Mini Pies

Sometimes you want a pie that fits in your pocket. No? Just me then?
If it’s just me in this category then what will win you over is their cuteness. You’ll be forced to pick one up and call it your own.
Mini pies, filled with a creamy, cheesy, sweet fruit filling. The crust is buttery and light (yes, pie crust can and should be both) and the topping of nothing more than sugar gives them an added sweet crunch.
You can make the pie crust a few days in advance or use refrigerated pie crust. Just like a cupcake is meant for one person, a mini pie is meant for you and you only.
Ingredients:
for crusts: (can also use 2 9″ refrigerated pie crusts, bringing to room temperature before rolling out)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling (I used a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • about 6 tablespoons ice water
for filling:
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup ricotta, can use non-fat or regular
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup peeled, diced peach
  • 1 egg, beaten
*can also use diced strawberries, cherries, raspberries, etc. 

How To:

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal and there are pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If the dough comes together when you pinch some, it’s ready. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.

Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a work surface.  Knead the dough just enough to form 2 discs; do not over-knead. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. When ready to make pies, remove one crust disk from the refrigerator at a time to work with. Let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. This will allow the dough to soften for better rolling out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the cheese, ricotta, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and lemon zest until smooth. Set aside.

Roll out pie dough with a floured rolling pin to 1/8″ thickness. Using a large (something like a 3 1/2″) round cookie cutter, cut the dough into as many circles as you can. I had about 20 circles. Place the dough circles on the prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush the edges of the dough circles with the beaten egg. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture in the middle of the dough. Top with 3 blueberries or 3 to 4 pieces of diced peach. Fold the dough in half, enclosing the filling and press down on the edges to seal. Using a fork, gently crimp the sealed edges. Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Repeat process with the rest of the pie dough. Let cool slightly; serve warm. Or piping hot. Or cold. They are good at every temperature.

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Almond Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Opposites attract. Sweet almond cupcakes with a salty, caramel buttercream…
I almost have no words, but that wouldn’t help you so I’ll make myself explain. These cupcakes are mind bogglingly delicious. The cake is light, moist and beautifully pure. The frosting is rich, complex with a caramel infusion and the salt (Fleur de Sel, French sea salt) brings out something that you would otherwise find missing. I’m not sure what that is, but you’ll just be thankful the salt is there.
If you think caramel is a daunting task…it isn’t. Consisting of water, sugar and cream, it takes minutes to make. The issue people have is they burn it – which is easy to do, but if that happens, try again.
After all those minutes of caramel preparation, you will find yourself with a perfect combination of salty and sweet. The cupcakes may have a bland, beige color, but their flavor is intricate and craveable. You’ll be happy you made a batch that might last you a week. You’ll be even more happy you perfected the caramel in order to make more batches.
Ingredients:
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 3/4 cup sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

for the frosting:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line (12) muffin cups or mini cupcake pans with paper liners.

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap and allow eggs to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until soft. Add 3/4 cup of the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl making sure everything is incorporated. Add vanilla and almond extracts; beat until combined.

With the mixer on a low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Set aside.

To prepare the egg whites, beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. This is when the eggs really hold a shape, like a bird’s beak.

With a rubber spatula, gently fold a little of the whites in the batter. Then fold in the remaining whites just until combined. Over-mixing will cause the batter to deflate, which you definitely want to avoid.

Pour or scoop the batter into cupcake pans until they are 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Combine water and sugar for frosting in a small saucepan, swirling to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, watching closely. Continue cooking without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes. It will turn this color VERY fast, so as soon as you see this color remove it from the stovetop. It can burn if you leave it for even seconds too long. Slowly and carefully add in cream as mixture will bubble and steam up (and can burn you).  Stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth; add salt. You may need to place it back on the stove over low heat to ensure sugar and cream are combined (and that sugar is not just hardened in the bottom). Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes. Add vanilla and stir.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar. Mix until completely incorporated. Add caramel. Beat frosting on low to combine, then increase to medium-high and beat until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Immediately frost cooled cupcakes with piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Garnish each cupcake with a small pinch of Fleur de Sel. Refrigerate until ready to use, taking out about 30 minutes before eating.

Margarita Cupcakes

Happy Birthday to me! Since I can’t have alcohol at the moment, the next best thing is cupcakes. And cupcakes that mimic margaritas? I’ll take 5, thank you.

Margarita cupcakes are the perfect sweet thing to go with a Mexican fiesta or a warm (humid) summer day. They are cool and refreshing, bright and happy. I’ve never met a cupcake that wasn’t happy.

If you are thinking the margarita flavor and cupcakes do not go together, just try this recipe. I was skeptical, but they are so delicious. You have the option of adding tequila, and either way, they are just a great cupcake.

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest
  • 1 1/2 limes, juiced
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

for the frosting:

  • 1 cups sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • Pinch fleur de sel (coarse salt, you don’t have to use specific fleur de sel)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream (or you can use tequila here)

How To:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 mini cupcake pans or 1 regular size cupcake pan with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Beat in the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla; scrape down sides of bowl and mix.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in 2 additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat until just incorporated.

Pour batter into cupcake pans, filling each about 2/3 full.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the sugar, egg whites, and salt in a the bowl of a stand mixer (or a glass heatproof bowl) set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking pretty much constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer and the sugar has dissolved.

Transfer bowl to the stand mixer and attach the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Stir in the lime juice and heavy whipping cream (or tequila) and mix thoroughly.  The frosting will look curdled, but continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes more (it will come together!!).

Frost cooled cupcakes with piping bag and large round tip, and garnish with candied lime or lemon slices or fresh lime (and perhaps a sprinkle of fleur de sel). Refrigerate cupcakes, taking out 1 hour before you plan to eat them. Buttercream can stay at room temperature, but I prefer to keep mine cold until I want to put them out.

Double Brownies

We love food in layers – salads, dips, sandwiches, and especially desserts. Brownies are usually one layer of simple chocolate. This brownie is made up of three and while it’s hard to turn down a brownie, it’s even harder when they look like this:

And anything with frosting, sign me up. The bottom layer is a blondie, which is like a vanilla brownie. The middle is a traditional chocolate brownie. The top is icing – butterscotch frosting, to be specific.

Making the brownie is easy. You can re-use bowls and simply clean off mixers in between steps (preferably in the sink, not with your tongue but it’s your brownie).

Each bite is complex in a good way, rich, gooey and cakey. Everything you want out of a brownie and so much more.

Ingredients:

blondie layer

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 /8 teaspoon salt
chocolate layer
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • dash salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
for the icing
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons milk
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 X 8″ baking dish. For the blondie layer, cream butter and brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla; beat until well mixed. Add flour and salt. Stir until thoroughly mixed, but do not overbeat. Spread in prepared baking dish.

For the chocolate layer, melt butter with cocoa and let cool for several minutes. Beat egg until foamy, then add sugar, flour, salt and vanilla. Mix well but do not overbeat. Add chocolate-butter to egg mixture and blend just to combine. Spread chocolate layer over the top of the blondie layer. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool.

Bring butter, brown sugar and milk to a boil in a saucepan. Simmer for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Let cool. Beat in powdered sugar. Add 1 to 2 more teaspoons milk if frosting is too thick. Spread over cooled brownies. Icing sets quickly, so frost immediately. Refrigerate to store.

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Cream and Fruit Trifles

There was a time I would glance upon Marshmallow Fluff in the grocery store and think it had been on the shelf since 1950, unmoved. I didn’t know what it was (though I could guess) and I had no idea what it would be used for. I am now in-the-know, and I will share what I know with you.

First off, it’s amazing. It’s a fluffy, sweet and absolutely delicious form of marshmallow that you just have to like. If you don’t like marshmallows, it’s most likely because of the consistency and let me just say that marshmallow fluff is 60 times better than just a marshmallow. It’s pure sugar. And a little vanilla.

It can be used to make weeknight s’mores without the fire, fudge, sweet potato casserole, fluffernutters (sandwiches with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. You read correctly), shakes, fruit dips and now cream and fruit trifles.

You can use any fruit you want, pound cake, angel food cake or vanilla wafers. I used mini trifle bowls (from Crate and Barrel), but glass bowls or even regular bowls will work. What matters most is you get a good amount of fruit dip in with the fruit and mix in a little sweet cake. All the rest is just details.

Ingredients:

  • 1 container marshmallow fluff (7 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 container cream cheese (8 ounces), can use low fat
  • fresh raspberries
  • fresh blueberries
  • kiwi, sliced and cut in half
  • black seedless grapes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • pound cake or angel food cake, diced small
  • strawberries, sliced

How To:

Whip together the marshmallow fluff and cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Spread a thin layer in the bottom of trifle bowls or glass bowls. Top with raspberries and blueberries. Layer more of the cream, then the kiwi and grapes. Add another layer of cream, topped with cake and strawberries. Makes about 3 bowls.

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