Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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And Cake! / Blog

Cheesecake-filled Chocolate Cupcakes

March 12th was my dad’s birthday. He turned 84, and since he can no longer travel at all comfortably, my mother arranged for two of his brothers and sisters-in-law to drive up (six hours!) and surprise him with a bit more of a party than he’d been expecting. We all had a good time and heard quite a few stories about Dad’s misspent youth and the various shenanigans he and his brothers used to get up to.

Of course I could have made Dad a cake, but I had a birthday card waiting to be used that said on the front “Watch out for birthday ninjas” and on the inside “They’ll sneak up on you like regular ninjas, but with cupcakes.”

Well, with a card like that, of course I had to make cupcakes. And what better cupcakes than chocolate cupcakes with cheesecake in the middle?

There is nothing the slightest bit unusual about this recipe, versions of which are floating around all over the internet. The cake part is basically a one-bowl chocolate cake, so nothing could be easier. They should rise fine even without eggs. They are not especially attractive as cupcakes go, but what with the cheesecake centers, they don’t need to be lovely in order to be the hit of any birthday party. This recipe makes about thirty cupcakes and believe me, that is not too many.

Okay, so, here we go:

Cheesecake-filled Chocolate Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
3 C flour
2 C sugar
2 tsp baking soda.
1 tsp salt
2/3 C cocoa powder. I used about ¼ C black cocoa powder and the rest regular, which yielded wonderfully moist cupcakes with a nice chocolate flavor. Black cocoa powder isn’t acid enough to react with baking soda, which might be a concern in some cake recipes, but not in this one because of the vinegar. The baking soda will react with the vinegar no matter what kind of cocoa you use.
2 C water
2/3 C vegetable oil
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla

For the filling:
8 oz cream cheese
1/3 C sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
1 C mini chocolate chips. Various recipes either don’t call for chocolate chips in the filling or use regular-sized chocolate chips. Without going into long-drawn-out raptures about how wonderfully my cupcakes turned out, I suggest mini chocolate chips.

Okay, I suggest you make the filling first so that it’s ready when you want it. Combine all the filling ingredients. Make it as far ahead as convenient and chill it until you’re ready to fill the cupcakes.

Combine the dry ingredients. Add the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Beat two minutes or so. Either spray the heck out of two or three muffin pans or put paper cups in them and spray the inside of the cups. Spoon a generous amount of the batter into 30 cupcake cups, filling them about halfway or a little more. Spoon a Tbsp or so of filling into each cup. Spoon a little more cupcake batter over each to completely cover the filling. Bake at 350 degrees or 20-25 minutes. Mine were done at 20 minutes and looked a little overbaked around the edges, but they weren’t overbaked at all, so I think that might have been the black cocoa powder making them look a little more baked than they were. You could probably stick a toothpick in them to check, but it’s usually pretty clear when cupcakes are baked. When they look done and feel done to a fingertip, they’re done. Cool eight or ten minutes and remove to racks to cool completely.

Now, try to exercise patience. These cupcakes are better completely cool because the cheesecake center is better cool. Refrigerate to store, and I will add that these particular cupcakes are excellent directly out of the fridge and don’t need to be brought to room temp before serving.

You may be wondering whether to use paper cups, so I will add that I baked half in a generously sprayed pale-colored muffin pan and half in a dark-colored muffin pan with lightly sprayed paper cups and they all worked. Not a single cupcake tore. The ones baked without the paper cups were prettier; the ones baked in paper cups rose higher and then tended to collapse a bit in the middle as the cheesecake filling shrank. It’s possible this difference was a function of the color of the pans, which is why I mentioned the color. All the cupcakes were equally tasty and I was quite sad when they were gone.

In my opinion, frosting is completely 100% supererogatory for these cupcakes, but hey, I’m not a big frosting fan anyway. If you’re the sort of person who feels frosting would enhance these cupcakes, you’re probably also the sort of person who already knows what kind of frosting you plan to use on them.

Either way, enjoy!

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And Cake! / Blog

A black cake for all your Fiftieth Birthday Party needs

Frankly it doesn’t seem to have taken 50 years to get to this point, but here we are, my twin brother and I, fifty years old yesterday.

Here is the cake I made to celebrate our semi-centennial:

Black Midnight Cake

I got this recipe here. I made mine blacker by using black cocoa powder rather than Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder. Believe me, the cocoa powder I used was very black.

In case you’re curious, it turns out that black cocoa powder is made by very heavily “dutching” regular cocoa powder. Dutch cocoa powder is much less acid than natural cocoa powder, which means it doesn’t react with baking soda, so any recipe using it must use baking powder, or both baking soda and baking powder, depending. As you can see, the recipe below uses both. The buttermilk should react with the baking soda, then the baking powder adds more lift. Dutch cocoa powder is milder in flavor but produces moister baked goods than natural,and in general I would suggest using both to intensify the chocolate flavor of the cake, but I wanted this cake super dark so I just used black cocoa powder.

If you read through the post where I got this recipe, you’ll see some of the people who try it say the cake turned out dry. I would bet they used natural rather than Dutch cocoa powder. When I made it with black cocoa powder, it was quite moist. The coffee and cayenne are not perceptible but serve to deepen the chocolate flavor. Anyway, here you go, the recipe:

2/3 cup dark cocoa powder
1 cup hot strong brewed coffee
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

Combine the cocoa powder, coffee, cayenne. Beat the oil with the sugar. Add the eggs and beat for 2 minutes to help aerate the batter. Add the buttermilk, vanilla, and cocoa mixture. Beat to combine. Clean up the very, very black spatters that might have appeared on your counter top. Combine the dry ingredients and beat in gently. Pour into two 9-inch cake pans lined with circles of parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees until done (cake springs back when touched, a toothpick in the center comes out almost clean, about 35 minutes but start testing after 30 and it may go quite a bit longer depending on your oven). Cool in pans ten minutes, turn out on racks, cool completely and fill or frost as desired.

I made a black icing by combining:

8 oz cream cheese
1 C semisweet chocolate ships
1 1/2 C. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp or so black coloring gel

This didn’t make enough icing, so I also made the following filling:

4 oz cream cheese
3 oz white chocolate
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sour cream

I filled the cake with the white filling and frosted the top and sides with the black frosting. As you can tell, I prefer less sweet frostings that are heavy on the cream cheese. Naturally you could use whatever kind of frosting you like. This frosting is black and shiny, so a dust of gold powder across the top finished it off.

It was really quite tasty. I recommend it to you all, if for some reason you would like to make a black black black cake.

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And Cake! / Blog

Zebra Cake

Here’s the last of a cake I made for a coworker’s birthday; also for Mother’s Day.

I actually made five layers and wow, was that an undertaking! Fourteen eggs, eight cups of flour . . . actually the recipe is quite simple for such a fancy effect, as long as you just make one cake at a time. If you’re going to double the recipe as I did, I recommend making the first cake layers and then while they’re in the over making the second batch of cake layers, unless your mixing bowls are muuuuch bigger than mine.

I got this recipe from Martha Stewart Living, a magazine which my mother gets. She passes me the issues and I look over the recipes. This one was a keeper. I made it almost-but-not-quite according to the recipe.

Zebra Cake

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
4 C flour
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt (the recipe called for two tsp, but I think that was too much)
3 large eggs, separated, room temp
4 egg whites, room temp
2 1/2 C sugar
2 C whole milk, room temp, divided
1/2 C vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla (the original recipe calls for a Tbsp, which I think is way overboard, but you can certainly try it that way if you like)
1/2 C cocoa powder

Frosting
2/3 C cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder (I left this out)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 C hot water
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 sticks butter (I substituted cream cheese for half the butter), softened
1 1/2 C powdered sugar
8 oz semisweet chocolate chip, melted (the recipe called for 10 oz)
3 Tbsp corn syrup

Line two 9-inch cake pans with circles of parchment. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Whisk together the egg whites and sugar until light, opaque, and foamy, about two minutes. I used a stand mixer and it didn’t take two minutes to get to this point. Whisk in 1 1/2 C milk, butter, oil, and vanilla. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

Combine egg yolks, 1/3 C milk, and cocoa. It says to whisk until smooth, but this forms a very thick dough, so I suggest a spoon.

Add 3 1/2 C vanilla batter to the cocoa mixture and whisk until smooth. Here you really can use a whisk.

Whisk the remaining milk into the remaining vanilla batter.

Now, pour 1/4 C of vanilla batter into the center of each cake pan. Then pour 1/4 C of the chocolate batter right in the center. Then pour another 1/4 C vanilla batter right in the center . . . you can see how this is going, right? Just keep pouring alternate batters into the center of the pan. This will form concentric circles of batter right out to the edge. It really will. I suggest using a very generous 1/4 C of batter each time, though, or maybe a scant-ish 1/2 C, because what tends to happen is very narrow stripes indeed around the outside and then much bigger circles toward the middle.

I bet what would actually work best is using a 1/2 C measure for the first four or five times you pour batter in the center of each pan, then switching to a 1/4 C measure. If you try that, I bet you will get more even stripes right through the cake.

It will be beautiful no matter what you do, though.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through if necessary for even baking. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, turn out onto racks, and peel off parchment. Cool completely.

Frosting:

This is a very nice frosting, not too sweet. I liked it a lot and I generally throw the icing away when I get a piece of cake at a party or whatever, because it is usually much too sweet for me.

Whisk together the cocoa, espresso powder if you use that, salt, hot water, and vanilla. Beat butter and cream cheese with powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in melted chocolate. Beat in cocoa mixture and corn syrup.

Frost cake with swirls and swoops of frosting. Chill to store, but bring to room temp before serving.

I found this cake a little heavier than some, which probably comes from using melted butter rather than beating the butter with the sugar for five minutes or so like you normally would in a butter cake. But it was good. I definitely suggest you try it if you want to impress people, because I doubt anybody will have seen a vertically striped cake before!

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And Cake! / Blog

Out of this World Easter Angel Food Cake

Okay, so, I got this recipe from Taste of Home’s Annual Recipes for 2016, and they call it “Divine Angel Food Cake,” which is fine. But the minute I saw the recipe I was all like EASTER! because it was obviously a perfect special occasion springtime cake. Or at least the lemon version of the cake was plainly a great springtime choice. There are other variations, too — chocolate-filled and sherbet-filled — but it was the lemon that I thought was most tempting.

So I made this cake for Easter. I haven’t made an angel food cake since I was a teenager, I’m pretty sure, but it turned out great. So if you want a wonderful springtime cake, I totally think you should give it a try, even if that means you have to get a tube pan.

Lemon-Strawberry Angel Food Cake

Cake

12 egg whites (1 2/3 C) — I had about ten egg whites in the freezer waiting for this cake, and I certainly suggest you freeze extra egg whites if you happen to get them while cooking other stuff. Thaw them overnight in the fridge.
1 C cake flour (I used all-purpose)
1 1/2 C sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar, which lasts forever in the pantry, so don’t hesitate to pick up a small bottle.
1/4 tsp salt

Filling

10 oz lemon curd
1/2 C heavy cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
4 oz mascarpone or cream cheese
1 C sliced fresh or frozen (drained) strawberries

1 C powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Okay, if you’re going to make your own lemon curd, like I did, then a day or so in advance you should make it according to, for example, this recipe. This will make lots more than you need for this cake, which is not a tragedy. If I happened to have a Meyer lemon, I would totally use that, but I used regular lemons for this cake.

Now, the night before you want to serve this cake, make the cake, like so:

Place the egg whites in a large bowl, like for example the bowl for your stand mixer, and let set at room temperature for thirty minutes. Meanwhile, stir 3/4 C of sugar into the flour and set that aside. Set the other 3/4 C sugar aside in a different small bowl.

Now preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Add the vanilla, cream of tarter, and salt to the egg whites. Beat on medium until soft peaks form. I actually beat it nearly on high, probably a little longer than I should have, but it was fine. You probably already know that “soft peaks” means that when you stop the beaters and lift them straight up, the egg white foam should come up in peaks and then fold over softly. Stiff peaks don’t fold over.

Okay, when you think soft peaks have more or less formed, add the plain 3/4 C sugar one Tbsp at a time. I added one Tbsp right after another with the mixer on high. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, which for me was as soon as I was done adding the sugar. Reduce the speed and fold in the flour-sugar mixture 1/2 C at a time. There you go, you’re ready to bake the cake.

Pour the batter into your ungreased, unfloured tube pan, smooth the top, and bake on the lowest oven rack for 45-50 minutes, until the top is pale gold and springs back when you touch it. Remove the pan from the over and immediately turn it upside down, balancing it on its tube or its little legs, whatever your tube pan requires. My pan (my mother’s actually), balances just fine on the tube. If you’re buying a pan, you might want to make sure it has some way to balance upside down.

Okay, anyway, you are now done with the cake! Leave it upside down in the pan and go to bed.

The next morning (or a couple of hours later), you can finish the cake. Cut around the edges of the pan and around the tube with a fillet knife or some reasonable facsimile thereof. Lift the cake out of the pan and put it on a platter. Mine cooperated beautifully.

Measure an inch down from the top and stick toothpicks around the cake. Cut the top inch off the cake and set that aside. Now use a paring knife or whatever to remove the interior of the cake, leaving a 1-inche shell all the way around. I got a little too close to the bottom of the cake, but it still worked, so whatever, but next time I would probably cut off just the top 3/4 inch and try to leave more below.

Obviously you can pause at this point to eat the extra cake bits. 100% of spaniels surveyed thought this was the best part.

Now, put the strawberries around the bottom of the tunnel.

Beat the 1/2 C heavy cream until soft peaks form, beat in the 2 Tbsp powdered sugar, soften and whip the cream cheese and beat that in. Stir in three oz of the lemon curd (or so, I didn’t measure). Layer some of this over the strawberries. You will have extra, which will be yummy with extra lemon curd and strawberries, layered in little glass dishes if you want to bother.

Now layer 7 ounces of lemon curd over the cream filling. I just used as much as I thought I could get away with. Replace the top of the cake and make a lemon glaze:

Whisk 1 C powdered sugar with 1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice. Spoon over cake and let drip down the sides.

Chill the cake at least four hours. I don’t know how crucial that is; I can’t actually see any reason you couldn’t slice the cake at once, but it says four hours. I assembled this cake early in the morning and we had it for dessert for Easter dinner, so I know it will hold a lot longer than four hours if you want.

Very pretty, very good, and just right for a spring holiday.

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And Cake! / Blog

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

So, my Dad’s 82nd birthday was this past Saturday, so of course I made a cake. Now, his tastes have changed a bit as he’s gotten older: he prefers sweeter, less intensely chocolate desserts than he used to. And he likes peanut butter. So this cake was made to suit his tastes and is a little sweet for me.

It’s based on a cake from the January 2009 issue of Bon Appétit magazine (yes, I index promising-looking recipes from my magazine before I file them). Of course I didn’t exactly follow the recipe, which makes a two-layer cake and involves making peanut brittle to break up and add between the layers. That sounds like a fine idea, but I calculated ingredients for a three-layer cake and then took the cake in a somewhat different direction that didn’t involve peanut brittle. Here’s the cake I made:

Greg J Neumeier’s Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

4½ C all-purpose flour
3 C sugar
1 C cocoa powder
3 tsp baking soda
1¼ tsp salt
2 C water
1 C vegetable oil
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp vanilla

6 oz peanut butter cups, rather finely chopped, or I might use Reese’s Pieces if I were making this cake again

8 oz good quality milk chocolate, chopped
10 Tbsp heavy cream

1½ C powdered sugar
1 C heavy cream
½ C creamy peanut butter
½ C cream cheese

Now, this is, as you can see, an oil cake rather than an eggs-and-butter cake. This gives you a cake with a nice moist crumb, and it also means that it’s going to get all its loft from the baking soda and vinegar rather than from you beating and beating and beating the butter with the sugar and then beating in the eggs one at a time and so on. So mixing the batter is very easy, like so:

Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a very large mixing bowl.

Whisk together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla in another bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and don’t proceed until the oven is preheated. While you wait, you can line three nine-inch cake pans with parchment paper and spray the paper and sides of the pans with cooking spray. Or use three eight-inch cake pans and make six cupcakes.

Now, it says gradually add the oil mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients, but I wasn’t as gradual as all that. I basically just poured the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisked the heck out of it. This is a lot of cake batter, but it wasn’t hard even with just a whisk rather than an electric mixer.

Now, divide the cake batter evenly into the prepared pans, sprinkle and bake for something on the order of 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Because of the chopped peanut butter cups, it might be a little hard to tell if the cakes are done with the standard toothpick test. Touch the top of a cake and it’s probably done if it feels springy. The peanut butter cups may cause one or more of the cakes to fall a little in the center, especially if you didn’t chop them finely enough as, ahem, I didn’t. This is nothing to worry about, though. Imperfections will be disguised with the frosting.

Cool the cakes on racks for ten minutes, run a knife around the edge of the pan, and turn out. If the peanut butter cups settled too much to the bottom of the cakes, you may want to cool them upside down because the top may wind up firmer than the bottom. It’s fine either way.

Make the milk chocolate ganache: Put the milk chocolate in a small bowl, pour over the cream, and heat in the microwave for a minute or two, stirring once or twice and then stirring until smooth. Put the ganache in the fridge to thicken. It’ll probably still be rather thin when you’re ready to assemble the cake. That’s fine.

Make the frosting: Beat together the powdered sugar, heavy cream (unwhipped), peanut butter, and cream cheese. My stand mixer made this look super easy with the wire whisk attachment, so if you have a stand mixer, you might want to use it here.

Assemble the cake: Put the first cake layer on a platter and spread half the ganache over it. I put it on the platter upside down. If the ganache is a bit runny, pipe or spoon a rim of frosting around the cake layer to hold it. I find it easier to frost the sides of the cake a layer at a time, so you might want to frost the sides of the first layer now. Top with the second layer, rightside up or upside down, whatever looks like it will work better. Repeat with the milk chocolate ganache and frosting. Top with the third layer and frost generously, touching up the sides.

Chill one hour. Scatter a few chopped peanut butter cups over the top and serve.

Now, obviously, if you’d like to cut the sweetness of this cake a bit, nothing stops you from using bittersweet chocolate in the ganache rather than milk chocolate. That would be the quickest and easiest way to change the overall flavor profile of the cake. On the other hand, if you don’t think a cake can possibly be too sweet, then you can do what the original recipe suggests and spread peanut butter frosting AND milk chocolate ganache between the layers. And sprinkle crushed peanut brittle between the layers, too. Whatever you like!

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And Cake!

Yet another must-try dessert: Brownie Trifle

So, my mother turned eighty on December 4th.

Eighty. Imagine being born in 1935. Hard to imagine that world anymore, isn’t it? The past truly is a foreign country. My mother’s family was very poor by the standards of 1935, which of course means terribly, crushingly poor by today’s standards. No indoor plumbing, essentially no medical care. What a different world she lived in!

Check this out:

blacksunday

This is a picture of the Black Sunday dust storm in Texas in 1935. My mother was born and spent her childhood in Texas. She certainly remembers dust storms in Texas. I’m sure they still have them, though I doubt it’s ever as bad now as in the dustbowl years.

She was the oldest, which means she took on a great part of the burden of raising her younger siblings. And at that time, in that place, in her family, girls didn’t go to school. So she earned a GED and then put herself through college, and paid for younger sisters to go to college after her.

My mother doesn’t like a big fuss made over birthdays, and I know she spent a good part of the day raking leaves and stuff like that. I thought of making a cake and trying to cram 80 candles on it, but in the end, I made this instead, which was a big, big hit with all of us:

Brownie Trifle (original recipe)

1 brownie mix, the size that will make an 8 x 8 pan of brownies
2 3.9-oz boxes of instant chocolate pudding mix, prepared according to package directions
5 oz chocolate-covered toffee bits
2 8-oz containers whipped topping

Layer all ingredients

Of course I didn’t make that. I made this:

Way Improved Brownie Trifle

1 recipe of your favorite not-too-cakey brownies, for example the recipe below
1 recipe chocolate pudding, for example the recipe below
3-5 oz chocolate-covered toffee bits
2 C heavy cream
1/3 to 1/2 C sugar

Make the Brownies:
9 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, such as Girardelli
1 C unsalted butter
1 C + 6 T sugar
2 eggs
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

It goes without saying that you can make any brownies you like, or use a mix. I think the Girardelli brownie mix is quite good, and in fact I think brownie mixes in general make perfectly acceptable brownies. Having tried out this trifle, in my opinion you don’t want to use a brownie that is too gooey, but definitely not one that is like chocolate cake, either. A middle-of-the-road, basic, chewy type of brownie is likely to work best here.

If you’re going to make brownies with the recipe given here, then melt the chocolate with the butter. Cool to lukewarm. Beat eggs with sugar for 1 minute. Whisk in melted chocolate. Combine dry ingredients and fold in. Transfer to greased 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. For this use, overbaking the brownies a bit is okay, incidentally, because I did and it was fine. I just mention this in case you are ever in dire need of a way to disguise the fact that you overbaked a pan of brownies.

Cool completely.

Make the Chocolate Pudding:
3 T cornstarch
5 T sugar
1 T cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 C whole milk
2 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla

Any chocolate pudding or chocolate custard recipe would be fine, but I was kind of looking for a recipe that didn’t use eggs, mostly because I was low on eggs. I found a recipe for chocolate blancmange in Marion Cunningham’s Fannie Farmer Cookbook and it caught my eye because she said, of the vanilla version, “It is the dessert Jo of Little Women often carried to Laurie, her frail neighbor, to help restore his health.” Well, with a comment like that, how could I resist?

But Cunningham’s chocolate blancmange didn’t seem very chocolatey to me, so in the above ingredients, I have increased the sugar by 1 T and added 1 T cocoa. I’m pretty sure this would work, but I haven’t actually made it that way yet.

If you are going to make this blancmange, you do it like this: combine the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a saucepan and whisk in ¼ C milk until smooth. Heat the remaining milk and add gradually while cooking over medium heat and whisking continually. Cook until thickened. Continue cooking 15 minutes or so to ensure that the raw taste of the cornstarch disappears. Cool completely and chill until you assemble the trifle.

Assembling the Trifle:

Get out either a bunch of little glass dessert dishes or one larger glass bowl. Cut the brownies into small pieces. Whip the cream, gradually adding the sugar, until stiff. Dollop whipped cream into the bowl. Scatter brownie pieces generously over the whipped cream. Spoon the pudding over the layer of brownie pieces and sort of spread out the pudding over the brownies. Sprinkle with toffee bits – I didn’t use that many, but they definitely did good things for this trifle, so don’t be too chintzy. Repeat layers twice, ending with a good dollop of the whipped cream and a generous sprinkle of toffee bits on the top.

Chill until serving.

I guarantee, everyone will love this, even if you don’t stick 80 candles all over the top.

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And Cake!

The Best Raspberry Cheesecake Pie

As it happens, no one in my family feels it is essential to have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Turkey, yes. Pumpkin pie, not so much.

This pie is much fancier than pumpkin pie, but it’s not at all difficult. Also, it involves raspberries and cheesecake and chocolate, so it’s perfect for a party.

So here you go:

Layered Raspberry Cheesecake Pie

1 baked pastry pie crust. My mother’s good with pie pastry, so she made this for me.

3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
8 oz fresh or frozen raspberries

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 C sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C heavy cream, whipped

2 oz semisweet chocolate
3 Tbsp butter

Okay, if you need to bake the pie crust, do that.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and raspberries in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Pour into pie crust and set aside to cool.

Whip the cream.

Beat together cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Fold in whipped cream. Spread over raspberry layer. Chill at least 3 hours.

Now, the chocolate, even with all that butter, will firm up too much if you put it on the pie and then chill the pie. This will make it hard to cut the pie. So ideally, you will do this next bit shortly before you serve the pie, like right before everyone sits down for dinner.

Melt the chocolate with the butter. Cool for five minutes. Spread over pie. I think it is pretty to leave a thin border of white showing around the edge of the pie, but that’s up to you. If you happen to have a single fresh raspberry sitting around, place this in the center of the pie as a garnish. You can chill the pie about two minutes in order to set the chocolate, although it will set anyway.

Serve within an hour or two and the chocolate will not have hardened too much.

If you chill the pie with the chocolate layer in place, then you can use a sharp knife to gently score the chocolate. Repeatedly score along a single line and you will eventually be able to get through the chocolate layer neatly, without squishing the cheesecake filling out the sides of the piece of pie. But you see why it’s easier to cut the pie before the chocolate gets too hard.

index

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And Cake!

Recent “cooking:” Croquembouche

So, a little while ago I spotted this post at Book View Cafe, about how to make a croquembouche the easy way.

Now, a croquembouche is this thing you make by piling up miniature cream puffs into a pyramid, and obviously when you are going to cheat, you start by buying a lot of little frozen cream puffs, which by the way are very good and you may become addicted to them if you try them.

In the BVC post, Brenda Clough suggested making your own caramel, and I want you to know that I totally would have done that IF MY STOVE TOP WERE FIXED, which it still is not, after many weeks (ten or eleven weeks so far) and three visits from Sears technicians, and the whole thing is too complicated to go into but yes I am completely disgusted.

ANYWAY. I was determined to make a croquembouche and I did, by double cheating. Here’s how to make the very easiest croquembouche in the world, without using your oven at all:

Croquembouche

A bunch of little miniature cream puffs. They come about 36 to a box and I used all of one box and half a dozen or so cream puffs from another.

About 30 caramels, peeled, in a deeeep microwavable bowl.

Peel all the caramels. I timed it and this took me about 10 minutes, which was tedious, but the caramels were particularly annoying to peel, it seemed to me. Anyway, heat them in the microwave until they are melted, a minute or so. If the caramel starts boiling, it may zoom up the sides of the bowl, which is why you use a deep bowl.

Dip each (frozen) cream puff in the caramel and arrange about nine or so in a circle on a plate. Then arrange a row of seven or eight on top of the original circle, then just keep going until you have a Christmas-tree type of shape on your platter, all the cream puffs glued together with caramel. Reheat the caramel for a few seconds if it starts to harden too much.

Optional: melt about three ounces of chocolate and pipe up and down the sides of the croquembouche. The easiest casual way to pipe chocolate is to double over a sheet of plastic wrap, poke a hole in the plastic, spoon the melted chocolate over the hole, gather up the plastic, and squeeze gently.

Keep in fridge until serving.

Anyway, my croquembouche turned out pretty well for a first try:

Croquembouche

And it was a hit at the Cavalier party at my house yesterday:

Cavalier paty

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And Cake!

A new summertime cake

Just tried this new very easy cake and I liked it a lot, so I thought I’d share it with you all.

Raspberry Ricotta Cake

1 1/2 C flour
1 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 C ricotta, except that for some mysterious reason, I dislike ricotta, so I used cottage cheese, blending it to smooth out the texture.
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C butter, melted

1 C frozen raspberries, or I bet fresh would work

Now, here is why the cake is so simple: You make it as though you were making muffins, not as though you were making a cake. In fact, this recipe is more of a breakfast cake or snack cake than a desert cake. I didn’t make any kind of glaze or frosting for it, either, because I like mildly sweet things better than really sweet things in general. I didn’t time the preparation, but I’m guessing from getting out the bowls to putting it in the oven took maybe five minutes.

Anyway:

Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Whisk together the wet ingredients except butter. I used an immersion blender because I wanted to smooth out the cottage cheese anyway.

Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture. This means stir it in fairly gently with a spoon. Fold in the butter. Fold in 3/4 of the raspberries. Pour the rather thick slightly lumpy batter into a 9 inch square pan you’ve sprayed with oil. Sprinkle the remaining raspberries over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes and serve.

I expect this cake would freeze just fine, but I don’t know, because it didn’t last very long. I’m going to make it again soon because we grow our own raspberries and still have quite a lot in the freezer from last year.

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And Cake! / Blog

Sparkling muffins

I know, I know, if you sparkle a muffin, you’ll only be contributing to the trend — is something so established still considered a trend? — of turning muffins into cupcakes. And yet sometimes the urge is irresistible.

I made these the other day. They are one of my favorite muffins (of the cupcakey muffin style), so I thought I’d share them with you.

SPARKLING CRANBERRY MUFFINS

1 C frozen cranberries, chopped. I suggest a food processor to chop the cranberries. You’re not looking to grind them into a paste, so just pulse until they are fairly well chopped.
2 Tbsp sugar
2 C flour
1/3 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C butter
3/4 C orange juice — I use frozen concentrate because I just keep it in the freezer and use it now and then, but I guess fresh would probably be better.
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/4 C butter, melted, for dipping
1/4 C sugar, for dipping

Spray muffin cups with whatever oil spray you prefer. They will stick if you don’t spray the cups. If you use paper cups, put them in the muffin pan and then — this is important — spray the paper cups.

Combine the chopped cranberries with the 2 Tbsp sugar and set aside.

Combine the flour, the 1/3 C sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Cut in the butter. I suggest cutting the cold butter into roughly Tbsp chunks, adding them to the flour mixture, and then using a Really Sturdy pastry cutter (with FLAT BLADES not ROUND WIRES) to cut in the butter. It only takes a minute if you have chunked the butter rather than dropping a whole stick into the bowl. Incidentally, if you’re not used to cutting in butter, you first press straight down and then twist the cutter in a circular motion. If (when) butter sticks to the cutter, scrape it off with a spoon or knife.

You cut in butter to produce flakier pastries, incidentally. It makes an enormous difference when you make scones, but I’m not certain it honestly matters tremendously for this recipe. The alternative would be to soften the butter (15 seconds in the microwave) and beat it with the egg and sugar, then the orange juice, then add the flour mixed with the baking powder and salt. That would probably work fine, too.

Anyway, provided you cut in the butter the way the recipe directs, you cut it in until the bits of butter are the size of peas or smaller and then stir in the orange juice and egg, mixing gently.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. For me, this makes 12 muffins with no batter left over.

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or so, until lightly browned. Cool in the pan five minutes. Lift out and set on a rack. If you sprayed the muffin pan, they should lift out easily, or at least mine do. While still warm, dip each muffin in the melted butter and then the sugar. Serve warm, to cries of delight from all.

Though sparkling cranberry muffins are popular, I’m sure you immediately notice the potential of this techniques for other kinds of muffins. If you sparkle a chocolate or chocolate chip muffin, you may as well give up and call it a cupcake, but you can probably get away with serving most other kinds of sparkled muffins for breakfast. I must admit that I am perfectly capable of eating them for breakfast and then for dessert at dinner, so a batch doesn’t last long at my house.

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