Strawberry Swirl Frozen Yogurt

strawberry swirl frozen yogurt cone

I try to be a “kitchen stuff” minimalist. Don’t get me wrong: my eyes light up when I discover a new bakeware store, and my idea of a good time is browsing the kitchen-related aisles of HomeGoods or HomeSense. But I usually take my time when it actually comes to buying stuff, especially appliances that take up valuable counter or storage space.

Case in point: ice cream makers. I’ve probably threatened to buy one for the past three summers. But I’ve never bit the bullet, sticking to semifreddos and extra trips to the ice cream parlor. (The texture of no-churn recipes have never really excited me.)

But this year, the new Salt & Straw cookbook arrived in the mail; and between the mouthwatering pictures of flavors like Sea Salt and Caramel Ribbon and Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper and pregnancy cravings for Wendy’s Frosties, I knew this had to be the Summer of Homemade Ice Cream. I mentioned to my husband that I was starting to research ice cream makers. And by the next day, with the help of a friend, he had procured a Cuisinart ICE-20 (I’ve mentioned he’s a keeper, right?). Predictably, I can’t stop churning.

One of the great features of the Salt & Straw cookbook is that it starts out with three simple base recipes: one for regular ice cream, one for sorbet/frozen yogurt/sherbet/gelato, and one for coconut (dairy free) ice cream. Most of the remaining recipes build off one of these bases; and you can actually whip up large batches of the bases and refrigerate/freeze portions for later use so you can practically churn up a pint on a whim.

I decided to start my churning journey with this strawberry swirl frozen yogurt. A ribbon of strawberry syrup adds a touch of sweetness and color to a creamy, tart fro-yo base. I can see having a pint of this deliciousness always on hand, changing up the fruit depending on the season.

A few notes:
  • I’ve tried this with both regular 2% Greek yogurt, and full-fat regular yogurt (strained overnight in a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl). Both work well, though I slightly preferred the texture of regular Greek yogurt. Either way, do not use fat-free yogurt for this recipe.
  • You can also sub 1/2 cup sour cream for part of the yogurt for a little added tang and richness.
  • Straining the strawberry syrup is optional; if you like a more chunky frozen yogurt you can leave the fruit solids in. If you do strain the syrup, the remaining fruit can be refrigerated and used to spread on toast or top your fro-yo.


strawberry swirl frozen yogurt in a scoop
Marcus eating frozen yogurt

Strawberry Swirl Frozen Yogurt

Makes about 3 pints / Inspired by Salt & Straw and Serious Eats

Ingredients:

For the base:
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/4 c (80g) light corn syrup
For the frozen yogurt:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 c strawberry syrup (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 cups base
  • 1 1/2 c (360g) super-tart Greek yogurt, very cold (see notes above)
  • 3/4 c whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
For the strawberry syrup swirl:
  • 8 oz / 225g trimmed and chopped strawberries
  • 2 Tbsp / 30 g freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 6 oz / 175g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Method:

  1. Make the base: Stir together the sugar and xanthan gum in a small bowl. Combine 1 1/4 c water and the corn syrup in a small saucepan. Add the sugar mixture and immediately whisk vigorously until smooth (but don’t fret over a few lumps). Set the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent a simmer, until the sugar has fully dissolved, about 3 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
  2. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and store in the fridge until cold, at least 4 hours, or up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 1 year. (Just be sure to fully thaw it and stir well before using it.)
  3. Make the strawberry syrup: Combine strawberries, lemon/lime sugar, and salt in a medium pot. Note the pot’s weight at this stage so the reduction can be tracked on the scale (or you can use a digital thermometer). Mash the strawberries with a fork or metal spatula until swimming in juice.
  4. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, continuously stirring and scraping along the bottom and sides of the saucier with a flexible, heat-resistant spatula. This should take about 5 minutes.
  5. Once the mixture begins to boil, continue cooking until reduced by 4 ounces (mixture should be 220°F) for a thin, saucy ribbon or 5 ounces (224°F) for a thick, gooey ribbon. This should take about 6 minutes.
  6. Strain the syrup into a heatproof container. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled.
  7. Churn the frozen yogurt: Before churning, place a 1-quart container into the freezer, along with a spatula. Place the yogurt, milk, and salt into a bowl and whisk until combined. Add the base and whisk until smooth. (If you have an immersion blender, you can add all ingredients together and blend until smooth.) Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and turn on the machine. Churn just until the mixture has the texture of a pourable frozen smoothie.
  8. Quickly transfer the fro-yo into the prepared container: Spoon in layers of fro-yo alternated by drizzles of strawberry syrup (I used about half of the syrup, but use as much as you want). You can use a knife to swirl the two occasionally, or leave as-is for more distinct strawberry ribbons.
  9. Cover with parchment paper, pressing it to the surface of the fro-yo-so it adheres, then cover with a lid. It’s okay if the parchment hangs over the rim. Store it in the coldest part of your freezer (farthest from the door) until firm, at least 6 hours. It will keep for up to 3 months.

Zeppole

zeppole

A couple years ago, my husband came home from work one day and asked, “Have you had a zeppole? They’re so good!” I had, in fact, never had a zeppole nor heard of them. So over the next couple of weeks, we went on a bit of an Italian bakery run trying to find zeppole for me to try.

Turns out zeppole are basically Italian doughnuts, and they come in many different forms: baked, fried, filled, and unfilled. After sampling a variety of zeppole, we realized our favorite were the Zeppole di San Giuseppe variety, which are basically doughnut-shaped cream puffs. Traditionally these are eaten to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day (a Catholic holiday in March), which is pretty much the only time you can find them in actual Italian bakeries in our area. But they’re too delicious to not be eaten the rest of year; and since they’re made from good ol’ choux, they’re easy enough to pull off at home!

A few notes:

  • Traditionally, this style of zeppole are garnished with canned sour cherries. This is delicious, but if you don’t have any you can just use some fresh fruit or a thick jam.
  • If you like a lighter/softer filling, you can whip up some heavy cream (I’d probably do 1/2 cup or so) and fold it into the pastry cream before filling the zeppole.
  • Zeppole are best consumed within 4 hours of assembling, but all the components can be prepared ahead of time: the pastry cream can be refrigerated up to 3 days and the choux rings can be baked and stored at room temperature for a couple of days (or frozen for longer storage). If the pastry softens during storage, recrisp by baking uncovered at 300°F for 5-8 minutes. Cool completely before filling.
choux pastry rings
baked zeppole

Zeppole

Makes about 10 zeppole

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe choux pastry (prepared through step 4)
  • 1 batch vanilla pastry cream (recipe below)
  • Thick fruit jam or preserves (I used strawberry)
  • Fresh fruit, canned sour cherries, or additional thick jam, to finish
  • Powdered sugar, to finish (optional)
For the vanilla pastry cream:
  • 1 1/2 c whole milk
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 100g granulated sugar, divided
  • 40g custard powder (or cornstarch)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 28g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Method:

  1. Make the vanilla pastry cream: Place a sieve over a heatproof container. Combine the whole milk and heavy cream in a medium saucepan along with 80g of the sugar. Whisk to combine.
  2. In a medium bowl, place the remaining 20g granulated sugar and sift in the custard powder or cornstarch. Pour in a splash of the milk-cream mixture and whisk to combine (this helps prevent lumpy custard). Add a bit more of the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks.
  3. Bring the remaining milk-cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Once it has reached a simmer, remove from the heat and slowly pour into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium to medium high heat, whisking continuously.
  4. As soon as the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear, turn the heat to low and continue whisking on the heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain into the prepared container. Whisk in the butter, followed by the vanilla extract.
  5. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard to keep a skin from forming. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled (at least three hours, or up to 3 days).
  6. Bake the zeppole: Preheat the oven to 425F with a rack in the middle. On a large piece of parchment using a cookie cutter or other round object, trace about ten 2 1/2 inch circles. Space the circles at least 2 inches apart. Place the parchment on a large baking sheet (with the tracing on the underside so you don’t get pen/pencil onto your zeppole). Transfer the choux dough to a large piping bag fitted with an open star/French piping tip. Pipe rings of choux using the tracings as a guide. After you’ve piped all the bases, go back and pipe another, smaller ring on the top inside edge of the bottom ring. (If you have any dough left, you can pipe little cream puffs to use it up.) Dust the rings with icing sugar.
  7. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375F and continue baking until the rings 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 pastry may collapse. After the rings 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 rings to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before filling.
  8. Assemble the zeppole: Whisk the chilled pastry cream to loosen and transfer to a piping bag fitted with an open star tip.
  9. Using a sharp serrated knife, trim off the top third of the choux rings and set aside. Remove any soft bits from inside the shells.
  10. Spread a thin layer of jam on the bottom of the rings. Pipe the cream on top. Place the tops back on and pipe a dollop of cream in the centers. Garnish with a sour cherry, fresh fruit, or a dab of jam. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours. (The pastry will eventually start to soften, so it’s best to fill the zeppole shortly before eating.)
baked zeppole with garnish

Sourdough Fruit Danishes

diamond danish

Laminated dough is the perfect blank canvas for a baker. It can go sweet or savory, and you can shape it in so many ways. I’ve used this sourdough danish dough previously to make these delicious morning buns, and in this post I’m giving just a couple more ways to put this pastry to work.

While there are a ton of ways you can shape danishes, I’m partial to the pocket and diamond shapes because they accommodate a good amount of filling. I almost always fill my sweet pastries with either cream cheese filling or frangipane — both are simple to whip up and complement any number of fruits. I like using cream cheese with berries (or a dollop of jam or lemon curd) and frangipane with plums, pears, rhubarb, and apples — but experiment with what you have and come up with your own favorite combos! Enjoy!

A few notes:

  • The proofing time for these danishes can vary quite a bit depending on the temperature of your kitchen. For me it usually takes about 2 hours at warm room temperature (about 80F). Proof them until they’re double in size, very puffy, and jiggle when you shake the pan. The oven with the light on and a pan of warm water is a great proofing spot — just make sure to take the danishes out when preheating the oven!
  • To make sure the bottoms of the danishes don’t get too dark before they bake through, I bake these pastries on a two baking sheets stacked right on top of each other. If you like the bottoms extra crisp, this isn’t necessary.
  • I like finishing fruit danishes by brushing the fruit with a bit of simple syrup right after the danishes come out of the oven. It gives the fruit a little bit of shine and your pastries that special little bakery touch.
pocket danish
diamond danish prebake

Sourdough Fruit Danishes

Makes 6 danishes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 recipe sourdough enriched danish dough
  • 1 recipe cream cheese filling or frangipane filling (see below)
  • Fresh fruit such as berries or plums — depending on type/size of fruit, you may need several berries or several slices of fruit per danish; can also use a not-too-runny jam/preserves
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp milk or water and a pinch of salt for egg wash
  • Turbinado sugar, optional
  • Simple syrup, optional
  • Powdered sugar, optional
For the cream cheese filling:
  • 113g cream cheese, softened (about half a block)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
For the frangipane filling:
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g almond flour
  • 15g AP flour

Method:

For the cream cheese filling:
  1. Combine the cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (a hand mixer also works). Mix on low until smooth. Scrape down the sides and add lemon juice a tsp at a time to taste. Transfer to a pastry bag. Filling can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before piping onto danishes.
For the frangipane filling:
  1. In a small bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. Add the egg, salt, and vanilla, and beat until combined. Add the almond and all purpose flour and fold in using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Transfer to a pastry bag. Filling can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before piping onto danishes.
For the danishes:
  1. On a lightly floured surface, roll the danish dough into a large rectangle about 10″ x 14″. Trim the edges so you have a neat rectangle measuring 9″ x 13.5″. Cut dough into eight 4.5″ inch squares. Stack, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to relax the gluten.
  2. Stack two large baking trays together (see notes above) and line the top tray with parchment paper. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator (I like to work with 2-3 squares at a time, leaving the rest refrigerated). Shape into pockets or diamonds as desired and transfer to prepared baking sheet. (See below.)
  3. Brush the shaped pastries with egg wash and cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Place in a warm area of the kitchen (around 78-80F — no hotter than 80F or the ) to proof until doubled in size and layers are very visible — about 2-3 hours. Prepare your filling of choice while the pastries proof, if you haven’t already.
  4. When the pastries are nearly finished proofing, preheat oven to 425F with a rack in the middle. Pipe desired filling into the center of the pastries, about 1-2 Tbsp each. Top with fruit, pressing lightly to adhere. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired.
  5. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F and bake for another 10-20 minutes, or until well risen and browned. Brush the fruit with simple syrup after removing from oven, if desired. Cool for about 10 minutes before dusting with powdered sugar and serving. Danishes are best eaten the day they’re baked, but reheat well the day after in a 350F oven for 5-10 minutes.
For shaping:
  1. For the “pocket” shape, dab a little filling or egg wash in the center of the square. Fold the two opposing corners into the center, pressing fairly firmly to stick. Repeat with the opposite corners. If the corners pop open during proofing, gently press them back down before adding filling.
  2. For the “diamond” shape, gently fold the pastry square on the diagonal to form a triangle, making sure the corners line up. Using a sharp knife, make two cuts parallel to the sides of the triangle, leaving about 1/4″ of pastry on the edges. Don’t let the cuts meet or you will end up with two pieces of pastry! Unfold the dough and orient the square so it is like a diamond. Fold one edge over so it meets the cut you just made. Repeat with the other edge to form a diamond. You can watch me forming this shape in my Instagram stories — look for the Diamond Danish highlight.
single diamond danish
pocket danish 2


Lime Poppyseed Cake with Hibiscus Glaze

lime poppyseed bundt with hibiscus glaze

March is just around the corner but here in Toronto we’re still firmly planted in winter, with a good foot of snow outside our front door. Hailing from a part of the world where daffodils often start blooming in February, I often start feeling a little color-deprived this time of year. Thank God for winter citrus! Just having a bowl of lemons, limes, and oranges around provides a truly welcome splash of color.

Since I usually get a little citrus-happy and stock my grocery cart with a few too many lemons or limes, I inevitably make some type of citrus poppyseed cake or two this time of year. My go-to recipe is the lemon pound cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible (one of my all time favorite cookbooks), but this time around I had some sour cream that needed using so I decided to try a different Rose recipe, her Triple Lemon Velvet Cake from Rose’s Baking Basics. It didn’t disappoint, with a lovely velvet crumb that keeps nicely for days. I swapped out lime for lemon since that’s what I had the most of, and added a little bit of hibiscus powder for a pretty pink glaze. Definitely a cure for the winter blues!

A few notes:
  • I used my favorite 6-cup Heritage bundt pan and it worked fabulously. Just be sure to grease and flour it well, and don’t wait too long to turn the cake out (about 10 minutes works for me). This cake can also be baked in a regular loaf pan; the baking time should be roughly the same.
  • The original recipe calls for either cake or all-purpose flour. If you use all cake flour the crumb will be a bit more fluffy; with all-purpose a bit more dense. My personal preference is a a mix of the two (50/50).
  • I found hibiscus powder at my local bulk/health food store, but it is also easily found on Amazon.
hannah with bundt

Lime Poppyseed Cake with Hibiscus Glaze

Makes one 6-cup bundt cake | Adapted from Rose’s Baking Basics

Ingredients:

For the lime poppyseed cake:
  • 135g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 65g egg yolks (about 4-6), at room temperature
  • Zest of two limes
  • 120g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 156g AP or cake flour (or a mix of the two)
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 25g poppy seeds
For the lime syrup:
  • 50g / 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 55g granulated sugar
For the hibiscus glaze:
  • 115g icing sugar
  • 21g / 4 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp hibiscus powder
  • 5 g / 1 tsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Grease and flour a 6-cup bundt pan (or grease and line a loaf pan with parchment paper).
  2. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and 1/4 (30g) of the sour cream.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the sugar and zest. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until fragrant. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.
  4. Add the butter and remaining sour cream (90g). Mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened, then increase the speed to medium and beat for about a minute to aerate the batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle.
  5. Add the yolk mixture in two portions, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. While the cake is baking, prepare the lime syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the lime juice and sugar until the sugar has completely dissolved. Cover and set aside.
  8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, transfer to a wire rack. Poke the bottom of the cake all over with a skewer and brush the bottom with about 1/3 of the syrup. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto a serving plate. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the remaining syrup.
  9. When the cake has cooled completely, make the hibiscus glaze. Whisk the hibiscus powder into the lime juice. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Whisk in the hibiscus-lime juice, followed by the butter. Pour or drizzle the glaze onto the cake.


Brownie Cookies

brownie cookies

This is one of those cookies that ticks all the boxes for me: it’s intensely chocolatey, fairly simple to make (with minimal chilling time), and bakes up with the most beautiful shiny, crackly tops. The original recipe comes from Tartine No 3. I make just a few changes — mixing light and dark brown sugars as muscovado is hard for me to source, and adding a little cocoa and espresso powder for even more chocolate punch. The finishing salt really is essential on these guys — it tempers the sweetness and intensity of the chocolate and adds a touch of crunchy texture.

A few notes:

  • I find the best way to get those coveted shiny, crackly tops is to bake the cookies as soon as the dough is firm enough to scoop. If you wait too long the dough dries out a bit and the tops aren’t quite as shiny.
  • I like to scoop the dough using an OXO 1.5 Tbsp cookie scoop. Once all the dough is portioned, I go back and roll the each until they’re perfectly round. This helps the cookie bake into nice, uniform circles. If any are a little wonky after baking, you can nudge them into shape right when they come out of the oven using a small offset spatula. Or not. They’ll still be delicious.
  • When eaten warm, the cookies will be very soft and molten inside. Let them cool and they’ll be a bit more chewy and brownie-like (which is what I prefer). Cookies keep well for a few days in an airtight container.
brownie cookies 2

Brownie Cookies

Makes about 15 cookies / Barely adapted from Tartine No. 3

Ingredients:

  • 227 good quality dark (70%) chocolate, chopped (I use Callebaut 70%)
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 60g light brown sugar
  • 60g dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 43g whole rye flour
  • 6g (1 Tbsp) dutch processed cocoa powder
  • Flaky or smoked salt, to finish

Method:

  1. Bring a saucepan with an inch of water to a simmer. Combine the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl on top of the simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water) and melt, stirring occasionally. Once melted, remove from water and set aside.
  2. Whisk together rye flour and cocoa powder in a small bowl.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugars, baking powder, salt, espresso powder, and vanilla. Turn the mixer on low to combine, then turn the speed up to medium-high and whip until the mixture is thick, foamy, and roughly tripled in volume (about 6 minutes).
  4. Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly drizzle in the chocolate-butter mixture, mixing just to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the flour mixture and mix just to combine. Use a spatula to scrape up and over a couple times from the bottom to make sure the batter is well-mixed.
  5. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes, until the dough is firm enough to scoop but not hard.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Once the dough is sufficiently chilled, use a 1 1/2 Tbsp cookie scoop or spoon to portion the batter into about 15 even balls. Roll each one between your hands to make perfectly round — this will help them bake into lovely, perfect circles. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets and sprinkle with a generous pinch of flaky or smoked salt.
  8. Bake one sheet at a time for about 9-11 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and beginning to crack. Cool on the sheets for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Pretzel Salted Caramels

pretzel salted caramels

These little confections have been five years in the making. Pretzel salted caramels were part of the dessert menu at our wedding reception. We didn’t manage to eat them during the actual party, but some kind soul tucked some in a to-go box for us.

And and enjoy we did. And by “we” I mean “I.” Somehow within the next 12 hours I polished all of them off without giving poor David even a sniff of them. (One might say it was a sign of things to come — the running joke is that David has to take chocolate to work if he wants to have some, because I will gradually take care of at anything left at home.)

Anyways, ever since that first day of marriage I have been intending to reverse-engineer pretzel salted caramels so I could make David his own batch. It took me half a decade, but finally — just in time for our 5th anniversary — I did it!

Part of what kept me from making these sooner was, honestly, the fear of candy-making. It’s not something I do too often, so I’m always a little worried that my caramel will be the wrong consistency or my chocolate won’t temper correctly. I really shouldn’t have worked it up so much in my mind because honestly, it’s not that scary. Sure, there are things I could do better but overall, I am thrilled with how these pretzel salted caramels turned out! The caramel has the perfect amount of chew, and the buttery pretzel layer helps balance out the sweetness. A dip in dark chocolate and an extra sprinkle of flaky salt help pull everything together. Make a batch for your Valentine — or for yourself, I won’t tell.

pretzel salted caramels lined up
pretzel salted caramel cross section

A few notes:

  • The success of the caramel layer depends on an accurate thermometer (I have this one). Make sure the probe is submerged in the syrup but not touching the bottom of the pot to get an accurate reading.
  • Before starting the caramel layer, I recommend having all your ingredients measured out and all your tools in place. You don’t want to be rummaging around for your flaky salt or whisk with a hot pot of sugar bubbling on the stove.
  • The caramel recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz. I’ve used it once before and followed it to a T, and the caramel tasted great but was just slightly too chewy for my tastes. So this time I stopped dropped the final temp by 5 degrees and it was just right for me.
  • When cutting the caramel block into individual candies, I like to use a large chef’s knife. Between cuts I wipe it down with a hot towel and lightly grease it with a neutral vegetable oil.
  • If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the chocolate dip and just wrap the caramels with wax paper or cellophane. (Or do what I did and go half and half.)
  • About the chocolate dip: after tempering, I would recommend just working with about 1/3 of the chocolate at a time (keep the remainder in a warmish spot so it doesn’t set). You will inevitably get little pretzel bits in the chocolate as you dip, so it’s nice to switch to a fresh dish every so often so your candies stay nice and neat. Any leftover chocolate you can spread out and dry, then chop and add to your next batch of brownies or chocolate chunk cookies!
  • About tempering: I am not an expert. At all. I usually avoid it, but because I wanted to store these at room temp I decided to go for it. I used the sous vide method outline on Serious Eats which was fairly straightforward.

Pretzel Salted Caramels

Makes one 8×8 pan, about thirty-six 1 1/4″ candies

Ingredients:

For the pretzel base:

  • 200g mini salted pretzels (if using unsalted, add a generous 1/2 tsp kosher salt)
  • 84g (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the salted butter caramel (adapted from David Lebovitz):

  • 3/4 cup (180ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • 160g (1/2 c) light corn syrup
  • 200g (1 c) granulated sugar
  • 60g (generous 4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

For the chocolate coating:

  • 20 oz good quality dark chocolate (I used Callebaut 70%)
  • Flaky sea salt, to finish

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8×8 square pan with foil and lightly grease the foil.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the pretzels (and the salt, if using) into a fine powder. Add the melted butter and pulse until combined. The mixture should hold together easily when squeezed, but shouldn’t feel overly greasy.
  3. Press the pretzel mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan (I like to use the bottom of a measuring cup or shot glass to really press it down evenly).
  4. Bake until firm and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the caramel layer.
  5. To make the caramel, heat the cream in a small saucepan with half of the butter (30g), vanilla and fine sea salt until the mixture just comes to the boil. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm while you continue.
  6. In a medium heavy duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the corn syrup with the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently, to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, only stir is as necessary to keep it from getting any hot spots. If you notice any sugar granules on the side of the pot, brush them with a pastry brush dipped in water.
  7. Cook until the syrup reaches 310ºF (155ºC).
  8. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture until smooth. (The mixture will bubble up furiously, so be very careful!)
  9. Return to the heat and cook the mixture, without stirring, to 255-260F (124-127C — see notes above).
  10. Remove the pan from the heat, lift out the thermometer, and whisk in the remaining 30g butter until it’s melted and the mixture smooth.
  11. Pour the mixture over the pretzel layer. After ~5 minutes, sprinkle the surface with 1/4 tsp flaky salt. Allow to set at room temperature for at least 4 hours, or overnight. (Do not cover while the pan is still warm; once it has come to room temperature you can cover it with a piece of foil.)
  12. Once the caramel is set, use a large, sharp knife to cut the slab into 6 long equal strips. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces. If not coating with chocolate, wrap each caramel in a piece of wax paper.
  13. To coat caramels with chocolate, temper the chocolate according to your preferred method (I prefer the sous vide method — see notes above). Place a caramel on a fork and submerge in the chocolate. Lift out the caramel and tap the fork several times to remove any excess chocolate, then scrape the bottom of the fork along the rim of the bowl and transfer the coated caramel to a piece of parchment paper. Allow to set for a minute, then sprinkle with flaky salt. Let chocolate cool and set completely at room temperature before transferring to an airtight container.
pretzel salted caramels no chocolate


Raspberry Palmiers

This post is sponsored by Président® brand. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

If you’re looking for a way to spread the love this upcoming Valentine’s Day, might I suggest you do it through crisp, buttery cookies? Homemade palmiers, to be precise. Traditionally, these French cookies (also known as elephant ears or French hearts) are made by dusting and rolling puff pastry in sugar, then baking until beautifully crisp and caramelized — a simple but addictive treat that goes down perfectly with an espresso or cup of tea. Today we’re jazzing palmiers up by adding some freeze-dried raspberries, which add not only a bright flavor but also the prettiest natural pink color!

unbaked raspberry palmiers

Palmiers don’t require many ingredients, so it’s important to use the good stuff: namely, high quality butter. I used Président® unsalted butter, a rich European-style butter made from cultured cream. It’s a dream to work with as far as pastry-making is concerned: it rolls out easily and doesn’t crack or melt as easily as lower-fat butters tend to do. And of course, the taste is just next-level delicious — ultra-creamy with a slight tang from the cultured cream!

My version of palmiers start with rough puff pastry. If the thought of laminated pastry makes you want to run for the hills, fear not! Rough puff is classic puff pastry’s laid-back cousin. While there’s still rolling and folding and chilling involved, the process is quicker and a lot more laid-back compared to classic puff — and the result is still wonderfully flaky. Once you’ve got the technique down, you’ll be wanting to whip up batches of rough puff for hand pies, turnovers, galettes, and other delicious delights.

A few notes:

  • For best results, keep your pastry cool but pliable. It should be fairly easy to roll out, but not sticky or soft. Chilling times are approximate but can vary greatly from kitchen to kitchen. If you live in a warm climate or have hot hands, you may want to chill your flour before starting and/or chill longer between folds. And if your kitchen or fridge is exceptionally cool, you may need less chilling time.
  • Once you’ve added the raspberry sugar to the pastry, you’ll want to bake your palmiers as soon as the dough is chilled — don’t keep the pastry in the fridge too long, as the sugar will draw moisture from the dough and create a sticky mess. If you want to bake your palmiers later, you can store the uncut log in the freezer well-wrapped, and slice and bake directly from frozen. Frozen palmiers will likely need a few extra minutes to bake.
  • Keep a close eye on your palmiers as they bake, as they can quickly go from golden brown to scorched! You do want to get them as caramelized as possible for the best flavor and lasting crispness (underbaked palmiers tend to go soggy faster).
dusting raspberry palmiers in sugar
baked raspberry palmiers

Raspberry Palmiers

Makes 20-24 cookies

Ingredients

For the rough puff pastry (makes enough for a double batch of palmiers):

  • 250g AP flour
  • 250g bread flour
  • 10g kosher salt
  • 30g granulated sugar
  • 400g Président® unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 250g cold water (optional: replace 10g water with freshly squeezed lemon juice)

For the raspberry sugar:

  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 15g freeze-dried raspberries

Method:

  1. To make the rough puff pastry, combine the flours, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.
  2. Add the chilled butter to the flour mixture and use your fingers to flatten the cubes of butter. Toss with the flour so that all the butter pieces are coated.
  3. Add the liquid and gently stir with a spatula just to combine. At this point the dough should be quite shaggy, but if you squeeze a bit in your hand it should hold together.
  4. Cover and chill for 15-20 minutes, or until cool but not too stiff.
  5. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin and turn the chilled dough out. Roll the dough into a long rectangle about 8″ x 20″, roughly 1/4″ inch thick. The pastry will seem rather patchy and not quite cohesive — this is normal; it will come together with the folds. Try to keep your edges and corners as straight and square as possible, but don’t stress too much about it.
  6. Using a bench scraper, fold the top third of the dough down and the bottom third of the dough up like a letter, brushing off excess flour as you fold. Rotate your dough 90 degrees so the opening is on the right. This is your first fold.
  7. Repeat steps 5-6 for a total of 4 folds. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, your pastry may stay cool enough for you to do two folds back to back. But if at any point your dough starts to feel warm or sticky/soft, transfer it to a sheet pan and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes or so to chill.
  8. After the final fold, wrap the pastry well and chill for at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 days. (For longer storage, freeze well-wrapped dough for up to a month. Thaw overnight in the fridge before using.)
  9. While the dough is chilling, make the raspberry sugar. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the freeze-dried raspberries into a fine powder. Mix with the 100g granulated sugar.
  10. When you’re ready to shape your palmiers, remove the chilled pastry and cut in half crosswise. Wrap and return one half to the fridge, or freeze for longer storage. (You’ll only need half the pastry for this recipe.)
  11. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle about 10″ x 13″, between 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. Rotate and flip the pastry and flour your surface as needed to avoid sticking. When you’ve reached the correct size/thickness, use a pastry wheel or a sharp knife to trim the edges to neaten.
  12. Sprinkle an even layer of the raspberry-sugar mixture on one side of the dough. Use your rolling pin to gently press the sugar into the dough. Flip and repeat with the other side.
  13. Fold the long edges of your pastry in so they meet exactly in the middle, then fold one half over the other half as if closing a book (you’ll have a total of 4 layers). Transfer the log to a sheet pan and chill for about 10-15 minutes to make cutting the palmiers easier.
  14. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 425F with a rack in the middle and line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  15. Cut the chilled pastry into 1/2″ thick slices. Dip each side in the raspberry sugar before laying 2″ apart on the prepared sheet pans. (The palmiers will puff significantly in the oven, so be sure to leave plenty of space between each.) If the dough is soft at all, return to the fridge or freezer to firm up before baking (see notes above).
  16. Bake the palmiers one sheet at a time for 20-30 minutes, lowering the heat to 400F halfway through baking. (Keep the remaining unbaked palmiers chilled.) Check the bottoms of the palmiers after ~12 minutes; if they are brown and caramelized, flip them over for the remaining baking time. If not, keep checking every 1-2 minutes until they are. Bake until both sides are a rich golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining cookies.
  17. Once the palmiers are cool enough to handle, dip each side into the remaining raspberry sugar. Palmiers are best served the day they’re baked, but will keep for about 3 days at room temperature in an airtight container.
kids reaching for raspberry palmiers

Classic Cheesecake with Lime Curd Glaze

Lime glazed classic cheesecake

A classic cheesecake recipe is something every baker should have in his or her repertoire. It’s one of those crowd-pleasing desserts that can be tailored to fit the season or whatever you have on hand. However, finding the perfect cheesecake base can be a bit of a Goldilocks situation: this one’s too dense, that on’es too soft, too tart, too sweet… Well, friends, I think this one is juuuuust right!

The actual cheesecake portion is adapted from my friend Fanny’s cookbook, Oh Sweet Day! (You may remember this cranberry lime tart from there as well.) To me, it is cheesecake texture perfection: beautifully smooth and creamy but with a lightness as well, thanks to folded in egg whites and a long, gentle bake in a low oven. I love the textural contrast of a cookie crumb crust, so that’s what I’ve gone with here. And because it’s currently citrus season and I always seem to have a jar or three of lemon or lime curd in the fridge, this version is gussied up with a smooth lime glaze, the perfect tart foil for the creamy dreamy cheesecake base.

A few notes:

  • The cookie crust is fairly straightforward; you can really use whatever dry cookie you like or have on hand: graham crackers, gingersnaps, shortbread, Oreos without the middle, etc. You can even sub in some nuts if you like. Depending on the type/brand of cookie you use, you may need to adjust the ratio of butter to crumbs. I usually start with the amounts listed and go from there. I’m basically looking for a mixture that holds together when squeezed but doesn’t feel overly wet or greasy.
  • One key to a successful cheesecake is room temperature ingredients. This helps everything combine easily and smoothly for the most even, creamy texture. Make sure to take out your cream cheese, sour cream, and eggs ahead of time! Cream cheese especially needs a bit of time to get to temperature — I like to take it out at least a couple of hours before mixing and baking.
  • While Fanny doesn’t instruct to use a water bath, I’ve always used one and have never had a dry or cracked cheesecake — so I always do it! Instead of putting the cheesecake pan directly in the water, I just put a large roasting or 9×13 pan with a couple inches of hot water on the rack below the cheesecake.
  • I don’t have many springform pans so I usually bake cheesecakes in regular cake pans — in this case, I used an 8×3 round cake pan. Just grease your pan well and line the bottom with parchment, and don’t try to remove the cake until it is thoroughly chilled and set. To release, have ready a flat, large plate or cutting board covered with plastic wrap and your eventual serving plate. Warm the bottom of the pan on a burner and run a thin offset spatula all around the cake. Overturn onto the plastic lined plate/board, peel off the parchment, and flip back onto your serving plate.
  • Glazing is easiest when your cheesecake is completely chilled and the glaze is just barely warm. If some glaze drips over the edge, no big deal — just wipe it off!
classic cheesecake slice


Classic Cheesecake with Lime Curd Glaze

Makes one 8-inch cheesecake
Cheesecake base recipe adapted from Oh Sweet Day! / Glaze adapted from Shirl Gard

Ingredients

For the cookie crumb crust:

  • 175g cookie crumbs (approx. — see notes above)
  • 60g melted butter (approx. — see notes above)
  • Pinch of salt

For the classic cheesecake base:

  • 500g cream cheese (2 blocks — not the tub kind; I use Philadelphia brand), at room temperature
  • 240g (1 c) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 200g (1 c) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

For the lime curd glaze:

  • 100g lime curd (homemade or store-bought), at room temperature
  • 100g sugar
  • 100g water
  • 5g powdered pectin

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F with one rack in the middle and one below. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan (springform or regular works) and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor, combine the cookie crumbs, salt, and melted butter. The mixture should hold together if you squeeze it in your hand, but shouldn’t feel overly greasy. If the mixture doesn’t hold together, add more melted butter a teaspoon at a time until it does. If overly greasy, add more cookie crumbs a teaspoon at a time until you get the right texture.
  3. Press the cookie crumbs into the bottom of the pan and slightly up the sides, if desired. Use a measuring cup or shot glass to press the crumbs in firmly and evenly.
  4. Bake until just set, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.
  5. Lower the oven temperature to 250F. Combine the cream cheese, sugar, salt, vanilla, and lemon/lime juice in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined. Scrape down the sides, add the sour cream and pulse until smooth. Add the egg yolks one at a time, pulsing after each yolk just to combine. Scrape the batter into a large bowl.
  6. Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites on medium low until frothy. Turn up the speed to medium-high and whip until soft peaks.
  7. Fold the meringue into the cream cheese batter in three stages. Fold just until the batter is homogeneous and no white streaks remain.
  8. Pour the batter into the pan with the prepared crust. Tap the pan on the counter several times to dislodge any large air bubbles.
  9. Transfer the cheesecake to the middle rack in the oven. On the rack below, place a roasting pan or 9×13 baking pan filled with a couple inches of hot water.
  10. Bake for about 80-90 minutes, or until the edges of the cheesecake are set and puffed but the very center still looks wet and wobbly. Turn off the oven, crack open the oven door (I use a wooden spoon to prop it open) and allow the cheesecake to cool completely, at least an hour.
  11. Remove the cooled cheesecake from the oven. Run an offset spatula around the edges to loosen (but keep the cake in its pan) and refrigerate at least 4 hours (preferably overnight).
  12. To make the lime curd glaze, bring 100g water to a boil over medium heat. Whisk together the sugar and pectin.
  13. When the water reaches a boil, slowly add the sugar and pectin, whisking continuously. Cook the mixture, still whisking, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool until barely warm.
  14. Remove the cheesecake from the pan and transfer to a serving plate / cake stand. Use an offset spatula to smooth the sides if needed.
  15. Gently whisk together the 100g of room-temperature lime curd and 50g of the barely warm pectin simple syrup (the remainder of the syrup can be refrigerated for another use). Do this slowly so as not to introduce air bubbles into the mixture, which could show up in the final glaze.
  16. Carefully pour the glaze into the center of the cheesecake and use a small offset spatula to gently spread it to the edges. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
classic cheesecake from above

Lime Chiffon Cake with Mango Whipped Cream

lime chiffon cake with offset spatula

I’ve been dreaming of making this cake for some time now: soft, fluffy layers of chiffon sandwiched with citrus curd and mango frosting. I’ve tried once or twice in the past, but it was never as good as I wanted: cake layers were too dry, or the frosting was too heavy. But this time around it was just right! This is the perfect style of cake to serve to people who don’t like desserts that are too sweet, or as a light ending to a large meal.

A few notes:

  • If you’ve never made any type of sponge cake before, I recommend reading through the tips on my mom’s sponge cake recipe before starting. Same principles apply.
  • If you make your own lime curd for this recipe, I definitely recommend saving your lime rinds and making some fresh lime syrup to use as your cake soak. I followed the directions here (substituting limes for lemons) and just let the mixture sit overnight before draining.
  • The mango whipped cream frosting uses a game-changing food processor method by Stella Parks (which she learned from a Japanese bakery), and it’s the perfect accompaniment to chiffon — light but flavorful from the addition of freeze-dried fruit. I really don’t recommend using a butter-based frosting with this cake as it’s just too heavy.
  • I got my freeze dried mangoes from Trader Joe’s, but you can also source it online.
  • To decorate this cake, I dehydrated some lemon and lime slices by baking them at 200F for a few hours until dry (flipping them every hour or so). I also added a bit of chopped freeze-dried mango.
lime chiffon cake from above

Lime Chiffon Cake with Mango Whipped Cream

Makes one 6-inch cake

Ingredients:

For the lime chiffon cake:

  • 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 150g cake flour
  • 175g caster sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • generous 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 60g (1/4 c or 60ml) lime juice
  • 60g (1/4 c or 60 ml) water
  • 76g (1/3 c or 80 ml) oil
  • Zest of two limes
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

For the mango whipped cream:

  • 23g freeze-dried mango
  • 75g granulated sugar
  • 3 c heavy cream, chilled

To finish:

  • Simple syrup or fresh lime syrup
  • ~4 Tbsp lime curd (I use David Lebovitz’s recipe: it makes a lot more than you need for this cake, but you can use the rest on toast or freeze leftovers)
  • Dehydrated lemon and lime slices (optional, for garnish — see notes)
  • Chopped freeze-dried mango (optional, for garnish)

Method:

For the lime chiffon cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the lower third. Line three 6-inch pans with parchment, but do not grease the sides of the pan.
  2. Sift together the cake flour, 150g caster sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl (you’ll eventually be mixing the whole batter in this bowl, so choose a nice wide one!). Whisk to combine. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the egg yolks, lime juice, lime zest, water, oil, and vanilla to the well, and whisk until smooth.
  3. Beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium, and whisk until soft peaks. With the mixer still on medium, slowly add the remaining 25 grams caster sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until you have glossy firm peaks.
  4. Using a silicone spatula, carefully fold the egg whites into the egg yolk batter 1/3 at a time. Mix just until the batter is homogeneous and no white streaks remain.
  5. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans, about 250g each. Give each pan a couple raps on the counter to dislodge any big air bubbles.
  6. Bake until the cakes are puffed and firm and a tester comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes (do not open the oven door until at least 20 minutes have passed or the cakes might collapse!). Allow to cool a few minutes in the pan, then run an offset spatula around the edges (this helps minimize shrinkage). Cool another 10-15 minutes in the pan, then remove the cakes from the pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Once cooled, Chill the cakes before frosting, at least 1/2 an hour.

For the mango whipped cream:

  1. In a food processor, grind the freeze dried mango and sugar into a fine powder. Stir with a fork to break up any clumps.
  2. Add the cream and pulse until very thick and creamy, about the consistency of Greek yogurt. Be careful not to over-process or the cream will turn to butter! If you spoon out some of the cream, it should hold its shape when the spoon is overturned. Use immediately, or refrigerate until needed (it should keep for about a week).

To assemble:

  1. Trim the tops of the cakes to level if needed and peel the parchment paper off each one. Place a dollop of cream on a cake board / plate / cake stand and place the first cake round on top.
  2. Brush the top of the cake generously with syrup. Spoon about 1/3 c of mango whipped cream on top of the first round and spread it on smoothly with an offset spatula. Drizzle a couple tablespoons of lime curd in the center, taking care not to go too close to the edge so the curd won’t leak out the sides.
  3. Repeat step 2 with the second layer. Finish by placing the last cake round top side down (soak it with simple syrup before placing it on top).
  4. Spread a thin, even layer of mango whipped cream over the sides and top of the cake to lock the crumbs in. Refrigerate for about 15-20 minutes until set.
  5. After the cake has chilled, spread a thick, even layer of cream on the top and sides. I used an offset spatula to create some texture. Decorate with dehydrated citrus slices and freeze-dried mango pieces, or as desired. Chill until ready to serve.
lime chiffon cake

Mushroom Meringues

mushroom meringues
These mushroom meringues may well be the most magical things I’ve made all year. I honestly couldn’t stop smiling after making a batch of these because they just looked so….mushroomy! These fungi confections are a traditional decoration for Buche de Noel (I used them to decorate a “Yule Log” cake), but they would also make a quirky addition to a cookie box or a sweet little stocking stuffer. They aren’t difficult to make, but they do take a bit of time. However, you can easily break up the work over a few days — just bake the meringues one day, and decorate while watching your favorite cheesy holiday movie!

A few notes:

  • This recipe is easily scalable. The basic proportion I used is 1 part egg whites to 1.5 parts sugar. (You can use 1:2 if you want them sweeter, but honestly they were plenty sweet for me.)
  • If you want your mushrooms to stand on their own, keep the caps on the smaller side (maybe 1-2 inches across) and the stems on the shorter, squatter side.
  • If you’re using these mushrooms to decorate a buche de noel or something of that sort, it’s perfectly fine (and even desirable) to have caps and stems of different sizes and lengths — it adds to the whimsy and realism! You can always use a dab of frosting to stick them down so you don’t have to worry if they don’t stand on their own.
  • If you make a mistake piping, just use a spatula to scoop up the meringue and put it back into the piping bag.

mushroom meringues 2
mushroom meringues in egg carton

Mushroom Meringues

Makes 20-24 medium mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 70g egg whites (about 2 large)
  • 105g caster sugar
  • Large pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • Seeds of half a vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g white chocolate or white candy melts
  • Cocoa powder for dusting

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 225F. Line one large (or two medium) sheet pans with parchment paper. Prepare a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I used a 1/2″ one).
  2. Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium low until frothy, then add the salt and cream of tartar.
  3. Turn the speed up to medium and continue beating until the meringue holds soft peaks. Add the sugar a spoonful at a time, waiting about 10-15 seconds between additions.
  4. When all the sugar has been added, turn up the speed to medium high and continue beating until the meringue is glossy and holds very stiff peaks. Add the vanilla bean seeds (or vanilla extract) and whip until combined.
  5. Transfer half the meringue to the prepared pastry bag. Use a dab of meringue in each corner of the sheet pan to “glue” the parchment paper down. To pipe the caps, hold the pastry bag vertically about 1/2 an inch above the baking sheet and squeeze (without moving the bag) to form a round. When the cap is your desired size, stop squeezing and flick your wrist to complete the cap. Continue piping rounds until you’ve used up all the meringue in the bag. They won’t spread or puff much so you can pipe them quite close. If you have any peaks of meringue, use a damp finger to flatten and smooth out the caps.
  6. Fill the bag with the remaining meringue and pipe stems. Again, hold the bag vertically about 1/2 an inch above the baking sheet. Squeeze and slowly lift the bag, then stop squeezing but continue lifting to form “kisses”. Continue piping until you’ve used up all the meringue. (You’ll want to pipe a few more stems than caps as they’re more likely to topple or break.)
  7. Bake the meringues until they’re completely dry and release easily from the parchment, about 80-90 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the meringues cool down completely (a few hours or overnight).
  8. When the meringues are completely cool, use a microplane to shave down the tops of the stems so they’re flat. Dust some cocoa powder over the mushroom caps if desired. Smudge the cocoa with your finger to get your desired “dirty” look. Smudge a little on the stems as well if you like. (I used different cocoa powders — natural, Dutch processed, and black — to get a variety of looks, but use whatever you have or like.)
  9. Melt the white chocolate or candy melts. Use a small paring knife or flower nail to make a small hole in the bottom of a cap. (Work gently so you don’t pierce all the way through!).* Use a chopstick to widen the hole so the end of the stem will fit inside. Dip the end of the stem in melted chocolate, then stand the stem up. Carefully but firmly push the stem through the hole. Using a small brush, dab a little extra white chocolate around the join to seal. Set the mushroom in the well of an egg carton to allow the chocolate to set. Store in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks.
  • *Note: you can also just “glue” the stems to the caps without making a hole. I tried both ways and found the hole method to be a little more secure and realistic-looking, though more time consuming…