RECIPES: Sweet spot — the best recipes from 2021, part 2

Caramel Oranges With Cocoa Nibs (Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Caramel Oranges With Cocoa Nibs (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

With more than 600 recipes to choose from, compiling our annual list of favorites is no easy task. After making our list (and cutting it twice, no thrice!) we narrowed it down to a baker's dozen, still double what we have space for in our digital replica edition. So, as we have in the past, we broke it up into two installments. Because the recipes were easily split between sweet and savory, that's where we drew the line.

Last week we published the savory recipes. Now it's time for dessert.

We selected these recipes based on how often we made them again after publication and your feedback.

In chronological order:

From 'Bloody marvelous: Blood oranges are a colorful and tasty addition to Valentine's Day recipes' by Kelly Brant, published Feb. 10

Caramel Oranges With Cocoa Nibs

  • 5 blood oranges or tangerines
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa nibs

Cut top and bottom off 3 oranges to expose flesh. Stand each orange upright, and cut off peel (including the white pith) in vertical strips. Cut flesh into ¼-inch rounds, reserving juice in a bowl. Juice remaining 2 oranges, adding enough juice to the juice in the bowl to make ½ cup total.

Fill a large bowl half-full with ice and water.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the sugar and 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Cook, swirling until sugar is dissolved; continue cooking without stirring until mixture is amber in color, about 6 minutes total. Remove from heat, and slowly and carefully add the juice and a pinch of salt, stirring until smooth (you should have a generous ½ cup sauce). Transfer pan to ice-water bath, and let cool for 15 minutes.

Divide orange slices among 4 shallow bowls, and top with caramel sauce and cocoa nibs.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

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From 'Front Burner: Snowstorm brings longing for Pain au Chocolat' by Kelly Brant, published Feb. 24.

Cheater Pain au Chocolat

  • Flour, for dusting
  • 2 (17.3-ounce) boxes frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (for brushing)
  • 16 to 24 (3-inch) chocolate batons OR about 1 cup (more or less) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll each sheet of puff pastry into a 12-by-12-inch square. Cut each sheet into 4 (3-inch-by-12-inch) strips and brush with egg wash.

Working with one strip of dough at a time, arrange a strip of dough short side parallel with your work surface and lay 2 or 3 chocolate sticks on the end nearest you (or arrange 2 rows of chocolate chips or chunks) and then roll up dough, encasing the chocolate. You should have a thick, 3-inch wide roll of dough. Repeat with remaining pastry and chocolate. Transfer each roll, seam side down, to the parchment-lined baking sheet, 4 pastries per baking sheet.

Brush tops and sides of pastry rolls with remaining egg wash. Bake 20 minutes, or until pastries are golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Pastries are best served slightly warm the day they are made, but they will keep for a day or two in an airtight container. To refresh, heat in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes.

Makes 8 pastries.

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From 'Planting culinary seeds: Fayetteville nonprofit Apple Seeds Teaching Farm helps grow children's knowledge of healthful food with fun recipes' by Sean Clancy, published March 17

Toasty Granola

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup unsalted seeds, like sunflower or pumpkin
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine oats, seeds, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside. Combine oil, honey and vanilla in a smaller bowl and stir to combine. Mix the wet ingredients into the oat mixture. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Makes 12 servings.

Recipe from Apple Seeds

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From "Front Burner: Key Lime Rum Tart cool treat for summer's heat' by Kelly Brant, published June 9

Key Lime Rum Tart

  • For the crust:
  • 2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs (about 1 ½ sleeves)
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt (less if using salted butter)
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • For the filling:
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 30 Key limes or 7 regular limes; see note)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons rum
  • For the topping:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Lime zest, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-11-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a bit of overhang to use as handles. (A 9-by-13-inch pan would probably be OK, but the crust and filling will be much thinner.) If you have a tart pan with a removable bottom, there's no need to line with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, salt and butter. Press mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan.

Bake crust for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside while you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, combine the condensed milk, lime juice, egg yolks and rum and whisk until smooth. Pour mixture into the cooled crust and spread in an even layer. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are set and the center jiggles slightly. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

In a large bowl, combine the heavy cream, rum and sugar and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Spread over chilled tart and sprinkle with lime zest.

Makes about 8 servings.

Note: Remove the zest from at least one lime before juicing; wrap zest in a damp paper towel, place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Recipe adapted from "Everyday Entertaining" by Elizabeth Van Lierde

  photo  Easy Tres Leches Cake (Democrat-Gazette file photo)  From 'Front Burner: Easy Tres Leches Cake for the happy newlyweds' by Kelly Brant, published July 21

Easy Tres Leches Cake

  • For the cake:
  • 1 package butter recipe golden cake or yellow cake mix
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • For the tres leches:
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • For the topping:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cinnamon, optional, for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, milk, softened butter and vanilla; beat on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium 2 minutes.

Transfer to prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes.

In a 4-cup measuring cup, whisk sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1 cup of the heavy cream until blended. Using a skewer or large fork, generously poke holes in top of warm cake. Pour milk mixture slowly over cake, filling holes. Cool 30 minutes longer. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours or overnight.

In a bowl, beat the remaining cup of heavy cream until it begins to thicken. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla; beat until soft peaks form. Spread over cake. If desired, dust lightly with cinnamon.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

  photo  Upside Down Brown Butter Pear Cake (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  From 'Front Burner: Underrated pears pop in Upside Down Pear Cake' by Kelly Brant, published Oct. 20

Upside Down Brown Butter Pear Cake

  • 12 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing, divided use
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar, divided use
  • 2 pears, halved, cored and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¾ cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar evenly over the parchment paper; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 8 tablespoons butter over medium heat, stirring or swirling almost constantly until the butter is deep golden and fragrant and the milk solids have separated and settled on the bottom. Watch the heat carefully so the butter does not burn. The butter can quickly go from nutty and light amber to burnt. Remove from the heat and pour the browned butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, scraping the milk solids into the bowl.

Return 2 tablespoons of the browned butter to the skillet and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, stirring to completely saturate the sugar with the butter. Add the sliced pears and stir gently to coat. Cook pears for 2 to 3 minutes or until slightly softened. Remove from heat and set aside.

To the bowl with the brown butter, add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the granulated sugar. Beat on a medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated, scraping bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. The mixture may appear broken and curdled -- this is OK.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cardamom.

Add the flour to the stand mixer in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, blending completely between each addition.

Arrange the pears in the prepared pan and pour any liquid over the pears. Dollop the batter over the pear mixture and very gently spread the batter evenly over the pears. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until a wooden tester comes out with just a few crumbs attached.

Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes and then, using an offset spatula or the blade of a knife, loosen the edges and invert the cake onto a large platter. Remove the pan. Gently remove parchment paper. Best served warm.

Makes about 8 servings.

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