Triple Orange Pound Cake

Annnd we're back after the holidays! I hope everyone had a wonderful, relaxing Christmas filled with lots of food (we certainly did over here -- recipes to follow). For the last post of 2015 and before the 2016 diets begin, here is a simple, delicious cake that is great for breakfast, with tea, or as a no fuss dessert. As you can probably tell from this recipe and this recipe and this recipe, I am a fan of everyday cakes, or any cake that requires one pan, has no layers, and is quite versatile. So, let's add another one to the list!

I actually meant to share this recipe with you sooner, but wasn't so crazy about my first attempts. The problem was not the pound cake itself, but rather the orange flavor, which I felt came through just barely. In my first try at this recipe I used the orange juice, which made for a nice cake, but more of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it-orange pound cake, a pound cake-with-a-whisper-of-orange-flavor. On my second attempt, I decided to add a good dose of orange zest -- where the true, strong citrus flavor lies! -- as well as a brush of orange juice over the warm cake. To top it all off I added a quick orange glaze, which made this dessert look extra pretty and ended my quest for Orange Pound Cake perfection. This cake is moist, dense, and mildly sweet, like any good pound cake should be, and between the juice, the zest, and the glaze, is intensely orange-y, intended for ardent citrus fans. The flavor is bright and sunny, exactly what you need to wake you up on a cold winter morning, and the winter citrus is a nice alternative to the more common gingerbread or peppermint flavors you've seen in December. Enjoy everyone, and see you next year with more recipes! 

TRIPLE ORANGE POUNDCAKE

Ingredients:

Cake:
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 tablespoons orange juice (from 1 large orange)
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

To brush over the top of the cake:
Juice from half of an orange (for brushing)

Glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a six cup loaf pan and line with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using electric mixers, beat together the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating until well combined. In batches, alternate the dry ingredients with the orange juice, mixing everything only until just combined (if you over mix the cake will come out tough). Pour in to the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 60-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached.

When the cake is done, let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes (it will still be warm). Run a knife around the sides of the pan. Set a wire rack on a sheet  pan and turn the cake out on the rack. Peel off the wax paper. Using a pastry brush, brush the orange juice all over the top and sides of the cake and let it soak in. Once the cake is completely cooled, whisk together the glaze ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the cake. Serves 8-10. 





Chocolate Peppermint Tart

I take my Christmas desserts very seriously. The Christmas lunch, after all, is one of the few meals a year where my family is all together, and therefore is deserving of an array of appetizers, lasagne, a turkey, at least four side dishes, and of course, at least three desserts. I tend to choose my dessert recipes far in advance and test them out beforehand to make sure they are top notch.

This super elegant Chocolate Peppermint Tart will hands down be on my menu this year. It is absolutely delicious, the kind of delicious that leaves you speechless for a couple of seconds when you first try it (not kidding here -- my colleagues who taste tested this all had the same reaction). So what makes this so good?! The filling is dense and smooth and truffle-like, and intensely chocolate-y, topped off by a bittersweet ganache glaze that ups the chocolate factor and gives the tart a shiny, elegant finish. All of this  is poured in to a slightly crunch chocolate cookie crust which contrasts nicely with the creamy filling. The hint of peppermint adds a nice brightness to the tart (who doesn't love chocolate and mint?!) and keeps things seasonal. A couple of notes: this dessert can also be made in advance, and if you're not a peppermint fan, feel free to leave out the extract -- I have made this as a plain chocolate tart and it is delicious that way as well. Do remember to cut the pieces small, as this is quite a rich dessert. Lastly, I would recommend garnishing the edges of the tart with some crushed candy canes -- I would have done so myself, but candy canes are hard to come by in Italy! Enjoy everyone! 

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT TART

For the crust:
1 ½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
8 1/2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar 
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the glaze:
½  ounces semi sweet chocolate
2½ tablespoons heavy cream
1¼ teaspoons corn syrup
1¼ tablespoons warm water

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F). In a small bowl stir together cookie crumbs and melted butter until combined and crumbs are evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture evenly in base and up sides of tart pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter together in skillet over low heat (you can also use a double boiler for this -- that would be the better option! -- but I don’t have one in my kitchen here). Let the chocolate and butter mixture cool slightly.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk to combine all of the ingredients. Pour the filling into the crust. Bake the tart until the filling is slightly puffed and set around the edges, and the center jiggles slightly (note that the filling will continue to set as the tart cools), 20 to 25 minutes. Let the tart cool about 1 hour.

To make the glaze, combine the remaining chocolate, cream, corn syrup, and water in a small pan and whisk together until melted and well combined. Immediately pour the glaze onto the center of the tart, and with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the glaze evenly over the top of the tart.  Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour. Serves 12.











Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

And the Christmas baking continues! Now, I know what you're thinking -- chocolate chunk cookies are not your typical Christmas cookie. Those of course would be gingerbread cookies or iced sugar cookies, at least where I'm from. However, these Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies are some of the best cookies I've ever made and eaten, so good in fact that they are worthy of being left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, provided of course that you keep yourself from eating the whole batch. And of course, they would make an excellent holiday gift, because who wouldn't want a batch of out-of-this-world-best-you've-ever-eaten cookies for Christmas? My colleague who I made these for recently described this as "magnificent," and I'm inclined to agree.  

What first drew me to this recipe was how well tested it is. These cookies come from Leah of the blog Truffle and Trends, who made 30 or so cookie recipes before she came up with this one -- so I knew that the recipe had been tweaked to perfection. A couple of notes on what makes these cookies so good: 

-Browning the butter is key here. Brown butter is butter that is cooked on the stove, which gives it a nutty flavor. It is great when added to any dessert, and adds a sort of warm, toasty flavor that you don't get in your average chocolate chip cookie.

-The yogurt  may seem like a random ingredient, but they make the cookies extra soft.

-Chocolate chunks! I've said it before in other blog posts -- chopping up your own chocolate in to chunks is a bit more time consuming, but it makes the cookies fare more chocolate-y than regular old chocolate chips do. 

-Refrigerating the dough a good amount means that they retain their shape when baking.

Do yourself a favor and make these cookies right away -- they're perfect with a mug of hot chocolate and will become your new favorite cookie recipe, guaranteed. Enjoy everyone!


BROWN BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

Ingredients:
14 tablespoons (7 oz) butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons greek yogurt
2 1/4 cups flour (well compacted, not spooned into measuring cup. It's just about 12 oz. when weighed)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped


Directions:
To make the brown butter: dice the butter and put in a skillet over a medium heat. Let the butter melt, and then let it begin to foam and bubble, stiring often. After a few minutes, the bubbling will subside and the butter will start smelling nutty. At this point, the butter is browned. It is important to pay very close attention during this stage, as you don't want to burn the butter -- if the butter is burned the cookies will have a bitter taste.

Remove skillet from heat right away and pour the browned butter into a bowl so it doesn't continue to cook. Let butter cool five minutes in the bowl. Next,  stir in both sugars and mix well. 

Add in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract, mixing everything together well with a wooden spoon. The batter should turn a slightly lighter shade when well mixed. Stir in the yogurt.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and add them to the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks. Refrigerate the dough for one hour, covered.

Form 20 or so even sized balls of dough and place onto 2 lightly buttered cookie sheets. Refrigerate the dough on sheets for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bake the cookies for 10-11 minutes, until the edges are barely golden. If you can lift the edge of a cookie a bit with your hand, the cookies are definitely ready. Let cookies sit and firm on baking sheets for 10 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 20-22 cookies.




Recipe very slightly adapted from www.trufflesandtrends.com.




Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Bars

As you can probably tell from this blog, I believe that any time is a good time to bake, but I will say there's something particularly special about baking around Christmas. Maybe it's the cold weather that makes staying in a cozy kitchen so appealing, or maybe it's the Christmas music that makes a good soundtrack to the cookie decorating, or maybe it's because it's  especially nice to bake up sweets for others (edible gifts are the best kind of gifts, in my opinion). In any event, my holiday baking has officially begun and I will be sure to share all my recipes with you here, starting with these Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Bars.

Seeing as how I posted a recipe for a gingerbread cake last year, my first thought was to give you a recipe for gingerbread men, the quintessential Christmas cookie. When I was little I loved making gingerbread men, after all -- first we would make the cookie dough, then let it rest in the fridge, and then we would roll out the dough and cut out all of the gingerbread men, then we would bake them, let them cool, and decorate them...fun, of course, but lots of steps involved (my 8 year old self was really only doing the decorating at the end). I realize that not everyone has the time or patience to do this around Christmas (me included) so here is a gingerbread recipe that takes far less time and effort and still satisfies the gingerbread craving around the holidays.  

These bars could be described as a cross between a piece of gingerbread and a brownie in terms of the texture and taste. They are soft and chewy and spicy--as gingerbread should always be, no one likes wimpy gingerbread!--with a healthy dose of chocolate, because, as this pecan pie taught us, adding chocolate to a dessert is always a good thing, and this gingerbread is no exception. Even though chocolate is not a traditional addition to gingerbread, it pairs wonderfully with the spices, complementing them rather than overwhelming them and adding another dimension of flavor to the dessert. The powdered sugar on the top  makes these look extra festive and reminds me of a dusting of snow, fitting for the season -- don't leave this final touch out if you can help it! Note that I have used chocolate chunks here because I think that they're overall better, but feel free to use chocolate chips if you wish. These would most certainly make an excellent homemade Christmas gift for friends or family,  not to mention a great easy dessert for a holiday dinner. Enjoy everyone!


DARK CHOCOLATE GINGERBREAD BARS

Ingredients:
2/3 cup (about 11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces of semi sweet chocolate, chopped
powdered sugar, for sprinkling on top

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9x13 baking dish. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and molasses with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks. Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before sprinkling with powdered sugar and serving. Makes about 12 bars (depending on how large you cut them).







Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts



It’s already December (how did that happen?!) which means two things: 1.) I can officially start celebrating Christmas now that Thanksgiving has past and 2.) I also need to give you one last pumpkin recipe before I go in to gingerbread/hot chocolate/peppermint mode. So -- Pumpkin Pie Pop-tarts!

Now, it is quite possible that the non American readers have never heard of Pop-tarts. Let me explain: Pop-tarts are an American breakfast treat, consisting of a rectangular piece of pastry with filling (there are fruit, chocolate fillings, or cinnamon fillings) and a thin layer of icing, sometimes topped with sprinkles. My mom rarely ever bought them for us (they fall far outside the realm of a healthy breakfast) and therefore they were considered a special treat, enjoyed only at the houses of our friends with less health conscious mothers. Now that I’m older, I can see Pop-tarts for what they really are -- tasty, yes, but tasty in the way that only junk food can be, yummy and good to satisfy a quick sugar craving, but by no means perfect. The pastry doesn’t have a ton of flavor, the filling and icing are often overly sweet, and they usually taste better when toasted (but we don’t always have a toaster on hand, now do we?!) Pop-tarts, I knew, are a great concept but would certainly be much approved when homemade, when the pastry can be buttery and flaky, the filling fresher with more flavor beyond just sweet.

The verdict then: how right I was! The homemade pastry was divine, a million times better than the store bought Pop-tart, just as buttery and flaky as I’d hoped, and don’t get me started about the filling, which, as you might have guessed, tastes exactly like Pumpkin Pie, creamy and smooth and loaded with cinnamon and ginger (essentially, this is a sneaky way to eat Pumpkin Pie and have it look like breakfast instead of dessert). I was worried that the icing would be too sweet and overpower the Pop-tart, but I have tried both versions, and have found that the icing is the finishing touch that makes these really special, that compliments the filling and the crust without overpowering them. Indeed, if you have one last can of pumpkin in your cupboard to use up to close out Pumpkin season as we head towards Christmas, use it to make these! Enjoy everyone! 1000 times better than your regular pop-tart; enough pumpkin. 

PUMPKIN PIE POP-TARTS

Ingredients:

Crust
2 cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
4 - 5 Tbsp ice water

Filling
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp packed light-brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp of nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1 pinch salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Icing 
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp half and half, plus more as needed
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:
For the crust: In a food processor pulse together flour, salt and granulated sugar. Add butter and pulse mixture until resembles coarse meal. Add 4 Tbsp water and  pulse several times, if it doesn't come together in clumps add remaining 1 Tbsp water. Drop mixture onto a clean surface, gather dough into a ball then divide into two equal portions. Shape each into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour. Meanwhile prepare the filling.

For the pumpkin pie filling: To a mixing bowl, add cream cheese, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Using electric beaters, beat together the pumpkin and the sugars. Next, the lay the pumpkin puree on several layers of paper towels. Wrap and press to soak some of the excess moisture from pumpkin, until you have 3/4 cup pumpkin puree. Add the reduced pumpkin puree to the cream cheese mixture along with the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and salt. I ended up adding more spices here as usual, so start with the quantity above and then add more if you wish. Stir everything together well. Mix in the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Cover the bowl and chill the filling until ready to assemble pop tarts.

To assemble pop-tarts: Grease a large baking sheet. Working with 1 chilled disk of dough at a time, roll the dough out onto a floured surface. Cut the dough into 8 rectangles.

Arrange 4 of the rectangles, spaced evenly apart on prepared baking sheet. Spread a slightly heaping 1 1/2 tablespoons of pumpkin pie filling evenly down the center of each rectangle, leaving about a 3/4-inch rim on all sides uncoated. Dampen fingertips with water and run along  uncoated edges of pop tarts. Top each with another rectangle, then seal edges with your fingertips, then reseal with a fork or just use your fingertips. Poke the top center of each tart 3 times with a fork. Cover and transfer to freezer to chill at least 2 hours or refrigerate overnight. Repeat this process with remaining disk of dough.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake frozen tarts until golden, rotating racks once halfway through baking, about 25 - 30 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet several minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

For the icing: In a mixing bowl whisk together all icing ingredients well then add more half and half about 1/2 tsp at a time to reach desired consistency. Spread over tops of cooled pop tarts, leaving a small rim uncoated around all sides. Sprinkle tops with sprinkles if desired and allow glaze to set at room temperature. Store in an airtight container.

Recipe from www.cookingclassy.com.