Apples to a Rose

Hello October. Some of you have dreams of pumpkin spice anything dancing through your heads. I don’t. For me, October is all about apples. Crisp, tart apples with cheese, apples plucked straight from an orchard, apple pie, peanut butter and apples, baked apples filled with toasted pecans, hot apple-cranberry cider…I’m the Bubba Gump of apples.

Apples

Granny Smith and Macintosh Apples | Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

Today, let’s discuss an apple tart—a gorgeous rose-shaped tart, courtesy of my friend Cash Colburn. We traded recipes one Sunday brunch; she taught me how to make the tart and I showed her how to dutch baby (recipe coming next week).  This tart is great for dessert too, a snack or whenever you have a hankering for warm cinnamon-flecked apples.

Apple Rose-shaped Tart | Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

Many thanks to Cash, aka the Queen of Tarts, for showing me how to turn apples into a rose and sharing the following recipe.

Apples to a Rose 

Notes: While this looks incredibly complex and impossible, it’s mostly time consuming. Because this recipe is a bit more challenging (really just with the arranging), I’d like to share some things to keep in mind:

  1. A mandolin is a must. It’ll make the whole process go much quicker and you really need to have apple slices that aren’t too thick. I picked one up from Target for under $20.
  2. We used a springform pan so the tart could be removed and plated. If you love tart pans and can’t imagine this without one, go for it!Rose_Tart Apples_Buttressed
  3. When arranging the slices along the edge, the second layer of apple slices should be arranged in between the layer of slices. (Not sure what this means? Neither was I! For a visual, see the image to the right.) This creates the illusion of a rose. It’s fairly easy and actually kinda fun once you get started.
  4. If you are taking this to an event and want to bake it there, freeze it for about an hour first. This will keep it from warming up and getting misshapen in transit. I’ve kept mine in the freezer overnight with no problems, but an hour would suffice.

We used Macintosh apples with a layer of Granny Smith just for color. Macintosh is my favorite apple to bake with, but any type with a nice firm texture will do. [Bipartisan Baking Note: Try mixing Matsu with Pink Lady or Honeycrisp.)

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 1 lemon
  • 7-8 apples (about 1 1/2 pounds ), cored and quartered
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, freshly ground is worth the extra step
  • Pinch salt

Crust: Puff pastry, usually found in the freezer section, thawed

Glaze:

Two options:

  • Bourbon, straight up.
  • Bourbon Glaze:
    • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cubed
    • 2 tablespoons bourbon
    • 1 tablespoon water

Special Equipment:

  • 9-inch springform pan
  • Mandolin

Instructions

  1. Squeeze the lemon into a medium bowl. Using a mandolin (set on the second setting), slice each quartered apple into 1/8-inch slivers. As the apples are sliced, transfer them to the bowl and toss them with lemon juice; this will prevent them from browning. (Reserve one half of an apple for the tart’s center – we’re going to slice that later). To the bowl, add the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Carefully toss until evenly coated, the slices can break in half while tossing and that’s just a pain to work with.
    Apple Slices

    Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

    Apple Slices Tossed with Cinnamon | Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

  2. Lay your puff pastry into the springform or tart pan, making sure to press in any seams that have cracked. Leave the excess to be trimmed later. Arrange the apple slices side-by-side, starting closest to the edge of the tart shell. For the second layer, arrange the slices, overlapping them in concentric circles. (Different words, but same concept that was described in the headnote. Visual learner? See the photo above .) As you get to the center, you’ll need apple slivers that are very thin. Slice the reserved quarter of an apple very thinly (on the mandolin’s first setting) and arrange it until the gap in the center is completely closed. I’ve found this is easier to do by laying these slices on a cutting board, overlapping them very tightly, then rolling it up like a fruit roll up and popping it right into the middle. Trim the excess crust.
  3. If needed, transfer the pie to the freezer and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the edges of the crust with butter or bourbon and place the unbaked tart in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, checking it at the 20 minute mark to make sure all is ok, until the apples are lightly golden brown and the edges of the crust are browned. Allow to come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
    AppleRoseTart_CloseUp

    Close-up of the Tart’s Center | Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

    (If you’re so inclinced to make the bourbon glaze, keep reading. If not, let the tart cool to room temperature and grab a fork. It’s apple-eating time.)

  5. Meanwhile, let’s make the bourbon glaze. In a heavy-bottomed medium pan, placed over moderately high heat, pour in the sugar. Using a silicon spatula, begin to stir until the sugar melts completely and turns a lightly golden brown. Cook for an additional 30 seconds or so, until the sugar turns a golden brown color. Immediately take the pan off the heat and stir in the butter. Once the butter has melted, pour in the bourbon and water. The mixture will bubble up, not to worry – this is normal, just keep stirring until smooth. If the mixture seizes, place the mixture over very low heat and keep stirring until it becomes smooth. The mixture should be thin.
  6. Brush the apples liberally with the warm glaze. You may have a tablespoon or two of extra glaze. I have been known to bake up the puff pastry slivers and brush them with the excess glaze to enjoy with a cup of coffee…

Slice of Apple Tart | Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

Tomato Basil Soup

Note: I’m on vacation and lack my trusty Kitchen-Aid, which plays a key role in all my recipes. So bakers, my friend Alex is your guest blogger this week. She’s a fan of cooking, which means this post deviates from my usual baked goods. Grab a slice of freshly baked bread (or grilled cheese sandwich) and get ready to dunk it into this soup.

Tomatoes | Photo credit: Melanie Cohen

Photo credit: Melanie Cohen

Guest Blogger: Alex Palombo

Growing up, my wardrobe choices never really had a sense of what season it was. I froze through communion because I refused to wear stockings to church. I wore sheer button downs in December. I wore open-toed heels in the snow and still do).

My taste in food, like my taste in clothes, knows no season. So as I sat in my kitchen sweating in in my sundress, I had a craving for traditional “winter food,” tomato basil soup. I had my reasons:

  1. It makes a ton of leftovers for lunches and dinners.
  2. It pairs well with sandwiches, which are my comfort food.
  3. It gets vegetables in my diet – this recipe is actually pretty healthy.
  4. It is stupid easy to make.
Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato Basil Soup | Photo credit: Alex Palombo

Tomato Basil Soup

(Adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen)

Alex’s Note: I highly suggest serving this with a grilled cheese sandwich or with some crusty bread. Since this recipe makes an entire Crock Pot worth of soup, you will have the rest of the vat to refrigerate or freeze for some for another time. The leftovers alone will probably last you until the winter – when, if you are anything like me, you will probably want summer food.

For this recipe, you will need

  • Carrots – I suggest regular-sized carrots rather than baby carrots. Use at least three, but if you want some extra vegetable points, throw in a few extra for bulk.
  • Onion – Just one is needed. I used a Vidalia for a sweeter taste, but white or yellow are fine too.
  • Garlic – At least four cloves. If you’re eating alone and have no romantic plans for the night, go for an extra clove or two.
  • Red pepper flakes – Adjust to your spice tolerance.
  • Broth – I used chicken, but vegetable broth tastes great if you don’t eat meat.
  • Basil – A good handful for cooking, some extra for garnish and for your friends to munch on later.
  • Tomatoes – if you’re buying canned like I did, get three 28-ounce cans of the whole, peeled tomatoes. If you’re buying fresh, you will need a whole bunch because they are the whole point of the soup.
  • Parmesan cheese – You can buy a block of cheese or the powdered/shredded kind—both work.
  • Salt and pepper

You will also need this equipment:

  • Crock Pot or slow cooker – not required, but recommended.
  • Blender of some sort – I used an immersion blender, but a standing one is also fine.
  • Knives and vegetable peelers
  • Can opener

Before You Start

  • Give the onion a rough dice.
  • Destroy your carrots in whatever fashion you prefer.
  • Peel and mince your garlic. If you don’t have a mincer, chop it into small pieces. You can also use a cheese grater, but watch your fingers and use the finer side.
  • Grate your parmesan.
  • Rip up your basil leaves.
  • If you’re using fresh tomatoes, make sure to peel them, but keep them whole.
  • If you like your soup chunky, save some chopped tomato bits for the end of the recipe for texture. I had an extra can of already diced tomatoes lying around, so I used that.

To make the soup

    1. Put the chopped/shredded/mangled carrots, chopped onion, minced garlic, broth of choice, ripped up basil leaves and tomatoes into the Crock Pot or slow cooker on the LOW setting. If you are making this on the stove top, warm some olive oil over medium-high heat in a big soup pot first before adding the ingredients.
    2. Shake in some salt and pepper, then shake in a good jigger of red pepper flakes. Stir it up a little bit so all the vegetables can bask in the spices.
    3.  If you’re using a Crock Pot or slow cooker, leave your kitchen and do something else for five or six hours. No, really. Hang out with friends. Sit out and enjoy this tomato soup-inappropriate weather we’re having in Washington, D.C. The veggies need some time to get acquainted with each other. If you are making this on the stove top, you’ll need to stick around for two hours to make sure everything is going smoothly. Bring the soup to a boil and then simmer it for two hours. Sir occasionally to make sure nothing burned to the bottom of the pot.
    4. If you are using a Crock Pot, come back to your soup, turn the switch to “OFF” and apologize for ditching it for five to six hours. If you are making this on the stove top, you can skip this step and pat yourself on the back for not abandoning your dinner.
    5. Blend your soup. If you have an immersion blender, blend your soup right in the pot until smooth. Do this carefully, because the soup will be VERY HOT and burns are the worst. If you have a standing blender, work in batches.
    6. If you prefer chunky soup, this is where you would add the diced tomato bits that you saved. Stir them into the rest of the soup so they warm up.
    7. Stir in some of the parmesan to the whole pot. If you shredded it, put a hearty scatter over the top of the pot and mix it in to taste. If you used the powdered/grated cheese, dump some in to taste.
    8. Rip up a few more basil leaves and garnish the soup.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies+Pink Sea Salt

Often, my recipes are inspired by friends. They like to eat, and I like to bake–it’s wins all around.

Last week, my friend Sheila made a cookie request–actually, a cookie challenge. (One thing you’ll learn about me is that I always accept baking challenges. This is why at 6 a.m., I’ll end up with one eyebrow streaked with buttercream, flour dusted across my cheeks–aka baker’s blush–and 125 cupcakes to frost with my friend’s wedding a few hours away.  But I digress.  Back to the cookies.)

Sheila’s exact order was: “Do you have like an idiot-proof recipe for some cookies that even someone like myself can pull off? Something peanut buttery, maybe?”

I know she loves peanut butter cookies, so this ingredient was not a maybe. It was a requirement.

There’s a lot of simple peanut butter cookie recipes out there. But whenever I make them, it’s like Goldilocks and porridge–hard to find the right one. Too dry. Too grainy. Too sweet. This doesn’t even taste like peanut butter. But after three tests, I found the “this is just right” version.

Creamed Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter Cooki with Sea Salt

Here’s how I fixed the too-dry, too-grainy and too-sweet cookie dilemma. Solving the dry and grainy problem was simple: Use all light brown sugar instead of white. Light brown sugar added moisture to the dough, and it’s smoother than granulated white sugar. I fixed the too-sweet problems by increasing the amount of peanut butter. Most of the flourless (yes, this recipe is naturally gluten-free) peanut butter cookie recipes have a one-to-one ratio of peanut butter to sugar. Increasing the peanut butter by a quarter cup while keeping the amount of sugar at one cup provided the proper PB flavor and kept them from being too sweet.

Sheila and all the other peanut butter cookie fans, this recipe is for you. Enjoy.

Peanut Butter Choc Chip Cookies with Himalayan  Pink Sea Salt

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies + Himalayan Pink Sea Salt | Photo credit: Melanie Cohen

Simple Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk Cookies + Pink Sea Salt

I did get a little fancy and sprinkle the cookies with Himalayan pink sea salt. Don’t have it? No worries; use whatever coarse sea salt you have. Or if you’re not a fan of the salty and sweet combo, leave the sea salt out. You can also leave out the chocolate chips and have a delicious, pure peanut butter cookie.

Makes 36 cookies (Or 35 if you’re like me and consume one cookie’s worth of raw dough. Sampling batter is a must.)

  • 1 ¼ cups creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy Natural. I haven’t tried this with natural peanut butter, yet. I’ll do that soon and let you all know how it works out.)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 5 ounces bittersweet, dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (optional)
  • Himalayan pink sea salt, for sprinkling  (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, add the peanut butter and baking soda. Beat on medium-high speed until it looks a bit fluffy; about one minute if you’re using a stand mixer and about two minutes if you’re using a hand mixer. Stop when the color of the peanut butter is a light tan.
  3. Add the sugar, egg and the vanilla and almond extracts to the peanut butter mixture. Beat on medium speed until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture smooths and is no longer gritty. Stop to scrape down the bowl as necessary.
  4. Using a rubber spatula or large wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chunks.
  5. Using a one tablespoon cookie scoop, form the cookies into balls and drop them onto a Silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet. Place the cookies about 1.5 inches apart.
  6. Using your hand or the bottom of a glass (a shot glass is the best size), flatten the dough balls and, with the tines of a fork, make a cross pattern on the cookies.
  7. Sprinkle the raw cookies with Himalayan pink sea salt. (I had to do this by hand. Grinding the salt directly over the cookies made them too salty, according to my taste-testers. I trust them.)
  8. Bake the cookies for six to seven minutes or until edges are a light brown and tops are barely set. It’s OK  if the centers appear slightly underbaked. (The cookies firm up as they cool. Bake them too long and you’ll get a peanut butter cookie that crumbles after the first bite. Plus, it won’t taste a good. )
  9. Let the cookies hang out on the baking tray for 30 seconds to one minute. Then, transfer them to a rack to finish cooling. This will take about five to seven minutes.
  10. Cookies will keep airtight at room temperature for up to five days, or in the freezer for up to four months.
  11. Alternatively, unbaked cookie dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. To  freeze the dough, form the cookies into balls, place them on a cookie tray(don’t let them touch) and let them harden in the freezer, about an hour.  The dough will keep in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to four months.

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Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop Cookies

The idea for this blog came to me on my way to the January 2013 presidential inauguration. The day was cold—not just D.C. anything less than 50 degrees requires a parka cold, but actual 20-degree weather winter cold. While shiver-walking to the Capitol, I found $20 on the sidewalk. Not knowing how to locate the owner, I made a deal with myself: The money would go toward something other than my bank account. A website to share all my baking tales and recipes? YUP.

I bought this domain, tested out the Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop cookie and proudly told everyone my blog was under construction. An “it’ll be ready in one month” blog turned into a 1 1/2-year construction project. (I’m an excellent procrastinator.)

Why this cookie? I wanted to connect it to the inauguration. President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, so a cookie with tropical elements—coconut and pineapple—sounded appropriately delicious.

This oatmeal cookie is crisp on the outside with a chunky but soft inside, thanks to the pillows of melted chocolate. And I don’t use the world chunky lightly; look what’s jammed into these!

July9HawaiianOatmealDrop

ALL the things will fit into the batter and you’ll end up with this cookie. It’s perfect for picnics or for dunking in a cold glass of milk. Because let’s be honest, you are never too old to dunk.

Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop Cookie

Hawaiian Oatmeal Drops; Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

(If you’re interested in baking, give a few friends the title of “taste tester.” You’ll benefit from having a variety of people providing recipe feedback. Shoutout to my test-tasting crew—your tastebuds help make this blog possible.)

Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop Cookies

Makes 60ish cookies. Recipe can be halved.

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups oats, old fashioned (not quick cooking)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 8 tablespoons, one stick, unsalted butter; melted and cooled
  • 2 large egg
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chop three to four ounces of chocolate into chunks (I prefer chunks because, unlike chips, they melt in a way that gives cookies craters of gooey chocolate.)
  • 1 cup whole toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup diced unsweetened or low sugar dried pineapple, about 4 ounces

Directions:

1) Melt butter and set aside to cool.

2) Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a Silpat liner.

3) Whisk the flour, oats, baking soda, nutmeg and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

4) Mix the chocolate chips or chunks, pecans, unsweetened coconut and dried pineapple in a medium bowl; set aside. It will look like a lot, but this is okay. Trust me—it all fits into the batter.

5) In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter, egg and vanilla together for 30 seconds. If you’re using a stand mixer, mix for 15 seconds on medium.

6) Stir in the brown sugar until smooth, smearing any clumps against the side of the bowl. If you’re using a stand mixer, mix for 15 seconds on medium. Wait one minute, then stir or mix again for 30 seconds. Repeat this one more time. You’ll do the mix/rest combo a total of three times.

7) Add the flour, oat and nutmeg mixture in thirds. Make sure each third is fully incorporated into wet ingredients before adding more flour.

8) Add half of the chocolate and nut mixture into the dough. Stir until it’s well incorporated. Add the remaining half of the chocolate and nut mixture, and stir until it’s evenly distributed.

9) Using level tablespoon of dough each time, roll dough into balls and place on cookie sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart. You can also use a cookie scoop. Seriously, if you like to make cookies, buy one. I purchased the small scoop from Pampered Chef.

10) I like to freeze my cookie balls before baking them. If I make them at room temperature, they always spread too much during baking. (I also live an apartment that’s a minimum of 70 degrees with no heat on in the middle of January). So this step is optional. I suggest baking one batch at room temperature and baking another batch frozen to see which you prefer.

11) Bake one tray at a time until edges are golden and centers are just set, eight minutes or nine to 10 if using frozen dough. Do not overbake.

12) Cool the cookies on baking sheets for one to two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack or serve warm. If you eat them warm, your mouth will be greeted a crunchy outside and warm melted craters of chocolate on the inside.