Apricot Blondies

I have always preferred blondies to brownies, and it's not because of a dislike for chocolate. Most of the time, I am not a fan of richness of fudgy brownies. And even a fluffier cake-like brownie can't seem to beat a blondie of the same texture. Maybe it's because I eat bar baked goods for the crunchy edges, which the addition of chocolate seems to steal the limelight from. Besides, dried fruit like apricots seems a little odd with fudge.

This recipe is adapted from Food & Wine, but the original wet-to-dry ingredient ratio made the dough too dry and mealy. I adjusted the amount of butter, egg, and brown sugar. And since this is baked in a square 8-inch pan, 12 of my 16 slices ended up with the crispy sweet edge that is best part of any pan dessert.

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Related recipes:

Banana Coconut Muffins

Goji Oatmeal-Almond Cookies

Homemade Almond Milk with Bananas and Honey

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Apricot Blondies Adapted from Food & Wine

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper 1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened 1 cup light brown sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 2 large eggs 1 cup dried apricot halves, chopped 1/2 cup roasted almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, with a hand-held mixer or spatula and strong arms, cream butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until well-combined. Beat in egg until mixture is smooth. Add flour mixture in 3 stages until a dough forms. Mix in apricot and almonds.

Scrape dough into prepared baking pan and even out the top with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool complete, then slice into squares.

 

Apple Crumble for the Homesick

Lately, I can't help but be wistful about the US. Maybe it's because I'm going back in a month to spend Christmas, a trip that can't come soon enough. Maybe it's lingering euphoria from election day, an adrenaline-filled 24 hours of more giddiness and pride than I can remember. Or maybe it has just been too long.

Getting out of Beijing on weekend hiking trips has helped. Even though the foliage is nowhere near as breathtaking as, say, New England's, I'm happy to enjoy fresher air, some much-needed exercise, and being surrounded by harvests. Once you get out to the villages there will always a slew of produce stands selling the latest fruits and vegetables, with cheaper prices and better quality than in Beijing. 

And of course, apples are everywhere now. You can get a 5-kilo bag of slightly bruised apples for about 11 RMB, or $1.61. These are good for baking, though sometimes I'll splurge on nice unblemished ones for a few RMB more.

The natural thing to bake for any nostalgia-struck American would be apple pie, but I'm what you would call a lazy baker. Apple crumbles, with no need for lattice tops or any other sort of crusts, take much less effort.

For these mini crumbles, I just cored the apples, cubed them, and simmered them for about 20 minutes to soften. Then I mixed in some sugar, spooned the fruit into ramekins, and topped them off with a mealy butter-flour topping laced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

During the 40 minutes of baking and about 30 minutes afterward your kitchen will smell like apple-lovers' heaven. If baked apple aroma can help realtors sell houses, it can also help ward off my homesickness.

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More recipes for in-season apples:

Apple Soju Cocktail

Unfussy Apple Cake from 101 Cookbooks

Apple Butter from Simply Recipes

Apple, Raspberry, and Chocolate Clafoutis from La Tartine Gourmande

Maple-Apple Tartlets from The Recipe Girl

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Easy Apple Crumble

Serves 4

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into small cubes 3/4 cup sugar 2 cups flour 11/2 cups brown sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg 8 tbsp. butter, chopped into pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium to large pan, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil. Simmer apple cubes in water until softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in sugar until uniformly melted and well-combined. Transfer apple/sugar mixture to ramekins.

In a large bowl, combine flour, bown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Work butter into the mixture until it has a coarse mealy texture. Sprinkle topping over the apples. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Chocolate and Banana Dessert Wontons

There's more to wonton wrappers than just encasing pork and shrimp, however delicious the result is. If you're in need of a quick dessert, these chocolate and banana wontons take almost no time to make.

I have seen some recipes for dessert wontons that call for deep frying. With these wontons, I was able to use a bare minimum of oil (about 3/4 cup) and still achieve crispness. The trick is to refrain from getting fancy with with folding, and stick to the simple triangle. The flatness of the resulting wonton makes it easier to fry up all around the melt the chocolate inside. 

As for the filling, I just finely chopped some bananas and a milk chocolate Ritter Bar. No need to pre-melt the chocolate. Just make sure you don't overdo the filling; a heaping tablespoon of mixed banana and chocolate is more than adequate. And afterward, just spinkle some powdered sugar for presentation, or even granulated sugar if you happen to be out of the former like I was.

Either way, you get a simple dessert in about 15 minutes.

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Related recipes:

Homemade Almond Milk with Bananas and Honey MFK Fisher's Chocolate Pudding Coconut Hot Chocolate

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Chocolate Banana Dessert Wontons

Makes about 25 dessert wontons

1/2 package of wonton wrappers 2 ripe bananas 1 100-gram good quality chocolate bar 1 egg, beaten 3/4 cup cooking oil Powdered sugar for garnish

Mix together chopped up bananas and chocolate. Keep wonton wrappers under a moist towel to prevent drying out. Working one-by-one, place a heaping tablespoon of banana and chocolate in the center of the wrapper. Brush egg wash along the top two sides, then fold into a triangle, squeezing out as much air as possible. Line finished wontons on a plate and cover with another damp towel until ready to fry.

In a medium-sized skillet, heat oil until just smoking. Working in batches, fry the wontons for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain excess oil on a plate lined with paper towels. Transfer to serving plate and garnish with powdered sugar.

 

Lychee Rum Clafoutis

Cherries, of course, are the fruits used in the most classical French preparation of clafoutis. As recently as 2 weeks ago, black cherries were in abundance all over my local markets. I bought them for eating whole, for making black cherry iced tea, but not for baking. Now it's too late, and the only cherries left are rotten-looking and expensive.

Yesterday at the grocery store I grabbed some lychees, which still seem to be semi-abundant.  Not best looking lychees ever, but good enough for Beijing. Lychees hold their shape very well when baked, so I just soaked them in rum and made tropics-influenced clafoutis with a coconut milk custard. They took longer to bake than I thought, because the deepness of my ramekins. But they did make my kitchen, and entire apartment for that matter, smell like lychees. Really, there is no need for scented candles or home fragrance sprays when you live with a baker.

I thought my mini clafoutis turned out rather well, with nicely caramelized tops and mellow coconut and lychee flavors as anchors. However, J didn't particularly like them, commenting only that they were "interesting." To spare any hurt feelings (on my part), I will just attribute his lack of enthusiasm to our different tastes in desserts, him leaning more towards the bitingly sweet concoctions, the chocolate-supremacy school of thought.

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Other desserts with fruit:

Rambutan Fruit Salad Coconut Lime Rice Pudding

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Lychee Rum Clafoutis

Makes 6 or so, if you use small ramekins

2 1/2 pounds lychees, peeled and pitted 2 tablespoons light rum 2 eggs, beaten 1 cup coconut milk 1 tsp vanilla 2/3 cup sugar 1/2 cup rice flour 1 tsp cornstarch 1 pinch salt 1 tablespoon butter for greasing ramekins Coconut flakes for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour rum over lychees and leave to soak while you prepare your custard.

In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, coconut milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Add sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Mix until well combined. (Don't worry about a few lumps of flour here and there. They will not be noticeable after baking.)

Divide lychees into well-greased ramekins. Pour batter until 1 or 2 centimeters from the top. Pop into oven, and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, until top becomes golden-brownish. Remove from the oven, and cool for at least 10 minutes before eating. Sprinkle top of coconut flakes, and serve warm or at room temperature.