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These brownies…

…are, without a doubt, the best brownies I have ever eaten. A good friend (who also happens to be my sister-in-law) gave me one of David Lebovitz’s cookbooks a while back and I could not resist baking one last thing before my final semester of school starts. In the introductory paragraph, David says “I’ve made a lot of brownies in my life, and these really are the best.” I could not agree more.

For “Robert’s Absolute Best Brownies”, you need:

  • 6 tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
  • 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans, toasted and chopped (I used pecans)

Heat the oven to 350 and line a 9-inch square pan with parchment or foil, leaving about an inch of overhang. Grease the parchment with cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter over low heat, then stir in the chocolate until it is melted and smooth. Take it off the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until smooth again.

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Then, beat in the eggs one at a time. Last, add the flour and beat “energetically for one full minute.” David really emphasizes beating the batter vigorously for a full minute, as this is what Robert advises. Apparently, excellent brownies will not result unless you enthusiastically beat the batter for this specified amount of time. I didn’t risk not following the instructions, and it was well worth it. Anyway, beat the batter until it is glossy and smooth, then stir in your nuts of choice. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

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Bake until the center feels almost (key word, almost) set, which will take about 30 minutes. As David directly says, “don’t overbake.” Let the brownies cool completely in the pan, then lift the parchment or foil out of the pan to remove the brownies. Prepare for your field trip to heaven.

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I really don’t know what else to say other than MAKE THESE RIGHT NOW. I am practically at a total loss for words, as these brownies are amazing, fudgy, rich, wonderful gooiness that I want to eat all the time. I might not ever buy a box mix again as, after eating these, that would be disappointing and might even feel sacrilegious, since these are practically as easy to make and are way more delicious.  In fact, it’s lunchtime. I’m going to go eat a brownie and love every minute of it.

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Hamburger steak…

…doesn’t sound particularly exciting, does it?  Well, what if I told you Julia Child had a recipe for it? Interested yet?  You should be.

For Julia’s bifteck hache a la lyonnaise (aka, ground beef with onions and herbs) You need:

  • 3/4 cup finely minced onions
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean, ground beef
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. thyme
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp. butter + 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine or beef stock
  • 2-3 tbsp. butter, softened

Melt the butter and cook the onions low and slow for about 10 minutes until they are tender, but not browned. Put them in a mixing bowl and stir them a bit to help them cool slightly. Then, add the beef, softened butter, seasonings, and egg. Use a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. This surprised me a bit–I’ve made a lot of burgers, and always hear (and believe) that you have to be quite careful with ground beef because it is easy to over-mix it. However, what Julia says goes, and I tried the wooden spoon. It worked perfectly and it was kind of nice to not have raw meat all over my hands. Once the meat is well mixed, shape it into about 6 patties that are 3/4 inch thick. Right before you cook them, roll the patties lightly in flour, shaking off any excess.

Put the other butter and oil in a big skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter foam starts to lessen, cook the patties 2-3 minutes a side, until nice and golden. Take them out of the skillet and keep warm in the oven while you make a little sauce.

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Get any excess fat out of the skillet, then add the wine or beef stock and boil it quickly, scraping up any browned deliciousness as it boils. Cook the sauce until it is reduced and a bit syrupy. Take the skillet off the heat and swirl in the butter a bit at a time until it is completely incorporated.

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Pour the sauce over the warm patties to serve.

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Believe me when I say this hamburger steak is absolute glory. Tender, melts-in-your-mouth, flavorful glory. And it actually comes together really quickly, too. Thanks for being a genius, Julia!

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…makes a ton of bread dough. I know I am starting to sound redundant, but really. An absolute ton. I finally finished the original batch of dough (remember, this is after an enormous loaf of brioche and a dozen fruit-filled pinwheels) by making a dozen little brioche muffins.

For healthy “muffins” you need:

Start by greasing a muffin pan. Shape your dough into a loose ball by stretching the surface of the dough to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn after each pull.

DSC_0728 Then, divide the dough into 12 equal portions that are about the size of a golf ball. Use the same stretch and pull method to smooth each portion into a ball and place them in your greased muffin tin.

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Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap (I used a kitchen towel) and let the dough rest about 40 minutes. Then, heat the oven to 375. Right before you bake, brush the muffins with the egg wash and dust with sugar. Bake the dough in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes, until browned and firm. Let the muffins cool a bit before devouring.

DSC_0734We enjoyed these several ways–all by themselves out of the oven, with a bit of butter at breakfast or for dessert, and dipped in our veggie chili at lunch.

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One recipe. Fifteen products that we ate and did not feel one ounce of guilt about devouring. All that is to say, this dough is definitely worth your while!

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Stuffed chicken…

…is actually a lot easier to make than it looks (or at least I always thought it looked difficult). However, I found the following recipe in a recent issue of Food Network Magazine and couldn’t resist trying it.

For a nice way to jazz up a basic chicken breast, you need:

  • 8 oz spinach
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (don’t forget to trim them)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 8 oz ditalini (I just fixed the whole box)
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

Start by mixing about 2 cups of the spinach, the feta, and 3 tbsp water. Then, use a paring knife to make a pocket in the chicken breasts. Cut into the thickest part of the chicken and continue cutting along the side to make a nice deep pocket that is about 2 inches wide. Stuff your spinach mixture into the pockets, season each side of the chicken with salt and pepper, and marvel at how easy that was. Then, heat the oil in a deep skillet. Place the chicken rounded/stuffed side down to seal the chicken. Cook until it starts to brown, about three minutes. Flip and repeat on the opposite side. While you’re waiting, start a pot of water for the pasta.

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When you’ve browned both sides, add the chicken broth, vinegar, and tomatoes to the skillet. I thought I had some sun-dried tomatoes in my pantry, but only found dried chiles. So, I heated a little stock and threw an ancho chili in it to soften. Then, I chopped it finely and threw it in with the liquids. Anyway, after you’ve added the liquids and whatever tomato or pepper you have, partially cover the skillet and let the chicken finish cooking for about 15 minutes, until it is just cooked through.

DSC_0723Salt your boiling pasta water and cook the ditalini (one of the world’s greatest pastas, no??) for 10 minutes. Put your remaining spinach in a colander and drain the pasta over it to wilt the spinach. Then put everything back in the pot along with the mint and 1/4 tsp salt. Remove the chicken from its skillet and slice; toss the remaining pan sauce with the ditalini.

DSC_0724Top a plate of ditalini with some of the sliced chicken.

DSC_0727Yum! Then again, I am convinced that any dish that includes ditalini is culinary gold. I just love the stuff. It also helps that this dinner comes together in a snap and honestly, who can resist chicken stuffed with cheese and served on top of pasta?

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Hash brown casserole…

…has been a staple in my family’s recipe arsenal for as long as I can remember. Potatoes, sour cream, cheese…it’s comfort food at its best. Schatzi recently had the great idea to take our base recipe and modify it to make a main course. We came up with about a dozen ideas to try, and this “Italian” version was our first creation.

For Italian hash brown casserole, you need:

  • 2 lbs frozen grated hash browns
  • 1 pt sour cream
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage (I used hot, but use your favorite)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 10 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups Corn Flakes, crushed
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Brown the sausage in a large skillet. Then, add the onions, garlic, herbs, and diced tomatoes and let everything soften for 3-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

DSC_0701Preheat the oven to 350. Meanwhile, mix the sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, and tomato paste.  Then, add the potatoes, mozzarella, and meat mixture from the stove. Season again with salt and pepper.  Press everything into a 9×13.

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Bake for 30 minutes. While the casserole bakes, crush the Corn Flakes and mix them with the melted butter. Add an extra sprinkle of the basil, oregano, and Italian seasoning. After 30 minutes, spread this mixture over the casserole and return it to the oven to bake another 15 minutes.

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When the timer buzzes, your cheesy, spicy (or sweet, if that is your sausage of choice) casserole is ready to be devoured. I suggest using a spork as your weapon of choice, as I recently discovered that a spork is the absolute best tool for comfort food consumption.

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Give it a try. Or, if you just want an excellent potato casserole, omit the meat, spices, tomatoes/paste, and replace the cheese with cheddar. Either option is certainly a solid decision.

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…can make some truly delicious things. Remember that whole wheat brioche? Turns out, tasty pastries can be made with some of that leftover dough. So, to use more of my nutritious dough, I decided to make fruit-filled pinwheels for a brunch with some fantastic people. This recipe can be found in that same cookbook, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. To make *somewhat* pretty pinwheels, you need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs whole wheat brioche dough
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon (or other citrus) zest
  • 1/2 cup fruit preserves
  • egg wash (1 egg + 1 tbsp water)
  • 12 almonds (I skipped these)
  • sugar, for sprinkling

Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper.  Then, mix the cream cheese, zest, and honey.

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Sprinkle a bit of flour on your refrigerated dough and cut off a 1 1/2 lb chunk. Shape it into a rough ball by stretching the top of the dough and tucking it under the bottom, rotating a quarter turn until you’ve done all four sides. With any luck, yours will probably look prettier than mine!

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Roll out this dough into a 1/8 inch-thick rectangle that is about 11×15 inches. Add any flour you need if the dough starts to stick, but add very little to keep it moist.  Then, take a pizza cutter and make 3 cuts along the length of the dough and 2 on the short ends to make a total of 12 squares.

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Take a square and add about 2 tsp. cream cheese filling and 2 tsp. of the preserves. Eyeball it, honestly–it’s going to overflow either way. Cut a slash at each of the 4 corners of the square. Brush every other point with egg wash, which will act as glue when you fold the points to make the pinwheels. Lift an egg-washed point up and to the middle of the square, followed by every point (i.e., the ones you brushed with egg wash). Press each of the folded points together in an attempt to seal them in the middle over the filling. Cover your pinwheels loosely with plastic wrap and let them set for about 40 minutes.

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Now I’m not going to lie to you. Not all of my pinwheels were this pretty. In fact, some of them looked like a gift from a deranged Easter bunny…

Anyway, heat your oven to 350. After the 40 minutes are up, brush the pinwheels with the remaining egg wash and dust them with sugar.  If you’d like, press an almond into the middle of each pinwheel. Bake your pinwheels for 20-25 minutes, until they are set and golden brown.

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See, I told you not all the pinwheels were beautiful!  They do expand a bit while baking.  Nevertheless, do not be discouraged.  Despite perhaps looking a bit of a mess, these little pastries are quite delicious. In fact, I’d actually recommend these over the loaf you can also make! And, regardless of how mangled-looking they may turn out, they are sure to impress guests. I figure, you’ve already made healthy bread dough from scratch. Why not give something slightly fancy a try?

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Funny story…

…explaining a three-plus year hiatus from food blogging.  See, I decided to try this thing called graduate school and thus said good-bye to having free time to participate in any enjoyable activities.  So, Schatzi has basically been in charge of the majority of the food in our home for a few years now and this blog has sat patiently while I slave over getting a master’s.  Anyway, I was recently pawing through my cookbook collection in search of something exciting to make and I came across a book given to me by my mom several years ago that has all sorts of healthy bread recipes: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a DayAfter much debate, I decided to attempt a whole wheat brioche loaf.

For this relatively easy, wholesome bread, you need:

  • 4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 packets granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 5 eggs
  • egg wash (1 beaten egg+1 tbsp water)

One of the nice things about this recipe is that while it makes enough for 2 big loaves or however else you want to use the dough, you don’t have to immediately bake it. You can store the leftover dough in the fridge for up to five days, using it as needed. To start, whisk together your flour, yeast, salt, and vital wheat gluten in a huge bowl. A few helpful hints: make sure you really read the ingredients list. I grabbed a simple small box of wheat gluten, thinking it was enough. Oh no. You need 2 and a quarter cups of the stuff. Read ahead and save yourself a trip to the store!  Also, save yourself a bunch of dirty bowls and just start off with the biggest one you have. After all, there are almost 10 cups of dry ingredients in the dough!  Next, mix the liquids and then add them to the dry ingredients. I used a big wooden spoon to stir the dough until everything was just combined–no kneading is required and any lumps will settle out during baking.

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Place a loose lid or damp kitchen towel over the dough and let it rise and flatten on top for about 2 hours.  Then, put it in the fridge for at least another 2 hours. When you’re ready to bake, grease a nonstick loaf pan. Dust the chilled dough with some flour and cut off a 2-pound chunk. Add a little more flour as needed and shape the dough into a ball, then place it in your prepared pan. Cover the ball loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rest, again, for about an hour and 45 minutes.

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Brush the surface with the egg wash to make your finished product nice and golden.

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Bake at 350 with the loaf as close to the center of the oven as possible, for 40-45 minutes. The bread is done when it is golden brown and the top is firm, but not necessarily crisp or crackly. Leave the loaf in the pan 10 minutes to let it release, then remove it to a cooling rack to completely cool.

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Slice and enjoy! The brioche is delicious served warm by itself,

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spread with your favorite toast toppings, or with eggs and bechamel.

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Enjoy! I still have half a recipe to use in the fridge, and am looking forward to attempting a few more tasty creations with this nutritious base recipe.

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…is quite an ordeal, and we experienced our own first turkey-roasting this weekend.  We decided it would probably be a good idea to go ahead and have a faux thanksgiving dinner while it is just the two of us, so we could figure out the process with slightly less stress.  We stretched the meal over a couple of days to make plenty of sides, and our full menu included the turkey (of course), gravy, bacon green beans, rice and mushroom stuffing, scalloped potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.   I am not going to lie to you.  If you have never roasted a turkey, it is not as easy as your mother (who has most likely been doing this for years) makes it look.  However.  This recipe for lemony roasted turkey from Rachael Ray is probably as easy as it gets, with absolutely incredible results!!

For Rachael’s amazing turkey you need:

  • 1 14-16 lb. turkey, rinsed/patted dry–save the giblets and neck to make stock
  • 4 tbsp. butter, at room temp.
  • 1 lemon, zested and halved
  • 2 onions, roots chopped off and halved with skin on
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • salt and pepper

Here is where the fun begins…as turkey newbies, we fell into the typical trap of not allowing enough time for our very frozen bird to thaw.  Give it at least three days in the fridge!  We had to push our feast back a week, but it ended up working out.  On roasting day, cut off the first two joints of the wing, but leave the drumettes attached.  Keep the wings for your stock.  Let your turkey come up to room temperature in its roasting pan for about 2 hours.

When time gets close, aka 20 minutes out, start heating your oven to 400 with the bottom rack in the lowest position.  Meanwhile, mash together the butter and lemon zest.  Proceed to smear it all over your bird (we are talking Anne Burrell love-your-meat style), then squeeze all of the lemon juice over it.  Stuff 2 onion halves and the sliced lemon in the cavity, and the other 2 onion halves in the pan.  Sprinkle on the thyme and salt/pepper to taste.  Tie the legs of the turkey together, and pop the pan in the oven for an hour.

When the first hour is up, rotate the pan a half-turn, lower the heat to 350, and roast for another hour.  Then, after the second hour has passed, baste the turkey with the juices in the pan.  Continue to roast the turkey for another half hour or so, basting often, until a meat thermometer stuck into the inner thigh registers 150-155.  Once you reach the golden temperature, use tongs to pour any juices from the turkey cavity into the pan, and save all the drippings for some great gravy.  Let the bird rest at least 30 minutes before carving, and get to work on said gravy.

Well, before you make the gravy and while the turkey is a-roasting, make you own super-easy turkey stock.  Simply save the neck, wings, and giblets (not the liver), and toss them into a big pan along with a a quartered onion (skin on), one chopped celery rib, some parsley and thyme, 1/2 tsp. coarse salt,  1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns, and 2 1/2 quarts water.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then knock the heat back to low, partially cover (pretty sure we forgot this step…), and simmer gently for 2 1/2 hours.  Strain off any solids and your stock is ready to go.

For the lemon cream gravy you need:

  • 2 1/2 cups pan drippings (if you don’t have enough, add some chicken stock)
  • zest of one lemon (use a vegetable peeler to peel into strips)
  • 4 cups of your homemade stock (or 2 cups chicken broth + 2 cups water)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • salt and pepper

I won’t lie: Schatzi made the gravy.  And it is so fantastic–it’s one of those things you will want to swim in…anyway.  Remember those onion halves from the roasting pan?  Chuck their skins and pour all of the drippings and solids from the roasting pan into a measuring cup.  Let the liquid settle (you can toss in some ice cubes to speed up the process), then skim off/discard any fat.  Return your 2 1/2 cups of drippings and solids and the lemon strips (+premade  stock if you need) to the roasting pan.

Put the flour in a bowl and gradually stir in 1 cup stock.  Slowly mix in 1/2 cup more stock.  Then, place the roasting pan over two burners on the stove over medium-high (Rachael, you are a genius.  Thanks for sparing me an extra dirty pan!).  Bring the drippings to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits as you go, then whisk in the flour paste mixture and return to a simmer while whisking constantly.  Slowly whisk in the remaining 2 1/2 cups of stock and bring to a boil, still whisking constantly, until the gravy is nice and thickened.  Season with salt and pepper, then whisk in the cream and thyme.  Discard the lemon zest strips, and the gravy is complete!

The remaining sides will follow…but wow.  This turkey was incredible.  Juicy, and so full of flavor.  Don’t even get me started on that gravy!!!

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…is one of the most wonderful foods on this planet, period.  Make it into mac and cheese, and you have a little (who am I kidding, HUGE) plate of sheer delicious joy.

For gnocchi mac you need:

  • 1 pound purchased or homemade gnocchi
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, for garnish
  • Basil, for garnish

This is a surprisingly simple recipe, too!  One of the most wonderful things about gnocchi is how quickly it cooks.  So, start here, by bringing a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt it, and throw in the gnocchi until they begin to float, which only takes about 2 minutes.  Drain the delicious dumplings and place them in a small (1 1/2 quart) baking dish that’s been greased and heat the oven to 375.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil, melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the garlic and cook just until it becomes fragrant, then whisk in the flour until it bubbles.  Whisk in the milk and dijon, and continue stirring until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes.  Then, add the cheese by handfuls, stirring until each addition is completely melted.  Season the delicious cheese sauce with your salt and pepper, then pour over the gnocchi.  Top with a bit of parmesan and pop the dish into the oven for about 20 minutes, until bubbly and slightly browned.

Garnish with basil and be prepared…

…to go to Food Heaven.  I could not be more serious.  Once you make this (and you must, it is not optional), you will never want to return to regular mac and cheese with plain old cheddar and elbow noodles (that is, unless you are eating my aunt’s crockpot mac and cheese, which will also get you in to Food Heaven).  FORGET making mac and cheese out of a box ever again–this stuff is too delicious AND easy.  Try me.

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…still means a delicious breakfast in our place.  When pawing through our freezer to see what needed to be used in this week’s set of menus, I came upon a leftover sheet of puff pastry (from that delicious chicken pot pie!), and decided it was time to break it out.  So,this morning, we made a delicious danish that could not have been easier.  You would never guess these didn’t come straight from your favorite bakery, either.

For this easy homemade danish you need:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • your favorite jam
  • cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • vanilla

Start by cutting your puff pastry sheet into 4 equal squares and heating the oven to 375.  Then, combine the egg, sugar, flour, and a dash of vanilla.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Spoon about a tablespoon each of cream cheese and jam on half of each pastry sheet square.  Schatzi found a delicious pumpkin butter that we used.  Fold the other half of pastry over, sealing and crimping with a fork.  Then, brush each pastry rectangle with the egg mixture.  Bake the danish until golden, 15-20 minutes.

Let the danish sit and cool for a few minutes, if you can.  They are delicious right out of the oven, but if you can wait just a few minutes, they get a bit crispier and of course are easier to eat when the filling isn’t piping hot!

Clearly, we couldn’t wait to eat them.  They are absolutely scrumptious!

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