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.

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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.

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

Serves 8

Ingredients:

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.

Directions:

  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.

 

 

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Filling & Salted Caramel Buttercream

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Oh man, I’m a little ashamed of how long it has been since my last post. But I brought a show-stopping cupcake recipe with me, so hopefully you will forgive me 😉 What can I say, the last semester of grad school is anything but slow.

2 weeks ago, I had the honor of making a dessert contribution for Sarah and Andy’s wedding. I wanted it to be something truly special that I knew they (and all the guests) would enjoy, so I came up with these decadent beauties.

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Sarah is one of the few people who understands chocolate on the level that I do. She may be my sister’s best friend, but she knows who to consult when she needs a chocolate fix! When she asked me to make a dessert for her wedding, I knew it had to be something sinful and chocolatey. Last year, I went through a stuffed cupcake phase. Well… Not as much of a phase as a permanent way of life. Once you stuff your cupcakes, you won’t go back. Case in point:

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I mean, COME ON. That chocolate ganache is basically a whole extra layer of love that moistens the cupcake and makes it feel like you’re eating a volcano cupcake. With homemade salted caramel buttercream. This is what dreams are made of, people.

Stuffing the cupcakes takes a little extra time, but it’s so worth it. All you have to do is take a sharp knife and, holding it at an angle, cut a small circle out of the center:

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Fill it with roughly 1-2 teaspoons of your filling:

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And then put the circle back on top to keep it a sweet surprise!

img_0045I made a small batch of these the night before the wedding and had the bride and my family do some quality control, just to make sure they tasted fine. The funniest reaction came from my Dad, who was basically losing his mind and swearing like a sailor because they tasted *that* good. As I was photographing them the next day before the wedding, he was lurking behind me: So, uh, Alex… We, uh, we gonna get any more of those or do they ALL have to go to the wedding? 

I haven’t even mentioned the frosting yet. Basically, it’s super rich and it has the perfect sweetness from the caramel to contrast the intensity of the dark chocolate cupcakes. A word of caution: I make my frosting with DRASTICALLY less sugar than most recipes. Most frosting recipes have 4+ cups of powdered sugar in them, and I think that makes them way too sweet. That being said, this frosting is best consumed the day of. Since there is less sugar, the frosting isn’t super stiff and it won’t last as long as most other buttercream recipes will. But good luck even making it to day 2 after you make these.

I’m so sorry the blog has been relatively quiet. I will try my  hardest to bring you thoughtful recipes and posts when I can. For now, enjoy these luscious cupcakes full of love, made for an occasion that was nothing but love! Congratulations Sarah and Andy!

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Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Filling and Salted Caramel Buttercream

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes*: 

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups dark chocolate cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup canola oil vegetable oil would also be fine
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten (preferably room temperature)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot water (or hot coffee or 1 tsp instant coffee dissolved into 1 cup hot water)

For the ganache filling: 

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

For the salted caramel buttercream: 

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1.5 Tablespoons salted caramel sauce (I use Trader Joe’s caramel sauce with Fleur de Sel)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line muffin tin with cupcake liners (or lightly grease and flour).
  2. In large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Stir in canola oil and milk, stirring until combined.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition.
  5. Stir in vanilla extract.
  6. Add hot water and stir until the mixture is evenly combined; it’s going to be a thin batter so don’t worry if you feel like it looks too runny.

  7. Fill prepared cupcake liners just over 2/3 of the way full and bake at 350F for 18-22 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
  8. Allow cupcakes to cool on a wire rack before filling and frosting them.
  9. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the ganache: Place the chocolate chips in a medium heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over medium-high heat, just before it boils (do not let it boil). Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and allow it to sit for 60 seconds. Stir the cream and chocolate mixture until it is silky and smooth. Set aside.
  10. Fill the cooled cupcakes by cutting a small circle out of the center (see above for picture tutorial) and placing 1-2 teaspoons of ganache in the center. Place the circle of cake you cut out back on top of the cupcake to close it off.
  11. Make your frosting: In a large bowl, beat the butter, caramel, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and cream until the ingredients are evenly combined and the mixture is light and fluffy.
  12. Place the frosting into a pastry bag and pipe onto the stuffed cupcakes.
  13. ENJOY!

*Note that the cupcake recipe is an adaptation on Sugar Spun Run’s Easy Chocolate Cupcakes. 

German Plum Cake (Zwetschgendatschi)

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One of the many reasons I love Germans is that they regularly eat coffee and cake in the afternoon (well, at least all of our friends do). I may or may not gain a few pounds after spending time in Germany simply because I eat so much cake. German-style cakes are simply fabulous! They are not as sweet as American cakes, and they tend to use lots of nuts and fresh, seasonal fruits. A late summertime favorite in Bavaria is plum cake, or Zwetschgendatschi.

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Someone  was super interested to see what all the fuss was about while I was photographing the cake. He was extremely disappointed when I told him he couldn’t have a piece. I almost gave in though, because… that face! What a cutie pie.

The first time I took Eric to Germany, he was kind of surprised at how frequently we consumed cake and coffee. Walking around new cities, rather than going to museums, we often scoped out the best bakery we could find and stopped for cappuccinos and cake. Walked some more. More coffee. Maybe more cake. Hey, when you vacation with a Stromberg, the main event of any destination is the food. What can I say?

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My mom and I adapted a recipe we had been using online for years and created the plum cake I’m sharing today, which is a little different from the traditional German-style cake. We added walnuts to the crust, which give it a nice nutty flare. Cinnamon and sugar on the top of the cake provide a final kiss of sweetness and warmth, making this cake just divine. The plums are packed in very tight rows along the buttery crust, ensuring that no bite goes plumless. Served with a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream, it just can’t be beat. (Side note: Germans are not afraid to really go heavy on the whipped cream. The cake has a lot less sugar than your average cake, so treat yourself to some extra calories with all that glorious whipped cream 😉 ) Not to mention, who expects plum cake? It’s so unusual in the States. I grew up eating plum cake on the regular on hot, August afternoons.

I went to an international high school, and we often did giant potlucks a few times a year when the entire lunch table became a sort of mini-international festival, boasting food from around the globe. When I would whip out this little plum cake, my fellow Germans at the table would squeal with delight.

I hope you can try out this plum cake and get a taste of a German favorite.

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German Plum Cake (Zwetschgendatschi)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup walnuts, finely ground in a food processor

1 stick plus 2 Tablespoons salted butter, softened

6 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1 egg yolk

1 lb small, black plums

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Fresh whipped cream, for serving

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the ground walnuts, flour, butter, and 5 Tablespoons of the sugar. Mix with your hands until a soft dough forms. Add the egg yolk and mix with your hands until the dough is coming off the sides of the bowl.

3. Press the dough evenly into a 9″ x 13″ baking sheet.

4. Slice each plum in half, remove the pit, and slice each half into 4 slices. Arrange the plums in tight rows on top of the crust so the slices are standing up (skin side down). Sprinkle the cake with the cinnamon and the remaining sugar.

5. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and serve with fresh whipped cream.

*Note: Recipe adapted from http://www.cooks.com/recipe/ul6z47xx/german-plum-cake.html

 

Frozen Chocolate Mousse Pie

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World, meet my birthday cake. As in, the cake I have eaten for my birthday for roughly 15-20 years now. It’s simple, it’s sinful, and it’s chock full of chocolate. All the years growing up when my Mom asked what I wanted my special birthday meal to be, it was almost always eggplant Parmesan and chocolate mousse pie. My Mom has always made a big deal out of birthdays, and of course showed her love for us through food. Even though I just turned 25 yesterday (yay, lower insurance rates!), we still made this pie as a standing tradition.

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Does anyone else out there feel like they need a little bit of chocolate every day? Not a crazy amount, just a small piece after dinner every night? I’m like that. I get intense cravings for chocolate. My favorite desserts, therefore, are super chocolatey. This dessert is one of my all-time favorites!

I become a different kind of hangry when I don’t get my chocolate. A few years ago, Eric and I were vacationing in Asheville for the first time. I had heard of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, but I had never been. Our first day exploring the city, I naturally had chocolate on the brain all day because I couldn’t wait to try it out. We had just finished a brewery tour and had been walking around in the heat. We were tired, and Eric really wanted to go back to the hotel and relax. I agreed, but he quickly noted something was wrong as I became quiet and grumpy on the walk back to the car. I don’t even remember what we argued about but we sat in the parking garage for 30 minutes and it was quite honestly my favorite argument ever because it ended with me emotionally crying out  “BUT I JUST WANTED TO GO GET THE CHOCOLATE!” We tried to keep straight faces because we were in the middle of an argument, but we couldn’t help but bust out laughing. We quickly made up and ended up walking to the chocolate lounge, enjoying delicious liquid truffles, and entering a full-blown chocolate coma. I guess the moral of the story is: don’t mess with Alex when she doesn’t get her chocolate.

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I have to admit that I never actually knew how she made the chocolate mousse pie until I made it with her this year. I was a little shocked at how insanely easy it is to make! It doesn’t even have egg whites, so it is technically not chocolate mousse, but it still maintains a light and airy texture. Normally, I would say that cake trumps pie every time. When the pie in question has a chocolate cookie wafer crust and the filling is loaded with chocolate… Well, I can make an exception.

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Frozen Chocolate Mousse Pie

Serves 8

Ingredients:

30 chocolate cookie wafers

6 Tablespoons butter,  melted

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

1 Tablespoon Creme de Cacao

2 cups plus one Tablespoon heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

3/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Dark chocolate, to curl for garnish (optional)

Directions:

  1. Using a food processor, grind the wafer cookies until they form fine crumbs.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan using your hands. Refrigerate the crust for around 30 minutes, or until firm. Set aside.
  3. Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips over low heat until smooth. Add in the vanilla extract, espresso powder, Creme de Cacao, and 1 Tablespoon of the heavy cream. Stir to combine and turn off the heat. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool slightly, about 5-10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the remaining 2 cups heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the cooled chocolate mixture using a rubber spatula. Stir in the mini chocolate chips.
  5. Empty the chocolate mousse into the cookie crust and spread evenly. Freeze the pie for at least 2 hours but up to 8. When you are ready to serve the pie, allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before eating. Garnish with dark chocolate curls, if desired.

 

A Failed Blackberry Cobbler Turned Into a Blackberry Sundae [Because Nobody is Perfect]

 

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A few weeks ago on Father’s Day, I had a whole menu planned out for my Dad. When the late afternoon rolled around, I was busy chopping herbs for Chimichurri sauce, marinating steaks, whipping up a garlic aioli, making crispy potatoes, and attempting to create a blackberry cobbler-like dessert with beautiful berries from the market. Note that I was doing all of this simultaneously and, well… my dessert didn’t turn out quite like I wanted it to.

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My mouth started watering as I pulled the cobbler out of the oven and set it on the table to cool. It smelled amazing. After letting it sit for a few minutes, I grabbed my knife to cut into it. I began to wince as I felt the crust fall beneath my knife and the piece I attempted to cut totally fell apart. I sighed in disappointment as I realized that this was not going to be a cobbler at all, but a big pile of blackberry mush. My family was waiting in the living room as I took a spoon to the cobbler and took a taste for myself. When the blackberries and the vanilla wafer “crust” hit my mouth, all I could think about was how good it tasted. I didn’t care that it came in a sloppy form, it was just so tasty. I pulled out the sundae cups from the cabinet, scooped some vanilla ice cream, took the reserved blackberry sauce, and turned what would have been a failed dessert into a blackberry sundae. I apologized to everyone as I delivered the somewhat unattractive dessert cups.

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I didn’t hear any complaints. In fact, I didn’t hear much of anything aside from some Mmmmmmms, some spoons clinking the sides of the dessert glasses as they scooped out every little bite, and footsteps returning to the kitchen for seconds. If I were a more experienced food blogger, I probably would have tweaked the recipe until I got it just right and then shared that with all of you. I created this blog purely for fun, but I have to admit that it took me a while to start it because I was so intimidated by the seemingly perfect food blogs out there. I am so far from perfect, and this is not the first time a recipe didn’t go the way I had planned. However, nobody is perfect.

I’m sharing this recipe even though the crust doesn’t hold up at all. I’m sharing it because it was so delicious and it made everyone happy in the moments while they were eating it. I’m sharing it because I grinned like a kid when I opened up the fridge the next day and noticed there was one little bite left that I could take to work. And that, my friends, is what makes a good dessert.

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Blackberry Cobbler Sundaes

Serves 6

Ingredients:

25 Nilla Wafer Cookies

1/3 cup walnuts

6 Tablespoons butter (melted) & 5 Tablespoons butter (softened)

1 quart fresh blackberries

1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/2 cup water

2 Tablespoons honey

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flour

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions:

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, combine the Nilla wafers and walnuts until finely chopped. With the motor of the processor running, add the melted 6 Tablespoons of butter.
  3. Press the mixture into an 11 by 7 inch baking dish. Set aside.
  4. In a medium sauce pan, combine the blackberries, water and cornstarch mixture, and honey. Heat over medium high heat until the blackberries cook down and the mixture reduces, about 10 minutes.
  5. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the blackberries from the cooking liquid. Allow to cool slightly. Reserve the liquid and set aside.
  6. Pour the strained blackberries over the crust.
  7. To make the oatmeal topping, combine the softened 5 TB butter, oatmeal, brown sugar, and flour in a small bowl. Using your hands, crumble the mixture over the blackberries.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then, broil for 1-2 minutes.
  9. Allow the cobbler to cool slightly and then serve over vanilla ice cream. Use the reserved blackberry sauce to serve over the sundaes.

Eiskaffee

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No matter what time of year I am in Germany, my first request is usually that we stop at an ice cream shop. I just love the way Germans make ice cream. Every town in Germany has a cute little ice cream shop with dozens of specialty Eisbecher (sundaes) to choose from. They usually have several fruit sundae options, some chocolate ones, and some nut ones. It’s so much fun when everyone gets a different Eisbecher and you can pass them around the table and try all of them. They are not quite as sweet as the types of sundaes you find in America, which is why I like them so much.

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One of the first German ice cream specialties I ever tasted was Eiskaffee. It’s basically the affogato’s German cousin. What I like about Eiskaffee is that instead of using hot espresso (like in an affogato), you use cold (but very strong) coffee. This lets the ice cream slowly melt into the coffee, which allows you to take your time and enjoy this glorious dessert. Eiskaffee is the perfect late afternoon treat on a hot summer day. The best bites are at the end when the ice cream and whipped cream are nice and soft and almost completely melted into the coffee.

You could also add in a shot of coffee liqueur (I won’t tell 😉 ) for an elegant after-dinner dessert. This is so easy to throw together, and it’s another recipe with minimal ingredients that you probably already have on hand which makes it even easier!

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Eiskaffee

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups very strong coffee, chilled

1 cup cold heavy cream

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Your favorite brand of vanilla ice cream

Bar of dark chocolate, to shave for garnish

Directions

  1. Whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  2. Fill 4 dessert glasses with 2-3 scoops of the ice cream.
  3. Pour the chilled coffee into each glass over the ice cream. Top with fresh whipped cream and curls of dark chocolate.
  4. Enjoy! (Seriously, does it get any easier?)