chocolate hazelnut tarte soleil

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After the last two years, I feel like I have a certain standard to uphold for my contribution to the office holiday potluck. However, there was simply no time this year for a time-consuming project. I needed to find a recipe that looked like a showstopper but didn’t require the work of one.

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Two ingredients? This recipe fit the bill. Although, since, where I live, I can’t buy puff pastry made with real butter, I did make my own. (I used this recipe; while I think this one puffs more and isn’t much, if any, more effort, I didn’t have the mental fortitude for the multiple steps, even if each step takes just a minute or two.) In another life (like one before this), I would have made my own chocolate hazelnut spread too, but for once, I managed to be reasonable and bought this instead. As I’d hoped, It was more chocolately and less sweet than Nutella, although it still wasn’t particularly nutty.

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Okay, so this wasn’t as visually impressive as a foot-tall cake. But it’s pretty, and it tasted just as good as those past projects. It was flaky and buttery, chocolately without being too sweet. At this point in my life, it was perfect.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tarte Soleil (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

2 (1-pound sheets) thawed puff pastry dough
½ cup Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. On a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone mat, roll one sheet of puff pastry dough into an approximate 12-inch circle. Use a 12-inch round plate or bowl as a guide to cut a 12-inch circle into the dough.

2. Spread the filling in an even layer over the round of puff pastry dough, leaving the outer 1-inch of the circle bare.

3. Repeat the rolling and cutting of the second portion of puff pastry dough to form another 12-inch round. Transfer this portion of dough to the top of the Nutella-covered puff pastry round, aligning it with the bottom ricle.

4. Place a small round cup or dish in the center of the circle, pressing it lightly to form a visual indentation without pressing through the dough. Remove the cup. Use a pizza roller to cut slits into the dough from the edge to the center circle. Each slit should be about an inch apart on the outer edge of the dough round, for a total of about 32 slits. Once all the slits are cut, pick up the outer edge of each segment while pressing gently on the center edge of the segment. Twist a couple times; repeat with all segments.

5. Transfer the pastry, still on the parchment paper or silicone mat, to a baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until browned. Transfer the tart, still on the pan, to a cooling rack and allow to cool for ten minutes. Slide the tart onto a serving plate. Serve immediately or within about twelve hours.

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white chocolate macadamia nut cookies

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I’m behind on Christmas. I’ve been behind on everything since Thanksgiving. Every one of the baby’s naptimes through the weekend are currently booked with baking plans, and once that’s done, I’ll start preparing for our trip to visit family over the holidays. And at some point, I should probably buy some presents.

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These aren’t on my Christmas baking list, but maybe I should rethink that. I’d always considered white chocolate macadamia cookies bland before these – white chocolate mostly just tasting sweet, and macadamia nuts mostly just seeming rich and fatty without offering much flavor. But the addition of cream cheese adds some tanginess to counter the sweetness. The milk powder keeps the cookies soft and tender.

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They’re straightforward to make; browning the butter adds an extra step, but it isn’t a difficult one. With a long shelf-life, they can hold up to being shipped to your friends and family across the country. Most importantly, they’re one of the best cookies I made last year.

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White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
(rewritten but not adapted from Joy the Baker)

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup instant milk powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
2 cups coarsely chopped white chocolate

1. In a medium not-nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt 8 tablespoons of the butter. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until the milk solids brown and sink and the butter smells nutty. Immediately remove it from the heat and pour the butter into a heatproof bowl. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, milk powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Break the eggs into a small measuring cup, whisk them lightly, and mix in the vanilla.

2. Place the cream cheese and the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the butter and cream cheese are smooth, then add the salt and both sugars. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the browned butter and beat until evenly combined. With the mixer running, gradually add the egg mixture. Once the eggs have been added, scrape the sides of the bowl once, then continue mixing on medium speed for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing it’s mostly combined. Add the nuts and chocolate and mix until the flour is completely incorporated and the nuts and chocolate are evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are browned around the edges and do not look wet on top, 8 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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apple cranberry pie

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It’s not like me to be still tweaking my menu just a few days before Thanksgiving. I even had to rework my timeline as a result! But the change made my timeline simpler with more reasonable expectations of what I can fit in my oven at once (i.e., not four casseroles, rolls, and a tray of roasting vegetables).

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If you, too, are still looking for recipes, this is one worth adding. It’s a nice variation from a strictly traditional apple pie, while still within the Thanksgiving theme of fall ingredients and, of course, pie. Plus, both of the fillings and the dough for the crust can be made a couple days before the holiday, which is always an advantage when you’re trying to serve a huge meal to a crowd.

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Cranberries and apples, both sweet and tart, accented by flaky pastry, are a great combination. Hopefully you’re a step ahead and already have your turkey salting, your cranberry sauce in the refrigerator, and your pies chosen. If not, this one is a great addition to your holiday.

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Apple-Cranberry Pie (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes one 9-inch pie

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
¼ cup orange juice
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon for top of pie
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3½ pounds sweet apples (6 to 7 medium), such as Golden Delicious or Braeburn, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
pie dough for double-crust pie
1 egg white, beaten lightly

1. Bring the cranberries, juice, ½ cup sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally and pressing the berries against the side of the pot, until the berries have completely broken down and the juices have thickened to a jamlike consistency (a wooden spoon scraped across the bottom should leave a clear trail that doesn’t fill in), 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in water, and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. (Can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

2. Meanwhile, mix ½ cup sugar, the remaining ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and the cornstarch in a large microwave-safe bowl; add the apples and toss to combine. Microwave on high power, stirring with a rubber spatula every 3 minutes, until the apples are just starting to turn translucent around the edges and the liquid is thick and glossy, 10 to 14 minutes. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. (Can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

3. While the fillings cool, adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on the oven rack, and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll it out on a floured work surface to a 12-inch circle about ⅛- inch thick. Roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin and unroll it into a pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang. Ease the dough into the plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into the plate bottom with the other hand. Leave the dough that overhangs the plate in place; refrigerate until the dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

4. Transfer the cooled cranberry mixture to the dough-lined pie plate and spread into an even layer. Place the apple mixture on top of the cranberries, mounding slightly in the center; push down any sharp apple edges.

5. Roll the second disk of dough on a floured work surface to a 12-inch circle about ⅛-inch thick. Roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin and unroll over the pie, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side.

6. Using kitchen shears, cut evenly through both layers of overhanging dough, leaving a ½-inch overhang. Fold the dough under itself so that the edge of the fold is flush with the outer rim of the pie plate. Flute the edges using a thumb and forefinger or press with the tines of a fork to seal. Brush the top and edges of the pie with egg white and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon sugar. Using a sharp paring knife, cut four 1½-inch slits in the top of the dough in a cross pattern.

7. Place the pie on the preheated baking sheet and bake until the top is light golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, rotate the baking sheet, and continue to bake until the crust is deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool at least 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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easy foolproof pie dough

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If you eat the filling and leave the thick edge of your pie crust on the plate, you’re making your pie crust wrong. Your pie crust should be crisp, browned, and flaky. Just a little bit sweet so it goes with the fruity filling, rich and buttery. Pie crust isn’t better than the filling, but it isn’t worse either, and every bit of it, including the thick crimped edges, is necessary to balance all the filling.

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I’ve tried some of those creative additions (sour cream, vodka), but mostly, I’ve stuck with a traditional crust recipe – butter is cut into flour, salt, and a smidge of sugar, then water is added until it just comes together. But I had a bad habit of adding too much water, so it wasn’t foolproof for me. No one complained; it was still tastier and flakier than a store-bought crust, but it tended to slump when baked.

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I don’t consider myself an amateur pie crust maker at this point, but apparently I still needed something foolproof. This recipe solves my problem. The butter is processed into a portion of the flour, not until it’s broken up into pea-sized bits, but until it’s a crumbly, homogeneous mixture. Then the rest of the flour and some water is mixed in.

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After resting, the dough rolls out smoothly and trouble-free, without ripping or cracking. You can freeze it either before or after rolling. Then it bakes up golden, puffy, light, crisp. It’s everything you want from a pie crust, just easier to make. It definitely holds its own against any filling.

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Easy Pie Dough (not really adapted from The Food Lab)

My butter cubes came straight from the freezer, which might be why it took a lot more than 25 pulses for the dough to form clumps.

2½ cups (12.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
20 tablespoons butter (2½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
6 tablespoons cold water

1. Combine two thirds of flour with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Spread the butter evenly over flour mix; pulse until no dry flour remains and the dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with the remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer the dough to a large bowl.

2. Sprinkle with the water, then, using a rubber spatula, fold and press the dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide in half and form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.

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bittersweet chocolate pumpkin tart

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This is the perfect pumpkin dessert for people who don’t like pumpkin desserts. There’s so much more chocolate than pumpkin, and chocolate has a stronger flavor than pumpkin, that this is a rich, silky chocolate tart that you can get away with serving for Thanksgiving because there’s a token scoop of pumpkin in the filling.

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It’s not hard to make, with a press-in crumb crust and a simple whisked filling. I made it on the spur of the moment when the baby’s nap went long. It also works out well for Thanksgiving because it can be made a couple days in advance.

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A friend told me that although she doesn’t like pumpkin desserts, she loved this one. Well sure, that’s because the pumpkin is buried under half a pound of chocolate. This is a pumpkin tart in name only, but that’s all you need for it to fit into your Thanksgiving menu.

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Bittersweet Chocolate Pumpkin Tart (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

I chopped the chocolate in the food processor, then transferred it to a bowl, before making the crust in the food processor. I toasted the pecans by spreading them in a single layer on a plate and microwaving for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. I’m sure this can be made in a pie pan instead of a tart pan.

For the crust:
8 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
½ cup pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ cup whole milk
8 ounces bittersweet (60-70%) chocolate, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅔ cup pumpkin purée
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon bourbon (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
cocoa (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a 9-inch round or equivalently-sized tart pan with a removable bottom on a baking sheet.

2. In a food processor, process the cookies and pecans until finely ground. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt; pulse to combine. Add the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the mixture to the tart pan; press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, or until fragrant. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool slightly. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

3. In a small saucepan over medium-high, heat the cream and milk until just simmering. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until broken up. Add the spices, pumpkin, sugar, and salt. Whisk in the chocolate mixture, then the bourbon or vanilla.

5. Spread the filling evenly in the baked tart shell. Transfer the tart pan on the baking sheet to the oven. Bake until the filling barely jiggles, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. The tart can be covered and chilled for several days. Serve at room temperature. If desired, dust with cocoa just before serving.

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blueberry and cream cookies

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This is usually my view while baking lately. I like it, except for the constant challenge of keeping the baby from grabbing the spatula, or sticking her hands in the way of the mixer paddle, or kicking a bowl full of eggs. Also, I’ve been guilty of dripping batter on her head while grabbing a spoonful to taste.

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It’s best if I just wait until nap time to put things in the oven or take them out, although in a pinch, I’ve found I can tilt her away from the oven and hold her limbs down when one hand while I grab a hot baking pan with the other. This recipe, then, is perhaps not the best choice for baking with the baby, since it has an extra oven step of making milk crumbs by toasting a combination of dried milk powder, sugar, flour, and butter.

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After that, it’s mixed like a standard cookie, with the sugar creamed into the butter, the egg beaten in, and the dry ingredients added at the end. Then, the dough is scooped for baking, except you don’t bake it then. It needs to chill before baking to reduce how much the cookies spread. Then, when the baby is sleeping, or sitting on the floor putting things in her mouth, or jumping like a crazy person in her bouncer, you can finally put the cookies in the oven, and shortly afterward, enjoy a soft and sweet cookie, studded with tart bits of blueberries.

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Blueberry and Cream Cookies (adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuko Milk Bar via Bon Appetit)

I did not chill my dough overnight. I left it in the fridge for a couple hours, just until it was cold. It seemed fine.

Milk Crumbs:
6 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
¼ cup all purpose flour
1½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
⅓ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cookies:
2⅔ cups (12.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cups (5.25 ounces) sugar
¾ cups (5.25 ounces) brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 large egg
Milk crumbs
1 cup dried blueberries

1. For the milk crumbs: Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a small bowl, combine the milk powder, flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt; toss to mix evenly. Add the butter; stir with fork until clusters form. Spread the mixture evenly on the prepared sheet. Bake until the crumbs are dry and crumbly but still pale, about 10 minutes, stirring twice during baking. Cool completely on the sheet. (The crumbs can be made 1 week ahead. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

2. For the cookies: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter, sugars, and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the corn syrup, then the egg, beating until the mixture is very pale, about 10 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Add the milk crumbs and blueberries; mix on low speed just until evenly combined. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 2 days.

3. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are golden, 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookies.

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raspberry cream cheese brownies

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My mom has a new favorite dessert, and I am not surprised. The two of us have been big fans of the chocolate/cheesecake/raspberry combination since I was in high school and she was a teacher, and we took a day of our spring break to check out the new mall across town. My clearest memory from that day is sharing a slice of chocolate raspberry cheesecake. A few weeks later, I drove back out to that mall to pick up another slice to give her for Mother’s Day. When my mom developed her own chocolate raspberry cheesecake recipe, it became one of my most-requested birthday cakes.

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So when I made these brownies, I was sure to save her a piece. It did not occur to me to also save my dad a piece, and since my mom was nice enough to share, she really only got a nibble. Fortunately, that nibble was enough to convince her to make them herself just a few days later.

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The raspberry jam is both mixed into the chocolate portion and swirled into the cheesecake batter, so it isn’t just a pretty red swirl; the flavor stands out in every bite, vying for attention with the rich chocolate and tangy cheesecake. This is a well-deserved favorite.

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Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies (from Cook’s Illustrated’s Summer Entertaining via Pink Parsley)

Filling:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1 egg yolk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Brownies:
⅔ cup (3.35 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup raspberry jam
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil. leaving the excess hanging over the edges. Grease foil. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. Set aside.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Microwave the chocolate and butter in a large bowl, stirring after every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth. Whisk in ¼ cup jam and allow the mixture to cool slightly. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla to the chocolate mixture, and stir until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until just incorporated.

3. Microwave the remaining ¼ cup jam until warm, about 30 seconds, and stir until smooth. Scrape half the brownie batter into the prepared baking dish. Dollop the cream cheese by the spoonful over the batter, and spread into an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of warm jam over the cream cheese, and use the tip of a knife to swirl jam through the filling. Spread the remaining batter evenly over the filling.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few dry crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Using the foil overhang, lift the brownies from the pan and cut into squares.

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belgian brownie bites

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I know I titled these tiny brownies ‘bites’, but that doesn’t mean I think they should actually be eaten in one bite. Something this rich and chocolately should be savored, at least to my mind. Dave, however, popped them whole into his mouth.

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These are so rich that tiny mini-muffin cup servings really are appropriate. With just a smidgen of flour for almost half a pound each of chocolate, butter, and sugar, they’re almost mousse-like.

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For me, that means I enjoy them slowly, relishing each decadent nibble. I guess for others, one bite is the way to go. Either way, they’re so good that it’ll be hard to resist another.

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Belgian Brownies Bites (rewritten but not really adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

24 mini muffin-sized bites or 12 regular muffin-sized brownies

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon flour

1. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter; stir occasionally until the chocolate is smooth, then remove from the heat. (The chocolate and butter can also be melted on 50% power in the microwave, stopping to stir every thirty seconds or so.) Whisk in the sugar and salt until smooth, then add the eggs one at a time, whisking until incorporated before adding the next. Gently whisk in the flour. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a mini muffin pan (or regular muffin pan) with oil.

3. Divide the batter between 24 mini muffin cups (or 12 regular muffin cups). Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a brownies comes out dry or with a few moist crumbs attached, about 16 minutes (26 minutes for regular muffin cups). Transfer to a cooling rack for approximately 5 minutes, then remove brownies from the pan to cool completely on a rack.

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cheesecake thumbprint cookies

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You’d think that since I’m home all day for a few months, I’d be more likely to get recipes out of my cookbooks instead of the internet. I certainly thought I would, especially considering that I keep making New Year’s resolutions to use my cookbooks more often. However, at home as well as at work, the internet beckons and my cookbook shelf goes mostly ignored.

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But clearly, there is good stuff on that shelf that is being missed. This recipe might have caught my eye online, but I wonder if I would have then looked for something similar but more familiar. With such a small amount of sugar in the cookie portion, this was just a little out of my comfort zone.

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I stuck to the recipe though, and I’m glad I did. While the base was, as expected, not too sweet, it wasn’t too unsweet either. Maybe that helps to highlight the cheesecake portion, which, cheesecake being one of my favorite foods, is my favorite part. This is a great reminder of why I keep telling myself that I should use those cookbooks; maybe this time it will stick.

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Cheesecake Thumbprints (rewritten from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar, divided
¼ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
2 large egg yolks, divided
1½ teaspoons sour cream or greek yogurt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour

1. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar, a pinch of salt, one egg yolk, the sour cream or greek yogurt, and vanilla extract; mix until smooth. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

3. In a large bowl, mix the butter, ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt until smooth. Add the other egg yolk and mix until blended, then add the flour and mix on low speed until just combined.

4. Form the dough into balls approximately 1-inch in diameter and place on the prepared baking sheets. Use the round back of a spoon or your finger (I used a round teaspoon measuring spoon) to press indentations in the middle of each ball of dough.

5. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the pans from the oven and press down the indentations again (I used a tablespoon measuring spoon this time). Return the pans to the oven and bake until the edges of the cookies begin to brown, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer the pans to wire racks; let the cookies cool completely.

6. When the cookies are cooled, spoon the cheesecake filling into the indentations. Return the cookies to the oven and bake until the filling is set, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Chill the cookies at least 4 hours (or overnight) before serving.

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strawberry and chocolate cupcakes

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There were probably better things I could have been doing with my time instead of making fancy cupcakes. Surely I should be focusing on easier, more straightforward treats right now. Even better, I had planned to get the flower garden ready for spring that Sunday afternoon. Or I could clean my house. Instead, I couldn’t resist the siren call of my mixer, plus butter, sugar, and flour.

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It went about how most things do these days: I thought I’d have enough time to get the batters made and the cupcakes in the oven, but the baby woke up earlier than expected. Once she’d eaten and we gave her a bath and read a few books to her, I hurried back to finish the cupcakes while Dave took a turn trying to get her to sleep. Then he removed the cupcakes from the pan while I took my turn trying to get her to sleep.

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Baking, frosting, and garnishing cupcakes all in one day is nearly impossible right now, at least if I want to do anything else with my time, like dress the baby up in silly outfits and take pictures. I packed the cupcakes away overnight, then got halfway through making the frosting the next morning when the baby woke up earlier than expected. (The baby almost always wakes up earlier than expected, unless she sleeps for hours longer than expected.)

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Fortunately, I was able to finish the toppings when Dave came home for lunch. He took most of the cupcakes to share at work, and I stashed a couple away for a well-deserved treat for myself. I’ll work in the garden next week (unless I find another fun dessert to bake instead).

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Strawberry Chocolate Cupcakes (cake recipes are both adapted from Alyssa Huntsman’s and Peter Wynne’s Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes via Smitten Kitchen; chocolate frosting is from Martha Stewart)

Makes 24 cupcakes

I’m years overdue for a thorough chocolate cupcake comparison, but right now, I’m really happy with this recipe. It’s chocolately, tender, and moist.

A friend gave me this fun cupcake batter divider, but I’m sure you can just simultaneously spoon both batters into the cups.

Strawberry cake:
1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1¾ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup pureed frozen strawberries (from about 5 ounces of strawberries)
3 egg whites
3½ tablespoons milk
1 drop red food dye, optional

Chocolate cake:
1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
½ cup (1.5 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 egg
½ cup freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature

Frosting and garnish:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
pinch salt
½ cup sour cream
12 strawberries, halved through the stem

1. 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.

2. For the strawberry cake: Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With an electric mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and strawberry puree and mix to blend, then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, milk, and red food dye, if using. Add the egg white mixture to the batter in two or three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate after each addition. Set aside.

4. For the chocolate cake: In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. With an electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition.

6. Simultaneously spoon the two batters into each cupcake well, filling them about two-thirds full. 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 the rack.

7. For the frosting: Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Set aside to cool until just barely warm.

8. In a large mixer bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Gradually mix in the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate and then the sour cream. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Frost cupcakes immediately. Top each cupcake with a strawberry half.

strawberry chocolate cupcakes 5