Southern Snacks

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Peach Amaretto Cheesecake

I accidently bought 25 pounds of peaches. I’ve been reading about these peaches from a certain farm that only come to Memphis twice a season. People rave about these peaches. I missed any notification that they were coming, but then one day going about my own business, I got stuck in traffic behind cars turning into a nursery and saw the big sign advertising the peaches. So I figured I better turn in too and see what all the fuss was about. The peaches are only sold in 25 pound boxes, which is a lot of peaches, but I had waited and parked and just decided I better go ahead and buy them. And they are delicious peaches. I gave quite a few to a friend, I made Peach Julep Jam, a peach jalapeno jam, peach chutney, spiced peach butter and vin du peche, a French liqueur.

At the start of peach season, I had some idea about a dessert with peaches and amaretti cookies – my mom used to make delicious peach halves stuffed with buttered amaretti crumbs and baked – but I just couldn’t figure out where to go with it. I wanted something composed, like a tart or an ice cream. I bought a couple of bags of amaretti and they sat on my counter for weeks, taunting me to come up with an idea. In my panic over this spectacular array of peaches I acquired with no coherent plan, the idea came to me while I stirred a pot of peach jam. Creamy, rich, decadent cheesecake with a sweet-bitter amaretti crust and a healthy dose of amaretto liqueur. My niece who sampled the finished result texted me “that cheesecake. I can’t get over it.” So clearly in this case, abundance was the mother of invention.

I live to serve this with some sliced or cubed fresh peaches, for the contrast of the sweetly cooked fruit that almost melts into the filling with the bite of fresh, but a lightly sweetened puree would be delicious as well if you like your cheesecake that way.

Peach Amaretto Cheese Cake with Amaretti Crust

For the Crust:

1 (7-ounce) package amaretti cookies

4 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

For the Filling

3 large fresh peaches

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup amaretto liqueur

½ teaspoon almond extract

For the Crust:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. 

Set a few of the cookie aside, then place the rest in the bowl of a small food processor and process until finely ground. Drizzle in the butter and process until the crumbs are wet through. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press them into an even layer completely covering the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool completely. Put the remaining cookies in a small ziptop bag and crush well. Set aside.

For the Filling:

Peel and pit the peaches, then cut into small, bite-sized pieces.

Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for a few minutes, then stream in the sugar, beating until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl a few times. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sour cream, amaretto and almond extract until completely smooth. Add the chopped peaches and stir to combine and evenly distribute them. Scrape the filling into the pan over the crust and spread the top evenly.  Place a large piece of foil on the oven rack, then place the cheesecake on the foil and bake for about 1 hour, until puffed up, set in the center and just begining to brown. Remove from the oven to a rack to cool for 5 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen from the ring. Leave to cool another 30 minutes, then place in the refrigerator overnight to chill. You can cover the cake after it is firm and refrigerate for up to two days.

Before serving, sprinkle the remaining cookie crumbs over the top of the cake. Serve with sliced peaches if you’d like.

 

No Churn Peach Ice Cream with Sweet Tea Caramel Sauce

It is hot here. All summer. So ice cream is must. Homemade ice cream is a special treat, but it involves a little effort in the kitchen that I’m not always up to in the heat of summer. I have memories of making ice cream with my family as a child. We had this electric contraption that fit over a basin that went in a bucket filled with rock salt and ice. Making the base and pouring it in the machine was exciting, but for my brother and I, the excitement faded after about 5 minutes of watching the churn do its job, leaving my mother to wait the rest of the time watching and adding ice and salt for the rather lengthy time the whole process took. Technology has advanced and now I have a little electric ice cream maker that has a bowl that stores in the freezer – the problem is I don’t always have room in the freezer. So when I started seeing lots of no churn recipes on the internet, I was intrigued. And it turns out it’s good. The texture is a bit thicker and grainier than the type churned in a machine that whips in air, but to me the ease of preparation fully justifies the denser texture. And the recipe is highly adaptable too. Start with condensed milk and cream, then you can add fruits, herbs and spices to your tastes.

I went for sweet in season peaches, heated lightly to release some juice. I added a little buttermilk here for the tang and creaminess. My favorite part of ice cream is usually a sweet sauce, so I wanted to create a perfect complement for the peaches, which leads me to sweet tea. I’ve been there before, in this Peach Bourbon Cake with Sweet Tea Peaches. This caramel sauce is rich and with the lovely tannic bite of tea and the freshness of mint and lemon. It’s a perfect summer version of caramel sauce that would be lovely on any kind of ice cream or with fresh fruit.

No Churn Peach Ice Cream with Sweet Tea Caramel Sauce
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For the Ice Cream
  1. 3 large peaches, peeled and cut into small pieces
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  4. ½ cup whole buttermilk
  5. Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
For the Caramel
  1. 4 black tea bags
  2. 1 sprig of fresh mint
  3. 2 cups water
  4. 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  5. ½ cup granulated sugar
  6. ½ cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Put the peaches in a small sauce pan and heat over medium heat until the peaches are soft and some juice begins to run. Set aside to cool.
  2. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip until stiff peaks form. Add the condensed milk and whip until the mixture is thick and soft peaks form then add the buttermilk and vanilla beans seeds and beat until completely combined and thick. Stir in the peaches and their juice until evenly distributed. Pour the mixture into a metal loaf pan and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream. Freeze overnight.
For the Caramel
  1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, then drop in the tea bags and mint sprig. Leave to infuse off the heat for 5 minutes, then remove the tea bags and the mint. Return to the heat and bring to a boil. Boil until the mixture is reduced to one cup of tea, then stir in the lemon juice and sugar until dissolved. Boil until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of maple syrup, stirring frequently. Stir in the heavy cream and continue cooking until the syrup is thickened back to a syrupy consistency – it will thicken a little when it cools. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Blueberry Zucchini Cake

What grows together goes together is a good way to cook in the kitchen. I love to make the most of in-season produce. I always seem to end up with one more zucchini hanging around and my market bag is always bursting with berries when they are in season. So it seemed only natural to find a way to use them together. And I really love this unique, fresh, summery sheet cake.

I saw a recipe for a zucchini bread with blueberries somewhere, but I didn’t save it our cut it out, the idea just stuck with me. I worked on that idea for a while, but in the end, it seemed to me like a great idea for a straight-up sweet with a twist. The zucchini adds this grassy, vegetal note to the sweetness of the cake and the pop of juicy blueberries. Buttermilk adds a little tang with some freshness brought in with a zip of lemon to the cake and to the sweet, crackly glaze. The added bonus here is that this makes a great big sheet cake that serves a real crowd, so it’s perfect for a summer picnic party.

Blueberry Zucchini Cake
Serves 24
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For the Cake
  1. 2 cups grated zucchini, from about 1 large zucchini
  2. ½ cup whole buttermilk
  3. zest of one lemon
  4. 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  5. 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  6. 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  8. 2 large eggs
  9. 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  10. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  11. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  12. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  13. 2 cups fresh blueberries
For the Glaze
  1. 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  2. ¼ cup whole buttermilk
  3. 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  4. a dash of nutmeg
For the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 15 by 10 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment or nonstick foil with some overlapping ends.
  2. Combine the grated zucchini, buttermilk, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl and stir to combine. Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg alternately with the zucchini mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. When fully combined and smooth, fold in the blueberries with a spatula to evenly distribute them. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, scooting the berries around as needed to distribute them throughout the cake. Bake for 30- 40 minutes until golden and firm and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan.
For the glaze
  1. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, buttermilk, lemon juice and nutmeg together until smooth. Slowly spread it over the top of the cooled cake to cover the top. Go slow so the glaze doesn’t drip off the sides. Let the glaze set for at least an hour, then slice and serve.
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Ricotta Cake with Blackberry Limoncello Compote

I used to make this cake all the time because it is so simple to put together but is so luscious. I think the original recipe is from a Mollie Katzen Moosewood book, but I have it scrawled in one of my many recipe keeping notebooks. I used to serve it with raspberry coulis when that was in vogue, or with chocolate sauce. That’s kind of the great thing about this cake. It is so simple that it can be the vehicle for any manner of delicious toppings without overwhelming it. The smooth, creamy cake has the texture of cheese cake and is not overly sweet, so it really lets a fruit accompaniment shine. The compote I top it with here was honestly born from having some blackberries from the farmers market and some limoncello a friend made on the counter at the same time. When I whipped up this tart and sweet topping, I knew immediately I had to search through my files for the ricotta cake recipe. I inadvertently pulled together a delightful summer Italian inspired dessert.

Nothing could be an easier summer treat – a few seconds in the food processor and a little time on the stove – no chopping, dicing, whipping and very little clean up involved! This would be equally delicious with Blueberry Basil Compote or Peach Butterbourbon Sauce.

Ricotta Cake with Blackberry Limoncello Compote
Serves 6
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For the Cake
  1. Softened butter for greasing the pan
  2. 2 (15-ounce) containers whole milk ricotta cheese
  3. 3 large eggs
  4. 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1/3 cup all purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  6. 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  7. Zest from one lemon
  8. 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
For the Compote
  1. 1 Tablespoon butter
  2. 2 pints blackberries
  3. ¼ cup granulated sugar
  4. zest and juice of one lemon
  5. ¼ cup limoncello liqueur
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, then sprinkle with flour. Shake the pan to coat with the flour and dump out any excess. Don’t be tempted to use cooking spray – this is an important step.
  2. Put the ricotta, eggs, sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest and blend until smooth and combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until the center is set. Touch it lightly with your finger and it should be firm to the touch. Cool completely, then chill for several hours or overnight.
For the Compote
  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan, then tumble in the blackberries. Stir them around to coat in the butter and cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest and cook for about 3 minutes until the berries release their juices. Use the back of a spoon or spatula to mash about half of the berries as they soften so you have a nice, juicy sauce. Carefully add the limoncello away from heat, and stir to combine. Cook the compote for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid had reduced a little and is thick and syrupy. Set aside to cool.
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Rhubarb Ginger Chess Bars

Rhubarb reminds me of England. I didn’t really eat rhubarb as a child – it doesn’t grow much in the South – and the only thing I really ever heard about it was my mother lamenting a horrible dessert served at her boarding school. So I discovered rhubarb when I started spending time in England, where it is very popular and figures in a many classic English desserts. Sure, I had some pretty dismal versions in the college dining hall, but when its good, it’s is really good. I had a small obsession with rhubarb and cream hard candies and bought bags full back from my travels, and I always pick up yogurt with a swirl of rhubarb in at my favorite grocery in London. When I find rhubarb in the produce section here, I go a little overboard, making cakes, infusing gin, and as a dyed-in-the-wool Memphian, a zippy Rhubarb-e-cue sauce. This particular recipe combines my love of all things English with my Southern roots – chess pie is one of my all time favorite desserts. And in this recipe, the sweet stickiness of a sugary, eggy chess style filling is perfectly cut with the tart rhubarb.

Rhubarb and ginger are a popular combo in England – I used to have a recipe (long since lost) for a cheesecake-like dessert on gingersnap crumbs with rhubarb compote on top. I think the ginger in both the crust and the filling of these bars really sparks. A little spicy bite with the tart rhubarb and sweet filling marry together beautifully.

Rhubarb Ginger Chess Bars
Yields 16
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Ingredients
  1. For the Crust
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. ½ cup powdered sugar
  4. ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  5. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Filling
  1. 4 large eggs
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. A pinch of salt
  6. 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  7. 4 cups diced rhubarb (about 5 medium stalks)
For the Crust
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 19 by 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Put the flour, the powdered sugar, the butter and the salt in the bowl of a mixer and blend until combined but crumbly. Scatter the crumbs in the bottom of the prepared pan and press evenly into a uniform crust. Bake for 15 minutes until firm and golden in places.
For the Filling
  1. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then add the sugar, flour, vanilla and salt and stir together until well combined and there is no trace of sugar or flour in the bowl. Stir in the ginger and the chopped rhubarb until completely combined. Spread the filling over the crust while it is still warm, then return to the oven for 45 – 50 minutes, until the top is firm and no longer jiggly and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.
Notes
  1. I like to cut the rhubarb in half lengthwise, then into small pieces across. Smaller pieces are less stringy and blend into the filling better.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Cajeta Caramel Cake with Cajeta Whipped Cream

Cinco de Mayo is something of a silly commercial enterprise, but all the ads and instore displays do peak my interest in recipe with the flavors of Mexico. I usually focus on meals, like Chicken Tingatacos or Queso Fundido Soup, but there is always room for dessert. I am certainly no expert on Mexican cuisine, but I love to explore ingredients and ideas. I was introduced to cajeta some years ago at an ice cream parlor here in Memphis that specializes in Mexican paleta popsicles, and I have become a little obsessed – I use it in all sorts of applications instead of a standard caramel. Of course, this cake is good at anytime of the year, but it is a lovely end to a spicy fiesta-style meal.

Cajeta is a delicious caramel, dulce de leche-like sauce made with goat milk and that goat milk tang makes it a truly special treat. The first time I served this, one of my dinner guests immediately recognized the bite of goat cheese-like bite. You can find cajeta in jars or bottles in the Hispanic food section of many grocery stores or a Latin market but making your own is easy and really adds a special touch. People are always impressed when you do things like this from scratch! Once you master it, you may find yourself making it all the time. It is fantastic over ice cream or with fruit for dipping. I love to layer the rich cajeta flovor by adding it to a whipped cream that perfectly complements the rich cake.

Cajeta Caramel Cake with Cajeta Whipped Cream
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For the Cake
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  2. 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  3. 1 cup cajeta (homemade or purchased), at room temperature, see below
  4. 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  5. 3 cups all-purpose flour
  6. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  7. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  8. ½ teaspoon salt
  9. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  10. 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  11. Confectioners’ sugar
For the Cajeta Whipped Cream
  1. ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
  2. ¼ cup cajeta (homemade or purchased), at room temperature
  3. A pinch of flaky salt
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the cajeta and beat until smooth and completely combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is combined before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla extract, then add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, until the batter is smooth and combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out to an even layer. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles, then bake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
For the Whipped Cream
  1. Scoop the cajeta into the bowl of stand mixer and add the cream and salt. Beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Transfer to an airtight container and keep covered in the fridge for 3 days.
Notes
  1. Homemade Cajeta
  2. 2 quarts whole goats milk
  3. 2 cups sugar
  4. 1 cinnamon stick
  5. A pinch of salt
  6. ½ teaspoon baking soda dissolved in one Tablespoon water
  7. Heat the goats milk and sugar with the cinnamon stick and salt in a large, deep pot (5 – 6 quart) over medium heat until the milk is simmering and the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Pull the pot off the heat and stir in the baking soda and water – it may foam up, just give it a good stir. Return the pot to the heat and continue cooking the milk, stirring frequently, until it becomes a light amber color, anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Watch carefully and keep it at gentle but meaningful bubble or it will boil over. When the milk begins to turn golden, stir very frequently and watch carefully until the mix turns a caramel brown and thickens to the consistency of syrup. Drop a few spoonfuls on a cold plate and see that it thickens to a caramel sauce consistency. Pour the cajeta through a strainer into a bowl and cool, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a month.
  8. When cooking the cajeta, if it gets too thick, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a few tablespoons of water until it reaches the right consistency. When using the cajeta, you can warm it in the microwave to loosen it up, or if it is really thick, transfer it to a saucepan over medium heat and whisk in some water until it thins out.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake

There are some flavors that are a natural match. Tomatoes and basil, leek and potato, cucumber and mint, and for me, carrot and ginger. The combination works in both sweet and savory applications. Carrot cake needs a lot of spice to complement the sweetness of the carrots, and its usually lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. I have slowly been upping the ginger in my carrot cakes for years, until I just decided to go all the way. A lovely dose of ground ginger in the cake plus bright, sweet candied ginger pieces rather than the more traditional raisins, adds a subtle heat and spice and a delightful texture. Fresh ginger pumps up the glaze adding another layer of zing.

I love this version of carrot cake for a variety of reasons. I always find Bundt cakes easier to make than layer cakes and simply because of the pan’s shape, you easily get a pretty presentation. This cake is very moist which is the key to delicious carrot cake. The glaze is a crackly sweet gingery glaze, almost like a glazed donut. The cake will keep well for a couple of days.

Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake
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For the Cake
  1. 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  2. 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
  3. Zest of one medium navel orange
  4. ½ cup fresh orange juice
  5. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  6. 3 large eggs
  7. 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  8. 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  9. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  10. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  11. ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  12. 3 cups grated carrots, from about 4 - 5 carrots
  13. ½ cup crystalized ginger bits (small piece), plus more for garnish
For the Glaze
  1. 6 Tablespoons whole milk
  2. 3 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  3. 2 cups confectioner's sugar
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10 -cup Bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar, orange juice, zest and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each addition is completely combined before adding the next. Beat in the flour, baking soda, ginger, salt and nutmeg until the batter is smooth and combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the carrots and ginger bits and mix on low until evenly distributed. Give the batter a good stir with the spatula to make sure the carrots are distributed, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Glaze
  1. While the cake is cooking, heat the milk and the ginger slices in a small saucepan just until the milk begins to bubble at the edges. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse and cool. Strain the milk through a fine sieve into a large bowl and discard the ginger. Beat in the confectioners' sugar until smooth and spoon over the cooled cake.
Notes
  1. I transfer the cake to a serving platter and tuck some wax or parchment paper around the edges before glazing the cake. When you've finished the glazing, just pull out the paper and you have a clean platter. This glaze is a little drippy to begin with, so I gently spoon the glaze that collects in the center around the edges and return it to the top of the cake covering the entire surface.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Guinness Caramel Sauce or Caramel Chews

This starts as a tale of failure. I set out to make a rich, Guinness-laced caramel sauce to drizzle over ice cream. In my first attempt, I dropped the ball, got distracted and cooked the caramel little longer than needed. But as the caramel was setting up, I thought perhaps I could save the day by pouring the thick caramel into a pan to see what happened. What happened was lovely little chewy caramels. I hit my intended goal on my second batch, which made the lovely sauce I imagined. This recipe(s) has been sitting in my files for awhile now, as I wasn’t sure exactly how to share it. But in the end, I couldn’t resist sharing the intended and unintended consequences.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I frequently pull out the Guinness and start cooking. Deep stout beer adds flavor and depth to so many preparations, from Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread to Guinness Sausage Coddle. It’s also an interesting ingredient in sweet recipes too, adding a heady note to this decadent sauce – and the caramel chews. I love the sauce poured over simple vanilla ice cream or drizzled over pound cake. The caramels make a lovely little gift – a special pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

Guinness Caramel Sauce or Caramel Chews
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ¼ cup white sugar
  2. ½ cup Guinness Extra Stout, divided
  3. ¾ cup heavy cream
  4. 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  5. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Mix the sugar and ¼ cup of the Guinness together in a high sided saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes without stirring. Measure the heavy cream and remaining Guinness together in a measuring cup. Carefully add it and the butter and salt to the caramel, stirring to combine. It will bubble heavily and seize up a little, just keep stirring until it is smooth and creamy.
  2. For Sauce: Cook for 2 minutes, until it is thick and smooth. Let the sauce cool. Transfer to an airtight jar and store in the fridge for up to a week. Place the jar in a bowl of warm water to soften the caramel.
  3. For Caramel Chews: Line an 8 by 8 inch square pan with parchment paper. Cook the caramel for 4 minutes, then pour directly into the prepared pan. Don't worry if it doesn't spread all the way to the edges of the pan; when it is just cool enough to handle, shape any ragged edges into a square. When the caramel is completely firm and cool, cut it into 1 - inch pieces. Wrap each piece in a twist of waxed paper. You can use clean fingers to shape the pieces into a bit more of a cylinder if you prefer, or leave them in rough squares.
Notes
  1. Makes about 1 ½ cups sauce or 20 caramel chews
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
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Egg Nog Custard Tarts

In the busy, crazy holiday season, necessity is often the mother of invention, and this recipe is proof of that. Some years ago, after a trip to Portugal with a group of girlfriends, I worked out a recipe for Portuguese Custard Tarts. It was really an attempt to recreate a memory for my friends, but they are so easy to make and lovely to serve, that they became something of a staple for me. I always seem to have the ingredients in the house.

Until last year at Christmas, a last minute event was added to an already busy calendar and I was tasked with bringing something sweet. These delicate tarts immediately came to mind. But alas, I had no milk. It being the whirlwind of the season, however, I had a bottle of egg nog from a local dairy in the fridge (as I usually do in December) and I thought why not give it a go. And the results are as lovely as the original, with an added holiday flair. This version is a little sweeter than the original because there is some sugar in the egg nog, but in the holiday season I like my sweets sweet, so I think it is a perfect result.

As with the original, these tarts are perfect all on their own – with just a little dusting of nutmeg on top, but they are also versatile. You could still try a drizzle of dulce de leche, and the little hollows on the top are a perfect cradle for a pretty, wintery dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. And I’d like to try a sweet cranberry sauce on the top for a very festive dessert.

Egg Nog Custard Tarts
Yields 18
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Ingredients
  1. 3 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 2 cups granulated sugar
  4. 2 cups dairy egg nog
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  6. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling
  7. ¾ cups flour
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
  2. Put the butter, eggs and sugar in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add 1 cup of the egg nog and blend, then add the flour and the remaining egg nog, vanilla and nutmeg. Blend until smooth.
  3. Spray 18 muffin cups with cooking spray. Spray them really thoroughly right before you pour the batter in. Pour the batter into the cups, filling them ¾ full. Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top of each tart. Bake the tarts on the upper and middle shelves of the oven for 40 – 45 minutes until firm and golden in the center. Do not bake less than 40 minutes. If using two muffin trays, swap them from the top shelf to the bottom after 30 minutes of cooking.
  4. Cool the tarts in the tins, then use a plastic knife to loosen the tarts and remove them carefully from the muffin cups. (A plastic knife won’t scratch the surface of the tin). These want to stick, but be patient and gentle and ease them out.
  5. The tarts keep remarkably well for several days in an airtight container.
Notes
  1. I used a nifty little fluted muffin tin I happen to have which adds a pretty touch, but plain tins work beautifully.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Gingerbread Cake with Cookie Butter Frosting

I didn’t really grow up eating gingerbread, though there is a long history of gingerbread cake in the South. I mostly knew those classic gingerbread men cookies, which I have never much liked. I think they dry out too much and never have enough spice for me. But over the years, I started to experiment with various gingerbread recipes, both cookie and cake form, and it is now an essential part of the holiday season to me. And I think gingerbread and spiced cookies just scream holiday. So I’ve combined them in to one moist, delicious dessert that feeds a crowd, perfect for holiday entertaining. I love a good 9 by 13 cake for serving at a party, either in large slabs on a dessert plate or smaller squares on a bigger spread.

The joy of gingerbread is that not only the taste, but also the wafting fragrance of sugar and spice while it’s in the oven. It’s like a nice extra gift. I sprinkle crushed cookie crumbs on the top, but I have been known to add a little gold glitter to jazz things up. I once had some little reindeer cake picks that have unfortunately disappeared, which is a shame, because they would be adorable marching across this cake.

Gingerbread Cake with Cookie Butter Frosting
Serves 12
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Ingredients
  1. 4 cups all purpose flour
  2. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  3. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  6. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  7. 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  8. 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  9. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
  10. 1 1/2 cups molasses
  11. 1/2 cup water
  12. 2 eggs
  13. 2 cups buttermilk
For the Frosting
  1. 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  2. 3/4 cup cookie butter spread, such as Biscoff
  3. 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  4. 3 cups powdered sugar
  5. 3-4 Tablespoons milk
For the Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 13x9 pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the melted butter and molasses, mixing until combined (the batter will be thick). Add the water, mixing until everything is loosened. Beat in the eggs and buttermilk then until evenly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 45-50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.
For the Frosting
  1. Beat the softened butter and the cookie butter together in the bowl of the stand mixer until smooth and combined. Beat in the powdered sugar at low speed 1 cup at a time. Drizzle in the milk a little at a time until you have a spreadable icing. Spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake.
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