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Passover: Flourless Chocolate Cherry Nut Cookies

With the hours ticking by, bringing us closer to the Passover Seder, I thought it was fitting to share a recipe for flourless cookies. I must fore-warn you though, these cookies are so good, that when I made them they didn’t last past the day. They are super simple to make and don’t even require a mixer. *GASP* No electronics needed besides the oven? Shocker, I know.

Flourless Chocolate Cherry Nut Cookies:

3 oz. Walnut Halves (toasted & chopped)

3 oz. Pecans (toasted & chopped)

3 oz. Dried Bing Cherries (Roughly Chopped)

3 c. Confectioners’ Sugar

1/2 c. plus 3 TBL Cocoa Powder

1/4 tsp Salt

4 large Egg Whites, room temperature

1 TBL Vanilla Extract

Toast Nuts:

Preheat oven to 350°

Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for approximately 9 minutes, until they turn golden.

Allow nuts to cool and roughly chop them.

Cookies:

Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Set oven to 320°

Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk the confectioners sugar, cocoa powder and salt together.

Add the nuts and cherries.

Add the eggs and vanilla and continue to mix with a spoon or spatula until ingredients are fully combined.

Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets leaving 2 inches between each cookie.

Bake 16 to 20 minutes (for larger sized cookies) until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked. Rotate the baking sheets half way through the baking time.

The cookies may seem a bit soft in the middle. Do not over bake. They should be chewy and have softer centers.

Allow cookies to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Adapted from Francois Payard’s Chocolate Epiphany

Valentines Day: Lovey-dovey eats

Before I jump on into some great Valentines day treats I’d like to send out a quick hello to all our readers. It’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged. But for good reason- I’ve just returned from a month traveling in South America! Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the trip, my culinary discoveries and recipes inspired by my travels. Its a free culinary tour just for you!

I’m sure you have all been bombarded with e-mails on Valentines day sales, what to get your valentine, what to wear for your valentine etc. For a holiday based on connections and relationships it sure seems like the media is turning it more and more into a Christmas frenzy. My friend and I were talking about our V-day plans and we agreed the best gifts were homemade. Something special and made personally.

The biggest dessert trend we’ve seen this past year is the rise of the mini or single bite desserts. This trend is perfect for Valentines day since it’s usually a holiday celebrated in twos. Here are a few V-day dessert ideas done Urban Sweets style:

Mini cake pops are a great option especially dressed up with hearts

To go full-on Valentines day by plating the cake pops in red sanding sugar

A more subdued option: choose two colors (even simple brown and white) and create a mini dessert display in that theme

As many are predicting, this is the year of the “Pie Pop”. Perfect for Valentines day is a cherry pie pop. Paint little red hearts on the front to hint at the flavor within.

Pie Pops are great as a gift as well. Use a Valentines themed bag, place a piece of styrofoam at the bottom and use it as a Pie Pop display

Heart shaped meringues are a delicate little treat, but add more W-O-W by forgoing food coloring and using strawberry coulis to color and flavor these sugary pillows.

Create a bowl of Meringue hearts- simple and romantic

Planning a bigger event for more than just you and your loved one? Create a Valentines day dessert display by combining the ideas above into a sweets table that isn’t over the top (as in red, red, red), but elegant and provides many little treats to satisfy whatever the palate desires.

 

Happy Valentines Day from Urban Sweets to you!

Happy Halloween

With Halloween right around the corner I was thinking back to last year, when I was in New York for Halloween. I visited Chelsea Market which was fully decorated for the holiday.

For those of you that don’t know about Chelsea Market – it is an amazing indoor food market that has an incredible ambiance and it is a great place to buy artisanal breads, jams, cookies…etc. It is worth flying to New York just to go to the market!

I love that in a city as big and diverse as New York this market creates a “homey”, small-town ambiance for its visitors. The day I went, the place was in full Halloween swing! Kids were dressed up and trick-or-treating from store to store. There was music, face painting and even stilt walkers, not to mention amazing food!

NY Cake Convention – Part I

A few weeks back I attended the New York Cake Convention – a week of everything cake, all the time. To me, it was a little slice of heaven! (no pun intended)

I have so many pictures from the event that I’m going to split this up into two posts.

There was a cake competition in which cake artists from all over the U.S. brought in their cakes to compete. Below are some shots of the designs I liked the most.

Such talent!

Just check out the details on the side of the elephant – amazing

This was hands down my favorite cake. It is a Marie Antoinette design.

The cake base is covered in sugar with snowflake imprints in the sugar. So cute!

Gingerbread

I first met Elizabeth, head pastry chef at Kona Village Resort, on a family trip to Hawaii when I was about 10 years old. She used to let my sister and I come into the kitchen where we would be able to watch her plate desserts. It was always so exciting to see the hustle and bustle going on behind the scenes. It was a few years later that I began to hear about the wonderful gingerbread work that Elizabeth would do for Christmas at Kona Village.  I have always been enamored by the time, creativity and intricate detailing that goes into building gingerbread structures. This year I had the pleasure of speaking with Elizabeth about her craft.

Elizabeth Therialt, Dessert Chef

Kona Village Resort, Hawaii

Answers are paraphrased from a phone interview

1) How did you become a pastry chef? What drew you to this field?

Baking has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a family of hunters, bakers, fishermen and gardeners. I knew that baking was an expression of love. It was a way to be able to give and please people. My uncle and grandfather were bakers in a commercial setting. My grandfather was actually called “Whitey” because he was in charge of the flour and sugar and was often found covered in a light dusting of white powder. Both my Grandmothers were bakers as well; one for the school system and one for the other harvesters. I always baked as a hobby, but didn’t consider it as a career until I took a course in Cooking for Wellness at The Polarity Health Institute in Washington. Later on I took pastry at the University of Hawaii.

2) You are known for the amazing Gingerbread structures you create for the Holidays at Kona Village. When did you begin this tradition?

I began doing the gingerbread houses in 1995. This is the 15th gingerbread house that I have made. My third year of building the houses I actually made two structures; one for each restaurant (which was a huge undertaking). I am a storyteller and use the gingerbread as my medium. I try to present my point of view of the Hawaiian culture.

3) Where do you get your inspiration from?

I grew up in Fresno, California; many of my family trips were to Disneyland, which has greatly affected my imagination. It is based on this thought process of imagineering that I find inspiration for my gingerbread houses. I want to create a fantasy within my pieces. I create mini scavenger hunts in the structure. Allowing the guests to try and figure out what items were used to create the structure. It’s following in the spirit of discerning what is and is not real in ones own life. Many times the guests visit and revisit the pieces and each time discover some new detail or element to the piece.

This year’s theme is based on Kalaemano – a property just North of Kona Village. The learning center and path to the ocean is the main focal point of the property. My themes are based on what captures my heart.

Kalaemano

Petroglyphs Ki’i Pohaku

Breadfruit Tree

Learning Center’s Amphitheater

4) What goes into building a gingerbread house?

Some years the maintenance crew helps me build the wooden structure, while other years I choose not to engage in that collaboration. When I am building these structures I strive to create as much as I can out of edible materials. Everything comes from the land or the kitchen.  When I am unable to use food for certain parts of the structure I will turn to other supplies found in the kitchen such as ice cream cartons and asparagus crates. It is a structure completely comprised of renewable parts.

Each gingerbread structure takes 100 + hours to build. This years structure has the thatching made of shredded wheat, the lava is a powdered sugar/gelatin mixture that is baked and burnt, the sand is made of rice-krispies, sesame seeds and white rice, the grass is dyed coconut, and the benches are made of vanilla beans. The entire structure is held together with gingerbread cement which uses about 75 pounds of powdered sugar and 50 egg whites!

5) When do you begin planning/building the gingerbread house?

In thought, the planning begins the day after or during the previous years design. In action, I begin in September or October.

6) You are not only an extremely talented pastry chef, but you have quite a number of other jobs and hobbies. Please tell us a little about what makes you so special.

My ‘specialness’ is no different than anyone elses, we are however each ‘unique’ unto ourselves. We each have an individual connection to the divine and I am blessed to use that connection. I just prioritize it. I have a passion for passion. I find the delight in the unusual and in the spiritual cleverness in the unexpected and the creative presentation of spirit. That is what I look for. I try to see the weaving of the creative mastery that goes on around us. The drum in particular has caught my heart. Every rhythm of life has a heart beat. During the year before I joined the staff at Kona Village I spent time in Sedona where I made my first drum. So really both drumming and pastry came to me around the same time in my life. It allows me to know love and be loved in the most expanded way possible.

Here are some pictures from the gingerbread structures that Chef Elizabeth has created in the past

Hale Samoa Restaraunt

Hale Moana Restaraunt

Maori Hale (guest bungalow)

Kona Village Fitness Center

Kona Village Gate House

Kona Village Reception Center with Staff

Chocolate Pahu Drum and Honu

Hale Samoa Restaurant at Night

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