Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Honey Pear "Baklava" for Baking NOW

I'm so excited to be featured for this week's Baking NOW tour, hosted by Beth Billstrom of More than Oregano! If you are new to the tour, each week of the tour features a recipe that's either handed down through family or an original creation. Recipes debut each Tuesday leading up to Christmas. I've been brainstorming a new, original recipe for weeks now, and I think this Honey Pear "Baklava" is the sweet dessert I've been hoping for! (Confession: I tried this recipe out on my garden club, and it went over so well that I decided to share it here!)

First - a little background. This growing season produced 130 pounds of Kieffer pears in my garden - that's a record breaker! As a result, I've been trying to come up with several different ways to use up my pear abundance, including gifting pears to friends, coworkers and relatives. So I was in a pear state of mind when coming up with a recipe for the Baking NOW tour.  Additionally, I'm a pastry chef, and when I used to work in the bakery full time, I would regularly be responsible for making baklava, a delicious Greek dessert. Not only did I enjoy making that dessert, but I loved to eat it as well!

However, traditional baklava calls for nuts. And I have plenty of friends who either don't care for nuts or are allergic to them, so for my tour stop, I wanted to make my dessert nut-free, hence the quotation marks for baklava in the title of Honey Pear "Baklava." It looks like baklava, but, in my mind, it's technically not due to the lack of nuts.

The finished product: Honey Pear "Baklava"
Anyway, I digress! Here's how you can make this delicious, sweet dessert, just in time for Thanksgiving this week!

6 pears, peeled, thinly sliced (I used Kieffer pears but any ripe pears will do)
2 ounces of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of cloves
1/4 teaspoon of mace

For assembling:
One roll of fillo dough (phyllo pastry sheets), found in the grocery store's freezer case. Let this defrost in the fridge before using.
1 pound of butter
A 13x9 pan

5 ounces of sugar
6 ounces of water
3 ounces of honey
A good squirt of lemon juice
1 small cinnamon stick

The prep time for me took about an hour, which included peeling and slicing the pears.
The cook time is about 60 minutes.


1. First, remove the fillo dough from the fridge and let it start to come up to room temperature. I don't unroll it immediately because it will dry out and be more prone to breaking.

2. Take the butter and put it in a pot on your stovetop at the lowest heat setting. You want to melt it but not burn it.

3. Next, peel and slice your pears. I found the easiest way to do this is to peel first, then cut a little off the bottom of the pear so it can stand upright without falling over. Then cut into fours, getting as close to the center as possible. If you get a little bit of the core in your slice, you can use a melon scooper to scoop it out. Cut it as thin as you dare.

4. Put your sliced pear pieces in a bowl ...

... and add the spices and sugar.

5. Now you can unroll the fillo dough that has been warming up on the counter. Take your pan and melted butter, and brush some of the melted butter so it coats the bottom of the pan. Take a piece of fillo dough and place it on top. Then brush with melted butter again. Repeat this eight times. If the fillo dough breaks, I use it anyway, just trying to make the ends line up.

6. Take your pears and put half in the pan. Try to spread it out evenly, being careful not to spoon the excess liquid on as well. (The sugar begins to break down the pears, which causes it to start to liquify.)  Take another piece of fillo dough and place it on top. Brush with butter. Do this five more times.

7. Put the remaining pears on top, again, being careful not to add any additional liquid from the bowl. Add the next layer of fillo, brush with butter, and repeat until you run out of dough. This will vary with each package, but I use it all up. When you run out of dough, put the tray in the fridge to firm up for about 10 minutes.

8. Now start your syrup. You'll put all the ingredients in a pot and cook on low heat on your stovetop. You just want to bring it to a boil. Once it begins to boil, remove it from the heat and let it cool.

8. Then I take the pan back out of the fridge and cut it as shown above, 6 rows long by 4 rows wide. I take my knife and cut it diagonally through each square piece. I cut the dessert at this point before I bake it because I find it harder to slice afterwards.

9. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. After the 40 minutes, remove the foil and bake it for an additional 20 minutes, or until it is "golden brown delicious" as we said in culinary school. It is ready when it looks like the photo below.

10. Let the dessert cool for roughly 10 minutes. Then take your cooled syrup and pour it on top. Depending on how "wet" you like it, you could use some of it or all of it. I don't like mine too wet, so I "eyeball it" (a term pastry interns used to hate for me to use!).

Using a knife, recut the pieces. If you have an offset spatula (which is commonly used for cake decorating), you can use that to take the pieces out of the pan. (A cake server would work as well.) I like to place each piece in a cupcake wrapper for presentation. 

I think it tastes best when it's still warm. The combination of the honey syrup with the pears is divine. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Wrapping up the garden

I've been extremely lucky this fall. It's almost Thanksgiving and temperatures are still averaging in the 50s and 60s during the daylight hours. Which is fantastic because I am behind on bulb planting season!

What was unusual this season as opposed to others is that I was immune to bulb shopping for most of the fall. I was able to walk by displays promising brilliant colored tulips, daffodils, crocus and more without even a pang of "I must have this!" urgings.

(Obviously, I must have been ill.)

And then I took one trip about two weeks ago to one of my local nurseries - Natureworks - and saw the sign: 25 percent off all spring bulbs.

Scilla Siberica Spring Beauty


Uh oh.

Ok, I'll start with a few crocus, I thought. I started to bag up not one, not two, but three different varieties of crocus. Then I was shown some leftover tulips from landscaping projects that weren't put out yet.

Sure, I'll take a few of those, too.

And then, it was done. My period of bulb-lessness ended and I was sent home with crocus, tulips and scilla.

It didn't end there. In my inbox at home was an email from Van Engelen Wholesale Bulbs. This time, select bulbs were 40 percent off.

Forty percent! Well perhaps I need some more tulips. And definitely more crocus. And how about some more scilla - those are supposedly rodent-proof.

The order was placed, and within two days, they were here. Since then, I've been slowly chipping away at planting my bulbs in the garden. I've been adding crocus and scilla underneath my hellebores. I've been planting a large swath of scilla siberica 'Spring Beauty' among my hosta bed in the back garden. Still to plant are all the tulips I've purchased between the two garden suppliers.
Crocus 'Pickwick' from previous years in my garden.

So what made the cut this year? I've picked up an assortment of crocus species, but I bought the most of the crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant.' Other varieties included 'Pickwick,' a beautiful large crocus that used to grow in my front garden until the voles discovered them last winter; crocus 'Orange Monarch'; and crocus 'Jeannine.'

For tulips, I purchased 'Kingsblood' through both garden suppliers, a nice deep red tulip that I'm going to interplant with the 'Flaming Parrot,' which should both bloom in May. I also purchased 'American Dream' and 'El Nino' through Natureworks, which I plan to put in one of my raised vegetable beds (soon to be cut flower garden next year).

Will they come back the following year? I have no doubt that the crocus and scilla should. (I've had lots of luck with daffodils too, even though I didn't buy any new ones this fall. They don't like wet feet though.) I've had hit or miss luck with the tulips. They are pretty fussy for me, not liking too much water in their dormant season or they have been gobbled up by the voles. I used to not purchase tulip bulbs because they had such a poor return rate, but now I view them as annuals. If they come back, bonus. But I plan on them not returning.

And besides, what's a spring with cut tulips?

So with a little luck, the mild autumn weather will hold up long enough to get all these bulbs in the ground!

What are you planting - or have you planted - this fall for the spring garden?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Frosty morning

Coneflower seed heads.

Gazing globe with mums in the background.

Feverfew leaves with frost.

Global Warming mums with frost.

Hellebore leaf.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pear Jam

With so many pears produced this year - more than 130 pounds - I've been trying to find creative uses for all the pears I haven't gifted away.

So, when I found this recipe for Spiced Pear Jam from Taste of Home, I thought it would be a great project.

I used about 16 medium to large sized pears for this batch (it calls for 5.5 pounds chopped up). I also accidentally used nutmeg instead of cloves when I made this for the first time, but the results were still delicious. It reminded me of cooked apple pie filling in the beginning, and it took a bit longer than the directions said it would to bake down.

But once it reached jamming stage, it was a beautiful color with a appetizing aroma. It made a little more than 12 jam jars once I processed it. The second time I made it, I used half pint jars, and it made enough for a little more than six. The second time I made it, I also put in the cloves as the recipe directs, not the nutmeg.

Are you still enjoying the fruits from your garden?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sneaky Autumn

Somehow autumn has crept into the garden and the first frost has taken away the tender annuals more than a week ago. Fall cleanup is a slow process for me this season, and I've been as absent in the garden as here at Frau Zinnie due to graduate school classes keeping me on my toes.

This weekend daylight savings time will end and we will be plunged into further darkness earlier in the day.

Although the majority of blooming flowers have finished their show, there's still beauty in the garden for those paying attention.

It can be seen in the way the light glows through a seed pod.

Butterfly weed seeds.

It can be seen in the hues of late-blooming mums.

Global Warming Mum.

And it can be seen in the soft light of the setting sun that tenderly kisses the flowers before dipping below the horizon line.

Clara Curtis mum.
As I move forward in my life as a gardener, I'm reminded yet again for the need of better time management. Do you have time management tips that apply well to the garden? My new mantra is a little everyday: because a lot of little steps make a difference in the long run.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Berries for Birds and Seed Giveaway!

UPDATED on 10/5/15:
I believe I made the contest too difficult the first time I posted so I removed the bird identification portion! The contest will now run through Saturday, Oct. 10! Good luck!

I was out in the garden on this very cool morning and I noticed my berry-producing shrubs are in their glory right now! I've been adding bird-friendly shrubs to the garden in the last few years and this is the best year for berry production so far! So to celebrate, I'm hosting a giveaway!


To enter, sign up to receive Frau Zinnie via email (to the right of this post). Then submit a comment below that (1) identifies the four berries in the photo, (2) the birds who eat them, (3) that you have signed up for emails and (4) a way to contact you if you win. I will take all the correct answers, put them in a hat, and pick out two winners.

Here's your clue:

Can you correctly identify all four berry shrubs in this photo?

The prize? Calendula seeds harvested from my garden for planting next spring! Here's what they will look like when they bloom:

The contest runs through 5 p.m. EST Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Updated: Now through Saturday, Oct. 10! Good luck!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Floral Friday: Last Weekend in Summer

I'm a little late posting this past Floral Friday post (for Sept. 18)! But I wanted to make sure I chronicled what was blooming and producing in the garden this week: lots of fall flowers and berries for the birds!

The butterflies love the asters.

The pears are ready for picking!
To learn how to know if pears are ready for picking, click here.

Finally! Zinnia blooms!

This hibiscus is one I nursed back to health after it had a rough winter indoors.

Winterberry for the birds.

It's time for mums!


The beginning of the pears being harvested.
Follow me daily online via Twitter and Facebook! To view last week's Floral Friday, click here!