Really Good Brownies

brownies from top

A couple of weeks ago I posted a photo of a batch of brownies, and I was flooded with requests for the recipe. I get it — as much as I love tinkering with flavors and techniques, hands down the dessert I crave most often is a good old brownie.

I realize that what constitutes a good brownie varies tremendously from person to person, which is why this is the millionth brownie recipe on the internet. To me, a good brownie is crackly-topped, chewy but tender, and deeply chocolatey. Oh, and well-salted.

brownie in hand

These brownies check all those boxes for me. I still have some tweaks I want to try so I won’t go as far as to call them “perfect,” but for the time being this is the batch to beat.

Without getting too brownie-nerd on you (there’s plenty out there should you wish to delve into that world), here’s a little bit of the rationale behind this recipe:

  • Both butter and oil for a mix of flavor and moisture
  • Both cocoa powder and melted chocolate, the first for a rich chocolate flavor and the second for texture and that crackly top
  • A touch of brown sugar for moisture, flavor, and chew
  • A modest amount of flour to keep things from getting too cakey, but enough so we’re not completely in fudge territory
  • Espresso powder to enhance the chocolate flavor
  • The eggs and sugar are whipped together to provide structure and also to aid in getting that crackly top
  • Baked in an 8×8 square pan for thick, non-wimpy brownies

brownie cut

This recipe is the result of a lot of tinkering, which is why the measurements are a bit weird. I developed it using gram measurements (I bake by weight 99.9% of the time), but the cup measurements are below as well — just know I haven’t tested them myself.

To great brownies!

Really Good Brownies

Makes one 8×8 pan

Ingredients

  • 85g (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 75g neutral vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 85g (3 oz) bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I like Callebaut 70%)
  • 100g (3/4 c + 2 tsp) AP flour
  • 57g (2/3 c) Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
  • 169g (3/4 c + 1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
  • 56g (1/4 c + 1 tsp) brown sugar
  • scant 1 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8×8 square pan with foil and lightly grease.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, oil, and chocolate. Melt over low heat, then set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and cocoa powder.
  3. Combine all ingredients from the sugar through the espresso powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on low briefly to combine, then crank up the speed to medium high and continue whisking until the mixture is thick and pale (about 5 minutes).
  4. Reduce the speed to low and drizzle in the butter-chocolate-oil mixture. Once incorporated, add the flour-cocoa mixture, mixing just to combine. Use a silicone spatula to stir from the bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is well-mixed and there are no pockets of unincorporated flour.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan, sprinkle generously with flaky sea salt, and bake until the top is cracked and glossy and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few wet crumbs (not raw brownie batter, but not completely dry), about 25-30 minutes (start checking at 20 minutes — baking these just the right amount of time is critical to getting the right texture!).
  6. Allow brownies to cool completely before slicing. Store leftovers in an airtight container, or freeze for later. (I actually like chilling my brownies in the fridge for an hour before eating — I find this gives them the perfect amount of chew!)

Pear Cranberry Frangipane Tart

pear cranberry frangipane tart

This recipe is part of a Pie Squad Party organized by Nate at Terminatetor Kitchen. Be sure to check out the delicious pies created by fellow bloggers via the links at the bottom of this post!

It’s no secret around here that I love frangipane. I used to think frangipane was some secret ingredient bakeries used to make their pastries and tarts extra fancy. Then I learned that it wasn’t all that fancy — basically just equal parts butter, sugar, eggs, and ground nuts. Plus, it’s really easy to make, which kind of makes me want to put frangipane in everything. (The price of nuts keeps me in check, though.)

This tart is a twist on the classic French pear and almond tart, one of my all time favorite desserts. I’ve added some cranberries for color and tartness, which balances out the buttery richness of the frangipane and the mellow sweetness of the pears. All the elements of this tart can be made in advance and it’s best served at room temperature, making it a great candidate for Thanksgiving dinner or a holiday potluck.

spreading frangipane
pear cranberry frangipane tart unbaked

Pear Cranberry Frangipane Tart

Makes 1 9-inch tart

Ingredients

For the Poached Pears:

  • 150g / 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 100g / 1/2 c maple syrup
  • 4 c water
  • 4 ripe but firm Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
  • Optional poaching spices: One cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons whole cloves, black peppercorns or allspice berries, one lemon half, one split vanilla bean, 2-3 star anise, 6-8 fresh ginger slices

For the Quick Cranberry Sauce:

  • 8 oz fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/3 c ginger ale (or water, or orange juice if you prefer)
  • 1/3 c maple syrup
  • A few gratings of orange zest

For the Almond Frangipane:

  • 115g / 4 ounces / 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 100g / 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 130g / 1 cup almond flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt

To finish:

  • A handful of fresh or frozen cranberries, for garnish
  • Icing sugar or honey, for serving

Method

For the Poached Pears:

  1. Combine the sugar, maple syrup, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve all the sugar.
  2. When the liquid is at a simmer, add the poaching spices and pears. Cover the pears with a round piece of parchment paper with a hole cut in the center. (This keeps the pears submerged in the liquid while still allowing steam to escape.)
  3. Simmer pears for 10-15 minutes, turning ever 5 minutes or so, or until just tender.
  4. Allow pears to cool in the liquid. (Pears can be refrigerated in the poaching liquid for a few days.)

For the Quick Cranberry Sauce:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. When the mixture begins to boil, turn the heat down to medium low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have popped and the sauce has thickened to your liking (about 5 minutes).
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the orange zest, if using. Taste and adjust sweetness if needed. (The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated up to a week in advance.)

For the Almond Frangipane:

  1. Beat butter and sugar together on high speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the first in thoroughly and scraping down the bowl before adding the second. Mix in the vanilla and salt.
  3. Fold in the almond flour until just combined. (The frangipane can be made ahead and refrigerated a couple days in advance. Bring to room temperature before using.)

To assemble:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spread an even layer of cranberry sauce over the bottom of the tart shell (you won’t need all the sauce — save the rest for accompanying turkey,or for spreading on toast). Spread the frangipane evenly over the sauce.
  2. Arrange the pears on top of the frangipane, pressing them in lightly. You can thinly slice and fan them out as pictured or leave the halves intact — up to you. (Depending on the size of your pears and your mode of decoration, you may not use them all.) Add a few cranberries on top, if desired.
  3. Bake until the frangipane is browned and puffed, about 45 minutes. While the tart is still warm, you can glaze the pears with some of the poaching liquid or some warmed apricot jelly for a bit of shine.
    Serve at room temperature with a dusting of icing sugar or drizzle of honey.

More Pie Squad Creations:

Cloudy Kitchen:
Chocolate Cream pie with whipped peanut butter cream

Cook Til Delicious:
Pear Cranberry Frangipane Tart

DisplacedHousewife:
Five-Spice Cran-Apple Handpies

The Farmer’s Daughter:
Apple Ginger Pie

Harvest and Honey:
Apple Apple Pies

Lyndsey Eden:
Maple Cream Cheese Pear & Pistachio Galette

Salvialimone:
Tarta Tine with White Chocolate Caramelized Pears

TermiNatetor Kitchen:
Brown Butter Chai Pumpkin Pie with Sugared Sage

Topless Baker:
Apple & Blackberry Flower Lattice Pie

The Wood and Spoon:
Chocolate Chess Pie

Veggie Pakoras with Brussels Sprout Slaw

veggie pakora salad

This post was created in partnership with Spice it Up Foods, whose Veggie Pakoras are now available at select Costco stores in Eastern Canada. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

We’re approaching two months with two kids. The transition to becoming a family of four has gone as smoothly as I could have hoped (thank God for grandparents!). But even so, some days it’s…shall we say, challenging getting dinner on the table.

Spice it Up’s vegan and all-natural Veggie Pakoras are perfect for those days when I need a little help whipping up a quick and healthy meal. These crisp and well-spiced baked fritters make tasty snacks on their own, but here I’ve turned them into a light meal with a brussels sprout slaw and a spiced yogurt dressing/dip. The pakoras take about 15 minutes to bake, which conveniently is about as much time as you’ll need to make the salad and dressing!

veggie pakoras

brussels sprout slaw

pakoras and slaw

Veggie Pakoras with Brussels Sprout Slaw and Yogurt Dressing

Serves 4-6 as a light meal

Ingredients

For the brussels sprout slaw:

  • 1 lb brussels sprouts, finely shredded
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 1/2 c almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries
  • Cilabtro, for garnish (optional)

For the yogurt dressing:

  • 1 1/2 c plain yogurt, preferably low or full fat
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp ground tumeric
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated
  • 1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • Large handful of cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with foil. Place frozen pakoras on the baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes or until crisp, turning once midway through cooking.
  2. While the pakoras are baking, toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Cool slightly, then grind using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients from the yogurt through the ginger. Stir in the cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside 1/2 a cup for dipping.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the slaw ingredients. Toss with the remaining dressing.
  5. To serve, top slaw with hot pakoras and cilantro and serve with reserved dressing on the side as a dipping sauce.

Pumpkin Apple Butter Pie

pumpkin apple butter pie

Today is all about pumpkin, because it’s the 2017 Virtual Pumpkin Party! If you’re not a pumpkin fan or totally over pumpkin spice, hopefully this recipe (and the ton of other creative pumpkin-y recipes hitting the interwebs today) will inspire you to give pumpkin another chance.

When it comes to pie, are you Team Apple or Team Pumpkin? I quick-polled this question on Instagram Stories a couple weeks ago, and it seems that most of my followers are apple pie devotees. I, personally, am a proud member of Team Both. I also believe that a slice of cold pumpkin pie the day after Thanksgiving is one of life’s simple pleasures.

But as a nod to all you apple lovers out there (well, that and the several jars of apple butter in my fridge…), I’ve included apple butter in today’s pumpkin pie recipe. While you could go equal parts pumpkin and apple butter, I prefer a little heavier on the pumpkin, with the apple butter adding a subtle fruity sweetness and another layer of flavor.

Pumpkin pie is pretty easy to make, but here are a few tips to getting it just right:

  1. Don’t overbake! Seriously, turn off the oven when the middle is still a little wobbly. Otherwise it’ll be tough and probably crack when it cools.
  2. Speaking of cracks, the best way to avoid them is to cool it gradually (like you would a cheesecake). I had the best results when I left mine in the turned off oven for a few minutes before cooling at room temperature. That being said, a few cracks aren’t the end of the world and that’s why whipped cream (or, even better, homemade marshmallows or marshmallow meringue) exists.
  3. Use butternut squash instead of pumpkin. Maybe this is a little sacrilegious considering this recipe is for a Virtual Pumpkin Party…but I think butternut squash (or other flavorful winter squashes) taste better than pumpkin in pie. I definitely prefer the texture and color of butternut as well. And hey — if you’re using the canned stuff (which totally works), chances are it’s got some non-pumpkiny squash in there too.
  4. I prefer a cookie crust to a traditional all-butter crust with pumpkin pie because I like the contrast of textures. (However, according to another of my Insta-quick polls, I’m in the minority, heh.) Whichever you prefer, I definitely recommend taking the extra step of pre-baking the crust to prevent sogginess.

Pumpkin Apple Butter Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 9-inch pie crust (either all-butter or cookie-based), pre-baked (optional but recommended)
  • 280g pumpkin (or butternut squash) puree
  • 200g apple butter
  • 130g light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
  • A few turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 c heavy cream

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine all the ingredients from pumpkin through salt in a food processor and process until smooth (you can also use an immersion blender). Add the cream and eggs and process until just combined.
  2. Scrape the filling into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until just warm. You don’t want to cook the filling — just heat it through so the custard bakes more quickly and smoothly.
  3. When the filling is warm, pour it into the prepared pie shell. Bake until the edges are set but the middle still wobbles, about 30-40 minutes.
  4. Turn off the oven, crack open the oven door, and let the pie cool for 10 minutes; then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. For the cleanest cuts, refrigerate uncovered before serving. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

This recipe was created as part of the 2017 Virtual Pumpkin Party. Don’t forget to check out the many other fantastic pumpkin recipes created by food bloggers around the world!

Apple Butter Bundt Cake

apple butter bundt cake

I made this little bundt cake for one of our Sunday family dinners. It was a snap to put together — no mixer required! no softening of butter! — and had a lovely soft texture that complemented the warm fall spices. The original recipe called for applesauce, but apple butter worked perfectly as a substitute (as would pumpkin puree, I suspect). The cake also keeps beautifully — I sneaked a piece a few days later and it was still just as moist as the first day. I have a bit of apple butter left, so this is on my re-make list — perhaps sneaking in some whole grain flour and swapping the allspice for cardamom or nutmeg (though the amount of spice here is perfect in my opinion).

apple butter bundt cake slice

Apple Butter Bundt Cake

Adapted from Food 52 | Makes one 6-cup bundt (6-8 servings)

Ingredients:

For the bundt cake:

  • 120g AP flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 65g granulated sugar
  • 65g light brown sugar
  • 180g apple butter
  • 1/3 c vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 Tbsp salted caramel sauce or maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream, plus more if needed

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 6-cup bundt pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour through allspice). In a large bowl, whisk together egg and sugars until light. Whisk in the apple butter, oil, and vanilla until smooth.
  3. Using a silicone spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  4. Cool cake for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Cool cake completely before glazing.
  5. When the cake is cool, prepare the glaze. Combine the cream cheese, salted caramel sauce, and salt in a food processor until smooth. With the processor running, drizzle in the cream. Add cream 1 tsp at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Transfer glaze to a small ziplock bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe the glaze over the cake.

Maple Eclairs

maple eclairs

I’m relatively new to choux. I never had much interest in cream puffs and eclairs, because most of the ones I’d eaten before were just doughy puffs filled with whipped cream and unceremoniously dusted with icing sugar. I’d much prefer a slice of pie or cake, and being lactose-intolerant I’d rather suffer for eating ice cream over whipped cream.

But earlier this year I made choux pastry for the first time and I realized, this is really fun. Maybe I’m a little weird (ok, not maybe), but I find making choux very relaxing. I enjoy watching the dough transform from a curdled mess into a smooth paste and trying to pipe uniform shells. And it’s super satisfying seeing those doughy lines transform into light, airy shells ready to be filled with whatever your heart desires (though my 2-year-old will gladly gobble them up plain).

choux pastry

When the Maple Guild sent me a bottle of their organic bourbon barrel aged maple syrup to try, I thought an eclair would be a fun way to highlight the pure deliciousness of maple. Maple is definitely the star of this dessert, so please use the best quality syrup you can find!

A few notes:

  • The ingredient list and instructions may look long, but you can easily break the work up over a few days. I suggest making the pastry cream and praline first, as those can both be held in the fridge for a few days. Make the choux the day you plan to serve these eclairs.
  • If you’re new to choux pastry, I highly recommend reading this tutorial for choux tips! This is the recipe I’ve had best success using, though I’ve made a couple of changes (salt content and baking temperatures).
  • I typically make pastry cream with whole milk, but because we’re using a liquid sweetener (maple syrup), I’ve used part heavy cream for a thicker final texture. If you use all milk the final product may be a little looser and you’ll need to spoon the cream into the shells rather than pipe it.
  • I really like adding a crunchy element to eclairs (in this case, the praline) to add texture. If you’re pressed for time, I think a sprinkling of crushed pretzels would work well — something with a bit of salt to balance out the sweetness of the maple. If you go the pretzel route, add it right before serving or it’ll get soggy.

filled eclairs

Maple Eclairs

Makes 12 4-inch eclairs

Ingredients

For the Choux Pastry:

  • 75g water
  • 75g milk
  • 75g butter
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g bread flour, sifted
  • 150g eggs (about 3 large), room temperature and lightly beaten
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

For the Maple Pastry Cream:

  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 1/3 c maple syrup
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 25g custard powder (or cornstarch)
  • 25g flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp maple extract (optional)
  • 28g unsalted butter, softened

For the Almond Praline:

  • 150g toasted almonds, chopped
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • Flaky sea salt

For the Maple Cream Cheese Glaze:

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cream, plus more if needed

Method:


For the choux pastry:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a ruler to draw twelve 4-inch lines, spaced by about 2 inches, to serve as a piping guide. Flip the parchment over so you don’t get pen/marker on your pastry.
  2. Combine the water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a strong simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as the mixture is simmering, remove the pot from the heat and dump the flour in all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is completely incorporated.
  3. Return the pot to low heat and continue stirring until the mixture forms a ball and a thin film forms on the bottom of the pot, 1-2 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should read 170F. Immediately transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  4. Mix the dough on low speed for a couple of minutes to release the steam. An instant-read thermometer should read no warmer than 140F (any hotter and you’ll cook the eggs when adding them!). When the dough has cooled sufficiently and with the mixer still on low, add about half of the eggs. Mix until the egg has been completely absorbed, then add more egg about a tablespoon at a time, mixing completely before adding more. When you’ve added most of the egg, check the dough consistency — a finger dragged through it should leave a trough and a peak of dough should form where the finger is lifted. Once the dough passes this test, it’s ready. (You may not need all the egg.)
  5. Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with an open star tip. Pipe the eclairs onto the prepared sheet. Once all the eclairs are piped, dust them with icing sugar.
  6. Bake the eclairs for 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375F and continue baking until the shells are puffed and a deep golden brown — about another 20-30 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet after about 30 minutes total baking time — avoid opening the oven door any sooner, or your shells may collapse. After the shells are finished but still hot, pierce the bottoms with a skewer or paring knife and return to the turned-off oven for 10 minutes to allow the steam to escape and the insides to dry out (prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon). Transfer shells to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before glazing and filling.

For the maple pastry cream:

  1. Combine the milk, cream, and maple syrup in a medium saucepan.
  2. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Whisk in a ladleful of the milk mixture.
  3. Bring the milk mixture just to the boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, sift the custard powder and flour over the yolk mixture, and whisk until smooth.
  4. When the milk is just at boiling, remove from the heat. Add a ladleful of the hot milk mixture to the yolks, whisking continuously. Pour the remaining milk mixture into the yolks in a slow, steady stream, continuing to whisk constantly. Once all the milk has been added, transfer the entire mixture back to the saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Continue cooking over low heat for one minute after the mixture starts bubbling, then strain into a clean container. Whisk in the extracts and butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold before using.

For the almond praline:

  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat. Have a silicon spatula, your chopped almonds, and flaky sea salt ready to go.
  2. Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Cook without stirring (occasionally swirling the pan is fine), until the sugar melts and eventually turns a deep amber color. Once the sugar is caramelized, remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the almonds to coat. Quickly pour the mixture onto the prepared sheet pan and spread it as thinly as possible with your spatula (don’t touch, trust me — it’ll hurt). Immediately sprinkle with a generous amount of flaky sea salt. Allow to cool completely before breaking into pieces, either with a mallet or food processor. Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer; or you can grind the remainder into praline paste.

For the maple cream cheese glaze:

  • Combine the cream cheese, maple syrup, and salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Add cream a teaspoon at a time until the glaze is thick and spreadable.

To assemble the maple eclairs:

  1. Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and whisk to loosen. Transfer the cream to a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip (alternatively, you can just spoon the cream in).
  2. Using a sharp serrated knife, trim off the top third of the eclair shells and set aside. Remove any soft bits from inside the shells. Pipe the cream into the bottom of the shells.
  3. Spread roughly a tablespoon of glaze onto the top of each shell. Place the tops back on the filled shells and garnish with almond praline. Refrigerate until serving — these really are best within a few hours of filling, though if you have to hold them longer wait until the last minute to add the praline.

maple eclairs on plate

Instant Pot Apple Butter

apple butter

Over the past few years, apple picking has become an early fall tradition. It started five years ago as a date activity with my now-husband, and this year the apple farm was one of our brand-new daughter’s first excursions.

apple farm trip

(This was actually our second trip this year; Marcus liked the last trip so much he kept asking to see “apple trees.”)

Besides pies and galettes, I also enjoy making a batch or two of apple butter with our pickings. I far prefer apple butter to applesauce — it’s thick enough to spread on toast and is generally more flavorful. Apple butter is also a handy ingredient to have around for fall baking, as I’m discovering (recipes to come!). Whipping up a batch does take some time, but it’s mostly hands-off and makes your house smell perfectly autumnal — a great rainy day project!

I used our Instant Pot to make this year’s batch. (Not sponsored — we really do love this gadget!) While my method doesn’t save much time on traditional apple butter-making methods, I do think it’s easier and dirties fewer dishes. It’s definitely how I’m making apple butter from here on out!

A few notes:

  • You can use any variety (or varieties) of apples. I used a mix of Macintoshes and Cortlands for this particular batch.
  • Feel free to add different / more spices to your liking. I kept this batch pretty light on spice since I knew I would be using it in some baking recipes.
  • If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can make this using the stovetop and oven or a slow cooker.
  • If you’re pressed for time, you could use the “saute” setting instead of “slow cook” in step 2 to reduce the puree down (it should take 45-60 minutes), but the butter does tend to splatter and requires more constant stirring / attention.

Instant Pot Apple Butter

Makes about 3 pints

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 lbs apples, cored and quartered (no need to peel)
  • 1/4 c water or apple juice
  • 100-200 g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • A few gratings of fresh nutmeg

Method

  1. Place the apples and water/juice in the Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally. Puree contents using an immersion blender / regular blender / food processor.
  2. Return puree to the Instant Pot. With the lid propped open for steam ventilation, cook — stirring occasionally — on the slow cooker setting until thick and reduced, about 6 hours. Add sugar and spices, adjusting to taste (I used about 3/4 c sugar for a gently sweetened butter).
  3. For smoothest texture, puree contents again. Ladle apple butter into clean, sterile jars. Process in a water bath, if desired, or store in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks. Apple butter can also be frozen.

Apple Frangipane Galette with Salted Caramel

Thanks to moving, prepping for baby #2, and some unusually mild Canadian weather, this summer has disappeared just like that. I can’t say I’m sad about it. While there’s nothing like summer produce, fall is by far my favorite season. I love the crisp mornings, changing colors, and chunky sweaters.

Oh, and apple pie.

I don’t usually make my first apple dessert until a little later in the year. But last week I took my little guy to a nearby farm, and to my surprise they had a couple varieties of apples ready for picking. I couldn’t resist taking home a small bag full of Zestars! (yes, the “!” is an official part of its name), which I’d never tasted before but read were good for eating and baking. And they are lovely — mildly tart and crisp with a firm texture that holds up well in the oven.

I didn’t quite have enough apples for a full-on pie, but these babies were just begging to be baked up in a buttery crust. (OK, maybe that was me begging.) And so this galette was born.

I know galettes are supposed to be unfussy and casual; and the many components of this one may be off-putting. But seriously. I think this is one of the best apple desserts I’ve ever made, and it really looks harder than it is. You could definitely use store bought salted caramel sauce if you wanted, but it’s so delicious and easy to make yourself that you really won’t regret cooking up a batch. (Plus, this recipe makes more than enough for the galette so you’ll have extra for stirring into coffee, drizzling over ice cream, or just eating from the jar.) I’m also having a moment with frangipane — not only is it just plain delicious, but in the case of a galette it acts as a moisture barrier, keeping the bottom crust beautifully crisp.

Speaking of the crust — it may sound weird to use sourdough starter in a pastry recipe, but trust me, it’s delicious! I really do believe sourdough adds a depth of flavor to pie crust; and if your starter is healthy and fresh you shouldn’t notice any tang. But if you don’t have sourdough starter lying around, you can certainly use your favorite pie crust recipe instead.

Apple Frangipane Galette with Salted Caramel

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

For the sourdough crust (makes enough for 2 galettes):

  • 300g flour (I use 100g whole grain, 200g AP)
  • 227g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 200g ripe sourdough starter, cold (100% hydration)
  • 2 Tbsp cold milk or water

For the salted caramel sauce:

  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 54g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

For the frangipane:

  • 95g almond flour
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 20g flour (AP or whole grain)
  • 30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

For the fruit:

  • 3 medium-large baking apples, cored, peeled, and thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp AP flour
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/4 c salted caramel sauce

To finish:

  • 1 Tbsp cream
  • 1 Tbsp coarse sugar
  • Salted caramel sauce

Method

For the sourdough crust:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the cubed butter and smash into flat pieces with your fingers, tossing to distribute evenly. Don’t overwork — you want to keep the butter pieces fairly large (nickel to quarter size) for flakiness.
  2. Use a fork to whisk the cold milk/water and starter together. Pour the wet mixture over the butter-flour mixture and, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, gently toss to combine. The dough will seem shaggy at first, but should hold together if you squeeze it. If not, dribble in additional cold water/milk a teaspoon at a time (tossing after each addition) until it does.
  3. Using the heel of your hand, take handfuls of dough and smear them up the side of the bowl (this “fraisage” method creates streaks of butter that makes for an extra flaky crust). Once all the dough has been smeared, divide the in half and gently press and flatten each portion into a circle. Wrap one half in plastic and chill or freeze for a future galette or pie. If your remaining dough feels at all soft or melty at this point, wrap it in plastic and chill for about 10 minutes before proceeding (you want it cold, but not hard).
  4. On a piece of floured parchment paper or Silpat, roll the dough into a circle about 12-14 inches in diameter, about 1/4-in thick. Roll from the middle and rotate the dough about 1/4 turn between rolls to help keep the shape and even thickness. Flour your pin and dough as needed to avoid sticking. When you’re done rolling, transfer the dough still on the parchment/Silpat to a sheet pan, cover with plastic, and chill for at least 2 hours before assembling the galette.

For the salted caramel sauce:

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the sugar over medium-high heat. Swirl the pan occasionally for even heating.
  2. When the sugar reaches a copper color, remove it from the heat and add the salt and butter, whisking continuously. Be careful as the mixture will bubble up! Return the pot to medium-low heat and whisk for a minute or so.
  3. Still continuously whisking, add the cream in a slow, steady stream — again, taking caution as the mixture will bubble and rise. Continue whisking over medium-low heat to thicken the mixture slightly.
  4. Remove from the heat and transfer to a heat-safe container. Once cool, cover and refrigerate. Sauce will thicken as it cools. Rewarm in the microwave for about 20 seconds for easy pouring.

For the frangipane:

  • Whisk together the flours, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Rub the butter in with your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the egg and vanilla and mix with a spatula to combine.

For the fruit:

  • Juice the lemon into a medium bowl and add the apple slices, tossing to coat. Add the sugar, flour, and cinnamon and toss to combine.

To assemble:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge. Spread the frangipane evenly in a circle in the center of the pastry, leaving a 1.5-2 inch border. Starting from the outermost edge of the frangipane, arrange the apple slices in concentric, overlapping circles. Fold the edges of the pastry over the filling to create a crust. Refrigerate the galette for 15-20 minutes to firm the pastry.
  2. When the pastry is firm, brush the crust with the heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Drizzle 1/4 c of salted caramel sauce over the apples (not on the crust). Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the pastry is a deep, golden brown and the apples are bubbling. Transfer to a cooling rack. Serve at room temperature with extra salted caramel sauce.

Soft and Chewy Sourdough Pretzels

I have a soft spot for pretzels. I don’t know how it started; it’s not like we ate pretzels that often growing up. But every time I see pretzels on a menu there’s a good chance I’ll order them; and if I attend a baseball game I’m more likely to get a pretzel than a hot dog. What can I say? I have a weakness for warm, chewy carbs.

Making sourdough pretzels has been on my to-do list for awhile; and after quite a few batches I’ve finally come up with a version that I’m pretty pleased with. For awhile I was tinkering with an authentic pretzel recipe, which produces a more chewy and dense product. Call me inauthentic, but I like my pretzels a bit softer — so the recipe here reflects that. If you prefer a denser pretzel, you can use the ingredients below but skip the bulk rise — divide right after mixing, let the dough rest for 45 minutes, shape the pretzels, and refrigerate overnight. Then proceed with baking as directed below.

One final thing — I would love to try making lye-dipped pretzels because I hear it’s the bee’s knees, but I can’t find a reasonably priced source for food grade lye in Toronto (ordering online will cost me about $70). One day I’ll find a way to do it, but for now baked baking soda is my dip of choice. Just spread out a box of baking soda on a baking sheet at bake at 250F for an hour, then store in an airtight container to use whenever your pretzel cravings hit.

Soft and Chewy Sourdough Pretzels

Makes 8 | Adapted from various sources, including Tasting Table and The Fresh Loaf

For the dough:

  • 175g Pilsner-style beer (room temperature is fine)
  • 120g mature sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 14g barley malt syrup (or honey)
  • 30g lard (or softened butter)
  • 360g flour (I use half bread, half all purpose)
  • 8g sea salt

To finish:

  • 1/4 c baked baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 Tbsp milk/water (for egg wash)
  • Pretzel salt / flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Method

Day 1:

  1. Combine the beer, starter, barley malt syrup, and lard in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the liquid mixture and stir to combine with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Knead, by hand or with the dough hook in a stand mixer, until the dough is smooth and the gluten is well developed (about 10 minutes with a mixer, longer if by hand). The dough is fairly stiff and should be slightly tacky, but not sticky.
  3. Transfer the dough to an clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, folding once an hour. Refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours).

Day 2:

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the center and oil a large sheet pan.
  2. On a clean work surface, divide and round the dough into 8 equal portions, about 85g each.
  3. To shape, flatten a round into a rough rectangle about 3″ x 5″. Starting from a long edge, roll the rectangle up into a tight log and pinch to seal the seam. Roll the log out to about 12 inches and set aside to relax while you repeat the process with the remaining rounds.
  4. Once all the rounds have been initially rolled out, return to the first log and continue rolling it out into a rope roughly 26 inches long, tapering the ends slightly. If you’re having trouble getting enough traction, lightly mist your work surface with water (you don’t want to use flour, which will actually make it harder to roll out the dough).
  5. Form the rope into a “U” shape. Holding the ends, twist together twice about 3-inches from the ends, then fold the ends down and press them into the “U” at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
  6. When all the pretzels are formed, fill a large pot with 8 cups of water (I like to use the leftovers from the can of beer used to make the dough, plus enough water to equal 8 cups). Stir in the baked baking soda, then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the baking soda is dissolved.
  7. Once the liquid is simmering, turn the heat down to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Use a slotted spoon to dip the pretzels in one or two at a time for about 20 seconds each. Remove the dipped pretzels from the liquid, drain, and return to the baking sheet, spacing at least an inch apart.
  8. Brush the pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make about a 1-inch long slash at the thickest part of each pretzel (the bottom of the “U”).
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, or until pretzels are well browned. Transfer pretzels to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Pretzels taste best within an hour of baking, but leftovers can be wrapped tightly with plastic and frozen for up to a month. Reheat for about 10 minutes in a 350F oven.

Cherry Berry Almond Crumble

cherry berry almond crumble

Every summer I tend to have a fall-back dessert: something quick and simple that can easily be adapted to whatever fresh fruit is hanging out in the fridge. Previously there’s been cobbler and fruit crumb bars; and this year it’s a good old fashioned crumble.

cherries

It’s about as unfussy and simple as it gets: toss fruit with a little sugar and spice, and mix up a quick, buttery crumb to sprinkle on top. No softening of butter or mixer needed. Eat with yogurt for breakfast or ice cream for dessert, warm or cold. Repeat.

cherry berry almond crumble 2

Cherry Berry Almond Crumble

Makes one 8×8 pan

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • ~6 c cherries and/or berries, pitted and sliced/halved if necessary (I used equal parts sour cherries, sweet cherries, and strawberries)
  • 60-100g / 1/3-1/2 c sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit and preferably a mix of brown and granulated
  • Pinch of salt
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime
  • 3 Tbsp arrowroot or tapioca starch

For the almond crumble:

  • 120g / 1 c AP flour
  • 4T almond flour
  • 113g / 8 Tbsp butter, cold and diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 50g / 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 25g / scant 2 Tbsp granulated sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Stir together all filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside while you prepare the crumble.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk together all crumble ingredients except for the butter. Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture begins forming crumbs. Squeeze the mixture together to form large clumps.
  4. Pour the filling into an 8×8 square pan. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the top.
    Bake until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown, about 35-45 minutes. Allow to cool for about an hour before serving, if you can.