Category Archives: Sweets

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

Sweetest Witch Ever!

Looking for a spooky Halloween snack ? Check out this adorable witch that we recently  shot for The Popcorn Board. It’s easy to make & fun for kids —you just need grocery store ingredients and your imagination. Trick or Treat!

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of The Popcorn Board.

Witchy Popcorn Balls

Yield: 8

  • 16 chocolate wafer cookies
  • 3 quarts popped popcorn
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or
  • margarine
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 3 tablespoons (1/2 of a 3-ounce box)
  • lime gelatin dessert mix
  • Green food color, optional
  • 8 chocolate ice cream cones
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • Orange sugar sprinkles, placed in small bowl
  • Jelly beans, candy corn, licorice string
  1. Spread a sheet of wax (or parchment) paper over a work surface and place the wafer cookies on it.
  2. Spray a large mixing bowl with cooking spray and place popcorn inside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in marshmallows and gelatin dessert powder until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth. If desired, adjust color with a drop or 2 of food color. Pour over popcorn and mix well until coated.
  4. Spray hands with cooking spray and press firmly to form into 8 balls. Place balls on 8 of the wafer cookies. Press candy decorations into popcorn balls to form eyes, nose and mouth.
  5. Place chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover and heat for 10 seconds. Stir chocolate to aid melting. Repeat as needed until chocolate is melted and smooth.
  6. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon melted chocolate onto the top of each popcorn ball. Press a few licorice strings into chocolate to form ‘hair’.
  7. Make hats: dip cone edges into melted chocolate and then into orange sugar sprinkles. Using melted chocolate as the “glue,” attach cones to remaining wafer cookies to form hat with brim. Place hats onto popcorn balls, again using melted chocolate as the “glue.” Allow chocolate to set for about 45 minutes before serving.
  8. Serve or seal individually in plastic wrap for storage.

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Filed under Halloween, Holidays, Popcorn, Sweets

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

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

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Filed under Cookies, Dessert, Entertaining, Lemon, Sweets

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

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Filed under Cake, Dessert, Reviews, Sweets

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

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

Put Some Pop In Your 4th!

A  Fourth of July tradition dear to my heart is the annual party given by my friends John and Terry. We have been a part of it for the past 30 years, give or take a few missed ones. Things change from year to year, whether it be moving to different towns, kids growing up,  or jobs changing, but two things that stay the same are the excellent company and the delicious food John & Terry serve. We all bring appetizers and desserts, and  this year I’m going to steer away from the norm and bring a little “pop” to the party!!!  Seems appropriate, yes?

We photographed this recipe for the Popcorn Board back in December, and we thought it would be a perfect sweet treat for  the Fourth since Heather propped it with an all-American theme.

Parties, pools, baseball, fireworks, and popcorn—what could be better than that! Enjoy this recipe — I know John and Terry’s guests will!!!

Homerun Sugar Popcorn
Makes 8 cups

1/4 cup vegetable oil for popping
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn
3 tablespoons white sugar

– Heat oil in medium-sized pan until hot.
– Add popcorn and sprinkle all of the sugar over it.
– Cover and shake continuously until popped.

Recipe courtesy of the Popcorn Board…

as photographed by our team, alacartepartners

Cathy

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Filed under Popcorn, Snacks, Sweets

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

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Filed under Berries, Chocolate, Dessert, Entertaining, Sweets

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

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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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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Filed under Dessert, Sweets