‘Intensely’ Chocolate Streusel Muffins

Chocolate Streusel Muffins RecipeWhere have I been you ask?  I’ve been living life!   When my schedule gets particularly busy, I am glad this blog is just a hobby and not a job.  If it were a job, I would have been fired by now.  But since I am my own boss, I gave myself permission to take some time off.   My precious Girl, my one and only, graduated college a couple of weeks ago.  The school she chose to attend was a bit of a mixed blessing.  It was in New York, which is literally on the other side of the country, but what better city to be in when visiting your kid.
Chocolate Streusel Muffins RecipeFamily and friends flew in to join us for her graduation and we had a fun week of eating, shopping, eating, celebrating, eating…  One of the happiest moments of my life was watching J walk across the stage and receive her diploma.  That is what life is all about.  Celebrating the happy times.  Each and every day is filled with precious moments to give thanks for.  The extra special days, like your child graduating college, stirs deep and profound emotions beyond the ordinary.  As she marched by in a sea of purple mortar boards and robes, wearing a smile from ear to ear, I too smiled.  My heart overflowed with joy and gratitude for the gift of that moment.
Chocolate Streusel Muffins RecipeBack home, and the hustle and bustle of life has not slowed an iota.  Lots more traveling is planned for this summer and the moments in between organizing and planning trips are filled with just keeping our daily lives on track.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, I am in awe of all the bloggers who show up several times a week, if not everyday, with posts filled with words, recipes and photographs.  The summer will be light on posts here at Sifting Focus.  I will be busy living life!  Hang in there with me, and when a sliver of time arises that affords me the opportunity to be in the kitchen baking, I promise to share it with all of you.

This muffin recipe has been rolling around in the back of my mind for days.  I was thrilled yesterday when I found an opportunity to take to my oven.  What originally was ruminating as a simple streusel muffin quickly evolved into a chocolate extravaganza.  Why stop with streusel if a chocolate glaze would add another layer of goodness.  And since one of my favorite edible embellishments are cocoa nibs, why not sprinkle some of those on top for good measure.  That is why developing recipes can be so much fun.  You can begin creating from one place and end up somewhere completely different.  This muffin is chocolate, upon chocolate, upon chocolate.  And for any of you who might think this little cake too indulgent and decadent for breakfast,  to you I would say, what’s your point. ;)

Chocolate Streusel Muffins Recipe



Berry Crumble ‘Mini’ Pies

Berry Crumble 'Mini' Pies RecipeMarrying the love of my life came with sacrifices.  We met in my hometown while he was there on business, and if we were going to pursue our relationship, I would have to move to Los Angeles.  I fell hard and quickly, and my bags were packed just nine short months after our first date.  I never looked back, which if you knew me then, was completely out of character.  If an award was given for ‘least likely to move away from home’, I would have won it.  I was a homebody, spending more time with my parents during my late teen years than with friends.  A bit strange, I’ll admit.  From the first glance into H’s eyes, I was smitten.  A current much stronger than my desire to stay close to home carried me swiftly to the West Coast.  My Dad cried when I told him I was moving to California.  My mom did not.  At least she didn’t cry in front of me.  Being the sixth of ten children, she had probably grown impervious to the whims of her children by then.  Maybe she thought it was just an impetuous move, by an infatuated young girl, caught up with the prospects of life in the City of Angels.  Or perhaps, when you have that many kids, giving one up to migration is less traumatic than when you have an only child.
Berry Crumble 'Mini' Pies RecipeAt the time, I gave little thought to what my mother was FEELING about me moving so far from home.  I was single, no children.  How could I even begin to imagine what a mother experiences when a child leaves the nest.  In retrospect, I believe her dispassion in the face of turning loose one of her brood was an armored facade, allowing my departure to be as easy on both of us as possible.
Berry Crumble 'Mini' Pies RecipeWhen Jael left for college, I did not don an emotional suit of armor.  My wardrobe did not contain armor.  Rather, emotions gushed from me like water spilling from a broken dam.  I have guilt about that.  I pleaded for the strength my mother possessed, but it did not arrive in time to lessen the burden I imposed on Jael.  That was nearly five years ago.  I’m surviving.  I see her and my mom quite often.  I am lucky in that way.  However, this year on Mother’s Day I found myself far from both of them.  It felt odd and inappropriate.  Being in that space illuminated the juxtaposition I find myself in at this stage of my life.  I am a daughter, and a mother.  I said a good-bye to my mom , and I have been the mom to whom a good-bye has been uttered.  I have lived long enough to see my mother’s heart reflected in my own eyes.  As such, I must revise history.
Berry Crumble 'Mini' Pies RecipeThis Crumble has little to do with anything I shared above, other than a warm comfort-food dessert always makes me feel closer to home.  I devised this recipe for all those who shy away from making ‘from scratch’ pie dough because the prospect of rolling out a pastry sends them running to Marie Calendar’s.  In this simplified version, all that is required is the whirling together of a few ingredients, then pressing the crust into the pie dish.  This recipe makes four hefty personal pies.  If you are feeling generous, they are large enough to share with a fellow pie lover.  Blueberries and raspberries make for a berry-licious Crumble, however, feel free to experiment with whatever fruits are in season.

Berry Crumble 'Mini' Pies Recipe 


Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Honey Pecan Pralines

Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Honey Pecan Pralines RecipeImagine how delighted I was when my 16 year old nephew called to ask if he could come hang with me for a couple of days.  He  doesn’t live nearby, so our time together is spotty, and as he grows older this precious time together becomes even more sparse.  Of course I welcomed him with opened arms.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Honey Pecan Pralines RecipeCandler is an easy kind of kid.  He pretty much goes with the flow, is incredibly self-sufficient, and luckily for me, he loves to cook and bake.  The first evening he was with us, I sent the boys (hubby and Candler) off for some ‘guy’ time.  They saw a movie, probably ate junk food (although neither reported back on that subject) and I’m pretty certain, there was plenty of conversation about automobiles.  Candler is a fellow blogger.  He has penned The Unmuffled Auto News blog for years, and is undoubtedly an expert on all things car related.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Honey Pecan Pralines RecipeAs I mentioned, Candler is adept at both cooking and baking.  Fortunately for him, he had a mom who set him loose in the kitchen at a very early age.  Once proficient in his home kitchen, Candler started donating his time at Ceres Community Project, a food preparation kitchen in Sebastopol, CA that donates meals to those in need.  When it came to spending time together, it was natural that we would end up in the kitchen.  It was incredibly hot that day so we decided to make ice cream instead of turning on the oven.  Candler picked Salted Caramel for his flavor choice, and I chose to dress it up with the Honey Pecan Pralines.  A marriage made in ice cream heaven!
Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Honey Pecan Pralines RecipeBoys will be boys, and as much as Candler was happy to spend a couple days with his Aunt, just as we were churning our ice cream, he received a call with a last minute invitation to go see a Clippers playoff game.  Can you guess what he chose to do.  I gave him my blessing and told him he absolutely should go, I would be happy to eat the ice cream all by myself.  (Yes, there was a seed of guilt mixed in with my otherwise selfless response.)  Off he went, but not before sampling a spoon of the ice cream prior to a rest in the freezer to harden.  He approved!

Note:  This recipe was adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home recipe cookbook.  If you haven’t tried Jeni’s ice creams, you have been missing out on some of the best ice creams ever created.  I strongly suggest you pick up her book and start churning away.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Honey Pecan Pralines Recipe

Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Honey Pecan Pralines

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 recipe, (approximately 1 cup) Honey Pecan Pralines  (Recipe Below)

Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.

Whisk the cream cheese and the salt in a medium bowl until smooth.  Mix the cream and the corn syrup in a measuring cup with a spout.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Heat the sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it is melted and golden amber in color.  As the sugar begins to melt and turn darker around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to pull the darkened sugar in towards the middle of the pan to help melt the unmelted sugar.  Watch carefully, as sugar can go from amber in color to burnt in seconds.  Once all the sugar has melted and is a nice deep amber, remove from the heat, and stirring constantly, add 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture.  Stir until well combined, and then a little more and stir.  Continue adding the cream mixture a little at a time until all of it is incorporated.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the milk.  Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.

Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the vanilla and whisk.  Pour the mixture through a sieve and into a 1-gallon zip top freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath.  Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Follow your machine’s instructions for freezing the ice cream.  When the ice cream is thick and creamy and almost finished, add in the Honey Pecan Pralines.  Pack into a freezer safe container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Honey Pecan Pralines

1 cup pecan pieces
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Combine the nuts with the remaining ingredients in a bowl, tossing to coat.  Spread out on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring twice.  Watch carefully so they do not burn.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely, stirring the nuts every couple of minutes to break them up. 

Yield:  About 1 quart

Source:  Adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home 

Vanilla Bean and Pear Jam Scones

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Vanilla Pear Jam Filled Scones RecipeI thought I had done just about everything possible with a scone.  Sweet and savory.  Nuts, dried fruits, and herbs.  Chocolate, coffee, glazed, and filled with streusel.  However, I had never thought to make a depression in the top and add a touch of jam.  Alice Currah of Savory Sweet Life did.  Alice was recently interviewed  for Where Woman Cook Magazine where she shared a glimpse into her very busy life as a blogger, PBS Digital cooking show host, author, photographer, mother, wife…basically a woman who successfully wears many hats.  Although I have been following Alice’s blog for quite a while, I enjoyed learning a little more about her, her past, and what she cited as the reasons she is so passionate about developing recipes that are cost and time effective, without compromising taste.  Her basic philosophy is, keep it simple but delicious.  That is exactly what she accomplished with these flaky, buttery scones.
Vanilla Pear Jam Filled Scones RecipeWho among us hasn’t baked, or at least eaten, a thumbprint butter cookie filled with jelly or jam?  Well, Alice took that sweet little cookie one step further and made thumbprint scones.  How’s that for thinking outside the box.  Scone lovers will be celebrating Alice’s ingenuity.  I know I am.  The beauty of a well developed recipe is that it lends itself well to adaptation.   I have made these scones more than once, putting a new spin on them each time. The first time I made them I kept it really simple.  No changes to Alice’s recipe, and I used a basic cherry jam.  The second time I made them, I added walnuts, filled them with orange marmalade, and added orange zest to the glaze.  The third version charmed my taste buds further and quickly became my favorite.  All the credit goes to the flowery Vanilla Bean and Pear Jam by Shady Acres that I nabbed when I was at Baked Bakery a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a killer jam.  I just wish I would have brought a few more jars home with me.  Luckily, it’s available online.
Vanilla Pear Jam Filled Scones RecipeIf you are a scone lover, you will want to dog-ear this recipe.  I’m certain you will want to refer back to it over and over again as the foundation for any scone you can dream up.  O my, I just thought of another yummy combination while typing this paragraph.  For a savory take on an otherwise sweet biscuit , fold in scallions and goat cheese,  filling the center with a piquant pepper jelly.  Yes, I must try that one soon.
Vanilla Pear Jam Filled Scones Recipe


Source:  Alice Currah of Savory Sweet Life via Where Women Cook Magazine

Salt and Pepper Sandwich Cookies

Salt & Pepper Sandwich Cookies RecipeIt was 11:30 pm and I was comfortably tucked into bed, book in hand, eyes at half mast, when suddenly the Husband enters the room and through garbled words proclaims ‘now this is a great cookie’.  A half eaten bite of cookie was in his mouth, with the remaining cookie being waved about in his hand.  He had obviously found the ‘little sweet’  I left on the counter for him.  What was even more obvious was how much he liked it.  I don’t know that I have ever seen him quite so animated and enthusiastic about a cookie before.  I wasn’t surprised at his reaction to these peppy, creme filled sandwiches.  They are REALLY good!  And when I tell you where I got the recipe, you won’t be surprised either.
Salt & Pepper Sandwich Cookies RecipeRemember my last post?  Well, I kept my word, and when I was in New York last week I finally made it to Baked Bakery.  What a delightful place.  The Baked team was beyond friendly and helpful.  There was a party-like vibe going on in the joint.  Everyone seemed happy to be there.  One staff member, who will not remain nameless (Jordan), was in a particularly smiley mood due in part to a two-foot chocolate Easter Bunny that had just been delivered to the bakery compliments of Jacque Torres.  He cradled the bunny in his arms as though it was his first born and strutted around the bakery like a proud papa.  He was absolutely adorable.  Jordan, not the bunny.
Jordan of Baked Bakery with Chocolate BunnyAs darling as the bakery was, and as lovely as the staff was, I had to get serious when it came to sampling the baked goods.  I bought a little bit of everything.  A variety of bars, a slice of coconut cake, a piece of lemon poppy seed bread, and an oatmeal cookie were just a few of the things that landed in my bag destined for taste testing.  I have been known to go a little crazy when visiting bakeries.  Remember this?  To anyone who observes the process by which I taste test baked goods, I must look like a rabid dog.  I can’t get them in my mouth quickly enough.  Manners fly out the window as I pounce with reckless abandon on each baked good.  (How’s that for a glimpse into another side of me.)  I am passionate about baking, and I make no excuses for my behavior when in the midst of taste testing such sweets.
Baked BakeryBaked BakeryBaked BakeryLet me tell you that everything I tasted from Baked scored a ’10′ in my book.  Honestly!  I returned back to LA with even greater enthusiasm to tackle more of the recipes from Baked and Baked Explorations.  Which brings me back to the cookie that had left such an impression on H.  It hails from the second in the trilogy of Baked cookbooks.  Since one of the only items I hadn’t purchased when visiting the bakery was a sandwich cookie, I wanted to give it a try.  To be honest, sandwich cookies do take a little more time and effort.  They require chilling, rolling, and cutting, making the frosting, and then sandwiching them together.  Some things in life are worth the extra effort and this cookie is one of them.

Now I can happily check Baked Bakery off my list of places I have to visit during this lifetime.  And if it isn’t already on there, I suggest you put it on your list.  You won’t  be disappointed.
Salt & Pepper Sandwich Cookies Recipe


Source:  Adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito