APPLE RICOTTA TARTS W/ HOMEMADE CARAMEL

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This Sunday is my boyfriend Alex’s 33rd birthday and I cannot wait to shower him with all the love that he deserves. We’ll be celebrating with family on Saturday with a boat ride in Newport Beach, as well as a trip to Big Bear next weekend with a group of friends, so on his actual day, he and I are going to take it easy. I plan on starting his day off with bagels and cold brew, then hitting up the beach or going on a hike, and finally ending with dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, Nick’s in Laguna Beach. He also requested that I make my cheesecake for dessert (it’s his favorite recipe on this blog) and of course I am happy to oblige.

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Like every year, Alex’s birthday also represents the beginning of autumn, which usually falls on his actual birthday, the 22nd, or the next day. Because of this, I believe it allows for the floodgates to open for apple recipes even though I’m fairly certain I could, and would, eat apple pie every day. So far on this blog, I’ve shared with you recipes for an apple brown butter buckle, apple muffins, apple cider doughnuts, and finally. a simple apple tart/galette. Today’s apple recipe may also be considered a ‘tart’ but differs in the fact that the base is not a pie dough, but actually puff pastry.

Puff pastry, also known as pâte feuilletée, is essentially a laminated dough, meaning the butter is incorporated into the dough by a series of folding and rolling, thus leading to multiple layers. When baked, the layers separate and puff up, leaving you with a very light and flaky texture. Making homemade puff pastry is a serious undertaking and something that I’m more than happy (at this point in time) to skip out on. What I’m trying to say is that today I am not giving you a recipe for puff pastry to go along with the tart - I am giving you instructions to go buy store bought puff pastry! I created this recipe for those who are 1) in a time crunch 2) don’t have the skills to make homemade puff pastry and/or 3) lazy! I don’t think anyone should feel bad for buying store bought components of a dish and I really believe that it’s the thought that counts.

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Store bought puff pastry. which you can get at any grocery store including Trader Joe’s, makes you look like you’re an amazing baker, yet the secret is that you didn’t do more than thawing it, topping it with some ingredients, and baking it in the oven. And if you want, you can totally lie and tell your guests or whomever you’re serving this to that YES, the puff pastry IS made from scratch! Just make sure that you’ve gotten rid of any evidence of the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry packaging - burn it if you have to.

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If you’re unfamiliar with buying puff pastry, you should know that it’ll be found in the freezer section of your grocery store and comes with 2 sheets of puff pastry (therefore you can easily double the recipe!), which will need to be thawed out for about 40 minutes before working with it. For my recipe, I ask of you to only use 1 sheet of pastry which you’ll cut into 6 equal rectangles. You could totally make it into one giant tart, but I really enjoy the look of baking them off as individuals and it also makes it much easier for serving purposes. Each puff pastry tart will get a spread of a ricotta cheese mixture that has cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla bean paste in it. If ricotta isn’t your thing, mascarpone or cream cheese could work as well; and if your grocery store doesn’t carry vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract is fine. I went with vanilla bean paste because Trader Joe’s just started carrying it and I thought this recipe would be perfect for it since it showcases the vanilla bean specks so well.

And once again, if you’re feeling guilty for using store bought puff pastry, all will be forgotten when you make your own caramel to top it off with. Homemade caramel is SO simple and requires only 4 ingredients and 10 minutes of your time, so you can make it while the apple tarts bake in the oven. Apples and caramel are a perfect pairing, and since the apple tarts themselves are barely sweetened, you can load up on as much caramel as you want.

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Apple Ricotta Puff Pastry Tarts

Yields 6 individual tarts

Ingredients

  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed and cut into 6 rectangles (I prefer Pepperidge Farm

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, homemade or store-bought

  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 tsp. ground or fresh nutmeg

  • 1 apple, cored and sliced thin (I used Granny Smith and Pink Lady, but Honeycrisp and Braeburn work as well)

  • Brown sugar (light or dark)

  • Caramel sauce, to finish (recipe provided below)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the 6 puff pastry rectangles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a fork, poke holes in about 4-5 different places on each rectangle.

  2. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, vanilla bean paste (or extract), cinnamon and nutmeg together. Add about 1 heaping tablespoon of this spread onto the center of each pastry. Try not to spread it out too much.

  3. Place 2-4 slices of apple onto each pastry, right on top of the ricotta cheese mixture. Finish with a heavy sprinkling of brown sugar on top of the fruit.

  4. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed up and is a golden brown color.

  5. Transfer to a baking sheet to cool for about 5 minutes before finishing them with a drizzle of caramel sauce.

Simple Homemade Caramel Sauce

Yields 1 cup

Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 6 pieces

  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Directions

  1. Place the sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, constantly stir the sugar until it completely melts and turns into a deep amber color. Before it melts, it will be very clumpy… this is good, just keep mixing!

  2. Add the butter and mix it in with the melted sugar using a whisk. The mixture will begin to bubble vigorously.

  3. Once the butter has melted, slowly pour in the heavy cream. Careful with this step because the cold heavy cream may cause the mixture to splatter. Allow the caramel to boil for about one minute, then take it off the heat and stir in the salt.

  4. Carefully (it will be VERY hot) pour the caramel into your desired container (mason jar, tupperware, etc.) and store it in the fridge for up to 1 month - if it can last that long.

PUMPKIN + BROWN BUTTER BREAKFAST PUFFS

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Well, summer is officially over. And I’m saying this because when I walked into Trader Joe’s the other day, I immediately noticed that the large containers that usually held big, beautiful watermelons were sadly replaced with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Although I welcome fall and everything it has to offer from cooler weather to Halloween and whatnot, I’m going to miss my precious watermelon! Ask Alex if you don’t believe me, but I ate watermelon every single day this summer. I guess I don’t care about saying goodbye to long beach days or sunsets at 8pm or wearing dresses… I only care about watermelon. See you next year, buddy!

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Now that pumpkin and pumpkin spice-flavored everything has quite literally taken over Trader Joe’s (there’s pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cream cheese spread, pumpkin crackers, etc.), I figured I’d follow suit and offer a recipe utilizing the most popular of the gourd family. While I’m not a fan of pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin-based dishes are something that I’ve come to really love. My pumpkin cheesecake, that I make every Thanksgiving, is something I look forward to baking (and eating) every year, and I am also a huge fan of pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin bread… and pumpkin ice cream. I don’t discriminate; I (mostly) love it all.

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So when I was thinking about doing another pumpkin recipe for the blog, I remembered a recipe that I’d made a couple of times before - breakfast puffs, also known as French breakfast puffs. They’re essentially sugared doughnuts in muffin form and, although they’re a bit too sweet for breakfast/brunch purposes, I won’t judge you if you have one (or two) of them with your morning coffee. Typical breakfast puffs do not have canned pumpkin in them, but I was able to figure out what ingredient to remove from the original recipe to replace with the pumpkin: the milk. I actually read online that you can replace the eggs or the oil/butter with pumpkin in certain recipes, but since this recipe only calls for one egg, and the fact that the butter is vital to this recipe (more on that later), getting rid of the milk was my best bet. And it worked out!

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Like the title of this post suggests, these pumpkin breakfast puffs also have brown butter in them, an ingredient that I save mostly for fall and winter desserts due to its decadent qualities. Adding brown butter to any recipe gives it a much more nutty and richer flavor, which I think works perfectly with the pumpkin and blend of spices. The last time I shared a recipe featuring brown butter was with my brown butter apple buckle, another perfect example of how well brown butter works with popular fall produce. Speaking of spices, I decided to make it simple and have you use “pumpkin pie” spice for this recipe - something that you can actually buy at the grocery store (I buy mine from Trader Joe’s). The pumpkin pie spice blend that I buy consists of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cardamom, which are ingredients that most people already have in their pantry. So, if you don’t have pumpkin pie spice, simply make the blend yourself! Here’s a recipe I found, but I would suggest adding a 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom as well.

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Pumpkin and Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs

Yields 12 puffs

Recipe adapted from FIVEANDSPICE via Food52

Ingredients

For the puffs:

  • 1/3 cup (5 tbsp.) unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, I prefer Libby’s brand

For the sugar coating:

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Directions

  1. Make the brown butter: In a medium saucepan, melt 1/3 cup butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, the butter will begin to foam and turn to a golden color. Stir frequently and soon there will be a nutty smell and the butter will brown. Immediately take off the heat once browned and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Allow it to cool for about 10-15 minutes.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 12-cavity muffin/cupcake tin with butter or cooking spray and lightly coat with flour.

  3. To the slightly cooled brown butter, add both sugars and the egg and mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes.

  4. In a separate medium-sized bowl, add the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt, and whisk together.

  5. Add the pumpkin puree to the brown butter/sugar mixture and mix until incorporated. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated - don’t over mix!

  6. Using a spoon or a ice cream scoop, evenly distribute the batter between the 12 cavities in the pan - it may seem like not a lot of batter, but they will rise in the oven - and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

  7. Allow the puffs to cool for a few minutes before using a knife to take them out of the pan and place them on a cooling rack.

  8. Coat the breakfast puffs: put the melted butter in one shallow bowl and combine the sugar and pumpkin pie spice together in a separate shallow bowl. One at a time, gently roll each puff through the melted butter, getting every section, and then roll it through the spice-y sugar. The puffs are best eaten straight from the oven but can be enjoyed for a couple more days when stored in an airtight container.

STRAWBERRY CREAM SCONES

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When I was working on this post earlier this week, I was worried that sharing another scone recipe so quickly after my first one wouldn’t make for ideal content, and that you guys would be bored. Little did I know that it’s been almost an entire YEAR since my cranberry-orange scones recipe went live, so apparently I don’t have the best sense of time! With that said, it’s a new year and it’s high time that I grace you all with another scone recipe.

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Unlike my previous scone post, these strawberry cream scones are different in a few ways: both visually and ingredient-wise (and I don’t mean the obvious central flavor components). For as long as I’ve been baking scones, I’d always formed them into the standard triangular shape that we are all accustomed with. But over the past year or so, I kept finding myself saving Instagram posts that featured scones baked in a round shape since I found them to look so appealing and different. So I finally gave it a shot using my 3” round cookie cutter and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I found the whole process very simple (think of it like cutting out sugar cookies), and I’ll most likely continue to shape my scones like this for the foreseeable future.

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As for the difference in flavor, I had always made my scones with butter, whether it was incorporated into the dough via tiny cubes or grated using a box grater, but these strawberry cream scones actually don’t have any butter in them! As I’m sure you’ve already guessed from the name of these scones, the fat in this recipe comes from the addition of heavy cream. I didn’t even know that butter-less scones existed (I guess I’m not so well-versed in the world of scones), so I was pretty hesitant of what the outcome would be like, both texture and taste wise, but they came out so incredibly tender and soft. And I found that making these scones is actually much easier because you don’t have to worry whether you properly incorporated the butter into the dough or not, or obsess over keeping the dough as cold as possible so that the butter in the dough doesn’t melt. Although I love my cranberry orange scones, these cream scones are reigning supreme in my kitchen at the moment.

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As always when making scones, you have to stick to the usual rule of avoiding over mixing the dough which could lead to tough scones. And if you ask anyone what a scone’s texture should be, the word “tough” hopefully should never leave their mouths. So when making the dough, work mindfully, especially when it comes to the step of adding the heavy cream. Although you may use a wooden spoon or a fork for this step, I actually believe that your own two hands are the best tools. This way, you can actually feel for the dry pockets in the dough and therefore will know if you need to add more heavy cream or not. It’s definitely messier using your hands but can make it more fun. Please just try not to have nail polish or jewelry on!

To finish the scones before popping them in the oven, you’ll give each one a brush of heavy cream and a generous sprinkling of raw/turbinado sugar. The scone dough by itself isn’t that sweet, as it shouldn’t be, and so the turbinado sugar on top not only provides an amazing crunchy texture, but a little welcomed sweetness that you’ll get with each bite. If you don’t have turbinado sugar, you can substitute with regular granulated sugar.

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Strawberry Cream Scones

Yields about 8 large scones

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tbsp. baking powder

  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest

  • 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries

  • Turbinado sugar, for topping

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and lemon zest.

  2. Pour 1 1/3 cups of the heavy cream into a measuring cup and mix in the vanilla extract. Drizzle this mixture slowly over the dry ingredients while using wooden spoon to gently mix it together (I actually use my hands so I can get a good feel for the dough). The goal is to have no dry spots left in the dough, so you may need to add more heavy cream. Add in a tablespoon at a time until no more flour bits remain, but try to avoid making the dough too sticky. Carefully fold in the strawberries.

  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it a couple of times with your hands. Mold the dough into a disk and press it until the dough is about 3/4” thick. Using a 3” cookie/biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out the scones - you will have to re-roll the dough once more in order to get 8-10 scones. Place the scones onto a plate and place them in the freezer for about 15 minutes.

  4. Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take the scones out of the freezer and place them on the baking sheet. Brush each scone with heavy cream and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Bake in the oven for 14-17 minutes, or until the scones are a light golden brown and baked through.

  5. Scones are best if they are eaten right out of the oven, but will keep for a couple of days when stored in an airtight container at room temperature.