Valentine’s Day

How ya like them apples?

Valentine’s Day. It’s a thing. If you’re not part of a couple, you can either choose to ignore it, wallow in your singlehood, or celebrate not having to feel any obligation to do anything at all about it. If you’re part of a couple, there’s generally a range from, “Oh geez. This again?” to, “Gimme all the romance! All of it! Now!”

The boyfriend and I are somewhere more towards the low energy end of the spectrum, but we usually end up caving and at least getting cards or something. If you’re like us, and you want to acknowledge the day, but would like to keep the Fuss Factor to a minimum, you might enjoy this little treat.

This is what would happen if your typical Rice Crispy treat was us, and decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It takes a little extra effort to dress up, but doesn’t go too far out of its way to make it a whole production. For this version of what is an infamously low maintenance dessert, we’re going to do two things to make it just a little more special– we’re going to brown the butter, and we’re going to make a topping. The brown butter gives it a nutty flavor, and makes it a little crispier. As the boyfriend describes it, “More like a baked good.” The topping, a very simple apple pie type concoction, spices things up just a little, and gives the whole she-bang another layer of flavor.

Equipment
Large sauce pan
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing spoon
9″ x 11″  baking pan
Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
Small bowl
Knife
Cutting board
Saute pan

Ingredients
For the treats:
4 tablespoons butter
10 oz (one package of the large ones) marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal
Pan spray to coat the baking pan

Melt the butter over medium heat in the large sauce pan, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes a golden brown color. The solids in the butter will brown and sink to the bottom. Strain the butter through the strainer or cheesecloth into the small bowl to remove the solids, then add the butter back to the pan along with the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows have melted completely into the butter.

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Then, add the rice cereal and stir to coat. Pour into the baking pan and press to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Set aside.

For the topping:
4-5 small apples (enough to make one cup), peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Melt the butter and the brown sugar together over medium heat until the sugar is melted, stirring constantly. Add the cinnamon and continue to stir until the mixture becomes a loose caramel. It might look a little dry, but don’t worry, once you add the apples it’ll loosen up a little. Add diced apples and stir until the apples are well coated and cooked through.

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Spread the apple topping over the treats and cut into whatever shape you want.

Alternatively, you could spoon the apple topping over each treat individually when you serve them, if you want to be a little more fancy pants about it all.

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From start to finish, this shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to put together. I recommend ordering pizza or Chinese food, opening a bottle of wine, and making these while you wait for the food to arrive, but if you just don’t give a crap, grab a pile of napkins and a fork and go to town. I’m not judging!

Wuv… twue Wuv

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We all know this. When I was single, I was always very determined to ignore it completely. Now that I’m not, well, I’m not ignoring it completely because while I’m not a total mush monster, I do appreciate a well thought out romantic gesture, just not exclusively because Hallmark says so. What was my point? Oh yeah! I think this cake could definitely fall under the category of a not over-the-top but will definitely be appreciated Romantic Gesture. It’s a serious cake for people who really like it rich, but pretty easy to make, and combines three of my favorite things: beer, coffee, and chocolate.

I actually made it at work, for a party, so most of the pictures you’re about to see are what it looks like to make this recipe multiplied by… well, a lot. We needed to make 750 little cakes. The original recipe also includes a chocolate ganache topping, but you can pretty much decorate this cake however you like, and bake it in whatever shape and size you like. I’ll give you the directions as they’re written, because I’d like to imagine one of you making a three layered beauty dripping with chocolate. If you do, send me a picture, yeah?

Equipment:

hand mixer or stand mixer
whisk
large pot or saucepan
medium pot
two large mixing bowls
spatula or mixing spoon
knife and cutting board (if you’re chopping up the chocolate for the ganache)

Ingredients:

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups stout (chocolate stout, milk stout, regular stout– whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup strong black coffee
2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup sour cream

For the ganache:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or just use semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat your oven to 350º. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper, then butter the paper, too.

In the large pot, bring the stout, coffee, and butter to a simmer over medium heat.

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Add the cocoa powder and whisk, whisk, whisk until everything smooths out. Allow the mixture to cool while you work on the rest of the recipe.

Whisk all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt) together in a large bowl. Set aside.

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In your stand mixer or with your hand mixer, beat the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla together until well combined.  With the mixer running, slowly add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture until it’s all incorporated.

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NOTE: Make sure the chocolate is cooled off… it doesn’t have to be cold, by any means, but if it’s too hot, it’ll cook the eggs.

Add the dry ingredients and blend until just combined.

Divide the batter equally between the three baking pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool for at least 10 minutes in their pans, then turn them out onto a rack if you have one and let them finish cooling.

While the cakes are cooling, bring the heavy cream to a simmer in the 2nd pot. Take the pot off the heat, and add the chocolate. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Refrigerate it for awhile until the ganache is spreadable.

You can layer these with however much icing between the layers as you want. If it was me, I’d do a thin layer of icing on each of the first two layers, and then really slather it all over the top layer and around the sides. But, I’m one of those people who can’t resist sticking her finger in the icing on the outside of the cake, so I like to make sure there’s enough for the finger sticking/licking bit without damaging the cake to icing ratio too much.

I found some pink chocolate in our walk-in so I just used that to cover the whole cake and then did a little thing with some sprinkles and icing sugar and melted chocolate. Go crazy, though. This is a very rich, deep chocolate cake so it would pair well with just about anything, from fruit to something creamy like ice cream to, well, more chocolate.

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Happy Baking!

The Apple of My Eye

Him: “So… what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?”

Me: “Umm… I dunno. What do you want to do?”

Him: “We’re nice to each other all the time. Do we have to make a thing of it?”

Me: “Well, I definitely don’t want to go out to dinner with all those other couples being gross and weird.”

Him: “Agreed.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of the boyfriend and I’s conversation about Valentine’s Day. I suspect there will be dinner at home and some binge watching of something on Netflix and if I’m very lucky and ask nice, he’ll make me popcorn. He makes the best popcorn. So, yeah, pretty much what it’s like almost every weekend.

I’ve been trying to come up with some options for a dinner/dessert combo that says, “This day is maybe a little special but not like… a big deal in the grand scheme of things.” Dinner is still a little bit of a mystery, but dessert might be sorted.

It might be this Mini Apple Brulée Tart. I am a broke culinary student without a lot of funds for just playing around, so my experiments typically have to be limited to what I already have on hand. The ingredients in this tart can all be purchased for less than $10 total, assuming you have a few staples like cinnamon, honey (or agave) and sugar on hand.

I have apples. I have one sheet of puff pastry. I have cinnamon and a tiny sample sized jar of jam. I can work with that! I have just enough of everything to make two of these fun little tarts, and BONUS! I get to use the brulee torch I bought myself for Christmas.

Equipment:
baking sheet
fork
parchment paper
knife and cutting board
small bowl
small pot
spoon for stirring
measuring spoons
vegetable peeler
apple corer (if you’ve got it. if not, just cut the cores)
box grater or hand held zester/grater thing
1 sheet of paper towel
Brulée torch

Ingredients:
1 sheet of puff pastry
2 apples (The bag literally just said “Pommes/Apples” on the side, so I’m not sure what kind I used. McIntosh, Braeburns, or Fujis would work.)
2 tablespoons of any sort of jam that you think would taste good with apples
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (maybe)
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 425º.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut two 4 in. x 4 in. squares from your sheet of puff pastry, then cut eight 1/2 in. x 4 in. strips. Use the strips to create a border around the edge of each square. Poke holes with the fork in the center, not on the border, to keep them from puffing up too much.

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Bake them in the preheated oven for 12 minutes. If the centers still look a little too puffed, you can push them down a bit.

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Peel and core both apples.

Grate one apple against the small side of your grater. Basically, this is going to puree the apple. Yes, you could use your food processor or blender for this, but do you really want to pull that whole thing out and have to wash it later for 1/2 a cup of apple puree? I didn’t think so. So, grate the apple until you end up with that 1/2 cup of puree.

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Cut the other half into thin slices. You only need about 8 slices, 4 slices per tart, but I recommend just eating the rest because apples are delicious and good for you. Gently dry the surface of each slice with a paper towel and set aside for a minute.

NOTE: This recipe comes together pretty fast, so your apples probably won’t have time to go all brown on you. If you get interrupted, you will need to sprinkle a little lemon juice over them to keep them from oxidizing while you do whatever it is that you need to do. Just remember to dry them before you put them on the tart.

If you don’t have a Brulée torch, go ahead and set your oven to broil.

Put the puree and the 2 tablespoons of jam into the pot over medium low heat. I used this little jar of Pear and Spice jam from Jam Lab that I got in the mail.

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Once that mixture has started to bubble, add the cinnamon, honey, and vanilla and stir to combine. Simmer the mixture until it’s lost about 1/2 its liquid.

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Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the apple mixture into the center of each tart.

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Shingle four apple slices over the top of each tart.

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Sprinkle the apple slices generously with the granulated sugar. If you have a Brulée torch, this is where you’d turn that puppy on and use it to caramelize the sugar on top. If you don’t, just a minute or so under the broiler should do the job. It’ll happen fast, so keep a close eye on it. (FYI, I’ve also used one of those extended camping lighters to burn sugar. That’s probably some sort of no-no, so I’m not advising you to do it. I’m just saying that if I was worried about the pastry burning under the broiler and I wanted a better way to direct the heat right to the sugar on the apples and I didn’t have a Brulée torch, I might do that.)

And just like that, your tarts are ready. You can keep it simple and just dust them with a little powdered sugar like I did, or you can put a little scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream on the plate with them with a final sprinkle of cinnamon and that’d be really yummy, too.

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Enjoy!