Category Archives: Dessert

Party Cake Pops

Every year when the kids’ birthdays roll around, my wife Carol tries something different to celebrate. As a creative director, she is, well, pretty creative, so I’m always expecting something new & exciting. This year she decided to try her hand at making cake pops.

Cake pops have been “all the rage” ever since Angie Dudley of Bakerella fame published her recent book. Although Angie forms her pops from crumbled cake, Carol decided to try baking them from a set of Bake Pop trays. Carol also wanted her pops to have a soft exterior coating of frosting, rather than the harder candy melt surface that Angie suggests. Either way, cake pops are all about the decorating, and, as you can see from our photo above, anything goes!

You will need…

  • cake mix
  • bake pop tray or baking pan
  • candy melts and your favorite frostings
  • lollipop sticks
  • piping bag & tips
  • sprinkles, nonpareils, etc. (for decorating)
  • styrofoam board (for drying)

Bake cake mix in bake pop trays. Allow to cool. Remove pops from tray.

Place candy melts in narrow microwave-safe bowl and melt in microwave, per candy melt package directions.

Dip lollipop stick approximately 1/2″ into melted candy. Next, insert stick halfway into cake pop. Place pop on small baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining pops.

Place pops in freezer for 15 minutes to secure lollipop stick.

Place frosting in narrow microwave-safe bowl and microwave one minute. Tint if desired. Stir. Repeat until frosting is thinned enough for dipping. (Do not overheat or frosting may break down.)

Dip cake pops fully into melted frosting and allow excess to drip away.

Insert stick end of cake pops into styrofoam board to dry. Once the pops have dried, decorate as desired.

For more cake pop tips & methods check out Bakerella’s “how to” video.

-Joe

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Filed under Cake, Chocolate, Cupcakes, Entertaining, Sweets

Autumn Apple Pie

Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year, although not for the reasons you might think. Sure there is the colorful splendor of the changing leaves, and that clean crisp fragrance in the air that says the holidays can’t be too far off. But what gets me most excited about the Fall is that it’s apple pickin’ season.

Lyman Orchards – Middlefield, CT

For me, there is something very romantic about journeying with family & friends to one of the many local orchards in New York and Connecticut.  It’s very special to spend a leisurely day together… picking apples, sipping cider, and meandering through corn mazes. All a much welcome departure from the fast-paced lives we’ve come to know.

When the day is done my mind will often wonder to memories of Autumns past, to Thanksgiving around the dinner table, and in particular to my sister’s homemade apple pie. Roseann is quite the natural baker, and on holidays, the dinner conversation will inevitably turn to guessing which of her fantastic desserts she may have prepared this time around. Of course I’m always hoping for my favorite—her wonderful apple pie. It just melts in your mouth, and is still, to this day, the best I’ve ever tasted.

Special thanks to Roseann for sharing, and for all her help in baking & shooting the pies for this post!

TIP:  If you’re like me, you believe that apple pie shouldn’t crunch when you take a bite, so use naturally soft apples like Macintosh or Cortland. It makes all the difference.

Autumn Apple Pie

Makes 8 to 10 servings

  • Pastry for 9″ double crust (use Pillsbury Pie Crust or make from scratch)
  • 8-10 medium cooking apples  (Macintosh or Cortland), peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • milk (for browning of crust)

• Preheat oven to 425F.

• Line 9″ pie pan with one pastry.  In large bowl stir together apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Spoon into pastry-lined 9″ pie pan. Dot with butter. Cover with second pastry; fold overhang under; crimp and  flute edge.

• Brush pastry with milk;  cut a few slits for steam to escape.

• Bake 40-45 minutes until pie is browned and apples are tender. To prevent over-browning, cover pie loosely with tent of foil after 20 minutes.  Cool on wire rack or serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Joe


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Filed under apples, Dessert, Pie

Cupcakes—those cute little cakes

Have you noticed? Cupcakes are all the rage.  So many flavors, so many frostings, so many toppings, and so many sizes!  Cupcakes have become a whimsical replacement for traditional desserts. I remember when they were just a simple treat to send to school for kids’ birthdays—now they pop up all over, even at wedding receptions!

For those in the Connecticut area, I have started a cupcake venture, Cupcakes for a Cause.  Part of the proceeds are donated to a local animal shelter.  Visit my website and see my limited holiday flavors!!  www.cupcakecause.com

Showcased in the above photo is one of my offerings – Cup o’ Joe (developed in honor of my A LA CARTE partner, Joe, who makes the best coffee in town!)  It is a rich Espresso Cupcake topped with Mocha Buttercream, then sprinkled with chopped candied coffee beans & ground cinnamon.

Cathy

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Filed under Cake, Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert, Sweets

Guilt-free Chocolate Shake!

and now, a little quiz from A LA CARTE…..

The mouth-watering chocolate milkshake in the photo:
A. is both non-dairy & cholesterol-free
B. is vegan
C. contains only 200 calories
D. tastes as good as it looks
E. All of the above

If you answered “E”, give yourself a star, and have a sip!

The secret to this tasty, healthful shake is Silk brand’s Dark Chocolate Almond Milk. It’s  available at large grocery stores and I even found it at my Target. Silk’s website has a store locator; just enter your zip code. If your store does not carry it, pester the manager to order it!  It’s quite tasty straight, but extra fab in shakes and dessert recipes. Try it!

Dark Chocolate & Banana Milkshake

1 cup (8 ounces) dark chocolate almond milk
1/2 banana
1/2 cup crushed ice

– Place all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth.

– Serve immediately.

Heather

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Filed under Chocolate, Drinks, Healthy, Shakes & Smoothies, Vegetarian

Little, Luscious and Easy-as-Pie!

SO simple.

SO cute.

SO luscious!

During some food-styling downtime at a recent location shoot, Cathy concocted this elegant little tart. Of course, we thought it was beautiful, so we raced to put it on the set, and voilà!  Do you love it??

Cathy started with a small, good quality shortbread cookie for the base. She used LU, a readily available shortbread cookie with an adorable crimped edge. She topped the cookie with a tablespoon of prepared lemon curd, then garnished with a tiny dollop of whipped cream, a blueberry, and some lemon zest.

This is the perfect no-cook, no-bake recipe for those last-minute get-togethers when you’re short of time,  but still looking for a dessert with some “wow” power. Just keep the ingredients on hand, and you can be turning out tarts at a moment’s notice.

Here are some other sweet tarts to consider:

Chocolate Tart:  shortbread cookie, a tablespoon of prepared chocolate pudding, a dab of whipped cream, a raspberry, & chocolate shavings
Butterscotch Tart:  shortbread cookie, a tablespoon of prepared butterscotch pudding, a dab of whipped cream, & chopped toasted pecans
Key Lime Tart: shortbread cookie, a tablespoon of prepared lime curd, a dab of whipped cream, & lime zest

Heather

4 Comments

Filed under Cookies, Dessert, Entertaining, Lemon, Sweets

Easy Easter Cookies

Looking to channel your inner Martha and whip up some professional looking Easter cookies? It’s easy!

• Pick up a few cookie cutters at your local kitchen shop, or order from our favorite source, The Cookie Cutter Shop.

• Place one package refrigerated sugar cookie dough (such as Pillsbury) in a large mixing bowl. Mix in about 1/4 cup of flour to make a stiff dough. (The extra flour will help the cut-out cookies hold their shape while baking.) Now, just roll dough to 1/4-inch thick, cut out shapes, and bake according to package directions.

• To decorate, use your favorite frosting, icing or melted chocolate to cover cookie.  Royal icing is the best choice if you want a very smooth surface, and it colors beautifully. Royal icing typically uses raw egg whites.  To eliminate the risk of salmonella when using raw egg whites, meringue powder is recommended.

Royal Icing with Meringue Powder:  In large bowl, stir together  4 cups confectioners’ sugar and 3 tablespoons meringue powder.  Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup water and beat on high until a ribbon of icing falls back into the bowl and remains on the surface of the icing for a few seconds before disappearing.  This is the best consistency to cover or “flood” the entire surface of the cookie. Tint icing with a tiny bit of food color or paste. Place cookies on cooling rack over a cookie sheet, and “flood” by gently spooning the icing over them. If icing is not thin enough, add water, a teaspoon at a time, until it spreads easily.

Before cookie dries, sprinkle with your favorite sugars and sprinkles.  Check out Wilton Decorating for more creative decorating ideas & tips.

Note: You can purchase meringue powder at large party stores, kitchenware shops and some supermarkets.

 

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Filed under Cookies, Dessert, Easter

Key Lime Cake

One word. Quite delicious. Okay, that’s two words, but this cake is quite delicious. Last night my doorbell rang and I signed for a small package. I opened it up to find a beautiful Key Lime Bundt Cake. It was from my sister who had ordered it

from a company called We Take the Cake. What a fun name!  The beautifully packaged cake came with a small container of Key Lime Glaze. I drizzled it over the top and cut a slice. Yum. What a tropical hit! A creamy key lime tang and a moist and tender texture. Sooo good. I could almost hear sound of steel drums—for a few moments I forgot it was still a wintry 40 degrees!

I had to learn more about We Take the Cake. Luckily the stylish brochure accompanying the box was filled with pictures and mouth-watering descriptions of the cakes they sell seven days a week via mail-order. Strawberry Cake, Coconut Cake, Red Velvet Cake, Carrot Spice Cake, Rum Cake, well the list goes on and on. Check them out!

Heather

2 Comments

Filed under Cake, Dessert, Reviews

Three Tasty Mice

 

Here’s the story behind these adorable little morsels!  I had dinner with my friends from PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society) last night. The conversation always turns to animals, and we all share our stories in one way or another.  At dessert time, my friend Alexis presented a tray of adorable edible mice.  They were actually quite simple in design: a chocolate-covered cherry (with stem) for the body and tail, a Hershey’s Hugs Kiss for the face, sliced almonds for the ears, and icing for the eyes and nose.  Serve them over a triangle of cheese… genius! Or should I say “Micey” Nice!

Cathy

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Filed under Dessert, Entertaining, Snacks, Sweets

Valentine’s Tiramisu for Two

When planning a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for two, dessert is a must!  An indulgent combination of mascarpone cheese, coffee liqueur, cocoa and ladyfingers, Tiramisu is perfect for special occasions. For an elegant presentation, I serve the Tiramisu in wine goblets. Ladyfingers (spongecake cookies) may be hard to find in grocery stores, so I substitute Walkers Shortbread Cookies. They  have a uniquely rich texture and a melt-in-your-mouth buttery flavor, plus they do not get as mushy as ladyfingers in a Tiramisu recipe. Look for Walkers’ signature red plaid packaging in the cookie aisle.

Tiramisu for Two

Makes 2 servings

2 tablespoons coffee flavored liqueur
1 tablespoon brewed coffee
8 shortbread cookies, such as Walkers Pure Butter Vanilla Shortbread
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 container (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
1 square (1 oz) semi sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

– In small bowl stir together coffee liqueur and coffee.  Brush both sides of  6 of the shortbread cookies with coffee mixture.  Cut each cookie in half.

– In medium bowl beat heavy cream and 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.

– In separate medium bowl, beat mascarpone cheese and 1/4-cup sugar.  Fold in whipped cream.

–  In each of two wine goblets, place 3 cookie halves.  Spoon 1/4 of cheese mixture over cookies. Repeat layers.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours so that cookies soften slightly.

– Meanwhile, in small bowl, microwave chocolate on High 40 seconds, then stir until melted.  Using a small spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over remaining 2 cookies.

– Just before serving, use a fine sieve to lightly sprinkle each dessert with cocoa.  Garnish each dessert with a chocolate-drizzled cookie.

Cathy

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Filed under Dessert, Holidays, Sweets, Walker's Shortbread Fingers

Cheesecake Convert

I’ve never really been a cheesecake person. But I am now. While in New York City a few weeks ago, I stopped in at Lindy’s, a diner/deli just north of Times Square. Lindy’s gets few points for atmosphere or value (it’s horribly overpriced), but it’s world-famous for its cheesecake. So, I figured, when in Lindy’s, order the cheesecake. Was I glad I did! The cheesecake was quite simply the best I’ve ever tasted. Light, yet dense. Fluffy, yet creamy. Not too sweet, with just a hint of lemon. A tender cookie crust. And a garnish of canned whipped cream which should have been all wrong, but was somehow just right.

Not exactly a healthy snack, but a generous slice and a cup of surprisingly good coffee kept me going for the rest of the day.

I googled “recipe for Lindy’s cheesecake”  and 28,600 results came up! I must get started. Now, where did I put that springform pan…

Heather

1 Comment

Filed under Cake, Dessert, Reviews, Sweets

Christmas Cupcakes Made Easy!

These Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting & Holiday Sprinkles are made from Duncan Hines Red Velvet Cake Mix and Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting. I added 3 tablespoons Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder to the cake batter for added chocolate flavor. The cupcakes taste great, but also look great thanks to the beautiful cupcake liners.

As a props stylist, I am sometimes stopped dead in my tracks when I discover a new product that I could only have dreamed of in years past. While other people may be excited by, say, advances in technology or medical science, I get excited when I see products perfect for photo shoot propping, and I am always on the lookout. Colorful straws that bend, square plates, tiny glass Christmas balls in unusual colors…well, you get the idea.

Cupcakes have always been hard to shoot because the see-thru thin paper liners were so unattractive that they ruined the shot. The foil liners were a bit better, but not by much. (Seriously, I have been known to handpaint cupcake liners because what we needed for a shoot simply did not exist.) For many years, cupcakes were pretty, cupcake liners were not. It was common knowledge. At least in my world.

Therefore, I was recently blown away when I came across Reynolds’ line of decorative foil cupcake liners that change seasonally. The red and green ribbon swirl pattern practically jumped off the shelf as I browsed the baking aisle of my grocery store. The liners are paper on the outside and foil on the inside. They hold their color and their shape; in fact, you do not even need a cupcake tin to use them. Pretty & practical…now that’s genius.

Happy cupcaking!

Heather

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Filed under Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert, Entertaining, Holidays

Dangerously Good Chocolate Mint Meltaways

It’s true….these Chocolate Mint Meltaways should come with a warning. They’re that good!

Have you ever noticed that the best looking cookies are not always the best tasting cookies? This is especially true when it comes to Christmas cookies. That adorably decorated sugar cookie might look like it should be on the cover of a fancy food magazine, but it can be dry as dust with little flavor save the traces of food colorings used to tint the frosting. No thanks!

So, when I discover a pretty cookie or bar that actually has awesome flavor and texture, it makes the “A” list and goes into my recipe file to make every year. I wheedled this recipe out of my friend Janet, and she said I could share it with all of you. But don’t say you weren’t warned. They truly are addictive!

Chocolate Mint Meltaways
(makes about 6 dozen bars)

Brownie Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 can (16 ounces) Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup flour

• Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13 x 9 baking dish with aluminum foil. Grease foil with a little butter.
• Using mixer, cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Gradually beat in eggs, chocolate syrup, vanilla and salt. Using wooden spoon, stir in flour until just combined.
• Spread mixture in pan and bake 30 minutes. Cool completely.
• Grasping foil, carefully lift brownie layer from pan and invert onto large cutting board. Peel away foil.

Mint Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 TB  Creme de Menthe liqueur
• Using mixer, cream butter and sugar, then beat in Creme de Menthe.
• Reserve 2 TB mixture, cover and set aside. Spread remaining mixture evenly over cooled brownie layer.

Chocolate Topping:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 TB butter

• In heavy saucepan, stir chocolate and butter over low heat until melted. Cool.
• Gently spread chocolate topping over mint layer. Chill until chocolate is set.
• Using large knife and wiping blade frequently, cut into bars about 1 inch by 1 1/2 inches.

Mint Drizzle
Place reserved mint filling in small Ziploc bag and snip a tiny piece from the corner. Drizzle filling over each bar.

Note: Store bars covered, in refrigerator, for best results.

Heather

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Filed under Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert, Entertaining, Holidays, Sweets

Sweet Indulgences

Oh, what a whirl! Or should I say swirl? Swirls do come to mind when I think of  “Sweet Indulgences”, a new dessert shoppe in Dumont, New Jersey. The shoppe’s owners, Gwynn Galvin and Bryan Mueller, are a mother/son team

Peanut Butter Perfection

who have combined their talents to create amazing treats with an innovative twist. Cheesecakes and cheesecake cupcakes in a variety of whimsical flavors—Cup o’ Cappuccino, Brownie Delight, & Apple Cinnamon Sensation—are their specialty.  To give you an idea of how wonderful they are, the Brownie Delight features a dark chocolate crust with luscious brownie bits baked into the batter with a topping of brownie chunks, fudge and a white chocolate drizzle. Need I say more?!

Other desserts include cupcakes in fun flavors such as Bubble Gum and Cotton Candy, as well traditional favorites such as Red Velvet (pictured below). The shoppe also offers an Indulgence of the Week, and proceeds from its sales are donated to charity. Now that’s a guilt-free dessert!

Gwynn has an extensive culinary background and is currently test kitchen director for Woman’s World Magazine. Bryan has a marketing and PR background specializing in food accounts. As a food stylist, I have worked with Gwynn for many years and I can say first-hand (or should I say first bite) that this team’s “sweet indulgences” are not to be missed!

If you are in the NY/NJ area, you can visit Gwynn and Bryan’s shoppe at 120B West Shore Ave. in Dumont, New Jersey (201) 384-CAKE. You may also visit them on the web at SweetIndulgencesNJ.com or become a fan of Sweet Indulgences on their Facebook page at http://www.facebook/SweetindulgencesNJ.

Cathy

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Filed under Cake, Cupcakes, Dessert, Reviews

Milk & Cookies = Cookies & Milk

Hey fellow foodies, wanna play a fun food game? Try A LA CARTE’s Classic Food Pairings Test! Here’s how it works.

Step. 1: Think of a classic food pairing and say it aloud. (i.e., “Spaghetti & Meatballs“) Does it sound delicious? Proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Transpose the food pairing and say that aloud.  (i.e., “Meatballs & Spaghetti“) Does it still sound delicious, or is it a bit awkward? If it’s still delicious, add it to your list of winners. If it’s awkward, try another combination.

You’ll soon find that this is a rigorous test and that very few food pairings make the list of winners.

When I played this game, Milk & Cookies was my first clear winner. It immediately reminded me of a shot our A LA CARTE team took of chocolate chip cookies and milk. This shot may look familiar to you since it’s the icon we use

in our Comments section. I love the shot because the cookies look warm and melty from the oven, plus the tall glass of milk looks cool and inviting—perfect for dunking. Cathy added toasted chopped pecans and extra chips to the cookie dough just before baking, and the way they catch the late-afternoon sunlight brings back happy memories of years of after-school snacking.

Other pairs on my list of winners? Red Wine & Chocolate. Bacon & Eggs.  Tea & Toast. Tomato & Basil. I could play this game all day…

Please send us your own winning food pairs, and we’ll comprise a master list to feature in an upcoming post. Happy pairing!

Heather

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Filed under Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert, Snacks, Sweets

Caramel Macchiato Popcorn Balls

Why shouldn’t adults enjoy the whimsical play of a dessert on a stick?  Here’s a popcorn ball that’s not just for kids!

Traditional popcorn balls are usually loaded with gooey sweetness, but I’ve created a contemporary version with more grown-up appeal.  These coffeehouse-inspired popcorn balls are made with caramel, chocolate and espresso powder—what a combination!

Did you know that macchiato means marked or stained?  In this case, the popcorn is “marked” with a little espresso.  You have to try them—I’ve already eaten 3.  Okay, maybe 4!!!!

as photographed by our team, alacartepartners

Caramel Macchiato Popcorn Balls
Makes 6 popcorn balls

8 cups popped popcorn
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon warm water
20 caramels, unwrapped
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 popsicle or craft sticks

– Place popcorn in large bowl. In small bowl, stir together espresso powder and warm water.

– In medium glass bowl, microwave caramels, chocolate chips and espresso mixture on HIGH (100%) power, 1 and 1/2 minutes. Stir
mixture until completely melted.
– Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and quickly stir until popcorn is well coated.  Using greased  hands, shape mixture into 6 balls.
Insert a stick into each ball.

– Store in airtight container up to 1 week.

Tips

– You can use store-bought popcorn; air popped popcorn or your favorite microwave popcorn.

– For a sweeter treat, use kettle corn.

– Instead of forming the popcorn mixture into balls, spread it in single layer on a baking sheet.  Let sit for 30 minutes and break into clusters.

– For added coffeehouse flavor, stir 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon into the espresso mixture.

Cathy

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Filed under Caramels, Chocolate, Dessert, Popcorn, Snacks

Blueberry-Ginger Cobbler Cake

As a kid growing up, I spent many summers in West Virginia where we picked bucket after bucket of fresh berries. My Grandma Arnold made excellent cobbler, but there were  days when it was just too hot to consider working with pastry dough. That’s when Grandma made her quick cobbler, a cake-mix based recipe

that could be assembled in minutes and put in to bake before supper. I enjoyed countless evenings on Grandma’s front porch, eating cobbler for dessert and watching the cars go by. Although we usually had blackberries, raspberries or huckleberries in the Blue Ridge mountains, I now live in New England where we have excellent blueberries. Try this coffee-cake style cobbler for breakfast or brunch with some sweetened whipped cream and a cup of good strong coffee. Thanks for the inspiration, Grandma!

Blueberry-Ginger Cobbler Cake

3 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons  ground cinnamon
1 pkg. (18.25 oz) yellow cake mix (I use Duncan Hines)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

– Preheat oven to 350°.

– Pick over blueberries, removing any stems. Rinse with cold water and drain in colander.

– In large bowl, stir together sugar, crystallized ginger and cinnamon. Add blueberries and stir gently to coat with sugar mixture.

– Prepare cake mix according to package directions, adding the vanilla and ground ginger.

– Spread blueberries evenly in bottom of 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Pour cake mix over blueberries. Bake 35 minutes or until wooden pick    inserted into cake (not blueberry layer) comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack.

– When cool, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Heather

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Filed under Berries, Breakfast, Cake, Dessert, Sweets

It’s All About The Coconut!

Frosted cupcakes piled high with coconut chips.  Yes, coconut chips!!  I came across them at a food show and thought they would make a beautiful complement to chocolate cupcakes frosted with vanilla buttercream.

We shot this cupcake at the studio one day, and it has become one of our all-time favorite shots. To make a more dramatic presentation, I used a  Texas-size cupcake pan lined with extra-large paper liners.  (A standard cake mix will make  10 to 12 cupcakes.) I frosted the cupcakes with a rich vanilla buttercream.  To give the coconut a hint of color and to bring out its flavor, I  very lightly toasted the coconut chips. (Place them in single layer on a baking sheet, and toast in 275° oven for about 5 minutes.)

The best coconut chips are just pure dried coconut—organic, unsweetened and sulfite-free.  You can eat them straight from the package, add them to your favorite trail mix, stir them into a fruit salad—be creative! Coconut chips may be a little harder to find than shredded coconut, but they are certainly worth the search.  I found them at Trader Joes, and they are also available at natural food markets. Or, you can order them online.  Here are a few online resources: Tropical Traditions,  Nuts Online, or Melissa’s.

as photographed by our team, alacartepartners

Cathy

4 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert

Double the Chocolate Strawberries

I can’t think of an easier dessert that yields as many “oohs” and “ahhs” as chocolate dipped strawberries. Perfect on their own, and truly elegant when garnishing a plate of cookies or brownies, these berries are a hit every time. As easy as they are to make, there are a couple of secrets for success: 1) use the freshest ripe berries you can find (local is best!) 2) do not burn the chocolate and 3) always make more berries than you need or keep them hidden until guests arrive! So, here, in honor of strawberry season, we give you:

Double the Chocolate Strawberries
Makes 12 dipped strawberries

1 dozen medium-size fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
4 squares (4 ounces) semi-sweet baking chocolate
2 squares (2 ounces) white chocolate

– Line a baking sheet with wax paper. In small glass bowl, microwave chocolate on HIGH (100%) power for 1 minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. (If, after stirring well, there is still some unmelted chocolate,  microwave for another 10 seconds, then stir until melted).

– Hold strawberry by stem and dip into the melted chocolate, covering about 3/4 of the berry. Gently shake off excess chocolate and  place on wax paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.

– In small glass bowl, microwave white chocolate on MEDIUM (50%) power for 1 minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Carefully transfer melted chocolate to a zipper-style plastic sandwich bag. Squeeze out excess air and seal bag.

– Using scissors, snip a tiny corner of the bag. Squeeze chocolate from bag onto the dipped berries, using a random pattern. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Transfer berries to serving platter. Leftovers (ha!) may be stored in the refrigerator overnight.

Tips

– Recipe can easily be doubled, tripled and more!!!!

– Triple Chocolate? I like the way you think! Using dark (bittersweet) chocolate, follow the same procedure for the white chocolate. Pipe or drizzle in a criss-cross pattern over the white chocolate. Pretty!

– I am a big fan of Baker’s Chocolate Baking Squares, and you can find them in any supermarket.

– Think outside the strawberry! Try dipping kiwi slices, banana halves, pineapple chunks, and more. The trick is to pat the fruit dry before dipping.

Heather

2 Comments

Filed under Berries, Chocolate, Dessert, Entertaining, Sweets

Best-dressed Chocolate Truffle Cake

To bake or not to bake? That is often the question in our hurried world. We all like to serve up something special, but we do not always have the luxury of time. My cousin ML, who lives in New York City, likes to say “If I can buy it within a six-block radius, I consider it homemade!” Luckily, as my cousin could attest,

there are an increasing number of top-quality desserts available in the freezer section of better grocery stores.

It’s easy to dress up a store-bought confection, especially if you start with a quality product. In this photo, one of my favorites from alacarte, our food stylist Cathy Paukner began with a boxed and frozen single-layer chocolate truffle cake. Using a fine mesh sieve, she dusted it lightly with unsweetened cocoa powder, and added a few luscious fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint. Presented on a pretty pink porcelain plate, the dessert looks as if you had spent hours in the kitchen baking and garnishing, when in fact, all you did was purchase and thaw. Wouldn’t “Purchase & Thaw” be a great name for a new food blog? Maybe my cousin could start it…

Heather

2 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Dessert, Entertaining, Foodies

Berries, Balsamic, Brown Sugar…

Who would ever think that strawberries, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar would be a tantalizing flavor sensation? I was skeptical when I was introduced to this at a shoot a few years back.  I vividly remember an account executive, from a public relations firm representing strawberries, arriving at the studio with cases of beautiful ripe strawberries, aged balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.

She rinsed the berries, and proceeded to pour the vinegar and brown sugar into separate small bowls.  She told us to pick a berry, dip it in the vinegar, and then the sugar.  I thought to myself, there’s no way I am going to like this! I have to tell you I was more than pleasantly surprised.  The flavor combination was unbelievable.  The robust, slightly sweet zing of the vinegar combined with the sweetness of the berry and the brown sugar—well, it’s beyond yum. It’s a unique taste sensation you will not soon forget. Try it!

Hint: For the best flavor, use a good-quality aged balsamic vinegar,  turbinado sugar, which is a raw cane sugar  such as Sugar in the Raw from Hawaii, and the freshest local strawberries you can find!

Serve these as an appetizer or dessert. And let me know how you like them!

Cathy

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Filed under Appetizer, Berries, Dessert, Sweets

Do You Fondue ?

I used to think fondue was a throwback from the 1970’s.  Remember those bright-colored earthenware pots with those tiny little forks? But fondue is not just a throwback anymore. Last week, I was in Trader Joe’s desperately  looking for a quick, but interesting appetizer to serve to last-minute guests.

In the cheese section, I happened upon a package of Swiss Beer Fondue that just called for heating and serving. Perfect!  I don’t have one of those vintage bright-colored pots but, having a food background, I knew I didn’t need one.  I figured I could heat the fondue in the microwave oven or in a double-boiler just before serving and it would be fine.  And sure enough, it was.  I served the fondue in small ramekins and when it needed to be re-warmed, I just put it in the microwave for about 15 seconds.  I served the fondue with chunks of warm crisp sourdough bread and fresh veggies.  Perfect with a cold beer or glass of wine. And my guests loved it!

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your area (you poor soul!), I have noticed pre-packaged cheese fondue in the produce sections of supermarkets.

Another way to “fondue”  is to make a dessert fondue.  Dark, milk or white chocolate fondues are delicious served with strawberries, pound cake or angel food cake cubes, biscotti, ladyfingers, marshmallows, banana chunks, pretzel rods, and more.  Flavor the chocolate with your favorite liqueur or extract.

Here’s a quick recipe:

Easy Chocolate Fondue

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces chocolate (semi-sweet, milk, bittersweet, or white), chopped
2 tablespoons favorite liqueur (such as Chambord, Grand Marnier, or Creme de Menthe) or 1/4 teaspoon favorite extract flavoring (optional)

– Heat cream in small heavy saucepan over medium heat just until small bubbles appear around edge of pan.  DO NOT BOIL.

– Remove pan from heat; add chocolate and stir until chocolate is melted.  Stir in liqueur, if desired.

– Serve warm directly from pan.  If fondue gets too thick, thin with 1 tablespoon heavy cream.

Tip

– For a Mexican favor, using the darker chocolate, add  1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon and 1/8 tsp. ground red pepper. Olé

Cathy

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Filed under Appetizer, Dessert, Snacks

Brownies are Brown, Violets are Blue

Every spring, I look forward to the two-week window I have to enjoy the bounty of violets that appear in my yard. One of the advantages of not applying pesticides to my lawn is that I have lots of edible, colorful wildflowers. Violets, with their sweet heart-shaped leaves and delicate lavender petals, add a welcome splash of color to green salads and are perfect for garnishing appetizers and desserts. Simply pick the blossoms and cover them with a damp paper towel until ready to use. Violets are gorgeous when paired with chocolate—here they are with my favorite brownie recipe, Baker’s One Bowl Brownies, a no-fail recipe I make way too often for my waistline!

Heather

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Filed under Dessert, Sweets

I Never Met a Lemon Bar I Didn’t Like

That said, there are definitely some lemon bar recipes that are better than others.

I am always looking for the perfect combination of crumbly shortbread crust and just-tart-enough filling. Well, my search for the perfect recipe just came to an end. While perusing the frozen dessert section of Trader Joe’s the other day, I noticed a sweet little package of lemon bars. Hmmm, I thought. I should try these. Am I glad I did! They are delicious—not too tart, not too sweet, not too crumbly, not too sticky, and not too many calories either.  Just 80 per serving, made with natural ingredients.

Not only are these bars fully baked and pre-cut, they are adorable and look completely homemade. And they pass the taste test! Try them, you will not be disappointed.

These bars would make a perfect Easter dessert. For a pretty presentation, arrange them on a flat white plate and garnish with small blossoms of pansies or johnny-jump-ups. Sweet!

Heather

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It’s Magically Whipped Cream

I forgot to mention another great tip I got from my friend Melanie. When we all got together last Friday night, besides the Vita-Mix machine, she also brought the Magic Bullet, a powerful compact blender.  I’ve mainly used mine for making Pina Coladas but she whipped up heavy cream in a flash!  All she did was pour heavy cream,  a little sugar and a splash of pure vanilla extract into the container of the Magic Bullet, gave it a whirl.  We had  perfectly (or I should say magically) whipped cream for our berry dessert.

If you own the Magic Bullet, you’ve got to try it.  I was skeptical but it really worked.  No need to pull out your mixer! You just have to watch when you make it.  It whips the cream so fast, you don’t want to turn it into butter.  When you are doing it for the first time, you might want to pulse it so it whips the cream slowly.

C

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Filed under Whipped Cream