Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Brownie Box

I recently read a quote by Salvador Dali that said: “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” That really struck me and made me think about how important is it to forgive yourself when trying to achieve perfection since nothing is perfect and we are all just a work in progress.

We shouldn’t expect too much of ourselves, and our standards in perfection are not set in stone: they’re different from one individual to another, constantly changing over the years. Perfection is out there – it inspires and guides us towards a journey full of experiences that help us improve ourselves while recognizing our flaws. Just know that it will always be out of reach.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Brownie Box

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Brownie Box

I was hesitant about posting these handmade strawberry rhubarb hand pie pictures because they’re not “perfect” by my standards. Some of of the pies are barely sealed others are oozing out the filling but they tasted really good. It’s all about that tender, flaky crust that puffs up into beautiful layers.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Brownie Box

I’ve always been fascinated by rhubarb and I love using these tall red celery looking stalks in baked goods. The ratio of crust in these hand pies is much higher that the filling so you’ll definitely get more crust in each bite especially considering that rhubarb shrinks a lot when baking, much more than strawberries. Just don’t try to overstuff the pies because you’ll end up with messy and runny pies like mine, but hey– there’s always beauty in imperfection.

Recipe adapted from Hint of Vanilla – makes about 12-15 hand pies

Pie Dough:

Ingredients:

For Pastry:
430g all-purpose flour
3g kosher salt
15g granulated sugar
230g unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
250mL cold water
62g cider vinegar
100g ice

For Filling:
200g fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
300g strawberries
80g light brown sugar
12g cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp kosher salt
1 large egg

For Assembly:
1 egg
1 Tbsp whole milk
raw sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:
1. Stir the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter. Work quickly until mostly pea-sized pieces of butter remain.
2. Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup. Sprinkle two tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix with a bench scraper until fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.
3. Divide the dough into two flat disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.
4. Prepare the filling by combining the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl, toss to combine then stir in egg. Place in the fridge.
5. Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C)
6. Generously flour your work surface. Place one chilled, unwrapped dough on the flour, keeping the other disk refrigerated while you work. Gently roll your dough out from the center until about 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough into six 4″x5″ rectangles. Gather dough scraps, and shape into rectangles as well. If the dough becomes difficult to work with at any point, chill for a few minutes in the freezer on a baking sheet before continuing.
7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay rectangles on parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly beat egg with milk for egg wash in a small bowl.
8. Brush edges of rectangles with wash, place 1-2 tbsp. filling in center of each rectangle. Fold one short side of dough over the other, encasing the filling. Crimp edges using a fork. Transfer pies to parchment paper-lined baking sheets and chill 20 minutes.
9. Brush with egg wash, and sprinkle with raw sugar. Cut slits with a knife or prick tops with a fork.
10. Repeat with other disc of dough and remaining filling.
11. Place baking sheet in oven and bake until pies are golden, about 30-35 minutes; let cool on wire rack before serving.

Blueberry Lemon Scones

Blueberry-Scones

Dreamy blueberry lemon scones with a perfect balance of crisp exterior and light soft center.

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They’re buttery, flaky, tart yet sweet, delicious, and so easy to make. In fact, these scones are ready in less than an hour– baking time included. I love how fast they come together although they might seem like a lot of work (which is a good thing if you’re trying to impress your friends).

I’ve had my share of failed scone recipes: too chewy, cakey, dry, or crumbly.  And I learned that the method of making scones is important because it affects their texture. So here are a couple of things to keep in mind when making these:

  • All your ingredients should remain cold. No exception! Butter cubes have to be freezing!
  • Whatever you do, do not overwork the butter. Kneading softens the butter and converts the protein in the flour to gluten, which results in chewy scones. So work fast and handle the dough as little as possible.
  • Place the tray of scones in the refrigerator before baking to ensure that they remain cold. Cold dough in high oven temperature result in flaky tender scones!


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Blueberry-Scones3Pair them with fruit jam, clotted cream, or whipped ricotta honey spread… my weakness.

Lemon Blueberry Scones (adapted from Pastry Affair)

Ingredients:
2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
Zest of 2 small lemons
Pinch of salt
8 tbsp. (113g, 1 stick) butter, cold and cubed
60 ml (½ cup) heavy whipping cream
1 large egg, cold
1 cup frozen blueberries (or freeze fresh blueberries to hold their shape while baking)

3 tbsp. melted butter
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Using a pastry cutter (or two knifes), cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse sand.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy whipping cream and egg then pour into flour mixture.
4. Mix until it just comes together as a dough.
5. Transfer dough to a work surface covered in parchment paper and form into a shallow rectangle (about 1”/2.5 cm thick) using your hands.
6. Press ½ cup of blueberries into the dough.
7. Using the parchment paper, fold the dough in half along the long side. Shape again into a rectangle and press remaining blueberries into the top of the dough.
8. Using the pastry knife, cut dough into four equal rectangles. Then cut each rectangle diagonally, making 8 scones.
9. Place scones on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush tops with melted butter. Lightly sprinkle with cinnamon turbinado mixture.
10. Place tray in the fridge for 15 minutes.
11. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

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Today’s recipe is slightly adapted from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts. I stumbled upon this book while shopping at Anthropologie and I completely loved the idea of baking desserts that rely on simple ingredients, natural sweeteners, and bold flavors – minus the flour. Oh, and the food photography is absolutely gorgeous.

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Slightly underbaked, these chocolate brownies really melt in your mouth as soon as you take a bite. I threw in a teaspoon of orange zest to the batter, because who doesn’t love that flavor combination? It’s my absolute favorite.

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It’s too tempting to have them around the house, so I whipped up a few batches for two dinner parties last week to avoid eating the whole thing by myself. I also look for any excuse to bake.


Ingredients:
(Recipe adapted from Flouless) – Makes about 16 brownie squares

5.3 oz (150g) high quality dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s organic Dark 70%)
½ cup (155g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (50g) Dutch process cocoa (such as Droste) + more for sifting
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp orange zest (optional)

Directions:
1. Heat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line an 8″ x 8″ (20 cm x 20 cm) square pan with parchment paper.
2. In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the dark chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth and shiny.
3. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl.
4. Add the brown sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and orange zest. Stir well to combine.
5. Spread the batter in the pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, until the brownies are dry on top. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 1 hour.
7. Gently lift the parchment paper out of the pan after cooling to remove the brownies then refrigerate for another hour.
8. Remove from the fridge and cut into 16 squares using a serrated knife.
9. Dust with cocoa powder and serve at room temperature.

Flourless Butternut Squash Loaf

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I roll out of bed each day thinking about food. I love starting my day with cooked cinnamon banana steel cut oatmeal, boiled egg on avocado toast, any of Nature Path’s gluten free cereal with Califia almond milk, and of course organic decaffeinated green tea. Ever since I started eating and living a healthier lifestyle, I’ve been interested in incorporating what I learn about “green food” in baking: such as looking for recipes that are naturally sweetened, gluten free, and focused on vegetables or fruits as main ingredients instead of butter, sugar, and dairy.

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People always ask me if I’m vegan or on a constant “diet” but the truth is I don’t follow a specific lifestyle because I love eating healthy whole foods and enjoy everything in moderation. Nothing gets me more excited than plant-based recipes like wholesome salads made with seasonal ingredients, fish or lean meats, beans, and nuts. Eating this way gives me a better body image and makes me feel great inside out. Don’t get me wrong, I still love eating cakes, cookies, and ice cream in small quantities but I’m more mindful about the quality of food that I put in my body everyday.

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This butternut squash loaf is a new favorite and totally guilt-less. It’s made with pureed squash, honey, ground almonds, oat flour, eggs, and cinnamon– basically everything that’s good for you! I love eating a slice in the morning or as an afternoon snack with a tiny sliver of butter or jam.

Ingredients:
120g (1 cup) ground almonds (grind in food processor until a meal forms)
60g (2/3 cups) oat flour (you can also grind rolled oats in a food processor)
113g (1/3 cup) honey
180g (2/3 cup) puréed butternut squash*
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
Extra rolled oats/chopped walnuts/sliced almonds/pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

*Can be replaced with sweet potatoes

Directions:

For the butternut squash purée: (can be made 5 days in advance)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Cut a medium squash in half and remove the seeds.
2. Place the squash facing up on a lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes until the flesh is fork-tender.
3. Take out of the oven and let it cool down for 15 minutes.
3. Scoop out the flesh and place in a food processor, then purée until smooth.

For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and grease a 3.5×7.5 in (9×19 cm) loaf pan with vegetable oil and line with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together until homogeneous.
3. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and add your preferred garnish.
4. Bake for 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Braided Easter Bread

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Each year for the Easter holiday, my mom bakes small raisin bread rolls that are usually braided in 2 or 3 strands. It’s a family tradition that’s been around for many years, so I wanted to post a similar recipe that’s bit less sweet and dense but just as good. I came across a very similar breaded raisin bread recipe in Kamran Siddiqi’s book Hand Made Baking that uses honey as a sweeter instead of refined sugar. What also caught my attention is that the whole dough is braided into one big circular loaf instead of several small loaves. So I decided to give my mom’s classic recipe a twist and the result is spectacular! It’s a slightly sweet and fluffy bread with a brioche-like texture that’s dotted with juicy raisins soaked in apple juice.

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We traditionally serve this bread for the Greek Orthodox Easter (which is a different day than western Easter). It is actually based on the Julian calendar–introduced by Julian Caesar–instead of the Gregorian calendar, and it’s always the first Sunday after the first full moon AFTER the spring equinox which will be April 4th this year. That’s an easier way to remember it. I actually had to look up this information, because my friends always ask me why we celebrate Easter on a different date… Well there you have it.

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The steps in this recipe might seem daunting at first, but believe me it’s not as hard as it seems. It just needs a little bit of patience – and that is the hardest part for me. You basically mix some warm water, yeast, oil, eggs, honey, flour, and raisins together and wait for the dough to double in size then put it in the fridge overnight. The next day you’re going to punch the dough down, braid it into a beautiful round loaf, wait for it to double in size again, and then bake until it’s golden. The loaf will be slightly flaky on the outside and delightfully tender in the middle. You can even use some leftovers stale pieces for French Toast!

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Braided Easter Bread (recipe adapted from Hand Made Baking)

Ingredients:
¾ cup (180ml) warm water (100°F/38°C)
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
5 Tbsp (75ml) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80ml) honey
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt
3¾ cups (470g) all purpose flour
1 cup (160g) raisins, soaked in simmered apple juice for 5 minutes then patted dry

Egg wash:
1 small egg
1 tsp water

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, pour the warm water and then add the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes without stirring until a foamy surface forms. Then stir until the yeast dissolves in the water.
2. Add the vegetable oil, honey, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt into the yeast mixture and whisk until homogeneous.
3. Stir in the flour and raisins with a wooden spoon.
4. Tip the mixture on a floured surface and knead with your hands for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour until it just comes together.
5. Shape the dough into a round and put it in a lightly oiled large bowl, turning it a few times to coat it with the oil.
6. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours. (I like to preheat the oven for a minute or two to place the bowl in it). The dough will double in size.
7. Remove the damp towel and cover the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight.
8. The next day, take out the dough from the fridge and let it sit on the counter for an hour to come to room temperature.
9. Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
10. Punch down the dough and divide it into three equal portions.
11. Roll out each portion into 20″ (50 cm) ropes. Lay them parallel to each other, pinch one end together and braid the pieces, then pinch the other end. Roll the long braid into a circle to form a round loaf.
12. Transfer the loaf to the lined baking sheet.
13. Whisk the small egg with 1 tsp of water and brush it all over the loaf. Wait for the egg wash to dry for 5 minutes then brush it again.
14. Place the loaf in a warm place and let it rise for one hour until it doubles in size.
15. After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and adjust the rack to the center of the oven.
16. Bake for 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway, until the braided loaf is a deep golden color and sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
17. Let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer on a wire rack to cool completely.
18. Store in a plastic bag or tupperware for 3 days (this bread can be frozen too).

Flourless Almond Ricotta Lemon Cake

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When I wrote this post yesterday afternoon I was listening to some classical Arabic songs by Fairuz and Abdel Halim Hafez (my best friend Wihane can back me up on this because she called me and noticed the background music). I remember my childhood days when I used to beg my mom to turn off “that boring music” but I take that back. As a Lebanese expat, I sometimes feel out of place in NYC and the American culture in general so I guess that’s what drove me listen to music that is familiar and that is grounded in middle eastern culture. I decided to forget all preconceptions I had about classic Arabic music and just focus on the rhythms and meaningful lyrics. Abdel Halim Hafez’s songs in particular are incredibly rich and they go on for up to an hour! Can you believe that? It’s also quite interesting how different melodies are repeated throughout the same song, rendering distinctive characters each time yet tying the whole song together. Is that an expat thing, reminiscing on old Arabic music and the good old days?

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Anyway! Back to this lovely Almond Ricotta Lemon cake: it is undoubtedly my favorite recipe this winter season. In fact, I love it so much that I lost count of how many times I baked it within the last two months! It’s THAT good. You guys, my grandma even wrote it down in her recipe book and bought a kitchen scale just to make this cake, which is A FIRST for sure. That makes me feel proud of myself.

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It’s a mixture of whipped butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla bean, almond meal, ricotta cheese, and of course lots and lots of lemon zest. The first time I did this I thought the cake will turn out very dense because it is flourless – but to my surprise it is the lightest, moistest cake I ever tasted. It also has a beautiful, irresistible ground almond texture that melts in your mouth bite after bite.

Ingredients:
120g unsalted butter, softened
250g granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped (I found that 1 vanilla bean is too little, you can also use vanilla paste)
3 tablespoons lemon zest (Around 2 medium lemons)
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
225g almond meal
320g high quality fresh ricotta cheese

Optional:
Flaked almonds for decoration
Icing sugar for dusting

Direction:
1. Pre-heat oven to 160°C  (325°F) on convection bake. Line the base of a 9 inch (23 cm) round cake tin with baking paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest in an electric mixer and beat for 10 minutes until pale and creamy.
3. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the egg yolks one at a time continuing to beat until fully combined.
4. Add the almond meal and beat to combine, then do the same with the ricotta cheese.
5. Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of the egg whites into the cake mixture. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top, decorate the cake with almond flakes (optional).
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked and firm to touch. Allow to cool completely in the cake tin.
8. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Halawet El-Jibn (Sweet Cheese Rolls)

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Making Lebanese desserts may seem impossible – especially if you live in an Arab country where the best sweets are readily available. But it’s not as hard as you think, and all the ingredients used for this Halawet El-Jibn recipe are not hard to find.

I bet you’ll be surprised to know how easy it is to recreate this fabulous dessert at home: it’s simply a mixture of mozzarella cheese and fine semolina melted together to form a smooth dough that’s rolled out and filled with fresh kashta cheese or this whipped ricotta cheese mixture. It is then served cold with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and simple syrup.

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The traditional process of making this dessert is very delicate and requires a precise ratio of ingredients that are cooked using specific utensils. It is said that some of the best Halawet El-Jebn can be found in the city of Tripoli in Lebanon, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it from scratch if you’re craving Arabic sweets or feeling adventurous in the kitchen!

Ingredients and Directions: Makes about 12 rolls

Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup rose water
¼ cup orange blossom water

• Place the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan over a low heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
• Turn off the heat and stir in the rose water and orange blossom water.
• Let cool to room temperature.

Cheese Filling:
250g fresh kashta cheese
(or halve this whipped ricotta cheese mixture)

Cheese Dough:
420g grated mozzarella cheese
160g fine semolina
175ml water
2 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tbsp rose water

• Generously coat a 30 cm x 40 cm (12″x15″) baking sheet with simple syrup.
• In a non-stick pan or saucepan, heat the fine semolina for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and evenly heated.
• Stir in the mozzarella cheese until just combined.
• Immediately add water, orange blossom, and rose water to the pan.
• Keep stirring quickly (to prevent the cheese from burning) until a smooth and elastic dough is formed.
• Take the pan off the heat and turn the dough onto the baking sheet.
• Using a small rolling pin or the back of a wooden spoon coated with syrup, roll out the dough to cover the whole baking sheet.
• Refrigerate for 15 minutes then cut the dough into 11 cm x 13 cm (4″x5″) rectangles.

Assembly:
• Take a rectangular cutout, place 2 tablespoons of kashta (cheese filling) on the short side. Slightly fold the long sides towards the center, then roll the cheese dough and place seam side down on a plate.
• To serve, sprinkle each piece with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and a drizzle of syrup.