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.

PEACH + BLACKBERRY PIE BARS

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Hi. It’s me. The food blogger who has been posting recipes for about a year and a half now and who still hasn’t shared ONE traditional pie recipe yet! I believe I’ve mentioned it before in a previous post, but pies aren’t my strong suit and if someone asked me to make them a pie, I would most likely have a panic attack and then pick one up from Marie Callendars and said I baked it.

When I tell other bakers that I’m nervous of making pies, they’re usually understanding… if you didn’t grow up baking them or at least practice the process over the years, pies can definitely be daunting. There’s the stress of making the dough, from having to worry about your warm hands melting the butter to allowing the dough to chill in the fridge. You have to be proactive when it comes to avoiding a “soggy bottom”, which means figuring out if you need to parbake the crust or not. And then (what I fear the most) is making your pie look beautiful whether it’s with a perfect lattice crust or the cutesy little dough flower or leaf cut-outs that you see bakers doing on Pinterest and Instagram. I am not an arts and crafts kind of person (I can barely cut in a straight line) and therefore the thought of decorating a pie is just not fun to think about. I’m not saying pie is the hardest thing to make! I’m just saying that there is a lot to consider when attempting to bake one.

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So, this is why I LOVE making galettes, tarts, and today’s recipe: pie bars. These three categories of desserts are all super forgiving in almost every step along the way and just seem to be much less fussy than when tackling a pie. Since I’ve given you a recipe for a galette and a tart, it’s time to work with the very straightforward and simple recipe of pie bars. Pie bars take everything you would normally find in a pie - a crust, a filling of your choice, and a topping in the form of a crisp or streusel. No difficult lattice work to be found here!

And mark my words, I promise that I will do an apple pie recipe around Thanksgiving time. Apple pie à la mode is up there when it comes to my favorite desserts, so I will definitely work on perfecting a recipe to share with you all.

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Since we’re in the midst of stone fruit and berry season, I thought we’d take a fruit from each category and marry them together for these pie bars. I choice to work with yellow peaches and blackberries, but feel free to switch it up to your liking and substitute the stone fruit with apricots, nectarines, plums or pluots, and the berry component with raspberries or blueberries.

Sidenote: I visited the Laguna Beach Farmers Market this past weekend and tried the most amazing stone fruit I’ve come across yet: cherums! It’s a hybrid of cherries and plums and they’re so crunchy and flavorful, and they were the perfect dessert for our beach picnic later that day. Try to get a hold of them at your local farmers market! Picture of them above (along with the pluots that I also bought).

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The crust for these pie bars isn’t exactly a typical pie crust recipe, but actually the shortbread crust that I used for my lemon bars. This crust is made with three ingredients (flour, powdered sugar, and melted butter) and comes together in less than 5 minutes. There’s no chilling, no rolling out; all you need is to mix the ingredients together and then press it into the bottom of the baking dish with your hands or a spatula.

As for the filling, you can play around a bit with a couple of things: 1) how much sugar you’ll be adding and 2) what kind of spices you wish to use. If your fruit isn’t exactly at the peak of ripeness, I would suggest adding a tablespoon or 2 to what I have suggested below in the directions, and if your fruit is perfectly sweet, follow the recipe as written. For the added spices, I stuck to those that are most commonly found in pies, but you can use your favorites whether than means adding only cinnamon, a combo of nutmeg and cardamom, or a little bit of each.

Lastly, for the topping, we’ll be using a crisp mixture, which basically means a streusel topping but with old fashioned/rolled oats added. I kept it simple and added only a bit of cinnamon to my mixture but once again, you can add more spices to your liking, but I’d recommend sticking to adding no more than 1 teaspoon of spices combined. I also added chopped pecans for extra crunch and flavor, but adding nuts is totally optional.

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Peach and Blackberry Pie Bars

Makes about 9-12 bars, depending on size

Ingredients

For the crust:

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  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 medium unpeeled peaches (about 1.5-2 cups), chopped

  • 1 (6 oz.) package of blackberries

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger

  • 1/4 tsp. of ground nutmeg

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest

  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the crisp topping:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned/rolled oats

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a bowl, mix together the melted butter, flour and sugar until well incorporated. The dough will be a bit crumbly. Transfer the dough to an ungreased 8x8 baking dish (alternatively, you can line the dish with a piece of parchment paper if you wish to pull the entire baked good out). Using your hands or the back of a spatula, press the dough evenly into the dish.

  2. Bake the shortbread crust for about 15-17 minutes, or until the dough has firmed up and is golden. Set aside to cool, but keep the oven on at 350°F.

  3. In a large bowl, toss all “filling” ingredients (everything from peaches to vanilla extract) together gently using a spatula. Set aside to allow the fruit to macerate a little.

  4. For the crisp topping, add all ingredients except for the chilled butter to a medium bowl. Mix together using a whisk. Add the butter and use your fingertips to work it into the mixture until crumbs form.

  5. Pour the fruit filling over the slightly chilled shortbread crust and then evenly sprinkle the crisp topping over the fruit (using a spoon or your hand). Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the crisp topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Allow the pie bars to cool completely before cutting into them. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

EASY APPLE TART W/ MAPLE WHIPPED CREAM

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It’s the final countdown! We are just a couple of days away from Thanksgiving and I am so ready for it. Since I went to a Friendsgiving party this past weekend, where I brought two desserts (including my pumpkin cheesecake), Brussels sprouts, and my sangria, I feel like it was a warm-up for the actual day. The Friendsgiving party was a lot of fun and had 16 people in total which is double the amount of people that I’ll be with on Thanksgiving. So even though there will be less mouths to feed on Thursday, I’ll be contributing much more food and helping out in all departments. It will definitely be more work but I'm excited to do it all while being with my family.

I wanted to give you one last Thanksgiving dessert, and even though this recipe is being posted just a couple of days before the big day, it requires less time and effort than most desserts made for the holiday (cough pumpkin cheesecake cough). We’re talking about an apple tart today, and this recipe in particular is one of the simplest apple tart recipes out there. If you want an apple dessert on your dinner table Thursday night, but the idea of baking a deep dish apple pie is daunting to you, then this recipe is perfect for you.

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This apple tart is baked in a fluted tart pan, which makes it almost fool-proof in the sense that you can’t mess up the shape. Unlike apple pies where you have to worry about making the top crust look all neat and pretty, this apple tart has the apples exposed on the top for a beautiful, rustic look. The only crust on top will be any excess dough that is folded over before baking: a step that doesn't require much skill.

If you want to make this tart galette-style, feel free to ditch the pan and mold the dough freeform on parchment paper on a baking sheet. I recommend using the tart pan if you’re planning on traveling to someone’s house for Thanksgiving. That way, you can keep the tart in its cute little pan and not worry about having your galette flying around in the backseat. But if you’re hosting it at your house and don’t have a tart pan, then by all means, go with the galette. Do what works for you!

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Since this apple tart is so simple when it comes to the flavor, with only sugar and butter being the added ingredients, you have the option to spice it up if you want to. I would recommend adding your favorite apple pie spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, etc and/or a splash of vanilla extract or lemon juice. But honestly, the way I have the recipe written is fantastic and allows you to really enjoy the perfect crust and in-season apples.

I wanted to add a lil something something to finish the tart with, and decided that maple whipped cream was the best bet. Making it is equally as simple as the tart, but having the cream sweetened by pure maple syrup instead of granulated sugar makes it a bit more interesting and autumn-like. If you plan on serving with the whipped cream, I suggest sprinkling only 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar on the tart before popping it in the oven (that’s why I have 2-4 tbsp. of granulated sugar listed in the filling ingredients). But if you don’t plan on eating the tart with whipped cream or ice cream, add a bit more sugar. Again, it’s up to you, so you can make it as sweet as you want!

I hope all of you have a great Thanksgiving and that you get to spend it with the ones you love!

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Apple Tart and Maple Whipped Cream

Makes (1) 9-inch tart

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

  • 1/8 tsp. salt

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to the touch, cut into small pieces

  • 4 tbsp. ice cold water

For the filling:

  • 2 lbs. apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, or any other firm/tart apple variety), peeled, cored, and sliced

  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

  • 2-4 tbsp. granulated sugar (make it as sweet as you want! I do 2 tbsp.)

To Finish (optional):

  • Apricot preserves/jam

  • Confectioners’ sugar

  • Maple whipped cream (recipe below)

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add 2 tbsp. of the butter to the mixture by working with your hands or a pastry cutter, and rub the mixture together until it resembles course crumbs. Then add the remaining 4 tbsp. of butter and continue to mix until the butter bits are about the size of a pea.

  2. Add about 2 tbsp. of the water to the mixture and stir it in with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining 2 tbsp. of water and stir again. Using your hands, feel if the dough is too dry and if it is, continue to dribble in more water, 1 tbsp. at a time. Do this until the dough comes together and isn’t predominately full of dry sections. Roll the dough into a ball and flatten it into a 4-inch disc. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

  3. When ready to roll out, allow the dough to sit at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes so it will be more malleable. Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough thinly out to about a 14-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased 9-inch tart pan, and carefully press the dough into the mold, making sure there is an overhang of dough. Fill the pan with as many apple slices as you can, and arrange them in any pattern you like. Fold over the excess dough over the apples, and tuck/crimp it together. With a pastry brush, brush the melted butter over the folded dough and apples. Sprinkle the granulated sugar on. If you’re making the whipped cream, do 2 tbsp. of sugar, if not, go with 3 or 4 tbsp.

  4. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, making sure to rotate the pan every 15 minutes so it gets evenly baked. It will be done when the dough is golden brown and the apples are soft.

  5. (Optional) Heat up 2 tbsp. of apricot preserves and 1 tbsp. of water in the microwave until it becomes a bit liquefied. Brush the mixture on the crust and apples when the tart is slightly cooled.

  6. Serve with a big dollop of maple whipped cream and a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar.

Maple Whipped Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 2 1/2 tbsp. pure maple syrup

Directions

  1. Place the mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for about 15 minutes.

  2. Add the heavy cream and pure maple syrup to the bowl and whisk until stiff peaks are formed. Whipped cream can be stored in an airtight container for about a day in the fridge. When ready to use, whisk the mixture again for about 15 seconds.