Striped Candy Cane White Hot Chocolate

Much like the discovery of penicillin, these pretty mugs of Striped Candy Cane White Hot Chocolate came about entirely by accident. My plan had initially been to make a creamy hot white chocolate flavored with just a bit of peppermint--something like a hot, melted version of uber-popular peppermint bark.

Delicious enough on its own, but when I went to photograph it, I thought the mug needed a little...something.

I crushed up some candy canes and mixed them with a little bit of red sanding sugar, then dipped the rim of the mugs in them (ya know..."margarita style").

I then poured the hot chocolate in and went to go get my camera only to find this magic had happened while I was away! The heat melted the little bits of red dye in the crushed candy canes and drizzled them all along the glass in a beautiful striped pattern.

Convinced it was a fluke, I tried it again only to achieve the same result.

Voila! Just call me, Accidental Martha Stewart!

While delicious and creamy on its own without the striped effect (the crushed candy also adds extra sweet minty flavor), I think this would be a super fun thing for a Christmas season breakfast or child's birthday party.

The effect only lasts for about 20 minutes so if you're going to make it, get the mugs ready and pour the hot chocolate at the table, then let the kids (or kids-at-heart) ooh and aah over the effect while it becomes cool enough to sip. Make sure the hot chocolate reaches the rim of the glass or the effect won't work!

Note: You can do this with crushed candy canes alone, but the effect is more dramatic if you add a bit of red sanding sugar to the mix. I love this sparkly red and gold kind from Williams Sonoma. (Yeah, it's totally overpriced; you can also buy about 72 times as much for just $4 from this website.)

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Striped Candy Cane White Hot Chocolate
Serves 2

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips (I like Guittard)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon organic peppermint flavor

For the garnish
3 candy canes, finely crushed
2 tablespoons red sanding sugar

2 8oz clear glass mugs or cups

Directions
Combine the chocolate chips, milk, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Use a whisk to stir continuously until the chocolate has completely melted and the hot chocolate is thick and smooth. Stir in the peppermint flavor (use more or less according to your taste preference).

To serve: Whisk together the crushed candy canes and red sugar in a small bowl. Gently wet the rim of your glass mug (about 1/4 inch down the top and edges) and then dip into the bowl of crushed candy canes, moving around to coat the entire edge. Repeat with your second mug. Place on the table and gently pour the hot chocolate all the way to the top (IMPORTANT: the chocolate needs to touch the sugared rim for the effect to work).
Let sit and watch as the stripes form down the edge of your glass--it will take about 2-3 minutes to start.

Enjoy!

Cranberry Ropa Vieja

When new friend people come into my life and learn what I do for a living, the next comment is usually something along the lines of "Wow! I wish I could have dinner at your house every night!"

And while I am admittedly an amazing cook (and modest), it's not really the way that people picture it. There usually is something awesome coming out of my kitchen, but it's not always what one would ideally want for dinner.

For example, this past June, I spent a few weeks working on holiday dessert and cocktail recipes for the current issue of Cosmopolitan for Latinas (for which I'm the food & drink writer). Awesome in theory, but the reality is that for about 2 weeks, the only thing I was making was batch-after-batch of things like Puerto Rican bread pudding, arroz con leche, guava pastries, and polvorones.

There were also a lot of Pisco Sours and Mexican Christmas punch.

What there wasn't, was a normal dinner.

"Is there anything to eat besides rice pudding??" Eugene would ask upon arriving from work to find me standing barefoot in the kitchen covered in a light sheen of sweat and powdered sugar.

"No. No there is not."

Exhausted from the day o'baking in 100 degree heat, dinner on those nights was usually a choice between delivery sushi or take-me-out-somewhere.

In other words, probably the same thing YOU had for dinner last night, new friend person!

Something like this happened again this month. Between Sandy, Thanksgiving, my latest Cosmo for Latinas deadline, and the amazing dinner party I hosted for sponsors Foods from Chile (more about that soon!), the meals around here were super irregular.

Think things like bacon egg sandwiches, party leftovers, cucumber salads, and several baguette-and-burrata dinners.

We also went out to eat--a LOT.

So much so that on Monday night, as I started doing that thing I do when I basically jump on Eugene's lap and assault him with kisses until he agrees to take me out to dinner, he agreed (God bless him) with the condition that I would "please cook something real for dinner tomorrow."

So I obliged.

This is my totally not-authentic (please don't kill me if you're Cuban), but still super delicious riff on Ropa Vieja. In Spanish, “Ropa Vieja” means “old clothes,” a reference to the tattered look of this shredded beef stew.

Typically made with a tomato base, I reinvented it for the holidays by using a mix of fresh cranberries and unsweetened cranberry juice as the braising liquid. I kept the traditional flavors of garlic, onion, bay leaves, and cumin, but also tossed in a few cinnamon sticks for a woodsy, spicy twist.

Like most braised dishes (my favorite, favorite style of cooking!), this one is EASY. Just sear the meat, add the ingredients to the pot, and let your stove take over while you busy yourself with other things. It's a great winter weekend dish, and you can double the recipe so that you have easy dinners throughout the rest of the week.

Typically served over white rice, I actually paired this one with my Cinnamon Coconut Couscous for a truly ambiguously ethnic meal.

Buen provecho!



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Cranberry Ropa Vieja Recipe

Ingredients
2lb flank steak, cut in half
Kosher salt
Black Pepper
Cumin
Oil for frying
3 cups fresh cranberries (frozen is OK)
3 cups unsweetened cranberry juice (not cocktail)
1 cup water
2 large yellow onions, quartered
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 whole cinnamon sticks (use canela, if available)
1 tablespoon oregano
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Prepared white rice or couscous, for serving.

Directions
Pat flank steak dry and season liberally with kosher salt, black pepper, and cumin. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot (such as a Dutch oven) and sear the steaks halves on each side until they develop a crust (about 10 minutes total--you may need to do one at a time). Return the steaks to the pot and add the cranberries, cranberry juice, onions, garlic, cinnamon sticks, oregano, bay leaf, brown sugar, and red wine. The liquid should just cover the meat--if necessary, add the cup of water to bring the level up (you can also use beef broth). Bring to a boil then lower to a very gentle simmer and cover. Let braise on the lowest setting possible for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Remove the meat from the pot and use a fork to shred. Remove the cinnamon sticks from the braising liquid and use an immersion blender or regular blender to puree the sauce until it is smooth, then let simmer for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and slightly reduced. Return the shredded meat to the pot and stir in the cranberries. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

Serve over white rice or couscous.

Fried Chorizo with Wine Caramel

A couple months ago, I got an email from a company offering me a taste of their product--a "depression-era hooch" called Spodee. Also known as "Wine with a Kick."

Now I get a LOT of these emails, and usually I ignore them or let the person know that it's not really a good fit for my writing, but this time, I was totally intrigued.

Eugene doing a Spodee show & tell at the party. The guests were intrigued!
Spodee, the woman explained, was an old fashioned beverage made from a combination of homemade wine, spices, and moonshine. It had been popular during the depression era because it was cheap and strong, and a company based in Pennsylvania decided to bring it back as a nod to the current economy.

And, the woman added, it comes in an "old timey milk bottle."

If you know anything about me, you know the phrase "old timey" gets me. I agreed to try it and waited for my milk bottle of hooch to arrive.

This is my "take the photo already, these have to go in the pan now" face.
As promised, the jar arrived--an old fashioned milk bottle filed with dark red wine. The tag offered a drink suggestion ("Spodee and Sody"), but I decided to try it straight.

And I did. ON CAMERA!  You can watch my YouTube taste test video HERE.

Basically, it's good stuff. Not good wine, but a tasty drink. It's sweet, but not overwhelmingly cloying, with slightly spicy, chocolate notes. I wouldn't drink it on it's own, but think it would be an awesome mulled wine or sangria. But what I really wanted to do was cook with it.

I kept the bottle in my fridge until last week when I was hosting friends for dinner and decided to use it as part of a quick appetizer. I fried slices of spicy chorizo and then poured the Spodee on top, letting it reduce into a boozy, syrupy caramel.  This is a riff of another dish I make using regular wine with the addition of sugar, but since the Spodee already has a high sugar content, as well as great flavor from the spices, I just needed two ingredients--super easy!

I placed it in a bowl with a few toothpicks and stood back and watched as my friends proceeded to flip out over the deliciousness. They went wild over the combination of spicy salty chorizo and the deep sweet wine caramel syrup.  It was gone in minutes (we were barely able to capture photos) and soon everyone was asking about the Spodee.

The appetizer ended up being such a hit (and SO EASY!), that I doubled the recipe and made it again for Thanksgiving at my in-law's house. Once again, it was gone in minutes.

(I confess that I contributed quite a bit to that "gone in minutes" thing this time.)

Spodee is a pretty new product, so it's currently only available for sale in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but you can also buy it online here.

Thanks to the lovely and super talented Monica Navarro for taking the gorgeous photos in this post!

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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading!



Fried Chorizo in Spodee Wine Caramel
Serves 6-8 as an hors d'oeuvre

Ingredients
1 pound spicy Mexican or Spanish-style chorizo, sliced into 1" pieces (don't use fresh chorizo)
1 1/2 cups Spodee wine (You can also substitute another kind of fortified or sweetened red)

Directions
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the sliced chorizo, letting them fry in their own fat until crisp on each side (about 2 minutes). Once the chorizo are fried, pour in the Spodee and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan.
Lower the heat and let simmer about 5-7 minutes, or until the sauce reduces into a thick syrup.
Remove from heat and serve immediately with toothpicks as an appetizer.




Homemade Sopapillas

This past summer, I went to New Mexico for the first time. My friends Jeremy and Erin were getting married in his hometown of Albuquerque, and our group of college friends (and respective significant others) decided to follow up the wedding weekend with a few days in nearby Santa Fe.

This was my first time in the southwest, and I was instantly smitten with the colors, the spicy food, and the delicious dry heat that wrapped around my shoulders and kept my hair looking its absolute best.

I talked about that dry heat A LOT during that trip. So much so that my friends would just cut me off and say things like,

"Yeah. The dry heat. We KNOW, Alejandra."

Whatever.

During this trip, we explored the town, did a bit of shopping (my favorite souvenirs included a cowboy hat and a book of TOTALLY TRUE-no-matter-what-Eugene-says ghost stories), and even spent one luscious night dining inside of a candlelit teepee on the grounds of our Native American-owned hotel.

This is us, pretending we were filming the opening credits to our own sitcom:

I also used the opportunity of being in the Southwest to dress like this as much as possible:
That's my friend Matt, who used the opportunity of being in the Southwest to burn tan his forehead as much as possible.
We paid several visits to the local 5 and Dime, where they sold everything from books and greeting cards to dried chiles and culturally authentic gear like this:

I spent most of the trip walking around the town center with a massive bag of kettle corn that I shoved into my mouth by the handful.

I can also guarantee that about a cup of that popcorn ended up going down the front of my dress.

(That's how I bring the boys to the yard)

But the most significant event at all for me during this trip was the discovery of the deliciousness that is the sopapilla.
Now I'd actually had sopapillas--or at least their East Coast version--in the past. What I knew as sopapillas never really excited me--bits of crunchy fried dough drenched in cinnamon sugar, served on top of a puddle of melting ice cream, topped with too-sweet berry syrup or chalky chocolate sauce.  They were often served as dessert at Mexican restaurants--the kind of thing that nobody ever ordered, but which somehow ended up on our table as a gift from the house.

A gift that nobody wanted.

But on our first dinner out in Santa Fe, a basket of large puffy triangles appeared on our table along with a little pot of honey.

"What's this?!" I asked excitedly as I grabbed at the basket. "Is this a dessert? A side? Am I allowed to eat it now?"

The friends with more Southwestern experience explained that the puffy sopapillas are meant to cut the heat of the spicy food and can be eaten either way. Soft, puffy, and still hot out of the fryer, they were amazing. We tore into them and poured in the honey. I promptly pushed aside whatever green chile-topped dish I'd ordered and spent the rest of the evening concentrating on the sopapilla basket.

The day after Thanksgiving, I woke up craving sopapillas for no real reason in particular. There hadn't been very many desserts at dinner and so I think I woke up feeling carb-deprived, but still too lazy to have a go at making them.

Amazingly enough, Eugene volunteered.

"Just give me a recipe," he said. "I'll do it."

I gave him a recipe from Homesick Texan that I had bookmarked ages ago, and he got to work. We had to tweak it a bit as the dough came out a bit dry and crumbly, so we upped the butter and water, but the results were fantastic!

Puffy, golden, soft--just as lovely as I remembered.

We made about half a batch (freezing the rest since it was too much for even this indiscriminate carb-luster to indulge in at once), and spent the day on the couch dipping them in honey while watching things on Netflix.

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Homemade Sopapillas Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Lisa Fain, Homesick Texan

Ingredients
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoon of butter, melted
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring your surface
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Vegetable, canola, or coconut oil for frying
Honey for serving

Directions
Whisk together the yeast and warm water and let sit five minutes until frothy. Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the melted butter into the yeast mixture, and pour into the flour. Knead with your mixer or by hand for about five minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Add a bit more water or flour as necessary.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, lightly covered with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm spot until doubled in size.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and roll it out into a 1/4 thick rectangle. Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut into triangles.

Pour 3 inches of oil into a heavy bottomed pot (such as a dutch oven) and heat to 375 degrees. Fry dough triangles in batches about 1 minute on each side or until puffed and golden, adjusting the flame as you go to keep the oil temperature above 350 degrees. Drain on a paper towel-lined surface and serve hot with your favorite honey.










DIY Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix (+ FREE Label Printable)

I shared this recipe for  DIY Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix on the Fox News website last year, but I when I went to link to it today, I realized it was no longer up (they totally redid their lifestyle site). With the holidays (and prime hot cocoa season) upon us, I figured I would share the recipe again here!

This is an easy DIY edible holiday gift idea that is always a hit with friends or coworkers. (I also just like to make a batch to keep around the cupboards for a quick and cozy treat. It can be made in advance and keeps very well, so you can go ahead and make a few jars of it now, before things get too crazed!

To make this gift even EASIER, you can download my label printable. Just print it out on cardstock, cut, and attach to your gift with a bit of ribbon or twine!
Free DIY Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix Label Printable (click to download PDF)
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DIY Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix 
Makes one 12-serving batch of cocoa mix (about 1 quart). Can be multiplied, as necessary. 

Ingredients 
1 cup instant dry milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup crushed peppermint candies (such as starlight mints or candy canes)
5 large marshmallows (optional)

Equipment: 1-quart glass jar with tight lid (such as a mason jar).

Optional for decoration: small scoop, kitchen twine, card for labeling

Directions 
Gently layer each ingredient into the jar in the following order: dry milk, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, chocolate chips, crushed candy, marshmallows.

Seal and label or decorate jar as desired.

Include the following instructions with the mix:

“To Prepare: Whisk together contents of jar in large bowl then return to container. For each serving, combine 1/3 cup mix with 1 cup boiling water or hot milk. Store in jar at room temperature up to 6 months.”

DIY Gingerbread Buttermilk Pancake Mix (Plus FREE Label Printable)

If you're thinking about making homemade edible holiday gifts this year, I definitely recommend that you mix up a few batches of my Gingerbread Buttermilk Pancake Mix. This gently spiced pancake batter is easy and inexpensive to make, but the results are incredible and much better than anything you can ever buy in a box.

Package this one up in pretty glass jars or sturdy paper bags and include them as part of a holiday breakfast gift basket.

This is also a great mix to keep around when entertaining holiday guests--gingerbread pancakes on Christmas morning? Yes, please!

Click here to download my FREE Gingerbread Pancake Mix Label

**Note: My recipe & photo were originally published on the Fox News website last year, but is no longer available there so I'm reposting here.


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading!


Gingerbread Buttermilk Pancake Mix
Makes one roughly 4 ½ cup batch of pancake mix, enough for about 30 pancakes. Can be multiplied as necessary.

Ingredients
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 rounded tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 rounded tablespoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Directions
Whisk together all ingredients until well combined. Pour into glass jar and decorate and label as desired. Include the following instruction card with your mix:

“To Prepare: Heat griddle to medium-high. Brush with butter or oil. Combine 1 cup mix with 1 large egg, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1 ½ cups buttermilk. Stir until just combined. Ladle ½ cup batter onto hot griddle and cook about 2 minutes per side.”

Shredded Endive Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

I have a favorite salad in New York. It's from Landmarc (surprise, surprise) and is super simple: frisee, lots of little chunks of lardon, a simple vinaigrette, and topped off with two perfectly poached eggs.

I'm obsessed with this salad. Obsessed.

Last week, my friend Vanessa and I met at Landmarc for drinks around 3pm. I ordered this salad and we sat drinking talking and drinking margaritas at the bar for the next few hours (my friend Moe also came over and joined us). When Eugene got out of work, I told him to come meet us ladies for dinner, at which point we transferred over to a table where I proceeded to order the same salad for the second time that day. Two days later, we went back for lunch, and you already know what happened.

Anyway, this salad is not that salad. It's not that salad at all, but it was inspired by it--the combination of the super assertive vinaigrette, the slightly bitter greens, and the chunks of salty and smokey bacon.

Let's talk about warm bacon vinaigrettes. They are BY FAR one of my favorite salad dressings. To make, tiny bits of bacon (or lardon or pancetta) are cooked in a pan until the meat is crisp and the fat is rendered.

You then scoop out the bacon, reserving the fat, which takes the place of oil in your dressing. A bit of Dijon mustard and vinegar is added to the pan over low heat and then you whisk whisk whisk until it's all emulsified into a perfect vinaigrette.

A dash of seasoning and you can then pour this over your favorite salad. The warmth slightly wilts the greens, making for a particularly perfect combination.

I love this dressing on hearty greens (like the aforementioned frisee) or spinach. Sometimes I toss in thinly sliced tart apples for additional interest. Here I combined the dressing with thinly shredded endive, which I actually added directly to the pan--the heat sweetens them up a bit and you find yourself with a really lovely side dish or entree salad.

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Shredded Endive Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Ingredients
4 large endive
4 strips thick-cut bacon
1 tablespoon creamy dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
kosher salt
black pepper

Directions
Cut the ends off the endive and slice finely. Set aside.

Add the bacon to a pan over medium heat and slowly cook until the bacon is crisp and the fat has rendered. Scoop out the bacon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan. Return the pan to low heat and add the mustard and vinegar. Whisk everything quickly until completely combined and emulsified. Add the endive to the pan and stir around to coat completely. Stir the bacon back in and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.



Chocolate Parker House Rolls

So I had this idea the other day. (And I'm not really even sure where it came from!)

I decided that I wanted to make a batch of those soft, pillowy, delightfully old fashioned homemade Parker House Rolls--but I wanted to make them chocolate.

Parker House Rolls are an easy and classic dinner roll recipe that's been around for many many years. It was invented at the Parker House Hotel in Boston waaaaaaay back in the 1870s, and soon became the standard among the midcentury housewives (and you KNOW I love the retro).

The Parker House Hotel is actually the longest continuously operating luxury hotel and is the sort of place where I imagine fancy ladies with parasols used to go to have tea and eat ice cream from pretty china dishes. It also happens to be the place where one of my other favorites, Boston Cream Pie, was reportedly invented. 

I decided to add a little twist to the classic recipe by stirring in a little cocoa powder and upping the sugar a bit to make the rolls just a touch sweeter. 

A sprinkle of crunchy sugar on top, and those old fashioned dinner rolls have been remade into sassy little breakfast rolls--just PERFECT for the day after Thanksgiving (or Christmas morning!)

If you've never made bread, I think this is a great recipe to start with. It comes together quickly and is pretty foolproof. It also smells absolutely wonderful while you're making it. 

Eugene, who has been working from home because his office was temporarily shut down after the storm, wandered into the kitchen yesterday morning sniffing around like a hound dog. "Your delicious cooking aromas lured me in," he explained.

Tip: You can bake these the day before and keep loosely covered at room temperature overnight. Pop them into a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes to freshen them up just before serving and they'll be good as freshly-baked!

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Chocolate Parker House Rolls
Makes about 16 rolls

Ingredients
For the bread:
3 tablespoons warm water (120 F)
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch process)
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1-3 tablespoons olive oil

For the topping:
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar ("sugar in the raw")

Directions
Whisk together the warm water, 1 tablespoons sugar, and yeast in the bottom of your mixer and let sit 5 minutes or until foamy.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, milk, and cocoa powder and whisk until the butter is melted and the cocoa is fully incorporated. Remove from heat and let cool slightly until you can comfortable dip a finger into it and keep it for about 10 seconds.

Add the cooled butter and milk mixture to the yeast, along with the 1/3 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Mix until the dough comes together, then switch in the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth, soft, and elastic, but not sticky. If the dough is too dry, pour in a little olive oil. If it's too wet, add a bit more flour.

Once the dough is ready, remove from the mixer, shape into a ball, and put in a greased bowl, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Once the dough rises, turn it over onto a flour-dusted counter and roll out into a square about 1" thick. Cut into 16 pieces.

Spray a 9" square baking pan with baking spray and roll each piece of dough into a ball, arranging it in the baking pan (the sides will touch; that's good!). Let rise again about 40 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush risen dough balls with remaining melted butter and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake about 25 minutes, or until puffed and golden on top. Let cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before serving warm  or room temperature.



Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup

I know that for many people, tomato soup--perhaps paired with a grilled cheese sandwich--equals the ultimate comfort food.  I've love the idea of a comforting bowl of tomato soup, but for some reason I've always been disappointed with the reality.

When I lived in DC, I had a favorite cafe in Georgetown that I used to go to fairly regularly. Called La Madeleine, wasn't particularly fancy, and was actually part of a chain of shops located throughout the South. But I loved it still as it was a cozy sort of place to stop in for a reliably good lunch and a bit of rest after a day of shopping. The cafe is designed so that you enter on one side and slowly walk down a line ordering the various components of your meal--sandwiches on crusty baguettes, salads topped with little rounds of warm goat cheese, an array of glorious pastries, fresh berry lemonades or iced tea,  and steaming bowls of soup.

La Madeleine is known for their tomato basil soup. So much so that they sell jars of it for tourists and regulars to take home with them. My dad is a very big fan of the soup, and we'd usually make a point to stop in and pick up a jar or two of it whenever my parents came down for a visit. I remember trying it once or twice, trying to figure out why it was so popular, but I always felt that it just tasted like sauce.

As in marinara sauce. As in, I wanted to pour it over a pile of pasta, not eat it with a spoon.

I tried again a few times--grabbing spoons from other people's tomato soup at restaurants or a little taste when offered at the take-out lunch counter, always finding that it tasted much too sauce-y to be enjoyed on its own.

I was convinced that tomato soup was just not for me.

But then  the other day I got a craving. It was freezing out and I suddenly wanted tomato soup very badly.

So I decided to make it. I opened up a couple cans of tomatoes and roasted them in the oven along with an onion--just until they were a bit sweeter and then entire apartment smelled a bit like a pizza parlor (in the most delicious way possible).

Then I added this to the pot with some olive oil, red chile flakes, and chicken broth. I pureed it and let it simmer and at the very end, I stirred in some grated parmesan and finely minced basil.

The results? AMAZING. Spicy, creamy and yet, not at all sauce-y.

I've already made about 4 batches of it since then. I guess I AM a tomato soup kind of girl.


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading!



Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup

Ingredients
3 28oz cans whole plum tomatoes in sauce
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and quartered
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
4 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons red chile flakes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 cups chicken broth (use vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
1/4 cup finely minced basil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese


DirectionsPreheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drain tomatoes into a bowl, reserving the sauce on the side. Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet and top with chopped onion. Drizzle with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. Roast in oven for about 25 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add the smashed garlic and let cook until fragrant--about 1 minute. Add the roasted tomatoes and onions, and stir to coat with the garlic oil. Add the reserved tomato sauce along with the red chile flakes, oregano, and 4 cups chicken broth. Let simmer for 30 minutes, and then use your immersion blender to puree until smooth (or puree in a regular blender in batches, being careful to not add too much at a time as the heat and steam will make the top burst off).

Let simmer an additional 15 minutes and then stir in basil and cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired, and serve. 



Almond Raspberry Shortbread Cake

There are few things that make me happier than almond-flavored desserts. It's basically my kryptonite. (As evidenced by years and years of almond recipes on this site.)

Add tart raspberries to the mix and I'm yours. Tie me up with a ribbon.

What I love about this Almond Raspberry Shortbread Cake is that it's not really a cake at all. It's kind of a tart. Actually, it's more like a giant stuffed cookie.

A giant almond shortbread cookie stuffed with tart raspberry jam and topped off with crunchy sugar crystals and slivers of almond.

It's the stuff that (my) dreams are made of!!!

This is a wonderful dessert to make for the holidays because it is:
  1. Gorgeous--sparkly from the sugar, plus the lovely deep red from the raspberries. It's basically a party dress!
  2. Easy--no fussy crusts to deal with (you just press this right into the pan) and the filling comes from a jar (choose a good one!), and...
  3. The kind of dessert that can be made a few days in advance and will still taste and look just as wonderful!
You can also have a lot of fun with it--substitute an orange marmalade and add some zest to the crust for a citrus version!

Or Nutella and crushed hazelnuts on top for a chocolatey twist!

Or you could go tropical with a guava paste filling! (Note to self: must try that ASAP!)

Once you get the crust down, it's really up to you what you want to do with the inside.

Oooh...this would also be lovely as tiny individual tarts!

OK now...off you go! Play! Get creative! That's what cooking is all about.



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Almond Raspberry Shortbread Cake
Inspired by Dorie Greenspan's Cranberry Shortbread Cake from the book Baking from My Home to Yours

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk + large egg white, divided
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
2 cups seedless raspberry jam
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt. Set aside.
In the base of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy--about 5 minutes. Add one large egg plus one large egg yolk (save the white) and continue to beat for 2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and lemon zest and beat in well. Slowly add in the flour mixture, and let mix in until combined and all the ingredients come together.

Turn the dough out onto a board and knead until smooth. Divide the dough in half. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile press the other half of it into your prepared springform pan, pressing so that it comes up the sides about one inch and covers everything evenly.

Whisk the jam and the lemon juice together, and then pour the jam into the indentation made by the dough and spread evenly. Pull the other half of the dough out of the fridge and place between parchment paper. Use a floured rolling pin to roll it into a circle and gently lay it over the jam so that it reaches the edges of the pan and covers the jam completely. Press the edges down to seal them. Brush the top of the crust with the reserved egg white and sprinkle with almonds and turbinado sugar.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes then gently remove the sides and let cool completely. 

Cinnamon Dulce de Leche & Poached Pear Chopped Bread

One of the things I didn't mention last week when I told you about the Pie Party and my Braised Pork Mofongo Tart, is that I initially meant to make two pies to bring to the party--my savory pie, and a second sweet banoffee pie with dulce de leche, bananas, and whipped cream. I made the dulce de leche the night before, but ended up running out of time and never finished the pie.

So you know what that means...

Extra dulce de leche!

I decided I wanted to use the caramel in some kind of bread. I was thinking a monkey bread, but while browsing around on Tastespotting I came across a gorgeous photo of a Caramel Apple Chopped Bread by the blogger Seasons & Suppers.

The photo pulled me in, but I was particularly intrigued by the method of "chopping" the dough after stuffing it--basically attacking it with a knife and hacking it into multiple small chunks that are then tossed into the loaf pan and allowed to bake into themselves.

So exciting and a little bit crazy! Totally my kind of cooking...

Especially when the result is a gorgeous loaf with a craggy top, just perfect for slicing or (my favorite) pulling apart in warm, delicious nuggets.

I was sold! I had to try the bread right away and decided to give it a shot with my dulce de leche and poached pears. I changed the recipe around a bit, too, using warm milk to bloom my yeast and adding sugar and cinnamon to make the bread itself a bit sweet.

The PERFECT breakfast bread recipe!

I took photos of the process to give you a better idea of how it goes.

You start off pretty normally by letting the dough rise. While the dough is rising, take the time to poach your pears and make your dulce de leche (or just use your favorite storebought caramel sauce--I LOVE this goat's milk caramel from Fat Toad Farm).

You can then roll out the dough and top it with the dulce de leche and diced poached pears. (It helps to warm it up the dulce de leche a bit for easier drizzling.)

And fold the dough over once.

Then twice.

Then again into a chubby little package.

And now you CHOP!!! This part gets a little messy.

A LOT messy.

Now toss all those lovely chunks of dough and caramel and pears into your parchment-lined loaf pans. Only fill them about 2/3 of the way full so the bread has room to rise.

You can make two large loaves or four mini ones. I made one large loaf and two mini ones. (We ate the mini ones almost immediately after they came out of the oven.) Let the dough rise until it reaches the top, then brush with an egg wash and bake about 45 minutes.

Let it cool in the pan a bit before pulling it out.

This is best served just a little bit warm, but it's also lovely sliced and just a little bit toasted. (I recommend salted butter.) I love how the poached pears become all soft and jammy, and the dulce de leche adds little bits of toffee-like sweetness throughout.

I'm going to be making this again very VERY soon. (I think I'll be using chocolate next time...)



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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading!


Cinnamon Dulce de Leche & Poached Pear Chopped Bread Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Seasons & Suppers

Ingredients

For the dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 cup warm milk (120° F)
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 rounded tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the filling
3-4 ripe pears, diced (about two cups)
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split
juice and zest from 1 large lemon
1 1/2 cups dulce de leche (click here for a homemade recipe or use your favorite store-bought brand)

1 egg
2 tablespoons water

2 9x5" loaf pans (or 4 mini loaf pans)
Parchment paper

Directions
Make the dough: Whisk together the yeast, milk, and sugar in the base of your electric mixer and let sit 5 minutes. Add the flour, cinnamon, melted butter, and salt and combine with the dough hook. Let knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and not sticky. If the dough is too dry, add another splash or two of milk. If it is too wet, sprinkle in a little bit more flour. Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.

While the dough rises, combine the pears, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, and lemon juice and zest in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat let simmer 20 minutes, or until the pears are tender. Turn off heat and let pears cool in the poaching liquid.

Once the dough completes its first rise, dust flour on the counter and turn out the dough. Roll into a large rectangle, about 1/2" thick. Spread the dulce de leche (warm it slightly for easier spreading) over the surface of the dough. Remove the pears from the poaching liquid (Save the liquid! It's fantastic for cocktails!) and sprinkle over the dulce de leche.

Fold the bottom half of the dough towards the center, then fold the top over the bottom two folds so that it forms one long rectangle. Fold in thirds again from left to right.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease the baking pans and line each with a piece of parchment paper that overhangs on the sides (so that you can pull the bread out easily once it's baked).

Use a pastry cutter or a large chef's knife to chop the folded dough haphazardly into chunks (yes, this part will be messy!). Scoop the chunks of dough and pear into the prepared loaf pans, filling them each up to 2/3 of the way. Scrape up any remaining sauce and pears and pour them into the pans. Cover each pan lightly with plastic wrap and let rise 30 to 40 minutes, or until the dough rises above the top of the pan. Whisk together the egg and water and brush each loaf then place in the oven to bake for 45 minutes. Check the bread at 25 minutes and loosely tent each loaf with a piece of foil to prevent burning on the top edges.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then gently pull out using the parchment paper, and let cool completely. If desired, serve drizzled with a bit more warm dulce de leche.

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