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.

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rhubarb sour cream pound cake

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The newborn stage hit all of us hard – including the baby, who apparently found life outside the womb to be unsatisfactory. I was grateful for a freezer full of dinners, although I did manage to do some simple baking – chocolate chip cookies, pound cake. My favorite recipes, made almost more for the comfort of going through the motions, of feeling like me, than to have a delicious dessert to share and enjoy.

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I’m hesitant to put this in writing, but things are a little better now. We’ve figured out how to calm the baby’s cries (usually), she smiles and even sometimes coos, and we’ve learned to adapt to a routine where nothing is really routine. For example, I learned the hard way, when a pissed off hungry baby had to wait to eat until the cookies I’d just put in the oven were done baking, that I can’t bake unless Dave is home to take things out of the oven if necessary. Also, it’s best if I divide up the baking as much as possible; for one cake I made recently, I had the measured dry ingredients and the baking pan sitting by the mixer for almost a week until I finally got a chance to mix it all together.

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This cake was slightly more impromptu, only because the days before I baked it had gone so fast I couldn’t make time to prepare the ingredients. Fortunately, the baby had a particularly sleepy day on the last day of the weekend, and I was able to mix and bake a cake. She woke up hungry when I was doing the final mixing of the dough, so Dave did his best to soothe her while I rushed to get the cake in the oven. I left myself a bit of batter in the mixing bowl to enjoy after the nursing session. After this last month, I definitely deserve a treat.

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Rhubarb Sour Cream Pound Cake (rewritten and slightly adapted from Cook’s Country)

16 servings

The original recipe is for cranberries (fresh or frozen), but I’ve found that rhubarb and cranberries are interchangeable in baked recipes like this. I also doubled the recipe so I could bake it in a bundt pan instead of a loaf pan.

10 large eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3½ cups (17.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ plus ¼ teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅔ cup sour cream
½ cup milk
28 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2½ cups (17.5 ounces) granulated sugar
2 cups (8 ounces) finely diced rhubarb
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour (or spray with baking spray) a 12-cup bundt pan. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, 1½ teaspoons salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and milk.

2. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add the granulated sugar, then increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue to beat for another 3-4 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium; gradually add the egg mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue to mix on medium speed until evenly mixed; the mixture will probably look curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the sour cream mixture, another third of the flour, the remaining sour cream, and the remaining flour. Mix until almost combined, with a few streaks of flour remaining.

3. Toss the rhubarb with the powdered sugar and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Add the rhubarb to the batter and use a large rubber spatula to fold it in until the rhubarb is evenly incorporated and the batter is thoroughly mixed. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 1½ to 2 hours. Transfer to a wire rack; cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto the rack. Cool the cake completely, about two hours, before serving. Tightly wrapped, the cooled cake can be stored for up to three days.

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passion fruit meringue tart

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My original goal was to post this before Valentine’s Day – passion fruit, get it? But instead, I had a baby just a few days before that. And despite what everyone had told me about how difficult the newborn stage is, I’m surprised to find the newborn stage is, indeed, difficult. It seems like most of my days are spent bouncing on an exercise ball, as that’s the best way to keep this tiny creature from screaming in my ear.

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Needless to say, I haven’t been doing much cooking. I’m thankful to JanuaryMe for providing a very well-stocked freezer, not to mention all the other people who have cooked meals for us. Dave and I take turns eating while the other bounces.

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However, today, I baked a cake! A simple cake that I prepped as much as possible yesterday, but I still got to turn butter, sugar, and flour into a sweet treat. It was glorious.

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Still, I think it’s going to be a while before I make a dessert that involves multiple components. This tart is back from my friend’s cancelled party. I took it to work instead, but not before setting aside a slice for myself. It was such a great combination of tart filling and sweet topping, creamy curd and crisp crust. I’m looking forward to stable days of getting back into more elaborate baking, but for now, I’m grateful for any quality time I get to spend with my mixer.

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Passion Fruit Meringue Tart (crust recipe from Dorie Greenspan)

8-12 servings

I get passion fruit concentrate from amazon.

Crust:
1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk

Passion fruit curd:
4 large eggs
3 egg yolks
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
¾ cup passion fruit concentrate
6 tablespoons cold butter
¼ teaspoon vanilla
⅛ teaspoon salt

Meringue:
4 large egg whites, room temperature
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

1. For the crust: Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut, with some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk with a fork and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Process in long pulses until the dough forms clumps and curds; the sound of the machine working will change. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl to incorporate any unmixed dry ingredients.

2. Grease a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking.

3. Center a rack in the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with nonstick spray and fit the foil, oiled side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for about 8 more minutes, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

4. For the curd: Heat the passion fruit juice in a double boiler until hot but not boiling. Whisk the eggs and yolks in a medium nonreactive bowl; gradually whisk in the sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot passion fruit juice into the eggs, then return the mixture to the double boiler and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the mixture registers 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to cling to a spoon, about 3 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cold butter until it’s incorporated; stir in the vanilla and salt, then pour the curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium nonreactive bowl. Spread the curd evenly over the prepared crust.

5. For the meringue: Beat egg whites until frothy. Beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; until sugar is incorporated and mixture forms soft peaks. Add vanilla and salt; continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks.

6. Pipe the meringue over the curd. Use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue. Serve immediately or chill for up 8 hours.

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confetti cake

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Because I don’t have enough to keep me busy between a house under construction and lugging around ten pounds of belly, I thought it would be a good idea to make my own baby shower cake too. What can I say? No one in my town can make a cake as delicious as I can.

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Plus it was fun to choose my own flavors and design. Somehow in the three big cakes I’ve made previously, I’ve never made a chocolate cake, which needed to be remedied. Two of the three other cakes I’ve made had additional frosting in between the layers, and I wanted to use a different filling. All of the cakes, including this one, used cream cheese frosting, because there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken.

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Photo by Lisa Watson

The blackberry cake has been a favorite since I made it for a bridal shower, and then a few weeks later, for my birthday. The confetti cake I first tried right after one of the big baby shower cakes last summer. I found out about my friend/coworker/husband’s boss’s (who was also my baby shower host, who also took a lot of the pictures in this post) birthday just one day beforehand, and it was a big one, so it couldn’t be ignored. Even though I was feeling a little caked out, I loved this cake so much that I had two pieces and have been thinking about it since.

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Photo by Lisa Watson

I assumed baking a tiered cake at 8-months pregnant would be a challenge, so I baked and froze the cake layers in December, in the 2-week window that we were home between drying out the house and when we moved out for construction to begin. It turns out that the big belly was the least of my issues; I did not expect to be working around contractors in a corner of the kitchen uncovered of plastic and washed of paint residue, but with my mom there to help, we actually got the cake finished in time to take Dave out for a birthday lunch before the shower.

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Photo by Lisa Watson

I kept the design simple, but it fit in perfectly with the rustic decorations at my shower, which I loved. As a bonus, I didn’t have to do the worst part, the cutting of the cake. I asked a friend to do that while I gushed over adorable tiny pink clothes. Even better, I got to take home the leftovers – which made a great lunch, snack, and dessert the next day as we continued to coast through this crazy time in our lives as best we can.

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Confetti Cake (from Cook’s Country)

12-16 servings

Cook’s Country recommends pulsing a portion of the sprinkles in the food processor, but I’ve never bothered. I filled the cake with raspberry filling and topped with cream cheese frosting.

6 large egg whites, room temperature
⅔ cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
1½ (10 ounces) cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, softened
¾ cup rainbow sprinkles

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray (or grease and flour the pans). Line with parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.

2. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed for about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, add the butter, one piece at a time, until it is incorporated and the mixture looks like moist crumbs. Add all but ½ cup of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1½ minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup of the milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of bowl. Add the sprinkles, return the mixer to medium speed (or high for a handheld mixer) and beat 20 seconds longer.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 21 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Invert and turn out the cakes onto wire racks; peel off the paper liners. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least one hour.

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Photo by Lisa Watson

salted chocolate caramels

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It might be silly, but one of the things I was the most upset about when my house got flooded was that I wouldn’t be able to do all of the Christmas baking I’d planned. I didn’t enjoy sharing a hotel room with two cats who take out their anxiety by playing in the litter box in the middle of the night, I don’t like the concrete floors in my house, and I wish my favorite black boots hadn’t been among the many casualties, but it was the baking that I kept coming back to. I started planning my holiday baking in October; I remember trying to order packaging and not being able to find anything but Halloween themes. (I did order packaging in early November, but it unfortunately was another casualty and had to be reordered.)

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But a little flood damage can’t hold me back. The weekend we were stuck in a hotel while contractors tore out our carpet and cut the bottom two feet from all the walls, a friend of ours was going out of town and was generous enough to give us the keys to his house. His kitchen didn’t give me much to work with – I was able to carve out just a few square feet of workspace – but when there’s a will, there’s a way. In that tiny kitchen, I baked cranberry-orange bread, mocha biscotti, and lemon spritz wreaths, which actually put me ahead of the schedule I’d originally planned for the month.

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We’ve now spent two weeks at home in our torn up house before construction starts, and I was able to make almost everything else I’d planned, including a tiered Christmas tree cake for the office holiday party, which I got the idea for all the way back in the summer. (Fortunately, the cakes were already baked and in the freezer, but decorating it was not trivial.) These caramels were the last treat I needed to make, and I had the recipe picked before I read the very mixed reviews – about half of the reviewers raved, but the other half had massive failures. I had neither the time nor the mental fortitude for a failure.

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Fortunately, the recipe came together perfectly. I wasn’t expecting it to take quite so long for the chocolate-caramel mixture to reach the right temperature, but I knew how important that was, since most of the problems people had were with the consistency of the final caramels, which is based on that temperature. Another problem I read about was butter separating from the caramel mixture after it had hardened. I remembered all of the pan sauce recipes that specifically call for cold butter because it emulsifies better and was sure to keep my butter, cut into tiny cubes, in the fridge until I was ready for it. I don’t know if it was that, or if the universe is just cutting me a break after a rough month, but I’m grateful for a recipe that came together easily and flawlessly, so I was able to finish my holiday baking and enjoy the part of the season I was looking forward to the most.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Salted Caramels (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

64-96 candies, depending on how you cut them

Here’s what I’ve changed: reducing the final temperature to 246 degrees, based on many reviews that said their candies were too hard at 255 degrees; keeping the butter cold before adding it; and putting more salt into the mixture and less salt on top.

2 cups heavy cream
10½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) granulated sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon flaky salt, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch diced, cold

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch square pan with two sheets of crisscrossed parchment paper.

2. In a 1- or 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Let set for 1 minute, then stir the cream and chocolate together until evenly mixed.

3. In a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat the medium. Simmer, occasionally swirling the pan or stirring with a metal spoon, until the mixture is reddish-amber in color. Immediately add the chocolate mixture; the caramel with bubble vigorously. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring very frequently, until the mixture reads 146-148 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter.

4. Immediately pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let set for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with flaky salt. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving. Wrapped tightly, the caramels with keep for about 2 weeks.

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mocha biscotti

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My brother isn’t a coffee drinker, but when he travels with me and Dave, he indulges our desire for fancy coffee every morning. In Oregon last fall, he tried a variety of drinks, from the oversugared coffee slushy to a fancy shakerato. He was just going along with the crowd though; none of the drinks seemed to impress him.

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In Iceland this summer, however, he settled on one drink, getting a swiss mocha every day with our morning pastries. I hadn’t tried a mocha since high school, but these were good – the bitter espresso balances the sweet hot cocoa. My favorite has always been a good cappuccino, but I even ordered my own mocha one afternoon.

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Coffee is often added to chocolate desserts to enhance the chocolate flavor, but it was the coffee that I wanted to stand out here. With plenty of espresso powder and a shot of Kahlua, I think I succeeded. Even a non-coffee drinker would like these – although my brother can no longer count himself in that crowd, because now he makes mochas a regular treat even when he’s not on vacation.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Mocha Biscotti

Makes about 40 biscotti

3¼ cups (15.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Kahlua or coffee liqueur
4 teaspoons espresso powder
6 ounces (about 1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
3 ounces (about ⅔ cup) slivered almonds

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Break the eggs into a small bowl or measuring cup, but do not whisk them together.

2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, heat the butter until it’s just melted. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, then the salt, vanilla, Kahlua, and espresso powder. Stir in the egg yolks, then the egg whites, reserving about 1 tablespoon of egg white to use for an egg wash. Stir in the flour mixture until almost combined, then add the chocolate and almonds, folding until evenly combined and there are no pockets of dry flour.

3. Divide the dough into two portions and shape each into a log that is 2-inches wide and as long as your baking sheet. The dough is very sticky; it’s easiest to use a spatula and butter knife to push the dough into position instead of trying to use your hands.

4. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until just golden, 30-35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the loaves cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then use two spatulas to transfer the loaves from the pan to the cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

5. Place an oven-proof cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut the loaves into ½-inch slices, on the diagonal if desired. Transfer half of the biscotti to the cooling rack in the pan, spaced about ¼-inch apart. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the edges just start to brown. (This baking step is to crisp the biscotti, but they’ll still feel somewhat soft when they’re hot.) Repeat with the remaining biscotti. (You can bake all of the biscotti at once if two pans fit on one level in your oven or if you have cooling racks that stack.) Let the biscotti cool completely on the rack before serving.

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maple nutmeg cookies

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There are more practical things I could be doing with my time, but none of them are as fun as baking cookies. This is why I have three types of Christmas cookie dough and a Christmas cake in my freezer. Plus I’ll be 8 months pregnant at Christmas, and I never know when my body is going to cry uncle and let me know that I can’t keep up my normal level of activity indefinitely.

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I have five more holiday treats planned (plus decorating that cake in the freezer), which seemed ambitious until I talked to someone who makes at least twenty types of cookies every December. Still, the only way I can get it all done and still enjoy my life is by spacing it out, and I have so many plans this year that my holiday baking spilled over into November. This is not a hardship, as I’m not sad about having more excuses to play with butter and sugar, even if it does mean using red and green food coloring before Thanksgiving.

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With no food coloring here, these cookies work for either holiday. They’re simple but not plain, as the maple flavor really is evident. Cutting them into fall leaves makes them seem more appropriate for Thanksgiving, but they’re going in my Christmas care packages anyway – along with at least five other treats.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Nutmeg Maple Cookies (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

Yield depends on size of cutters used; I made at least a hundred 1-inch cookies (which took forever)

I can’t find Grade B maple syrup where I live, but I do have maple sugar in the pantry, so I substituted 2 tablespoons of that for an equal amount of granulated sugar. The original recipe suggests adding a few drops of maple extract, if you’re more likely to have that around than maple sugar. I also considered starting with a couple extra tablespoons of Grade A maple syrup and simmering it down to ½ cup; if you do this, be sure to let it cool to room temperature before adding it to the dough.

I substituted some brown sugar for white sugar and added vanilla to the original recipe, because I thought both would help bring out the maple flavor.

I know it’s annoying to chill the dough and then have to wait for it to soften up again after chilling, but it’s so soft at room temperature that there’s no way you’d be able to transfer the cut shapes to a baking sheet. You could, however, roll it out immediately after mixing (you’d need a pretty big area) and refrigerate it until it hardens enough to cut and transfer, which would only take 15 minutes or so. I often do this with the scraps.

I tried baking the cookies for 8 minutes and for 10 minutes. The cookies baked for 8 minutes were just a bit chewy. The cookies baked for 10 minutes were crunchy, which isn’t usually my preference but was nice here. If you want your cookies softer, increase the brown sugar to ½ cup and decrease the granulated sugar to ½ cup and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the tops looks dry but the edges aren’t browned.

3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon table salt
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) light brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
½ cup Grade B maple syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and nutmeg. Place the 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) and beat on medium-low speed until it’s smooth. Add the salt and both sugars and 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 egg yolk and mix until fully incorporated, then, with the mixer running, gradually add the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or up to two days.

2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

3. If chilled for longer than 2 hours, let the dough sit at room temperature until it’s just soft enough to roll out. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of ⅛-inch. Use floured cookie cutters to cut shapes; transfer the shapes to the prepared pans. Re-roll and cut shapes from the scraps, using as little flour as possible.

4. Bake the cookies until the just golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack cool completely.

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marbled pumpkin cheesecake tart

pumpkin cheesecake tart 6

I’m finding that I don’t prefer eating the desserts I bring to events at the events I bring them to. For one thing, by the time I’m finished baking them, I’ve been surrounded by sugar for so long that I’ve lost interest in eating it. For another, and this is surely the real issue, I’ve usually spent the whole party grazing on the food that the host or other guests have provided, and I’m simply out of room for dessert.

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I haven’t figured out just what to do about this yet. When I brought the chocolate port wine cake to a crowded party, I didn’t think the host would notice that a slice was already taken out (for pictures! and to save for later), but much to my embarrassment, she most definitely did. I’ve taken to bringing a container with me and sneaking – or openly snagging, depending on how friendly I am with the host – a piece to bring home. Every bite of that treat will be savored over my tea the next morning, far more than if I tried to stuff in more food after gorging on stuffed jalapenos.

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This was a classic example. I brought it to a party last year, set it on the dessert table already crowded with cookies and cupcakes, then went outside to drink cocktails and eat pulled pork. One of my friends makes green chile cheese rice for most potlucks, and it’s one of my favorites, so that was my dish to overeat that night. After several servings, I was in no mood for a slice of tart.

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But I hadn’t yet established my policy of bringing a slice home for the next day, so I stuffed some down without the wherewithal to gauge flavor and texture details. So then I had to make it again. This time I just brought it to work, and after all the treats I’ve shared there, no one would begrudge me a tart with one slice removed. This time I got to eat it at home by myself after the workday; it isn’t as good as a weekend morning after a party, but at least I paid attention to how good it was this time.

pumpkin cheesecake tart 5.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

8-12 servings

The original version of this recipe has a full cup of cream in the pumpkin batter and none in the cheesecake batter. On her blog’s cookbook page, Deb mentions that she’s received feedback that the two batters were difficult to swirl together due to their different consistencies, so she recommends using two tablespoons of cream in the cheesecake batter and ⅞ cup (which is 1 cup minus those 2 tablespoons) in the pumpkin batter. I found that using a little more cream in the cheesecake batter and less in the pumpkin batter worked even better for me.

I used pumpkin pie spice because I’m lazy, but if you don’t keep it around, the original recipe calls for 3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves, and a few fresh gratings of nutmeg. I’ve also added a step for pre-baking the crust to make it a little more sturdy.

Crust:
4 ounces gingersnap cookies
3 ounces graham crackers (5½ full sheets)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon salt

Cheesecake batter:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch salt
1 large egg yolk
¼ cup heavy cream

Pumpkin batter:
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1¼ cups (10.5 ounces) pumpkin purée
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated white sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup heavy cream

1. For the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the food processor, process the gingersnaps and graham crackers until finely ground (or put the cookies in a large ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them, then transfer them to a bowl); you should have about 1½ cups crumbs.
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 and up the sides of a 9-inch round (or equivalent size) tart pan. Bake until fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F.

3. For the cheesecake batter: In a small bowl, use a whisk or hand mixer to beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add the sugar and salt, mixing until evenly combined. Add the egg yolk and cream, mixing until smooth. Set aside.

4. For the pumpkin batter: In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and egg white until broken up. Add the pumpkin, sugars, salt, and spices, mixing until smooth. Add the vanilla and cream and mix until evenly combined.

5. Spread the pumpkin batter evenly over the cooled crust. Use a spoon to dollop the cheesecake batter over the pumpkin batter, then run a knife through the cheesecake batter, dragging it into the pumpkin batter to create swirls.

6. Transfer the tart to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until the center of the tart is just slightly jiggly, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving. (Can also be covered and refrigerated overnight.)

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lemon cheesecake

lemon cheesecake 2

I read somewhere the sanctimonious line that “eating for two while pregnant doesn’t mean eating twice as much, it should mean twice as healthy.” I decided early on that my my regular diet is plenty healthy, so my extra calories could come from string cheese, cereal, and a few more servings of dessert. As a result, I’ve started making the occasional dessert just for me and Dave to have at home, which pretty much never happens otherwise unless it’s our birthdays.

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Of course, more dessert isn’t so bad when you’re growing a new little person, which I am but Dave is not. So sometimes the desserts are just for me. I didn’t exactly hide this one from Dave, but I just sort of never offered him any. I’d only made a mini version, and it was just too good to share. He never showed any interest, which was a relief. I did make a big version first, to share at work, but when I didn’t get my fill from the two slivers I saved for myself, I needed a little one to hoard to myself at home. Hey, I’m growing a tiny person, I deserve my own tiny cheesecake, right?

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Lemon Cheesecake (slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

I made a few changes to this. First, if you make the lemon sugar in the food processor before the crust mixture, you don’t have to clean the processor bowl between uses; a little lemon in the crust is okay, but trace amounts of cookie crumbs in the cheesecake is not. Second, I accidentally overbaked mine slightly the first time, but I thought it was the perfect texture. The same week, my brother baked it to the temperature recommended in the original recipe and found it underdone for his taste. Therefore, I’ve increased the goal temperature of the cheesecake from 150 degrees to 155 degrees. Third, my brother and I both agreed that we prefer making the curd in a double boiler instead of directly in the saucepan. For both of us, when made in the saucepan as per the original recipe, the curd curdled. The lumps smoothed after straining, but I feel more comfortable using a double boiler and it isn’t more work, so I’ve adapted the recipe for a double boiler.

Filling:
1¼ cups (8¾ ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
¼ cup lemon juice
1½ pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon table salt
½ cup heavy cream

Cookie-Crumb Crust:
5 ounces animal crackers
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Lemon Curd:
⅓ cup lemon juice
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch table salt

1. To make lemon sugar: Process ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) of the sugar and the lemon zest in a food processor until the sugar is yellow and the zest is broken down, about 15 seconds, scraping down the bowl if necessary. Transfer the lemon sugar to a small bowl; stir in the remaining 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar. Do not wash the food processor.

2. For the crust: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In the food processor, process the cookies to fine, even crumbs, about 30 seconds (you should have about 1 cup). Add the sugar and and salt; pulse 2 or 3 times to incorporate. Add the melted butter in a slow, steady stream while pulsing; pulse until the mixture is evenly moistened and resembles wet sand, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch springform pan; using the bottom of a ramekin or dry measuring cup, press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the pan bottom, keeping the sides of the pan as clean as possible. Bake until fragrant and golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 30 minutes. When cool, wrap the outside of the pan with two 18-inch square pieces of foil; set the springform pan in a larger baking pan.

3. For the filling: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese on low to break it up and soften it slightly, about 5 seconds. With the machine running, add the lemon sugar in a slow steady stream; increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the mixture is creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the eggs one at a time; beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well after each addition. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and mix until just incorporated, about 5 seconds; add the heavy cream and mix until just incorporated, about 5 seconds longer. Give the batter a final scrape, stir with a rubber spatula, and pour into the prepared springform pan; fill the larger baking pan with enough hot tap water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

4. Bake until the center jiggles slightly, the sides just start to puff, the surface is no longer shiny, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the cake registers 155 degrees, 60 to 70 minutes. Turn off the oven and prop open the oven door with a potholder or wooden spoon handle; allow the cake to cool in the water bath in the oven for 1 hour. Transfer the springform pan without the foil to a wire rack; run a small paring knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the sides of the cake; cool the cake to room temperature, about 1 hour.

5. For the lemon curd: Set a metal or glass bowl on top of a saucepan that contains 1 inch of simmering water (do not allow bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Add the lemon juice to the bowl and heat until the juice is hot but not boiling. Whisk the eggs and yolk in a separate bowl; gradually whisk in the sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the eggs, then return the mixture to the bowl set over the saucepan and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, often at first and constantly when the mixture begins to thicken, until the mixture registers 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to cling to a spoon, about 5 minutes. Immediately remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir in the cold butter until it’s incorporated; stir in the cream, vanilla, and salt, then pour the curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a small nonreactive bowl. Cover the surface of the curd directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate until needed.

6. To finish: When the cheesecake is cool, scrape the lemon curd onto the cheesecake while it’s still in the springform pan; using an offset icing spatula, spread the curd evenly over the top of the cheesecake. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours. To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and cut the cake into wedges.

lemon cheesecake 3