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Watch What You Can Bake With These Three Alternative Butters

In a new video from ICE and Direct Eats, Chef James Distefano, former executive pastry chef of the acclaimed Rouge Tomate, delves into baking with alternative butters. First, he shares the recipe for a mouth-watering maple butter crepe cake. Then, he shows us how to whip up blondies made with cashew butter, with an added touch of yum from chocolate chips and salted cashew brittle — delicious and (sorta') nutritious. Finally, for those of you with peanut allergies, Chef James has a new best friend for you — sunflower butter, a great alternative for recipes calling for peanut butter.

Chef James uses sunflower butter to bake his sunflower seed financiers, a light, airy and peanut-free sponge-cake with just a hint of vanilla. Grab a whisk and check out this inventive butter exploration, then scroll down for the complete recipes. 

Cashew Butter Blondie

Yield: Makes about 18 1½” x 1½” squares


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 cups cashew brittle
  • 1½ cup chocolate chips
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter, lightly softened
  • ⅓ cup salted cashew butter
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Stir together the all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combine about two tablespoons of your dry mix with your salted cashew brittle and your chocolate chips in a separate bowl and set this aside as well.
  4. Place the lightly softened butter, cashew butter and both sugars in to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to medium speed and allow the mix to blend sufficiently until it is light and fluffy and well mixed. It should not look waxy.
  5. Combine the vanilla extract with the eggs.
  6. Turn the mixer down to low speed and slowly add the eggs to the mixer (one at a time) making sure the egg is fully absorbed into the sugar base. Repeat until all of the eggs and vanilla have been incorporated.
  7. Add all of your dry ingredients (not including the brittle and chips) and mix on low until barely combined.
  8. Turn the mixer off, add in the bowl containing the brittle and the chips and turn machine back on and mix until no flour is visible.
  9. Spread blondie batter onto your prepared baking tray. Be sure to spread the batter evenly.
  10. Bake the blondie for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the blondie is firm to the touch with a golden brown color.
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to fully cool (overnight is best) prior to cutting.
  12. Cut into small 1 ½ x 1 ½ inch squares and store in an airtight container for up to three days.

For the salted cashew brittle:

Yield: Makes 3 cups


  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ stick unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1⅔ cups cashews, toasted (toast for 7 minutes at 350°F)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda


  1. Line a baking tray with a nonstick silicone mat.
  2. Place sugar, light corn syrup, water, butter and salt in a medium sauce pot. Gently stir to combine.
  3. Bring syrup to a boil over low to medium heat. Be sure to wash the sides of your pot down to prevent the sugar syrup from crystallizing. To do this, dip a pastry brush into a small container of water and apply the wet brush to the sides of the pot.
  4. Once the syrup comes to a boil, insert a candy thermometer and allow the syrup to cook until it reaches 300° F. Once it reaches 300° F, turn the flame off and remove the pot from the stove. Be sure NOT to stir the syrup as it boils.
  5. Stir in your vanilla extract and the toasted cashews.
  6. Wait about 30 seconds before stirring in the baking soda. The addition of the baking soda helps aerate the brittle and gives it a more delicate bite.
  7. Pour the hot brittle on your prepared baking tray and, working quickly, spread the brittle as thin as you can with a buttered spatula.
  8. Allow the brittle to cool sufficiently before breaking it apart into small, bite-size pieces.
  9. Store the brittle in an airtight container for up to two days.

Sunflower Seed Financier

Yield: Makes about 15-18 3” cakes


  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • 1¼ cup egg whites (about 8-10 eggs)
  • 4 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
  • ⅔ cups sunflower seeds, toasted (toast for seven minutes at 350° F)
  • 3½ cups powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¾ cup dried cranberry


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. (If using a convection oven, lower your temperature down to 325° F with low fan.)
  2. Prepare your molds or baking tins with cooking spray, or butter
  3. Place butter, vanilla bean and salt into a small pot and begin to melt over a very low flame.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together your egg whites and sunflower seed butter to form a smooth paste. Set aside.
  5. Combine the toasted sunflower seeds, powdered sugar, all-purpose flour and the cornstarch in the bowl of a food processor process until the sunflower seeds are finely ground.
  6. Place the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  7. Add the egg white-sunflower paste and whisk to evenly combine and form a stiff batter. Turn the speed down to low while you check on your melting butter on the stove.
  8. Increase the flame on your melting butter and continue to cook the butter until the butter begins to turn a deep golden brown and gives off a nutty aroma. Whisk the butter to incorporate the toasting milk solids at the bottom of the pot and continue cooking until it foams. Once the butter is a dark, amber brown, turn the flame off.
  9. Turning back to the stand mixer, increase the speed to medium and steadily pour the browned butter into the bowl containing the cake batter.
  10. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, turn the mixer on high to thoroughly blend all of your ingredients.
  11. Turn the machine off and using a piping bag or spoon, divide the batter into your prepared molds.
  12. Garnish the individual cakes with some dried cranberries.
  13. Bake the cakes at 350° F until they are golden brown around the edges and gently spring back when lightly touched.
  14. Allow the cakes to cool in their molds for 15 minutes before unmolding on to a clean tray or plate. Cakes will last up to one day in an airtight container.

Maple Crepe Cakes

Yield: Makes 1 cake

For the crepes batter: Makes about 30 crepes


  • ⅞ cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup oat flour
  • 1½ teaspoons sea salt
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon maple butter
  • 1⅓ tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 5 eggs
  • ¼ stick butter


  1. Crack the eggs and whisk them together with the whole milk, maple butter and maple syrup. Reserve in a pitcher and keep cold.
  2. Combine your dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, oat flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. Create an opening in the center of the bowl and begin to slowly pour your liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients a little bit at a time to avoid any lumps from forming. The batter will be very stiff initially; however, as you incorporate more liquid it will begin to thin out. Use all of your liquid, making sure to avoid any lumps from forming.
  4. Melt the butter in a small pot then whisk the warm butter into the crepe batter. Stir to evenly combine.
  5. Strain the crepe batter through a large mesh strainer making sure to remove any large lumps in the process. Store the crepe batter in an airtight container for up to two days.

To make the crepes:

  1. Gently heat a nonstick pan or a cast iron pan over low heat. Allow the pan to sufficiently warm up.
  2. Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Using a small ladle, add some crepe batter to the pan and quickly rotate the pan to evenly coat the bottom in a thin layer.
  4. Cook the crepe until the batter has set and it begins to curl up around the edges. Flip the crepe over (you can use a small rubber spatula for this) and cook the other side. The whole cooking process for one crepe is roughly two minutes.
  5. Place crepes onto a parchment-lined baking pan in a single layer, cover with another sheet of parchment paper and repeat until all of the crepe batter has been used.
  6. Wrap the crepe-filled baking pan with plastic and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

For the pastry cream:

Yield: Makes 2 cups


  • 2 cups milk
  • ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ stick + 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Whisk together the cornstarch and the sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Place the milk into a medium pot and slowly bring to a boil over a low flame.
  3. Whisk the whole eggs into the cornstarch mixture, then whisk in the egg yolks.
  4. Pour one third of the boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to thoroughly combine. Return the remaining milk mixture to a boil.
  5. Whisk the egg mixture into the remaining boiling milk. Make sure to whisk and stir with a spatula until the pastry cream comes back to a boil. Maintain the boil for another minute, whisking and stirring continuously with a spatula to avoid any scorching.
  6. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.
  7. Pour the pastry cream onto a plastic wrap-lined baking pan and spread it out into a thin layer. Place another piece of plastic wrap directly touching the hot pastry cream so it doesn't form a skin. Poke a few small holes with the tip of a small knife in the plastic to vent out some of the steam.
  8. Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator until it cools down and feels cold to the touch.

To assemble the layered crepe cake:

  1. Place a crepe on a clean flat plate.
  2. Spread enough pastry cream onto the crepe to evenly coat it without it being too gloppy or overly thick. There should be just enough pastry cream on there to thinly and evenly coat the crepe.
  3. Place another crepe on top of the pastry cream and gently and evenly press down to “glue” the crepes together.
  4. Repeat steps two and three until you have used 17 layers of crepes and 16 layers of pastry cream.
  5. Once the layered crepe cake has been built, wrap with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight so it can set firm. When ready to serve, top with maple-glazed bananas (recipe below).

For the maple-glazed bananas:

Yield: Makes 2 cups


  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2½ tablespoons maple butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 ripe bananas


  1. Melt the butter in a 12” sauté pan over a medium-low flame.
  2. Stir in the maple butter, vanilla extract, light brown sugar, maple syrup and the sea salt.
  3. Bring this mixture to a boil and allow to boil for one minute.
  4. Peel the bananas and cut them into half-inch slices.
  5. Immediately place the bananas into the maple-butter mixture and glaze the bananas for one minute in the hot mixture.
  6. Remove the crepe cake from the refrigerator and generously spoon the maple-glazed bananas on top of the crepe cake, allowing the maple glaze to run down the sides of the cake.
  7. Cut the cake into wedges and serve immediately.

Ready to master pastry & baking with Chef James? Click here for more information on ICE's career programs. 

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