goat cheese almond strawberry cheesecake

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Sometimes you just nail it. I remember years ago, when I was barely starting to get into making rustic breads, I baked the best baguettes I’d ever made. I don’t remember what meal I cooked to serve with the bread, but I distinctly remember having leftovers of the main dish while we filled up on bread. Later, despite my best efforts, I was never able to reproduce that bread.

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Let’s hope this cheesecake doesn’t go the way of that bread, because I nailed it again and I definitely want it to be just as good next time. It might sound like an odd idea – how could goat cheese in cheesecake be even better than cream cheese? Honestly, I don’t know; I was trying to use up a big package of goat cheese.

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But, it was better. It was the best cheesecake I’ve ever made. Everyone who ate it raved; some said it was the best thing I’ve baked. Most said they wouldn’t have been able to taste the goat cheese if they hadn’t known it was there, and I agree; it was subtle, just a bit of extra tartness. The almond flavor wasn’t noticeable and even the strawberry was on the subtle side, but I’ll tell you this – there is not one thing I’d change about this, because it was perfection. And it had better be just as good, just as soft and creamy, next time I make it.

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Goat Cheese Almond Strawberry Cheesecake (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Crust:
8 ounces vanilla wafers, ground to make 2 cups crumbs
1 ounce (¼ cup) almond meal
pinch salt
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
3 eggs, room temperature
6 ounces whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed and drained if frozen, pureed

1. For the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the cookies with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the almond meal, salt, and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan.

2. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool on a wire rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

3. For the cheesecake: With a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and goat cheese at medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sugar and salt; continue mixing for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Add the sour cream and flour, then vanilla and almond extracts, and the eggs one a time, mixing just until each one is incorporated.

4. Pour ¾ of the batter into the cooled crust. Mix the strawberry puree into the remaining batter. Dollop it over the plain batter in the crust and use a butter knife to gently swirl it.

5. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until the top is just barely jiggly. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack; run a thin knife or spatula around the edge to release the cake from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight before serving.

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kentucky butter cake

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I’ve told you before that my coworkers go crazy for pound cake. They’re always appreciative of treats that I bring in – I work with good people – but pound cake disappears the fastest.

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Even pound cake gone wrong. The first time I made this, I messed it up, and not in a minor way. I forgot to add not just the baking powder, but the buttermilk. Basically, instead of making a cake, I made a giant ring-shaped cookie.

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first attempt

It was still pretty good, so I brought it in to share at work anyway. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who came by claiming it was the best thing I’ve ever baked – in three years of almost weekly treats! I’m glad it was so popular, because I didn’t feel bad making it again a few days later, this time with all the ingredients.

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Most people said it was better with the buttermilk, lighter and more tender. A few didn’t notice the difference. One stalwart fan said that while both were good, the first version was better. So there you have it – you really can’t go wrong with this cake, even when you do actually go wrong.

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One year ago: Meyer Lemon Semifreddo
Two years ago: Strawberry Cream Cake
Three years ago: Strawberry Chocolate Ice Cream Pie
Four years ago: Strawberry Lemon Sorbet
Five years ago: Franks and Beans

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Kentucky Butter Cake (adapted from allrecipes via Beantown Baker)

Makes one 9-inch Bundt cake

I do have some uncertainty with the glazing method. The recipe instructions are to pour all of the glaze onto the cake while it’s still in the pan, so you’re essentially saturating the bottom of the cake. The cake is left in the pan until it cools completely, which presumably gives the glaze (which is now more of a soaking liquid than a glaze) a chance to soak into the cake. I did this the second time I baked the cake, wanting to follow the directions exactly.

The first time, I poured only about half of the glaze onto the cake before unmolding it and pouring the remaining glaze down the sides. I liked this method better, because the glaze formed a delicious hard crust on the cake (although a lot of it dripped right off the cake too). However, it’s possible that it only worked this way on the firmer more cookie-like cake, and would simply soak into the top of the cake when it’s made correctly. It’s good either way.

For the cake:
3 cups (14.4 ounces) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
4 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

For the glaze:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan or spray with baking spray. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

2. Place the butter and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture. Mix in the eggs one at a time, until incorporated, then add the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

4. Shortly before the cake is removed from the oven, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

5. Pour about half of the glaze mixture over the cooling cake. After the cake has been cooling for at least 10 minutes, invert it onto the wire rack, removing the pan. Place a baking sheet below the cooling rack to catch drips, then spoon the remaining glaze over the top of the glaze. Cool completely before serving.

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rhubarb snack cake

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I never got around to telling you about my New Awesome Recipe Database back when it was new. It’s still awesome. But now that it’s well over a year old and has over 1500 recipes entered into it, it definitely isn’t new.

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I love it. I built it myself, something I’d wanted to do for at least a decade. I remember getting Microsoft Access for Dummies from the library shortly after I moved out of my parents’ house for graduate school. But without anything to really push me or anyone around to help me, the project never got off the ground. It wasn’t until I had to use databases at work that it finally clicked.

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I seem to have a bit of a natural aptitude for them, probably because I love organizing things and playing with data. There were a couple online recipe databases I could have downloaded and built upon, but they didn’t have all of the categories and features that I was looking for, so I made my own database from scratch. And almost a year and a half later, I still absolutely love it.

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One of the ways it’s so useful is that when the grocery store carries relatively fresh-looking rhubarb, I snatch it up whether I have a plan for it or not. And then I can go to my Not-New Awesome Recipe Database and do a search of all the recipes I’ve saved over the last few years that include rhubarb.  Narrowing down to the one that only includes ingredients I already have and can be made after work takes no time at all.  The only problem, other than the tedium of entering recipes (my goal is 6 per weekday), is that searching for recipes is so easy and fun with my database that I hardly use my beautiful and inspiring cookbook collection anymore.  Until someday, when I enter those recipes into my Awesome Recipe database, and then I’ll have the best of both worlds.

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One year ago: Shrimp Ricotta Ravioli
Two years ago: Barbecued Pulled Pork
Three years ago: Cream Cheese Spritz
Four years ago: Orange-Oatmeal-Currant Cookies
Five years ago: Snickery Squares

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Rhubarb Snack Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes about 24 servings

Crumb:
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) light brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cake:
1¼ pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ½-inch lengths
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⅓ cup (9.65 ounces) granulated sugar, divided
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1⅓ cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
⅓ cup (2.75 ounces) sour cream

1. To make the crumb mixture: In a small bowl, whisk the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon together, then stir in the melted butter. Set aside.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper, extending the lengths up two opposite sides of the pan to form a sling. In a medium bowl, stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and ⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar; set aside.

3. For the cake: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the butter, remaining ⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar, and the lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger. Add one-third of this mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Continue beating, adding half of the sour cream, half of the remaining flour mixture, the remaining sour cream, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.

4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the batter, spreading it into an even layer. Scatter the crumbs evenly over the rhubarb layer.

5. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of the cake batter. It will be golden on top. Cool completely in the pan on a rack. To serve, use the parchment sling to remove the cake from the pan; cut into 2-inch squares.

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banana cake with cream cheese frosting

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I was very excited about both making and eating this cake, so of course I screwed it up. Things were going suspiciously smoothly while I was baking it, as they should have been, considering that I’d put extra effort into making sure it was an easy process. All that means is that I already had the dry ingredients measured and the rest of the ingredients and equipment out and ready to go, but every little bit helps when you’re squeezing cake-baking into short weekday evenings.

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All I had to do was mix up a simple batter, then make an easy dinner while the cake baked in the oven. The cake was done right about when dinner was, but I thought it might be on the early side of ready, so I left it in the oven for a few more minutes while I served up our meal. I did turn the oven off, but apparently the plate of hot food in front of me was too distracting, because I wandered off to enjoy my dinner, completely forgetting about the cake still in the oven.

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When I took it out, it was more brown than the blonde I had planned on.  Fortunately, bananas keep desserts nice and moist, so even fifteen minutes of extra baking couldn’t ruin this cake. It wasn’t quite as fluffy and tender as I’d been counting on, but it was far from inedible, especially once smeared with cream cheese frosting. I know no one who ate the cake noticed that it wasn’t perfect except for me, and I loved it anyway – not that that means I’ve completely forgiven myself for screwing it up.

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One year ago: Black Bean Avocado Brownies
Two years ago: Almond Biscotti
Three years ago: Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
Four years ago: Tofu Croutons
Five years ago: Potstickers

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Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from allrecipes via Just Baked)

Makes one 9-by-13-inch pan; 18-24 servings

For the cake:
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 cup sour cream, room temperature

For the frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
salt
2 cups (8 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with baking spray (or spray it with regular nonstick spray and distribute flour over the spray). In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.

2. Place the butter and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and creamy. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture while the mixer is running. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and banana, mixing until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the sour cream, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the sour cream, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

4. For the frosting: Place the cream cheese, butter, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the powdered sugar, and mix on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on medium-low speed, blend in the vanilla. When the cake has cooled completely, spread the frosting evenly over the surface. Cut the cake into squares and serve.

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banana cream pie cupcakes

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This is the first of his birthdays since I met Dave over eleven years ago that I haven’t made a banana cream pie. This is okay with me; for one thing, it isn’t one of my favorite things to make; I don’t get to use the mixer and there’s no batter to eat, where’s the fun in that? For another, I’ve pretty much expended the banana cream pie category, making versions with regular and graham cracker crusts, richer and lighter pastry creams, traditional and tweaked whipped cream toppings, even additional layers of chocolate and caramel. There’s not much for me left to explore in the banana cream pie realm.

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Except turning it into cake. Dave actually requested green tea crème brûlée for his birthday dessert this year instead of pie, but I also offered to make cupcakes to bring to work. This would hopefully head off our standard office procedure of a coworker making an emergency trip to the grocery store to pick up a cake for an afternoon birthday celebration. (It sort of worked; instead, someone made an emergency trip to the store for cheese and crackers and fruit for the afternoon birthday celebration.)

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These are not so different than all the various banana cream pies I’ve made over the years. There are still sliced bananas, pastry cream, whipped cream, and a buttery mixture of sugar and flour. The difference is that the butter and flour is baked into cupcakes instead of rolled into a pie crust. Dave is generally a bigger fan of pie than cake, but he enjoyed these, and our coworkers raved. And by my standards, they’re a heck of a lot more fun to bake than a pie, so everybody wins.

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One year ago: Asian Lettuce Wraps
Two years ago: Feta and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Three years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Four years ago: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins
Five years ago: Lasagna Bolognese

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Banana Cream Pie Cupcakes
(from Annie’s Eats and Cooks Illustrated’s Yellow Cake recipe)

Makes 24 cupcakes

For 23 cupcakes, I fitted a slice of banana into the bottom of the carved out center before spooning on pastry cream and topping with a portion of the removed cone. For the last cupcake, I decided to try adding the pastry cream first and then topping with a banana and discarding the entire cone. This was much more successful because you can fit in more pastry cream and the banana makes a stable surface for the whipped cream topping.

Filling:
1 cup half-and-half
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar, divided
Pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Cake:
2½ cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

Topping:
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup (1 ounce) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ bananas, peeled and sliced

1. To make the filling, heat the half-and-half, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds. When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

2. To make the cupcakes, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake wells with paper liners. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar together in a large bowl. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and yolks.

3. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

4. Add the flour mixture to the now-empty mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape the whisk and sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

5. Using a rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the whites into the batter to lighten the mixture, then add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners. Lightly tap the pans against the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove them from the wells and cool completely on a wire rack.

7. Use a paring knife to remove a 1½ inch-diameter cone from the center of each cupcake; discard the cones. Spoon 2 teaspoons of pastry cream into the well of each cupcake, then top with a slice of banana.

8. To make the topping, beat the heavy cream on medium-high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until frothy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, scraping the bowl as necessary.

9. Pipe the whipped cream onto the cupcakes. Top with a slice of banana.

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eggnog cupcakes

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Eggnog is sort of ridiculously bad for you. I think of it as a Christmasy milkshake. I enjoy it, but moderation is key. Dave, on the other hand, learned a hard lesson about moderation recently, as he poured himself a big glass of the nog and topped it off with a generous pour of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Declaring it delicious, he went ahead and poured himself another big glass, while I attempted to point out without being too terribly annoying that that there is a whole lot of eggnog. An hour later, lying on the floor clutching his stomach, he agreed.

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Perhaps iced tea glasses are not the best way to enjoy eggnog, and cupcakes, instead, are. The ingredients are similar anyway – eggs, sugar, dairy – and because eggnog is so thick, you can add a decent amount to cake batter without hurting the texture of the cake. I started with this recipe, but it’s clearly based on a vegan source, with its lack of eggs and butter. That’s fine, but I like the structure eggs give to batters, and I thought butter would be a good match with the dairy-flavored cake. I’ve always had good results with this vanilla bean cupcake recipe, which is a pretty standard cake batter, so I combined the two. For the frosting, I used an easy American-style buttercream, with just a couple ounces of cream cheese added to enhance the pudding flavor of the eggnog.

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The batter, with just 2 tablespoons of bourbon, was like a sweet cocktail, with alcohol fumes dominating the flavor. Of course most of that burns off in the oven, resulting in tender, moist cupcakes with just a hint of bourbon. The frosting was particularly dangerous, and I had to be careful that I didn’t eat so much that I had to join Dave in stomach-clutching. Powdered sugar-based American buttercream can be one-dimensionally sweet, but the cream cheese, eggnog, and bourbon give this one plenty of extra flavor. A generous grating of nutmeg brings home the Christmasy overtones. This is definitely the right way to enjoy eggnog, although I wouldn’t be opposed to a small glass of the stuff with a shot of Bailey’s either. I’m not sure Dave is recovered enough to join me.

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One year ago: Spelt Crackers
Two years ago: Bolognese Sauce (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
Four years ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins

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Eggnog Cupcakes (adapted from Annie’s Eats and these Vanilla Bean Cupcakes)

Makes about 15 cupcakes

I included butter for flavor and a couple tablespoons of oil because it does a better job making cakes tender and moist than butter does.

1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup eggnog, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon or dark rum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (5.75 ounces) sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature

For the frosting:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
Pinch of salt
2½ cups (10 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons eggnog
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons bourbon

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and baking powder. In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggnog, oil, vanilla, and bourbon.

2. Place the butter and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture. Mix in the eggs one at a time, until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the eggnog mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the eggnog, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about ⅔ of the way full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

4. To make the frosting: Place the butter, cream cheese, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the powdered sugar and nutmeg, and mix on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggnog and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 4 minutes. With the mixer on medium-low speed, blend in the bourbon and vanilla. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

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apple cake

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When I saw this beautiful apple walnut cake, with those perfectly arranged apple slices on top, I wanted to make it as soon as possible. I bought the walnuts and apples, I printed out the recipe, and then I…I made a different cake.

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I just couldn’t get past the step that required slicing apples fussily thin and fussily arranging the slices in the pan. I want to be the type of person who spends the time to precisely arrange fruit for the prettiest possible dessert, but I am just not.

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But I have no regrets. The cake I made instead is more rustic than the one that had initially caught my eye, but no less delicious for it. In this case, instead of paper thin apples painstakingly arranged in a pretty pattern, the apples are unceremoniously spread in two layers, one in the middle of the cake and one on top. You still have to peel and core the apples, but the coarse cut takes a fraction of the time as getting out the mandoline to make even slices.

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In its own tall, straight-sided way, this cake is just as impressive as the other. It’s also rich and moist and just sweet enough, filled with baked apples that taste just like fall. I still want to try the apple walnut cake, but it’s going to require magical amounts of free time and patience, especially now that I have an easier recipe in my back pocket.

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One year ago: Notes on planning a Thanksgiving feast
Two years ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Three years ago: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Four years ago: Breakfast Tacos

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Apple Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Apples:
3 pounds apples (about 6 medium), peeled, cored, chopped into ¼- to ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar

Cake:
2¾ cups (13.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
¼ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 eggs

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a tube pan, preferably with removable sides, with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the apples, cinnamon, and 5 tablespoons sugar.

3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the oil, butter, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the oil mixture and stir to incorporate.

4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples, then arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

5. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the pan. Cool at least an hour before serving. The cake will keep, covered tightly, for up to 2 days.

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candy corn cheesecake

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I don’t know what it is about candy corn that makes some people eat it until they’re sick, but for the people who love it, they can’t seem to resist.  My sister is one of those people.  She also considers cheesecake one of her favorite desserts, so obviously a cheesecake baked to look like candy corn was the perfect dessert for her.

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It’s just a regular cheesecake with colored batter poured into divided rings. The dividers are carefully removed before baking. However, I refused to buy a special cake batter divider tool, so I looked around my kitchen for alternatives. A 6-inch springform pan would work for the outer ring, and I went really low-tech for the inner ring – a Dixie cup with the bottom cut off. There was some leakage of each color below the dividers, but I think that would be hard to avoid with nearly any set up.

candy corn cheesecake collage

As for which cheesecake recipe to use, that was easy. It was a cake for my sister, so I made her favorite. It worked perfectly – the batter was thin enough that it didn’t stick to the dividers when I removed them, but thick enough not to mix once the dividers were removed.  My sister loved it just as much as I knew she would – and she even managed to restrain herself from eating it until she felt sick.

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One year ago: Butternut Squash Risotto
Two years ago: Pomegranate-Glazed Salmon
Three years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Four years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Candy Corn Cheesecake (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Tall and Creamy Cheesecake)

Makes 16 servings

I didn’t want the cheesecake to be too tall, because I wanted slices to have the approximate dimensions of one piece of candy corn, so I cut the recipe down by a fourth, but I think it was too short then. I’ve increased the ingredient amounts back to those in the original recipe, so your cheesecake will be taller than mine.

For the crust:
4 ounces graham crackers (about 8 full crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
4 (8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
1⅓ cup (9.33 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1⅓ cups sour cream

1. For the crust: Grease a 9-inch springform pan and wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the food processor, process the graham crackers until finely ground; add the sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs; pulse until evenly coated. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until fragrant and beginning to brown around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

3. For the cheesecake: Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and creamy, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 2 minutes, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is thoroughly combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream.

4. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Place the foil-wrapped springform pan in a larger baking dish.

5. Arrange molds of 2-inch diameter and 6-inch diameter in the springform pan. Pour uncolored batter into the smallest mold in the middle, to a height about 1-inch below the top of the pan. Color the remaining batter yellow and fill the outermost ring. Use a small amount of red food coloring to color the remaining batter orange and pour the rest of the batter into the second ring. Carefully remove the molds by lifting them straight up out of the batter.

6. Pour the boiling water into the baking dish around the springform pan. Transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the center jiggles like jello when lightly shook and a thermometer inserted into the center of the cheesecake reads 150 degrees. Turn the oven off, prop open the oven door, and leave the cheesecake in the oven for another hour.

7. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and the water bath. Cool on a wire rack until it reaches room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours or up to a week.

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raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes

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I did a lot of things I’m proud of this weekend. I didn’t have to work Friday, so I kicked off the three-day weekend with the second-longest run I’ve ever done, and the longest run that wasn’t part of a big race. Then I made Dave give me hourly high-fives for the rest of the day.

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The next day, I had my first-ever paid baking order. A coworker hired me to make a dozen each of two different types of cupcakes for her daughter’s wedding. Two dozen isn’t a lot of cupcakes, but I wanted to get them just right, with great taste and beautiful garnishes.

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Less than an hour after I dropped those off, we had a bunch of people over to watch football – the first time Dave and I have entertained more than a couple friends at a time since we’ve been married. By keeping things casual (or at least, my version of casual), enlisting a lot of help from Dave, and being creative with what I already had around, I managed to entertain the way I like to – with a lot of food, of course – but without a lot of stress.

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One of the ways I made the most of what I had available was to make extras of these cupcakes. The wedding’s colors were black, ivory, and red, so the bride chose these raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes drizzled with chocolate and topped with raspberry truffles, as well as chocolate cupcakes with champagne frosting topped with chocolate-covered strawberries. While I was at it, I went ahead and made extra chocolate-covered strawberries and raspberry truffles for my friends too.

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Both sets of cupcakes turned out every bit as good as I’d hoped, and that never happens! The swirls on the cheesecake were pretty and not sloppy, the drizzle didn’t cover up as much as the swirls as I was worried about, the fresh raspberries fit nicely onto the tops. The chocolate cupcakes rose into a perfect mound, and the swirls of frosting didn’t look too amateurish. My first time making chocolate-covered strawberries went just fine, even the stressful part that involved melting white chocolate. I dropped the cupcakes off and then entertained guests all evening, only spitting half-chewed chips on someone once! This is about as successful as my life gets.

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One year ago: Croissants (Tartine Bread)
Two years ago: Coffee Break Muffins
Three years ago: Green Chile Huevos Rancheros
Four years ago: Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

Printer Friendly Recipe
Raspberry-Swirled Cheesecake Cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 32 cupcakes

The truffles and drizzle make for a nice presentation, but the swirled cupcakes are plenty tasty and pretty on their own.
For the crust:
1½ cups (about 8 full crackers) graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

For the raspberry swirl:
6 ounces (¾ cup) frozen or fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the filling:
4 (8-ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 32 muffin wells with paper liners.

2. For the crust: In a food processor, process the graham crackers and sugar until evenly ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Press 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of each liner. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, maintaining the oven temperature.

3. For the raspberry swirl: Combine the raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. (Or press the raspberries through a food mill, stirring the cornstarch and sugar into the puree.)

4. For the filling: Beat the cream cheese on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and salt, then the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

5. To assemble, spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner. Dot ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to lightly swirl the puree.

6. Bake until the filling is set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Raspberry Truffles (seen on Annie’s Eats, but I didn’t use the same recipe)

6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. Gently wash and dry the raspberries.

2. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

3. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until it’s thick enough to hold a shape, about 45 minutes, then, using a pastry bag with a small opening, pipe into the stemmed opening on the raspberries.

Chocolate Drizzle (adapted from Tartine’s Chocolate Friands)

I didn’t make this separately, I just stirred in more cream to the ganache leftover from the raspberry truffles. I’m offering it here separately as a good chocolate drizzle recipe.

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

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For the chocolate cupcakes, I used this recipe for the cupcake portion; this champagne buttercream for the frosting; and this method for the chocolate-covered strawberries.

key lime cheesecake

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This was the last of my three birthday cakes. That’s right, I got three birthday cakes. The first was the blackberry oreo cake while on vacation with my family, and then I brought funfetti cupcakes to work, and then I made this one for myself to enjoy over my birthday weekend. Making three birthday cakes really takes the pressure off of making the perfect choice. You can have the dramatic, the fun, and the rich. (Okay, I confess that they’re all rich.)

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Although cheesecake might not seem like a traditional celebration cake, this one, with its four separate layers, is certainly involved enough to qualify. The graham cracker crust and zest-infused cream cheese might be expected, but it’s the layer of curd under the cream cheese that delivers most of the lime pucker. I had some reservations about the sour cream topping, but the sweet-tart coating complimented and balanced the lime and sugar in the other layers.

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It probably isn’t right to choose favorites, is it? Something went wrong with the funfetti cupcakes, so they don’t stand a chance anyway.  The blackberry oreo cake was tall and colorful and had dark chocolate and bright berries, so there’s no complaints there. But…cheesecake always wins.  If I’m ever confronted with a one-cake birthday again, remind me: cheesecake.

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One year ago: Spice-Rubbed Picnic Chicken
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Challah
Three years ago: Vegetable Curry
Four years ago: Fruit Bruschetta

Key Lime Cheesecake
Key Lime Cheesecake (from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

I used Key limes, but you can certainly use regular (Persian) limes instead.

The recipe calls for an 8- or 8½-inch round springform pan, but if you only have the more common 9-inch springform pan, you can certainly use that. I made a half recipe, split between a 5-inch round pan and a 3.5-inch round pan.

Crust:
12 whole graham crackers
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Lime custard:
6 large egg yolks
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
6 tablespoons fresh Key lime juice
1 teaspoon grated Key lime zest

Filling:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh Key lime juice
1 tablespoon grated Key lime zest

Topping:
1 (16-ounce container) sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar

1. For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8- to 8½-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Wrap a layer of foil around the outside of the pan. Place the springform pan in a large baking pan with at least 2-inch sides. Bring 6 cups of water to a simmer; cover to keep warm.

2. In a food processor, process the graham crackers, sugar, and salt until evenly ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Press the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until fragrant and browning slightly around the edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, maintaining the oven temperature.

3. For the lime custard: In the top of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, lime juice and zest. Cook, whisking frequently, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes.

4. For the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugar, salt, and lime zest; beat until light, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until each addition is incorporated. Add the lime juice, blending well.

5. Scrape the lime custard over the crust, spreading it into an even layer. Spoon the cream cheese filling over the custard. Add enough of the hot water to the larger baking pan to come 1 inch up the sides of the cheesecake pan. Bake until the middle of the cheesecake is almost set, but not puffed and center moves slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 45 minutes.

6. For the topping: Stir the sour cream and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl to blend.

7. Remove the hot cheesecake from the oven, leaving it in the baking pan. Carefully spoon the sour cream mixture over the hot cheesecake; let it set a few seconds to soften, then smooth it into an even layer. Bake the cheesecake for 10 more minutes. Transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight. (Can be made 2 days ahead.) Release the pan sides from cheesecake; serve.

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