Homemade Limoncello, Tarte Tatin, and Orange/Almond/Chocolate Biscotti

It’s been more than a week since we’ve been back and the vacation blues have kicked in.  Gone are days of rushing around, barely making a train, seeing new places, trying and tasting new things.  Reality, well..bites.  Already missing the delectable dishes of our travels, I’ve started to research and recreate some of the more memorable treats.  I think I’ve been able to satisfactorily replicate limoncello, tarte tatin, and a lovely biscotti.

Limoncello is a delicious lemon liqueur that is served as an after-meal digestive in Italy.  I found a recipe for homemade limoncello by Giada De Laurentiis and decided to give it a-go.   Making limoncello at home requires time and patience, as the final product may not be ready for consumption for several days.  This particular recipe, requires a little more than 120 hours to complete.  It is definitely well worth the wait!  Hubby dear agreed that the final product tasted exactly like the limoncello we had in Italy.

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Limoncello

Recipe Courtesy Food.com:  Limoncello

Ingredients

• 10 lemons

• 1 (750 ml) bottle vodka

• 3 1/2 cups water

• 2 1/2 cups sugar

*Yields 2 bottles

Directions

1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use).

2. Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith.

3. Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher.

4. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

5. Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

6. Cool completely. Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

7. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer the limoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.

Tarte tatin is actually a french dessert and is often referred to as an upside down open-face apple pie.  First, the apples are caramelized with butter and sugar in a large pan (cast iron works wonderfully), and then a pastry shell is blanketed over the caramelized apples, and the dish baked in an oven for roughly 20 minutes.  The finished product is then flipped over onto a plating dish and the pastry shell becomes the base of the tart.  I prefer the taste of tarte tatin to it’s American cousin, the apple pie.  Somehow caramelizing the apples makes the dessert tastes richer than the standard pie.  Below is a great recipe for making the apple filling and I’ve also included a standard pastry shell recipe that works well.  The key to the pastry shell is to refrigerate it at least 3 hours prior to baking.  I used Jazz apples instead of Golden Delicious, but this variety made the filling a little watery.  Next time, I’ll stick to the recipe and use the Golden Delicious variety.

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Tarte Tatin Filling

Recipe Courtesy Dramaticpancake.com:  Tarte Tatin

Ingredients

5-6 Golden Delicious apples or other firm apples that will hold their shape during cooking

4 tbsp salted butter (Plugra and Kerrygold brands are both great quality, though any butter will do!)

4 tbsp granulated sugar*

pastry for one 9″ pie shell

*I actually increased the amount of sugar to 2/3 cup, as I prefer the tarte tatin a tad sweeter

Instructions
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425°F. Roll out your pastry and trim it to fit the size of the pan you will be using for the tart.  It needn’t be exact. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Peel, core, and quarter the apples.
  3. Heat the pan over medium heat and melt the butter. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the melted butter and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is a very pale amber. 
Off the heat, place the apple quarters in the pan radially starting on the outer edge of the pan and moving to the center, setting them on their sides and fitting in as many as possible. As they cook they’ll shrink and you’ll be able to push them closer together and fit in any remaining quarters.
  4. Return pan to the stovetop and cook over medium-high heat until the apples begin to turn a golden brown (about 15 minutes). You can lift one out of the pan to check the color on the bottom. At this point flip over each quarter so the cooked edge faces up and the uncooked edge is face down in the caramel. Continue to cook until the caramel that bubbles up between the apples pieces is a dark amber (10 more minutes, give or take). You can dip a teaspoon in and pull it out to see the color better.
  5. Remove your pastry from refrigerator. Cut 4 or 5 slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape. 
Take the pan of the stovetop, and working quickly put the pastry over the hot apples and put into a 425°F oven until the pastry is golden brown (about twenty minutes). 
Remove pan from oven and immediately invert onto a cooling rack; you can place a rimmed cookie sheet under the cooling rack to catch any drips. Be very careful – use potholders!
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pastry Shell*

*I usually cut this recipe in half as I only need 1 pastry shell for a tarte tatin

Recipe Courtesy Simplyrecipes.com:  Pie Crust

Ingredients

All-Butter Pastry Crust for Sweet and Savory Pies (Pâte Brisée) (enough for bottom and top crust)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes*
1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 6 to 8 Tbsp ice water

*The first thing I do when I’m even thinking about making a butter-based pie crust is to cut up the butter into cubes and put them in the freezer. They should chill at least 15 minutes in the freezer, and even better, over an hour or overnight. Variation: Swap out 1/2 a cup of the flour with ground blanched almonds or almond flour

Instructions

1.  Put flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to mix. Add about half of the butter to the food processor and pulse several times. Then add the rest of the butter and pulse 6 to 8 times until the largest pieces of butter are about the size of large peas. Sprinkle the mixture with about 1/4 cup of ice water (make sure there are no ice cubes in the water!) and pulse again. Then add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice after each addition until the dough just barely begins to hold together. You know that the mixture is ready if when you pinch some of the crumbly dough together with your fingers, it holds together. Be cautious with the amount of water you add, too much and the crust will be tough.

2.  Carefully empty the crumbly dough mixture from the food processor on to a clean, dry, flat surface. Gather the mixture in a mound. At this point, if you want, you can do what the French call fraisage: push down with the palm of your hand on the dough crumbles a few times. This will help flatten the pieces of butter into layers which will help your crust be flaky. Divide the dough mixture into two even-sized mounds. Use your hands to form each one into a disk. Do not over-knead! Kneading develops gluten which will toughen the dough, not something you want in a pastry crust. If you started with cold butter you should be able to see small chunks of butter speckling the dough. This is a good thing. These small bits of butter will spread out into layers as the crust cooks so you have a flaky crust! Sprinkle each disk with a little flour, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour or up to 2 days.

Biscotti are delicious crunchy Italian cookies that pair well with espresso or dessert wine.  For this biscotti variation, I made almond and orange and glazed it with some bittersweet chocolate.  I have a little potted Satsuma orange tree on my porch that just produced one orange – we ate the fruit and put the peel to good use in this recipe.  🙂  These are so good, it’s hard to just eat one!

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Chocolate Dipped Orange Biscotti

Recipe Courtesy Allrecipes.com:  Chocolate Dipped Orange Biscotti

Ingredients

Original recipe makes 10 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 egg white
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons orange zest
4 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat in the egg and egg white, then mix in almonds and orange zest. Knead dough by hand until mixture forms a smooth ball.

3. Roll the dough into a log about 10 inches long; place on the prepared cookie sheet. Press down, or roll with a rolling pin, until log is 6 inches wide.

4. Bake for 25 minutes in preheated oven. After baking, cool on a rack. With a serrated knife, cut into 1 inch slices. Place slices, cut side down, back onto the baking sheet.

5. Return them to the oven for an additional 20 to 25 minutes; turning over half way through the baking. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave oven. Allow chocolate to cool but not harden before dipping one side of the biscotti into it. Place cookies on wire racks, chocolate side up, until cool and dry.

Sweets and Savories for Diwali Part II

The weather has finally turned and it’s starting to feel nippy.  As I write this post, I am watching the rain (or light showers) drizzle outside while curled up in a blanket.  Finally (finally!) fall and festive!  It just doesn’t quite feel like October when it’s perpetually summer, and the temperature doesn’t budge from the high 80s.  Don’t get me wrong, I love good weather as much as the next person, but without the contrast of inclement weather how can one appreciate bright and sunny days?  🙂

The last week has been a busy one with lots of cooking, baking, and experimentation, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.  Hubby’s gift of an ice cream/gelato maker finally arrived last week, and I made my first batch of ice cream.  It turned out to be the creamiest, most flavorful ice cream we have ever had.  I also made a tray full of Indian sweets, to pack as gifts to friends, and a pre-Diwali dinner of jeera rice and paneer tikka masala for me and hubby dear.  Phew!  It finally feels good to finally put my feet up for a bit!  (Of course, Diwali cleaning is still on the radar, but I am trying to put that off today!)

Below are links and helpful hints for some of the treats I made last week.

May you have a blessed and joyful Diwali!  Here’s to eating, drinking, and being merry!

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Jeera (or cumin) Rice Recipe:  Jeera Rice

*I made a simple version of jeera rice with just cumin seeds, a pinch of salt, olive oil, and basmati rice.  Since I was pairing this with the spice-laden paneer tikka masala, I wanted the rice to be on the plainer side.  But the recipe yields a very nice result as well and the methodology is spot on.

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Paneer Tikka Masala Recipe:  Paneer Tikka Masala

*Once again, a wonderful recipe from Veg Recipes of India.  I followed this recipe down to the last letter and it produced the creamiest and most sinful dish.  I would even say the leftovers taste better as the flavors have had a chance to seep into the paneer!  An award-winning dish!

Paneer and bell peppers coated in besan, spice, and yogurt mixture about to go in the oven.

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Jeera Rice & Paneer Tikka Masala

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Motichoor Laddoo Recipe:  Motichoor Laddoos

*This recipe is not for the faint of heart!  I had asked hubby dear to purchase a large sieve last year when he was in India, and I was finally able to put it to good use!  Making laddoos is a time consuming process, but the results are just lovely.  If you want to just make boondi laddoos, then there is no need to pulse the mixture, and you can simply form the balls.  I like the taste and texture of motichoor laddoos, so chose to follow the recipe exactly.  The only adjustment I made was to omit the artificial color as I don’t add any artificial ingredients in my cooking.  

Large sieve to make boondis for the laddoos.  Making boondi/motichoor laddoos is a painstaking process!

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Besan Barfi Recipe:  Besan Barfi

*I followed this recipe pretty closely and the barfis turned out wonderfully.  It does take about 1/2 hour of stirring the besan mixture for the raw taste of the besan to go away.  The only recommendation I have is to leave the mixture in a plate in the fridge for a few hours to solidify, then removing and letting sit for about an hour before cutting it into pieces.  This allows you to cut the barfis into lovely shapes, without too much effort.  They stay fresh for several weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

I decorated a tray with several varieties of sweets (gulab jamunnan khatai) and mathri (mathri), then added a Diwali candle for a festive touch.  Lastly, I covered the tray with plastic wrap and finished it off with a ribbon bow for an ethnic and elegant presentation!

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Mango Ice Cream Recipe:  Easy Mango Ice Cream

*This recipe is very easy!  You can certainly make this ice cream even without an ice cream maker.  For my version and for an even mixture, I blended the following in the blender for a few minutes before putting in the ice cream maker for 50 minutes:  2 cups of Alphonso mango pulp (you can find this as a canned variety in your local Indian store.  I used the Verka brand), 2 cups of heavy whipping cream, and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.  I didn’t use honey or vanilla (as per the recipe), and the ice cream tasted just fine.  This proportion gave the results in the pictures below.  The ice cream is creamy and not overly sweet.  I also let the ice cream firm up for twenty four hours in the fridge before serving.  Feel free to top it off with nuts before serving in an elegant dessert bowl!

Mango ice cream served up with chopped pistachios on top.

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Karva Chauth Preparations

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Karva Chauth preparations are in full swing!  (Karva Chauth:  Karva Chauth origins and meaning)  Each married woman has her own set of rituals to prepare, but for me, it means carefully taking out my ritual plates and karva (or pot), getting the accoutrements for the pooja ready, making sweets at home, and of course, a series of beauty rituals 🙂 which culminate in getting my mehendi or henna done, the day before the festival.  The festival this year falls on Saturday, so I am rushing, rushing to get everything prepared for the big day!

As with all Indian festivals, sweets play a major role.  This year for sweets, I decided to make seviyan or sweet vermicelli pudding and gulab jamuns or fried doughnuts soaked in sweet syrup.  Growing up, both sweets were favorites, and I could not resist an opportunity to indulge, particularly if they were homemade.  Veg Recipes of India has a quick and easy recipe for seviyan that comes together in 20 minutes flat, and my favorite, gulab jamuns:  Manjula Auntie recipe for this delicacy is the best ever!  With her recipe, I finally got these right after five years of epic fails.

Seviyan Recipe:  Seviyan

*The only recommendation I would make is to reduce the vermicelli to 1/2 cup (3/4 at the most).  The vermicelli plumps up quite a bit after being submerged in milk.  Reducing the amount of vermicelli won’t completely dry out your dish. 

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Gulab Jamun Recipe:  Gulab Jamuns

*This recipe is absolutely PERFECT in every way.

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Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

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Last week, I had to use some eggs and zucchini so I decided to bake one of my favorite breads:  chocolate zucchini bread.  All the moistness of zucchini bread with the rich chocolate flavor of a cake.  The honey used in this recipe, really brings all the flavors together.  It’s a rich and dense bread, but not overpoweringly sweet, which makes it an ideal treat to serve with afternoon tea or coffee.  It preserves quite well, so I usually cut the loaf in half and freeze each, for consumption later.

Recipe:  Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

*I follow this recipe as listed.  I also line the baking pan with parchment paper, for easy removal and clean up.

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Simple Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Lately, I have been trying to upload recipes and archived pictures of goodies I made this summer, onto this blog.  One of the easiest cookie recipes I came across is peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies.  This recipe uses no flour, so it’s gluten-free and tastes deelish.  These store well in an air-tight container for at least a week (they never seem to last longer than a week in our cookie jar).

Recipe:  Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

*I follow this recipe pretty closely and incorporate semisweet chocolate chips into the dough.  I would recommend not over mixing the dough, as it makes the baked cookie pretty crumbly.  Also, I would recommend using parchment paper or a silicone baking mat for easy removal with a spatula.

Box them up in a pretty container with some tissue paper for a great thank you, hostess, or birthday gift!

Ready to go in the oven:

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Cooling down before removal:

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Moist Zucchini Bread

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Zucchini bread was one of my very first attempts at baking from scratch.  The recipe for Mom’s Zucchini Bread does not disappoint:  a moist, mildy sweet, home-y bread that can be served at breakfast or tea, or anytime in between.  The smell of fresh zucchini bread baking (or any bread for that matter) evoke memories of chilly fall days and Thanksgiving dinners of years past.

Recipe:  Mom’s Zucchini Bread

*I follow this recipe pretty closely as written.  The only minor change is using parchment paper to line the baking pans (for easy removal and clean-up).  You can also use a muffin tin, for zucchini muffins.  This bread also freezes well.

Grated Zucchini:

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Batter in Parchment-Lined Pan:

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Ready to Bake:

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Bake Sale Favorite: Sea Salt Brownies

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Lately, I have been seeing sea salt in just about everything – from savories to sweets.  I’ve even started to substitute sea salt in day-to-day cooking.  I think it does provide more flavor than regular table salt.  I admit, I am a sucker for goodies that are savory and sweet and when you have this combination in a brownie, it’s simply sinful.  The local community garden’s fall plant and bake sale is this Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about what to bake this year.  The garden coordinator sent an email this week that chocolate treats are always a good bet with adults and the kiddos, so it was settled:  brownies it is.  It will be difficult to part with these yummy treats, but here’s hoping they’ll generate some funds for the garden. 🙂

Recipe:  Fudgy Sea Salt Brownies

*I follow this recipe down to the last letter.  It produces the richest and moistest brownies ever!

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A Sinful Solution to Overripe Bananas

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Recently, we had roughly four overly ripe bananas sitting on our counter.  You know the variety – too ripe to eat but a shame to throw away.  Honestly, I wanted to make a delectable banana sheet cake of the bananas, but was too afraid of keeping the rich cake with cream cheese frosting around for too long (no reason other than I would peck at it all day in lieu of eating anything else!).  The original banana sheet cake recipe is simply the best and it’s my go-to recipe for a simple sheet cake idea.

For this baking exercise however, I compromised and adapted the banana sheet cake recipe to a banana bread and added some semisweet chocolate chips on top before baking.  I was pleasantly surprised that the combination worked so well, and that the sweetness was not overpowering.  It’s a great bread/cake to freeze for later as well.

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Banana Sheet Cake Recipe

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/banana_sheet_cake/

*As mentioned, this recipe is great as-is.  I adapted it to banana bread by making the batter per the recipe, and pouring the batter into two, 9″ x 5″ loaf pans.  Prior to pouring the batter, I lined the pans with butter and then parchment paper for easy removal and clean up.  Prior to baking, sprinkle semisweet chocolate chips liberally on top.  Bake for at least 50 minutes, but periodically check on the bread to ensure that it is not over or under done.  Bread should have a lovely brown uniform color, when done.  Wait 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes (more, if you have the time), to allow the chocolate chips to come back to room temperature (otherwise cutting into the bread creates a gooey mess.)

To freeze, allow the bread to fully come to room temperature.  Wrap the loaf in Saran wrap, ensuring that all sides are completely covered.  Then wrap loaf tightly in aluminum foil.  (Ensure that there is no air that will seep into the bread, without squashing the bread itself).  The last two steps are optional, but I do them for all my freezing needs:  place bread in a gallon ziplock bag and label the bag with the name of the bread/cake and today’s date.  The bread will be good for at least 2-3 months.  We usually use it up in a month.

To thaw, leave the bread out (still wrapped) at room temperature for 24 hours and then slice and serve.  You can also briefly warm it up in the oven or microwave, after thawing.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread – A New Fall Favorite

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Fall is in the air:  Halloween displays are starting to pop up in stores and pumpkin treats abound at local coffee shops and bakeries.  I’ll be honest, I am not a huge fan of pumpkin in the form of pie, but I do enjoy a bit of pumpkin flavor in muffins and cakes.  In perusing Pinterest, I came across this lovely pumpkin and cream cheese bread recipe.  It sounded irresistible (particularly because it incorporates cream cheese), so I gave the recipe a try.  The result:  a wonderful sweet and spice-filled cake, with just a hint of pumpkin, that’s the perfect accompaniment to post-dinner coffee.   Cold days and nights have never been better!

Cream-cheese Filled Pumpkin Bread

http://www.averiecooks.com/2014/08/cream-cheese-filled-pumpkin-bread.html

*I could not find pumpkin pie spice, so I substituted it for all-spice, which worked fine.  I would recommend baking the cake for 60 minutes.  The 48 minute bake time in the recipe is an approximate.

I used parchment paper to line the pan for quicker clean up.  Cream cheese layer shown below.  As mentioned in the recipe, ensure that the entire surface area is covered with cream cheese, including the corners.  A table knife works great to spread the cream cheese.

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After the final layer of batter.  Just as with the cream cheese later, ensure that the entire surface area on top of the cream cheese layer is covered, including the corners.

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