Monday, March 28, 2016

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

 Whenever my friend Katie comes over, I always try to find a new and yummy peanut butter recipe to make for her. I swear to you, I don't know of another human being on the planet who loves peanut butter as much as Katie does. Not even kidding. Anyway,  I wanted something that was an easy picky-uppy dessert (that's an official culinary term, btw), so I thought of maybe doing something PB&J. It didn't take me long to find this recipe from Martha Stewart, so I decided to go with it since I already had just about all the ingredients on hand. Perfect!
 They're simple to make, they're absolutely delish, and they SCREAM for an ice cold glass of milk. And best of all, they're Katie-approved! You should definitely make 'em!

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups strawberry jam, or other flavor
2/3 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped 
Heat oven to 350ºF. 
Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with butter, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the parchment, and coat inside of pan with flour; set aside. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. On medium speed, add eggs and peanut butter; beat until combined, about 2 minutes. Whisk together salt, baking powder, and flour. Add to bowl of mixer on low speed; combine. Add vanilla. Transfer two-thirds of mixture to prepared pan; spread evenly with offset spatula. Using offset spatula, spread jam on top of peanut-butter mixture. Dollop remaining third of peanut-butter mixture on top of jam. Sprinkle with peanuts. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool; cut into about thirty-six 1 1/2-by-2-inch pieces. 
Instead of greasing and flouring the pan, I just sprayed the pan with cooking spray, lined it with parchment, then sprayed the parchment with baking spray (which is cooking spray with flour in it). It's much easier and quicker!
The key to any peanut butter recipe (in my humble opinion) is the addition of salt. Make sure you don't forget it! It's the combination of salty and sweet that makes all the difference!
I used grape jelly because I just happened to have some homemade jars in my pantry, but use whichever kind of jelly you like! Also, I think I might add a little extra jelly next time. Just sayin!
Oh, and one other thing.. the recipe says to cut into 36 pieces, but I cut mine into 24 brownie-sized squares. More is more!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Easter Anise Cake

  As I was trying to think of delicious new Easter recipes to share, I called my sister Jeanie to ask if she had any ideas. She suggested this cake recipe that she got from her bestie (and my unofficial 5th sister), Roz. So when I called Roz to ask how/where she got the recipe, she told me she got it from her Aunt Antoinette, commonly known among her family as Aunt Toni. This was EXACTLY the type of recipe I was looking for! I love the idea of family recipes being passed around and shared from one generation to another. It's what keeps traditions alive, which brings families together, dontcha think?
 Ok, so, whenever I decide to try a new cake recipe, I like to invite a few friends over for dinner and then serve the cake for dessert. Usually people choose a dessert to go with the dinner, but in this case, I was doing it the other way around. Since this is a traditional Italian cake, I decided to go with a simple lasagna dinner (Lasagna, salad, Italian bread, home made iced tea. YUM). Everything turned out perfectly and the cake was a huge hit! It's definitely the kind of cake that you might go back for a second piece. (come to think of it, I think everyone did!) It's SO tasty! We decided that if pizzelles and pound cake had a baby, it would be this cake. It was really easy to make too! (Yes, it has a few specific ingredients that you might not happen to have on hand, but everything was readily available at the grocery store, so it's not like I had to go to any specialty shops to find anything.)
 So I hope you'll try this recipe. It's fun to try something different for a change! Thanx again to Roz and Aunt Toni for sharing! It's so delicious and light, it's the perfect dessert to have for your Easter holiday dinner. Enjoy!

For the cake:
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs
4 cups flour
5 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. anise seed
1 1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup Anisette liqueur

Cream together shortening and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat for 5 minutes on medium. Blend together flour, baking powder and anise seed. Mix this into shortening egg mixture alternatively with milk and vanilla on low. Stir in Anisette. Beat 5 minutes more, then pour 10" tube pan - greased. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from oven and glaze while still warm.

For the anise glaze icing:
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
4 drops anise extract
3 tbs milk
3 tbs Anisette
Whisk together all ingredients and pour over warm cake.
Be sure to pour the glaze when the cake is just warm and not HOT out of the oven. If the cake is too hot, the glaze will just melt and run right off the cake. I let mine cool until it was just a little warm to the touch.
When you make the glaze, if it comes out a little too thick, add a few more drops of milk or Anisette. If it's too thin, add a bit more powdered sugar until it's the right consistency.
For a little variation, you can add a little orange, lemon, or lime zest to your batter just before you bake it. You could always use orange juice instead of milk for the glaze. Anise and citrus are delicious great friends!
To grease the pan, spread it with a generous amount of butter or shortening, and then coat with flour. (Watch my Baking Tips Video if you'd like to see how to do it!) If you're using a decorative Bundt pan, it's easiest to spray it with a baking spray which is regular nonstick spray that has flour in it. It works beautifully!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bailey's Irish Cream Pie

 Even though I don't drink very much or very often, there's one adult beverage that I happen to love, and that's Bailey's Irish Cream. (well, let's be honest, I love ANY Irish Cream, but Bailey's is my fave). So I like to find different things to bake with it. I've done Irish Cream Cake, Irish Cream Cupcakes with Irish Cream Frosting, I think I even did a cheesecake, once upon a time. So I figured why not do a pie this time?
 I found a few different recipes, but not every recipe was what I had in mind. There were lots of CHOCOLATE recipes, which are great and all, but then you can't really taste the Irish Cream. So I purposely decided to stick to a more vanilla version, which would let the Irish Cream flavor shine. Actually, as I was making this one, I wondered if the white chocolate would also overpower the flavor, but it absolutely doesn't. It's the perfect thing to enhance the Irish Creaminess of it all. (As you can see, I take these things very seriously. lol) It's super easy to make and it's a total do-ahead too. All things considered, this was exactly the pie I wanted to make. It's a slightly tweaked version of a recipe I found on a website called Saving Room For Dessert. It's so light and fluffy, it's like eating a cloud. It's the perfect thing to serve after your Corned Beef and Cabbage! Enjoy!

1 1/4 cups graham cracker or cookie crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbs unsalted butter, melted

1 1/3 cups white chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup Baileys Irish Cream
4 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 or 3 tbs Bailey's Irish Cream

white chocolate chips or curls for garnish, optional

For the crust:
Heat oven to 350ºF.
Mix ingredients together and press mixture firmly on the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely.

For the filling:
Melt chocolate and Irish Cream in a metal bowl over hot water, stirring constantly until creamy. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff peaks hold their shape. Set aside. Using a mixer, whip 1 cup heavy cream until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites and whipped cream together. Gently fold the white chocolate mixture into egg white mixture, just until blended. Fill the cooled pie crust and chill while preparing the whipped cream topping.

For the topping:
Whip 1 cup heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and whip until stiff. Fold in the Irish Cream. Spoon into pastry bag fitted with large star tip and pipe onto pie using a swirling motion. Decorate with white chocolate curls. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. For mousse instead of pie – spoon mixture into parfait glasses, top with whipped cream and decorate with white chocolate chips or curls.

I used shortbread cookies for the crust, but you can use anything you like. Vanilla Wafers would be great. You could also use Golden Oreos, in which case you'd omit the sugar and butter. Just throw the Oreos into a food processor and pulse until they're crumbs, then pat into the pie plate as directed.
For a non-alcoholic version, you can use Irish Cream flavored nondairy coffee creamer instead of the liqueur.  For a flavor variation, you could do this entire recipe with Kahlua instead of Bailey's Irish Cream.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Millionaire Shortbread

 As I was searching for Irish recipes for St. Patrick's Day, I found a recipe called Irish Toffee Shortbread. It sounded great and looked delicious so I figured I'd give it a go. Then, after making it, I wondered "What exactly makes this dish Irish?" Is it the toffee? Well, no. One could argue that that is a British thing. Is it the shortbread? Nope. It's not that either. That's a definitely a Scottish thing.
 So I texted my sister in law, Claire (who just happens to be from the UK), and I asked her what makes this dish Irish. She said there is absolutely NOTHING Irish about it, and that it's usually called Millionaire Shortbread, also known as Caramel Shortbread. Well ok then! I guess it could be an Irish dish if you were to use Kerry Gold Irish butter, but other than that, not so much.
 So, even though it's not an Irish thing, I decided to post it anyway, simply because it's just too good to keep to myself! They're sweet, chewy, gooey, and buttery, and I love everything about them. They're absolutely delicious! I say make them anyway for St Patrick's Day. If you want it to be Irish, put a shamrock on it and call it a day. LOL! They won't last long anyway, so it won't even matter!

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cream together the softened butter and sugar. Stir in the flour, mixing well. Press the batter into a nine inch square pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the edges are golden brown. Let the shortbread cool.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, condensed milk, and corn syrup, and bring the mixture to a boil. 
Cook for five minutes, stirring continually. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. 
Pour the toffee over the cooled shortbread.

1 six ounce bag of chocolate chips
Melt the chocolate chips in a double broiler or in the microwave. Pour over the cooled toffee shortbread. Allow the chocolate to set and cut into squares.

The key to this recipe is to make sure you cool each layer before adding the next. Then once you have it completely assembled, let it chill for a couple hours before cutting into squares. Better yet, save time and make it the day before! The caramel will set up beautifully.
This is another perfect opportunity to line the baking pan with parchment paper and let it hang over the sides. Then you can use the paper as a sling to lift the entire batch out of the chilled pan before using a big sharp knife to cut into perfect squares.