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Surprise!

October 28, 2010

Steel yourselves.  This may come as a surprise to some of you (and comical to others who know me well.)

I’m not Superwoman.  I’m just a mere mortal who spends a lot of time in her kitchen.  A mere mortal with a lot of help/support.  (I’m also not Betty Crocker, but that’s a different announcement! LOL)

This post goes out to those helpful & supportive people:

My aunt (and now uncle) for having the faith that I could even do this.  Before they asked to make their wedding cake, I never would’ve pushed myself to just do it.  Of course the idea had registered somewhere extremely far back in my subconscious to make a stacked layer cake, but a wedding cake is a big deal (at least to me.)

My friends, co-workers, and neighbors for being my guinea pigs and ridding my kitchen of the mass amounts of “practice cake”, for being honest and giving me your opinions, and your constant encouragement and praise.

The real Superwomen – the food bloggers who come up with the amazing recipes I know I can count on.  Each of you really should have a cape.

And finally,.. Mr. Cheesehead.  There has never been a better jack of all trades.  From an amazing (and handsome) dishwasher, kitchen-cleaner, last-minute-grocery-store-runner, kitchen assistant, none of this would’ve been possible without you, your devoted support, encouragement, brainstorming, and honesty.  And thank you for running out and picking up take-out all those nights without a single complaint!

After the past two months of “studying”, the final exam is over:

    

I haven’t really posted recipes up until now because I was tweaking them as I went.  I present to you the recipes to make up White Cake with Blueberry & Cream Cheese Filling, covered in Swiss Buttercream.

White Cake

From: The Way the Cookie Crumbles, Bridget’s Adaptation

  • 2¼ c. cake flour (9 oz), plus more for dusting the pans
  • 1 c. + 2 T. whole milk, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites (¾ c.), at room temperature
  • 2 t. almond extract
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1½ c. + 2 T. granulated sugar (11.35 ounces)
  • 4 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. table salt
  • 12 T. unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened but still cool

FYI: This made three about-perfect thickness 8″ cakes.  Obviously, you could make this into two cakes; the layers would just be thicker.  For the wedding cake, I scaled the recipe up and down to fit the 6″ and 9″ requirements.  If you’re looking for those sizes, please email me and I’ll be happy to share.

Prepare pans by cutting out parchment circles (or using pre-cut ones, which is easier.)  Grease each of your pans and one side of each of the parchment circles.  Line the greased pans with the greased parchment circles (making sure the greased side of the parchment paper faces up.)  Dust the pans with flour; with each pan upside down, rap sharply against the counter to remove excess flour.

Preheat oven to 310° and arrange rack in the center.

In a small bowl or large measuring cup, blend the milk, egg whites, and extracts with a fork.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on slow speed.  Continue mixing slowly, adding the butter a half stick at a time, until mixture resembles moist crumbs but no powdery streaks remain.

With the mixer on slow-to-medium speed (I started on slow speed but then found it worked best to adjust the speed up as I went), slowly add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture.  (I had to turn the speed back down after the mixture became more fluid to avoid sloshing.)  Turn the mixture to medium speed and beat for ~1 1/2 minutes.  Scrap the bottom & sides of the bowl, add the remaining 1/2 cup milk mixture and continue beating another 30 seconds.  Scrap again, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat 20 additional seconds.

Divide the batter evenly amongst prepared pans.  Bake in oven, evenly spaced apart, for ~25-28 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  (Bridget suggests there should be 3″ between your oven walls and pans, and about the same distance between pans, so I followed it.)

Remove pans and allow to cool several minutes.  Run a knife or skewer around the edges of the pan before inverting to release the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool thoroughly before frosting.

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 T. + 1 t. pure vanilla
  • 75 g granulated sugar

Using a hand mixer, blend all three ingredients thoroughly.  When filling, pipe a border around edge of cake circles with buttercream of choice.  Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of cream cheese filling before adding additional filling or topping with additional cake layer.

Blueberry Filling

  • 24 oz. frozen blueberries
  • 60g granulated sugar
  • ~1 T. cornstarch

Boil all ingredients in saucepan until desired thickness is reached.  Allow to cool entirely before filling cake.

The Swiss Buttercream I’ve made before, but I lessened the amount of butter slightly:

Swiss Buttercream

From: Slightly modified from smitten kitchen

  • 8 egg whites
  • 375g granulated sugar
  • 40 T (5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 t. vanilla

In a glass or metal bowl above a simmering pot of water (or in a double boiler) whisk egg whites and sugar.  Continue cooking egg white-sugar mixture, whisking frequently until candy thermometer reaches 160°.  (Some sugar granules will stick to the bowl but don’t scrap them down.  You want to keep the egg white mixture smooth, so any crystallized sugar shouldn’t be mixed in.)

Carefully remove bowl from pot.  Set bowl on towel (paper or cloth) and wipe off condensation.  Carefully transfer egg white-sugar mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and allow to cool slightly until almost room temperature.  Beat on medium-to-high speed until mixture holds firm peaks when beater is lifted from the mixture.  (If not already, your mixture must be  room temperature before continuing.)  Beat in vanilla.  Add butter, a half stick at a time, beginning on a fairly low speed, but increasing speed until fairly high (this helps keep the mixture nice and fluffy.)  Continue until all butter is added, then beat on high speed until thoroughly incorporated.  (It can sometimes look horrible and like it’s splitting, but stick with it.  It comes back together eventually and is worth it!)

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“Victory is won not in miles but in inches.

September 16, 2010
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Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.”

–Louis L’Amour, American author

Before I share the yummiest cookie to have come out of the Cheesehead Kitchen in a while, let me apologize for the delay.  I have not forgotten you, or you, or you (I think that about sums up my readers! LOL)  Let my tale remind you of how fickle technology really can be (and how crucial it is to back up regularly!)

Our computer died.  It didn’t just stop working.  It died suddenly on the eve of Thursday, September 2.

We’re just now getting back to normal… kind of.  (Curse you, Microsoft Office 2010!  I will rise victorious above your weird menus!)  You see, when our computer died, it took with it our checkbook, address book, photos I’d uploaded for the blog, and Mr. Cheesehead’s work documents.  We’d talked about backing everything up, but of course never had. 😦  So I apologize for the delay in this recipe, as well as the wonky phone picture.

Back to the business at hand:

I dislike cookies.

Don’t get me wrong… I like eating cookies.  But remember the small detail of me being a perfectionist?

It makes me dislike cookies.  Because I can’t make them.  Or not make the right ones.

They always come out flat.  Or crunchy when I wanted chewy.  Or underdone.

You see, I like big, thick, chewy with crumbly, crisp edges kind of cookies.  And I know they’re out there.  I’ve seen them.

Just because the ones I’ve seen that fit the bill are usually store bought doesn’t deter me in the least.  Store bakeries are not filled with pudgy little elves like the Keebler commercials.

You’re going down, elf!

 

Magic is not the secret ingredient, I promise.  BUT…. if some corporate conglomerate can make it, I see no reason it can’t – or shouldn’t – be accomplished in a small, maybe 4′ x 10′ galley kitchen. 😉

These came through on my Google Reader and looked amazing.  And really?  Chocolate + toffee?!  MMmmmmmm.  I liked the idea of making the dough and freezing it, slicing off nice, thick circles.

Delicious!!  I did have a little difficulty when I went to form them into log shapes, as the dough is REALLY sticky and gooey.  (One of my logs was a little more oval in shape.  I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I ended up taking it out of the freezer and beating it with a meat mallet into a slightly more rounded log.  Brutal?  Yes.  Pretty?  No.  Effective? YES.  And it doubled as a great stress reliever. )

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Source: smitten kitchen, as seen on Christine’s Cuisine

  • 70 g (1/2 c.) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet)
  • 57 g (1/4 c.; 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 385 g (1 3/4 c.) packed brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 7 oz. Heath bars, coarsely chopped
  • 1 c. walnuts, toasted, chopped (I forgot to toast them)
  • Flaky sea salt (fleur de sel) for sprinkling

Stir chocolate and butter in a glass or metal bowl over a pot of simmering water (or double boiler.)  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Once chocolate and butter have almost melted entirely, remove from over water.  Stir occassionally while allowing it to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using an electric mixer), beat the sugar and eggs until thick (about 5 minutes).  Add in chocolate mixer, blending until mixed thoroughly.

Slowly add flour mixture.  Fold in toffee and nuts (I recommend not using the mixer for this.)  Chill batter, about 45 minutes, until firm.  (I don’t think I let might chill enough.)

Divide dough between two pieces of wax paper or parchment paper and roll into ~2″ logs. (The diameter of your log should be about the size you want the cookies, maybe a little smaller, but not much.)  After log is rolled up in paper, double-wrap in plastic cling wrap and freeze.  (Can be left in freezer for up to a month.)

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare 2 large cookie sheets by lining (I used silicone mats.)  Slice cookies about 3/8-1/2″ thick (again, slice the thickness based on how thick you want your cookies) and place about 2″ apart on prepared sheet.

Sprinkle each cookie slice with a little sea salt and bake just until the tops are dry and cracked, ~15-18 minutes.  Cool for several minutes before removing to finish cooling.

YUM!  Christine thought they were better the next day, but honestly, I couldn’t say for sure.  They were delicious, though.  I’m not a big fan of nuts in my cookies, but with this particular cookie, I didn’t really mind and don’t think they took away from the cookie itself.  (It almost was as if the texture of the toffee pieces and walnuts was so similar, they blended together.)

One small victory in the hunt for the perfect cookie!  On to chocolate chip next!

A picture is worth a thousand words.

August 22, 2010

But unfortunately, not everything photographs well. 😦

This is one of those cases where you’ll have to put your faith in a food blogger you may not have even met.  You’re going to have to take the words (maybe less than a thousand) but trust me… this is worth it.

I haven’t attempted making much Chinese food at home because…well, it never turns out and intimidates me.  What possessed me to think this time would be different?  I’m not entirely sure.  I think I saw the recipe originally came from Proceed with Caution and was adapted by Katie over at Good Things Catered.  Neither of those ladies have ever steered me wrong, so both of them?  I thought this recipe had a good chance. 🙂

Wow… what a difference between this and other attempts!  This was AWESOME.  Both of us thought the flavors were spot-on; I thought the sauce was comparable to our favorite Asian restaurant.  Mr. Cheesehead said it was almost refreshing…it was a light dish with such fresh flavors.  He did add that once you got past the chicken not being crispy (read: breaded & deep-fried) like the General Tso’s we’ve had, it was great.  Definitely a “make again” or even weeknight meal.

(Side note: maybe it’s supposed to be a bit crispier, but I had so much chicken and should’ve used a bigger pan. To get all the chicken in the pan, there wasn’t enough surface (or oil) for every little bit of chicken.)

This is a big statement for me (and now I fear I’ll have jinxed myself should I attempt this), but I’d even make this for guests.  It’s not the prettiest meal, but the flavors?!  OMG, delicious.  Plus my kitchen smelled of fresh ginger and garlic for hours… it was fantastic!

I made two minor changes to Katie’s recipe, which probably made it slightly less “lighter”.  I made the sauce a few hours before dinner and threw the chicken in to marinade until I cooked it.  (Because there wasn’t much sauce left with the chicken, I made about an extra half recipe of just the sauce and added it during cooking like Katie’s recipe.  I encourage you to go check out her original version and decide for yourself if you want to marinade it or not.)

I also upped the amount of red pepper flakes.  Next time, I’ll add even more because it was just spicy enough for us to recognize there was a little heat potential somewhere in there, but not really enough to make it outright spicy.

Lighter General Tso’s Chicken

Source: adaptation from Good Things Catered

  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 1/2 c. cold water
  • 7 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 3 1/2 t. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 T. light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 1/2 T. reduced-sodium soy sauce (we used Kikkoman’s because I’m not a fan of the taste of La Choy’s)
  • 1  t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into pieces (I did more strip-like pieces)
  • 1 t. sesame oil
  • 1 T. Canola oil
  • Fresh steamed rice or vegetables, for serving (we planned on doing broccoli, but forgot)

Mix together garlic, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes.  Toss chicken pieces with 1/2-3/4 of the sauce and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Refrigerate remaining sauce for cooking.

When ready to cook, dissolve cornstarch in water until smooth.  Add reserved sauce and stir to combine.

In large skillet (or wok) over medium heat, heat oils until almost smoking.  (This instruction threw me… how would I know when it was almost smoking unless it began smoking?  So I heated the oils until the pan was very hot and the oils seemed thin and slid around the pan fluidly.)

Add chicken to hot oil carefully (it will splatter) and cook until bottom side is cooked through.  Stir chicken pieces to cook the other side.

Increase to almost high heat and add cornstarch-reserved sauce mixture.  Allow to finish cooking until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened.  Remove from heat and let sit; sauce will continue to thicken.  (Looking back, I increased the amount of the sauce but not the amount of cornstarch so my sauce didn’t thicken much at the final cooking step.  It did thicken after I removed the pan from the heat and let it sit for a few minutes.  It was fine since we ate it over rice.) 

 

Where, oh where, has the Cheesehead gone?

August 17, 2010

Oh where, oh where, can she be?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no need to put my face on a milk carton.  The Cheesehead has been wrapped up in work.

I have been baking, though.  Yes, mostly baking so if you’re less-than-enthused about cake, this post will likely not be your favorite.  If you’ll forgive the crappy quality of several of these, I’ll bring you up to speed on what I’ve been doing:

Margarita Cupcakes

I filled these, using the same cream I’d used for the Butterfly Cupcakes, but added some margarita mix to it.

Roasted Chickpeas

I must’ve misread this recipe the first time we made these – I grabbed Cajun seasoning and chili powder.  It worked, though… and we’ve never followed it exactly as listed, but Erin inspired us to try these and they’re FANTASTIC.  

Chocolate Covered Strawberries filled with Whipped Cream

Sorry, folks… no recipe.  Literally just hulled strawberries dipped in chocolate and then filled with whipped cream.  Confession: that whipped cream in the above picture?  Cool Whip.  I didn’t even bother to whip my own cream! ::gasp::

There have been other things, but I either didn’t take a picture and therefore wouldn’t try to convince you to make it yourself, or it was a flop.  Or worse…store-bought! 😉

And then my kitchen took a turn to the land of cake.  A few reasons:

  1.  Somehow, I acquired the affectionate title of “Cupcake Queen” among my peers.  Anyone who knows me, knows that if you say I am  fill in the blank , I’ll go out of my way to prove you otherwise.  Cupcake Queen is a nice title and all, but I wanted to do more than just cupcakes… I want to be good in the kitchen, period.  Cooking… baking… I wanted to be more adaptable than just cupcakes.
  2. I’ve had this long-fought battle with layer cakes.  They never come out right, and it bugs me.  I’ve wanted to figure out how to tackle a layer cake successfully for a while.
  3. My Aunt is getting married (Congrats, Aunt D!!)  She asked me if I was interested in doing her (small) wedding cake.  This was a tough decision for me because I am such a perfectionist… I didn’t want to agree to do it unless I felt I could deliver the best damned (small) wedding cake she could’ve gotten.  Not “the best damned wedding cake from her niece”, but just a really good wedding cake she and her future hubby could be happy with.
  4. As Mr. Cheesehead pointed out, I had become bored with cupcakes.  (Truthfully, to keep it real, his exact words were “You were f’ing bored, Paula!”  He was right.  I hate it when he’s right.)  I know I’ll return to my Cupcake Kingdom eventually, but for now, I’m moving on to bigger and better things (literally.) 

So I started with this cake from Beantown Baker:

Lemon Raspberry Layer Cake – You see, Jen’s looked AMAZING and it made me want a piece.  That’s problematic since she’s a plane-ride away.  Also, she said this was her second layer cake, so I thought “Okay… if she can do it, I can too.  Mine might not look as good, but she did it!”  After reading and re-reading the tips I’d remembered seeing on smitten kitchen last year (layer cake tips + the biggest birthday cake yet), I set to work.  I made the raspberry curd from Jen’s blog and then moved on to the cake.  Of course, I’d forgotten fresh raspberries the day I assembled and decorated the cake and was too lazy to run back out.  I filled the top with leftover raspberry curd.

From there, I decided to move on to something more specific to the Big Event: finding the right white cake and blueberry-cream cheese filling.  I first tried Katie’s Almond Cake, but used a cream cheese mixture & blueberry sauce filling:

 

(In this attempt, I tried using what I thought would be the yummiest icing – a crusting cream cheese icing from Design Me a Cake.  However, I found the frosting got soft very easily, even with A TON of powdered sugar in it.  That wasn’t exactly something I wanted to contend with for a wedding cake so when I tried the next cake recipe, I also tried a different frosting.)

Practice cake #2:  I chose Bridget’s adaptation of Cooking Illustrated’s White Cake (white cake comparison 2).  The woman tested 3 different white cake recipes TWICE… I had to respect that and credit her with having much more experience with tasting white cakes than I myself had.  After tasting that many white cake recipes, identifying the differences, and adapting to get the best of all worlds, I thought her variation was an appropriate place to start.

On to the change in frostings.  A wedding cake needs to be transported.  The crusting cream cheese icing I’d used in my first attempt would not hold up an hour’s car ride and then possibly sit out until the reception.  (I also think I was a bit put-off by how much powdered sugar went into the cream cheese icing I’d used!)  It couldn’t hurt to try out other frostings, right?!  This is all about trial and error to find the right match, so  I returned to a frosting I knew to be less sweet: Swiss Buttercream.  I’d used it when I made Vanilla Bean Cupcakes (and looking back now, realize I never posted the recipe.)  This time, I went with smitten kitchen’s recipe.  She too used it for a wedding cake, so I thought it was appropriate for my situation:

Success!!  The frosting was a dream to work with in comparison to the cream cheese icing.  It also held together much better in my opinion.  The general consensus of my “taste testers” (neighbors, co-workers, and of course Mr. Cheesehead!) is this is the best frosting I’ve ever made.  In my opinion, I think the less sweet Swiss Buttercream allowed the flavors of the blueberry-cream cheese filling to shine through as well.

Anyway… that’s been the past few months of my life!  Stay tuned for more cake and adventures in the kitchen.

“Question everything.”

June 8, 2010
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“Question everything. Learn something.”

-Euripides, ancient Greek playwright

This is one of the silliest posts I feel I’ve ever written.  A few years – even a few months – ago, I’d never have considered making my own taco seasoning.  Why would I?!

The anonymity of cyberspace gives me the freedom to admit this: I’m cheap.  Frugal, really.  Or I try to be at times.  One packet of taco seasoning… no big deal.  But when I contemplated buying FIVE packets (@ ~$1.50 each), it made me rethink the packets.  Now that I’m cooking more, I wondered, was there a better way?  A more flavorful way??  And I knew from experience that chances were the homemade way would likely cost the same or less than buying but produce better results (if it worked, anyway!)

Mr. S and I host an annual Fiesta for our friends and family.  Now into its fourth year, we’ve never really given much thought to the taco meat.  This year, however, I kept thinking about a post on Delish that had come through my Google Reader a few weeks ago.  “What the heck?!” I thought, “Why not give it a shot?  I have all the seasonings already and the packets are just meh for taste.  What’ve I got to lose?!”

Of course, my throw-caution-to-the-wind, “What’ve I got to lose?!” decision was quickly followed by crazy panic because I was feeding this to guests, untasted. :-S

To add to my nervousness over its outcome, I wound up throwing this together (sans coffee) one morning before I left for work in all of five minutes!

Imagine my relief when later that day, I walked in the door after Mr. S had cooked all the meat for our Fiesta with the seasoning.  It smelled fantastic!!  I tried a bite and it tasted like taco meat!  (Duh, right?!  I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but who’d have thought taco seasoning could be that easy and that good in such little time?!)

The best part about this is it’s so adaptable.  Since all levels of heat-seekers attend our Fiesta, I kept the seasoning basic and only added a single shake of Cayenne pepper.  When I throw this together for Mr. S and I, I’ll probably kick it up a little bit with more Cayenne and red pepper flakes.  We can also control how much sodium goes into the mix as well. 🙂

This is proof that sometimes you should question even the basics, because I definitely learned that this takes less time than running to the store and in my opinion tasted much better than a packet.

Taco Seasoning

Source: Delish, adapted from AllRecipes.com

  • 1/4 c. ancho chili powder (I used plain chili powder since that’s what I had)
  • t. garlic powder
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 1 t. crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 t. dried oregano
  • 2 t. paprika (I used smoked paprika for a hint of smokiness in the flavor)
  • 2 T. ground cumin
  • 2 t. sea salt (I used kosher salt)
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • Dash Cayenne pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Brown meat (and drain, if necessary) before adding 2 Tablespoons seasoning and 1 cup water for each pound of meat.  Simmer over low heat until desired consistency is reached.

Roll with the punches

May 29, 2010

Every year, Mr. S and I join together with friends and family to participate in a local JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes.  It’s the one time of the year I ask beg for money for a charitable cause.

We’d thought our bank account was the only one that hadn’t received the memo about the economy turning around…but apparently not; fundraising was tough this year.  Understandably so, but tough nonetheless.

In a last ditch attempt to get closer to the fundraising goal I’d set for myself, I began offering baked goods in exchange for donations.  My father-in-law, bless his soul, was the first to fall prey and only asked for a cheesecake in exchange.

An online friend passed on this recipe several years ago.  It’s since become my favorite.

It’s fairly dense.  It’s creamy.  And it’s incredibly easy.

I halved the recipe for my father-in-law’s cheesecake since I was going to make him a 4″ individual one.  Since the normal recipe makes two full 8″ or 9″ cheesecakes, I knew there would be plenty left and decided I’d try to recreate the top tier of Mr. S’s and my wedding cake.  (This also happened to be the week we celebrated our wedding anniversary, so it seemed like a good idea.)

The cheesecake proved too heavy and thick for layering with cake… it completely annihilated the bottom cake layer; the weight of the layers split the bottom layer and it bulged out the sides.

While wildly spreading frosting onto the cake as quickly as I could, only to wipe it off the plate and back up the sides of the cake from whence it just fell, I realized I had two options: Make the best of it, and hope to hell it at least tasted good, or lose what remained of my composure and let the crooked cake, gooey frosting, and smooshed bottom layer get the best of me as it frequently has in the past.

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing.  The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.

–Mark Twain

Humor won out…I didn’t want the cake to ruin my vacation, or my anniversary.  And I must’ve looked hilarious, frantically swiping cream cheese frosting onto a cake, only for it to slide right back down the moment I turned the plate.  I must’ve frosted the same spot a handful of times.

So I added skewers to hold the cake semi-upright, stuck it in the freezer briefly, and then threw it together again.

And you know what?  Best damn wedding cake, bar none.  And I loved the cake we had at the wedding.  But my mish-mash, falling-apart cake was imperfectly perfect.

In fact, more than perfect since it was made for our anniversary and was exactly how marriage has been:  It’s not always pretty, it often takes several shots to get something to work, and rarely does it work the way you’d planned.  At the end of the day, however, if you can keep some humor about it all and focus on what really matters (in this case, the yummy cheesecake & incredibly moist carrot cake), it’s all good.

Happy anniversary, Mr. S!

Cheesecake

  • 24 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 T. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • Graham Cracker Crust, prepared (I used this as a guide)

(This was the first time I’d used a water bath.  My friend never mentioned it using one, but upon reading this Allrecipes.com article, I realized I wanted to… my cheesecakes had always cracked or browned a little previously, and the water bath seemed the way to go!  Of course, if you don’t want to use one and don’t mind a possible crack or a little browning, go for it!)

If using a springform pan, tightly wrap a few sheets of aluminum foil around the exterior.  You will also need a pan larger than what you’re baking the cheesecake in, so get that out and ensure your cheesecake pan fits in it with room to spare.

Preheat oven to 325°. 

Cream together cream cheese and sugar.  Blend in vanilla before adding egg and continue blending just until smooth and completely mixed – try not to overmix!  (I have folded chocolate chips into the batter at this point, but didn’t this time.  The whole point is to keep the mixture as smooth as possible before the eggs are added, then mix as little as possible while also making sure the eggs are blended entirely after adding them in.)

Pour cheesecake into prepared graham cracker crust.  Place cheesecake pan into larger pan for the waterbath; add warm to hot water to the larger pan (you want the water to be about halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan.)  Bake for about an hour, or until the edges look done, but the center is a bit unset.  (It should jiggle a little when you shake it, but the top shouldn’t be completely jiggly.  It’ll keep cooking after you turn the oven off.)

Turn the oven off, removing the cheesecake after 15 minutes.

Let cheesecake cool completely (preferably overnight in the refrigerator) before removing from pan or serving. 

All you need is just a little patience…

May 18, 2010

Said, woman, take it slow
It’ll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience
Said, sugar, make it slow
And we come together fine
All we need is just a little patience 

–Guns N Roses, Patience 

If you attempt these cupcakes, you may want to have a little GNR on hand to remind you to be patient.  In the end, the patience is totally worth it: 

 

Now I’m not normally a very patient person.  In fact, everyone who knows me seemed to give me the same reaction when I talked to them about these cupcakes: “That’s going to take a lot of time…”  

I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps obstinance can be substituted for patience.  I was pretty determined for these to come out like I’d pictured in my head. 

When asked if I’d make some cupcakes for a bake sale, I jumped at the chance.  I decided quickly to include the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes I’d made before.  Chocolate + Peanut Butter = sure sale. 

On to a non-chocolate option… 

This was a tough decision for me.  I knew the Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcakes had a few things going for them: 

  • Chocolate + Peanut Butter.  People go crazy for this combination… just ask the people over at Reese’s.
  • The peanut butter filling.  The only thing that makes cupcakes more alluring is a yummy little secret inside.
  • The dark cake and creamy cream cheese peanut butter frosting come together to create a seductive appearance that draws people in.

Whatever I went with had to be good – tastewise AND appearancewise.  Bake sales are like speed dating for baked goods.  If your first impression doesn’t lure ’em in, you’re the one with no phone numbers at the end of the night.  (For baked goods, you’re the one left in the pan at the end of the night.) 

I kept thinking of the only non-chocolate cake recipe I’d had a chance to prove myself…Vanilla Bean Cupcakes. 

They were good, but against Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes?  No one would buy one if there were Chocolate Peanut Butter ones left.  They needed to Fairy Godmother-kind of help. 

Image from Bigoo.ws

Thankfully, another blogger reminded me of the Butterfly Cupcakes Annie made.  I was intimidated, but they were gorgeous (as is everything Annie makes.)  I mulled it over for a few days, but in the end knew I had to.  That determined mindset of mine loves a challenge. 

I’m not going to detail how I did the butterflies themselves; there is no way I can give better instructions than Annie provided on her blog.  Please check out her instructions here

If I was going to go to the extreme of making chocolate butterflies to dress up the cupcakes, I wanted the cupcake itself to be equally impressive.  No amount of chocolate decoration would make the cake itself stand out.  I kept thinking of how the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes were filled…biting into a pretty cupcake to find a tasty surprise inside is a surefire win.  Only problem is… I’d never filled a cupcake after it was baked and cooled.  I had no idea where to even begin. 

Again, Annie’s blog came to my rescue with a cream-filling from her “Fauxstess” Cupcakes.  However, when I started making the filling, it wasn’t what I wanted, so I doctored the recipe until it was closer to what I’d had in mind.  (My adaptation is posted below.) 

I’ve heard rave reviews from the bake sale and am genuinely pleased with how they all came out.  While I’m eager to move on to other recipes, I’m very happy to have this as a fall-back in my arsenal. 

Cream-Filled Vanilla Bean Butterfly Cupcakes 

Sources: 

 

Prepare and bake cupcakes as directed.  Cool completely. 

  • 12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 c. powdered sugar
  • 7 oz. jar Marshmallow Fluff
  • ~1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1/8 t. almond extract
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract

(Annie’s recipe states it was enough for 8-9 cupcakes, so I doubled the original recipe.  After filling about two dozen cupcakes, I had plenty leftover.) 

Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy.  Add the powdered sugar, Marshmallow Fluff, and extracts, starting with the mixer on low speed, but increasing speed until fluffy.  Slowly add the heavy cream and beat until light. 

Fill piping bag fit with a bismark tip with filling.  Insert tip approximately halfway into cupcake and squeeze bag, filling until the top of the cupcake begins to “puff up” a little.  Release pressure and withdraw the tip from the cupcake slowly. 

Frost cupcakes. 

(This is 1 1/2 times the regular recipe; adaptation as follows:) 

  • 3/4 c. solid vegetable shortening
  • 3/4 c. (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
  • 1 1/2  t. vanilla extract (was supposed to use clear; I used what I had.)
  • Vanilla bean (optional)
  • 5 1/2 – 6 c. powdered sugar
  • 3 T. milk

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the shortening and butter.  (I scraped the seeds from a vanilla bean and added at this point.)  Cream together; add vanilla extract.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the powdered sugar, a few Tablespoons at a time.  (I always add the sugar, beat at low speed until mostly incorporated and then turn the speed up to “fluff” it up a little.)  Slowly add milk until desired consistency is reached. 

At this point, I split the frosting into three bowls and added coloring gel until desired color was reached before piping onto the cupcakes. 

Assemble butterfly wings per instructions. 

When I went to pipe my chocolate for the bodies, I really wished I’d used a bag or a bottle, but I used a baggy with the corner snipped off.  It wound up to be more of a thick body because the chocolate was too warm and seeped all over in between the wings.  It ended up working well because once the chocolate body cooled, it gave additional support to the wings and held the whole butterfly together.  On the cupcakes Mr. S and I had, the butterfly was able to be lifted off the frosting, typically in one piece, thanks to the chocolate body.