Thursday, 24 March 2011

Lemon Blossoms (Easy Things to Do With Cake Mix #3)

And, with this post, I am finally done with the three boxes of yellow cake mix that I had left over from Christmas. The first two were used to make Pecan Cake Bars and Raspberry Oat Bars, respectively. Both recipes are delicious and quick ways to use cake mix, with the raspberry oat bars being a real stand-out in terms of flavor and ease of assembly. For this last box of mix, I decided to stick to the fruity route, and I chose a recipe called Lemon Blossoms from Paula Deen, which are tiny little lemon cakelets baked in a mini-muffin pan and covered in a lemon glaze. I had it in mind to test as a potential Easter recipe (for some reason, Easter and lemons are always associated in my mind), plus it sounded like a great, bright, spring-time recipe now that Spring is officially here.

Although, you'd never know Spring is here from all the snow I've been cleaning off of my car every morning, but that's another story.

This recipe starts with an ordinary box of yellow cake.

Normally, when I make a lemon cake from a mix, I buy the lemon-flavored mix, and dump in a box of lemon Jell-o to make the color bright and the flavor pop. It is an easy thing to do, and I recommend it for anyone who wants a quick lemon cake. This recipe, however, calls for a box of yellow cake mix, and a box of instant lemon pudding, so I was very interested to see how the flavor of this cake compared to my standard from-the-box lemon cake (Spoiler Alert: this recipe is divine).

Combine cake mix, pudding, lemon zest, eggs, and vegetable oil in the mixer until well-combined. The batter will be very thick, resist the urge to add extra liquid, these cakes are supposed to be dense, like a tea cake.

Fill a sprayed mini-muffin tin (no liners) with batter, filling the wells half full of batter. The blossoms rise a lot, and if they spill over the top of the well, getting them out of the pan might be harder, so make sure you only fill up half way.

Now, they bake in a pre-heated oven. The tops will spring back when they are done, mine took about 15 minutes, although the directions say 12.

When they come out, before they cool, invert the pan and turn them out onto a towel. Paper towels are fine.

You can right them if you want.

At this stage I was a little worried. Mine looked browner than Paula's -- baking them until the sprang back seemed to turn them into what felt like little hockey pucks...or so I thought.

Now it is time to dip them in the glaze. Paula calls for you to dip them as soon as you turn them out onto the towel. I didn't do this, because I didn't have my glaze made yet. I don't think the blossoms ended up any worse for wear, but that is your decision. So, prep your glaze (you can even do this before you assemble the dough, just be sure to cover the glaze, and stir it again before you dip): lemon juice, lemon zest, a little veggie oil (I didn't put as much in as she called for), and a little water.

There are two ways to dip: you can either dip the entire blossom, or just the top. It definitely affects the flavor, and both are yummy. The texture is a little softer if you dip the whole thing, but the lemon flavor is much stronger, so I recommend trying it both ways to see what you like better. If you intend to dip the entire blossom for most or all of them, I'd double the glaze, because I started running a little low.

Dip them, Put them on a rack on top of wax paper, so that the excess glaze can run off, and let them set for about an hour before you try to pack them for storing.

They look a little like glazed doughnut holes, and the taste is wonderful. The cake is dense, but the flavor is light and bright. The amount of cake you choose to dip will really affect the level of lemon. I loved them both ways, they are the perfect accompaniment to tea, and just a great addition to a dessert spread in general.

There's no reason why you can't substitute lime juice and zest, or orange juice and zest to change the flavor. You can use vanilla pudding in the mix, or you can use lime or orange Jell-o, respectively. There's also no reason why you can't substitute a chocolate cake mix and chocolate pudding, and make the glaze out of vanilla and water instead (or substitute a chocolate glaze).

Lemon Blossoms
(Printable Recipe)


  • 1 box of yellow cake mix (18.5)
  • 1 package lemon instant pudding (3.5 oz)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 C vegetable oil

Glaze *

  • 4 C confectioner's sugar
  • 1/3 C lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbls vegetable oil
  • 2 tbls water


  1. Combine cake mix, pudding, zest, eggs and oil in mixer, and mix until combined, about 2 minutes
  2. Spray a mini-muffin tin with butter spray, and fill the wells half full with batter. This recipe makes 48 mini-muffins, and uses 2 pans
  3. Bake in a pre-heated 350F oven for 12-15 minutes
  4. Turn out immediately on a tea towel
  5. In the meantime, make the glaze, combining all glaze ingredients together
  6. Dip the blossoms, either by covering completely, or by dipping the tops (*double the glaze recipe if you want to completely cover all blossoms)
  7. Let glaze harden for an hour before putting away
  8. Can store at room temperature

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Shepherd's Pie, Lightened Up

As you might have detected from several of my past blog posts, I like themes. I highly enjoy seasonal cooking and baking, to the point where I will cling to any excuse to incorporate a theme into my kitchen experiments. This post is no exception, although with far more legitimate origins. It is, after all, still St. Patty's season, which means, for me, that all things even slightly Irish in origin are a-go. So I decided to give Shepherd's Pie a try.

Shepherd's Pie, aka Cottage pie, is a meat pie topped with a mashed potato crust. Termed "cottage" as a reference to the poor people who could not afford to indulge in extravagant meals, this pie was originally conceived in the 18th century as a way to use up leftover meat scraps. It was paired with the potato due to the latter's affordability (potatoes were relatively cheap at the time). Originally, cottage/shepherd's pies were made with beef mince, and although both terms are still used interchangeably, many current shepherd's pie recipes contain mutton instead of beef (due to the connection between shepherds and lambs, presumably).

Hey, I'm a meat and potato kinda girl. But I'm also a "trying to get back in shape" girl, so I decided to give this recipe a try with some heavy modifications because: A) I don't like lamb; and B) I'm on a diet, so I need to try and keep things light. Mashed potatoes and "light" are not exactly synonymous, but I think this recipe does a good job. Don't get me wrong, because of my modifications, you won't entirely mistake it for a full-fat version, but it is flavorful and pretty healthy, while still tasting like comfort food. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that many of the ingredients in this recipe can be swapped out in favor of their full-fat counterparts if you wish.

Like all Shepherds Pies, this one begins with mashed potatoes. So grab and peel some potatoes (I used russet, but you can use whatever you like), cut them into quarters, and then bring them to a boil uncovered with some whole, peeled garlic cloves. You want to boil them until they are fork-tender, probably at least 15 minutes, closer to 20 for larger chunks.

Drain the potato chunks and garlic and put them in whatever container you are going to use to mash them in. For myself, I mash them right in the pot I boiled them in. Add the sour cream, 1/4C beef broth, butter substitute (or real butter if you want to splurge), and the cheese, and mash them up. I do this by hand, I am not a fan of potatoes that have been whipped by a mixer. Plus, it is easy to overmix them using a mixer, and then the consistency is all wrong. My advice is to stick to a hand masher, especially since this volume of potatoes isn't large.  As you mash, check the consistency of the mashies. If you think they need a little more liquid, add some from the reserved 1/4C beef stock, but do so slowly, it is easy to add liquid but next to impossible to take it away. When you're done with the potatoes, cover them and put them aside temporarily while you focus on the meat.

First up is the bacon. I used turkey bacon, which I cooked in the microwave to save time (the directions will be on the box). If you plan on using regular bacon, fry it first, and then cook everything else in the bacon fat.

Chop up some onion and carrots, and prep some peas (I usually make a meat and potato only pie, but I decided to test out this recipe with the veggies in it, and was pleasantly surprised).

Saute your onions in olive oil spray on medium high until they begin to sweat and turn translucent, and then add and brown your beef.

Add in the peas and carrots and minced garlic, and cook for another few minutes. Add in some tomato paste and flour, and mix well to combine.

Then, in goes the beer. Dump in a full bottle of beer and bring everything up to a boil for 3 minutes. I used Guinness, and it smelled absolutely fabulous while it was cooking. As you mix it, try to scrape the bottom of the pan for all of those lovely browned bits accumulating at the bottom.

Add the crumbled bacon, the beef broth, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste, and bring the mixture back up to a boil. Once it boils, turn down the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes or so.

Now it is time to assemble. I made mine in a 9.5" glass pie plate. Put all of the meat into the dish, and spread it into an even layer. Then, spread the potatoes on top. Spritz some butter substitute spray (like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter) on top of the potatoes.

This goes into the oven for about 30 minutes. Pull it out, sprinkle about a cup of cheese on, and pop it back into the oven for another 10 minutes, so that the cheese can melt.

This needs to rest for about 10 minutes before you slice into it. And there you have it. Comfort food without the guilt. This pie really is tasty, despite being considerably lightened up. I am convinced it is the Guinness, it adds such a distinctive taste to the meat.

As an aside, my mashed potatoes didn't look like much in the pot, or when I was spreading them on top of the meat, but when I cut into the pie, I was shocked to find out that my potato layer was about 3 times as thick as my meat layer. Next time, I will probably split the potatoes in half. I'll put half on the pie, and save half in the freezer for another day, either as a quick side dish or to make another pie.

Shepherd's Pie, Lightened Up
(Printable Recipe)


Potato Cheese Topping:

  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, fat-free
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup beef broth (low sodium, fat-free)
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter substitute (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter or your favorite), softened
  • 1/2 C shredded fat-free cheddar cheese (from 1 3/4 C bag)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Nonstick cooking spray

 Meat and Veggie Filling

  • 6 slices turkey bacon, crumbled
  • 2 medium onions or one large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1 pound ground beef (extra lean, 93%)
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, chopped, (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste (3oz)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer (I used Guinness but a lighter beer is also fine)
  • 1/2 cup beef broth (low sodium, fat-free)
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Remainder of fat-free Cheddar 


Prepare potato topping:

  1.  In a large saucepan add the potatoes and garlic and cover with cold water. 
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. 
  3. Transfer the potatoes and garlic back to the pot.
  4.  Add the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the broth, butter, salt and pepper, and mash with a masher until most of the lumps are gone, and garlic is also smashed. If using a mixer, be very careful not to over-mix.
  5.  If the mixture is too dry, add the remaining 1/4 cup broth. 
  6. Cover and set aside.

Meat and Pie Assembly

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Spray a, 8-10-inch round baking dish with nonstick spray.
  3. Cook bacon (in skillet or in microwave).
  4. Saute onions in cooking spray until translucent
  5. Stir in the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until the beef browns, about 7 minutes. 
  6. Add the carrots, peas, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
  7.  Stir in the tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring, until well blended, about 2 minutes. 
  8. Add the beer, bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. 
  9. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes 
  10. Add the cooked bacon, the broth, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
  11. Spoon the meat mixture into the prepared baking dish. 
  12. Spread the potato topping evenly over the beef mixture. 
  13. Bake until the filling is hot, the topping is lightly browned and the edges are bubbly, about 30 minutes. 
  14. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes. 
  15. Let rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Oreo Balls That Don't Need Refrigeration. Is there anything butter can't do?!

This isn't even a real recipe, but it is important enough that I wanted a post about it.

Oreo balls are amazing. They are one of the easiest and most popular things in my entire food prep repertoire. If you haven't tried making them, I can't recommend them enough. Wherever you bring them, people will love you. There's just one problem. They contain a block of cream cheese, which means they have to be refrigerated. While this isn't often a huge deal (they normally disappear too fast for this to be too much of an issue), it can present a problem if fridge space is short, or if they are going to be sitting out for a while (for a picnic, etc), or if you want to use them for something like event favors.

Oreo balls are already delicious and addicting, but I wanted to find a way to cut out the cream cheese without compromising the flavor, yielding an Oreo ball that would be just as delicious, but could be stored at room temp.  This St. Patrick's Day was the perfect opportunity since I was planning to make a batch of Shamrock balls (mint Oreo balls) anyway.

I wanted to do this for the sake of convenience, but also for the sake of my sanity. I won't let my milk sit out for more than a minute on the counter. Is anyone else like this?

 I can't bear the thought of milk, or any dairy product for that matter, going bad. I'm one of those people that searches through all the milk gallons for the one with the latest date. I'm one of those people that sniffs the milk every time I take it out, and if I detect even the slightest aroma, down the drain it goes. I have a deeply-rooted fear of dairy products sitting out too long. When I bring something dairy  that needs to be refrigerated to someone's house, I make sure it goes right into the fridge. And, when it sits out to be served, I helicopter around it nervously, waiting to put it back into the fridge.

Mind you, I'm a microbiologist. It's my job to think about bacterial growth. Heck, it's my job to work with bacteria period. And even though all my training tells me, in a rational inner voice, that bacteria aren't going to flourish in my milk that has only been out for two minutes, I just can't help myself. So having Oreo balls that can just sit out, and don't need to be fussed with, is welcome on so many levels.

Normally you crush Oreos with cream cheese and dip them. Without the cream cheese, you need something else to bind the crumbs together. Not icing from a tub, like you would use with cake balls, because the added sugar will make them too sweet.  Of course you could make your own icing and control the sugar. Or you can do what I did, and carry it one step further. After all, if you take out the sugar from icing, what are you left with? It is the easiest solution, and also, I think, the best: butter. The Wonder Fat.
This is crushed Oreos in a bag, by the way...
A stick of butter did the trick for my double-stuffed mint Oreos. Solid butter, not melted butter -- just slice it up into tablespoons and toss it into the crumbs with the mixer going. I even did this immediately after the butter was taken out of the fridge, I didn't bother to soften it. Just beat, and the crumbs will come together. Once they do, you can roll them and dip them like any other ball. And, finally, you can store them like any other ball, that is to say, at room temperature.

Now, I tested this out on mint Oreos, which are double-stuffed (as are all flavored Oreos). When you are using these kinds of Oreos, you generally use the whole cookies from 2/3 of the package, and scrape the filling out of the remaining 1/3, using only the cookie part.  For these, I used a little more filling, because I wasn't sure at first whether additional Oreo filling or butter would bind better (butter does, btw), and they were just a tad too loose, so I could have done without the extra filling.

Because I haven't had a chance to test the butter proportions yet on a package of regular Oreos, if you decide to make these, start out with 6 tbls of butter first, combine it, and make sure it isn't too loose before you add the final 2 tbls. You might even need an extra tbls or so, I don't know. But I know it'll work. And, it'll taste divine. Let's face it, taste-wise when has butter ever been added to the detriment of anything?! Exactly.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

King Cake (Mardi Gras Style)

I have always wanted to try my hand at making a King cake, that purple, yellow and green colored sweet confection traditionally served during Mardi Gras, and this year was finally the year I managed to work it into my schedule. This recipe is a yeast dough, and is a little advanced because of the extra steps involved in using yeast, but it is not difficult. I will try to be as explicit as possible for those who have never baked with yeast before.

But first, how about a little background info on these colorful cakes?

In the title, I specify that this recipe is specifically for a Mardi Gras-style King Cake. I have to make this distinction, because there are actually many different types of King Cakes in many different cultures. Typically, these cakes are associated with the Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas (aka Twelfth Night) when the 3 Wise men (aka the 3 Kings) finally arrived in Bethlehem to visit the Baby Jesus. The King Cake "season" extends from the Epiphany all the way until the day before Lent (Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday).

Besides the famed (at least in the US) King Cake of New Orleans, King Cakes include the vasilopita of Greece, the roscon de reyes of Spain, and the galette des Rois of France, amongst others.

All these cakes have several features in common: they are typically a variation of a sweet bread, occasionally with a filling, and they almost always contain a trinket of some sort. This trinket can range from a simple bean (the majority of European King Cakes), to a coin (vasilopita), to a plastic baby representing the Christ Child (New Orleans). The person who gets the piece with the trinket either has special privileges for the day, special obligations, or both. In the case of New Orleans King Cakes, the finder of the trinket is usually declared King or Queen for the day, with the obligation to provide next year's King Cake, or host next year's Mardi Gras party. Some Mardi Gras krewes (parades and balls) also choose the monarch of their ball using the King Cake.

And speaking of

Mardi Gras is the New Orleans Carnival season, filled with parades, balls and King Cake parties, from the Epiphany until Fat Tuesday. In fact, for those of you who don't speak it, Mardi Gras is literally the French for Fat Tuesday. Although the whole season is referred to as Mardi Gras, it culminates on the literal Mardi Gras, the day before Lent, the idea being to eat and celebrate as much as possible before the fasting and deprivations of the Lenten season.

The practice of Mardi Gras was brought to New Orleans by its earliest French settlers, with the earliest recorded Mardi Gras in New Orleans taking place in 1699. 

The three traditional colors of the Mardi Gras are purple (justice), gold (power), and green (faith). 

Parades (Zulu, Rex, etc) and balls are the most common form of Mardi Gras celebrations, and they are run by Krewes, which are somewhere between social clubs and charitable organizations. These krewes run the gamut from super-exclusive to open membership (for a small fee). The oldest on record is the Mystick Krewe of Comus (1830). During these parades, "throws" are hurled from the floats into the waiting crowd -- the stereotypical beads and doubloons, although some krewes are starting to become more elaborate with their throws, offering limited edition items or krewe-specific trinkets. The most sought after throws are the Mardi Gras Coconuts, thrown during the Zulu parade.

The Mardi Gras style King Cakes feature prominently in all of these celebrations. They are brioche-type bread, traditionally twisted, but many varieties exist. They were also traditionally deep fried like huge doughnuts, but that has been changing. Now it is very common to find them baked and with a filling, which can be cinnamon, praline, fruit, cheese, or some combination of the above. A special subtype called the Zulu cake is iced with chocolate and filled with coconut as a nod to the coconut throws of the Zulu parade. Some New Orleans krewes use the King Cakes to choose a monarch for their parades and/or balls.

Incidentally, since there is bourbon in this recipe...the famous Bourbon Street in New Orleans is not named after bourbon the liquor, it is named after the House of Bourbon, the royal family of France which ruled from the 16th century (contemporaries of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England) until the two French Revolutions (in 1792 and 1830). 

And now, back to the King Cake!!

The recipe I chose to modify has a cinnamon praline filling. I was tempted to add cheese, but I didn't have room to store the cake in my fridge overnight, so I didn't. I'll provide a suggestion for a praline-cheese filling at the bottom of this post. I also chose to fold my dough into a cylinder as opposed to rolling it jellyroll style because of the thickness of my filling.

This recipe, as well as any other bread recipe involving yeast, starts with "proofing" the yeast, that is, making sure the yeast is active. Start by heating up the milk, you want it between 110F and 120F. This should feel like a temperature for a baby bottle or warm shower. If it is scalding hot, you will kill the yeast. If you aren't sure, do what I did, and check it with an instant thermometer. I found that 1 C of milk in a 1 C glass measuring cup nuked on high for 60" did the trick, but it will differ a bit based on your microwave.

Pour the milk into the bowl where you will be assembling the dough, sprinkle in one packet of yeast, and 1 tbls of sugar, stirring to combine.

Then, leave it alone for about 10 minutes. If the yeast is active, it will start to bubble a bit.

Now, add the sugar, salt, nutmeg and zest to your yeast, and mix (I just used a spoon).

Then add the yolks, bourbon, extract, OJ and mix again.

Now in goes the flour, cup by cup. At this point, I started using my paddle. Once the flour is in, I started adding the butter a few pieces at a time (in 1/4 tsp cubes), until it was pretty well incorporated, which took a few minutes with the paddle.

Now, turn it out onto your floured counter (or other floured surface) and knead until the dough is no longer shiny, is elastic, and springs back when pulled. Here is a simple but great tutorial on kneading. Kneading by hand will take anywhere from 8-12 minutes, depending on how vigorous you are.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl (I used Crisco veggie oil), cover with a damp towel (I used paper towels that had been wetted and then squeezed out of excess water), and let rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.

In the meantime, make the filling. Put the toasted pecans, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, butter and salt into a foo processor, and process until crumbly.

After your dough rises, punch it down. 

This deflates the air pockets, and re-invigorates the yeast by redistributing them and exposing them to new food sources. Punching dough is used when you want an end product with a tender and fine crumb, a little denser, like cinnamon rolls, and cake-like pastries (FYI, folding at this stage will produce larger air pockets, and is used for things like rustic loaves, baguettes, etc). Then, let it rise again, and punch it down again (I admit, I skimped on this step, and I didn't notice any ill-effects of skipping the second rise/punch, so if you're short on time...)

Now roll it out to a 28"x8" rectangle. I rolled mine out to an 18"x8" rectangle, because apparently I can't read. This is why my roll looks so fat, and why my finished King Cake was more like a disk than a ring...

Put on the filling (*see below for a note about cheese filling, if you want to use it), leaving a 1" perimeter. Brush this perimeter with an egg yolk/milk mixture.

Fold the dough over the filling and pinch shut along the sides, and on the two ends. Again, mine is too fat. At this point, roll it right onto some parchment, for easy transfer to a cookie sheet.

Form this cylinder into a ring, and pinch the two ends together. Don't be like, me, try to leave a circle in the center at least 3" in diameter. Slide the ring/parchment onto your waiting cookie sheet. 

Cover with damp towel again, and let it rise again, for about 30 minutes.

Then, brush it with some of the remaining yolk/milk wash (which I forgot to do) and bake it until it is golden, and the underside is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Let it cool for at least an hour. When it is cooled, you can make the glaze. To be authentic, have your colored sugars on hand.

Combine the confectioner's sugar, orange juice, bourbon until smooth. It'll be pretty thick, brush it on top or spoon it as best you can. Immediately after, grab your sanding sugars, and start sprinkling in alternating colors.

This cake, even though it didn't look quite like I pictured, turned out even better than I was expecting. The bread was subtly sweet, slightly buttery, and extremely tasty, while the pecan filling was absolutely delicious. 
When I brought it to work, everyone devoured it. I definitely will be making this again next year for Mardi Gras, trying out the addition of cheese to the filling. The dough was so tasty on its own that I am thinking of using it as a base and experimenting with other kinds of breads to make some coffee rings and other pastries.

King Cake (Mardi Gras Style)


  • 1 C warm milk (110F-120F)
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 4 yolks
  • 1 stick sweet butter, cold, cut into pieces
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbls orange juice
  • zest from one orange
  • 2 tbls bourbon
  • 4 C flour

  • 3 C toasted pecans
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 stick sweet butter
  • pinch of salt

  • 2 C confectioner's sugar
  • 2 tbls orange juice
  • 1 tbls bourbon
  • 1 tbls water
  • sanding sugars in purple, yellow and green

  1. Heat the milk to 100F-120F
  2. Pour the milk into the bowl where you will be assembling the dough, sprinkle in one packet of yeast, and 1 tbls of sugar, stirring to combine.  Let it stand for about 10 minutes. If the yeast is active, it will start to bubble a bit.
  3. Now, add the rest of the sugar, salt, nutmeg and zest to your yeast, and mix (I just used a spoon).
  4. Then add the yolks, bourbon, extract, OJ and mix again.
  5. Add the flour, cup by cup. 
  6. Add the butter a few pieces at a time (in 1/4 tsp cubes), until well incorporated
  7. Turn dough out onto floured counter (or other floured surface) and knead until the dough is no longer shiny, is elastic, and springs back when pulled, 8-12 minutes approximately.
  8. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
  9. In the meantime, make the filling. Put the toasted pecans, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, butter and salt into a food processor, and process until crumbly.
  10. After dough rises, punch it down. Let it rise again for 30 minutes, then punch it down again.
  11. Now roll it out to a 28"x8" rectangle.
  12. Put on the filling, leaving a 1" perimeter. Brush this perimeter with an egg yolk/milk mixture.
  13. Fold the dough over the filling and pinch shut along the sides, and on the two ends. 
  14. Form this cylinder into a ring, and pinch the two ends together.
  15. Transfer to cookie sheet, cover with damp towel again, and let it rise again, for about 30 minutes.
  16. Then, brush it with some of the remaining yolk/milk wash, and bake it until it is golden, and the underside is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  17. Let it cool for at least an hour. 

For Glaze: Combine the confectioner's sugar, orange juice, bourbon until smooth. It'll be pretty thick, brush it on top or spoon it as best you can. Immediately after, grab your sanding sugars, and start sprinkling in alternating colors.

For Cheese Filling: Combine 2-8 oz packages of softened cream cheese, 2 egg, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 tbls of milk or cream in a mixer until well-combined and fluffy. Thin with more milk/cream if need be, and spread in a thin layer on the dough before spreading the pecan layer on the dough.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie Bars

This is my second recent posting on pecan bars, and it is a recipe I have been wanting to try forever: a shortbread-based pecan pie bar. My previous pecan bars from a cake mix, while tasty, were not quite what I had in mind, so I decided to start from scratch, and make my own recipe. And this time, I decided to do something I had never done with pecans before: add some bourbon.

Now, bourbon has a long history of being paired with pecans in pecan pie, although how long, no one knows for sure. For certain, it is a Southern tradition. Bourbon, the drink, is named after Old Bourbon (present day Bourbon County) in Kentucky, the place associated with its invention. To this day, 95% of the world's bourbon comes from Kentucky, and the export of bourbon to the rest of the world is a billion dollar industry.

This recipe starts with the creation of a shortbread crust. I did this all in my food processor today, but I've made this dough before (for thumbprint cookies) in my mixer. Both work fine, so don't worry if you don't have a food processor. I have included directions for making with a mixer in the printable recipe at the bottom of the post.

Whisk together egg yolks and vanilla, and set aside.

Combine the flour and the sugar in your processor, and pulse a few times to combine.

Cut up your cold butter.

Ad it a few pieces at a time, with the machine running, until it looks crumbly, this won't take long.

Then, pour in the egg/vanilla mixture, and process until blended and the dough starts to pull away from the sides.

Take this dough, and pat it into a sprayed 9"x13" pan evenly, but make a tiny lip around the edges to try and contain the filling you will eventually be pouring in there.

This gets baked in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes, until it is lightly golden.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine white and brown sugar, light and dark corn syrup (you can use all light corn syrup if you want to lessen the sweetness, this filling is pecan pie-sweet), melted butter, beaten eggs, vanilla and bourbon until well mixed.

Then, stir in pecans and chocolate chips.

When the shortbread base comes out of the oven, and pour the filling on top.

Pop it back into the oven for another 25-30 minutes, until set.

Let it cool completely before slicing.

These bars are great when they are cooled, even better the next day. The shortbread crust is buttery and firm, and pairs deliciously with the sweet filling. These bars are pretty easy, create no mess while baking (unlike some recipes I've seen that actually tell you flat out in the recipe that the bars will overflow the pan and land on your oven while baking), and are a decadent treat. They are a great take-along item too -- a lot of people don't like to fuss with cutting a pie, but no one objects to grabbing a bar.

Don't be afraid to leave out the bourbon, or adjust the amount up or down according to your personal preference. The first time I made these, I actually used about 4 tbls of bourbon in the filling, because I couldn't get enough. I loved them this way, but there were people who thought they were way too strong. Since then, I've dialed down the amount significantly. For me, because I love the bourbon flavor, 2 tbls is just right, but bourbon can overwhelm the flavors, so I would start with 1 tbls the first time you make them if you're unfamiliar with bourbon, and see if you like how they taste.  You an always add more the next time you make them if you approve of the bourbon flavor. It is a distinctive flavor, it is definitely not for everyone. These bars will be delicious even without a single drop of bourbon, so don't hesitate to leave it out if you think the bourbon taste is not for you.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie Bars
(Printable Recipe)


For the Shortbread
  • 1 C cold sweet butter, cut into pieces
  • 2/3 C granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 C AP flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the Filling
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup (1/4 light, 1/4 dark)
  • 1 cup sugar (1/2 white, 1/2 brown)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tbls bourbon (optional, see note in the text)
  • 2 C pecans
  •  1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips


For the Shortbread
  1. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and vanilla together, set aside.
  2. Combine the flour and granulated sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment or in a food processor/mixer and process just to blend. 
    • For Mixer: Sprinkle the butter onto the flour/sugar mixture and mix on medium until the mixture looks crumbly, this won't take long. Add in the egg mixture and mix until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. 
    • For Processor: With the machine running, add the butter 2-3 pieces at a time and process until the mixture looks crumbly. With the machine still running, add the egg yolk mixture and process until blended and the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Pat dough down in a 9"x13" sprayed pan, making a slight lip around the edges
  4. Bake in a 350F oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden (see Step 3 below)
For the Filling and Bars
  1. In a bowl, combine the sugars, corn syrups, melted butter, vanilla, beaten eggs, and bourbon, and mix well to combine
  2. Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips, coating well
  3. Pour the filling over the shortbread crust when the shortbread crust comes out of the oven
  4. Bake bars at 350F for 20-30 minutes (my oven took about 23), until filling sets
  5. Cool completely
  6. Slice and serve
  7. Even better the next day!