Chocolate Croissant Bites

This is a quick little dessert that reminds me of chocolate-filled croissants from a nice pastry shop somewhere — the kind of place with small tables and a big window to the street, that smells more of sugar than coffee and has a display case full of desserts almost too beautiful to eat. (I really do miss visiting places like that.)

Gourmet thoughts aside, this is actually a simple back-of-the-box recipe I’ve had in my cookbook for ages. It was called Fudgy Brownie Cups, but to me that doesn’t describe it well enough. There is no rising agent in the chocolate mixture, and that’s what makes them fudgy, but they just don’t seem like brownies when they’re wrapped in the flaky layers of puff pastry.

All you need is a saucepan, a rolling pin and a couple of muffin pans and it’s ready in less than 20 minutes.

Makes 20

8 oz. (227g) sheet of puff pastry (half of a standard U.S. box), thawed
4 oz. (113g) dark chocolate (I used Lindt‘s 70% cocoa chocolate bar)
4 oz. (113g) unsalted butter (half a stick)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. all-purpose (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting countertop
Confectioner’s (icing) sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 400F/200C degrees.

In a pot over medium-low heat, melt chocolate and butter. Turn off heat and mix in sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, then mix in flour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry to a 12×15-inch rectangle. Cut into 3×3-inch squares and press each one into an ungreased muffin cup. Fill with 1 tablespoon of chocolate mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden (you want to err on the longer side to make sure the puff pastry comes out crispy on the bottom, not chewy).

Immediately remove to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Kentucky Derby Day Pie

I didn’t know what a Derby Pie was until a colleague of mine, Kara, posted this recipe around the time of the Kentucky Derby this year. She said it’s her mother’s recipe. As much as I love making pies, I also cherish recipes from other people’s kitchens — they’re authentic, and every time I make one, I remember the person who shared it with me. It wasn’t until recently that I had a chance to make this.

I have since learned that the name “Derby Pie” is trademarked, so I can’t use it, even though I’ve also learned it’s a beloved pie for many cooks who happily call it that in their collection of recipes.

The pie contains chopped walnuts and chocolate morsels beneath a soft, sweet filling. Use your favorite pie crust, whether frozen, refrigerated, or homemade, in a 9-inch pie plate. I’ve made this twice now and everyone has loved it. Thank you, Kara, for letting me share it! 😋

Heat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

In a large bowl, mix one by one in this order:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 stick melted butter, cooled
1 cup chopped walnuts (pecans are OK, too)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour in pie crust and bake for about 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (though there might be some chocolate on it, which is fine).

Creamy Orange Popsicles

Even having made these gourmet-tasting popsicles, it can be hard to believe they’re made with just two wholesome ingredients: freshly squeezed orange juice and vanilla yogurt. My children and I giggled to think these could actually qualify as breakfast food.

You can use popsicle molds or paper cups with popsicle sticks. One trick to keep the sticks upright as they freeze is to cover the top of the cups with foil and make a slit for each stick. Once frozen, you can peel off the paper cups.

Credit for this recipe goes to my friend Laura Rodriguez, who put a lot of work into a great series of recipe videos for children this summer. This one was our favorite.

1 cup juice from fresh oranges (we used about 3)
1 cup vanilla yogurt

Whisk the ingredients together, then pour into popsicle molds or paper cups. Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours.

If you’re using popsicle molds, you’ll have to run the plastic part under lukewarm water for a few minutes to loosen the popsicles before removing.

Banana Bread

We all know baking has become really popular over the past couple of months as people around the world try to fill their quarantine days with creative pursuits they may not have had much time for before. Banana bread is the latest obsession. It evokes comfort and warmth. And when it’s made by you, in your own kitchen, it’s even better.

But why is it popular right now? Maybe we’re looking for something just a little quicker than homemade bakery-worthy bread — and yeast is out of stock at the store, anyway. Maybe we just want to indulge in a dessert, and banana bread sounds much better for you than, say, three-layer chocolate fudge brownies with toasted mini marshmallows and melted toffee drizzle… you know, just as an example.

Plus, banana bread is thrifty. We’ve all had bananas that get too brown before we’ve had a chance to enjoy them. Mashing them up for banana bread gives them new life and reduces waste. It also makes us feel good. Hey, just mashing them in the first place is pretty satisfying.

Chrissy Teigen’s version is so popular at the moment that people are having trouble finding its secret ingredient, vanilla pudding, in the store. But there’s nothing wrong with going the classic, non-pudding route. It’s easy to make, you know it will taste good, your kitchen will smell amazing and the result keeps for months in the freezer.

You can add any number of mix-ins, too. Have you got blueberries that are going soft? Repurpose those, too, by throwing them in the batter at the last minute. Add some chopped walnuts or pecans. Chocolate morsels. Shredded coconut. Lemon zest.

banana bread

Banana bread is one of my specialties, but the recipe I use is not my own. It’s this one from James Beard. You can see the well-worn printout of it that’s pasted in my cookbook. I don’t change a thing (that note about the baking temperatures was because of an oven we used to have — the heat was always a touch off).

Yes, you need baking soda for banana bread. Sorry, you just do. The mashed bananas are heavy and you’ll need something to get the bread to rise. That’s also why you need buttermilk, or something acidic like lemon juice along with the milk — the chemical reaction with the baking soda creates the bubbles that make the cake rise.

Oh, did you catch that? “Cake.” Not bread. Because really, banana bread is too good to be called just a bread. Now go and have fun mixing up a batch.

Homemade Granola Bars

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Granola bars are my latest breakfast. They’re also one of my children’s favorite snacks, so we go through a lot of them. I wanted to try to make some myself so I didn’t have to keep buying them all the time, and so I could make a slightly healthier alternative than the sugary processed kind. But it’s not easy to replicate the chewy texture that still sticks together as a proper granola bar. I’ve tried making them before and they either fall apart or they’re more like a dessert.

Finally I found this recipe, which has great ingredients such as whole oats, nuts, honey, and healthy add-ins like shredded coconut. It uses a little butter and sugar, which is not ideal for a totally healthy granola bar, but it helps to make it all stick together. And it does stick together.

Thanks to the blog with the great name Bless This Mess Please for the recipe (which I only slightly adjusted).

2 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cups total extra mix-ins (such as coconut flakes)

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C degrees. Line a 9- or 8-inch square baking dish with lightly greased parchment or foil.

Place the oats and nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly toasted. Place the nuts and oats in a large bowl.

While the oats are toasting, put the honey, butter, and brown sugar to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. When butter mixture is ready, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt.

Pour this mixture over the oats and nuts and stir to combine. Add any extra ingredients and stir to combine. Make sure none of the oats are dry.

Place in prepared pan and use a rubber spatula or the back of a greased spoon to press mixture into the pan. Put in refrigerator for at least two hours, then cut into bars.

Other suggested mix-ins include dried fruit, miniature chocolate chips, and sunflower seeds, but you can play around with ingredients and add whatever you’d like.

Easy Dessert Recipes for When You’re Stuck at Home

Cooking is a great activity while we’re all stuck at home these days, trying to find things to do. Learn some new recipes, make some comfort food, or spend time cooking with someone. If you have children, cooking can be a fun activity together. Food is one way we can help ourselves feel better during this crazy time.

I looked through my dessert cookbook and found four recipes that are easy and require five ingredients or fewer, mostly with items you’re still likely to find at the store (though we had a hard time finding eggs the other day). These are favorites of mine.

Coconut Macaroons
1 14-oz. package sweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. flour
Âź tsp. salt
4 egg whites
And I always include this, but you can make it optional: 1 tsp. almond extract

Heat oven to 325F (about 160C) degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Mix everything but the egg whites in a large bowl. Stir in the egg whites, and the almond extract if using, until blended. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

And to use up the yolks, make this next recipe! (You don’t even have to bake it!)

Key Lime Pie
1 pre-made graham cracker crumb crust
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. key lime juice

Beat the egg yolks until lemony (you’ll notice the color change to more of a yellow color), then add sweetened condensed milk and continue beating for 3 minutes. Pour in the key lime juice and beat until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Pour into prepared shell and refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

Tip: Whipped cream is great to have on top when you serve it.

Easiest Cookies Ever
1 box of cake mix – any kind is fine, but I use white cake mix
1 stick of butter, softened
1 egg

Mix everything in a bowl, form into balls, and bake on greased baking sheets for 10 minutes at 350F (175C) degrees.

Frozen Lemonade Squares
9 graham cracker rectangles
Âź cup butter
1 quart (4 cups/1/4 gallon) frozen vanilla yogurt, softened
6 oz. (half a can) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed (make lemonade with the rest!)
Optional: Blueberries

Finely crush graham crackers. Melt butter and mix with crumbs. Press into bottom of 9-inch square metal pan. Thoroughly mix yogurt and lemonade concentrate. Spread over crust. Freeze 4 hours or until firm. Serve with blueberries on top.

Sweet Potato Pie

 

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Though I have been making pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving alongside my favorite chocolate pecan pie, I had never tried a sweet potato pie, which several people have told me is their favorite holiday dessert.

I love sweet potatoes, both savory — like roasted or mashed — or in a sugary casserole, which admittedly is more like a dessert. (I’m still trying to perfect a recipe for that.) When I found a Southern Living recipe for sweet potato pie, I figured I’d give it a try.

It turned out so well that I think it’s going to be on every one of our Thanksgiving menus from here on out.

The recipe in the magazine called for roasting and mashing whole sweet potatoes, then putting them through a sieve to remove the stringy bits. I do not have time for that. I just used the classic, old-fashioned sweet potatoes in a can (they’re labeled as yams). If you want to roast and mash your own sweet potatoes, you will need 2 cups mashed.

Makes one 9-inch pie

1 refrigerated pie crust
2 oz. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
29-oz. can sweet potatoes, mashed with a fork (if they are in syrup, briefly rinse them before mashing)
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Place pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate. Prick bottom several times with a fork. Line pie crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in the oven until slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment and let cool, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees again. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the foam subsides and the butter begins to smell fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and remaining ingredients with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Pour into the pie crust and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the filling is slightly puffed and set, about 45 minutes. Let cool at least 1 hour before serving, but note that the pie gets firmer if kept in the refrigerator and served the next day.

Dark Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Cookies

For Halloween, I wanted to make some dark cut-out sugar cookies so I could decorate them with white icing that would stand out. I knew exactly what I wanted — flat cookies that I could roll out and cut into shapes. They needed to be very dark (it’s for Halloween, after all), not just kind of brown. I had cut out a picture of the ghost cookies a while ago (I forget the source) and wanted to copy them.

A search turned up this recipe from the American Butter Institute, of all places! (Something about their name seems very trustworthy for a cookie recipe.) The picture of these cookies on their site was beautiful. I’m glad I tried it — the cookies were delicious and just what I was looking for.

These would make nice chocolate wafer cookies if you roll them thin enough and watch them closely in the oven to make sure they don’t burn. They’re also just a nice twist on regular sugar cookie cut-outs. The institute’s site shows them in snowflake shapes, for example.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder (dark, if possible)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating well until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until dough is smooth.

Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate one hour or until firm enough to roll.

Remove dough from refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. (Tip: If the dough sticks to the rolling pin, don’t use flour to make it not stick — dust it with cocoa powder so the dough stays brown!) Use cookie cutters to cut desired shapes; transfer cookies to non-stick baking sheet or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Return to refrigerator for another 10 minutes. Turn oven to 350F (175C) degrees.

Remove cookies from refrigerator and bake 12 minutes, or until firm around edges. Let cookies cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

FOR ICING: It’s easy! Put some confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) in a small bowl. Add a few drops of water and mix with a spoon. Keep adding only a few drops at a time until it’s a good consistency for piping — you don’t want it too watery. If you’re not sure, then thicker is better than thinner. Spoon the icing into a plastic sandwich bag and snip off a very tiny corner. Then you can pipe it onto the cookies.

Nutella Brownies

When I posted the recipe for Nutella pancakes a few weeks ago, I mentioned Nutella brownies. I’m finally posting the recipe, which I’ve had for a few years now and is the only homemade brownie I will ever make.20190807_142943

Nutella brownies are as good as they sound! They are chocolatey and moist — not dry and cakey. They also bake to a nice height. Sometimes when I’ve sought a fudgy brownie, they come out flat and chewy. Not these. And just like Nutella on a spoon, they are irresistible.

I found this recipe on a site called Life in Pleasantville that I’m really enjoying. (It has some recipes I’m eager to try.) No tweaks are needed, but self-control definitely is. Seriously — what do they put in Nutella to make it so unbelievably delicious?

4 large eggs
1 large egg white
725g container Nutella
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Blend in Nutella, butter, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Spread mixture into baking pan and bake 30-40 minutes. Brownies will appear slightly underbaked in center. Let cool. For your brownies to look their best, refrigerate the pan overnight before slicing — otherwise they’ll be crumbly.

Lemon Icebox Pie

If there is a perfect summer dessert, then a sweet, tart icebox pie may well be it. Pies such as key lime, lemon meringue, and this classic all share the same delicious traits: a tangy, custardy filling in a buttery cookie-crumb crust.

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I recently found myself with two different recipes for this, which was a welcome excuse for another one of my bake-offs at home. I made them side by side and although they were similar in taste, there was still a clear winner. All of us at the table agreed.

Both called for egg yolks, a can of sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice. The losing recipe added buttermilk and lemon zest — it was a pastry chef’s recipe in a magazine (I won’t say which one) so I thought it would win. But the winning recipe was the one that stuck to the basics. It also called for a homemade graham cracker crust that had a distinct saltiness, and it tasted great alongside the sweet filling — just like with salted caramel, or sea salt on dark chocolate.

The recipe comes from a restaurant called Revival in Decatur, Georgia. It was printed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the request of a reader who said the pie tasted like the one they grew up with. I’d say it’s just as timeless, simple, and delicious, with the added specialness of the salty-sweet crust.

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Makes one 9-inch pie

For the crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter

For the filling:
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (I used 3 lemons)
Whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 325F degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together crumbs, sugar, and salt. Add butter and stir together until all dry ingredients are coated. Press crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Leave oven on.

In a medium bowl, whisk condensed milk and egg yolks together. Add juice and whisk until combined. Pour into cooled pie crust. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate at least 8 hours before serving with whipped cream on top.