Praline Pecan Tartlets

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It’s hard to believe, but I’ve made it over 1 year smoke free. After nearly 30 years of being a smoker, I finally kicked that habit. Those of you that have stopped smoking know this and the smart people out there that never picked up the nasty habit might not, but like others my metabolism went in the toilet when I quit. I ate no more than when I smoked but weight just piled on. I went from my smoking weight of 195 to 225 before I managed to peel off 20 pounds this past summer. Still, the battle of the gut is a constant struggle with me. Working in the food industry, I am surrounded by it 12 hours a day, everywhere I turn! A lead cook will want me to try some sauce (made with butter and whipping cream of course), or my baker will prepare some new treat that I can’t resist tasting, so I’m always interested in bite-sized desserts and treats. These tasty little morsels allow those of us that can quickly consume 1000 calories in a matter of minutes, to enjoy the deliciousness of something decadent and still keep our daily caloric counts in check.

A slice of a common pecan pie like you’d make at Thanksgiving averages about 500 calories (that’s if you slice your pie into 12 servings). If you’ve purchased your pecan pie that number can double, as most thaw-and-serve pies have crusts made with lard.These tasty little phyllo cups have 75 calories each, so you can limit your intake and not feel so guilty. The crispness of the baked phyllo cup with the sweetness of the praline filing and the toasted pecan is just delectable. These are perfect for a party, tea, reception, shower or just to keep in a Rubbermaid container around the holidays. They make great treats for gift giving, especially when pared with some homemade cookies, and they are extremely simple to make. Give them a try and I’m sure you’ll love adding these to your holiday baking repertoire.

For every 15 phyllo cups (available in the frozen pastry section of most any supermarket), you will need:

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp+1tsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey (you can slightly adjust the flavor to your taste depending on the type of honey you use but I personally just get regular amber honey when I make these tartlets)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (sometimes I substitute 1/4 tsp Jack Daniels whiskey in place of the vanilla, especially around Christmas)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the pecans and mix well. Fold in the chopped pecans. Arrange phyllo cups on a baking sheet, then spoon mixture into the phyllo cups (a heaping teaspoon is a good size to fill the cups). Any extra filling can be evenly distributed between your phyllo cups.

Bake in a 350F preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until the filling sets, the pecans begin to brown the the phyllo cups brown around the edges. Transfer baked cups to a cooling rack and begin your next batch. Be sure to cool these tartlets completely on a cooling rack. If you cool them on a pan or plate they will become soggy on the bottom and you loose that wonderful crunchiness of the phyllo pastry. Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 7.13.15 AM

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Macerated Fresh Berry Parfaits

maceratedberries

It’s been a month since I’ve posted anything, and for those of you that follow my blog I apologize. Most of you know I’m executive chef for a liberal arts university and we’ve been doing a lot of catering work leading up to summer graduation, which was yesterday, so my time has been short the past month.

As is customary for every graduation on campus, I create/prepare an upscale dinner for the board of directors and the guest speaker from graduation. Last night’s meal was a filling one, beef tenderloin with portobello-Madeira sauce, roasted purple and pink potatoes and sauteed broccolini, so for dessert I needed something light. Since fresh berries are plentiful right now, I made a simple fresh berry parfait. The guests were really impressed with the flavors and wanted to know just what I did. They were shocked when I told them, because this is so simple to do. It’s a way to heighten the flavors of the fresh fruit without covering it up, so while berries are everywhere you should pick some up and give this a try!

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, halved or quartered depending on their size
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp Grand Marnier or similar orange liqueur

and for the simple creme anglaise:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar

To prepare the fruit, simply put all washed and cut fruit in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar, lemon juice and liqueur. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

To make creme anglaise:

  1. In a small, heavy saucepan, heat the cream and vanilla until bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan.
  2. While the cream is heating, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Slowly pour 1/2 the hot cream mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. Gradually add the egg yolk mixture back to the pot of remaining cream, whisking constantly, and cook until it thickens and will coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove from the heat and chill.

To assemble the parfaits:

Spoon fruit mixture in a parfait glass, alternating between layers of the macerated fruit and the chilled cream anglaise. Serve cold.

 

Strawberry Pudding Trifle

Strawberry Trifle

 

After a long weekend camping with our “girls”, I ran in Walmart for some groceries and saw strawberries on sale for $1.49 a pound. They weren’t on my list but I couldn’t pass them up. I then came home and made this decadent dessert (that we don’t need to eat but will). It’s so simple to make something like this that I thought I’d share my recipe. Give it a shot! Add some bananas if you’d like or some blueberries. You can put any fruit in place of the strawberries.

  • 1 store-bought pound cake
  • 1/2 cup strawberry preserves, jam, jelly, whatever you’ve got or want to buy
  • 1 box JELL-O cook and serve Vanilla pudding
  • 2 cans evaporated milk (like PET milk or Carnation) (12oz cans)
  • 1 pound of strawberries cut up and sprinkled with sugar
  • 1 large container “light” Cool Whip or similar topping

In a glass 4 cup measuring cup or something similar and microwavable (I use a Fire King Jadite batter bowl), combine the pudding and the evaporated milk (3 cups), stir and microwave on high for 5 minutes, stopping in one minute intervals to stir. In the end the pudding should be thickening up. Once the cooking process is over, press plastic wrap onto the top (so it won’t form a “skin”) and refrigerate for an hour.

While the pudding is cooking/cooling, slice the pound cake lengthwise into 3 layers. Spread the strawberry jam evenly between the layers like filling in a cake. Reassemble the pound cake and cut into slices about 3/4″ thick.

In a large bowl or trifle bowl, arrange the cake layers on the bottom to cover as best possible. Top the cake layers with 3/4 of the sugared strawberries. Pour the cooled pudding over the strawberries, then top with the Cool Whip. Arrange the remaining strawberries on top for decoration and refrigerate the whole bowl for 2-24 hours before serving.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

lava cake

 

Here’s an easy dessert you can serve at your next dinner party and really impress your guests! This recipe is adapted from Paula Dean’s recipe.

  • 6 1oz squares bittersweet baking chocolate
  • 2 1oz squares semisweet baking chocolate
  • 1 1/4 sticks sweet cream unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 whole large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp strong brewed coffee or espresso

Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly grease 6 custard cups or ramekins.

In a Pyrex bowl (or any other microwave safe bowl), melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, until melted and well blended. Add the flour and powdered sugar, then stir in the eggs and egg yolks and mix until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and the coffee.

Divide the batter evenly between the custard cups. Arrange custard cups on a baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center still slightly jiggly.

Run a knife around the edges of the custard cups and invert the cakes onto dessert plates. Let sit for 3-4 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar and garnish. Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

No Fail Creole Style Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

Today I was asked for the basic bread pudding recipe I make, so I figured it best if I simply shared the recipe with everyone. As I’ve said before, I make a lot of bread pudding in the cafe and I have several variations to keep the customers excited, but this recipe is for simple, straightforward New Orleans bread pudding with whiskey cream sauce. Feel free to experiment with ingredients. Sometimes I leave out the raisins and instead use dried cranberries and sliced almonds. Sometimes I use blueberries and some orange marmalade. I’ve been known to make banana pecan and at times, coffee-chocolate, but the basic recipe remains the same.

 

 

 

  • 1 loaf French bread or 12 large croissants, cubed
  • 1 quart half & half
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 3 tbsp melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs with the half & half. Add the bread and fold to combine ingredients, then add the brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and raisins. Mix well. Coat a 9″x13″ glass baking dish with PAM. Pour the bread pudding mixture into the dish and drizzle the top with the melted butter. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the center is set but still moist. If bread starts to get too brown, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Whiskey Cream Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1/4 cup quality bourbon (or rum)

Mix the butter and sugar in a double-boiler until very hot and sugar is well dissolved. In your left hand (or right if you’re left handed), slowly pour the egg and cream into the butter/sugar mixture while whisking very fast with your opposite hand. This is essentially a quicker way to “temper” the eggs so they don’t curdle. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Mixture will slightly thicken as it cools. Just before serving, whisk in the bourbon (or rum).

To serve, plate up the bread pudding and drizzle with the whiskey sauce.

Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding

One thing my customers are always saying is that I make some of the best bread pudding they’ve ever eaten. I have several variations on bread pudding and try to make a pan about once a week. Blueberry, chocolate, orange-cranberry, traditional… I make whatever based on what I’ve got in the coolers and pantry.

Recently we had some croissants that were turning stale and I needed to use them. Since I’m not a true “baker”, I’ll usually look online for a recipe idea and then take off on it, because I hate following a recipe. This recipe started the same way, but because I’ve had a bumper crop of pecans from the home tree this year, I’m also looking at ways to use them in my fall cooking. This recipe can be made as a dessert or as a breakfast/brunch bread pudding. If you’re making it for the later, simply mix it up and refrigerate overnight, then bake off when you wake up.

 

  • 10 cups cubed, day-old croissants (about 5 large croissants)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups pure canned pumpkin
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 cups half & half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted pecans

In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs, sugars, salt and vanilla extract. Fold in the pumpkin, then add the half & half and milk. Add the cubed croissants and toss well to incorporate. The mixture should be slightly soupy and if needed, add a little more milk.

Pour mixture into a greased 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Top with pecan halves. Bake at 350 for approximately an hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out with no liquid on it. Cool on a wire rack. Best served warm but not hot! (If the pecans start to get too brown during baking, cover lightly with aluminum foil)

For a breakfast/brunch serving, simply top with pure maple syrup. If you’re serving as a dessert, mix 1 box of powdered sugar with 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice and top by dipping a wire whisk into the sugar glaze and lightly shaking it over the surface.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Here’s my recipe for a true Southern style pecan pie. The bourbon is optional, but it really brings out the flavor in this pie. Give it a try if you love pecans!

 

  • 6 tbsp unsalted sweet cream butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup dark brown corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp Wild Turkey or Jack Daniels (or whatever you’ve got around the house)
  • 2 cups pecan halves or pieces, divided
  • 1 9″ unbaked pie shell

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add the vanilla extract, salt, corn syrup and bourbon.

Arrange half the pecans on the bottom of the unbaked pie shell. Pour the batter over the pecans and top with the remaining pecans. Bake in a 350F oven for about 1 hour.

Be careful to watch the pie as it bakes. If the pecans begin to get too brown, lightly cover the pie with aluminum foil.

 

 

Orange Cinnamon Rolls

If you can’t tell from my posts, I’ve been on a sweet kick lately. I guess that happens after you pass 40. This is a really simple recipe for making “almost homemade” cinnamon rolls. I love orange cinnamon rolls so I added orange zest to the rolls and orange juice to the icing, but if you prefer a more traditional cinnamon roll, leave the zest out of the roll and replace the orange juice in the icing with milk. The hardest part of making these is finding the frozen bread dough. You’ll have to check a real grocery store; I don’t think Walmart has frozen bread dough but I could be wrong.

 

Roll dough:

  • 1 1# loaf frozen bread dough, thawed
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated orange zest
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Icing:

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 14-in. square. Spread butter over dough. In a small bowl, combine the pecans, sugar, brown sugar, orange peel and cinnamon. Sprinkle over dough.

Roll up jelly-roll style; pinch seams to seal. Cut into 1/2-in. slices. Place cut side down in two greased 9-in. round baking pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Bake at 350° for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, vanilla and enough orange juice to achieve desired consistency; drizzle over warm rolls. Yield: about 2 dozen.

Chocolate Roulage

Every so often my 40yo sweet tooth with kick in and I’ll start craving a decadent treat. Growing up in Alabama, it was always a treat to eat at Cobb Lane and get chocolate roulage for dessert. The whole “jelly roll” concept always appealed to me; even the Little Debbie Swiss roll was a childhood favorite.

Chocolate roulage looks hard to make; most people see this dessert and think there’s no way they can pull this off, but it’s really quite simple. The cake is basically a sponge cake. It’s baked on a “jelly roll” pan but I’ve never owned one personally. I simply use a sheet pan. The trick is to cover the baked cake with a cold, wet towel until the cake is completely cool. This keeps the cake moist and allows you to roll it up without it breaking, but I’ve eaten “broken” roulage in some of Birmingham’s finest restaurants, so if yours breaks, don’t worry about it. Some sifted powered sugar will cover any mistakes!

  • 5 large eggs at room temperature, separated
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 6oz dark, semi sweet chocolate melted with 3 tbsp water
  • Dark cocoa
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the egg yolks thoroughly; add 3/4 cup of sugar to the yolks and continue to beat until thick. Blend the cooled melted chocolate with the egg yolks, then fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Butter a sheet pan or jelly roll pan. Line pan with wax or parchment paper and butter the paper. Spread cake mixture evenly on the buttered paper and bake at 325F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300F and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven, cover the cake with a cold, wet towel and let cool completely.

When ready to serve, carefully remove the towel and loosen the cake from the paper. Sift cocoa all over the cake, then turn the cake onto a fresh sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Peel off the old paper. Whip the cream with the vanilla and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and spread liberally over the cake. Roll the cake lengthwise. Dust the top with more cocoa or with powered sugar. Slice to serve.

Cake can also be frozen once the whipped cream is added and the cake is rolled up. This will make the cake easier to slice with a more “set” filling.