November 20, 2019

Pumpkin Caramel Tart

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving staple, but there are so many ways to dress it up it doesn't make sense to have a plain pumpkin pie on the table anymore. Whether it's a swirl of cheesecake or baking it in blondie form, pumpkin pie deserves a little love and a lot more creativity. I'm more of a crust girl than a filling fan myself, so any way to up that ratio automatically gains a few points in my book. Add a caramel base for some more complex sweet notes and you've got quite the showstopper, especially with a big scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of the leftover caramel. This tart will have you abandoning your basic-as-pumpkin-spice pumpkin pie recipe this season, if it even is pumpkin at all.

You can usually get away with buying the pie crust at Thanksgiving since there are so many other things that must be homemade and it's so easy to flake out on it. Too bad store-bought crust isn't actually flaky (sorry for the terrible puns... I'm on a post-Halloween candy sugar high). Fortunately, it's super easy to make your own pie dough, and you can even make it a few days in advance so you can focus on all your other Thanksgiving recipes. I've written plenty of recipes with advice on pie crusts, so I'll keep it brief: keep everything (especially the butter) as cold as possible and work the dough as little as possible. Since this is a tart, you'll probably have to roll the dough a bit thinner than you would a pie so it covers the whole pan, but you can just cut the ends flush with the edges: no fancy crimping required. You'll also need to blind bake the crust since the thinner layer of pumpkin filling requires less time in the oven. Don't worry; this just entails covering the dough with foil, weighing it down with dry beans or pie weights, and par-baking it so it starts the cooking process without puffing up in the middle.

Normally, pumpkin pie filling is just a combination of pumpkin puree, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and spices. This recipe is kinda similar but also kinda not, since a homemade caramel sauce takes the place of the sweetened condensed milk, plus I throw in a spoonful of flour to help it set during baking. Since it's pretty much just whisking a bunch of liquidy ingredients together, you don't even need a stand mixer. While you're on a mixing kick, go ahead and make your own pumpkin spice blend. There's no need to buy an overpriced bottle of the stuff if you already have classic fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. If you don't have those ingredients already, you should go ahead and buy them instead of pumpkin spice.

The caramel sauce is probably the hardest part of this recipe, but it's as easy as caramel gets. It starts by heating sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, and a splash of water together. The corn syrup and cream of tartar prevent the caramel from crystallizing and turning gritty later on, so don't be scared off by the stereotypes. Those ingredients all cook together until the caramel gets as dark as you like. I aim for a dark amber, but it can go over in a snap so make sure to keep an eye on it. The trick is to watch and don't touch, since stirring promotes crystallization and will give you a grainy caramel. Once the caramel reaches the proper color, whisk in some cream to turn it into a smooth, creamy sauce instead of a hard candy.

To make it all come together, blend the cooled caramel with the pumpkin, an extra spoonful of brown sugar, a bit of flour, eggs, vanilla, and your homemade pumpkin spice blend. The crust is already partially cooked, so you really just have to bake it until the filling is just set and barely wobbly. Once it's cool enough to dig in, serve it a la mode with a bit of extra caramel sauce for your family's new favorite part of Thanksgiving.

1 Recipe Pie Crust (See Below)
1 Cup Sugar
2 T Brown Sugar
2 T Corn Syrup
Pinch Cream of Tartar
1 Cup Cream
1 Cup Pumpkin
1 T Flour
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla
3 Eggs

Roll the pie dough out to fit a 10" tart pan. Cover with foil and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Blind bake the crust for 20 minutes at 375F. Set aside to cool and leave oven at 350F.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, and 2T water in a medium pot, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until deep amber, swirling occasionally but not stirring, about 8-10 minutes. Immediately remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream. Set aside to cool.

Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, flour, spices, salt, vanilla, and the caramel sauce. Whisk in the eggs one at a time.

Pour the filling into the par-baked crust and bake until just set, about 30 minutes.

For the crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Makes 1 Tart
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

October 30, 2019

Halloween Thumbprint Cookies

I know Halloween is the one time a year when most people are drowning in candy. Working at a candy company is like that year-round, which is why I'm so excited to finally share a recipe to help use it all up. There's only so much you can eat straight from the wrapper (or sneak from your kids' baskets), so recipes that upcycle candy and can be shared with even more people are so useful, especially this time of year. Pretty much everyone has had a Hershey Kiss cookie, but why not extend that to all chocolatey treats? I'm not just saying that because I work for Mars... there's just something magical about buttery cookies topped with oozy melting caramel and salty peanuts from a Snickers bar or gooey nougat in a Milky Way. Whatever your favorite candy is, I'm sure it will be even better on top of a warm, delicious cookie. That is assuming your favorite candy is something puckeringly sour or gum or something, in which case I'm not sure we can be friends since chocolate is clearly superior.

I clearly love thumbprint cookies since they translate so well to any occasion, even for passover. There's a little more leeway with recipes when you can actually eat gluten, but I still go for a basic buttery sugar cookie dough here to let the candies stand out. It's a pretty stiff dough with not as much sugar as you'd expect, which allows the thumbprints to maintain their shape and not be sickeningly sweet when topped with lots of candy. I do use a mix of regular white sugar and light brown sugar for just a hint of molasses-y flavor that makes chocolate chip cookies so good. The trick is to roll the balls and make the indents before chilling the dough, so they're easy to pop in the oven and don't spread too much. You may still need to re-indent the cookies after baking, but these should keep their shape better than most other doughs.

The hardest part of this recipe is deciding when to add the candy on top. In many thumbprint cookie recipes, you can add the filling before baking, since jams tend to hold up pretty well. However, candy would melt past the point of recognition and ooze everywhere. It's a delicate balance between waiting until the cookies are cool enough to avoid melting the candy too much but are still warm enough to let the chocolate melt a bit and stick to the cookie. I find that letting the cookies cool for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet and another 2-3 minutes on a wire rack leaves them just warm enough for the candy toppings.

Now for the candy itself. The original purpose of this recipe is to use up whatever Halloween candy you have lying around, so really any chocolate candy will do. I'd avoid very sour things as well as very chewy things (you wouldn't swallow gum plain, so why would you swallow it with a cookie?), but if you really like fruity flavors with your sugar cookies it could be worth a shot. I'll also advise against using M&Ms since the candy coating prevents the chocolate from melting and adhering to the cookie. Some of my favorites to use were all sorts of Snickers bars, Milky Way, Twix (gotta have that double cookie action), and, of course, Dove Promises, especially the filled ones. Hershey Kisses and Reeses would also be great, but I'm not looking to be a traitor if I bring these to my office. I always have candy filling up my entire apartment since it's basically part of my job description, but use whatever you have or whatever you can snatch up in the Great Annual November 1 Candy Sale, one of my favorite days of the year.

2 Sticks Butter, Softened
⅓ Cup Sugar
⅓ Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Cups + 2 T Flour
1 T Cornstarch
½ tsp Salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together on medium speed for 2 minutes or until fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until combined. Whisk the flour, cornstarch, and salt, then stir into the dough.

Scoop the dough into 1T balls. Roll firmly, then press an indent into the center of each cookie. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 375F and line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Transfer the dough to the prepared sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until just golden around the edges. Press the centers down as necessary. When cooled slightly but still warm, press the candy into the center of each cookie. Set aside to cool completely.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Sugar Spun Run

October 11, 2019

Sweet Potato Lentil Chili

I'm about to turn on the heat in my apartment, and I'm thinking of doing my big seasonal clothing swap in my closet this weekend. It may not be as bad as Denver's 60 degree drop in 24 hours, but October finally hit and it's definitely chilly outside. That means I'm ready for cozy soups and hearty chilis, and I will eat them bundled up in my cute sweaters and fuzzy blankets with my cat as sunset creeps earlier and earlier.

Matzo Ball Soup is my go to and Southwest Chicken Chili is a family favorite, but I'm always looking for more recipes to add to my files. This chili is plenty filling and warms you right up, plus it's accidentally vegan, not that anyone would know unless they asked. Yes, this is one of those unicorn recipes that tastes delicious, suits all sorts of dietary restrictions, and is ready in under an hour. I'll wait while you grab your grocery list.

A lot of times I have multiple steps in my soup recipes to sear of the meat and saute the veggies just so to build the proper layers of flavor. This recipe is basically an exception, since you only saute off one batch of veggies (specifically the onions) then add everything else right in. You don't even have to cook the onions first if you're pressed for time. If you do want to do the onions separately and maybe add a little more flavor with another step, you can cook off some bacon or ham at the very beginning, plus it makes a great snack if you can't wait for the chili to finish.

The onions, garlic, and jalapeno are cooked first until fragrant. Another way to jazz it up (besides the bacon or ham, of course) is to add some bell peppers here too. After that, you add in the tomato paste and all the spices. There's nothing crazy, just some chili powder, paprika, cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder. You should already have them all in your pantry, and if not I highly recommend buying them since you'll use them in plenty of other recipes too.

As with pretty much all my recipes, you can adjust the jalapeno and spice levels to suit your taste or even sub in a spicier pepper if you're feeling bold. I let those spices toast for just a minute until they become fragrant to boost the flavors even more. After that, you just stir in the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, and veggie broth and let it all simmer together until tender. The keys here are to use petite diced tomatoes with green chiles for bite sized tomato pieces with some extra kick and dice the sweet potatoes fairly small so that they're also bite sized and cook quickly and evenly. If you can't find any petite diced tomatoes with green chiles, just use two cans of petite diced tomatoes and a small can of diced green chiles. You can also swap in your favorite bean (or add in a few kinds) and add in any other miscellaneous cans you have rolling around in your pantry that could go well. This recipe is extremely fast and flexible, so go forth and retreat into hibernation this fall.

1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Jalapeno, Minced
2T Tomato Paste
1 T Chili Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Cayenne
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
2 10oz Cans Diced Tomatoes with Green Chiles
1 14.5oz Can Kidney Beans, Drained
2 lbs Sweet Potatoes, Peeled & Diced
1 1/2 Cups Lentils
4 Cups Vegetable Stock

Heat some oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook for 4 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Add the garlic, jalapeƱo, and salt and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and spices and cook for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, beans, sweet potatoes, lentils, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are fork tender and the lentils are al dente.

Serves 6-8
Recipe Adapted from Brewing Happiness