French Toast Berry Bake

French Toast Berry Bake

French Toast Berry Bake

Happy 2015!

So, today marks four years that this blog has chugged along. I began with a list of my favorite recipes to share but have gotten sidetracked by trying tons of new dishes I’ve discovered along the way.

This French Toast Berry Bake, though, is on ol’ favorite that comes from a high school friend who serves it at her Christmas Brunch each year. Of all the goodies in her luscious spread, this is the one I look forward to most. She graciously shared the recipe with me many eons ago.

However, I rarely make it because the butter and sugar and bread creates a total calorie bomb. So darn fluffy and sweet and tart and crunchy, though, as you combine all that with berries and pecans.

I always feel guilty about making this. You see, in my mind I associate this with special holiday events, and considering that I’ve feasted for weeks on sugary treats during the holiday season, my mind tells me to avoid making one more sweet and calorie-laden dish.

However, this year, my mom sent me home on Christmas day with a leftover baguette. Perfect excuse to make this fruity french toast dish, right?  This time I attempted to modify the recipe and reduce the fat content. I used less sugar, for starters, and I used dark brown sugar to deepen the flavor. Then I swapped the butter for coconut oil. Still tasted sweet enough.

Then I started wondering how many fewer calories were used with coconut oil vs. butter. To my surprise, they are nearly equal!! Loads of articles out there about how coconut oil isn’t necessarily better than butter nor vice versa. So much for my great idea to seriously make a dent in calorie reduction. I’m happy that I managed to cut back on the sugar, at least, and not reduce the love I have for this ol’ fav.

By the way, much of this can be prepared a day in advance, making it an easy breakfast meal to pop in the oven upon waking. Always a good thing, right?

French Toast Berry Bake

French Toast Berry Bake

French Toast Berry Bake

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INGREDIENTS

French Toast & Batter

  • 1 24-inch baguette
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (original recipe calls for 3/4 cup light brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Topping

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 2 cups blueberries or any combination of mixed berries
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (original recipe calls for 1/2 stick butter)
  • 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar (original recipe calls for 1/4 cup light brown sugar)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Butter a 13×9-inch baking dish.
  2. Cut baguette into 1-inch slices; arrange in baking dish.
  3. Whisk together eggs, milk, brown sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and salt; pour over bread. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the dish overnight until ready to bake the following morning.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  5. Toast pecans by stirring them in a pan over medium heat until they smell toasty. Coarsely chop and sprinkle over mixture in pan.
  6. Sprinkle berries over mixture.
  7. In small saucepan, melt 1/4 cup coconut oil with brown sugar until sugar dissolves. Drizzle over mixture in pan.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

SOURCE: my high school friend Gina

Sparkling Sugared Cranberries

Sugared Cranberries

Sugared Cranberries

Sparkling Sugared Cranberries

I remember seeing this recipe last year and having no desire whatsoever to make it. I had zero affinity for cranberries other than in juice form.

Then this year, I loved the look of this Lemon Cranberry Cake and made it for Christmas, which left me with extra cranberries. I needed to do something with them and thought I might as well give this sugared cranberries recipe a whirl.

I bit into a raw cranberry and promptly spat it out. Not tasty in the least! But I had all these extra cranberries, so what did I have to lose?

Biting into a sugar-coated cranberry is a totally different story than biting into a raw one. Like, WOW! That sugar crust offsets the tartness, creating a pleasant balance of tart and sweet. It tastes kind of like a natural version of Sour Patch candies.

I made everyone try it at Christmas dinner, and to everyone’s surprise, they liked it.

I added them around the Lemon Cranberry Cake, which gave it a sparkly decorative touch.

I’m going to make them again this week for the Book Club meeting, and this time I’m going to try them atop crackers and brie, as seen on Annie’s Eats.

Sugared Cranberries

Sugared Cranberries

Sparkling Sugared Cranberries

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • optional: 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • optional: 1/2 tsp. orange extract
  • granulated sugar
  • optional: chunkier sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. Make a simple syrup by combining the 1/2 cup water and the 1/2 cup sugar in a small pan; heat over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. If desired, add vanilla and orange extracts.
  2. When simple syrup cools, add cranberries and stir to coat.
  3. Use a slotted spoon to remove cranberries and allow excess syrup to drain.
  4. Transfer berries to a rack placed over a piece of foil to capture excess drainage of syrup. Allow berries to dry for an hour or two. They should have a sticky coating.
  5. Place several berries into a bowl of sugar and use a spoon to gently toss them until thoroughly coated. I like to coat first using a thicker-grained sugar (I used a sugar sprinkle I had in my sugar cookie decorating container), then I place the cranberries into a bowl with granulated sugar to fill in the gaps. The thicker sugar creates more crunch, but using only granulated sugar works well, too.
  6. Place coated cranberries on parchment-lined paper and allow to dry for another hour or so. At that point, you can store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for about a week. I actually left mine on the counter for a couple days and they fared well.

SOURCE: adapted from Annie’s Eats via Bakingdom

Lemon Cranberry Cake

Lemon Cranberry Cake

Lemon Cranberry Cake

Lemon Cranberry Cake

Until this cake, I thought I wasn’t a fan of cranberries. However, its festive look captured my eye, and I figured it would be fun to try something other than chocolate cake or cheesecake for the Christmas dessert.

The recipe begins with brown sugar on the bottom of the bundt pan and fresh cranberries piled on top of that. When it cooks, that brown sugar caramelizes with the cranberries as they burst and soften, creating a compote-like topping. The sugar tempers the tartness of the cranberries, too, which then complements the slight tartness of the lemon cake. Top it all off with a lemon sugar glaze and you have one heck of a festive cake, perfect for the holiday season … or any gathering.

LemonCranberryCake

By the way, the sugared cranberries placed around the cake add a decorative touch, and I’ll post that recipe as soon as I finish this one.

Lemon Cranberry Cake 2

Lemon Cranberry Cake

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INGREDIENTS

Cake

  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease a bundt pan with butter or shortening.
  3. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the bottom of the bundt pan, then layer the cranberries over the sugar.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. In a large bowl, use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it is infused with the lemon fragrance.
  6. Add the butter to the sugar; beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
  7. Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
  8. In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine buttermilk and 2 tbsp. lemon juice.
  9. With mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Add 1/2 the buttermilk mixture; mix until just incorporated. Repeat. You should end with the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients.
  10. Spoon batter into the bundt pan over the cranberries, smoothing out as needed.
  11. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until golden brown on top and knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean. Transfer cake to wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack to cool completely.
  12. When cool, carefully transfer cake to serving platter (scooting it onto a cookie sheet works well for the transfer).
  13. For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and 1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice; whisk until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the cake; let set before slicing.

SOURCE: Annie’s Eats via Williams Sonoma

Kahlua Balls

Kahlua Balls

Kahlua Balls

Scrolling through my massive list of recipes to try, the Kahlua Balls jumped out at me. Good way to use up some of that homemade Kahlua I tried last summer!

(Note: I never blogged about the homemade Kahlua, but here are a couple notes if you use the linked recipe: you can replace the chocolate liqueur with 2 tbsp. cocoa powder, and using coarsely ground coffee beans rather than dried espresso gave a richer flavor–I tried both methods.)

So think graham crackers spread with chocolate and doused with a bit of Kahlua, but imagine all that rolled up into a ball. Yep, that’s what these are like. As you bite into a dense ball of sweetness, that Kahlua flavor pops out at you.

Good news: these come together easily and require no baking. A small cookie scoop makes the process go much more quickly, by the way.

So if you need something to bring to a party or to grace your holiday cookie tray, give these little sparkling balls of flavor a try.

Kahlua Balls

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Yield: about 50 1-inch balls

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped semisweet chocolate (I used 4 oz. dark chocolate and 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup Kahlua
  • 3 tbsp. brewed coffee or espresso
  • 3 tbsp. agave (or corn syrup)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar in which to roll balls

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl or food processor, mix crushed graham crackers, chopped chocolate, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder. (I actually roughly chopped the dark chocolate bar first, then placed that and the semisweet chips in the food processor and pulsed until finely chopped, then I added the other dry ingredients and pulsed until combined).
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the Kahlua, brewed coffee, agave, and vanilla extract. Add to the food processor bowl; pulse until the dough forms a ball.
  3. Shape into 1-inch balls (a small cookie scoop speeds up this process). Roll each ball in granulated sugar.
  4. Store in an airtight container, either in the refrigerator or on the counter.

SOURCE: adapted from Sugarcrafter

“8-Layer” Truffles

8-Layer Truffles

Traditional 7-layer cookies made into truffles (or add another ingredient to make 8 layers, like I did)

Seven-Layer Truffles. The title intrigued me. The concept of taking the seven-layer cookie bar and transforming it into a bite-sized truffle tantalized my mind.

To make the truffles, instead of layering the ingredients like you do for the cookies, you mix it all together, slightly underbake, then scoop into balls, chill, and finally dip in chocolate. And then you get to bite into a divine ball of rich, chocolately sweetness. And swoon.

I ran short on graham crackers when I made these, so I substituted with some Oreo cookie crumbs; hence, my truffles were very chocolatey. Not that I minded one bit, though!

My truffle, then, isn’t quite the 7-layer…more like 8 layers. Even more flavors to delight the palate!

“8-Layer” Truffles

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Yield: I got about 4 dozen truffles using my small Oxo cookie scoop

INGREDIENTS

Truffles

  • 1 stick butter (4 oz or 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I only had 1 cup, so I used 1 cup finely chopped Oreo cookie crumbs, too)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toffee bits
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened, condensed milk

For Dipping

  • 8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp. safflower oil
  • graham cracker crumbs and shredded coconut, for garnishing

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8 inch x 8 inch baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the butter and graham cracker crumbs.
  3. Add the chocolate chips, coconut, toffee bits, and pecans; stir until evenly distributed.
  4. Add the condensed milk; stir until completely combined.
  5. Transfer mixture to the 8×8 dish; distribute evenly. Bake for 25 minutes, until lightly browned.
  6. While dough is still warm, scoop about 1 1/2 tsp. into mounds on parchment-lined baking sheets, then refrigerate for about 30 minutes until firm. Dough will likely be very soft and won’t shape into balls initially, but after refrigerating, you can easily roll them between the palms of your hands to make balls.
  7. To prepare chocolate for dipping, place chopped chocolate in a double boiler (I place a glass bowl over a small saucepan filled with about an inch of simmering water), stirring frequently until chocolate melts.
  8. Remove pan from heat but keep bowl over hot water so chocolate will stay melted. Add oil and stir to combine.
  9. Dip truffles in chocolate and place on parchment paper. To garnish, sprinkle with shredded coconut or graham cracker crumbs while chocolate is still soft and melted. To dip truffles, I use a plastic fork from which I’ve removed the inner tines. This allows me to easily scoop the balls out of the melted chocolate. I lightly tap the fork on the edge of the bowl and allow excess chocolate to drip off before transferring dipped balls to the parchment-lined baking sheet. I also use a chopstick to push the dipped balls off the fork.
  10. Transfer coated truffles to the refrigerator for 30 minutes to harden the shells. After the shells harden, I usually trim excess chocolate from the bottom of the truffles. I simply use a small knife for the trimming.
  11. Truffles can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week.

SOURCE: Kitchn.com

Festive Fudge (White Chocolate Fudge with Cranberries and Pistachios)

White Fudge

Festive white fudge studded with cranberries and pistachio nuts

A baking frenzy took place in my kitchen yesterday. All day–from early morning until evening–I whisked, stirred, melted, rolled, filled, dipped, and baked an assortment of cookies and candies. I made ol’ favs: Walnut Pillows, Pecan Balls, Pecan Tarts, and Macadamia Nut Butter Cookies.

And I tried a few new recipes, such as this Festive Fudge: luscious white chocolate studded with green pistachios and red cranberries. Nutty and fruity. Tart and chewy. Perfect holiday fare.

Ever made fudge? It’s a hit or miss situation with me, kind of like my caramel experiences. But this one worked easily enough: dump a bunch of stuff into a pan, boil for 4 minutes, add to chips, mix in nuts and fruit, and voila–lovely, festive fudge!

Now on to today’s project: packing all these goodies to give away as well as freezing some for Christmas day.

Festive Fudge (White Chocolate Fudge with Cranberries and Pistachios)

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups white chocolate chips
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios (roasting optional)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. If you want to roast the pistachios, heat oven to 350 degrees F, spread nuts onto a pan, and roast for 5-8 minutes. Allow to cool.
  2. Prepare pan by lining with parchment paper. Tip: spraying the pan with a bit of oil helps the parchment paper to stay in place. If you want 2-inch high fudge, use an 8 inch x 8 inch pan. If you want 1-inch high fudge, use a 9 inch x 13 inch pan (I like this option because the pieces feel more bite sized and you get a lot more fudge pieces).
  3. Place white chocolate chips in a large bowl and have electric mixer  or whisk ready. If using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment.
  4. This next step involves boiling, so use a large saucepan (I used my 6 quart Dutch oven): over medium heat, bring the sugar, butter, cream, and salt to a full, rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Once it begins to fully boil, set a timer for 4 minutes, continuously stirring at this point. If you use a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 230 degrees F.
  5. Pour the hot mixture over the white chocolate chips and whisk on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until chocolate is completely melted.
  6. Add cranberries, pistachios, and vanilla; stir until combined.
  7. Pour the fudge into your parchment-lined pan; use a spatula to evenly spread it. Allow to cool, which will take a couple of hours, then cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator to cool for a couple more hours before cutting. When ready to cut, use a pizza cutter to make smooth, even, and straight cuts.
  8. The fudge can be stored in an airtight container, on the counter or in the refrigerator, for about a week or two. Or you can wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then place in resealable bag, and freeze for a couple months.

SOURCE: adapted from Chocolate, Chocolate and More