Vanilla Sugar Shortbread Wedges

Last year, I took part in the LA Food Bloggers Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry!  I met so many wonderful bloggers and had a great time.  Plus, I had BLD‘s life-changing Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes.  So really, it was a win-win day!

This year, my wonderful husband spotted a newspaper article asking for volunteer bakers for a No Kid Hungry Bake Sale closer to home!  The Redlands Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry sponsored by a Team called the IE Cookie Monsters.  It had to be fate!  You know how I feel about cookies!!

After sending an Email to Team IE Cookie Monsters, I started planning what I wanted to bake. Of course, I had to make brownies. That seems to be a tradition now.  I knew I wanted to do something different, but what?   After a bit of recipe searching, I settled on these easy and delicious Vanilla Sugar Shortbread Wedges.  They are thick, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, have with a cup of tea on a rainy day, cookies.
Scored Shortbread Wedges

I’m planning on making these again for Mothers Day.  That is, if I can wait that long for another batch.

Vanilla Sugar Shortbread

Vanilla Sugar Shortbread

Ingredients:

2 Sticks Unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1/4 cup Vanilla Sugar (or regular sugar, with one tsp vanilla bean paste), plus extra for dusting

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar

2 cups Flour

1 tsp salt

Directions:

In a bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until it turns a pale yellow.  On a sheet of parchment paper, sift sugars together using a fine mesh sieve. Pick up the parchment paper and use it to gently add sugar mix to the butter. Continue to beat until thick and creamy (about 5 minutes).  If you are using regular sugar, add the vanilla paste after you’ve creamed the sugar and butter together.

Sift flour and salt together over the same sheet of parchment paper.  Add to butter/sugar mix, mix until just incorporated.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

After dough has chilled, press gently in an 8″ round cake pan.  No need to grease the pan, there is plenty of butter in the dough!  Score the dough into wedges, so it will be easier to cut when it’s done baking.

Bake for 1 hour, or until the top of the shortbread has barely browned.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Cut the shortbread along the score marks, forming eight large wedges.  Dust lightly with 1 tsp granulated sugar.

Share these with a friend and a cup of hot tea or coffee.

Vanilla Shortbread Wedges

NOTE:  These make very thick cookies.  You can split the dough in half and use two cake pans.  Shorten your cooking time to 35-40 minutes (watch carefully).  You can also roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and use cookie cutters.  If you use cookie cutters, place the dough back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before baking.  Baking cold cookies will help them maintain their shape.

ENJOY!!

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Berry Chocolate Ganache Tart

I love it when things push me out of my comfort zone. I combined three different recipes to create this gorgeous Berry Tart! I’m pretty proud of myself too. It wasn’t without some trepidation and learning though! If you make ganache on a regular basis, please skip ahead and don’t read the following imperfections of a regular non-ganache making person.

Berry Chocolate Ganache Tart

Are we alone now? No professional ganache makers among us? Whew! Let me tell you, this one freaked me out a little. I’ve only made ganache in the safety of a cooking class with an instructor ready if I screwed up. This time it was just me, some chocolate, heavy cream and a bit of butter. How hard could it be? Well, let me say, I am thankful for the expertise of Alton Brown and my microwave!

The instructions for ganache are simple: Chop 8 oz of good quality chocolate and put it in a bowl. That’s great, except if you think “Cool! 8 oz is a cup so I only need a cup of chopped chocolate.” Wrong. You need EIGHT OUNCES of chopped chocolate. If you don’t have a digital scale in your kitchen, please go get one as soon as possible. Turns out, eight ounces of chopped chocolate was almost equal to a cup and three-quarters. Lesson learned. We move on to “Sara attempts to make ganache, TAKE TWO!”

The next ganache instruction is “In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a very low simmer.” The cream is used to melt the chocolate and needs to be warm enough to do that and melt butter later. This does not mean, when you see little bubbles around the edges of the pan it’s at a “low simmer.” Little bubbles around the edges of the pan mean you need to let it heat more! Otherwise you’ll be using memories of Good Eats “The Art of Darkness III” and your microwave! My cream wasn’t warm enough so I had to put my chocolate and cream mix in the microwave for just a few seconds, twice, to get the right consistency. I could have saved myself the hassle by simply bringing the cream to the right temperature the first time. Every one of you will do that now, right? I hope you’re nodding because I’m going to invite the ganache makers back to the conversation and we want to be cool.

Ganache lovers! Welcome back! Let’s get to tart making, shall we?

I used my grandmothers Pate Sucree (Pastry made with Sugar) recipe. Then, I followed Joy The Baker’s chocolate ganache recipe, and finally, topped this beauty with tons of fresh berries a simple recipe for sweet cream!

Berry Chocolate Ganache Tart

Let’s start with the tart!

Tart Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 TBLS sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 TBLS unsalted butter, cut into pieces and frozen
1 egg yolk
1 TBLS plus 1 tsp cold water

In your food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the frozen butter, egg yolk and 1 TBLS cold water. Process for 5-10 seconds. If the dough looks too dry, add the additional 1 tsp water, but don’t over process it.

(You can do this by hand, if you don’t have a food processor. Don’t freeze your butter if you do it by hand but it does need to be very well chilled. Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the cold butter and use a pastry blender or your fingers to mix until the dough resembles coarse bread crumbs. Beat together the egg yolk and the water, then add it to the dough and stir until just blended.)

Pour the dough into a round 8 inch tart pan with a removable bottom, or you can use 6 mini tart pans for individual desserts, press dough gently around the bottom and up the sides to form a solid crust. Place the pan it in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

While the crust is chilling, make your ganache!

Chocolate Ganache filling

8 ounces dark or milk chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

Place your chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, bring the cream to a very low simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for two minutes. Use a whisk and start stirring in the center of the bowl. Don’t lift the whisk off the bottom of the bowl, but continue stirring from the center out until the mixture is smooth. Add your butter chunks and use a spatula to stir the ganache until the butter is completely melted and your mixture is nice and glossy. Set aside to cool to room temperature and thicken up.

While you are waiting for the tart crust to finish chilling and the ganache to thicken, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

When the oven is hot (AND the hour is up for chilling your tart crust) remove the tart from the refrigerator, place a piece of buttered-foil (butter side down) on the tart (or use beans or a pie chain, whatever you want!) to weigh down the tart and keep it from bubbling while it bakes. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until it’s a light golden brown.

Allow the tart to cool completely.

Berries and Sweet Cream Topping

1 cup heavy cream
3 TBLS powdered sugar
3/4 tsp Almond extract

1 1/2 cups assorted fresh berries

In a medium bowl, using a hand blender (or do it yourself with a whisk!) beat all the ingredients (except the fruit) together until you get soft peaks or it starts to look like Cool Whip! But don’t use Cool Whip, this tastes better!!

To assemble this delicious-ness, spoon ganache filling into the cooled tart shell. Spread evenly with a spatula. Pile the berries on the ganache and top with sweetened cream.

Berry Chocolate Tart

These are well worth the effort to make for that someone special for Valentines Day, or, you know, just because it’s Tuesday. Either way, have fun!

Peanut Butter Cookies with Mini Chips and Smoked Sea Salt

Everyone has their favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. I love peanut butter cookies rolled in sugar with a Hershey Kiss in the middle. These are perfect Valentine treats!

Next to the famous Toll House Cookie recipe, I think these are my husbands favorite! I didn’t have any Kisses in the house, but I did have mini chocolate chips and smoked sea salt. I thought it would be a fun way to say “Welcome Home” and “Happy Friday!” to my favorite Valentine!

Here is how they turned out…
Mini Chip Smoked Sea Salt Peanut Butter Cookies

Not bad, right? You should make a dozen (or three) for your favorite Valentine!

Peanut Butter Cookies with Mini Chips and Smoked Sea Salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter – use your favorite!
11/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tsp smoked sea salt

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle, cream together the butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add 1 cup granulated sugar, all of the brown sugar and continue to beat at least two minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing for one minute between each egg.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Stop the blender and scrape down the sides. Add flour mixture all at once into batter. Mix on low-speed until just combined. Remove from the mixer, scrape down the sides and incorporate any leftover flour mix that may not have gotten mixed in. Place the mixing bowl in refrigerator for 1 hour.

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and then roll in sugar before placing them on parchment lined baking sheets. Dip a fork in the remaining sugar and flatten each ball, making a criss-cross pattern. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies begin to brown slightly around the edges.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle 1/4 tsp of mini chips on each cookie. Sprinkle the whole batch lightly with smoked sea salt.

Let cool completely and enjoy!

S’mores with Homemade Marshmallows!

I couldn’t think of a better way to begin this new chapter in my life, than heading out to Santa Monica to take a S’mores class from my favorite place on the planet: The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories!

OK, so the class was scheduled well before I knew it would officially be my first day off, but still.. here’s to SWEET beginnings!

While we made chocolate ganache and homemade graham crackers in class, the highlight for me was the marshmallows! I’d heard they are easy to make. Heck, I even have the French Laundry recipe for their famous Marshmallows. I’ve just never taken time to make them myself. Well, it’s true, they ARE super easy! You will need a heavy bottom sauce pan, a stand mixer and a candy thermometer, but it’s worth it! Here is the recipe:

Honey Marshmallows
recipe courtesy of The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories

3/4 cup cold water
3 TBLS gelatin (about 3 packets)

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey

2 egg whites
1 TBLS sugar
Pinch of salt

2/3 cup powdered sugar, split, for dusting.
1/2 cup powdered sugar for rolling marshmallows after they are set and cut.

(We used powdered sugar because we were making marshmallows for S’mores. Regular sugar would burn when we toasted the marshmallows but if you giving them as gifts, you can use regular sugar!)

Directions:
1) Line a half sheet or quarter sheet pan with parchment paper and dust with 1/3 cup powdered sugar.
2) Place 3/4 cup cold water in a medium bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water and set aside.
3) Place the honey, 1/2 cup water and 2 cups sugar in a medium sauce pot and cop up to 240 degrees (soft ball stage for you candy makers out there)
4) While the sugar is cooking, start beating your egg whites, 1 TBLS sugar and pinch of salt in a stand mixer until you reach soft peaks.
5) Once your sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees, slowly drizzle it, with the whisk attachment running on medium speed, into your egg whites.
6) Keep beating the mixture for about 2 minutes. Add in your gelatin and beat another 10 minutes.
7) Pour into prepared pan, sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup powdered sugar and chill to set. You can also leave them at room temperature for about 24 hours.

These are my marshmallows freshly dusted and ready for the fridge!

8) Once the marshmallows are set, turn them over onto a cutting surface. Use a sharp knife and cut them into squares or use cookie cutters to create whatever shapes you’d like! If you use a cookie cutter, be sure to spray it with non-stick cooking spray so it will go through the marshmallow easier!
9) Gently roll cut marshmallows in a pan with 1/2 cup powdered sugar and you’re ready to eat!

There are about a million things you can do to marshmallows. You can add freeze-dried fruits, add vanilla bean (which we did!), stir in flavored extracts like peppermint, coconut or almond, swirl in anything from chocolate ganache (which we did!), peanut butter, caramel, nutella, lemon curd or whatever strikes your fancy! You can roll them in different things too – like shredded coconut or crushed candy canes. They are super versatile. Use your imagination and have fun!

Next up for me? Salted Caramel Cream Swirled Marshmallows! Probably as Christmas gifts. See, I told you life was sweet! 🙂

Iced Lemonade Sugar Cookies

Summer is in full-swing! The bees are buzzing. Our tomato plants are bursting with ripe, juicy vegetables. It’s time for vacations, BBQ’s, beach parties and plenty of iced tea and lemonade!

A fun twist on lemonade for your next summer picnic are these Lemonade Sugar Cookies with a sweet lemon glaze!

This is actually a failed attempt at something soft and pillowy. Flat and crisp is just as good, right? Thank goodness mistakes can be delicious too! Especially in My Imperfect Kitchen!

Iced Lemonade Sugar Cookies

Ingredients
2/3 cup of frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed and divided
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups powdered sugar

Directions

In a large bowl, cream butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift flour with baking soda, and add to the creamed mixture, along with 1/3 cup of the lemonade concentrate.

Set the rest of the concentrate aside to use later as a glaze!

Drop batter by rounded tablespoons on ungreased baking sheets. Make sure to put them about 2 inches apart, because they will spread a bit.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Don’t over cook them!

Take the cookies from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

While the cookies are cooling, make the glaze! Mix two tablespoons of the remaining lemonade concentrate with the powdered sugar. If the glaze is too thick, continue to add concentrate until the glaze is a consistency that you like!

Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cookies and store in an air-tight container.

I love the glaze for these cookies! The lemonade concentrate makes it tart and the powdered sugar gives a nice contrast of sweet. I’ve used this same glaze over warm lemon bundt cake and it’s fantastic! You could also use it in a poke cake. It’s very versatile! 🙂

Enjoy!

Easy Panna Cotta with Homemade Blackberry Sauce!

I love Blackberries! When I came across this easy-peasy blackberry sauce and an even easier Panna Cotta recipe, I knew it would be a match made in Blackberry Heaven!

And you know what? It was!

I can hardly wait to share this with you, so let’s just get to it!

For the Blackberry Sauce, you will need:

3 cups fresh blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 TBLS pure vanilla extract
1 lemon – zested and juiced (alternately you could use an orange, but I prefer the tart lemon to balance the sweet of the berries)

Dump everything in a pot together, bring to a boil over medium heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Didn’t I tell you this was EASY?!? Are you running out to buy berries now? You should be!

Pour the sauce into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. Use a spatula to press the liquid out, leaving the seeds and any berry pulp behind. You should get about 2 1/2 cups of sauce out of this! If you still have some seeds and pulp in the sauce, simply strain it again through a cheesecloth. (If you do this, it will get stained so don’t use a cloth you want to keep!) Pour the finished sauce into a jar and let it chill out in the fridge.

Simple. Versatile. Fresh! You can use this sauce on so many things! Garnish a piece of pound cake with it. Use it over ice-cream. Substitute it for a thin pancake syrup. Or, you can use it for the Panna Cotta!

Honey Yogurt Panna Cotta

2 tsp gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup 1/2 and 1/2
1/4 cup honey
1 cup plain yogurt

Pour the water into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over the water. Let sit for 10 minutes.

While the gelatin is blooming, in a small saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the honey in the 1/2 and 1/2, stirring just until hot. Do not boil! Add the gelatin and continue to stir over very low heat until well combined. Take the pan off the heat, add the yogurt and whisk until smooth. Pour the mix into small custard cups and refrigerate for at least three to four hours. I used 1/2 cup custard cups and was able to make six Panna cotta with this recipe.

To serve, pour a small amount of blackberry sauce on the bottom of a plate. Gently unmold the Panna Cotta from the cups and place on top of the sauce. Top with whole berries and a bit of mint for some color!

This was so simple to put together and made a lovely summer dessert!

Enjoy foodie friends!

xoxox ~ Sara

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