Maple Syrup Bread Pudding

Often referred to as “Poor Man’s Pudding,” bread pudding is the epitome of a frugal cooking. Rather than throwing stale bread away, it can be transformed to a wonderful ending to a meal.

5 cups of bread (any bread will do but a stale rustic loaf is best)
1 cups of milk or cream
1 cup of maple syrup
3 tablespoons of butter
2 eggs
1/4 cup of walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash salt


  • Preheat oven to 375º
  • Butter a 9″ x 5” loaf pan.
  • Cut bread into one-inch cubes.
  • Add bread to pan and dot with 3 tablespoons of butter.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Mix milk, maple syrup, eggs, cinnamon, walnuts and salt and pour over heated bread.
  • Return to the oven and bake again for 30-40 minutes

Serve warm or cold, as is or top with fresh whipped cream.

Serves 6

Maple Pralines (without white sugar)

If you are in Louisiana, you call these “praw-leens.” I’m from Virginia with parents from Georgia and Alabama and I say “pray-leens,” which makes my husband wince. Originally from France and made with almonds, these addictive treats are ubiquitous in the French Quarter. There, they most certainly say “praw-leens.”

I’m on a bit of a no refined white sugar kick. That certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not eating anything sweet! I’ve been substituting maple syrup and honey whenever I can. Using maple syrup is not a free license to scarf the whole batch. Each candy contains about 65 calories, so don’t go overboard like I did. I made a batch to send to my sister-in-law for her birthday. After I got through my “quality control” tasting, I realized there wasn’t much left! Oops.

The New Orleans style pralines are made with pecans, but substitute other nuts if you like. You’ll need a candy thermometer for this. You can pick up one at a kitchen supply store or, if your grocery store has a kitchen tool section, you can often find them there. I saw one the other day for $7.

Click here for a maple turtle recipe.

1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup of pecans, chopped
1/8 teaspoon sea salt


  • Combine the cream, butter and maple syrup in the saucepan. Stir until well mixed.
  • Cook over medium heat. You may gently swish sauce, but don’t stir. Heat until temperature reaches 240º F, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly grease it.
  • Remove saucepan from the heat and let the mixture stand for a couple of minutes. Stir in pecans.
  • Drop small spoonfuls of mixture onto parchment. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Cool. Eat, yum!

Makes 18.

Maple Turtles (without white sugar)

Recently, I was very happy to discover that you can make caramel using maple syrup and no refined white sugar. Yippy!

I also found out that the only different between my maple turtles and my maple pralines, is in the stirring. When you stir caramel, it crystallizes and changes the texture. If you don’t stir, it remains smooth.

You’ll need a candy thermometer for this.

1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup of pecans or walnuts
1/8 teaspoon sea salt


  • Combine the cream, butter and maple syrup in the saucepan. Stir until well mixed.
  • Cook over medium heat. You may gently swish sauce, but don’t stir. Heat until temperature reaches 245° F, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • While the mixture is heating, line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly grease it.
  • Arrange pecans or walnuts in groups of three or four on the lined sheet pan.
  • Remove saucepan from the heat.
  • Drop small spoonfuls of caramel over the pecans. It will spread, so do a little at a time. You can go back and add more caramel once the first spoonful has set. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Cool. Eat, yum!

Makes 18.

Molten Chocolate Cake in a Slow Cooker

chCakeCrockThis cake is very similar to a chocolate soufflé, only it’s made in a slow cooker! If your slow cooker is hard to clean, you may want to cook this in an oven-proof container (just make sure it fits before hand).

Molten Chocolate Cake is something I will make again, and again. I should just be sure to make it when we have guests over so my husband and I don’t eat the whole thing ourselves. Oops.


1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons butter
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (or 1/3 cup chocolate chips)
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup hot water


  • Grease the inside of a 2.5- to 5-quart slow cooker with butter (or oil).
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside.
  • Melt the butter and chocolate. Using a microwave, heat for 30 seconds at a time or use a double boiler to melt chocolate. Once melted, mix well.
  • To the butter/chocolate mixture, add brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of cocoa, vanilla extract, almond extract, salt, milk and egg.
  • Add mixture to the flour and combine until well mixed.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared slow cooker. Make sure to spread it evenly.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, 1/3 cup of cocoa and hot water. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Pour the mixture over the batter in the slow cooker. This is the good gooey part.
  • Cover and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours (if you are using a smaller cooker, the time will be closer to 2 hours).
  • It will be done when the cake starts to pull away from the sides. The cake should be moist, with pockets of molten chocolate (yum).
  • When it’s done, turn off the power and remove the lid. Let it cool for 15 minutes. Scoop out and serve it in bowls.

It is best served warm. Serves six to eight.

Chocolate and Orange Oatmeal Cookies with Walnuts

oatmealCookiesI think of this as my secret recipe. I guess it isn’t a secret any more! It’s a great cookie for a snowy winter day.

2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest from one orange
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
1 cup walnuts, chopped


  • Heat oven to 350° F.
  • In large bowl, beat butter, sugars and orange zest until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats, chocolate chunks and walnuts; mix well.
  • Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool for a minute on the cookie sheet, then remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Makes about three dozen.

Spicy Hot Chocolate Mix

hotchocolateThis makes a great winter gift by itself, or you can wrap it up with a couple of cute mugs. Add some homemade marshmallows for a real treat.

2 1/4 cups cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups semi sweet chocolate (chips or chunks)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (or more) cayenne pepper (Note: I use 1 teaspoon for a rather spicy brew)


  • If using chocolate chunks, grate into fine pieces. This can be done with a knife or with the grater attachment on your food processor. If using chocolate chips, skip this step.
  • Place all ingredients in food processor and blend. (Note, you can also just mix this by hand.)
  • Divide into three 2-cup portions.

Makes three gifts.

Instructions to include with the gift:
Add 1/4 cup hot chocolate mix to each cup of milk.
Stir, heat, then drink.

Go to to download a pdf gift tag with instructions to include with the gift.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I love finding recipes for things that I thought you could only buy in a store. I especially love them when they are easy and better than what you can usually find. All you need to make vanilla extract is a few vanilla beans, vodka and a little time to steep.

You can find whole vanilla beans in gourmet or health food stores that have a good spice section. You can also buy them online. I used three Madagascar Vanilla Beans (touted as the world’s best) that our friends Suzanne and Paul gave us.

Here’s how to make it:
-2-3 vanilla beans; slice them down the middle length-wise
-Place them in a jar
-Add 1 to 2 cups of vodka (enough to cover the beans); I also added a half a cup of bourbon (ymmm)
-Cover tightly and store in a dark cabinet
-Shake every couple of days
You will see the color start to change in a day or two. In about two weeks, the extract will be ready to use. Strain if desired, but the longer the beans steep, the better the vanilla. I don’t strain mine.

Simple, right?

You can keep the same vanilla beans going for years. Just keep topping off with more vodka. Pretty cool.

Start a bottle now and have it in time for your holiday baking. Add a pretty ribbon and you got yourself a dandy homemade gift.

Sweet Potato Cookies with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

swpotcookiesThese delicious cookies are a good way to sneak a little bit of veggies into dessert. I bet no one will be able to tell that they are getting a healthy shot of vitamin A.

11/4 cups all-purpose flour (substitute whole wheat for half if you want a healthier cookie)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11/2 cups peeled and finely grated sweet potato (a food processor makes quick work of this)
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/4 raisins  or walnuts or both (optional)


  • Preheat oven to 400º F.
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together dry ingredients and set aside.
  • Beat together butter and sugar. Add the egg, molasses, vanilla extract, sweet potato and orange zest.
  • Carefully fold dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture.
  • Drop spoonfuls of dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a deep golden brown.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Top with cream cheese icing right before serving.

Cream Cheese Icing

I could eat this with a spoon. Who am I kidding? I have eaten this with a spoon!


8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup maple syrup


  • In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, blend cream cheese and maple sugar until well blended.
  • Increase the speed to high and mix until fluffy.
  • Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Swedish Apple Pie

Please welcome guest blogger Christine Verleny.

christinespieI am a baker, I am.

I have always been surrounded by amazing chefs – Dori, Kara, Ellen and my ex-husband Jeff. I gained 20 pounds while married, the evidence of a well-fed life.

All of these folks (sorry guys) dim in comparison to my Grandma Tommie. Tommie Augusta Ruby Pearl Jesser to be exact. She was a force in the kitchen. An empty fridge? Not a problem, let me combine a few things and create an amazing meal.

As good as her food was, it was her baking that could bring you to your knees. Chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, peanut butter cake with homemade chocolate frosting, and cheesecake were her finest baked goods. I have memories of my Grandma, cigarette hanging from her mouth, stirring up something delicious with her favorite wooden spoon. (I inherited that spoon after she died at the age of 92.)

I am lucky I have had chefs in my life, because I am a baker. It is my favorite thing to do in the kitchen. Thank you Grandma Tommie.

The first year Kara, Ellen and I went apple picking, I was confronted with an enormous bag of apples, freshly picked, and I knew I wanted to do something different, something that would not require me to make a crust. I dove into my roommate’s cookbooks and found the recipe for Swedish Apple Pie. Apparently, the Swedes hate making crusts.

The recipe is quick, easy and delicious. Use any apples you enjoy. Denser apples may not breakdown as much, but the different textures are wonderful when mixed. I have discovered that each time I bake this, it turns out slightly different and that is fine with me.

Swedish Apple Pie

Preheat: 400ºF

Fill deep pie pan (or an 8 x 8 square pan) 2/3 full with sliced apples.
Mix: 1 TBSP of sugar (optional) and 1 TSP cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.
Mix together:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 sticks butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup nuts – optional
Make sure the butter is slightly cooled before adding to the mixture (or it will cook the egg).

Pour batter over apples and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown.

Please enjoy with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. That will make me happy.


Christine is an actor and jewelry designer, living in New York City.

Maple Molasses Popcorn Balls

My sister gave me this recipe. She altered the recipe she found by changing the syrup to 3/4 cup honey and the sugar to 1/4 cup brown sugar. Experimenting with recipes must run in the family, because I altered her recipe.


1/4 cup cooking oil (I use olive oil)
1/2 cup popcorn
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Place oil in four-quart kettle. Add a few popcorn kernels in the pot, cover with a lid and heat over a medium heat. Once you hear the kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn. Shake the pot frequently until popping stops.
  • Transfer popcorn to large bowl. I scoop out the popcorn from the top. This helps keep the unpopped kernels out of the popcorn balls.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, syrup, vinegar and salt. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for five minutes on medium high (or heat until mixture reaches 235º F). Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour over popped corn, tossing gently to coat.
  • When mixture is cool enough to handle, firmly press a handful of popcorn into a ball with buttered hands. If the balls aren’t sticking together, let it cool a bit more. Cool completely on waxed paper.

Makes about 10 popcorn balls

Caramel Apples

caramelapplesNo need to unwrap a gazzilion little caramel candies, this homemade caramel sauce whips up in a snap!

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart. She suggests in place of a wooden popsicle stick to use a twig to hold the apple. I decided to go this route not merely because it makes the apples so darn cute, but because I didn’t have any popsicle sticks. Trees, I have.


6 wooden popsicle sticks or firm twigs
6 small apples, any variety, stems removed
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses (or corn syrup)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


  • Insert sticks into tops of apples.
  • Bring cream, sugar, molasses (or syrup), and butter to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until mixture reaches 245ºF, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Dip bottom of each apple in caramel. Using a spoon, coat apple halfway to three-quarters of the way up sides.
  • Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate until set, about 10-15 minutes.

Makes 6, delicious apples.

Homemade Candy Corn

candycornIt never crossed my mind that I could make this iconic Halloween candy. I was happy to have stumbled across the recipe on Serious Eats website ( Of course the homemade version is miles better than any store bought variety, plus it is super easy. Warning, this makes a lot and is addictive. Be ready to share, or risk a sugar overload.

All of the recipes I found for home made candy corn called for powdered milk. That is not something I keep around so I substituted whole milk. It worked great.

1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup white corn syrup or brown rice syrup
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Food coloring


  • Combine sugar, syrup, milk and butter in medium-sized pot, bring to boil stirring constantly.
  • Once a gentle boil is reached, turn heat to medium and boil 5 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, cook until the temperature reaches 230ºF. Swirl the mixture in the pot occasionally. Transfer to a large bowl. Add vanilla.
  • Add the powdered sugar and salt to the hot mixture; stir well until the powdered sugar is thoroughly incorporated and smooth.
  • Let the dough cool until it is firm enough to handle, about 10-20 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, let it cool longer.
  • Divide the dough into three parts and set each third into a separate bowl.
  • Add 2 drops of yellow food coloring to one bowl (for the yellow), one drop of red and two drops of yellow to another bowl (for the orange), and leave the third bowl uncolored (for the white).
  • Knead the dough until the color is even (use rubber gloves so you don’t stain your hands).
  • Working in batches, on a sheet of waxed paper roll each color of dough into a long, slender rope about 1/4 inch wide. The wider the ropes, the larger your candy corn.
  • Set the three ropes of dough side-by-side and slightly press them together. Lay a piece of waxed paper on top and gently roll with a rolling pin. Gentle is the key word here; you don’t want to flatten them. This will help keep the layers together.
  • Using a sharp knife, or pizza cutter, cut the dough strips into small triangles.
  • Let the finished kernels sit for an hour or two in single layer on a cookie sheet to become firm.
  • Store in airtight container.

Amy’s Cake

amyscakeI made a cake for our friend Amy’s birthday last year and her husband Yves asked for an encore this year…Silly, boy. I can never make the same cake twice, mainly because it’s near neigh impossible for me to follow a recipe. This year’s cake had two layers of chocolate cake (straight from the recipe on the box of Hershey’s cocoa mix, only with butter in place of the oil) and two layers of yellow cake. The yellow cake layers were topped with a soft chocolate ganache and the chocolate cake layers had a caramel sauce. The whole shabang was topped with a mixture of whipped cream, sugar, cream cheese and almond extract. A bit over the top you say?

Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake

zucchcake2I’m going to come right out and say that this cake is good for you. And why not, it has zucchini, which has a good amount of vitamin C, the dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, and it has less sugar per serving than I put in my morning coffee. That being said, this cake isn’t super sweet. Too satisfy a particularly sweet tooth, top it with a cream cheese frosting.

This recipe is adapted from

4 tablespoons butter
3 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups unbleached white wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 cups grated zucchini

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch cake pan and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, a saucepan over low heat, or in the microwave. If using a microwave, start with 30 seconds. Stir often.

3. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl.

4. In a large mixing bowl, mix sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and yogurt and mix until combined. Fold in the chocolate and butter mixture, and the zucchini.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack.

Serve as is or top with whipped cream or cream cheese icing. Ymmm.

Serves 8 to 10.