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.

raspberry swirl cheesecake cupcakes 1

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

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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.

strawberry poptarts

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I like to keep track of things. This is why I have a website showcasing new recipes. But I also have calendars (printed out and filled in with pencil, old school) logging all the workouts I’ve done for years, a list updated daily of which projects I spend time on at work, and a color-coded Google Calendar that I check and update several times a day.

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This apparently wasn’t enough for me, so I’ve recently started tracking some new things – indulgences. Desserts, alcohol, restaurant meals, snacking on ingredients while making dinner – those are the biggies for me. I set goals for the month, and they are generous, and I don’t get bent out of shape if I miss them (and I always go over on both alcohol and desserts), but having it laid out in front of me in a spreadsheet does help my self-control sometimes. Is munching on this cucumber, even if it’s dipped in dressing, really worth having to log a day of ingredient snacking?

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There are loopholes though. Shortcake, obviously that’s dessert. But scones are breakfast, so I don’t need to record those, even if they do contain just as much butter and sugar as shortcake. Cupcakes, dessert; muffins, breakfast. Poptarts are breakfast, right?

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That might be a stretch, even by my standards. Yes, there is jam involved, but a spoonful of jam is squeezed between two sheets of buttery delicious pie crust. And that’s all there is to it, unless you add icing. But once you add icing, any hope of calling this anything but a treat of the most indulgent manner is lost. It went on the list as dessert, and it was worth every mark on the spreadsheet.

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One year ago: Banh Mi (I absolutely love this recipe)
Two years ago: Taco Pasta Salad
Three years ago: Twice Baked Potato Cups
Four years ago: Banana and Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

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Strawberry Pop-Tarts (adapted from King Arthur Flour via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 9 (although I made 10 out of a half recipe)

My dough was too crumbly with just one egg, so I also used part of the egg used for the egg wash.

I used the icing because I wanted my tarts to be as traditional as possible, but, it turns out, royal icing on pie just isn’t that good. It’s pretty, but I don’t recommend it for the best flavor.

I replaced a quarter of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour.

Pastry:
2 cups (8½ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk

Filling:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
¾ cup (8 ounces) strawberry jam

Egg wash:
1 large egg
salt

Icing:
½ cup (2 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon meringue powder
1 tablespoon water

1. For the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until it is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg and milk and pulse until the dough looks crumbly but stays together when pinched. Turn the dough out onto a work surface or shallow bowl, forming it into a ball and kneading a few times. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a rectangle, about 3 by 5 inches. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap; chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

2. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a small saucepan, stir together the cornstarch and water. Mix in the jam. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat; simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; cool completely before using.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll one portion of the dough to ⅛-inch thick, slightly larger than a 9 by 12-inch rectangle. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Trim each portion of dough into a 9 by 12-inch rectangle. Cut each piece of dough into thirds both lengthwise and crosswise, forming a total of 18 3 by 4-inch rectangles.

4. Beat the additional egg with a pinch of salt and brush it over the entire surface of half of the dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each egg-brushed rectangle, keeping a bare ½-inch perimeter around the jam. Place a second rectangle of dough on top of the jam, using your fingertips to press firmly around the pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides. Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Repeat with remaining rectangles of dough to form 9 tarts.

5. Transfer the tarts to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork to allow steam to escape. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes (or freeze for 15 minutes), while you heat your oven to 350 degrees.

6. Bake the tarts for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re light golden brown. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes before icing.

7. In a small bowl, beat the powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Dribble over the tarts. Let set at least 20 minutes for the icing to set.

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chocolate chip cookie comparison 2

chocolate chip comparison 2
The Chewy

I’ve done all these comparisons and experiments with chocolate chip cookies, and yet, I don’t make any of those recipes. Usually, I make chocolate chip cookies to please myself, because I think it’s fun, so I’m more concerned with which recipe I most enjoy baking instead of which recipe has the best result. But maybe this isn’t so bad – maybe my hacked combination of recipes could stand up to the originals.

chocolate chip comparison 1
The Chewy dough

It was time to find out. For a comparison of the best of the best, I chose Alton Brown’s The Chewy recipe, winner of my last comparison; Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, a true standout; Kelsey’s Best Ever Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Anna Olson’s original recipe), which are the most popular post on her blog; and the one I always make when I’m too lazy to follow an actual recipe.

chocolate chip comparison 3
The Chewy

What sets Alton’s recipe apart is the use of bread flour instead of regular and the replacement of an egg white with milk. Cook’s Illustrated Perfect recipe is designed to mimic the effects of the overnight rest of the dough recommended by the New York Times, which it does using melted browned butter. Compared to the traditional Tollhouse recipe, Kelsey’s recipe uses a higher ratio of flour (plus a bit of cornstarch). My recipe has some similar traits to those above, like bread flour instead all-purpose and an overnight chill to enhance the butterscotch flavor.

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my recipe dough

Between the four tasters I had, there was no unanimous favorite. Dave’s favorite was CI’s Perfect cookies. My sister and her husband both chose Alton Brown’s The Chewy as their favorite; it was chewier, but, to Dave, it was too greasy. Kelsey’s recipe was drier than the others; compared to the ultra-rich versions it was being compared to, it had less flavor. My hacked together recipe was the most traditional, crispy around the edges and gooey in the middle.

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Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect

As for me, I’ll certainly keep making the version I have been, now that I know that it can hold its own with the big dogs. I love it because I don’t have to look at a recipe and the dough is perfect for snacking. The Chewy tends to come out a little too flat, and I don’t like the dough for CI’s Perfect (which makes it the recipe of choice when self-control is necessary!), plus it simply isn’t as fun to make cookies with a whisk as it is with a mixer. Slight differences aside, these were all standout recipes, but I appreciate the validation to keep being lazy with my hacked together version.

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left to right: The Chewy, my recipe, Kelsey’s Best-Ever, Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect

One year ago: Kofta
Two years ago: Grilled Corn Salad
Three years ago: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
Four years ago: Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

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Accidental Variation of The Chewy (adapted from Alton Brown)

As I was writing up this recipe, I realized I did not actually make The Chewy, which I now see is supposed to use melted butter. I used room temperature solid butter. The recipe below is what I did. This means that the only difference between my recipe and The Chewy is a lower ratio of brown sugar to white and the use of an egg white instead of milk.

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup granulated sugar
1¼ cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

2. Add the butter to the mixer’s work bowl with the sugars. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk, and vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. 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, 8-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Cook’s Illustrated May/June 2009)

I baked smaller cookies – tablespoon-sized dollops of dough – for about 9 minutes at 375 degrees.

1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whish for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

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Best-Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies (rewritten but not changed from Kelsey’s Apple a Day, who adapted it from Anna Olson)

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) brown sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a stand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the egg, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are slightly browned around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from nearly every single chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve ever read)

I haven’t found a dependable measurement for the weight of 1 cup of bread flour.  I used to assume 5 ounces for 1 cup of bread flour, but I think this is on the high side, so I’m changing the volume measurement in this recipe from 2¼ cups to 2⅓ cups.  Unfortunately,  it could be as high as 2½ cups, depending on how you measure your flour.  If you can, definitely measure by weight and not volume (food scales are cheap!)!

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (7 ounces) brown sugar
½ cup (3.5 ounces) white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a stand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. 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, 8-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

orange vanilla creamsicle whoopie pies

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I brought pumpkin whoopie pies to a company picnic a couple years ago, and my coworkers got quite a kick over the name. So you’ll forgive me if the post-it next to these in the office kitchen said “orange vanilla creamsicle sandwich cookies”, with no mention of whoopie. I didn’t need the giggles today.

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I’m not sure if these are more whoopie pie or more sandwich cookie anyway. The cookie part ended up on the chewy side, not as tender and fluffy as the traditional cakey whoopie pie. At least it seemed that way to me fresh out of the oven.

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Sandwiched with cream cheese frosting and left overnight in the fridge, they seem to have become more cakey, because the several coworkers I quizzed about whether these seemed more cookie-like or more cake-like guessed cake. (They didn’t seem excited about the pop quiz, but they passed with flying colors.) More importantly, they raved, so whoopie pies or sandwich cookies, it doesn’t matter; all that matters is how good they are.

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One year ago: Blueberry Barbecue Salmon
Two years ago: Rhubarb Crumb Coffee Cake
Three years ago: Quick Baking Powder Pizza Crust
Four years ago: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

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Orange Vanilla Creamsicle Whoopie Pies (adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)

Makes about 3 dozen sandwiches

If you have vanilla sugar, use that!

I am a food blogger failure and used cream cheese frosting that I’ve had in my freezer for months, doctored up with vanilla seeds.

Cookies:
3½ cups (16.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoon baking powder 2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
zest from 2 oranges
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
½ cup sour cream
2 eggs, room temperature

Filling:
3 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
pinch salt
1½ cups (6 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cookies: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the sugar and orange zest on medium speed until fragrant, about a minute. Add the butter, salt, and vanilla seeds; continue beating until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sour cream. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until combined.

3. Spoon (or pipe) the batter in 1 tablespoon rounds on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between rounds.

4. Bake until the tops of the cookies don’t look wet and the bottoms just begin to brown, 8-12 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. For the filling: Add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla seeds, and salt to a clean mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract.

6. To fill, dollop (or pipe) the filling onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies, flat sides down. Serve immediately, or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, bringing to cool room temperature before serving.

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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.

key lime cheesecake 4

honey ice cream

honey ice cream 4

I’m a big fan of sweeteners that are more than just sweet. Sometimes granulated sugar is exactly what you want, when you’re sweetening something subtle, like a snickerdoodle where the sour flavor from cream of tartar is so important, or where you don’t want the sweetener to distract from the main event, like in almost anything chocolate. Other times, it’s fun to let the sweetener itself play the main role, and nothing does that better than honey. Except for maybe maple syrup.

honey ice cream 1

I’ve built up a bit of a honey collection over the last couple years, from craft fairs, the local natural food store, and my boss’s beekeeping hobby. While I would have loved to use the slightly smoky flavored mesquite honey my boss gave me, it’s still in the waxy honeycomb. Instead, I used up the last of an unlabeled jar I picked up last year at a honey tasting stand.

honey ice cream 2

Molly said the half cup of honey for a quart of ice cream that the original recipe called for was overpowering, so I went with 6 tablespoons, and it was perfect. The honey flavor doesn’t slap you in the face, but it doesn’t hide either. It’s just the right balance of honey and cream. Next up: maple syrup ice cream.

honey ice cream 5

One year ago: Chocolate Sorbet
Two years ago: Lemon Curd Tart
Three years ago: Puff Pastry Dough
Four years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

Printer Friendly Recipe
Honey Ice Cream (adapted slightly from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert via Orangette)

Makes about 1 quart

I’m assuming that scalding the milk has a point, but I don’t know what it is.

My honey was slightly crystallized, which may be why it took a while to dissolve into the milk, but with some vigorous whisking, it did eventually mix in evenly.

½ cup whole milk
6 tablespoons honey
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until it begins to steam and bubbles form around the edge of the pot. Remove it from the heat and let it cool.

2. Whisk the honey and salt into the milk until dissolved. Add the cream. Cover and refrigerate to thoroughly chill, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

3. Churn until it’s at least as thick as soft serve ice cream, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a chilled container; freeze at least 2 hours before serving.

honey ice cream 7

strawberry champagne cupcakes

strawberry champagne cupcakes 5

I loved how these cupcakes came out, but still, I’m not so sure about this idea of baking with champagne. On the one hand, it certainly sounds fun and fancy, doesn’t it? On the other, it’s awfully hard to get the flavor of alcohol to come through after a dessert is baked, so adding something as pricey as champagne to cupcake batter is quite a splurge.

strawberry champagne cupcakes 1

Sure enough, I couldn’t taste the splash of champagne that I added to the cupcake batter. On the other hand, the full cup of champagne that I reduced to just 2 tablespoons and then added to the frosting, that flavor was very evident. It made the powdered sugar-based icing, which can often seem overwhelmingly sweet, tangy.

strawberry champagne cupcakes 2

Between the champagne cake, the champagne frosting, and the glass of champagne I drank to finish the bottle, my favorite was the pure bubbly liquid, but I couldn’t bring that to work for a coworker’s bridal shower. In that setting, the only way to include champagne is in dessert, which makes strawberry champagne cupcakes the perfect festive, not to mention delicious, way to celebrate, even if it is a splurge.

strawberry champagne cupcakes 4

One year ago: Tapioca Pudding (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Stuffed Squash Flowers
Three years ago: Brioche Plum Tart
Four years ago: Pain a l’ancienne

Printer Friendly Recipe
Strawberry Champagne Cupcakes (adapted from Sky High’s strawberry cake and Cook’s Illustrated’s white cake recipes)

Makes about 36 mini cupcakes or 12 regular cupcakes

2 egg whites, at room temperature 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (3 ounces by weight) strawberries, pureed
3 tablespoons champagne
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 drop red food coloring
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (4.5 ounces) cake flour
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin wells with paper cups. In a large measuring cup, beat the egg whites, strawberry puree, champagne, vanilla, and food coloring.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if using a handheld mixer), whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter; beat at slow speed until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With the mixer running, pour in the strawberry mixture and continue to beat on medium speed (or high speed if using a handheld mixer) for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl once or twice.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out dry, 11-14 minutes for mini cupcakes or 18-24 minutes for regular cupcakes.  Transfer the pan(s) to a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pan.  Let cool completely before frosting.

Champagne Buttercream (slightly adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Makes enough to frost about 36 mini cupcakes or 12 regular cupcakes

A few comments on the original recipe note that their champagne reduction came out bitter, which seemed to be a result of using dry (brut) champagne. Stick to a sweeter champagne like demi-sec to avoid this.

1 cup demi-sec champagne
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch salt
2½ to 3 cups (10-12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the champagne to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the champagne is reduced to 2 tablespoons, 15-20 minutes.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl if using a handheld mixer), beat the butter and salt on medium speed until smooth.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the sugar, then increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add the reduced champagne, mixing just until combined.

strawberry champagne cupcakes 6

strawberry white chocolate brownies

strawberry white chocolate brownies 9

I know white chocolate isn’t as sexy as its darker sibling, but I think it has its own charm. It’s not much beyond sweet and soft, which could be boring, but you can use those traits to the advantage of the treat you’re making with it. Mixed into a batter, it adds a little more interest than plain white sugar would, although I think you’d be hard-pressed to pick out the white chocolate flavor if you didn’t know it was there.

strawberry white chocolate brownies 5

That being said, while I expected these to turn out quite nice, they exceeded my expectations. I reduced the sugar from the original recipe, suspecting that the white chocolate would contribute plenty of sweetness, and that, combined with an extra dose of salt, resulted in the perfect balance. Bright, juicy strawberries added a welcome flavor and texture contrast. Forced to choose between these and my favorite dark chocolate brownies would be a tough call, but these tamer white chocolate brownies would stand a good chance.

strawberry white chocolate brownies 6

One year ago: Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens
Two years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Three years ago: Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies
Four years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

Printer Friendly Recipe
Strawberry White Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Makes 16 squares

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅓ teaspoon salt
5 ounces white chocolate, chopped fine
5 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
4 ounces strawberries, hulled and quartered

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

2. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter; stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the sugar (the mixture will appear curdled), then add vanilla and the eggs one at a time, whisking constantly.

3. Switch to a rubber spatula and add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the strawberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it into an even layer.

4. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool completely. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into 2-inch squares. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

strawberry white chocolate brownies 8

radiation sugar cookies

radiation cookies 8

If I don’t often talk about what I do for a living, it’s because it’s hard to explain. I don’t have one of those jobs that you can name in one word and people will get at least some idea of how you spend your days, like being a teacher or nurse or accountant or engineer. My official title is either Scientist 2 or Difficult Waste Expert.

radiation symbol

If I say I work with nuclear waste, you might start to picture Homer Simpson’s job, but mostly I work in an office with spreadsheets. Our official task is to come up with ways to get radioactive waste (stuff mostly left over from the Cold War; not spent nuclear fuel) safely disposed of. There is a radioactive waste repository near my town, half a mile underground in a salt deposit, but I never have any reason to go out there.

radiation containment suit

Even so, my coworkers and I are trained on what the radiation symbol looks like, including the colors – yellow and magenta, at least until you run out of magenta icing, and then black is acceptable. Not even one of the thirty or so people in my office have been required to wear hazmat suits for our current positions, but the idea was too cute to pass up.

radiation cookies 10

I was worried my nuclear containment guys would end up looking like yellow astronaut teddy bears, but I think I got the point across. Other than one manager who thought they might be eskimos, my coworkers loved these. And after another long day looking at computers, trying to make tiny steps toward solving the country’s nuclear waste problem, a distraction in the form of cute cookies is something we could all use.

One year ago: Baked Eggs in Mushrooms with Zucchini Ragout
Two years ago: Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
Three years ago: Sourdough Bagels
Four years ago: Apple Cheddar Scones