Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

Key Lime Pie

This past Thursday, we celebrated Pi Day (3/14).  You know, the number that never ends (but starts with 3.14), that helps us calculate the area of circles and whatnot. (Okay, maybe you don’t know.  It’s okay.  I’ll forgive you.)  I happened to be on call, so I was at home during the day, and Alison suggested I bake a pie in honor of the day.  Witty, isn’t she?

Well, an extremely slow waiter at lunch and a trip to the mall got in the way of those plans, but with little to do Friday afternoon, I got the itch to fulfill her request.  To be honest with you, I don’t know that I’ve baked a pie since I moved to California.  I’ve gotten cravings to do so, but my holidays here have become so non-traditional that there is never really a good reason to go through the hassle, just so I can eat half of it myself.

I found the recipe I used on Pinterest after thoroughly enjoying the Sara Lee key lime pie my friend brought over for a cookout a couple of weekends ago.  I think I had had it before then, but I wasn’t sure…I’ve definitely been a fan of the yogurt version for years!  The whipped topping sounded interesting (you’ll see why in a moment), and the picture looked yummmmmmy.  Though I was close to going with my own personal favorite of lemon meringue, the allure of a new recipe won out.  It didn’t hurt that this is probably Chris’ favorite pie flavor, so I knew I had someone to split calories with ;).

You can find the original recipe here.  It’s super simple, and you more than likely have almost all the ingredients you will need on hand already.

Surprisingly, we were unable to locate fresh key limes.  I know I’ve seen them out here, but we were in a rush (I had a Skype date with my dad!), and let it go after checking Ralph’s and Whole Foods.  I think I found a pretty great alternative, however.  We had a large bottle of Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice on hand for making my new favorite girly drink, the avocado margarita (another post, another post).  We buy ours at BevMo, where it’s conveniently located near the tequila aisle.  The bottle doesn’t specify whether the juice comes from key limes or regular limes, but the fact that it had a recipe for key lime pie on the side told me it was a safe bet either way.  If you also can’t find fresh key limes, I suggest using a juice such as this one over the cheap lime juice you can find in the produce department in the little plastic lime.  It’s got a ton of flavor.

I had a little scare with my crust.  I was busy with about four other projects, and didn’t look in on it until about 18 of the specified 20 minutes of baking time had passed.  It was getting more than slightly brown, but it hadn’t burned yet.  Just a word of caution to pay a bit more attention than I was…  Also, I found I had more crust mixture than necessary to fill my 9 inch Pyrex pie plate.  I think 1 sleeve of graham crackers (just over a cup of crumbs) will yield enough.  Use the full cup and a half if you are using a deep-dish pie plate.  Although most of the time when I make a graham cracker crust, I only add melted butter, I really enjoyed the sugar in this crust.  The sweetness is a nice balance for the tart lime custard.  And as always, if you are lazy or in a rush, I’m sure a store-bought crust works just fine 🙂

Once I had mixed my filling, I ended up baking it for about 17 minutes.  It probably could have used about a minute longer in the oven, but it was just about perfect.  A custard filling that doesn’t crack or pull away from the crust?  Delightful.  It had that “I’m barely holding my form here” jiggliness about it too, but still sliced and served easily.  I took a nap while it chilled, and then came back to mix up the topping.

As I mentioned before, I was intrigued that the topping here included sour cream.  I’m not sure why, as I am the proponent of using sour cream in everything (banana bread, cupcakes…).  I used regular whipping cream and not heavy whipping cream, but I’m sure either works fine if you already have one on hand.  When I tasted the beater, I was actually a little worried.  The sour cream flavor was obvious.  Chris told me to calm down, so I spooned it over the chilled pie and stuck it in the fridge until we had eaten our dinner.

Turns out…Chris was right.  Combined with the sweetness of the crust and the tartness of the filling, the not-overly-sweet topping was PERFECT!  It’s a nice touch on a pie that would actually be just fine with no topping at all, in my opinion.  I didn’t bother garnishing this pie, since I wasn’t serving it to company.  This was delicious…such a yummy spring treat, and really pretty easy.  And…I got to have pie for breakfast, just as if it were Black Friday or the day after Christmas 🙂


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Back home in Wisconsin our family ‘estate’ is just a couple miles away from the local pick-your-own berry farm.  I have a couple fond memories filling up a bucket with juicy strawberries as a kid with Grandma, or when Danielle and I decided to go picking a few years ago so we could make freezer jam and came home with about 10 extra pounds – oops, good thing they freeze well!  I know it will still be a few weeks until the strawberries are ready in Wisconsin, but we’ve hit the peak of Southern California’s year round season and the grocery stores around here have them on sale every other week.

While I am perfectly happy eating a bowl of whole strawberries, I wanted to try my hand at something “new” so I pulled out a couple of Grandma’s recipes and went to work making a fresh strawberry pie.  First we need something to put it in:

Grandma’s Perfect Pie Crust

  • 4 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cup Crisco
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water

Mix together flour, sugar, salt and Crisco until crumbly.  Add egg, vinegar and water; mix well.

Grandma’s recipe claims this yields 7 crusts, but I don’t think we’ve ever gotten that many pies out of it.  Danielle guesses maybe Grandma was just better at rolling out the dough or something, but for us we can usually make three, maybe four, crusts from each batch.  If you’re not making four pies in a day, just divide the extra dough and pop it in the freezer for next time!   Once you’re pie shell is baked (at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes) it’s time to make the filling:

Fresh Berry Pie

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 box Jello (flavor matched to berries, so strawberry flavored for strawberries)
  • 1 quart berries
  • 8 or 9 inch baked pie shell

Bring water, sugar and cornstarch to a boil until thicker and clear.  Remove from heat.  Add Jello.  Add berries.  Pour into pie shell and refrigerate.  Serve with whipped cream topping.

The first time I tried this recipe I wasn’t sure how “clear” the mixture was supposed to get and kept cooking after it had thickened until it was too thick to mix the berries in and while it tasted okay, it wasn’t the prettiest pie to look at.  This time around I’ve learned my lesson and once the mixture had thickened I removed it from the heat.

As a bonus, I had quite a bit of extra dough that I decided to roll out and bake (about 6 minutes) in a cupcake pan for some “mini pies”.   The little shells with a spoonful of strawberries looked great and were perfect for serving as a quick and easy dessert, rather than slicing up the whole pie.

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Lemon and I go way back.

Not only is lemon meringue pie my favorite pie, it’s also one of my all-time favorite desserts.  Not just any lemon meringue, however.  My grandma’s (duh).  Hers was the best for two reasons: the crust and the meringue.  Any idiot can make lemon curd, which is the filling for the pie.  Well…maybe that’s not true.  Making sure you cook it to the proper thickness can be tricky.  I dealt with a few slightly runny pies before I learned my lesson.  But not everyone makes a good pie crust.  (Perhaps that should read “not everyone makes a pie crust.”  If you are going to go through the fuss of making a pie like this, you had best be making a homemade crust to put it in.  The end.)  The meringue is awesome because instead of just egg whites and sugar, it uses marshmallow creme.  So it’s all fluffy and sticky-sweet once it’s baked.  *sigh*

The various lemon-flavored versions of Girl Scout cookies have also been popular with me.  This spring we stopped and bought some cookies at a table some girls were running at Ralph’s.  One of the troop moms and I were having a discussion about how the names of the cookies are different out here than they are in Wisconsin.  Then I realized there weren’t any of the lemon sandwich cookies I liked.  In true L.A. fashion, said mom got a bit snarky and goes “turns out you were the only person who liked those.”  Okay then.  I’m sure that’s false, but whatever…moving on.

In Italy last year, Hol and I drank limoncello (and lemon creme) amongst the ruins of Pompeii.  Alright, technically we were in the gift shop adjacent to the actual ruins.  And technically, there was a terrible thunderstorm going on, so there was no desire on either of our parts to dawdle around muddy, two-thousand year-old streets sipping booze.  But it sounds quite nice to say “we drank limoncello amongst the ruins.”  The stuff is damn potent, but damn good.  I bought a bottle home for the family to try and my Dad was, surprisingly, an instant convert.

Oh hello beautiful, huge lemons!

Now that I’ve spent thirty minutes writing about how much I love lemon-flavored items (Barcardi Limon being one exception.  Freshmen year of college permanently turned my stomach against any fruit flavored rum or vodka, a fact I unfortunately neglected to remember a few weeks ago during an afternoon where I downed a bit too much pineapple vodka 😉 ), I might as well explain where I’m going with this…dessert for Easter lunch tomorrow.

Since there are only three of us, we’re keeping things pretty simple: some ham, German potato salad, and green beans.  The year of being perpetually on-call for holidays continues this weekend, and I decided that if I had to be stuck close to home on the first nice weekend in a month, I should make a putzy dessert to go with our rather easy meal.  To me, that means check out Brown Eyed Baker for a cupcake recipe.  (I had been itching to make the Irish Car Bomb ones again, but I was on call and sick on St. Pat’s, so their revival waits for another day.)  I thought of lemon immediately…it’s spring, it’s sunny…”let’s have something light and fresh.”

So I settled on these little babies.  As she proclaims, they actually are quite easy.  I had Ali help by zesting the lemons and then juicing them so I could use as much fresh lemon juice as possible (we got 2/3 of a cup out of three lemons, a little shy of the necessary 3/4 cup).  But otherwise, I managed to make the cupcakes, lemon curd and frosting all while doing the dishes and boiling the potatoes for the potato salad.  There’s nothing terribly exotic in the execution of this recipe.

You can read her directions in the link above.  I made two tiny alterations, both with the frosting.  I knew I’d never use the last 2 ounces of my brick of cream cheese if I only used 4 ounces in the frosting.  So I threw all 6 that were left in.  Then I figured there needed to be a little extra liquid, so I just kind of poured the limoncello on without measuring.  I’ve been watching a lot of Kitchen Nightmares lately, so I could hear Gordon Ramsay exclaiming “too many cooks in the kitchen” as I just kept pouring, all the while wanting to gleefully yell out “too much booze in my cupcakes!!”  Anyways, I highly recommend using more than a tablespoon in your version.  How the hell are you going to taste one tablespoon?!  Okay, I guess I made another alteration, this time in the directions on how to hollow out the hole for your lemon curd filling.  I just used a sharp paring knife and cut a nickel-sized circle about 1/2″ deep out of the center of each cupcake.  So much easier than either method she describes.  I tried the icing tip thing last time, and rather than core out any cake, I felt that it just sort of smushed it down into the bottom.  Which was fine, but not exactly the point.  Oh, and check out this nifty trick to make your own buttermilk instead of buying a bunch you won’t use.  My mom has always done this when she makes homemade pancakes!

Just waiting for their frosting...

We haven’t tried the assembled product yet, but I’ve tasted [a lot] of each individual part.  The lemon curd is much tarter than my lemon pie filling, but it turns out it balances the faint sweetness of the cupcake perfectly.  The frosting is fabulous.  The end.  As all of hers always are!  I also have a feeling if you’re feeling a little lazy, leaving out the filling and just making limoncello cupcakes and frosting would be a perfectly delicious alternative!

Happy Easter all!

el fin

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Apple Crisp

I’m aware that back home, it’s not so much fall anymore as it is that brown, damp time that occurs between fall and winter.  The days of tolerably cool weather, with the sun shining through trees that still have [beautifully colored] leaves on them are long gone.  Here in SoCal, however, we live in what I’ve taken to calling a perpetual summer.  This is especially accurate for us Sconnies, as we’ve often endured summers where the high rarely hits 70 🙂  Though it’s been cool and wet by California standards in recent weeks, that actually makes it prettier here.  Things get green and lush and the smog clears away for a few days, providing gorgeous views of the Hills.  It reminds me of that good Wisconsin fall, and I love it.  Combine that feeling with the fact that my mom sent Alison out here with a large bag of orchard apples (Macs or Cortlands, we couldn’t tell…oops), and you create the urge for a yummy fall treat.

Although I enjoy apple pie, my two go-to apple desserts are apple squares (kuchen to those of us with heavier German influences) and apple crisp.  Both easy and freakin delicious.  Apple crisp takes less time, however, so that’s what I opted for.

Any time I cook with apples, I think of my Grandma.  She made a wicked apple pie, and my sisters and I spent many hours helping her peel apples (usually picked in the “orchard” in her backyard on a rickety ladder).  As a reward, she’d use her extra pie crust to make us “pie sticks,” simple strips of crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  I’ll still do the same when I bake at home, however I usually get busy elsewhere and forget them…meaning our childhood treats turn out looking more like bricks of charcoal.  Anyways, we used to compete to see who could make the longest chain of skin while we peeled.  Nowadays, we’ve gotten so good we can pretty much do an entire apple in one go.  We’d also pretend said chains were money (tasty money, too).  My college friends found these stories hilarious.  I find them heart-warming.  It’s cute how easily we were amused.

I don’t recall Grandma ever making apple crisp (why would she, her pie was too good).  The recipe I use is from the Holy Rosary Church cookbook.  Which is wonderful.  As most church cookbooks are.  I mean, collecting all the best recipes of all the little old ladies of the parish in one collection?  You’re just asking to gain 20 pounds.  This recipe couldn’t be easier.  You CANNOT screw it up.  But you’ll get plenty of praise for your slight efforts (Chris just walked downstairs asking “what is that amazing smell?”).  Cortlands and Macs are my favorite baking apples, but I’m sure you all have your favorites.  The rest of the ingredients are likely already in your pantry.

Peel and slice at least 6 cups of apples and put in a 9×9 or 10×10 baking dish.  (This is the great thing about this “recipe”…it’s totally flexible.  You don’t really have to measure out 6 cups.  Just eyeball.)

Sprinkle with a teaspoon each of water and lemon juice (I’ll skip the lemon juice if I don’t have any).

For the “crisp” part, mix:

  • 1/3 cup softened butter (not melted)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

I always double the amount of topping per pan.  It’s like having streusel on muffins.  You don’t eat the muffin for the muffin, you eat it for the streusel.  Or at least I do.  If I wanted mushy apples on their own, I’d eat applesauce.  I eat apple crisp for that amazing topping!

So, mix up these ingredients and pour over the apples, patting down so they’re all covered.  Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes and ENJOY!  Preferably hot, with vanilla bean ice cream 🙂


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Before we begin, go ahead and turn on your baking music.  I personally have this song in my head whenever I make these brownies 🙂

I don’t quite recall the origin of this recipe, perhaps Danielle or my Mom could help me out and post in the comments if they know who we got this from.  I do know that it has been a favorite, go-to dessert recipe in our family for at least 7 years, probably even longer.  Dad needs a dessert for the trout boil? Symphony brownies.  Birthday treat for work? Symphony brownies.  Dish to pass at a cousins graduation party? Symphony brownies.  If you like your chocolate candy bars, you’ll love these.  If you’re idea of baking is spooning store bought cookie dough onto a sheet, even you can make these brownies.  They’re delicious, decadent and ridiculously simple.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 box brownie mix
  • ingredients to make brownie mix (usually just oil, water and egg; but double check your box, just in case)
  • 3 King Sized Symphony candy bars (the blue one with almonds and toffee in it)

Here’s what you do:

  1. Pre-heat your oven
  2. Prepare the brownie mix according to the package directions.
  3. Pour half the brownie batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan, creating a layer across the bottom of the pan
  4. Layer the candy bars on top of the batter.
  5. Pour the remaining brownie batter on top of the candy bars, spreading it to cover the layer of candy bars completely.
  6. Bake to the max time on the brownie package directions. [For example: if the package directions for a 13 x 9 pan say 350 degrees for 18 – 24 minutes, set your timer for 24 minutes]

A couple of tips: Use a Pyrex or glass pan if you have one – I’ve found it keeps the brownies more moist and gooey than in an aluminum pan.  Also we’ve never tried, but the idea of substituting different types of candy bars has been discussed many times – I  imagine anything is possible, provided it is that same thin bar form [Snickers or Twix probably won’t work, but something like a Hershey’s or Crunch bar should theoretically be fine].

Here’s a picture of how my recent batch turned out.  Looks just like a regular pan of brownies, but it hides deliciousness inside!

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We’ve all heard of ordering an Irish car bomb at the bar.  I’ve only experienced it as a drop shot, and frankly it was about the 10th shot I took on my 21st birthday so I don’t recall much about it at all 🙂  There is also a version involving an entire pint of Guinness.  I mean…I love Guinness (though I didn’t at age 21).  And Bailey’s is pretty delicious too, especially after a big Christmas dinner.  But all that and some Irish whiskey tossed together?  Ick.  I would never be able to chug it down before it curdled.  I can barely chug half a cup of Miller Lite in a game of flip cup.  However, the idea of a cupcake involving all of these various alcohols does sound delicious.  All these various alcohols except the Miller Lite.  That would be disgusting.

My dear mother turned 51 yesterday and since I have so much time on my hands I told her I’d make her birthday treat for work.  I brought up the Brown Eyed Baker’s Top 10 Cupcake Recipes (yes, the dark chocolate and peanut butter ones from a few weeks ago made the list) and told her to pick one.  I was personally rooting for the margarita or limoncello cupcakes (much more summery), but she set her sights on the Irish car bomb recipe.  Actually, she set her sights on the chocolate and peanut butter ones but I nixed that idea.  I needed something new to blog about!

This recipe is time-consuming yet fairly easy.  Don’t be scared off by phrases such as “whiskey ganache filling.”  It’s harder for most people to say than it is for said people to make 🙂  Unless you sample the whiskey before you make the ganache…

Three key ingredients for this recipe 🙂

I happened to be making both dinner & a pan of bars at the same time I started these cupcakes, which actually worked out pretty well.  While one thing was baking, I could mix up the next one.  Obviously, I had to make the cupcakes themselves first so they could cool.  I was very happy to see that with this recipe, the batter actually looked like batter.  I hoped that meant we wouldn’t have the unable-to-put-into-words conundrum the dark chocolate cupcakes had presented back in July.  The recipe says this makes 24 cupcakes.  I would say you could easily get 30, and since they weighed about a half-pound when they were assembled, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to stretch it that far.  I only bring the cupcake count up because I found myself with quite a bit of extra batter and nowhere to put it except my belly.  And, damn, it was good.  I could taste the Guinness in it.  More precisely, I could taste that coffee/mocha flavor of a good stout in the batter.  In fact, there’s a vanilla stout made in the area that would probably be awesome in this recipe.

The cupcakes cooled while I worked on some other projects, and then it was time to ganache.  How fun is it to say “time to ganache?”  FUN!  I love ganache.  It is impossibly easy, and almost impossible to screw up, but it looks and tastes like something infinitely more complex.  Since this was my first time making this recipe, I wanted to follow it exactly and that meant sending my dad on a hunt for Irish whiskey.  Our family is big on whiskey, but we tend to drink the Canadian and American versions.  I’m no connoisseur, but I am fairly confident you can tell the difference between whiskey varieties.  However, now that I’ve made the ganache and tried the cupcakes, I wouldn’t worry too much about finding a bottle of Jameson 🙂  If you have it on hand, congrats.  If not, these things will still taste amazing without 2 teaspoons of booze in the chocolate filling!

Once the ganache was prepped and my cupcakes were hollowed out, I piped them full.  Using a Ziploc bag.  This is a perfectly adequate, though not very elegant, way to fill your cupcakes.  I’ll be investing in some pastry bags in the future, but this worked fine in a pinch:

As a side note, I hate taking pictures in my parents’ kitchen.  I love cooking there, it’s one of the most functional kitchens I’ve ever worked in.  I HATE trying to photograph what I’m cooking though.  The lighting, as far as my camera is concerned, is crap.  I have to shoot on Auto to get a decent shot, and though that means very little to some of you, it means the world to a few of you 😉

The final step in this process was the Bailey’s buttercream frosting.  I’ve never been a huge fan of buttercream, but it’s alright.  I certainly had never made it homemade before.  The stuff might taste good…but making it is horrifying!!!  Four sticks of butter?!?  In one batch of frosting?  I mean, I’m from Wisconsin.  Melted butter practically flows through my veins.  But wow.  Paula Deen would have been proud.

Once I got over the horror of what I was creating, I added the Bailey’s and piped the frosting all over these little gems.  With a Ziploc bag.  I managed to get most of them looking somewhat artistic.  Here’s the final result (the photography side of me is ashamed to share this with you):

I had an email from my mom fairly early yesterday morning sharing the comments she had gotten on them already.  So far, everybody has been wildly impressed.  I would have to judge them a bigger success than the dark chocolate & peanut butter cupcakes, though the sample size was bigger this time around 🙂  There was no weird texture issue with the cake, and the ganache was a hit.  But I personally enjoyed the peanut butter frosting better than this buttercream stuff.  If I can figure out what to substitute into this recipe for the Guinness (milk?), I totally want to make this chocolate cupcake, no filling, and top it with the peanut butter frosting.  Now that would be amazing!

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Sorry for the hiatus people.  Lots of random stuff going on, including a massive heat wave.  Ick.  But this morning I decided to brave the heat (ok ok, the temps dropped about 15 degrees here and the humidity is almost gone) and bake!

I stumbled across the blog Brown-Eyed Baker almost two years ago now searching for a recipe for Thanksgiving dessert.  It was the first year we did a non-traditional meal (no turkey), so we needed a non-traditional dessert.  I found a Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte recipe and was sold.  It was a winner; super rich, but amazing.  And because it’s so rich, it feeds a ton of people, making it perfect for a family holiday.

Anyways, I like to browse that blog every now and again, and a few months back I came across the recipe for dark chocolate cupcakes  (made with bittersweet chocolate & dutched cocoa) with creamy peanut butter frosting.  She has a thing for chocolate & peanut butter.  I do too.  Since I found the recipe, I’ve had plenty of events I could have made these cupcakes for, but I have an arsenal of dessert recipes and this one never won out.  Until today.  I have a friend visiting from out of town who also happens to enjoy the chocolate/PB combo, so it sounded perfect.  Minus the fact that it was 80 degrees and we don’t have air conditioning, but that’s minor.

I can’t remember ever making cupcakes from scratch.  Cake, yes, so I guess that’s close enough.  The batter came out so…fluffy.  It almost looked like frosting.  I’m not sure what I was expecting knowing all the butter and sour cream the recipe called for.  I’ve been a big fan of sour cream in baking for years.  No banana bread recipe without it is worth trying, it will always be too dry.  But add that sour cream, and your baked goods will be perfectly rich and moist.

They baked up perfectly, though it’s admittedly a lot of work to get a dozen cupcakes.  I haven’t tried one yet, so I can’t say whether it’s worth it or not (sight and smell tells me it’s worth it 😉 ).  I did try the frosting when I whipped that up and it was amaaaazing.  The only problem is, since the frosting contains heavy cream, it needs to be kept in the fridge because of the heat.  I brought my friends Sara and Alec some to try this afternoon, but I left before they tried them.  Hopefully she’ll leave a comment and let us all know how they liked them.  I’ll update soon, once I shove one or five down my throat!  I’ll try to throw a picture in too, and definitely the recipe!

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