Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mini Pumpkin-Shaped Pumpkin Cheesecakes

It just doesn't get any cuter than this people.

Individual desserts are pretty adorable to begin with - but when they take the shape of an ingredient? Oy.

I should probably start by explaining why I have a mini pumpkin cheesecake pan. As Alton Brown would say, it isn't quite a kitchen multi-tasker.
So I didn't purchase this baby, but I did win it on! That's right, Nicole of BakingBites ran a giveaway for the pan and a copy of her cookbook, and I actually won! And of course I've been trying out things from her cookbook too - posts to come.

Anyway, back to the cheesecake. With the cream cheese and pumpkin and cinnamon and nutmeg....
These have a graham cracker crust, pressed down in to the bottom and baked first, then topped with the filling. It was really pretty simple, the most time is probably spent dividing everything up between the 12.
My friend Tali thought they weren't quite festive enough, so she decided to update it a little.
And then I made her eat it. To each her own.
I had no problem eating mine.

Now, obviously I don't expect you all to have your very own pumpkin cheesecake pan. I would say you can make it in a muffin pan, only hesitantly, since it may be difficult to get them out. These have removable bottoms, so you just have to lift them up and take off the plate underneath.

This amount would probably be about right for a 9 inch pie - but you may need more crust.

1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
2 tbsp sugar

12 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar. Divide equally among 12 muffin tins - about a heaping teaspoon in each - and press down with your fingers.
Bake on 325 for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time, and add in the vanilla.
Mix in the pumpkin and spices. Stir until completely combined and uniform in color.
Divide equally among the pans.
Bake on 300 (note a temperature change) for 18 to 20 minutes, until set.
Let cool for 30 minutes on wire rack, then place in fridge to cool for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before removing from pan.

No I Didn't Wear This On Thanksgiving

While I certainly have a Thanksgiving recipe coming your way soon, I just had to share this with you: Yes, that's me, age 3 1/2 (and at that age the half really matters), dressed up like what I believe was meant to be a chicken, though truthfully it could be any indeterminate poultry. And it might have been backwards. Maybe.

Now would you rather have that, or a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake? Ok fine, recipe coming up.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cinnamon Squares and Silence

Sometimes, I think I talk too much. OK, I definitely talk too much. So this time, instead of jabbering on incessantly, I'll share with you some pictures, a recipe, and a quick tip.
Enjoy the silence.

My streusel sunk to the bottom (oops I just couldn't help myself). I think it's because my chocolate was too big - I should have chopped it up more.
Since I've broken the moratorium on talking, (well that lasted a while, didn't it) I might as well tell you that this produced an impossibly light and moist cinnamon cake that was really delicious. OK I'm done now.

Tip of the Day: When dividing batter in half, I always eyeball it, but err on the side of putting more in the bottom layer, since, like here, whatever you're placing in between layers has a tendency to sink.

(Dorie Greenspan)

2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsps instant espresso powder

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter or margarine, melted and cooled
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/2 tbsps butter or margarine

Mix the sugar, cinnamon and espresso for the streusel together in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
Make a well in the center and add in the milk, eggs and vanilla.
Gently whisk the wet and dry ingredients together until well mixed.
Then fold in the melted butter until just combined.

Scrape half of the batter into a greased 8x8 inch pan and smooth the top.
Sprinkle the chocolate on top and dust with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Cover with the rest of the batter and smooth the top again.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes on 350 F., or until the cake is puffed and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan Cool in the pan for 15 minutes then invert on to wire rack to cool completely.

Melt the chocolate and butter for the frosting together.
Spread over the cooled cake and cut in to squares.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

About Last Night...

I don't have a recipe to share with you. I don't have any baking tips to advise you with.

But I do have a story. And some pictures. If you'll bear with me.

It was late last night, (read: closer to this morning) when I set out to make ice cream in my stand mixer. (Yes, it can be done without an ice cream maker, but that is so not the point of this story.)

I had my mixer set up on my kitchen counter, my ingredients all in, and I turned it up high to beat together, and walked, oh, about 10 feet away to send an e-mail.

About thirty seconds after I sat down, I heard a loud crash. As if in slow motion, my head swiveled, and what I saw before me was a scene straight from my worst nightmare. (Besides for being attacked by spiders in a crowded elevator while watching Jumanji.)

The mixer was on the floor, and huge splatters of potential ice cream were all over the couch, wall, floor, lamp and anything else in sight. Meanwhile the mixer was still happily spinning away.

I leapt from my chair and ran to the corner, where I grabbed to unplug it, first unplugging the lamp instead, then finally stopping the mixer from its reign of destruction.

As I surveyed my surroundings I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I did a little of both, then quickly got to work, sponging off the worst of the couch and moving other items out of the path of the flowing ice cream monster.

After the couch and wall were wiped clean, I stopped in my tracks and realized I had missed the most important thing. Photographing the event!

At this point I reached for my camera, capturing the moment about ten minutes in to the clean-up process.
Then the clean up continued, moving the couch away from the wall to catch what had already seeped underneath.
Approximately one thousand paper towels and 45 minutes later, all was again right with the world. Actually, it was probably cleaner than it was before!
Which meant I could then turn my attention back to the kitchen. And this:
Luckily, the mixer is very detachable, and everything but the top went straight to the sink to soak.

Let's just say...I am never stepping away from that thing again!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coconut Shortbread Cookies

I love coconut. I unabashedly, unequivocally love coconut. But I know many people do not share my sentiments. And I'm here to tell you: you're missing out.
These buttery, light coconut shortbread cookies were completely addictive. I could have eaten 20. By which I mean 40.
Though the recipe called for the dough to be rolled out and then cut in shapes, I found that near impossible to accomplish. Instead I pinched off small pieces of the dough, rolled them in to balls and flattened them on the baking sheet. It worked just fine.
Possibly the only thing better than biting in to one of these cookies is the unbelievable smell the toasted coconut gave my whole, tiny apartment. It was heaven.
Tip of the Day: If any cookie dough proves difficult to roll out or work with, a quick stint in the freezer or fridge will likely make it more manageable. And keep your dough there in between batches as well.

(via Epicurious)

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 tsps kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour

Spread the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven on 325 F for 6 to 8 minutes.
Be careful, or it will burn.
Beat the butter and sugar together.
Stir in the salt and vanilla.
Beat in half the flour at a time, then mix in the toasted coconut.
Refrigerate or freeze the dough for at least an hour.
Either roll out the dough and cut in to circles or roll into balls and flatten on baking sheet.
Bake on 325 F for about 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool on the sheets for ten minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Makes about 80 cookies. I halved it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Engagement, Part Two

Really, why have just one engagement party when you can have two? More loot, more partying, more time with family and friends, and of course, more baked goods. So while a cake sufficed for Racheli and Shaya's engagement celebration, part one, part two required iced and decorated cookies with the bride and groom's names on them. And here I am to deliver.
I've only done this once before, and those left a little more room for error, since they were just a variety of cookies decorated with lines and squiggles and dots and the like. These were to be uniform - half with the bride's name and half with the groom's.

Let the fun begin.
Of course I set up my decorating station, complete with toothpicks, water, racks, food coloring, icing bags, tips, couplers, paper towels and cans of fresca (not for cookie decorating purposes). Half the cookies were to be iced with blue and the name written in pink, and half iced in pink and the name written in blue.
I chose to use a fairly thin icing and a #5 tip for the base coat - I outlined each cookie first, then squiggled lines inside, using a toothpick to gently nudge the icing in to place. A process which took about 3 and a half hours for the about 100 cookies. I baked exactly 127 cookies, of which about 120 made it to the first coat of icing, about 110 made it past the first round, and about 90 made it all the way. But more on that later.

The writing. I hate writing. You know I hate writing. I've told you before. I'm not good at it. It gives me nightmares. Heart palpitations. Breathing problems. Gray hair. But here I was about to write on 100 cookies.

I started with the "Shaya" cookies, since, with five letters, it seemed like less of a challenge than the seven-letter "Racheli."

And it went pretty well. As I got in to the hang of it it got a little easier.
But there were still plenty for the reject bin.

Which kept growing.
After I finished those, it was on to the Racheli cookies. Racheli, with a whole seven letters.
Much easier to screw up. And screw up I did.

Every time I ruined a cookie, I would take it out on the cookie.

Sometimes I would get madder than other times.
Anyway, I managed to get these done as well, and while the collateral damage was a little higher here, there were still a few cookies that made it through.
And the reject bin grew:
Finally, I was done with everything, and the cookies were all laid out.

My friend Shira, who was perched at the end of the table watching as I hunched over the 2 inch cookies and as I didn't realize that four hours had passed, pointed out that the cookies suffered from the "Cheerleader Effect." First defined on the TV show "How I Met Your Mother," the cheerleader effect refers to the fact that when you see a group of people together, they might seem attractive, but when you look at them each individually, they're not. Same goes with these cookies.

Look at them as a group!
Get in close and...hmmm.
Look at that one on the bottom right. Eeks.
They were eaten. In fact, I didn't hear a single complaint. That wasn't from me anyhow.

Tip of the Day: For more tips on cookie decorating see my previous post. Is that a cop-out? Maybe.

Sugar Cookies:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter or margarine
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Beat together butter and sugar until light and creamy.
Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Gradually mix in flour, baking powder and salt.
Shape dough into 4 balls and wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight (or freeze for a couple hours).
Lightly flour your counter or surface, and roll out dough 1/4 of an inch thick.
Cut out as many shapes as possible with a cookie cutter.
Transfer shapes to ungreased cookie sheet.
Reserve the trimmings for rerolling.
Reroll the dough and the remaining dough as many times as necessary.
Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 to 13 minutes at 350F, without letting them get brown.
Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Makes about 120 2-inch hearts. Leave plenty of spares for screwing up!

Royal Icing:

3 egg whites
3 teaspoons lemon juice
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

Beat the egg whites and lemon juice together.
Gradually add in the sifted sugar on low speed until smooth.
Use immediately or cover and refrigerate or it will begin to harden.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lemon Layer Engagement Cake

When my friends Racheli and Shaya got engaged a few weeks ago, I knew a cake was in the works. And knowing that Racheli loves all things lemon made me reach for this recipe for lemon layer cake from Smitten Kitchen, that I'd been eyeing for months. And boy was that a good move.

This cake starts with Paula Deen's famous 1-2-3-4 cake, which I've used before. The recipe makes three layers, which Deb (of Smitten Kitchen, of course) thought would be quite high, and I agreed. So instead, like her, I made 2 layers, and 6 very large cupcakes.
But of course, I couldn't possibly skimp on the lemon filling, so instead I cut those two layers in to four, and filled them all with the delicious lemon curd that I kept licking off my fingers.

Then of course, came the frosting. This recipe called for the famous 7-minute-frosting, which is basically a mixture of whipped egg whites, sugar, corn syrup and a couple other ingredients, at exactly the right temperature, for exactly the right length of time, to produce a meringue like frosting. Notice the word exactly. Not quite my thing.

Nevertheless I forged on, and armed with my handy candy (tee-hee) thermometer, I began the process. Unclear of what the final goal was even supposed to look like, I was apprehensive and worried, but it did appear to be thick and shiny as per my instructions.

And then. Disaster struck. Bum, bum, bum. While whipping with my hand mixer (and by hand mixer, I mean stand mixer separated from the stand), I hit the thermometer (that wasn't supposed to be in there anymore) and cracked it, sending shards of glass throughout the frosting.

Now, while a stray piece of egg shell may not kill you, I sure as hell wasn't going to serve frosting with death fragments in it. Ok, perhaps I'm being a little dramatic, but man, oh man, was this frustrating.

But, being that this wasn't just any old cake my friends, family or coworkers would manage without, I set out for 7-minute frosting part 2. Which, by the way, is more like twenty minute frosting, and forty if you have to make it twice.
Now, while I'm pretty sure the frosting turned out how it should have, I'm not so sure how I felt about it. The cake - the cake was fantastic, super lemony and moist. But the frosting - it was kind of like a big gooey meringue. Which some people like. I was kind of on the fence. Of course, I conducted a hasty survey of the consumers (is there anything you'd like more at a party then some crazed baker hovering over your shoulder, asking "did you like it? did you like it?") and responses were split. Guess it's just not for everyone.

Anyway, I decided to try a fun technique I saw during my endless hours of food network watching, by rotating the cake as I drew lines around it with a spatula - to make a cool, ribbony effect. I'm not sure anybody but me noticed.

(Yes, those are avocados.)
Anyway, by now you're probably thinking, aren't you done already? I've spent more time reading this post than it probably took you to bake the cake. (And you'd be wrong). But we're far from done, because next came the writing.

Now, I've mentioned before that I hate writing on cakes, and it makes me super nervous. But here it was kind of necessity, so I thought I'd try a new technique and pipe the letters on to parchment paper, let them set, and then apply them to the cake. That way I wouldn't ruin the cake if my writing was, well, up to my usual standards. (Different fridge, different vegetables. And I spot an apple!)

[For my non-Hebrew-literate friends, on top is the Hebrew lettering for "Mazel Tov" which means congratulations.]
However, they just kept breaking (and being eaten), so I took a deep breath, and went for it on the cake itself...

...not bad. Perhaps I'm not off the guest list after all.

More importantly...a good time was had by all.
Of course, this was just engagement party, part 1. Just wait until you see what part 2 has in store.

Tip of the Day: Keep your candy thermometer away from whirring kitchen appliances! 'Nuff said.

Recipe: (from Smitten Kitchen)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups flour
4 tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, waiting until each is well combined.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt alternatedly with the milk, until all is mixed in.
Add in the vanilla.
Divided between 3 9-inch round pans or 2 pans and 6-8 cupcakes.
Bake on 350F for 25 to 30 minutes (about 15 for cupcakes).

Lemon Curd:
8 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
zest and juice of 3 lemons

Mix all the ingredients together in a glass bowl.
Place in a double boiler - over boiling water - without letting the bowl touch the water.
Cook and stir the mixture until it begins to gel or thicken very slightly.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Cover and refrigerate to thicken.

Seven (Twenty) Minute Frosting:
5 tbsps water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 room temperature eggs whites
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk all the ingredients except the vanilla together in a stainless-steel bowl.
Set the bowl in a wide skillet with about 1 inch of simmering water in it.
Beat the mixture on low until the temperature reaches about 140F on a thermometer.
Beat on high speed for five minutes.
Remove from the skillet and add the vanilla, continuing to beat for two to three minutes to cool.

If you are using two layers, slice each in half. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate or tray, and spread lemon curd on top. Layer cake then curd, until the final cake layer - do not spread curd on the top.
Cover the top and sides of the cake in frosting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Double Chocolate Raspberry Bars

You can make fun of me all you want for having practically every other post on this blog dedicated to something raspberry, but I don't care. Raspberry and chocolate is a great combination - and these are no exception.
These are double chocolate raspberry bars - basically everything good in life in one bar.
If there's anything I'm more obsessed with than raspberry it's bar cookies - all the individuality of a cookie, without the rolling and dropping and scooping. And without the multiple batches. Seriously people, bar cookies are the way to go.

So much so that I bought a bar cookie cookbook recently, but more on that later.
Back to these now. The recipe called for them to be made in a 10x15 inch pan, which, though I do have, was entirely too much cookie for me, especially since I have this strange predilection for traveling on mass transit with baked goods. So instead I took 3/4 of the recipe, which worked out pretty well considering my limited math skills. Unless these were supposed to be entirely different and I didn't know, because sometimes I'm pretty sure that 1/2 plus 1/2 is 2. Then again, sometimes I'm not.
Tip of the Day: When you half, third, triple or eighth a recipe - it's important to know which ingredients need to be exact and which don't. A little less or more oats or chocolate chips won't be crucial, but your baking powder or soda should be exact.

Recipe: (from Cookie Madness)

2 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 sticks (18 tbsp) butter or margarine, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
Additional 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Stir the flour, cocoa powder, oats, sugars, salt and baking soda together in a bowl.
Stir in the cooled, melted butter until mixture is crumbly. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Press about 1/2 the mixture in to a greased, 9x13" pan.
Spread the jam on top carefully.
Crumble the remaining dough on top.
Bake on 350F for 40 minutes. Immediately after removing from oven, sprinkle remaining chocolate chips on top. Let cool in pan, then cut in to bars.