RECIPE: WHOOPIE!!!! Healthier Whoopie Pies!!

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I was at the library this Saturday, and I got to languish in the cookbook section for a while. While doing so I came across a cookbook that I have seen off and on at Target called "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld. She is the wife of famous comedian and writer of the Seinfeld show, Jerry Seinfeld. Evidently, she has found ingenious ways to sneak veggie purees in food to keep her family healthy. I have been curious about her recipes, so I checked her book out. My daughter flipped through it, and saw the delicious looking whoopie pies and wanted me to make them.

The recipe called for homemade spinach puree. In fact, all her recipes call for veggie purees. I am a veteran in making various purees from back when my daughter was a baby, but time these days is short! So, I decided to get a sweet organic blend of baby food to mix into the batter. Time gets cut and yet going organic helps keep the healthy vitamins. The veggie puree adds moistness but you can't really taste it. It truly is deceptive! I was very surprised. Better yet, so was my daughter!

Jessica goes way, way healthy for her recipes. I decided to not go as far as she did with these. However they are still healthier than typical whoopie pies! A decadent treat that you can feel less guilty about. WHOOP IT UP!

"Whoopie!" Healthier Whoopie Pies

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat graham flour/ whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (4.2 oz. roughly) blanched spinach puree (or a baby food mix of spinach with sweet fruit such as apple, pea and pear)
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
Nonstick cooking spray

Filling
6 tbsp. butter, softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
10 oz. Marshmallow creme
3/4 tsp. Vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line baking sheets with tin foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.


Whisk the flours, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.




In a large bowl, whisk or beat with an electric mixer the brown sugar with the oil until creamy. Add the vanilla extract and two eggs and vegetable puree. Whisk until fluffy and creamy. Add the flour and mix. Add the buttermilk, and mix. Continue alternating flour mixture and milk, mixing and ending on flour until well combined. Don't over mix.


Drop 2 tbsp dollops of batter 2" apart on the baking sheet. Bake 10 min. Flip sheets and bake another 10. Edges should be slightly brown and pies bounce back in the middle when touched. When done, let cool a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer pies to a cooling rack to completely cool.


Meanwhile, make the filling. Whip the butter and confectioners sugar until creamy. Add the marshmallow creme and vanilla, whip until fluffy.

Spread a few tablespoons on the flat side of a cooled cookie. Then sandwich it to another flat side of a cookie, making a sandwich. Continue until they are all sandwiched. Mixture may be goopy (mine were) but still yummy. If they are too goopy, chill filling for a bit before filling.  Enjoy with a cup of milk!

RECIPE: Cream Cheese Butter Cookies with Toffee Bits

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So its 8 pm and you look through your kids homework folder to discover:

A: Your child may bring a baked good to school for extra credit
B: An essay on Saint Pio is due the next day
C: You have no clean gym clothes for tomorrow
D: All of the above plus dishes, blogging, and reading a white paper draft from a colleague

If you picked D, you picked my evening! YAY!

What do you win?

The recipe I whipped up super fast after monkey-girl's bedtime so I could get to B, C and D!!!

And I have to say they were pretty good! I will find out tonight what the 4th grade class thought of them. I had to explain the butter stains on the draft of the white paper, though. Also, this recipe was adapted from "Cookies", by Sally Sampson

Cream Cheese Butter Cookies with Toffee Bits
makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients:

2 sticks butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk at room temp
1 well-rounded tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1.4 oz. Skor™ (or other chocolate covered toffee bar), chopped into small pieces

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375˚. Line baking sheets with tin foil.



Beat the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides as you go. Next, add the sugar, and beat until well mixed and fluffy. Next, add the egg yolk and vanilla until well combined. Now switch the mixer to low, and fold in the flour. Mix only until well combined, scraping the sides again. Now add the toffee bits, and mix with a spatula or spoon, by hand.



Drop the batter by the tablespoons, 2 inches apart, on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Then flip the sheets on the racks, and bake for another 10-12 minutes, or until edges are beginning to brown. Take the sheets out, and let them cool down for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

They are rich and delicate. Enjoy with a cold glass of milk.

Or if you had a night like "D" above, a glass of wine might be in order.


LIFESTYLE: Women and Community, and Why I think the Social Media Sphere is Booming among Women

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Women are social creatures. I think since the dawn of time, it has been this way. We talk, gossip and share. Mothers give advice and hand down recipes to their daughters. Men are social but in a very top line, superficial kind of way (no offense, guys). But guys don't ask a neighbor "My Daughter is teething and she doesn't like the teething ring I got her. What should I do?" and expect a 20 minute discussion about the pros and cons of this or that. If I call my mother, we are on the phone for an hour. If my husband calls his mother, he is on for 10 minutes. If I ask him what they talked about, he usually sums it up in two sentences. Even at the doctor office, men will ask little to no questions about anything. Recently, my husband had to take our daughter to the clinic for pink eye, and I could not take off work to go as well. When he called to tell me about the diagnosis, I barraged him with questions. "Is she contagious? How long does she take the medicine? Can she be among children? What do I have to do around the house? Are we susceptible? Can she go back to school tomorrow? Is the fever a normal side affect?"

I heard crickets.

Then he quietly answered, "I did not ask those things. The doctor didn't tell me anything else so I got the medicine and left."

We ask questions. We want to learn. We want to share our knowledge. We long for community among other women. We want to be part of something bigger; for validation, for support and for empowerment. I think we miss that. Our own physical communities have gotten so spread out and lonely. Our family structures that used to support us have moved or grown apart based on socioeconomic needs. Back in the day,  parents lived near children more. So did cousins and siblings. In the fictional book "The Red Tent",  an ancient biblical community would allow the women to hangout together in a tent during their cycle. They made special foods, talked, watched all the children and sang songs, all together. The sense of community and female bonding have always been around and it was easier to achieve. Church communities were tighter. Neighborhoods were tighter, and neighbors talked and watched out for other neighbors. Now, all this is becoming very rare. Aging parents are much more active and live in warmer climates, possibly miles away from helping or giving advice to their children. Siblings move to follow their jobs, sending them far away from nieces and nephews.


Hillary Clinton was right that it takes a village. But where is the village?


Enter the social media village.

I am in marketing for my other full time gig (I say other because being a mamma is my other, more important one as well as a being a blogger), and I see the stats. Social media is being run by women. This is an overstatement to a degree. But the fact is, most of the influencers and the people sharing and talking actively are women. And why is that?

It's the community of sharing. It's getting advice and making long distance friendships. It's feeling accepted and validated when you get a comment, a follow, or resyndicated. It's trusting other women that have been there and can tell you honestly what's what: whether it's a product, a school choice, life advice, cooking advice or gardening tips. It's a place to share ideas, and get better ones without feeling judged. Lets face it, as our communities that used to support each of us has shrunken and become more siloed, our lives have only gotten more and more complicated. We have more pressures, more to do and more things to worry about. We need ways to help ourselves and each other. We do need a village.

And we have made one.

RECIPE: "You Got your Apples in my Pecan Pie" Pie

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On my quest to find the perfect entry for the recent apple pie contest I won, I tried a few pie ideas. This was one that almost became my entry. Almost! My husband and I love making pecan pies for our daughter's school craft fair/bake sale. People have pre-ordered it and even have commissioned us to make extra ones for their holiday dinners. It is a popular pie at the bake sale. The pecans are processed until you get a thick nut-butter. Then you add eggs and such to create a pecan custard. You get a nice crisp outside and chewy, melty inside with pecan pieces for decoration and texture. The recipe comes from an old Paul Prudhomme cookbook we found for 2 bucks at a resale store back in the 90's. It is frayed and torn, and has had much love over the years.

So I wondered, what if I created an apple layer on the bottom, with a pecan top? Could that be a unique take to both kinds of pie by merging them together? Similar to the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials (I know, I am totally aging myself). My family tried it and they voted for it to be the entry for the contest. I think it would have been a viable contender, but I felt the sage approach (see last post) was more unique. After agonizing over it, almost not even entering at all, getting a firm talking to from my 9 year old about the drawbacks of being a quitter, I went with the brown butter sage one instead last minute. I think my husband was still bummed I did not go with this one.

But back to this pie. I think this pie would be a great Thanksgiving dessert, and I will say your younger guests will like it a lot...more than the sage brown-butter one. That pie is complex and different. It's not as friendly to children's palates like this one is. And this pie screams for some vanilla or caramel ice cream on top and some chicory coffee. Oh baby!

"You Got your Apples in my Pecan Pie" Pie

Ingredients:

Crust:
6 Tbsp. butter, chopped in 3/4 inch slices
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose white flour (pastry flour is even better)
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
2.25 oz. cream cheese, very cold
1 Tbsp. apple juice with ice
1 1/2 tsp. cider vinegar


Apple filling:
 4 cups mix of apples (mostly gala, some golden delicious and some zestar mixed in)
1 tsp. Frangelico or other nutty liquor
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch



Pecan filling: 
1/3 cup dark roasted pecans
2 eggs
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
1/2 cup pecan halves for the top

Directions:


Make the bottom crust:

Cut up your butter in tablespoon-size chunks, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes. In a Ziploc bag, add the flour, sugar and baking powder and freeze it as well for 30 minutes. In a food processor, pulse the flour a couple times.



Cut up the cream cheese in 3 chunks, and pulse into the flour until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.



Add the cider vinegar and pulse a few times. Add the chilled juice and pulse until the dough will come together when pressed with your finger (Do not over mix). If it doesn't, add a teaspoon more of juice and pulse a couple more times. Keep doing this until the dough comes together when pressed. It won't look like it will in the processor, and that's OK.





Pour the crumbly mixture on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Using your hands, fold the edge of the plastic wrap under your knuckles and press the dough. Keep doing this motion, using the plastic wrap as your barrier and helper to form the dough quickly into a ball. Fold it over itself a couple of times, then flatten into a disc. Cover completely with the wrap, and shape in your hands into a flat, round disc, about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least1 hour. Take it out ten minutes before rolling to make your life a little easier.


Roll dough out between two lightly floured sheets of plastic wrap into a circle to fit your pie pan giving yourself and extra 1/2 inch overhang. Peel the top saran piece off. Slip your hand under the saran and dough while placing your pie pan upside down above. Flip the dough over with the pie pan and place into the pie pan right side up. The plastic wrap will be on the top now. Peel the plastic wrap off after adjusting the dough to fit nicely. Press dough gently into the pan. Cut an even 1/2 inch overhang. With any extra dough, knead into a little ball and roll until flat again, Cut some decorative leaves (8-12) and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap the bottom crust as well as the leaves, and let rest in the fridge until ready to use. Can be done the night before.



Make the apples:

Peel core and slice 3-4 cups of apples (pictured here, I used Johnathan which I think were too soft, personally. I like a mix; Gala is the right sweetness as well as holds a little shape while cooking. You can mix in a Macintosh or Golden Delicious for softness and juice, and maybe a Honeycrisp, Zestar or Granny Smith for some firmer tartness.) and mix with the sugars, Frangelico and spices. Let macerate for 1 hour. In a large saute pan, add 1 Tbsp. butter. Melt over medium heat. Add the apples and cook on medium heat until beginning to soften. Take off heat and add cornstarch. Mix and set aside.




Make the pecan custard:

Brown the pecans in a small fry pan over medium heat until well browned but not burnt. Let cool. In a food processor, puree the pecans, scraping down the sides, until a thick paste forms. Add the eggs and dark corn syrup and process some more until smooth and creamy.



Assemble and Bake:
Place a baking sheet at the bottom-most rack in your oven. Preheat oven to 375˚ for 20 minutes.Take out your bottom crust and pour the apples in a layer evenly on the bottom. Next, pour the pecan custard over the apples. Take the pecan halves and starting in the outermost edge, create a circle with them. Create a second smaller circle in the center. Bake the pie directly on the baking sheet for 30-50 minutes. Cover the edges with tinfoil if it is getting brown too quickly. Bake the separate leaf decorations the last ten minutes of cooking. Take them out when nicely golden. The pie is done when the pecan filling is set and does not jiggle at all. There should be a dry top. Let cool for ten minutes. After that, you can place your baked leaf decorations in the open circle area in between the pecan circles. They will stick as the pie continues to cool and release steam. Serve warm with some ice cream.







RECIPE: First Place Apple Pie, Brown-Butter Sage and Maple Apple Pie with Mascarpone Crust

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Maybe third time was the charm? Maybe I finally baked the right combo of apples the right way to get the right softness? Either way, I played with three recipes all month ( I will post the other contender later this week) and this one rose to the top, and it won our parish fall festival's apple pie contest this weekend! I am still on cloud nine!

Here is me being a proud dork with my silver engraved pie server trophy. Yeah. So? You get up at 5 a.m. and bake 2 pies with ornate leaf tops with no coffee in sight.

I did not want to do anything typical. And as I was brainstorming, I was inspired by a stuffing I made one year for turkey...of all things. The stuffing had apples, sage and raisins. The sage with the apples were a great combo. So I thought, why not for pie? Instead of raisins, I decided on getting that earthy sweetness from maple syrup. Then, I wanted a sweet yet earthy crust to carry the apples. I found my inspiration for that in Rose Beranbaunm's Pie and Pastry Bible. Her cream cheese crust is a stalwart work horse for her...and my...pies. But nestled under "variations" for this crust in her book was a note mentioning substituting Mascarpone for the cream cheese. Oh baby! That was the ticket. When I tested it at work, people commented that the crust was, "magical", "memorable", even "haunting" with the addition of maple extract. That's when I knew I had my entry.

You will see here, I was going for presentation points with the full leaf top. You can keep yours simple. My tip to you if you wish to make this ornate top is to precut the leaves the night before, and separate layers with plastic wrap or parchment paper as you lay them on top of each other on a baking sheet. Wrap them tightly in the fridge and they will be ready the next day. The wait time helps the gluten relax, too, because the dough gets reworked and rerolled when cutting all the leaves and you want the dough to be tender. Sitting in the fridge does wonders here.

This pie has great fall flavors and is pretty unique. It would be great for Thanksgiving. I used the sage from my garden and apples that were in season. A couple things to note about the apples, I used a mix for the filling. I went for tender, tart-yet-sweet apple that holds it's shape while still baking up soft (being the GALA apple), and mixed in a little GOLDEN DELICIOUS for sauciness and juice, and a new apple on the scene called a ZESTAR for some firmer texture (but not as firm as a Granny Smith) with a spicy tartness to kick things up a little. The ratios were 70% Gala (Northern Spy, Ida Reds or Pippins are good replacements), 15% Golden Delicious (Macs or Johnathans would work as a replacement) and 15% Zestar (Pink Lady or Honeycrisp could work here). I conducted an apple experiment last year and I do need to add to my findings with galas and some newer apples. The link is here if you want to know more.


My 1st Place Apple Pie: Brown-Butter Sage and Maple Apple Pie with Mascarpone Crust

Crust
12 Tbsp. butter, cold and cut up
2 cups plus 3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
4.5 oz. Mascarpone cheese, chilled
3/4 tsp. maple extract mixed with 2 tsp. chilled water
1-2 more tsp. chilled water
1 Tbsp. sugar

Filling
8 lbs. apples, about 6-8 cups, peeled and sliced to 1/4 " thick (about 5 galas, 1 1/2 or so golden delicious and 1 1/2 or so Zestar apple)
2 Tbsp. butter (for sauteing apples)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup real maple syrup
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
splash of vanilla
6 Tbsp. butter (for the brown butter)
12-15 small to medium tender sage leaves (I avoid the big ones, they are too tough and punchy)
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. corn starch

Topping:
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. water
sugar in the raw for sprinkling

Directions:


Make the crust:
I have recently decided I like making my crusts by hand. It actually is less work, and you don't overwork the dough, making the crust more tender! Seriously. Food processors are a pain to clean and put back. All you need is a pastry cutter (or even a fork!) a bowl and some elbow grease. Pour your flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk with a fork, and cut in the 12 Tbsp. butter with a pastry cutter until you have the texture of small peas. Add the mascarpone in a few clumps and cut that in until you have the texture of coarse cornmeal. Pre mix the maple extract with the water, then drizzle it over the flour. You will not need much for things to start coming together, mascarpone has a lot of moisture. Add the 1-2 more teaspoons and continue to bring together with a pastry cutter or your hands at this point. Using saran wrap, quickly wrap two balls of dough, evenly divided, and flatten into round discs. Let chill for 30 minutes or overnight. If premaking cut out shapes, pull out the top crust dough ten minutes before rolling, and roll between plastic wrap lightly dusted with flour until 1/8 inch thick. Cut out your shapes, layering them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Take the scraps and reroll flat again, and continue cutting. Keep going until the dough is all gone, and layering leaves on layers of parchment in tiers. Cover tightly and refrigerate for atleast an hour, or overnight. Roll out your bottom crust as well between saran wrap until it fits your pie pan with 1/2 inch overhang. Peel off the top saran wrap, and with your hand slid under the bottom of the dough flip it into your pie dish and peel off the bottom saran wrap (which will then be at the top) as you adjust the position of the dough. Press into the pie dish, trim so the overhang is 1/2 thick on all sides (patching as you need). Wrap pan in saran wrap tightly and let rest for one hour or overnight as well. Resting lets the gluten relax and prevent shrinking and toughness.
 If this is done overnight, you are ready to be a rock'n baker the next day. A lot of work is done!

Filling:
Core and slice your apples. (I was given an apple peeler/corer one year and it is the best gadget I have ever had. If you make a lot of apple pies, I highly recommend this gadget. Makes quick work of peeling and coring apples, and they are the most perfect, even slices you could ever have.) Toss the apples with the sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, vanilla. Let macerate for 1-2 hours. 





While that is sitting, I make my brown butter. Take 6-8 sage leaves (if I have some baby leaves, I make 2 count for 1) and rinse them lightly and cut them into a chiffonade. Add them to the 6 Tbsp. butter in a small sauce pan with a light colored bottom. Melt the butter and simmer it until all the foam disappears and the butter becomes a nice amber brown. Brown solids will float to the bottom of the pan. Don't worry. Take the brown butter off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Strain the butter through a fine wire sieve lined with cheesecloth into a small bowl. Set aside.

Drain the apples in a colander, reserving the juice. Depending on your apples you may have 1-2 cups of juice or just over 1/2 cup. Pour the reserved juices in a small sauce pan and cook it until it is thick and caramelized, reduced to about 1/3 of a cup. Set aside as well.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt the 2 Tbsp. butter on medium high heat. Add the drained apples and saute for 10 minutes until just softened. This just gets things going and ensures no tough apples in the pie. Return the apples to the macerating bowl. Into the apples, add the cornstarch. Take the remaining 6-8 sage leaves, and cut them into a chiffonade and add them to the apples. Toss lightly. Add the reduced juices and the brown butter, and toss.


Assembly and Baking:
Preheat oven to 425˚ with a rack at the lowest part of your oven and a parchment lined baking sheet on it. Heat the baking sheet for atleast 20 minutes before putting your pie in.

Take out your dough. Fill the bottom crust with the apples. You can mound them if you are doing a simple crust. If you are doing a leaf crust, less of a mound will be easier to work with. Start from the outer edge and place leaves from stem on the outer bottom crust and the tips pointing inward. Overlap a little as you go around. Now do the next inner circle, overlapping, and finally the innermost circle. With the overhang, fold over and onto the leaf stems, crimping with your fingers, making a seam. I usually have extra leaves at this point, and I place them on the edge right on top of the crust edging following parallel the circle of the pie.

Whisk the yolk and water and brush over the top of the leaves gently. Sprinkle with the raw sugar. Place the pie directly on the baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes. Then cover the edges with tinfoil or a pie shield. After 10-15 minutes, check on it again. If the crust is getting brown but you are not seeing thick bubbling from the apples, tent the pie completely with tinfoil and a steam hole for 10 minutes until the apples catch up. The pie should take about 50 minutes or so, depending on your oven. Let sit and cool for at least a couple hours before cutting into it.

ps: pictures shown were my test pie, not the contest winner. The yolk glaze, right apple mixture and precooking the apples I did for the winning pie, so the pictures are not completely true to crust color & texture and apple colors and textures.

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