Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Tart

I’ve been enjoying more than my fair share of ice cream these last few scorching days of summer – I’m up to a 3-scoop per week habit.  Some of the goodness I’ve recently been devouring inspired the flavors in this tart – chocolate, peanut butter, and salted caramel (oh my!).

A chocolate peanut butter salted caramel tart with a slice missing

“Are you a Pastry Chef?”

A simple question, and one I’ve been faced with before, yet the usual self-effacing, rambling answer once again tumbles from my lips…

“No, not really. I make my living as an event planner, although I am, technically, a classically trained, non-practicing chef…but not a pastry chef. Pastry is my passion, but I’ve never gone to Pastry School, although I’d like to eventually. Baking is a hobby.” Ramble, ramble, ramble.

Why is it so difficult for me to acknowledge my merit, embrace my abilities and just answer, “Yes. Yes I am.”

And here, my friend, is the proof.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Tart

  • Servings: One 9-inch Tart
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A silky combination of dark chocolate, peanuts, and buttery salted caramel.


Ingredients

  • 10-oz package shortbread cookies, such as Lorna Doone
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup salted butter caramel, plus more for garnish (I use David Lebovitz’s version)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cocoa, chopped
  • ⅓ cup (rounded) peanut butter (not natural peanut butter, which will separate)
  • ½ cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish

Directions

  1. Make shortbread crust: Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse shortbread cookies and salt into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Press crumbs along bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool.
  2. Make filling: In a medium saucepan, bring heavy whipping cream and salted butter caramel to simmer – don’t boil. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and then slowly whisk cream mixture into yolks, tempering to avoid curdling eggs. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until temperature registers 170 degrees. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and then peanut butter until melted.
  3. Sprinkle cooled crust with roasted salted peanuts. Pour filling through a sieve over peanuts. Chill, uncovered, until set, at least 2 hours. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream, drizzled caramel and peanuts. Chill until ready to serve.

Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.

Tiramisu Cake dotted with Amaretti cookies

“Piano, piano,” Chef John cautioned me. This was my first Italian term I learned that did not come from my Rosetta Stone education. The English translation of the reproach “Piano, piano” would be “slowly.” How appropriate that I would encounter this first! It was during gelato school and I’m certain I wanted to know something that Chef John wasn’t ready to reveal. I wanted to push ahead, I wanted to understand. Label me impatient – you wouldn’t be incorrect. I always need to move forward, never happy with the in-between, never satisfied in the moment. STOP: That’s not true – I am often contented just being. CORRECTION: I’m not satisfied in the undefined moment – I’m not comfortable with vagueness. I want to know, I want to understand, I want mastery of my situation. It’s difficult for me to thrive in uncertainty. I’ve recently been reminded once again that others don’t always want to play along at my pace – and I need to learn to be comfortable with that. “Piano, piano,” I tell myself over and over again.

I’m thinking of Italy today because this cake was inspired by Beth’s upcoming tour of the booted country. She hosted an Italian “festa” for her birthday in preparation for her travels and I supplied the desserts, this cake being one of them. The idea was to combine pillowy tiramisu with a proper birthday cake. I chose my favorite chocolate cake for her husband, who claims he loves everything chocolate, soaked the sponge in Disaronno Italian liquor instead of the requisite tiramisu soaking liquid of marsala and espresso, generously layered it with a fluffy whipped mascarpone frosting and finished it with Amaretti cookies. The result is a rich, impressive, not overly sweet 4-layer cake that’s an ideal send off for anyone traveling on a trip of a lifetime.


Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • ⅓ cup almond liqueur such as Disaronno
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Amaretti Cookies (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups almond flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar, plus ½ cup for coating
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line two 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make 4 even layers.
  4. Combine the liqueur and extract in a shallow dish. Set aside.
  5. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the almond extract.
  6. Brush the bottom layer of cake with almond liqueur mixture, spread with frosting and top with another layer. Keep layering the cake and frosting and then frost the top and sides of cake. Decorate with Amaretti cookies (optional).
  7. If you are making the amaretti cookies, combine the almond flour, sugars, and salt. Add the egg white and almond extract until the dough holds together. Shape into a thin disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  8. Roll the dough into 9-11 gram balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on the baking sheet. Gently press down each ball to flatten slightly. Bake for about 20 minutes until they’ve cracked slightly, are golden under the sugar, but are still slightly soft when pressed in the middle. Decorate cake with cookies.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Peanut butter sandwiched between cookies

I’ve been attempting to write this post since this morning. Countless pressing matters have thwarted my endeavors, like the necessity, earlier today, to make a batch of spiced apple butter. Right. That. Minute. Then, of course, it was essential to take a five and a half mile walk, go to Trader Joe’s, and wash a load of laundry. As I grudgingly sit in front of this screen, finally, a million projects swirl through my brain, to-do items that are more critical and more urgent that this post, but I force myself to write.

If I’m completely honest, this post has been languishing in the “unfinished” file since June…June 29th, to be exact.

Despite my excuses, I realize it has nothing to do with being too busy, all these supposed pressing matters, or not having time to arrange 250 words into something coherent. It has everything to do with Fear – fear that I have nothing worthwhile to say, fear that I won’t find the words, fear that my words won’t be good enough. “You dare call yourself a writer,” my inner critic chimes in.

The baking has always been the easier part for me. Not that I don’t utterly fail at that endeavor on occasion, not that I don’t pick apart every dish I produce, not that I don’t make apologies to the recipients – I do, I DO, but without the paralyzing fear that grips my writing attempts. I accept culinary failure and move on.

I wrote a marketing piece for work this week. It’s not my day-to-day job, but a new role I’m taking on. I was petrified inspiration wouldn’t hit, terrified I would bumble my big chance. I wrote, I played on the page, I didn’t permit fear to hinder me (once I started) – and my audience loved it. The kudos made my week.

However, the baking side of it, like the recipe below, will always be easier.


Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
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Ingredients

    Cookies
  • 1 ½ cups old-fashion rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • Filling
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
  • ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. In the bowl of food processor, pulse oats until the texture of meal. Add flour, sugar, baking soda and salt and process to combine. Add very cold butter and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add milk and process until dough just begins to come together. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Roll into 1” balls and transfer to baking sheets. Press balls flat with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Refrigerate again for 10 minutes.
  4. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Beat together peanut butter, corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Pipe on ½ cookies and top with remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Nectarine Bruschetta

Nectarine Bruschetta is an easy-to-assemble, no-oven-required, summer appetizer that takes advantage of the season’s bounty and pairs well with white wine, rosé and bubbles.

Nectarine and Ricotta Bruschetta

Just as July 4th in my neighborhood is certain to be punctuated with a cacophony of illegal fireworks, the same holiday never fails to produce my nectarine tree’s first juicy orbs ready for plucking. The harvest is brief, yet prolific, and I’m often overwhelmed with the task of making use of this summer bounty.

A warm evening cocktail party and a very pregnant tree resulted in this recipe that’s perfect for summer, taking advantage of the season’s gifts in a simple, no-oven-required, appetizer.


Nectarine Bruschetta

An easy to assemble, summer appetizer that pairs well with white wine and bubbles.


Ingredients

  • 2-3 nectarines, thinly sliced
  • 6-8 basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • ⅔ cup whole milk ricotta
  • 4 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 24 toasted baguette slices
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped hazelnuts or pistachios, toasted

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine nectarines, basil and balsamic and set aside.
  2. In another small bowl, combine ricotta, honey, zest, salt and pepper.
  3. To assemble, spread ricotta over baguette slices, arrange 1 or 2 nectarine slices over ricotta and sprinkle with toasted nuts. Serve.

Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun Recipe

Giant Brioche Recipe
When he first came to her with the project, she was hesitant. Would her baking skills hold up under pressure? He was the “meat guy,” contributing a 12-inch, six pound burger to the project. He needed a brioche bun to match. Having never made hamburger buns – let alone a giant bun – she was daunted.

A cake pan wouldn’t be large enough – her largest, a springform, was a mere 10-inches across. She settled on a 12-inch sauté pan and found a working recipe to build from. Three test buns, plenty of jokes about her giant, fluffy, white buns and a few tweaks later, her contribution was perfected.

Their giant burger raised over $250 for charity.


Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun

  • Servings: One 12-inch Bun
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If your culinary adventures ever call for a giant 12-inch bun, I have the ideal recipe for you.


Ingredients

    Starter
  • 2/3 cup milk (heated to 107⁰ F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (3 ¼ oz.)
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • Dough
  • 3 cups plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (14 oz.)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • Egg Wash
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Line the sides and bottom of a 12” sauté pan (with straight sides and oven-safe handle) with parchment paper. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine ¾ cup all-purpose flour and sugar and stir in yeast mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes (the mixture should appear fluffy and covered with bubbles).
  3. With the dough hook, mix in the remaining flour, salt, and eggs. Once fully combined, continue kneading for 4-5 minutes.
  4. With the machine running, slowly add the softened butter, two tablespoons at a time, and knead for an additional 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. (The dough will be very soft and sticky).
  5. Oil a large bowl. Scrape the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm area (proofing drawer or near a cooling stove) for 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Punch the dough down and scrape onto a lightly-floured surface. Fold over a few times and shape into a round disk. Transfer to prepared pan, flattening the dough until it touches the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area for 45 minutes until dough is slightly domed.
  7. Heat oven to 400⁰ F. Whisk together remaining egg and water. Bush the egg gently over the bun and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes at 400⁰ F. Reduce oven to 350⁰ F. and bake for 20 minutes longer until golden brown and internal temperature reads 200⁰ F. Cover with foil if browning too quickly.
  9. Cool, slice and enjoy!

* adapted from The Spruce Eats Buttery Brioche Hamburger Buns

Giant Brioche Bun