Tarte Tatin

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Tarte Tatin is the French name for a famous dessert invented years ago by the Tatin sisters, in their restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron on the Loire River. It consists of caramelized sliced apples oven-baked in a skillet with the pastry on top. When done, it is turned upside-down so the crust is on the bottom and the apple slices – wonderfully brown, buttery, and glazed with caramel—remain in a design on top. The amazing thing about Tarte Tatin is how the caramelized apples are somehow transformed into something entirely new while still retaining their distinct apple taste. It’s one of the easiest desserts I’ve attempted it make, but also the most challenging. It’s easy because it’s baked upside down, which means there is no need for special decorations or even beautiful rolling of the dough. The real challenge is finding the right balance when caramelizing the apples. Julia Child captures the essence of the dessert in this quote.

“To be sure, a Tarte Tatin should be brown and sweet, but it needs to be more. The apples need to be cooked in sugar and butter long enough that they are not only coated in buttery caramel but also permeated with sweetness. Like what happens in jam-making, where some of the water in the fruit is replaced by sugar.”

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Perhaps the most special part of this post is the pan that I used to cook the tart. On a trip to Paris last fall, my parents visited E. Dehellerin. Tucked away on rue Coquillière not too far from the Louvre, this store has been selling cookware for professionals and serious home chefs since 1820. According to my parents, it’s a store that definitely favors function over form, boasting aisles packed with pots and pans reaching as high as the ceiling. Julia Child was a regular here purchasing kitchenware while she attended school at Le Cordon Bleu. Knowing that E. Dehellerin is famous for their copper, my dad purchased a Tarte Tatin pan which was made specifically for this recipe. I was pleased to learn that not only does copper conduct heat faster, but it also does so much more evenly. This combination is perfect for temperature control when working with the sugar at a high temperature. Thanks dad!

The following recipe is courtesy of Julia Child’s book The Way to Cook, published in 1994. A Christmas gift from my dad several years ago, this is a magnificent cookbook in which Julia distills her knowledge from a lifetime of cooking into one book. In the book, she states that this recipe is her fourth and definitive recipe for Tarte Tatin.

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Tarte Tatin Recipe

Ingredients for Pastry Dough
3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons chilled butter, diced
2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice water, or as needed

Ingredients for Tart Tatin
6 Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled and halved
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, as accompaniment

Directions
Preparing the dough. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the flours, sugar and butter. Pulse 5 or 6 times in 1/2-second bursts to break up the butter. Add the shortening, turn on the machine and immediately add the ice water, pulsing 2 or 3 times. The dough should look like a mass of smallish lumps and should just hold together in a mass when a handful is pressed together. If the mixture is too dry, pulse in more water by droplets. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and with the heel of your hand, rapidly and roughly push egg-size blobs into a 6-inch smear. Gather the dough into a relatively smooth cake, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days).

Preparing the apples. Quarter, core, and peel the apples; cut the quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon and 1/2 cup of sugar, and let steep 20 minutes so they will exude their juices. Drain them.

The caramel. Set the frying pan over moderately high heat with the butter, and when melted blend in the remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir about with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup turns a bubbly caramel brown – it will smooth out later, when the apples juices dissolve the sugar.

Arranging the apples in the pan. Remove from heat and arrange a layer of apple slices nicely in the bottom of the pan to make an attractive design. Arrange the rest of the apples on top, close packed and only reasonably neat. Add enough so that they heap up 1 inch higher than the rim of the pan – they sink down as they cook.

Preliminary stove-top cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F for the next step, placing the rack in the lower middle level. Set the pan again over moderately high heat, pressing the apples down as they soften, and drawing the accumulated juices up over them with the bulb baster – basting gives the apples a deliciously buttery caramel flavor. In several minutes, when the apples begin to soften, cover the pan and continue cooking 10 to 15 minutes, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly while you roll out the dough.

The dough cover. Roll the chilled dough into a circle 3/16 inch thick and 1 inch larger than the top of your pan. Cut 4 steam holes, 1/4-inch size, 1 1/2 inches from around the center of the dough. Working rapidly, fold the dough in half, then in quarters; center the point over the apples. Unfold the dough over the apples. Press the edges of the dough down between the apples and the inside of the pan.

Bake and serve. Bake about 20 minutes at 425 degrees F. Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped. Being careful of the red-hot pan handle, remove from the oven. Still remembering that the pan is red-hot, turn the serving dish upside down over the apples and reverse the two to unmold the tart. Serve hot, warm, or cold, with the optional whipped cream or ice cream.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
After you take your tart out of the oven, you can test to see whether it’s ready be unmolded. Simply tilt the pan, and if the juices are runny rather than a thick syrup, boil down rapidly on top on the stove. However, be sure not to evaporate them completely or the apples will stick to the pan. If a few apples stick to the pan—which does happen—rearrange the slices as necessary.

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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The first thing a lot of people learn about making anything with batter is to not over mix it. Unfortunately, that’s all a lot of folks ever learn and there’s certainly more to know when making a great cake. Last weekend, I took an excellent class on cake baking at Zingerman’s Bake House. In the class, I learned how to make (and take home) three complete cakes each requiring a different mixing technique—Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Angel Food Cake, and Flourless Chocolate Truffle Cake.

For those who aren’t familiar, Zingermans is a gourmet food business headquartered right here in Ann Arbor. Their slogan is: “You really can taste the difference,” and they offer baking classes to educate consumers about the products they sell. I left my four hour class with three cakes in tow, armed with tons of new knowledge about baking cakes. Today, I want to share the recipe for pineapple upside down cake.

Pineapple upside down cake is a classic American dessert that was very popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s. An upside down cake, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, is “a cake baked with a bottom layer of fruit and turned upside down before serving.” Today, this cake is still going strong—and boldly taking on new, adventurous flavors such as chocolate fudge and maple syrup. I would be remiss not to note that cooking a cake or tart with a fruit layer on the bottom and afterwards inverting it is neither new nor indigenous to America. Among the most famous of these treats is the French tarte tatin, an early 20th century upside-down apple tart. Stay tuned later this month for a recipe on this classic French dessert!

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Original Recipe from Zingerman’s Delicatessen

Pineapple Topping Ingredients
1/4 cup butter (melted)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup pineapple (cut into 1/4 thick rings)
1/2 cup pitted cherries

Cake Ingredients
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup buttermilk (room temperature)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 20 minutes before baking the cake.

Spray a 9” round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray, and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Melt the butter and pour into the prepared cake pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar onto the melted butter. Top with pineapple rings and place cherries between the pineapple pieces. Set aside, while working on your cake batter.

Onto a parchment paper, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Once all of the egg yolks are incorporated, add the vanilla extract and mix in.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Start with 1/3 of the dry, mix well, and then add 1/3 of the buttermilk, and repeat two more times with remaining ingredients. Once everything is incorporated, beat well with a rubber spatula to make sure your batter is fully mixed and fluffy.

Pour batter into prepared pan with topping, and smooth with the spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Check the cake after 20 minutes. When it is done, the top of the cake should be golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the center. A cake tester should come out clean. It should have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Let rest 5 minutes. Run a small knife or metal spatula around the sides of the pan and invert the cake onto a cooling rack or cardboard cake round. Serve warm or and room temperature.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Fat plays a very important role in baking. It tenderizes the product by coating and weakening the gluten bonds within the structure. In fact, the name shortening was coined as such because it shortens the gluten strands when baking. The point behind all of this is to provide a word of caution when substituting other ingredients for fat in recipes. Often the structure and texture of a cake will be significantly different when you begin to substitute for fat. Definitely don’t try it in this recipe!

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Miniature Banana Bread Muffins

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I have a very special helper in the kitchen. Whenever I’m mixing and whisking away, this special helper is always ready to lend a helping hand… or paw. Let me introduce you to Rudi, our cat that loves baked goods almost as much as I do. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you will remember that almost 2 years ago Rudi ran away and had a one month stint in the Ann Arbor wilderness. Upon his return back to captivity, I made him some delicious chewy cat treats. However Rudi doesn’t discriminate between cat and human food, he loves it all.

This past weekend Matt was away at a conference and I was home alone with Rudi. Although we both missed Matt it was nice to have a lazy weekend to relax around the house. I even engaged in one of my favorite guilty pleasures—a Law and Order SVU marathon. No weekend at home would be complete without a little baking, and I decided to experiment by trying out some miniature banana bread muffins.

I love this recipe because it’s so quick and simple! You know those times when you need to make a dessert but don’t have much time for preparation? Well these little morsels are the perfect solution for those moments. It only takes about 5 minutes to mix the ingredients together and then you can put them in the oven and forget about them for 20 minutes. It couldn’t be any simpler than that!

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Banana Bread Miniature Muffins
Makes approximately 24 miniature muffins

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large bananas, mashed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, melted

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat muffin pans with non-stick spray, or use paper liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Combine bananas, sugar, egg, and melted butter in a large bowl. Fold in flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Scoop into muffin pans.

Bake in preheated oven. Bake mini muffins for 10 to 15 minutes, and large muffins for 25 to 30 minutes. Muffins will spring back when lightly tapped.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If you’d like to jazz up your muffins, try adding a brown sugar crumble to the top. Simply mix together 2 tablespoons four, 3 tablespoons butter, 5 tablespoons brown sugar, and a dash of cinnamon. Evenly sprinkle over the top and voila—you have some added flavor!

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Irish Soda Bread Muffins

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I recently celebrated my 30th birthday. Instead of dwelling on the potential downsides of turning the Big 3-0, I made a conscious decision to do the opposite. Instead, I decided to embrace where I am in my life and reflect on how much I’ve grown personally, spiritually, and professionally. Now that I’m plunging into my thirties, I even did some self reflecting on the upcoming years and some of my dreams and aspirations. Who says it’s not too late to run that half marathon?

While there were several things that I was expecting on my birthday, one thing that I didn’t see coming was the wonderful surprise party that Matt threw for me. It was a surprise that unfolded in stages leaving me guessing at every turn. What made the celebration even more special was getting to spend time with my parents and several friends from out of town. I’d been missing my family and close friends in Ann Arbor, so it was invigorating to have an entire weekend with loved ones.

Aside from celebrating my dirty thirty, there’s also been some baking going on in the Sweet Precision kitchen.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a holiday brimming over with myths and traditions that date back centuries. Perhaps the best part of the holiday is the food and beverages that also get consumed. March 17th wouldn’t be complete without a few classic items such as green beer, corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, and my absolute favorite— Irish soda bread.

Irish soda bread is a sweet white bread made with eggs and butter, which is studded with raisins and sometimes caraway seeds. The “soda” in the name comes from the baking soda used to leaven the bread instead of yeast and kneading. These muffins are a fun and healthier twist on the traditional bread. Half of the flour is whole wheat and the butter in the recipe is reduced to three tablespoons which means that each muffin comes in at approximately 145 calories.

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Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp chilled butter
1 cup 1% buttermilk
3 tbsp honey or agave
1 large egg, beaten
2/3 cup raisins

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray muffin tin with baking spray.

In a large bowl combine all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, stir together buttermilk, honey (or agave) and egg until blended. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Stir in raisins.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.

Remove tin and cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before removing muffins from tin; finish cooling on rack. Serve warm or cool completely and store muffins in an airtight container or ziplock bags at room temperature.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
None of us want to deal with a mountain of dishes once we’ve made muffins. But don’t let that inspire you to use an already dirty spoon to divvy up the batter. Use a cookie scoop — even though it’s one more thing to clean — to equally measure the batter into your muffin tins. This will ensure evenly cooked muffins.

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Homemade Pralines

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No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a sampling of pralines—those intensely sweet disks of sugar, butter, and pecans. I learned this during my first visit to New Orleans with Matt a couple of years ago. Now the question that is open for debate is exactly where you want to buy these little delicacies. My vote goes to Southern Candymakers, which is a family-owned store in the French Quarter. When you walk in the door off of Decatur Street you are immediately greeted with the vision of fresh pralines being scooped onto a marble slab. Only two words can describe these candies. Simply… decadent.

But alas, everything that you can purchase in the store can also be homemade. And for the fourth and final installment of my February Homemade Baking Challenge, I’ll be showing you how to make these little delicacies right in your own kitchen. Very similar to the homemade caramels that I shared with you earlier this month, the basis for pralines consists of sugar, butter, and milk. I think that often making candy can be intimidating and that’s why we default to buying it in the store. I’m here to demystify the process and show you how it can easily be done in your kitchen.

For those that are interested in a little history, French settlers brought the recipe for pralines to Louisiana. Although the original French recipe called for almonds, New Orleans chefs substituted pecans and added cream to thicken the confection, thus creating what became known throughout the American South as the praline.

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Homemade Pralines Recipe
Makes approximately 20 candies
Adapted from All Recipes

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups toasted pecans
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/8 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
In large saucepan over medium heat, combine pecans, sugar, butter, brown sugar, milk and vanilla. Heat to between 234 and 240 degrees F (112 to 116 degrees C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a soft ball that flattens when removed from the water and placed on a flat surface.

When your mixture has reached the desired temperature, remove from heat and transfer hot pan to an ice bath. Beat the mixture until light in color and thick, then spoon (using two spoons) onto a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper brushed with butter. Let cool, then peel wax paper or parchment away from the pralines.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Try not to stir the syrup after it starts boiling to prevent early crystallization. If you’re tempted to scrape down the sides, don’t do it — instead, cover the pot a couple of minutes and let the steam wash them down.

And that wraps up my February Homemade Baking Challenge! Feel free to check out my Homemade CaramelsHomemade Marshmallows, or Homemade Ritz Crackers if you’re interested in making some treats of your own!

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Homemade Ritz Crackers

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In the third installment of my February Homemade Baking Challenge, I am sharing a Ritz cracker recipe that is so simple you won’t have to guess at any of the ingredients. During the course of this baking challenge I’ve learned that you literally can make anything you see in a prepackaged box or bag at the grocery store. The shapes and sizes might not be as perfect but I can guarantee that what you make will taste better!

Ritz Crackers are a brand of snack crackers introduced by Nabisco in 1934. They are circular in shape, salted lightly on one side, and have a small scalloped edge. Since establishing their empire in the 1930’s the classic cookie has grown in such popularity that you can now follow Ritz crackers on Twitter and Facebook. The question that no one wants to ask is exactly what are the ingredients that make these cookies so delicious?! I set out to make a simpler and cleaner version of these cookies last weekend.

This past Sunday was yet another snowy day here in Ann Arbor. As a Minnesotan at heart I really do love winter, but it seems as if this year has been particularly cold and snowy. As I sat inside curled up, I actually found myself looking forward to the warmth and sunshine of spring. If only there was a fast forward button for these next few months! Regardless, there’s nothing better than warming up the house with the smell of baked goods on a chilly winter day. These crackers are such a cinch that you can have them ready in less than an hour!

Homemade Ritz Crackers
Adapted from Epicurious

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Ingredients
2 cups flour, all-purpose
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoon butter, unsalted, cold
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil, for garnish
1 tablespoon salt, for garnish

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, and 1/2 tsp of salt in the food processor. Pulse to combine. Add cold butter a few small pats at a time, and pulse to combine. Add olive oil. Pulse to combine. Add water a little bit at a time. Pulse to combine after each addition. The dough should start to form a ball.

Roll dough out as thin as you can. Use cookie cutters to cut the dough out. You can make them Ritz-shaped or any shape that you like. Poke holes in the dough in the Ritz pattern or any pattern you like.

Bake the crackers on a parchment-lined baking sheet for ten minutes or until the crackers just begin to brown. As soon as you remove the crackers from the oven, brush them with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Keep a close eye on your crackers to make sure they don’t bake for too long. Depending on how thin your dough is you made need to take a couple minutes off the baking times.

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Homemade Marshmallows

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In the second installment of this month’s Homemade Baking Challenge, I have demystified the science that goes into making marshmallows. The miracle of homemade marshmallows — the amazing alchemy of gelatin and hot sugar syrup — is a sight to behold. And once you make them, you’ll never go back to jet-puffed marshmallows in plastic bags again.

When I originally made these marshmallows I was on a sugar high for the entire weekend. Once I ate one, I couldn’t stop myself from devouring handfuls of more. To help yourself resist this urge, try packaging these marshmallows as a gift for friends. There is nothing better than curling up on a chilly day with a cup of hot chocolate with real homemade marshmallows.

The recipe in itself is actually pretty fool proof. However, you will definitely want a stand mixer if you decide to attempt these marshmallows. The mixture has to whip for about 15 minutes until it comes together and that’s not something you want to do with a hand mixer. Make sure to be careful when you begin to whip the hot sugar syrup as you don’t want any to get on your hands or arms. But once it’s cooled down, watching all the ingredients come to together is a fun activity that the entire family can enjoy!

Homemade Marshmallows Recipe
Makes approximately 9 dozen marshmallows
Adapted from Alton Brown

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Ingredients
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Directions
Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If you’d like to make cocoa marshmallows, whip in 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. This makes a great addition when you pair some homemade marshmallows with some hot chocolate for a present.

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Homemade Caramels

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Everything is better homemade, wouldn’t you agree?

This month I’ve decided to take the concept that everything is better homemade and turn it into a four-part baking series. My plan is to make homemade versions of candies and snacks that you would typically buy at the grocery store. I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for a while now, and decided there was no better time to share it with you than this month! I think you’ll enjoy all the recipes in this baking challenge for the simple reason that it’s fun to put your own personal twist on a classic item.

For the first installment this week, I’ll be showing you how to make homemade caramels. I love making (and eating) homemade candy throughout the holidays. In fact, this year I made these caramels as Christmas gifts for some of my friends and family. One kitchen item you definitely want to invest in when making these caramels is a good candy thermometer. If you’re trying to use a standard meat thermometer you’ll have problems. With a good thermometer and a little patience, these candies are a cinch to make and will turn out 100 times better than what you could buy at the store.

Homemade Caramels Recipe
Makes 4 to 5 dozen caramels
Adapted from Allrecipes

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Ingredients
2 cups white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup evaporated milk
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 cup butter
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions
Grease a 12×15 inch pan. In a medium-size pot, combine sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk, whipping cream, and butter. Monitor the heat of the mixture with a candy thermometer while stirring. When the thermometer reaches 250 degrees F (120 degrees C) remove the pot from the heat.

Stir in vanilla. Transfer mixture to the prepared pan and let the mixture cool completely. When cooled cut the Carmel into small squares and wrap them in wax paper for storage.

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Heather’s Helpful Hints
When cooking the caramels use a large pot because the mixture actually triples in size during the cooking phase. Also note that it will take from 30 to 40 minutes to get the caramel to 250 degrees—be patient!

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100 Calorie Chocolate Muffins

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Are you the type of person that can’t resist when a moist piece of chocolate cake is staring you right in the eye?

Welcome to my world.

Having a baking blog comes with its own set of health risks. If I make a strawberry cake for my blog, that very same cake sits in my kitchen for a week until I have finished it off—with Matt’s help of course. This is why I always try to have friends or coworkers that I can pawn my baked goods off on, lest my waistline be spared a few hundred calories. But more often than not, I find a reason to keep [insert name of delicious baked good] in the apartment for a few days so that I can enjoy it. The result is my eating way more than I intended. In this post, I’m sharing one of my best kept secrets.

What would you do if I would you there was a muffin that was only 100 calories that also tasted delicious?!

I’m not pulling on your heart strings. I was introduced to the world of Vita-Muffins about a year ago, and I became hooked. When I found out they had their own package mix that you can buy off of Amazon, I knew I’d died and gone to heaven. Now this post is hardly meant to be a promotional product review, but that’s sort of what it has become. By just adding egg whites and water you instantly have 12 portion sized muffins that you can store in the freezer for the moment that you need a chocolate fix. These muffins are a lifesaver for me. No they aren’t as tasty as a samoa cookie, but they still do a pretty good job of satisfying my sweet tooth.

100 Calorie Chocolate Muffins

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Ingredients
1 package Vita Muffin mix
3 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup walnuts or chocolate chips

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a standard 12 cup muffin pan with paper or aluminum baking cups. Combine VitaMuffin Mix with egg whites and water. Blend well. Scoop about 3 tablespoons of batter into each baking cup. For topping, evenly distribute 1/4 cup of chocolate chips. Bake for 23-27 minutes, or until firm.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
These are so foolproof I feel guilty offering any advice. Just be careful not to over-mix the batter or it will become tough.

Sweet Potato Pecan Muffins

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Although the holidays have come and gone, it appears that I can’t let go of one of my favorite seasonal vegetables—sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a fantastic source of beta carotene. They actually contain more beta-carotene than any other fruit or vegetable… including carrots! Sweet potatoes have about five times more calories than pumpkin, mostly due to the high amount of sugar. While sugar might not be great for your health, I love the flavor that it brings to baking. That is why I really enjoy substituting sweet potatoes for pumpkin in recipes.

In true fashion, I swapped in sweet potato for this muffin recipe that originally called for pumpkin. The result is a muffin that is subtly sweet with aromatic hints of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. I would happily serve these muffins to guests for breakfast or even wrap them up as a present, which is exactly what I did for Matt’s mom. Although they might not be test kitchen approved, Matt and I were so addicted to these muffins that we divided them equally between ourselves and neither one of us was willing to share!

Sweet Potato Pecan Muffins
Makes about 18 muffins

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Ingredients for Topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Ingredients for Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
15 ounces baked and pureed sweet potatoes

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two standard muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.

For the topping, combine flour, butter, sugar, chopped pecans and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

For the muffins, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl and mix well (I like to use a whisk). Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar at low speed until just blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; continue beating at medium speed until very light and fluffy, a few minutes. Add sweet potato and beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Turn speed down to low and mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Use an ice cream scoop to transfer batter to muffin pans, filling each muffin tin about ¾ full. Sprinkle topping evenly over batter. Bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool on rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool completely (use a butter knife to lift them out of pan).

Heather’s Helpful Hints
When making muffins, always fill any empty muffin tins halfway with water. This ensures that your muffins will bake evenly.

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