White Chocolate-Dipped Biscotti

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This post is a little overdue, given that I’ve been hoarding these photos since Christmas….but I figured they’re just as appropriate now, given my current location in Italy (which, actually, has been rather lacking in biscotti…)

Honestly, these biscotti are delicious any time of year, and the white chocolate gives them that extra kick of sweetness. I’m not even a huge fan of biscotti (seeing as I have a major sweet tooth), but these are killer. And so easy to make!

This recipe is from Giada and is a version of her traditional biscotti with a Christmas spin. If you don’t have white chocolate on hand or prefer your biscotti plain, you can easily skip the dipping part of the recipe. See below!

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 12 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • Sugar crystals, for garnish

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Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.
  3. Form the dough into a 13-inch long, 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.
  4. Place the log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.
  5. Stir the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Dip half of the biscotti into the melted chocolate. Gently shake off the excess chocolate. Place the biscotti on the baking sheet for the chocolate to set. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 35 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Apple Cider Caramels

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I’m a big fan of caramel — whether it’s homemade, drizzled on top of a warm brownie, or inside a Twix bar. Sometimes I think I may like caramel more than chocolate (gasp!). Once I finally learned that you could make caramels at home, I tried. And failed. The first time I forgot to even let the sugar caramelize (oops), the second time they were still too gooey, and the third time they were brittle as toffee. Not so delicious.

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But I am proud to say that I have finally achieved caramel perfection. People say making caramels is easy — and it is, once you’ve practiced a few times so you know what you’re looking for and you’ve found a brilliant recipe. These caramels are from the insanely awesome Smitten Kitchen — a blog any foodie should follow for foolproof recipes, gorgeous photos, and lucid writing. These caramels, incidentally, also make great holiday gifts — just layer some in a large mason jar and tie with raffia or a festive ribbon. That is, if you don’t eat all of them first.

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A few notes before you begin:

  • I didn’t have flaky salt, so I reduced the amount to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
  • Boiling down the cider took me a solid hour, so know that the time will vary. At a certain point, it will begin to bubble violently, and then you know that its almost done. This happens very fast — keep a close eye on it after 40 minutes or so. (I posted a photo of what it should look like later in this post.)
  • Better to let the caramels harden at room temperature over night — be patient, I promise its worth it! They’ll harden faster in the fridge, too, but when you take them out they’ll get gooey and messy.
  • I used canola oil for knife in order to cut the caramels. Do it — it helps infinitely.

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And below is the fabulous recipe, from Smitten Kitchen:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Neutral oil for the knife

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What your apple cider should look like when it’s done boiling (sans the burnt spot).

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Directions: 

  1. Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This can take 30 minutes or 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.
  3. Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it. (Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)
  4. Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.

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All I have to say is: go make these. Now.

Homemade Funfetti Cupcakes

I’ve always loved Funfetti cupcakes, although I’m skeptical of all the added ingredients in most box mixes. So when I came across this super simple recipe on one of my all-time FAVORITE food blogs, Lovin’ from the Oven (seriously, check it out), I knew I had to give it a try.

The cupcakes are really easy to put together, and plain yogurt is substituted for part of the butter, so the final result is a cupcake that tastes amazing, is super moist, and is better for you. I swear, most baked goods taste better with yogurt instead of butter (case in point: Ina Garten’s lemon yogurt cake). They don’t rise very much in the oven though, so if you fill the pan liners enough you should probably yield about 12. You’ll also get a ton of frosting from this recipe, so I would recommend cutting it in half or doubling the cupcake recipe.

Funfetti Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 XL egg whites
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/8 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • a handful of rainbow sprinkles

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Mix together in a bowl: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together melted butter and sugar until combined. Add egg whites and beat until mixture is smooth and light. Stir in vanilla extract. Add flour mixture in two additions, alternating with the yogurt. Gently fold in sprinkles, if using. Scoop batter into prepared tins.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes, until cupcakes are barely golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out with a couple of loose crumbs. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in tins. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I’ll admit that the frosting wasn’t my favorite for these particular cupcakes, so if you want to substitute a buttercream recipe, I’m sure they would also be totally delicious! The cream cheese frosting is really rich and a bit heavy, so it overwhelms the cupcake a bit.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • About 1/3 cup and 3 T of softened butter
  • 10 oz cream cheese
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Beat butter and cream cheese together until well blended. Mix in the vanilla. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar into the batter. Beat until smooth. Add more powdered sugar if necessary to get the desired consistency.

Happy baking!!

How To Cook Perfect Crêpes

There is nothing quite like a piping hot homemade French crêpe, topped with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of sugar. I remember making these in French classes back in the day, and we always looked forward to taking the class time off to make this quintessential French treat.

Cooking the perfect crêpe, however, can be a difficult task. You want the batter to be spread as thinly as possible in the pan and you need to flip it without tearing it. And you can pretty much bet that the first crêpe you make is going to have to be tossed out.

You need to work quickly when making crêpes, but once you get the hang of it, they really are a cinch to make. The batter comes together in minutes and in one bowl, and it only takes a minute or two to cook each crêpe, depending its size and thickness. Make sure the pan is hot before you pour the batter in, and immediately swirl the pan in your hand to get the thinnest possible coating of the batter for the crêpe. After that, it just becomes a matter of flipping the crêpe halfway, removing it from the pan, and topping it with whatever your heart desires (I personally prefer mine with a little lemon and sugar).

Crêpes are a fantastic and versatile classic. The crêpe itself is not very sweet, so you can go with sweeter or more savory fillings. They are great to have around for family breakfasts or brunches with the girls, and you can have an assembly line going so everyone can fill their own crêpe as they come out of the pan. They are best served fresh, but you can also store the crêpes in the fridge and reheat them for a few seconds in the microwave before filling and eating.

One of my very first French teachers introduced me to this recipe — it’s simple and easy, and I’ve been using it for years. I posted it a while back on this blog, here, and am re-posting it now (along with new pictures!) just for easier referencing. It really is a fantastic recipe.

Crêpes

Adapted from La Technique by Jacques Pépin

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions:

  1. Wisk until smooth: flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and half the milk. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.
  2. Heat skillet or crêpe pan on medium-high heat. You do not need to grease the skillet, but if you like, a small dab of butter before you make the first crêpe could help. Add approximately 3 tablespoons of batter to the pan per crêpe, and adjust as necessary for different pan sizes. Be sure to stir the batter thoroughly before adding it to the skillet, as it can become clumpy.
  3. Cook crêpes on medium heat for approximately 50 seconds or until the thin edges begin to curl up and small bubbles form in the middle. Flip, then cook for about 30 seconds on the other side.
Fill your crêpes just before eating and roll them closed. I love to keep mine simple with a squeeze of lemon and some sugar, but other possible fillings include Nutella or chocolate sauce, caramel, jellies, fresh fruit (with whipped cream, if you like), ham and cheese, etc. Enjoy!

{Images: photographs by me — please feel free to use, just leave a credit/link!}

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This is an unconventional twist on the classic chocolate chip cookie, made with rich chocolate chunks, cinnamon, and a hint of orange. The result is a sophisticated, unexpected, and totally delicious cookie. The recipe also uses a combination of bread flour and cake flour in lieu of your typical all-purpose, which ensures that your cookies will be perfectly chewy and won’t fall flat in the oven, no matter what you do during the baking process to mess them up. Enjoy!!

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

(adapted from Chasing Delicious)

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 4 ounces bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 4 oz pecans (1 heaping cup whole), roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons zest from an orange

Directions:

  1. Preheat a conventional oven to 375 degrees or a convection oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter and sugars together in a bowl. The mixture should be light and fluffy.
  3. Add each egg one at a time, mixing well after adding.
  4. Add the vanilla and orange juice. Mix well.
  5. Add the flours, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon to the bowl and mix until the batter comes together.
  6. Before adding the extras, mix the nuts, chocolate, and zest well in a bowl. This ensures the orange zest is evenly distributed.
  7. Add the extras (nuts, chocolate, zest) to the batter and mix in until it is evenly distributed.
  8. Place tablespoon-sized blobs of cookie dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  9. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes until cookies are golden.