This Valentine’s Day, skip the boxed chocolate and give something from your own kitchen, instead.
Brush up on your baking skills with treats inspired by some of Howard County’s talented pastry chefs. From almond-scented macaroons and sweet caramel hand pies to sophisticated poached pears in spiced red wine sauce, these desserts will add a little sweetness to your holiday.
Red Wine Poached Pears with Mascarpone, Hazelnut Brittle Crunch and Spiced Wine Reduction
Have a wintry dinner party planned? Finish the meal with these red wine-poached pears, from Iron Bridge Wine Company pastry chef Tyler Skinner. They’re sweet and tender, but also sophisticated in flavor and presentation.
Yields 12 servings
For the brittle:
1 cup sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup water
1 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon baking soda
1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a stainless steel sauce pan over medium-high heat, bring sugar, corn syrup, salt and water to a boil. Stirring occasionally, cook until the sugar dissolves.
3. Place a candy thermometer in the pot, add the hazelnuts and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 285 degrees.
4. Remove the pot from the heat, then stir in the butter and baking soda.
5. Immediately pour the mixture onto the parchment paper-lined sheet, spreading it evenly.
6. Let it cool, then use a mallet to break the brittle into pieces.
For the pears and spiced wine reduction:
12 Bosc pears, peeled, halved and de-cored
1 750-milliliter bottle pinot noir or other red wine
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 star anise
5 whole cloves
1. Place pears in a stainless steel pot. Over the pears, pour the wine then add the sugar, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, star anise and cloves.
2. Place on a burner over medium heat and cook about 20 minutes, until the pears are tender; you should be able to insert a toothpick with little resistance.
3. Remove the pears from the liquid and set aside to cool.
4. Continue to cook the liquid until it is the consistency of a light syrup; it should reduce by about half.
5. Strain and save the syrup for the dessert.
For the mascarpone topping and to serve:
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Combine mascarpone cheese, cinnamon and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl and whisk together until well combined.
2. To plate, place two pear halves on each plate. Fill the halves with mascarpone filling. Top with hazelnut brittle crunch, then drizzle with spiced wine reduction.
Almond Macaroon Cookies
At White Oak Tavern, pastry chef Anne Grybauskas relies on a short list of ingredients to make these fragrant cookies. They are gluten-free and vegetarian — a good choice for people with dietary restrictions — and they are full of flavor.
At the Tavern, the cookies are served alongside banana butterscotch pudding, adding a tasty twist to a comforting dish.
Yields about 20 cookies
4 egg whites
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
2 cups toasted almond slivers
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place the egg whites and salt in a bowl and beat until the egg whites form soft peaks.
3. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks and becomes glossy.
4. Carefully fold in the almonds.
5. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on a baking sheet.
6. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until browned.
Caramel Chocolate Pecan Hand Pies
Kupcakes & Co. owner Michelle Kupiec says these caramel chocolate pecan hand pies are “amazingly delicious.” They’re pretty, too. A small heart-shaped cut-out adorns the top, making them charming treats that are perfect for Valentines of all ages.
The Elkridge bakery will bring its sweets to more county residents next month — a Clarksville location is slated to open by the end of March.
Yields 6 servings
For the pie dough:
3 ¾ cups all purpose flour
12 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
¾ cups ice cold water
1 ¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt.
2. Cut in the butter with hands or a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
3. Add cold water to the mixture. Using your hands, mix until the mixture forms a ball. If the dough isn’t coming together, add a little more water, one tablespoon at a time. The dough should be a little dry; be careful not to overmix.
4. Roll the dough ball into a log shape, then wrap it in plastic.
5. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
For the filling and assembly:
1 cup sugar, divided
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup corn syrup
1 pinch salt
1 cup pecans, chopped
6 teaspoons chocolate chips
Raw cane sugar for sprinkling
Egg wash (1/2 cup milk, 2 eggs and a pinch of salt, beaten)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a small saucepan, combine ½ cup of sugar with ¼ cup water. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has turned a medium brown color.
3. Remove the saucepan from the stove and slowly whisk in the butter, followed by the heavy cream and vanilla extract.
4. Transfer the caramel to a medium bowl and let it cool for 20 to 30 minutes.
5. Once the caramel has slightly cooled, whisk in the remaining ½ cup of sugar, corn syrup and salt.
6. Whisk in each egg, one at a time, and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth.
7. Stir in the pecans.
8. Line the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray. Pour the pecan filling into the pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until set. The filling should jiggle slightly.
9. Let the filling cool slightly, then scrape it into a bowl and stir to recombine the mixture.
10. Refrigerate the mixture until chilled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The filling will be thick and sticky once chilled.
11. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
12. Take the pie dough out of the refrigerator and cut into 9 slices. Roll each slice into a 7-inch circle.
13. With 3 of the crusts, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out 6 hearts to top the pies. The remaining 6 crusts will be used for the hand pies.
14. Scoop ¼ cup of pecan filling into the center of each pie crust. Place 1 teaspoon of chocolate chips on top of the pecan filling.
15. Brush the ends of each crust with egg wash, then fold each crust over to make a turnover. Brush more egg wash on the crust edge, then pinch the crust together 4 times.
16. Using a knife, cut a small slit in the top of each pie.
17. Use egg wash as glue and stick the heart cutouts to the top of each pie (be sure not to cover the slit).
18. Brush the entire top of each pie with egg wash and sprinkle each with raw cane sugar.
19. Place the hand pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, rotating the tray about halfway through.
20. Let the pies cool before serving warm or at room temperature.