Friday, September 16, 2016

Bar None: Pumpkin Butter Bars

The best part about pie is the contrast between that sweet, tangy filling and the flaky crust. My favorite part, especially with pumpkin pie, is where the filling meets the back corner of the pie, when there's just a bit of it left to go with the ever-so-slightly salty crust holding it up. It might not be for everyone, but thankfully, you get to choose—lots of filling, less filling, it's all up to you! I've experimented with these bars several times, and I had only one rule: the crust had to be sugarless, to mimic that pie-like flavor. But I must warn you, these bars are somewhat addictive, and frighteningly easy to make!

Pumpkin Butter Cookie Bar

Pumpkin Butter Bars

1/2 cup very soft butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2-2 cups pumpkin butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream butter and salt together, then add flour and stir to combine as much as you can. At that point, scrunch the mixture between your fingertips to ensure the butter is evenly distributed and there are no dry pockets of flour left. Reserve 1/2 cup of the crumbs, then spread the remainder evenly into your prepared pan and press firmly to form the base. Bake for 15 minutes to set, then remove and (carefully) spread the pumpkin butter over the base, and sprinkle with the reserved crumbs. Return to the oven and bake for another 25-30 minutes, or until just slightly golden and the edges of the filling start to bubble. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Cover and store any unused portion in the fridge, but let the bars come to room temperature before trying to cut them again.

Notes: Use whatever fruit butter, fruit spread or preserves you like best—and feel free to use half as much filling if you prefer, as the sweetness will still carry through quite well. You can easily double the recipe, reserving a full cup of crumbs for the top, and bake in a 9x13-inch pan for the same times as given above. What flavor will you try?


Friday, September 09, 2016

Even Steven: Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

I love it when things work out evenly—and I love it even better when it happens with food! It's pure kitchen magic when you have just enough of this, just enough of that, no waste and no need for a miniscule amount of some obscure ingredient you can't find a use for anywhere else. One of my favorite "even" recipes is a chocolate cake topped with vanilla buttercream. Although it uses just half a stick of butter in the cake batter, the other half is put to work right away in the frosting. None of those awkwardly-wrapped portions of butter slouching forlornly in the fridge, wondering what its purpose could be...even better, you now have a frosted cake to enjoy. Perfect!

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Slice

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk or half and half

For the frosting:
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt until combined, breaking up any lumps as you go. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy, then stir in eggs and vanilla extract. Starting and ending with flour mixture, blend in batches alternately with milk until you have a smooth batter. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

In a small bowl, combine frosting ingredients and blend until completely smooth. Frost cake, slice and serve!

Notes: Instead of vanilla extract in the frosting, use a Tablespoon of any liqueur you enjoy that pairs well with chocolate, such as Irish Creme, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Creme de Menthe, or Kahlua. Instead of a single cake, you can use this recipe to make 12 cupcakes, which only need 18-20 minutes in the oven. For an egg-free variation, see this recipe.


Friday, September 02, 2016

Puttin' on the Dogs: Corndog Casserole

I really like good hot dogs—the kind that are natural, uncured, and free of nitrates and nitrites, just like the bacon I've mentioned previously. Yes, they're on the expensive side, but they taste exactly the way a hot dog should taste: delicious! So if you happen to be feeding a crowd, make life easy and serve them in a casserole. It's no coincidence this is easy to transport, too:

Slice of Corndog Casserole

Corndog Casserole

1/4 cup butter, softened
2 Tablespoons honey
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup stone ground cornmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Several grindings of black pepper
1 cup half and half (or whole milk)
8 hot dogs, chopped or cut into halves (natural, nitrate and nitrite free—local and organic if you can find them!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and honey together, then add eggs and stir. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, mustard, salt, rosemary, cheese and pepper. Stir half the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, blend in the half and half, then add the remaining dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan, then scatter or place hot dogs across the top, pressing in slightly. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly and serve with mustard, ketchup and relish—or whatever you like best with hot dogs!

Notes: Definitely include some kind of fresh herb in the mix, even if you don't have rosemary—chives or thyme would be excellent here, either on their own or in combination. For a more breakfast-themed casserole, substitute fully-cooked breakfast sausages for the hot dogs, and serve warm with real maple syrup.