Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

On the day after Halloween, Starbucks started using its signature red holiday cups.  It got rid of pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin scones, and introduced peppermint mochas and holiday blend teas.  Did I miss something?  How can they skip fall and Thanksgiving and go right to Christmas?? It's not time for peppermint yet! It's still pumpkin season!  And you should expect several more pumpkin recipes as we approach Thanksgiving :)

This cheesecake was a request from one of my coworkers.  He asked for pumpkin cheesecake, but I decided to keep with a traditional cheesecake base, and swirl pumpkin into it.  It turned out so well! This cheesecake is seriously yummy, and not overly-pumpkiny (can there even be such a thing as too much pumpkin?) so it's a nice compromise for cheesecake lovers and pumpkin lovers and before you know it, the whole pan is gone!

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
adapted from Elegant Made Easy and Gingerbread Bagels

  • 1 1/2 cups crushed graham cracker
  • 3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
Pumpkin Swirl
  • 2/3 cup of pumpkin puree
  • 2 Tablespoons of flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  1. Add cookies and sugar in a food processor; pulse until ground. Add in butter and pulse.
  2. Press mixture into a 13×9 buttered or parchment lined pan.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  4. For the cheesecake, cream the sugar, cream cheese, and flour with an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy.
  5. On medium low, add eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition.
  6. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until just combined, then set cheesecake mixture aside.
  7. In a separate bowl, combine the ingredients for the pumpkin swirl (pumpkin puree, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger).
  8. Add 1 cup of the cheesecake mixture to the pumpkin swirl mixture, and stir until combined and smooth.
  9. Pour the plain cheesecake mixture over crust and evenly smooth out.
  10. Add dollops of approximately 1 teaspoon of pumpkin-cheesecake mixture every few inches. Take a wooden skewer and run it gently through the pumpkin mixture and cheesecake mixture to make swirls.
  11. Bake for approximately 35 – 40 minutes or until set.
  12. Let cool and then chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hrs before slicing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I first learned about making your own vanilla extract last summer, and ever since then, I've slowly been accumulating empty jars so I can make it!  It is totally easy, and I'm excited about packaging up my homemade vanilla to give at Christmastime.

First: get yourself some cheap liquor.  At least 80 proof, and plastic bottles are preferred :)  (but seriously...don't waste good alcohol on extract. Save it for cocktails!)  I got some "Early Times" bourbon and some "Kavlana" vodka.  Never heard of those?  Good.  You should never actually drink them.  They come in big, plastic bottles, and are cheap cheap cheap.

Next: get yourself some empty jars.  I saved my pasta jars for the past several months.  Anything that seals well will do.

Finally: get yourself some vanilla beans.  I ordered these beans from online. You can order as much or little as you want. In retrospect, I should have ordered 1/4 lb (or even less...) because I have a LOT of beans left over... but that's ok because they keep forever!  More vanilla extract for all!

To assemble: take a sharp paring knife and slit the vanilla beans all the way down, leaving about 1 inch at the top, to hold the bean together.  Then put the split beans into a jar and pour alcohol over them.  The rule is: 3 beans per 1 cup (8 oz.) of alcohol.  I put 2-3 cups in each jar, so 6-9 beans per jar!

Seal the jars, and place in a cool, dark spot for about 2 months.  Shake them periodically to distribute the vanilla, and in 2 months, you will be ready to package up the vanilla to give away, or use in your favorite chocolate chip cookies :)

Recipe Source: Joy the Baker

Sunday, October 16, 2011

One-Bowl Pumpkin Bread

It's fall, which means it's time for pumpkin recipes!  I made this ridiculously easy pumpkin bread one night and brought it to work the next day.  It truly is one-bowl. You put all of the ingredients into a bowl, mix it all together, then bake it up (either one bundt pan or two loaf pans) and then you'll have some very yummy bread!  I think this might be the most popular thing I've ever brought into the office (and I've brought in a LOT of treats!!). I don't think it lasted more than 30 minutes in the kitchen.  I'll let the feedback speak for itself:
  • "Thanks for bringing pumpkin cake for us! It is super delicious. I am mind blown. I didnt even know pumpkin could taste so yummy!"
  • "Your pumpkin bread made my day! This whole side of the office is in a coma just enjoying."
  • "holy goodness"
As if you needed any more convincing...make this now!

Pumpkin Bread
Makes 2 loaves or one bundt pan
from A Muse in my Kitchen
Note: there is a green print button at the bottom of this post.  You can choose to print this recipe with pictures or without, and you can also choose which text to include in the printed version (i.e. recipe only) Try this link if you want to print the recipe!

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup water
  1. Mix all ingredient together.
  2. Pour into 2 loaf pans sprayed with baking spray (or one bundt pan).
  3. Bake one hour at 350 degrees.
  4. Let cool, then remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar, if desired

Monday, October 10, 2011

Easy Butterscotch Cookies

A very exciting thing happened this weekend: the digital camera that I purchased was delivered!!  I was very excited to photograph a new recipe, but I was house-sitting this weekend, which meant that I didn't have my usual supplies (read: no stand mixer...oh no!).  I actually welcomed this change - it was a chance to get back to basics in the kitchen...except with the addition of a new camera!

This recipe is very easy, and I'll bet that you have all of the ingredients on hand at this moment.  It doesn't require any ingredient that isn't a pantry staple (which is why it was perfect to whip up in another person's home) and just requires a big bowl and a sturdy spoon for mixing.  I really loved stirring the cookies together, then rolling them in sugar before baking. They bake up beautifully and are SO yummy!  They have an almost caramel flavor, with a very chewy interior with a crunchy sugary exterior.  Their aroma is pretty heavenly, too :)  Browning the butter is an extra step, but doesn't take any more effort, and makes these cookies oh so good...!  Make them soon and share them with friends (or kitties that you are watching for the weekend)!

sneaky kitty!

Butterscotch Cookies
adapted from Simply Recipes
Yield: Makes ~4 dozen

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups brown sugar (dark, if you have it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Sugar Dredging
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Kosher salt or sea salt, for sprinkling* (reserve for sprinkling on not mix in with the sugar)
*Do not use fine grain table salt (aka: iodized salt) as the flavor will be way off and unpleasant.

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and set aside.
  3. Mix together the sugar dredging mixture in another bowl and set aside.
  4. Place butter into a thick-bottomed skillet over medium heat. The butter will foam a bit before subsiding.
    the butter is on its way!
    Once the butter takes on a tan color and begins to smell nutty take it off of the heat and pour it into a mixing bowl. (See Elise's tutorial on how to brown butter.)

  5. yum browned butter bits!
  6. Once the brown butter is in a mixing bowl , add the brown sugar and salt and mix.

  7. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix together.

  8. Add the flour mixture in three increments, being sure to really scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, but mix just until the flour is incorporated. The dough will be very thick.

  9. Take 1/2 to full tablespoon-sized pieces of dough (you can make them however big you like) and gently roll them into ball shapes.
  10. Dredge them in the sugar dredging mixture until well-coated.
  11. Place on the baking sheet and sprinkle with a little bit of the sprinkling salt (be reserved with the salt as very little goes a long way).

  12. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges have browned a bit. Be careful not to over-bake. (I baked mine for 10 minutes) Allow to cool on the sheet for one minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hi Hat Cupcakes!

Just look at these babies. Moist chocolate cupcakes, towering pillars of marshmallow, and a hard, thin chocolate shell. Mmmmm...

Like most impressive treats, these do take some time, but they're actually not at all difficult.  And look at them! These are hi hats! These are worth it!

The recipe is posted below, but there's a really great picture tutorial from King Arthur Flour you can look at for step-by-step instructions.

Chocolate Hi Hat Cupcakes
recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart and Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Cupcake Batter (Martha says this makes 12 cupcakes, but I doubled the recipe and got WAY more than 24.  I think this recipe makes about 16 cupcakes.)
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
Marshmallow Frosting
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder
Chocolate Coating
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
  • 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

Cupcake Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 15-second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder together.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a regular hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. With the mixer on low, add the melted chocolate and beat to combine.

  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate each completely before adding the next.
  7. Mix in the vanilla and beat until the batter is creamy and the color has lightened a bit, about 1 minute.
  8. Add the sour cream and mix until the white streaks disappear.
  9. Finally, with the mixer on low speed, alternately add a third of the flour mixture, then half of the water, then another third of the flour mixture, the rest of the water, then the remaining flour mixture, beating just until combined.
  10. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared liners, filling each with about 1/3 cup of batter (the wells will be quite full, and the cupcakes will bake with tops that rise slightly over the edges of the pan).
  11. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  12. Remove the muffin pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes before removing the cupcakes from the pan to the rack to cool completely.

Marshmallow Frosting Directions
(you can also make marshmallow frosting with egg whites. Martha has a recipe for that)
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar completely. Let cool to room temperature. (I put it in the refrigerator to speed up the process)
  2. Add the meringue powder to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use your hand mixer!), and add the cooled sugar water and beat the mixture on medium to medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 10-15 minutes.

  3. Cut the end off of a piping bag or ziploc bag, and fill with marshmallow. I put the bag into a drinking glass, then fold the bag over the mouth of the glass. It makes it easier!

  4. Pipe the marshmallow onto the cooled cupcakes in a tall, swirl pattern. First I piped one circular layer, then another smaller one on top, then another, etc.  You want the frosting to look almost like a soft serve cone of ice cream would. If it takes a few tries to get it right, don't worry - you can scrape the frosting off the cupcake easily and try again.

  5. Once all the cupcakes have been frosted, put them in the freezer for a few hours.
Chocolate Coating Directions
  1. Combine the chocolate chips and vegetable oil in a microwave safe bowl.
  2. Heat in 15-second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
  3. Let the chocolate cool slightly before you start dipping the cupcakes.
  4. Transfer the chocolate to a tall cup with an opening wide enough for the cupcakes. I used a margarita glass - I found that it was the perfect shape and depth!

  5. Holding each cupcake by its bottom, turn it upside down and dip it into the chocolate - you want to cover all of the marshmallow frosting but not the cupcake itself.
  6. Lift the cupcake out of the chocolate, but continue to hold it upside down over the cup of chocolate to allow the excess to drip off.
  7. Turn right side up and transfer to a platter.
  8. Use a toothpick to touch up any spots at the base of the cupcake that may not have been covered.
  9. Once all of the cupcakes have been dipped, move them to the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to fully set.

  10. Store the cupcakes in the refrigerator, but let them sit out at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making a Wedding Cake

It is such a treat to be asked to make a wedding cake for my friends.  I love sharing in their special day, and making a beautiful, yet tasty cake. (And of course, sparing the couple the expense of a $500+ cake!)  Having only made two wedding cakes, I'm no professional, but I have learned some very helpful tips and tricks along the way.  So with that, let's make a wedding cake!

First: plan, plan, plan!  Almost every part of a wedding cake can be done ahead of time, so you don't need to have one day of stress - spread out the tasks to make it easy on yourself!  You can bake the cakes up to three weeks in advance, just triple wrap the layers in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer.  Also, freezing cakes makes it very easy to work them later: frosting a frozen cake means fewer crumbs to deal with.  Fillings can be made several days ahead, as well as frosting.  Just keep in the refrigerator, and bring the frosting to room temperature before using.  Now that you've planned, let's bake the layers!

This particular cake was intended to serve 30 people.  I wanted a two-tier cake, with the bottom tier an 8" square, and the top tier a 6" square.  Each tier was 3 layers, making a nice, dramatic height.  I've used the same recipe for both wedding cakes that I've made, and it is GOOD.  It comes from the best cake book of all time, and it is chocolate!  Everyone loves chocolate!  And the best thing yet: the recipe adapts perfectly for a gluten-free cake!  I just substituted the cake flour that the recipe called for, with a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix that I made. It worked so well!  The texture was lovely, the cake was moist, and it was oh-so-chocolatey.  I will post the recipe in a separate post later. Once the cake is made, triple wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer.

Next, make the filling. The couple requested a cherry filling, so I got dark canned cherries, and added brandy, lemon juice and corn starch to thicken the filling.  I heated the ingredients on the stove until the filling simmered down into a delicious syrup-y sauce studded with sweet cherries. Then I let the filling cool as I leveled the cakes.

To level the cakes, there are a couple of approaches, that I like to call the Easy Way and the Hard Way.  The Easy Way: purchase a fancy cake leveler, then use it to create nice, even layers. The Hard Way: measure the height at various places and place a toothpick at the desired height, then cut using the toothpicks as your guide.  Can you guess which way I chose?  Yep. The Hard Way.  But it was kind of fun :)  Here are some photos:

Now that the cake is leveled, wrap them in single layers of plastic wrap and place back in the freezer as you make your frosting.  The frosting that I like to use for wedding cakes is Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  My kitchen is a No-Fondant Zone (the stuff has no taste! give me frosting!) so I turn to buttercream to get a nice smooth finish, that is actually delicious to eat!  Swiss Meringue Buttercream may seem scary, but I think it's fairly easy to make.  Deb has a really great post detailing how to make the buttercream.  Join with me - Say NO to Fondant!!

Once your frosting is made, it's time to assemble the cake!  Take your layers from the freezer and lay it on whatever surface will be easiest.  I am terrified of moving the cake once it's frosted, so I filled and frosted it directly in the cake box that I was going to use to transport the cake.  Put the first layer down, then spread on the filling, leaving about a half inch space before the edge.   Repeat with all layers.  Now the cake is ready to frost!

Let's start with the crumb coat.  This is a thin layer of frosting designed to seal in all of the crumbs.  This is especially important for a dark cake and white icing, because you don't want dark flecks of cake showing through in the frosting!  Spread the frosting so that the cake is neatly covered, then add a second coat!  Now you have a finished tier.  Repeat with the remaining tiers, then place in the fridge until the wedding day! This can be done up to three days in advance.  I frosted this cake the night before, but a few days in the fridge is fine.

You've made it to the wedding day!  It's time to transport the cake to the reception location.  I had a 50-mile drive...and I was terrified!  I put the cakes on a towel in the back seat of my car so that they would be as level as possible during the ride.  I also drove the entire route in the slow lane...which is a feat for me ;)  I nervously avoided all instances of speed bumps, slamming on my breaks, or sharp turns.  Thankfully, the cakes all survived the drive without any issues!  I also packed a cake "doctor's bag" to take to the reception location.  I packed: two containers full of extra frosting, pastry bags, tips, an off-set spatula, a plastic spatula, a roll of paper towels, a wet rag in a plastic baggy, aluminum foil, and a bag for trash.  I also packed raspberries to decorate the cake, and extra filling to serve with the cake.

Now it is time to assemble the cake!  First, cover your stand or plate with little strips of foil or parchment paper to keep the edge clean.  Carefully remove the bottom tier from the cake box and place in the center of your stand.  Now add more frosting!  Clean up any imperfections from your original frosting coat by running the spatula along the sides and top of the cake with a thin layer of frosting.  It's important to put more frosting on the top so that the next tier will have something to hold onto.  I didn't use any dowels in this cake because it was small, but if it were a large cake, I'd have used dowels to hold the tier together.  The tiers each sat on a cake board, though, to make it easy to separate the tiers later when slicing and serving.

Next, carefully add the top tier.  Repeat the smoothing and additional frosting.  Again, put more frosting on the top so that the decorations have something to hold onto.  Now you are ready to decorate!  The raspberries are ready.

I covered the top of the cake and the top of the second tier in raspberries, keeping it very simple.  I also piped a little row of pearls along the bottom of the cake to hide the cake board, and because I think it looks pretty :)

Ta-da!  The wedding cake is done!!   Here is a picture of me with the finished product:

But more importantly, here are photos of the bride and groom with their cake! (Photos from Hagop's Photography)

Lastly, I baked one extra top tier so that they could freeze it and eat it on their first anniversary.  Here's a pic:

Congrats Jay and Jenn!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shaved Asparagus Salad

This salad is my new obsession.  The recipe couldn't have come at a better time - the markets are bursting with the first bunches of asparagus, and that means summer is almost here!  This salad is incredibly light, crisp, bright and refreshing. It is a perfect side-dish that takes next to no time to prepare - yay!  It can be customized in any number of ways, but the recipe I'm posting below is my favorite flavor combination so far.  I honestly had never considered eating raw asparagus before...but now I'm not sure if I'm going to roast it ever again ;)

Shaved Asparagus Salad
from Smitten Kitchen

First, there are no exact measurements in this recipe - everything is to taste, so taste as you go along to make sure you’re getting all the parmesan, nutty, and lemony flavors you want (or however else you want to customize the salad)

  • 1 pound asparagus, rinsed
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted and cooled
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 ounces shredded or grated parmesan cheese

No need to snap off the tough ends of your asparagus, just lay a stalk of asparagus on a cutting board. Holding onto the tough end, use a vegetable peeler to shave off thin asparagus ribbons from stalk to tip, peeling away from the tough end in your hand. Discard the tough ends once you’re done peeling. (I was left with some asparagus parts that wouldn't shave, but I found that I had plenty of ribbons for a very satisfying salad). Gently pile your ribbons on a medium-sized serving platter or in a medium bowl. Squeeze some lemon juice over the asparagus, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle it with parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Toss gently. Sprinkle with some toasted nuts and serve immediately!
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