Almond Tart

A few weeks ago I the flu and spent two days lying on my sofa drinking tea and watching The Great British Baking Show. While I know I can bake, I can’t bake like those contestants…yet.

Once I was able to go out in public without feeling like Typhoid Mary, I ventured to Williams Sonoma for a tart pan. I’m obsessed with tarts now and really wanted to make one for our Easter dessert, so I scoured the web for good ideas. This almond tart is actually a hybrid from Better Homes & Gardens and Williams Sonoma, and it is delicious. While I doubt it would help me win Star Baker, I enjoyed making it very much. Many more tarts to come!

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 8 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 2-3 tablespoons ice water

For the filling

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces almond paste, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup raspberry jam
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preparation

To make the pastry, place flour in a large mixing bowl and cut in butter until the crumbs are pea-sized. Mix egg yolk and 1 tablespoon ice water and drizzle over flour mixture, stirring with a fork to moisten. Add additional tablespoons of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring to moisten. Gently knead the dough until a ball forms; flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic, then chill for 1 hour.

Position a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Roll out pastry to about a 12-inch diameter, then carefully transfer to a 9 1/2 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Carefully press pastry up the sides of the pan, extending dough over the edges. Gently run your rolling pin over the edges of the pan to remove excess dough; reserve your excess dough for another use.

Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights – I use dry beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then lift the foil; if the crust is a pale golden color all over, it’s ready. If not, continue baking for a few more minutes at a time, checking often, until crust is pale golden all over.

Remove crust from oven and place on a wire rack while you prepare the filling; lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and place the rack in the center.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until completely smooth. Add almond paste one slice at a time, mixing very well between each addition until the filling becomes completely smooth. Note: I flattened out my slices of almond paste so they’d blend into the butter easier. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in flour.

Spread raspberry jam over the bottom of the crust, then carefully top with dollops of almond filling and spread filling to form an even layer; the jam may travel up the sides of the crust a bit, and that’s okay. Top with sliced almonds in an even layer.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the center is completely set. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool; I used an inverted 6-inch cake pan on my cooling rack and remove the side of the tart pan. Cool completely; serve at room temperature and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes 8 servings.

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Lemon Curd Muffins with Poppy Seeds

Yesterday I made my first batch of macarons, for which I only needed egg whites. More on the macarons later – despite having feet, they didn’t turn out as they should have. Such is life in baking: sometimes your recipe works exactly as you want it to, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Anyway, the macarons left me with three egg yolks. I refuse to waste ingredients, so I made them into lemon curd. And then of course, I had to figure out what to do with my lemon curd. So I baked it into muffins using a make-it-mine recipe from my awesome Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. While they have a lovely texture, I should have included lemon zest in my batter to ramp up the lemon flavor. Again, such is life in baking. The good news is that you always have the chance to try again, to take what you’ve learned an apply it in future recipes.

Ingredients

For the muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd*
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds

*You can easily cut this full recipe in half if you only have 3 yolks, as I did. 

For the icing

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • zest of 1 medium lemon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large 4-cup measuring cup, combine eggs, lemon curd, milk, and vegetable oil; beat with a fork until smooth, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined, then fold in poppy seeds. Batter will be lumpy; this is what you want, so don’t be tempted to over-mix.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into prepared muffin tins, filling about 2/3 full.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until tops are light golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediate remove muffins from tins; place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, combine powdered sugar and lemon zest. Add lemon juice 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring well, to reach a consistency that’s easy to drizzle, like honey. Drizzle over muffins and allow to set; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Makes 24 muffins.

Irish Soda Bread

My mom’s maiden name is O’Donnell, and she’s quite proud of her Irish heritage. I, however, identify much more with the Eastern European cultural traditions I learned from my Hungarian grandma and Slovak grandpap, who lived just five doors down from my childhood home. So while I’ve got fair skin and freckles, my Irishness has always been much more in theory than it has ever been in practice.

Until today, I’d never made Irish soda bread, and I have to admit that I felt like a total amateur. This recipe comes from my friend Ciara, a woman whose knowledge of Irish culture could certainly put mine to shame. She was Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Pittsburgh a few years back, and this recipe is one she and her mom make each year. You could add raisins if you like, but I chose to leave mine plain.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour*
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs plus buttermilk, enough to equal 2 total cups of liquid**
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces and softened

*You could use regular or gluten-free flour for this recipe as well. 

**Place your eggs in a measuring cup, then pour in enough buttermilk to yield 2 total cups of liquid. I lightly beat my egg/buttermilk mixture before pouring it into the dry mixture. 

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan or cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Add egg/buttermilk mixture and stir to combine, then add butter and stir as best you can; while you’re not supposed to knead Irish soda bread very much, I kneaded my dough to distribute the lumps of butter more evenly throughout the mixture. Next time, I might cut my butter into my flour before adding the wet ingredients.

Shape into a ball and place in prepared cake pan; cut a cross shape into the top using a very sharp knife.

Bake for 1 hour; remove from oven and cake pan and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before serving.

Coconut Bars (Version One)

I’ve had many a coconut bar over the years, but never made them until yesterday. This version from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion is billed as a less-sweet version of a more classic coconut bar, and it offers delicious flavor and great texture.

I’ve listed these as “version one” because there are several other recipes that I’d like to try, and I imagine some are much sweeter than this one. The subtle flavor profile of the topping – a delightful blend of toasted pecans, coconut, and dark brown sugar – is a nice balance to the shortbread-like crust. It’s definitely a good option if you’re looking for something with great flavor that’s not too sweet.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Make the crust: in a mixing bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, and salt; cream together until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat until just combined; the texture will look like coarse crumbs. Press into the bottom of the baking pan; bake for 15 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly while you make the topping.

To make the topping, in a medium bowl, whisk flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer, beat eggs until they’re light and lemon-colored. Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture, coconut, and pecans; stir to combine.

Pour topping onto crust and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan before cutting.

Makes 24 bars.

Sweetheart Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread, like the sugar cookie, is incredibly versatile. A classic shortbread recipe can be baked in many ways, easily adapted for different holidays and celebrations. This recipe, based on King Arthur Flour’s Essential Shortbread, is one I’ve adapted many times, always with great results.

Today’s adaptation involves both vanilla and almond extracts, as well as valentine sprinkles. They’re on their way to North Carolina for my nephew Roman, as part of his Valentine’s Day gift.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 ounces flour (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)
  • Wilton Micro Hearts Sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Add flour and beat to combine; the dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl when it’s ready.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions and roll into balls. Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart and flatten with the bottom of a drinking glass.

Place sprinkles in a shallow bowl and press the tops of each cookie into the sprinkles to coat. Return to baking sheets, placed about 2 inches apart, and bake for 25 minutes, until edges and bottoms are firm and just starting to turn golden.

Cool on baking sheets for about 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. If shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper.

Strawberry Valentine Cookies

Do experienced bakers bake with cake mix? Sometimes, yes. Especially when they want to create pink Valentine’s Day-themed treats for their favorite little girls in Maryland and are running short on time during a busy weekend.

Baking with cake mix cuts down on prep time, and can also be a nice way to introduce baking to beginners. Just add a few ingredients, follow a few simple steps, and you’ll have fun, tasty treats. These strawberry valentine cookies are on their way to my goddaughter Maureen and her little sister Margo, complete with two kinds of valentine sprinkles.

Ingredients

  • 1 box strawberry cake mix*
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Valentine sprinkles

*I used Pillsbury Moist Supreme Strawberry cake mix.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs, and vanilla and stir to completely combine.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto cookie sheets. Top with sprinkles.

Bake for 10 minutes; do not let cookies brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Poppy Seed Babka

Earlier today I undertook my first quilted sewing project, a patchwork table runner. I’m a total amateur when it comes to sewing, and both patchwork and quilting are challenges on their own, let alone together. While my project turned out just fine (with a few minor mistakes, but it’s all part of the learning process), I wanted to get into the kitchen to remind myself that there once was a time when I was an amateur baker, and now I can make really awesome stuff like poppy seed babka.

My love for poppy seed treats knows no bounds, and this poppy seed babka is a delicious twist (ha! See what I did there?) on traditional poppy seed roll. While babka definitely takes patience, what with rising and resting time, it’s absolutely worth it.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast* (or 1 package active dry yeast)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 10 ounces poppy seed filling
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

*I’ve started using SAF Red Instant Yeast, available at King Arthur Flour. 

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture along with egg and mix until combined, scraping the sides of your bowl to combine. Add remaining 1 cup flour and mix on low speed for 3 minutes, until dough becomes smooth – it will gather itself around the dough hook.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air; turn onto a very lightly floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine poppy seed filling and lemon juice, stirring to combine.

Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Roll dough into a 16 x 12 rectangle. Spread filling evenly over dough. From the long side, roll dough into a log and cut in half to make two shorter logs.

Place one log on top of the other to form an X, then twist ends together. Place in the loaf pan, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine egg and milk to make an egg wash; brush over dough. Bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped or the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees. Loosen loaf from pan; allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature for 3-4 days.