Toasted Hazelnut-Pear Muffins

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I’ve been posting more pastry recipes than usual here lately. No heavy hitters, like crème brûlée (you can typically find me making those at work). When I’m home, I like to bake simple. When I’m not tasked with blind-baking 8 tarts or 32 perfectly set butterscotch pots de crème, I take it easy. Granola, quick breads, healthy-ish muffins – not exactly French pastry, but in real life most people aren’t (and quite frankly, shouldn’t be) eating croissants everyday.

These hazelnut-pear muffins have been in my mental recipe file for awhile. You know when you see a recipe, and then all of a sudden, you see it everywhere? That seemed to be the case with the hazelnut/pear combination. I didn’t want a sugary cake-like muffin, rather I was going for something a bit more wholesome (does that word even exist anymore?) I eschewed my brown butter tendencies in lieu of coconut oil and a generous pour of pure maple syrup. A couple bruised red pears perked right up when folded into the dark, spiced batter. Lemon zest is the secret here. I used Meyer lemon, which has a hint of tangerine flavor, and that bit of citrus added the right amount of interest. Don’t skip the sprinkle of crunch, either. Fish around in your pantry for something, anything, crunchy. Seeds, nuts, grains, they it all add much-needed texture.

These muffins are not flaky French croissants, but they make an excellent late-night or morning snack. Perfect for fueling me through a marathon tart-making session.

Toasted Hazelnut-Pear Muffins

I love these not-too-sweet muffins with a almond-milk latte or cup of tea.

Makes 6 muffins (recipe doubles easily)

  • Nonstick baking spray
  • ¾ cup hazelnut meal*
  • ¾ cup whole-wheat pastry flour**
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cardamom (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (try Meyer lemon)
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted if solid
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons milk (any type, I used a vanilla almond milk)
  • 2 medium ripe pears, cored and diced into 1/2″ thick pieces
  • 3 tablespoons raw amaranth, millet, quinoa, ground flax, rolled oats, hazelnut meal, chia or a combination
Preheat oven to 350˚ and line muffin tin with paper liners. Spray liners with non-stick spray and set aside.
Place hazelnut meal on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in oven and toast for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden and fragrant. Let cool. Combine with flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, maple syrup, zest, coconut oil, and milk. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Fold pears into the batter. Divide muffin batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle with crunchy topping of choice. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*Bob’s Red Mill makes a great hazelnut meal. If you’d rather, try making your own by grinding hazelnuts in a food processor until powdery (don’t go too far or you’ll get hazelnut butter!)

**While I haven’t tested it, I expect you could swap in a gluten-free all-purpose flour here. I like Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup.

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Citrus Olive Oil Cake

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Every once in awhile a recipe comes along that instantly goes into your “keeper” file (or Pinterest board). My infatuation with olive oil cakes stems from a version I had a few years ago at Market Table in the West Village. I shared a piece with my dear friend/culinary soul mate Kathleen and we were both floored. It had a rosemary-infused whipped cream and in my memory, it was perfect.

The cake became a staple during my catering days. I could make it in advance, the only type of desserts I really do. The garnishes were endless – blood orange compote, thyme whipped cream, cacao nibs, pine nut brittle. I often used Greek yogurt in the batter to add a bit of tang, but I found it weighed down the cake a bit. This version, my favorite so far, has buttermilk, ground almonds, lots of citrus zest, vanilla bean paste and orange oil. If you’ve only used vanilla extract, get your hands on the paste. It has flecks of pure vanilla bean and is just…yum. Pure orange oil is also worth seeking out. It gives a real hit of orange flavor (a little goes a long way).

With citrus season in full swing, this is a cake to make now. It’s a keeper.

Citrus Olive Oil Cake

Recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2/3 cup ground almonds or almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange oil 
  • Zest and juice of 1 large orange
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange oil (optional)
  • Pinch orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • Pinch salt
  • Hot water, to thin

Directions:

Heat oven to 350F. Rub an 8 or 9″ cake pan with butter or spray with nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper.

Whisk flour, baking powder, almond meal and salt in a bowl. In a stand mixer, beat sugar and eggs until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla and orange oil, citrus zest and orange juice. Gradually beat in buttermilk and oil.

Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, beating a about 30 seconds between additions. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixer periodically. Do not over beat (this will make the cake tough).

Transfer cake batter into prepped pan. Bake for about 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs. Cool in pan about 15 minutes. Run an offset spatula or thin, sharp knife around the edge of cake and turn onto a serving plate. Using a toothpick, poke a few holes in the cake.

To make the glaze: whisk together the sugar, orange oil, vanilla, salt. Add hot water, a teaspoon at a time to thin the glaze to a pourable consistency. Pour over warm cake.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

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No matter where I am in NYC, I can most likely name the neighborhood’s best cookie. Dumbo? Jacques Torres. Upper West Side? Levain, no doubt. Union Square? Try the chocolate chip at Paradis. Oh, and City Bakery. A solid cup of coffee alongside is a non-negotiable.

 
Call it old fashioned, but I love a classic molasses cookie. You don’t see them very often at bake shops. I’ve heard Pushcart Coffee has a good one.. I grew up eating my grandmother’s soft, chewy version, rolled in sugar. They were stored in a cookie tin with a piece of bread to keep them fresh (p.s. that trick works).

 
Using her recipe as inspiration, along with an updated mix of spices from December’s Bon Appetit, I’ve created a cookie fit for the holidays. Browning the butter is an extra step that gives these cookies some nuttiness. The combination of dark molasses and brown sugar lends some drama. A sprinkle of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are a bit spicy, in a good way. Don’t forget to roll them in sugar, preferably the raw stuff (grab a couple more packets when you get your coffee). Which you’ll definitely want to be drinking while you eat one of these.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup dark molasses
  • ¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • Raw sugar, for rolling
  1. Heat oven to 375°. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until foaming subsides and butter turns a nutty dark brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, brown butter butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.
  3. Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls. Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart. Using the heel of your hand, press down on cookies to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with a bit more raw sugar on top.
  4. Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. You may have to bake the cookies in batches. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Store in an airtight container with a piece of bread to keep them fresh for days.

Patron XO Cafe Cupcakes

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I love baking for birthdays. Nothing beats a cake from scratch or batch of cookies. Maybe it’s lingering childhood memories of homemade (never store bought) birthday cakes. I made these simple chocolate cupcakes for my roommate’s birthday in August. The cake is an old recipe from Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, New York. The original did not involve soaking the cake in coffee-flavored tequila (that’s my twist). Patron XO Cafe is a rich, sweet coffee/chocolate liqueur that is the perfect addition to buttercream frosting – it’s just boozy enough to feel worthy of a birthday.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Loosely adapted from Moosewood Restaurant

  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup cold water or coffee
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Patron XO Cafe liqueur

Frosting

Adapted from Magnolia Bakery

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6-8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur (I used Patron XO Cafe)
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract or vanilla  bean paste
  • Pinch Kosher salt

Cupcakes:

Heat oven to 375F. Line a cupcake pan(s) with 12 liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, water or coffee and vanilla. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the vinegar and thoroughly combine. Divide the batter amongst the 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

With a toothpick or skewer, poke a few holes in the top of each cupcake. Using a pastry brush, coat each cupcake with the liqueur. This is called imbibing and it will allow the flavors to really soak into the cupcake.

Frosting:

Beat butter and a few cups of sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the rest of the powdered sugar, alternating with coffee liqueur, until frosting is thick, creamy and fluffy. Take your time with this, you really want to fully incorporate the sugar before adding more. You may not need all the sugar. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt. Transfer to a piping bag with a star tip or frost the cupcakes by hand. You may have extra frosting. It will keep for a few days in the fridge. Just allow it to come to room temperature before using.

Brown Butter Brownies

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I first made these simple chocolate brownies last Valentine’s Day. They were topped with dulce de leche ice cream and washed down with lots of champagne (gal pal holidays at their finest). They were so good, I found myself turning to the recipe about once a month. Dressed up with Maldon sea salt, they were perfect for dinner parties. Spiked with espresso and more dark chocolate, they made the trip to Long Beach Island.

If you’re looking for a cake-like, vaguely chocolate, somewhat sandy brownies, don’t make these. These are intensely chocolatey, rich, dense. They rely on a combination of brown butter and cocoa powder and very little flour. What I like most (besides their taste) is their versatility. For holiday appeal, I added a dash of peppermint extract to the batter and covered them warm with crushed candy canes. Wrapped in parchment and cellophane, they’d make a great gift.

Brown Butter Brownies 

From Bon Appetit

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8×8 baking pan with foil; coat with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until butter stops foaming and brown bits form at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
  3. To the saucepan, add sugar, cocoa, 2 tsp. water, vanilla and a large pinch of salt. Stir to blend then allow to cool slightly.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking throughly after each addition. When mixture looks shiny, add flour and stir until thoroughly blended (may take about a minute). Stir in mix-ins (optional).
  5. Bake brownies until toothpick inserted comes out almost clean, about 25 minutes. Do not overbake!! Cool slightly then transfer to the freezer for a bit – this will make them easier to slice into clean squares.

Sweet Potato Pie with Hazelnut Crust

I think Thanksgiving recipes are kind of silly. Each year, there’s an onslaught of ‘new twists on old favorites’. Grapefruit in the cranberry sauce. Andouille in the stuffing. The brines. Oh, the brines. And don’t even get me starting on spatchcocking.
My family keeps it real. Depending on which side of the family we spend the holiday with, it’s a similar story. Roast turkey. Gravy. Stuffing (sometimes from a box…yup), cranberry sauce (homemade and from the can). You know the drill. Sure, there’s always something a little new thrown in, like Brussels sprouts with bacon. But otherwise? Super traditional. And I bet most families feel the same way. It’s the one meal that stays constant (for a reason).

Now, I confess, I do not prepare the Thanksgiving meal for my family. Not yet. So for now, I offer up this pie. It’s reminiscent of pumpkin pie, but somehow, better. The crust is a basic pie dough, with the addition of toasted nuts. You might go so far as to call it a twist on an old favorite, but I’d like to think of it as a new tradition.

Sweet Potato Pie with Hazelnut Crust

From Joy the Baker

Sweet Potato Pie (filling)

2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2- 5oz cans evaporated milk (1 1/4 cups evaporated milk)
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Heat oven to 425F. Poke sweet potatoes with a knife and roast until fork tender, about 45 minutes (depending on size of the potatoes). Set aside to cool. This can be done ahead of time.

Peel potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large bowl. Mash potatoes thoroughly with a potato masher. There should be NO lumps. You can also do this in a food processor.

Measure 2 cups and put in a medium sized pot with the packed brown sugar, all of the spices, salt,  the 1/2 stick butter, and one 5 oz can of evaporated milk. Cook on low flame for about 5 minutes, whipping with a wire whisk until butter and brown sugar are melted down and mixture is well blended, smooth and starts to bubble. Remove from fire and let cool in pot.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the three eggs with a fork. Add the second 5oz can of evaporated milk, granulated sugar and vanilla to the eggs and continue beating until creamy. Pour the cooled sweet potato mixture from pot into a large bowl. Stir  in the egg mixture. Blend thoroughly with a whisk and refrigerate mixture overnight or use immediately.

Hazelnut Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached)

Large pinch salt

1/2 cup toasted shelled hazelnuts*, ground

1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks

Ice water

Egg, beaten and sugar, for finishing crust

In a food processor, blend the flour, salt and hazelnuts until just combined. Add the butter and pulse, about 10 seconds, until butter is the size of peas. Add a few tablespoons of ice water, pulsing just until mixture comes together with you squeeze it. Transfer to a floured surface and gently form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 10 minutes (or overnight).

*To toast and shell hazelnuts: spread nuts on a baking sheet and place in a 325F oven. Toast until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Place hazelnuts on one side of a clean dish cloth, fold over, and gently rub, loosening hazelnut skins.
To assemble pie:

Preheat oven to 425F

Roll out crust to form a disk. Place into a 9″ pie plate. If you need to stop for any minute, stick the pie shell in the freezer (you want the dough to remain cold, this keeps it flaky).  Brush a little beaten egg or heavy cream on crust and sprinkle with sugar. When you are ready to bake, add sweet potato filling. Place pie on a baking sheet. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, then lower oven to 325F and bake for 50-60 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is set (not jiggly). Allow to cool before serving.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

Something about September makes me think about chocolate chip cookies. Maybe it’s back-to-school lunchbox memories. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m turning on my oven for the first time in months. While I love the salted-caramel-cacao-nib-rosemary-infused desserts that are so … Continue reading

The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

These are it (dare I say?) the perfect oatmeal cookie. I don’t use the ‘P’ word lightly, you see, it just sets the bar too high. But these, these are some mighty fine cookies, if I do say so. What makes them different? The basic thick & chewy cookie is bolstered with 2 kinds of oatmeal (old-fashioned and quick) for varying texture. Keeping with the theme, both golden and black raisins add a pop of sweetness. Toasted pecans provide a satisfying crunch. And have patience: a chill before baking allows the dough to “marinate”, melding the flavors and preventing excess “spread” during baking. So follow the recipe, pour yourself a cup of tea and revel.

The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

Yield: About 4 dozen small cookies or 3 dozen larger cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups quick oats
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 3/4 cup black raisins
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture and beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Repeat this process twice more with the remaining 2/3 of the flour mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins and pecans.
  3. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or the freezer for about 15 minutes. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 24 hours before baking.
  4. Roll the dough into balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten the tops slightly. Bake for 1o to 12 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. They are done when the edges are lightly golden – the tops may appear a bit doughy.
  5. Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit on the hot baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
-Recipe adapted from  smitten kitchen

Rustic Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Warm Peach Compote

During our pastry module at school, we made some pretty impressive cakes. Layers, buttercream, ganache, the works. There is a time and a place for a fancy iced cake, and for one that is simple, rustic and weekday-quick. Like a sweeter cornbread, this cake is perfect for brunch, an afternoon snack or dessert. A gently spiced peach compote gives a nod to the cinnamon season to come.

Rustic Lemon Cornmeal Cake 

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  •  1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch diameter cake pan.
  2.  In a large bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, lemon peel, vanilla and almond extracts, honey and melted, cooled butter. Pour buttermilk mixture into flour mixture, gently folding to combine until just blended (do not stir). Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evening.
  3.  Bake 30 minutes or until cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes. You can invert the cake or serve it straight from the pan for a rustic feel. Serve warm or at room temperature with Warm Peach Compote.

Warm Peach Compote

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 2-3 peaches, peeled* and sliced
  • 1 T. honey
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch cinnamon
Directions
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the peaches, honey, nutmeg and cinnamon. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened.

*To peel peaches, bring a large pot of water to boil. Make an ‘X’ mark on peaches with a sharp knife. Set up a bowl with ice water nearby. Drop peaches into boiling water and remove with a slotted spoon after about 1 minute, or until skin starts to peel away. Place peaches in ice water for 30 seconds. Remove skin and slice.

Homemade Nutella

I was first introduced to Nutella, the Italian chocolate hazelnut spread, by my grandmother. Growing up, it was a novelty – and the fact that it was from Europe made it seem extra fancy. Whether slathered on toast, crackers, pretzels or quite honestly, a spoon, Nutella is downright addictive. Flash forward to college, when I spend a semester in Florence. Nutella was crazy-popular and to my delight, better than the U.S. version and much cheaper than imported peanut butter. I like to think of Nutella like instant-dessert – a dollop on anything and you’ve satisfied your sweet tooth. My version is a little thiner than the jarred variety but does the job without added sweeteners, thickeners or preservatives. Warning: this is highly addictive! And yes, that is a homemade croissant…but we’ll save that for another day!

Homemade Nutella

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shelled hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup high quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used 62% chunks c/o Scharffen Berger)
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

Directions

  1. In a food processor, blend hazelnuts until they reach a peanut butter-like consistency.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your double-boiler. Bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Reduce to a simmer and place a stainless-steel bowl with chocolate directly over the stove (the bowl should fit comfortably and should be wider than the saucepan). Stir the chocolate to melt. Remove when melted. Cool slightly.
  3. Place melted chocolate in the food processor with hazelnut puree. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt and blend.
  4. Store in the fridge.