Cinnamon-Apple Stuffed French Toast with Whipped Vanilla Mascarpone & Cinnamon-Pear Balsamic Reduction

Strawberry Rhubarb Stuffed French Toast, meet your newest rival. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth with all these dessert posts lately?

I was asked to do a cooking demo at my beloved former job at Palmetto Olive Oil Company. Working there was a foodie’s dream. I got to help customers find the perfect olive oil or balsamic for whatever recipe they were looking for, snack on delicious bread with artisan olive oils all day, and expand my creativity in the kitchen with recipes like these. You know how I’m always going on about using the highest quality olive oil and balsamic you can find? Palmetto Olive Oil Company is where I go to find this stuff.

One thing you will notice about their balsamic vinegars is that they are aged for 18 years. They are sweet, thick, and luscious. Whenever I make a balsamic reduction with their product, it doesn’t take long at all to reduce and become even thicker and sweeter.


Look at that beautiful mess. So let’s dive into what makes this French toast so special, shall we? It starts with lovely Challah bread, which is pillowy and light and looks like a little cloud awaiting its apple filling. Stuffed inside are granny smith apples that have been cooked down with butter, brown sugar, and just a pinch of salt– so basically, it tastes like the inside of an apple pie. The toast is griddled and finished off with a drizzle of cinnamon-pear infused dark balsamic vinegar, which adds a nice tang and more cinnamon flavor to reinforce the flavors of the toast. Finally, it’s all topped off with a combination of whipped cream and Mascarpone cheese, which gives it a silky, cheesecake-like flare. So basically, you’re looking at french toast meets apple pie meets cheesecake.

I tested this recipe at home before making it for the cooking demo, and in both cases people said “I’ll just take a bite…” and then ended up eating the whole plate. I think it’s safe to say this recipe is absolutely delicious.


Cinnamon-Apple Stuffed French Toast with Whipped Vanilla Mascarpone & Cinnamon-Pear Balsamic Reduction

Serves 8


For the toast:

  • 8 slices Challah or brioche bread, sliced roughly 1.5 inches thick
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Butter, for frying

For the filling: 

  • 4 granny smith apples, peeled and diced
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the whipped vanilla mascarpone: 

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

You will also need 1/3 cup Cinnamon-Pear Dark Balsamic.


  1. Make the filling: In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add in the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the apples have softened and the butter and sugar have combined to form a caramel-like sauce. Set aside.
  2. Make the whipped mascarpone: In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Add in the mascarpone cheese and beat until evenly combined. Set aside.
  3. In a shallow bowl, combine the eggs, half and half, cinnamon, and vanilla.
  4. Using a sharp knife, make a slit in the bottom of each slice of challah. This is the pocket where your filling goes. Stuff each slice with around 2 Tablespoons of filling.
  5. Dunk each slice of stuffed challah in the egg mixture. Make sure that each slice has a nice coating.
  6. Coat a griddle or skillet over medium heat with a few Tablespoons of butter. Fry the challah in batches of 2-3 in the skillet until golden brown.
  7. While the French toast is cooking, reduce the 1/3 cup of balsamic in a small saucepan over medium heat, about 3-5 minutes. It should thicken nicely.
  8. Top each slice of french toast with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a nice dollop of the whipped mascarpone.



Hazelnut Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting


I LOVE a good cinnamon roll. I am always on the hunt for the most perfect one– soft, warm, and a tangy cream cheese frosting. None of this clear glaze business. When I have a cinnamon roll, it better be loaded with delicious cream cheese. It’s so hard to get the good ones unless you go to an excellent bakery. So the other day when I knew a sweet friend of mine was having a birthday, I  had the perfect excuse to make cinnamon rolls my way. And that included a surprising addition of hazelnuts, because why not?

People, I am craving these again already, and I just made them last week. I woke up this morning and all I could think about was these delicious beauties. I have to make them again soon! I used to be so intimidated by making homemade breads and  pastries from scratch, but it really isn’t that hard if you have patience!


There is nothing like the sight of cream cheese frosting melting into a hot, fresh batch of cinnamon rolls. These are an adaptation of Nancy Fuller’s recipe. I changed them up by doing hazelnuts instead of pecans, and I put way less sugar in the frosting. I always find that I can cut over half of the sugar in most frosting recipes and it’s still quite sweet. I find that in particular the sweet brown-sugary filling in these cinnamon rolls calls for a tangier cream cheese frosting to balance it all out. And psst… You don’t have to have a standing mixer or dough hook to make these. You have to get your hands a little dirty and you get quite an arm workout in the process, but the payoff is totally worth it.

They certainly aren’t the most perfectly shaped cinnamon rolls. But that’s how you can tell that they are homemade and all the more amazing. The other thing I love about these is that you can keep the leftover rolls in the fridge, pop them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds when you want one, and they taste like they are hot out of the oven all over again. It’s absolutely glorious!


Hazelnut Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes around 12 rolls 


For the dough– 

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting your work surface

2 Tabelspoons butter, melted, plus extra for greasing the baking dish

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

For the filling– 

1 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the cream cheese frosting– 

6 oz cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

splash of vanilla extract (perhaps a teaspoon?)

2-3 Tablespoons whole milk


  1. Make your dough: Place the yeast and 1 cup of room temp water in a large bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. If you have a standing mixer and dough hook, add in the flour, butter, salt, sugar, and egg to the bowl and knead on medium-low speed until the dough forms a ball and easily releases from the side of the bowl (about 4 minutes). If you do not have a dough hook and standing mixer, flour your hands and brace yourself for a mess. Add in the flour, butter, salt, sugar, and egg to the bowl and combine. Use your hands to knead the dough until it forms into a ball, about 10 minutes.
  2. Butter a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Set aside in a warm spot in your kitchen and allow the dough to double in size, about 1.5 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 13 x 9 glass baking dish.
  4. For the filling: In a medium bowl, combine the chopped hazelnuts, brown sugar, melted butter, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  5. Flour a large work surface. Punch down the dough in the bowl and transfer it to the work surface. Roll the dough into a 16 x 12 inch rectangle. Spread with the filling, leaving roughly a 1/2 inch border.
  6. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the dough into a cylinder and then slice into 12 rolls. Arrange the rolls, cut-side up, in four rows in the prepared baking dish. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until nearly doubled in volume, about 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden on top, about 20 minutes.
  7. While the rolls are baking, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Beat until combined, and slowly add in 2-3 Tablespoons of milk until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Spread the icing over the warm rolls shortly after they come out of the oven.

*Note: Recipe adapted from Nancy Fuller’s Gooey Cinnamon Buns:


Strawberry Basil Ricotta Toasts


I believe that something magical happens when you heat fruit in a saucepan. It breaks down the fruit and turns it into a luscious, sweet, compote that tastes like the inside of a pie.

Sometimes I want a sweet breakfast without having to fuss over the stove or oven all morning to make cinnamon rolls or pancakes or what have you. This ricotta toast is so simple and yet so satisfying! Creamy vanilla ricotta, sweet  and warm strawberries with a touch of basil to give it something fresh and unique, and toasted almonds. That’s it!

One of the things I love about Italian cheeses are their versatility. It is so awesome to use ricotta or marscapone cheese in a sweet dish one day, and then in a savory dish the next. No matter what, you get that silky creaminess and tang from the cheese, but you can add whatever spices you want to change it up and work for your dish. If I can find a way to use cheese in my desserts or sweet breakfasts,  you better believe I’m going to do it.


I would like to make a side note that the only reason the bread is cut slightly crooked is because it was literally still warm from the bakery when I picked it up and brought it home. Have you ever tried to cut fresh bread? It’s a little challenging. But the freshness it brought to the dish was worth it!

This is a really simple dish that once again looks impressive but is truly a cinch to throw together. Instead of offering a guest regular toast for breakfast, you can serve something like this and it just makes it extra special. You could also change it up if strawberries aren’t your favorite. I’m sure peaches, apricots, or blueberries would make excellent substitutions here! Personally, I find that strawberries and cream are a match made in heaven. When the juices from the warm strawberries start to melt into that creamy ricotta you kind of feel like you are eating a strawberry shortcake. For breakfast. I mean, what more could you want?


Strawberry Basil Ricotta Toasts

Serves 2 


2 slices thick-cut bread, toasted

1/2 lb strawberries, trimmed and sliced

1 Tablespoon water

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1 heaping Tablespoon fresh chopped basil

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted in a dry skillet


  1. In a small saucepan, heat the strawberries, granulated sugar, water, and basil over medium heat. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the strawberries have broken down and the sauce has thickened slightly. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Mix to combine and spread on top of the slices of toast.
  3. Top each ricotta toast with the strawberry mixture and the toasted almonds.


Coconut Waffles with Dark Chocolate Drizzle


Growing up, I was always aware of how lucky I was to have 2 gourmet cooks for parents. Saturday mornings in the summertime meant one thing in our house: Belgian Waffles. Whenever I had friends sleep over, their eyes would light up the next morning when my Mom would whip up a batch of fluffy Belgian waffles like it was no big deal. I have to say, my parents kind of ruined me for going out to breakfast. When you have Papa’s crispy fried potatoes and eggs, Mom’s waffles (and her quiche, and her frittatas, and the list could keep going…) it’s a little hard to enjoy breakfast out at a restaurant because it rarely is able to compete with the stuff I grew up eating.

Because my parents taught me the basics on how to make so many different dishes, I now take joy in finding ways to reinvent them. That’s what cooking is all about– exploring new ingredients, new twists on classic recipes. I love chocolate and coconut, so why not put the two into waffle form? Honestly, can anything come in waffle form and it not be exciting?!


I’m a chocoholic, so I’m always looking for any excuse to incorporate chocolate into breakfast—enter coconut waffles with dark chocolate drizzle. I decided to take the basic waffle recipe my Mom has always used and I added in some sweetened coconut and made a quick dark chocolate coconut sauce to go over the top. The result is a sinfully sweet, fluffy, coconutty, chocolatey waffle. I stuck closely to the original waffle recipe and used regular milk, but I might try using coconut milk next time to ramp up the coconut flavor even more.

If you’re feeling a little naughty and you want dessert for breakfast, make these waffles—you won’t be sorry!


Coconut Waffles with Dark Chocolate Drizzle  

Makes 6-8 waffles


3 eggs

1 ¼ cup milk

½ cup melted butter

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1 ¼ cups shredded, sweetened coconut flakes, divided

2 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons sugar

4 oz dark chocolate, chopped

2 Tablespoons coconut oil



  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. On a cookie sheet, toast ½ cup of the coconut flakes in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Beat whole eggs in a bowl until thick.
  4. Beat milk, melted butter, vanilla, and remaining ¾ cup of the coconut flakes into the eggs.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Sift into the wet ingredients and mix well.
  6. For the chocolate drizzle: Combine the chopped chocolate and coconut oil in a small bowl. Microwave the mixture in 10 second intervals, stirring in between, until chocolate is nicely melted and smooth. Set aside.
  7. Griddle the batter in a Belgian waffle iron until golden brown. Drizzle waffles with chocolate sauce and top with toasted coconut flakes.

*Recipe adapted from Vilantonio “Quick Waffles” (recipe booklet)

Lox Bagels with Fluffy Ricotta-Chive Eggs, Herbed Cream Cheese, & Arugula


If you’ve read the “about” section of this blog, you may have noticed that I said I cook and eat mostly vegetarian meals. Although I don’t usually cook meat or fish for Eric or myself anymore, I still eat meat occasionally and experiment with recipes for my parents. Sometimes you will see these experiments on the blog, like these bagels I made my Mom for Mother’s Day. These are sure to satisfy all of your brunch dreams!

This bagel looks and tastes like a million bucks, but trust me—it’s so easy to put together! Let me break it down for you, because there are a lot of different textures and flavors going on.

I know the smoked salmon is the star ingredient of the bagel, but I have to take a moment to gush about these scrambled eggs. If you’ve never put ricotta cheese in your eggs, prepare to be blown away. A few years ago, I discovered that a few dollops of ricotta cheese and a handful of chopped fresh chives do magical things to scrambled eggs. These eggs are so incredibly silky. I make these eggs every single time I do a brunch spread. They are seriously delicious!

Next we’ve got this herbed cream cheese. Everyone knows that smoked salmon + bagels + cream cheese are a match made in heaven, but I wanted to spice it up with some fresh herbs and lemon zest. The dill, parsley, chives, and lemon zest perfectly complement the richness of the salmon and give you a light spread for the bagel.

Finally, it’s all topped off with a small mountain of peppery arugula, simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. What more could you want in a bagel sandwich?



Lox Bagels with fluffy ricotta-chive eggs, herbed cream cheese, & arugula

Serves 4


4 bagels (I used everything bagels), cut in half and toasted

8 slices of high-quality smoked salmon (I used Scandinavian-style Gravlax)

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 heaping cup of arugula

1 tablespoon olive oil

A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

5 large eggs

1 tablespoon butter

2 heaping tablespoons ricotta cheese

Pinch of sea salt



  1. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 20 seconds. Add in the dill, parsley, lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of the chopped chives. Season with salt and pepper. Beat again until everything is nicely combined. Set mixture aside.
  2. In another medium bowl, toss the arugula with the olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about ½ of a lemon, depending on how juicy it is), sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Set aside.
  3. Scramble the eggs: beat the eggs in a medium bowl with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chives. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggs to the skillet and gently pull them across the skillet using a spatula as they begin to set. When the eggs are almost done, turn the heat off and fold in the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle the eggs with sea salt, and stir everything together until eggs are light and fluffy and the cheese is nicely incorporated.
  4. To assemble the bagels, spread cream cheese on each bagel half. Top each bagel bottom with 2 slices of smoked salmon, a large spoonful of eggs, and a pile of arugula.