Cookies

Gingerbread Whoopie Pies

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Nothing beats chocolate. At least that’s what I’m telling myself, now that these little whoopie pies came in second place at the holiday bake-off to – you guessed it – a batch of chocolate chocolate chip espresso cookies. Somehow, no matter how perfectly baked or spiced a dessert might be, it just can’t compete with the rich, creamy, crowd-pleasing flavors of chocolate.

However, competitions aside, these little treats really do hold their own in the winter baking rotation. Made up of two layers of moist gingerbread glued together with a citrusy, cream cheese frosting, these pies are refreshing and packed with a little punch of spice.

And what’s more, they are incredibly cute. Rarely do I get preoccupied with the appearance of dessert (after all, we can all agree that flavor is more important), but just look at these little whoopie pies perched next to one another!

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Most importantly, don’t be intimidated by their almost perfect shape – that’s a result of the recipe, not by baking skill. Somehow, irregular dollops of batter dropped hastily onto the pan turn into perfectly round, poufy pies you’ll want to share with everyone around you.

Not in the mood to share? You might want to halve the recipe. Either way, be prepared! This recipe produces quite a few pies.

Gingerbread Whoopie Pies Recipe (adapted from “King Arthur Flour“)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the Icing (adapted from “Saving Dessert“)

  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into chunks
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices) in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, combine the butter and sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth, about three minutes.
  4. Beat in the egg, mixing until just combined.
  5. Mix in half of the dry ingredients, followed by the molasses and buttermilk, and then the remaining dry ingredients.
  6. Using a spoon, scoop out a teaspoonful of batter and drop it on the prepared baking sheet. Continue with remaining batter, leaving at least one inch in between each drop to account for spreading during baking.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Test for doneness by pressing pies lightly – they should spring back when fully baked. Remove from oven and let cool completely before icing.
  8. Make the icing: Beat butter and confectioners sugar together, adding confectioners sugar 1 cup at a time, until fully incorporated. Add cream cheese, followed by vanilla and lemon zest. Beat on medium until mixture is smooth.
  9. Assemble cookies: Using a knife, spread a heaping teaspoon of icing onto the flat side of half of the pies. Top off with an un-iced pie, flat side down.
Cake

Apple Cake

Baking cakes is tough work. Bake them for too long, and they turn out dry. Too little time in the oven? The center is dense and mushy, two words you never want associated with your baked creation. That’s what makes this cake stand out from the rest of the pack – with all of the moisture from the apples, it’s practically impossible to overbake. The finished product has a reliably perfect crumb, one that is light, moist, and flavorful with every bite.

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To get started, pick your apples. I like to use a couple of varieties to create a unique flavor and texture – pick apples like Empire, which have a soft, pudding-like effect in the cake. Add a few apples that keep their structure – Braeburns, for example, to create tender apple chunks throughout the batter. Mix the chopped apples with something sweet and flavorful, like sugar and cinnamon, and you have a delicious filling.

For the cake batter itself, feel free to play around with the proportion of white to whole wheat flour. The whole wheat makes the overall flavor more complex, and your apples mean that there is no need to worry about a dry or dense cake. Assemble the cake by alternating batter and apples, and you can pretty much guarantee that the fruit will settle evenly into every slice.

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Can’t finish the cake in one night? Rest assured. Unlike most cakes, it only gets better the next day.

Apple Cake Recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.25 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups + 5 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 6 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks (I used a mixture of Empire, Braeburn, and Macoun)
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10 cup bundt pan (or a tube pan is preferable, if you have one).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Prepare the apples. In a medium bowl, combined the apple chunks with the cinnamon and  5 tbsp of sugar. Stir to coat the all apples in the sugary mixture.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil and 2 cups of the sugar. Once the mixture is smooth, add the orange juice, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk for a minute or so, until the wet ingredients are one uniform color.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the large bowl with the dry ingredients and stir to combine, being careful not to over stir.
  6. Assemble the cake. Start by pouring 1/3 of the cake batter into the bottom of the bundt pan – this will ensure that your cake lifts out easily and does not stick. Then, add half the apple mixture. Top with another 1/3 of the batter, smoothing out as much as possible, and the remaining apples. Add the final layer of batter and place the cake in the oven. Let bake for 90 minutes or so – this is a very moist batter, so slight overbaking will rarely result in too dry a cake. Stick a toothpick into the center of the cake to check for doneness.
  7. Cool completely; invert the bundt pan to unmold the cake, and serve.

 

 

Salad

Israeli Couscous with Grilled Vegetables 

Israeli couscous is one of my favorite grains for a few reasons – it’s incredibly quick (coming together in less than 15 minutes), it has a unique, fun texture, and it’s almost impossible to mess up. For those of you that are like me and constantly fight for rice to be fluffy but not-to-wet and soggy, Israeli couscous might be here just in time to save the day. The special part about this grain is that it behaves more like pasta than anything else, so it will maintain its texture no matter how much water you add. Just be sure not to overcook it!

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In this dish, Israeli couscous is mixed with all of my favorite vegetables, cooked somewhat painstakingly over the grill until just tender. The key to easing the grill process here is to quarter the vegetables and cook them in large chunks, dicing them up for the salad later. This makes the vegetables easier to turn over, and drastically reduces the number of vegetables sacrificed to the hot coals.

This recipe is very flexible, and different ingredients can be swapped in and out depending on what you have on hand. Don’t like asparagus? Try eggplant instead. Like onions? Go ahead and throw them in. I encourage you to use your creative license here to make this dish your own!

Israeli Couscous with Grilled Vegetables (adapted from The Food Network)

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 red peppers, quartered and seeded
  • 12-14 spears of asparagus
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cups Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • Couple of handfuls of basil, chopped

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper, as this will be your main source of seasoning in the recipe.
  2. Cut all veggies according to the directions and add them to a large bowl. Pour half of the dressing on top. Let veggies marinade for ~15 minutes, if time allows.
  3. Remove veggies from the marinade and place carefully on the grill. Cook veggies until just tender, and remove from the grill. Cook cherry tomatoes in a grill pan designed for outdoor grilling (or use something similar, depending on what you have available).
  4. Make couscous: Add broth and water to a stockpot and bring to a boil. Pour in couscous and cover; let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until couscous appears tender but retains its texture.
  5. Once veggies have cooled, cut them into 1/2 inch chunks and toss into the couscous. Add remaining vinaigrette slowly, until salad is sufficiently dressed (based on your taste).
  6. Serve and enjoy!
Cookies

Chocolate Chip Macaroons

I’ll admit it – this recipe is coming down the pipeline a little bit late. While I would have liked to post it before Passover, so that friends and family could impress their peers with these delicious mounds of goodness, time was not on my side.

However, all hope is not lost. While macaroons have a reputation for being the “Passover cookie,” they are under appreciated at all other times of the year. I’ll take this moment to point out that that they make a gift for a gluten-free friend, or for any die-hard coconut lover.

This recipe also defies all stereotypes about these little coconut mounds. While many of us probably have negative associations with macaroons after gnawing down on the spongy cakes that came out of aluminum tin cans, these cookies are different.  They are rich, moist, and sure to win over even your pickiest of guests.

Chocolate Chip Macaroon Recipe (adapted from The Kitchn)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the egg whites a large bowl and whisk on medium speed until frothy (1-2 minutes). Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and whisk again until incorporated.
  3. Add the chocolate chips and coconut and stir until the coconut is evenly coated with the egg mixture.
  4. Using your hands or a spoon, mold the coconut mixture into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops of the macaroons are golden brown.
  6. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes.
Dinner · Soup

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup (4 of 4)

Apparently, roasting vegetables is a relatively new trend. A recent article traced the history of vegetable preparation, finding that home cooks of decades past often preferred steaming, sauteing, and even boiling when it came to cooking vegetables of any variety. Roasted vegetables were rarely found outside the restaurant kitchen, and it was only in the 90’s and early 2000’s that the cooking method assumed popularity.

As someone with only a few year’s experience in the kitchen, this came as a huge shock to me. How could decades of eaters missed out on the sweet, caramelized flavor of roasted Brussels sprouts, or the crispy, tender texture of roasted squash? How could cooks have ignored the simplicity of tossing vegetables in oil, turning on the oven, and waiting for the vegetables to come out perfectly done?

Butternut Squash Soup (1 of 4)

To show the full potential of the roasted vegetable, I’ve chosen this soup recipe. Butternut squash soup is typically made over the stove top, where the squash becomes tender by simmering in stock. This recipe veers from the traditional, roasting the squash instead. This cuts down the time spent over the soup pot by 75%. The entire soup comes together during the last five minutes, when the vegetables and warmed stock are added to a blender to combine.

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The result? a soup that captures the unique, deep flavor of roasted vegetables. It’s perfect for a cold, January night, and begs for a slice of crusty, toasted bread.

Butternut Squash Soup (3 of 4)

Curried Butternut Squash Soup Recipe (adapted from Ina Garten’s Back to Basics Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large  apple, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon curry powder (depending on taste)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped scallions, green parts only (for garnish)
  • toasted coconut (for garnish)

Instructions:

  1. Roast vegetables at 425 for 30-40 minutes, until tender.
  2. Heat stock in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add roasted vegetables and 1/2 cup of chicken stock to a blender or food processor. Pulse until the mixture is pureed and has a smooth texture.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a large soup pot and add chicken stock until the soup reaches your desired consistency. Add curry powder, salt, and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve, topped with scallions and toasted coconut.
Salad

Curried Cauliflower Grain Salad

There’s nothing better than a simple salad after an overindulgent Thanksgiving meal. This particular recipe shines the spotlight on cauliflower, a vegetable whose flavor and attractiveness I find to be vastly underrated.

Growing up, I only saw cauliflower in one of two ways: steamed (with absolutely no flavor) or covered in cheese (decidedly delicious, but not the healthiest of options). This cauliflower recipe takes a different turn, relying on roasting to give the vegetable an almost popcorn-like flavor.

While prepping my cauliflower for the oven, I decided to supplement the salt and pepper with a healthy dose of curry powder. Curry powders vary widely, so the variety that you choose will have a powerful impact on the flavors of this salad. I opted for one with a healthy dose of fennel seed, but I’m sure that whatever you have on hand will do.

Curried Cauliflower Salad (2 of 2)

To round out the flavors and nutrients in this salad, I combined the cauliflower with some mixed greens, quinoa, and dried cranberries. The cauliflower adds a significant amount of fiber, while the quinoa adds enough protein to make this a well-balanced vegan entree. The cranberries bring a sweet tang, which contrasts nicely with the spice of the curry. Top the salad off with some mild acid from the vinaigrette, and you have a delicious lunch – great for a lazy Sunday or a busy weekday.

Curried Cauliflower Grain Salad Recipe

Ingredients:

  • curried cauliflower florets (recipe below)
  • quinoa, cooked (click here for a quick guide to cooking quinoa)
  • mixed greens
  • dried cranberries
  • vinaigrette  (recipe below)
  • chopped apples (I didn’t use these, but I think they would be a fantastic addition!)

Instructions:

  1. Toss the mixed greens and quinoa in a medium bowl with the vinaigrette. Top greens with cauliflower and cranberries and serve immediately.

Curried Cauliflower Salad (1 of 2)

To Make the Curried Cauliflower

You will need:

  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tsp curry powder
  • pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
  • fresh parsley

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine spices and cauliflower in a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle olive oil over cauliflower until lightly coated. Transfer to a baking sheet and spread cauliflower into a single layer.
  3. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Let cool and top with fresh cilantro or parsley.

To Make the Vinaigrette

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Instructions:

  1. Combine ingredients in a small bowl; whisk to combine. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
Dessert

Classic Apple Pie

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If my kitchen was a classroom, pie would be the final exam. The crust requires a level of dexterity and attention to detail far beyond what’s needed for most baking recipes, and even the most minor of errors can affect the final result. The pie filling itself is a test of knife skills and ingenuity, and the technique used for slicing the fruit can make a huge difference in the pie’s overall flavor. Even the construction of the pie requires a certain amount of self confidence, asking the baker to take a leap of faith when draping the top crust over the filling. Naturally, some doubts arise. Will the crust be crispy? Will the top cave in on itself, creating an flood of syrupy fruit?

With that in mind, I’ll admit that this is only the second pie of my baking career. Pie recipes intimidate me with their long list of ingredients and string of “do’s” and don’ts,” and I avoid them as much as possible (see this apple galette as a wonderful pie alternative). To make a worthy pie, I knew I needed to do some research.

Apple Pie DoughWhat did I find, you may ask? From The Kitchn, I learned the importance of  pre-baking the applies before assembling the pie. Since the apples lose water and shrink in size during baking, this step eliminates the potential gap between the top pie crust and the filling. This isn’t too surprising, since lauded bakeries like Baked in Red Hook and Three Babes Bakeshop in San Francisco both bake their apples before using them for pies.

My research also taught me that apple varieties are distinct and should not be used interchangeably. While my original plan was to go with Golden Delicious apples, mixed reviews of the apple’s texture after baking caused me to pick Cortland instead. For a comprehensive list of good baking apples, read this article on Epicurious.

apple pie 2 (1 of 4)Through trial and error, I discovered a few tips for making a good crust. First, keep the butter as cold as possible, chopping it up and placing it in the freezer if necessary. These small pieces of butter will melt during baking, creating a wonderful, flaky texture. Make sure to use ice water (or tap water filled cooled with ice cubes) since this will help keep the mixture chilled during the mixing process.

When it comes to adding the water, be careful to add just the right amount. Too much water will reduce the flakiness of the dough, while not enough water will lead to a dough that is crumbly and and ultimately impossible to roll out. I learned this the hard way, dumping my first version of the crust in the trash after a frustrating round with the rolling pin. When you have just the right amount of water, the dough should come together easily and feel slightly sticky.

apple pie 2 (2 of 4)

Before assembling the pie, stick the prepared pie pan (with crust) in the freezer for 30 minutes or more. You want the crust to absorb as little liquid from the apples as possible, and this method is pretty reliable when it comes to preventing a soggy crust.

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Lastly, take the bonding process seriously! The fork marks above aren’t just for looks – they actually hold the filling inside the pie as the entire pastry warms and begins to bubble during baking. If the bond between the top and bottom crusts isn’t strong enough, you’ll notice that some filling will ooze between the layers.

As you can probably tell, this recipe takes time. But for those that are patient and ready to invest some effort, I promise that this recipe will impress a crowd!

Classic Apple Pie Recipe

Pie crust (adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s “Pie Crust 102” post):

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup ice cold water

Apple filling (adapted from the NY Times):

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 pounds apples (I used 5 very large Cortland apples)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp acid (either cider vinegar or lemon juice)

Egg wash:

  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:

For the pie crust

  1. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and cold butter in a large bowl. Make sure that the butter is very cold (if you like, you can even stick it in the freezer for a few minutes before beginning this step). Using a pastry blender, begin to slowly cut the butter into the dry ingredients. This process is complete once the mixture attains a crumbly texture – each crumb should be the size of a small pea. Be careful not to over mix the dough, as this will interfere with the flakiness of the crust.
  2. Prepare the ice water. I always fill a cup with around 2 cups of water and add 3-4 ice cubes, and then remove the amount of water requested in the recipe.
  3. Slowly drizzle 1/3 cup ice water into the dough. Begin by using your pastry blender to integrate the water into the mixture, but switch over to using your hands once the dough become too sticky. Add the remainder of the water until the dough comes together easily into a ball – it’s still too dry if the dough cracks easy and falls apart into the bowl.
  4. Using a knife, cut the dough into two halves. Form each half into a round ball, flatten it, and cover with plastic wrap.
  5. Store overnight in the fridge before using.

For the filling

  1. Peel and core apples. Cut each apple into 1/4 – 1/2 slices, depending on how chunky you would like your pie filling to be.
  2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Once hot, add the apples and stir to coat with the butter mixture. Quickly add the sugar and spices, stir well, and reduce the heat to medium – low. Allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes more.
  3. Add flour and cornstarch to the saucepan and stir to combine. Cook for 3-5 minutes more, until the apples are tender but do not lose their structure. Add the cider vinegar or lemon juice and allow to cool completely before adding to the pie.

For prepping the pie shell

  1. Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  2. Lightly flour your work surface. Using a rolling pin, begin to gently roll out your dough into a 12 inch circle. Remember, technique is key here – if you go too quickly or use too much pressure to roll out your dough, it will begin to crack. (Tip: Every 3-4 strokes, pick up your dough and rotate it 90 degrees. This will ensure that the dough does not stick to the surface).
  3. Gently pick up your dough and place it in a 9 inch pie plate. The dough should hang about 1/2 inch over the edges of the pie plate (this will help you later to bind the top and bottom pie crusts).
  4. Cut off the excess dough with scissors or a sharp knife and place the prepared pie shell in the freezer.

For putting together the pie

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a large baking sheet inside the oven.
  2. Once the filling is completely cool, roll out the top pie crust following the same directions as above. It can be a little smaller, around 10 inches in diameter.
  3. Remove the pie shell from the freezer and pour the filling into the pie. Gently place the top pie crust over the filling, making sure that the dough hangs over a bit on all sides.
  4. Using a fork, lightly press into the edges of the pie to bind the top and bottom crusts. This part is important, since the filling will seep out during cooking if the edges are not bound correctly.
  5. Cut three slits all the way through the top pie crust using a very sharp knife. If the dough is soft and too hard to cut, place the pie in the fridge for a few minutes before completing this step.
  6. Brush the pie crust with the egg wash and sprinkle withe the remaining sugar.
  7. If you would like to make the tiny leaves on this pie, roll out the excess dough from the pie crust. Using a cookie cutter, cut out 5-6 little leaves. Use the egg wash as a binding agent, lightly coating one side of the leaf with egg wash and placing it on the top pie crust in the desired location.

For baking

  1. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet and let it bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
  2. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Allow pie to bake for 35-40 more minutes, or until the crust is flaky and assumes a deep, caramel color.
  3. Let pie cool completely at room temperature.