Apricot Pistachio Squares

Finally, a more recently made treat. I went on a solid 3-month hiatus from baking to try and have less temptation laying around the apartment. Our pre-wedding healthy eating habits went out the window during our honeymoon trip to Big Sur and Napa. It was the weekend after we got back from our honeymoon, and I had the biggest hankering to bake something. With it being summer (my favorite time of the year to make desserts), I thought I’d give this recipe a try.

Pistachio is hands down my favorite flavor in both sweet and savory dishes, and it had been a while since I last whipped up a pistachio dessert I really liked. I had never had anything with fresh apricots before, but I’ve taken a real liking to minced dried apricots in my stews or with some plain oatmeal. I saw this recipe on the ever-faithful Smitten Kitchen and had to give it a whirl:

INGREDIENTS:

Crust

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t table salt
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C (or one stick) unsalted butter, cold is fine

Filling

  • 3/4 C shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 tablespoon (10 grams) all purpose flour
  • Few pinches of sea salt
  • 6 T sugar
  • 5 T unsalted butter, cold is fine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 t almond extract (vanilla extract will work too, but almond extract really tastes the best for this recipe)
  • 1 pound firm-ripe apricots

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan (I used my handy dandy Pyrex).  Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet.
  2. Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps.  It should take 30 seconds or so for it to come together.
  3. Transfer the dough clumps to your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom and 1/4-inch up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. For the sake of speed, transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filing.
  4. Make the filling: In your food processor bowl (which does not need to be washed between these steps), grind your pistachios, sugar, flour and salt together until the nuts are powdery. Cut the butter into chunks and add it and the egg and flavorings to the machine. Run the machine until no chunks of butter are visible.

    Filling Hungry?
    Filling Hungry?
  5. Spread the filling over mostly cooled (warm is okay but hopefully the freezer will have firmed the base enough so you can spread something over it) crust. Cut the apricots in half (or, you might find that you can tear them open at the seams with your fingers) and remove pits. From here, you have a few decoration options: you can place the apricot halves in facedown or up all over the pistachio base. You can do as I did, which is cut them into strips, then slide each cut half onto a butter knife or offset spatula, tilt it so that it fans a little, and slide it onto your pistachio filling decoratively. (With this method, I ended up not using all of my apricots.) You could also arrange the strips like petals of flower around the pan, like the apple tart I did a few years ago).

    It was pretty going in...
    It was pretty going in…
  6. Bake the bars for 60 minutes, or until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the pistachio portion comes out batter-free. This might take up to 10 minutes longer depending on the juiciness of your apricots and the amount you were able to nestle in. Let cool completely in pan; you can hasten this along in the fridge.
  7. Cut bars into squares.  Chilled bars cut with a sharp knife will give you the cleanest cuts. Keep leftover bars chilled.

 

Hands down the most hideous looking thing I’ve ever made. Ever.

Apricot Pistachio Squares
Apricot Pistachio Squares

But as tasty as they were ugly!

Peach Shortbread

Back from a long hiatus – and married at that!

Stone fruit season is finally here again!  I’ve been waiting a long time to post this recipe until peaches were in season again.  I made these for Kevin and his mom’s family birthday celebration last September and they were a delicious hit.  Shortbread is absolutely delicious, but I generally find it a bit too rich and heavy during hot months.  The peach in this really livened up the shortbread flavor, as did the crumbly topping.  Loved these – and they looked pretty too!

Here is the recipe, as adapted from the ever-faithful Smitten Kitchen:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 3/4 C plus 2 T all-purpose flour (or you can measure 3 C and remove 2 T flour)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 C (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 ripe but firm peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Brown the butter: Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, foam, and then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and the very second that you turn around to do something else. Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).  Note that once you freeze the butter, the brown bits will sink to the bottom.  That’s totally fine since they’ll be thoroughly creamed together with the flour mixture!
    Frozen Browned Butter
    Frozen Browned Butter

    [Side note: You don’t HAVE to brown the butter, but it does make a big difference in taste!  If you don’t have time for this, just add two more tablespoons of flour (making 3 cups flour total) and cut softened butter into the flour with a pastry blender.]

  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. Use a pastry blender to blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly.

    Crumble Mixture
    Crumble Mixture
  3. Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly. Tile peach slices over crumb base in a single layer. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.
Out of the Oven
Out of the Oven

According to Smitten Kitchen, these hold up really well in the fridge. She also reckons these would freeze well, between layers of waxed paper, with the container sealed well in plastic wrap.  I can’t vouch for any of that because there were no leftovers from the birthday gathering to test this out with!

Peach Shortbread Squares
Peach Shortbread Squares

Now go take advantage while peaches are still in season!

The Crumble – Strawberry and Cherry

Summer is officially in full swing, though this sadly also means we are well into bikini season.  The good news is that summer months bring in cherries, peaches, plums, and more wonderful fruit, and while I should be working out a lot so I can hit the beach, I’ve really just doing a lot more baking and eating.

In preparation for the coming of stone fruit season, I took a baking class on cobblers, crisps, crumbles, and buckles back in April.  We had a potluck dinner for the Kawasaki twins’ birthdays at the end of the month, but the aforementioned fruits from my local grocery stores weren’t quite ripe yet.  I decided to make a crumble featuring strawberries instead.  I prepped everything in advance and assembled and baked it at Kelli‘s.

Happy Birthday, Twinsies!
Happy Birthday, Twinsies!

I forgot to take photo of finished Strawberry Crumble with the ice cream on top, so the above is the closest thing I have.  Here’s the recipe!

Topping:

  • 3/4 C flour
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C almond or hazelnut flour
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 C old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, cold and cubed

1. Place the flours, sugars, and butter in a food processor and pulse until pea sized clumps form.

Crumble Topping - Butter, White and Brown Sugar, Oats
Crumble Topping – Butter, White and Brown Sugar, Oats

2. Fold in the oats.

3. Place on a baking sheet and freeze until butter is cold.

Strawberry Filling

  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 4 C strawberries
  • 1 T flour
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C freshly squeezed orange juice

1. Toss the strawberries, sugar, and the orange zest together in a large bowl.

2. In a measuring cup, dissolve the flour in the orange juice and then mix it into the fruit.

Strawberry Filling - Strawberry, Orange Zest, Orange Juice, Flour, Sugar
Strawberry Filling – Strawberry, Orange Zest, Orange Juice, Flour, Sugar

3. Pour into ramekins about 2/3 full, or in an 8×11 pan if making a bigger one.

4. Add crumble topping on top.

Strawberry Crumble
Strawberry Crumble

5. Bake at 350ºF for 12-15 minutes until bubbly (50 minutes if using an 8×11 pan).

The great thing about crumbles is that they are quick to make and pretty much foolproof.  For those that turn the simplest of recipes into culinary disasters, the crumble is perfect for you.  You’re essentially just tossing some fresh fruit in some sugar, tossing the crumble on top, and popping it in the oven!  You don’t need to be precise with measurements or too pretentious with presentation.  You also can make as little or as much filling as you want and save the crumble topping for later.  I froze the leftover topping from the twins’ birthday and ended up using some for a couple mugs of cherry crumble for Kevin and I a few weekends ago using the first batch of gorgeous cherries I saw at the market.  Easy!  Here’s the cherry filling recipe:

Cherry Filling

  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 6 C fresh cherries, pitted
  • 2 T flour

1. Whisk flour and sugar together and then toss in fruit.

2. Add crumble topping.

3. Bake at 325ºF for 10 minutes.

4. Top with lots of ice cream!

Cherry Crumble in a Mug
Cherry Crumble in a Mug

Fingers crossed all of the basketball Sho-Yu has been playing lately will negate all of the sweets!

Peaches and Cream Ice Cream Cake

Doing something to celebrate your significant other’s birthday is a bit like taking your car to the carwash.  The basic bronze package (e.g., birthday dinner and maybe dessert) is what you opt for most of time, while you “level-up” once in a while and get them the silver package (e.g., everything from the bronze package plus a gift and/or planning a get-together with their friends, etc.).  But on “milestone” birthdays, you splurge and treat your car (or boyfriend) to the platinum package, which is includes all of the above in addition to a surprise party and an exterior carnauba wax and polish.

In planning the birthday basketball tournament, I had to spin an intricate web of lies and to keep KJ from getting suspicious since I wanted it to be a surprise.  However, this meant pretending he was just getting the bronze package to deflect any suspicions while actually procuring the platinum in secrecy.

In the middle of the week, he gave me the Puss in Boots eyes and told me that the ONE thing he wanted for his birthday this year was a half-batch of the peanut butter cookies I had made a few weeks ago for a coworker’s birthday.  Obviously, I couldn’t A) say no to those eyes and B) tell him I was too busy making a surprise birthday cake and planning a surprise party.  So, on his actual birthday, I frantically cranked a full batch out in between work and servicing a bronze package a la dinner at Rustic Canyon to sample the “Best Gourmet Burger in LA”.  I put chocolate chips in the other half-batch for him to bring to his fantasy football draft, where the birthday cake would also be served.

Since he loves ice cream cake, I decided to try my hand at making the frozen treat.  I didn’t want to make any ordinary ice cream cake that one could buy from Baskin Robbins (i.e., Mint Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake, etc.).  So, I thought I would take advantage of it being peach season and whip up a peaches and cream ice cream cake.

Chopped Fresh Peaches and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I made it upside down and in a 9” springform pan so I wouldn’t have to worry about prying the frozen concoction out of a normal pan.  The first layer was vanilla bean ice cream with chopped fresh peaches mixed in, and the middle layer was peach sorbet.

White Cake and Peach Sorbet

The final layer was a white cake.  The recipe I had made enough to fill a 13”x9” pan at about two inches thick.  I anticipated needing to cut it down to be 9″ round, and then cut it shorter to about an inch or so. However, the cake ended up being a little on the dryer side when it came out of the oven, so it crumbled when I tried to put it on top of the sorbet layer.  It didn’t taste dry, but it just wasn’t moist enough to stay together.

My Crumbling Cake Layer

Since it was already late on a work night and I couldn’t pick out all of the pieces from the softened sorbet, I instead ended up piecing everything together and pushing it down in hopes that it wouldn’t fall apart once it came out of the fridge.  Thankfully, it ended up working out because if the cake had actually been very moist, it would have gotten soggy and icy once frozen.  I wish the peach sorbet had been a bit brighter in color so that the layers would really pop when looking at the cake as a whole.

Ready for the Draft!

I picked up a cake box and the gold cake round at a specialty cooking store in Culver City, along with a couple of smaller baker’s boxes for the PB cookies and maybe a future project. Despite the sorbet layer being a bit light in color, I did really like the way the cake looked when sliced.

So Much Prettier When Sliced

Here’s the gallery!