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Homemade Fruit Leather

19 Oct

Fall in Southern California is a little hard to find sometimes, but I certainly found it while camping in Sequoia National Park this weekend!  It was just cool enough that I needed to wear a jacket while hiking and there were hints of snow on the mountain tops.  The trees there are mostly conifers, which meant we didn’t get beautiful orange and red Fall foliage, but it did smell just like Christmas was around the corner and that was good enough for me!

While preparing for the camping trip, I was considering different snacks to bring for the hike: homemade granola?  just hope that fruit stayed intact in our backpacks?  and then I came across homemade fruit leather on Pinterest and I was sold (especially because the Boyfriend was out of town and he LOVES fruit leather and I knew he’d love the surprise).

This recipe can be made to accommodate almost any fruit you can think of.  I was headed for strawberries but went with raspberries because they were on sale at the grocery store and my brain has already started thinking up crazy cool combinations (cinnamon-peach-blueberry would be fantastic!)  I must admit, I thought these were the sweetest raspberries I’d ever tasted and thus decided to forego the sugar…which turned out to be a poor decision because it meant that these leathers were EXTREMELY tart (I think I may have used extra lemon juice on accident as well…).  That said, plenty of people loved them, so it really will have to be up to your own judgement how sweet you want to make these–just taste the puree before drying and know that sweetness is concentrated once the leather is dry.  These are super simple to make and, while it SEEMS like they would be time consuming, it’s really hands-off for the most part, so I’m sticking by my “these are super easy” statement.

I can say for sure that these certainly didn’t take as long to dry as other people suggested, which surprised me a little, but I think if you just keep a close eye on it, you’ll be fine.  I just stacked the strips in a plastic baggie and threw them in my backpack and they didn’t stick together at all–no powder coating needed AND no sticky fingers after eating, so I was pretty delighted with how they turned out. 

Happy Hiking!  (or Happy School Lunches…or Happy Quick Snack Break at the Office…)

Homemade Cinnamon-Vanilla Raspberry Fruit Leather
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen
yields one 12″ x 16″ pan

  • 2 cups raspberries (or other chopped fruit)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 0 – 1/4 cup sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (adjust according to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (adjust according to taste)
  • vegetable oil
  1. Heat oven to lowest temperature setting possible.  My lowest setting is 180 degrees, so I just set the dial to about a 1/4″ short of the lowest temperature and hoped it would work (it did).
  2. Add fruit, water, and lemon juice to saucepan and stew for 10-15 minutes until softened.
  3. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract and let simmer for 5 more minutes.
  4. Using a stick blender or a food processor, blend fruit until smooth and let cool for a few minutes while you prepare the pan.
  5. Using a 12″x16″ rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper (I used Martha Wrap, which I thought was perfect for the job) and brush prepared pan with a layer of vegetable oil.
  6. Pour the fruit puree through a sieve (it is definitely necessary for raspberries–those little seeds are tough!) over the prepared pan and spread it evenly over the pan with an offset spatula.  It’s like frosting a cake, only easier–the only goal is to make sure that you have a very thin, very even layer of fruit puree.  A bit of liquid separated out of the puree when I sieved it into the pan, but I was able to gently incorporated it back in with my offset spatula before spreading the layer even again.
  7. Carefully put the pan in the oven and walk away–it’s going to be in there for a number of hours.  Know that if you’re impatient and you poke it to see how it’s coming along, you’re likely to poke a hole in the leather, so I tested it by tilting up a corner of the parchment paper and seeing if the puree ran off the paper towards the center.
  8. I think my leather was in the oven for about 4-5 hours, but don’t quote me on that–all ovens are different and you really just need to keep an eye on things.  Many people who made fruit leather said they actually left the leather in their ovens on low all night, so I’m not sure why my oven was so fast.  About half way through the process I pulled out the leather and found it was getting a bit crispy and brittle on the edges.  Generously brush the leather with water and stick it back in the oven–this trick honestly works like a charm.  There was not a brittle edge to be found when I took the leather out for a second time, just chewy goodness!
  9. As I was about to go to bed, I decided the leather was done on top and that the underside was just a little sticky, but that all it needed was air-drying.  I carefully flipped the whole sheet of fruit leather over upside down and put it back in the pan, turned off the oven and put the leather back in to rest and dry in the oven so that it wasn’t taking up counter space.
  10. When you wake up in the morning, voila!  Homemade fruit roll-ups that you won’t cringe at when you put it in a lunchbox.  I used a pizza cutter to cut mine into strips with no problems.  Enjoy!
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Apple Honey Cake

30 Sep

The Jewish New Year is upon us!  The Boyfriend’s family is Jewish and every year I beg to go to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with them.  I love the traditions observed and, of course, all of the food.  The best combination of both of those is the Rosh Hashanah tradition of eating honey and apples to symbolize the hope for a sweet year.

So I rushed home today and grabbed some apples from the grocery store on the way.  I had to be ready to go in 45 minutes and would you believe that I was able to combine the ingredients, bake the cake, let it cool a little and take photos of it all before it was time to leave for Temple?  That should show you how easy and quick it is to throw this delicious little cake together.

Some notes: the cake will end up very thin, since the original recipe called for a smaller cake pan.  I used what I had and actually really liked it thin–it let the apple and honey flavors shine and made for a perfect light dessert instead of a one that makes you feel overly stuffed.  Also, I really suggest using a mandolin slicer for this project.  I got a great handheld OXO mandolin for just about $15 and it’s an amazing tool (slicing pizza toppings– just sayin’).

Happy New Year!  This Apple Honey Cake will guarantee it’s a sweet one.

Apple Honey Cake
Adapted from Taste of Home

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 2 Gala apples, very thinly sliced (use a mandolin if you have one)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon honey, plus extra for drizzling
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper (I forgot to coat the paper with nonstick spray, but it was fine without it, so no big deal if you don’t have any).  Sprinkle cinnamon in a light, even coat across the bottom of the pan.
  3. Arrange apple slices in whatever pattern you want.  I did three rows of 6 overlapping slices, the center row moving the opposite direction.  Fancy!
  4. Cream the butter and brown sugar until crumbly and fluffy, about 2 minutes, beat in egg, then milk and vanilla.
  5. Combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a small bowl, then add to butter mixture and beat until combined.
  6. Drizzle honey evenly all over the arranged apples in the pan, as much or as little as you like.  Gently pour the cake batter over the apples and honey and spread until entire bottom of pan is evenly covered.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and the apples are soft.
  8. After taking it out of the oven, let the cake cool for 5 minutes or so and invert the cake onto the serving platter.
  9. Serve warm if you can, but no matter what the temperature, definitely serve it with whipped cream!


Mint Cantaloupe Aguas Frescas

23 Sep

I know, I know; I just can’t seem to let summer go.  While I absolutely cannot wait to pull out my Fall arsenal of recipes (you will wonder how much more butternut squash you can possibly stand from me), I’m still sad to see all the fresh fruits and veggies go under a winter frost.  Luckily, my CSA veggie shipment still has some treats tucked in it, like one more beautiful cantaloupe for the season.  Wanting something special for a last hurrah to summer’s melons, I decided to try my hand at aguas frescas.  I’m pretty impressed with what came out of these ingredients and this is such a refreshing drink that I’m pretty bummed that I’ve gone the whole summer without it.  It’ll be great for those warm Indian Summer afternoons and evenings that may still pop up–and if you want to make it for a party, I’m sure adding vodka would make it fantastic.

Mint Cantaloupe Aguas Frescas

  • 1/2 cantaloupe, diced
  • handful of fresh mint leaves (package from my store was .66 oz)
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) sparkling water, such as San Pellegrino
  • 4 cups lemonade (click here for my favorite recipe)
  • ice
  1. Puree the cantaloupe and add to pitcher.
  2. Muddle the mint leaves in the bottom of the pitcher by crushing the leaves with a wooden spoon.  When it smells minty, you’re done.
  3. Pour sparkling water and lemonade into the pitcher and stir.
  4. Add ice cubes and serve with mint sprigs for decoration!

Bananas Foster Shortcakes

19 Sep

First, I want to remind all you faithful readers to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for status updates from me and alerts for new recipe posts!

Now before I dive into this week’s PPQ recipe, I have to bow down and say that Bananas Foster is not mine to lay claim on within my family.  My father and little sister (my only sibling) staked that claim loooong ago.  Dad makes Bananas Foster, often to introduce guests to fine Southern cuisine and, I suspect, to show off a little bit since the process involves flambeing.  My sister started making it soon thereafter, probably also to show off a little bit, but I think mostly just because it’s a delicious recipe that’s really not too hard to do.  So now it’s my turn.  I have to admit that I have been on pins and needles waiting for the chance to choose a recipe for Project Pastry Queen and when it was finally my turn, there really was no other option than to choose this.

After years of other family members flambeing bananas, I had to, once and for all, make Bananas Foster.  Reading this recipe over and over again, one major thing stood out to me–Rebecca doesn’t flambe the bananas.  This is a key component as it caramelizes and deepens the flavors by raising the temperature to a high degree that wouldn’t be attainable by just a pan over a stove burner.  Now that said, I tried and tried and I could not for the life of me get the pan to ignite.  It was still delicious regardless and I didn’t set my hair on fire.

I admit, I made a number of other changes to the recipe as well.  Usually when I am served this dessert, it is served over ice cream (as Rebecca suggests as well) and since you know that it is a requirement of my cooking to forget an ingredient, it wasn’t until making it tonight when I forgot the ice cream, that I realized ice cream is just too sweet for this recipe and my lack of serious sweet tooth.  I used whipped cream instead and I thought it was perfect–finally a Bananas Foster that didn’t give me a sore throat from all the sugar!  I also forgot the banana liqueur, but I kind of didn’t want to pay for a bottle of it anyway, and I think the recipe benefited from the subtle banana flavor instead of in your face banana flavor.  Finally, Rebecca suggests adding pecans to the processor while making the biscuits.  It’s optional, so I opted out, but it got me thinking of another New Orleans classic treat…instead of adding to the biscuits, I roughly chopped the pecans and sprinkled them on top, which added some fantastic crunch and when mixed in with the sauce made it like a praline!

All the other Pastry Queens-In-Training versions of this recipe can be found here, be sure to check them out.

Bananas Foster Shortcakes
The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather (with help from Brennan’s)
Serves 8

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • sugar for sprinkling

Bananas & Syrup

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 8 barely ripe bananas, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds (a mandolin slicer makes quick work of this)
  • whipped cream
  • 1/3 cup pecans
  1. Turn the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and granulated sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Process about 30 seconds.  Cut the butter into 16 pieces and add to the flour mixture.  Pulse about 15 times, until the mixture is crumbly.  Turn on the processor and pour the cream in through the feed tube in a thin, steady stream, until the mixture begins to form a ball.
  3. Remove the dough and place on a flat surface that has been sprinkled with flour.  Gently form the dough into a 1/2 inch thick disk.  Use a 4 inch biscuit cutter, round cookie cutter, or a glass to cut the dough into rounds.  Roll the biscuits in the coarse sugar and set on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet (Rebecca instructs you to use an ungreased cookie sheet, but my shortcakes stuck hard and fast to the sheet.  I was not a happy camper).
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the shortcakes begin to turn golden brown around the edges.  Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then use a spatula to transfer the biscuits to individual serving plates (or on a cooling rack if you’re not serving them immediately).
  5. While the shortcakes are in the oven, Melt the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes.  The mixture should not be heated beyond a simmer; if it begins to boil over, decrease the heat.
  6. Add the rum and sliced bananas to the syrup and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  7. Rebecca suggests splitting the shortcakes but mine did not rise enough to actually split, so I used them as a base instead, and poured spoonfuls of the bananas and syrup over the cakes, topped with whipped cream and chopped pecans.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

8 Sep

About a month ago, we had a Hawaiian Luau themed luncheon at work.  For it, a coworker bestowed upon me her beloved Grandmother’s secret family recipe for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.  I was truly honored to be able to make it and I could tell immediately at looking through the ingredients that this cake was something special.  The cake was a big success at the Luau and I couldn’t wait to share the recipe with you except…it’s called “Grandmother’s secret family recipe” for a reason.  I was desperately trying to think of a way to share it, but, really, there must be integrity and honor amongst chefs, right?

I couldn’t leave you with nothing, so I’m including Cooks Illustrated’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, since their recipes are usually foolproof.  You’ll still be eating fantastic cake!  (If you promise not to tell anyone, I might suggest you think about adding bit of a three letter alcohol.  It’s not the most secret ingredient and not the one that adds the biggest special taste profile, so I feel okay sharing it).  Please note again, that the cake shown above is not the same recipe as below!  If you want a more traditional looking cake closer to what I made above than what CI suggests, make the caramel sauce, pour it into the cake pans, and arrange the maraschino cherries (first) and pineapple rings (second), then pour the cake batter over them.  Aloha!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Recipe from Cooks Illustrated

Pineapple Topping

  • 1 medium fresh pineapple (about 4 pounds), diced into 1/2 pieces (about 4 cups prepared fruit)
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (7 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), softened but still cool
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 egg white at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup whole milk at room temperature
  1. Lightly spray 9-inch round, 2-inch deep cake pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. For the pineapple topping: Combine pineapple and brown sugar in 10-inch skillet; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally during first 5 minutes, until pineapple is translucent and has light brown hue, 15 to 18 minutes. Empty fruit and juices into mesh strainer or colander set over medium bowl. Return juices to skillet, leaving pineapple in strainer (you should have about 2 cups cooked fruit). Simmer juices over medium heat until thickened, beginning to darken, and mixture forms large bubbles, 6 to 8 minutes, adding any more juices released by fruit to skillet after about 4 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla; pour caramel mixture into prepared cake pan. Set aside while preparing cake. (Pineapple will continue to release liquid as it sits; do not add this liquid to already-reduced juice mixture.)
  3. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl; set aside.
  4. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, cream butter and sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat to combine; one at a time, add whole eggs then egg white, beating well and scraping down bowl after each addition. Reduce speed to low; add about one-third of flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Add half of milk and beat until incorporated; repeat, adding half of remaining flour mixture and remaining milk, and finish with remaining flour. Give final stir with rubber spatula, scraping bottom and sides of bowl to ensure that batter is combined. Batter will be thick.
  5. To bake: Working quickly, distribute cooked pineapple in cake pan in even layer, gently pressing fruit into caramel. Using rubber spatula, drop mounds of batter over fruit, then spread batter over fruit and to sides of pan. Tap pan lightly against work surface to release any air bubbles. Bake until cake is golden brown and toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on wire rack, then place inverted serving platter over cake pan. Invert cake pan and platter together; lift off cake pan. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours; then cut into pieces and serve.

Roasted Peaches with Oatmeal Streusel and Creme Anglaise

5 Aug


I don’t think I could have found a simpler, more delicious way to eat my favorite summer fruits (peaches and nectarines), aside from just directly biting into one.  The peaches and streusel alone are fantastic–the warm cinnamon and nutmeg flavors complement the fruit perfectly.  When you add the creme anglaise, though…I don’t know if words can even describe how much I LOVE creme anglaise.  This was my first attempt at making it and, while not perfect, I was eating it straight out of the bowl and had to stop to make sure I would have enough to spoon over the peaches.  The original streusel recipe called for chopped almonds for crunch, but I switched in oatmeal instead–I’m a BIG sucker for oatmeal streusel.  Best of all, the ingredients were all in my fridge and pantry already, so it was a quick treat to whip up.  It’s not overly sweet either, so I may be making it for brunch pretty soon here.  In fact, I’m not even going to talk any more, I just want t
o get right to the recipe:

Roasted Peaches with Oatmeal Streusel and Creme Anglaise
Peaches recipe adapted from Eat Well
Creme Anglaise recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Dec 2006
Serves 2 (Creme Anglaise recipe makes about 2 cups)

  • 2 firm peaches or nectarines
  • 1.5 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces (plus extra for buttering dish)
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • sprinkle of salt
  • 1/4 cup of oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt

For the Peaches:

  1. Preheat an oven to 400°F. Lightly butter any baking dish that will accommodate the peaches (I used a glass pyrex).
  2. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits.  On the round side of the peach, cut a thin slice off  to create a little flat space so that the peaches won’t roll around in the baking sheet.  Arrange them in the dish with the pit side up.
  3. In a food processor, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Add the butter pieces and pulse about 5-10 times until the mixture is crumbles.  A word of warning: I over pulsed mine and accidentally made it into cookie dough.  If this happens, it’s no biggie; it will taste the same.
  4. Stir the oatmeal into the mixture.
  5. Press small handfuls of the mixture onto the tops of the peaches.  Like I said, mine was more like cookie dough, so pinched off bits and pressed them onto the peaches.
  6. Pop the peaches into the oven and bake 20 minutes.  Peaches will be tender and the streusel will be baked and browned.  In the meantime…

For the Creme Anglaise

  1. Warm the milk in a medium sauce pan over low heat until steaming.
  2. In the meantime, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt together in medium bowl about 1 minute until pale yellow in color.
  3. Measure out 1/2 cup of the steaming milk (leave the rest in the pan over the low heat) and, while constantly whisking, slowly pour the 1/2 cup of milk over the egg mixture. (This is called “tempering”, you’re warming up the eggs so they don’t freak out when poured into hot milk and turn immediately into scrambled eggs.)
  4. Pour the warmed egg mixture into the pan of milk and constantly stir the mixture for the next 8-10 minutes.  Using an instant-read thermometer (do you have one yet?  If not, they’re something like $12 at Bed Bath & Beyond; go get one!), keep stirring the milk until it registers 175-180 degrees.  Be patient.  If you turn the heat up, the milk will curdle.  Make sure to keep an eye on the bottom of the pan–be quick to break up any curdled milk that forms along the bottom of the pan because it will make the creme grainy.  I was disappointed, seeing that my creme was turning out super grainy and decided that I would eat it anyway and just not give you guys the recipe until I had figured out what I did wrong but it turns out I had no reason to panic because of the next step here…
  5. Once you reach 175-180 degrees, take the pan off the heat and pour it through a fine mesh strainer.  I was worried I wouldn’t have a strainer fine enough, but just your average mesh strainer will do–it got rid of all the little grains and I had a beautifully smooth Creme Anglaise!

The creme can be refrigerated until you want to use it (put a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the creme so that you don’t get a skin on it later), but I spooned it still warm over the warm peaches.  I thought I was in heaven.  I still have a lot of strawberries left (I’m eating them as fast as I can!) and can’t wait to eat them with some of the creme tonight after dinner.

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