Fresh Fruit Tart

fresh fruit tart

After a decidedly wintry April here in Toronto (complete with snow and ice storms), May has brought some downright summery days. Seriously, I went from wearing a winter jacket to t-shirt + sandals in the span of a few days!

While chocolate is always in season for me, the warmer temps do put me in the mood for light, fruity desserts — preferably those that don’t require much oven time. Fruit tarts are one of my go-to desserts because they’re easy to make ahead. Both the crust and filling can be prepared a few days in advance. When you’re ready to serve all that’s left to do is fill the tart and pile on some fresh fruit, and you’re golden!

This classic fruit tart recipe is from Giselle Courteau’s Duchess Bake Shop: French-Inspired Recipes from Our Bakery to Your Home. This lovely cookbook is full of gorgeous recipes ranging from rustic pies to fancy gateaus to elegant pate a choux, all designed with the home baker in mind. It’s beautifully photographed and includes photo tutorials for items such as croissants and danishes — always a nice feature for those like me who learn visually. I love the mix of quick recipes and weekend projects, and look forward to test-driving more of these recipes in the months to come.

“Pastry and desserts are for celebrating, spending time with family and friends, and treating ourselves. Have fun with it and don’t take it all too seriously. If you don’t succeed on your first try, don’t give up: every time you make a recipe, you’ll learn something new to improve it next time. Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes and be sure to take pride in your end result, whether it looks like the picture or not.”

-Giselle Courteau, Duchess Bake Shop (p. 14)

fresh fruit tart closeup

Fresh Fruit Tart

Makes one 8 or 9 inch tart

Ingredients

For the pastry cream:

  • 365g (1 1/2 c) whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, sliced open lengthwise
  • 80g (1/3 c + 1 Tbsp) egg yolks
  • 15g (2 Tbsp) cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 40g (3 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed

For assembly:

  • Fresh fruit of your choice (berries recommended)
  • 1/4 c apricot jam (I used apple)
  • 1 tsp water
  • Fresh lemon zest, for garnish (optional)

Method:

For the pastry cream:

  1. Heat the milk and vanilla bean in a saucepan until scalding.
  2. While the milk is heating, place the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until the yolks have lightened in color. This will take a few minutes of vigorous whisking. Whisk in the cornstarch and salt.
  3. Remove the vanilla bean from the heated milk and using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds back into the milk.
  4. Slowly drizzle the hot milk into the yolk mixture while continuing to whisk. If you add the hot milk too quickly the eggs will curdle and your pastry cream will come out lumpy.
  5. Once all the milk has been added, transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil and continue cooking for 5 minutes more, whisking the entire time.
  6. Remove from heat. Immediately strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Add the butter and whisk until smooth, or, if you want your pastry cream even smoother, use an immersion blender.
  7. Cover the pastry cream and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, until set.

To assemble the tart:

  1. Use a spatula to slightly break up the cold pastry cream. Fill the tart shell with pastry cream to just slightly below the rim, spreading it out smoothly with a knife or a small offset spatula.
  2. Arrange the fresh berries or other fruit in a pattern on top.
  3. In a microwave or over the stove, gently melt the apricot jam with the water — without letting it come to a boil — and brush it generously over the top of the fruit. Garnish with fresh lemon zest. If not serving immediately, refrigerate until ready to serve.

From Duchess Bake Shop: French-Inspired Recipes from Our Baker to Your Home. Reprinted by permission.

Mini Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Ganache

mini chocolate cake
This is my favorite chocolate cake to make for small celebrations. It’s really simple to whip up, but it stands nice and tall for an impressive treat. The cake itself is sturdy (especially important for these minis), but still has a fine, moist crumb. We are big chocolate raspberry fans around here so I almost always fill it with raspberry jam, but use whatever floats your boat (peanut butter, nutella, another jam…). I often use up bits and bobs of frosting I have leftover from other baking projects, but if you don’t have anything on hand I highly recommend this ganache. It’s also super easy to make (just requires some time to set up to a frosting consistency), and it’s rich so a little goes a long way.

I typically bake this cake in my 4-inch cake pans. If I’m super lazy, I’ll just split the batter between the two pans (they’ll be about 3/4 full but I haven’t had any problems with overflowing), but usually I’ll bake some off in a little ramekin for a baker’s treat.

slice of chocolate cake

Mini Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Ganache

Makes one 6-layer 4-inch cake

Ingredients:

For the mini chocolate cake (adapted from Linda Lomelino):

  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 120g AP flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 34g dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 157g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 80g (1/3 c) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c hot coffee or espresso

For the strawberry ganache (adapted from The Cake Bible):

  • 204g bittersweet chocolate (~53% works best here — I used half milk and half 70%)
  • 51g white chocolate
  • 139g heavy cream
  • 81g strawberry puree

For assembly:

  • Simple syrup
  • ~1/2 c raspberry preserves or jam
  • Fresh berries, for garnish

Method:

For the mini chocolate cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottoms of two 4-inch pans (plus an extra ramekin, if desired) with parchment paper, then grease the pans and dust them with cocoa powder.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter has melted, remove from the heat and whisk in the milk and vanilla. Allow to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Whisk the sour cream into the butter mixture, followed by the egg. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Add the hot coffee and whisk just until smooth.
  5. Divide the batter among the pans (I usually put ~275g into each of the cake tins and the rest into the ramekin) and bake for 30-35 minutes (20-25 minutes for the ramekin), or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once the pans are cool enough to handle, run a thin knife around the edges and turn the cakes out to finish cooling completely. For easiest assembly, I prefer to chill the cakes in the fridge before filling and frosting.

For the strawberry ganache:

  1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and process in a food processor until very fine.
  2. Heat the cream and strawberry puree in a small saucepan until just before the boiling point.
  3. With the food processor running, pour the cream mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process for a few seconds until smooth.
  4. Transfer to a bowl or glass measuring cup and allow to cool at room temperature until ganache reaches a spreadable consistency (this takes me 2-3 hours).

To assemble:

  1. Level the cakes and cut each into 3 thinner layers for a total of 6 layers.
  2. Place the first layer of cake on a cake board or serving plate (use a dab of ganache to “glue” it in place) and brush with simple syrup.
  3. Pipe a ring of ganache around the edge and fill the center with raspberry jam. Continue this process until you’ve used up all the layers.
  4. Spread a thin layer of ganache over the entire cake to lock in the crumbs, followed by a thicker coat. (My kitchen was on the cold side, so my ganache set pretty quickly and I didn’t need to refrigerate the cake between coats.)
  5. Garnish with fresh berries and serve at room temperature.

mini chocolate cake - dark

Mom’s Sponge Cake

sponge cakeWhen we went back to Seattle to visit this past Christmas, I spent some time going through my mom’s recipe box and making some childhood favorites. This sponge cake was first on my list, then and now. It’s soft, light, and fluffy — perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. This cake is perfectly delightful plain, but just to be a little fancy I drizzled on a simple lemon glaze (colored with natural food powder from Go Supernatural).

A few notes:

  • This cake is traditionally baked in an ungreased aluminum 10″ tube pan for the best rise. Don’t use a non-stick pan; the cake has to cling to the sides to rise.
  • The most important keys to success with these type of cakes are properly whipped egg whites and good folding technique. For beating egg whites, I have the best success starting on a low speed and gradually raising it; this helps build a tighter, more stable structure and helps reduce the possibility of overbeating.
  • I find it easiest to fold these types of batters in a large, wide stainless steel mixing bowl with a silicone spatula. For the longest time I was so afraid of over-mixing my sponges that I’d end up undermixing them; it’s important to make sure you don’t have any pockets of flour or unincorporated egg whites or your cake won’t bake up properly. Just be patient and gentle and mix until you have a homogeneous batter.
  • The order of mixing is sort of personal preference. You could beat the egg whites first, transfer them to another bowl, and then beat the yolk mixture with the stand mixer. Or you could beat the yolk mixture with the stand mixer, transfer it to another mixing bowl, clean the mixer bowl and attachment thoroughly, and then beat the whites. I prefer to just start with my yolk mixture in my big mixing bowl and beat that with handheld electric mixer (or a whisk); that way I minimize the number of bowls used and I don’t have to clean stuff during the mixing process.
  • The cake should be cooled completely upside down to minimize shrinking. If your tube pan doesn’t have feet, you can invert it and slide a funnel or a heavy bottle through the center insert.

sponge cake in pan

sponge cake from above

sponge cake slice

Mom’s Sponge Cake

Makes one 10” tube cake

Ingredients:

For the sponge cake:

  • 10 large eggs, separated when cold but brought to room temperature before mixing the batter
  • 188g (1.5 c) cake flour
  • 300g (1.5 c) sugar (preferably caster), divided
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 c neutral oil (I use grapeseed)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the lemon glaze and garnish (optional):

  • 188g (1.5 c) icing sugar, sifted
  • 2-3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest of one lemon, for sprinkling

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the lower third.
  2. Sift cake flour into a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large, wide mixing bowl, combine half the sugar (150g), egg yolks, oil, salt, and vanilla and beat on medium until creamy and the sugar is dissolved (3-5 minutes). Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low until foamy. Increase the speed to medium. When the whites reach soft peak stage, slowly add the remaining sugar (150g) one tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar has been added, continue whipping on medium to medium-high until the mixture is glossy and holds medium-stiff peaks.
  5. Sift the flour into the yolk mixture in three batches, using a silicone spatula to mostly fold each portion in before sifting in the next. Once all the flour has been added, continue folding until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture is thick and smooth. Be sure to scoop all the way down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure the flour is evenly incorporated, but take care not to overmix.
  6. Fold in the whipped egg whites in three or four portions, using a silicone spatula to mostly fold in each portion before adding the next. Once all the egg whites have been added, fold until the batter is smooth and uniform in color, again taking care not to overmix.
  7. Pour the batter into an ungreased aluminum 10″ tube pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the cake is well browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not open the oven for at least 45 minutes or the delicate cake may fall. Invert the pan to cool completely (if your pan doesn’t have feet, you can insert a funnel or heavy bottle through the center). Slide an offset spatula around the edges to loosen, remove the insert, then slide the spatula around the bottom. Flip the cake onto a serving platter.

For the glaze and assembly:

  • Whisk together sifted icing sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the lemon juice 1 Tbsp at a time until desired consistency. Drizzle onto the cooled cake and sprinkle with lemon zest, if desired.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

chocolate sheet cake slices

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this cake. It’s easy and delicious in that moist, tender bakery-style sort of way; and it feeds a crowd. You don’t need a mixer; it’s almost a dump-everything-in-a-bowl-and-stir situation. The frosting is my favorite ever chocolate frosting: it’s swoopy and glossy and not too sweet, and if you use black cocoa and good dark chocolate it comes out basically black without a smidge of food coloring involved. I love it! Plus it’s all made in the food processor — even easier than the cake. Add a few sprinkles (the colorful ones and/or flaky sea salt) and you’ve got yourself a pretty classy sheet cake with minimal work involved.

frosting sheet cake

single slice

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Note:

  • If you don’t care about the color of the frosting, you can use Dutch-processed cocoa in place of black. The ultimate color of the frosting will depend on how black your black cocoa is (I got mine at a local baking goods store and it’s exceptionally dark) and what kind of dark chocolate you use. The frosting also tends to darken as it sits. The frosting isn’t too sweet — I definitely prefer it this way, but if you like a sweeter frosting, you can increase the amount of confectioners’ sugar to taste.

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Glossy Black Frosting

Makes one 9×13 cake

Ingredients

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  • 284g AP flour
  • 380g granulated sugar
  • 84g dutch process cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 226g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 114g grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c freshly brewed hot strong coffee

For the glossy black chocolate frosting (adapted from Sweetapolita):

  • 255g unsalted butter, softened
  • 90g confectioners’ sugar
  • 45g black cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c hot water
  • 60g / 1/4 c sour cream
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 145g good quality dark chocolate, melted and cooled (I use Callebaut 70%)

To assemble:

  • Sprinkles
  • Flaky sea salt

Method

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease and line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper that overhangs on the two long edges by at least a couple inches. This will make it easy to remove the cake from the pan later. (I like to secure the long edges with binder clips so the parchment doesn’t fall onto the cake in the oven.)
  2. Sift together all ingredients from the flour through the salt. In a small bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients except the coffee. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Add the coffee and stir just until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level the surface with an offset palette knife.
  3. Bake until the cake is lightly springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs (but no raw batter), about 28-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

  • Combine all ingredients except the melted chocolate in a food processor and process until combined. Add the melted chocolate and process until smooth. Use immediately. (Note: the frosting is glossy as long as it stays at room temperature; it will harden and take on a more matte look after refrigeration. If you do refrigerate the cake, make sure to bring it back to room temperature before serving. It just tastes better!)

To assemble:

  • Transfer the cake to a serving platter if desired. Spoon large dollops of frosting around the cake and use an offset spatula or spoon to swirl it around. Add sprinkles. Enjoy!

close up slices

Carrot Cake for Two

mini carrot cake

Every February I make carrot and chocolate cakes, one for our anniversary (on Feb. 1st) and one for Valentine’s Day. Since you can…er, should only eat so much cake, I’ve been converting cake recipes to cute little 4-inch versions. You could make one large cake layer and cut out rounds, but this way you don’t have any scraps and the cleaner edges make frosting easier. (I use two pans like these.)

By the way, this is also the perfect size for smash cakes and kids’ birthdays!

Finally, this post was created as part of a blog/Instagram carrot-themed collaboration! Be sure to check out all the recipes and photos of the many delicious carrot creations from around the world (links at the end this post).

mini carrot cake cut

Carrot Cake for Two

Makes one 4-inch cake

For the cake layers (adapted from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts):

  • 66g toasted pecan or walnut pieces
  • 152g whole, unpeeled carrots (About 1 large)
  • 70g unsalted butter
  • 20g grapeseed oil
  • 52g AP flour
  • 24g WW flour
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 38g light brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • heaping 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • heaping 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, fridge cold

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 180g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 200 g cream cheese, cold
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt

Method

For the cake layers:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. I like to toast the chopped nuts while the oven is preheating; spread them out in a single layer on a small sheetpan and put into the preheating oven. (Just don’t forget about them! This small quantity should toast pretty quickly — about 5-7 minutes.) Shred the carrots and set aside. Grease and flour two 4-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, brown the butter. Transfer browned butter (plus all the toasty bits) to a pourable, heat-safe glass cup and add the oil. In a separate bowl, whisk the all purpose and whole wheat flours together and set aside.
  3. In a bowl of a standmixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the remaining ingredients (sugars through egg). Mix on low speed to combine, then turn up the speed to medium and mix until the mixture is thick and fluffy, 6-8 minutes. With the mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the brown butter/oil mixture. Turn the mixer to low and add the flours. Once the batter is smooth, turn the mixer off and fold in the nuts and carrots with a silicone spatula, mixing just until everything is evenly combined.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake until the cakes are golden and lightly springy to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes, then run a thin spatula around the edges and turn the cakes out of the pans to cool completely.

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • Beat the butter on medium-high speed until pale. Add the icing sugar, then beat until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese, vanilla, and salt and beat just until smooth.

To assemble:

  1. Level the cakes if needed and slice each layer horizontally in half to make four total layers. (You can pop the cooled cakes into the freezer for about 10 minutes; this makes them easier to cut.)
  2. Attach the first layer to a cake board (or cake stand) with a dollop of frosting. Using a small offset spatula, spread on an even layer of frosting and top with the next layer. Continue until you have used all the layers, then cover the entire cake with a thin coat of frosting to lock in all the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes, or until the frosting is hard.
  3. Spread a thick, even layer of frosting over the entire cake. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to create swoops and swirls if desired. Store covered at cool room temperature until ready to serve.

#24carrotgoals Carrot Collaboration Links

Three years, and Everyday Chocolate Chunk Cookies

chocolate chunk cookiesHappy New Year, folks. We’re in Seattle visiting my family for a couple weeks. Despite a long travel day due to weather, we got to wake up to a white Christmas — possibly my first ever! All of my brothers eventually made it in town and we spent the day opening gifts, eating our fill of prime rib and cookies, watching Marcus race his new fire engine toy all over the house, and falling asleep to “Jingle All the Way.” So basically, a perfect Christmas. Since then, we’ve been keeping it pretty low key — catching up with old friends, trying old and new coffee shops and bakeries, and going to sleep long before midnight.

And guess what? Cook Til Delicious is turning three years old! I’ve never celebrated this blog’s birthday before because I’m generally too lazy to blog while on vacation. But in reality, CTD was started as sort of a new year’s resolution to document recipes and become a better baker. When we first started out here, I had never made a layer cake, let alone a wedding cake; I had yet to bake a good sourdough loaf, choux pastry was far out on the horizon, and I didn’t own a tart pan. My to-bake list is still a mile long, but progress has been made — one bake at a time.

One of the things I’ve been focusing on more this past year (and hopefully into the next) is building a library of solid “base” recipes — go-to scones, everyday brownies, and the like. And, of course, chocolate chunk cookies.

I definitely believe in different recipes for different occasions. My “special occasion” chocolate chunk cookie is a riff on Sarah Kieffer’s now-famous pan-banging chocolate chip cookie recipe. But this recipe here is my everyday go-to. You don’t need to soften butter, and you don’t need a mixer. This is the recipe I turn to when I want to make cookies for a crowd (I actually made dozens of these for my brother’s wedding), or just need to refill the cookie jar at home.

Notes:

  • For the gooiest, chocolatiest cookies, I definitely recommend using chocolate callets or chopping up chocolate bars — unlike chocolate chips, they melt into puddles, which is definitely a good thing. I like Callebaut 70%, but I often just use good quality chocolate bars.
  • I love experimenting with different flours in this recipe. My favorite combination is to use 1/3 AP flour, 1/3 spelt flour, and 1/3 bread flour — the spelt adds some wholesome nuttiness and the bread provides height and chew. But all AP definitely works, if that’s what you have on hand — the cookies will just be flatter.
  • I love subbing a little bit of turbinado sugar for some of the brown — it adds a delightful crunch (I learned this from Not Without Salt’s recipe, which I also love.); espresso powder or finely ground coffee adds a slight bitterness that offsets the sweetness beautifully.
  • If you keep the total add-ins to ~240-300 grams, you can certainly make this cookie your own by adding in toasted nuts, dried fruit, toffee bits, etc. The base itself is plenty sweet so I sometimes cut both the sugars by a couple tablespoons if I am adding sweeter add-ins, or just feel like being slightly healthier.

Everyday Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Makes 26-28 cookies | Adapted from Tara O’Brady, with a HT to Not Without Salt

Ingredients

  • 225g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 415g all-purpose flour (see note above)
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp espresso powder, or very finely ground coffee (optional)
  • 300g light brown sugar (optional: swap out 50g for turbinado sugar)
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 240g chopped semi or bittersweet chocolate (I recommend at least 55%)
  • Flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Method

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder/coffee (if using). Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, stirring occasionally. Use the lowest heat possible — you don’t want to boil or brown the butter or lose any more moisture than necessary.
  3. Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar all at once and whisk until combined. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to combine. Whisk in vanilla.
  4. Pour in the dry ingredients and stir to combine, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. When the flour is almost all incorporated, stir in the chocolate. Mix only enough to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl and scooping from the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour is incorporated.
  5. Chill the mixture for five minutes while you line three cookie sheets with parchment or Silpats.
  6. Portion cookie dough into golf ball-sized rounds (~50 grams or 3 Tbsp) and place on prepared cookie sheets (I can fit 9 cookies on a normal sized cookie sheet). Sprinkle with flaky salt.
  7. Place cookie sheets in the freezer and preheat the oven to 360F (yes, 360!) with an oven rack in the middle. If you don’t have enough room in your freezer for all three sheets, put all the pre-shaped cookies on one sheet and remove 9 at a time to bake, using a cold/room temperature sheet for each batch.
  8. Bake each sheet one at a time for ~10 minutes, rotating halfway through. The cookies should be lightly golden and cracked, but still soft in the center.
  9. Sprinkle on a little more flaky salt, if desired (I like to sprinkle some on any large chocolate puddles), and allow to cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies keep well for up to 5 days in an airtight container.

Rice Krispies Snowmen: Treats for Toys

Rice Krispies Snowmen

This post is sponsored by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

I grew up in the mild Pacific Northwest, where snow doesn’t necessarily make an appearance each winter. So when it did snow, it was a huge deal — school would get cancelled for the lightest of dustings, and we’d all bundle up and head outside to make snow angels and build snowmen (largely because there was hot chocolate waiting for us afterwards). My Canadian-born kids, on the other hand, will probably build more snowmen before kindergarten then I did my entire childhood.

But whether you have half an inch or twenty inches of snow outside, you can make these cute Rice Krispies Snowmen! They’re a breeze to whip up (no oven required!) and are a great creative activity for the little ones in your life. This is the second year that I’ve made something for the Kellogg’s Treats for Toys campaign (remember last year’s DIY Christmas Forest?), which donates funds to provide real toys for children in need. If you’re looking for a way to make a difference this season, I encourage you to make your own Treats for Toys, either using this recipe or something from your own imagination! It’s simple: create a toy-inspired Rice Krispies treat, upload it to the Treats for Toys site or social media (using the #treatsfortoys hashtag), and Kellogg’s will donate $20 to the Salvation Army to buy real toys for children in need.

A few notes:

  • These Rice Krispies snowmen are easy to make, but you have to work fast! The cereal mixture is easiest to mold within the first 5-8 minutes, so it definitely helps to have an extra pair of hands — one person can portion out the cereal and the other can shape the portions into balls.
  • Grease your measuring cups and hands well — otherwise you will spend more time scraping sticky marshmallow than making snowmen.
  • Use a skewer or chopstick to make light indents for facial features and arms. This makes it much easier to stick your candies/pretzels in place.

rice krispies balls

snowmen undressed

snowmen couple

Rice Krispies Snowmen

Ingredients

  • 56 g / 1/4 c unsalted butter
  • 250 g marshmallows (I used mini)
  • 168 g / 6 c Rice Krispies cereal
  • Flaked coconut
  • Pretzel rods
  • Assorted candies for decoration (such as mini chocolate chips, gummies, mini candy canes)
  • Melted white chocolate / royal icing / frosting for glue (optional)
  • Measuring cups
  • Cooking spray
  • Parchment paper

Method

  1. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot (big enough to hold the Rice Krispies).
  2. When the butter is melted, add the marshmallows, stirring frequently to avoid sticking. When the marshmallows are melted, turn off the heat, add the cereal, and stir with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon to coat evenly.
  3. Using well-greased measuring cups, portion out cereal in a few different sizes (I used 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 cup measures) onto the prepared sheet pan. When all the cereal is portioned out, use well-greased hands to shape the portions into round balls. Pack firmly but not so hard as to crush the cereal.
  4. Roll each ball in flaked coconut for a snowy effect. Press two or three balls together to form snowmen of various sizes. Use a bit of melted white chocolate / royal icing / frosting for glue, if desired.
  5. Use pretzels and candies to decorate snowmen as desired. Some ideas:
    • Pretzel sticks for arms
    • Mini chocolate chips for eyes and mouths
    • Small orange gummies or candy corn for noses
    • Small round candies for buttons
    • Mini candy canes for skis

Matcha Mint Oreos


Matcha mint Oreos! I’m pretty excited about these cookies, because homemade Oreos have been on my baking bucket list for awhile now. I’ve tried a few different recipes in the past, but none of them really did it for me. But the base recipe for these Oreos comes from Stella Park’s fantastic book, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, and they are the real deal. Bake a batch of these and your house will smell like an Oreo factory.

For a festive twist, I decided to go with a matcha mint filling, inspired by the perennially popular Candy Cane Joe Joe’s from my favorite grocery store not in Canada (sad face). I added matcha mostly for color, but its earthy flavor also tempers the sweetness from the candy canes.

matcha mint oreos

A few notes:

  • When making the wafers, I find it easiest to roll the dough to the desired thinness right after mixing. Divide the dough in half and roll each half between two sheets of parchment paper. Stick the rolled out dough in the fridge for about half an hour just to firm it up, then cut your rounds. This way, you don’t have to use any extra cocoa powder for rolling and you can use the parchment to line your sheet pans.
  • Make and completely cool your wafers before making the filling, as the filling sets quickly and must be used right after mixing. (The wafers keep really well, so you can definitely make this recipe over a couple of days.)
  • Crush your peppermint candies really finely. Otherwise your piping tip will get clogged when you fill the cookies and it’ll be hard to get your cookies to lie flat. Also, someone could break a tooth.
  • Matcha powders vary quite a bit in potency. I liked how my filling tasted with 1 Tbsp, but if you’re unsure start with less and add more to taste. You can also omit the peppermint extract if you want a more prominent matcha flavor.

Matcha Mint Oreos

Adapted from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts | Makes about 20 2-inch sandwich cookies

Ingredients

For the Oreo wafers:

  • One batch of this recipe, cut into 2-inch rounds and completely cooled

For the matcha mint filling:

  • 170g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp pure peppermint extract
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 240g powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp matcha powder
  • 1/3 c finely crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

Method

For the matcha mint filling:

  1. Before making the filling, flip half the chocolate wafers upside down so they can be filled immediately after preparing the filling.
  2. Sift the matcha powder and icing sugar together and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, completely melt butter over medium-low heat. Simmer, stirring with a heat-resistant spatula, while butter hisses and pops; if you notice brown bits forming along the edges, reduce heat to low. Continue cooking and stirring until butter falls silent, then strain into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Add the peppermint extract and salt, followed by powdered sugar and matcha. Mix on low to moisten, then increase to medium and beat until creamy and soft, about 5 minutes. If your filling is runny, stick it in the fridge for a few minutes to stiffen slightly (this should only take a few minutes). Stir in the peppermint candies. Transfer to a heavy-duty pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip and use immediately.

To assemble:

  • Pipe about a tablespoon of filling onto each upturned wafer, then sandwich with the remaining halves. Gently twist the cookies to evenly distribute the filling. Allow cookies to set for about half an hour before serving. Store leftovers (if there are any) in an airtight container. They keep well at room temperature for about a week. (For longer storage, keep in refrigerator or freezer; serve at room temperature.)

Matcha Mint Oreo stack

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