Monday, April 16, 2012

Coconut and Caramel Shortbread

A hostess gift from one of girlfriends!
Can you say fantabulous?
For my luncheon this afternoon I made two desserts and served fresh berries which is a departure from my usual trio of baked desserts.  This was a nod to the weather - bathing suit season is almost upon us. This is the first of the two baked desserts.

I tried out a recipe from a new cookbook that I purchased which is all about sugar - deadly to say the least.  I took the concept of the dessert and used my own recipes.  The finished product garnered oohs and aahs from the girls and they suggested that I submit this recipe for my next dessert contest!  Will do ladies.

The recipe is one that has quite a few steps, refrigerating the dough and two bakings so be prepared to take some time with this one.

Coconut and Caramel Shortbread 
 Serves 14-16 for dessert

Ingredients for Shortbread
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
1 1/4 cup of butter
1/2 cup white sugar 
2 cups of flour
pinch of salt

Ingredients for Caramel Sauce
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 tbls. butter
Sea salt
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place coconut in pan and put in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until light brown.  Remove from oven and set aside.

In a medium bowl stir flour, sugar and salt.  Add softened butter and mix with your hands until it resembles corn meal.  Add 1 cup of the toasted coconut.  Pat into a 8X13 inch pan that has been lined with parchement paper. (make sure that there is an overhang on the ends - this will facilitate taking the shortbread out)  Place in the refrigerator of at least 30 minutes or until hardened.   Take a fork and dock the shortbread (this will prevent it from bubbling up).

Place in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 24-26 minutes or until the shortbread turns lightly brown around the edges.

To make the caramel sauce:  put the sugar in a heavy non-reactive saucier pan and put the heat on medium high.  Do not stir the sugar at all.  It will start to melt around the edges.  When it starts to melt you can use a wire wisk and stir vigorously until all the sugar is melted.  Cook the sugar until it has turn a golden brown.   When it has gotten to that stage add the heavy cream all at once.  Be careful as it will bubble up.  The mixture will now appear clumpy.   Continue to whisk until the mixture starts to melt again.  Allow it to boil for 3-5 minutes making sure that it does not burn.. Turn off the heat and add the butter, salt and vanilla.  Stir until smooth.  Add the coconut and make sure that it is thoroughly mixed with caramel.

Place the caramel mixture on top of the cooked shortbread and return to the oven for 30 minutes or until the caramel is bubbling uniformley.

Remove from the oven and allow the caramel to set.  I allowed it to set overnight and it was perfect.

Lift the shortbread out of the pan using the over hanging parchement paper.

Cut into 16-20 pieces.

Coconut and Caramel Shortbread
on my grandmother's cake stand

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A lunch in honor of my mother and Barbara

Table set for Lunch

Tomorrow would have been my mother's 86th birthday.  She joined my Dad in heaven a year ago this coming July.  My dear friend Barbara is in town from Italy and I always love having a lunch for her when she gets here.  She is one of those friends that you just love to be around - she is kind, warm and you always leave her presence feeling better.   So I am combining the two occasions and having a ladies lunch!

My mother could have written a book on entertaining.  She was an amazing hostess and she was Martha before Martha.  Not in the crafty do it yourself way but in the way that her generation appreciated.  My parents had a very busy life, they traveled all over the world and my Dad had his hand in politics on both sides of the aisle.  He was an indiscriminate critic.  As such they entertained a great deal.  My mother threw two major dinner parties each year - for 100 people sit down dinner in our apt - as well as smaller dinners throughout the year.  She planned each and every one with immaculate attention to detail.  She planned the tables months in advance and the tables were always set two days before the dinner.  Her philosophy was that you should always be a guest at your own party.

My parents lifestyle was the result of the American dream.  Both children of immigrants and the depression they literally pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.  When they got married they used orange crates for furniture - they were poor and proud and wanted to better themselves.  As a result of their hard work they were able to achieve their goal of a better life.  During their lives they accumulated a lot of "things" - which while not necessary for happiness now represent to my brother and me and our children the life that they lived.

As I set the table yesterday my parents were both there.  The bird plates are plates that they bought at an auction, the tablecloth and napkins were from our dinner table, the pink glasses and glass plates were my grandmothers.  I am lucky to have these memories!

Placesetting with family treasures
Mom always believed in flower arrangements that were simple, enhanced the beauty of the table and did not interrupt your line of sight to the guest across the table.  One of her favorite flowers was the tulip and I think that she would have loved these.  I bought them at Costco yesterday (they have the best flowers and the least expensive- $9.99 a bunch and they last!).  You always buy flowers two days before you need them so that they can open up.  These tulips are a kind I have never seen before - they dip the way you see them on purpose.

Pink and White tulips

As I walk by the set table I smile thinking how much my mother would have liked this table.  I am sure that she is looking down and nodding with approval.

I am off to the kitchen to make desserts (I always serve three) and to start prepping the luncheon menu.  Stayed tuned for more recipes and entertaining tips!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A special dessert for Passover

I was so excited to be invited over to my friends Harry and Nancy's for the first night of Passover on Friday that I scoured the books for an appropriate Seder dessert.    I knew that there were certain foods that were not appropriate for a Passover celebration and I first had to learn what those were.  I settled on a dessert that filled all the requirements for dinner that evening - a matzah with caramel, dark chocolate and toasted slivered almonds.  All I can say is that this is not a dessert that should be served for Passover alone - it was amazing and easy.  Everyone at the Seder table was delighted with this dessert and it has become part of the Passover celebration for years to come.  

Passover Dessert
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 cup chopped dark chocolate
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 11x17 inch pan with aluminum foil and then with parchment paper cut to fit the pan.  Place matzah's in pan so that the entire pan is full.

Melt the butter and sugar in a sauce pan.  While the butter and sugar are melting toast the slivered almonds in the oven until they just start to brown.  When the sugar/butter mixture gets to a boil stir constantly and then lower the flame and cook for around 5 minutes until it starts to thicken.  Remove from heat and add vanilla and sea salt.  Pour over prepared matzah's and spread thoroughly.

Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.  Caramel mixture will bubble up and turn darker.  Make sure that it does not burn.

When you remove the pan from the oven allow it to set for a minute.  Put chocolate on the top of the matzah and allow to melt.  Spread with an offset spatula, sprinkle some more sea salt on the top and then the slivered almonds.

Put into the refrigerator and allow to set.

Break into pieces and serve.

The matzah's will last for one week in an air tight container - if they last that long!

Dark chocolate covered matzah's

You can almost taste the caramel!