02 June 2015

White Chocolate Almond Brownies

Summer Love...

I once had a recipe for the perfect summer dessert bar: White Chocolate Brownies. I found it in an issue of Southern Living Magazine. The photo was luscious 80’s elegance, a stack of pale squarely sliced bars drizzled with a grid of dark chocolate and arranged on a red plate. They looked picnic ready and utterly delectable. I swooned and clipped the page.

That recipe called for a white chocolate candy bar with almonds. Though the brand name wasn’t mentioned the only readily available option at that time was Nestle’s Alpine White with Almonds, a creamy white candy bar with a quick smooth melt and just the right amount of almonds to add chewy resistance and balance the white chocolate sweetness. Though I wasn’t always a huge fan of white chocolate that candy bar was one of my favorites.

I made those moist and delicious Alpine White brownies again and again that summer. I loved the subtle depth of flavor, the moist and chewy texture, the refined appearance. I made them occasionally afterward but, unfortunately, I saw that Alpine White bar less and less after that summer until it disappeared from store shelves altogether. In its place I tried several other varieties of white chocolate candy bars but they were never the same. Though I hung onto that clipping I eventually gave up on finding a suitable replacement and the recipe got buried in my files.


Recently, on a warm afternoon, I rummaged through my pantry. In a small glass mason jar I found a handful of sliced almonds. I tasted them for freshness and found that they had a nice al dente texture in the afternoon heat, resistant but yielding with a mild nutty flavor. Then I found a half used bag of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips. I shook a few morsels from the bag and was surprised by the way the heat of the afternoon enhanced the smooth melt of those chips on my tongue. They were creamy and sweet, with a nice hint of vanilla. The combination of almonds and white chocolate took me back to that long gone Alpine White candy bar and those White Chocolate Brownies of summers past. Then I wondered why I hadn’t tried to simply concoct my own balance of white chocolate and almonds long ago, instead of depending on the capricious availability of a particular candy bar to make the perfect white chocolate brownies.

I dug out that old magazine clipping and made a few changes to the original recipe. I now melt some white chocolate chips with the butter to mix into the batter along with a restrained quantity of sliced almonds. A little almond and vanilla extract adds flavor and balance. A hint of dark chocolate, drizzled in the same spare grid pattern as in the original recipe’s photo, adds shape and definition to the subtle chocolate character of these ivory bars.

I like the result. These White Chocolate Almond Brownies seem to taste every bit as good as those Alpine White bars of so many sweet summers ago. Tasting these brownies I can see them joining me for picnics, barbecues, al fresco dinners or a tall glass of lemonade or tea on a hot summer afternoon. There we can quietly reminisce about bygones while embracing new friends and sharing something sweet with the next generation.

White Chocolate Almond Brownies
Adapted from a recipe in an old issue of Southern Living magazine

5.5 ounces white chocolate chips
¼ cup butter
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup sliced almonds

1 ounce semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine white chips and butter in the top of a double boiler or in a metal bowl over hot, not boiling, water. Stir and watch carefully until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the eggs until thick and lemon colored (about 3-5 minutes.)

Gradually add the sugar as you continue beating. Add the vanilla and almond extract, beating until well combined.

Stir in the flour mixture. Add the white chocolate mixture, stirring just until combined. Fold in the sliced almonds.

Spread the batter in a greased 8-inch square pan. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rake.

Melt the semisweet chocolate chips in the microwave or in a small bowl over a pan of hot water, stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Drizzle the chocolate over the cooled brownies. Chill the brownies until the chocolate sets. Cut into squares.


18 May 2015

Pineapple Sweet Potato Salsa

It feels like summer has arrived in Georgia and spring is already all but forgotten. It happened fast. While I was distracted the rains ended and the temperature rose. Air conditioners came to life and mosquitoes began to challenge my comfort on the front porch…and still, I haven’t posted the filling I devised for those Wonton Cups.

To be honest, I have been sorely distracted. Another photo disaster has been the focus of my free time this past week. Some days ago I opened the photo album from my first few years of marriage and found water damage and mildew that had been hidden by a strong binder since our latest move. Hardly phased by this latest challenge I simply got on with what had to be done. Over the next week I scraped the photos from nearly 100 old magnetic pages, scanned them into digital files, and stored the undamaged photos in a new book.

Now that I have salvaged what I can I am remembering the salsa I made to fill those crispy Wonton Cups I shared a couple of weeks ago. The salsa I made reflects the change of seasons. The flavors are tropical and the colors are rich and warm: sunny yellow pineapple, deep orange sweet potato and crisp white flakes of coconut. Add a squeeze of lime, a touch of spice and a spoonful of honey and those beautifully browned Wonton Cups are dressed for the season.

Pineapple Sweet Potato Salsa

1 cup diced sweet potatoes (½-inch dice)
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups diced fresh pineapple (½-inch dice)
¼ cup flaked unsweetened coconut
2 Tablespoons macadamia nuts, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced
Zest of one lime
2 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of red pepper flakes

Toss diced sweet potatoes with 1 teaspoon of olive oil (or spritz with an olive oil filled oil mister.) Spread sweet potatoes on a small baking sheet. Roast at 400F until tender. Remove from oven and let cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir in the cooled roasted sweet potatoes.

Cover and allow to rest in the refrigerator for several hours to allow flavors to blend. Just before serving sprinkle with additional unsweetened flaked coconut, toasted would be nice, and/or chopped macadamia nuts.

Serve with mild tasting chips, ginger snaps, or nestled in Wonton Cups.


30 April 2015

Wonton Cups

Neither Here Nor There

Spring can be a little confusing. One day the air is languid and warm, the sun is shining and I slip into sandals and shorts. The next day the mercury plummets, the sky is deep in cloud cover and I am reaching for a cozy sweater and my favorite boots.

Held between one and the other I often address the tension by shutting down my kitchen. I’m not sure what I want to eat so I rely on quick answers and bland choices: rotisserie chicken and steamed vegetables, picked up last minute from the market. At home I focus on spring cleaning and organizing my closet and life rather than more creative pursuits like cooking and writing.

A Neutral Palate

What I need is inspiration, a clean space and an empty vessel. Here’s a recipe that begins like simplicity itself; with a neutral palate. All you need are two ingredients: cooking spray, which you likely have on hand, and wonton wrappers, which are readily available but sometimes take a little looking to locate at the grocery store. Spray muffin tins, mini-muffin tins or custard cups and arrange wonton wrappers with a few creatively attractive creases and folds, to form a cup, a vessel for whatever your creativity unfolds.

Wonton Cups are mild in flavor and commit to neither sweet nor savory. They blow with the prevailing winds and act as a vessel, a vehicle for whatever flavor your appetite is currently inclined toward. For an appealing appetizer, fill them with a sweet or spicy salsa, sweet jam or something of your own design.

Wonton Cups

1 package square wonton wrappers
nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spray 24 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange one wonton wrapper in each muffin cup, gently line each muffin cup with one wonton wrapper, fitting the center of the wonton wrapper into the bottom of the muffin tin and arranging the corners to extend upward.

Spray the top edges with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven. As soon as possible remove the wonton wrappers from the muffin tins and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

Fill and enjoy!