I just love this time of year with all the various type of apples. Is it just me, or are you also surprised each year on how many kind of apple varieties seem to pop up into the super market? I had heard about this particular variety last year so I went on a hunt this year. And by a hunt, I’m not kidding… Unfortunately I found out by some weird cruel joke that this little rouge gem has a short harvest life. Life can be so mean sometimes! None the less, my hauty tauty shi shi (high end super market) here in the Phoenix Valley (AJ’s) carried them. I finally got smart and called the produce department first to check. Yatzee! I snagged them and quickly wrapped them in a Debbie Meyer green bag to preserve their precious life!!!
Side note: If you don’t know about Debbie Meyer green bags– you need to buy them- they extend any produce for DAYsssssss. Anyway, I digress…back to the apples. The “pink pearl” is the apple that I swear has been kissed by God. It’s beauty is so unique. Some are light pink inside and some are down right fuchsia color. Are they not the coolest thing?! Can you tell I’m totally geeked out about them? They taste amazing too; they are kind of a cross between a Granny Smith and a Gala; tart but a little sweet at the same time. They are crisp and hold their texture when used in baking. The outside of the skin is thin and has a yellowy green color.
Pink Pearl Apple Tart with Frangipane
You will need a sheet a puff pastry. *Try to find the type that is all butter. I like Dufour brand.
Note: The typical brand you find in the grocer that is Pepperidg***** is NOT all butter. I sadly found this out when I was in pastry school years ago. I never knew. Just an FYI.
4-5 Sweet-tart apples, peeled, and sliced thin
1/4 C unsalted butter (room temp)
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 egg (room temp)
1/2 Cup blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp. pure almond extract
*Egg wash for baking (one egg whisked with a fork)
*powdered sugar for serving
In a medium bowl: cream the butter, sugar, and salt together until smooth. Note: [A hand mixer is best]. Add the egg and beat until combined. Stir in the almond flour and extract and then beat just until combined. Note: If you over beat the mixture can separate. If you like your frangipane a little more smooth you can use the food processor just make sure to not over process or it can separate.
Thaw the puff pastry. Unfold and pinch any folds together with your fingers or gently roll with a rolling pin to smooth out creases. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the puff pastry onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Score a 1 inch border around the perimeter of the puff, but don’t go all the way through the pastry. Spread the frangipane filling evenly onto the pastry but stay within the border. Shingle the apples tightly nestled on top of the filling and then sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Brush the border with egg wash. Place the entire assembled tart on the sheet pan in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill prior to baking. (Puff pastry always needs to be very cold when it goes into the oven to ensure you get that great rise). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until border is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly. Serve with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar. Note: the tart is best served the day it is made as the filling tends to soften the pastry.
I must admit- I’ve never really been into whoopie pies until last year when I made my first batch. I suddenly occurred to me that you know that trick everybody does where they take their cupcake and tear off the bottom and place it on top of the frosting to create a sandwich? well…it’s kind of like creating your own whoopie. Besides, whoopies are a whole lot cuter-especially when you make them mini size they are perfect party fair.
Come on, you know you want an excuse to call up your neighbor and ask “Do you want to come over for some whoopie?” Ha Ha Ha. Sorry, I had to slip that in there. But kidding aside, it’s fun to have the girls over to catch up on the neighborhood gossip (not kidding- kinda, sorta) while you scoot the boys outside to the deck while they drink their beer so you can nibble on a few of these cuties drinking your seasonal drink of choice.
I made two mini sizes. I was playing around with the recipe during my recipe development phase; including even how to scoop them. At first I tried using the ice cream scoop method using a mini scoop, and they just did not come out uniform or smooth enough on top, (esp. since the batter is a bit sticky), so I switched to using the tried and true piping bag method. Not only was the piping bag method the winner but each and every cookie came out uniform in size (but full disclosure I used a template*See note below). I piped two different sizes (1.5 inch and 2 1/4 inch size). I know this is rather small, so you can obviously go bigger since we are talking really small here. I would not go bigger than 3 inch size though since they are a rich in flavor. I actually think the 2 1/4 inch size is perfect to be quite honest which is about 3 bites worth.
Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies
yield: 2-3 dozen depending on the # of size you make
3 Cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 Cups canned pumpkin puree
1 C vegetable oil
2 Cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
In a large bowl place the pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, and egg and whisk to combine. Then add in the brown sugar and vanilla and whisk again to combine until smooth. Using a metal type strainer, hold it over the bowl and sift through the dry ingredients, then whisk until combined. (Alternatively you can whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the wet). Regardless, mix gently until the mixture is comes together but do not over mix. Fit a piping bag with a large round tip (I like to use an 806). Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350° F with rack in center position. Pipe batter spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake one tray at a time 10-12 minutes until just set and when touched they spring back. Let cool on tray for a few minutes then remove to cool completely on wire rack. When cool sandwich with cream cheese frosting recipe. Note: for the 2 1/4 inch cookie size I felt that 1 tablespoon scoop frosting worked perfectly, and the smaller size, just use a little less.
* A long winded word about templates….I have a heavy paper type macaron template I use for my piping that I slide under the parchment paper and right before the cookies are ready to bake simply remove the template and reuse for the next tray when piping. I have various sizes that I’ve made over the years by copying circles with a sharpie around biscuit cutters. For a useful tip- Fold down the two opposite corners of your parchment sheets and then fold them back up so the corners are standing back up to use as a “Tab” so you can to grab the piping template a bit easier. If you don’t have the patience to make a template here are two recourses of two different sizes. For the 1.5 size the Southern Fatty blog has a template here. For a 2 1/4 inch size, here is a link for a 2 inch template here, and you can quickly trace with a 2 1/4 biscuit cutter using a pen to mark the outline so you have the right size and print out another sheet tape the two sides together so you can slide it under to fill a half sheet pan under your parchment. If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right, but you will be amazed that you will not waste any unmatched sized cookies when it comes to assembling your whoopies. Also, if you like to make macarons like I do- save your templates and you can use them over and over again multiple times. So, it’s up to you how OCD you want to be. Me, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to stuff like this, so hey, I can’t help myself.
Cream Cheese Filling
1 stick (1/2 C) unsalted butter (cold), cut into 1/4 inch size cubed pieces
8 oz. cream cheese (cold) and cut into 12 equal pieces
3 Cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the cold cubed butter and beat until pliable and the butter is sitting along the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the bowl, and beat a few more times on low. Add in the cold cream cheese and beat on low speed for a few minutes, stopping to scrape down, and in between the beater to loosen the cream cheese so that it falls to the bottom of the work bowl. Continue to beat on low to medium speed for a few minutes until the two come together. Add in about half the confectioners sugar and stir speed slowly at first so that the sugar does not cause a mess, then increase speed and beat on slow to medium speed, increase speed in bursts, but do not beat at high speed-you want the mixture to remain cold so it does not turn runny. Add in the other half of the sugar and continue to stop and start and scrape down sides a needed and beat on low speed just it has come together. When it looks like it has come together, increase on high speed just for a few seconds to get rid of any lumps, but no longer than a few seconds. Cream cheese frosting is funny-if you beat it to death-it looses its structure and turns too runny. I have been making my cream cheese frosting this way rather than starting from room temperature and it always maintains it’s structure. It helps to have the cream cheese cut into small pieces when you start. You might have to practice a few times, so don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get it perfect the first time. I hope you like this way!! I always start from cold now and it’s not failed me.
They say, THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
I always believed this, but the past year and a half, and almost two-this popular saying has been a bit hard to believe sometimes, as it has been a hard and painful road. I’ve had 2 back surgeries and as I type this I still have not been able to walk without pain, much less- been able to walk very far at all. My spinal surgeon said my nerve root was so compressed that it was “dented”. He tells me it could take a year to fully recover. Every day is a challenge as I heal, in more ways than one. I lost my Mother in October of 2016. She had Alzheimers Disease and we watched her lively spirit slowly slip away. Then 6 months later my Stepfather passed. My Faith has been severely tested, but never extinguished I’m happy to report. I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for me, but rather to paint the picture of my state of mind, as this story gets better, so stay with me…
In 2012 we moved to Taiwan (my Husband’s birthplace) from San Francisco to keep a closer eye on my Mother in Law who was not in good health at the time. We left our cuddle bug Jack Russell dog “Oscar” behind with one of our neighbors. Our neighbor was an elderly man named Bob who lived 2 houses down from us and adored our Oscar as much as we did. I affectionately called Oscar my “Oscar Boo”. Oscar was quite the character. We adopted him from a sweet gal named Sheerein, who operated her own dog shelter. I knew from the moment we met him that he was our dog. I bonded with him instantly. My Husband used to say Oscar was a reincarnated old man trapped inside the body of a dog. From the moment we got him we noticed he RARELY barked-but rather, he would just glare at you as if he was pissed at you for some reason. It was hysterical. A month in, and I had only heard him bark literally a few times, and I noticed it was when there was a suspicious noise outside, so we knew he would be a good guard dog. That dog had more personality than you could imagine. If he was left in the car (relax– San Francisco is like 60 degrees year round, and we’re talking like 5 minutes left in the car) he would press on the horn, AND the hazard lights to get your attention. At first we thought it was a fluke, but then it happened again, over and over, time after time, so clearly he knew what he was doing. It was a riot. When you opened the passenger car door for him to get in, he would insist on scooting over to the driver’s seat as soon as you opened the car door to go somewhere instead of going to the backseat. He would give you this look like, “I’m the Captain, and I’m driving”. Eventually he would cave and go to the back. We had a convertible then and he loved to ride with the top down. It definitely fit his personality. He always acted like he was King. Oscar was not only smart, but agile and cunning like a human, I swear. If left in one of the rooms with a closed-door, he would rise up, take both his front paws and twist the door knobs to open either the door of the kitchen to get into the living room, as well as the door of the bedroom. We actually witnessed him doing this. Like I said, just like a human.
He was the sweetest dog, but I remember the one time I was walking in the park in late afternoon near almost dark after barely having Oscar for a month, and I got a creepy feeling from this man who was walking behind me, so I slowed way down so that the man would pass me. The man tried to strike up a conversation with me and I kept getting a stranger danger vibe- and so did Oscar apparently because my sweet 19 pound Oscar all of a sudden stopped dead in his tracks, went full on CUJO, opened his mouth, snarled, and showed his teeth like I had never ever seen before. The man went running off scared like a 3 yr. old, and my sweet Oscar just looked over at me and kept trotting along as if nothing ever happened. From that day on, I knew he was more than just a lap dog.
When we moved to Taiwan, we decided to leave our dog with Bob, as we just could not bring ourselves to put our beloved dog through such a long quarantine of 6 months- which was required in Taiwan. (Oscar could barely handle being left for 6 minutes because he was originally abandoned at a doggy day care we learned when we adopted him), so anytime we left the house he went crazy. Besides, living in a high rise, concrete jungle was no place for a dog. Believe me, IT KILLED ME leaving him with Bob. In my mind I kind of knew it was a mistake-something JUST told me in the pit of my stomach, but I resolved that coming home to San Francisco from time to time to visit we could also visit Oscar and we knew he was in good hands.
Our friend Bob ended up hospitalized and passing while on a trip to Los Angeles and Oscar was sent to a shelter; we heard from Sheerein. Oscar was found running along a street in LA, a long way from his home in San Francisco. My heart sank when I heard this. She tried to intervene on our behalf to try to get him for us, as at this point we were back living in the States, but she was not able to figure out where he ended up, as the shelter said he went to a “family member”, and they did not know where, or to whom. The funny thing is that, when we gave him to Bob we were never able to transfer his documentation status online to Bob for the microchip. I tried several times, and he tried several times and the computer just never accepted it, so we just let it go. Matter of fact- we were never able to transfer the chip to OUR name when we adopted him from Sheerein, so we left it as is, and I let Sheerein know as well.
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
When we originally adopted Oscar and could not transfer his micro chip status in 2011 Sheerein always said it was fine as if anything happened to Oscar, she knew that the local shelters all knew her well, and they would contact her if he popped up on any scan. So we went about our life. We never knew where Oscar ended up after Bob passed as she tried desperately to locate any family members of Bob through the shelter where Oscar was found, to no avail. We knew Bob had family in Arkansas, so we assumed that’s where Oscar ended up, and I tried to just let it go. My heart sank thinking of all the sweet memories of Oscar and wishing he was back with us. She kept our information and said that if she ever heard of anything she would contact me. I figured it was a lost cause.
Fast forward- 2 1/2 years. Just when you’re feeling like nothing is going right in your life, and you’re starting to have one of those pitty party’s of one. Like seriously- Lord, throw me a bone here….the date is August 2nd, and I’m feeling rather blue. A typical day. I open my email. Wait, what????
I spot an email. It jumps off the screen. Subject line reads: “I have located Oscar” its from Sheerein.
I can’t open it fast enough. I can’t believe what I’m reading. She’s telling me, Oscar was located near Sacramento. He was abandoned and brought into a shelter. Because his microchip is still in her name, they contacted her.
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
I haven’t seen him in 5 years.
Long story short, my Husband drove 17 hours to California to pick him up, and then turned right around for another 17 to Arizona to bring him home.
But wait there’s more!….
When Oscar was brought into the shelter he came in with another dog, a female Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix named Bella. They said that Oscar bonded with her and “She was his girlfriend”. The shelter said the two were inseparable. When my Husband heard this from Sheerein he told her to ask the shelter if they would let us adopt her. They reported most likely Bella would be put down if not adopted right away since the shelter was a “High kill shelter”. Sheerein intervened on our behalf and they agreed.
I’ve been holding onto this story for a bit as today is “Clear the Shelters Day” Adopt a dog. Don’t shop. Rescue an abandoned soul. Oscar is what you’d call more of a “Sparkling Wine” kind of dog, and Bella is definitely more “Pabst Blue Ribbon” if you catch my drift. Love doesn’t always make sense on the surface. What does make sense is Love is comfort. Oscar gives me comfort. Bella gives Oscar comfort, and certainly Oscar gives Bella comfort. Today give someone you love some comfort, whether that be a hug, a kiss, or a sweet passing sentiment. One thing I know is for sure.
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
Here is a picture of Bella giving Oscar a kiss. Notice the smile on his face…
“DON’T LOSE FAITH”
THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON….
I picked up the latest special issue from Bake From Scratch dedicated to “Artisan pies and tarts”. I love this magazine-it has become one of my all time favorites. Their peanut butter pie on page 56, is a virtual no bake pie- only a quick trip in the oven for the crust and the rest is no bake. Perfect for summer in this August sweltering heat. I adapted the recipe slightly by adding in some mini snickers bites. I was not able to find the preferred Famous brand chocolate wafer cookie so often used in chocolate crust recipes so I ended up swapping in chocolate graham cracker crumbs and bumped up the melted butter a titch as well as adding in a bit of cocoa powder. If you can find the Famous brand chocolate wafer cookies they lend a deeper chocolate flavor for the crust. This pie is rich and super creamy so a little slice with a cup of hot coffee will do you just fine! Allow it to sit for a few minutes out of the fridge before diving in to allow the chocolate ganache on the bottom to soften. Peanut butter lovers will adore this pie!
Pour half of the filling over the ganache, then push the Snickers bites into the filling, then top with the other half of the filling. If you can’t find them, you can just chop up regular Snickers.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Snickers Pie
recipe adapted slightly from special issue “Artisan pies and tarts” Peanut Butter Pie (Bake From Scratch)
Chocolate Crumb Crust
1 1/2 Cups chocolate cookie crumbs (either Famous chocolate wafers or chocolate graham cracker crumbs*)
7 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 C sugar
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder* (add only if using choc. graham cracker crumbs)
In a food processor blitz the cookies/crackers along with the sugar and salt, and (cocoa powder if using) until the mixture is fine. Add in the melted butter and pulse until incorporated. Pour the crust into a standard size 9 inch pie plate and press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides. Bake in a 350° F preheated oven for 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack until cooled completely.
4 oz. 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (I used Ghirardelli brand)
1/4 C heavy whipping cream
Microwave the chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl on high in 20 second intervals, stirring in between until mixture is smooth and melted.
Peanut Butter Snickers Filling
8 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1 C creamy peanut butter
1/2 C roasted salted peanuts, chopped
1/4 C sugar
1 C heavy whipping cream
~ 27-28 Snickers baking bites (I found them in the baking aisle)
• In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat one cup of the heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
• Using the same bowl (no need to wash) switch to the paddle attachment and beat the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth; stopping to scrape the bottom and sides as needed. Add in the peanuts, sugar, and honey and contine to beat until combined. Fold in one-third of the reserved whipped cream from step one, and continue to fold in the rest of the whipped cream.
• Assembly: Pour the ganache in the bottom of the crust and smooth out with the back of a spoon. Pour in half of the peanut butter filling, and smooth til flat, then top with about 28 of the Snickers bites. Pour on the rest of the filling and smooth with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Chill the pie for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream if desired and top with chopped Snickers- (I used the same snickers baking bites and cut them in half for the garnish).
I remember parfait desserts being very popular when I was a child. We had this section in our cupboard for dessert glasses. My Mom always had cute little dessert glasses or parfait glasses for such things. It is true when they say you eat with your eyes first. For some reason there is something very inticing about a dessert with visual layers of differing textures and color. I love when you dip and drag your spoon down into the glass as you lift it up to take that first bite of all the different layers. These little desserts are perfect for a party when you don’t want to be fussing with cutting and serving. All you have to do is assemble them ahead of time and keep them chilled. If you use disposable plastic cups they are even better because you can throw them in the recycle bin when you are done and no washing!
I used my new Russian ball piping tip (#271) to pipe the stabilized whipped cream on top.
Black Forest Cheesecake Parfaits
Double Cherry Compote
3 Cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted
1/2 Cup tart dried cherries (such as Montmorency)
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
cornstarch slurry: 1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp. cold water
1 tsp. vanilla
12 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1/2 C confectioners sugar
1 1/2 C heavy whipping cream, cold
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk powder
*Miscellaneous: you will need Famous brand chocolate wafer cookies for assembly
Fresh sweetened whipped cream (for garnish)
1 Cup cold heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp. confectioners sugar
1 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk powder
In the bowl of a stand mixer whip the cream cheese with the paddle attachment until cheese is soft. Remove cheese with a rubber spatula into a separate bowl and set aside at room temp.
In the same bowl (no need to wash) place the heavy cream and chill the bowl with the cream for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes place the bowl on the mixer and add in the vanilla and the nonfat dry milk powder and whip with the whisk attachment until thickened. Add in the softened cream cheese and stir gently with the whisk attachment until incorporated. Spoon filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. (I used an Ateco 809).
• Take about 1/2 package of Famous chocolate wafers and place in a large ziplock bag. Using your hands crush the cookies from the outside of the bag until they are coarsely broken (you don’t want fine crumbs).
• Place about 2 Tbsp. of the chocolate wafer crumbs into the bottom of each parfait glasses. I used 14 oz. “crystal cut” chinet brand plastic cups for my parfaits.
• On top of each chocolate crumbs layer, pipe a layer of cream cheese filling, then top with a spoonful of cherry compote. Repeat another layer of chocolate cookie crumbs, followed by cheese cake filling and then end with a spoonful of cherry compote. Top with a small amount of chocolate crumbs and then fresh sweetened whipped cream, followed by a fresh cherry with stem.
Note: For a nice decorative touch you can use a Russian ball tip # 271 to pipe your whipped cream.
Vanilla and cherries are BFF’s when it comes to flavor parings. I cannot resist cherry season, although you can make these cupcakes year round with quality cherry preserves-both used in the filling and the buttercream. Trader Joes has a great preserves they sell that is chock full of whole cherries. Make sure to pick a preserves that is mostly on the tart side- you don’t want one that is too sweet. I have been in the kitchen lately experimenting with cherry recipes. I’m working on a no bake cheesecake parfait recipe that is coming soon that uses both dark sweet and tart dried cherries.
Also, I’ve included a picture of some of the same cuppies with a vanilla buttercream decorated for the Fourth of July, if you want to use an American style buttercream- see the “Bonus” recipe below. Happy Independence Day!
I used an Ateco 829 tip for the piping on both cupcakes you see here
Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Cherry Filling
yield: 24 cupcakes
2 1/2 Cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 Cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 3/4 Cups sugar
2 lg. eggs, room temp
1 1/4 Cups whole milk, room temp
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
Filling: Sour Cherry Preserves (I like Trader Joes brand) it is chock full of whole cherries
Preheat oven to 350° F. Drop cupcake liners into two trays of a standard size cupcake/muffin tin.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated, stopping in between to scrape bottom of mixer bowl. In a pyrex glass measuring cup mix the vanilla bean paste and milk well. Mix the dry ingredients well with a whisk.
Add in one third of the dry mixture and mix until incorporated, then add in half of the milk mixture and mix until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the dry and alternate with the wet, ending with the last third of the dry mixture until batter is homogenous.
Scoop batter into lined tins filling 2/3 way full. Bake for 16 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool on wire racks.
Remove a small portion of the cake from the middle of each cupcake to allow for the cherry filling. An apple corer works well for this or (do as I do and use the tip end of an 808 Ateco piping tip). Fill each cupcake with cherry preserves making sure to try and include a whole cherry or two. Hint: a baby spoon works well for this! I’ve kept a couple over the years for this very job.
Decorate with the cherry buttercream and top with a fresh cherry. * Note: If you aren’t serving right away-wait to top with the cherry as the stems will turn brown while being chilled. You’ll notice in my pictures the stems are brown-it’s because I topped them and took pictures the next day.
Swiss Meringue Cherry Buttercream
4 egg whites
1 Cup sugar
3 sticks of unsalted butter, room temp
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 Cup cherry preserves
optional: 1-2 drops of deep pink gel food coloring
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine egg whites and sugar. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until mixture is hot and sugar is dissolved. Remove bowl and place on mixer and beat until stiff meringue forms and bottom of mixer bowl is cool to touch; about 5 minutes. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla, then beat until smooth. Mix in the cherry preserves until incorporated. Note: If you like a deeper pink color you can stir in a drop or two of deep pink gel color.
Vanilla American Style Buttercream
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla or vanilla bean paste
Beat the butter and add in a little at a time until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla. For decorating- stripe the inside of a decorating bag with red and blue gel paste food coloring and use a open star tip for a swirled effect.