Tarragon and Caramel Pear Tarts

Yes, you read that right, these are sweet caramel pear tarts flavored with fresh tarragon! The herb works perfectly with the sweet fruit and caramel sauce.

Tarragon Caramel Pear Tarts

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Here’s how this recipe came about: I have come across tarragon in dessert dishes a few times now, once in a restaurant (where my friend had a sweet tarragon tart that accompanied a sorbet) and several times in various trendy food magazines but I had never used it in a dessert dish myself. Then the other day I made caramel pear tarts and was really struck by how boring and usual their flavor was. Into my head popped tarragon! Its liquorice-like flavor would really liven up these tarts, I thought to myself, so I made another batch and baked some chopped, fresh tarragon into it. It turned out wonderfully, all the flavors complemented each other perfectly and the tarragon added something new and exciting. Definitely a winner in my book, I hope you like it too! :)

Tarragon and Caramel Pear Tarts
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 6
Ingredients:
For the tarts:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 firm Seckel pears, peeled, cored and cut in half (you'll need only 9 halves for this recipe, I suggest you eat the 10th as a snack)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • caramel sauce (I've got a recipe here)
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, then add the pear halves and cook until tender.
  3. Mix cinnamon, sugar and cornstarch in a bowl, then sprinkle over the pears.
  4. Sprinkle 9 small mounds of tarragon onto the the puff pastry sheet, then set the pear halves on top of them.
  5. Cut the puff pastry into 9 squares so that one pear half is sitting in the center of each square.
  6. Bake the tarts until they are golden-brown (20-25 minutes).
  7. Drizzle or brush with caramel sauce.

Food Photography and Styling: Since the tarragon is the special twist in this recipe I wanted to be sure to show it so instead of photographing the whole tarts from an overhead perspective (which looked quite nice) I cut the tarts open and showed one of them from the side with the tarragon filling visible. I had meant for the creamer to be the vessel that held the caramel sauce but the sauce looked very dark in it, so I emptied it and figured it could be filled with milk for the tea instead. The “tablecloth” is a large linen napkin (isn’t it amazing how large some napkins are? This thing could cover my entire upper body!) and I thought its color worked great with the brown of the tarts. I used my strobe to light the set.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 200. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight.

Chocolate Bourbon Donuts

Chocolate Bourbon Donuts Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Happy New Year Everyone! I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2016. To start the year properly I made chocolate Bourbon donuts; you could think of them as the dark counterpart to last week’s cardamom cinnamon donuts. These guys here are again baked and they are cakey but still very light. My favorite part about them is the glaze, which is a chocolate Bourbon ganache of sorts that I made with heavy cream, butter, chocolate, vanilla extract, espresso powder and, of course, Bourbon. It’s not one of those hard chocolate shells you sometimes see, instead it’s soft and creamy; I personally like that better in combination with cakey things. I suggest you eat (or serve) these donuts as an afternoon snack with a glass of milk (or Bourbon)!

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Recipe Update: I have updated and improved this recipe since posting it here and you can find the new (and even tastier) version on my new site: https://www.nicolebranan.com/stock-food-photos/chocolate-donut-sprinkles.

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Food Photography and Styling: I wanted to be sure to tell the viewer that these donuts have Bourbon in them and I tried several different ways to do that. First I set a glass filled with Bourbon in the background but that ended up looking a bit dingy and I didn’t think it got the idea across. Next I thought of a whiskey bottle but I didn’t have one that would have fit with the size of the donuts, everything I had was much too large. In the end I opted for writing the recipe name on the photo and left space in the background to do that.

The backdrop is actually the seat of a chair (the same one I used as the surface in this photo). The surface that the plate is sitting on is a tray that I turned upside down and I thought it looked like a nice table. As I’m sure you guessed, I used my strobe to light the set.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/5, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Cardamom Donuts with Cinnamon Sugar

Cardamom Donuts Cinnamon Sugar Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Hi everyone! I hope you all had an enjoyable holiday season. I also hope you aren’t tired of sweets because I’ve got some incredible baked donuts here. They are light and fluffy, flavored with cardamom, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Sounds good? It is! And very easy to make, just standard ingredients whisked together by hand and put in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Cardamom Donuts with Cinnamon Sugar
 
Author:
Recipe type: Desserts
Serves: 9
Ingredients:
For the donuts:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the coating:
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Instructions:
For the donuts:
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray two 6-cavity donut pans with nonstick spray and set aside. (This recipe will make 8 to 9 donuts).
  3. Whisk flour, cardamom, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Whisk egg and sugar together in a bowl until well combined and a bit creamy.
  5. Whisk milk and melted butter into the egg mix.
  6. Whisk the dry ingredients into the egg mix.
  7. Using a spoon, divide the batter into the donut pans, filling each cavity ½ to ¾ full and bake for 12 – 15 minutes.
For the coating:
  1. Mix sugar and cinnamon together in a shallow bowl.
  2. Brush the donuts with the melted butter, then either sprinkle the sugar/cinnamon mix on or dip the donuts in it.

Food Photography and Styling: Since the cinnamon sugar is an important part of the recipe I wanted to draw attention to it by showing the sprinkling in action. (That also fit with the blue winter theme because it looked a bit like falling snow). Of course, donuts are the ultimate stacking food so I couldn’t resist making a nice tall tower out of them. I chose my (one and only) triangular plate because I liked the contrast it provided to the round shape of the donuts.

As always, I used my strobe to light the set.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/4, 1/125 sec., ISO 50. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

Easy Chai-Spiced White Chocolate Mousse

Chai Spiced White Chocolate Mousse

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I’m going to throw in one more quick and delicious dessert before Christmas. It’s the same white chocolate mousse I shared a few months ago here but this time I flavored the cream with chai spices (cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom and black pepper) instead of pumpkin spice. It is super easy to make, you just add the spices to a cup of heavy cream and over moderate heat dissolve white chocolate into it. Then you chill the mix for a few hours (or overnight) and when you’re ready to serve it you whip it just like you would whip regular heavy cream. Easy and very delicious – Happy Holidays!

Easy Chai Spiced White Chocolate Mousse
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 10 whole cloves
  • one 1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 5 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 4 ounces white chocolate (I recommend Baker's Premium White Chocolate Baking Chocolate Bar)
Instructions:
  1. Add all ingredients to a saucepan.
  2. Over medium-low heat, dissolve the chocolate in the cream, stirring constantly. Be careful not to let the cream get too hot, it should not simmer, it should just be warm enough to dissolve the chocolate.
  3. Refrigerate the mix for one hour.
  4. Strain the mix into a bowl, discard the spices.
  5. Refrigerate for another 3 hours or overnight.
  6. Beat the cream to stiff peaks (this will take a few minutes).

Food Photography and Styling: I’ve had these glasses for several years but only used them once a long time ago and then never again. Well, immediately after I started shooting this mousse I remembered why…these glasses have a thin metal coating of some sort on the outside and are hence a lighting nightmare. Everything and its brother shows up as a reflection on them, it’s terrible. They are going to move from the prop shelf into the kitchen cabinet asap! Anyway, I did like their long stems and overall festive appearance though and I thought they fit well with this easy yet fancy dessert. I also liked the chocolate brown colors of the set, to me they send the message that this is a chocolate dessert, even though the mousse is white and not brown chocolate. As always, I used my strobe to light the set.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 50. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight.

Vanilla Bean Cookies

Vanilla Bean Cookie Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I have often wondered who came up with the idea to associate vanilla with plain. That’s a really puzzling concept because there is nothing plain about vanilla seeds; their unique flavor and aroma is about as complex as it gets and is the result of a combination of several hundred different chemical compounds. And it is, of course, delicious. I mean, who doesn’t like vanilla?

Now, when I use vanilla I generally reach for the bottle of extract but to add some sophistication (in the form of visible black flecks of vanilla seeds) to these Christmas cookies here I scraped the seeds of out of an actual vanilla pod and added them to both the dough and the glaze. Both components are simple but very flavorful and overall make a very delicate and buttery, crispy cookie. I made the glaze from powdered sugar, vanilla seeds and heavy cream. Cream is great for a glaze because it results in a thick, velvety texture that more or less automatically forms a bit of a pattern when you spread it on with the back of a small spoon. That’s my way of decorating a cookie artfully because I’m not really much use with a piping bag!

Vanilla Bean Cookies
 
Author:
Ingredients:
For the cookies:
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1½ inches vanilla bean
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
For the icing:
  • 1 inch vanilla bean
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 – 4 tablespoons heavy cream
Instructions:
For the cookies:
  1. Whisk flour and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean piece.
  3. Beat butter and sugar until well combined and creamy.
  4. Beat in the vanilla seeds
  5. Beat in the dry ingredients.
  6. Bring the dough together into a ball by hand, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  7. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  8. Roll out the dough and cut out the cookies.
  9. Bake the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper until they are lightly browned (12 – 15 minutes).
  10. Let the cookies cool.
For the icing:
  1. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean.
  2. Whisk powdered sugar, vanilla seeds and heavy cream together. Start with 1 tablespoon of cream, then add more until you have a spreadable but not runny consistency.
  3. Spoon the icing onto the cookies and let it dry.

Food Photography and Styling: I started this shoot with the plate of cookies sitting on just a smooth fabric but that was missing something and I think the wrinkled fabric that is mirroring the texture in the icing of the cookies was it; it broke up the uniform surface and added interest to the photo. To create a winter feel I kept the white balance fairly cold and at the same time the minimally diffused light kept the atmosphere still cheerful and inviting enough. As always, I used my strobe to light the set.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/5, 1/125 sec., ISO 64. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight.

Spiced Linzer Cookies with Dulce de Leche

Spiced Linzer Cookies with Dulce de Leche Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Can you believe that I made dulce de leche for the first time last week? I actually find it hard to believe myself, not only am I one of the world’s biggest fans of sweetened condensed milk but the sound of the words “dulce de leche” alone makes my mouth water. Apparently this delightful substance (which translates to “candy made from milk”) was invented as a way to preserve milk. One of mankind’s greatest ideas, I say.

I made the dulce de leche by baking the contents of a can of sweetened condensed milk in the oven until they turned light brown (following epicurious’ instructions). The resulting thick sauce looks a bit like caramel but tastes much better, the flavor is much more complex and the sweetness much less in-your-face. I filled the dulce de leche in between pumpkin spice Linzer cookies and overall the combination of all the flavors turned out so beautifully that I made the recipe again the next day. A delicious fall or holiday cookie.

Spiced Linzer Cookies with Dulce de Leche
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 14
Ingredients:
For the dulce de leche:
  • one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
For the cookies:
  • 1½ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • powdered sugar
Instructions:
For the dulce de leche:
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate.
  3. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and set into a roasting pan.
  4. Bring a kettle of water to boil and pour the water into the roasting pan so that it comes halfway up the pie plate.
  5. Bake until the milk has turned brown (1½ –2 hours). Check after about 45 minutes and refill the hot water if necessary.
  6. Let cool, then strain into a glass bowl.
For the cookies:
  1. Whisk flour, salt and spice together in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Beat butter and sugar until well combined and creamy.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  4. Beat in the dry ingredients.
  5. Bring the dough together into a ball by hand, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap, then cut out the cookies.
  8. Bake the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper until they are lightly browned (12 – 15 minutes).
  9. Let the cookies cool.
  10. Sift powdered sugar onto the top cookies.
  11. Spoon a dollop of dulce de leche onto the bottom cookies and top with a cut-out center cookie.

Food Photography and Styling: My favorite part about these cookies was the beautifully light-brown color and creamy texture of the dulce de leche that was squeezing out of the center of all three cookies and I tried to mirror that color and creaminess in the coffee by stirring in a bit of cream. It took a bit of stirring and bubbling the coffee with my little eyedropper until I had the surface of the drink the way I wanted it and it looked inviting and fresh. The dulce de leche in the center of the cookie I had taken a bite out of periodically started to droop throughout the shoot and I had to use a small brush to “sculpt” it into a nice round button shape a few times. As usual I lit this photo with my strobe.
 
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/9, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight.

Apple Tarts with Chai-Spiced Custard Sauce

Apple Tarts with Chai-Spiced Custard Sauce Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

The first snow of the season arrived up here a few days ago. Dan started a big, roaring fire in the fireplace and I felt like making a warm dessert to eat while watching the snowflakes fall. My first thought was a rustic apple cardamom tart but I wanted something creamy to go with it so I made a warm, chai-spiced custard sauce.

I based the sauce on my bruleed chai-spiced pots de creme but instead of pots de creme-ing the custard I cooked it on the stovetop to turn it into a sauce. It was quite easy, I infused a mix of milk, cream and sugar with cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom and black pepper corns, then whisked it into egg yolks and cooked it until it thickened. The sauce went perfectly with the flaky dough and the tart apple and also looked really beautiful (which is almost equally important to me). A great first-snow-welcoming-comfort-dessert. Hope you like it as much as we did! :)

Apple Tarts with Chai-Spiced Custard Sauce
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 6
Ingredients:
  • This recipe makes 6 tarts.
For the custard sauce:
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
  • one ½-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 5 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper corns
  • 6 egg yolks
For the apple tarts:
  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Instructions:
For the custard sauce:
  1. Add milk, cream, sugar and spices to a saucepan and bring to boil, stirring constantly.
  2. Turn the heat off, cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Strain out the spices.
  4. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, then whisk in the milk mix.
  5. Transfer the mix back into the saucepan and, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, heat on medium-low heat until it has thickened and is coating the back of the spoon (about 4 minutes). Be careful not to let the mix boil.
For the apple tarts:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples.
  3. Melt the butter in a pan, then add the apples and cook them until tender.
  4. Mix the sugar and the cornstarch in a bowl, then add the apples to the bowl and mix everything around.
  5. Cut six rounds (about 3½ inches in diameter each) out of the puff pastry and distribute the apple slices on them.
  6. Bake the tarts until they are golden-brown (20-25 minutes).
  7. Serve the tarts with the sauce.

Mini Chocolate Bites

Do you like the combination of whipped cream and chocolate cake? If so, you’ll love these little chocolate bites. They are mini chocolate cupcakes topped with a very light and fluffy whipped cream chocolate mousse.

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

The topping is actually a spinoff from my recent pumpkin spice white chocolate mousse. I used the same technique here but with milk instead of white chocolate (and without the pumpkin spice).

It’s very simple to make, you just melt chocolate in heavy cream, then chill the mix, then whip it as if it were regular whipped cream. You can eat it the topping all by itself as a mousse of course, but I liked the contrast with the cake so I piped it onto the cupcakes. It’s a delightful, no-utensils-required dessert. Be sure to treat the topping like you would treat whipped cream, in other words try to keep it refrigerated if you’re not serving it immediately. Other than that it’s absolutely fuss free. :)

Mini Chocolate Bites
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 20 – 24
Ingredients:
  • This recipe makes 20 – 24 mini cupcakes.
For the frosting:
  • 2 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
For the mini cupcakes:
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup boiling water
  • 2½ tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
Instructions:
For the frosting:
  1. Add chocolate and cream to a saucepan and slowly heat and stir until the chocolate is dissolved. Be careful not to let the cream get too hot, it should not simmer, it should just be hot enough to dissolve the chocolate.
  2. Transfer the mix to a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
  3. Beat the mix with an electric mixer until firm.
For the mini cupcakes:
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a mini muffin pan with liners.
  3. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. In another bowl whisk boiling water, cocoa powder and espresso powder together until dissolved. Set aside.
  5. Beat butter and sugar until well combined.
  6. Add vanilla and egg to the butter mix and continue to beat until well combined and slightly creamy.
  7. Add the flour mix to the butter/sugar and beat until well combined.
  8. Add the chocolate mix and continue to beat until well combined.
  9. Distribute the batter among muffin tins, filling each ⅔ full.
  10. Bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (10 – 15 minutes).
  11. Let the cupcakes cool, then pipe the frosting onto them.