Baklava

Happy National Baklava Day! If there ever was a dessert worthy of it’s own day, I’d say baklava was it. I’d never had the pleasure of trying it before moving here to the Eastern Shore. I’ve made mention before how our little island has quite a few Greek families that live and operate restaurants here. Jon worked in one of them growing up  (Famous Pizza for you locals), so baklava was a favorite for him at a young age. He introduced it to me, and it quickly became one of my favorite as well!

Tender, crunchy, golden brown layers of phyllo dough encasing layers of finely chopped spiced nuts and brown sugar, all enrobed in honey. It’s pretty much as close as one can get to perfection in a baking dish. I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to making it in my kitchen. I was afraid it would be super time consuming or tedious, neither of which it was. Took all of about 15 minutes to assemble, and the results were in-sane…

I used a mixture of the traditional walnuts and pistachios for a little depth of flavor. I also added a few slices of lemon to the honey syrup. Jon said he remembered Rula (the owner) putting lemon in her syrup when she made baklava at the pizza shop, and thought that sounded like a great touch.

I actually need to make another batch soon, the poor folks at Jon’s work didn’t even get to enjoy any! That’s how we know something is really good, when leftovers don’t make it into the office. If you’ve never made baklava, or worse – never even tried it, do yourself a favor and make this soon!

Source: adapted from TheKitchn and Famous Pizza on Chincoteague Island, VA.

Salted Duck Fat Carmels

Okay, I know what you must be thinking – say whaaaaaaat?  Duck up in your caramel? She crazy! But just trust me little ones, these little bites of Heaven are truly divine.

A couple of months ago the good people at D’Artagnan sent me a cooler full of duck fat to play around with in the kitchen. They’re a company that’s well known for their duck products, but also have a plethora of other wonderful gourmet products available online.

You can use duck fat as you would use butter, great for sauteeing some veggies or roasting some potatoes. Adding an incredible richness and depth of flavor that you just don’t attain with butter or olive oil. I’ve been using it to make a vinaigrette for my salad, which it lends itself perfectly for this chilly weather that’s finally come our way. It’s also great in biscuits or pie dough. And, as it turns out – salted caramels!

This recipe has always been a winner for me, so I just adapted it by adding rendered duck fat in place of the butter. They are rich and chewy, with a wonderful silkiness. If you’re afraid they will taste “ducky”, don’t be! While duck fat has a different flavor than butter, more savory – I think the biggest difference is the texture on the tongue. It’s super smooth and silky, with a heavier mouth-feel than butter or oil…and that definitely transcends into the caramels.

I topped off with a bit of my current favorite sea salt (if you haven’t tried Maldon yet, do it!) for a salty, crunchy bite that pairs perfectly with the rich sweetness of the caramels. Sliced and wrapped up in pieces of wax paper, they make a wonderful homemade gift that is as unique as it is delicious. 

Disclaimer: I received products from D’Artagnan for review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Have I mentioned enough times how much I love this little stretch of land that we call home? Sure we love the ocean, and the bay, and the abundance of fresh seafood that comes with both. But you know what I love more than anything? Our community. Good people and great events are always just right on the horizon here on the Eastern Shore!

One event we always look forward to is the suborbital rocket launches out of Wallops Flight Facility. For the past few years our little corner of NASA has been launching resupply missions to the International Space Station, one recent launch (LADEE) even went to the moon! They don’t go that often, a few times a year – but it’s always so exciting for us. We have many friends and family who work at the base, so to say that I’m proud that these folks are launching things into space is kind of an understatement.

Last night we had a catastrophic failure, the rocket exploded about 6 seconds after liftoff. I’ve never seen anything like it, and never hope to again. Thankfully, no one was injured…which, is just a testament to how wonderful our folks at Wallops are.  But, the facility is destroyed. All the work that went into the launch, and the scientific experiments on board – just gone. Wallops will rebuild though, and most certainly relaunch! But please keep our small community in your thoughts and prayers.

So, the cupcakes. I baked these to take to our PTA’s Annual Pumpkin Walk. Families and local buisnesses carve pumpkins to display on one of our nature trails here on the island to create a spooky and fun walk to raise some money for the PTA. They of course have a bake sale as well, so I baked these to donate to the cause. We got to the walk about 30 minutes after it started, and they were already gone – definitely a hit!

I used my favorite vanilla cake recipe, then added some chopped apples, caramel sauce, and fall spices to the batter. Then topped them with a caramel cream cheese frosting. Holy moly, were they good! The spices were not overbearing, allowing the fresh flavor of the apple to really shine through. And I loved having the tender chunks of apples in the cake as well. I’ll most certainly be making this one again and again. I think it would be great as a 9-inch layer cake too! Enjoy!

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
16 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup caramel sauce

For the Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. block cream cheese, room temperature
12 Tbsp butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup caramel sauce
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk together and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Add in the sugar, and beat for 2 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar until incorporated. 10 seconds, until evenly combined. Frost cupcakes as desired.

Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated. Add in the apples and caramel sauce and mix until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full (you will likely have batter left over after filling 24 wells.) Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Replace paper liners and bake remaining batter if desired. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar until incorporated. Then add the vanilla, caramel sauce, and a pinch of salt. Mix for 10 seconds, until evenly combined. Frost cupcakes as desired.

Drizzle with additional caramel sauce if desired before serving.

Apple Pie Bars

So, there’s this apple tree in the front yard of the new house. Well, it’s really more like it’s in the backyard of the commercial property in front of us that a dog groomer rents…but no one else wants them, so they’re as good as mine!  It’s a huge Granny Smith tree, and it produced a hefty harvest of baseball-sized apples this Fall. The boys have been having such fun plucking apples off the tree to enjoy.

They’ve got unbeatable flavor too – tart and fruity, but much sweeter than the traditional Granny Smith you pick up in the supermarket. Almost pear-like qualities in the flavor. They are out of this world good, just simply enjoyed alone. But you know I couldn’t resist wrapping them up in some form of dough and baking!

So without further ado, I give you these apple pie bars. It’s pretty much an apple pie, in a much more portable format. Basic pie dough is rolled out into a rectangle, filled with peeled apples that have been flavored with brown sugar and cinnamon, then topped with another rectangle of pie dough and baked. After cooling they’re sliced into perfect squares and drizzled with a simple vanilla glaze. Perfect for a tailgating treat!

I hope everyone has a great weekend! My BFF and I are heading to the mountains (we’re 6-inches above sea level here, my ears are already popping!) this afternoon to visit Thurmont, MD and the Catoctin Colorfest tomorrow. I used to go all the time as a little girl, and we went last year – so it’s kind of a reinstated tradition for me. Tons of craft vendors, local churches with their kitchens set up selling various regional foods, apple orchards and fresh pressed cider. It’s alot of fun, and it’s going to be great to have some girl time. Although, I’m worried about missing my boys! Isn’t it funny how we look forward to getting away – then when we do, we can’t wait to get back? Heh. Wish me luck, guys!

Apple Pie Bars

2 9-inch pie dough rounds (click for recipe)
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 lbs Granny Smith apples (about 4 medium)
1 lb Honeycrisp apples (about 2 medium)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 egg white
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp half and half or milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Peel, core and dice apples into thin and small pieces. Place diced apples in a large mixing bowl. Add vanilla and toss apples to evenly coat. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup flour, granulated sugar, light-brown sugar, 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour flour mixture over apple mixture and toss to evenly coat, set aside.

To assemble, roll one portion of your dough into a 13×9 inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Lift rolled dough into an ungreased 13×9 inch baking dish. Toss apple mixture once more and pour into baking dish over pie crust. Roll remaining dough into another 13×9-inch rectangle and place rolled dough over apples, pinching the seam together with the bottom piece of dough.

In a small mixing bowl whisk egg white, and brush over top pie crust evenly. In a separate small mixing bowl whisk together 1 Tbsp sugar with 1/4 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over top pie crust.

Bake in preheated oven around 50-60 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 1 hour before cutting.

To make the glaze combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over the bars with a spoon.

Bars can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Source: adapted from Cooking Classy