Having fun with a less common fall flavor

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Fall is here, and that means it’s time for baking comfort foods with apples and pumpkin. Last weekend, I went wine tasting in the Apple Hill area and stopped at a farm stand on my way home. The best deal at the farm stand was a box of about eight pears for $2. I bought two boxes because I knew I’d want to bake with them.

But, before I proceed, I want to let you know that Red Pen Recipes now has a Facebook page. Like it here.

Screen shot 2013-09-25 at 8.14.25 PMI also recently purchased a ticket to see Curtis Stone in Reno. Those of you who read regularly know that I love his style of cooking. According to his response to the question I posed to him on Facebook, we’ll be having cocktails, stir-frys and chocolate. The countdown to Oct. 12 has begun.

So, back to the pears. When I got home, I started looking for recipes and found this Pear and Almond Tart recipe from Bon Appétit. I had all of the ingredients, and it sounded like the perfect way to use a few of those pears.

This recipe has three major components, all of which can be done separately and saved until you’re ready to assemble the whole thing. If you don’t want to spend hours at a time in the kitchen, do one piece at a time.

I know my crust looks burned in the photo, but it didn’t taste like it at all. I was pleasantly surprised.

The recipe didn’t say to save the liquid from poaching the pears, but I knew from experience that I could boil it into a syrup. A beautiful simple syrup is a terrible thing to waste so I decided to use it to make ice cream.

For the ice cream, I used this recipe. If you plan on using the syrup for ice cream, you have to do things just a bit differently. I’d recommend adding a fourth pear to the poaching process. Set it aside and, when you’re ready to make the ice cream, core it, then dice it and add it to the ice cream when it’s in the ice cream mixer. After the pears have cooled in the liquid, remove them. Then bring the liquid back to a boil and keep it on the heat until there’s about 3/4 cup of thick syrup. Take it off the heat and set it aside. Use it in place of the 1/2 cup sugar in the recipe by using 1/2 in the milk mixture and adding the remaining 1/4 cup to the egg yolks. I know it seems like a lot, but trust me. It works. The bits of pear in the ice cream provided a nice contrast to the texture, too.

If you’re not into that, bottle the syrup and use it on pancakes or find another way to use it. But I encourage you not to waste it, because it’s too delicious to throw away.

Pears
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size firm but ripe pears (Bosc or Bartlett), peeled (each about 7 ounces)

Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. Can be made two days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Crust
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. Can be made two days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Almond filling
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
Powdered sugar (optional)

Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. Can be made two days ahead. Keep chilled.

Once you’re ready to assemble all three components, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 10 minutes.

Line crust with buttered foil, buttered side down, then fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Bake crust until sides are golden and bottom is set, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Cool crust in pan on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Spread almond filling evenly in crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center.

Bake tart until golden and tester inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. Let stand at room temperature. Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

Vanilla ice cream ready for scooping

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I have finally made scoopable ice cream. Those of you who read my blog regularly know this is something I’ve been struggling with for a couple months now, so I was thrilled when the latest edition of Bon Appétit showed up with ice cream on the cover.

One of my best friends from college randomly decided to visit this weekend. I hadn’t seen her in about five years, so I was really looking forward to the visit. Which also meant I was thinking about what I could have for her when she arrived. I decided to give a new ice cream recipe a chance.

When tackling a new kind of dessert, I like to find a great base recipe before I really start experimenting with flavors. It turns out that can be a tricky task when it comes to ice cream. But, after trying about five different recipes, Bon Appétit’s True Vanilla Ice Cream was the winner.

I have to admit that when I finished the custard mixture, I was a little nervous about how it would turn out. The custard was thinner than the custard other recipes produced. But I think that’s why this recipes works. Instead of getting a dense frozen custard after putting it through the ice cream maker, you get a nice, flavorful — and, most importantly, scoopable — ice cream.

I’m really happy with the way this ice cream turned out. Now I feel confident that I can start trying more flavors.

2Vanillaicecream072813Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks

Combine heavy cream, whole milk, 1/4 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds; add pod (or use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract). Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover; let sit 30 minutes.

Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup warm cream mixture. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.

Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water; let cool, stirring occasionally. At this point, you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover it by putting plastic wrap directly on the top of the custard. It can cool overnight in the fridge and be processed in the morning.

Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container; cover. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.

Getting the hang of homemade ice cream

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When I received an ice cream maker last month, I had the grand idea that I would make homemade ice cream on a regular basis. I thought it would be a cinch.

But it hasn’t been. Finding a good ice cream recipe has been more difficult than I anticipated. While the simpler apricot-almond recipe I first tried turned out pretty well, it wasn’t the creamy, scoopable kind of ice cream I had in mind. Since then, I have been on the hunt for something with that store-bought texture.

As it turns out, that kind of ice cream is made by first making a custard, then processing it with the ice cream maker. I tried the chocolate ice cream recipe from the manual, but it ended up being much thicker than what I was looking for. It ended up being more like frozen custard. After looking at several other recipes, I decided to see what Joy had. It had a few pages worth of recipes, but I settled on strawberry frozen yogurt to see how it would turn out. So far, it is my favorite recipe of the ones I’ve tried. It had a rich strawberry flavor, vibrant color and good texture right after making it, which I attribute to the gelatin used in the recipe. However, the next day it was stiff, so I had to let it sit for about 20 minutes before scooping. It’s still not quite the consistency I’m looking for, but the flavor is good.

So, I’m still looking for a good ice cream recipe. If you have one you’ve had success with, please share it!

Ingredients
2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cup sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup soy milk or whole milk
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Spoon yogurt into a fine-mesh sieve set over a large measuring cup or bowl. Refrigerate until 1/2 cup liquid has drained off, about 2 hours, then scrape the yogurt into a medium bowl. Discard the liquid.

Place strawberries in a food processor and pulse a few times, or until the fruit is crushed. Do not puree. A potato masher can also be used for this step. Add sugar, vanilla and salt. Cover and let stand at room temperature for one hour.

Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup milk. let stand for 10 minutes to soften.

Combine 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve hte sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool for five minutes, then add the gelatin mixture, stirring until it dissolves completely. Let cool to room temperature.

Gently whisk the milk and strawberry mixtures into the drained yogurt. Refrigerate until cold. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze as directed. Mine was done after about 30 minutes.

A recipe to ‘wow’ your guests

redvelvetcheesecakebrownies

Red Pen Recipes turned 1 year old on Friday. This time last year I was nervous about whether I’d have enough time to try new recipes often enough to write a new post each week. I’m happy to say this blog has kept me doing what I hoped it would: writing for pleasure and keeping me trying new things in the kitchen.

Of the 52 recipes I wrote about in the past year, the Rum Raisin Rice Pudding was one of my favorite new discoveries, and homemade applesauce was a close second. They’re both Barefoot Contessa recipes I hadn’t tried before.

To celebrate the one-year mark, I decided to reformat my blog. I chose this format for its cleaner look and to showcase the photos a little more. I hope you enjoy the new look.

While Friday marked the first anniversary of Red Pen Recipes, it also marked the final day for one of my staff members. One of my reporters accepted a new job in Santa Fe, N.M., so I wanted to bake something special for her before she left. I flipped through some of my cookbooks and considered a few different items before I remembered the Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies recipe a friend gave me a few years ago.

This recipe is something I save for special occasions, when I really want to “wow” someone. It combines three desserts a lot of people enjoy, and has yet to disappoint. Cheesecake, red velvet cake and brownies can each require a rather involved process, but this three-in-one treat is pretty simple to make — you just have to use three bowls to combine different ingredients before putting them together.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to bringing you more recipes in the coming year.

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring (or six drops red food gel)
2/3 cup all purpose flour (use 1 cup at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt (use 1/2 at high altitude)
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (use 1 teaspoon at high altitude)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8-inch square baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.


In a small, heatproof bowl, melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave. Put it in 3 seconds at a time until soft enough to stir. Stir until combined and very smooth. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.


In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and red food coloring. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until just combined and no streaks of dry ingredients remain. Pour into prepared pan and spread into an even layer.


To prepare cheesecake mixture, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Distribute the cheesecake mixture in eight dollops over batter in the pan. Swirl in with a knife or spatula.


Bake for 35-40 minutes (it could take up between 45 and 50 minutes at high altitude), until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.


Let cool completely in pan on a cooling rack before lifting out the parchment paper to remove the brownies.

Scrumptious cupcakes for a special occasion

browniecupcake

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: brownies are my favorite dessert. When I’m craving chocolate, I usually whip up a batch of brownies. When I’m feeling creative, I start with a base brownie recipe and improvise with the flavor. But brownies never seemed quite right for a special occasion — until I discovered Curtis Stone’s Brownie Cupcakes.

From the chocolate-loaded brownie cupcake to the decadent, creamy cream cheese frosting, these are perfection. The cupcake has a bit of give to it when you bite in and the frosting is wonderfully smooth. It’s the most delightfully messy cupcake I have ever made and eaten. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

My birthday is tomorrow. Each year, when I think about what to make, these cross my mind. I have only made these twice, but each time they left me wanting more — which is why I make them strictly for special occasions. Whether the festivities are for a birthday or other type of event, these cupcakes definitely merit being part of the celebration.

Ingredients
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent to 70 percent cacao), chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup light corn syrup

4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent cacao), chopped

8 small, fresh strawberries

To make the cupcakes: Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 8 standard cupcake molds with cupcake liners.

Stir the chocolate and butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until the chocolate and butter melt and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the syrup and salt. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs in a large bowl for 2 minutes or until the mixture is thick and light. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Add the flour and baking powder and stir just until blended, then stir in the walnuts.

Divide the batter equally among the prepared cupcake molds filling the paper liners completely. (Filling the liners completely is key — otherwise the cupcakes will collapse and will be less fudgy.)

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes puff and crack on top and a skewer inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out with fudgy crumbs attached.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack.

To frost the cupcakes: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and smooth. Beat in the syrup. Place the chocolate in another bowl and place the bowl over a small pot of boiling water. Stir constantly until the chocolate melts. Add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture and beat until blended and fluffy, stopping the machine and scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that the mixture is well-blended. Spread the frosting generously over the cooled cupcakes. Garnish each one with a fresh strawberry and serve.