What inspires you to bake, cook or create a delicious dish? For me, inspiration can strike from just about anywhere. It can come from reading a good cookbook, seeing beautiful food pictures on Instagram or Pinterest, even wandering the aisles of the supermarket and finding a great deal. Musings of an ingredient, a taste or flavor profile, or a special food memory may spark your desire to create something magical. But I think we can agree that doesn’t always happen every day. How do you tend to cook: is it out of obligation, passion, or merely sustenance? I admit not every meal I create is a beautiful masterpiece and sometimes I find it hard to come up with an idea I am excited to make and eat. I have actually cooked full meals that are super tasty and look great, but they aren’t exactly what I wanted to eat. I am a firm believer that whatever you put into a meal you get out of the meal. If you are happy and inspired or cooking for a loved one, the chances are very high that the outcome will be delicious. On the contrary, if you are cooking just because, or angry, or uninspired the chances your meal comes out properly is slim. So, when I do have that lightning bolt of creativity, I do not hesitate to spend some much-loved time in my kitchen and execute that vision.
For the passed three weeks, I had the pleasure of teaching our in-person weekly teen cooking camps. We had an intensive Teen Boot Camp, a baking and pastry camp, a global journey camp, and a summer in the city camp. These kids were so incredible to meet, work with, and teach! The food that they created and seeing them all so proud of themselves inspired me to want to recreate some of the awesome recipes they made. My hope is that I may inspire you to create a little something special the way they inspired me.
The first recipe I was excited to make was the millionaire bars from our baking and pastry camp. If you have never tried these bars before, they are very much similar to Twix bars but better because they are homemade!
Millionaire Shortbread Bars (Shortbread, Caramel, Chocolate)
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: One 9-inch pan
Active time: 40 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 40 minutes
For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cold water
1 large egg yolk
For the caramel:
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup or dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the ganache:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 350°, and line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, pushing the foil neatly into the corners and up the sides of the pan, using two pieces if necessary, to ensure that the foil overlaps all edges (the overhang will help removal from the pan). Spray the foiled pan with nonstick cooking spray or grease with butter.
2. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Process until well combined and no lumps of brown sugar remain. Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Add the ice water and egg yolk and blend until moist clumps form.
3. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, and press with your fingers into an even layer (dust your fingers with flour if the dough is too sticky). Pierce the dough all over with a fork and bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
4. While the shortbread is cooling, prepare the caramel layer. Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, butter, golden syrup, vanilla and salt together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil.
5. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and boil gently, whisking constantly, until the caramel is thick and the temperature registers 225°.
6. Pour the caramel over the warm crust; cool until the caramel is set.
7. Once the caramel has fully set, prepare the ganache. Combine the chocolate and heavy cream together in small saucepan. Gently whisk over low heat until a smooth ganache is formed. Spread the ganache over the caramel layer, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
8. Once the ganache is set, use the overhanging foil to lift the bars out of the pan. Cut with a sharp knife into square pieces.
These bars are so rich and decadent it is no wonder they are called “millionaire bars!” They also freeze really well, and I love the different textures this one bar has to offer.
If chocolate and caramel are not providing that spark you are looking for, another recipe I decided to recreate was a fruit tart. This recipe can be made with any fruit you may have on hand and if you have never made a pastry cream before you will really need to add this simple yet delicious custard to your repertoire. For me, seeing the teens tasting pastry cream for the first time was inspirational. I love being able to share something that I love to eat with people and having them like it as much as I do. Seeing their works of fruit art motivated me to create a couple of my own. For the complete pie dough tutorial check out this video from The Chopping Block's Owner/Chef Shelley Young.
Fresh Fruit Tart
Pie or Tart Dough
Yield: One double-crust pie or two tarts or 4 individual
Active time: 10 minutes
Start to finish: 2 hours, 10 minutes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 cup shortening, chilled
1/3 cup cold water
- Place flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
- Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and add to processor. Be sure to keep them as cold as possible.
- Pulse the mixture until crumbly and the fat is in small pieces throughout the flour.
- Working quickly, start the processor and add cold water until the mixture just forms a ball.
- Turn out dough onto a work surface and shape into an oval.
- Cut the dough in half and press the cut side down to form two disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days before rolling out.
Vanilla Pastry Cream
Yield: 3 cups
Active time: 25 minutes
Start to finish: 2 hours, 25 minutes (includes chilling time)
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
- Combine the milk, vanilla bean scrapings and vanilla bean pod in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat until barely steaming.
- Whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
- Temper the warm milk mixture into egg mixture gradually while whisking constantly. Return the mixture back to the saucepan.
- Simmer, whisking constantly, until thick and boiling. Remove from heat and strain mixture through a fine sieve.
- Whisk in the butter until melted.
- Transfer the pastry cream to a shallow dish and cover with plastic wrap that’s directly touching the custard to prevent a film from forming.
- Allow the custard to chill completely before using.
Blind-Baking a Pie Crust
Baking a pastry shell without its filling is referred to as blind-baking. Several techniques are employed to keep the crust from becoming misshapen as it bakes.
- Preheat the oven to 375º.
- Roll one disk of dough out onto a well-floured surface into a 10- to 12-inch circle. Carefully transfer to a pie or tart pan and crimp the edges. Allow to chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator.
- Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Cover it snugly with either parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place pie weights or dried beans on top of the paper or foil.
- Bake the crust until the edges are light golden brown and the bottom is no longer glossy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the paper or foil with the weights.
- If a filling will be added and baked in the crust, remove from the oven and cool. If the filling will not be baked in the crust, continue to bake the crust for 5 to 10 additional minutes without the weights, until the middle of the crust is light golden brown.
- Cool before adding filling.
1/4 recipe Blind Baked Pie or Tart Dough
1 recipe Vanilla Pastry Cream, chilled
1 cup assorted fruit, such as sliced strawberries, sliced kiwi, sliced bananas, thinly sliced peach wedges, or mango; whole raspberries, blackberries or blueberries)
2 tablespoons red currant jelly or apricot jelly
- Using an offset spatula, spread some of the cooled Pastry Cream into the cooled tart shell.
- Top decoratively with fruit. Be creative!
- Heat the jelly in a small saucepan until liquefied. Using a pastry brush, "paint" the fruit with the jelly to give a sheen.
Hopefully, this blog stirred up some ideas for you to go and make some magic in your kitchen. If you or your teens are still searching for inspiration or want to learn some new recipes; we have two new 3-day virtual Teen Camps coming up.
The first one is Baking and Pastry and it starts tomorrow, Tuesday August 25th and runs through Thursday, August 27th. We will be making:
- Day 1: Banana Pudding with ‘Nilla Wafers
- Day 2: Chocoflan (Chocolate-Cajeta Flan Cake)
- Day 3: Summer Fruit Crostata with Seasonal Sherbet
For a sneak peak, check out this blog on how to make the pudding by Chef Sara Salzinski who will be teaching this camp with me.
The second camp which runs Tuesday, September 1st through Thursday, September 3rd is a savory one, and we will be making:
- Day 1: Roasted Vegetable and Black Bean Enchiladas with Salsa Verde
- Day 2: Chicken Cordon Bleu (Chicken, Ham and Gruyere Cheese) Crêpes with Sautéed Green Beans
- Day 3: Pork Milanese Sandwiches with Caprese Orzo Pasta Salad
As we navigate what our in-person classes look like for the future, I am pleased to say that we have a Teen Boot Camp starting October 10, 2020 which goes for five consecutive Saturday mornings. There is a day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, baking, and a snack food in this intensive and socially-distant in-person camp. Please check out our website and class calendar for all of our in person or virtual offerings, and I hope to see you in class!