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Archive for the ‘Desserts’ Category

There are so many different recipes for brownies out there that it is a bit overwhelming to look for one in the internet. Everyone claims to have the ultimate brownie recipe. Most people I know are very particular about their standards of what a great brownie should taste like. Some like crumbly, others fudgy, others chewey, others cakey, with nuts, with chocolate chips, with frosting, etc. and the possibilities are endless. Some keep their recipes zealously locked in a “bank safe” so that the “state secret” is not shared with anyone. In conclusion, people are very passionate about brownies! For many years, I have tried hundreds of recipes from books, magazines, friends, tv shows, internet, original experiments I make and I truly think this is one of the best. This recipe is adapted from a recipe in marthastewart.com (chocolate chunk brownies). The original recipe calls for more butter and gives you a choice of various chocolate chunks, but I am a sucker for white chocolate. I admit I haven’t made a boxed brownie mix in probably 10 years. I like to melt the chocolate and the butter and mix with the sugar, eggs and vanilla and finally incorporate the flour. It takes me approximately the same amount of time as with the boxed counterpart. It is pretty easy and fun process which my children love! I always, always, have unsweetened chocolate in my pantry in case I crave homemade brownies on a Sunday afternoon, Je! So I want to share the universal love of brownies with you by posting my version of this delicious recipe.

Enjoy!

Double Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 tsp salt

2 1/2 sticks (1/2 pound plus 4 tbsp) unsalted butter cut into small pieces (more for greasing pan)

7 ounces unsweetened chocolate coarsely chopped or previously melted unsweetened chocolate pouches

2 3/4 cups of granulated sugar

4 large eggs

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup white chocolate chips (small drops)

Procedure


1. Preheat oven 350ºF. Line a 12×17 inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper and grease with butter or cooking spray, including sides. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

2. Melt butter and chocolate in bain-marie or double boiler and remove from heat as soon as they have melted and formed a smooth mixture. Set aside and let cool a little. Then transfer to a bowl and beat with the sugar with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer for about 3 minutes in medium speed. Stop, add vanilla and mix for 1 minute. Continue mixing at medium speed and add eggs, one at a time. Stop, scrape bottom with spatula. Bring speed to low and add flour mixture in small batches just until almost fully incorporated with chocolate mixture (do not over beat!!!!).

3. Fold in white chocolate chips. Pour batter into jelly roll pan and spread evenly with spatula. Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes until brownies have just set. Take out of oven and let cool completely before cutting. I cut with metal spatula instead of with knife. I find it makes a nicer and cleaner cut.

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Best Blueberry Pie is a crowd pleaser.  Once you try this recipe, oh boy!  you will get hooked.  It truly melts in your mouth and the taste is totally amazing and addictive.  The filling is adapted from a recipe that my friend Cristina’s mother in law, Marisita, gave me a few months ago.  I first tried it at Cristina’s last year birthday celebration where she brought her blueberry pie as a present. I had the privilege of getting a slice and it was absolutely delicious. Later on, Marisita was kind enough to send me her recipe, which I only changed by adding 1 more tbsp cornstarch and butter. Her recipe was inspired by a recipe she found in Marta Sgubin’s cookbook, Cooking for Madam-Recipes and Reminiscences from the home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Marisita is a classy and fun mother of three and grandma to four, who has been very active in philanthropy throughout her life.  A few years ago she founded “Ciudadanos Pro-Defensa de la Belleza de Puerto Rico” (Citizens that protect the beauty of Puerto Rico), a non-profit organization which promotes education and taking action in keeping our resources clean and public spaces without litter.  Also, to create awareness of being proud of the beauty of our island and be responsible citizens by doing our part in keeping it that way.

Is it me, or can you also imagine a chorus of people saying “thank you for sharing Marisita” after they try this recipe, because it is truly the BEST BLUEBERRY PIE!

Enjoy!

Best Blueberry Pie

Ingredients

Sweet Pie Dough Recipe or store bought pie crusts

Filling

1 cup of sugar

4 tablespoons of cornstarch

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

4 cups of fresh blueberries

1/4 stick (2 tbsp) butter, cut into small pieces (a bit more for greasing pie dish)

Procedure


1.  Make Sweet Pie Dough recipe and roll out half to line 9 inch greased pie dish (keep cold).

2.    Preheat oven at 375ºF (for about half hour before baking).  Mix together sugar, cornstarch and nutmeg.  Sprinkle over blueberries and toss until the dry ingredients are evenly distributed.  Spoon the filling into the pastry lined pan.  Dot with pieces of butter.

3.  Roll out remaining pastry to cover top of pie (cut with a round serving plate about 11 inches in diameter). Moisten edges with water to seal crusts together and shape rims. Make small hole in middle and slits around to vent. If you choose to use store bought pie crust, follow manufacturer instructions. Bake in lower third of rack (one under middle rack) over a rimmed baking sheet until deep golden for approximately 1 hour (check occasionally that the rims don’t burn). Let cool to room temperature and serve. Do not serve hot because it will be too runny.

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This sweet pie dough recipe is the best I have found so far.  Relatively easy to make, consistent results and so good!!!!!!!  I have been reading Cook’s Illustrated magazine for many years. I find this magazine’s detailed recipes, tips and experiments full of valuable information as well as fun.  If you haven’t had the chance to experience this magazine I invite you to do so.  This is where America’s Test Kitchen, located just outside of Boston, “play” with recipes in a lab-kitchen and then publish the results (they also have a TV show hosted by Christopher Kimball).  Its findings are illustrated (either with pictures or drawings) and provides its readers with bits of history, chemistry, culture and valuable suggestions.  After many trials and errors, I bumped into this recipe while reading one of Cook’s Illustrated editions about 2 years ago, which I have only altered by adding a bit more sugar.  I mainly use it for Blueberry Pie, but can also be filled with your choice of ingredients.  Sometimes I have left overs from the trimmings of the pie discs and use it to make a small oven empanada filled with spinach and feta cheese, picadillo, stewed chicken, shrimps or sauteed mushrooms with onions and cheese, mixing sweet and savory in every bite. Also, can be used to cover a fruit cobbler.

The tricky thing with baking and doughs is the fact that you NEED to know a little about chemistry.  The effects baking powder will have when reacting with liquids or the gluten formed when flour is mixed with water, all have to do with scientific reactions.  Your ability to know when, how much, at what temperature  and in what way to incorporate ingredients will determine how successful you will be in your culinary endeavors.  That being said, with this pie dough recipe, Cooks Illustrated “kitchen scientists” tried making many pie recipes with varying results (148 to be exact!!!).  Some were too hard, others too flaky, others too sandy, others just too inconsistent.  For your information, gluten, long chains of protein that form when flour mixes with water, is what gives pie dough its structure. The more you knead and the more water you add, the more gluten forms and the result is a tough pie dough. The recipes I had seen before, mostly keep a ratio of about 5-6 tbsp of ice water to every 2 cups of flour to ensure flakiness, but with inconsistent results which depended on that days humidity among other factors (too dry, too hard, difficult to roll out, dough sticks or tears, etc.) In short, they discovered that vodka lets you add more liquid to the dough (making it easier to roll out) without toughening the crust.  The simple reason is because gluten doesn’t form in ethanol (vodka is 60% water 40% ethanol).  As a result, this recipe gets the benefits of  8 tbsp of water but actually has 6 1/2, which limits the formation of  gluten and guarantees tenderness.  The same reasons account for incorporating vegetable shortening in the recipe.  Butter has about 20% water content and starts melting at 50ºF, as opposed to vegetable shortening which has no water and melts at very high temperatures, so a combination of both butter and shortening provided a balance between flavor and tenderness.  In addition, flour is separated into two groups; the flour which will be covered with fat (which in turn will not absorb water), and the uncoated flour (which will absorb water and form gluten).  For a consistent flaky recipe, you need the same ratio of fat coated flour to uncoated flour to ensure that when the dough is rolled out, the gluten stretches into sheets that are separated by gaps of fat which will melt while being baked and result in crisp, flaky layers in the crust.  The best way to do this is in a food processor.

There are 3 steps to ensure a delicious, tender, flaky sweet pie dough.

1.  Blend part of the flour mixture with the fats (butter and vegetable shortening) to make sure there is a consistent amount of flour covered in fat in the final dough.  Fats should be cold.

2.  Add remaining flour and pulse to ensure consistent amount of uncoated flour in final dough.

3.  Sprinkle mixture with water and vodka and fold mixture until dough sticks together.

Note:  You can feed this sweet pie dough to children because the alcohol will impart no flavor and evaporate in the oven.


Sweet Pie Dough

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1/2 cup of cold vegetable shortening cut into 4 pieces

1/4 cup of cold vodka

1/4 cup of cold water

Procedure


1.  In a food processor, mix 1 1/2 cups of flour, salt and sugar by pulsing two or three times.  Add butter and shortening and process until there is no uncoated flour and forms cottage-cheese-like curds (about 15-20 seconds).

2.  Scrape bowl with spatula and redistribute dough evenly around blade. Add remaining flour and pulse until dough is evenly distributed around bowl and mass has broken up (4-6 pulses).  Empty mixture into bowl.

3.  Sprinkle with vodka and water over mixture and quickly fold with rubber spatula by pressing down until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.

4.  Divide dough into 2 balls and flatten into disks. Wrap into plastic paper and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

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Lemon Meringue Pie should be creamy and tart, instead of gelatinous and too sweet, at least according to my tastes. Ja!  I have been making this recipe for 20 years now! WOW, I can’t believe I said 20 years.  It is inspired in a recipe from Gourmet Magazine April 1990.  The original recipe calls for key limes, but the taste was too strong for some people (I like it!).  So I have made some changes over the years to find the perfect balance between sweet and sour.  Large yellow lemons work great for this recipe.  This pie is also pretty easy to make.  I  like the fact that the crust is crumbly instead of like cardboard.  Serve with a little raspberry coulis on the side if you can make it.  I also make mini lemon meringue pies in a lined mini muffin pan (always a hit!). Place filling and meringue in piping bags to better handle the smaller portions.  Also, you can use the filling to make mini lemon tartlets (use store bought tartlets). You can make the night before and store in the refrigerator. Here goes the recipe for one of my favorite desserts!

Enjoy!

Click here to print recipe

Lemon Meringue Pie

Ingredients

Crust

1 1/4 cup zweiback or graham crackers crumbs (about 9 honey graham crackers, 5 oz.)

2/3 cup almonds (ground fine in a food processor)

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup sugar

Filling

3 egg yolks

14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons )

zest of 1 lemon (about 1/2 tablespoon)

Meringue

3 egg whites (at room temperature)

pinch of salt

1/3 cup of sugar plus 2 tbsp

Procedure


1.  Put crackers and almonds in a food processor and finely ground them.

2.  Transfer to a bowl and combine with sugar and cooled melted butter by folding with a spatula.  It will resemble wet sand.

3.  Press mixture into the bottom and sides of pie dish (9-10 inches).  Bake the shell in middle rack of pre-heated oven at 350ºF for 10 minutes or until browned lightly. Let the shell cool on rack.

4.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat yolks with condensed milk (I use an electric mixer in med-hi for about 2 minutes).  Stir in the lemon juice a little at a time to combine filling well.

5. Spoon the filling into the shell, spreading evenly, and chill in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.

6.  When 15 minutes are left in the fridge, pre-heat again oven at 350ºF. Beat egg whites with pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks.  Add the sugar, beating, a tablespoon at a time until it holds stiff peaks.  Spread the meringue over the filling and bake the pie in the middle of rack for 15 minutes, or until it is just golden.  Chill pie for at least 2 hours and serve.

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balsamic strawberries with zabaglione (sabayon)

The first time I tried these amazing strawberries, I was about 13 years old.  It was at my friend Elena’s house, where Ena, her mother, would prepare them for us as a dessert.  At that moment, they were going through a difficult time of mourning and loss of their father after a long debilitating disease.  I remember vividly how this family dealt with hardship with such grace, unity and acceptance.  At this time in my life, I still had my 4 grandparents and this experience changed my life as I felt how fragile and delicate life can be. Elena is still my friend and I have seen her blossom into a wonderful mother, sister, friend and wife. She always wanted to help other people, and recently started a foundation to help the parents of children with special needs in Puerto Rico called Horizontina.  Through this foundation, she helps parents pay for their children’s therapies to become independent human beings. I want to share this recipe with you, which I often keep in the fridge and serve alone or with zabaglione. It is simply refreshing, decadent and delicious with a distinct but pleasurable taste.

Elena and I in 6th grade 1985

FYI, the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is produced  from cooked grapes (usually Trebbiano, sugary white grapes harvested as late as possible) that are matured by a long and slow vinegarization process through natural fermentation.   This is followed by progressive concentration through aging in a series of casks made of different types of woods without the addition of any other flavorings or spices.  The four characteristics of this vinegar are:

Color-  dark brown

Density-  Fluid and syrup like consistency

Fragrance-  complex, sharp and pleasantly acid

Flavor-  traditional sweet and sour in perfect proportions

Enjoy!

Balsamic Strawberries

Ingredients

3 pints of fresh strawberries

3 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar of modena

1 tbsp water

3 tbsp granulated sugar

fresh ground black pepper to taste

Procedure


1.  Trim leaves from the strawberries and quarter them.  Place in a mixing bowl.  Add the balsamic vinegar, water and sugar and stir to coat strawberries evenly with the mixture.

2.  Add fresh ground pepper to taste (optional).  Then proceed to let the mixture stand for about an hour at room temperature in order for the sugar to dissolve and the flavors to blend.

3.  Refrigerate until ready to serve alone, whipped cream, cake, vanilla ice cream or Zabaglione.

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This torte is a traditional dessert in Puerto Rico and Cuba.   In Puerto Rico its called Panetela de Guayaba and in Cuba its called Masareal.  I have tried many homemade as well as commercial versions, but  I have found no comparison to this recipe. I believe the key is the melted butter.  Many recipes ask for softened butter and the turn-out is dryer and more like a cake.  This version melts in your mouth and is more chewey.

Our Senior year of high school (1991), our mothers prepared a booklet with a collection of recipes called “Cocinando con Mama” or Cooking with Mom, as a graduation present.  It was such a nice surprise to see that most mothers had shared their trademark recipes with us who were at that moment leaving the nest to pursue our college degrees.  This booklet was my companion during my first years in Washington, DC.  From this collection of recipes I make Jeannie’s Fruit Punch and Seven Layer Salad, Carmen Folgueira’s Rice with Onions, Dary’s Mexican Dip, and my mother’s Asopao among others.

A few years ago, we had a get together and my friend Cristina showed up with a basket full of Paneleta de Guayaba squares. They were delicious!  I am sure by now she can make this recipe with her eyes closed and I admit her “guayabitas” always taste better than the ones I make!  When I asked her for the recipe she said it was Bea’s mom (Michelle Rodriguez) recipe in “Cocinando con Mamá”.  So the next day I took out my booklet and got to work in the kitchen. The only variation from the original recipe is that I sift the flour once and add a little vanilla.  As a curious detail, some people like to eat only the corner pieces because they are crustier and others like to eat only the middle pieces which are softer.

It is easy to make and people love to get homemade Panetela de Guayaba as a present, only remember to whisk and beat by hand just until ingredients are fully incorporated.  Also, wet your hands continuously so that the dough doesn’t stick to your fingers.  If you happen to have left overs (rarely happens in my house) or want to make it ahead of time, store in air tight containers or tightly sealed plastic bags.

Enjoy!

Panetela de Guayaba (Guava Torte, Masareal)

Ingredients

2 eggs

1 cup of sugar

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups of self rising flour (sifted)

1 stick of butter (1/4 pound) melted

about 10 ounces of guava paste cut into 1/4 inch slices

about 2 tbsp of butter to grease mold

Procedure

1.  Preheat oven 350º F.

2.  Whisk eggs, vanilla and sugar by hand until creamy in texture.

3.  Add sifted flour to egg/sugar mixture and stir with spatula.

4.  Add melted butter and continue to mix by hand until ingredients are fully incorporated.  You will end up with a sticky dough.

5.  Generously grease a baking mold (I use a glass Pyrex mold approximately 11×8 inches) with butter.

6.  Take a little over half the batter and spread in the bottom of baking mold.  It is very important that you continuously  wet your hands so that the dough does not stick to your fingers. I always place a glass of water in the countertop to dip my fingers and manage the dough.


7.  Place the guava paste strips evenly over the dough.

8.  Cover guava paste with remaining dough and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

9.  Let cool and cut into squares.  Serve as a dessert or snack at parties.


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We inherited flans from many cultural influences.  Back in Roman times people would make savory flans from the surplus of eggs and other ingredients in their “pantry” (spices, spinach, honey, eel, etc.).  Centuries later in Spain and France, sweet flans started to flourish with caramel syrup as well as with other spices and nuts like almonds that the Moors (north africans, muslims and arabs) brought with them to the Iberian peninsula. Now flans are popular desserts in Latin American countries and are known worldwide.  I dare to say that some sort of flan is offered in the dessert menu of almost every restaurant in Puerto Rico!

Note:  The detachable baking dish used for making quiche is called a “flan tin” because in England open pastries filled with savory fillings are also called flans.

This recipe for simple Vanilla Flan is the basis for many variations. There is cheese flan, coconut flan, pumpkin flan, pear flan, guava flan, basil flan, strawberry flan and the list keeps going on and on like Bubba (inside joke for those of you who have seen the movie Forest Gump).  Anyway, it is a simple dessert to make and a crowd pleaser. Of course, flan is always made in bain-marie to successfully make the custard.  FYI, the bain-marie allows the flan to cook evenly in the center without creating a crust on the outside.  I use a 9 inch round metal mold with a hole in the middle, but you may also use an 8- 9 inch round crystal Pyrex or metal mold or double the recipe and make a large rectangular crystal mold.  Serve with mint, berries, ice cream, whipped cream or alone. Sometimes I over beat mixture and the vanilla flan has small holes inside, but it won’t alter the taste just the texture.  The flans I make that include mascarpone or cream cheese are always creamier (like cheesecake) and also delicious (will post recipes in the near future).

About 5 years ago, we rented a house in Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic for a summer vacation.  Our beautiful house had great accommodations, a beautiful view and a great cook.  One day Josefina made vanilla flan for our group and, you know me, always looking to learn new things in the kitchen, saw that she splashed dark rum and lemon zest in the vanilla flan mixture. That detail elevated the flan from good to outstanding giving it a lovely after taste!  She made it almost everyday after that.  We returned back to Puerto Rico rested, relaxed and with about 2-3 more pounds!

Here is my recipe for Vanilla Flan (Flan de Vainilla).  Enjoy!

Vanilla Flan (Flan de Vainilla)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

5 eggs

1 14 oz. can condensed milk

1 12 fl. oz can evaporated milk

1/2 cup fresh milk

1 tsp dark rum

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

dash of salt

Procedure

1.  Preheat oven 350º F.

2.  To make caramel put sugar in a sauce pan (I melt it directly in my metal mold in the stove top) and heat (med) until sugar starts to melt and turns light-medium brown in color. About 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Then pour into baking mold immediately making sure the bottom and sides of the mold are covered with some caramel.  Let rest for a few minutes to harden a bit.  Note:  make sure you are not distracted or have children running around in the kitchen while you are making caramel, it is very hot and can cause serious burns on the skin.


3. In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk or electric mixer with whisk attachment.  Add milks, vanilla, salt and rum and beat until fully incorporated.  (DO NOT OVER BEAT SO THAT  YOU DON’T GET AIR BUBBLES INSIDE THE FLAN). Pass mixture through a strainer.  Add lemon zest and lightly mix with a fork or spoon into mixture.

4.  Pour mixture over caramel in baking mold.  Place mold in lower portion of broiler pan or roast pan and fill with hot water that comes almost half way up the sides of the baking pan to create a bain-marie or “baño de maría”.

5.  Bake for 45-50 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a knife in the middle. It should come out clean.

6.  Let cool on your counter top a bit before you cover with foil paper and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

7.  To serve, take out of refrigerator and let rest for about 15 minutes. With a knife or spatula carefully separate flan from sides of the pan (inside as well if using pan with a hole in the middle). You will notice caramel will come up the sides once it is separated and ready to turn over.

8.  Place serving dish on top of baking pan and turn over quickly.  Scrape remaining caramel with a spatula and pour over flan. Serve chilled.  (If you are going to put it in the refrigerator, cover so that it doesn’t become dry or hard).

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