Archive for the ‘Desserts’ Category

Nutella Brownies

Combining two delicious things, nutella and chocolate, seemed like a perfect plan.  When I first saw this recipe, I thought-wow, how smart…and look at all the chocolate!  These brownies were extremely rich, but also extremely delicious.  They are so heavy that you really only need two or three bites before it is overkill.  However, even though I melted tons of nutella  (1 and ½ cups to be exact), there was no trace of this decadent spread.  How could that be?  No hazelnut flavor at all.  Just deep dark chocolate…but who is complaining?  Next time, I may use the nutella spread, slightly melted, as a frosting on top of the brownies, so that the hazelnut flavor stands out. 



As the bittersweet chocolate, nutella and stick of butter melt together in a sauce pan, the incredible chocolate smell permeates throughout the entire house.  My husband, who was three rooms away, yelled from the living room about how good it smelled.  It takes several minutes to melt these ingredients together, mainly because the nutella is thick and takes time to incorporate into the melted butter and chocolate. 


Once melted, I suggest allowing this delicious chocolate/hazenut/butter mixture to cool for a few minutes.  I did not.  So excited to baked these smells into brownie form, I added my eggs while the chocoalte was still pretty hot, which made for some chunkiness throughout the batter.  Although the smoothness of the batter was now gone, and what remained what the equivalent of the texture of a soufflé or molten lava cake (both excellent), and the brownies were still wonderful.



Nutella Brownies (adapted from ChezUs)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

8 oz bittersweet chocolate (bar or chips; we used Ghirardelli chips)

1 ½ cup nutella

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup cocoa powder (we used Ghirardelli)

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a square baking pan with parchment paper or butter the pan. 

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, chocolate and nutella until it is a smooth and even consistency.  Whisk in sugar.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cocoa power and pinch of salt, and whisk together. Add eggs one at a time to the melted chocolate, whisking well, after each egg.  Add the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients, stir until combined.  Then add vanilla and stir to incorporate.  Pour into the baking pan.  Bake for 25 – 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool before cutting.


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Apple Galette

An apple galette sounds very dainty, but it is very similar to good old-fashioned apple pie.  The flavors are familiar and comforting.  I may have even equated the galette I baked to a McDonald’s apple pie.  I have now really brought this thing back down to earth.

I found this recipe on Martha Stewart with a beautiful photo attached.  The reviews, as well as myself, agreed that the recipe next to the photo will not yield the baked good in that photo.  What you do get is a wonderful warm apple cinnamon dessert. 

I would recommend making more filling than topping.  Although the recipe below does not reflect that recommendation, I would use three apples for the filling and only two for the topping.  The filling is the best part.  It is warm and gooey.  While the top is also nice, three apples was too many as they did not all fit on the top.

I like to combine recipes, and sometimes it really works for me.  This time it did not.  I saw a galette on another site that had these pretty folded edges around the pastry, and I wanted to replicate that.  However, I followed Martha’s recipe, and cooked my pastry dough for a few minutes before folding the edges, and when I eventually tried to fold the edges after the pastry came out of the oven, it was no longer malleable enough to do so.  However, I did it anyway, and that is why my galette is not perfectly round and has some cracks in it.  I made up for it with my spiral of apple slices which I think made this dessert much more upscale. 

Apple Galette (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into pieces

5 red apples (I used Gala)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pastry Dough:  Add flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and salt into a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add butter and pulse until mixture looks like coarse meal.  Continue to pulse while adding 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, until the dough it combined and clumpy.  Remove dough and press into a disk shape.  Wrap it plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Apple Filling: Peel, core, and roughly chop 2 apples. In a medium frying pan, over medium heat, add the chopped apples,1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are very tender.  About 15 to 20 minutes.  Remember to stir because they can burn easily once they get tender.  Add water, 1/4 cup at a time, if the pan gets too dry while the apple mixture is cooking.  Then, remove apple mixture from heat and transfer to a bowl.  Allow to cool.  Once cooled, stir in 3 tablespoons lemon juice.  Set aside.

Cooking Pastry Dough:  Throw some flour on a clean surface and roll out the dough disk into a 12 inch circle about 1/8 inch thick.  Sprinkle with sugar and prick the dough with a fork several times to prevent puffing.  Gently fold edges of dough ½ inch to 1 inch toward the center to create a folded design around the outside of the galette.  Bake on a baking sheet for 8 minutes, until it just starts to harden or set.  Allow to cool.

Apple Topping:  Peel, core and slice 3 apples in 1/8-inch wedges.  Place in a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. 

Putting it all together:  Pour apple filling into center of dough, leaving a 1 to ½ inch border.  Arrange apple slices over mixture in a spiral pattern, slightly overlapping each piece. Sift confectioners’ sugar over galette.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

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After purchasing the jumbo bag of walnuts from Costco, I went in search of things to bake that included walnuts. One of my favorite sites had a walnut cake that sounded perfect.  After making the goodies for the bake sale, I wanted to bake something a little different.  Something that was a little more refined.  When I saw this cake, I thought…this looks like a grown-up cake.  Something to have with your coffee, while reading the paper.  For some reason, I didn’t think that it would be too sweet, and for some other reason, my husband was convinced it should have honey in it.  No honey, but it was actually really sweet.  I believe that this cake is best served in small slices because of the incredible sweetness each bite contains. 


After I removed the cake from the oven, it deflated as it cooled.  The top also got very sticky.  When I flipped it out of the cake pan, I placed it on a sheet a wax paper so that it would not stick to the plate.  The cake looks very dainty, small in height, and once the wild blueberry jam was spread on top it looked very dressed up.



Walnut Jam Cake with Whipped Topping (replicated from SmittenKitchen, adapted from Gourmet.com)
1 1/4 cups walnuts
2/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

½ cup jam of your preference (we chose wild blueberry preserves, but I think fig jam or raspberry would be great too)

Whipped topping (purchase cool whip like we did, or make your own)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Place rack in middle of oven. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan. First, toast walnuts by placing them in a shallow baking pan at 350°F for 10 minutes.  Allow walnuts to cool.  Then add cooled walnuts and sugar to a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped.   Add butter and process until combined.  Then add eggs and vanilla and process until combined. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse just until incorporated.

Pour batter into your prepared cake pan.  Band the cake pan against the counter a few times to remove any air pockets.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes, and then remove from pan.  Then allow to cool completely before spreading jam on top of cake, and adding the whipped topping.  Refrigerate.

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Lemon Squares

My sister and I went on a baking frenzy.  We made a ton of baked goods for a bake school at her school during finals week.  We made your traditional bake sale items including brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and yellow cupcakes with dark chocolate frosting and gimmies, or sprinkles (depending on whether you are originally from New Jersey or not).  We didn’t have a lot of time for the baking, just a few hours, so everything was very rushed.  Some things were certainly a flop (i.e. brownies from a box mix), and others turned out very nicely.  The best baked good for sale would be the lemon bars.  I have never made them before, but they are especially delicious, and I thought they would be a nice contrast to the chocolate theme we had going.  As you put these dessert bars together, you make think that they are not going to turn out quite right.  The crust just doesn’t seem to want to stay together very well in the pan, and you may think there just isn’t enough to work with.  The filling looks extremely liquidy (new word), and you may be tempted to add more flour (which I did, and apparently 1 extra tablespoon did not hurt).  And as it cooks, the filling just doesn’t seem to want to set.  Although, the preparation and cooking may seem off putting, the result is wonderful.  The presentation itself, the bright yellow filling and the light dusting of powdered sugar, made this dessert look quite appetizing.  Your first bite will be filled with a powerful lemon punch, and a slightly buttery shortbread crust.  Apparently college students agreed, since they were a hit at the bake sale and sold out.

Lemon Squares  (adapted from the Joy of Baking)


½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (plus extra for dusting)

1 cup all purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

Lemon Filling:

1 cup granulated white sugar

2 large eggs

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (approximately two large lemons)

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (you may choose to add more if you want a stronger lemon flavor)

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place the oven rack in the center of the oven.  Butter an 8 x 8 inch pan.  I did not have this size pan, so I used a rectangular pyrex glass pan, and it work well.  However, I would have preferred the square pan with straight edges because the lemon bars in the four corners of the pan had a rounded edge that made them look a little odd.  Still delicious, but a little odd.

For the crust, using an electric mixer or a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the flour and salt and beat until the dough just comes together.  Place dough in bottom of pan, and press onto the bottom of the pan until evenly flattened across the bottom.  *I made two batches of dough because I used a longer pan. Bake for about 20 minutes (or 30 minutes if using a larger pan), or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool.  For the lemon filling, using an electric mixer or a hand mixer, beat the sugar and eggs until smooth. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to combine. Fold in the flour. Although the recipe asks you to fold in the flour, because the filling is a liquid at this point, it was difficult to fold, so I just stirred it in.   Pour the filling over the shortbread crust and bake for about 20 minutes (or 30 minutes for larger pan), or until the filling has set. The filling will still jiggle when you shake the pan, but as it cools, it will set more firmly.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Once it is entirely cooled, cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar.

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We had a lot of leftover plain yogurt from a previous recipe, and I wanted to do something with it before it went bad.  I was thinking dessert, and I came across variations of chocolate yogurt muffins and cakes.  Some recipes included different extracts (vanilla and almond) and some included fresh mint.  I wanted to keep it simple, but I printed out several similar recipes for future use. 

Last night when I returned home, it was later than usual and I wanted something sweet.  I did not want to stay in the kitchen for hours, and so this recipe was the perfect fit.  It literally took minutes to create.  The only tools needed were two bowls, a spatula, and a spoon.  Easy clean up.  All the ingredients just flopped into their respective bowls, then they were combined, chocolate chips were added and the muffins went into the oven.  Thirty minutes later, we had light and fluffy chocolate muffins with spots of melted chocolate goodness (from the chips.)

You can use plain or vanilla yogurt for this recipe, but I am not sure if you could use Greek yogurt. My guess is that you could add it for a much stronger flavor-think added sourness, less sweetness.

Chocolate Yogurt Muffins (from CookieMadness)

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup melted unsalted butter

1 cup plain yogurt

1 egg

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

1 ¾ cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups.

Stir brown sugar and melted butter together in a bowl.  Add yogurt, egg, and vanilla, and stir until completely blended.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.  Add wet ingredients to the flour mixture, stirring until blended.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into paper muffin cups.

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One of my friends is having a birthday this week, and I decided that it would be appropriate to do some baking for this special day.  My friend usually requests baklava when I ask what to bring to her and her family around the holidays.  Not many bakeries sell baklava, you typically need to go to a Greek diner, or to one of the bakeries in Astoria , where my parents will stop for me.  I have never actually made baklava from scratch.  I actually do not believe that I have had homemade baklava.  

There are many variations of baklava-some add whole cloves, some bay leaves, and some switch lemon for orange. Choosing a recipe was a little tricky because the Greek cookbook I usually rely on called for breadcrumbs, which seemed odd to me and which I decided to avoid.  I ended up going with the recipe on the box of the phyllo dough, but I increased the amount of spices and decreased the amount of phyllo sheets.    

Working with phyllo dough can be difficult because you do not want the sheets to dry out.  So make sure you have all your ingredients ready to go before you start peeling the sheets from the packaging. 

I used a food processor to chop up the nuts, which only took a few seconds.  Buttering each sheet of phyllo is the only time consuming part of this dessert.  I was not sure if I was putting on too much butter, but when a recipe calls for a cup of melted butter and to brush each of the 24 sheets of phyllo you are using, can there really be too much butter.

As the baklava cooks in the oven, it creates this heavenly scent of cinnamon, cloves, sugar and butter.  It smells like a holiday in your kitchen.  As the baklava reaches a golden brown, I started working on the syrup that you pour over the baklava as it cools.  The syrup is incredibly sweet as it calls for sugar and honey.  I dressed it up with a cinnamon stick and lemon peel.  I would suggest using Greek honey, such as Attiki, if you have it, which is much stronger than the regular honey you find in the plastic bear in the grocery store. I do not know much about honey, but my little research has yielded this fact: the best honey comes from the thyme, lavender, rosemary, lime-tree and orange-tree.  My sister brought us honey from thyme as a gift when she returned from Greece .  This honey is extra special as it came from the island my Dad is from, Kefalonia, which just seems to have great food, great sights, and great smells (cypress trees!). 

Although the baklava is a gift for my friend, I thought it was necessary to taste it in order to make sure it turned out ok. 🙂  It was very sweet.  Surprisingly, the phyllo sheets stayed a little crispy and there were lots walnuts that retained their crunch. 

Baklava (adapted from recipe on Athens Phyllo box)

For the nut mixture:

5 cups chopped walnuts

1 ¼ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

1/3 cup sugar

24 sheets of phyllo dough

½ cup melted butter (1 stick)

For the syrup:

1 cup sugar

1 cup honey

2 cups water

1 cinnamon stick

1 lemon peel (from 1 lemon)

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Allow phyllo dought to thaw for about 2 hours.

Chop walnuts into small and even pieces.  Using the food processor on the pulse setting for chop made this extremely quick and easy.  Toss chopped walnuts with cinnamon, cloves and sugar.

Melt the butter.  In a buttered 9 x 13 inch dish, lay one sheet of phyllo and brush with the melted butter.  Repeat 7 more times, until the phyllo is 8 sheets high.  Each sheet should be brushed with butter.  Then add one half of the nut mixture, and spread evenly on top of the sheets.  Again, lay one sheet of phyllo and brush with the melted butter.  Repeat 7 more times, until the phyllo is 8 sheets high.  Add remaining nut mixture and spread evenly.  Again, lay one sheet of phyllo and brush with the melted butter.  Repeat 7 more times, until the phyllo is 8 sheets high.

Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava into squares in the pan.  You can make them as large or as small as you like.

Bake in oven for 30 minutes, or until a light golden brown.  Remove and let cool.

While the baklava is baking in the oven, add ingredients for the syrup to a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes.  Strain the syrup and let cool.  Then pour the syrup over the baklava, and allow to cool completely before serving.

Decorate the top of the baklava with a couple of whole cloves or some of the chopped nuts. 

Some tips:

If you like the crunchiness of the phyllo, then I suggest increasing the amount of sheets on the bottom and top to 16 instead of 8.  The phyllo usually comes in a package containing 40 sheets, so you should have just enough.  I would keep the 8 sheets in the middle.

When making the syrup, do not walk away from the saucepan to work on something else, or you may get a small explosion.  Once the syrup begins to boil, turn the heat down right away because it will overflow with too much heat, and then you have a very sticky mess to clean up.  I think my stovetop may still be sticky.

I did not use a 9 x 13 inch pan as the recipe suggested. Instead, I used a rectangular Pyrex glass pan.  My phyllo sheets were a little larger than the pan, so I simply folded the edges of the sheets when I placed them in the pan.  If you are also using a smaller pan, make sure you alternate which side you are folding or fold both sides evenly to make the sheets fit, because you don’t want it to become lopsided.

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We had friends over on Saturday night, and I wanted to have some dessert on hand for after we returned from dinner.  Searching through one of my favorite sites, SmittenKitchen, I found many delicious-looking cake recipes, but one stood out as it was denoted as the “Best Birthday Cake”.  I thought to myself, that, well, if it is the best birthday cake, then I would have to try it.  However, it would not be a birthday cake tonight, but instead, it would be a “Friends Are Visiting So We Need Cake” cake.  Although the original recipe calls for a yellow cake with a Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting, I decide to forgo the sour cream, and instead, upon the recommendation of SmittenKitchen, tried the Instant Fudge Frosting (adapted from a Sky High recipe).    I have only made yellow cake from boxes, like Pillsbury or Duncan Hines, which I find hard to beat.  In fact, while searching for our wedding cake, we compared everything to our favorite Duncan Hines cakes.  So I attempted something new here.  Once again, I found a baking recipe that called for buttermilk, which I have never purchased or used, but today was the time to finally try it.  Give into the hype that is buttermilk and see what I have been missing.  I ran into a few snafus while making this cake. First, I did not have cake flour, but I remember running into an article on how to make cake flour from all purpose flour and cornstarch, as described below.  Then, I did not have enough unsweetened chocolate or confectioners’ sugar.  To solve those problems, I found a solution on the back of my cocoa powder box and sent my wonderful Husband to the store to purchase more confectioners’ sugar.  



Just looking at these ingredients, you can tell that this cake is sinful…..5 sticks of butter, 4 eggs, and 4 ½ cups of confectioners’ sugar.  This cake is also gigantic!  It is so tall that after about a day the top slid off from the bottom, but it still tasted good.


Warning:  Make sure that you do not have anything planned after eating this cake, because it will put you into a cake coma.

The cake itself is not very sweet.  You can definitely taste the sourness of the buttermilk, but I found it to be a good match to the super sweet chocolate fudge frosting.  When tasting this frosting, you will not be able to mistake that it is chocolate.  I only had Valentine’s Day sprinkles, but they did their job in dressing up this tower of a cake. 

Yellow Cake (from SmittenKitchen)

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  If you do not have cake flour, you can make it by using all purpose flour, removing two tablespoons for every cup of flour, and replacing it with two tablespoons of cornstarch.  Make sure to sift the flour and cornstarch multiple times so that they are entirely incorporated.   In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy.  Then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time and beat. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture, a little at a time, until all is incorporated. 

Pour batter into cake pans, and shake gently to even out batter.  Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and a toothpick comes out clean.   Cool before for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely before frosting. 

Fudge Frosting (from SmittenKitchen and Sky High)

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Most unsweetened chocolate bars come in 4 ounce bars.  However, if you do not wish to purchase another bar, or you did not realize this fact until you returned home and you did not wish to go back to the store, then you can make your own unsweetened chocolate using cocoa power and vegetable oil.  3 tablespoons of cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil=1 ounce unsweetened chocolate.

The recipe calls for placing all the ingredients into a food processor to incorporate, my food processor could not hold all the ingredients.  Instead, I threw all the ingredients into my electric stand mixer, and allowed it to mix until it was incorporated.  This required a few swipes down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure all the ingredients were combining.

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