Brendan McCaskey, What Are You Baking?

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Even if your oven sits cold all year, chances are you're considering firing it up, right about now. As a holiday twist on our "What Are You Eating?" feature on Chow Bella and "What Are You Wearing?" on Jackalope Ranch, for the next few weeks we'll be bringing you "What Are You Baking?" Complete with a recipe, so you can DIY.

Today Brendan McCaskey shows off his sweet tarts, with recipes for s'more and strawberry tarts. A man of many talents -- from table scaping to button making, with so much in between -- McCaskey works at Smeeks and The Grill at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Catch him tonight at Crafeteria at Medlock Plaza. 

What are you baking this holiday season?

Tarts! I love to bake tarts, whether sweet or savory. They always look so bright and colorful on a pedestal in the center of the table. They're the perfect treat to hit your sweet spot after a home cooked meal with family or friends.


What are you baking for the holidays this year?

Growing up, every Christmas my Mom would bake Kringles. They were this sort of cookie with a soft cake like texture. My sisters and I would watch her roll the dough into short snake-like logs, and then my Mom would show us how to shape them like pretzels. The recipe was my Grandmother's. My mom still has her original hand-written copy, so my sisters and I are going to bake those up this year together.

We also have Saturday potlucks at Frances and Smeeks during the holiday season. So I plan on baking up some delicious cupcakes for my fellow co-workers!

Favorite holiday treats?

Pumpkin treats this time of the year are the best. All those spices of clove, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg really make me feel like the holidays are here. And of course, the holiday wouldn't be complete without pie! I go for the mixed berry.

Get the recipes after the jump.

Least favorite holiday foods?

I've never been a fan of candied yams with marshmallows. Also, canned cranberry sauce. You know, when it just sits in the bowl still holding the cylinder shape of the can. Weirds me out.

Any food items on your holiday wish list this year?

I definitely have some food supplies and tools on my Christmas list this year. A few cookbooks. I also have a slight addiction to cake stands/pedestals. I got my eye on a few more for my collection.

Any food-related New Year's resolutions?

I recently made focaccia for the first time at home. I would definitely like to start baking more breads at home.

I've also been talking about starting a food/entertaining blog for a long time now. I think my major resolution would be to get that ball rolling.

Strawberry Tart

For the Crust:
- 1 stick(4oz) of unsalted butter at room temp.
- 1/4 cup sifted powder sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

 For the Vanilla Filling:
- 2 cups half and half
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 egg yolks (room temp)
- 2 tablspoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 For the Topping:
- 2 packages of strawberries
- 1/3 cup pistachios shelled and lightly toasted (optional)
- 1/4 cup apricot or mango jam


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl of an standing electric mixer beat the butter on medium heat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add powder sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Pour in vanilla and mix.
  2. With the mixer on low speed, pour the flour into butter. Mix until flour is fully incorporated. Press the dough firmly into a 9-inch tart pan. Make sure to bring the dough up the sides of the tart pan to create a well for your filling later. Place in the freezer for 5 minutes.
  3. Take a fork and poke the base of the crust multiple times. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is slightly puffed and golden brown. Cool to room temp.
  4. Combine the sugar and half and half in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to just under a boil.
  5. Combine yolks and cornstarch in a mixing bowl. Slowly pour a small amount of your hot liquid into the bowl while mixing with a whisk to temper the egg yolks. Slowly pour the rest of the hot liquid into the bowl while whisking. Once mixed, pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. The mixture will slowly start to thicken.
  6. Once it has reached a boil, allow the mixture to boil for a minute. Pull of heat and transfer into mixing bowl and cover immediately with plastic wrap, directly on the pastry cream. This is to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for 5 hours or overnight. Once chilled, spoon the filling generously into your tart crust.
  7. Cut off the stems and slice your strawberries in half. Place gently into the filling in a circular pattern until the filling has been completely covered by strawberries. Heat the jam in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm. Using a pastry brush, gently glaze the jam over the strawberries. Sprinkle with toasted pistachios and serve.


S'more Tart


For the Crust:

- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 4 tablespoons butter (melted)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 For the Chocolate Ganache:

- 12 oz. semisweet chocolate
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

 For the Meringue Topping:

- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 egg whites
- pinch of cream of tartar
- pinch of salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and flour into a bowl. Mix well with a fork.
  2. Pour in the melted butter and mix until incorporated. Press mixture firmly into a 9-inch tart pan. Make sure to bring the mixture up the sides of the tart pan to create a well for your filling later. Bake the crust for 8 minutes. Cool to room temp.
  3. While the crust is cooling pour the heavy cream in saucepan over medium heat. Place chopped chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Pull the cream off the stove when it comes to just under a boil. Pour directly over chocolate and whisk until the mixture becomes smooth and shiny. Pour the ganache into your crust. Chill in the refrigerator for 5 hours or overnight.
  4. Combine granulated sugar and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip your egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until soft peaks form.
  5. With the mixer at medium speed, carefully pour the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites. Continue beating the egg whites until they are cool and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  6. Preheat the broiler of your oven. Place meringue in a piping bag with a star tip. Pipe dollops of meringue onto your tart. Place under the broiler for 30 seconds or until the tops of the meringue are toasted. Cool and serve.

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