Cherry Blossom Bites

Cherry Blossom Bites

I live just outside Washington, DC ( seriously it’s a 5 minute drive/Metro ride) – so I have a front row seat to our Cherry Blossom Festival, in March/April, long before cherries hit our grocery stores at reasonable prices. And all the Festival does is make me wish that cherries were in season, because I love them more than just about any other fruit. (Except raspberries, because they’re the best.) Finally, finally, it’s time to celebrate cherries being in season. These Cherry Blossom Bites are an excellent way to use the cherries that are abundant this time of year, especially if you’re like me, and you’ve been buying more than you can reasonably consume on your own.

Cherry Blossom Bites were inspired by a similar hors d’oeurve that was served at the cocktail hour for my wedding last October. They were simple puff pastry, with goat cheese and a sweetened cherry compote on top, and they were lovely. For this recipe, I’ve kept the puff pastry, but I’ve used cream cheese instead of goat cheese.  Cream cheese is less expensive, and more useful to have extra of. You don’t really notice a difference between the two when they’re packed into these little bites. I don’t know exactly what went into the cherries for the version at my wedding, but I used fresh cherries, softened and reduced with a little orange juice, and cloves. If you don’t take anything else away from this post, know that a pot of cherries, orange juice, and cloves heating on the stove smells like absolute happiness.

To add some sweetness and extra crunch, I created a streusel topping using chopped up bits of the leftover puff pastry, combined with sliced almonds and brown sugar. It really takes these bites to the point where they’re a perfect combination of sweet, salty, and tart. They’re a little chewy and plenty crispy, and the overall impact is what I imagine it would be like if you took a really good cheese board and captured all of it’s best parts in a single bite. I’d dare to say these are actually better than the ones from my wedding.

Figuring out how to bake these was something of an adventure, because I don’t usually put puff pastry into mini muffin pans. Puff pastry needs room to expand, so it doesn’t end up too chewy or over-cooked. After some trial and failure with a silicone mold, I found that the simplest method was also the best: I cut the puff pastry into 1 1/2 inch squares and just pressed them into the mini muffin pans. No cutting circles or trying to squish them in neatly, which is always a bonus in my book.

The rest of the process for making these is fairly quick – the cherries only need to cook for about 15 minutes, and the streusel can be prepared in the meantime. I made my own puff pastry, but you can speed up the process even more by buying it in pre-made sheets. These would be a perfect, unexpected treat to bring to summer parties and barbecues. They’d also make a great quick breakfast or snack that you can whip up ahead and then munch on throughout the week. They taste like dessert, but don’t have very much sugar added at all – it’s only in the topping – so they still fit into a healthy lifestyle. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.




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Cherry Blossom Bites

Ingredients

Puff Pastry

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup very cold water
  • 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter (do not soften)

Cherry Blossom Bites

  • 28 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water - divided use
  • 2 Tbsps orange juice
  • 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 Tbsps brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsps slivered almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped puff pastry bits

Instructions

  1. If you are making the puff pastry: Stir together flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Pour in water gradually, while stirring the mixture - add just enough water to get everything combined into a rough dough. You don't want the butter creamed into the flour, you want it to stay in chunks - this is what causes the dough to form those beautiful, flaky layers in the oven.

    2. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface. Form it into a rectangle, and gently roll out until it's about a half inch thick. Fold the bottom third up into the middle, and fold the top third down on top of that. Turn it 90 degrees, add more flour to prevent sticking, and roll it out again. Repeat this process three more times, adding flour as needed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling. You can also freeze it for about 10 minutes before using, if your filling is already made.

    Note: While making this dough, you need to work quickly, with very cold water and butter, to prevent the butter from melting into the dough. 

    3. Pit the cherries and cut them into halves or quarters - a mix of both is good. Place in a small sauce pan over medium heat with 1/4 cup water, orange juice and cloves. Stir occaisonally, until the cherries have gotten soft and released a lot of juice. Combine 1 Tbsp of water with the cornstarch, and add to the pot of cherries. Continue stirring until the cherry mixture has thickened, and then remove from heat.

    4. Soften cream cheese in the microwave in a small bowl, so that it's soft enough to be piped, but not melted. Transfer to a piping bag. 

    5. Roll the puff pastry out into a sheet, about 1/4 inch think. Cut 1 1/2 inch squares and place them into two un-greased mini muffin tins. Refrigerate the pans while you make the streusel topping - There should be a decent-sized section of puff pastry left over to use for this.

    5. Spread the brown sugar out on a cutting board, and add a 3 inch piece of the puff pastry. Coat it with brown sugar, and then start chopping it into tiny pieces. The brown sugar keeps it from sticking to itself, and becoming impossible to work with. Keep working until you have 1/4 cup of chopped puff pastry. Scoop this into a bowl with the excess brown sugar. Chop slivered almonds into small pieces and add to the mixture. Stir until well combined. 

    6. Assemble the tarts: Pipe about 1/2 tsp of cream cheese into the center of each square of puff pastry. Top with 1 tsp of the cherries, followed by 1/2 tsp of the streusel topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the puff pastry turn a golden brown. 


Triple Chocolate Hearts

Triple Chocolate Hearts

This recipe really counts as four recipes, because there are four homemade components that go into it. Triple Chocolate Hearts begin with a gooey brownie base. Next is a layer of smooth, pink, vanilla buttercream, followed by a layer of fluffy, moist, chocolate cake. The whole thing is topped with rich chocolate ganache, dripping down the sides of the cake. I wanted to create individual desserts of a similar size and cuteness as cupcakes, but in a more interesting form. I think these fit the bill perfectly.

Before you go running away because there are way too many parts to this recipe, let me make it easier. You can use a box brownie mix, a box cake mix, and a can of frosting if you so desire/don’t happen to have some extra time on your hands. Your treats will still be adorable and delicious, and you’ll only need to make a quick ganache from scratch. That said, baking is clearly my favorite hobby, so if I can find the time, I like to do it all from scratch. If you do have a little extra time, a quick way to improve canned frosting is to whip it with your mixer. This gives it a lot more volume, so you can put a nice thick – yet light and fluffy – layer between the brownie and the cake.

Triple Chocolate Hearts are extraordinarily rich, but I feel that Valentine’s Day calls for it. What is Valentine’s Day, if not an excuse to eat a lot of decadent chocolate-y desserts? Yeah, yeah it’s about love and all that, but the rest of the year can be about love if you make it, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing? Letting yourself indulge in desserts like this all year is definitely not going to work out as well. Love all year, eat extraordinary treats on Valentine’s Day.

These fit perfectly in little individual cupcake boxes, so you can package them with a pretty ribbon and hand them out to your favorite people. Be careful who you give them to, though – as soon as they take the first bite, I pretty much guarantee they’ll fall in love with you all over again.

You’ll be left with scraps of brownie and cake, and maybe extra frosting and ganache. I think it would be an absolute crime to waste all of this. Instead of just eating all the leftovers the very same day, I like to work them into other recipes. You can make mini triple chocolate parfaits, cake pops, or use the extra bits to top off yogurt or an acai bowl if that’s your thing. Of course, I’m not always the best at following my own re-purposing advice. I ate basically all of the scraps myself when I made these for co-workers last year. I was in the thick of planning my wedding; I promise I needed to eat the extras to keep from losing my mind. You can easily freeze the leftover cake and brownie pieces for self-medication purposes down the road, if you don’t want feel like turning them into something else.

You can change the concept here, and make adorable non-heart-shaped cakes with different sprinkles and white or chocolate frosting in the middle instead. These would make perfect birthday treats if you’re looking for something to make besides cupcakes. The only thing that won’t change is how delicious they are.

Every layer of Triple Chocolate Hearts has a different level of sweetness, so they aren’t overwhelmingly sugary. The varying textures of the layers make them much more interesting than a typical cake,  so you’ll keep coming back for another bite, and another. Just, do yourself a favor and have some milk on hand – anything this chocolatey requires milk.

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Triple Chocolate Hearts

I use the standard Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake recipe for Triple Chocolate Hearts.  I didn't invent this one, but I wish I had!

The brownies and frosting are just typical recipes for brownies and buttercream - nothing super special or innovative (but extremely delicious).

The ganache is an original recipe. 

Ingredients

Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups cocoa
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cup water

Brownies

  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate (I used Baker's)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Fluffy Pink Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar - divided use
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 dashes salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 4 drops red food coloring

Chocolate Ganache

  • 4 Tbsp melted, unsalted butter 56.5g
  • 6 Tbsp cocoa 30g
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 85g
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions

Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake

  1. Cream butter and sugar in large mixer bowl. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 1 minute at medium speed. 

    2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; add alternately with water to creamed mixture (quickly, with the mixer running - takes about 3 minutes).

    3. Pour batter into two greased and floured 8-inch or 9-inch layer pans, or 13x9 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 - 40 mins for 8-inch; 30 - 35 mins for 9-inch; 37 mins for 13x9. 

Brownies

  1. Melt together butter and unsweetened chocolate, stir until smooth. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate chips. 

    2. Stir in salt and flour. Pour batter into a greased and floured 8x8 pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Do not over-bake. 

Fluffy Pink Buttercream

  1. Cream together butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla, salt, and milk.

    2: Stir in remaining powdered sugar. When sugar is completely incorporated, add food coloring and stir until frosting is uniform. 

    3: Optional, but highly recommended: Whip frosting in a mixer on high until very fluffy, about five minutes. 

    - Keeps well in the refrigerator for several weeks. 

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Combine melted butter and cocoa in a small bowl. 

    2. Pour chocolate chips into another bowl. Heat heavy cream for about 25 seconds in the microwave - you can also do this over the stove. You just want it hot enough to come barely to a boil. Pour cream over chocolate chips and let sit for one minute. Stir until chocolate has melted and the mixture is completely smooth. 

    3. Combine the two bowls of chocolatey essence into one bowl of nirvana.

Tripe Chocolate Hearts

  1. Make Cake (I did a 9x13) and Brownies. While these are baking, make frosting and ganache. When cake and brownies are cool, use a cookie cutter to cut heart shapes from each. Cut off the excess cake/brownie that sticks out over the top edge of the cookie cutter so that both sides of your heart shapes are even and flat. 

    2. Use the brownie hearts as the base. Frost with a generous layer of the pink buttercream. Top with a cake heart, bottom side-up, to give you a smoother surface for the ganache. 

    3. Spread a thick layer of ganache across the top of the cake, allowing some to drip down the sides. Decorate the hearts with sprinkles, and try not to eat all of them immediately!