream in clafoutis. I wanted to add pumpkin in a nod to the season, and I had to keep the chocolate in, because although clafoutis is originally a French dessert whose pancake-like custardy batter surrounds fruit like cherries, I never say no to a fruit-less dessert. Combined, the pumpkin puree and coconut milk are rich but not too rich. If you’re wondering, you don’t taste any coconut flavor here.

The clafoutis resembles the inside of a pumpkin pie, but it’s less jiggly (in a good way). There’s enough flour in the batter that you don’t have to worry about the egg in the custard coagulating. And you don’t have to make a crust.

Classic Apple Strudel

Posted by on Thursday Oct 10th, 2013

Here’s a secret: I’m not the biggest fan of pie crusts. Not a fan of making them. Not a fan of eating them. I’d much rather be getting my autumn dose of baked apple pastries from a dish that’s flakier, one that can be held in your hand a bit more easily, one that’s a little bit more like a strudel.

And so, I made you a strudel. Cinnamon-y diced apples, warming walnuts, sweet raisins, all between buttery layers of flaky phyllo in the perfect proportion of fruit to pastry. Today I’m over at talking about this classic fall dessert.

Click over to check out the full post and get the recipe!

Peanut Butter Cookies, Four Ways

Posted by on Wednesday Oct 2nd, 2013

The peanut butter cookie is the essence of home. When a cookie contains so much love, sweetness, and affection, how can you not wind up with a million recipes for it? So I was browsing through my own archives, looking for cookies to make over the weekend, and I saw that pretty much everything I made contained peanut butter. This is a slightly mysterious state of affairs, because I’ve been known to swear I don’t even like peanut butter cookies. (Peanut butter toast is a different story.) I’ve often felt like an alien for confessing that I find all ice cream without peanut butter better than any ice cream with peanut butter.

Anyway, the proliferation may have something to do with being married to a guy with a jar-a-week peanut butter habit. We always have crunchy in the fridge, and that means I can always make cookies. And now, with four equally awesome but very different recipes for peanut butter cookies, you can always make them too.

Which do you like best?

**Peanut Butter Cookies, Four Ways**

1. The Classic: Peanut Butter Cookies. These are the hearth-warming cookies you may have dreamed about, crumbly and rich and fragrant. At the same time, they have a denseness that makes me think of the inside of a truffle, or, more apt, a peanut butter cup. Definitely start here if you’re a classic type. Also, please eat some of the dough.

2. The New Age: Flourless Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies. The minimalist ingredient list for these magic cookies contains neither flour nor leavening. Peanut butter, egg, and sugar are the base of these candy-like sweets. You’ve got a lot of freedom with what you mix in. I count chocolate chips and toasted almonds among my favorites. Make them again and again to find out what add-ins you like best!

3. The Retro: Peanut Butter & Jelly Thumbprints. Because the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a classic, there had to be a corresponding cookie. I’ve always loved the process of making thumbprints, and I think it’s all much more exciting when there’s loads of peanut butter to go with the jelly. 

4. The Light: Peanut Butter Meringues. Light as a cloud–not something that happens all that much when peanut butter is involved–these meringues are naturally gluten-free and low-fat. As such, there’s something really surprising about biting into one. Like the Flourless Chocolate Chip Cookies, these contain almost no ingredients, all of which you hopefully have on hand.

Dairy-Free Peach Crisp

Posted by on Monday Aug 5th, 2013

This peach crisp, sweet yet dairy-free, came about because of a streak of bad luck, and the New Jersey peaches which went from underripe and hard to nectar-sweet and juicy in 24 hours, were the silver lining to the car trouble that destroyed my should-have-been-straightforward journey back from Big Summer Potluck #4 last weekend.

Here’s how the roller coaster sped along:

Happy: driving through beautiful Bucks County and talking blogs, food, and creativity with Amy, Autumn, Brian, Dennis, GinaJeni, Joe, KarenKelly, Maggie, Winnie and many others.

Sad: a rental car that petered out and died with no warning in the middle of a windy road in Pennsylvania and a rental car company with not a trace of customer service prowess.

Happy: a drive back on Sunday morning, when the farmstands were open, instead of Saturday night, when the farmstands would have been closed.

As if the Jersey-fresh produce weren’t fragrant and inexpensive enough, I made a second cheer-up stop on my way home: Red Hook Fairway, where I stocked my pantry as if a storm were on its way.

The next day, when the horror of the broken-down Jetta had faded, I made a plate of peach crisp, using oil instead of butter so that Alex could enjoy. This is the simplest crisp I’ve ever made: no cinnamon, no walnuts, no oats. (The two egg yolks in the ingredient list are what hold this this together.) With the failure of my power steering behind us, Alex and I ate the warm crisp, me with whipped cream on top, him without.

Happy: fruit so good it doesn’t need butter in the topping to be a rejuvenating dessert.

For kosher and lactose-free dessert lovers, this one’s for you. Enjoy!

P.S. The best dairy-free desserts.

Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

Posted by on Thursday Jun 20th, 2013

When was the last time you made an icebox cake? This retro dessert stands the test of years: turns out it’s not only delicious when you’re a kid but also when you’re all grown up, like us. It’s also still plenty fun to make by layering ultra-thin cookies and sweet whipped cream and then leaving the two-ingredient dish to “cook” overnight in the fridge. By morning, there’s a delicious cake just waiting to be sliced and eaten at summer dinner parties and birthdays.

I made this Peanut Butter Icebox Cake for First We Feast using chocolate wafers and delicious peanut butter whipped cream. Find the recipe and check out my step-by-step photos over in First We Feast’s slideshow.

Easy Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse

Posted by on Tuesday May 14th, 2013

I know it’s first thing in the morning. But I want to talk about booze. No, not vodka, not tequila, and not gin. Something sweeter and nuttier. Maybe more like breakfast? Or really, dessert. It’s Frangelico, a hazelnut-flavored liquor that’s about to take my chocolate mousse to the next level.

But first, let’s go way back.

Years ago, I interned in the test kitchen of a famous food personality. As the only non-professional chef in the kitchen, I spent my days feeling like Amelia Bedelia, pouring salt in the sugar jar and spilling sugar on the floor.

Now, there is a lot of know-how involved in being a home cook, like understanding how to improvise meals from an empty pantry or what it means to stretch dinner to feed double the number of guests intended (hint: add potatoes), but not knowing how to handle a hazelnut is one of the downfalls of never having earned a culinary degree.

One quiet afternoon in the test kitchen, we were testing recipes and a chef handed me some extra pie dough to play with. With the freedom to fill my pie crust with any of the kitchen’s gourmet wonders, I kicked around ideas, finally deciding on a chocolate mousse filling with hazelnuts. The crust baked up fine, and the mousse set. Feeling good, I toasted the hazelnuts, failed to remove their papery skins, scattered them across my tart, offered slices around the kitchen, and drooped home after the entire test kitchen staff declined to taste my tart.

“You know you have to remove the skins before you serve them?” the head chef finally said.

Obviously I hadn’t known. Right then I knew, though. Lesson learned.

So when I got the chance to work with Frangelico, a hazelnut-flavored liquor, I knew my recipe was going to be the story not just of hazelnut liqueur but of redemption. Make that crustless redemption.

The Last Apple Cake of the Season

Posted by on Thursday May 2nd, 2013

Join me in a collective moan, please. My three-year-old MacBook died this morning as I went to turn it on to finish this post. I’ve got worse problems than photo editing, currently, such as retrieving an insane amount of data, but today we’re going to make do with just one photo in a post. The rest of the pretty pictures are on a hard drive that just keeled over and died. (Don’t worry, I have back-ups, so I’m not totally panicked, just temporarily adrift.)

But I wanted to get this post to you before you read it and think, “What? …