Butter Caramel Cereal Clusters

cereal clustersI had lots of sweetened condensed milk in the pantry ever since I stocked up before the holidays. I wanted to use it up to clear some space, but I was surprised that the only recipes I had for sweetened condensed milk were for key lime pie and some custard tarts.

So I poked around online and mainly found recipes for frostings and little else. I found one recipe for a lemon meringue pie, but I have a recipe for that already that I’m quite happy with, and it doesn’t call for sweetened condensed milk. I also tried a butter cookie recipe but it turned out dry and not so tasty (my colleagues, who finished the batch, disagreed — but I know I can do better!).

Finally I found this recipe for cereal clusters, apparently popular in Latin America, and it was delicious. Easy to make, too — all you need is a pot on the stove, and there’s no baking involved. And it’s a good way to use leftover sweetened condensed milk because you can easily scale the recipe according to how much you have.

1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
7 cups corn flakes

Line 2 baking sheets with well buttered foil or parchment paper. Place corn flakes in a large bowl and set aside. Have a bowl of water ready for your fingers later.

In a pot over medium heat, melt the sugar until it becomes deep amber and just begins to smoke. Add butter and salt and stir with wooden spoon until completely incorporated. Remove from heat. While constantly stirring, add sweetened condensed milk and stir until completely incorporated.

Quickly pour it over the cereal and mix gently until all flakes look covered. Using a soup spoon, scoop mixture out into approximately 2 Tbsp.-sized balls. Wet or butter your fingers and lightly press the clusters together, then place them on the foil or parchment to let cool.

Allow the clusters to set at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

(I adapted this recipe from seriouseats.com.)

Holiday Cornflake Wreaths

20141211_220232[1]These are like Rice Krispie Treats, only with cornflakes. They are a fun dessert to make at Christmastime, and very easy, too. Plus, they have only five ingredients.

Makes about 18

6 cups cornflakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine
10 oz. marshmallows
1 tsp. or more green food coloring
Small red cinnamon candies (Red Hots)*

To prepare, butter two or three baking sheets — you will form the wreaths on them later. Put the cornflakes in a large bowl.

In a medium pot over low heat, melt the margarine. Add the marshmallows and stir constantly until completely melted. Add the food coloring, starting with 1 tsp. but adding more as necessary until the mixture is dark green. (The ones in the picture above aren’t as dark as I intended.) Pour the marshmallow mixture over the cornflakes and mix carefully with a spoon until completely coated.

With buttered fingers, take out a small handful of the coated cornflakes (just enough to fill your palm). Put it on the buttered baking sheet and form into a wreath. Put four or five cinnamon candies on the wreath to look like berries.

Refrigerate the wreaths for several hours before serving. Use a spatula carefully to lift them off the baking sheets.

*I found the Red Hots in the baking aisle, next to the bottles of sprinkles — not in the candy aisle.

Coconut Macaroons

IMAG1990Easy and quick to make, these macaroons are just right for Easter or Passover, or as a special, light treat any time of year.

You mix the ingredients in one bowl and the macaroons bake for just 20 minutes. They stay chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside for days.

These are also nice to make if you find yourself with leftover egg whites from another recipe. I had one egg white left over from cooking last night, so on a whim I decided to make these to use it up — I just divided the recipe by four. I think I’ll do that again in the future. (It’s a good excuse for a treat!)

Makes about 62

14 oz. (1.16 kg) sweetened shredded coconut
6 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 egg whites
1 tsp. almond extract

Heat oven to 325F/160C degrees. Lightly grease and flour a couple of baking sheets.

In a large bowl, mix coconut, flour, and salt. Stir in egg whites and almond extract until well blended. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet (use a round tablespoon measure, if you have one, for the best shape).

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Immediately remove them from the baking sheets and let cool on wire rack.

*For Passover macaroons, substitute matzoh meal for the flour.

Ice Cream-Brownie Dessert

When I first tried these brownies, I decided I didn’t like them on their own — the instant coffee in the recipe made them just a touch too bitter for my taste. But that flavor is a perfect complement to something sweeter and smoother, like vanilla ice cream. And the thick brownie also holds up well to the ice cream on top. I don’t think a regular brownie — or a slice of chocolate cake, for that matter — would work as well.

6 squares unsweetened baking chocolate (like Baker’s)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsweetened butter
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. instant coffee granules
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup crushed almonds
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

Microwave chocolate, butter, water, and instant coffee in a large microwavable bowl for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Remove from microwave and stir until chocolate is completely melted.

Beat sugars with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla and beat 2 minutes. Add flour, almonds, cinnamon and salt; beat until well blended. Add chocolate-butter mixture and blend well.

Spread in a greased, foil-lined 9-inch square baking pan.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. Let cool in pan, then cut into squares. Top with vanilla ice cream before serving.

Dulce de Leche Ice Cream

You won’t believe how good this tastes. For me, this homemade version even rivals Haagen-Dazs — I may never buy their Dulce de Leche again!

The trick here is the egg yolks. The flavor is fine without them, but you’ll end up with an ice cream that’s more ice than cream. The yolks make it smooth and give it a richer flavor.

The skim milk is only to save a bit of fat in such a rich recipe, but go ahead and use whole milk if you’d rather.

Makes about 4 cups

11 oz. skim milk
5.5 oz. heavy cream
13.4-oz. can dulce de leche (I used Nestle La Lechera)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 egg yolks

Combine the milk and cream in a large pot and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Remove from heat and whisk in the dulce de leche until dissolved. Add the vanilla and the egg yolks. Return to the stove and cook over medium-low heat for about five minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour the mixture into a bowl and place it in a larger bowl filled with ice water. Leave for 15-20 minutes until chilled, then pour into ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Note that it will not freeze all the way in the machine, but once it gets firmer, transfer it to a container and place in the freezer until fully frozen.

Meringue-topped Fruit Pots

This dessert is perfect to serve to guests. It’s beautiful and delicious, served warm from the oven, and it’s actually not as difficult as it seems.

It uses frozen raspberries, which lets you make this at any time of year, but you could certainly use fresh ones when they’re in season. Separately it calls for plums, but you could also use peaches or nectarines (which I did), or any other soft and juicy fruit.

As for the cookie crumbs, the recipe uses amaretti cookies, but I used Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies and loved the taste. Ginger cookies or any other crispy, special-tasting cookies would work just as well.

If you’re serving this for guests, keep in mind that you can make the fruit in advance, but you must make the meringue just before serving.

This recipe comes from Waitrose, a very nice British supermarket chain where I used to love to shop. I actually remember picking up the recipe card in the checkout line at my favorite Finchley Road branch. It stayed loose in my cookbook until now.

Serves 6

150g (5.3 oz) golden caster sugar or light brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
10 plums, quartered and stones removed (if using peaches or nectarines, cut into eighths)
200g (7 oz.) frozen raspberries
8 amaretti biscuits, crushed
3 medium egg whites

Preheat the oven to 220C or 430F degrees. Place a third of the sugar and the cinnamon stick in a medium-sized saucepan with 150ml (half a cup) of water. Gently heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the plums to the pan, bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes, or until the plums have softened. Remove from the heat and stir in the frozen raspberries. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick. Stop here if you make this ahead of time.

Divide the crushed biscuits among 6 small ramekins (in 200ml or 3/4 cup size), then spoon the stewed fruits over.

In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak. Gradually whisk in the remaining sugar until you have a stiff, glossy meringue. Heap some meringue onto the top of each ramekin. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the meringue is golden. Serve immediately.

Birthday Fruit Salad

This recipe involved a lot of firsts, starting with the salad itself. I had never made one before. My mom makes an excellent fruit salad that I remember fondly from when I was growing up, and I wasn’t about to try to copy it. So I started with a recipe I already had on hand and adapted it based on what was available and what I wanted in the salad (and how much room we had in the fridge).

I had never cut open a whole watermelon before, nor had I ever cut fresh pineapple. Both were so easy and pleasing that I wondered why on earth I had waited so long to try them.

I served the fruit salad at my birthday party the other week and people really seemed to like it, so I’m guessing it’s good enough to share.

Serves 10

1 small watermelon
1 fresh pineapple
1 bunch of green grapes
1 small bunch of red grapes
100g or less blueberries
Agave syrup (or honey)

Use a melon baller to scoop out balls of watermelon, and place them in a large bowl.

To cut the pineapple, cut off the top and bottom, then stand it upright on a cutting board. Use a chopping knife to cut off the skin in thick strips, starting at the top and going straight down. Continue doing this until all the skin has been taken off, and use a paring knife to cut out any prickly knobs that are left behind. Then, keeping the pineapple upright on the cutting board, use the knife to cut off sections, leaving the core intact (discard the core later). Lay the sections down on the cutting board and cut chunks as desired.

Wash the grapes, cut each in half, and add to the bowl. For color, use more green grapes than red — maybe a ratio of 2 to 1.

Wash the blueberries and toss them in. Again, let color be your guide — add as many or as few as you think the salad needs to look good.

Drizzle agave syrup (or honey, if you don’t have agave) on top, then toss gently with a wooden spoon.

I think the recipe worked because of the nice mix of colors, the strong taste of each of the fruits, and the different shapes — but you could adapt it however you like. You could add cut strawberries for a burst of red, or cut sections of tangerine to add citrus. I avoided using apple or banana just because I wanted strong colors and tastes, but you could use them, too. (If you do use apple, dress the pieces with lemon juice before putting them in the bowl to prevent them from turning brown.) Other berries like blackberries would look spectacular, as would sections of kiwi. You could chop fresh mint and sprinkle it on top. Melons and mangoes don’t interest me so much, but they could also be a nice addition.

Fudgy Brownie Cups

This is a cute little dessert that takes no time to make and tastes delicious hot out of the oven. And here’s a tip to remember: It’s also a great way to use up leftover puff pastry you might have from another recipe.

500g (18 oz.) refrigerated or frozen puff pastry (thawed if frozen)
100g (4 oz.) dark chocolate
115g (1/4 cup or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
170g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 205C/400F. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle about 15×12 inches. Cut into 3×3-inch squares (you should end up with about 20 squares). Press them into the cups of a regular-size muffin tin.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat when mixture is melted and stir in the sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla, then the flour. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of chocolate mixture into each pastry square. (The more filling you spoon in, the better — just don’t let it overflow the pastry.)

Bake for 15 minutes, or until pastry is golden. Remove from muffin tin immediately and eat right away — or just let cool on wire racks. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Bread and Butter Pudding

For those unfamiliar with this delectable British dessert, think of this as French toast baked in the oven with loads of sweet, jiggly custard. Traditionally, it’s made with orange marmalade — but I have replaced that with apricot jam, which is more to my taste. Whichever one you use, this dessert will be true comfort food.
Serves 8


575 ml low-fat milk
575 ml single cream
1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Softened unsalted butter
8 slices good-quality white bread, crusts intact
Jar of apricot jam (as smooth as possible — no bits)
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
200g sugar
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Put the milk, cream, and vanilla in a saucepan. Set over low heat and bring slowly to the boil. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, butter the slices of bread. Spread the jam liberally on four slices and top with the others to make four sandwiches. Cut them across to make triangles and arrange in a generously buttered baking pan, slightly overlapping the triangles.

Beat the eggs and yolks with the sugar in a bowl until they form a smooth foaming mixture. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture slowly onto the eggs, stirring constantly with a whisk, and continue whisking to make a smooth custard. Ladle this carefully over the bread and leave to soak for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 160C/320F. Bake for 45 minutes or until the pudding pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan and jiggles when shaken.

Serve warm, or refrigerate overnight and serve very cold. In both cases, dust the top with confectioners’ sugar before serving. Blueberries or raspberries go well with this.