Buttermilk Honey Panna Cotta

buttermilk honey panna cotta eaten

As much as I love to bake fancy cakes and interesting cookies, my family probably gets most excited over anything in the custard and pudding realm, i.e. creamy desserts. They love everything from rice pudding to ice cream, and definitely this dead simple buttermilk honey panna cotta.

Panna cotta is one of my go-to make-ahead desserts, especially when I have random cartons of dairy taking up space in the fridge. It’s incredibly flexible: you can infuse the cream with spices or herbs, or even swap in different types of dairy. Make it the afternoon before serving, or stash them in the fridge for up to a week. Top panna cotta with seasonal fruit, or serve something crisp like brittle or shortbread cookies.

Whenever possible, I love making panna cotta with buttermilk. The slight tang adds an interesting element to this otherwise very simple dessert, the perfect foil for sweet seasonal fruits. However, if you don’t have buttermilk on hand you can easily replace it with an equal quantity of whole milk.

On working with gelatin

Ok, I know a lot of people have qualms over working with gelatin. Sheet vs. powder, how much to use, etc. — I realize it can be overwhelming. But I encourage you to get comfortable with using gelatin — it really opens up an exciting world of delicious desserts!

I almost always use powdered gelatin since it’s most readily accessible where I live. I buy it in bulk and keep it in an airtight container, and it lasts forever. If you’re using another type of gelatin, you can use this gelatin converter to estimate the amount you’ll need.

The amount of gelatin in this recipe is also flexible. If I’m planning to unmold the panna cottas, I use the amount listed which provides a medium set and enough structure so the panna cotta holds on a plate. If I’m going to serve the panna cotta in the container, then sometimes I’ll decrease the gelatin by about 1/3 for a very wobbly, barely set texture. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference; so pick one end of the spectrum and note how you like the texture. Then, if needed, you can adjust the amount in the future until you obtain your ideal panna cotta wobble.

Molding and unmolding panna cotta

You can use pretty much any container to set your panna cotta. For unmolded panna cotta, I have glass pudding cups similar to these which work perfectly. I just lightly oil the insides before pouring in the mixture. To unmold, dip the mold in very hot (but not boiling water) for about 5-6 seconds, then invert onto a plate. If the panna cotta doesn’t release readily, you might need to give the glass a few taps or warm it for a few more seconds.

Of course, you can just serve the panna cotta in the mold too! Set the mixture in little mason jars, wine glasses or little tumblers for a fun presentation. Or go casual family style and pour it all into a cake pan, then just scoop out individual portions.

buttermilk honey panna cotta

What to serve with panna cotta

While panna cotta is delicious on its own there are definitely lots of ways to dress it up. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Fruity: My favorite accompaniment for panna cotta is a chunky fruit compote to add some texture — basically just cook some fruit with a touch of sugar and a little liquid until thickened but not completely broken down. Or try some roasted (strawberries or peaches!) or poached (pears!) fruit! Or keep it even simpler by just macerating some berries with a little sugar to get the juices flowing.
  • Crunchy: Roasted or candied nuts, granola or streusel, brittle, shortbread fingers, tuiles
  • Saucy: A drizzle of caramel sauce, ganache, infused syrup
  • Icy: Serve on a bed of granita or alongside a scoop of sorbet

Panna cotta troubleshooting

  • Don’t boil the gelatin. Boiling gelatin can hinder its setting power. The dairy only needs to be heated enough to melt the gelatin, so I just look for the cream to be steaming before adding the bloomed gelatin.
  • When mixing dairy products with different fat levels (i.e. buttermilk and heavy cream), don’t skip the cooling process at room temperature before refrigerating the panna cotta. If you put the mixture straight into the fridge while warm, the cream will likely rise to the top and you’ll end up with two distinct layers. It might look cool, but probably not what you want. Let the whole mixture cool to roughly room temperature, stirring occasionally to keep everything emusified, before dividing into molds and chilling.
  • Don’t rush the setting time. Give the panna cotta at least 4 hours to set, especially if you plan to unmold them.
buttermilk honey panna cotta

Buttermilk Honey Panna Cotta

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes

This simple, creamy, no-bake dessert is the perfect canvas for seasonal fruit.

Ingredients

  • 300g heavy cream, divided
  • 10.5g (3 1/2 tsp) powdered gelatin*
  • 60g good quality honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • 420g buttermilk**
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Pour 60g heavy cream into a small bowl. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over the surface and set aside to bloom for 5-10 minutes. Set a strainer over a 4-cup glass measuring cup or large jug with a spout.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 240g heavy cream, honey, and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally, until cream is just steaming and the honey is dissolved. Remove from heat.
  3. Scrape the bloomed gelatin into the warm cream mixture and whisk until gelatin has fully dissolved. Strain into the prepared glass measuring cup.
  4. Let cream mixture cool until lukewarm, whisking occasionally. Whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla. Allow to cool to roughly room temperature, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally to make sure the mixture is homogenous. (Don't skip this cooling process as it helps prevent the cream and buttermilk from separating in the fridge.)
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between six ramekins or serving glasses (about 120-130g each). If you plan to unmold the panna cottas, lightly grease the molds beforehand. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or up to a week. (If you plan on storing them in the fridge for more than half a day, cover with plastic wrap.) 
  6. To unmold, dip the mold into very warm (not boiling) water for 5-6 seconds. Invert onto a serving plate. Add garnish/sauces if desired -- I love serving panna cotta with a chunky compote!
  7. Store panna cottas in the fridge for up to a week.

Notes

*If you don't plan to unmold the panna cottas, you can reduce the gelatin to as little as 7g (about 2 1/8 tsp, or one package) for a very wobbly, just-set texture.

**Buttermilk can be replaced with an equal weight of whole milk.

Sourdough Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Rye and Espresso

sourdough chocolate chunk cookie

Meet the newest member of CTD chocolate chunk cookie family! This particular recipe was designed to use up sourdough starter and be a relatively quick bake (i.e. no softening of ingredients, no mandatory long resting). But don’t worry, they are positively packed with flavor and are poised become the new most-frequent impulse bake in this house (toss up between this and the sourdough chocolate cake)!

If you’ve baked the salted chocolate chunk cookie from my book, this recipe will seem familiar to you. We’re featuring the same heavy hitters: browned butter, rye flour, espresso. However, I’ve tweaked the proportions a touch to reflect my current cookie preferences: slightly thinner but still chewy with crisp edges.

To chill or not to chill

That is the million dollar cookie question, isn’t it? Many bakers swear by “ripening” their cookie dough for 24 or even up to 72 hours for improved texture and flavor.

For this particular cookie, I suggest chilling for a minimum of 30-45 minutes — this helps to resolidify the butter and control spreading. If you’re in a real hurry, you can flatten the dough to help it chill faster or even stick it in the freezer. Thanks to all the flavor bombs in the dough, you will get tasty cookies.

But if you have the patience, chilling the dough for a full 24 hours does pay off with a more complex, harmonious flavor and a thicker, fudgier texture. (Beyond 24 hours I don’t detect a noticeable enough difference to warrant the extra time.) It’s similar to the difference between meat that’s been seasoned and then cooked right away versus something that’s had time to marinate overnight. You can enjoy and be satisfied by both, but the one with the longer marination just tastes better. I usually bake a couple off for instant gratification and keep the rest in the fridge for a full rest.

Here’s a quick video so you can see the difference between the 45 minute vs 24 hour chill. Top cookies had a 45 minute chill; bottom had 24 hours.

And a cross section! 24 hour chill on the left, 45 minute chill on the right.

You can also freeze portioned dough for longer storage. If you like super thick cookies you can bake directly from frozen, but I prefer to let the unbaked dough sit out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes (about the time it takes to preheat the oven) for better spread.

Chocolate selection

I really enjoy a mix of white and dark (but not too dark) chocolate in this cookie. Mixing up the chocolates makes for more interesting eating, and the white chocolate helps balance out the intensity of the brown butter, espresso, and rye. But I think all milk or even caramelized white chocolate would taste great in this dough base too! Use what you have and like.

I prefer using chopped chocolate or callets rather than chocolate chips for better taste and spread. (You don’t need to chop the callets if they’re on the small side; I usually use Callebaut callets and toss them straight into the dough.)

OK, on to the recipe!

sourdough chocolate chunk cookie

Sourdough Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Rye and Espresso

Yield: 1 dozen cookies
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Chilling Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 12 minutes

Rich, flavorful chocolate chunk cookies made with sourdough discard.

Ingredients

  • 115g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 10g freshly brewed coffee (can sub milk or water)
  • 85g light brown sugar
  • 85g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk, cold
  • 80g sourdough discard (100% hydration), cold
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g all purpose flour
  • 45g rye flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 70g chopped white chocolate
  • 70g chopped bittersweet chocolate (I like 55-65%)
  • Flaky salt, for garnish (optional)
  • Additional chocolate, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. To brown the butter, place the butter in a small, light-colored saucepan over low-medium heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir frequently with a heatproof spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed. The butter will crackle, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning. It’s done when the crackling subsides and you smell toasted nuts. This process takes about 7-10 minutes total, but the butter can go from browned to burnt in a flash—so keep an eye on it. Scrape the butter and all the toasty bits into a large bowl and stir in the espresso powder and coffee -- this helps infuse the butter with extra coffee flavor. Let cool until tepid, about 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk the sugars into the butter until smooth and combined, followed by the egg yolk, sourdough starter, and vanilla. The mixture should be viscous and homogenous, with no streaks of visible starter. 
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold together until just combined. When just a few streaks of flour remain, add the chocolate, and mix until evenly distributed.
  4. Cover and chill the dough for 45-60 minutes, or until cool to the touch. (You can leave the dough in the bowl where it was mixed, but transferring it to plastic wrap and flattening to a 1” slab will quicken the cooling process.) Alternatively, the dough can be chilled for up to 24 hours or frozen for longer storage. (They will spread less and may require an extra minute or two of baking time.)
  5. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with a rack in the middle and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Portion the dough into twelve equal balls, about 54g each. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets about 2½ inches apart and sprinkle the tops with flaky sea salt.
  7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the tops are set and no longer shiny, about 12 to 14 minutes. Rotate the sheet in the oven halfway through baking. Right after the cookies come out of the oven, use a large round cookie cutter to nudge them into perfectly round circles, if desired. Top with a few pieces of chopped chocolate for garnish.
  8. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Notes

Recipe adapted from Baked to Order.

sourdough chocolate chunk cookie

Related recipes and resources:

Very Strawberry Pavlova

strawberry pavlova

Is there any dessert more elegant than pavlova, with its billowy meringue, clouds of whipped cream, and colorful toppings? Named after the ballerina Anna Pavlova (I won’t get into the heated discussion of its origin country), pavlova is a study in contrasts. The outer layer of meringue is shatteringly crisp, giving way to soft and mallowy innards. It begs to be topped with heaps of softly whipped cream and the juiciest of fruit.

While a stark white pavlova is a thing of beauty, I wanted to play around with adding color and flavor to the meringue itself with ground freeze-dried berries. Thus this very strawberry pavlova was born!

Pavlova isn’t difficult to make, though the process can seem daunting until you’ve given it a couple of tries. Here are my tips for getting the best results for your pavlova.

Tips for Pavlova Success

  1. Use fresh, clean egg whites. We want maximum volume for the extra billowy meringue. Fresh (not boxed) egg whites will give you the most stable and voluminous foam. Make sure there are no traces of egg yolk; any fat will prevent the meringue from whipping up properly. (Your bowl and beaters should be squeaky clean, too.) Room temperature whites will whip up and dissolve sugar more quickly, so I leave mine at room temperature for 30-60 minutes before starting.
  2. Beat meringue on medium speed. I like to make pavlova using French meringue as I think it creates the lightest and potentially most voluminous meringue, when correctly made. French meringue is often called the simplest of the three meringue styles, as it doesn’t involve using a double boiler (Swiss meringue) or making a sugar syrup (Italian meringue). However, French meringue is the least stable of the meringues and can easy overwhip or collapse. To counteract this, I whip the meringue on no higher than medium speed the entire time. Whipping on high speed will create volume quickly, but you end up with a meringue with lots of big and frothy air bubbles that are more prone to rising and collapsing in the oven, resulting in cracks. Beating on a lower speed for longer creates a mesh of very fine and even bubbles, creating a structure that is strong and stable. This is what we want!
  3. Sugar: keep it fine and add it slowly. I recommend using superfine or caster sugar for making the meringue — its small crystals dissolve more quickly and easily than regular granulated sugar. (I make my own superfine sugar by blitzing regular sugar in a food processor for about a minute.) Also important — wait until the meringue reaches soft peaks before adding the sugar; and add it gradually — a spoonful at a time, waiting a good 10 seconds between additions. Adding the sugar too soon or too quickly can overwhelm the delicate meringue, inhibiting it from expanding to its full potential. You’ll know your meringue is ready when the mixture is stiff and glossy and you don’t feel any grittiness when you rub a bit of the meringue between your fingers. Sugar that isn’t completely dissolved can lead to weeping (leaking sugar syrup) during or after baking, so take your time!
  4. Baking takes time… Pavlovas need a low, slow bake to dry sufficiently — in my oven for this particular recipe about 80-90 minutes, but keep in mind that all ovens are different and you may need to adjust. I bake mine on a pizza stone to help retain oven heat and crisp the bottom (awesome tip from Nicola Lamb). Try not to open the oven door until the very end; the delicate structure may deflate if exposed to sudden temperature changes. Use the oven light if you’re curious!
  5. …And so does cooling. Ideally, pavlovas are also given enough time to cool completely in the oven. I like to make my pavlova shells right before bed, leaving them in the oven to cool overnight so the structure has plenty of time to set and minimize cracks from cooling too fast.
  6. Fill at the last minute. Due to their high sugar content, pavlovas are hygroscopic — they want to absorb moisture from anything around it. Once you add cream and fruit, it’s only a matter of time before the shell will start to soften from the moisture of the toppings. Pavlova is best enjoyed immediately after filling (or at most, an hour or two after filling).

One last thing: CRACKS HAPPEN, even if you do everything right. While dramatic cracking during baking or cracks that compromise the structure of the shape suggest problems with either the meringue or baking, it is totally normal to have a few small ones here and there, especially around the hollowed area. Don’t worry about it! This is what the fillings are for.

strawberry pavlova

Very Strawberry Pavlova

Yield: 1 medium pavlova (Serves ~6)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Cooling Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 50 minutes

A stunning pink strawberry pavlova, naturally flavored with freeze-dried strawberries.

Ingredients

For the strawberry pavlova shell:

  • 105g egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), at room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 170g superfine or caster sugar
  • 5g (1 tsp) vinegar or lemon juice
  • 5g (2 tsp) cornstarch
  • 15g freeze-dried strawberry powder
  • Drop of gel pink food coloring (optional)

For topping:

  • Lots of berries or other tart fresh fruit, sliced if large
  • 1-2 Tbsp granulated sugar (optional)
  • 200g heavy cream (35%)
  • 60g buttermilk (or substitute yogurt, sour cream, or additional heavy cream)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 275F with a rack in the lower third. If you have a pizza stone, place this on the rack while the oven is preheating. Alternatively, you can preheat a large baking sheet. This will help the bottom of the pavlova crisp nicely.
  2. Prepare the baking sheet: Trace a 6" circle on a piece of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper, ink side down, on a baking sheet.
  3. Make the strawberry pavlova shell: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites, cream of tarter, and salt. Mix on low to combine, then raise the speed to medium (5 on a Kitchenaid mixer) and whisk until soft peaks.
  4. Once the meringue has reached soft peaks, turn the mixer to medium-low (4 on a Kitchenaid) and add the sugar a teaspoon at a time, waiting about 10 seconds between each addition. It will take several minutes to add the sugar. Be patient; adding the sugar too quickly can cause the meringue to deflate and not reach optimal volume. Once all the sugar has been added, stop briefly and scrape down the bowl with a clean spatula to make sure no sugar is stuck on the sides. Then continue mixing on medium-low/medium speed (4 or 5 on a Kitchenaid) until the meringue is stiff and glossy and the sugar is fully dissolved. If you rub a little bit of meringue between your fingers, you shouldn't feel any granules of sugar. This usually takes me anywhere from 5-10 minutes, but the timing can vary depending on your sugar granule size and the condition of your egg whites. Go by look and feel rather than time.
  5. Pour in the vinegar or lemon juice and sift in the cornstarch, then mix on medium-high speed (6 on a Kitchenaid) for 20-30 seconds to combine. Add the freeze-dried strawberries and food coloring (if using), and mix on medium for a final 20-30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula and fold the mixture a few times to ensure everything is well combined.
  6. Shape the pavlova: Scrape the meringue into the center of the circle and use an offset spatula to shape it into a cylinder, keeping it within the drawn guide. Make a well in the center (this is where your toppings will go), then swipe your spatula or a spoon vertically around the pavlova to make decorative furrows. You can make these rather deep as the lines will lose some definition during baking.
  7. Bake the pavlova: Place the baking sheet onto the preheated baking stone or sheet and immediately turn the oven down to 220F. Bake the pavlova for 80 minutes without opening the oven door. At this point, the outside of the pavlova should be matte and dry to the touch and release from the paper (but be careful, when lifting; it's delicate!). If not, bake for a further 5-10 minutes or until dry. Turn off the heat and allow the pavlova to cool completely in the closed oven, at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.
  8. Carefully slide an offset spatula under the base of the cooled pavlova and transfer it to an airtight container until ready to serve.
  9. Make the topping: About 30 minutes before serving, toss a couple handfuls of berries with 1-2 Tbsp sugar to macerate, if desired (this will pull the juices out of the fruit which you can decoratively drizzle over the top). Right before serving, combine the cream and buttermilk in a medium bowl and whip until medium-soft peaks. Pile the cream into the center of the pavlova and top generously with fruit. Drizzle with fruit juices if desired. Serve immediately.

Notes

Make your own superfine sugar by blitzing regular granulated sugar in a food processor for about one minute, or until fine but not powdery.

Freeze-dried strawberry powder can be purchased online or at some specialty food stores. You can also make your own by grinding whole freeze-dried strawberries, though I recommend doing this right before mixing the meringue to minimize clumping.

In a dry environment, unfilled pavlova shells can be stored for a few days in an airtight container. However, the more humid your environment the more quickly the shell will start to soften.

Recipes and resources:

Brown Butter Fortune Cookies

brown butter fortune cookies
Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Here’s another recipe to add to your “what to do with extra egg whites” list: brown butter fortune cookies! Making fortune cookies is both simple and fun, and the result is much tastier than what you typically get with your takeout.

The batter comes together simply with a bowl and a whisk, no mixer needed. Well you do need to brown some butter. You could use plain melted butter (skip the water if you do), but I think browning it is worth the few extra minutes for the extra flavor. This is a simple cookie, so the nuttiness really shines through!

My favorite way to make fortune cookies is in a waffle cone maker. It’s fast and produces perfectly even, crisp rounds. I have a Chef’s Choice 838 which is sadly discontinued, but try calling up your local kitchenware or restaurant supply store to see if they have one lurking around (that’s how my husband found ours). I suspect a pizzelle or krumkake iron would also work very nicely, though I don’t own those kitchen gadgets (yet…). However, you can definitely make fortune cookies successfully in a regular oven as well, so don’t let a lack of equipment deter you!

Shaping the fortune cookies takes a little practice; but after a couple goes you’ll be set. The cookies are hot, so you might want to wear gloves or use the edge of a tea towel to protect your fingers. (I don’t bother, but I have asbestos hands.) Placing the shaped cookies into an egg carton helps lock the shape in as they cool completely.

fortune cookies egg carton

Here are a couple different ways to shape the cookies; try both and see what works best for you.

Don’t worry if the shaping takes you a few tries. Even if you end up with some misshaped cookies, they’ll still taste wonderful! By the way, fortune cookie factories often sell their misshapen cookies. One place in my hometown calls them the “unfortunates”…ha!

Baker’s Notes:

  • I like to use a 1 Tbsp cookie scoop / disher to portion the thin batter.
  • If baking the cookies, I find it easiest to spread the batter on silicone mats, such as a Silpat, versus parchment paper. The mats don’t crinkle and produce smoother cookies.
  • Every oven is different so I recommend baking a single test cookie to determine the perfect timing for you. (Let the cool completely so you can accurately evaluate the crispness.) But If you find out after the cookies have cooled that the centers aren’t completely crisp, it’s ok — you can bake them in a low (250F) oven for 5-10 minutes, or until dry.
  • Once your fortune cookies have cooled completely, you can drizzle on or dunk them in some tempered chocolate for extra flair. These would make the perfect edible Valentine’s day cards!
  • Use this same batter to make ice cream cones, bowls, or curved tuiles!
fortune cookies baked and waffled
brown butter fortune cookies

Brown Butter Fortune Cookies

Yield: 15-18 cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Brown butter fortune cookies are delightfully crisp and nutty. Include personalized messages for the perfect edible gift! Fortune cookies can either be baked or cooked in a waffle cone iron.

Ingredients

  • 56g unsalted butter (yields ~45g browned butter)
  • 30g cold water
  • 100g egg whites (about 3 large), at room temperature
  • 80g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp pure almond extract (optional)
  • 80g all purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Brown the butter: Place the cubed butter in a small, light-colored saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir frequently with a heatproof spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed. The butter will crackle, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning. It’s done when the crackling subsides and you smell toasted nuts. This process takes about 10 minutes total, but the butter can go from browned to burnt in a flash—so keep an eye on it. Pour the butter and all the toasty bits into a heatsafe bowl and add 30g cold water. Cool to room temp.
  2. Mix the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together egg whites, sugar, and salt until frothy (1-2 minutes). Add the extracts and cooled butter; mix until very well combined. Sift in the flour and whisk until smooth. Cover and rest at room temperature while you preheat the oven or waffle cone iron. If you’re going to include fortunes in your cookies, have them prepared before you start baking the cookies.
  3. To bake fortune cookies in the oven: Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats. Using an offset spatula or back of a spoon, spread a 1 Tbsp portion of batter into a thin circle 4-5″ in diameter. Bake until golden, about 9-11 minutes. Slide an offset spatula under the entire cookie to release, then immediately shape (see step 5). Note: I recommend doing a test bake with one cookie to determine the correct baking time for your oven. After you’ve figured it out, I would stick to baking two at a time as the window to shape the fortune cookies is short, 10-15 seconds once the cookies come out of the oven. Use a cool baking sheet / silicone mat each time or the excess heat will make the batter difficult to spread.
  4. To make fortune cookies in a waffle cone iron: Cook 1 Tbsp portions according to manufacturer’s instructions (mine took 85-90 seconds), then immediately shape (see step 5).
  5. To shape fortune cookies: Place the fortune, if using, in the center of the cookie. Fold the cookie in half to create a half-moon. Hold the cookie rounded side down. Pull the corners up so they meet while pushing the middle down, creating the classic fortune cookie shape. Alternatively, you can fold the cookie, rounded side up, over the edge of a loaf pan or glass. Try both methods and see which works best for you. Refer to the videos above for more visual guidance. Hold the cookie in place until it sets, 5 to 10 seconds. Place shaped cookie into the space of an empty egg carton, tips facing down down. Let cool completely.
  6. Storage: Store fortune cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Notes

Recipe adapted from Red House Spice.

fortune cookies square

Black bottom toasted milk banana cream pie

banana cream pie

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I don’t like raw bananas. So banana cream pie was never an appealing dessert option for me. Why choose something with mushy raw bananas when you could have apple, or pumpkin, or pecan, or pretty much anything else? But a few years back, my dad — who generally doesn’t like or eat sweets — mentioned that his favorite pie was, you guessed it, banana cream pie. And because the real reason I like baking is making my favorite people the things they like to eat, it was determined: I needed to make one.

After a couple of meh versions, I finally nailed my forever banana cream pie recipe this past Christmas. I present to you:

Black bottom toasted milk banana cream pie.

Let’s break it down. It starts with a black bottom layer (i.e. chocolate ganache), which adds flavor and texture and keeps the bottom crust crisp for days (if the pie lasts that long). Next is a toasted milk cream diplomat. Cream diplomat is just the term for pastry cream that is lightened with whipped cream and set with gelatin, which gives both airy-smooth texture plus a beautiful slice. We’ve talked about toasted milk powder before, and I thought its roasty, toasty notes would be the perfect flavor to enhance a classic banana cream pie. (It is perfect. My husband called it “a revelation.”) That’s all layered up with just-ripe bananas, then topped with a sour cream whipped cream. Sour cream adds both flavor and stability to the whipped cream so you can have the whole pie prepped a few hours in advance if needed. If you want your cream to have even more staying power (i.e. longer than 6 hours), you can add some gelatin as well.

Although I’m still never going to reach for a raw banana to quell my hunger, I thoroughly enjoy this pie. I hope you do too.

Baker’s notes:

  • For best combination of flavor and texture, choose bananas that are mostly yellow with just a little green. They should be sweet but still on the firm side.
  • I’ve found that some brands of nonfat milk powder dissolve better than others. I’m not sure of the exact reason, but I’m guessing it has to do with the amount of moisture in the powder. To help it dissolve as best as possible, I recommend sifting in the powder to eliminate any lumps, then straining the pastry cream after cooking. Any bits that might remain after that seem to dissolve into the custard during the setting process. If you’re really concerned about it, you can try blending the powder with the milk on low before heating it.
  • For a more classic custard filling, omit the toasted milk powder and increase the vanilla to 2 teaspoons (or add the seeds of a vanilla pod if you’re feeling fancy!)…
  • But you should try the toasted milk powder.
banana cream pie unsliced

Black bottom toasted milk banana cream pie

Makes one 9″ pie

Ingredients:

For the toasted milk powder (makes more than needed for the pie):

  • 150g nonfat milk powder

For the toasted milk pastry cream:

  • 3g (1 tsp) powdered gelatin
  • 18g whole milk (for blooming gelatin)
  • 600g whole milk (for pastry cream)
  • 60g toasted milk powder
  • 125g granulated sugar
  • 45g cornstarch
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 52g unsalted butter, cold and cut into quarters
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black bottom chocolate ganache:

  • 100g semisweet chocolate (I used Callebaut 54.5%), finely chopped
  • 80g heavy cream (35% milk fat)

For the toasted milk cream diplomat:

  • All of the toasted milk pastry cream
  • 125g heavy cream (35% milk fat)
  • 20g icing sugar

For the sour cream whipped cream:

  • 3g (1 tsp) powdered gelatin (optional)
  • 18g whole milk (for blooming gelatin) (optional)
  • 250g heavy cream (35% milk fat)
  • 60g full-fat sour cream
  • 30g icing sugar

To assemble:

  • One standard 9″ pie crust, blind-baked and cooled completely (I used the recipe from my book)
  • 450g (about 3 large) ripe but firm bananas, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • Grated chocolate, for garnish (optional)

Method:

Make the toasted milk powder:

Microwave method: Place the milk powder in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring with a fork after every burst, until the powder is deeply golden and toasty-smelling. (For me, this takes about 10 minutes’ worth of microwaving.) Cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature. (See tutorial on Instagram here.)

Instant Pot method: Place the milk powder in a 12-oz canning jar. Place a standard snap lid on top, then screw on the ring until finger-tip tight (i.e. lid should be sealed, but not too tight — if sealed too tightly, the jar may break during cooking). Put a trivet or steamer rack insert in the Instant Pot and add about an inch of water (the water line should stop just below the top of the trivet). Place the jar on top of the trivet. Seal the lid and cook on manual for 90 minutes. Allow pot to depressurize to release naturally. Cool completely before using. (See reel on Instagram here.)

Make the toasted milk pastry cream:

Place a strainer over a large heat-safe bowl.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over 18g cold milk and bloom while you prepare the rest of the pastry cream.

Off heat, pour 600g milk into medium saucepan. Sift in the toasted milk powder and whisk to dissolve.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add the eggs and egg yolks and whisk vigorously for about a minute until well combined and lighter in color.

Heat the milk over medium heat until steaming. Remove from the heat. Pour the milk in a slow, steady stream into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear on the surface. Once the bubbles appear, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue whisking on the heat for 2 minutes.

Remove the custard from the heat and whisk in the bloomed gelatin. Once the gelatin has dissolved, whisk in the butter one piece at a time, making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next. Whisk in the vanilla. Strain the pastry cream into the prepared container. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream and cool for 10 minutes, then place in the refrigerator and cool just to room temperature (about 45-60 minutes). Don’t let the pastry cream get too cold or the gelatin will start to set firmly, making it difficult to incorporate the whipped cream.

Make the black bottom chocolate ganache:

While the pastry cream is cooling, make the chocolate ganache for the black bottom layer. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heat-safe bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-low, heat the cream just until steaming. Pour over the chocolate and let stand for two minutes. Gently whisk to form a smooth, shiny ganache. Scrape ganache into the bottom of the prepared pie crust and use a small offset spatula to smooth into an even layer. Chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the cream diplomat.

Make the toasted milk cream diplomat:

Prepare this as soon as the pastry cream has reached room temperature. In a medium bowl, combine the heavy cream and icing sugar. Whisk to medium peaks. Whisk the cooled pastry cream until smooth, then fold in the whipped cream in two additions. Use immediately.

Assemble the pie:

Spread about 1/2 c of cream diplomat over the bottom of the pie. Add half the banana slices, cut side up, in an even layer. Smooth on half the remaining cream diplomat. Add the rest of the banana slices as before, followed by the rest of the cream diplomat. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. (I leave it uncovered but you can press a piece of plastic against the surface if you prefer.)

Make the sour cream whipped cream:

Thanks to the addition of sour cream, this whipped cream will hold nicely in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. If you need the cream to hold longer than that, I recommend adding the gelatin.

If using the gelatin — in a small, heat-safe bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over 18g cold milk and bloom for 5 minutes. Microwave for 10 seconds until liquefied.

In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, heavy cream, and icing sugar. Using an electric hand mixer, whisk just until the cream starts to thicken but is not quite holding soft peaks. Slowly stream the gelatin mixture into the cream while whisking constantly. Continue whisking to medium-stiff peaks. Immediately pipe or dollop the whipped cream onto the surface of the pie and garnish with chocolate shavings. Refrigerate uncovered until ready to serve.

Storage:

Pie is best served within 24 hours. Store leftovers uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. After about a day the bananas will start to brown, but the pie will still taste good. The crust will progressively soften over time though the ganache helps to delay that.

banana cream pie slice out

Lemon Almond Poppy Seed Loaf

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lemon poppyseed

When the dazzle of the holidays has faded and January begins to fully assert herself, thank God for citrus. The bright color and sharp taste of citrus fruits is one of the few things I look truly anticipate in the often-gloomy winter months. In other words, it’s the perfect time for lemon poppyseed cake.

I have a lemon poppyseed loaf in my cookbook, but I’ve been on an almond flour kick lately and wanted to bring that to the party this time — almond + lemon is a beautiful combination, and almond flour produces baked goods that are remarkably tender and long-lasting. I also wanted a loaf that would perfectly fit a Pullman pan for some sexy square slices, because let’s be honest — we all need a little excitement this time of year.

This recipe takes inspiration from Melissa Clark’s version of Lindsey Shere’s famous almond cake. I loved her use of a DIY almond paste because even though I have a very well-stocked baking pantry, even I never keep almond paste on hand. I do, however, always have almond flour, icing sugar, and egg whites around so there you go!

Partway through researching and planning out this recipe I also realized Tartine has a lemon-almond poppyseed tea cake in their first cookbook; and its proportions are remarkably similar to Shere’s/Clark’s. I’m not sure if there’s some shared inspiration there or just a matter of great bakers thinking alike, but it’s worth mentioning.

From my own lemon-poppyseed recipe development in the past I knew that the triple threat of lemon zest, lemon oil, and lemon soak (with fresh lemon juice, please!) was key to a lemon flavor that sings. If you’re always disappointed with not enough lemon flavor, do not skip the lemon oil. It is worth the investment and easy to source online or at baking supply stores. We also do not skimp on the poppyseeds because I don’t understand lemon poppyseeds that contain 1 or 2 tsp of seeds per loaf. Three full tablespoons, plus more for garnish if you like.

You’ll also be rewarded if you let this loaf cake rest overnight before tucking in. I know, it’s a lot to ask. But that bit of patience allows the syrup to fully soak in and make for a perfectly tender and m-m-moist loaf that will last you a week, if you let it.

lemon poppyseed loaf

Baker’s notes:

  • I scaled this recipe specifically to fit my 9x4x4 pullman pan. Without having tested it I am fairly certain it will fit in a standard 9×5 loaf pan (it will be too much batter for an 8.5×4.5). If you do use a regular 9×5 loaf pan, just leave ~3/4″ at the top (this loaf doesn’t rise too much) and bake off any extra batter as cupcakes, and check for doneness a little sooner as the increased surface area may shave a few minutes off the bake time. And let me know if you try it!
  • Pro tip: even if your recipe only calls for citrus juice, always zest the fruit beforehand! Store the zest in an airtight container in the freezer and your future self will thank you.
  • Always store your poppyseeds in the freezer and check that they’re still good before baking with them. They go rancid remarkably fast.

Lemon Almond Poppy Seed Loaf

Makes one 9x4x4 pullman loaf | Inspired by Baked to Order, Lindsey Shere/Melissa Clark via the New York TImes, and Tartine

Ingredients:

For the lemon almond poppy seed loaf:

  • 125g almond flour, preferably blanched and superfine
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 4g (1 tsp) kosher salt (I use Diamond Kosher)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest (from about 2-3 lemons; save the lemons for the syrup and glaze)
  • 1 large egg white plus 6 large eggs, at room temperature and divided
  • 3/4 tsp pure lemon oil (I use Boyajian)
  • 3/4 tsp pure almond extract (I use Nielsen-Massey)
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 125g all-purpose flour
  • 27g (3 Tbsp) poppyseeds 

For the lemon soaking syrup:

  • 50g lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 50g granulated sugar

For the lemon glaze:

  • 120g icing sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Poppyseeds, for garnish (optional)

Method:

Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Lightly spray a 9x4x4 pullman pan and line with parchment paper, leaving 2-3 inches of overhang on the long sides for easy removal.

Mix the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the almond flour, icing sugar, salt, and lemon zest. Mix on low for 30 seconds to combine. Add the egg white, lemon oil, and almond extract. Continue mixing until all the dry ingredients are moistened and the mixture is beginning to clump but not a cohesive mass. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle attachment.

With the mixer still running on low, slowly add the granulated sugar a spoonful at a time. This is to help keep the almond paste from clumping too much and ensure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Once all the sugar has been added, continue beating on low until the mixture resembles wet sand and does not have any large lumps, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle attachment.

With the mixer still running on low, add the butter a couple cubes at a time. Once all the butter has been added, add the baking powder. Turn up the speed to medium. Mix until light, fluffy, and creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle attachment once or twice during mixing.

Crack all the eggs into a measuring cup with a spout and lightly whisk to combine. With the mixer on medium speed, stream in the eggs a couple tablespoons at a time, letting each addition absorb before adding the next. Patience here will help the batter emulsify properly and ensure a beautifully even crumb. Once all the eggs have been added, yep, you guessed it — scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle attachment.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and poppy seeds. Mix just until the flour has disappeared. Use a flexible spatula to gently fold the batter several times to ensure it’s evenly mixed. Make sure to thoroughly scrape the bottom of the bowl where pockets of flour like to hide. The batter should be thick and homogenous.

Scrape about a third of the batter into the prepared pan. Use a small offset spatula to smooth the batter evenly into all the corners of the pan. Repeat twice more until all the batter has been added. Tap the pan firmly on the counter several times to settle the batter any dislodge any air bubbles. The pullman pan should be fairly full; this is normal.

Bake until the loaf is deeply golden and springy to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. A digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register 200F.

Make the Lemon Soak: While the cake is baking, combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof container.

Soak the cake: When the cake is done, transfer the pan to a wire rack. Use a skewer to poke holes all over the top and brush generously with the lemon soak. Wait for about 5 minutes for the liquid to absorb, then brush on more soak, aiming to use about half the syrup. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully turn it out of the pan onto a clean piece of parchment paper set on a wire rack. Poke the bottom (now top) of the loaf with the skewer and brush the remaining syrup over the top and sides of the cake. Don’t be afraid to use all the syrup.

Let the cake cool completely before glazing. (For best flavor, I like to wrap the unglazed loaf in plastic once cool and rest overnight at room temperature, then glaze the next day right before serving.)

Glaze the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the icing sugar and salt. Add 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and whisk to combine. Add more lemon juice as necessary to obtain a thick but pourable glaze. Pour the glaze over the top of the loaf, using a small spoon to nudge it over the edges in places. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired. Let the glaze set for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

lemon poppyseed loaf side

Chewy brownie amaretti cookies

amaretti cookies
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Happy new year! I thought I’d start out 2022 by sharing one of my favorite back pocket recipes, amaretti cookies. Amaretti are one of my favorite things to make when I have extra egg whites — they’re super simple to make, store well, and have a delightful chewy texture. If you love marzipan and/or almond-flavored bakes, you will love amaretti! They also happen to be naturally gluten and dairy free.

While classic amaretti never disappoint, here I’ve added a little cocoa and espresso powder for brownie-esque vibes. Go for a very good quality cocoa powder here — I like Cacao Barry Extra-Brute for its deep flavor. Likewise, make sure you use a pure almond extract that you love as its flavor is prominent in this cookie — I like Nielsen-Massey.

Amaretti get their signature crackles from a coating of icing sugar applied just before baking. As the cookie expands from the oven heat, the fissures that form contrast with the stark white of the icing sugar. I also like to toss the dough in a light layer of granulated sugar before the icing sugar, which gives the coating a little extra crunch.

I hope you enjoy these chewy brownie amaretti cookies. To me, they’re the perfect teatime treat and just the right size for satisfying a sweet craving. Enjoy!

amaretti with bite

Chewy brownie amaretti cookies

Makes 22-24 cookies

Ingredients:

For the brownie amaretti cookie dough:

  • 180g almond flour, preferably blanched and superfine
  • 15g good-quality Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I like Cacao Barry Extra-Brute), sifted if lumpy
  • 180g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder
  • 70g (about 2 large) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar or 1/2 tsp lemon juice (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp pure almond extract

To finish:

  • 20g granulated sugar
  • 50g icing sugar, sifted

Method:

Preheat the oven to 325F with a rack in the middle. Line a large baking sheet (at least 1/2 sheet size) with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and espresso powder until very well combined. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar or lemon juice, if using, in a spotlessly clean medium bowl (preferably glass or metal, not plastic). Using an electric handheld mixer (or a whisk and some elbow grease), whip on medium speed until soft peaks. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and whisk just until combined.

Add the egg whites to the dry ingredients. Use a flexible spatula to fold the two mixtures together. The dough may seem crumbly at first, but keep folding until homogenous and all the dry ingredients are moistened. You may need to use your hands towards the end. The dough should be stiff but a bit sticky.

Place the 20g granulated sugar and the 50g icing sugar in separate small bowls.

Using lightly damp hands or a small cookie scoop, portion the dough into small balls (about 20g each). Roll each ball into a sphere. Toss each ball first in the granulated sugar followed by the icing sugar. Place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about an inch apart. The amaretti won’t spread much — you should be able to fit all the cookies on a single sheet.

Bake until cookies are lightly puffed and the tops are cracked and firm, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before eating. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Make-ahead: You can freeze the unbaked dough balls before tossing in the finishing sugars. Place the dough balls in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze uncovered until firm, then transfer to a ziplock bag or airtight container. Bring to room temperature, then toss in the sugars before baking.

Vacation baking: Croquembouche

croquembouche
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I know, I said my last post was the final recipe of the year. But…croquembouche!

Making one of these iconic cream puff towers held together with caramel has been on my to-bake list for years. My kids have actually been begging me to make one after witnessing croquembouche construction on the Cupcake Jemma channel. But for obvious reasons we haven’t had a large gathering since then (AKA an excuse for croquembouche).

On Christmas, we finally had plans to see my family (first time in two years). If ever there was an opportunity for croquembouche, this was it. We are at my parents’ place so I didn’t have my normal arsenal of baking equipment. But after looking at a few tutorials online I was pretty certain we’d survive. Here’s how it went down.

(Note: this is less of a formal recipe and more thoughts and tips from the experience, which I wanted to jot down before I forget. However, I have included the chocolate creme legere recipe because yuuuuuuuum!)

Equipment

I tried not to buy much special equipment for this bake, but I did get some piping bags and tips at a local craft store as well as a 12″ cake round for presentation. I also recommend the following tools:

  • A digital scale
  • At least 2 large baking sheets for piping and baking choux buns
  • A 1″ round cutter (or something similar; I used a bottle cap) for cutting craquelin and tracing guides
  • Rolling pin for craquelin
  • Parchment paper for rolling craquelin and baking choux
  • Electric hand or stand mixer for making choux and whipping cream (I used an electric hand mixer. You could potentially do this all by hand with a wooden spoon, whisk, and a bit of elbow grease.)
  • Medium saucepan for making pastry cream and caramel
  • Whisk for pastry cream
  • Silicone spatulas for pastry cream and filling piping bags
  • Chopstick or paring knife to make holes to fill choux
  • Protective gloves for working with caramel
  • Skewer or fork for spinning sugar

Step 1: Choux au Craquelin

I made the croquembouche over two days. On day one, I made the choux and pastry cream base; and on the second I finished the pastry cream with whipped cream, filled the puffs, and assembled the tower.

I didn’t have a mold to aid construction, so for structural stability I knew it was especially important to make my choux all the same size. Adding craquelin topping helps choux rise evenly (and tastes delicious), so that seemed like a step worth taking.

My goal was to make ~70 cream puffs. I was aiming to make the bottom of the croquembouche 11 cream puffs round, then decrease each successive round by 1 puff to form the cone shape. Mathematically, this requires 66 puffs, but it’s always prudent to have a few extras.

I made the craquelin topping first, as it needs time to chill so you can cut out the rounds. Once chilled down, I used a 1″ bottle cap to cut out the rounds, then froze them until ready to bake the choux.

To ensure the choux were all about the same size, I used the same bottle cap to trace 70 rounds on parchment paper (35 per sheet). All in all, I ended up having enough choux paste for about 85 small/medium puffs.

Once all my puffs were baked and cooled, I picked out 11 and arranged them in a round so I could estimate the size of the base, then marked out a circle in the center of my cake board for reference. (You definitely don’t want to be fiddling around with this when working with hot caramel, so do as much architectural planning as you can beforehand!)

Step 2: Chocolate Crème Légère

You could fill your choux with anything, but I was in the mood for something creamy and chocolate-y. Enter: chocolate crème légère — or chocolate pastry cream “lightened” with whipped cream. I thought that in addition to tasting delicious, the chocolate would help create an extra-stable pastry cream that would hold up at room temperature (it worked). I would definitely make this filling again — it was delicious and almost mousse-like, and the bitterness from the chocolate helped temper the sweetness of the caramel.

To fill the cream puffs, I used a chopstick to make a hole on the bottom of each puff. Then I used a piping bag fitted with a bismarck tip to fill each puff until heavy, then cleaned up any overflow with a small knife. I definitely overfilled my pastry bag the first time which made it harder than necessary to fill the puffs. So word to the wise: don’t fill the bag more than halfway to make life easier and less messy!

filling choux buns

Chocolate Crème Légère

Makes enough to fill 70+ small cream puffs, plus some extra for snacking

Ingredients:

For the chocolate pastry cream:

  • 600g whole milk
  • 125g granulated sugar
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 40g cornstarch
  • 20g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 4 large egg yolks + 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 42g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 170g chopped bittersweet (~70%) chocolate

To finish:

  • 500g heavy cream (35%), chilled
  • 25g icing sugar

Method:

Place a strainer over a large heat-safe bowl.

Off heat, combine the milk, 50g of the sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 75g sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa powder. Pour in about 2 tbsp of the milk mixture and whisk to form a smooth paste. Add the egg yolks and whole egg and whisk until smooth.

Heat the milk over medium heat until steaming. Remove from the heat. Pour the milk in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear on the surface. Once the bubbles appear, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue whisking on the heat for 2 minutes.

Remove the custard from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract, butter, and chocolate. Strain the pastry cream into the prepared bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until set (at least two hours, or up to 3 days).

When ready to fill the puffs, whip the heavy cream and icing sugar to soft peaks. Whisk the pastry cream to loosen, then use a flexible spatula to gently fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream in three additions. Fold just until homogenous and no streaks of cream remain.

Transfer the cream légère to a piping bag fitted with a plain round or bismarck tip. Use immediately. Leftovers make a great mousse-like dessert; enjoy plain or with a sprinkle of crushed cookies!

Step 3: Caramel

Caramel is the glue that holds a croquembuche together. I decided to also dip the tops (craquelin side) in caramel, which is optional but gives the whole thing an extra pretty shine. If you go this route, I definitely recommend making your caramel in two batches — one for the dipping the tops, and one for gluing the puffs together and spinning around the tower. I thought I could just reheat the caramel as needed to reliquefy it, but you can only do that so much before the caramel just gets too thick to work with.

For this sized croquembuche I ended up caramelizing ~600g granulated sugar in two 300g batches. I used the wet method as it’s more hands-off, but dry works too.

The assembly was fairly straightforward. Slightly tip the puffs in so you get a nice cone shape, and decrease by one puff each layer so the shape forms naturally. As you move up, place the puffs in the divot between the two below it. When you get to the last puff for each round, take an extra few seconds to find the puff that fits best.

It definitely helps to have an extra set of hands to help with assembly — one person can hold together puffs as the caramel sets while the other dips and arranges the next. And as always, caramel is HOT so wear gloves and keep kids and pets in a different room. Gently stir the caramel with a skewer every few dips to redistribute the heat and keep it liquid as long as possible.

I ended up building the tower as planned starting with 11 puffs at the bottom and decreasing each round until I reached 4 cream puffs. Then I just finished it off on the top with a single, slightly-larger puff.

Once constructed, I used a skewer to spin leftover caramel in threads around the entire tower. This was definitely my favorite part of the entire project!

And that’s it!

Thanks to my sister-in-law Janelle for helping with the photos!

A simple enriched yeasted dough, plus classic cinnamon rolls and snowflake bread

cinnamon rolls
snowflake bread

Popping in for the last time this year to share my go-to enriched dough recipe, along with a couple festive ways to use it. While I will forever love my sourdough enriched breads, I know not everyone has a sourdough starter; and even if you do, there are days when you need something a little faster. This is the dough for you! I’ve made it both with a stand mixer and by hand and it works beautifully either way. You can make and bake it all in the same afternoon, or let the dough rise in the fridge for up to a day before shaping and baking. It’s the versatility we all need any time of year, but especially now. I hope it brings you a little joy this holiday season.

Baker’s notes:

  • I’ve tested this dough with a few different flour combinations, and my preference is a mix of bread and all purpose for a balance of rise and texture. You can use all bread flour; the dough will be a little chewier. I haven’t tried with just all-purpose, but that should work as well. I would hold back 10-20 grams of the milk in the final dough to start — you can add it in during mixing if the dough seems dry.
  • If you want to include a whole grain flour such as spelt or whole wheat, I would use 275g bread flour and 50g whole grain flour in the final dough. Depending on your flour, you may need 10-15g additional milk in the final dough — add it in during mixing if the dough seems dry.
  • Nonfat milk powder is one of my “secret weapon” ingredients for a beautiful enriched bread that is extra fragrant, high-rising, and bronzed. I urge you not to skip it — it’s readily available at grocery stores and online. I promise, I have plenty of recipes that use it so none will go to waste.
  • This dough uses the tangzhong technique, which involves pregelatinizing some of the flour by cooking a portion of it with milk. Using tangzhong allows us to add a higher percentage of liquid to the dough, which increases the softness and shelf life of the bread. I add cold milk and an egg directly to the tangzhong so there’s no waiting for it to cool down before mixing the dough.
  • This dough isn’t overly sticky and I never use flour to roll it out. If you have a silicone or pastry mat, you can roll it directly on there; a lightly greased surface works fabulously as well. Just don’t cut directly on a silicone mat, as they’re easily damaged.
  • This bread tastes best the day it’s baked. But with a light rewarming, this bread remains soft for several days after baking. To reheat, cover with foil and bake at 350F for ~10 minutes or until warmed through. Or you can microwave individual portions for ~15 seconds. I recommend only icing the portions you plan to eat right away.

Classic Cinnamon Rolls and Snowflake Bread

Makes 9 large rolls or one large snowflake bread | Adapted from Baked to Order

Ingredients:

Tangzhong:

  • 25g bread flour
  • 125g milk

Final dough:

  • All the tangzhong
  • 100g milk, straight from the fridge
  • 50g egg (about 1 large), straight from the fridge
  • 225g bread flour
  • 100g all purpose flour
  • 35g granulated sugar
  • 21g (3 Tbsp) nonfat milk powder
  • 7g (1 3/4 tsp if Diamond Crystal) kosher salt
  • 6g (2 tsp) instant yeast
  • 56g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature

Filling:

  • 56g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 100g (½ cup) brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Cream Cheese Frosting (for cinnamon rolls):

  • 90 g (6 Tbsp) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 56 g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 68 g (½ cup plus 1 Tbsp) icing sugar

To finish (for snowflake bread):

  • 1 large egg, whisked with a splash of milk or water and a pinch of salt
  • Granulated or coarse sugar, for garnish (optional)
  • Icing sugar, for garnish (optional)

Method:

Make the Tangzhong: In a small saucepan, whisk the flour and milk together until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough for the whisk to leave lines on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Alternatively, if mixing by hand, transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Mix the Final Dough: Whisk the cold milk into the tangzhong, followed by the egg. Whisk in the remaining final dough ingredients.

Knead on medium-low speed until the gluten is moderately developed, about 5 minutes. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Turn the mixer to low and add the butter about 14 grams (1 tbsp) at a time, incorporating each batch before adding the next. Turn the speed back up to medium-low and continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test, about 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and supple.

If mixing by hand, follow the same mixing order as above but note that mixing times will take longer. I like to use the slap-and-fold method to knead this dough. (See an example in my instagram highlights.)

Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a lightly oiled container. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled, 60-90 minutes. (Alternatively, allow dough to rise in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to 24.)

Make the filling: In a small bowl, make the filling by creaming together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt to form a spreadable paste.

To make cinnamon rolls:

Shape, Proof, and Bake the Rolls: Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the middle.

Lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch (23 x 23-cm) baking pan or a 9- or 10-inch (23- or 25-cm)-round cake pan (preferably aluminum, not glass). Take the dough out of the fridge and transfer to a lightly greased surface or a silicone/pastry mat. Roll into a 14-inch (36-cm) square, doing your best to maintain an even thickness.

Spread the filling mixture evenly over the dough, going all the way to the edges.

Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, pinching to seal. Turn the roll so the seam side is down.

Cut into nine even pieces using a sharp knife or unflavored dental floss (my preferred method). Transfer the rolls, cut side up, to the prepared pan, leaving space between each (they will grow into each other during proofing).

Cover the rolls with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Proof at warm room temperature until the dough is very puffy and nearly doubled, 30-60 minutes. If you poke a roll gently the indentation should fill back very slowly.

Bake until the rolls are lightly golden and register 195 to 200°F (91 to 93°C) in the center, about 20 minutes.

Prepare the Cream Cheese Frosting: While the rolls are baking, combine the cream cheese, butter, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add half of the icing sugar and beat to combine. Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until fluffy.

Allow the rolls to cool on a wire rack before spreading with frosting. Serve immediately.

To make snowflake bread:

Shape, Proof, and Bake the Bread: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) with a rack in the middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the dough onto a lightly greased surface or silicone/pastry mat. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, about 180g each. Form each piece into a ball, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and rest for 10 minutes.

Working one at a time, roll each ball into a 10″ round. Rotate the dough frequently to keep the shape round and prevent sticking. Transfer one round to the prepared baking sheet. Spread with about 1/3 of the filling, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edge. Top with a second round. Spread with another 1/3 of the filling, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edge. Repeat process with a third round. Finish by placing the final round on top.

Place a 2 to 2 1/2″ round cookie cutter (or similarly shaped round item, such as a glass) in the center of the circle to act as a guide. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the circle into 16 equal portions, like the rays of a sun. For each cut, you’ll cut from the outer edge of the center guide to the outer edge of the dough circle, cutting through all four layers each time. I find it easiest to cut into quarters first (at the north, south, east and west positions), then divide the quarters in half to make eighths, then divide each eighth in half to make sixteenths.

To form the star, work with two side-by-side strips at a time. Twist the strips away from each other twice, then pinch the ends together firmly to form a point. Continue until you’ve twisted all the strips; you should end up with 8 points total. Brush the entire surface with egg wash and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature until noticeably puffy, about 30-45 minutes. Right before baking, brush with a second coat of egg wash and sprinkle the center with sugar, if desired.

Bake until golden and the center measures 195F, about 20-30 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even coloration. Cool bread on the sheet for about 15 minutes. Dust with icing sugar before serving, if desired.

Storage:

Bread tastes best the day it’s baked. But with a light rewarming, this bread remains soft for several days after baking. To reheat, cover with foil and bake at 350F for ~10 minutes or until warmed through. Or you can microwave individual portions for ~15 seconds. I recommend only icing the portions you plan to eat right away. If you do want to bake the bread the day before serving, you can brush the finished bread with melted butter as soon as it comes out of the oven — this will help keep it soft and moist for longer.

jam rolls

Mocha Oreos

mocha oreos

Introducing one of the new additions to this year’s holiday treat boxes: Mocha Oreos! While peppermint or matcha were also flavor contenders, I already had peppermint marshmallows and peppermint bark brownies and matcha shortbread. And although coffee is one of my favorite flavors ever, it was not yet represented in my edible box of happiness. So it was decided. I think they’re a winner and definitely contend for a permanent place in the year-round cookie jar.

Baker’s notes:

  • It’s important to roll the dough to 1/8″ thickness or your yield will be significantly less. The ratio of cookie to filling is ideal when the wafers are fairly thin. My favorite hack for uniform dough is to use brass dowels — I found them at the local hardware store, but they’re also online (1/4″, 3/16″, and 1/8″ are my most used thicknesses). You can watch a demonstration of the technique on my Instagram highlights.
  • Do NOT substitute natural or black cocoa for the Dutch-processed cocoa. I like Cacao Berry Extra Brute.
  • As with my pumpkin spice latte pie, the key to a rounded coffee flavor here is a mixture of infusion and espresso powder. For the filling, I infuse the butter with whole coffee beans then add a little espresso powder during mixing.
  • The filling must be used as soon as you’re done mixing — it sets quickly. It may seem slightly loose and warm but that’s ok.
mocha oreos top down

Mocha Oreos

Makes about 45 small sandwich cookies | Adapted from Bravetart

Ingredients:

For the chocolate wafers:

  • 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 55g golden or light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 165g all purpose flour
  • 35g Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I like Cacao Berry Extra Brute)

For the coffee filling:

  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 30g whole coffee beans
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder
  • 240g icing sugar, sifted
  • 7g (1 Tbsp) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted

Method:

Make the chocolate wafers: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, golden syrup, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low until combined, then turn the speed up to medium and beat until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the the bowl and paddle a couple times during this process to ensure even mixing.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Continue mixing on low until a smooth dough forms. Turn off the mixer and use a flexible spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, ensuring there are no patches of flour remaining.

Roll the dough: Split the dough in half (about 235g each). Flatten each half into a disc. Wrap one with plastic and keep at room temperature. Transfer the other half to a large piece of parchment. Place another piece of parchment or plastic wrap over the top and roll to 1/8″ thick. Lift the top piece of parchment/plastic occasionally to avoid forming creases in the dough.

When the dough has reached the desired thickness, transfer, still sandwiched between parchment/plastic, to a sheet tray. Refrigerate while you repeat with the other half of the dough. Slide the second piece on top of the first and continue chilling until both pieces of dough are firm, about half an hour.

Cut and bake the wafers: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough from the fridge (keep the other refrigerated). Flip the dough over so the bottom is on top. Peel off the parchment, then replace the parchment and flip the dough right side up (this will help prevent the dough from sticking to the parchment). Peel off the top layer of parchment/plastic.

Using a 1 1/2″ round cutter, cut as many rounds as possible out of the first sheet. Using an offset spatula, transfer the rounds to a prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1/2″ apart (they won’t spread much). Repeat with second half of dough. Gently press together scraps, reroll, and cut more rounds — you should end up with about 90.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the cookies are dry and firm to the touch, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Make the coffee filling: Prepare the cookies for filling by turning half of them upside down. The filling sets quickly and must be used right after mixing. Prepare a pastry bag fitting with a 1/2″ piping tip.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the whole coffee beans. Continue heating the coffee-butter mixture, stirring frequently. It will foam and sputter, then eventually fall silent. We’re not trying to brown the butter, so if you notice the milk solids starting to brown, turn the heat down. (We’re basically making coffee-infused ghee.)

Strain the coffee-butter into a clean, heatproof bowl; discard the beans and solids. Measure out 140g butter and place in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add the vanilla, salt, espresso powder, icing sugar, and cocoa powder. Mix on low to combine, then turn the speed up to medium. Beat until creamy and soft, about 5 minutes. It may still be a bit warm; that’s normal. Immediately scrape into the prepared pastry bag.

Pipe a dollop of frosting onto the upturned cookies (about 6-7 grams, if you want to be precise). Sandwich with the remaining cookies. Let cookies stand at room temperature until set, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

mocha oreos angled