Creamy Chocolate-Coffee Tart with an Almond Crust.

Yogurt is good. Chocolate is good. Coffee is good. Almonds are good. Chocolate is really good. So naturally, this recipe is good. The buttery almond crust is like the delicious nutty cousin of your standard graham cracker crust, but it’s much easier on us carb-avoiders and any gluten-free peeps among us. And the creamy chocolate-coffee filling is just sweet and decadent enough, without going sugar-overboard. It’s a quick and easy road to creamy nutty goodness. I like to give it a sprinkling of chocolate chips, but it would be pretty groovy to drizzle some melted chocolate over the top and really up that glamor factor.

NOTE: This isn’t a good dessert to make far in advance. It will last in the fridge about 36 hours before the yogurt starts to dry out from air exposure. The good news is, it doesn’t take long to make, but if you need to do some prep ahead of time, make and bake the crust and keep it in the fridge. Then, a few hours before you’ll need it, mix up the filling and assemble the tart.

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INGREDIENTS

for crust:
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp honey
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

for filling:
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (I use Fage because it’s SUBLIME)
2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp instant coffee granules (not coffee grounds!)
2 tbsp hot water (the point of the hot water plus instant coffee granules is to get 2 tbsp coffee, so if you want, skip the granules and hot water step and just use 2 tbsp coffee)
2 tbsp brown sugar
chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Stir honey into melted butter. In a mixing bowl, combine butter and honey with almonds, salt, and cinnamon. Press into a tart shell or pie dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until it’s a medium brown color. I would tell you to wait for it to be “golden brown,” but it’s pretty much golden brown before it even starts cooking. If it starts to brown too quickly (mine did), tent the crust with tinfoil to protect it from burning. When the crust is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool at least half an hour.

While the crust cools, prepare the filling. Dissolve the coffee granules in the hot water. Stir together the Greek yogurt, coffee, cocoa powder, and brown sugar. Keep it in the fridge until the crust has cooled.

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Once the crust is cooled, spread the yogurt filling evenly over it. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and dig in!

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Sweet Coconut Milk Bars.

“Healthy desserts.” Let’s be honest for a second: I’ve tried making a lot of healthy and healthy-esque dessert recipes at this point, and I’m convinced that they’ll just never be as good as the really decadent stuff they’re supposed to replace. Because, surprise! other fats don’t taste as good as butter, other sweeteners don’t cut it when compared to sugar, etc. Since I do have a sweet tooth, but don’t want to “splurge” every time I crave something sweet, I try to work with what I’ve got by making something that hits the spot without sabotaging my otherwise healthy day. So if you’re looking for a recipe that rivals key lime pie or chocolate chip cookies in its delectable sweet treat power, I’ll level with you—this is probably not gonna be it. But if you’re looking for a really good low-sugar, low-carb dessert option, then I highly highly recommend these Sweet Coconut Milk Bars! Inspired by a recipe from a great blog called Living Healthy with Chocolate, these are creamy and rich and just sweet enough to do the trick, with a bunch of nuts and very little added sugars. Good stuff. I’m looking at you, New Years Resolution-Makers!

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INGREDIENTS

1 can full-fat coconut milk (this is a different type of coconut milk than the stuff you get in a carton – do not substitute)
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted in a pan and ground to a fine meal in a food processor
3/4 cup ground almond meal
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter, melted (or use coconut oil)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Just the Recipe link: Sweet Coconut Milk Bars

DIRECTIONS

First, get the sweetened condensed coconut milk going. Empty the can of coconut milk into a sauce pan and stir in the honey. Bring to a boil, stirring pretty consistently, and then reduce to a mellow simmer. Stir occasionally and cook for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the mixture has reduced by half and has darkened slightly in color. It should coat a spoon thickly and be the consistency of gently whipped cream.

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To prepare the crust, first preheat oven to 350 F. Mix together ground walnuts, almond meal, vanilla extract, butter, and cocoa powder. Line a small baking dish with parchment paper and transfer the crust mixture to the dish. Use your fingers to press the crust into a thin layer that covers the bottom of the pan. Bake for 5 minutes.

To assemble the filling, mix together the almonds, shredded coconut, and chocolate chips. Spread the condensed coconut milk over the crust and sprinkle the chocolate chip mixture over the top. Bake for 15 minutes.

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Take the bars out of the oven and carefully lift the parchment paper up and out of the pan and set it on a wire rack to cool for one hour. Then transfer to the refrigerator. Let them set in the fridge for at least an hour before cutting into squares. To make sure the squares hold their shape and don’t fall apart, keep them refrigerated.

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Glazed Apple Bundt Cake.

First, let me mention that you don’t need a bundt pan to make this cake. That said, bundt cakes are adorable. I’ve admired them from afar for years, but I never owned a bundt pan myself…until now. This year, I asked my maternal Santa for one, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, there was a beautiful ornate bundt pan under the tree with my name on it! Here is the link to my bundt pan. Isn’t it a glory?! It’s like something out of Beauty and the Beast. I think there will be a lot of bundt-baking in my future. And if this first foray is any indication, beauty and taste definitely go together, because it tastes as good as it looks. Inspired by a recipe from The Bite Sized Baker, the addition of shredded apples and Greek yogurt keep this cake moist and almost creamy, and a sweet maple glaze is both figuratively and literally the icing on the cake. Please come to my apartment for tea and take this cake off my hands before I eat it all. Thank you.

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INGREDIENTS

for cake: (makes about 6 cups of batter)
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
about 2 cups apples, peeled, then shredded in a food processor or grated by hand (I used 3 Granny Smith apples)

for glaze:
2 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
about 1-2 tbsp water

Just the Recipe link: Glazed Apple Bundt Cake

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar, until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition until incorporated. Then stir in the vanilla extract and yogurt.

In a second bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until just incorporated. Then add the second half of the flour mixture and stir, again just until it comes together. Don’t overmix. Finally, stir in the shredded apple until it’s distributed throughout the batter. It should smell pretty amazing at this point.

Pour the apple-y batter into a greased bundt pan (if you don’t have one, a loaf pan or even a springform cake pan will work too). Don’t over-fill the pan, as the cake will rise as it bakes. Two-thirds filled is a good rule of thumb for bundt pans, and for my pan, that means about 6 cups. Which is how much batter this makes!

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Put the pan in the oven and bake 35-45 minutes, until the center of the cake is set but still moist and tender. You know the toothpick test? The one where you poke a toothpick into the center of your cake to see if it comes out clean, thereby showing that your cake is done? Well, bundt pans are very deep…too deep for a tiny little toothpick. So instead, I use a wooden chopstick as my tester, and when it comes out clean from the center of the cake, I know it’s ready.

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Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. You have two options for cooling: if you want your glaze to soak into the cake, let the cake cool for 15 minutes, or if you want the glaze to harden and look more like icing, let the cake cool completely. I opted for the quick-cool soaking option, mostly because I was impatient to dig in.

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As the cake cools, make the glaze. In a saucepan, melt the butter and use a fork to stir in the powdered sugar and maple syrup until smooth. Then slowly add water until it reaches the consistency you want – a slightly runny syrup. When your cake is cooled, drizzle the glaze along the top and allow it to spill over the sides, inside and out. Messy is good!

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Oh baby. Look at the glaze drip happening here. That’s what this cake is all about. It’s soft and tender and not too sweet, and this beautiful glaze just pushes it right over the edge. Amazing with a hot cup of tea on a winter day!

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Irish Coffee Toffee.

Merry Christmas Eve! This is the fifth time I’ve made toffee in the past 2 weeks, and each time I make it I’m amazed at how simple it is. It takes just three steps: whisk the ingredients over heat, spread the hot sugar mixture over a pan, and top it with whatever you want. A breeze. But the reason I say “simple” and not “easy” is because there is a bit of technique and elbow grease required: stirring non-stop for 10 minutes might give you unhappy risotto flashbacks, and the cold water candy test (detailed below) probably means this shouldn’t be a beginner’s first recipe. That said, once you have your toffee-legs, which are the toffee version of when a sailor gets his sea-legs, you’ll find this recipe really is a breeze. I use the same exact process here that I used in my Butter Rum Toffee recipe–the only difference is I’ve Irish-ed up the ingredients with coffee and whiskey. The amount of coffee crystals I used here keeps the coffee flavor on the mellow side, but if you want to punch it up, use a whole teaspoon. Just go to town on this thing.

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INGREDIENTS

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp instant coffee crystals
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp whiskey
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
almonds, toasted and chopped (hazelnuts would rock here, too)

Just the Recipe link: Irish Coffee Toffee

DIRECTIONS

Line a sheet pan with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Set aside; youʼll need it ready, because the caramelizing process moves pretty quickly.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Then whisk in the sugar, coffee crystals, salt, and whiskey, and continue to stir with the whisk while the mixture comes to a bubble. Be very careful not to touch the mixture at any point in this process; itʼll give you an incredibly nasty burn. Cook over medium flame, stirring constantly, for 7-10 minutes, until the mixture is almond-colored and passes this consistency test: take a glass of cold water and drizzle in a few drops of the mixture. If it turns into brittle strings and crystallizes at the bottom of the glass (reach in and test the piece with your fingers), it’s ready to go. If it’s still soft and malleable, continue to cook and stir, and test again in a minute or two. Be careful not to let it burn.

When itʼs ready, immediately pour onto the sheet thatʼs lining your sheet pan. Use a spatula to spread the mixture pretty thinly, and let cool for 2 minutes.

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*Clean-up tip: After you’ve spread the toffee onto the pan to start cooling, fill the saucepan with water and bring to a boil. This will dissolve the hard, sticky caramel and make it WAY easier to clean. You can also stir the whisk around in the boiling water, to break down any sugar stuck on its wires.*

Next, sprinkle over the chocolate chips. Give them a few minutes to melt, and then use a spatula to gently spread the melted chocolate over the top of the toffee, covering the whole surface. If you find that the chocolate chips arenʼt melting completely, pop the pan into a hot oven for 20 seconds, and the chocolate will be easily spreadable.

While the chocolate is still melty, sprinkle with almonds. Let the whole thing set completely, for at least two hours.

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When it’s completely set, break it up into chunky, uneven pieces. Store in a cool place where the chocolate won’t melt. Give as gifts or keep for yourself – and try not to eat it all in one day!

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Butter Rum Toffee.

Everything around me feels festive: My neighborhood takes holiday decorating pretty seriously, and for Christmas they’re breaking out all the seasonal decor, from lights and garlands to inflatable Snoopies sleeping on their doghouses. The five or so inches of snow I see from my window add a real coziness factor to a Sunday spent in the kitchen. And my first-ever grown-up Kelly’s Very Own Christmas Tree in my front window brings me a pride and joy so thoroughly adult that I almost want to keep the tree up til spring. As the song says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And I really believe that! I love the cooking, the singing, the decorating, the smiles, the spirit. This is a holiday that–at least in its modern, pseudo-secular incarnation–is all about generosity, sharing, and love. When you give a gift, the recipient feels awesome, you feel awesome, and through this bond the world gets a little more awesome for a little while. That’s pretty beautiful, whether you buy into the Bible stories or not.

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This is where toffee comes in. Whenever I receive a little bag of toffee as a Christmas present, I just get so excited about it. It’s so good. Sweet, buttery, crunchy, chewy, sticky…it’s everything a Christmas treat should be. So I’m planning to share a few yummy toffee recipes this Christmas season, starting with this, a lusciously warm and toasty Butter Rum Toffee.

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INGREDIENTS

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp rum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch or two more for sprinkling
1 cup semi-sweet milk chocolate chips (if you want it really chocolatey, add another 1/2 cup)
pecans, toasted and chopped

Just the Recipe link: Butter Rum Toffee

DIRECTIONS

Line a sheet pan with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Set aside; you’ll need it ready, because the caramelizing process moves pretty quickly.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Then whisk in the sugar, rum, vanilla, and salt, and continue to stir with the whisk while the mixture comes to a bubble. Be very careful not to touch the mixture at any point in this process; it’ll give you an incredibly nasty burn. Cook over medium flame, stirring constantly, for 7-10 minutes, until the mixture is almond-colored and passes this consistency test: take a glass of cold water and drizzle in a few drops of the mixture. If it turns into brittle strings and crystallizes at the bottom of the glass (reach in and test the piece with your fingers), it’s ready to go. If it’s still soft and malleable, continue to cook and stir, and test again in a minute or two. Be careful not to let it burn.

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Once it’s ready, immediately pour the toffee onto the silicone mat or parchment paper that’s lining your sheet pan. Use a spatula to spread the mixture pretty thinly – don’t worry if it’s uneven, it’s all part of the magic of toffee. Let cool for 2 minutes.

*Clean-up tip: After you’ve spread the toffee onto the pan to start cooling, fill the saucepan with water and bring to a boil. This will dissolve the hard, sticky caramel and make it WAY easier to clean. You can also stir the whisk around in the boiling water, to break down any sugar stuck on its wires.*

Next, sprinkle over the chocolate chips. Give them a few minutes to melt, and then use a spatula to gently spread the melted chocolate over the top of the toffee, covering the whole surface. If you find that the chocolate chips aren’t melting completely, pop the pan into a hot oven for 20 seconds, and the chocolate will be easily spreadable.

While the chocolate is still melty, sprinkle with pecans and a bit more salt. I topped half my toffee with pecans and salt, and the other half with just salt, so that a nut-free birthday girl could eat it.

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Let the whole thing set completely, for at least two hours. Then break it up into chunky, uneven pieces. Eat some of them (you gotta make sure it’s good, right?), and give the rest away as gifts before you eat it all yourself.IMG_0312

Pretzel Milk and Chocolate Chip Scones.

On a cute and crazy-creative blog called “A Cozy Kitchen, ” I saw blogger/pancake expert Adrianna do something magical: she made pretzel milk pancakes. This is one of the most food-genius things I’ve seen in a long time: she roasted pretzels in the oven, soaked them in milk, and then strained them out so that the milk was left in faintly golden pretzel-flavored perfection, making her pancakes deliciously pretzely. I was mesmerized by this idea, and initially wanted to make a cookie using the pretzel milk method. I’m still working on the cookie version of this recipe, but for now, these scones are pretty amazing. Pretzel milk – I am so glad we’ve found each other. The lightly golden milk gives the finished product the most unusual and profound savoriness—not in-your-face pretzely, but more of a welcome note of something warm and deep. It’s pretty special.

I have a question for my beloved readers: what to do with the milk-steeped pretzels you’re left with after making the pretzel milk? I ate a few (they’re actually good, in a weird, slightly soggy kind of way), but there’s got to be something interesting they could be used for. Crush them up and stir them into muffin batter, or even cookie dough? Or food-processer them with lots butter and maple syrup, shape the butter mixture into a log, toss it in the fridge, and a few hours later you’ve got maitre d’ maple pretzel butter for toast and waffles and all those goodies? If you come up with a good use for them, let me know! And PS – when they’re in the oven, watch these more carefully than I did….my scones got a little bit toastier than I would have liked. Still awesome though!

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INGREDIENTS

3 cups pretzels
1 1/2 cups cream or half-and-half
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (feel free to use all A-P flour if you prefer)
1 tbsp baking powder
4 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into little cubes
1/2 cup chocolate, chopped into small bits (I used semi-sweet)
optional: turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Just the Recipe link: Pretzel Milk and Chocolate Chip Scones

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread pretzels onto a sheet pan in a single layer and roast until they turn a nice dark brown, about 10 minutes. Let them cool completely (don’t worry, they cool very quickly).

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Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Transfer the cooled pretzels to the cream or half-and-half and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Then strain, leaving just the beautiful pretzel-y cream. The pretzels will have soaked up some of the liquid; you’ll need just 1 cup total for this recipe. If you have any leftover milk, keep it on hand and maybe dip the scones into it once they’re baked. This stuff is amazing.

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Place flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl or food processor. Whisk or pulse together until combined. Add the butter; if using your fingers, quickly rub the flour mixture into the butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand, handling the butter as little as possible and careful not to melt it as you go. If you’re using a food processor, pulse together until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

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Add the chocolate bits and stir or pulse briefly to combine. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl if it was in a food processor. Stir in the pretzel milk until the dough starts to come together. Then turn it out onto a floured workspace.

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Knead the dough a few times gently with your hands, just until it comes together in a ball – the less you work the dough, the better, since you don’t want the heat of your hands to melt the butter.

Flatten the dough into the shape of a rectangle (roughly….), about 3/4 inch -thick. Okay fine, so this dough is obviously not in a rectangle. I took this picture before I decided what shape I wanted the scones to be. Whatever.

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Cut the dough into squares. Then cut each square diagonally in half, to make little triangles…..Or, cut them however you want!

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If you like, sprinkle each scone with a bit of turbinado sugar. It’s sweet and gives the scones a little bit of crunch. And it’s pretty.

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Place sconces on a baking sheet and bake until light brown, about 12-15 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. These more than rock with sweet cream butter and a cup of black tea.

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And seriously – any ideas what to do with these already-steeped pretzels??

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