Pecan Pie Bars



I was looking over the recipes that we have posted on our blog so far, and realized two things:

1. Our blog has nearly reached the 100th post mark -- we currently have 97 posts (counting this one)
. Given that Gloria and I had been talking about setting up a blog for such a long time, this is quite gratifying -- expect a special post to celebrate this milestone!

2. In the past 97 posts, we have shared quite a few recipes for dessert. Sure, there is quite a bit of pasta mixed in and a few secondi, but Gloria and I clearly have a bit of a sweet tooth. Whether it be Italian ricotta pie, American peanut butter pie, or Danish fastelavnsboller, we love them all. 

Which got me thinking -- the recipe for my number one favorite dessert in the world isn't actually on this blog! How could I have in all this time not put a recipe for pecan pie on here? My apologies. Better late than never, right?

Pecan pie is not an Italian dessert, and it is not even a dessert that comes from my region of the United States -- in fact it is a dessert from the South, especially common in Texas, a state I have never traveled to. I made my first pecan pie in high school at the request of my Nonno, who also loved this dessert. I have him to thank for introducing me to one of my favorite things to bake and eat -- it was love at first bite. Besides the fact that pecan pie is super quick to throw together, it is sweet, crunchy, and gooey all at the same time, even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of fresh whipped cream. If you really want to take this dessert over the top, you can add chocolate chips or coconut to it, or go all out and add both as I used to do for my Nonno (who was also a huge coconut fan). Pecan coconut chocolate pie anyone?

You'll have noticed that this recipe is for pecan pie bars, not regular old pecan pie -- I noticed on that it was convenient to have a portable version of this dessert for holidays or birthdays, as pecan pie isn't the easiest dessert to eat when making the rounds. I made these recently as a birthday gift for my friend Costanza, a hugely talented pastry chef and owner of Dess'art in Testaccio. Making a dessert for a pastry chef is always a bit nerve wracking, but these got her stamp of approval (phew!) If that's not proof that you to make these bars asap, I don't know what is! Enjoy!

PECAN PIE BARS

Ingredients:

For the crust: 
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarse
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


For the filling: 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 and 3/4 cups pecans, toasted


Directions:
For the crust: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Fold two large pieces of aluminum foil perpendicular to one another in the baking pan so that there is overhang around all the edges. Butter the aluminum foil.
Place the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup pecans in a food processor. Process the mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles sand.

Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan and bake until the crust is light brown, about 20 minutes.

For the filling: While the crust is in the oven, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl until just combined. Add in the egg and whisk until incorporated.

Pour the filling on top of the hot crust and sprinkle the 1 and 3/4 cups pecans evenly over the top. Bake until the top is brown and cracks start to form across the surface, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool for 1 hours. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil or parchment paper “handles” and transfer to a cutting board; cut into desired sizes. Makes 10 squares.

Recipe adapted from Baking Illustrated. 









Strawberry Cake

As I mentioned in this post about this cake I created for my friend Sergey, I make it my mission to bake birthday cakes designed and tailored specifically to the requests of the friend or relative who is celebrating a birthday. It’s kind of a fun challenge for me, not to mention a great (delicious) homemade birthday gift. Over the years I have come up with recipes for a cookies and cream layer cake (for the 22nd birthday of my lovely college roommate), a chocolate peppermint cake (for my twin sister on our birthday) and a chocolate raspberry cheesecake (for my cousin Dylan) among others. 
This cake recipe came about a few years back for my best friend Kelly’s birthday – she requested a (pink) strawberry layer cake for her birthday, a dessert that she had enjoyed often when she was little. While doing a little research for recipes on the internet however, I was disappointed to find that most recipes for strawberry cake rely on strawberry gelatin mixtures to get the pink color and strawberry flavor.  While there is nothing wrong with a shortcut here and there, it doesn’t take much more effort to throw a bunch of strawberries in to a food processor to get the strawberry flavor and color and give the cake a more authentic strawberry flavor.
This cake is among the best I have ever made – it tastes exactly like a fresh strawberry, is moist and fluffy, and has a gorgeous color. It is also far easier to make than your average layer cake – just stir everything together in a bowl and you’re good to go, no beating the sugar or butter together before starting. I used a cream cheese frosting here to offset the sweetness of the strawberries, but a vanilla buttercream would probably be good too. And actually now that I’m typing this I bet a chocolate buttercream would be fantastic as well – chocolate covered strawberry cake! Keep this recipe in mind for any special occasion, especially Easter next week! This would be a very Spring-y addition to your meal. Enjoy everyone!

STRAWBERRY CAKE
Ingredients:
For the cake:
Nonstick vegetable spray
All-purpose flour, for pans
3 cups self-rising flour or 3 cups all purpose flour + 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup pureed strawberries
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, beaten
red food coloring (optional)
For the frosting:
1 (8oz) package of cream cheese, softened
1 stick of butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
Extra strawberries, to decorate

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray and flour three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour; set aside. Alternatively, you could also forget making a layer cake and use this batter to fill a 9 inch square pan and a 12 cup cupcake tin like I did (more portable for work!)
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, pureed strawberries, vanilla, and eggs. Stir in the flour and salt, mixing everything until well combined. If you want the cake to be a brighter pink, feel free to add a drop or two of red food coloring and stir everything together until you achieve the right shade. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake the cakes for 25-28 minutes for a layer cake or square cake, 10-12 minutes for cupcakes, or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
Let the cakes cool completely and then invert them on to a wire rack. Prepare the cream cheese frosting. Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, tasting as you go, until the frosting is to your liking in terms of sweetness (you may end up using less than 3 cups of frosting if you like your frosting less sweet). Frost the cake as desired, decorate with sliced strawberries if you’d like, and refrigerate until ready to serve. 
Recipe adapted from www.adashofsass.com. 







Fastelavnsboller


I know what you're probably thinking -- eclairs, two pasta recipes, Nutella muffins, and now this. Depending on who you are, you're probably thinking I either really love you (carbs!!) or really hate you (bathing suit season is fast upon us!!) I would however like to remind you that this blog isn't called Pancakes & Biscotti for nothing, and besides this recipe was too good not to share.

These buns may look familiar -- if you read my post on Denmark, you'll know that these are Fastelavnsboller, the most delicious thing I tried while in Aarhus. Fastelavnsboller, also known as Shrovetide buns, are a Danish treat that precede the Lenten fast and are eaten traditionally on February 15, when Danish Carnival is celebrated. Obviously, we are over a month past February 15, but I think any time is a good time to eat these.


While the modern art museum and the Rothborg castle were lovely, the highlight of the trip was Småkage Huset, the amazing bakery we found in our neighborhood, where we first tried fastelavnsboller. The ones that Småkage Huset makes were so delicious that Allie, Gabriele and I each had one in the morning (we wanted to try both the vanilla and chocolate flavors) and then bought some to eat later on that afternoon. In fact, they were so good that they made me deeply resent the large display of cornetti* in the cafe' where I have breakfast (they would never be as good as fastelavnsboller!)
and regard my usual cereal/yogurt breakfast with utter disdain (how could I go back to eating such a normal breakfast after what I had tried in Denmark?!)

Thankfully, my Danish cookbook has a recipe for these, so my fastelavnsboller withdrawal phase has come to an end. This recipe did not disappoint. These buns were a bit cakier than the ones we tried at Småkage Huset, but still fantastic, with a vanilla custard filling and chocolate glaze. The custard can be baked right along with the bun, so no need to worry about filling these afterwards. These may have a lot of components (bun, glaze, filling) but none of the three are at all difficult to make, and would be awesome on a Saturday or Sunday morning or great for brunch. Note that these do not keep well, but not eating them all at once anyways is a feat in itself. Enjoy!

*Cornetti are the classic Italian breakfast food, often eaten alongside a cappuccino -- think of them as croissants, but sweeter and with less butter.

FASTELAVNSBOLLER

Ingredients for the buns:
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 ounces fresh yeast (also called cake yeast)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, plus 1 extra egg yolk
3/4 cup whole milk
Pinch of salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour

Ingredients for the filling:
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch or 2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
pinch of salt

Ingredients for the icing:
1 egg white
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cream


Directions:
Pour the water into a bowl and stir in the yeast until dissolved. Combine the butter and sugar in another large bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in one whole egg and the extra yolk. Briefly warm the milk on the stove. Add the milk to the yeast mixture, combine, and then stir the yeast and milk mixture in to the butter mixture. Stir in the flour and salt, a little at a time, and mix to a soft dough, adding more flour if necessary.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly flowered surface and knead until smooth. Lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with a towel, and leave in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. 

To make the filling, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a pan. Whisk in the sugar, flour, and milk. Add the salt. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens an coats the back of a spoon. Leave to cool.

Lightly grease two baking sheets. Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and divide into four. Cut each part in to 4 pieces and shape in to balls. Place on the baking sheets. Make a well in the center of each roll, and fill it with a spoonful of the cream filling. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush it over the buns. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the egg white until stiff. Stir in the powdered sugar, cocoa, and salt and beat until soft. Stir in the cream and beat for 1 minute. Place a spoonful of icing over each bun, covering the cream filling, and serve. Note that these are best eaten the day they're made. Makes 16 buns. 







Banana Nutella Muffins



You've probably noticed by now that one of my very favorite ingredients to bake with is Nutella – you can see it in these cookiesthis cake, and in this one, too. Nutella, like bacon or cheese, is simply one of those magical ingredients that makes everything better, whether it be a slice of bread, a strawberry, or a cookie -- the delicious factor of any food is usually upped by 1000 when paired with Nutella. I admit that I've come to prefer it to it’s American cousin, peanut butter (nothing against peanut butter of course!)

Lucky for me, Italy is the home of Nutella, and it is available in many different forms -- a Nutella filled cornetto for breakfast, Nutella pizza at the pizza by the slice place, Nutella gelato...(thankfully I have an annual gym membership to counteract all of this). I've found one of the best ways to eat Nutella is via the Nutella and banana crepes I often get for dessert at Andirivieni, one of my favorite places to go in our neighborhood. Since making crepes can be a bit time consuming, not to mention tricky (they’re thinner and thus not quite as easy to flip as pancakes) I decided to take the main flavors of the crepes that I like so much and put them in to a muffin form. Muffins after all only take a few minutes to mix up and bake, are portable, and are a more acceptable breakfast than a crepe might be (at least that’s what I tell myself). These muffins came out amazingly – they are perfectly moist and packed with banana flavor, swirled with a healthy dose of nutella that ends up mostly in the center of the muffin. These would be great for breakfast, brunch, or dessert, because let's be honest, they fall more in the dessert category. If you're (gasp) not a fan of Nutella, feel free to leave it out and use chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts, or a combination of those instead. Enjoy!


BANANA NUTELLA MUFFINS

Ingredients:

2 extremely ripe bananas
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
3 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1  teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup sugar
½  teaspoon salt
Nutella

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 12 cup muffin pan.
In a large bowl, mash the bananas with the melted butter. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, yogurt, and vanilla, and combine with the mashed banana mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the banana mixture until everything is just combined (don’t overmix!)


Distribute the batter in to the muffin cup. Using a spoon, place a dollop of Nutella over each muffin and use a knife to swirl it in. You can use as much Nutella as you would like, but try not to add too much (otherwise the Nutella sinks to the bottom of the muffin and sticks to the pan). Bake the muffins for 12 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool a bit before removing them from the muffin tin. Makes 8-10 muffins.