Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes

What could be better than Pumpkin Cheesecake? Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes! Strangely enough, although I really like cheesecake, I rarely make it at home and typically do not order it at restaurants for dessert. I’m not really sure why. I know that I find the slices they serve you at restaurants ridiculously large, which is probably why I opted to make these little bites. The perfect size, they have all of the flavor of your traditional size pumpkin cheesecake.

I was a little concerned that their size would result in extra work, but I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to whip them up in no time. Not having a recipe on hand, I spend some time on the internet going through a variety of cheesecake recipes to get some ideas. I personally like my cheesecakes with sour cream, so I knew that was a must. Obviously, I wanted some pumpkin puree and all of your traditional fall spices. And, dare I say, I really like the way these turned out. If I had to make any changes, I would perhaps increase the amount of pumpkin pie spice.

I can’t wait to make these again.

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Fleur de Sel Caramel Macarons

Fleur de Sel Caramel Macarons

Summer is finally over in Southern California as the temperatures drop and we prepare for our first Fall rain. Although I love warm weather, I’m excited for all the cooking and baking to come… To kick things off, I decided to bake some macarons. But not just any; one of my favorite flavors: salted caramel or fleur de sel caramel.I’ve used a few different recipes for macarons over the years, some with greater success than others. Since it’s been a while since I last made these little bites of heaven, I decided to turn to the Queen of Macarons, Helene Dujardin, whose blog Tartelette I’ve been reading for 4-5 years. If it’s possible you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have to check it out! It will change your life…

Macarons

Anyone who has ever tried to make macarons will tell you how exciting it is when you see feet. Add the absence of cracked tops and I’d say my macarons turned out perfect. I actually jumped up and down and did a little happy feet dance while singing: “They’ve got feet! They’ve got feet!”. In my defense, I hadn’t made macarons in a year, so I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out. If you’re scratching your head wondering what I’m going on and on about, as the shell bakes the heat causes it to rise and, if done correctly, develop a foot at its base.

Macarons
Macarons

Armed with a renewed confidence, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Fall than to bake some Pumpkin Pie flavored ones next week! The house is going to smell sooo good…

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Peach Cereal

Peach Cereal

I love fruit, especially stone fruit. Every year, as summer approaches, I look forward to enjoying months of apricots, plums, cherries, and of course peaches. Whether they’re served in salads, grilled, baked, or as is, stone fruits are both sweet and tart and pair well with a variety of ingredients.
My mom has never really had a sweet tooth, so there wasn’t a lot of baking tarts or pies growing up. My experiences and memories with stone fruit were therefore limited for many years to eating them as is or in salads. I’m not complaining. The fruits were so fresh that it was like eating candy anytime you took a bite out of one of them. And, summer breakfasts were often bowls of, what my brother called, ‘peach cereal‘ or peaches and milk. The weather was hot and humid, so this made for a refreshing way to start the day. Not to mention it’s quick, simple, light, and de-li-cious!

Chocolate Pavlovas and a Weekend of Firsts

Chocolate Pavlova with Chocolate Mascarpone Mouse

This was a weekend of firsts for me…
First Daring Bakers Challenge,
First time making meringue (on my own), and  
First time making pavlovas, which I can now happily cross off my culinary bucket list, although I suspect this isn’t the last time I’ll be baking them.

 

I excitedly joined the Daring Bakers community at the end of last month, after eying its members’ wonderful creations for quite some time. As part of my resolutions this year, I wanted to start challenging myself more, all the while investing more time and energy doing the things that I love. Baking being very high up on that list, Daring Bakers seemed like the perfect group to join.
Here we are, a few weeks later, and it’s time to post my results for the June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge, which was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphanyby François Payard.I will admit I was nervous when I started reading all the different elements that were required. I kept thinking that not only was this going to take forever, but that if I didn’t manage to make one or more of the components correctly, the entire dessert would be ruined. Since it was my first challenge, I wanted to stay as true to the instructions and recipe as possible. That said, I’m pretty picky with my chocolate desserts. I don’t often like dark chocolate in recipes, chocolate on chocolate (crazy, I know), and the pairing of orange and chocolate. So, I decided to considerably reduce the amount of mousse I’d be making, as well as mascarpone cream, and omit the Grand Marnier, just in case. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly each piece of the pavlova came together. Most of my time ended up being spent waiting for the crème anglaise to cool and the meringue shells to bake.

Chocolate Ganache to Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

As I suspected, the combination of the chocolate on chocolate topped with mascarpone cream was a little too rich for my taste, although I used semi-sweet chocolate instead of the dark chocolate required. My mascarpone cream didn’t turn out quite as expected and ended up instead having more of a pudding like consistency, probably because I whipped the heavy cream a little too long. The flavors were there, so it was still good, but it didn’t help make the dessert any lighter. I wasn’t quite sure how to plate the dessert to make it attractive. I made a couple of attempts at just adding the mousse on top of the meringue shell and drizzling the mascarpone cream, but I just didn’t like the way it looked… Finally, I decided to turn it into a trifle by alternating layers of the meringue, chocolate mascarpone mousse, and mascarpone cream and topping it with a couple of plum slices.
While browsing the internet for some inspiration, I came across Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova recipe, and Petrina Tinslay’s beautiful photo of the dessert. All I could think about was how I wished that’s what my dessert looked like. So, since I have some beautiful meringue shells leftover, I will be making a simple vanilla whipped cream, piling that on top of the meringue and topping everything with fresh raspberries and chocolate shavings. I can’t wait!
Thank you Dawn for an exciting first challenge!

Chocolate Pavlova Trifle
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Banana Bread

Banana Bread

Banana Bread, as far as I know, is the first thing I learned how to bake. Like a lot of children, I’d help out or play with various ingredients while my mother was cooking, but I don’t recall ever actually uttering words like “I’ll be in the kitchen, baking” until after the discovery of this recipe. You’re now probably expecting the holy grail of banana bread recipes, and not that I’ve found any, but I’m sure there are better ones. What I can promise is that this recipe is simple, quick, adaptable, kid-friendly, inexpensive to make, and consistently yields a yummy loaf.
In writing this post, I tried to figure out what it is that makes me like this recipe so much. I’m sure to some degree, it has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up on it. I remember obsessively baking this, week after week, for years; I just couldn’t get enough of it. But it’s more than that. There’s a simplicity to this recipe that’s not out of laziness or a lack of creativity, but rather a true belief that the banana in banana bread should be the star. There are no extracts or spices added to alter or mask flavors, there are no secret ingredients, there are just bananas. And, in this case, that’s enough.

Banana Bread
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{Sunday Morning} Almond Biscotti, Hot Chocolate and a Travel Magazine

almond biscotti and hot chocolate

 

Sundays are synonymous with relaxation and comfort. The perfect day to enjoy brunch with your girlfriends, go to the Farmers Market, go for a bike ride or hike, catch a matinée, or simply have breakfast in bed with your favorite newspaper or magazine. Simple moments that allow us to breathe, clear our heads, and recharge.
Unless I’m going out or expecting guests over, Sunday meals are quite simple and begin with le petit déjeuner. Consisting classically of tartines, croissants, or other pâtisseries accompanied by a warm beverage, this type of quick and simple breakfast is my most favorite. Having made almond biscotti the day before, all I was missing was some hot chocolate and a travel magazine.

 

Almond Biscotti
Despite growing up in Europe, I’ve never really liked biscotti. Usually rock hard and way too dry for my taste, it’s something that I never intended on or thought about baking at home. After all, how much better than what I’d tasted could it get? A few weeks ago, I was going through some of my cookbooks, and I came across a recipe for almond biscotti by Dorie Greenspan that just sounded so delicious and different, I had to mark it as something to try. Oh, how I’m glad I did. I could eat this all day, every day.
I’m a huge almond lover, probably because of my mom. Growing up, there were always almonds around the house. Whether in salads, rice, desserts or simply as snacks, my mother was always adding them to her dishes. As a kid, I didn’t always get it; I kind of thought nuts or fruit in salads was weird. Little did I know, my mom was just ahead of her time and that years later those same ideas would be changing American cuisine.

 

Almond Biscotti

 

There are very few ways, if any, to go wrong with almonds or almond extract. There’s just something so comforting about the sweetness and aroma of this tiny little fruit. Combine that with a buttery, crunchy, yet moist cookie, and voilà! Lenox Almond Biscotti: a wonderful, but dangerous, treat.
I’ve tried these a few different ways: plain, dunked in hot chocolate or tea, dipped in semi-sweet chocolate, and accompanying ice cream and fresh fruit. Delicious, and not only easy to make, but versatile too, which makes it my kind of food. This is one of those recipes that you’ll want to memorize and make over and over again. As an added bonus, they look fancy, so you’re guaranteed to impress guests.

 

Sunday Morning

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Salty Sesame Rings (Susamlı Çörek)

Salty Sesame Rings (Susamlı Çörek or Tuzlu Çörek)

My aunt GK passed away a couple of years ago, and as I write this post, I’m reminded of the amazing cook she was. I was always impressed by how quickly she worked in the kitchen and how her cooking was all about feeling, instinct, and of course experience. There was no measuring, no writing recipes down, and there were certainly no rules. There wasa lot of joy and laughter. She adapted and created dishes with an ease and confidence that most people, including chefs, could only dream of. She was always inviting me over and offering to teach me her secrets; I only wish I would have accepted more often. She was sadly taken from us much too soon, and her delicious dishes lost with her.There was a time when my aunt, mom, and I would make Salty Sesame Rings (Susamlı Çörek), what feels like, weekly. As far as pastries go, these are probably some of the simplest ones you’ll ever come across, but trust me when I say they’re addictive. I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t tasted them and fallen in love.

Salty Sesame Rings (Susamlı Çörek)

Also referred to as Tuzlu Çörek, these savory little Turkish pastries make a great snack and are traditionally served with tea. Topped with sesame and black caraway seeds(Nigella Sativa), they remind me visually a bit of mini everything bagels. You could, naturally, customize your batches by adding or removing “toppings”.Parents looking to get their kids involved in the kitchen will be pleased to know that this recipe is perfect for just that. Whether they’re helping you mix the ingredients, shape the dough into rings or add the “toppings”, your kids are guaranteed to have a good time. One warning, however: kids who like to lick the bowl will probably enjoy eating this dough too. I still hear my mother and grandmother’s voices yelling at me that I’m going to end up with a stomach ache if I don’t quit it. For some reason, I just couldn’t make them understand that the batter – or in this case, dough – is the best part. And, no, I still don’t listen and have yet to get sick!

Salty Sesame Rings (Susamlı Çörek)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons

Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons

I like referring to these Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups à la française, because that’s exactly what they taste like. Definitely on the richer side of the macaron spectrum, they’re every bit as gooey and delicious as they sound and look.I’ve been overly obsessed with these beautiful little pastries lately.

There are several good bakeries and pastry shops selling Macarons in Los Angeles, but I’m on a mission to learn and master making my own. My only previous attempt at baking plain macarons was only semi-successful; both batches had “feet”, but one came out too flat and the other had cracked caps.

What do “feet” have to do with macarons, you ask?
Joe, from Joe Pastry, describes them as “the rough, uneven bits on either side of the filling, a factor of the macaron’s rising, and an emblem of both skill and cultural awareness”. Feeling the pressure yet? Don’t worry. Focus on reading up on technique and watching a few videos. The rest is, like with anything else, all about practice.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons 2-in-1

These little babies, although still not esthetically perfect, are definitely a sign that I’m on the right track. And, in case you were wondering, the flavors were all there. Needless to say, I’m feeling more confident in my abilities and have high hopes for future attempts.
On a side note, as I was assembling the macarons, it occurred to me that being the Nutella aficionado that I am, I was committing treason by using a peanut butter filling. Very guiltily, but at that point a day late and a dollar short, I spread Nutella on my last two macarons. The Nutella itself is too thick and doesn’t, in my humble opinion, pair well with the texture of the macaron. That said, a nice Nutella mousse would have probably been amazing.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons

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Blueberry Banana Muffins

Blueberry Banana Muffin

 

I’m an avid eater and have a pretty bad sweet tooth. While most people enjoy eggs and bacon for breakfast, I’d much rather eat pancakes, waffles, muffins, granola with yogurt and fruit, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my savory foods, a lot, but I eat enough of those the rest of the day. In the morning, I want something sweet.

 

I was planning on making my favorite banana nut bread, but since I’d recently bought a lot of blueberries, I decided to switch things up a bit. Unfortunately, it seems I’d misplaced my favorite blueberry muffin recipe, so I decided to try the internet for help. Those who know me would find that humorous, considering the amount of cookbooks I own. It made sense at the time. The result, a delicious and just sweet enough Blueberry Banana Nut Muffin, perfect for breakfast or any other time of day.

Blueberry Banana Muffin

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Milk Pudding (Muhallebi)

Milk Pudding (Muhallebi)
Milk pudding (Muhallebi) is one of the easiest and most versatile desserts. A staple in Turkish and Cypriot cuisine, Muhallebi can be customized to fit any occasion, mood, or taste. Sweetened milk is boiled and, with the help of a thickening agent, transformed into a light and creamy pudding that’s served as is or garnished with any combination of nuts, jams, fruits, or syrups.
Recipes vary quite a bit from one person or region to another, so certainly experiment.