Cheesecake: The Dessert of Unity

I’m pretty sure that I mention this every April, but it’s BIRTHDAY MONTH (for another few hours anyway)! And while there are multiple people to celebrate, I only made a few desserts this time around.

We kicked off the April celebrations with dinner at one of our favorite places. We filled up on appetizers (alligator bites and cheese curds), drinks (coffee brown ale and vanilla stout), and dinner (burgers for Andy and me, of course). And while I’m sure Stone Arch serves a decent dessert, there was no way I could have eaten anything else by the time we were done with our meal. Plus, I knew that there was cheesecake waiting for us at home.

I’d been monopolizing the library’s copy of “Just Add Sauce,” and what I really wanted to make was the chocolate-caramel pecan pie from the book. However, it has peanut butter in it, and Arron, for whatever reason doesn’t like peanut butter. Weirdo… And then there’s Josiah, who claims to “not like dessert.” Also a weirdo. However, both of them love cheesecake, so when I saw a cheesecake recipe in the back of Just Add Sauce, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. (My other choice was going to be the New York style cheesecake from Cook’s Illustrated, but it looked like a much bigger project, and I didn’t have time to tackle that one.) 

This cheesecake was pretty easy to put together (everything gets made in the food processor!), and because ATK includes weights, I was able to use minimal measuring cups. It took a while to bake and cool, which kept me up later than I would have liked, but the results were well worth it. There were no unsightly cracks in the top of my cheesecake, and it had a rich, creamy texture. We all loved it. In fact, Andy liked it so much that he licked both his plate AND Josiah’s plate clean. The dessert of unity, indeed. 😀

Minimal effort went into these pictures. We all just wanted to eat cheesecake. 
No cracks, and just a few bubbles! It’s a looker for sure. 

Cheesecake with Blueberry Cinnamon Coulis

For the crust: 
6 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces
2 1/3 ounces sugar
2 1/2 ounces AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake: 
2 pounds cream cheese
8 3/4 ounces sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the coulis:
15 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed if frozen)
1/4 cup water
5 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

To make the coulis: 
Combine the berries, water, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the berries are heated through.

Use an immersion blender to process the mixture until it’s smooth. Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and strain the blueberry sauce through the strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much puree as possible. Stir the lemon juice into the strained puree. Taste the mixture and adjust with additional sugar if needed. (I didn’t think mine needed any extra sugar.) Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least an hour. Stir to recombine before serving, and if necessary, thin with water before serving. (I also didn’t need to thin mine out.) 


To make the cheesecake: 
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°. Grease a 9″ springform pan.

In a food processor, combine the graham cracker pieces and the sugar for the crust. Process until the graham crackers are finely ground, which should take about 30 seconds. Add the flour and the salt, and pulse a few times to combine. Then, add the melted butter to the bowl and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened, about 10 pulses.

Spread the crumb mixture in the bottom of the springform pan. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup, firmly press the crust into the pan. Bake until the crust is fragrant and begins to brown around the edges, about 13 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and allow it to cool completely. (This will take longer than you expect. Trust me. I put it on the front porch to help speed things up.) Reduce the oven temperature to 250°.

When the crust is almost cool, make the filling. In a clean, dry food processor bowl (yep, you need to wash it between steps), process the cream cheese and the sugar until it is smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the  bowl as necessary. With the food processor running, add the eggs, one at a time, until they are just incorporated, which should take about another 30 seconds. (I found it helpful to crack the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl so I could easily transfer them to the food processor while it was running. If I tried cracking them into the food processor, I figured I’d get shells in my cheesecake!) Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the cream, sour cream, and vanilla. Process to combine, about 30 seconds.

Pour the cheesecake mixture onto the cooled crust, and then gently tap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles. Use the tines of a fork to gently pop any bubbles that rise to the surface.

Make sure that your oven is at 250°, and then place the cheesecake on the middle rack. Bake the cheesecake until the edges are set and the center jiggles slightly when shaken. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the internal temperature should register 155°. The bake time will probably be somewhere between 1 hour and 20 minute and 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely, about two hours. Refrigerate the cheesecake until completely cold, at least six hours. (Mine was in the fridge for about 20 hours.) 

To remove the cheesecake from the springform pan, run a paring knife between the edge  of the cake and the side of the pan. Then, unclamp the ring and remove the sides of the pan. Slide a thin, metal spatula (I used my large offset spatula here) between the crust and the bottom of the pan to loosen it, and then slide the cheesecake onto a serving platter.

Before serving, let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Use a warm, dry knife to cleanly slice the cheesecake into wedges. Serve with the coulis. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

From Just Add Sauce

Click here for a printable version.


Aiming to Please

As someone who shows love through food, I do my best to keep track of people’s likes and dislikes. If I’m making food for you, I want you to love it. (No pressure, Andy.) I know not everything can be a home run, and sometimes, I make things that I know only I’ll enjoy, but those times are few and far between.

Of course, making something that pleases everyone is harder than it should be. Especially when it comes to dessert. In my group of friends, we have a chocoholic who dislikes caramel and coffee, a custards-and-creme-brulee fan, two coffee-and-vanilla-bean addicts, and me, the equal-opportunity-dessert lover (as long as you don’t muck things up with coconut). You can’t even create a Venn diagram of desserts that will please us all. (Or, maybe you can, but you’ll end up with three separate circles.) 

So, when I invited a relatively new friend over for dinner, I immediately started thinking about what I should make for dessert. Not dinner, dessert. (I have a go-to dinner option for first-time guests. Unless you tell me that you don’t eat chicken, cheese, or tomatoes. But then we might have a hard time being friends. Kidding. Mostly.) Dessert though, that’s another story. There are just so many options!

I decided that I couldn’t lose with a chocolate-cheesecake combination, even if our dinner guests weren’t hardcore chocoholics. As my friend Jackie (the creme brulee fan) likes to say, “Chocolate dessert is better than no dessert.” I thought about making black-bottom cupcakes, but the idea of scooping out individual cupcakes just didn’t appeal to me that night. So, I turned to one of my favorite recipe sources, and lo and behold, Deb came through for me. Again. (No one’s surprised by this anymore, right?) 

These were super easy, although I definitely recommend using a hand or stand mixer for the cheesecake filling, rather than a whisk. Or maybe my arms just aren’t strong enough to whisk cream cheese into a smooth batter. (That probably means I should keep practicing, right?) I don’t think my cheesecake swirled quite as nicely as Deb’s, but no one complained. 😉

These were really, really good. We served them straight from the fridge, and I would say that they’re definitely best cold. The brownie layer is thick and fudge-like, and the cheesecake layer is the perfect contrast to the rich brownies. My only complaint? It only makes a 8″ pan, so we ran out of brownies way too soon.

cheesecake swirl brownies

Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies

For the brownie batter:
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2/3 cup AP flour

For the cheesecake swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

For the topping:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° and make sure the rack is in the middle position. Butter a 8″ square baking pan. If you’d like to be able to lift your brownies out of the pan (for easy / pretty cutting / serving), I’d recommend lining the baking pan with parchment paper to create a “sling.” (I didn’t do this, but probably will next time.)

Melt the butter and the chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat, whisking often, until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until everything is well-combined. Stir in the flour until just combined and spread it in the prepared baking pan.

Next, make the cheesecake swirl. In a medium bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla, until smooth. Spread / dollop the cheesecake mixture over the brownie base and use a butter knife to marble / swirl the batters together. Sprinkle the top of the brownies with chocolate chips.

Bake the brownies until the center is set and the edges are slightly puffed, between 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely for easiest cutting / serving.

From Smitten Kitchen, originally adapted from Gourmet

Click here for a printable version.

My Latest Obsession

A few weeks ago, I had a life-changing experience. OK, maybe just kitchen-changing. Either way… my friend Bethany started experimenting with browned butter, and, well, let’s just say that I am going to BROWN BUTTER ALL THE THINGS. Seriously. She made two batches of butter pecan cookies (one with browned butter and one without), and the flavor difference was amazing. And then we got together and made brown butter cupcakes, and from there, things have been spiraling out of control. I made brown butter rice krispie treats (another Smitten Kitchen win). I got irrationally excited when we accidentally browned the butter for some scrambled eggs.

Like I said, it’s out of control. Once you brown butter something, you’ll never go back. (I’m even starting to ponder the idea of brown butter ice cream….)

When I ended up with lots of extra rhubarb compote, I decided to turn it into cupcake filling, and naturally, I went with the brown butter cupcake. I thought it would go well with both the rhubarb filling and the cream cheese frosting. The brown butter batter is so great; it’s actually a shame to bake it, as the flavor after baking isn’t nearly as prominent. I’m still trying to figure out a way to fix that. Until then, I’ll just settle for licking the beater while the cupcakes are in the oven. 😀

A couple notes about these cupcakes: Annie’s recipe says that the recipe makes about 28 cupcakes. I must have under-filled mine or something, because I got 24 full-sized cupcakes and 24 mini cupcakes out of one batch of batter. The first time Bethany and I made the cupcakes, we got about 28 out of the batch. If you wind up with about two dozen cupcakes, one batch of frosting should be enough. (I raided my “extra frosting” stash in the freezer to take care of my extras.)

Brown Butter Rhubarb Cupcakes

Brown Butter Cupcakes with Rhubarb Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cupcakes:
2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 cups of cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 eggs, at room temperature (I take the eggs out of the fridge when I start browning the butter.)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
~ 3/4 cup of Rhubarb Compote (click over to the rhubarb ice cream sandwich post for the compote recipe)

For the frosting:
10 ounces cream cheese, chilled
6 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

To make the cupcakes, place the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. (Here are my brown butter tips. #1: Do not use a cast iron skillet – you won’t be able to see when the butter is brown. #2: Lower heat may take longer to brown, but it splatters SIGNIFICANTLY less than a higher heat, and I’d rather wait an extra 5 minutes for brown butter than spend 10 minutes scrubbing the kitchen, but that’s just me.) Let the butter melt. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is a deep golden brown color and smells delicious. (Tip #3: DO NOT LEAVE THE BUTTER. It’s as needy as risotto. It’s also prone to burning if left unattended.) When the butter is browned, remove the pan from the burner and pour the butter into the bowl of your stand mixer. Allow the butter to cool slightly.

When the butter has cooled for a few minutes, add the sugars to the mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and the bowl is slightly warm to the touch.

While your mixture is beating, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line the pans with cupcake liners. Set the prepared pans aside, and, then, in a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Beat the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. After mixing the last egg into the batter, add the vanilla and mix until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, filling them about two-thirds of the way full. Bake until the cupcakes test done with a toothpick, about 18 minutes. Remove from the oven. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pans for a few minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until blended. Add the vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

To assemble the cupcakes, use a paring knife to cut a small cone out of the center of each cupcake. Fill each cupcake with a heaping teaspoon of rhubarb compote. (Leftover cake scraps and compote make an excellent snack for the cook… and the resident taste-tester.) Frost with cream cheese frosting. (I used a piping bag and the Wilton 1M tip.) Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator.

Cupcakes from Annie’s Eats, who adapted them from Confections of a Foodie Bride. Frosting originally from Annie’s Eats, also originally from Confections of a Foodie Bride. Rhubarb compote from Smitten Kitchen.

Click here for a printable version.


Who Wouldn’t Want This?

Remember me? You know, the long-lost blogger who has been MIA most of the summer? I’m going to blame my latest absence on our two-week vacation to Maine and New Hampshire, OK? And, for what it’s worth, I thought about blogging on our trip, but somehow never got around to it. (It’s the thought that counts, right?) We thoroughly enjoyed our time off and did our very best to eat New England out of seafood, ice cream and wild blueberries. I kid you not – we picked this vacation solely because blueberries were in season. See?

Andy and his brother picking blueberries for our pancake dinner.

We were lucky enough to pick up some tomatoes from Andy’s parents on our way home from Maine, and we spent a steamy Friday evening processing tomatoes. (Literally. It was 80+ outside when we got started, and with three cauldrons pots of boiling water, our kitchen turned into a sauna in no time at all.) We put up 7 quarts and 27 pints of tomatoes, so I think we’re going to call that good for the year.

In other news, I feel like this has been the summer of the zucchini for me. I don’t remember receiving nearly as many zucchini and summer squash in our CSA last year. And while we love our fritters, I can only handle so much of the same thing. (Unless that same thing is chocolate. I have yet to reach my limit there.) So when this  recipe popped up in my Facebook feed, I figured it was worth a try… after I made a few modifications, that is. I eliminated the mushrooms (still don’t like them, sorry Mom!), added sausage (I tried it with bacon as well, but it’s better with sausage), added some broccoli and onions, and used Swiss chard instead of spinach.

And… we have a keeper here. It’s filling and hearty without being too heavy. It’s loaded with summer veggies, which helps keep the crisper drawer under control. The leftovers reheat well too. As Andy likes to say, “Who wouldn’t want this?!” 😀

First thing, you’ll have to forgive the questionable picture. I was hungry. This picture is from the time I used bacon, but you get the idea…

Zucchini / Summer Squash Pasta Bake

8 ounces penne pasta, uncooked
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium-large zucchini or summer squash, sliced and cut into half-moons
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium head of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
6 ounces spinach or Swiss chard, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
3 ounces cooked sausage, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, cut into 1″ chunks
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly oil a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, saute the onions until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add the zucchini and garlic and saute for another minute or two, until the zucchini begins to brown. Add the flour to the pan and cook for a minute or so, stirring often. Add the spices to the pan, and then add the stock, scraping up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the broth has thickened and cheese has melted, about 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the broccoli about 3 minutes before the pasta is done. Drain the cooked pasta and broccoli and set aside.

Spread the pasta and broccoli mixture into the prepared baking pan. Stir in the zucchini mixture, sausage, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and spinach/chard. Gently stir until pasta is coated and everything is well-combined. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the pasta.

Bake, uncovered, until cheese is browned and bubbly and mixture is heated through, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot.

Adapted from Taste of Home

Click here for a printable version

The Benefits of Indecision

Last month, I had an epiphany. Things just clicked, and it was like a light bulb went on inside my head. You ready for this?

Half of a regular 9″ or 10″ cheesecake fills my 6″ springform pan perfectly. How did I discover this, you ask? Well, we had a cheesecake night with some friends. Yes, a night dedicated to all things cheesecake. Karen made her fabulous Bailey’s cheesecake. Janelle made a delicious white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. And I, as always, was plagued with indecision.

What flavor? Lime? Lemon-blueberry? Peanut butter? Black forest? Whopper? Snickers? Turtle?

See what I mean? How do you pick just one? (I think that’d be like trying to pick a favorite kid… although I’m not 100% convinced that parents don’t have favorites. 😉 Ha!) In the end, I couldn’t pick just one. And since 10 people do not need to eat FOUR full-size cheesecakes in one sitting, I did the only responsible thing I could think of. I halved the recipes and made TWO 6″ cheesecakes. 😀 (Even with my restraint, we still had a LOT of cheesecake left over. I think everyone took some home with them.) 

One of the best things about cheesecake is that it can be made ahead of time. You don’t have to worry about things getting soggy from sitting in the fridge overnight, and aside from the long baking time, it’s pretty low-maintenance. Make a crumb crust, beat some cream cheese, sugar and eggs together, pour into the pan and bake! Dessert is ready! This particular cheesecake takes a little more time than usual, since you do have to melt chocolate and then wait for it to cool, but overall it’s still pretty easy. I made the cherry pie filling while the cheesecake was baking and then topped it just before we went to the party.

Aside from halving the recipe, the only change I made was to add some vanilla (because that’s just what I do). I also baked it over (not in) a pan of water in the oven to help prevent cracks in the cheesecake. Although, if the cheesecake cracks, it’s not the end of the world, since you’ll be covering it with cherry pie filling anyway. And I have yet to meet someone who turned down a slice of cheesecake because it wasn’t picture-perfect. 🙂

The other advantage to this discovery? Two 6″ cheesecakes = twice as many opportunities for new flavors. I think a Whopper cheesecake is next…

blackforestcheesecakeBlack Forest Cheesecake

Makes one 6” cheesecake (double for a standard 9” or 10” springform pan)

For the crust:
12 Oreo cookies (feel free to go generic here)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the chocolate cheesecake:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cherry topping:
12 ounces frozen sweet cherries, thawed, juice reserved (I used Bing cherries from our fruit order last summer.)
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the whipped cream cheese:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 6″ springform pan and set it aside. Place a shallow baking dish on the lower rack in the oven and fill it with an inch of water. (Skip this step if you’re not worried about cracks in your cheesecake.)

Pulse the Oreos and sugar in a food processor until the mixture is ground into fine crumbs. Add the butter and pulse to combine – the mixture should be evenly moistened by the time you’re done. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared springform pan, smoothing them into an even layer. Bake until the crust is set, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Maintain the oven temperature.

Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set the bowl of a saucepan full of barely simmering water. Heat until the chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and let the chocolate cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the 16 ounces of cream cheese, cocoa powder and sugar together until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in, one at a time, scrapping the bowl down between additions. Mix in the vanilla. Mix in the cooled chocolate until just combined, scrapping the sides of the bowl as needed. (The batter gets very thick at this point.) Pour the batter over the prepared crust and smooth the top into an even layer.

Bake the cheesecake until the center barely jiggles when shaken, about an hour. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool for five minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the cheesecake to help loosen it from the springform pan, and then remove the ring. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before refrigerating overnight.

While the cheesecake is baking, make the cherry topping. Reserve two tablespoons of cherry juice from the thawed cherries. Combine the cherries, two tablespoons of sugar, lemon juice, salt and any remaining cherry juice in a small saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to boil. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and reserved cherry juice together. Add the cornstarch mixture to the boiling cherries and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. (This happens very quickly – now is not the time to walk away from the stove!) Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool completely before topping the cheesecake. (I let mine cool overnight and then assembled everything right before we left for cheesecake night.)

When you’re ready to assemble the cheesecake, make the whipped cream cheese topping. Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together until smooth. (I used my KA mixer, but I bet you could make this part work with a good hand-held mixer as well.) Add the cream to the mixture, scrape the sides of the bowl and beat until the mixture has stiff peaks.

To assemble the cheesecake, spread the cherry topping on the top of the cheesecake, leaving a little border around the edges for the whipped cream. Using a piping bag with a decorative tip (I used the Wilton 1M tip), pipe the whipped cream around the edges of the cheesecake.

Slice into wedges and serve. Leftover cheesecake can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.

From Brown Eyed Baker

Click here for a printable version.

Putting the Fun in Fondue Night

I’ve mentioned our girls “cooking club” nights before. They’re the brainchild of my friend Emily, and they’re an excellent excuse for me to try something new. (Although, at the rate I read blogs and magazines, I’d need a cooking club night every night to get through my recipe list…) The theme for our most recent night was fondue, and we each brought something to go with a cheese fondue and something for a chocolate fondue. I brought broccoli for the cheese fondue and decided on pound cake for the chocolate. Which meant, of course, that I had to find a pound cake recipe first!

Do you know how many pound cake recipes there are on the internet? More than 13 million, according to Google. And I’m guessing that most of them are probably mediocre and not worth wasting ingredients on. Especially since most recipes call for a LOT of butter. I decided to find a recipe from a trusted source instead and ended up going with one from The Way the Cookie Crumbles. I figured it was a safe bet – after all, Bridget often does comparison posts, and has several pound cake recipes on the blog, so clearly this wasn’t her first rodeo. Plus, she used a Smitten Kitchen recipe, so I figured that the odds were in my favor. 🙂

I halved the recipe and made it in a loaf pan, rather than a bundt pan. I figured we probably didn’t need an entire bundt cake for our fondue, especially when we had lots of other dippers. (Turns out, the cake was good enough where I wished I would have had a little more left over… what was I thinking again?) I was a little concerned about whether or not the cake would rise, since the recipe doesn’t have any leaveners, but it worked out all right. I noticed that Bridget mentioned possibly using cake flour for some of the AP flour (although she didn’t), and so I figured I’d try that. I loved the almond extract and the white chocolate in this cake, especially because I feel like it’s really easy for pound cakes to be rather, well, blah. It was the perfect consistency for cubing and dunking in chocolate, and the few leftover cubes were a wonderful mid-morning snack at work. 🙂


White Chocolate Cream Cheese Pound Cake

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the pan
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups (7.2 ounces) of flour (I used a combination of AP and cake flour.) 
1/2 cup chopped white chocolate

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter a 9″ loaf pan and dust in the inside with flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the butter, cream cheese and salt until the mixture is smooth. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture while the mixer is running. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until light and airy, at least five minutes.

Add the eggs to the bowl one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts to the bowl and mix in. Pour the flour into the bowl and mix on low until just incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and tests done with a toothpick. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, invert the pan and turn the cake out onto the wire rack. Allow to cool completely. If serving with fondue, cut into 1″ cubes for optimal skewering. 🙂

from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who adapted it from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Staff Meals from Chanterelle

Click here for a printable version.

Chocolate & Cheesecake (sort of)

Quick question here: How many people own at least one church/school/organization fundraiser cookbook?

If I had to guess, I would say that most people have at least one of these hanging out in the their cupboards. They’re a great resource when you’re looking for that recipe that you remember always being at the family reunion or church potluck. I’m lucky enough to have two of these cookbooks – one from the Grafton Village Volunteer Fire Department (where I found my go-to lemon bar recipe) and one from the Amsden/Rehoboth UMC (which, lucky for me, has LOTS of my Grandma’s recipes).

This particular recipe is from my Grandma’s friend, Marlyn. It’s one of the first things I made from this cookbook, which means it was one of the first “new” dessert recipes I tried after we got married. It was a hit then, and it’s still a hit now. They’re easy to mix up, and I almost always have the ingredients on hand. Plus, it’s cheesecake and chocolate! What’s not to love? 🙂

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Black Bottom Cupcakes

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1/2 and 1/8 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cocoa powder
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350, and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Set pans aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the cream cheese, egg, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Stir in the chocolate chips, and set the mixture aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup sugar and baking soda. Make a well in the center and add the vinegar, water, oil and vanilla. Stir until combined.

Pour chocolate batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling them until they’re between half and two-thirds of the way full. Top each cupcake with a scoop of the cheesecake batter. (I use my large cookie scoop for this, which is about 1 1/2 tablespoons.) Sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake until cake is done and cheesecake batter is set, around 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks. Store in the refrigerator.

Yield: approximately 14-16 cupcakes

From the Amsden / Rehoboth United Methodist Church Cookbook

Click here for a printable version.

Carrots in my cake

Fruit on my pizza, veggies in my cake… I’m just all about the weird combinations lately. 🙂 This particular cake/frosting combination was one that was requested for a baby shower a couple of months ago. And while carrot cake wouldn’t have been my first choice, who am I to say no to the mom-to-be? 🙂

I was pleasantly surprised by how well this turned out. (I’ve always had pretty ambivalent feelings toward carrot cake before, mostly regarding it as the vehicle for cream cheese frosting. Because you can never have too much of that goodness.) The cake had a nice flavor, stayed moist, and best of all, baked into those perfect little domes that I love when I’m making cupcakes. I used Karen’s carrot cake recipe since I didn’t have a go-to one of my own. The only change I made was to add some vanilla to the batter. (Because everything’s better with vanilla, right?) 

Because I’m a sucker for punishment I like challenges, I decided to top these cupcakes with baked pineapple flowers. They were a lesson in patience for me, as they took a lot longer to bake than I had hoped. It was also an experiment in which knife to use to get the slices as thin as possible. I tried my large serrated knife, the large chef’s knife and my electric knife. I had the best results with the chef’s knife, although I wasn’t able to get the slices as thin as I would have liked. While I didn’t have enough pretty ones to top all of the cupcakes, I did get enough to use on about half the cupcakes. They were the perfect garnish for this baby-girl shower!

All in all, they were a big hit, and the few that I brought home as leftovers were promptly devoured by the men who didn’t get to attend the shower. Success!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Pineapple Flowers

This is one of those lucky moments where it tastes as good as it looks.
A flower-less cupcake. Don’t feel too badly for him though; his frosting swirl was pretty enough on its own!

For the cake: 
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups grated carrots (Karen was a lifesaver and let me borrow her shredder attachment for the KitchenAid. Saved me TONS of time and work!) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with liners and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, vegetable oil and applesauce. Stir to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Whisk to combine.

Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, being careful not to over-mix them (you’re mixing them until they’re just combined/moistened). Gently stir in the carrots.

Divide the mixture between the prepared muffin cups, filling them about 2/3s full. Bake until cupcakes test done with a toothpick (about 20 minutes). Remove pans from oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes from pans and allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: 
10 ounces chilled cream cheese
6½ tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
3¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 teaspoons clear vanilla extract*

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed, mixing until light and fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until just blended. Stir in the vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until frosting is light, fluffy and way too easy to eat. Pipe on to cupcakes. (I used the Wilton 1M tip to do these.) Refrigerate any leftovers. (Does anyone seriously have this problem? Anyone?)

(Here’s my recently discovered secret for sifting the sugar: Use a wire strainer/sifter! Set the sifter over the mixing bowl – mine has feet so it rests really well on top of my Kitchen Aid bowl – and then sift directly into the bowl with the butter. This eliminates my issues of measuring and sifting into one bowl, then transferring the sifted materials into the mixer, something that always resulted in a mess.) 

For the pineapple flowers: 
1 large pineapple, thinly sliced (as thin as you can get it!)
baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat

Note: If you want to see pictures of how the pineapple flowers are done, go visit Annie’s post. Her explanation and pictures are really helpful! 

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.

Slice off the top and bottom of the pineapple, then slice off the rind on the sides of the pineapple. (Your goal is to have a skinless pineapple that you can cut into super-thin slices.) Using a small spoon, paring knife or other tool (I used a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon), remove any of the “eyes” that remain on the pineapple.

Lay the pineapple on its side, and slice off thin layers (the thinner you can make them, the better they’ll dry out). Place each slice on some paper towels or clean, lint-free kitchen towels to absorb some of the extra juice, then move the slices to the prepared baking sheets. When the sheets are full, bake the pineapple until the flowers dry out and are no longer sticky/tacky. Check the slices every 20 minutes or so, until they are dried, flipping the slices over each time you check on them.

Place the dried slices into empty muffin tins to train the flowers to curve upward. Leave them there until set. (Learn from my mistake here: I thought mine still felt sticky, even after a couple hours of baking and sitting in the pans, so I put them back in the oven for another 45 minutes or so… AND I increased the temperature. I burnt some of the flowers that way. In my opinion, it’s better to have slightly tacky fruit flowers than burnt fruit flowers.) Garnish cupcakes as desired (and eat the pieces that you deem too ugly to use).

Cake adapted from The Stuffed Flamingo
Frosting from Annie’s Eats
Pineapple Flowers from Annie’s Eats

*Yes, clear vanilla. I realize it sounds weird, but since Annie said it worked, I had to try it. And you know what? She’s right. Plus, your frosting stays whiter (and so much prettier) that way.