Momofuku Milk Bar’s “Crack Pie”

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For those of you who have never experienced Momofuku (literal meaning: “Lucky Peach”) in New York City, don’t miss out on it next time your in town. It’s one of my friend’s favorite restaurants (the restaurants are noodle bars but also serve lots of other goodies), so I inevitably stop there every time we spend time in Manhattan. And the only thing that’s better, really, than the noodle bar is their dessert shop — or, the Momofuku Milk Bar (fun fact: there’s also one in Toronto, along with six locations in New York).

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Everything they serve is literally addictive. (Hence, the name “Crack Pie” for one of their bestselling pies). They sell cookies, cakes, pies, and fro-yo, all in unconventional but AWESOME flavor combinations — this is not your typical bakery! Christina Tosi, the brilliant chef/mastermind behind Milk Bar is definitely doing something right.

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Milk Bar’s “Crack Pie” is difficult to describe: it is composed of an oat cookie crust and the filling is made with butter, brown sugar, and powdered milk — so it’s essentially a creamy, buttery filling, but doesn’t taste too caramelly. Take my word for it, though: it’s delicious, and very rich. It also stores well, aka it’s perfect for holidays. When I saw the recipe posted on Bon Appétit, I knew I had to try making it myself — and it was very easy! There’s a bit of wait time in the fridge (for the filling to firm up), but otherwise it’s a very simple and straightforward recipe with simple ingredients. Anyway, I’ve posted it below:

Ingredients

Oat Cookie Crust

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt

Filling

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

Crust

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Turn oat mixture out onto prepared baking pan; press out evenly to edges of pan. Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie completely.
  2. Using hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl; add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together. Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Using fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.

Filling

  1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, then egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble). Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight. Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled.
  2. Sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Cut pie into wedges and serve cold.

Enjoy!

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The Chocolatier of Venice

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It’s been about two weeks in Venice, and so far the biggest surprise has been this: the food in Venice is mediocre at best. Much of this, I believe, can be attributed to the rampant tourism industry, and tourist menus abound on almost every street, unless you wander far away from the crowds. Even then, you’re going to be paying a lot for a so-so meal, unless you’re careful. This is not to be pessimistic though — there are some great places to eat if you take the time to seek them out! They’re just hidden from the daily crowds or cost a small fortune.

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But even though Venice is not known for its food in the way that Rome and Florence are, the desserts are still spectacular. I think I average about two gelatos a day, sometimes more (and I’m really not picky about ice cream, so it’s relatively easy for me to find a gelato place I’m happy with). So, naturally, when I repeatedly read about “the best chocolate shop” in Venice, I had to go. Immediately. Vizio Virtù is easy to find and absolutely fantastic — if you’re ever in Venice (or Italy, for that matter), do not miss this place!

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Simply put, this place is divine. It’s nestled in the neighborhood of San Polo, right by the San Tomà vaporetto (waterbus) stop. The façade is quaint and unassuming, and the shop is small but pristine. When I was in France a few years ago the chocolate was amazing, but I don’t think even that could compare to this.

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Of course, it’s ridiculously expensive. I tried the chocolate-dipped candied oranges (about 1 euro each) and the caramel chocolate bar (7 euros apiece). It’s definitely worth a stop though, even just to try a few of the by-the-kilo candies, and I can’t recommend this place enough — everything is exquisite. This place is a gem in Venice (a place where the food scene pales in comparison to the rest of Italy).

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In addition to chocolates and jellies from the case, they also offer gelato, mousse, freshly baked brownies (which I have yet to try), and pre-wrapped chocolates, which are great for taking home — if you can make it that far.

Directions: Take the vaporetto to the San Tomà stop. Walk until you reach a T-shaped intersection and turn left; the shop is on the right. Open from 10am-7:30pm, closed Sundays.

My Favorite Baklava

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Hello, readers! Sorry it’s been a while. I’m in the midst of finals at the moment (read: procrastinating on my philosophy paper), but I’ll be able to catch up on all the posting I’ve missed soon…and thank you ALL for your lovely comments (and emails)! I read all of them — they really do make my day, and I promise I will try to respond to everyone as soon as I can.

Here I’m posting my favorite baklava recipe. This stuff is so good that my aunt was sneaking it out in napkins during our family’s annual Christmas party. If you’ve never been a baklava fan, I hope you still give this a try — it’s made with walnuts and rosewater (as opposed to pistachios and honey) and is divine when served cold so that the sugars all have adequate time to soak in. I’m a bit of a connoisseur of baklava — I’ve tried baklava at every restaurant I’ve been to that serves it, and nothing has even come close to this.

This is a Lebanese recipe, and you can find it buried in this ancient New York Time’s article (1989 what up), but I’ve also reproduced it below, with a few edits that really help simplify the process. Making baklava may seem intimidating, but I promise — it’s one of the easiest things you’ll ever do. You need to be patient and thorough, but otherwise no special skills are required! See my pointers below before you begin if you’re hesitant.

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Some tips for making baklava:

  • Make sure you butter thoroughly between every layer of phyllo. There is no such thing as too much butter! (Also, if you don’t use enough, the pieces will flake apart). Also be sure to give the corners special attention.
  • Use a glass/pyrex dish — it makes baking and clean up super easy.
  • Baklava stores at room temperature for days — just be sure to cover with aluminum foil/cling-wrap/etc.
  • If you can’t find rose water, you can also substitute orange blossom water (although I don’t really see how that would be any easier to find). You can usually find both in specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods, etc. If all else fails, you can order online (I promise, it’s totally worth it).
  • To thaw the phyllo dough, simply place it in the fridge the night before you plan on making the baklava. This will ensure that the sheets are not too brittle or too thawed, and will be easiest to handle! Sometimes they can still become a little flaky, though — not to worry! Just patch up the layers as best you can (with butter, of course) and the baklava will be just as delicious.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist about clarifying the butter. It will taste the same in the end.

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Ingredients:

For the syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons rose water

For the pastry:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons rose water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 16-oz. package frozen phyllo pastry, thawed (should contain 2 separate rolls of pastry)

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Directions:

  1. To make sugar syrup, boil together sugar and water for about 2 minutes over high heat, being careful it does not burn or boil over. Just before removing from heat, stir in the rose water. Let cool slightly, then refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. To make the pastry, first clarify the butter. Melt in a pan over gentle heat. Spoon off the milky froth that rises to the top and the solid residue that settles to the bottom. One pound of butter should yield about 1 1/2 cups clarified butter. You can pour the butter into a mug for ease of use later on.
  3. Place walnuts and rose water in bowl of food processor and process in spurts until walnuts are minced. (The rose water helps keep walnuts from getting oily.) Add sugar and process briefly to mix well.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap or aluminum foil on a work surface. Open phyllo pastry and spread on the surface.
  6. Using the clarified butter and a pastry brush or clean paintbrush, butter a 10- by 14-inch baking pan liberally, bottom and sides. Place one sheet of phyllo pastry in bottom of pan. Butter surface of pastry. Proceed with the remaining sheets, buttering each one, until you have used about half the sheets in the box (aka one package). The phyllo sheets may be somewhat crowded in the pan, folded up a little along the sides and at each end. Be sure to butter the corners of the pastry.
  7. Distribute the walnut mixture over the pastry in an even layer.
  8. Place the remaining phyllo sheets over the walnut mixture, again buttering liberally between each layer. When all the sheets have been used, cut the pastry with a sharp knife lengthwise into strips about 1 inch wide, then on the diagonal to make diamonds. Be sure to cut right down through to the bottom of the pan. Pour any remaining clarified butter over the top of the pastry.
  9. Place in oven for 30 minutes, then raise temperature to 425 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and golden brown on top. Remove from oven and immediately pour cold syrup over hot pastry. Set aside to cool to room temperature before serving.

Let me know if you end up trying this recipe — it’s one of my favorites, and I’ve made it more times than I can count. If you like Middle Eastern/Greek food or simply awesome pastry desserts, you’ll love this stuff. (And sorry I don’t have more photos of the actual process…I realize in retrospect that would have been helpful for this recipe.)

Also, I’ll be posting more in a week or so…look out for some more DIY and travel posts next!

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.

Triple Fudge Brownies

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This is a recipe (from Brownie Lover’s Diary…where else?) that I tried a little while back for triple fudge brownies. These are absolutely perfect when you have a chocolate craving, and are the perfect fudgy brownie, topped with fudge icing and mini chocolate chips (optional, but awesome). Definitely try these at home, or just make the frosting for your favorite brownie recipe/mix.

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Ingredients

Brownies:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Icing:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • Hot water
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Directions
Brownies
Combine brown sugar, butter, flour, walnuts (if using), cocoa, eggs and vanilla in a bowl. With electric mixer, beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Spread evenly into a buttered 9 x 13 in baking pan. Bake at 300F until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the brownies comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Icing
Melt butter in a saucepan; stir in cocoa, salt and vanilla. Heat mixture, stirring frequently, until boiling. Remove from heat and stir in icing sugar. (Mixture will be thick.) Add small amounts (1 to 2 teaspoons) of hot water at a time and beat with a whisk until mixture is just thin enough to spread over brownies.

Be sure to let the brownies cool before frosting and topping! (I know, this requires a lot of restraint. Deal with it.)

Enjoy!